Souks, Roman Ruins and Dinosaur Tracks: Country of Contrasts

Tourists in Morocco tend to stay in the old parts of the cities.  These medinas contain a labyrinth of narrow passages that include the souks (shopping areas) and riads (usually houses of past upper class citizens recently converted to hotels – think high end bed and breakfasts).

Path to riad

 

Leila exploring souk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wood worker

 

Waling in souk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s easy to get lost in the souks, so we opted for guides in both Fez and Marrakesh to help us navigate the maze of passages. They also advised us on the methods to negotiate the best prices for items, as haggling over prices is a must.  Embroidery, metal work and ceramics were high on our list of items to purchase.

Potter

Embroider

Metal works

Walking the souks was often like being in a vast farmer’s market, with each shop having its specialty.

Fish in market

Chicken sales

Man selling parsley

Scarfs in market

I was most taken by the colors and geometries.

Lemon and olive stand

 

 

 

Lemon geometry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spice stand in Fez

Tower of spices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piles 0f goods

GarlicPeppersRoadside fruit

The narrow streets presented challenges not seen outside the medina.

Small tractor

Donkey cart

While there was a vast array of transport (cars, motorcycles, bicycles, horses, donkeys and donkey carts), one piece of modern technology was often seen being used by the riders.  Everyone seemed to have a mobile phone, which of course required many cell towers.  A number of these were disguised as palm trees.

Palm cell tower

Another pervasive modern technology was television reception dishes, seen on top of even the oldest structures.  Residents pay a onetime $50 fee and then have ongoing access to television, thus television dishes were everywhere.

Televsion dishes

When you overdosed on the crush of people, bartering and noise, you step into your riad and leave it all behind.  The quiet central courtyard and atrium usually has a water feature and a display of flowers that contrast with what is just outside your door.  After a rest in your room, a quiet dinner awaits you.

Riad in Fez 2

Flowers in riad

Dinner in riad

The medinas house many traditional communal functions.  Women prepare bread daily for the family, which require taking the leavened, but unbaked, bread to communal ovens.

Communal Oven

Tourists can easily come away thinking that this traditional view of life in Morocco is the norm. But many people move away from the medinas to enjoy the advantages of the “New Town.”  Townhouses with modern conveniences, such as individual ovens in each house, and modern shopping areas that look like your local grocery store and Home Depot.

New Housing

Grocery store

Home Depot

Our guide in Marrakesh, Hajja, not only navigated the souks for us, but showed us the architectural sights – mosques and palaces that made us feel like we were back in southern Spain.  This made sense, since many of the Moors who were driven out of Spain in the fifteenth century moved to Morocco and continued to build similar structures.

Two women in old palace

 

Main mosque

Moorish pillar

Moorish courtyard

When Hajja learned that I wrote dinosaur books, she convinced us to change our plans for the next day to go see dinosaur tracks that were a few hours outside of town.  What she didn’t tell us is that she hadn’t been there in 10 years and didn’t know exactly where they were – but she was sure there would be a sign.

There was no sign, so we drove right by what used to be the sign.

Missing sign for dino tracks

We did get some great views of rural villages during our hunt for dinosaur tracks.

Berber town

She finally had someone tell her we had come too far, so we went back, just to find that since she was last there a wall, with locked gate, had been built around the dinosaur tracks.

Gate with lock

While we walked along the wall, trying to see if we could get a glimpse of the tracks, Hajja ran into some young boys who just happened to have the key to the gate in their house.  We never did understand why 10-year-old boys would have a key to the gate.

Boy with key

The tracks were extensive and a delight to discover as we walked over the rocky surface.

Three dino tracks

Single dino rack

What was most fun is that the adventure turned into a dinosaur lesson for the owner of the key and some of his friends.  They knew there were tracks inside the fence, but did not know from what kind of animal.  You could tell from the size of the tracks that it was a good sized animal and probably a theropod.

Dino Lesson

While we were talking with the children, we got to see local Berber farmers pass behind us on donkeys carrying feed for their animals.

Berber farmersOf course food had to fit into our itinerary in some way, so we took a daylong Moroccan cooking class — that was also a contrast of new and old.  We made bread in a traditional clay oven.

baking bread

But then entered a high tech cooking area with video projection systems so we could see the master chef.

HIhg tech cooking class

Leila and I made individual servings of chicken tagine, and several salads.

D and L after cooking

We even got to keep the tagine pot when we finished eating our meal.

Meal at cooking class

After four days in Marrakesh, we moved on to Fez, with more time in the medina, souks and riads.

Leila in Fez souk

 

 

 

 

 

Farmers market for sweets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My fear of stinging insects was challenged in one market area filled with sweets

Sweets

Bees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It may look like the second photo is a delicacy covered with raisins, but each dark spot is a bee.  It was not possible to capture the hundreds of swarming bees that filled the air.  As you can image, we did not buy any sweets and moved on quickly.

A highlight of the being in Fez was a visit to the Roman ruins in nearby Volubilis. The ruins not only provided insight into life when the Romans ruled the area 2,000 years ago, but a look at the beauty of the Moroccan countryside with its many olive groves and vineyards.

Roman Ruins from afar

Roman ruin panarama

Roman ruins

Roman ruin mozaic

 

 

 

 

 

Roman Column

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roman ruins two arches

View of countryside

This was our first excursion on the African continent, but not our last.  In June we will visit South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.

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Cathedrals, Castles, Palaces and FOOD!

If you’re into any of these, plus intricately designed ceramic tiles and 2,000 year old Roman ruins, then Spain is the place for you.  This fall Leila and I spent several weeks in Andalucia, Spain, and Morocco.  Both areas had amazing culture, art and food but they were very different and very challenging to include in one post, so I’m only going to deal with southern Spain in this post.

The cathedral in Seville is probably best known to Americans as it houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus.  As with many churches in this region it is built upon and/or incorporates a former Muslim mosque.

Columbus tomb

It is hard to get a great view of the outside of the cathedral because it is surrounded by other buildings.

cathederal outside

You get a better view of it from the bell tower (former minaret), where you can also see the Moorish Alcazar (Palace) in the top left of the photo – more on the Alcazar later.

View from Sevilla cathederal

Inside the cathedral one is overwhelmed by the intricate art that seems to cover every surface.

Sevilla cathederal 2

But then there is the FOOD.  Where else can one get two glasses of vino tinto (red wine) plus olives and chips for $4 in a delightful outdoor setting?

Leila at cafe

The cathedral in Granada was also spectacular.

Cathederal in Granada

But the prize for cathedrals goes to the Mezquita in Cordoba. Mezquita means mosque in Spanish.  The site was originally a church, and the mosque construction started in the 8th century when the Moors controlled much of Spain.  The mosque features 856 red and white striped arches that make you feel like you’re walking among an Escher painting. When the Moors were pushed out of Cordoba in the 13th century, it was turned back into a Christian church and a Cathedral was constructed in the middle of the mosque.

Mezitha 3

Mezquita 1

During Moorish times, it was said that more than a thousand people could pray among the arches at one time. The Muslim influence is seen throughout the cathedral.

Mezquita 2

But of course there was the FOOD. A delicious spread of ham and cheese served directly to your table by the chef.

Cheese and ham dish

Ham carver

A trip to Segovia is a must. It not only has the famous Roman aqueduct,

Aquaduct

L and D at aquaduct

but also the spectacular Alcazar von Segovia castle which many believe was the inspiration for Disney’s castle.

Castle

Many of the houses in Segovia featured beautifully sculptured walls.

Textured wall 1

Textured wall 2

But then there is the FOOD

Pate

A delightful pate before trying the Suckling Pig – a dish made famous in Segovia. Something worth trying once, it is five-week-old baby pigs that are cooked before they stop suckling.

Suckled Pig

Palaces are also plentiful in Spain. The La Granja of San Ildephonso palace outside of Segovia was built by Philip V in the 18th century.  It now houses government offices, but parts of the palace and the vast grounds are open to the public.

Palace 1 Segovia

Palace 2 Segovia

The most famous of the palaces is the Alhambra in Granada.  The best view of the palace is from across the valley during sunset.  We stayed in a former mansion that has been turned into an inn not far from where the following photos were taken in the Albaicin neighborhood.

Alhambra at sunset -1

Alhambra at sunset 1

Alhambra at night

Of course, the best way to watch the light change on the Alhambra is over FOOD and a glass of sangria or vino tino.

Panarama of restaurant and Alhambra

Leila with Alahambra reflected behind her

Sangria with Alhambra

The Alhambra, built and added to over the centuries, strongly shows the influence of when the Muslims ruled the area.

Reflection of building in pond

Arch

Door

Of course, there is only so much palace watching one can do before you need more FOOD.  Found a great outdoor setting in Granada with a fixed price menu, including a cappuccino.

Dinner

DessertCapocinno

But Leila and I agree that the palace we enjoyed most was the Alcazar in Seville.  The palace is fairly nondescript from the outside, since it is surrounded by other buildings in the center of Seville.

Alkazar from front

But has beautiful gardens inside.

Water feature in Alkazar

Alkazar garden 2

Alkazar garden 3

And spectacular ceiling and tilework throughout the palace that contrasts the differences between the Muslim and Christian occupants.

ceiling and room

ceiling

Ceiling close up

Close up of ceiling shown above

 

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Under Muslim rule only tiles with geometric shapes or Arabic wording were allowed

 

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During Christian occupancy, the tiles could feature human and animal figures, many x-rated

After so much straining to look up at the architecture, we of course needed more FOOD – gelato for two.

ice cream for L and D

We could have gotten a pumpkin spice latte at Starbuck, but we are not sure why anyone would opt for an expensive Starbucks drink, when the local espresso is half the price.  Although I did break down and buy a Sevilla Starbuck cup.  It is now my coffee cup of choice for my afternoon cappuccino at home.

Starbucks sign

But there is more to visiting Spain than going inside spectacular buildings. Plenty of street entertainers.

Fleminco in Granada

Violin Player

Muscian

Flaminco in Sevilla

And views of the countryside with rows and rows of olive trees.

Olive trees

But then there is the food.  We actually spent a morning on a walking tour of food experiences in Madrid, where churros dipped in chocolate is standard breakfast faire.

chrisos

Chocolate

Spent time in the local market that is like Seattle’s Pike Place Market on steroids.  The olive stall

Olive Merchant

Is next to the butcher’s stall, where he will prepare lamb’s brain for you if you wish,

Lamb butcher

which is next to the ham shop where there are more than 10 different types of ham you can buy.  The ham from the black-footed Iberian pig which eats acorns in rangefree conditions only goes for 128 Euros a kilogram (~$60 a pound).

Ham butcher

A morning in the market of course makes you hungry for more food, so its time to stop for some tapas.

Tapas 1 in Madrid

Tapas 2 in Madrid

Finally, a visit to southern Spain would not be complete without a day trip to Gibraltar.

Gibraltor

This British enclave certainly is a change from Spain, but its strategic position controlling the entrance to the Mediterranean and the famous monkeys of Gibraltar make it a must see – at least once.

Big Monkey

Gibraltor top

Canon

The monkeys are protected because Winston Churchill declared that the British would control Gibraltar, as long as the monkey existed on “The Rock.”  Consequently, the monkeys are plentiful and have learned the art of thievery.  Leila was mugged by one of the primates right after buying a bag of potato chips.  She was still in the gift shop where she bought the chips when a monkey raced in and snatched the unopened bag . I think I was lucky enough to capture an image of the culprit lying in wait for an unsuspecting tourist.

Monkey thief

But you don’t go to Gibraltar for the FOOD.

hamburger

Our waiter made it clear that hamburgers only come Well Done.

Spain was great, but our following week in Morocco was more exotic.

Two women in old palace

Stay tuned for the next blog

 

 

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Happy Winter Solstice and New Year from the UK and EU

Leila and I are now permanently back in Seattle, but with more plans to travel to visit new sights and favorite locations.  The past festive season provided such an opportunity, so we were off to London (a favorite location) and to Bruges and Brussels (new sights).  It was a great time to be overseas, with holiday lights everywhere.

Some were whimsical like the biker Santas in the Liverpool area of London

Santas on bikes

Others were crass, like the Regent Street signs marketing the latest Night At The Museum movie featuring the British Museum.  Hard to take the multiple signs with large images of Ben Stiller.

Regent street

But most were tasteful and beautiful

Kew Gardens

Kew Garden’s Christmas Display

Reindeer Street decoration

Sign Outside Selfridges Department Store

Sign Outside Selfridges Department Store

The most spectacular light display occurred in Brussels on the last night of our trip.  The Grand Place is a large square lined with eight blocks of building.  Each hour after dark features a 15 light and sound display that is almost impossible to convey in photos. The five to seven story buildings are bathed in lights that are choreographed to change color to the music blaring across the square.

Place panarama- red Place panarama - blueTower = purple Tower - white Tower - red Tower - green

We had a great home base in London near the Tower of London

Apt at Sunrise

Our apartment was the five windows on the left on the third floor

We didn’t even have to leave the apartment to enjoy some of the key sights

View from apt

Tower of London and Tower Bridge

City Hall Across The Thames

City Hall Across The Thames

All Hallows Church - Oldest church in London and marriage venue for John Quincy Adams

All Hallows Church – Oldest church in London and marriage venue for John Quincy Adams

We developed a leisurely routine in London.  I am near the deadline to finish a book manuscript and Leila is recovering from a foot injury, so we would generally spend the morning with me writing and Leila resting her foot from the activities of the previous day.  Her foot did improve over the days and we were ultimately walking around five miles a day.  St. Paul’s Cathedral was not far away, so our walks regularly took us past the landmark located on the highest point in London.

St Pauls

St. Paul's 2

A typical walk included crossing the Thames via the Tower Bridge and along the Southbank to the London, Waterloo or Millennium Bridge that provided more views of the old and the new of London

Big Ben in silouate

The Old – Big Ben and House of Parliament

Shard

The New – The Shard

Tower Bridge at Sunset

The Old – Tower Bridge

Old and New at Sunset

The New and Old – Tower of London on right, The Gherkin in the middle and the Walkie Talkie on the left with the sun reflecting off its windows

Evenings included seeing friends or enjoying various performances.  We finally saw The Book of Mormon (it is as funny as everyone says it is) and the relatively new play, The Curious Incident with a Dog in the Nighttime – a must see if you get the opportunity.  The most impressive performance was going to the annual John Rutter Christmas Concert in Prince Albert Hall – a place we’ve always wanted to see.  Hard not to be impressed by singing Christmas carols with 5,000 people led by the London Symphony Orchestra and combined choirs of 150 members.

Albert Hall

On the first day of the trip, I went on a walk just to get some exercise and happened to walk into Green Park.  I noticed that everyone was heading in the same direction, so had to find out what was the attraction.  I quickly realized that I was near Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guard.  I saw this once before  around 30 years ago, but I am not sure anyone can get over enjoying the pomp and circumstance of the event – marching bands, stoic guards, mounted soldiers and mounted police – continuously telling people to move along and not block the walkways and entryways to the palace.

Horse guard at Buckingham Guard at Buckingham_edited Band at Bukingham Mounterdf Police at Budkingham Coat of Arms

We did make one excursion outside of London to see Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill.  Leila and I just finished William Manchester’s three-volume tome on Churchill– an amazing read – so had to see his home.  The house was only partially open, but decorated for Christmas.  Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside the house – and the sun was in the wrong position to get a good photo of the building, so I had to do with photos of the plants and surrounding woodlands.

Chartwell

Flower at Chartwell There were also great opportunities to visit the outdoor markets – always with a glass of mulled wine.

Christmas Market in front of Tate Modern - Millenimum Bridge

Christmas Market on Southbank in front of Tate Modern Art Museum

But these London markets paled in comparison with the one’s in Belgium, especially Brussels, where the food and craft stalls wound through the street for at least 30 blocks

Crowd at Brussels Market

Merry-go-rounds featured magical machines and mythical creatures, plus dinosaurs instead of horse.

Merry go round - dino

Merry go round - Taradactdl

The  food was sumptuous and sometimes overwhelming.  Not many places where you can find separate stalls featuring foie gras, escargot and mussels with champagne.

Food at Xmas market

We found Bruges to be the idyllic European town everyone claims it to be, with narrow cobblestoned streets, canals and a bell tower with carillon.

Tower and canal

Street in Bruges

Canal and Street in Bruges

Of course, if you are in Belgium you need to indulge in beer, chocolate, French fries and waffles – and we did our part to help support the country’s economy in these sectors.  The chocolate museum includes a cooking demonstration, where they produce chocolate pralines and then give samples at the end.

choclate maker

Sorry I can’t share any chocolates with you.  They were so good!

We could have gotten a combo ticket for the chocolate museum and the Frietmuseum (French fry and potato museum), but we passed on that opportunity – although we did eat plenty of French fries, as they are served with all kinds of food. Had French fries with Coquilles SaintJacques — complete with mayonnaise for dipping. I passed on the mayo.

Got a great tour of the oldest brewery in Bruges – although it has not operated continuously since 1564.  It was shut down during both wars and the metal equipment melted down to produce armaments. I appreciated that the brewery had an astronomically inspired name (De Halve Maan – The Half Moon) with an appropriate logo to go with it, which you can see next to our tour guide below.

Brewery tour

The tour even included climbing to the top of the building through the attic and five-foot doorways, just so we can see (just barely) the finishing and bottling plant three miles away – plus get a great view of Bruges.

view from top of brewery

Bottling plant is white building barely visible in the distance in the top right

The brewery is now digging an underground pipeline to connect the two facilities.  The beer is brewed in central Bruges and then will be piped to the bottling plan.  Many locals are interested in exactly where the pipeline is located and how deep.

Now we are back in Seattle, a number of pounds heavier and loaded with chocolate.  The greatest outcome of the trip was that Leila’s foot improved enough so that we can go on our usual daily walks, which we have not been able to do since March. This was the best holiday gift one could receive!

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A Last Walk of the Monuments — On the Virginia Side of the Potomac

My last blog that featured a Walk of the Monuments followed the traditional to tour on the DC side of the Potomac.  This year I found a less well known, but equally enjoyable, walk of the monuments on the Virginia side of the Potomac.  In many ways I like it more because there many fewer people and more opportunities for sightings of wildlife.

The walk starts by taking Metro (Blue or Orange line) to the Rosslyn Metro station.  Exit the main entrance and turn right for half a block where you turn left downhill on Wilson Blvd.  Go one block and cross over Lynn Street where you turn right.  Continue walking on Lynn for two long blocks until you cross over a highway.  Just beyond the highway, you will see the Iwo Jima Memorial on your left.  At sunset on Tuesdays during the summer you can see Marine Corp “Sunset Parade.”

Iwo Jima with band

Or if you get there after dark, you can get a great view of the memorial at night, along with the Washington Monument in the background.

Iwo Jima with WA monument

After enjoying the Iwo Jima Memorial, continue to follow the path that keeps the memorial on your left and heads downhill.  This path leads to the Carillon, presented by the Netherlands to the US after WWII.  The flowers around the Carillon can be spectacular depending on the time of year you are there.

Carollon

Tulips

Continue downhill along the path that parallels the street on your right.  This will take you to a little known entrance to Arlington Cemetery.

Small cemetary entrance

Follow the path that winds through the gravestones.   Each time you take the walk there are different images and experiences.

Headstones in cemetery

Furneral

Arlington Cemetery with Snow

Continue up to the top of the first set of stairs and turn left, which then takes you to the main entrance to the Cemetery.

Stairs to cemetary entrance

View to cemetary entrance

If you have enough time, take time to explore other parts of the cemetery, which can be quite varied depending on the time of year.

Cemetary in fall

Wa Mon from cemetary in fall

Lee house

DC from Cemetery

If you have limited time turn left at the main entrance and head down the broad street toward the Lincoln Memorial on the opposite side of the Potomac.

View from cemetery to Lincoln

As you pass the visitor center on your right be sure to get on the right side of the street.  As you near the large traffic circle just before you go over the Memorial Bridge, you will see a sign that directs you to the Mt. Vernon trail, which will take you back to the Rosslyn Metro station.

Mt Vernon trail sign

Follow the path until you cross over the first road.  Be careful crossing the road.  Cars are supposed to stop, but one never trusts DC drivers.  On the other side of the road turn right and cross the second road.  Follow the path as it winds toward the Potomac and crosses one more road.  Turn left immediately after crossing the third road. You are now on the way back to Rosslyn.  Enjoy the views of the water, birds and monuments on the other side of the Potomac.

Heron on Potomac 1

Jefferson with heliocopters

Lincoln and WA monument

Lincoln-WA mon- capitol from VA

The view is also great at around dusk, but I suggest you take a flashlight if you go on the walk as it is getting dark.

Wa mon and capitol from VA at night

Stay on the path as it goes past Teddy Roosevelt Island and continue over the bridge that crosses the highway.  A short distance after the bridge you emerge back at Lynn Street just before it crosses the Key Bridge.  Turn left and walk the couple blocks back to the Rosslyn Metro station.  If you don’t get distracted too much during the walk, you should be back in a little under an hour and covered a little under four miles.

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Eight Equator Crossings in Fourteen Days

Late last year, Leila and I returned from a magical trip exploring the Galapagos Islands and the Andes Mountains of Ecuador.  We’ve always heard how special it is to see the Galapagos Islands, but always wondered if the hype was deserved – it is.

First crossing of the equator – The flight down started at a reasonable 9:00am, but we didn’t arrive at the new Quito airport until almost midnight.  The 75 minute ride into Quito, 9200 feet and 1,500 feet higher than the airport took us on roads that would make any two lane road in the Rockies seem like a “piece of cake.”  At 2:30 in the morning, we finally got into our hotel room at 1.5 degrees south of the equator.

We added an extra day to our trip, so we could sleep in the next day. Woke up to some great views of the city and the Andes from our hotel room.

Slide1

The rest of the first day was spent getting used to the attitude and exploring the city, including a pleasant lunch outdoors while enjoying the “forever spring” weather of Quito.

Lunch in square

Second Crossing of the equator – Feeling much more refreshed on the second day, we signed up for a tour to the famous local craft market in Otavalo, Ecuador, 70 miles north of Quito.  We went back down the two-lane road that bounced us around coming from the airport.  All was fine until our tour bus broke down about an hour out of Quito.  At five miles an hour we finally made it to the next town 20 minutes later and exited the bus for what we thought would be a long wait for a replacement bus.

Slide3

But our ingenious guide flagged down a local bus – they are all quite colorful – and paid our fare so we could continue our journey

At the next stop, a traveling salesman hopped on the bus and harangued the captive audience for at least 10 minutes about the amazing health benefits of his “coca balm”, which of course he would sell for a mere one dollar per 1 oz container.  His sales were brisk, including a number of people in our tour. I wondered if we would get stopped at US customs for smuggling in illegal drugs.

Slide4

Our replacement bus caught up with us at a scenic lookout where we got more views of the Andes and the local livestock.

Slide5

Alpacas

We finally reached the primary destination of the day, the Otavalo craft market – 0.25 degrees north of the equator, where you can buy every kind of garment and other textile made from alpaca fur.

Slide7

Needless to say, we satisfied all of our holiday shopping requirements on the trip.

Third Crossing of the Equator – On the way back to Quito, we stopped as what is claimed to be “The first and only monument on the Real Equator.”

Equator Sign

At noon on the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun shines directly down a yellow cylinder on to a mirror at the bottom.

Slide9

The next day we took the 2 hour flight to the Galapagos Islands, where we bonded on a 98-foot Athala II catamaran for the next eight days with 14 other travelers from the US, Canada and France.

Slide10

The first afternoon proved what we had always heard – the animals have no fear of humans.  You can swim among the sea turtles and walk within feet – sometime inches – of the other animals and they just ignore you or give you curious looks. We walked among hundreds of sea lions and their babies.

Slide11

Even at night the full moon allowed us to watch the sea lions.

Sea lions with moon

The next day was the first of seven days with opportunities to snorkel and swim among the sea turtles

sea turtles

Fourth Crossing of the Equator – We ultimately headed to the west side of the largest island (Isabella) where we saw more sea lions, plus hundreds of marine iguanas – where you definitely needed to watch where you walk as the iguanas look like rocks – and certainly don’t want to move for a few humans to get by.

Slide14

Everywhere there were also hundreds of Sally Lightfoot crabs

Slide15

Other reptiles were also easy to find on the islands, including the land iquana and the lava lizard.

Slide35

Lava lizard

Lava Lizard

Besides seeing an abundance of animals, the hikes on the islands showed how water deprived the islands are and gave you time to reflect that you could be walking in the exact spot that Charles Darwin walked in 1831.

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High contrast landscape

Slide21

Fifth Crossing of the Equator – We headed back to the main town (Puerto Arroyo) at 0.75 degrees south latitude, were we spent a night sleeping on land, so that we could walk among the many tortoises – the iconic animal of the islands

Slide22

A walk past the local fish market provided a juxtaposition between humans and pelicans vying for recently caught tuna.

Fish Market

Sixth crossing of the Equator – We headed north to the island of Marchena (at 0.25 degrees North) where we saw the largest collections of birds.  During our eight days among the islands, we saw thousands of birds.  Below is just a small sample of what we saw.

Oyster catcher with egg

Oystercatcher with Egg

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Seventh Crossing of the equator – Finally we returned to Baltra, where we got one last look at the nearby islands

Seal looking at island

And then boarded our flight for the 3 ½ trip back to Quito where the land below our feet seemingly continued to sway back and forth – finally ended once we got home. We had one more day to see the historic section of Quito – now an World Heritage Site – before our 18 hour flight home and eighth crossing of the equator.

World Heratige site

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Walk of the Monuments

I am finally finding time to write another blog post now that it is past mid-August when all of the grant recommendations at NSF need to be forwarded to the finance divisions.

Fall has also arrived with cooler temperatures and lower humidity.  It’s a great time to enjoy my two favorite walks in DC.

A good place to start the Walk of the Monuments is at the Smithsonian Metro station, which is on the Orange and Blue lines.  Exit on the Mall side, turn left and then make another  left.  You should do this walk twice – once during the day and once in the early evening.

In 2014, the Washington Monument will return to its pre-earthquake look, but for now you have to enjoy it shrouded in scaffolding,

1Wa Monument without scaffolding1Wash Memorial with setting sun

which can be quite spectacular with its new lighting (note: that is Venus to the right of the monument)

1Washington Monument's New Look + Venus

Head to the Washington Monument and then around it to the WW II memorial.

1WWII Memorial

I think this is the least spectacular of the monuments, but you do have to peruse the bronze, bas-relief images along the entrance, which provides vignettes of the many roles people played during the war.

1WW II Mural  with pilots

1WWII mural with medical

Don’t forget to look back at where you came from, as the Washington Monument will change its look depending on the angle of the light.

1Wa Memorial from WWII

Take some time to view the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool from behind the WW II memorial, especially if it is near sunset, as it can provide some beautiful views.

1Reflecting Pool toward Lincoln

Head to the right of the Reflecting Pool to the Vietnam Memorial.  Depending on the lighting, you can get some interesting reflections off this somber listing of soldiers who died during the war – especially if visitors are making rubbings of loved-ones names.

1Vietnam with reflections

Be sure to see the two sculptures – sometimes hard to find between the wall of names and the Reflecting  Pool.  They are emotive reminders of the fear and agony of war.

1Vietnam male sculpture1Male Vietnam close up

1Vietnam female sculpture1Female Vietnam close up

Now it is on to the Lincoln Memorial

1Lincoln close up

Next is the Korean War Memorial, which is on the opposite side of the Reflecting Pool from the Vietnam Memorial.  It provides haunting images of what it must have felt like to be on a patrol through the Korean forests.

1Korean Memorial

1Korean Close Up

After the Korean Memorial, walk south to cross Independence Avenue.  Once across Independence, turn left and head a couple blocks to the Martin Luther King Memorial.  Opened in 2011, the memorial is dominated by an image of MLK and includes some of his most compelling statements.

1MLK sculpture

1MLK Quote 2a

Leave the MLK monument by walking to the right along the edge of the Tidal Basin.  You will soon arrive at the FDR memorial – my favorite memorial because of the many fountains, life-size images that evoke the challenges of his 12+ years in office, and the many quotes that are still relevant today.

1FDR in wheelchair

1Radio listener quote

Bread line photo1

1Bread line quote

Like most of the monuments, it takes on an entirely different look during the evening, which is why I think you need to do the walk both during the day and in the early evening.

1FDR fountain at night

Finally, continue around the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial

1Jefferson Wide View

1Jefferson narrow view

Finally, it’s back to the Washington Monument.  You’ve now covered 3+ miles, but still short of the 10,000 step you’re supposed to get each day.

The next blog post will feature my other favorite walk – the Great Circle Route in Rosslyn.

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Cherry Blossom Extravaganza

I know I just sent a blog post, but I couldn’t pass up sharing photos of the cherry blossoms in DC, which reached their peak bloom this last week.

I am missing the plum blossoms in our back yard in Seattle that makes it look like the trees are covered in snow in April. But the cherry blossoms of DC reduced my longing for at least that aspect of the NW.

Tree back lit

Flowers

Flower buds

I almost missed them this year when we were told that April 6, 7 and 8 were going to be the peak days for the blossom. A photo-taking enthusiast colleague at NSF and I dutifully caught the Metro at 7:30am on Sunday the 7th to capture the beauty of the treess shortly after sunrise. To our disappointment, the trees were still waiting for warmer weather to come out in full bloom.

MLK without flowers

Fortunately, another photo-taking colleague enticed me to come with her to see the trees at sunset two days later. It was already the second time that day for her, so I knew the sight would be much improved, which it was.

MLK through trees

We walked around most of the Tidal Basin, where there is the largest assemblage of trees in DC.  Of course we were not alone.

Not alone

I am sure that people complained about our stopping regularly and blocking part of the path in order to get a picture from just the right angle – but so was everyone else.

Jeffeerson surrounded by blossoms

I captured the beauty of the blooms two years ago, shortly after I arrived in DC, but there were two major changes this year. Last time was before the DC earthquake of August, 2011.

Wa Mounment from 2011

This year, a growing scaffolding around the Washington Monument is a reminder of the quake and that earthquakes don’t just happen on the West Coast.

DSC05337

Also, the Martin Luther King Memorial was under construction two years ago that made some photos less than desirable.

MLK in 2011

This time the MLK Memorial provides some of the most spectacular images Several MLK images.

MLK from far with birds

MLK medium distance

MLK close up

We couldn’t have asked for a better day to enjoy the pink and white extravanza that surrounds the Title Basin.  As we finally – and reluctantly – decided to leave, our walk to the Metro provided one more view that makes one feel that they could live in DC – especially during the spring.

Momument at end of walk

 But then I remember that the hot, humid, sticky summer is just a month or two away.

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