Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hiking in the Sun and Fog

This morning Eagle River was completed socked-in, but it's not unusual for it to be foggy here in the morning and then burn off and get sunny. We decided to take our chances in Arctic Valley for a hike, but it was foggy there too...until we were almost at the trail head we broke out into the sun and it was crystal clear. They valley floor still had fog though, and the trail took us right down into it. We spent the day hiking in and out of the fog as it rolled in and out of the valley. When we got home to Eagle River, it was still socked-in. I don't think it ever cleared.

On a day like today, how can you not love this place?? We even heard coyotes howling while we were out hiking.

Of course, we still cannot believe how non-wintery it is. Plants are starting to bud out and that is never good in March in Alaska. As far as hiking goes, I think this is the spring that will drag on forever.

fog rolling in

fog lifting!

All clear! (briefly)

fog rolling in again

fog in the valley floor as we hiked out

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Too Warm

Echo Bend of Eagle River
 The day we got back from Italy it was cold in Anchorage (single digits) but then it rapidly warmed up and the little snow we had has been melting away and the trails have turned into ice. Today in particular it was absurdly warm. Anchorage set a high record today at 47F. I went hiking in a long sleeve shirt with no jacket and no hat and I was hot.

At our house there is still a little snow on the ground, but out on the Eagle River Nature Center Trails there isn't a speck. Plenty of ice on the trail, but no snow.

I keep thinking that it looks and feels a lot more like a Kodiak winter than an Anchorage one, but Kodiak is even warmer this year.

Ann Marie and I at Echo Bend
*only hikeable with ice cleats!

Not a speck of snow

Echo Lake - lots of water on top of the ice

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Italy in Photos

The Amalfi Coast
This was our first big trip on which we did not take a dedicated camera; we only took our iPhones. With technology merging so much recently, it seemed silly to carry around our point-and-shoot camera when we both have fairly decent cameras on our phones, especially my iPhone 6. And, without a laptop or tablet, the only way we could upload photos to the blog or facebook was from our phones anyway. And what good is a vacation without a barrage of facebook photos??? Just kidding. Sort of.

I definitely do not like to take our DSLR camera (and all the lenses) on vacations unless photography is one of the main focuses of the trip. Besides being heavy and bulky, I don't like to have to worry about it being stolen.

I was surprised at how many tourists we did see in Italy using DSLR cameras. Most people were using their phones, but I actually saw a few with point-and-shoot cameras as well. That's what surprised me the most!

There are some things the iPhone camera is not great for, like distant scenery. On the other hand, I use the panorama feature frequently and love that it can give you a quasi-wide angle shot. The iPhone also does quite well in low-light settings (for a point-and-shoot type camera) and it takes nice silhouettes. These are my favorite [mostly] non-people photos from our trip:

I know I messed the Panorama up a bit, but I like the dramatic lighting of the Colloseum on this gloomy morning right before it hailed

Palatine Hill with a storm rolling in
A window into the past in Verona
Sunny Florence
Venitian Glass Chandelier
Matera - I know it's not in focus, but the photo still captures the feel

The Amalfi Coast

And, just for fun:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

More High Tide Photos

Venice is a city that has adapted to life surrounded by water. With no cars within the city everything comes and goes by boat. It's been interesting to see the various types of boats transporting everything from ice cream to construction debris. Equally impressive are the skilled hand truck divers who cart material down the city walk ways. These folks have to navigate narrow and crowded walk ways and bridges that infrequently have ramps. Adding a high tide probably just makes it that job even more challenging.

High tide in Venice

San Marco Piazza

Flooded shoreline


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The Grand Canal

We are in Venice and just happened to be here during some extreme high tides - when parts of the city flood. Yesterday morning it was high when we left our hotel but we weren't going far and we managed to get there without getting our feet wet by just taking a longer route. This morning though it was even higher and we only got a few minutes down the streets before we realized we weren't going anywhere without rubber boots. There are street vendors selling rubber over-boots everywhere, but we really didn't want to buy something we'd only be using for about 20 minutes to get where we were going (by the time we'd be done the tide would be going out). We are staying in a fairly nice hotel so we thought there was a chance the hotel might provide boots. We were right - they had a big box full of cheap rubber boots in a variety of sizes. Some didn't match; Ryan ended up with one green and one black boot, but they were the same size. But they were the right price and we didn't want to wait until the tide went down because the museum we were going to is only open in the morning.

On the busier streets they put up raised walkways during the high tides, but the problem was just getting from our hotel to the walkways. It's crazy to see water on city streets, in squares and even inside businesses. But they all just seem to have adapted to dealing with it.

Other highlights in Venice include enjoying the amazing glasswork (even though the glass museum is sadly closed this week), enjoying hot mulled wine and sangria where open container laws don't exist and window shopping.

Enjoying hot Sangria

Glass chandelier at the Correr Museum

High tide

Ryan on a raised walkway at the entrance to San Marco basilica

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Sunday, February 1, 2015


Today we checked the Colloseum off our list of things you don't go to Italy and not see. I am really glad we got there early (20 min before it opened), because the line was absurd by the time we left. Coincidentally, all archaeological sites and national museums are free on the last Sunday of the month, so maybe it was particularly crazy because of that. Or maybe it's always a zoo.

The Colloseum certainly did not disappoint, but I'd say the best way to describe it was spot-on. It's one of those places that is so famous you can't not know what it's about or what it looks like before you arrive. It is certainly an impressive structure but the only real surprise for me was how deep the underground portion is.

We also toured the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, also impressive but the real highlight for me was seeing Livia's house. I'm reading a biography right now of Livia Drusilla, wife of Augustus Caesar. One of the houses at Palatine Hill was supposedly hers and is quite well-preserved (although not exactly photogenic). It's always nice to connect a specific bit of history (and a person) to some actually archaeology, especially over 2000 years!

The real highlight of our day was a visit to the baths of Caracalla. Our guidebook called these some of the most impressive ruins in Rome but other than that I did not know what to expect.

The guidebook did not lie. We were completely blown away by the scale of the baths and how much of the structure is still standing. They were built in about AD 200 and about 6000-8000 people used them per day when they were in use.

Best of all there was almost no one there. Another (free on first Sunday) off-the-beaten-path find!

Palatine Hill

Baths of Caracalla

Baths of Caracalla

Olympics sized swimming pool at the baths of Caracalla

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fantastic museum off the beaten path

We are in the midst of a three day road trip around southern Italy, which is almost completely devoid of other tourists. Our first stop this morning was to some limestone caves that turned out to be closed for January and February (sometimes that stuff happens when you use a guidebook that was published six years ago).

After that bust we headed for the coast, figuring we might at least be able to walk on a beach and then drive along the coast to our pre-arranged agriturismo (a sort of hotel/restaurant on a farm). I picked a town on the coast (Monopoli), punched it into Google maps and we headed for it. As we exited the freeway we caught a glimpse of a museum and archaeological excavation sign. As we followed the signs it seemed more and more unlikely that we would find anything open and/or that we would find a little ramshackle museum. The area right along the coast seemed completely deserted - probably only really visited in the summer for the beaches.

But...when we pulled up to the museum - The National Archaeological Museum of Egnazia, we could see it was most definitely not ramshackle and it was definitely open. We had found a complete hidden gem along the coast of Puglia.

The museum is located near an ancient town called Egnazia that was occupied from about 500 BC through the Roman era. Much of it has been excavated by archaeologists over the last 100 years and is open for visitors. The museum was really nice and had lots of photos of the excavations over the years. The only downside was there were no signs in English. In some ways it made the visit more enjoyable because we were able to enjoy the photos and artifacts without feeling like we had to over-saturate our brains with all the accompanying text. And usually we could pick up enough of the title to figure out what each display was about.

The area of the town ruins has a trail around it and a fantastic raised viewing platform. Lucky for us, this part had signs in English. There is also a viewing area around the Necropolis, or burial ground. The tombs were chiseled into the limestone bedrock. Because people were usually buried with valuable possessions, almost all of the graves had been looted before professional archaeologists ever worked here. It makes it a little eerie to walk around and see a bunch of empty coffin-shaped holes in the ground. There were also two large tombs with chambers dug into this area that, to our surprise, were open to visitors.

We are so glad we stumbled upon this place! We have also been pleasantly surprised that many museums in Italy are very inexpensive (6 euros for both of us to visit the museum and ruins). Maybe that will change going north, but we're enjoying it for now!

Empty tombs


Chamber tomb



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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Opera in Naples

One of the things on my list for Italy was to see an opera. After hours of research on my iPhone (sometimes I do wish I had a tablet), I found that the only place where an opera was playing that was easily going to fit into our schedule was Naples.

Last night we saw Andrea Chenier. We had almost no clue what was going on because it was all in Italian (including the subtitles), but just being there was an experience. We had a box to ourselves on the sixth (top floor) of the San Carlo Theatre (one of Italy's premier opera houses, according to our guidebook). We really had to lean up to/over the railing to see the stage well, but the perspective from the very top was fun.

I had read a synopsis of the story several days before we went, but honestly had forgotten most of it other than that it was loosely based on the life of the French poet Andre Chenier who was executed during the French Revolution. After we saw the show I read it again and everything made sense. It's not like anybody can understand opera singing anyway, but you don't go to the opera to hear the words. We thoroughly enjoyed the singing, stage play, and the atmosphere even though the only word we picked up on was "revoluzione."

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Friday, January 23, 2015


We are just wrapping up our five days in London. It was a whirlwind of course and we are ready to move on to someplace different. Highlights of our time here included seeing both Wicked and Phantom of the Opera in the West End (I'll be having Phantom music stuck in my head for the rest of the trip) - both amazing, and incredible to imagine that those actors/singers perform every night!

Ryan got to check off standing in two hemispheres at once. We also visited some of the usual museums and made it out of central London once to Hampton Court.

Ryan standing on the Prime Meridian

Ryan checking out the inner-workings of a clock at the Royal Observatory

Tower of London

Tower Bridge

Ryan at the British Museum

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