Four people, one rental car, a few cameras. Last week, we were on tour to enjoy, explore and capture spring time in Sicily. It was only mid March, but all kinds of blossoms were out, ready to provide foreground color for Greek temples and other landmarks of Sicily.
The weather was not always cooperating, and we had to deal with grey skies, a few raindrops, and even snow when we cut through the mountain area heading from Taormina to Cefalù. To escape dull colors, we went underground and also hoped for clear views in the Blue Hour at night. But in neither of both scenarios were we welcomed with open arms:
In Palermo, when we took pictures of the mummies in the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, an obviously not amused guardiano had caught our (officially forbidden) photographing on video cam and made a long announcement in German, specifically for us, the photographers, who had disturbed graveyard peace of these dead souls. “Katastrophe Germania”, he shouted over the loudspeakers. His anger echoed in the lifeless halls of this mysterious place. When we dared to leave the dead and ascended to the ground floor, he followed us on our way out, shouting. We fled in a tiny taxi on three wheels and wondered whether we should feel guilty. (We decided we didn’t. If it was for the peace of the dead, they wouldn’t sell tickets.)
Then in Agrigento, the Valle dei Templi. Sneaking around with our tripods to await the Blue hour, we were detected as being professional (= presumably commercial) photographers, i.e. a species unwanted. After we had waited in the (beautiful) area for 3 hours, amusing ourselves with second best photographs of landscapes and temples in grey light, yet another guardino approached and insisted that tripods would not be allowed during the Blue Hour. “Only out of hand”. Mood was not good. But we finally did well. Using our camera bags as bean bags we succeeded anyway. The above picture of Ikarus in front of the Concordia temple is one of the results. More pictures to be looked at here.
Luckily, there is good food and wine: Pasta con le sarde, cannolli, and Caponata, a vegetable dish which I especially like. When it heavily rained, we went for dolce vita. The trip was molto bene!
My first time in Israel. I had decided for that spontaneous winter break because I wanted to celebrate New Year’s in a warmer place than Vienna. It worked out well. On January 31, 00:00h, we were toasting with sparkling wine from Galilee at Tel Aviv Beach (while some idiot stole all my money, but that is another story). Let’s just say it was a great trip. I spent one week in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Southern tip of the Dead Sea.
In retrospective, my most memorable stroll was the exploration of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. It is the most famous neighborhood of ultra orthodox Jewish life. Big signs in English ask women to enter this area in decent clothing (i.e. long skirts), and they explicitly prohibit photography. Alright. So, I went in a long black skirt – and the Nikon went too, but packed away, in a big shopping bag. I really did not intend to use it, for reasons of ethics and angst. But when I entered this secretive neighborhood, on a very sunny Friday morning, and I saw all these men hustling around… in black suits, with serious hats and long beards… buying bread and flowers for Sabbath… I simply could not resist to secretly reach for the Nikon and quickly “click” in their direction. Operation paparazza. By time, I got more courageous with the camera. In a street junction, in front of one of these billboard newspapers, I positioned myself and waited for interesting characters to walk right into my picture frame. This trick always works. I stood there for several minutes, took some of my now favorite pictures, and nobody rebelled. I still wonder how that worked. Maybe my disguise was just too good, and nobody even dared looking at me, as I was just the typical female black bundle walking around. Men respectfully changed the street side when we approached each other. These pictures, along with all others, can be looked at here.
Other rewarding photo moments were me witnessing some romantic wedding photography in Jaffa at New Year’s Eve (look here), playing around with the red bar lights at the beach (or here), or becoming acquainted with the loveliest animal ever: the rock hyrax (fall in love here).
Israel is a great place for a winter get away, for experiencing religious conflict first hand…, for good food (oh, the food really! Shakshouka!), and definitely for photography. It offers interesting landscapes with the Sea, the Dead Sea, and the desert. And: people are relaxed getting their picture taken. I think I might return…
November in Venice is a bliss. It is not clear of tourists, but at least the usual day-trippers from nearby camping places are somewhere else now. If in the mood, the sun will shine and warms you enough to sit outside a small trattoria to sip a cappu or Sprizz. This is what I did for a few days in early November – oh no, wait, the actual mission was: Photography.
Just like in November 2011, I joined a photo trip with Rainer Martini and 9 other hobby photographers – or “photo freaks” as I used to call them back then. By now, I have become one of them myself, I guess. Which is a good thing.
Being photo-freakish means that the typical Venice day starts with getting up at 5:15 am in order to catch the first morning light. Only few words are spoken when we then quietly rush along the dark narrow streets leading to Piazza San Marco. From time to time, some woken up pigeons hectically flutter out of their beds and fly like ghosts along the dark alleys. We arrive at Piazza San Marco. The tripods are unpacked and the cameras prepared for long time exposures. We wander between the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile and the seashore with its gently moving gondolas. The Piazza is empty with just a few photographers and men with brooms. The first boats have not yet arrived. The sky then turns from black into blue, and from there, things happen quickly: The lights of lanterns and buildings are turned off, first the ones at Café Florian. The atmosphere changes and calls for photographic action… Higher Kelvin, shorter exposures, maybe try different combinations? The first sun rays dip the scene in new colors, be it a soft rose, an artificial lilac, or simply a lighter shade of blue. Each day a different color. Each morning holds its little surprise.
7:30h, the sun is completely out by now, the magic is over. For about 90 minutes, we have been taking pictures, about 100 clicks. Time seems to have flown by. This is real flow, Mr. Csíkszentmihályi. We fold our tripods away and start talking again. The first tourists arrive with their small cameras. Surely, they believe they are “really early” today. It is time for breakfast, and we proceed to “our” little bar, bite into fresh brioches and have a perfect cup of cappuccino. I am tempted to say that by then, at around 8 am, the best part of the day is over – but that would not be fair. Have a look at the pictures, and you will see that the whole trip was fantastic. Venice in November is a bliss. Il tutto giorno.
One evening in June, actually in an Irish pub in Bavaria, I was offered a short-time teaching job in Beijing, China! Starting only 6 weeks later, I could teach at University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) for their 2013 summer school. At Wikipedia, that university is said to represent no less than the “Oriental Harvard” and “the Switzerland of Chinese universities”. So, no question: I had to go! In rapid speed, with a 2-week-trip to the Northcape in between, I prepared a 18-hour-lecture on the “Sociology of Family in Europe”, hopped on that airplane, and arrived in Beijing, humid and hot with 37 degrees.
At the airport, I was picked up by my teaching assistant and his cousin, both holding one sign each: One read “Dr. Christine”, and the other “Geserick”. That made me smile, and it would be “sweet” like so many experiences which I had with that assistant and the other 40 students. They were all so interested, attentive, disciplined and waived me goodbye when leaving the class room. However, teaching was both physically and mentally challenging, as I had to give 6 hours of lectures for 3 consecutive days. It was hot, I was on West-East-jetlag, and participation in class was rather non-existent. I basically talked for 6 hours each day.
It is one thing to hear that China has been opening up to “the West”. The other thing is to experience that curiosity first hand, while being there. It is in the attentive eyes of the students when I start my sentence with the words: “In Europe today ….” And it is in the encounters with Chinese tourists when they carefully tip on my shoulder and say a friendly “hello”. They want to have a little chat with me, the Western girl. The chat usually starts with a “where are you from?”, then leads into the question “can I take picture with you?”. We take that picture, and for a goodbye, they shake my hand, followed by the typical Asian goodbye-waive. They smile. And so do I.
Actually, their picture-taking of me encouraged me to ask the Chinese just the same. At first, I took “pictures-in-return”, meaning I portrayed just everybody who had photographed me. But this project got out of hand, because it was so many, and the scenes somewhat too ordinary. So I ventured to ask others, those whom I really wanted a picture of. Here, due to lack of Chinese skills, “asking” meant that I presented the Nikon, gestured that I would like to take a photo, tried to smile an irresistible smile, and put a question mark at the end. I did not ask many people, but whenever I did, it worked. Note so self: I should have asked more people! (All pictures here.)
Some Beijing scenes felt especially “surreal”, while at the same time I indulged in that feeling of being so foreign there. For instance, I remember a rainy lunch break when I walked on campus, under a pink plastic umbrella which I had been given to protect me from acid rain. Almost fainting from jetlag, I was munching on some pretzels, only realizing that their taste was actually seaweed. In lack of hot espresso, this meal was accompanied by sweet iced latte in a can. Strange coffee culture!
Other things that surprised me were:
– How rough people can become be when in anger. Angry couples talk to each other in obvious disgust, accompanied by sounds that I have never heard before.
– And then again: How tender people are with each other. Young lovers would hold each other close when on the metro. Parents would give their little ones very tender care in public places. Everybody was physically very close.
– That it seems OK bring your own beverages to eating places, e.g. beer from a kiosk kind of store or even sit inside Starbucks to eat food from KFC, not ordering anything from Starbucks!
– How steep the Great Wall is!
– That a little kiosk suddenly sells beer from the Domhof brewery from Speyer (near my hometown)!
– That I found a “vibrating condom” on my hotel’s night table. For sale.
– That Mao is still referred to as “the chairman”.
– That the rain there is really acid rain. It caused me a sore throat and red eyes.
– How men lift up their shirt in hot weather to have their belly breathe.
– How bad the smog is! It made the air blue in the evenings. And the local Seven Eleven sold breathing masks, three different kinds.
Yes, the trip was a challenge, but it was so worth it! I felt so even more, when I received the most lovely thank you-notes from my students. These are my favorite lines:
– “I have spent a short but unforgettable summer school with you, which is full of learning pointy about family and social security. You’ve really gave us a window to see Europe family and social security, which inspired more curiosity from my heart.”
– “… You impressed me very much and I think I will never forget you as my first foreigner teacher!”
– “Again, thanks for everything you did during the summer school. I will always remember the happy time we spent together.”
– “I felt great passion and gratitude and I really appreciate your teaching attitude. ^_^”
– “Those 3 days must be a treasure in my life.”
… yes, same with me!
A few weeks have passed since the Norway trip end of June 2013. As we spontaneously extended our tour, the “Northern Norway” trip really turned out to be a real “Lapland trip”, including stops in Sweden (Kiruna) and Finland (Enontekiö). In 13 days, we drove about 4.000 kilometers. It was an impressive journey with many hours spent under the midnight sun, meeting a lot of reindeer, eating salmon, drinking arctic beer, and taking lots of pictures.
The trip was planned as a “wilderness experience”, and that turned out very well! We had brought a tent, sleeping bags of the kind “Arctic Extreme” and made good use of the “Allemannsrett” to camp in the Arctic wilderness. We always found a cozy place with some flat ground and nearby water which we would use to bathe in the next morning, or – if too cold – at least use the water to boil some Nescafé. Only a few times did we chose to stay in official campsites or rented a cheap room, e.g. when it rained…
These are (roughly) the places where we stayed overnight:
Tromsø – Sifjord (island: Senja) – Harstad (island: Hinnøya) – Kongsvik (also Hinnøya) – Nyksund – Kiruna (Sweden) – Leppäjärvi (Finland) – Hammerfest – Skarsvåg (close to Northcape) – Litleng – Altafjord – Svensby – Tromsø.
It was the first time that I experienced the 24 hours of daylight. For our wildcamp-trip, it came in handy. There was no “we must build up the tent before darkness”. No need of camping lights or alike. Also, sleeping in the deepest forest didn’t cause angst because the surroundings were never dark but rather dipped in golden sunlight. A hungry bear would have been spotted just in time. And I will never forget how, when I had to step out the tent at 2.30 am, the birds were singing. Weird! Yet, there was a certain silence at night. Until now, I do not know why I felt that silence. With bright light and active animals, it should feel like daytime, no?!
Speaking of active animals: the mosquitos were pretty terrible. Especially inland, when we escaped the bad weather of the coast, we traded in rain for itchy bites. The deet (“Nobite”) did help, but it seemed impossible to cover every inch of the body. I even put that stuff in my face. But forgetting some part of the forehead meant: lunch time for a whole mosquito family…
So, when we were tired of the mosquitos, we decided to drive back to the coast and venture into the “real” North, direction of North Cape. We had not really planned to go up there. You read about the North Cape as a “tourist rip-off”, you are warned about the bad weather that most likely will be raging up there, after you have paid the 36 EUR entrance fee – and why would you go up there anyway, when the “real” geographic North Cape would be elsewhere anyway? But we were really glad we went: The weather was gorgeous, the visitor center with free wifi and nice panoramic view is worth the entrance fee, and the atmosphere was very special:
You sense that the North Cape must be the place of fulfilling dreams, e.g. “once in my life, I want to bicycle all the way up to the North Cape”. And many do! Along that long gray road, we passed by many, really many, cyclists, their multifunctional shirts blowing against the arctic winds – and we felt a bit bad when overtaking. Their faces showed determination, but also some pain. The female cyclists I met again the washing room of the North Cape Café: They rinsed their face and looked exhausted – but very happy.
The trip has been great, and I am very happy to finally have come here. Here are some pictures to be look at.
Tomorrow (i morgen) it is off to Norway. For the next 2 weeks, I will travel around in Northern Norway – right in time to experience Midsummer and those nights that don’t get dark. The trip will be simple, yet adventurous: We go with a rental car, a tent, most effective bug repellant (deet), and the new Nikon.
Packing my bags, I get a bit sentimental. Not only that I expect an exciting trip, but Norway is special to me. In 1994, I spent 6 months in Kristiansand, on Norways’s southern coast. I lived in a small apartment in a red wooden house on a hill. I was there to work as an au pair, took care of 3 cute Norwegian kids, and I guess this time has shaped me in many ways: I have learned to speak “real” English (thanks to the Oprah Winfrey Show broadcasted on NRK and my friends Jill, Cecilie and Reed!), and I realized how inspiring it is to live in a foreign place. Oh, and I should not forget that my au pair experience inspired me to write that PhD thesis…
So, I am looking forward to soon entering the country of geitost, Tine melk and Freia chocolate. Given the forecasted temperatures (10 degrees in Tromsö!), they could also start selling julebrus – which I like a lot. But I’d gladly trade in the Christmas lemonade for a few warm days. (For those of you who have not tried Julebrus: it tastes a bit like a mixture of coke and herbal lemonade, e.g. Almdudler.)
Naturally, this trip is not just for pure wildcamp-leisure, but the new Nikon will go on “her” first (real) trip. Last week, I had my first job duty in Bamberg (in Germany) to document the 4th European Congress of Family Science (–> see photos). But now, it is time for some outdoor fun. Oh, we are all excited. Norge, vi sees!
When I started feeding this blog, in 2009, I was spending 4 weeks in a Victorian house in San Francisco writing on my dissertation. I actually did this for the proud usage of the exact line: “I spent a month of academic writing in a Victorian house”. It sounded so good. The whole thing was crazy expensive (flight, unpaid job leave, housing!) but gave me the satisfaction to have fulfilled my fantasy which had entered my mind many years back when I was sitting at my desktop in Münster, rain outside: “How good that would be now! Sitting in sunny California, in a Victorian house…”. Such adventures are much better for the soul than checking off these imperative “1.000 places to see before you die”. Make your own list! Don’t even customize, create!
This is what, towards the end of my thesis writing, friends would ask me: And what will you do after? It was hard for me to picture. I would slowly shake my head and say: “I don’t know!” I have a rather secure research job in academia, which I love. Would I thrive for more? Maybe become a professor? Spend some post-doc time in the U.S. or Australia? Or would I just stay? As of now, gaining this new title is simply that: a new title. A “Dr. phil.” that now accessorizes my name, and flatters my ears as the Austrians just *love* to use it. Especially at doctor’s(!) appointments when they address me(!) with: “Frau Doktor”, would you please proceed to room 2. All for that moment.
But what I do notice though: I enjoy “neutralizing” my heavily academic past by plunging into non-academic hobbies. Like reading fiction or playing the piano. And: I spend a lot of time with my camera. “The Nikon” has entered my life in 2009. Together, we have travelled quite a bit, and I have learned a lot during some great photo workshop trips with Rainer Martini.
I believe that the revival of this blog is happening because I anticipate to share some of my future trips and travels, photo projects, or simply some Vienna daily life trivia. So, here we go: No (Inner) Sunset, but Dawn – in full color!
Black sand still between my toes. For a last farewell to the city, I went running along Ocean Beach. I had not planned on that, especially since it had been raining the whole day. But when the rain stopped, I felt a “now or never” moment. I unpacked the sneakers from the suitcase and took the streetcar to the Ocean. There had to be a last enthusiastic good-bye. I thought running would express that.
It was a very special mood at the Ocean. An after-rain ease and bright light towards the Western horizon. The dark purple clouds were still hanging over the beach, but had lost their thews to make it rain more. So I ran, for the last hour before sunset (I should mention I am a very slow “runner”). I picked up a weird, beautiful seashell. When I wanted to rinse it, I was said hello by an underestimated waive, i.e. my shoes were under water. They would now squak.
I was there when the sun set. It was not visible (it usually dips into the water, right there), but the clouds would get just a little rose. The beach was dipped into warm light, and the high clouds gave it an almost artificial, tent-like atmosphere. Then it got dark, and the winds started blowing again.
Now, I am back home. Packing, feeling weird. I had my last imported “Sonntagssuppe” (Sunday soup) from Maggi. The sneakers are sitting on a garbage-can-phone book-tower-arrangement in front of the heater, so they can dry out before going on their suitcase-trip tomorrow. To San Diego.
So. That was it. I am most thankful for a wonderful time, in the Inner Sunset. I guess I have found what I had come for: Sun, solitude, inspiration, and a bit of San Francisco’s magic that keeps me coming back here. My new discoveries, Duboce Park Café, Arizmendi’s Bakery and the concerts at the Chinese corner store will be missed dearly. I also know there will be those moments in Vienna where I miss to just hop onto the street car for the stroll along the beach. The seashell will be my souvenir, in the best sense of the word.
Farewell, San Francisco.
Let’s stay in touch.
It has been a slow Saturday. Around noon, I went downtown to have coffee in the Yerba Buena Gardens (photograph above). The weather was warm, but the sky was overcast, and it felt more like a late autumn day than one in February. But maybe this is my mindset, dealing with the approaching end of a spring spent in San Francisco.
My leaving is a bit easier as I look forward to a few days in San Diego and a car trip to L.A. before going back to Vienna. So, I spent two hours at Borders, taking notes on what not to miss in San Diego. Oh, and Vienna is a nice place too! When I came home, what did I find on TV? Rick Steves, from Europe through the back door, was in Vienna, proudly presenting our old street cars traveling the Ringstrasse. It feels weird to be presented the city I live in by an excited American who poses in front of the city hall – and my work place is almost in sight. While I am typing, Rick is still traveling. In the last two hours, he has been to Tuscany, and is now at the Tate Modern in London. It seems this program goes on for the rest of the Saturday. And slowly am I feeling I should really go visit Europe some time soon! 🙂
I woke up in a slight panic: There are only 3 fully days left in San Francisco! I spare you the usual cry-out of “how unbelievably fast this went by”. Yet, it frightened me, because I am unsure if: 1) I have produced enough text? 2) Had enough sun yet? 3) Enough melon cakes? For the cakes, it is a definite negative.
For the text, I went straight to Starbucks and wrote a bit to a call cappuccino and an apple fritter. For the sun, I got some when I was walking back and forth between the laundromat and my house.
Washing! How easily I can still fail American daily life. I DO know how to generally manage an American washing machine. For a European, this is almost ridiculously simple: Open the lid, throw it all in, pour in some detergent, close lid, choose if you wash “colors”, “bright colors”, “whites” or “wool”, and there you go. There is nothing like a temperature control (this works over the color selection) or spinning speeds, let alone a button to save water. It does it all by itself. Great. The countdown function told me to be back in 26 minutes. That’s quick. But when I came back, it had stopped by 12 minutes, and in the display there was some blinking: “unbalanced”, it read. – What do you mean, washing machine? Is the balance wrong, like you want more money? Are you broken, as in “disturbed”, unbalanced? I walked around the 24 machines, looked for signs, by making sure I did not look like I wanted to steal anybody else’s laundry. Finally, I found a sign INSIDE another washing machine (under the lid), explaining that “unbalanced” would require the washing individual to rearrange the laundry for its final spin. Great placement of the note! So, I opened the lid, “balanced” the laundry, it washed, and I collected it later. All is clean now.
There are still so many things I need to learn in that culture. And I fear 3 days will not do.