Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hamilton-Trenton Marsh

I've just added a new online photo album to my list on the right side of this blog. There is now an album of 40 photos from all seasons in the Hamilton-Trenton Marsh. This Mercer County park is behind my house ("location, location, location!") and gives us beautiful views all year. In the winter when the leaves are off the trees, we can see the whole of Spring Lake from the living room. When the leaves form in the spring, we have less of a view, but this means the birds are back! Having the marsh right next door, we see and hear some interesting species, but since I'm not a birder I can't identify all of them. I have seen the usual robins, cardinals, bluejays, goldfinches but also catbirds, red-winged blackbirds, owls, and a pheasant. I'm still trying to get some good photos of these birds.

The marsh is a great place to walk, with a camera or with a dog! Gladys the Sheltie puppy had an interesting experience months ago when she was tiny: she peered over the edge of the lake's bank and saw a puppy looking back a her. As she tried to get a better look, she tumbled head-first into the water! I should have re-named her Narcissus--wasn't he the Greek god who did just about the same thing in a myth? Almost any time of year there are great nature shots. The swans usually cooperate, and there are usually Canada geese and ducks. At the Friends of the Marsh Photography Exhibit (currently at the Ellarslie Museum in Trenton) I have seen some great shots of more unusual species such as great blue herons and beaver. I haven't been lucky enought to catch those yet. Here are my favorite swan and turtle photos:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Off to Berlin

We rode the superfast train from Cologne to Berlin. It took us only four hours to do what the bus needs twelve hours to do. It didn't seem all that fast, really, unless you try to focus on the ground right next to the track. The buildings and fields further away did not appear to be rushing past any faster than usual. Once at Berlin's mod new station, we were met by our local tour guide and bus. This station is huge with lots of stores and restaurants and lots of glass. (Enrico and our regular bus loaded with our luggage were taking the highway, and managed to meet us at the hotel after our tour.)

Our guide Christabel took us around Berlin and we stopped to visit some of the more interesting sites. First was the Kaiser Wilhelm church which was bombed during WWII. This facade to the right is really all that is left. A modern replacement church was built next to this sight, but the facade of the old church was left as a memorial to things lost in the war.

Eventually we made our way through the city to the Brandenburg Gate. Christabel led us through the center columns which used to be reserved for the kaiser! Finished in 1791, this is the only remaining gate of thirteen that used to stand on the perimeter of the city. Just past the gate is Unter den Lindens Avenue, a street with shops at one end and museums, libraries and performing arts centers at the other. I haven't figured out yet why the Old Library is known as the "Kommode".

It was hard to tell where the former East Berlin starts and West ends, except here by this remaining bit of the wall (below) and Checkpoint Charlie to the right. A lot of the guys from our tour gladly posed for photos in front of the famous checkpoint. The eastern part of the city has been working hard to catch up to the modern west side. I had to refer to my map to see exactly where our hotel sat.

This piece of the wall that wasn't torn down shows how impossible it would be to climb over. It's pretty igh for one thing, and that part that looks like a rubber bumper on top would keep a person from getting a grip good enough to hoist themself over. And then there are rows of barbed wire. Around the city, there are parts of the wall displayed showing the graffitied western side and the immaculate east side.

Finally after a long day of travelling and touring, we relaxed for awhile in our (East Berlin) hotel, a very modern, minimalist place called Moevenpick which is also the name of some German ice cream. This is the kind of place that leaves candy on your pillow. Since we were in Germany, the candy was Haribo Gummy Bears. This was a very fancy hotel by my standards, with a beautiful view out the window, and a bathroom wall made out of glass block. Although we were tempted to stay in that evening and put our feet up, we had signed up for a variety show at the Winter Garden Theater which turned out to be great fun.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I'd like to go back...

I'd like to go back to Rothenburg. We only stopped there briefly on our way from Nuremberg to Munich but I was intrigued by the medieval walled town. I've done quite a bit of reading on the middle ages, and like most people, I suppose, I picture that era as dark and dingy. Rothenburg is a medieval town with half-timber buildings in pleasing colors. It was cheerful-medieval. I didn't have time to check out the Medieval Crime Museum, but one of my tourmates did, and it sounds like this would be an exception to the cheerful-medieval vibe in the rest of the town. I spent my time shopping: I bought a three-piece ceramic German oompah band (clarinet, tuba and drums) and a silver cuckoo clock charm for my bracelet. I couldn't leave Rothenburg without buying a couple of the Schneeballs that they are famous for. These are really just strips of pie dough rolled in a ball and sprinkled with sugar, dipped in sticky-sweet glop, or covered in dark chocolate. They weren't a hit with everyone, bu I enjoyed my chocolate-covered Schneeball.

I'd like to go back to Leipzig. This was another quick stop with just enough time to eat lunch and shoot some photos. We chose a great restaurant--Auerbach's Keller--which was the setting for a scene in Goethe's "Faust". It's underneath a shopping area called the Madlerpassage, and its entrance is maked by scultures of events from its history. Anyway, the food was great. My selction was pork rolled in bacon with cauliflower and potatoes.

I was most excited about another Leipig site, the Thomaskirche. This beautiful church saw Martin Luther lectures, Mozart's organ playing, and the baptism of Richard Wagner. But even more importantly, this is where Johann Sebastian Bach spent most of his career. Much of his revered church music was composed for this gig, he met his second wife here (she was a soprano in the choir), and JSB is buried here. Fo a former music major, this is hallowed ground. I'd like to go bach to Leipzig to get a feel for Bach's city and exploe the Bach Museum!