Friday, December 9, 2011

An Overnight On the North Country Trail

Andy on Cole Creek Bridge

Our second day of hiking featured on and off again rain but the temperature was actually rather warm considering what we had been expecting. By the time we reached this new bridge over Cole Creek we had hiked some 13 miles and were quite ready for the end of the hike and the much-look-forwarded-too burritos at the Sportsman's Bar in Newago.
Sunday, December 4, 2011

I joined Andy Mytys last weekend for an overnight backpacking trip on the North Country Trail. Together we are working on a project that we hope will draw people to the North Country Trail and associated side trails. We are hoping to develop information that will entice people who want a wilderness experience in Michigan's Lower Peninsula and want to minimize time spent on roads. To achieve this goal we have to evaluate the ecological diversity, availability of re-supply points, enticing starting and ending points, to name just a few.  To tackle this job we need to determine where important and interesting features of the North Country Trail and other nearby trails are and how far they are from each other. The best way to do this is by falling back on classic surveying methods and using a measuring wheel and walking all the sections of trails that we think could be of interest. For those wondering a measuring wheel can be best thought of as a single-wheeled device that you push in front of you and as it rolls along a counter ticks over at precise intervals. The wheel we are using ticks over at one foot increments. While it isn't terribly heavy it is still a burden to push along even on the moderately gentle hills of the trails we are exploring. This is a project that will likely take quite some time to complete. When you can only tackle sections a weekend at a time and have to worry about the logistics of managing car shuttles you can only go so far: we were happy to do 24 or so miles on this trip. We were expecting to spend the weekend hiking in what could be pretty cruddy weather. The forecast had predicted high temperatures in the upper 30s to lower 40s and plenty of rain. The nighttime low was predicted to be around freezing and Sunday seemed to be a bit better. These conditions are not our favorite to hike in. It's especially bad when you have to deal with wet conditions around camp. We met Jim who was going to join us for a bit of hiking and help us with the car shuttle around 09:00 and a drizzling cold morning. It was about as expected and looking at the weather radar had convinced others that it was only going to get worse and so they decided to stay home. Since the first bit of the hike was only going to span about 3.3 miles we just tossed on our rain gear and set out. It's easy hiking and we enjoyed the walk even though the weather wasn't ideal. The weather was not great but in its own way it contributed to a nice feeling I think we all experienced. The rain which brought a bit of mist gave the world a peaceful if wet air about it. We spent a ridiculous amount of time driving from 16-Mile Road to Cleveland Drive. We had to first retrieve the car at 96th Street. I think we may have mis-understood the advice Paul had given us and resulting in us taking a rather bumpy and very round-about drive back to 96th Street. That can happen with the numerous ATV and Forest Service roads that criss-cross the region. However, once we got the shuttling done things would move forward quite smoothly for the rest of the afternoon. We dropped the car off at the endpoint of our hike (M-20 in Newago County) and Jim drove us to Cleveland Drive which is about 20 trail miles away. We said goodbye and once again donned our rainwear and put our backpacks on and struck out along the trail once more.  I had predicted that we would not see anyone else on the tail and so was surprised that we did encounter a day hiker. Assuming we understood what he was doing correctly we figured we would see him later in the day as he returned to Pierce Road which was beyond where we planned to camp at Bear Creek. We never saw the fellow again. Given the time of year and the weather I was not surprised that we really did not see or hear all that much as we walked through the forests. I don't think I ever heard the honk of any Canada Geese or the warble of Sandhill Cranes both of which you sometimes might hear even this late in the season. The sound of rain pattering against my poncho was pretty common but at least the rain wasn't hard and often we had significant stretches where it did not rain at all. The hiking was easy and all in all the weather rather more mild than we had anticipated. Shelf FungusSuper Colorful Moss in Fall

One very nice thing about this time of year is you often see colors that can really pop out at you. You see this here in these pictures taken on consecutive afternoons. It is a shame I could not really capture the depth of beauty that we got to experience as we crossed creeks like the unnamed creek and Tank creek on the first day.
Saturday and Sunday, December 3 and 4, 2011

One particular highlight of the day was passing through pine and cedar groves as we strode past the various creeks along our path. The colors this time of year are deep and rich. I wish I could have photographed them capturing the rich dark green of the live needles, the wonderful  brown of the dead needles that softened the forest floor, the red-tinged bark of the trees that we passed by, and of course, the reflections from the clear creek water that burbled on by. However, with just an iphone handy and time running against us it was not meant to be. Some of the prettiest portions of North Country Trail in Manistee National Forest can be found around creeks. Our campsite in the pines that are near Bear Creek was not the absolute prettiest of these places but it was still one of the nicest campsites I think I have pitched a shelter at in quite some time. We reached that site just before 17:00 and were pretty well set up before it got dark. We had staggering amounts of time to do with as we pleased before going to sleep. After all, you can only really lay in a comfortable sleeping bag for so many hours. Taking advantage of the spaciousness of my Trailstar we shared a very lazy dinner that easily used up a couple of hours of easy chit-chat and adequate backpacking food. We did hear, at least I think we did, a couple local boys yelling to each other but I am not sure if they were on the NCT or somewhere near on Pierce Road. I expect it was the latter. Eventually it was time to sack out and we timed that pretty well as the rain which had been holding off finally returned and continued throughout the night finally coming to an end a couple hours before sunrise. Campsite at Bear Creek

Our campsite at Bear Creek was excellent. The pines helped shelter us a bit from the steady rain that fell during the night. I used my Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar which is very roomy and gave us plenty of comfortable space to enjoy our dinner together before Andy retired to his much smaller poncho-tarp shelter.
Sunday, December 4, 2011 (morning)

I am so glad we were able to set up and take down camp when it was not raining. Sure we had to pack up wet shelters but it is so much more pleasant to do camp chores when you are not getting soaked in the process. This was probably even more appreciated by Andy since his shelter was his poncho.  We will likely never win any awards for quick departures from camp. I know I could have been more efficient than I was. We probably came close to using up 2 hours from getting ourselves moving to actually leaving camp. It was just shy of 09:30. We figured we had about 14 miles of hiking to do and that meant we would likely reach the car at the trailhead at 17:00. It was overcast but not yet raining. It was also considerably warmer than the day before. i doubt the nighttime low temperature dropped below 40 degrees and it was certainly climbing well into the mid-upper 40s as we left camp. Unknown Dead Critter

We aren't really sure what this not-long-dead animal is. Maybe an ermine or something like that. It is a bit hard to tell from the photo but the animal is pretty much all white fluffy fur except for the black tale. The photo looks the way it does because I shot it with my iPhone 4 through the Aquapac bag which may once have been optically clear but I don't think it is any longer.
Saturday, December 3, 2011

The rain would come and go, fortunately during the mile-long stretch of trail through a clear cut region the weather was calm, but it was never terribly intense. Really the weather was more annoying and inconvenient than anything else (you don't want to have a nice lunch if it is raining and taking a bathroom break is always a pain). At times on Sunday I certainly felt as though we had actually walked quite a bit farther than the map seemed to suggest we should have gone. That would turn out to be mostly an illusion. Sunday also would lack much of the really lovely creek crossings we had on Saturday though  you shouldn't get the impression the trail is dull. After all if you look for things to admire you are bound to find them and the supremely brilliant green moss runs we found are an great example of that. By the time we passed the place where last year a friend of ours jammed her ankle and Chuck came to fetch her we were starting to count the miles we had left to go to reach the car. When we reached the next milestone it seemed like we surely must be almost done as we paused to take stock and make some adjustments (listening to a couple big dogs at a near by though out-of-sight house bark up a storm) we were definitely dragging a bit. We were almost to the point where we were making guesses how many thousands of feet we had to go before reaching the new bridge over Cole Creek which we knew was about a mile from the trailhead. At about  16:10 we reached that bridge and knew our journey was almost done. Hurray. Our legs were tired, our feet sore, and we wanted to have a good hot meal. By 16:30 we were at the trailhead and the rain was drizzling down once again. But the overnight hike was done and we had accomplished what we had set out to do. We were happy; the trip was definitely a good one.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Turkey, Days 11 & 13: Istanbul Part 3

Reader's Note: The visit to Cappadocia (Day 12) will appear in the next post. I wanted to consolidate all the Istanbul days in a series of related posts.

Birds of IstanbulTurkish Hat and Mom

We did not need to leave for the airport until late morning. We took some time for one last walk around the area near the hotel. We found ourselves walking across the Hippodrome and soaking in some final sights on this last gray morning. One of those sights was this impressive flock of birds that were swooping down on some sort of food. It was definitely a feeding frenzy and perhaps a bit reminiscent of something out of Hitchcock's The Birds. You can get a better sense of things by watching the video clip below.

Perhaps you recall the wall of hats from our first day in Istanbul(link). We returned to that store to try on a few more hats and had I found something that I felt would fit well in cold windy weather I would have bought a hat. Mom had better luck and purchased the hat you see here.

It is another rainy day here in Istanbul. With clear umbrellas in hand we sallied forth to the tram line to the station on this side of the Bosphorus by the Spice Bazaar. Our hope was to take a ferry to near where we wanted to go and after some diddling about and wandering about we found the ferry boats and learned as the rain continued to drizzle on down was that the ferry we wanted did not run all that often. We elected to not wait and went to find a bus to the area of the church of St. Savior in Chora (Kor-ah). It took a bit of work but we figured out the buses (and learned too late that you cannot buy passes on the bus but have to get them at kiosks that we have yet to really locate). The buses though do seem to run efficiently even though you have to buy tickets elsewhere and the bus station by the ferry dock is a congested and somewhat dangerous place. This church was built sometime around 1320 and today it is a museum. It never was anything but a church and what we got to see was impressive if you are particularly interested in iconography done in the form of tile mosaics. I have to admit that I am not really one of these people though I admit perhaps some of that is due to the fact that it is hard for me to really see what is being depicted.

church of St. Savior in Chora 1church of St. Savior in Chora 2

The church of St. Savior in Chora is a smaller church but it seems to me that it is in very good shape. While I find it hard to really see this type of mosaic tile art sometimes tough and certainly miss a lot of the imagery it is still impressive in its own right.

We caught a taxi to Sentral (?) Istanbul which ended up being incredibly inexpensive and we were quickly whisked across the city to what was once some sort of energy production building that puts one in mind of the Tate Modern in London. Unlike that grand building this one clearly has quite a long ways to go before they really flesh it out with fantastic modern art exhibitions. We did see a fantastic suite of architecture photographs of buildings for Le Corvosie (sp). Really great stuff. The university campus that this building is part of is a rather secure campus and it seems to be doing pretty well.

Istanbul Catssculpture

I've mentioned the dogs that are out and about everywhere; cats are too. The majority of the cats e saw throughout our visit to Istanbul were small like this trio here. As you can see people put food out for the cats too but I think Istanbul's cats may have a tougher life than the dogs do.

This was one of the few interesting sculptures we saw in Istanbul Sentral. I imagine in a few years this large building will have a bunch of interesting collections.

This was something of a slow day for us. The lousy dreary weather certainly contributed to that.We were a bit tired of the poor weather and that laid the groundwork for what we planned to do tomorrow. We would take a tour to Cappadocia (the journal of that entry will appear in the next post).

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Topkapi Palce 2Topkapi Palce 3Topkapi Palace 1Topkapi Palce 4

We spent our time touring the Topkapi Palace under drizzling skies. It was moderately crowded and I suspect that it must be far more busy on nicer days. We wandered in and out of buildings trying to absorb the wealth of information available. I know we did not succeed. While the complex is large and many places like the passageway shown here (I think this one connected the Sultan with his harem) show off intricate architecture I think I felt a greater sense of wealth and power in a place like the Alhambra.

Our final full day in Istanbul dawned once more with clouds dominating the sky and rain drizzling down. This poor weather only made us happier that we had taken the tour through Cappadocia the day before. We had a couple places to visit today. The first was the Topkapi Palace which was the home of the ruling Sultans for centuries. We walked through the rain soaked city to reach the palace noting that seemingly fewer people seemed out and out though we did notice some dogs searching for bites to eat. The relative lack of people made me hope that the palace wouldn't be too crowded but that would turn out to be somewhat not the case. We picked up tour information including an audio guide and began strolling around the complex of buildings that make up the palace. It is really rather hard to describe all that we saw; there was just too much You read or listen to the information provided and unless you are paying careful attention the information has a tendency to slide in one ear or eye and out the other. While we saw many clear signs of great wealth such as the incredible clothing that was on display that was often worn by sultans and their families I ended up left with a bit of a feeling that thee palace wasn't as impressive as places like the Alhambra. I am sure this is an unfair view. I am glad that we did explore the palace. Even though I feel I did not get as much out of it as I could have it was worth the few hours we spent there.

Sea of MarmaraBlue Mosque Under Overcast

Looking out on the Sea of Marmara from Topkapi Palace before we left the complex.

The Blue Mosque rising into the unpleasant sky.

When we left the Topkapi Palace it was early afternoon and the weather still had not cleared up. However, the weather did not seem to be stopping people from getting out and about. We were searching for a place to have lunch and as we looked we found ourselves watching a road running race go on by. I've no idea how long a race this was. I do know that it involved lots of people because it had clearly been going for some time when we saw it and show no signs of ending as runners went by to occasional cheers even after we had finished our lunch. It was still too early to simply return to the hotel so we found ourselves walking down to the Spice Bazaar. By this time the wind had picked up and the rain which had been intermittent seemed to be intensifying. We hurried into the bustling bazaar. It seemed to me that it was more crowded here than the Grand Bazaar had been but I suspect that was not really the case. Again I found myself wondering how so many small shops selling much of the same sorts of things managed to get on by but clearly they do. When we left the rain had subsided some and we decided it was time to head back to the hotel to get inside and out of the rain. We walked past vendors selling roasted chestnuts (that must be a tough gig) and soon enough we were back at the hotel with a some time to kill before our evening activity: a visit to see some whirling dervishes dance in what was once a mosque and now is a place for Turkish folk arts (I think that is right).

When we left the hotel for the mile or so walk to where the Dervishes were going to be the weather was still rather cruddy. It wasn't so much that it was cold as it was drearily rainy and a bit windy. We found our way to where we needed to be (I think not that far from the Spice Bazaar) and with the time we had left ourselves were able to locate a small restaurant for dinner. Standard fare food-wise. We found our way to the former mosque with a bit of time to spare, more than enough time so we could mill about with the crowd and have some of the offered coffee. Upon filing into the performance space I have to say I was a bit surprised. It was a large room set up theatre-in-the round style with folding chairs (I don't now recall if they were built-in or not) all around. Certainly a couple hundred people could sit all around if the place was full and it seemed full to me. In the center is a small empty space large enough to hold several people but only just large enough for the dervishes themselves (5 of time with room to move about). The 4 musician who would accompany them set in seats just above and outside the stage. We were first treated to one style of music that I now cannot describe that well. It was interesting but did not leave much impression. Clearly it was local folk music of some sort. The real show though wasn't happening yet. That would start with a different group of musicians filing in followed by the whirling dervishes themselves. Their does seem to be some pageantry involved in this. Perhaps that is not quite the right word as it felt more solemn them that. The music that swelled at this point was completely different from what we had just heard and as it began the dervishes began to move. At first they moved around slowly and then things settled down with a single man in the center with his fellows orbiting around him as all of them began to spin steadily increasing their speed. Arms were sometimes raised high, sometimes held halfway up, and rarely (I think) against ones chest. Head posture varied from person to person with some holding their heads straight while others let them rest on a shoulder. I am not sure if they had their eyes open or closed but I think the latter. Their expression though all seemed to be of intense concentration perhaps rapturous though maybe that is going a bit over the top. It is an impressive display of control especially as you realize that when they stop they show no signs of dizziness. Were I to spin like that for even a short time I would then wobble my way around when I stopped. THey never did. Different men took the central position after slight pauses in the music. It was an intense performance but I am not sure I would say it was joyous or exuberant. Maybe it is not meant to be. The whirling lasted easily 20 minutes and it might have been closer to a half hour. It definitely is an interesting spectacle but I think we all were left a bit underwhelmed in some undefined way. I do not think we were alone in that feeling.

When left the place to find that the rain had stopped though it was still blustery and slick outside. We had to retrace our walk back to the hotel and stopping at a coffee/bakery/restaurant type place along the way was definitely a nice way to end the evening. It was lively in that large restaurant; more lively than the crowd had seemed as it filed out of the whirling dervish performance but surely that is an unfair comparison.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

13th Great Lakes Hikes November Gathering

Ken at McCarthy Lake

McCarthy Lake could be a good place to camp if you show up when RV/Campers aren't around. It is a nice lake just off the NCT and it was a good place for us to, more or less, end our hike after messing up our hike.
—Photo by Andy Mytys

Every year for the past thirteen years when the second weekend of November rolls around I join many other folks for a weekend of day hiking, eating fine potluck food, chatting around a campfire, and generally having a good fine time and getting in a couple of final hikes before firearms deer hunting season opens. It is known as the November Gathering and though it is organized under the umbrella of the Great Lakes Hikes email group (hosted on Yahoo! Groups as, "greatlakeshikes") it isn't limited to members of GLH alone. This year we had a mid-sized group attend as a few folks had to drop out at the last minute which was a bit of a shame. This year some people were able to break away from work a bit early and go on a paddle of the Little Moskegon (I think) River. Others, including myself, John Lawton, and Andy and Elwira Mytys, went up to tackle our section of North Country Trail fall maintenance chores. I know that the paddlers ended up having a good time. We certainly had a good and productive time doing our trail cleanup work even though we did not quite complete the entire section before the sun set and full moon crept out from below the horizon. We got a bit of a late start but the time spent in Lowell was worth it. Friday evening saw pretty much everyone arrive at the Schoolhouse. We spent most of the time chatting either inside or by the fire as the moon rose. My only regret is my strangely dumb decision to fail to bring out the brats and buns for us to have a proper dinner. But that's the worst I can come up with for the evening. It was well after midnight when the last of us, including me, toddled off to our tents to curl up under our sleeping bags or quilts and settle in as the temperature continued to steadily drop towards around 30*F (-1*C). With the moon blazing I know that I wasn't the only one surprised by how light the interior of my tent was. If you didn't know better you would think someone had left the backyard floodlight of the Schoolhouse on. Given how little sleep I managed the night before sleeping in until just after 09:00 when Paul came outside and called out to those of us still asleep that we needed to get our butts in gear was wonderful. John slept through that hale which was completely understandable as he had gotten virtually no sleep the previous night. But when Andy shock his tent and then unzipped it and peered in he did rise and get ready in good order too. Snow on NCT

A few stretches of the North Country Trail had patches of snow like this one near 5-Mile Road in Lake County. On the drive up we saw similar patches of snow as we drove up to our trail section by 13-Mile Road.

Plans were made for the various hikes of the day as people tucked into muffins, fruits, fried potatoes, and more for breakfast. The kids with some of their parents would visit some nearby lakes; another group would trek around 8 miles somewhere around US10 (I think); and the final group which included me would tackle a 13 mile stretch between 5 Mile Road (Lake County) and US-10. This is a hike that is quite a distance from the NCTA Schoolhouse, easily an hour away. Our group of half a dozen (me, Andy, John, Matt, Jim, and Paul) set out just after 11:00 on a warm for this time of year sunny day. We slowly spread out into faster and slower groups. Andy and I found ourselves trailing behind as I took pictures and he paused now and then to make notes of distances as me measured the trail with his wheel. It was a quiet day in the woods. Now and then a bird could be heard and very rarely a gunshot. We quickly moved beyond earshot of the cars that motored down 5-Mile Road. As we walked through the leaf covered sun dappled forest we spotted small patches of light snow sprinkling the ground. It wasn't much snow but it is remarkable how much it was able to hang on as the daytime temperatures reached into the 50s. The walk through the forest generally trended southernly and had us walking into the sun. Soon we came to the Vince Smith memorial Bridge which spans the Big Sable River. It's a rather nice spot with what almost surely must be a spring-fed pool not that far away. There are some good looking camping spots in that area and that would turn out to be a good thing later on. Big Sable River Vince Smith Memorial Bridge

This is a nice bridge spanning the Big Sable River. Not far from the river is a spring-fed pool and there are spots that look quite good for camping. Andy and I crossed this bridge 3 times. On the second crossing we both had the same thought, "Vince Smith must have been quite special to get multiple bridges named for him." That definitely says something about how our minds were working as neither of us realized we were crossing the bridge we had crossed an hour earlier.

The group spread out into its component parts not long after that point. Andy and I moved steadily on completely enjoying the early afternoon. We crossed forest service roads and several ATV two-tracks and then realized that we were no longer on the trail. That happens sometimes as you walk down a narrow hiking trail; you follow the "natural path" and just veer off the proper course. We realized our error when we reached a Forest Service road (it would turn out to be FR8570). We turned around and hurried back to the blue blazes of the North Country Trail. We didn't want to fall too far behind and when we found the blazes we strolled back down the NCT still completely enjoying the day. This is when we should have started to pay a bit more attention to what we were seeing but we knew, were absolutely certain, we were heading the right way. The sun wasn't really in our faces any more. Then we came to a good looking bridge. Vince Smith must have been a member in really good standing of the Spirit of the Woods chapter we decided because he had at least two bridges named for him. We were sure that was the case. Then we arrived at 5-Mile Road and began to wonder why there was a road walk here. Realization dawned on us at this point: we had retraced our steps. We had gone entirely the wrong way. We were back at the starting point. What could we do but laugh. We never were really worried about our screw up as we both had the gear to deal with an unexpected night out if by some fluke chance it came to that. We knew it wouldn't. We managed to get in touch with Paul who was with the rest of the group and near McCarthy Lake by this time. They would continue the hike to its planned end while we would hike to McCarthy Lake and then return to the NCT crossing of 3-Mile Road and wait for a ride there. This type of screw-up has probably happened to anyone who spends enough time hiking in the woods; ours was just a little longer than most. After returning to the Schoolhouse and finding it awash in people and stuff I quickly found that I had little to do before the main meal. After all all I had to do was put my pies out to warm up. Everyone else was either getting their dishes ready or chatting with most everyone else inside. But some people were sitting around the small steadily burning fire. It was nice to sit with them and avoid the truly stunning hustle and bustle inside and children were corralled and meals were prepared for dinner. But in due tme the call came out that diner was ready and thus the bulk of the evening really began. The Saturday evening meal at the November Gathering is always a relaxed boisterous affair with a stunning assortment of food to suit all dietary tastes. This year was no different. Conversations flowed throughout the meal and everyone was having a good time. Some people would drift off to sleep fairly early but those of us who stayed up would drift in and out of the Schoolhouse as the evening settled in. It was a remarkably warm night though overcast. Eventually the impromptu conversations, games, and concerts would all end and a few final hardy souls (including me) would settle in around the hot little fire to enjoy late night brats, drinks, and some last enjoyable chit-chat. It was a great way to end the day and we all shuffled off to bed somewhat past midnight once again. Cold Creek Bridge 2Cold Creek Bridge 2

This is a newly installed bridge that is replacing the old bridge that was broken and also was in a worse location.

Rattlesnake Creek pano

Rattlesnake Creek bridge marks the northern end of a stretch of trail that is muddy and often likely flooded. It's a section that you can easily find yourself stepping into a wet hole as I did. The overcast sky was giving us quite a show as clouds scudded across the scene rather quickly. Canadian Geese flew on by as we hung out on the bridge for a bit.

White River at sunset

As we approached the White River I found myself wondering at how dark it was getting. It seemed as dark as it had een as the sun approached the horizon Friday when we were nearing the end of our trail section cleanup work. I had not realized that it was, in fact, actually nearing sunset as I thought it was earlier than it was. Even with the sky as overcast as it was we still had a hint of color from the sunset.

Sunday is always an interesting day at the Gathering. It is a lazy morning since people tend to stay up late the night before. There is also no reason to rush as most time any hiking we do is typically shorter than the longer hikes of Saturday. Of course it also takes time to clean up the Schoolhouse and I personally think we do a pretty good job of that. The overcast but warm morning rolled on as people figured out whether they would join a hike or simply head home. For my part I joined Andy, John, and Elwira to finish up our trail maintenance and then we would meet the other remnants of the Gathering (Haan family, Jim, Dave, Nancy) who were doing an out-and-back trek from Echo Drive near White Cloud. Finishing our maintenance work did not take that long and by 14:00 we were together again at the M-20 Trailhead that is about 4 miles from Echo Drive. The skies refused to clear but the air temperature was surprisingly warm for this time of year. We hoped the forecast for rain showers would hold off while we hiked to the newly built bridge that spans Cold Creek. This is quite a nice structure and it ought to last a long time. Retracing our steps back to M-20 and then continuing on to Echo Drive would be the capstone of our day's hiking. Abbie put to of our fellow hikers to shame by strutting forth with gusto leaving them to drive back to Echo Drive. This means she hiked close to 10 miles today. The section is a nice one featuring a wonderful red and white pine grove that Julie is absolutely right would make a superb place to take an afternoon nap let alone camp out (barring the fact that there is no water). The views by Rattlesnake Creek were also quite good and we saw and heard a flock of Canadian Geese fly by probably looking for a place to land for the night as sunset was only about an hour away. There is a rather muddy stretch just beyond (south) of Rattlesnake Creek that runs for almost 900 feet across worn out puncheon that gave me some pause. With any luck that stretch of trail will get raised decking sometime in the near future. As the sun set, providing hints of color in the sky, we crossed the White River and walked past a huge field as it drizzled down upon us. The rain didn't amount to all that much and by the time we reached the cars it had stopped. A fine day of hiking had come to an end and with it the effective end of the 13th annual Great Lakes Hikes November Gathering. Larger versions of the photos can be found on this Picasa Web Photo Album

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Turkey, Days 9 and 10: Istanbul Part 2

Streets Around Taksim Square

Taksim Square is the high point of a major tourist district. We got here around 13:00 and like the area around the Starbucks down by the Modern Art museum this is a thoroughly modern street. No narrow twisting streets here.

We had a somewhat better sense of at least the old city after the tour of the day before.  Today we struck out on our own to explore a bit farther afield. That would mean venturing across the waters of the Bosporus to see what another part of the city was like. We used the efficient tram to depart from the Sultanahmet stop which is less than 10 minutes from the hotel; barely 10 more minutes to the stop near the Istanbul Modern. The walk there was brief along a modern very busy street. One thing that quickly caught our eyes was the huge cruise ship that was docked just beyond the buildings. It is always a bit surprising how close buildings are built to the waterfront. All manner of structures from the smallest homes to largest commercial spaces snuggle up against the waterline. I've heard that tides here are pretty limited but what about storms that could bring a storm surge up the waterways. The cruise ship seemed awfully close to the seawall and if that is true then the waters must be fairly deep fairly quickly. I am sure that their are other museums around town besides the Modern. We enjoyed the stroll through the Islamic Art museum and of course the Hagia Sophia is certainly a museum. But the Modern is one of the few museums we have visited so far and I am not entirely sure that Istanbul is known for museums in general. However, the Modern is really quite something.  We left the museum full of interesting modern and older artwork which was worth the visit and began heading to the funicular that would take us to Taksim Square. Along the way we made a welcome discovery of a Starbucks. A nice mid-morning coffee was enjoyed as we did a bit of people watching mixed in with some local canine watching. It is still remarkable how many dogs are just out and about. Many, if not most, have tags so it is clear that some people are looking out for the dogs but the dogs are just that out and about on their own (the ear tags denote an animal under veterinarian's care). They're well socialized and behaved and I must admit I'd not mind seeing similar attitudes if the dogs were similarly inclined personality-wise back home. And I haven't even mentioned the numerous small cats that are out and about too. The funicular was a disappointment. I think we were all hoping for something like we had ridden in Lisbon a couple years ago. That one was a downhill ride and outside. This one was underground and so rather dull. We left the train ride at the top of a big hill and began walking back down towards the waterfront. This was done by following streets that had fairly little traffic and plenty of bustling shops. It is clear that this is a bit of a market district (Taksim Square is a tourist area). Our goal at this point was to visit the Galata Tower which lies on a flat spot somewhat down the hillside. Galata Tower panoGalata Tower pano 2

I believe this panoramic photo spans a view from the southwest to the northwest. The view of the water is mostly facing south.

The tower is 66.9 meters high and is reported by the materials present to be the oldest tower in existence. It has served as a watchtower, a fire-tower, a garrison for soldiers, and also I think as a prison. Today it is a museum to all those things and you ride an elevator to near the top where a restaurant is placed and reached by a spiral staircase surrounded by stone walls (all seemingly circular shaped). The views from the balcony around the rim were quite good though a bit muted as the day was still overcast. Galata bridge and tower

Gazing back towards Galata Tower. The photo makes the sky full of clouds look a bit more scary than it really was but we really did have mostly nothing but clouds during much of the day with a few bright spots like when we crossed Galata Bridge.

We continued on down the hill stopping for a bite to eat at one of the many narrow almost hole-in-the-wall style fast food joints that dots the streets here. A beef and veggies (lettuce, tomato, pickle, potato) filled wrap is I think a pretty common quick luncheon here. It hits the spot. We were going to cross the water using the pedestrian side of the Galata bridge. From that walk we had some fine views of the city skyline that was visible to us on both sides of the water. Those water gleamed a rich green and they must be teaming with fish because dozens of people were standing by fishing rods that were braced against the bridge wall with lines dangling down into the waters below. We saw a few ferry/tour boats motor below and under the bridge and we would come later to realize just how close those boats came to the underside of the bridge later on. We walked past the Spice Bazaar and then started to wind our way through the twisting streets that would eventually take us back to a spot somewhere between the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia and the old cemetery and the Grand Bazaar to our right. After all was said and done we walked at least 11km today as we explored a bit more of the city and we used up much of the day doing it. It was a very good day.

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Galata bridge & tower

Mom and Dad at the dock that swarms with ferry and tour boats. Numerous fisherman are also here and the fish market is definitely quite active. We never did try a fresh fish wrap from one of the boats but I suspect it would have been good.

We began our day with a visit to the Grand Bazaar. It is hard to really describe this place. It is in some ways akin to a large mall with some 4,000 shops. But it is also close kin to an old world inner city shopping district. The bazaar is composed of what I expect were once narrow streets lined with hundreds of hole-in-the-wall sized shops. Nowadays the whole place is covered by roofs with ceilings that are sometimes quite interesting to look at. What makes this even more interesting is that each section seems to host scores of shops that sell the same types of stuff like jewelry, leather goods, or carpets. We found ourselves wondering again how so many shops selling so much of the same basic things can all get by. I can see how the whole place could get incredibly packed and unpleasantly hot at times. There is precious little air moving through the narrow marble laid walkways that seem so common here. It is an interesting place to be sure but I wouldn't think of ever using it as a regular place to go shopping for most things. I find myself wondering if it really is meant solely as a monument to capitalism and trapping tourists. It is worth a visit for the experience I suppose and it is reasonably easy to ignore the store clerks standing outside all calling to you that they have the best whatever to sell you and you really should come in and buy, buy, buy (I think it is worse for restaurants. They all sell seemingly similar foods and the people outside all claim to be the best and that obviously can't be true). Yeni CamiiBosphorus tour 1Bosphorus tour 2Rumelian Castle

We had hints of sunshine as we sat on the boat waiting to depart but it did not last. I think the mosque is the Yeni Camii (The New Mosque). We never did go inside this mosque but if the inside is anywhere as impressive as the exterior it must be quite special.

I'm not sure what area of the eastern shore this is but I think it is just shy of a park and about a kilometer northeast of the second bridge we went under. The buoy shown here is probably nowhere near alone. The waterway here is teaming with boat traffic from very small to staggeringly large craft so navigation aids like this most be quite important. The Rumelihisarı, Rumelian Castle, was perhaps the most impressive thing we saw as we motored along.

When we left the bazaar the skies were still overcast but we had already decided we would head back to the area of the Galata Bridge and the dozens of tour boats that ply the waters of the Bosporus (yes, it is also spelled Bosphorus). We were going to take a ride on one of these boats for a tour up and down (north up and back south). The sun tried to peak out and for a brief time it seemed as though we would sail under somewhat sunnier skies than the overcast that had predominated. We motored out on time with what seemed a fairly full load of people. The boat scraped (well not quite) under the Galata Bridge and was soon moving through the green waters towards the Black Sea (which we would not reach, probably came within 15km of the sea). Their was a person giving a presentation about what we were passing in Turkish and English but it was so garbled that none of us could understand any of it even when we stood near a speaker. Perhaps that is the difference between the unguided and guided tours. Maybe the latter give you a real person who you can actually understand even if they might be on a large boat. Instead we did our best to figure out what we were passing as we went by. Along the way we made a quick, barely pausing for people to get on or off, at Uskudar. We passed by what seemed to be somewhat hilly terrain with hills shrouded by plenty of trees. It was interesting to see yet more various buildings nestling up against the seawall (if it exists at all). We passed under a couple more bridges along the way. All told I think we travelled about 13km We also passed by a substantial castle that looked quite impressive from the water (identified later as Rumelihisarı, Rumelian Castle, which was built in 1451 by Sultan Mehed II). It is a shame that during the whole 90 minute ride the overcast sky seemed to darken though a hint of sickly yellow could be seen below the dark clouds where the sun was trying to pierce a somewhat thinner layer of farther away clouds. But the worst we got was plenty of wind. It was an interesting ride but I just wish we could have understood more of what was said. mehter band

The military band we saw is really worth checking out. The movie you first see isn't that important as far as I'm concerned.

The next stop for us was a visit to the military museum. But we were not going there to check out military history. We were going there to catch a military band concert playing turkish-style music. I think they refer to this as "mehter" (mecht-ter) which features a substantial drum core with a few types of wind instruments and cymbals. After watching a movie that zipped through somewhat overly patriotic platitudes and statements that I don't have a reason to doubt about the nature of military band music. The mehter is remarkable in its ability to push armies along. The soldiers marched in after a great door opened to expose the theatre to the outside with a fountain gushing in the background. 50 or 60 men dressed in red and blue with tall hats came marching in. They were lead by at least a couple senior members who directed them. When the band started to play the various drums from deep kettle drums to higher pitched almost snare sounding drums augmented by cymbals that were clapped together by several players sallied forth. They were accompanied by wind instruments that I cannot name but had a whining but not unpleasant sound to them. I am sure that the rolling thunderous music would carry easily across valleys and when you finally toss in the chorus of male voices raised in song I am confident it would be impressive when heard as an army marched into battle. Listening to the band play has definitely been a highpoint of our visit to Istanbul so far and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Turkey, Days 7 and 8: Istanbul Part 1

Istanbul shop hat wallsteaming turikish bread

Our first afternoon's exploration of the immediate area around the Dersaadet Hotel did not take us all that far afield. We quickly discovered many small stores like the one with this fantastic wall of wool hats (top, —Photo by Jonathan Knight). We visited a pedestrian mall, a little higher-end bazaar as well as finding a pleasant restaurant for a late lunch (bottom) the steaming puffy bread seems to be something of a staple at restaurants that focus on local cuisine.

Getting to the airport and through the preliminaries of getting onboard our flight to Istanbul went quite smoothly. The only odd thing was that we went through security checkpoints twice. The first was right at the entrance to the airport. The checkpoint was rather akin to what you might find at a public building entrance with a belt x-ray machine and metal detector arch.  I wish I could say that the flight went as smoothly as everything else but that would be far from true. While the flight was the right length of time it was far from smooth: it was very bumpy. I can't recall a flight that had anywhere as much turbulence as this one had. Though I did not see it happen I understand many passengers grabbed their vomit bags and filled them. I felt a bit queasy leaving the flight but it wasn't nearly bad enough to cause me to worry that I might loose my breakfast. This was not clear air turbulence. We passed through some stormy weather and I do wish the pilot had come on and said something though to be honest I am not sure what he would say. "Yes, we are experiencing turbulence." I already know that. I'll choose to believe that he was not concerned for the plane and so had nothing to say to the sardine-packed passengers. It took a bit longer than I think any of us expected to get our luggage at Istanbul's Ataturk airport but once we retrieved our stuff it was easy to find the person from the Dersaadet Hotel who was going to drive us to our abode.The hotel doesn't look all that big from the outside but when you enter you realize that though it may be small it is well appointed. We were greeted by a lady, Gozde, who I suppose is best thought of as a guest director akin maybe to a consigliere. She provided us with a wealth of information about the hotel and about Istanbul. It may not always be the best information (we learned later that a ticket sale was overpriced for my parents who could get a senior rate - though we got reimbursed later on after she confirmed that rate did exist; way to go costumer service is top notch). We got ourselves settled in while it drizzled and then started to rain more steadily and  we donned our raincoats and picked up some clear plastic umbrellas (these seem legion around here) and went out to explore the immediate area and get a bite to eat. we are located in the old city not that far from the Blue Mosque (known to locals as Sultanahmet Mosque), Hagia Sophia, and other major places like those. We found a small pedestrian shopping street not far from here and quickly learned that shops that sell all sorts of textiles from carpets to hats were pretty common. We also found a nice little restaurant where we got some Turkish pizza (a plain and meat style) that did a pretty good job of hitting the spot. It was nice to have some fresh and hot food on this dreary wet afternoon (we went back there for dinner and found it far less good than the lunch). At first glance this area doesn't really appear all that exciting but we have learned that first impressions can be wrong and I fully expect that we will have a better feel for at least some of the city after we conclude our walking tour tomorrow.

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Blue Mosque 1Blue Mosque 2

It was rather busy in the Blue Mosque which is named, I believe, for the blue-ish tiles that are all over. Religious art is not to be found anywhere inside a mosque but that doesn't mean you can't find decoration like the tile work of the dome or the stain glassed windows.

We have found that we get a lot out of walking tours when we visit a new city. After you do a tour you have a different view of the place than you held prior to a guided exploration. That was certainly true when we visited Lisbon and we expected it to be so here in Istanbul. We met our guide from Backpackers, a fellow named Ahmed (Ahmet maybe), in the hotel lobby right on time for the start of our tour. It was just going to be the three of us with the guide during the morning and during the afternoon portion a couple of others would join us: a very small tour indeed. We began by walking down the narrow not quite quiet streets with their often non-existent sidewalks (and traffic definitely pays less attention to pedestrians than one might like) to pay a visit to the Backpackers' office to pay for the day's tour. Ahmed had things to tell us as we walked though at this late date I can't really tell you what they were. Our first major stop was at the Blue Mosque (the tourist name of the place; locals refer to it as Sultanahmet Mosque after the Sultan who built it 400 years ago). We took our shoes off before entering but Ahmed told Mom she did not have to put a scarf on over her hair (she could have). I suppose as a major tourist spot trying to really restrict what those not-devout Muslims who mostly visit are given some slack which is an eminently practical approach. When we entered we were quickly taken aback by the size and openness of the place. Like all mosques the interior design is simple. I don't know that I have ever seen an ostentatious flamboyant design which doesn't mean I haven't seen intricate art and artistry such as we saw in the great mosque and church of Cordoba.You never see religious art in a mosque but that doesn't mean you don't get a sense that a place like this is not meant for serious reflections upon the existence of god and ones place in the universe. Blue Mosque View

A view facing the Blue Mosque as seen from the Museum of Islamic Art. The bulk of the day was consistently overcast though we lucked out and it did not really drizzle any.

We then visited the Museum of Islamic (and Turkish) Art. This was once a palace though I am not quite sure for how long it was one. Today it stands as a museum which was interesting enough to check out though a lot of the stuff we saw went in one eye and out the other for me. I think I got more out of the stories we heard from our guide about intervening stopping points like just outside the Blue Mosque and why it has six minarets (a supposed mis-understanding between the architect and sultan. The Sultan wanted golden minarets and did not say how many he wanted but the word for gold and the word for the number six is pretty similar and that was where the mis-understanding occurred). We wandered through the Hippodrome which was once where chariot races took place. We strode passed an Egyptian obelisk that dates back to sometime around 400B.C. and whose hieroglyphs stand out quite stunningly well even today. And then we found ourselves with a substantial amount of free time. Our guide left us to our own devices to find lunch and kill some time before the afternoon potion of the tour would begin. We walked through some twisting little streets trying to figure out what to do and in due course we found a small place to get a bite to eat. Like so many other places it seems to us the entire staff was composed of just men. And I wonder where Turkish women eat if and when they eat out. Perhaps they take their meals upstairs (in this case) and segregate themselves from the men down below. The only people who I suspect mix genders at meals in restaurants are tourists. The lunch though not quite what we expected certainly filled our needs once it arrived. Up to this point I still can't say I have a great feeling about the city per se. Individual structures are remarkable but the feel of the city has not been all that great. I can't really put my finger on why this is. It must be some strange combination of things. But it is not a bad city. Maybe it is just different. obelisk 1istanbul afternoon

The obelisk's hieroglyphs stand out very well which I personally found rather surprising given how old it is.
Dad and I as we wander about the areas around Hagia Sophia. —Photo by Judith Knight

We started our afternoon by visiting Hagia Sophia. This is actually the third building to have that name and be on that spot. The first was built in, I think, the 4th century A.D. and was a wooden structure that eventually came down. The second building was of wood and stone and also came down (fire, I think). The third building which has been around for something like 1,500 years has been a church and then a mosque and since the 1930s a museum. I believe the Hagia Sophia (Hall of Wisdom) was a church for far longer than a mosque and as a church it had all the trappings of a major cathedral of Christianity. When it became a mosque the sultans and, I suppose, Immans did not want to destroy the frescos art works that were meant to inspire christians so they just plastered them over. I suppose that was their way of acknowledging the quality of the work even though it clearly did not fit into their beliefs. When the Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum I guess part of the restoration was to strip the plaster and expose the ancient artwork once more. That really helps bring you a sense of the age and remarkable nature of the building. Entering Hagia SophiaHagia Sophia overviewHagia Sophia Art

Entering Hagia Sophia you quickly get a sense for how large the place is. I think that even if it wasn't lit by modern lighting it would be a fairly bright place overall. My recollection of the Cathedral in Seville is that it felt much more somber though it was easily as spacious. We also had a chance to climb up to a balcony that is about halfway to the roof as I recall. you can really see how the main floor spreads out from up here. And although I don't personally draw any inspiration or religious fervor from the mosaic artwork like the one here that sits above an archway leading to the main area I can understand how many people would.

Hagia Sophia is huge. At the peak of the dome it rises some 55 meters and though I do not know the size of the main floor I feel confident that it is easily as large as grand places like the Cathedral in Seville. Seville feels like it rises a bit higher but standing in the main area you know that the church is vast and meant to be impressive. What makes it all the more so is that the building was built considerably before Seville's Cathedral. We left Hagia Sophia to visit the Basilica Cistern. Nowadays the cistern is nowhere near full but back when it was in use being fed by the Eğrikapı Water Distribution about 18km north of the city through at least a couple aqueducts including the 971 meter long Valens aqueduct it would be totally full of water. From what I have gathered that means it could hold around 80,000 cubic meters of water. For comparison an olympic sized swimming pool holds about 2,500 cubic meters of water. I suppose when it was full the 336 marble columns were wholly submerged and god knows how they could have done any work on the interior structure if something started to crack. Maybe that never was an issue. But today the water is, or seems to be, less than a meter deep leaving 8 meters of open space rising around us. With the indirect lighting the feel of the cistern is really quite special. And, yes, it was used to film those scenes in From Russia With Love when Bond and his Turkish secret agent colleague pulled a gondola from their abode to the Russian embassy. Basillica Cistern 1Basillica Cistern 2

The Basilica Cistern is definitely worth a visit. The photos aren't going to show it off well because I didn't do a good job taking them. In a way it almost feels more impressive today than it would have been when in use. That's because we can actually go inside and see what they did. Sure back when it was in use I am sure it was pitch black but just to build the structure.

The cistern was the last stop on the tour for all five of us (the other two were a couple from Mexico) and we said goodbye to them when we left the cistern. Ahmed then took us to the endpoint of the tour: the Grand Bazaar. He left us there and we took a quick turn through the 4,000 plus shop filled pedestrian mall. I am not sure right now what to think of this place. Perhaps I will get a better sense when we do some extra exploring tomorrow. Suffice to say the place is huge and chock 'o block with what seems to be about a gazillion small shops that are all selling similar things. How these numerous shops can make a go of it is beyond me. We left the bazaar and walked back to our hotel quite pleased with how the day had gone.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Turkey, Day 6: Yakakoi to Derekoi

Above Yakakoi

Yakakoy nestles into the hillside. We were dropped off and we quickly climbed up into the hills that rise above the village.

The night had treated us to some rain and a considerable amount of wind. When we got up for breakfast and walked outside we saw that the drainage at Zeytinada was not up to the challenge of keeping the place from flooding. The sky was full of fairly high clouds and it seemed as though the worst of the heavy weather was probably done. It turned out that we were wrong about that. Not long before we were all to pile into buses to go to the starting points of the easier and harder walks the skies darkened and thunder rumbled. Then it began to pour. Clearly from a safety point-of-view walking along a rather exposed ridge through a thunderstorm was not really a good option.   The walks were cancelled pending a vaguely hoped for change in the weather. We settled in to see what would happen.The storms rolled on through and the rains slowly abated. Some people decided as the weather cleared that doing any sort of walk was just not worth it and went out and about on their own. The decision had been made to see what things looked like around 11:30 and it became clear that as that time approached we would do a walk after all. The walk was abbreviated from what was originally planned but many of us clearly felt that it was better to be doing at least some walking then either stay at the hotel or go wandering about the districts of Bodrum. We boarded the buses to ride to the village of Yakakoi (also spelled Yakakoy) which seems to be built neatly into a hillside. This meant that our walk started out climbing steeply out of town on a cobblestone road. We climbed out into the hills under leaden sky but at least the rain had passed on to somewhere else.We reached the top of a ridge an gazed out on to rock formations like Cheese Rock. This more mountain-than-rock didn't really make me think of a lump of cheese but I suppose to some it clearly does.We were walking, once again, along what can best be described as mountain lanes. The valley we were walking down into now seemed more verdant than anything we had seen so far. There was a small trickle of water, a rivulet that would eventually turn into a river (a small one - a very small one). This lushness made the hike a bit more interesting than it otherwise might have been. In time we picked up another dog. This fellow was bigger than the others we had met with a massive head. He had a thick coat that was definitely in need of a good grooming but he also was clearly quite comfortable with people. That seems to be a trait of the roaming dogs in this country: they get along well with people.  We walked past a couple farms with bulls (one standing by a gate who didn't seem to mind people tromping by). We slowly came into the town of Derekoi (also spelled Derekoy) where we would spend a bit of time visiting an art gallery/cafe. The place is housed in a tower-like house that is really quite something. It was a neat place to visit and we arrived just before the rain that had been holding off finally returned. Day 6 flowersDay 6 Mom and Dad and Bull
Day 6 Big Head Dog

The mountain lane we followed that connects the villages of Yakakoi and Derekoi is well lined with rich foliage (left) like this blue-green plant here. Not long after passing an intersection we came upon this bull (top-right) in his farmstead. I believe that is Cheese Rock in the distance. We had lunch just beyond an intersection where a farm lay. Perhaps that is where the dog I have been thinking of as "Big Head" came from (bottom).

We then piled into a local bus for the fairly short ride to the seaside village of Gümüslük (Goo-moos-look) to spend one last afternoon on the shore of the Aegean.The waters lapping against the shore and upon the islands not far off shore (there is a causeway to some old ruins that we couldn't walk across). Nestling right up against the sea itself are shops and places to eat. There is a strip of sand that I suppose technically can be called a beach but really I don't think deserves the name  It was nice to walk in this village and sitting down for a late-afternoon snack of Turkish pizza (made on a light bread. They called them Turkish Pies and we tried a potato one and meat one). The food was flavorful and hot both of which were such welcome changes from the fare we had been consuming at the hotel.