Browsing "Wanderlust"
Oct 26, 2014 - Wanderlust    No Comments

In search of Vlad

The second post in my series of  haunted places…[in case you’ve missed it, I’ve featured cemeteries and other final resting places earlier this month].  This week it’s a story from a little place in Romania…

A story [based in history]

Once upon a time, there lived a prince in a kingdom called Wallachian.  He was no Prince Charming.  His name was Vlad Tepes.  Stories of his cruelty and thirst for blood abound – stories that make even Stalin, Hitler or Ivan the Terrible seem compassionate by comparison…Vlad was a sadistic bastard and gained the name ‘Tepes’ (‘impaler’) honestly.   His favorite form of punishing his enemies included driving a wooden stake carefully through the victim’s anus emerging from the body just below the shoulder in such a way as to not pierce any vital organs. Best to ensure maximum suffering prior to death and his methods ensured at least 48 hours torture before death.

Impalement was Vlad Tepes’ favorite method of torture, but it was by not his only method. The list of tortures employed by our sadistic prince included nails in the heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially for women), scalping, skinning, boiling, exposure to the elements or to wild animals and burning alive.  He was the one everyone warned their daughters about.

Now, to be fair, it is impossible to verify all of these stories.  There was no such thing as facebook and blogs and cameras and such in the 15th century.   Much of the information we have about evil little Vlad comes from pamphlets published in Germany and Russia and the German pamphlets, were probably politically inspired. In fact pamphlets were a form of mass entertainment in society when the printing press was just coming into widespread use. Much like the subject of Some Celebrity’s latest downward spiral into doom, the life and times of the Wallachian tyrant were easily sensationalized and given the numerous reprints.

Vlad– auf Deutch –was portrayed as an inhuman monster who terrorized the land and butchered the innocent with sadistic glee. The Russian version took a somewhat more measured view, however.  Young Vlad was presented as a cruel but just prince whose actions were directed toward the greater good of his people. No matter what language the stories agree remarkably well as to specifics–Vlad the Impaler was a sick bastard.

How Vlad became Dracula:

His princely father, Vlad II, was called Vlad Dracul (from the Latin ‘draco’, meaning ‘dragon’) after the chivalric Order of the Dragon accredited to him by Sigismund of Luxembourg in 1431. The Romanian name Draculea – literally ‘son of Dracul’ – was bestowed on Vlad Tepes by his father, and was used as a term of honor. Another meaning of ‘draco’, however, was ‘devil’ and this was the meaning that Stoker’s novel popularized.

In search of Vlad:

Vlad was born in the Romanian town of Sighisoara.

They seem to be pretty proud of their native son in Sighisoara.

Sighisoara is a UNESCO world heritage site so should Vlad return from the dead today, he’d still be able to find his way around.

Dracula’s Castle [for tourists]–but really Dominic’s house

Bran Castle, situated near Braşov, Romania, is a national monument and landmark. It was built by the Teutonic Knights in (or around) 1212, after they had been relocated from Palestine to the Kingdom of Hungary.  The fortress is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. In addition to its unique architecture, the castle is famous because of persistent myths that it was once the home to our villain, Vlad the Impaler.  According to most accounts, Vlad  spent two days in the Bran dungeon, as the area was occupied by the Ottoman Empire at the time. Because of the (disputed) connections between Vlad and the fictional character Dracula, the castle is marketed to foreign tourists as Dracula’s Castle.

The castle is open to tourists, who can view the inside by themselves or as part of a guided tour. At the bottom of the hill is a small park to which examples of traditional Romanian peasant structures (cottages, barns, etc.) from across the country have been moved.

The castle passed through royal hands for many generations. For many years at the beginning of the 20th century, it was the principal home of Queen Marie, who, despite her British birth and upbringing, became quite a Romanian patriot. The castle is decorated largely with artifacts from her time, including traditional furniture and tapestries that she collected to highlight Romanian crafts and skills. It was inherited by her daughter Princess Ileana of Romania, and was later seized by the Communist government of Romania in 1948. For many years it was tended to erratically, but after 1980′s restoration and the Romanian Revolution of 1989, it became a tourist destination. The legal heir of the castle is the Princess’s son Dominic von Habsburg and in 2006 the Romanian government returned it to him (Habsburg is currently an architect in New York City and probably never designed something so fancy)

The Real Dracula’s Castle

one final view of the citadel–it was a dark and stormy night day [oh come, oh….you know I couldn’t resist]

The story of how this fortress was constructed also involves a tale of revenge… Early in his reign, Vlad Dracula gave a feast to celebrate Easter. Vlad was well aware that many of these same nobles were part of the conspiracy that had led to his father’s assassination and the blinding and then burying alive of his elder brother, Mircea.  Many had also played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their lifetimes. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes. None had seen less then seven reigns. Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older nobles and their families were impaled on the spot.  The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north to the ruins of his castle in the mountains above the Arges River. The enslaved nobles and their families were forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from a nearby ruin. According to the reports, they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Yep, ol’ Vlad was a sick bastard.

Lake Vidraru–only 1km away from Vlad’s  fortress… I might have impaled people too for that view… It’s amazing.

In the end, I learned a lot of interesting history–some of it quite disturbing–but I didn’t find any vampires, evil villains, or rich princes [Dominic must not have been home], but I did find Vampire Wine–[oh yeah, I bought some]

Aug 17, 2014 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Paddle harder

Love many, trust few, and paddle your own canoe.

“You have to sign this release and watch the safety video, and then will be on our way, and make sure you check the box that says ‘no guide’.”  I looked at my friend Greg, and said ‘No guide?’ and he said ‘Yep, no guide.’  I wasn’t so sure.  I probably needed a guide, and extra time with that safety video, if I’m being honest.

nantahala-river-4

I always feel apprehension and anxiety before any new adventure because let’s be honest, I’m not the most graceful person in the world.  There’s always the chance that the boat I’m in will capsize, the equipment I’m using will malfunction, or I’ll trip, fall, and break something.  Usually once I get started, I’m fine, but those moments before, I’m a giant scared-y cat.

nantahala-river-2
Although floating down the river is nothing to be afraid of.

I took some solace in the fact that the Nantahala is one of the easier whitewater rivers  to raft in the eastern US.  It’s great for beginners [like me!].   The run is 8 miles of Class II rapids with one tiny little bit of Class III rapids right at the end.nantahala-river-3

The water was fast and mostly flat. I am not a good front boat paddler. I’d probably be a worse rear paddler. I got yelled at several times… “paddle harder, paddle harder”. I paddled harder; I paddled my little heart out. I don’t think anything I did mattered. We made it 8 miles down the river without anyone falling out.

I suck at paddling a raft. I’m decent in a kayak, but rafting, I completely suck. But every adventure isn’t always about experiencing the biggest adrenaline rush or taking it to the edge. I don’t have to be the best at everything or have the greatest story to tell. Sometimes doing something I’ve never done before allows me to challenge myself. It allows me to let go a fear… Fear that plagues everyone at some point in life. Sometimes it allow me a chance to be humble and reconnect with my inner self.

Life isn’t always a contest.

nantahala-river-1

May 1, 2014 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Postcards from Seattle

Sometimes I just like to take my camera around a new destination and snap whatever interests me… Enter Postcards from…    Today’s destination is Seattle, Washington. My first visit to the city was in May 2012. I’ve since returned in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.  It is my favorite city in the USA outside of South Carolina.


Although no rooms are available for 75 cents these days

The Space Needle on a beautiful spring day

The famous Pike Place Market

and a self-portrait at the Space Needle

2012.8.24 Seattle Michellee

 

 

 

space needle

 

wwii-planes-museum-of-flight-seattle-washington

And finally, a bi-plane at the museum of flight

Apr 18, 2014 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Out and About in… Palenque

Although only a few hours apart and constructed at around the same time, the  ruins of Palenque are very different from those at Tikal. Both sites are awesome in their own way. Both are huge. Both boast of  beautiful, mighty temples. Both are set in a lush jungle. But both served rather different functions. Whereas Tikal was one of the  most important urban Mayan centres, Palenque was a massive  cemetery, with most of the temples used as ceremonial burial  chambers.  Jose, the guide, escorted us through the main buildings including the:

Temple of the Skull: named after the stucco relief  of a skull, thought to be a rabbit skull, on the front of it.

Image result for temple of the skulls palenque

Temple  XIII: where in 1994 the remains of the Reina Roja (Red Queen) were found.  The bones are thought to have belonged to a 40-year-old woman, and had been  preserved in red cinnabar. Although the bones have now been removed [booo], we were  allowed to visit the sarcophagus in the inside the temple and could see the red  pigment still in it.

Temple of the Inscriptions: a 26 meter high  pyramid with 9 levels, so-named because of the inscriptions discovered inside  its walls. In the 1950s a Mexican archaeologist, Alberto Ruz Lhuiller, was exploring the deep bowels of the temple, removed a stone stab in the floor of a back  room and discovered a big old tomb.  It turned out to be that of King Pakal, one of the most important Mayan rulers. He ruled from 615AD- 683AD, and  lived to the ripe old age of 80, which was positively ancient in those times  when most people died by the age of 40.

Apparently he was really tall as  well, unlike most Maya who are super tiny [exhibit A–all of the pyramids they constructed…have you seen those steps?]. Some historians debated  whether he was actually Maya at all, or perhaps came from Europe or somewhere  like that, although most now agree that he was probably just big because he got  to eat all the best food. [It is good to be king]

He’s still in his  mausoleum in the temple, although unfortunately tourists aren’t allowed to go  inside the temple anymore as people have in the past taken it a bit too literally and graffiti-ed it. There is however a replica of the tomb in the site museum which we later visited, and were also shown a video with some  footage of the sarcophagus as Lhuiller discovered it – all covered in  centuries stalactites and stalagmites. Just seeing the pyramids from the  outside is awesome, it must have been absolutely mind-blowing to find all that  stuff inside.

Grand Palace: unlike the others, people weren’t  buried in this one. Instead it was an administrative and  residential block. It’s an intricate maze of courtyards and corridors leading  into rooms with some old beds and  some old Maya toilets. The tower on the top is thought to have been used  for astronomy, although the very top part of it was reconstructed in 1930  according to how a French archaeologist thought it would have looked, but now  they reckon it probably wouldn’t have looked like that after all, but just been  flat. Oops. [those French]

Aqueduct: the Maya controlled the  course of the Usumacinta river which flows through Palenque to prevent  floods and damage to the buildings. There are some pretty waterfalls around  there, too.

Cross group: made up of the Temple of the Cross, Temple  of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross, a set of tall narrow temples with elaborate carvings. One has a cross on  the top, although it’s not actually a cross, but supposed to represent the tree  of creation.  We also walked along a jungle trail where Jose pointed out  various different types of tree (cedar, mahogany, sapodilla, avocado, mango and  almond), we got to swing on vines Tarzan-style, and also saw several examples  of un-excavated ruins.  The city was so huge that they reckon only about 5% of the structures have  actually been uncovered. Jose pointed out a huge mound behind the Cross group of  temples that is in fact another temple, which must have dwarfed all the others.  There are no plans to uncover it at the moment though as the jungle it is buried under is so rich in wildlife that a lot of poor spider monkeys, howler  monkeys, pumas, jaguars, toucans, parrots and other birds would be made homeless  if they cut it down.  So we’ll just have to make do with the 5%, which is  plenty impressive as it is.

Mar 14, 2014 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Chiapas and Zapatistas

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

The next few Flashback Fridays focus on Mexico, Guatemala, and other Mayan sites that I visited during my study abroad/independent study on Mayan Art and Architecture.

I have been avoiding Chiapas since I decided to stay in Campeche. [Yes,  I do realize that Palenque is in Chiapas,]  I have been avoiding it due to the Zapatistas that seems to thrive in the area.  Maybe I was overreacting; maybe not, but the Zapatistas scare me.  Chiapas is a poor state, and their grass-roots attempts at reform generally appeal to poorer people.  Who knows?  They may want to kidnap an American as part of their protest of NAFTA.  I’m attempting to not appear American.  I have my People in Espanol magazine, my Luis Miguel, Cristian Castro, and Thalia CDs.  I am more than willing to pass for the Spaniard that everyone seems to think I am.

Somewhere between Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal the bus was stopped.  Scary dudes with big  guns boarded the bus.  Two people were ‘escorted’ off.  I say they were kidnapped, but what do I know.  Maybe they wanted to go with the men  in black suits with the big guns. The bus left.  They were not on it.  Why?  Who knows, but that’s exactly what I am afraid of… Scary men with big guns taking me off the bus to who knows where.

No need to remind me; I know I am in Zapatista territory.

See, I am in Zapatista territory…. I am probably going to die here… At least I am not in possession of any of the ‘forbidden’  items: Armas [oh the irony], seeds [for planting drugs or I don’t know maybe corn], or alcoholic beverages.  And I am not planning to sell wood illegally or destroy nature.  Maybe they will leave me alone after all.  Hopefully San Cristobal will be a pleasant city to pass a few days in.

Mar 7, 2014 - Wanderlust    No Comments

San Cristobal de las Casas

The first thing I noticed when stepping off the bus at the San Cristobal bus station was just how cold it was. As in see your breath cold. And having just come from the jungle in Palenque is was quite a shock to the system.  The city, located in the state of Chiapas, borders Guatemala, and is nestled in pine forest in the Jovel mountain valley at 2100m [about 6500ft] above sea level is considerably cooler than most other places in southern Mexico. Additionally San Cristobal is not a city usually visited by tourists, or at least not foreign tourists.  It doesn’t have any well known ruins, but the state of Chiapas has a lot going for it nature-wise, and  it is a jumping off point for crossing the border into Guatemala by land, which is how I found myself passing a few more days than planned in the authentically quaint town of San Cristobal.

On my first night in town I stumbled into a pro-Zapatista rally.  Now not being one for political events, I meandered on by, but not before getting an earful on why the Zapatistas are the best political party in the country [political propaganda at its best].  The air was getting brisk so I bought one of those ubiquitous colorful woven sweatshirt.  I thought about buying a blanket too, but then practicality won out as it would be several weeks before I would be headed back to Campeche. So sweatshirt it was.

San Cristobal takes its name from first bishop of Chiapas,  St Christopher [patron saint of travelers] and Bartolomé de Las Casas, who defended the rights of indigenous Chiapanecos.  Chiapas has Mexico’s second-largest indigenous population, and has a history rich in ancient Maya culture, many traditions of which are kept very much alive even today in the several Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages surrounding San Cristobal.  It also has a legacy of Spanish colonization, which is apparent in the beautiful buildings and churches all around the place, as well as the not so beautiful plight of the impoverished and  historically mistreated indigenous communities who continue to struggle for land and equality today. San Cristobal was one of the main cities taken by the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) in the 1994 uprising, and although the violence has quelled since ’94,  the Zapatistas are still very active in their campaign for justice – I  saw [more than one]  huge demonstration against the Zapatists in the zocalo while there, and one rally for them. Go figure.

San Cristobal wasn’t entirely what I were expecting, especially when you consider the climate, and there were definitely a couple of unexpected low points to this leg of the journey; but these things happen, it’s what makes travel interesting. Aside from that, the food was amazing, and the scenery beautiful.

Whilst in San Cristobal I have  also:

  • saw a pro-Zapitista rally at the church  [this is the church, but I didn’t dare break out the camera during the rally]

  • wandered the colourful cobbled streets

  • admired the colorful VWs scattered all over town.[I’m not sure about the story behind the VWs, but there were several older model of colors in various places in the city]

  • browsed through the colorful craft markets where indigenas sell beautifully woven goods and Zapatista-related souvenirs [which somehow seems wrong to me]

  • climbed up another small hill to the Templo de Guadalupe (which has a very scary looking white porcelain Jesus in a bright purple robe, and a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe adorned with flashing fairy lights)
  • finally, enjoyed a night of Mexican folk music, tacos al pastor, and some honest-to God Tequila at a local restaurant/bar

Jan 3, 2014 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Loving nature in Chiapas

Hello, all. For 2014 and beyond, I am staring a new feature called Flashback Friday featuring previous travels and pit stops.  It will be on the first Friday of each month, and hopefully enjoyable for all, including me since I see my travel days being limited the next few years while I am headed back to the classroom.  First up, my adventures in Mexico and especially Chiapas, where I visited several times while I lived in Mexico during my last sojourn as a student.

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

In 1999, 2000, and 2004, I spent a large chunk of time traveling in Mexico.  Visiting Chiapas was one of these chunks of time.  I was here in 1999 and 2000.

Chiapas is not one of my favorite places in the world. It is one of only a handful of places in the world that I did not feel welcome or safe thanks to the Zapatistas who live in the area yet not only did I go, I went twice.

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In case you were confused as to where you were.

I was also there with my dad– who stood out negatively in every way…speaking English too loudly, making inappropriate eye contact, wearing socks with sandals, you name the infraction, he probably committed it. Needless to say, my stress level was at an all time high, with the constant boarding of the policia searching for who know what, and my dad saying, much too loudly I might add, ‘why do you think the police took those tourist off the bus?’ Not for a guided tour, I can bet you that…now will you just pretend to read the magazine and SHUT UP.  I was at my wits ends, and really wanted to ship him back to Cancun, but he really wanted to spend time with me, and I thought it best that we be out in nature rather than try to explain intricacies of Mayan history to him.  And let’s be honest, for anyone not overly fascinated in art and architecture, what I do on a daily basis, it boring…especially when it comes to writing my thesis–who wants to watch someone do that?

Misol-Ha

Misol-Ha is a spectacular 115 foot waterfall right smack in the middle of the jungle…nature at its best.  At its base is a huge plunge pool surrounded by lush vegetation; it’s perfect for swimming. [Movie note:  It’s the waterfall in the Predator movie, or so I’m told.  I’ve never actually seen the movie].

misol- ha 2

A wet, slippery path leads behind the falls to a cave.  You can pay 10 or so pesos to explore it or wow the gatekeepers with your knowledge that 1. you are an American who happens to speak Mayan and 2. have blonde hair and speak damn-near perfect Spanish in a Castillo accent [at least according to the Mexican I encounter on a daily basis.]   Either way, I kept my pesos.  At one time, a plank of wood was balanced precariously over the cliff edge.  It looks like it could be a diving board or a lookout spot from which to view the falls, but it’s neither.  It’s just an unsafe piece of wood hanging out over a cliff. If someone hasn’t already toppled off the edge, they will one day. Don’t be that person.

Cascadas de Agua Azul

About 40 or so miles from Palenque, the Cascadas de Agua Azul – exist. They originate in the municipality of Tumbalá, where the Shmulia, Otulun and Tulia rivers meet. And boy are they beautiful.
Agua Azul

The turquoise water gathers in cool natural pools that are perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot day. Some areas are cordoned off and can only be admired from man-made boardwalks and viewing platforms. The swimming areas are clearly marked and easily located thanks to the shrieks of people flinging themselves from rope swings. Only swim in the designated areas and don’t get out of your depth as the currents can be strong and people have drowned.  Don’t be one of those people. Just enjoy their beauty.

As a side note:  the nature in Chiapas is raw and beautiful.  I noticed that I used the phrase ‘don’t be that person’ twice.  It’s a place where nature is so beautiful, so wild, you just want to touch everything, be as close as possible, but seriously, be careful.

Nov 24, 2013 - Wanderlust    No Comments

If I weren’t a muggle

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.                                                          Albus Dumbledore

muggles can't see it

On July 2, 1997, I wandered into a bookstore in Manchester, England looking for a book to keep me company on my train ride to Edinburgh.  The sales clerk suggested a new book that had just come out three days ago called ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’.  I flipped through it and thought–seems interesting enough…probably written for middle school aged kids, but it will be a quick read and I’ll have a book to trade when I get to Edinburgh. On my train trip north, I became immersed in the wizarding world of Harry Potter…of how boy of 11 found out he was a wizard and he and his friends were able to thwart the most evil wizard of all.  I finished the book right before we pulled into Edinburgh and promptly put Harry Potter out of my mind. We weren’t re-acquainted again until 2006 [when I plowed through almost the entire series in a two week period and then had an agonizing year wait for the finale]  But by now, you could say I am a bit of a Harry Potter nerd.  I have read all the books and seen all of the movies [including the midnight premiere of Deathly Hallows-Part 1 in Trujillo, Peru] multiple times.  I feel as if I KNOW Harry Potter. The following is how I’d imagine my life would be if I weren’t a muggle. If I weren’t a muggle, my life would be completely different, but somehow still familiar.

  1.  If I weren’t a muggle, I could go shopping in Diagon Alley…instead of just Target.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/127203703@N03/15569788692/player/

This is what I imagine Diagon Alley to look like..the real Diagon Alley is in Leadenhall Market which today looks nothing like Diagon Alley.

   2.  If I weren’t a Muggle, I’d be able to access Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/127203703@N03/15545247276/player/

          3.  If I weren’t a muggle, I would either be teaching potions [my                         favorite class] at Hogwarts or be employed as a healer at St Mungo’s              Hospital for Medical Maladies.  My ideal job, however, would be taking          over for Madame Pomfrey at Hogwarts.

         4.  If I weren’t a muggle, I could have gone to Hogwarts for middle and                  high school.

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Old Hoggy, hoggy Howgwarts….

  5.  If I weren’t a muggle and had gone to Hogwarts, I would have had to be sorted into a house. The sorting hat would have encountered a little bit of difficulty deciding where to place me, but according to this quiz, I’d be placed in Slytherin–which is ok because green and silver are my colors… [I wouldn’t be one of those Death Eater Syltherins though].

In my Slytherin sweater

In my Slytherin sweater

6.  If I weren’t a muggle, I wouldn’t have to use the visitor’s entrance at the Ministry of Magic.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/127203703@N03/15545983156/player/

            7.  If I weren’t a muggle, I could have eaten all my meals in an oh-so-elegant dining hall instead of the very generic one at Clinton High School. I fully expected to see The Bloody Baron or Nearly Headless Nick floating through the room or Dumbledore sitting at the head of the table.

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  8.  If  I weren’t a muggle, I could have received mail via owl instead of            the Arden Post Office.

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9.  If I weren’t a muggle, I could have brought my cat to school.  Lucy would have loved that, and she could have helped me study for my OWL exams.

kaos-loves-the-computer-too

Just a few ideas about how my life would be different if I weren’t a muggle and here are a few other photos from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

The cafe that started it all…Where much of the first books were written in Edinburgh.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/127203703@N03/15324474759/player/

Alnwick Castle in Northumberland taken during my 1997 trip to UK before it was Harry Potter famous [the learning to fly on broomsticks lessons were filmed here]…I went to see the Poison Garden [which in my opinion should have found its way into the HP books]

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and finally the beaches of Pembrokeshire, Wales [taken before HP fame during the ’97 trip]…In my opinion some of the prettiest beaches in the world…For the films, they built the Shell Cottage.  I am not sure if it is still there or if they took it down after filming was completed.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/127203703@N03/15383849758/player/

Oct 27, 2013 - Wanderlust    17 Comments

Looking for bears

Let’s go looking for bears

It’s fall… and in my opinion one of the best things about fall is leaf color. We don’t always get a lot of color in these parts mostly because of our schizophrenic weather patterns [yesterday it was 80 and sunny… this weekend 50’s and cloudy] BUT the mountains of North Carolina aren’t too far away and the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway is an easy drive away.

A couple of years ago,I heard about a natural phenomenon called Shadow of the Bear.  It’s in an area of NC more famous for its spectacular waterfalls and day hikes, but in the fall, it’s famous for the leaves.

Let’s go hunting for bears…

no, not those bears [all though those bears are very cute if you come in contact with them in a zoo, not so cute if you come across them while on your afternoon run]…

these bears…

One of the wonderful things about living in Arden, North Carolina is its relative proximity to both the southern Appalachian mountains, the South Carolina coast, and the major cities of Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia.

Less than an hour away, nestled in the southern corner of the Nantahala Forest, in southwestern North Carolina, is one of the coolest natural experiences around…the shadow of the bear.  It happens twice a year–once from late February to mid March and the other from mid-October to mid-November.  The fall event is by far the most popular since it combines fall color with the bear’s appearance.  I like to imagine that the bear is slowing making its way across the mountain on its way to its winter hibernation…or waking up

It’s starts off with just a small peak of the bear’s head.

The bear makes its appearance for about 30 minutes each day [when it’s sunny, of course] each day revealing a little bit more.

If you happen to be into hiking, exploring Whiteside Mountain can make this a worthwhile day trip.  The mountain’s cliffs look like sheets of ice draped across the mountain. The rock is somewhere between 390 to 460 million years old [what’s 70 million years between friends]. The 2-mile ‘moderate’ trail starts as a old logging road and takes you on top of sheer 750-foot high cliffs [plenty of railings for safety].  Follow the road for about a mile until you reach the top. The trail continues about 1/2 long the ridge of the mountain, plenty of places to enjoy the views from the rock face. There are quite a few “educational” signs along the way to add interest. Toward to end of the walk along the mountaintop, look for the highest point with the rock carved “Alt. 4,930 ft.” The last 1/2 mile part of the trail is a steep downhill section that leads you back to the logging road near the parking area.

The best viewing spot for the shadow of the bear is right off Highway 64 at Rhodes Big View Overlook.

Follow your travel dreams– even if only one weekend at a time.

Oct 13, 2013 - Wanderlust    8 Comments

Happy Birthday Ampelmann

Today is Ampelmann’s birthday.  Let’s all start to sing…Happy Birthday to you…Happy Birthday to you…Happy Birthday dear sweet Ampelmann…Happy Birthday to you.

 Wait, who/what is Ampelmann, you ask?

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This is ‘die Ampelmann’.  He is a cult hero, and certainly one of my favorite symbols. EVER. He is Berlin born and Berlin bred.  Ampelmann is the East German pedestrian traffic light symbols. He was ‘born’ on October 13th 1961 making today his 55th birthday.  Ampelmann is the brain child of East German psychologist Karl Peglau when, in response to the growing threat of road traffic accidents, he introduced the first pedestrian traffic signals to the GDR capital.

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And so the traffic light, which up until this point had only directed car traffic, was joined by the pedestrian traffic light. Ampelmamm was designed to be cute and appealing to drivers because according to the psychologist Peglau “road-users react more quickly to appealing symbols”.  The cute and adorable traffic light symbols fulfilled their purpose and found widespread acceptance both on the street and in social life.

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In 1982, after 21 years’ successful use, ampelmann made his film debut. Friedrich Rochow started casting them as guardian angels in his road safety training film for children. The ampel men, in the form of animated figures, were always at hand with valuable tips in hazardous situations. The ampel men were also deployed in other areas of road safety training.  EDIT:  I would have been enthralled to watch a safety video staring ampelmann as an elementary school kid.  All we got were terrifying videos of kids being run over by buses.  I still remember those. School children who could demonstrate good road safety knowledge received the ‘Golden One’ badge with the green ampel man or a special ampel man key fob. The two ampel men also adorned the card-game ‘Take care in traffic!’. Kindergarten children made their acquaintance on rubber stamps and in coloring books.

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I had to show utmost restraint in not purchasing every.single.item. in the store.  Except the flip-flops.  They could keep those.  

And this is what the East German school kids got for excelling in traffic safety. But ampelmann was East German in design and only lived on the east side of Berlin.  Following reunification, the ampel men were supposed to disappear along with just about everything from every day East German life. The West German authorities, politicians, and traffic engineers were critical of the little green men on the East German traffic lights.  Who in their right mind could be critical of these super helpful, super adorable traffic signals.  I just want to take one and cuddle with it. In 1994 work started on replacing them with the euro traffic light man. Current arguments tried to argue that only the electronics were antiquated not the symbols, but bureaucrats being bureaucratic did not care.  They wanted the symbol removed from current usage. In 1996, industrial designer Markus Heckhausen adopted the discarded little green and red men. [Yay for Markus!] The first Ampelman products arose from the original glass of the traffic lights: as red and green ampel lamps. [I would sell my first born child in order to have one of these lamps.] The media response to the lamps and the story of the symbol’s disposal was huge, and so the extinct ampel men was rescurrected and once again entered the consciousness of the Berlin population.

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Oh.my.word. An Ampelmann cafe.  How adorable are the two ampelmen holding up the hostesses’ stand.

A resistance movement began. Under the slogan ‘we are the people’, committed citizens strove to prevent the abolition of the last remaining symbol of East German daily life. The ‘committee for the preservation of ampel men’ was founded. With many creative protest actions, it succeeded in drawing greater attention to the comical figures. When the media joined the campaign, politicians and authorities could no longer avoid entering into objective discussions.

The advantages of the ampel man, such as the clear symbolic and his wide-spread acceptance, could no longer be denied. And due to his stocky figure, large head and hat, the illuminated surface of the East ampel man was almost double that of his western competitor. This made him more recognizable which is particularly important for children. In 1997, it became clear that the beloved East German ampel men had been saved and would retain their place on the urban landscape.

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Yes, I bought ampelmann earrings.  No, I am not ashamed to wear them every day, and I do.  Or nearly every day.