Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chuckanut Ridge from Arroyo Park

Starting our hike in the early morning light (what there was of it)
Eleven Senior Trailblazers started our hike today at 8:30am, since the trailhead is only a short distance from the Senior Center. It was supposed to be cloudy all day (it was), with a possibility of showers early on. We only had a few minutes when it was wet, which was  relief from last week's very wet hike. There wasn't great light for pictures, but I tried to capture the day.
Some of the local flora and fauna in the mist
There are some spectacular views on this hike on days when it's clear. We saw only mist and whiteness when we got to the viewpoints. The first part of this hike starts out gently upward, but then when we reach the ridge itself, there are lots of roots and exposed spots to deal with.
Apologies to Al, but I had to use this one
Here is our intrepid leader beginning the trek up the wet exposed roots, to a place where there is a sheer drop-off of a thousand feet, with only a tree to hold onto. We all made it around, but the first time I tried this I was completely intimidated by the exposure, so I crawled ignominiously across the rocks instead of stepping carefully out on the tiny ledge. Today I managed to hold onto the tree.
New guy Roger, Lisa, Rich, Chris, Al
At Gates Overlook, we stopped for lunch. It was 11:45am and everybody was ready to stop, after having traveled for what seemed like ages to get here. We hadn't stopped since we started at 8:30. We occupied two of the three picnic tables and had a nice lunch, although we began to get chilly after a few minutes and decided to start back down before a half-hour had passed.
Still no views, but it was a nice temperature for hiking
We began our return trip to the cars and had to keep moving to keep from getting cold. After you've had your lunch and stopped for any length of time, it seems your body temperature begins to drop and no matter how many clothes you put on, you need to get moving to warm up again. Before too long, we were warm again. We had many miles to cover before the cars would welcome us.
First skunk cabbage of the year
Just before the long hike was over, I spied my first skunk cabbage of 2015. These will be prolific in subsequent posts, trust me, but this made me smile with the realization that the winter of 2014-15 is over when these guys show up. By the time we saw the cars, we had covered close to 11 miles (18 kilometers) and 2,800 feet (850 meters) of elevation gain and loss. No wonder I'm so tired as I write this!

In any event, it was a wonderful day, and I am proud to say I am still at my age able to do this sort of thing and still enjoy my evening repast without needing an ambulance. In fact, I'm feeling pretty good right now as I swig the last of my glass of wine.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

The Gate of Salutation
I thought this gate into the Second Courtyard at Topkapi Palace looked a lot like one I've seen at Disneyland. But this palace is so huge that it makes Disneyland looks small. We toured parts of the palace on our last day in Istanbul. Our guide suggested that we visit only part of it, since it is so large that it would take days to see it all.
Model of Topkapi Palace and the part we visited
On the right-hand side of this picture is a diagonal flag that shows where the Gate of Salutation is located in relation to all the rest of it. The palace was first built in the 15th century by Sultan Mehmed II. (All the history of the place, fascinating as it is, is located here, if you want to know more.) I'll just show you some pictures I took of the parts that I experienced, except for a jewel I saw but was not allowed to photograph. Topkapi Palace developed over the course of centuries, with sultans adding and changing various structures and elements. The resulting asymmetry is the result of this erratic growth and change over time, although the main layout by Mehmed II was preserved. We toured the Second through the Fourth Courtyards.
A view of the Bosphorus and the Asian side of Istanbul
Although the weather was pretty awful, with rain and wind, it was still very beautiful, and we saw the Bosphorus below us and the Sea of Marmara, according to our guide. The palace became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and is called "the best example of ensembles of palaces during the Ottoman period."
There were four long couches like this in the Kubbealti
We were led into a chamber that had these amazing couches, where (according to the Wikipedia link) the Imperial Council held its deliberations. I seem to remember the guide telling us that the family of the Sultan gathered there, but I'm just not sure, there were so many places and so much to see.
Line to get into the Treasury
Even though the weather wasn't great, there were still many queues, especially for the most popular places to see. This line took us into the Treasury where we saw some of the most beautiful jewels I've ever set my eyes on. We were not allowed to photograph inside, but I found a picture of the Spoonmaker's Diamond that dazzled me.
Spoonmaker's Diamond
It is the fourth-largest diamond in the world, 86 carats with 49 smaller diamonds. "These surrounding separate brilliants give it the appearance of a full moon lighting a bright and shining sky amidst the stars. Providing an additional beauty to the Spoonmaker's Diamond and increasing its value by as much again, the brilliants are considered to have been ordered or arranged either by Ali Pasha or by Sultan Mahmud II – though this, as all other details of the diamond's origins, is doubtful and disputed." (from the Wikipedia link)

The name comes from a legend that the diamond was found by a fisherman who didn't realize its value, and he showed it to a jeweler who pretended to be uninterested in it but offered him three spoons in exchange. Nobody knows for sure, but seeing this diamond is certainly something not to be missed if you get there. Plus the royal thrones that are encrusted with rubies, diamonds, emeralds and pearls just took my breath away. All the jewels I saw are memories now, but I sure did enjoy seeing such opulence.

There was much more, but mostly I have learned about the history of this ancient place from the Wikipedia links I have provided you. To have the privilege of standing in a place of such historical significance like the Topkapi Palace is something I will cherish my entire life.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

It's so good to be home

Early morning light coming through the trees
I finally feel like I'm back into my routine, after having gone on a really nice walk with the ladies this morning. Everyone wanted to know how it was in Turkey, and I responded that it was mostly positive, although I have to say there were stressful moments. I am now looking back on my trip with fondness, and I can say without hesitation that I would return to Turkey if given the chance. The people were wonderful, and now that I am home with only my memories, it makes me smile when I think back on all the adventures. I'll be posting about Hagia Sophia and the Cisterns soon, but for now I'm just happy to have made it back without getting sick or having had any travel delays.

I learned that the day I returned, Tuesday, it began to snow in Istanbul and kept up for two days, canceling flights and causing more than 800 traffic accidents. Public transportation was jammed up for those two days, with more than two feet of snow having fallen before it was all over. I snagged this picture taken in Istanbul on Thursday:
I was really lucky to have gotten away when I did. In fact, I had no idea any of this happened until I saw it on the news. According to that caption, the snowstorm broke a 28-year record in the city. Guess my guardian angels might have had something to do with it all. Or something. In any event, I'm glad I'm home and sleeping through the nights!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A soggy Goose Rock hike

West Beach at Deception Pass State Park
Our day started out well: twelve Senior Trailblazers met at the Senior Center to carpool to the Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island, to hike up to Goose Rock. It's a fairly long drive, so we got started on the beach a little after 9:00am, with a light rain already falling. It had been raining on the drive, but since the forecast was for "occasional showers," we felt sure it would probably stop soon.
Misty scene from the beach
As you can see from the picture, the sea was almost the same color as the sky, with little color to be seen anywhere, except from our colorful rain gear. After a short time hiking, we felt that the rain had stopped, for the most part, so many of us took of our rain jackets.
Rich, Doug, Chris, Rita, Peggy, Al, Susan, Linda, Ward, Steve
The only two on the hike who are not in the picture are Karen, and me behind the camera. The Deception Pass bridge is visible behind us. All pictures were taken with my iPhone, since I didn't want to take my camera out in the rain. At this point, however, it looked like I could have brought it after all. But this cozy scene didn't last long.

A few minutes after this picture was taken, it began to sprinkle and we donned our rain gear again. Then the sprinkle turned to rain. Just a shower, we all thought. However, the shower didn't stop and before long the conversation turned to other things as we made our way up to Goose Rock. There was no view to be had, just mist, so I didn't take any pictures. Plus, I had forgotten to bring my new Seattle Sombrero, so I was hampered by my inability to keep my glasses from getting wet.
Huddled under a tree on the summit
Do we look wet? Well, we were. After a quick lunch, Al asked if he could be forgiven for taking a shortcut back to the cars. He didn't get any objections, and we pulled the remainder of our rain gear out of our packs. For me, this meant my new red poncho, which replaced my soggy raincoat. By the time we reached the cars, we had only covered five-and-a-half miles in total, when we had planned a longer hike. Nobody minded a shortened hike today.
I circled Goose Rock on the map
I decided to show you a picture of the entire park, since I didn't take many pictures. It's a pretty place, and we will be back again before too long. Hopefully the weather will allow us to hike further and take more pictures of our day. Although it was wet, it was my first hike after my trip and I got to chat with my friends about Turkey, and it was good to see the magnificent park, even in the rain.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

So much to learn about Istanbul

Blue Mosque
I think I can be forgiven for having mislabeled the picture from my previous post as being inside the Blue Mosque; it was inside Hagia Sophia. And I studied pictures carefully to make sure that I have labeled the above picture correctly. Both structures face one another across the Istanbul Hippodrome, which is now a park. I love the feeling of this picture, soft colors against a dark sky. But I saw and photographed so much in just a few hours that I am now spending time on the Internet learning about each amazing place.

The weather in Istanbul was pretty awful for the two days we toured the sights: somewhere around 2 to 4 degrees C (35-40 F) with wind and rain. I got pretty good with Celsius temperatures while traveling, but it took longer for me to be able to convert Turkish lira to dollars, which meant I often had little idea at the time how much I was paying for something. I bought two Turkish bath towels, handmade and very lovely, for 35 lira each. When I was able finally to figure it out, I realized they each cost me a little more that $14. They are worth it, but I wouldn't usually pay that much for a towel!
Inside the mosque
We had to take off our shoes and women had to cover their heads to enter the mosque, and they provided scarves for women to use if they didn't have one of their own. I learned that the reason it's called Blue Mosque is because of the blue tiles on the walls, and I guess the blue stained glass windows. It was built in only six years, from 1609 to 1616 during the Ottoman Empire, in what was then called Constantinople, renamed Istanbul in 1923.
Catalina, Elsa, and Karen with our guide Hasan
I took this picture inside the mosque while we were touring it. Catalina works with the United Nations and is originally from Colombia (I think); Elsa is from Peru, and Karen is the wife of Mickey, my ex-boss and the person who arranged for me to go to the meeting.

There is a large area for Muslims to pray, and we were separated from it by barriers. Most had already left the area by the time we arrived, as we were not allowed to enter until awhile after the Call for Prayer. Muslims pray five or six times a day, and the minarets have loudspeakers that call or remind them. I could hear them easily from my hotel room and found it a soothing sound from a distance, but when I was near the loudspeakers, it was painful to hear. I made a video that I'll post on YouTube one of these days. For now, I'm absorbing all I saw and learned while in Istanbul. More on Saturday. Tomorrow I'm going hiking with my Trailblazer friends and can hardly wait!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Back home

Inside the Hagia Sophia
I just arrived back home a short while ago, and I've enjoyed a wonderful dinner and thought I'd better get my Tuesday post up before I lose consciousness. I've been up for way too long, and I will be putting up a post with the highlights of my trip soon. Not today, though.

In Istanbul, I toured the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Cisterns, and both the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. It was a lot to fit into two half-day tours, and I went to sleep in Istanbul on Monday night and slept fitfully before awaking to leave at 3:00am for the airport. I've been up ever since, and that was more than 24 hours ago. Forgive me for any typos or mistakes in this post, since I'm not even going to read it over but will crash in a few minutes. After eating, I really do feel like I might be half asleep already!

More later. And if all goes as planned, I'll have a Trailblazer hike to chronicle on Thursday! I'll fit in a couple of extra posts with some of my adventures. Until then...

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque)
I am finally feeling like I am in a foreign country, now that I've arrived in Istanbul. I left Antalya this morning on Turkish Air and arrived at the airport on the Asian side of the city, Sabiha Gökçen, which is named after the first female combat pilot in Turkey. The city is divided by the Bosphorus into the Asian side and the European side, and I have to say I'm glad I got to experience this wonderful airport. We were taken from the terminal by a bus to load onto the plane, which had two entrances, front and back, and other than having to lug my bag up the steps, it was quick to load and we took off on time. The flight is almost exactly an hour, and they served us a wonderful sandwich and coffee, much nicer than anything I would get at home. (That is, if the airlines ever served FOOD any more, which they don't.)
Sitting down to our first food in Istanbul
The others had all arrived much sooner than we did, since they landed at the Atatürk Airport on the European side. When the four of us checked into the hotel, we found that they were already in the meeting room having started to work on the report proceedings. Once we were brought up to speed, we agreed to let everyone have a chance to wander around and see the sights and get back together this evening. While we were out, it was time for lunch and I must say I really enjoyed my wonderful food. You point at what you want and a man ladles it onto the plate.
Spinach, vegetables, rice
I was shocked at how much food it was, and had I known the serving sizes, I wouldn't have gotten the vegetables. The rice and spinach were so delicious I ate all of them but left the others, as I was suddenly way too full. This meal, plus a small bottle of sparkling water, was 30 Turkish lira (about $12). Next time, I will not get so much, but it was sure good.
Marie-Ange and Catalina
We are just a few blocks from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia Mosque and will be touring both of them either tomorrow or Monday before we return home. Karen has arranged a half-day tour for us, which will make sure to give us a chance to experience the best of the city. Both of these beautiful women are also on the writing team, and most of us will stay until Tuesday to work on the document. Mickey assured us we will also have a chance to see the sights.
Charms to keep away the Evil Eye
I've learned that there are actually two different versions of this eye charm: this one is to ward off the Evil Eye, and the Eye of Fatima is inside a hand. I'm not quite sure of all the differences, but I'll be sure to let you know when I learn more. I'm definitely going to be buying more of these, as they are very inexpensive. I am very glad that during this part of the trip I have recovered from jet lag and will enjoy everything. Time to head down to the bar and quaff my nightly glass of red wine. More later!