Saturday, August 30, 2014

First time in Ireland

Ireland. I had never been there before, and I was eager to visit my friends who have been living in Dublin for a long time now.

I am afraid of the cold, so I picked summer to be the best time for a visit. It turned out to be a lovely four days, and even when it was not a designated photo trip, Susi & Brian were very kind to put up with my photographic desires and peculiarities: Oh! There are sheep/boats/nuns (see above!), could you just quickly stop the car? Or: The light is so nice, can we delay dinner?

It was cooler than expected for a trip within Europe in the midst of August, around 17 degrees, a bit warmer in the sun. I was confused by the palm trees. What a lie! But the light was great! The sky offered dramatic shows with dark blue rain clouds, distant rain shower rays, and peek-through sunlight. Catching the right moment to capture that white romantic house in the cliffs was a nice challenge. The wind was massive, call it storm even, my hair was a mess! And when we were up in Wicklow mountains, the 300mm lens could only take decent pictures when supported by the car's window sill. Wicklow mountains were actually my personal highlight. What a beautiful nature! And it is just a short ride South of Dublin. Glendalaugh was another great destination, a glacial valley where we took a 10k hike and visited the monastic settlement with an old church and graveyard. It all reminded me of Harry Potter.

It was a great stay, and apart from joys of photography (slideshow here), I enjoyed the time with my friends Susi and Brian. I finally got to see "Riverdance" at the Gaiety Theatre (what?! You have never seen that? We have to go!), a great show with great singers and dancers. I liked it so much, I could have gone again the next day. But this was when I had to leave. And fly back to (the last days of) Vienniese summer.

One wish remains: Ireland, please stop painting red dots on your sheep. It looks ugly and takes time to photoshop that!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Primavera with mummies

Four people, one rental car, a few cameras. Last week, we were on tour to enjoy, explore and capture spring time in Sicily. It was only mid March, but all kinds of blossoms were out, ready to provide foreground color for Greek temples and other landmarks of Sicily.

The weather was not always cooperating, and we had to deal with grey skies, a few raindrops, and even snow when we cut through the mountain area heading from Taormina to Cefalù. To escape dull colors, we went underground and also hoped for clear views in the Blue Hour at night. But in neither of both scenarios were we welcomed with open arms:

In Palermo, when we took pictures of the mummies in the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, an  obviously not amused guardiano had caught our (officially forbidden) photographing on video cam and made a long announcement in German, specifically for us, the photographers, who had disturbed graveyard peace of these  dead souls. "Katastrophe Germania", he shouted over the loudspeakers. His anger echoed in the lifeless halls of this mysterious place. When we dared to leave the dead and ascended to the ground floor, he followed us on our way out, shouting. We fled in a tiny taxi on three wheels and wondered whether we should feel guilty. (We decided we didn't. If it was for the peace of the dead, they wouldn't sell tickets.)

Then in Agrigento, the Valle dei Templi. Sneaking around with our tripods to await the Blue hour, we were detected as being professional (= presumably commercial) photographers, i.e. a species unwanted.  After we had waited in the (beautiful) area for 3 hours, amusing ourselves with second best photographs of landscapes and temples in grey light, yet another guardino approached and insisted that tripods would not be allowed during the Blue Hour. "Only out of hand". Mood was not good. But we finally did well. Using our camera bags as bean bags we succeeded anyway. The above picture of Ikarus in front of the Concordia temple is one of the results. More pictures to be looked at here.

Luckily, there is good food and wine: Pasta con le sarde, cannolli, and Caponata, a vegetable dish which I especially like. When it heavily rained, we went for dolce vita. The trip was molto bene!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Shalom, and happy 2014!

My first time in Israel. I had decided for that spontaneous winter break because I wanted to celebrate New Year's in a warmer place than Vienna. It worked out well. On January 31, 00:00h, we were toasting with sparkling wine from Galilee at Tel Aviv Beach (while some idiot stole all my money, but that is another story). Let's just say it was a great trip. I spent one week in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Southern tip of the Dead Sea.

In retrospective, my most memorable stroll was the exploration of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. It is the most famous neighborhood of ultra orthodox Jewish life. Big signs in English ask women to enter this area in decent clothing (i.e. long skirts), and they explicitly prohibit photography. Alright. So, I went in a long black skirt – and the Nikon went too, but packed away, in a big shopping bag. I really did not intend to use it, for reasons of ethics and angst. But when I entered this secretive neighborhood, on a very sunny Friday morning, and I saw all these men hustling around… in black suits, with serious hats and long beards… buying bread and flowers for Sabbath… I simply could not resist to secretly reach for the Nikon and quickly "click" in their direction. Operation paparazza. By time, I got more courageous with the camera. In a street junction, in front of one of these billboard newspapers, I positioned myself and waited for interesting characters to walk right into my picture frame. This trick always works. I stood there for several minutes, took some of my now favorite pictures, and nobody rebelled. I still wonder how that worked. Maybe my disguise was just too good, and nobody even dared looking at me, as I was just the typical female black bundle walking around. Men respectfully changed the street side when we approached each other. These pictures, along with all others, can be looked at here.

Other rewarding photo moments were me witnessing some romantic wedding photography in Jaffa at New Year's Eve (look here), playing around with the red bar lights at the beach (or here), or becoming acquainted with the loveliest animal ever: the rock hyrax (fall in love here).

Israel is a great place for a winter get away, for experiencing religious conflict first hand…, for good food (oh, the food really! Shakshouka!), and definitely for photography. It offers interesting landscapes with the Sea, the Dead Sea, and the desert. And: people are relaxed getting their picture taken. I think I might return…

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Venice awakes

November in Venice is a bliss. It is not clear of tourists, but at least the usual day-trippers from nearby camping places are somewhere else now. If in the mood, the sun will shine and warms you enough to sit outside a small trattoria to sip a cappu or Sprizz. This is what I did for a few days in early November – oh no, wait, the actual mission was: Photography.

Just like in November 2011, I joined a photo trip with Rainer Martini and 9 other hobby photographers – or "photo freaks" as I used to call them back then. By now, I have become one of them myself, I guess. Which is a good thing.

Being photo-freakish means that the typical Venice day starts with getting up at 5:15 am in order to catch the first morning light. Only few words are spoken when we then quietly rush along the dark narrow streets leading to Piazza San Marco. From time to time, some woken up pigeons hectically flutter out of their beds and fly like ghosts along the dark alleys. We arrive at Piazza San Marco. The tripods are unpacked and the cameras prepared for long time exposures. We wander between the Doge's Palace, the Campanile and the seashore with its gently moving gondolas. The Piazza is empty with just a few photographers and men with brooms. The first boats have not yet arrived. The sky then turns from black into blue, and from there, things happen quickly: The lights of lanterns and buildings are turned off, first the ones at Café Florian. The atmosphere changes and calls for photographic action... Higher Kelvin, shorter exposures, maybe try different combinations? The first sun rays dip the scene in new colors, be it a soft rose, an artificial lilac, or simply a lighter shade of blue. Each day a different color. Each morning holds  its little surprise.

7:30h, the sun is completely out by now, the magic is over. For about 90 minutes, we have been taking pictures, about 100 clicks. Time seems to have flown by. This is real flow, Mr. Csíkszentmihályi. We fold our tripods away and start talking again. The first tourists arrive with their small cameras. Surely, they believe they are "really early" today. It is time for breakfast, and we proceed to "our" little bar, bite into fresh brioches and have a perfect cup of cappuccino. I am  tempted to say that by then, at around 8 am, the best part of the day is over – but that would not be fair. Have a look at the pictures, and you will see that the whole trip was fantastic. Venice in November is a bliss. Il tutto giorno.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Beijing: "Those days must be a treasure in my life"

One evening in June, actually in an Irish pub in Bavaria, I was offered a short-time teaching job in Beijing, China! Starting only 6 weeks later, I could teach at University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) for their 2013 summer school. At Wikipedia, that university is said to represent no less than the "Oriental Harvard" and "the Switzerland of Chinese universities". So, no question: I had to go! In rapid speed, with a 2-week-trip to the Northcape in between, I prepared a 18-hour-lecture on the "Sociology of Family in Europe", hopped on that airplane, and arrived in Beijing, humid and hot with 37 degrees. 

At the airport, I was picked up by my teaching assistant and his cousin, both holding one sign each: One read "Dr. Christine", and the other "Geserick". That made me smile, and it would be "sweet" like so many experiences which I had with that assistant and the other 40 students. They were all so interested, attentive, disciplined and waived me goodbye when leaving the class room. However, teaching was both physically and mentally challenging, as I had to give 6 hours of lectures for 3 consecutive days. It was hot, I was on West-East-jetlag, and participation in class was rather non-existent. I basically talked for 6 hours each day. 

It is one thing to hear that China has been opening up to "the West". The other thing is to experience that curiosity first hand, while being there. It is in the attentive eyes of the students when I start my sentence with the words: "In Europe today …." And it is in the encounters with Chinese tourists when they carefully tip on my shoulder and say a friendly "hello". They want to have a little chat with me, the Western girl. The chat usually starts with a "where are you from?", then leads into the question "can I take picture with you?". We take that picture, and for a goodbye, they shake my hand, followed by the typical Asian goodbye-waive. They smile. And so do I. 

Actually, their picture-taking of me encouraged me to ask the Chinese just the same. At first, I took "pictures-in-return", meaning I portrayed just everybody who had photographed me. But this project got out of hand, because it was so many, and the scenes somewhat too ordinary. So I ventured to ask others, those whom I really wanted a picture of. Here, due to lack of Chinese skills, "asking" meant that I presented the Nikon, gestured that I would like to take a photo, tried to smile an irresistible smile, and put a question mark at the end. I did not ask many people, but whenever I did, it worked. Note so self: I should have asked more people! (All pictures here.)

 Some Beijing scenes felt especially "surreal", while at the same time I indulged in that feeling of being so foreign there. For instance, I remember a rainy lunch break when I walked on campus, under a pink plastic umbrella which I had been given to protect me from acid rain. Almost fainting from jetlag, I was munching on some pretzels, only realizing that their taste was actually seaweed. In lack of hot espresso, this meal was accompanied by sweet iced latte in a can. Strange coffee culture! 

Other things that surprised me were:
  • How rough people can become be when in anger. Angry couples talk to each other in obvious disgust, accompanied by sounds that I have never heard before.
  • And then again: How tender people are with each other. Young lovers would hold each other close when on the metro. Parents would give their little ones very tender care in public places. Everybody was physically very close.
  • That it seems OK bring your own beverages to eating places, e.g. beer from a kiosk kind of store or even sit inside Starbucks to eat food from KFC, not ordering anything from Starbucks!
  • How steep the Great Wall is! 
  • That a little kiosk suddenly sells beer from the Domhof brewery from Speyer (near my hometown)! 
  • That I found a "vibrating condom" on my hotel's night table. For sale. 
  • That Mao is still referred to as "the chairman". 
  • That the rain there is really acid rain. It caused me a sore throat and red eyes. 
  • How men lift up their shirt in hot weather to have their belly breathe.
  • How bad the smog is! It made the air blue in the evenings. And the local Seven Eleven sold breathing masks, three different kinds.

Yes, the trip was a challenge, but it was so worth it! I felt so even more, when I received the most lovely thank you-notes from my students. These are my favorite lines:

"I have spent a short but unforgettable summer school with you, which is full of learning pointy about family and social security. You've really gave us a window to see Europe family and social security, which inspired more curiosity from my heart."
"... You impressed me very much and I think I will never forget you as my first foreigner teacher!"

"Again, thanks for everything you did during the summer school. I will always remember the happy time we spent together."

"I felt great passion and gratitude and I really appreciate your teaching attitude. ^_^" 

"Those 3 days must be a treasure in my life."

… yes, same with me!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Midnight sun in Lapland

A few weeks have passed since the Norway trip end of June 2013. As we spontaneously extended our tour, the "Northern Norway" trip really turned out to be a real "Lapland trip", including stops in Sweden (Kiruna) and Finland (Enontekiö). In 13 days, we drove about 4.000 kilometers. It was an impressive journey with many hours spent under the midnight sun, meeting a lot of reindeer, eating salmon, drinking arctic beer, and taking lots of pictures.

The trip was planned as a "wilderness experience", and that turned out very well! We had brought a tent, sleeping bags of the kind "Arctic Extreme" and made good use of the "Allemannsrett" to camp in the Arctic wilderness. We always found a cozy place with some flat ground and nearby water which we would use to bathe in the next morning, or – if too cold – at least use the water to boil some Nescafé. Only a few times did we chose to stay in official campsites or rented a cheap room, e.g. when it rained…

These are (roughly) the places where we stayed overnight:

Tromsø - Sifjord (island: Senja) - Harstad (island: Hinnøya) - Kongsvik (also Hinnøya) – Nyksund - Kiruna (Sweden) - Leppäjärvi (Finland) – Hammerfest - Skarsvåg (close to Northcape) – Litleng – Altafjord – Svensby – Tromsø.

It was the first time that I experienced the 24 hours of daylight. For our wildcamp-trip, it came in handy. There was no "we must build up the tent before darkness". No need of camping lights or alike. Also, sleeping in the deepest forest didn't cause angst because the surroundings were never dark but rather dipped in golden sunlight. A hungry bear would have been spotted just in time. And I will never forget how, when I had to step out the tent at 2.30 am, the birds were singing. Weird! Yet, there was a certain silence at night. Until now, I do not know why I felt that silence. With bright light and active animals, it should feel like daytime, no?!

Speaking of active animals: the mosquitos were pretty terrible. Especially inland, when we escaped the bad weather of the coast, we traded in rain for itchy bites. The deet ("Nobite") did help, but it seemed impossible to cover every inch of the body. I even put that stuff in my face. But forgetting some part of the forehead meant: lunch time for a whole mosquito family…

So, when we were tired of the mosquitos, we decided to drive back to the coast and venture into the "real" North, direction of North Cape. We had not really planned to go up there. You read about the North Cape as a "tourist rip-off", you are warned about the bad weather that most likely will be raging up there, after you have paid the 36 EUR entrance fee – and why would you go up there anyway, when the "real" geographic North Cape would be elsewhere anyway? But we were really glad we went: The weather was gorgeous, the visitor center with free wifi and nice panoramic view is worth the entrance fee, and the atmosphere was very special:

You sense that the North Cape must be the place of fulfilling dreams, e.g. "once in my life, I want to bicycle all the way up to the North Cape". And many do! Along that long gray road, we passed by many, really many, cyclists, their multifunctional shirts blowing against the arctic winds – and we felt a bit bad when overtaking. Their faces showed determination, but also some pain. The female cyclists I met again the washing room of the North Cape Café: They rinsed their face and looked exhausted – but very happy.

The trip has been great, and I am very happy to finally have come here. Here are some pictures to be look at.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I morgen

Tomorrow (i morgen) it is off to Norway. For the next 2 weeks, I will travel around in Northern Norway – right in time to experience Midsummer and those nights that don't get dark. The trip will be simple, yet adventurous: We go with a rental car, a tent, most effective bug repellant (deet), and the new Nikon.

Packing my bags, I get a bit sentimental. Not only that I expect an exciting trip, but Norway is special to me. In 1994, I spent 6 months in Kristiansand, on Norways's southern coast. I lived in a small apartment in a red wooden house on a hill. I was there to work as an au pair, took care of 3 cute Norwegian kids, and I guess this time has shaped me in many ways: I have learned to speak "real" English (thanks to the Oprah Winfrey Show broadcasted on NRK and my friends Jill, Cecilie and Reed!), and I realized how inspiring it is to live in a foreign place. Oh, and I should not forget that my au pair experience inspired me to write that PhD thesis…

So, I am looking forward to soon entering the country of geitost, Tine melk and Freia chocolate. Given the forecasted temperatures (10 degrees in Tromsö!), they could also start selling julebrus – which I like a lot. But I'd gladly trade in the Christmas lemonade for a few warm days. (For those of you who have not tried Julebrus: it tastes a bit like a mixture of coke and herbal lemonade, e.g. Almdudler.)

Naturally, this trip is not just for pure wildcamp-leisure, but the new Nikon will go on "her" first (real) trip. Last week, I had my first job duty in Bamberg (in Germany) to document the 4th European Congress of Family Science (--> see photos). But now, it is time for some outdoor fun. Oh, we are all excited. Norge, vi sees!