Iceland Trip and Photos

After a lot of procrastination and toil, I have finished (for now) editing the photos I took on my Iceland trip in June 2016.

 Reynisdrangar sea stacks from Vik, Iceland.

Reynisdrangar sea stacks from Vik, Iceland.

There were an enormous number of keepers from this trip compared to others. It is not me, though, it is Iceland. The place is so full of unadultrated, industrial-strength natural beauty that, you could stop the car anywhere on the ring road, get out, close your eyes and spin around, take a photo at a random direction and the chances are better than even that you got a keeper.

I took over 4,000 photos over a week, and given that I took usually 4-5 near duplicates of each subject, mostly for insurance purposes, I got maybe 1,000 distinct photos. Of those, I posted about 180, and I have another 100 or so that I didn't post simply because posting 280 photos from one trip is embarrassing. Actually, even 180 is probably too much but at some point culling them further was harder than just posting all of them.

After arriving in Reykjavik in late afternoon on Saturday and checking in, I drove back out to Reykjanes (the peninsula around Reykjavik) and visited the famous blue lagoon and the hot springs at Gunnuhver.

Next day, I drove to Akranes, a smaller town to the north of Reykjavik and on to the cliffs of Gerduberg. On the way back, the tunnel at Hvalfjarðar was closed for some reason, and I had to make a long detour around the bay.

Here I had my only unpleasant incident in Iceland, which nevertheless ended well thanks to a couple of helpful Icelanders. To take photos of some of the iconic Icelanding horses, I pulled over but the shoulder turned to be too soft and the wheels dug in. Fortunately, seeing my plight, a passing vehicle stopped to help and the driver got my car back on the road in about 10 seconds flat.

My original plan was visiting Þingvellir on the way to Geyser, but the obvious route to there after the detour was not fully paved. Since I wanted to reach Geyser before it was too late, and I didn't want to take further chances with my driving skills, I changed my plans and drove to Geyser using the main roads around Reykjavik.

In Geyser I took some photos of the famous, erm, geysers, and the next day I drove to Gullfoss, the largest of the waterfalls I visited. From Gullfoss, I drove to Gluggafoss, Seljalandsfoss, and after a very late lunch at Gamla fjósið, all the way to Vik to check into my hotel in the evening. Since it was still light (thanks to the glorious summer nights of Iceland), I drove back to Reynisfjara and Dyrhólaey for some 2-3 hours of golden "hour".

On Tuesday, I drove to Skaftafell, stopping on the way at Laufskálavarða and Dverghamrar. The first one is the site of a farmstead that was destroyed by lava flows centuries ago. Historically passing travellers started putting up some cairns for good luck, a tradition taken up enthusiastically by bus loads of modern tourists, denuding the surrounding area of any rock, stone or pebble larger than a peanut. (There was a sign claiming that the Tourist board trucked in additional material, but I haven't seen any evidence of that.) Dverghamrar is another site with the hexagonal basalt column formations.

At this point, I was getting used to seeing wonders of nature at every turn of the road, stopping the car, getting a few photos and driving on. After seeing 505 waterfalls, the 506th is still beautiful, but there are only so many hours in a day (despite the sun setting almost at midnight.)

In Skaftafell, I tried to hike to Svartifoss, not realizing that it is about 3km from the road, about half of it steeply uphill. I got over to the top, but seeing the waterfall in the distance and not being sure of the rest of the route and my ability to get back to the car, I used the option of failing. (It is always an option despite the strident claims otherwise.)

After my ignominious retreat, I drove on to Jökulsárlón, and after taking the first batch of photos there, on to my hotel near Höfn, Fosshotel Vatnajokull. This one was the best hotel I stayed in Iceland, and I had a good room with excellent views, including from the bathtub.

The next day I spend driving in and around Höfn, Vestrahorn, and Stokksnes. I had lunch at Kaffi Hornið, good but expensive like all the restaurants I tried in Iceland. Restaurants, like all signs of human habitation, are a bit thin on the ground once you are outside Reykjavik. There are some in the villages and towns along the ring road, but typically I ate breakfast at the hotel, then ate snacks (skyr, excellent) in the car for lunch and/or dinner.

Thursday I drove back to Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón, took photos on the Icy Beach, then took a boat tour on the Jökulsárlón. I opted for the larger, amphibious boats rather than the smaller zodiacs since I didn't trust myself to stay on the zodiac while trying to take photos.

Thursday night I tried the hotel restaurant which turned out to be really good. The next day, I visited Hoffelsjökull, Jökulsárlón (again), Dyrhólaey (again), bypassed Solheimasandur Plane Wreck (again, 8 km hiking on soft sand didn't sound very appealing despite my desire to see it) on the way to my hotel near Skógafoss.

On Saturday, my last day in Iceland, I drove to Reykjavik, and spent some time walking around as well as going on a whale watching tour, which was one of the highlights of the trip, despite having no hope of seeing the whales and dolphins as close up as they are shown on the promotional materials. We did see quite a few dolphins, minke whales, and a humpback, the closest about 300m from the boat. Dinner was at Ostabúðin, near, or more accurately, on the way to Hallgrimskirkja.

Very early Sunday morning I left Iceland and a very memorable week behind. I had a stopover in Copenhagen and spent a few hours near Nyhavn. I had lunch at Heering Restaurant & Bistro, watching the people walking by. After spending the week among the photographic riches of Iceland, I didn't even try to take a photo in Copenhagen (not a comment on its charms.)

Kadıköy Eminönü

A few weeks back I spent a Saturday afternoon in Kadıköy and Eminönü after buying my new Fuji X-Pro2. I walked around and sat in cafes in Kadıköy, and then took the ferry to Eminönü and back. All in all, an excellent day with fine weather.

After I edited the 500 or so photos I took (mostly while trying to take action photos of the seagulls doing flybys of the ferry), I noticed that I took way more "street" photos with actual people than I usually manage. It must have been the subconscious effect of using a range-finder camera.

A day in Pamukkale

One fine Saturday last December, I went to Pamukkale for a day trip. It is a shot flight from Istanbul, and since there is not much to see besides the famous travertines, and the archeological remains of Hieropolis, I returned the same evening.

The treventines are formed by the dissolved carbonite minerals in the waters of the hot springs in the area. As they flow and evaporate, they leave the minerals behind in the form of steps or shelves with raised brims, and brilliant blue water pools on top of the shelves. This formations are not unique to Pamukkale, but they are at a larger scale than the other ones that I know of.

The minerals are a blindingly white when they are first deposited but they need to be continually renewed to keep them that way. Instead of letting the nature to take its course, the water is managed, and diverted to different areas of the site according to some scheme. I think the result can be accurately described as the biggest and longest-running art installation in the world.

The travertines are formed on the SW side of a low hill or plateau, and the archeological site of Hierapolis is on top of the hill. I haven't toured the archeaological site as it is several kilometers in extent, but from a distance I could see that there are some impressive remains of buildings, including an theater.

On top of the hill there is also large public pool fed from the same hot springs, and a number of tourists seemed to be enjoying a soak. Alternatively, you can walk on a designated section of the travertines, and splash in the shallow pools there.

As for photography, I took some photos of travertines, of course, but as luck would have it, the photogenic blue pools of water were only visible in a relatively distant part of the site. So I spent quite a bit of time photographing the tourists. I also took a lot of out-of-focus photos of groups of figures, as a instead semi-abstract experiment. When really oof, the figures turn into a gesture drawing with recognizable but highly stylized shapes. An acquired taste maybe, but I like the results.

Bay Area photos added

I added a gallery with photos taken in and around Bay Area, between 1991 and 2001. I don't have the exact dates of most of them because they were originally taken on film.

Editing and re-editing these, I have once again reminded of the trials and tribulations of shooting film. Truly, only an idiot (or a hipster) would think that its 'better'. Both technical and easthetic quality is infinitely harder to achieve using film (and a darkroom, which I didn't have anyway), but it is not the kind of difficulty that builds character and redeems itself. It is the soul-sucking, disgusting-and-sticky kind.

Fortunately, what is good about the film (grain structure and a controlled amount of randomness) have their close approximations in digital photography.

Mists of Sumela

In spring 2014 I visited Trabzon and the surrounding area over a weekend. This was the second time I was in Trabzon, but the first time being about 30 years back, it was about time I went a second time.

Trabzon is in the eastern Blacksea region of Turkey, with a long history; it was the ultimate destination of the ill-fated expedition recounted in the Anabasis of Xenophon, the place where they returned to the Greek civilization. It is spread along the Blacksea coast and surrounded by the green hills and mountains that the region is famous for.

 Sumela monastery in the rain, Trabzon, Turkey

Sumela monastery in the rain, Trabzon, Turkey

My main goal for the trip was visiting Sumela Monastery, located in the middle of a national park about 45km and one hour south of Trabzon. The monastery was founded in the 4th century, and over the centuries, it was several times abandoned and rebuilt, both under the Byzantine and Ottoman rulers. It was finally abandoned after the population exchange of 1923 and today it is a museum.

Sumela is located about 1200m above sea level in a forested mountain valley, clinging to the side of a rock face that rises several hundred meters above the valley floor. You can either take the steps going up from the valley floor, or drive up to the same level as the monastery and walk a few kilometers to reach it. Either way, the views are breathtaking.

On the day of my visit, the weather was rainy, sometimes a light rain that we call 'idiot wetter', and sometimes what the English call 'it's raining cats and dogs.' I put up two views of the monastery, one clear and the other during heavy rain. In my view, the rainy view is infinitely more in character. There are several other photos of the valley, trees, the lush undergrowth, rocks and even a snail contently munching a leaf.

Most of the rest of the trip was spent driving around in the hills and valleys of the Trabzon area. The hillsides (some so steep, they should be called cliffs, really) are covered with forests and tea plantations, as the mild and rainy climate allows the subtropical bush to be cultivated here. As any visitor to Turkey notices, tea is the national drink of Turkey, but maybe you didn't know that most of it is grown domestically.

As you drive along the mountain roads, misty vistas of hills, valleys, small villages, gardens and plantations open up one after another. Of course, the villages are less picturesque close up. The reason even cliffs are covered with gardens is the scarcity of arable land in this region, and even though the people have a reputation for being resourceful and hardworking, they are also quite poor. You can see that they waste nothing; one of the photos show a barn door made out of a large cable spool. They have plugged the holes with strips of scavenged tinplate from cans, splashed on some paint for good measure and created an interesting abstract painting/found art installation. Just imagine it hanging on a gallery wall in Art Basel.

Since I didn't have the time to sample the local cusine properly, I will not comment on it.

Urfa, Gobekli Tepe, Mardin

In April 2013, I spent a weeked visiting Gobekli Tepe, Urfa, and, as an afterthought, Mardin.

Gobekli Tepe

The initial idea for the trip was to see Gobekli Tepe, probably the nearest you can get to the 'cradle of civilization' as you can get. It is a relatively recent find, and excavations started only in 1996. It is the earliest site that we know with real buildings, earliest site with monumental sculpture, and probably the earliest site with a large scale ritual cult thing going on. Dating to 10,000-8,0000 BCE, it makes Stonehenge, as well as anything else we know of, look positively post-modernist.

To get the age of Gobekli Tepe in perspective, just realize that Stonehenge is closer to us in time than it is to Gobekli Tepe: the earliest date for the building of Stonehenge is 3,000 BCE, which means Gobekli Tepe was already 7,000 years old when Stonehenge guys decided heaping really large stones on top of each other was the hip thing to do. There is nothing new under the sun.

Gobekli Tepe site is about 300m in diameter, situated on top of a plateau rising from the surrounding plain for several hundred meters. There are the remains of several circular buildings, and over 200 pillars belonging to the buildings as well as several unfinished pillars were located. (Not all of them are excavated.) The largest T-shaped pillars are 6m high, and weigh 20 tons. They have carvings of many different animals on them.

When Gobekli Tepe was built, people still lived in a hunter-gatherer society and Gobekli Tepe is generally thought to be a mountain sanctuary serving the people living in the surrounding region (as far away as 100km). This "cathedral on a hill" might have served as the center of a cult of the dead, according to the head of the archeological team excavating Gobekli Tepe, Klaus Schmidt.

Given that the most recent location for the domestication of wheat is only 30km away from Gobekli Tepe, it seems that the region was the first 'Silicon Valley' of human history where the main components of v1.0 of the civilization was invented: farming, and large-scale cooperation that enabled the large-scale religion, art and building in a virtuous circle.

Unfortunately, at the time I visited the site, the remains were not in a 'photography friendly' state. Some of the most important pillars were boxed up to protect them, and the main excaveted area was under a temporary roof structure for the same purpose. As a result, I don't have a single photo of the actual remains, just a view from the top of the hill of the 'wishing tree' and surrounding plain. I hope that when excavations are finished, a major museum is built to house and exhibit the remains.

Urfa

After visiting Gobekli Tepe in the morning, I spent the rest of the day in Urfa visiting Abraham's Pool, and the hill situated over it. The park area containing the pool and neighboring mosque is were teeming with local people as well as people from the neighboring cities and I took more than my usual quota of 'people pics'. Let's call it street photography.

There is a hill overlooking the park, with a small, quiet cementery. Apparently people like planting an local orchid on the graves, and most of them were just past their prime, which seemed somehow more fitting for a cementery.

Mardin

Since I 'finished' Urfa on Saturday, I decided to drive to Mardin on Sunday. It is about 190km from Urfa, and the road is right across the seemingly endless plain visible from Gobekli Tepe.

Mardin itself is filled with wonderful stone buildings and definitely worth going for a second time. I simply didn't have the time to photography even a fraction of the buildings properly as I had to drive back to Urfa for my plane in the evening.

Kavala, Meteora, Thessaloniki

In 2012, I took two trips to Greece, first to Kavala in August, then to Kavala, Meteora and Thessaloniki in October.

 Kavala sunset complete with the fishing boat.

Kavala sunset complete with the fishing boat.

Kavala is a picturesque port in Northern Greece, close enough to Istanbul to be a long weekend trip by car. It is strung along the coast with hills behind it. The old part around and above the harbor is filled with restaurants, which serve excellent, if a bit touristy seafood. I made the mistake of driving up there with my car, and almost ended up being permanently stuck in a really, really narrow street.

Meteora is kinda in the middle of Greece and it is justly famous for its rock formations and monasteries that are perched on them. There are six monasteries, and you can visit all of them. (I think. I visited three of them, and that was enough. Once you have seen three beautiful monasteries with drop-dead-gorgeous views, you have seen them all.)

Thessaloniki is another beautiful port city in Northern Greece, and it has special meaning for me as the birthplace of Ataturk. (I didn't visit the house he was born, however. Next time.) It is exactly the right size for a city, neither too large nor too small and reminded me of Izmir. There are an unreasonable number of street cafes and restaurants, and the entire population of the city seem to be eating or drinking at every hour of the day. My kind of city.

It has a good Archeological Museum, and the Museum of Byzantine Culture is also very impressive. The Citadel has a good view and several nice restaurants on the way up with great views.

Brussels and Bruges

I put up the photos from the Oct 2014 trip to Brussels and Bruges a few weeks back, and again neglected posting about it on the blog. (Click the image to go to the gallery.)

In Brussels I stayed at the Hotel Metropole, apparently a well known place. (At least it was mentioned on the city tour that I took. What better endorsement?) It was old, grand and quite interesting if you are into 'character'. Plus, just the bathroom of my room was the size of a standard hotel room.

Food (and beer) is surprisingly good, given that I didn't try any of the really fancy places. One word of warning though: lambic is an acquired taste, and apparently one that I haven't yet acquired. On the other hand, all of the trappist beers I have tried were excellent.

Chocolate shops are thick on the ground, and somehow all of them are crawling with tourists, but I didn't try any in Brussels. The only one I tried was the Chocolate Line in Bruges, recommended by a friend, and I endorse fully.

Bruges was a day-trip from Brussels, and it is ample time for sightseeing, though it is pleasant enough to spend a few relaxing days as well.

Cologne photos

In February, I spent a weekend in Cologne walking around and taking photos. I have posted the photos a few weeks back but forgot to blog about them. Click on the photo to go to the gallery.

 Cologne Cathedral, Cologne

Cologne Cathedral, Cologne

Cologne is a 'typical' German city: visibly rich, predictably clean and efficient, boring in a good sense. I spent most of my time in the Altstadt, which is filled with original and restored old buildings including the famous Cologne cathedral. This time I didn't have the time to visit the museums, which are supposed to be quite interesting, apart from a small one dedicated to Kaethe Kollwitz.

 Self-portrait,  Käthe Kollwitz. From WikiArt.iorg

Self-portrait, Käthe Kollwitz. From WikiArt.iorg

As far as I am concerned, she is one of the greatest draughtsmen, ever, and the museum didn't disappoint. It was small, but that fits with the scale of the drawings and prints.

Rome

Rome, the Eternal City. It is beautiful, full of history and life. I had a 5 day trip to Rome in the Fall of 2013, but 5 days is barely enough to check-off the major tourist attractions: the Colesseum, Vatican, Pantheon, and so on. Rome is so full of things to see that I didn't make a list of things-to-do, except one: I wanted to see the Pantheon.

 Pantheon Oculus

Pantheon Oculus

At the end, I visited it twice, and it was everything I expected to be: it feels wonderfully serene because of the single, large space, and the quality of light from the oculus. The receding geometrical shapes of the coffered dome give it a sense of vast scale, and its not hard to think of the celestial sphere when contemplating the concrete one. It feels monumental without making one feel insignificant (unlike, say, St. Peter's).

Pantheon is about 1,900 years old, and still an engineering marvel. The concrete dome is 43.4m in diameter, the same as the height of the oculus, the circular opening. Thus, you could fit a full sphere of the same diameter in the interior. It is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Despite some cracking, it has stood up to the test of time. How?

The basic idea of a dome is simple. It is an arch rotated around a vertical axis. Thus, just like an arch, it transmits the force of gravity downwards and sideways to the foundation (or to the walls, as in Pantheon).

It is this sideways component that causes problems in structural engineering of roofs of any sort, first because it needs to be balanced, second because it can lead to tensile forces as opposed to the compressive forces of simple gravitational loading and typical building materials like stone and unreinforced concrete are a lot weaker in tension than in compression. In a dome, the lower part experiences 'hoop tension', that is tension stess along the horizontal 'rings'.

Roman engineers used several devices to ensure that their work would last. First, they made sure that the foundations of the building was sound despite weak, boggy soil. They simply threw more material at the problem when the original foundation ring cracked because of differential settlement. They built a second, larger foundation ring outside the original one.

Second, they built nice, thick walls to carry the lip of the dome. You can still see the brickwork with relieving arches on the outside.

They lightened the dome by making it thinner and by using lighter stones in the aggrage, and even inserting empty terracotta vessels towards the top. The coffer decorations reduce the volume of concrete without significaly weakening the dome structure. They also took out a lot of weight from the very top by using an oculus, which technically functions as a compression ring.

The weakest part of a dome is the lip, because its there the hoop tension is largest. Even though they didn't fully understand the cause, Romans were aware of the tendency of domes to crack along the lip and they made sure that there are a lot of reinforcement in that area. For comparison, despite Michealangelo's design to try and avoid this danger, the lip of the dome of St. Peter's had to be reinforced with iron chains in the 17th century after cracks formed.

I hope to revisit Rome some day, but for now, I have the photos from this visit in this gallery.

The Cappadocian portfolio

In 2013, I visited Cappadocia for the second time. It had been more than 10 years since my first trip and ever since I had been hoping to visit again. The area around Goreme is a unique, enchanted landscape filled with fairy chimneys and other weird formations. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This part of Cappadocia is covered with tuff, formed from compressed volcanic ashes from Erciyes, Hasan and Melendiz volcanoes. It is soft and easily carved. The people living in the area had been excavating their homes and other buildings from tuff for millennia. There are hundreds of rock churches and even whole underground cities that you can visit.

I flew to Kayseri in the morning, the nearest major airport, and rented a car. Before heading to Goreme, I drove up the road to Erciyes, the 3,916m volcano that watches over Kayseri like an patriarch. I had lunch at a roadside restaurant with a commanding view of Kayseri and surrounding landscape. After lunch, I drove the 80km or so to Goreme and found my hotel. It was one of the hotels where rooms are carved into the soft rock, and I lay down in my room to rest for a bit before heading out to start photographing.

Unfortunately, a mosque with a arena-rock-quality sound system was virtually just outside my door and when the call to prayer started, I could feel the voice of the muezzin vibrating in my chest. I decided to move to another hotel, as I am very particular about noise when I am sleeping and I had selected this one at least in part because of its "sound-proofed' rooms. The receptionist helped me to book at the Doubletree in Avanos, which is a few km from Goreme. It is a very comfortable, modern hotel, and while staying at a rock-carved hotel is nice-to-have, sleeping soundly is a must-have.

I spend the next few days driving around, photographing, and eating. The restaurants that I had tried were mostly Turkish, but meant for tourists, and of middling quality. The high point of the trip was the hot air balloon tour over Goreme and surrounding area. The balloon company picked me up along with other tourists well before dawn, and we drove to a field where there were tens of balloons being preped for launch. Just before dawn we launched along with tens of other balloons. We flew over fields and fairy chimneys, going down to tree-top level and up to 800-900m (according to our pilot.) The view and experience was amazing. Highly recommended.

On the last day of the trip, I drove to Ihlara valley, a narrow gorge with spectacular cliffs, and filled with old churches. I took photos from the view deck, and went down the stairs part way to the valley floor. Then I drove back to Kayseri, went up the Erciyes again from another direction, had another meal at the same restaurant and flew home.

The photo gallery is here.

Gaudi's genius

Posted photos from Barcelona trips in 2014. Gave me ample opportunity to reflect on Gaudi's genius once again.

I think his work has a unique combination of originality, edginess, and beauty. It was original when it was created, it is so edgy that it still shakes one awake, and it has a timeless beauty to it. It is easier to understand its beauty; it is mostly the result of using beautiful components; here graceful curve, there a colorful ceramic. The originality comes from using this conventional vocabulary to craft original structures. The edginess comes from the uncompromising vision that unifies his work, and makes it immediately recognizable. It was not created to be pleasing, it was created because it had to be.

And liftoff...

Another year, another website. This year, I will not make fun of people who make new year resolutions.