A Walk in the Woods in Cary

This week I’m in Cary, North Carolina for work. It was a last minute trip. I thought I was going to Atlanta until the last minute. Cary is one corner of the Research Triangle formed by the state to foster the high tech industry. The experiment has largely been a success and has risen the reputation of Chapel Hill and University of North Carolina.

This week there is much excitement as the Panthers are playing in Super Bowl L next week. Yes, I think they should have stuck with Roman numerals. Next year it would have been LI, right.

So I’m looking for something to do in the triangle. Usually I seek out whatever sights there are locally. With limited time and preparation I hadn’t really come up with any plans aside from calling an old roommate up. I did find a nice park called Harris County Park. I took a bit of a walk around the lake before dusk. The park closed at 6 so I missed the actual sunset. At one end of the park was a power plant that looked like a huge nuclear cooling tower. The park was mostly devoid of animal life. Perhaps the animals were waiting until 6 for all the people to leave. I did see three squirrels. These are the fastest squirrels I have ever seen. I guess they have to be fast here to stay off the menu. I saw signs prohibiting their hunting in the park. The park itself was mainly pine trees. Pine trees were everywhere as far as I could see.

As I left the park and drove away I saw a magnificent red sunset over the power plan cooling tower looking like something out of a movie.

Lima

So it’s Sunday afternoon. I didn’t get any sleep on the plane. I walked around Miraflores and Parque Kennedy until my hotel was ready. I finally got in my room but my bag was still MIA. The front desk staff had sent it to the wrong room. They assured me it would be found. I tried to relax a bit but decided that I didn’t want to waste the afternoon looking at the inside of a hotel room. I got up and went downstairs. The next on my list was the downtown area. The bellhops out front offered to put me in a car to get downtown. I asked how much it would cost and was quoted just $20. I demurred and called a car via Uber again. For $6 I was across town. I had the driver drop me off near Plaza Mayor. There was traffic so I could not get all the way there. The driver let me out and I walked up on an elaborate celebration that started in front of the Cathedral of Lima and circled around the plaza in front of the Government Palace and some stadium seating that had been set up for the event. The parade consisted of various religious floats like I had seen for Holy Week in Spain. Some other parade entrants we groups from various parts of Perú in traditional costumes. The celebration seemed to coincide with the winter solstice that was coming up the following week. The costumes were very colorful and featured whips, lucha libre masks, and dead alpacas. There was a casual police presence armed with body armor and riot shields relaxing off in a corner. They seemed mainly there to keep people away from the government palace. The parade was being enjoyed by local families many with kids also dressed in what looked like traditional clothing. There were a few foreign tourists like me that stood out in the crowd but most appeared to be locals. As the final float passed by workers had already begun disassembling the viewing stands. Working the crowd were vendors selling churros and all manner of sweets.

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Once the parade was finished the plaza quickly emptied. I wandered around the square and into the Cathedral of Lima from 1535. It was now open after the parade. It’s hard to compare one cathedral with another. They are all so beautiful. This one has been here for close to 500 years. Around the corner was a newer construction from 1673, the Monastery of San Francisco. What made this stop so interesting was the open tombs and catacombs. They had excavated under the monastery so you could go down and see the different levels. Below the church were the honored tombs. As you descended to the lowest level you saw more and more nameless bones. There was also a vault of small child size caskets. It was unlike any other cathedral experience.

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I visited a Minerals Museum and a couple other churches. The buildings had different styles of architecture although my classical education is nearly non-existent. I can identify baroque but I don’t know what that actually means. Lima’s nuance on architecture comes in the form of closed balconies on the second floor overlooking the street. I’m unsure of the practical function of such balconies. Since Lima is so close to the equator the seasonal temperature changes are minimal. Some were functional and others were extremely ornate.

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I wandered further east in the general direction of my hotel, taking pictures as I walked. I was looking for scenes that captured the essence of Lima. Now that I have visited several Latin American cities I look for scenes that I have not seen before. There are some recurring themes such as the use of motorcycle based delivery vehicles. I also found it interesting to look at the way the locals dressed. It’s the last week of fall but I’m north of the Tropic of Capricorn and near the coast. I’m wearing shorts and a light shirt trying not to sweat too much. The locals are wearing sweaters, ponchos, jackets and knit caps. The weather was very similar to northern California where in the early morning and late evening a jacket would be a good idea.

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Even though it was late on a Sunday afternoon the streets were alive with activity. The street vendors had anything you could imagine to eat, drink, wear, or listen to. As I walked away from the plaza I passed through a shopping district to the Parque de la Exposición that was set up like a carnival. Beyond there was the Estadio Nacional (football stadium).  My phone says I walked 13  miles.

By this time the sun was about to set, I called my Uber driver to take me back to my hotel. I got some takeout food from a place that had tradition Peruvian food. The local favorite is ceviche. The also included a sweet grape juice like drink. This completed my first day in Perú. My tourist wanderings would have to wait for a few days, interrupted by my conference. Work.

 

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Miraflores

For the second year in a row I was asked to speak at a conference in South America. This year’s conference was held in Lima, Peru. My trip started out mid afternoon on Saturday with a flight on Aeromexico. Company rules dictate choosing the least expensive airline. This meant an indirect flight through Mexico City. The tone was set for the whole trip when the time came for the flight we hadn’t even boarded the plan yet — and no one seemed to care. Once on board the flight I was surprised to receive an in flight meal. I did not realize that I would have to pass through border control and customs. I got an entry and exit visa on my passport. My second flight was just after midnight. This was a much longer flight and again they served a sort of breakfast at 4am. Once through border control and customs, I found myself in Lima at 6am.

Walking out of the arrivals area I was immediately assaulted by people offering to provide taxi service. I skipped the melee and opened my Uber app to call a ride. It’s been a while since I used Uber so I ended up getting in the wrong car. Uber tells you the car make and model, the license plate, and the driver’s name. I spotted a black Toyota Corolla. I thought I matched the license plate. When I got in I asked the driver to confirm his name and it matched. So off we went. That’s when my Uber app pinged to tell me the driver had just arrived. I had to cancel the Uber driver and got charged the minimum fee. It was not Uber’s fault that I did not follow directions. In the end I arrived at my hotel and paid S/. 50 (about $15) for a cab ride that should have only cost me S/. 35. Lesson learned. The problem is that the cab drivers can charge whatever they want. There is no meter in the car. They are perfectly willing to take US dollars too. This driver first quoted me $20 for the ride. I always travel with local currency so I asked for the price in soles (so-lays).

At this point it is too early to check into my hotel. I was told that the cleaning staff didn’t even arrive until 8 to start clearing rooms. I left my bag and went for a walk. Across the street from the hotel was a little shopping mall. It has a semicircle design built into the cliff below a park facing the Pacific Ocean. Looking down I could see a lower roadway and a rocky beach. Among the restaurants was a Starbucks. Unfortunately it was not open since this was before 8 am on a Sunday morning. I decided to hang out and enjoy the view and quiet and wifi. The Starbucks eventually opened after 8:30 and I was able to get an empanada and coffee.

IMG_0005After breakfast I decided to go for a walk. I was on the upper cliff of Miraflores on the Costa Verde. My guidebook included lists of scenic walks. There was one in Miraflores that took me inland to Parque Kennedy (JFK Park). The park is named for the US president. It features a statue bust of JFK that was a gift from their sister city, Pensacola. The other thing of note about this IMG_0003part was the free range cats everywhere. The park was a sanctuary for cats. The cats lounged around everywhere without any apparent care. I did not see any kittens. Some of the cats were taped up with what looked like gauze and packing tape. I can only assume that all the cats were sterilized. I also noticed that most of the cats bore a purple stripe sprayed on their fur. I assume that this would be an efficient way to tag them if you were giving out shots and did not want to miss one or inject the same cat twice. Some of the cats begged for attention while others acted like cats. I did see a woman distributing bowls of food.

Walking back toward the coast on a diagonal away from my hotel I was on the area known as Calle de las Pizzas (Pizza Street). In the evenings this would be a happening place but at 9am on Sunday morning it was home only to people exercising. There was some sort of health run event taking place. I walked back to the Tennis Club and then turned right toward Parque del Amor and a lighthouse.

IMG_0015After walking back from the lighthouse I headed down the cliff to the lower level to the beach. The beach itself was a steep slope of rocks. It was so steep that it was nearly impossible to walk along the shore. Along the shore were several tents of small business giving surfing lessons. The surfers reminded me of any surfer beach I’ve ever seen complete with VW Minibus with surf board on a trailer. Further down the way were fishermen working their nets. At the far end of the beach was a park complete with soccer fields. There were signs describing the evacuation route to take should there be a tsunami. For me this told me that the only way back to my hotel was to walk back the way I came.

Finishing up this 5 mile walk I was back at my hotel and found my room ready to check in. Tired from the walk and the lack of sleep I tried to relax a bit. I also was restless and wanted to see more of the city. I consulted my guidebook and set my sights on seeing downtown.

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Did someone say llama?

The Internet is all a-Twitter today over a couple of escaped llamas. Let the memes fly. Below are some pictures I took last May in Bogotá, Colombia of some llama’s making a living letting the tourists take their pictures.

VLA: Very Large Array

One of my favorite photo-walks was in May, 2011 to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array near Socorro, New Mexico. I was working in Albuquerque and decided to head out there before the visitor center closed so I could get pictures at sunset. It’s a pretty long drive out of town out into the desert. Once you pass Socorro, you still have nearly another hour drive to get there. I stopped in the small town of Magdalena (population 938) for dinner. The VLA is in a bowl of mountains. Signs tell you to turn off all devices with radios in them. Forget about cell coverage or Wi-Fi. The VLA is a collection of 27 satellite dishes on railroad tracks in a giant “Y” on the desert floor. Each dish is 82 feet in diameter. They move these 230 ton dishes with a pair of train tracks so they can reconfigure the array or bring a dish in for repair. The individual dishes can move to track deep space objects or can be moved in unison to create a virtual dish 22 miles in diameter.

The dishes were featured in movies like Contact2010: The Year We Make Contact, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Terminator Salvation, and Independence Day.  The visitor center is interesting to give you the history of the Array and information about it siblings around the world. I did see some wildlife there: a rabbit and some deer. I took a few hundred pictures. I took some with a tripod and some were handheld. I used a polarizing filter to play with the contrast between the sky and the the dish. It was a challenge to get the pictures to show the detail on the outside of the dishes without bleaching out the inside of the dish or making it too dark. The sky was nearly a perfect clear blue that you can see in some pictures but is washed out in others.

As the sun went down and I got kicked out of the Visitors Center, I scrambled to find a place to get a picture of a dish backlit by the sunset. I managed to get a few pictures that I’m proud of that I used for a while as my wallpaper on my iPad and iPhone. The pictures below are nearly direct from the camera. The images have been scaled but not re-touched or tone-mapped. I shot straight to JPEG format. The camera was my Canon EOS Rebel T1i.

 

Google Street View Selfie

Does finding yourself on Google Street View count as a selfie? In May 2014 I was hanging out in front of the Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá, near Bógota, Colombia, when I noticed what was obviously a Street View car driving by. I decided to check Google to see if the pictures from that day are now available. They are. You can see me taking pictures of the cathedral and some pigeons in the plaza.

[button link=”https://www.google.com/maps/@5.023856,-74.004163,3a,75y,191.59h,90.85t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1suQMEr8tp7tzHNHv9oihTUw!2e0″ type=”icon” icon=”search” newwindow=”yes”] Google Street View Zipaquirá[/button]

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Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho

In November 2013 I traveled to Salt Lake City. I took a drive up to Montpelier, Idaho via US-30 through Wyoming and back around Bear Lake and back to SLC. It is very dramatic countryside. Flying in to SLC you can see Bingham Canyon Mine. It is a huge scar on the Earth that I happen to see in a movie the following week. I cannot remember which one but it used the mine as the exit with a huge gun battle in black and white. The sky was mostly clear during my trip. The color and texture of the rock make for some interesting photography. I played with some tone mapping software to try to reproduce what I had actually seen. I got up early one morning looking for a place to take some golden hour shots of the sun rising. I got a couple of interesting shots.

The most interesting part of the morning was when I was driving down this dirt road through Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge just after dawn but before the sun had broken over the mountains. There was skunk running down the middle of the road. The little guy had no interest in letting me pass.

Back in SLC I took pictures of the tabernacle and the state Capitol building. Later in the week I drove down to visit Provo, the BYU campus and watch the sunset over Utah Lake.

Overall I found it to be beautiful country and the people we very nice. Everywhere you looked there were people going about their business but all dressed up.

Philadelphia

Here are a few select pictures from my October 2014 trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I traveled there with a coworker for a conference that was held right downtown. We took the opportunity to walk the city a bit. The streets were busy that weekend with an Octoberfest. We hit the tourist spots, took a night bus tour, and then decided it would be a good idea to walk to Camden to see the Battleship New Jersey. Apparently New Jersey is not that safe. Who knew. I had just read Ben Franklin’s biography and enjoyed wandering the streets where he lived.

Perot Museum

Driving through Dallas a couple weeks ago I noticed a new building next to the highway across from the West End Marketplace and Dallas World Aquarium that wasn’t there before. The architecture was unique although it reminded me of the museum at the 9/11 Memorial in New York. I heard about the new Perot Museum but did not realize that was it. I tried to get someone to go with me but apparently everyone has already been.

The dinosaur exhibit is very good featuring dinosaurs mostly found locally. The had some footprints from Glen Rose and a proto-turtle from Dallas when it was beach front property. The dinosaurs reign over the fourth flour with a pterodactyl hanging from the ceiling, a T-Rex and a full size diplodocus.

Third floor starts the more traditional exhibits about the universe and energy. There’s a whole section on fossil fuels and gemology. When you get to the second floor there’s a robotics lab with all sorts of hands on exhibits for the inner twelve year old. I miss the old Robot Wars TV show but this helped.

The was no traveling exhibit at this time but Sherlock opens next month and may be worth a return. On the ground floor there’s a small theater showing the usual course of 3-D educational films: Galapagos, Robots, and Tornado Alley. I need to check when Galapagos hits Netflix.

Overall it was a good way to spend three hours. I recommend going the next time you have some out-of-town visitors who want to see Dallas. Be sure to ask for educator discount.

When I got home, the cat was rather cross with me for being gone.

Charlotte

In November 2014 I travelled to Charlotte, North Carolina. I think it was my first trip to Charlotte. My previous experience of North Carolina was seeing it from I-75 behind billboards reminding me how many exits were left until we reached South of the Border, a tourist trap in South Carolina that took advantage of the differences in state laws to sell fireworks. I had some free time in the evenings and managed to take in a few sights offered by this town.

One of the first things I learned is that the town is named for Queen Charlotte (Queen consort of Great Britain and Ireland, later of the United Kingdom and Hanover 5/19/1744 – 11/17/1818). So there are references to the Queen City and Our Queen everywhere. The county Mecklenburg is also named after her.

Near the airport is an office park that contains among other businesses a University of Phoenix campus. In front of one of the buildings is a metal statue of a man’s head. The piece is called Metalmorphosis by Czech sculptor David Černý. I made my detour. I had lunch from a street food vendor selling Maryland crab cakes and southern hushpuppies while sitting by this statue.

Another thing to see in Charlotte is the Mint Museum. It’s actually two museums, one downtown and one in Randolph. One admission gets you into both. The titular mint was shutdown before the civil war but the building remained and is today the museum. It features all sorts of glassware, pottery, ceramics vases, and such from all of recorded history and all over the world. It featured comparative styles of pottery from Central and South America, both pre- and post-columbian. There were also pieces from near and far east. The part that I found most interesting was the collection of North American pieces. Some of these pieces I had seen in grandparents’ homes and taken for granted. It made me look at them in a different way especially when they progressed to the late 20th century. The Uptown museum featured a very interesting traveling exhibit on the Panama Canal at 100. Pictures were not allowed so all I have is a picture of a steam shovel bucket. The focus on the exhibit was not so much about the Canal but about regional art before and after its construction, and how that art became the world view of the Canal project.

Later in the trip I wandered around downtown. I missed the Wells Fargo museum because I did not realize it closed so early. I wandered through an old cemetery in the dark on my way walking to a Sushi restaurant. I saw Marvel Universe Live at the Time Warner Cable center because it was next to my hotel. Downtown has a lot of museums and street art. I have included a couple of those pictures in the gallery below.

On the last day I made two stops on the way to the airport. The first stop was at Fort Dobbs. It was the weekend after Veterans Day so they had a event showcasing military history going back to the colonial days. These reenactors dressed up in their period garb and came out to let the tourists watch them play soldier. They featured live firing of period weapons from black powder to Viet Nam era machine guns. The juxtaposition of these different periods looked like something out of Bill and Ted. The actual fort is long gone. Its now just a historic site on a hill surrounded by suburbia. The only permanent structure was a small cabin the served as a combination museum and gift shop.

The second stop was the birthplace of President James K. Polk, 11th US President. I timed my visit to be there for their birthday party which also happened to be a big grand re-opening/re-dedication event for them. Once again their were people dressed in period costumes although this time they were only from the turn of the 19th century. Once again there was a black powder demonstration. That’s always a crowd favorite.

Vacation to Austin

In July 2012 we took a little family vacation to Austin. My son had just graduated, was heading off to college and did not join us. My daughter was able to bring a friend. We got a condo right on the river, or at least where the river used to be. We spent one day out on jet skis, another day at Krause Springs, and another day in Austin culminating with dinner and a concert at Stubbs. All in all it was a nice trip. Krause Springs is a hidden gem. If you ever go there, get there early, right when they open. It gets really crowded in the afternoon. It is a little spring-fed swimming hole on the west side of Lake Travis. They have a spring fed swimming pool, picnic areas, and a butterfly garden. The lake level was really low and some of the side branches looked tragic with boathouses out in the middle of grassy fields that had once been the lake.

I’ve been to a couple of concerts at Stubbs. They have a small venue inside where you can site at the balcony and watch. They have a larger venue out back that is used for larger gigs like when SXSW is in town.

Austin is a nice place to visit. Sixth Street always makes it interesting. There’s a Tapas Bar on the south end of downtown called Málaga near the bridge where you can watch the bats fly after a day of watching kites fly in the park. Keep Austin weird.

Savannah

Back in April 2012 I traveled to Savannah, Georgia with a couple of co-workers for a conference. Each evening we would try to take in the sights around town and out to the beach. I took a lot of pictures especially of Bonaventure Cemetery. That cemetery was made famous by the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Walking around Savannah are other movie locations like Forrest Gump. The town has an interesting water front where there are stores down buy the river connected to the town by their upstairs level. We had good food, visited a lighthouse (Tybee Island Lighthouse), Forsyth Park, and marveled at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. I tried to cull my thousand pictures in to a sampling that were representative or, as in the case of the taffy factory, told a story. Enjoy.