Monday, August 24, 2015

Aarhus and our last week in Denmark

Our vacation time ended today.  We spent the day at Aarhus University meeting with Jens-Christian Svenning's biodiversity group.  Ingrid and I gave back to back talks - Ingrid about our joint work on phylogenetic effects on pathogen spillover (our Nature paper from earlier this year) and then I gave a talk on the Fungal Dimension work from Panama.  It was a good group of ecologists interested in species interactions, tropical and temperate systems, and broadly trying to make predictive sense about what will happen ecologically as climate changes.  It was good to be back talking and thinking about science, and the discussions after the talks were stimulating.  Learned about some good new tools from BIEN that are just about to be released that will make much of my phylogenetic work easier, as well.  UCSC has some close Anthropocene connections through the AURA project with Ana Tsing, and we spent the afternoon talking with her associate Elaine Gan, an artist working on tree-fungal connections in post-mining areas in Denmark.  Many good connections in this visit.

Now we are on a long ferry ride from Aarhus to Odden, and then to Klemens' summer house for the night.  Tomorrow we drive to Copenhagen, pack up, and head to Sevilla on Wednesday morning!  I can't wait to be back in a land where I speak the language. 

This last visit to Denmark has been good.  We've rented a car to drive to Lolland (Ingrid's family's ancestral home) to spend some wonderful days with Hanne's high school friend Bodil.  She has a wicked wit, showed her love by feeding us to bursting, and gave us a different perspective on the social changes in Denmark.  She lives in Rødby, a small, dying town where most of the stores have closed, people have fled to the city, and the economic struggles of Lolland are clear.  Down the road in Maribo, where Ingrid's mother grew up, they have been working hard to make it tourist friendly, and it is more quaint and thriving than I remembered.  We took the boat tour around the Maribosø, and got to see a number of the white-tailed eagles that have come back to the lake after a long absence.  We also rented bikes and did the 25km (flat) circuit around the lake - by far my longest bike ride since the onset of Bartonella over a year ago, so that was great, if a bit of a stretch.  But it was made more of an adventure by one flat tire and Eli's chain repeatedly falling off.  But it was a great was to see Lolland in a more Danish way.  

Elias and Bodil on his 13th birthday
Eli made a special request that we spent his 13th birthday with "family", and Bodil offered to make an amazing cake, and Ingrid and I made chicken and pasta.  The two of them went early in the morning for Eli to pick out the kinds of pastries to get for breakfast.  A great time was had by all.  

Lego version of Copenhagen waterfront
En route to Aarhus we took a car ferry from Lolland to Fyn, then stopped for a visit in Odense at the H.C. Anderson house, and then on to a day at Legoland!  It was much more interesting and fun than I expected -- much less Disney and much more creativity and quite a lot of education about energy and transportation snuck in.  And good softice.  

We also made a quick visit to the Jelling Stones -- two rune boulders erected by Harald Bluetooth in the 10th century in honor of his father Gorm, the first King of Denmark and his conversion of the country to Christianity.  It is a world heritage site, and last year they opened a museum, which was spectacular in its artistic presentation, information, and creativity.  Primarily done as a maze of black "chalkboards" with some static and many changing, projected, chalk "drawings".  Most images were interactive in some way, and nearly all in just black and white.  Captivating, beautiful, and effective.  

The most brilliant installation, and the most gruesome, was a black-and-white drawing of a dead Viking on a knee-high platform, with numerous weapons sticking out of it -- an axe in the leg, a spear in the chest, a knife in the neck, etc.  When you grabbed onto any of the weapons, red "blood" poured out of the wound as well as useful information about how long it would take for that kind of a wound to kill the victim, and what exactly he would die of (e.g., sword cut on the hand could take a week from blood poisoning, cutting off a leg 2h from blood loss, knife stab in the neck 2 min from blood loss, etc.  I don't think they could have made a more intriguing installation for a 13 year old boy.  

In Aarhus we spend a couple days with our Santa Cruz neighbors from years ago, Jacob, Luise, Liv, and Alberte.  We went to the beach (for a brisk, brief, and refreshing dip in the Kattegat (North Sea between Denmark and Sweden), and visited the reconstructed old town.  On our walks (and in their garden) we ate tons of rose hips, cherries, plums, raspberries, grapes, and more.  We harvested some "beach kale" (Crambe maritima) and took it home for dinner.  Sautéed, spiced with soy sauce and vinegar, it was pleasantly salty and cabbagy.  But we also learned that it was rather methanogenic.  They had just been to visit Santa Cruz the days before we left for Europe, so we got to see them twice in a short time, which was great. 

Now to focus on the transition to Spain.  All should be ready, we just need to make the drive to Copenhagen, repack and balance bags, then fly to Sevilla through Barcelona.  On to Pagés del Corro!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Another casual list of birds from Denmark

Lolland and Jylland, Denmark (Maribo, Rødby, Aarhus, etc.)
17-24 August 2015
Nuthatch               House martin
Treecreeper            Tufted duck
Great tit              Moorhen
Wood pigeon            Hooded crow
Jackdaw                Tree sparrow
Mallard                Grey-lag goose
Coot                   Collared dove
Black-headed gull      Pied wagtail
Common tern            Starling
Gray heron             Great-crested grebe
White-tailed eagle     Mute swan
Cormorant              Lesser black-backed gull
Swift                  Pigeon
Swallow                Eider
Herring gull           Wren
Hen harrier            Rough-legged buzzard

Hydra Island, Greece

What an invigorating transition to Hydra - an island with 2000 resident humans, at least as many tourists, and a lot of donkeys, mules, horses, and goats.  No cars. Crystal clear, warm, salty water with pebble beaches and seemingly unlimited visibility.  Such a great place to escape from the urban press of the last two weeks.

We stayed at the amazing Mastorias Mansion B&B, an 18th-century mansion just renovated to a 5-room B&B by the former owner's grandson and family with much care, taste, and creativity.  Highly recommended to all!  

The crowning acheivement of the visit was a long climb from sea-level to the summit of 485-m Mount Eros, passing the Monastery of Elias the Prophet on the way.  This was by far the most intense and extensive exercise I've had since my symbiosis with Bartonella over a year ago (thanks Dr. Mozayeni!), and worth the climb.  The view down the steep south slope of the island, the crazy-horned goats, the many ways that plants can be thorned, and the long walk back down the hill in search of cold water and icecream.  

The next day we took a trail ride out to Plakas beach - Ingrid and Eli with western saddles, but I got the Greek saddle.  Wooden, uncomfortable, and best ridden side-saddle, but I was told that learning to ride the Greek saddle side-saddle takes a lot of experience and that I should ride astrid.  Fortunately treck was only 45 min.  Part of the fun was that the first half of the trip was all up and down staircases in the town until we emerged out of the town to a path through the farms out to the beaches east of town.  The horses were small and sure footed on the stairs, except that Elias' horse behind me kept picking fights with my horse because it didn't like to be second, and Ingrid's horse wanted to eat everything, including trying to steal apples from grocers' carts in the town.  But it led to a lovely day of swimming and fish watching, as well as seeing lots of urchins, sponges, gorgonians, and more.  
Finally we had to head back to Athens for one night, before heading off to Denmark again to visit friends, Legoland, and give talks at the University of Aarhus.  Our last day in Athens we took in the Byzantine museum, which included artwork of the strange world view and practices of the early Orthodox church.  

We also finished reading as a family James Shipman's Constantinopolis, a 2015 novel about the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.  It was a really great historical novel, and we enjoyed seeing so much of the places and seeing historical references to the people in the novel in our travels to both Istanbul and Athens.  Perhaps the most interesting for me was realizing that the flood of many educated Greeks from Constantinopolis to the West was at the same time as the development of the Güttenberg press, which was so instrumental in the spreading of the Greek philosophy, arts, and sciences into the European Renaissance.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


And now to enjoy the serious heat of Greece!  We spent three days in Athens, visiting all the "must see" points of history of Western Civilization, plus wandering throughout the charming streets of the Plaka, learning some plants in the beautiful parks, and eating very well.

Experiencing the columns, statues, immense buildings of the Acropolis and surrounding sites was more impressive than I expected.  The new Acropolis museum and the National Museum were wonderful for helping to refresh our sense of how much has happened in Athens and organize things into a time line and then being there to see the excavated and restored sites, along with many of the statues and vases and frescos that we remember from text books (me from art history, Eli from Mr. O's class, and Ingrid from UC days) was thrilling.

Perhaps more beautiful and exciting than even our visit to the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis was our late afternoon stroll through the park to Pnyx and Philopappos Hill.  The views to the Acropolis were spectacular, and the stroll through the restored vegetation in the park was wonderful.  Medicago as a shrub 2m tall!  Aleppo pines, olive trees, capers, and so much more.  Harvester ants with giant seeds.

Cicadas first in sync, then syncopated, then random, then in sync again -- in the park and all over the city.  Lovely park, spectacular views out to the port at Piraeus  and to the mountain tops inland.  The city with monochrome off-white in all directions, with sparkles catching the sun.
We had eaten so much great food, but realized that the mainstay of Greek restaurants in the US and Panama -- gyros -- had been absent.  So Eli wanted to make sure we found some gyros, but were having little luck.  This led to a great conversation at a small restaurant, where the owner was emphatic that souvlaki was much superior.  That we could find gyros at the ports if we wanted, but we shouldn't eat it because, he explained to Ingrid, "It is fat like your husband".  The meat used for gyros is what is left over after you eat the good, lean mean -- sort of like sausage.  Pressed together and then cooked on the spit, so it tastes good but is more fat that lean.  The souvlaki was great...

Everything is close here, so walking is a pleasure.

The narrow streets (just big enough for pedestrians, but often joined by motorcycles and occasionally cars) through the Plaka are always and adventure, and it felt good to be a little less accosted than in Istanbul (restaurant owners are quite agressive, but not like in Turkey).  We did our best to learn polite words and phrases in Greek, and got to be pretty good at sounding out the greek signs to find our way around.  But it seems that pretty much anyone engaged with tourists speaks either English or Spanish, so we've had little trouble communicating (except with the housekeeper who gave us the keys and the tour of our airbnb place; that was largely pantomime).
The heat has slowed us down (a bright, sunny 36°C, except for one mid-afternoon thunder and lightening drizzle) including mid-afternoon siestas, but with early starts and late dinners we have had plenty of time.

Tomorrow off to Hydra for a few days of escape from city life!

Istanbul - Galata

A few more days in Istanbul from the Galata side of the Golden horn, with some wonderful memories.  Our bedroom looked out on the Galata tower (which also meant we "enjoyed" the nightlife of the square late into the night).

We also spent some stimulating hours in the brand new Istanbul Modern - painting, sculpture, films, and installations, mostly from Turkey but also as far away as California.  Beautifully done museum, and it seems to be only half completed.

Our last night we were lucky enough to be able to attend a Sufi ceremony - the origin of "whirling dervishes".  A spectacular, solemn, beautiful, athletic, musical ceremony.

Now off to Greece!

A casual list of birds of Athens and Hydra

Ring-necked parakeet
Blue tit
House Sparrow
Barn Swallow
House martin
Collared dove

Collared dove
House Sparrow
Sardinian warbler
Hooded crow
Barn swallow

Hydra also has lots of donkeys, mules, horses, chickens, goats, a few lizards, and lots of fish.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A casual list of birds of Istanbul

Birds of Istanbul (2-9 August 2015)
White stork (thousands!)
Hooded crow
Common Myna
Yellow-legged Gull
Turtle dove
House sparrow
Ring-necked parakeet
Alpine Swift

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Enjoying the warm sunshine of Istanbul - The Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the Chora Church, palaces along the Bosporus, and singing from the minarets five times a day.  Ingrid of course needed appropriate head covering to enter the mosques and other holy places, and we all needed to remove our shoes. 

The tile mosaics, frescos, caligraphy, and sheer splendor of the buildings was hard to take in at once.  The Blue Mosque was spectacular and felt like a very sacred space.  Eli was disillusioned by the the Hagia Sophia because nearly all traces of the Byzantine church were gone (except a few restored images of Jesus and Mary and the seraphim) from when it was converted to a Mosque.  It has also be "secularized", so that it was strictly a museum, and for Eli there was a big loss in converting what was once the grandest of all Christian churches into a tourist attraction.  He expected it to feel more like the Blue Mosque.  Later we did visit the Chora Church, which, although currently under renovation, the parts we could see gave a great feel for what the ancient churches were like. 

Our first day arriving to the Hippodrome area we were treated to thousands and thousands of white storks flying over head.  Apparently they migrate to the Bosporus at this time of year.  A countless stream of black and white sails. 

 We are enjoying trying all kinds of new foods, pistachio sweets, kebabs of many sorts, lots of yoghurt, a very interesting and refreshing turnip juice with pickles and cabbage in it, fresh pomegranate juice, great teas and Turkish coffee, Ayran (yoghurt drink), and some salads of cheese and chilies, or peaches, or beets, or ...   If it doesn't come from mammal meat, I'll give it a try.

The Grand Bazaar and the many small bazaars are overwhelming, exciting, and impossible.  It is a bit like Sal-si-puedes in Panama, but much more extensive and packed, packed, packed with locals and tourists from all over the world.  It is a little hard to take the aggressive "Yes. Please. Come in. You want to buy"  every few steps, but the assortment of what is available is hard to believe.  The Grand Bazaar is all under roof, with 23 doors.  I had to buy a Zurna to add to my world-wide collection of flutes after watching a Janissary band perform.  

We spent the first four days on the Fatih side, in an airbnb flat in the last residential neighborhood just south of the Hagia Sophia.  It was a wonderful location, just a few minutes walk to most of the famous sights and hundreds of restaurants and cafes. 
Yesterday we moved over to the Galata side, across the Golden Horn.  The airbnb flat here is literally a stone's throw from the Galata tower, on the top floor of a very old building, with an astounding view of the Bosphorus and the entrance to the Golden Horn.  It is truly astounding, even the five flights up the spiral staircase to get here.  All around us the buildings are a mix of decadent brick buildings and beautifully restored buildings.  It seems like every third building is undergoing a major renovation right now.