Monthly Archives: August 2010

Photo: Fairy Falls, New Zealand

I wrote a little sketch once about Fairy Falls that ended up getting published in my Case Western Reserve University’s literary journal (whose name eludes me now), the very top of it is pictured above.  This was the first nonfiction piece they ever published actually as they never liked my poetry or fiction because, egad!, I tend to talk about science a lot.  (Cause that’s what I do all day and all.  Crazy!) Anyway, here’s that little essay because it saves me the trouble of repeating myself…


I remember the day last March when I went on my first trip on the Fairy Falls Track in the Waitakere Ranges of New Zealand. It was a trip organized by the University of Auckland Tramping Club, and because the Falls were a mere hour outside Auckland we just made a day trip of it.

Have you ever been to New Zealand? If you have, you probably know a bit about tramping already. You know that tramping is their word for what Americans call hiking, the Australians call bushwhacking, and what the British call rambling. Furthermore, you probably know that New Zealand is synonymous with Aotearoa, Maori for The Land of the Long White Cloud, and that when it comes to kiwis a kiwi is a bird, a Kiwi (with a capital “K”) is a person, and a kiwifruit is the vegetarian alternative of the three eaten with a spoon. Words can often change meanings from one end of a city to another, after all, so when there’s a whole trans-Pacific crossing involved I want to make sure we all know what’s going on.

But anyway, the Falls. We tramped in on a loop track that took just a few hours to complete, which is why we’d only made a day trip of it. The jungle was lush and vibrant in a primeval sort of way: giant ferns taller than a person were scattered in the underbrush, and the towering trees were covered with vines and other creepers. New Zealand broke off the mainland over 80 million years ago during the time when dinosaurs still ruled the Earth, so you feel like a tyrannosaurus is about to crash through the bushes for the simple reason that the bushes are just like the ones he did crash through eons ago. It is a truly wonderful sight to see, even if you can’t quite believe you were the one wielding the camera when you develop the pictures.

There is one downside to the prehistoric wilderness in Aotearoa though: it’s deathly quiet. There are no mammals in New Zealand save two species of bat because they hadn’t existed 80 million years ago, so most of the native wildlife consists of reptiles and birds. Most of those native animals have gone extinct since the arrival of humans and the few that are around are mainly nocturnal, so you are often walking through brush with nothing scurrying through it. And honestly, can you imagine walking through the woods in Ohio never coming across a squirrel hopping from tree to tree, or scaring a white-tailed deer from the undergrowth? It’s unnerving.

All silence aside, though, the New Zealand wilderness is beautiful and pretty much everything they crack it up to be. As we progressed on the track we came across the Fairy Falls, a series of cascading pools that end in a fifty-foot drop off a cliff-face, and there were lots of ooohs and ahhhs from those of us visiting it for the first time.

“This is incredible,” I sighed to a Kiwi student after we paused briefly to examine a tree taller than a California redwood.

“Really?” She paused to look for a second at her surroundings. She had grown up in the closest town to the Fairy Falls Track and had hiked it every weekend when she was younger.

“I’ll be honest with you,” she told me frankly, “I don’t notice. This is all pretty normal for us.”

A Tour of Central Park, NYC

The curious paradox of New York City is this- if it has a fault it’s that there isn’t much green space in most of the city, and yet this lack means you can pool your resources to create the best park in the world.  Seriously, you wander through most of New York City amazed but wishing there was a patch of grass for your eyes to rest on, and then you wander into Central Park where there’s so much that you forget it can possibly be in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. Continue reading

Photo: Lick Observatory, CA

I don’t think I mentioned it here, but for those who missed the memo I signed a contract with Astronomy magazine at the beginning of the month for my first-ever article for them!  Anyone who knows me knows how excited I am about this because I was so in love with the magazine when I first got interested in astronomy that my first issues literally fell apart.  I can’t imagine what my younger self would have thought knowing I would be actually writing for them just ten years later!

Anyway, the article’s focus is on visiting astronomical sites in northern California as a member of the public as most sites offer guided tours and such and here’s a picture of one of them- Lick Observatory, located in Silicon Valley just south of San Francisco.  Amazing drive up and neat because you can see the research telescopes professional astronomers use to do research!  But if you want to know more, you’ll have to read the article when it comes out in a few months of course. *wink*

New York, New York

I was in New York City this past weekend, part to see old friends and part because I wanted to turn in my application for Hungarian citizenship at the Hungarian consulate (I can get it thanks to my mother, but never have up to now).  It turns out that dealing with Hungarian bureaucracy is all the red tape and more you’d expect from a former communist nation as it’s taken me several months to get the paperwork together.  But that wasn’t enough, as then they’d just changed their hours (ie closed Friday even though the Internet says they’re open), but a combination of arguing, tears, and finding people who knew my mother means my papers will be processed and I’ll be a citizen in six months or so.  All in all it was the final test of Hungarian nationality!

Anyway, that done it was time to wander around Manhattan for a few days-

As a first stop, the financial district with the stock market behind me.  For being such a huge city near me I hardly go to New York City honestly (I’m much more familiar with many cities in Europe- see why I need E.U. citizenship?) to the point where the last time I was in the financial district the World Trade Centers were still standing- I remember the security in the lobby they had thanks to the 1993 attacks for example.  So it was good to be back and to see all the construction going on now at Ground Zero.

Moving onward and upward, Chinatown!  Filled with Chinese trinkets and fake goods all that other stuff no one really needs!

Ok, I shouldn’t be really mean about this as Chinatown does has awesome food.  In that we picked a random restaurant solely based on the fact that it was filled with mainly Chinese people and had a delicious meal for a fraction of what such things usually cost in NYC.  So how can one seriously complain?

Also spotted in Chinatown was something I’d never seen before but is certainly needed in an American city- 3D parking when you only have a lot.  I’m pretty sure the ones up top are there on a long-term basis, but I still rather liked the idea.

Just up the street is everyone’s other favorite ethnic community, Little Italy of course.  I’m pretty sure there is a higher concentration of Italian restaurants on this street than in Italy overall!  So great vibe but the tinsel decorations were a bit strange to me as it put me in a Christmas-y mood a la the decorations one typically finds in towns that time of year.

Finally, past the Empire State Building in the picture above and with the help of a subway ride we arrive at 5th Avenue. (Terrible confession: I do not say “subway” anymore because worldwide hardly any city calls it that, instead calling it the Metro. Does this make me un-American?) 5th Avenue is of course filled with shops filled with every Italian label known and places like Tiffany’s where one can admire shiny things- I think all women have a magpie gene or something, as I can never resist just looking– until at the end of the shopping strip you reach the toy stores.  And by toy stores I don’t just meen FAO Schwarz for kids but also the Apple store, which looks super cool until you see the hordes queuing up outside because someone didn’t design the stairwell large enough to accommodate everyone.

Also, I am including this picture because this building is curiously the second most photographed building in NYC according to a study done awhile back, after the Empire State Building of course.  To be fair, the Empire State Building is a lot bigger!  Number one most photographed building in the world is the Eiffel Tower in case anyone was wondering.

Anyway, in the interest of length and a lot of really awesome Central Park pictures that deserve their own post, my Manhattan explorations will cease here and call it halftime.  Cheers!

Video: The Big Piano at FAO Schwarz in NYC!

Checked out many a thing in New York City but to kick things off this video turned out really well- the famous big piano at FAO Schwarz! (Well famous if you have your Tom Hanks 80s movies correctly.) The song being played is, of course, The Entertainer because for some reason the two professional piano players couldn’t get things going well for the more famous Heart and Soul.

Alas, before anyone asks I did not get on the big piano myself because there were way too many little kids in line, and somehow FAO Schwarz makes a big kid feel out of place when not accompanied by a little one!

Photo: Niagara Falls

I’m in New York (City) this weekend so here’s a photo of one of the more famous landmarks in that state while I’m away- taken from the Canadian side, yes, but the land you’re looking at is in the USA! And the little boat you see here of course is the Maid of the Mist for scale.

I visit or pass through here about once a year as it’s a ~3 hour drive from Cleveland. The most recent was last fall, post Victoria Falls visit, so it was interesting to compare the two- in short I hate to admit it but Niagara Falls just isn’t that impressive anymore! I thought they were comparable in height when I was at Vic Falls but seeing Niagara afterwards made me notice how puny it was in actuality- you also stand a lot further from Niagara than Vic Falls (where you get so wet from the spray you resemble a wet rat towards the end) so that didn’t assist my perception.  But Niagara Falls is a lot closer to me than Victoria Falls, and only one of them has a Hershey store!

Climbing Red Hill, New Hampshire

The Hungarian side of my family was in New Hampshire this past week so I took off to visit with them, and when in New Hampshire it’s inevitable that one decides to climb one of the numerous peaks in the area (or, if you’re lazy, drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road). As we were in an enterprising mood one day we instead decided to climb Red Hill-

Before the trails in the White Mountains got developed this was one of the great hikes in New England- the likes of Thoreau and Emerson came here and praised the view from the top (you’ll see why in a second!). So up we go!

Pictures of hikes along the way aren’t particularly exciting- the best part is usually the top after all- but I’ll take this moment to say Red Hill is probably the biggest hill you’ll ever come across at 2029 feet.  But hey we got up in about an hour and got about seven geocaches along the way! (Or rather I did and others looked on with various levels of interest.)

Finally the top- hooray! Red Hill is sorta famous in the local area for the fire tower on top of it, but this was the first time at the end of the climb where there was no ranger inside and the top of the tower was shut. Budget cuts perhaps? Kind of a shame, he was a nice guy to talk to.

Finally what we’ve all been waiting for- the spectacular view!

First picture above is towards the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire (can’t remember what they all are but you can’t see Mount Washington from here due to a few peaks in between us and there), second is Lake Winnipesaukee which is the lake my family frequents, and the third is towards Squam Lake.  Squam Lake is probably the more famous as On Golden Pond was filmed there.Finally a view from the fire tower towards the ever-important picnic table, as whoever heard of going on a hike without a picnic? All in all a good day.

Photo- Table Mountain Cable Car, Cape Town, South Africa


Bear Island Post Office

In New Hampshire this week, so seemed like a good time to write this one up.  Pictures are from a hodgepodge of years, but not like the lake ever changes much.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the Mecca of my summertime is Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, right next door to where On Golden Pond was filmed.  A childhood of summers spent here might make me a touch biased, but I don’t know why someone would go anywhere else when the weather’s good!

The lake itself is the biggest in the NH Lakes Region and has several hundred islands but I’ll just introduce you to a favorite, which is arguably the most famous of the islands to the point where National Geographic wrote about it a few years ago.  As the biggest island not connected to the mainland it sports what has to be the most adorable little post office anywhere-

Every summer one of only two floating post offices in the United States, the Sophie C, comes here to deliver mail to the ~200-odd cottages on the island (I checked and the other one is based out of Detroit and gets mail to passing ships in the Great Lakes).  Cool!  But the funny thing to admit is even though I’ve passed it hundreds of times we’d never docked here until last Memorial Day because I wanted to find a geocache.  Good a reason as any right?

So it turns out if you hop onto the dock this is what you find in the back of the post office- normal enough, but please realize that it’s kinda cool to see after seeing the other side of a building for 15 years or so!  And it turns out inside the post office building itself is actually a little library of books and movies for people on the island to borrow which I had no idea- makes sense though, as I suspect summering on an island not accessible by car involves a lot less heading to town for an ice cream and more sitting around enjoying a book.  I suspect moving in/out would be seriously annoying though.

Anyway, I didn’t take pictures but the geocache near the post office is a pleasant half mile walk into the forest behind the P.O. on a series of trails we had no idea existed before.  It’s hidden in the old ruins of a hotel that we also had no idea had been there, but that’s the fun of geocaching!

Finally we got back to the boat, and took another picture to prove that we’d actually set foot on Bear Island-

Certainly something worth mentioning if you hang out on Winnipesaukee long enough.  And yes just enough goes on around here that visiting a post office counts as a feat, but isn’t that part of the appeal?