Monday, October 17, 2016

A GHOST TOWN CALLED BODIE

Abandoned towns exist all over the world, but few of them are considered a bonafide ghost town like Bodie.  This deserted, but once booming, gold mining town in the1880's is hidden deep within the hills east of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, 13 miles off Highway #395 in California.  Considering that next week is Halloween, it seems timely to share my photos and tell you a little about our recent visit to a deserted place that entertains approximately 200,000 visitors a year.  This was my second visit to Bodie.  I don't remember the first one very well because it was at least 40 years ago after a challenging backpacking trip in the Sierras that totally wiped me out, leaving me little patience and no energy or interest in exploring a ghost town. Besides I didn't believe in ghosts.  I only recall that we had to drive 13 miles off the highway on a dirt road that felt like it hadn't been attended to since the 1800s.   My second trip last week was very different, definitely more meaningful and certainly more interesting and exciting.   Over the years I've heard a lot about Bodie, and the eeriness of the ghost town totally absorbed the photographer in me, unlike the first time when I was too broke to own a camera.





YES, 3 MILES ON A VERY BUMPY DIRT ROAD









This visit was different because now 10 of the 13 miles of the access road are paved.  This meant we only had to drive three miles on a dusty washboard with deep ruts and potholes.  The nicely paved road made our drive in much faster and certainly more comfortable.  I'm pretty sure that 40 years ago we were the only people visiting Bodie at the time because it was not well known like it is today, now that it is a California State Park and a National Historic site.   Last week when we reached the end of the road and the town's entrance, we came upon a gatehouse where a ranger collected a small fee, handed us a map and brochure, and directed us uphill to a paved parking lot where there were also important amenities like flush toilets.  He also said we had two and a half hours before the park closed, which seemed like plenty of time for us to explore the abandoned town.   There were a few visitors like us exploring the streets, peering into windows, and in some cases going inside some of the houses where remnants of the past were visible in paint-faded furniture, moth-eaten mattresses and broken doors that hung loosely, many unhinged.  Almost everyone had a camera.



MAIN STREET



NOT FOR SALE

Bodie began as a mining camp, following the discovery of gold in 1859 and was named after Bill Bodey,  one of the four prospectors who discovered the gold but never got to see the glorious rise of the town because he perished in a blizzard just a few months after establishing the camp.  The mining of gold and the glory of Bodie waxed and waned over the next ten to fifteen years, but in 1876 a profitable deposit of gold-bearing ore was discovered, and Bodie was transformed from an isolated mining camp to a wild west boomtown.  By 1879 Bodie had a population of approximately 5,000-7,000 people.  As a bustling gold mining center, Bodie offered many services of a larger town, such as a Wells Fargo Bank, a volunteer fire department, a brass band, a railroad and a well-used jail.  At its peak, 65 saloons lined main street which was a mile long.  Murders, shootouts, bar room brawls and stagecoach holdups were regular occurrences in Bodie.  There were hundreds of bearded miners, who came to town to seek their fortunes in the gold mine but spent their nights in the saloons, looking for quick money or simply getting into trouble and landing in jail.  Many of them looked like this old timer whose photo I took in the historic gold country town of Columbia just off Highway 49.



AN OLD TIMER WHO PROBABLY RESEMBLES THE FORTUNE SEEKERS OF BODIE



LISTING TO THE LEFT SLIGHTLY



THE BEAUTY OF DECAY


Living conditions in Bodie were crude and primitive, but the people in town were generous and kind, which helped Bodie thrive during the tough years, when gold became harder to mine and fortune seekers moved to other boom towns, hoping once again to get rich quick.   These changes eventually turned Bodie into a family-oriented community, as evidenced by the construction of the Methodist Church, which still stands, and the Roman Catholic Church that later burned down.  Despite the decline, Bodie had permanent residents through the early years of the 20th century even after the fire in 1932 that burned down 70% of the town.



METHODIST CHURCH STILL STANDS


















The title of ghost town was given to Bodie in 1915 when auto travel was on the rise, and people from all over came to visit after reading a story about the abandoned mining town published in the San Francisco Chronicle.  













In the 1940s the threat of vandalism faced Bodie, but the family who owned much of the town's land at that time hired caretakers to protect and maintain the town's structures, but no restoration had ever taken place.  





Bodie is now an authentic wild west ghost town, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and a State Historic Park in 1962.  Bodie is called a ghost town because it is preserved in a state of arrested decay.  This means that structures are maintained but only to the extent that they will not be allowed to fall over or otherwise deteriorate in any major way.  In addition new roofs, the rebuilding of foundations and the resealing of glass in window frames does help to preserve the town from natural decay.   After the 1932 fire, only a small part of the town survived, with about 110 structures.   


Bruce and I hurriedly walked the deserted streets of a town that was once bustling with activity, and while initially two and a half hours seemed like sufficient time to enjoy our visit, we left feeling a bit disappointed and frustrated because there was so much to see and so many photographs to take that we could have spent the entire day.  It goes without saying that we are hooked on Bodie.  Bruce and I will return in the spring, after the snow melts, so we can negotiate the steep mountain passes required to reach the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and have another magical experience of the spooky ghost town called Bodie.


EASTERN SIDE OF THE SIERRAS





Wednesday, September 28, 2016

HOW TO EAT A LOBSTER

Just as I smacked my lips after eating  a succulent piece of meat from the claw of my boiled Maine lobster, I heard a shrill shriek in a highly-prized Maine accent come out from my dear friend Billi's mouth.   "Who the hell dumped the knuckles in the bucket?"  Billi questioned, as she stared directly at me.  "Yikes, I guess that was me," I said in a somewhat guilty-sounding voice.  "I forgot there was some lobster meat in there."  





Once Billi discovered I was the culprit, she silently branded me a lobster-eating neophyte, a beginner, a rookie who didn't know how to tackle this pre-historic-looking, boiled-to-death monster that sat on my paper plate.  I did nothing during our feast to convince her of a time during my growing up years in New England when I attacked and ate a Maine lobster with gusto, like a pro, but I admit it has been some time since I rolled up my sleeves, put on my bib, and dismembered a marine crustacean.   Since our lobster feast was the centerpiece of our special one-day reunion among five very good friends from high school, I didn't want to embarrass myself, but I guess I kind of did. 

With apologies to Billi, whose father was a lobsterman, by the way, I retrieved the pristine knuckles from the bucket where I had tossed them because I didn't think they were worth the effort.  But now that I had them back on my plate,  I started with the lobster cracker first, but moved on to using the small pick fork which did most of the work, which wasn't easy.  To be honest I only got a few bits of flaky meat out of the knuckles, so when no one was looking, I dropped the bits in my bowl of melted butter,  and figured I could fish them out at the end.  I watched with envy as my friends slurped and sucked the juice and small bits of meat from every part of the lobster, including the knuckles, but I didn't know quite how to begin. 





Next I attacked the tail, which everyone knows holds the glory and is the tastiest part.   I twisted the tail off, carefully removed the three or four fan-like tabs and, just like my mother taught me, I pushed my fattest finger into the now-opened end, and voila, the chunky tail meat slipped out the other end in one nice big piece.  Just as I started to dip the lobster meat into my melted butter and take my first bite,  Billi grabbed the tail from my hand and spoke to me sternly once again.  "Pam, you don't eat that stuff," she said, as she tore away the red fleshy-like substance covering part of the tail.  Once she removed the red sheath, she deveined the lobster with her bare hands, like one might devein a shrimp, something I had never seen performed on a lobster before, but I watched and prayed that after she finished the job, there would be something left for me to eat.  "Here," she said, as she handed me the macerated tail, "but remember, never eat the red stuff."  Up until now my other Maine born and bred girlfriends, sat around the table engrossed in their own lobsters, but as Billi's comments grew louder, they turned to me and almost as if they had practiced in unison proclaimed  We never eat the red stuff -- whatever it is.    What is it anyway?  Eyeballs?  digested food?  female eggs?  the bladder?  No one was really sure, but they all agreed that you don't eat the red stuff.   By the time Billi finished cleaning my lobster tail, it looked pretty small, but after I dipped it in melted butter, and took my first bite, it didn't matter.   I was in bliss.  






After I finished the tail and wiped the melted butter from my chin,  I started to pry open the body of the lobster, and that's when I heard Billi's stern voice once again.   "No, No, No.  That's not the way.  This is how you do it."  Using both thumbs,  Billi broke open the carapace of the lobster and exposed a display of white flaky innards, which can be tasty, but, like the lobster knuckles,  it seemed like too much work to separate the meat from the cartilage.  Actually, I hoped to find the tasty green stuff,  the squishy paste that is called tomalley, and I did. I found lots of the delicious green stuff.  I have never wanted to ask anyone what tomalley really was for fear that it could be something horrible, like digested food, but when I looked up the spelling, I learned the awful truth.  Tomalley functions as both the liver and the pancreas of the lobster.  Now I think eating the liver and pancreas of a lobster sounds terrible, just as terrible as eating digested food, but I have always loved the green stuff.   Now that I have read the details on Wikipedia, I'm not sure whether I will eat tomalley ever again because I learned that tomalley often contains toxins and other pollutants, which possibly can give off a number of negative health effects if eaten in large concentrations.  Fortunately since I only eat a whole lobster once every couple of years, I doubt I have to worry, but on that special day with my girlfriends in Kennebunkport,  I ate two whole Maine lobsters and lots of tomalley.





After the table was cleared,  Billi placed a large home-made blueberry pie and a bowl of vanilla ice cream on the table for us to share.  Mainiacs, as people from Maine are called,  know that after consuming a lobster (or two), the tastiest dessert is a piece (or two) of fresh blueberry pie topped with vanilla ice cream.  Those tiny Maine blueberries are superior to blueberries grown anywhere else on the planet.





The lobster feast was the edible portion of a very special day-long reunion among five good friends who graduated together in 1961from Gould Academy, a boarding school in Bethel, Maine.  The non-edible portions of our day were non-stop talking, considerable introspection, some true confessions, and just a tiny bit of good clean gossip.



L-R LOUISE, BILLI, SANDY, PAM AND HILDA


The Adventure continues...............

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A PHOTO FEAST IN NORWAY'S LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN

If you ask a traveler to name a favorite place to visit,  the Norwegian fjords are often mentioned because of their dramatic and extraordinary beauty.  Once Bruce knew that a hip replacement was in his near future, we decided to see the fjords in Norway, and traveling by small cruise ship seemed like the ideal way to do it.  After researching the internet and talking to friends, we chose a two-week itinerary on the Seabourn line, embarking and disembarking in Copenhagen, Denmark, and traveling through the Fjords as far north as the North Cape, which is above the Arctic Circle.  We stopped at different ports in both directions and had four scenic and reading days at sea, which we enjoyed. Thanks to the ship's small size, we were able to get deep into many fjords, even managing a 360 degree turnaround at the head of the very narrow Trollfjord. 

The following are photographs and commentary from our trip, including a series of images of the Norwegian section of the EuroVelo, a network of popular bicycling routes throughout Europe.




ONE OF MANY BEAUTIFUL FJORDS


A day in Sognefjorden and the fishing village of Flam

"Do you live in Flam?" I asked the woman sitting next to me on the train, as we started our ascent to Myrdal.   I figured she must be  local since she carried a lunch sack, and while the rest of us stared in awe at the amazing scenery around us,  she seemed rather bored. She said she lived in Flam but worked on top at Myrdal, where she rented bicycles to tourists, who preferred descending by bike rather than the train.  That's when I wished I'd researched more extensively on the train ride before buying our tickets in advance because biking down a mountain road surrounded by gorgeous alpine scenery seemed more appealing to me than returning by train.  The Flamsbana Railway, an engineering wonder, is one of the steepest train lines in the world, where almost 80% of the journey is at a gradient of 5.5%, taking you from ocean level at the end of Sognefjord in Flam to the scenic mountain top called Myrdal.  The train travels through twenty tunnels, and there are stunning waterfalls and multiple viewpoints. 






FLAMSBANA RAILWAY, A 20KM LONG ENGINEERING WONDER, STOPS IN MYRDAL





A VIEW OF THE TRAIN FROM THE TRAIN








SOGNEFJORDEN FROM STEGASTEIN VIEWPOINT, FLAM 

Bergen

Surrounded by seven hills and seven fjords, Bergen is a charming city, well known as a major northern outpost of the Hanseatic League, a 13th century trading group based in the city states of Germany.  At its height the League had over 150 member cities and was northern Europe's most powerful economic entity.  Bergen's oldest quarter runs along the eastern shore of the harbor with rows of colorful gabled buildings dating from the Hanseatic era.  Most of the day we explored the inner city, visited one of several museums and walked the wharf where we took photos in the fish market and watched performers doing their thing on city streets.


COLORFUL RESTORED HANSEATIC TRADING BUILDINGS ON BERGEN'S WATERFRONT




THIS STREET PERFORMER ATTRACTED MANY TOURISTS
COOKING UP SOME VEGETABLES AT ONE OF THE OPEN FISH MARKET RESTAURANTS



Alesund

In 1904, a massive fire burned the fishing village of Alesund. When the city was rebuilt, the Art Nouveau style of architecture was flourishing in Europe, and today's visitors to Alesund enjoy a city of concentrated Art Nouveau beauty. Spread over seven different islands and connected by bridges and undersea tunnels, Alesund relies on its fishing industry and provides cod and cod liver oil to Europe and the rest of the world.  It is also a favorite stop for tourists who either visit by car or by cruise ship, like we did.    We spent most of the day on foot exploring the picturesque town,
marveling at the elegant designs and geometric forms, but we opted to take the Hop-on Hop-off bus to the Aksla Viewpoint rather than walking the 418 steps.


BEAUTIFUL ALESUND FROM AKSLA VIEWPOINT (if you look to the left you will see the Seabourn Quest)




Lofoten Islands

Draped across the turbulent waters of the Norwegian Sea, an archipelago called the Lofoten Islands sits far above the Arctic Circle, which this time of year means 24/7 sunshine.  Arriving at the port of Solver, we rented a car and explored some of the bridge-connected islands, indented by numerous inlets and fjords.  With blue skies and a few puffy clouds, we were offered an unobstructed view of a beautiful landscape with majestic mountains, and small fishing villages where you could stay in old fishermen's cabins and eat stockfish, made from spawning cod.  


ONE OF MANY ROCKY INLETS AMONG THE LOFOTEN ISLANDS



A REAR VIEW


With our ship's onboard credit, Bruce and I decided to sign up for one of the pricey excursions.  Although this meant setting our alarm for 4:30 a.m, the opportunity to photograph puffins and other seabirds was too tempting to pass up just so we could sleep in.



A CLOSE-UP VIEW



THE NORTH CAPE (NORDKAPP)

Barren and rocky with not a tree in sight, the North Cape (or Nordkapp as it is called by Norwegians)  is a destination that many travelers brag about so they can say they traveled to the furthest northern point in continental Europe.  Although 200,000 visitors come to Nordkapp every summer, very few Norwegians actually live there year round, except for those people involved in a very robust fishing industry about which I will write a separate post.   Despite its remote location and small year-round population, the government has constructed the most amazing highway system with not a single pothole or frost heave.  From our car we could see miles and miles of empty paved roads that stretched out way beyond us.  We often saw more bicycles on those roads than cars.


DRIVING THE NORTH CAPE LANDSCAPE




TOURISTS GATHER AT THIS MONUMENT AT NORTH CAPE, WHERE THE SUN NEVER SETS FROM MID-MAY TO LATE JULY


When exploring by car,  it seemed we were always buckling and unbuckling our seat belts so we could get out and take photos.  Often we talked to the locals who lived in fishing villages, and we enjoyed chatting up self-supported cyclists, when they stopped by the side of the road to take a break.  All of the cyclists  with whom we spoke were Europeans from cities like Amsterdam, Munich and Vienna.  We never met any American cyclists, although I'm sure they were there.   These cycling athletes were touring Scandinavia and riding the EuroVelo I circuit for 30 to 60 days, all the way from their home in Europe to the North Cape.   In Norway this demanding endeavor is at least a 2500 kilometer  bicycle adventure that only the most physically and mentally fit cyclists can undertake.  It requires biking long distances daily and carrying heavy gear in panniers and packs attached to their bicycles.  This is known as self-contained cycling.   One man we talked to said he was carrying 65 pounds.  Another cyclist we saw taking a break and puffing on a Lucky Strike admitted she didn't smoke very often.  How anyone doing a ride like that could even think of smoking--even infrequently--just amazes me.


The following five images are two cyclists we saw riding above the Arctic Circle near Nordkapp.  I wish I could tell you that these photos were me biking with a friend, but you would know it wasn't true because I'm not blond nor could I pass for 50.  But truth be known, self-supported bike touring has never been something I've wanted to do, especially at this stage of my life.  Instead  I would prefer that someone transport my gear, and serve me delicious meals.  Taking a hot shower at the end of a long day in the saddle would also be required, and I've never been comfortable on the ground in a sleeping bag unless I had a blow up mattress which would be another heavy item to carry on a bike.   No one would call me high maintenance, but the moniker of princess might be appropriate when it comes to self-contained, multi-day bike tours.  



CYCLING THE EUROVELO 1 -- 2500 KILOMETERS IN NORWAY





IF THIS WERE ME I WOULDN'T BE SMILING




THIS IS WHAT IS MEANT BY SELF-CONTAINED




CYCLNG ON TOP OF THE WORLD AT NORDKAPP


THE END OF A LONG DAY IN THE SADDLE



And so I say so long to the beautiful land of the Midnight Sun.





The adventure continues..........












Sunday, July 17, 2016

THE CONFESSIONS OF A CHOCOHOLIC

I confess I'm addicted to certain foods and one of them is chocolate.   I've called myself a binge eater for years, but primarily with foods that have sugar or salt.   

By binging I mean give me a potato chip, and I'll eat the entire bag.   One handful of nuts and one hour later the can is empty.  And, of course, there's chocolate. One square becomes two, then turns into three or four until the entire bar or package has been consumed.  Bruce hides his Milka bar because he knows I will eat all of it.   Chocolate chip cookies?  When my friend Jane brings her freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies on a bike ride, I manage to eat more than my share and hope no one else notices.  Her cookies are especially addictive because when they are warm, straight out of the oven, she sprinkles them lightly with salt. The best way to manage my binging problem is to keep half-opened food packages, like chocolate bars, chips and cookies, out of sight because for me there is no such thing as just one.

With this personal factoid in mind,  you can imagine how serendipidous it must be to have a good friend who owns a chocolate factory! Yes, really--and not just a Willy Wonka version, but a major worldwide supplier. Last week I finally made it to Germany to visit our good friend, Claus, and his family, and most happily, the amazing chocolate factory. 

The company, Rubezahl Schokoladen, was founded in 1949 by Joseph Cersovsky, the grandfather of Claus, who is now the company's CEO and the King of Chocolate.  The company, which has several plants in Germany, is headquartered near Stuttgart, and is still a family business, but a mighty big one, with more than 800 employees. We were excited to be able to don our sanitary coats and hats and tour the factory, from raw material to finished products ready for the retail shelves.  


PAM AND BRUCE WITH FRAU QUALITY CONTROL


Rubezahl makes several different chocolate products and until recently was best known for making seasonal products, like chocolate Santa Clauses,  Easter bunnies and advent calendars. In fact, in 2014 they sold 30 million advent calendars that year.  As the company grew, so did their product line, and now they make a variety of products using about 40,000 tons of chocolate each year, and exporting to over 50 countries worldwide.  One seasonal product that I think is unique is the chocolate advent calendar, but my sweet tooth ranked their Sun Rice crunchy as number one.

Chocolate consists of the basic ingredients: cacao mass, cacao butter, sugar and milk powder.  The milk powder comes in enormous bags weighing 750 kilos (2.2 pounds per kilogram) or 1,650 pounds, as much as the weight of one cow. 


THE KING OF CHOCOLATE POSING WITH  BAGS OF MILK POWDER


First the ingredients are weighed, and the milk powder is mixed in with the cacao mass, butter and sugar and ground together by big rollers and kneaded by a huge food processor.  The chocolate is stirred in a vessel that resembles a conch shell and is, therefore, conched for multiple hours at a very high temperature, and then stored in huge tanks.  Conching is considered to be a very important step in producing chocolate's complex flavor and smooth texture.


CHOCOLATE SLURRY DESTINED FOR GREAT THINGS


It was fascinating to watch the production of Sun Rice squares. This addictive little treat is a chocolate square filled with crunchy little morsels. Cereals, puffed rice and rice crackers are mixed and blended with the cacao creme.  The Sun Rice mass goes through big rollers until it is smooth and compressed to the right thickness.  



SUN RICE READY TO BE CUT INTO SQUARES


As the Sun Rice filling blend moves along the conveyer belt, grooves are pressed into the bottom of the dough, resulting in long Sun Rice strips, which eventually get cross-cut into squares.  When the morsels are almost done, it needs a chocolate coating, which happens when the morsels are pulled apart.  The Sun Rice morsel moves onto a grid through a curtain of whole milk chocolate which coats the pieces perfectly.  Afterwards the squares go through a cooling tunnel for about five minutes, which makes the chocolate solid.  



WOULDN'T YOU LOVE ONE RIGHT NOW?

I WANT ONE, TWO, THREE!




Finally, a robotic picker system recognizes each individual morsel and the robotic arms put the pieces into small compartmentalized thin plastic trays.

(See Youtube Videos at the end to watch the robotic arms at work)



Now the trays are wrapped with foil and packed into cardboard boxes ready for shipment.






Rubezahl is one of the largest buyers of UTZ certified cacao, the largest program for sustainable farming of coffee and cacoa in the world.   They buy different brands of cacoa from West Africa, Ivory Coast, Ecuador, and Madagascar.  

When we left Germany, the King of Chocolate made sure we brought home an ample supply of every product that Rubezahl produces.  Our refrigerator, the best place to store chocolate until it is ready to be eaten,  is full.  Rest assured.   I have made a pact with myself to only open the chocolate when I want to share with friends.   CHOCOHOLICS BEWARE.   



CHOCOLATE SANTA AND HIS HELPERS

YouTube -- chocolates on a roll

YOUTUBE -- WATCH THE ROBOTS WORK





Y