Lunar Eclipse

Lunar eclipses happen when the sun, moon, and Earth are aligned just right for Earth’s shadow to cover the moon.

This past Tuesday evening started out stormy and rainy and it seemed likely we would miss it for the second time this year.  Hoping for the best, we went to bed early and set the alarm and coffee pot for 5am. Peaking out of my bedroom window shortly after 5, the clouds had dissipated and the moon hung low in the sky, radiant against the darkness.

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From the deck in our back yard, we watched as the shadows of the earth crept up and slowly spread and immersed the moon.

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Until it completely vanished.

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Once eclipsed in totality, the moon turned into a red and orange color, which were captured by the hubby using the tripod.

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On the east coast, we were not able to see the full eclipse, to watch it as it emerged from the shadows , as it disappeared under the horizon but the half show was a treat nonetheless (having two lunar eclipses in one year is a rare event, one that occurs every 20 years or so).  But if you miss this one, there will be two more opportunities in 2015.

 

 

 

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A Balancing Act

SealFrom the decks in the back of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the bay and Pacific Ocean stretched indefinitely.  Piles of rocks jutted above the water, covered in seaweed and barnacles.  We spent quiet a bit of time there, delighted by the harbor seals laying perfectly relaxed, their bodies fluidly balanced on the rocks.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay from the Aquarium

Have you ever been to a place where, afterwards, you wonder why you overlooked it for so long?  While in California recently, we drove south to Monterey to escape the clouds and fog in San Francisco. We have been to Monterey many times  over the years and despite many recommendations from friends, we always had other places or things we wanted to do rather than see the aquarium.  We didn’t want to be stuck inside an aquarium while the Monterey Bay and California sunshine outside beckons and we prefer to see wildlife in their natural habitats.

We went to Monterey twice during this trip and after finishing our whale watching tour, we relented and stopped by the aquarium to see whether it lives up to all the praise we’ve heard.  Perched over the Monterey Bay coastline and built on the former site of a sardine cannery, the design of the aquarium is ingenious, creating an indoor and outdoor experience, where you can see aquatic creatures in the indoor tanks and birds and seals resting on the rocks outside in the bay.  Water feeding the tanks are pumped in from the ocean water in the bay to create the natural conditions and food for the animals.

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Sea Nettle Jellyfish

Translucent moon jellyfish

Jellyfish, sea turtles, sharks, penguins and seashore birds are all on proud display and they are mesmerizing.  A visit can turn into a full day affair.  We were infinitely impressed and will revisit the next time we are in Monterey.

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Black necked stilts

 

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Old Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan Park)

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The French writer, Victor Hugo, wrote “There was, in a corner of the world, a wonder of the world; this wonder was called the Summer Palace.”

Almost five times the size of the Forbidden City and eight times that of the Vatican City, it’s not difficult to imagine the grandeur of this place before it was ransacked and burned by the French and British in 1860.  Located northwest of Beijing, the Old Summer Palace was a palace and garden complex where the Qing imperial family lived and governed.

Constructed in the 18th and 19th century, the garden complex was a wonderland of lakes, waterways, bridges, hills, and pavilions.

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While most of the buildings are Chinese style architecture, in one part of the complex are European style palaces so grand it was referred to as the “Versailles of the East”.  Only remnants of these structures remain today, some of which have been restored.

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Though beautiful, there is a solemnness in this place, to think of what it once was and could have been.

Victor Hugo described the sacking of the Old Summer Palace: “One day two bandits entered the Summer Palace. One plundered, the other burned. Before history, one of the two bandits will be called France; the other will be called England.  We Europeans are the civilized ones, and for us the Chinese are the barbarians. This is what civilization has done to barbarism.”

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The Great Walls of China

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Mutianyu

For most of us, a trip to China wouldn’t be complete without going to the Great Wall.  The most accessible sections of the Great Wall are located in the suburbs of Beijing.  Having been to the Badaling and Simatai sections on prior trips, the wall never ceases to amaze us as we climbed the steps of the Mutianyu section this time.  The wall seems to wind endlessly around the mountains on which it was built.

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Although the building of the wall was attributed to China’s first emperor, most of them have eroded, and the modern wall has been extensively restored from the sections that were constructed in the 14th century.  Erected as a defense structure against its neighbors, the wall runs east to west along the country’s northern border.

After spending a few hours on the wall, we stopped by another section of the Great Wall that is more obscure and offers unique views.  At Huanghuacheng, parts of the wall are in disrepair and in certain places, the wall abruptly ends, divided by a lake.

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In Hunan province, there is another wall that is not as well-known as the northern Great Wall.   Smaller than its counterpart to the north, the Southern Great Wall had a similar function, it was built as a defense against the Miao minority group.

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Southern Great Wall

 

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Fenghuang (Hunan province)

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At the foothills of the mountains in southwest Hunan province, the homes of Fenghuang are built on stilts perched along the banks of the Tuo River.  On our recent trip to China, we had a three day visit to escape the dizzying crowds and industrialization in the big cities.

In Chinese, Fenghuang means phoenix, the mythical bird that represents grace and longevity, that is consumed by fire only to be resurrected from the flames. It is believed that two of these birds flew over the town and found the town so beautiful they were reluctant to leave.

 

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The ancient town was built in the 1200s and is considered one of the most beautiful towns in China.  Homes were built  in the Ming and Qing styles, alleys are paved with stone, and old bridges, pagodas, and gardens line the village waterways.

Although remote, this city has not evaded commercialization, there are many tourists and tourist groups and shops and karoake bars.  However, there is solitude to be found if you walk a little farther away from the river, in the alleyways.

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The city comes alive at night.

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Home to several ethnic groups, the Miao predominantly call Fenghuang home.  We had an unexpected surprise during our stay in Fenghuang and witnessed a local festival with beautiful Miao women dressed up in their costumes singing and dancing.

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Manassas National Battlefield Park

On horse drawn carriages, families packed their picnic baskets, parasols, and opera glasses and flocked to the serene rolling hills near Manassas, Virginia to watch first major meeting between the Union and Confederate armies on a warm July day in 1861.  Today it’s hard to imagine such a bizarre event, but at the time, it was thought that the Civil War would be over relatively quickly.

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In the aftermath, the Union army retreated back to Washington DC and the First Battle of Bull Run became the largest and bloodiest battle in American history up to that point.  Today, the Manassas National Battlefield Park is a a peaceful and solemn place that offers trails and exhibits of the battle and war that preserved the US as one country  and abolished the institution of slavery.

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