Friday Photo Favorite: a piece of Berlin in New York City

Early in 2013, Frau A and I spent a few months (for work, not vacation) in the U.S.  Most of the time was on Long Island, but some in New York City.  Even though I had lived there for four years, it still had a few surprises waiting.

One discovery:  a section of the Berlin Wall.

We walked right by it one day, stood processing for a minute, then immediately snapped some photos... 

Of course later, I spent some time online to learn more.

I had no idea that Wikipedia had a long page listing segments of the Berlin Wall throughout the world.
And on that page, I learned that New York City has "at least three" different secions of the Wall:

"At least three segments of the wall are located in New York City. One can be found between Gateway Plaza and the North Cove marina in the World Financial Center near the World Trade Center site. A second segment can be found in the gardens at the United Nations headquarters, among the sculptures. A third segment exists on 53rd Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues."

So we had found the segment on 53rd Street, between Madison & 5th.  It has been there since 1990.  I worked in an office building just a few blocks away (53rd St and Lexington Ave), but never happened to see this before.

A March 2013 NYT news article indicated that one of the segments (a different one) was removed recently.

Who knew that there was so much Berliner Mauer activity in the Big Apple?


Tanzania Holiday 13: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 2 - Morning

For our "walking safari", we had only 2 days scheduled.  So walking up this morning, we knew it was our last.
(links to the first day's walks are here:  morning and afternoon)  At least we had more game drives to come...

For the morning walk on Day 2, we again started early-ish (breakfast at 07:30, leave around 08:00).
This time we would be heading north, which was supposed to have more hills and forest than Day 1:


Mark took the lead this time, rather than Prim who usually had the front position:

Right away, we saw some zebras near the riverbed.  They had already seen us and were retreating:

Daniel, the park ranger, spotted the small klipspringer on top of a kopje too!  He disappeared quickly though:

This next photo intends to give a better perspective of exactly how far away the animals stayed from us.
Remember the zebras from the first photo?  Two are running up the bank, and a third behind.  Way out there!

Most of the wildlife photos were taken with a 100mm-300mm zoom lens, with a crop factor 2x camera.
This means that in 35mm/full frame angle of view, it is a 200mm-600mm lens.  Pics are cropped too!

The zebras and klipspringer were gone, so we again turned our attention to the rocky Orangi riverbed: 

The landscape was lovely too, not just the animals... so the normal lenses weren't completely ignored:

Walking along the riverbank, we continued to look into the hills for more animals.
We spotted a bohor reedbuck -- like the others, very cautious and keeping far away:

Mark wanted to try our cameras, so I handed him mine & he lined us up in the riverbed for some photos:

That's Prim (main guide) in front, then Herr J, Frau A, and Daniel (Serengeti National Park ranger) in the back:

This was the view as we walked along the sandy bottom of the Orangi River.  The trees here have yellowish bark. Natives used to think they caused Yellow Fever... but it's really the mosquitos who transmit the virus:

We finally turned out of the riverbed, and headed up one of the nearby hills.  When we reached the hilltop,
we could look back and see the winding river, and behind it a vast plain with scattered acacia trees:

Here's a zoomed-out view of the acacia forest, with the Orangi River in the foreground:

We continued to the other side of the hill, with more scrubby/brushy terrain.  Two ostriches near the tree:

A few times we walked by poachers' old wire traps (no photo).  Our guides made sure they were harmless.
This area also has had its share of gold hunters (also outlawed now), and there are old mine entrances too. 

We spotted this giraffe the next hill over...

... but he wasn't interested in sticking around and posing for photos:

But, he did lead us to his friend (also, notice the antelope on the upper right of the picture)...

... and then we found the whole herd.  All of them using their height to spy on us from afar:

All other animals in this area watch the giraffes for signs.  These water buffalo already were jogging away:

After the animals had cleared out, we went back to traversing the plain:

Frau A always asks me to take a photo with the Olympus "Dramatic Tone" art filter, just for fun:

We stopped for a minute as the guides explained a little more about this tree to us (below).  It's called
acacia drepanolobium, or, the whistling thorn.  As usual, it is easier to let Wikipedia give the interesting details:

"The base of its thorns is bulbous...  These swollen thorns are naturally hollow and occupied by any one of several symbiotic ant species. The common name of the plant is derived from the observation that when wind blows over bulbous thorns in which ants have made entry/exit holes, they create a whistling noise.

Like other acacias, Whistling Thorns have leaves that contain tannins, which are thought to serve a deterrents to herbivory.  In addition, Whistling thorn acacias are myrmecophytes that have formed a mutualistic relationship with some species of ants. In exchange for shelter in the bulbous thorns (domatia) and nectar secretions, these ants appear to defend the tree against herbivores, such as elephants and giraffes, as well as herbivorous insects."


Our guides even demonstrated this behaviour:  they agitated some branches, and the ants came right out.
The ants were looking for the source of the disturbance, and to attack it.  A very interesting live demo!

Interestingly, a while later, we saw a group of park rangers drive by on some dirt tracks some ways away.
Daniel explained that they will look for poachers or illegal activities, help safari groups, etc: 

As usual, we would stop for some water and a snack at intervals.  Frau A found a natural bench for a rest:

Even on breaks, she was alert to her surroundings and found things to photograph...

... in this case it was a large dragonfly that stayed perched on a nearby branch for a while:

Our guides then pointed out a few more insects - here, a locust:

And here, another dung beetle, but one who has stopped rolling and started digging to bury it's dung ball:

But it wasn't yet the end of the big game for today!  A topi observes us from the taller grass:

Here are Daniel, Frau A, and Prim.  Frau A with one of her cameras in action:

At this point, we had turned back and started heading back in the direction of camp:

There was a lof of clay in the earth here -- with an unusual reddish hue that we had not seen before:

At one point across the fields, we saw the entire topi herd watching us from the far hillside:

They didn't like the looks of us, and started moving quickly up the hill and away from the humans:

One more look at the Serengeti landscape...

... and then following Mark back "home":

But wait!  There's more!  We got a surprise on the way back to camp - one of the coolest on the trip.

Here's the story:  Mark was in the lead, and he knew we were excited to photograph any wildlife we could.
At one point he yelled "Come here!" so I quickly jogged forward.  Sliding through the grass was a black snake, maybe 1m long.  He said "it's a cobra - get your camera ready".  And then he stomped his foot on the ground...

What does a cobra do when feeling threatened?  It faces you, rears up and flares its neck of course.

This is where it gets funny.  I was a little shocked, and didn't get a photo in the split second we had.
So what does Mark do?  He has us follow it in the grass, asks if I'm ready, and stomps his foot again.

I got a few photos that time!  Now that is what I call customer service - thank you Mark!!!

Now I would not normally be one to encourage provoking a cobra, but we're so glad Mark did just that.
We also learned:  it pays to have a young, recent-graduate, fearless guide-in-training on the tour with you! 

The other interesting thing:  when we got home, we had to look up exactly the kind of snake it was.  It was not really large (neither long, at 1m, nor that wide around) - so presumably it was a juvenile we had "asked to pose for us".

Based on the photo, we think it was a naja nigricollis -- commonly known as a black-necked spitting cobra.
I guess I was fortunate to stick my camera so close, when its venom can cause permanent blindness.  

Now THAT was a real Serengeti walking safari experience!  It was one of the really unique events of the trip.

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:
   -  Edie C, for the guided walk.  This day had the best big game viewing so far.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the guided walk.  How about that black-necked cobra!  THANK YOU!
   -  Judy and Ron H, for the camping overnight.  Isn't the landscape fantastic?  THANK YOU!
   -  Ronnie and Jan M, for the camping overnight.  After this experience, we didn't want it to end.  THANK YOU!

We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it. 


Tanzania Holiday 12: "mobile camp" for the Serengeti walking safari

We've just posted photos from our first day of walking safari:  the morning walk and afternoon walk.
Before posting photos from the second day, it makes sense to explain more about the walking safari and camp.

Where was it located?

The campsite was located about here (see below) in Serengeti National Park, along the Orangi River:


I think they change sites depending on time of year, e.g., a different place during the wildebeest migration.

How did you get to walk, rather than have to use jeeps?

Wayo Africa, our local guide company, describes the "wilderness zone" on this page, saying:

"Walking in the Serengeti is new to Tanzanian National Parks. Only a handful of companies have been granted permission to enter this park on foot. The regulations stipulate that an armed and qualified walking guide from the operating company must accompany all walks. An armed ranger from the National Park will also join every walk.

All walking activities in Tanzanian National Parks happen inside the demarcated "wilderness zones". The area we walk in is a massive and remote area and mainly consists of gentle rolling hills with small streams and springs in the valleys and small grassland plains surrounded by sparse acacia forests. Big granite outcrops called kopjes give the area a great feel and look and make for superb campsites.

"Wilderness zone" means an area with very limited human infrastructure or disturbances and access in to these zones generally only happens on foot or horse. Since a horse won't live long in the Serengeti we avoid these! The only roads that exist into these areas are access roads to the campsites. Since there are no permanent accommodation facilities in the walking zones a small, lightweight camp, we have to bring all our food and basic necessities into the camps.

Being an area of varied eco-zones and vegetation types it is home to all of Africa's mammals and a huge variety of birds, reptiles and insects. A fair amount of wildlife is resident in the area year round due to permanent springs but June - August is fantastic due to the annual migration moving through the area.

Since visibility is generally good walking is safe and wildlife watching good. "Walking wildlife watching," means looking at animals from a distance. Animals are nervous with people on foot and close up viewing is not possible and not advisable on a walk."

For reference, the "main" roads throughout Serengeti National Park looked like this...

... but the drive to the camp in the wilderness area had, at best, tire tracks like this:


What was the landscape like?

The Orangi River is the defining natural element in this specific area, but with eco-diversity.  The riverbed:

...often with pools of standing water and recent animal tracks:

...riverbed again, but here rocky instead of sandy:

...miles of grassland with sparse acacia forest:

...long, sloping grassy hills (acacia forest in the background):

...scattered kopjes (we're on one here, plus we see one in the background):

...the top of a kopje:

...and just mixed, here with kopje in the background, grass & brush, very rocky, with scattered acacia:


How was the walking safari led?  Who were the guides?

Also mentioned previously, we had our Wayo guide and a Serengeti National Park ranger.  In addition, we had a new-hire guide to Wayo, in training, plus two Wayo staff members that ran the camp (food, hot water, etc).

From left to right:  Prim (Wayo guide), Frau A, Mark (Wayo guide in training), and Daniel (park ranger):

One of the Wayo guides (usually Prim) would lead, followed by Frau A and myself, with Daniel (the park ranger) in the rear.  Mark would sometimes lead, and any of them would narrate to show/explain something on the way.

They did a fantastic job.  Friendly, knowledgeable, and were the best animal spotters!  THANKS GUYS!!!


What was the camping experience like?

The camp itself goes by different descriptions - "light", "mobile", "tented", "green"... but the main concept is that it is NOT a permanent camping area like the formal Serengeti National Park sites.  The equipment fits on a small trailer so it can be brought in behind a Land Cruiser.  It is set up, used, and then taken down after just a few days.  The idea is that when people leave, they did not leave any trace.

Our sleeping tent and bathroom tent layout looked like this, under a tree near a tiny kopje:

The bathroom's just meters away... but interesting in the dark, when you'd earlier heard leopards roaring:

Wayo describes the sleeping tent on this page, saying:

"Tents are 3-man dome style tents that are easy to set-up with plenty of floor space for two people. You are not going to do the Macarena in it but it is great for a good nights rest in a really remote area. Sleeping is on comfy 4-inch mattresses on the ground and the bedding is cotton covered duvets and cotton sheets."

Here is our sleeping tent -- and, actually, it was quite comfortable (we slept very well each night):

You can see the staff setting up a tent in one of their videos:

Wayo describs the bathroom facilities on this page, saying:

"The old traditional lightweight camp toilets meant you had to be an acrobat of sorts just to use the bathroom. We have decided to move away from the old style zip up, claustrophobic non-aired toiled cubicle to a non-closed enclosure approach, using nice wooden toilet seats etc. Sure, if it rains in this arid region of Africa, you might have a wet toilet seat for a bit or a shower in the rain but hey, there are worse things in the world.

Toilets are shallow pit latrines; a hole about 12m deep is dug and once all is in the hole you just sprinkle soil over top. With the open toilet tent these toilets never smell and the soil acts as both an absorber and a visual barrier.

Showers are the same type spiral tents. The water is always hot and you will have plenty for a nice shower to get cleaned and refeshed after a day's safari.
These showers and toilets have proven to work a whole lot better than anything we've used in the past."

Our open bathroom looked like this:

The main drawback -- toilet paper got soaked during rains.  We brought it inside our tent instead.

In this next view, looking out from the bathroom, you can see the shower, the two Land Cruisers, and the guides' tents (background, left side).   The guides were close enough for safety, far enough away for privacy.

Everything was very well put together, comfortable, and even during hard evening rains we stayed dry.

Looks pretty normal so far.  But don't forget this was truly the Serengeti wilderness.
How close did animals come?  This small wildebeest herd was just across the river on evening (!):

At night, we clearly heard leopards roar, hyenas barking, and occasionally a small something walking by!

The dining tent was set on the edge of the river, a ways (30m?) away from our sleeping and bathroom tents:

The overall camp basically formed a triangle, between our tents, the dinign tent, and the guides' tents:

Here's our video panning briefly across the field, so you get a sense for the how everything comes together:

It was nice that the dining/mess tent was set apart a bit - meals and relaxing time felt more secluded.

There was a dining table in the tent, plus a second smaller  table for setting water, dishes, etc:

The evening fire was lit near the dining tent.  A perfect way to relax with a beer as the sun set:

The view from the dining tent was nice too, seeing the Orangi River (even though it is low in December):

Finally, a "light painting" photo of the dining tent, just before we went to sleep one evening.  Lovely:


Would you recommend it?  Would you do it again?

Understanding that this is NOT the best way to see big animals up close... absolutely YES.

The wilderness camping and walking safari experience were just what we had hoped:  not completely "roughing it", but definitely an intimate way to see the Serengeti, with minimal environmental impact.

We were really pleased with our tour companies, so we'll mention them here:

- Natural High Safaris coordinated the whole trip (except flights from & to Munich).

- Wayo Africa is the local company that provides on-the-ground services, with whom Natural High works

As you can see by the photos and blog posts, we loved our trip and want to do it again.


Friday Photo Favorite: Night shots

Two fountains in Charleston, South Carolina (downtown, near the water):


A couple views of the Siemens/Atos work campus outside Munich, Germany (Herr J heading home that day):



Google Doodle:  currywurst!

On Sunday June 30 (2013) we fired up the computers and of course, at some point, did a Google search.
This was the screen that greeted us:

I had already typed in my search text and hit Enter... it took a second or two for my brain to process the doodle.
Quickly hitting "back" on my browser, I examined the graphic again:


Hey, that looks like currywurst!  Clicking on the doodle, it took us to Google search results for Herta Heuwer:


Wikipedia says
:  "Herta Charlotte Heuwer (June 30, 1913 in Königsberg - July 3, 1999 in Berlin) invented the take-out dish that would become the world-renowned currywurst on September 4, 1949. The day before what would have been her 90th birthday, a plaque was dedicated in her honour on the corner of Kant and Kaiser Friedrich Streets, Berlin where she first produced the dish. The original Currywurst was a boiled sausage, fried, with a sauce of tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, curry powder and other ingredients."

It would have been Herta's 100th birthday when the doodle appeared.


German newspaper Die Welt had already posted an article about the doodle, Frau Heuwer, and currywurst.
The last item on the search results was a YouTube video that someone had made within 4 hours of the doodle!
The video shows the doodle, and gives brief info about Frau Heuwer and her currywurst creation.  (Odd!)

Herta Heuwer appears in Who's Who Germany, and has had a Facebook page created for her!


For the uninitiated, there are a few standard presentations of currywurst.

1)  Just the currywurst, sliced, with a small fork.  Classic street and fair food:

Source: Wikimedia Commons
2)  Currywurst with pommes, also sliced.  Probably even more popular with the french fries:

3)  Just like the Google Doodle, you can get the currywurst mit pommes including mayo:

4)  Finally, you can move up to fine dining... in the case of currywurst means that the wurst is NOT sliced,
and everything is served on a real plate (instead of paper), using metal utensils instead of plastic.
The Siemens company cafeteria serves this once every week, just as pictured -- it generates the longest lines!



Naturally, we spent a little more time searching around, because currywurst is indeed popular here.
We then found something previously unknown:  a Currywurst Museum ! Located in Berlin, of course.

We even found this page of someone who helped develop a kids video game "Curry Up!" for the museum!

This now is absolutely on our list of "to do" items, and we look forward to a Schnitzelbahn post about it.


Tanzania Holiday 11: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 1 - Afternoon

At this point on our safari, we had driven in to Serengeti National Park to a camp off-road.  In this designated "wilderness area", our guides would take us on walks through plain and brush, to see the Serengeti on foot:


This was the first of two days for walking.  We already had our morning hike, with hippo tracks, hyena tracks, a water buffalo (both live and a skull on the ground), and a termite mound.  This post is about the afternoon on Day 1:

After lunch and a rest, we met again on the banks of the Orangi River.  This is Daniel, our Park Ranger:

Our main guide Prim took the lead.  He always likes to look at recent animal tracks in the damp riverbed:

Frau A followed Prim, and I was behind her.  It was becoming a bit cloudier with a risk of rain.
December is the short rainy season in Tanzania, and it often rained a bit in the evenings when we were there. 

We came to another place in the riverbed where tracks showed that hippos recently passed by (last 24 hrs):

The river was not full enough to flow, but rain could change that at any moment.  The guides were alert.

Prim made sure we got to see an antlion up close.  It's one of the "little five" !

Here is a more technical photo of an antlion, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Source: Wikipedia (Jonathan Numer)

Prim showed us an antlion's trap.  He tried putting bugs in there to see an antlion attack, but no luck:

However, there are plenty of videos on the web that show an antlion attack better than we ever could:

Now late in the afternoon, the weather appeared somewhat inconsistent across the horizon.
In the west (looking into the sun), there were threatening clouds...

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix in the distance, an acacia forest glowed green with hazy clouds overhead...

...but to the east (sun at our backs) skies were pretty clear with the brush a little drier & more brown.  Interesting.

Our guides -- and the park ranger -- were always on the lookout for animals (even though they avoid humans).
Just after the halfway point in the walk, they hit the jackpot.   The sun was at our backs, and the wind in our faces.  Therefore, for animals walking towards us, we would be downwind and partially shielded by the sun's glare.

Fortunately, Prim spotted the animals before they detected us.  Two jackals walking right at us, 100m away.
Jackals are very skittish, and Prim explained later that this was a rare occurance, to see them so closely.

The guides motioned us to be as quiet as possible & to squat down - to remain undetected as long as possible.
Frau A and I tried photos and video, but it was tough with a lot of grass and bushes in the way.
I got this photo when the jackals were first spotted, and still walking closer towards our position: 

The video and other pics are not great, but I was able to cherry-pick some still frames from the video file:

This was their closest point, and the moment when the leading jackal discovered us.  Then they were gone:

That was awesome!  It really felt like you were THERE.  Hiding in the bush; no zoo, no jeep, just us & nature.
It doesn't have the WOW factor of the big game, but this is the unique experience we were hoping for. 

(We think these are the smaller black-backed jackal, also called the silver-backed jackal.)

From here we turned across a rocky plain and continued in the direction of camp:

I snapped a couple of nice silhouette-style photos of Prim as we skirted over larger piles of rocks:

As we took a moment to take in water, we had our guides pose for a photo (Prim on left, Mark right):

On our morning walk we saw termite mounds, but they were inactive and the new owners stayed out of sight.
This one was abandoned too, but taken over by a mongoose family who took a second to check us out from afar!

We saw three or four of the family appear, but most were gone in a flash.  This one was more patient.
Of course, I cannot think of "mongoose" without remembering Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.  (do kids still watch that?)

The clouds continued to blossom here and there, but the rain stayed away to the west:

Some parts of the riverbed had no water at all -- still greener than everywhere else, but no pools here:

I captured Frau A once when she turned around.  It's good practice for that quick Serengeti wildlife.  ;)

As soon as we crested the next bank...

...we were on the home stretch.  The dining tent is in the background, just to the right of Prim.
Mark is swatting away tse-tse flies, that were a bit of a bother around the acacia trees (got a few bites). 

From here it's back to the tents to wash up a bit, and start thinking about dinner:

Here's "our" section of the Orangi river, with the sandy "newspaper" that Prim likes to read...  if it rains overnight, then tomorrow we will have a fresh record of the animals that came so close to our tent during the night!

It was a little slow going at the end - the light was really nice, so I stopped a lot to take photos:

The camp staff (two of them) already had a fire going and were starting on dinner:

Across the riverbank, on the other side of the camp, a small herd of wildebeest were gathering.
They would be staying close together during the night, when the predators would be after them: 

Yes, that night while lying in the tent, we heard lion roars, leopard roars, and hyena barks - not too far away.
The "bathroom" tent was a few meters away, and it made the trip there (with just a flashlight) interesting! 

The clouds we saw earlier gave us a nice effect over the mess tent as the sun was setting:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

Just like the evening before, we had a fire going near the meal tent and headed there to eat & relax:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

After the sun was gone, and before heading to bed, we tried some photos with a light painting technique: 

Not bad for the first time, and by a couple of hackers!  We were inspired to try by this light painting video:

By then it was time to crash.  We were tired -- a good tired, if you know what I mean.
It did rain again that evening, but just a soft rain.  The lightening stayed in the distance.
We had another full day (two walks) to look forward to tomorrow, and hope they would be just as fun.

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:
   -  Edie C, for the guided walk.  You can see how much we learned with our guides.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the guided walk.  The jackals were amazing!.  THANK YOU!
   -  Judy and Ron H, for the camping overnight.  What a great view of the Serengeti.  THANK YOU!
   -  Ronnie and Jan M, for the camping overnight.  It was dry, comfortable, (and great beer).  THANK YOU!

We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it. 


Friday Photo Favorite: Birds in Action

They're not easy to capture in a photo, but it's fun to try...

From the water around Nymphenburg Palace, Munich:

From the Birds of Prey Show, Benalmadena, Spain: