This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Conferring fish and curious crayfish

SSaq-1I spent the afternoon studying conferring fish that look like plants growing from the sand, curious lobsters with bulging red eyes, and schools of tuna and sardines. The aquarium of San Sebastián is tucked away at the end of the old port. Half of the exhibition was about seafarers, types of trade and ships, corsairs, fishing, and whaling. I learned that Basques were famous for their shipmaking and seafaring skills, even if they rarely represented as captains on ships.

The aquarium was nicely built but enveloped in the noise of Spanish kids. It shames me to say I find Spanish children very rudioso (and sometimes their parents, too). Everybody could hear each other so much better if only they turned down the volume a notch or two. I hope the sea creatures have soundproof glass.SSaq-2My new housemate came home last night at 00.30 am, clomping over the floor in her shoes and having no discretion to us sleepers. This morning she got up in time but said she would catch up with us later. She did indeed, not by coming to class but by taking photographs of my homework when I got back. I guess it can sometimes be more efficient to only focus on getting homework right.SSaq-3(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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Earth’s history like pages in a book

Flysch-5One sunny afternoon after class I, my classmate, and two lovely Catalan ladies crammed ourselves into a car and headed out to the Flysch UNESCO geopark. Our guide gave us a walking stick each, brought us up a hill with a magnificent view over the coastline, showed us the hiking route across the rocks to a beach we could not quite see, and said “agur”, which is Basque for “adios”. “See you when you get there.” Then he turned on his heels and walked away, back to the car.

We ladies began our trek down the hill, along the beach, with some trepidation that we’d lose the way because there were so many trail options and markings. Finally we understood that “our” trail was the red-yellow-white detour trail of the Camino del Norte (the North pilgrimage route to Santiago) and we lifted our eyes to enjoy the landscape.Flysch-1And stunning it was: soft, undulating grassy hills that stopped short as if cut in half, with a rock face plunging straight down into the ocean. Horses with bells and lots of flies, green grass, blue skies, blue ocean water, and white froth. And several pairs of backpacked people walking the Camino, more or less worn out and sunburned.

The Flysch geopark is like an open book of the history of our Earth. Each vertical slab running from the hills into the ocean is like a page, a fossilized fold of the surface of the Earth. Once upon a time these pages were laid one on top of the other, but then the continental plates moved and forced the ocean floor to turn sideways, like a book standing on its spine. There are “pages” of yellow sand; others with ammonites trilobites, and other sea life; and surprisingly many black bands from volcanic eruptions. Together these layers form millions of millions of years of history. The reason for the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago can be confirmed here: the black band sitting in the right place “in the book” contains traces of extraterrestrial material, from the ash cloud that killed the sunlight and much life on Earth for years after the meteorite hit. Flysch-2Good shoes were needed, as well as a good head with two functioning ears. Our guide spoke with an Argentinian accent (which I find the most difficult Spanish accent). Somewhere along the tour he must have forgotten that I and my classmate were estudiantes de español, possibly because we nodded our heads too vigorously. And so the guidance of the second half of the tour was lost to us.

As I sat in the shade of the striped rocks I marveled at the age of our Earth: the time and effort needed to slowly create these deposits of animal fossils and dust and silt which then became band structures. The Iberian peninsula was once upon a time far adrift, and only when it floated back into contact with continental Europe the Flysch formation was squeezed and rotated into view. Could this stunning geometric structure have been a holy site for humans living here tens of thousands of years ago?
Flysch-3

(Flysch Geopark, Spain; August 2019)


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About bucket lists

schafberg-4Do you love lists? (or perhaps you are now asking yourself, “what kind of question is that anyway – lists??”) I do. I love reading other people’s themed lists, and making lists of my own. And I love checking things off the list. Not for the sake of completion, i.e. feeling good after I’ve made the check-sign on top of an item (“been there, done that”). But during the experience in itself. For me, lists are tools to remind me of what I once decided was important, and then making the effort of actually going through the experience I consider important. Mindfully.

In the top corner of this blog I keep a few lists: two reading lists and an experience junkie list. But I have more lists, including a travel bucket list (who doesn’t?). Some of this travel bucket list I share with my sister, as we for the past 10 years have wandered off somewhere for a week together in the summer. It is a random collection of activities and places, mostly with a historical connection. And this summer we checked off one item of quite blurry origin: staying at the Schafberg in Austria.schafberg-8Why? Because of the view and the old historical guest house. How did it end up on our list? Honestly, neither one of us can remember. Perhaps my sister googled for something years ago, and found it. The photo above speaks for itself. And so one morning we took the bus from Salzburg to St Wolfgang and hopped on an old steam cogwheel train that slowly climbed to the top of Schafberg mountain.schafberg-1We were not the only ones who had the place on their bucket list. It would seem an Asian travel agency did, too, as each train brought up more Japanese and Chinese tourists, wearing sandals, dresses, sunhats, and scarves to keep them warm. It was not more than 14 degrees Celsius up there you see, and hardly the weather and terrain for summer finery. But the Japanese ladies admirably posed in their sundresses, holding their hats, while their (somewhat more ruggedly dressed) husbands took instagram and family album photos.

During the day the bald, grassy mountaintop was overrun with people. When the last train left at 5.30 pm, there was no more than two handfuls left. I was sad to see not a single Asian tourist had decided to stay overnight. But we did. We took a walk in the sudden silence. So did the others. No one spoke loudly. The only sound was the feathers of the jackdaws ruffling in the wind as they navigated the gusty winds around the cliffs.schafberg-5(Schafberg, Austria; July 2019)


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The real New York City

manhattanAs I stood by the DUMBO waterfront I tried to calculate how many people these huge boxy buildings on the opposite shore would contain, any given moment in time. This is the Manhattan skyline as as we know it. “As WE know it”. Because really, just 150 years ago it was like any old town. And just 500 years ago, when Europe was restless because of religious reformations against the Catholic church and Shakespeare wrote his famous plays, Manhattan was mostly swampland. With mosquitoes.

Times Square was a crossing of two rivers and a beaver pond. There were salt marshes and grasslands and forests, all home to turkeys, beavers, elk, and those mosquitoes. The area holding up the skyscrapers I was looking at was sea floor (much of lower Manhattan is landfill). This is the real New York. If this is news to you you might like this excellent article by the National Geographic.

My view of Manhattan is a fart in the history of time. Quickly formed, possibly also not very durable. And yet this is the “iconic” New York “we all know”. Hudson, visiting in 1609, knew the beavers. I doubt city kids today know beavers from anything else than school books (sorry, educational internet websites).

Were do New Yorkers go to rewild? Is Central Park enough or does one have to leave this once so lush and bountiful island?mannahatta.ngsversion.1502920743252.adapt.1900.1

Lower photo humbly borrowed from “Before New York”, National Geographic, September 2009

(New York, USA; April 2019)


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Spring arrived, in February

Brandebacks-spring-2Spring arrived too early. So early, that the first leaves faced mid-February night frosts and the finches and flycatchers had to desperately look for food: for those brave winter-bearing insects staggering out of their hiding places into the warm sunlight of a few noon-hours of the day.

Hopefully we will not have a “Finnish spring” here in Denmark, with another layer of frost and snow before summer really comes. Otherwise much newly awoken spring life will perish.
Brandebacks-spring(Brande, Denmark; February 2019)


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Across the moor in winter

Brandebacks-winterThe moor looks dramatic in winter, and it is not a landscape I feel at home in. I am used to sea, lakes, and thickets where you need violence or a machete to stumble through – not these open windswept landscapes with heather and farm animals.

The miniature moorland behind Brande is like all those old English novels come to life, the ones I read in my teens: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

(Brande, Denmark; February 2019)