The arrival of a visible comet encourages me to learn astrophotography.
This is my first blog post in a week, and the first since our return from Switzerland. I envisioned writing a reflective piece about transatlantic travel in the time of coronavirus or about the re-entry into US culture, but we’re stuck halfway through a two-week in-home quarantine and there is a far more photogenic topic to describe first. Read on, and check out the gallery.
One of the most visible fountains in the city is at Bellevue, a large plaza in front of the opera house and seated at the corner of the lakefront. It is also a busy interchange of several tram lines, and a favorite for people who want to meet, sit in a cafe, and watch the world go by.
This fountain is of simple, bowl-shaped design, but exceptionally wide; around the rim are playful decorative spouts enabling anyone to stop by for a drink. While I was there one sunny weekend afternoon, so many people came by to fill their water bottle, that a line had formed.
Our flat is fortunate to be surrounded by trees, and our mornings are filled with birdsong. As I noted last month, some of these birds have the most beautiful, complex song I’ve ever heard, and we suspect nightingales. I finally got a good look, and a good photo, of one of these special neighbors. It appears, though, that he is a Eurasian Blackcap warbler, not a nightingale.
His song is beautiful nonetheless! (I’ll keep watch and let you know if we perhaps have both blackcaps and nightingales.)
While leaning out my bedroom window to capture these photos, my camera shutter clacking away at high speed, our other neighbor – a woman whose window is just a few meters across the alley – poked her head out of her window. Fearing she might get the wrong idea about me and my long lens, I quickly pointed down at the branch where I’d been aiming, and indicated she should look as well. She understood my gestures, fortunately, and joined me for the next few minutes watching a busy bird, below, as it tucked a new twig into a nest in our shared Chestnut tree.
The city of Zürich has many fountains – in plazas and on streetcorners. Some are decorative, some are commemorative, and some are purely functional – but all are potable. On my morning walk I pass at least two such fountains, and always pause for a drink. They run constantly, even through the winter, and thus always taste cool and fresh. It is a delightful public service and a boon to those who’d rather refill a water bottle than purchase yet another disposable bottle of water.
This elaborate fountain sits in a courtyard garden called Zentralhof, in one of the oldest quarters of the city beside Bahnhofstrasse and not far from some long-buried (but recently rediscovered) ruins of Roman baths.
In a common traditional design, the fountain pours into a pool over which metal bars can support a summer-time planter. Such fountains (like this one on Bahnhofstrasse) also have streams that pour water over gaps in the metal bars, on which a villager could rest a pot to collect water.
Other fountains are more plain and functional; like many, this has a mini fountain at its base so your dog can drink as well.
And some newer fountains take a more contemporary approach, yet blend it with the natural world so ingrained in Swiss consciousness, such as this rocky fountain near an entrance to the Universitätsspital.
As I varied the routes of my morning walk, I began to realize the huge variety of fountains, and it occurred to me it might be fun to find them all. Since most (if not all) appear on a street corner, i.e., at intersections, the challenge appeared to be similar to the famous Hamiltonian Path problem in computer science: given a graph of vertices (intersections) connected by edges (street segments), devise a path that visits each vertex exactly once. No such option existed for me, as I spread my travels out over several weeks and must begin/end each walk at the same point. But I’ve tracked my walks as a means of finding new routes to cover each day; here’s how it looks so far:
See the gallery for more shots of the above fountains. More fountain pix yet to come!
The city apparently has a project underway to refresh and renovate some of the historical fountains.
I went back to that patch of pansies on a new day to see if I could do a bit better with exposure, depth of field, composition, and other aspects of my photography. I’ve added the best to the macro gallery starting here; below, you see I found another visitor.
Now that my “hiking” constitutes long walks through the streets of Zürichberg’s hillside neighborhoods, I need to keep an eye out for the smallest of photographic opportunities. Today, I nearly stepped on one as I walked out the front door.
This little fellow was cruising across the path, literally 2 meters from our building door. I put on my macro lens, lay down next to him, and popped off a hundred photos. At one point he looked right at me – yes, I think those are eyes on stalks – just the thing any wildlife photographer loves to see in a subject. Indeed, this subject also had the advantage of moving more slowly than the pansies I shot yesterday. He was making his way around and over the colorful white & red blossoms dropped by the chestnut tree outside our window.
He is perhaps 5cm long when fully extended.
I’ve added full-res photos to the Macro gallery.
I’ve done very little macro photography, but while the flowers are blooming in Zürich it seemed to be a good time to pull out that macro lens (thanks dad!) and experiment a little. I found a bed of pansies, beautifully deep purple and dripping from a recent drizzle. Sitting on the sidewalk, while passers-by snickered at me, I snuck in close to these pansies and explored different approaches. Here are a few favorites – I often found it more interesting to zoom in on a droplet, or part of a petal, than on the whole flower. I have a long ways to go to get the right exposure, depth of field, and crisp imagery. Maybe tomorrow.
Even the housecats enjoy Zurich’s many public fountains.
Finally, after more than six weeks without more than a drizzle, it’s raining. I went for a walk, as usual, but was diverted by some road construction and ended up on a path that tucks into the entrance to the neurology clinic at the nearby university hospital. There is a truly lovely fountain there, and I was not the only visitor. Like all of the many public fountains in Zürich, the water is fresh and drinkable.
A weekend above the Arctic Circle in an effort to photograph the Northern Lights.
I recall a warm summer evening, about forty years ago, when I reclined on the rocky shore of Lake Champlain to watch a distant aurora borealis dance across the stars of the far northern sky. Ever since then I’ve held a quiet fascination with this phenomenon, determined to see the northern lights “for real” some day. I’ve longed to visit the Arctic, in part so I might see the northern lights. This weekend – capping a week of academic travel in Finland and Sweden – was my first opportunity to travel above the Arctic Circle. I flew to a tiny village in the far northern tip of Sweden – so close it was practically in Norway – and spent two nights standing in the snow, watching the sky above Abisko National Park. Did I see the aurora? yes! Was I satisfied? no; if anything, I want to return to see more! From the other people I met there, it is clear that Abisko has that affect on many people. Read on, and check out the photo gallery.