Friday, March 29, 2013

Labor Day

Labor Day weekend, wanting to squeeze one last trip to the Sierras in before heading to New York, Jenny and I skipped the Yosemite crowds and instead headed over Sonora Pass to the Hoover Wilderness Area on the eastern side of the Sierras. After a 7 AM departure from San Francisco, we got to the Leavitt Meadows trailhead around 2 PM and quickly began hiking the 12 miles for the day so that we could make it to camp before dark. A friendly hiker snapped a photo of Jenny and me along the way:

We arrived at camp at dark, quickly cooked dinner, and headed to bed- it was a long day, from waking up at 6 AM in San Francisco, to falling asleep deep in the Sierras. The next day we decided to hike to the northern edge of Yosemite, and after stopping at Bonnie Lake (the first of the Lady Lakes) for lunch,

we took exactly one step into the park. Here's looking south into the park from above Dorothy Lake. 

With the whole afternoon in front us, we decided to hike cross-country to Lake Ruth (see why they're called the Lady Lakes now?), where we went for a "refreshing" swim. These lakes are take-your-breath away cold, even at the end of a hot summer. Brrr!!!

Late in the day we finished our cross-country loop and hiked most of the way out, camping on a little shelf near Hidden Lake. 

Our food for the trip was a special treat- it was the food that my parents packed for their backpacking trip to Kings Canyon in August, which was prematurely interrupted by a few bears and some food poisoning (mostly the latter). Consequently, Jenny and I had dinner mints, dehydrated milk, and the best treat of all: popcorn! Important note: popcorn expands when cooked- keep that in mind with your small backpacking pot...

We awoke to a beautiful September morning and began our (always sad) trek back to civilization. One last surprising sight greeted us in a meadow near the trailhead. We ran into the elusive wild Sierran Llama!!! Kidding- just some llamas being used as pack animals. They did seem pretty content in this swampy meadow however.

After one last look behind us, we hopped back in the car and began fighting terrible Labor Day traffic headed back to San Francisco. A mere 7 hours later were home, after fondly saying goodbye to the Sierras. Well, some of us at least...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fresno Bound

About two weeks after I got back from Europe, Jenny and I went to Fresno, her hometown, two weekends in a row. The train ride is about four hours, and the first two hours, as the train runs along the eastern edge of the bay through Berkeley, Richmond, and up the Carquinez Strait to Stockton, is stunning (somehow I failed to take any photos).

Our first weekend, we woke up at 4:45 AM on Saturday for an entire day of peaches: picking, preparing, and even pickling. We were invited as volunteers to the Masumoto Family Farm about 20 minutes south of Fresno for the 2nd weekend of the Adopt a Tree program.

This program allows individuals and organizations to adopt a tree, which includes following its progress throughout the year (via newsletters) and eventually coming in early August to pick all of the fruit on the tree. And these aren't just any peaches- they're Elberta Peaches, an heirloom varietal that ripens quickly. In light of this, we spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday preserving the peaches and eventually churned out these (well, lots more than this actually):

A mere five days (and many many peaches later) Jenny and I found ourselves back on the train to Fresno, this time to hike to Jenny's namesake: Jennie Lake, in the foothills of the Sierras in Kings Canyon National Park. Twenty two(ish) years ago, Jenny's pregnant mom and dad took a "shortcut" to Jennie Lake and after finding out their shortcut wasn't so short, and finally arriving at Jennie Lake out of water, they decided their daughter would be named Jenny. I wonder if anyone has mentioned that the spelling is wrong... I digress.

Early Saturday morning we packed up and drove the two hours to the trailhead where Jenny, Jenny's mom Jean, and I set out. Here's a shot of mother and daughter on the trail:

And a shot of me and Jenny, with me posing suspiciously awkwardly with the sign for some reason...

After setting up camp we scampered up to the mini-peak behind the Lake, a fun 30-minute scramble that rewarded us with 360-views out into the Central Valley and deep into the Sierra.

And here's a shot of Jenny with her lake:

We got back to camp around sunset and after happy hour at the lake, we hit the tent on an unusually warm summer night. After saying farewell to Jennie Lake the next morning, Jenny and I were back in Fresno by noon and back in San Francisco by 10 PM. 

While it certainly wasn't the most rugged trip we've ever taken, it was great to see a piece of Jenny and her family's history. What a special lake.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


On Day 10, Jenny and I arrived at the eastern terminus of our trip:

We arrived from Bucharest in the afternoon, hopped a shuttle to Taksim Square, and then rode the subway to Sisli, where we attempted to find our lodging for the week- a room in an apartment that we found on AirBnb. Soaked with sweat after twenty minutes of tramping up and down side streets with our backpacks, we called our host and attempted to get directions. Unfortunately, the intersection of our Turkish and their English wasn't enough to figure things out, so our host told me to just hand my phone to someone on the street. It's a strange feeling handing your iPhone to a stranger on a random street in Istanbul, but our new friend was generous (as was pretty much everyone we interacted with in Istanbul) and before long he walked us to our apartment (we were pretty close it turned out). Tired from a day of traveling, Jenny and I grabbed a quick dinner and then crashed. 

The next morning we headed straight for the Old City where we decided to get out of the city for a day and cruise the Bosphorus. Our chariot for the day:

Heading northeast from Istanbul away from the Sea of Marmara and toward the Black Sea, we passed some of Istanbul's most well-known sites, including the opulent (and treasury depleting) Dolmabache Palace,

one of the only continent-spanning bridges,

and the city's first fortification from the 13th century, just down the hill from Bogazici Univeristy, where my twin sister spent 6 months abroad (for a much better take on Istanbul, I recommend:

After around two hours later we arrived at Anadolu at the mouth of the Black Sea, where after a lunch of fried squid and mackerel we trudged up a few hundred feet to an old castle guarding the mouth of the Black Sea.

And here's a view of the castle on the ride back to Istanbul.


We arrived back in the Old City and spent the rest of the afternoon savoring some tea and the view of the Bosphorus.

We had dinner on the Bosphorus in Ortakoy, at a restaurant recommended (and frequented in her day) by my sister. Not a bad view either:

Jenny and I dedicated the next day entirely to the Old City, starting with the Hagia Sofia, a Byzantine Church constructed around 530 by Justinian I, which was converted to a mosque in the 1450's by Mehmed when the Ottomans captured Istanbul, and then to the secular museum it is today by Ataturk in the 1940's. An iconic building inside and out:

After a jaunt through the Grand Bazaar (spices anyone?),

we visited the beautiful mosque adjacent to the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, completed by Ahmed I in 1616. And it was plain to see why the Ottoman Empire was nearly bankrupted by the endeavor:

Here's Jenny reflecting on the mosque:

Dinner that night was a special surprise. We met up with my friend Jeff and his extended family, who were in Istanbul for a day or two before departing on a Mediterranean cruise. The view from the rooftop restaurant where we ate was only surpassed by the generosity of our hosts and the good fortune of meeting Jeff and his family 6,700 miles from our apartments in San Francisco.

The next morning Jenny and I planned a trip to the locals' getaway, a 90-minute ferry ride into the Sea of Marmara, the Princes' Islands- named for the princes who escaped from sweltering Istanbul in the summer to their residences on the island. Unfortunately, the heat followed us, and after staggering around in the heat for an hour we settled in for a picnic. Not even an ice-cold Efes lager (the local brew) could rouse us from our stupor:

On the ferry ride back to Istanbul, we stopped in Kadikoy on the Asian side of the Bosphorus for dinner. At the recommendation of Jenny's aunt and my sister we eventually made our way to Ciya Sofrasi, hands down the best meal of the trip. After stuffing ourselves on mezes (charged by the pound!), we savored a dessert plate and tea- the best Mediterranean meal of my life for $15 a person! A real winner. We even got to take in the minarets of the city at sunset on our ride back across the Bosphorus.

Our final day in Istanbul was spent seeing the rest of the sites, including the most-visited site in Turkey and home of the Ottoman rulers: Topkapi Palace.

We also visited the cisterns, built during the Byzantine era (to make up for the city's lack of freshwater access), which were only rediscovered by a curious Frenchman in the 1800's who wondered where the locals were catching freshwater fish from in the middle of Istanbul.

We started our evening with a glass of ouzo, a clear anise-flavored Turkish liquor that clouds when it's mixed with ice, on a rooftop bar overlooking the Old City:

And we ended the evening with another delicious dinner, this time at Cooking Alaturka, a cooking school and restaurant in the Old City. 

The next morning we were up at 3 AM, and after a harrowing cab ride to the airport (I couldn't see how far the needle went past 130 kph...), I boarded a 6 AM flight to Paris and then San Francisco, while Jenny boarded a 8 AM flight to Kiev and then on to Vilnius, Lithuania for a two-week creative writing workshop. In spite of the heat, Istanbul was quite an experience:

After 14 days in Europe starting with a trek in the Alps, meandering through Budapest and Bucharest, and ending in Istanbul, it was finally time to head home. What a trip. And what a good traveling mate: