Sunday, August 27, 2017

I Think I'm a Junkie - of Eclipses

For months Americans prepared for and awaited one of our country's most wondrous spectacles in years, the Great American Eclipse.  I, on the other hand, caught the eclipse fever in the nick of time, or so I thought.  I ordered through amazon.com/smile a set of solar glasses for me and my family.  I noticed that larger batches of glasses were already sold out, and I ended up with glasses in neon colors costing a little more than $50.  Amazon said my order would arrive a few days before the solar eclipse.  Days later, I received an e-mail notifying me that the glasses may not get to me on time. Of course, I panicked and went back online to order another set of glasses and by this time, I'm seeing the words Sold Out printed across the pages.  I finally found another set of 10 glasses and paid $160.00 for it.  Talk about price gouging!  As luck would have it, my original order did come in on time, and Amazon refunded me my $160.00.  I love Amazon!
When the package arrived at my door, I tried out the CE-certified glasses with the proper ISO number, and wow, the sun was a full glorious orange ball.  I couldn't wait to deliver the rest of the glasses to my family and friends.
I decided to spend eclipse day at the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.  With the festivities scheduled to begin at 9am, I thought it best to get there by 7:30am.  The parking lots were wide open, and the local news crews were already camped out at the center.  There was lots of cloud cover, but that sun was working hard to make an appearance.  By 8 am, the sun appeared and the air warmed up quite a bit.  
To get a ticket into the Dome Theater, I had to get in line for the Admissions Desk which snaked down the side of the building and spilled into the parking lot in the back.  With ticket in hand, I got in line to enter the Dome Theater but it was already filled to capacity by the time I got in that line. People were allowed to go in and out of the dome.  As one person leaves, another gets to enter.  
I went back outside, and the plaza around the fountain was filled with people, news media, Fleet Center employees and astronomy club members.  Families with kids, students of all ages, people of all ages, colors, and cultures were together in this giant circular space learning different ways to experience the eclipse without using the solar glasses.  It was so cool to see people talking to each other, helping each other, laughing, sharing a table in the outdoor cafe.  I sat with an elderly couple, each of us enjoying coffee and a pastry.  I shared my glasses with them, and when their young granddaughter returned to the table, I let her enjoy the glasses.  I asked her to see if she could take a photo of the eclipse through the glasses.  This is what she took.  Not bad!

I remained outside for a while.  When my tablemates left, a French woman sat down and asked if she could borrow my glasses.  She said she was so excited to be there to experience her second solar eclipse.  Her last one was nine years ago.  When the sun became too much for me, I made my way to the Dome Theater and waited for my turn to enter.
Many people watched live coverage of the solar eclipse on their cell phones.  This woman invited me to watch with her.  Amazing stuff!

 Here are my fuzzy photos taken of the live broadcast inside the dome.


Wow, wow, wow!  All of this scientific stuff is so interesting.  It was interesting to hear the astronomers outside at the plaza explaining this spectacular phenomenon to new eclipse junkies, which I know I am becoming one, too.  I'm already thinking of 2019, and where do I want to see the next solar eclipse.
Now is the time to book your solar eclipse tour for 2019.  The event will occur on July 2.  If you need help with planning, I and Discovery Tours would love to hook you up with a great itinerary, or create a custom tour for you.  Just my little sales pitch (smile).  


My daughter and her family live in Pegram, Tennessee, and they went under almost total darkness for a few minutes. I'm so happy for them, because I wish we had that experience here in San Diego.
The United States Postal Service issued the Total Eclipse of the Sun Forever stamp on June 20, 2017.  The stamp shows a total solar eclipse.  It's to commemorate our August 21, 2017 solar eclipse which was visible all across the continental United States from coast to coast.
It's the first time the postal service used thermochromic ink in their stamps.  The Total Eclipse of the Sun Forever stamps reveal a second image.  By rubbing the eclipse image, the heat from your finger will cause an underlying image of the full moon to be revealed.  Afterward, the image reverts back to the eclipse as it cools.
 I hope you had a wonderful Great American Eclipse Day, too!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Peaceful Eramo le Celle


I had read about this heavenly place in Tripadvisor, and knew I had to see it one day.  On our trip to Italy last fall, we left Cortona after having a wonderful lunch, and decided to look for the famed and hard-to-find Bramasole, home of Frances Mayes, author of the international bestselling book, "Under the Tuscan Sun".  If you missed that story, you can read about it here.
The wooden sign translates to "Ancient road to the shrine. Grand Duke Bridge (1782)".  Driving on a narrow, two-lane road, we had already taken a wrong turn, like many tourists before us.  After the first wrong turn, we barely missed the entrance to Le Celle.  I cannot even begin to express how excited I felt.  I read so much about and Google-Imaged photos of this place before leaving San Diego. How I forgot to add this site to our travel itinerary astounds me to no end. Thank God for wooden signs along the road!
The road to the parking lot was short, and at the end of the lot was a shrine devoted to the Virgin Mary.  It began to rain lightly, but that was fine with me.  It felt refreshing, and so perfect for this place, as if the rain was rinsing away my sins and renewing my soul.  This ground is truly sacred and a must-see place for fans of St. Francis and for others on a holy pilgrimage.  
Gerry and I were on this trip with high school friends, married couple Ed and Daisy.  As I developed our itinerary weeks before our planned departure from San Diego, they were happy to see whatever I wanted to see in Italy.  They just wanted to follow along, and were confident I would give them an adventure to remember.  I think I did that, except for the fact that I awoke seriously ill with the stomach flu on Day 4 of the trip.  For three days, I slept, puked or was in the bathroom.  The photo above was taken on our 8th day in Italy.  We will have just one more full day in Tuscany, then it's back on the plane to San Diego.  While I lay sick in bed all day long into the evening, Gerry, Ed and Daisy toured Florence and Assisi.  I'd toured these cities on a previous trip, so I didn't feel bad about staying in the hotel room.  I was too ill to care.
Anyway, back to the Hermitage, or Eremo de Celle.  A very prominent sign reminded us, in Italian, that this is a sacred place founded by Francis of Assisi and a few of his followers. It is a place for solitude, contemplation and communion with His heavenly father.  The sign continues to say "open up your soul, to see and feel as St. Francis did," or something like that.
This Franciscan hermitage is hidden in dense woodland almost 2 miles north of Cortona. Its buildings sit next to a picturesque stream with an 18th-century stone bridge, and the only sounds to disturb the tranquil atmosphere are the bells that call the resident friars to vespers and mass in the cave-like Chiesa Cella di San Francesco, or Church of San Francis.
The terrace garden was absolutely beautiful, and the woodland birdsong was definitely music to my ears. I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  This morning I found an 11-hour recording of tranquil birdsong on YouTube.  It is playing as I type.  The sounds keep me calm and so focused!  A little aromatherapy helps, too.  I'm using Nature's Truth called - are you ready? - Focus.  Whatever it takes!
The rustic stone buildings nestle in terraces on a mountain-side with a Holly Oak and cypress grove. The main convent is accessed through a stone pedestrian bridge spanning a small spring stream. 
This chapel replaced an ancient one built in 1634 by the Capuchins.  It reflects the simple, unpretentious architectural and decorative style of the Capuchins.  Unadorned by works of art, the chapel still has wooden altars.  The Capuchins are an order of friars within the Catholic Church, an offshoot of the Franciscans.  You can't miss a Capuchin.  They wear the long brown robes tied with rope around their waist.  Some sport the round bald spots on the top of their heads.  Most wear sandals.  I found interesting information on the Capuchins.  You can find it here.
Photo Credit:  Judy from Blogging in Italy
When Francis of Assissi arrived at Le Celle with his followers, he occupied the cell behind the altar of the chapel.  This is where he lived.

A statue of St. Francis in the chapel of the Franciscan convent Le Celle.
The stoned switchbacks take you from the bridge at the top to the lower gardens where you can access another bridge to go into the woods, or to enter other ancient buildings.

From the stone bridge, you can see the creek and outlying buildings of Le Celle.  We heard beautiful voices singing from the woods above Le Celle.  The singing continued during our visit. Was there another convent up there?  Or was it a day's retreat for reflection and singing hymns?

This place reminded me of Rivendell, where the gorgeous Silvan Elves lived in the film "Fellowship of the Ring".  Does anyone see what I mean?  I think if the water were flowing over those rocks, you'd get it.  Oh, and don't forget the chirping birds!
We didn't stay very long here.  We still had to find Bramasole, then drive to Castiglione Fiorentino where we would spend a couple of days at a villa.  As we walked back to our car, I looked back and decided that I will come back for another visit.  I want to walk further into the woods, walk further up into the hills and explore Le Celle and everything it has to offer.



Sunday, March 12, 2017

Amazing Wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park


When you mix a good amount of rain with lots of sunshine and the right level of humidity, you end up with blankets of colorful wildflowers spread across the Anza Borrego Desert, which sits northeast of the California Historical landmark and mountain town of Julian.  
For years I have wanted to see these spring wildflowers but could never interest anyone to see them with me.  Until two days ago.  I nonchalantly mentioned to Gerry that "the desert flowers are peaking and now is the time to see them."  Someone had posted on social media a couple of photos of the wildflowers and I thought, "wow, I have to see them now."  I was surprised Gerry was agreeable!  He thought maybe we should pack for an overnight stay since we didn't know how long we'd be out in the desert.  And he thought maybe we could spend some time in Julian, too.  Should we stay the night in Borrego Springs, or perhaps Julian?  We really didn't have a plan other than to see the wildflowers.  We would just see how the day played out, then decide what to do.
Photo credit:  Don Bartletti
Anyway, we had a late start yesterday morning and decided to take the picturesque drive through the Cuyamaca mountains, bypass Julian and go around the other side of the mountain straight into Borrego Springs, a quaint village with a population of approximately 3,500. The drive for us was a little over two hours due to a section of the mountain road being blocked by fallen rocks and branches that were being cleared.  Other than a little bit of a delay, the drive was as scenic as the weather was gorgeous.  Such a perfect way to start the day.  Once we reached the desert, the temperature was in the high 80's at around 1pm.  The Anza-Borrego Visitor Center parking lot was full, but visitors were leaving as quickly as they arrived.  Once they secured their map and other information, they took off for their favorite hiking trail or desert spot.



There were so many options for hiking and flower-gazing.  We chose to skip the hikes this time around and opted to explore the wildflowers along Henderson Canyon Road, which is a very long road.  My goal was to find the glorious lupines but they were not to be found.  It turns out we didn't 
drive to the far, far end of the road.  Next time I'll find the lupines.  They're one of my favorite flowers, as are the sunflowers.





We did find beautiful specimens like the desert lilies the dune sunflowers, and many others including a variety of succulents and cacti.




When we had our fill of fragrant wildflowers, we headed back out to the main road that takes you back to Borrego Springs.  Before turning onto Borrego Springs Road, we saw a giant metal turtle. Then we saw other turtles, and as we drove around, there were other creatures and things to be found!  These are the works of artist Ricardo Breceda.  There are over one hundred life-size metal sculptures of animals that roamed this desert over a million years ago.  Historical figures and humorous and fanciful pieces are also featured.  People from all over the world come to the desert to see these sculptures.  If you'd like to learn more about Ricardo Breceda, click here.







You will not find all of the structures in one area.  These photos are just a few spread along Borrego Springs Road.  The remaining structures are spread throughout this desert area.  If you plan to visit as many of these structures as you can, after viewing the wildflowers, be prepared with sunscreen, head protection, your most comfortable shoes and lots of water and snacks. Wearing layered clothing is best as the temperatures are extreme.  Very hot during the day and very cool in the morning and going into the evening.  There's a full moon right now.  If you're able to hang around the desert area, you will be treated a special show of moonlight shimmers upon the desert landscape.
The wildflowers are plentiful right now, and so perky and bright.  But with so many people descending upon the desert, the smallest flowers are being stepped on unintentionally. Here are some tips to consider before making your trip to the Anza-Borrego State Park:

*  Desert annuals show best in mid-March.

*  Most visitors approach the state park from the east via Highways S22, S2 or 78.  Visitors from San Diego approaching via Highways 79 or 78 have the added pleasure of driving through the mountainous Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  When the highway breaks away from high-country vegetation and you crest over the hill, you are treated to a spectacular view of the great bowl of Anza-Borrego desert.

*  If you are allergic to pollen, be sure to take antihistimine.  Pollen is everywhere.  We came home with yellow pollen all over our shoes.

* Plan your visit for a weekday morning as parking areas on the   weekends are full by mid-morning.

*  There are lots of restaurants and affordable lodging nearby.

*  Bring binoculars for spotting wildlife.

*  Call the State Park Wildflower Hotline to get updates on the wildflowers at (760) 767-4684.

*  For more information about the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, click here.


                                                                   
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