I spent last week in Belfast for a conference, and was lucky enough to get an extra day to explore the Northern Ireland coast. The weather was volatile, with sleeting rain switching to bright sun and back every hour. At the Giant’s Causeway, intense wind gusts kicked up choppy waves and forced tourists off the columns, providing a few unexpected openings to take people-free pictures. Topped off with a beautiful sunset and a final stop to see castle ruins, it was a pretty incredible afternoon.
Schloss Neuschwanstein, one of the most photographed sites in Germany, was built in the 1800’s by King Ludwig II. It’s an idealistic version of a medieval castle, and has in turn been a source of inspiration, including for the design of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. We braved the tourist crowds for an afternoon, and enjoyed the bright evening views across the valley.
A fantastic visit from our family turned into a great opportunity to explore a new part of Germany. We spent the week in Bavaria, hiking in the mountains and to castles around Füssen. Our first destination was Castle Falkenstein, a ruined stone mansion that was built on top of a rocky hill. The hike started meadows with sheep and cows, whose bells filled the air with beautiful chimes. A steep push through a misty forest brought us to the castle itself, where we enjoyed glimpses through the fog of the alps around.
Part of my research on Mount Saana is how the effects of increased nutrients on tundra plant communities depend on the presence or absence of herbivores. In the past I’ve worked in areas with cattle and elephants, but the dominant herbivore in this system is reindeer. Our first two weeks in Finland we saw a few reindeer wandering on the roads and in campgrounds. This week, a herd of hundreds moved into this area, including up and down the mountain where we work. It’s been incredible to see them in the forest, wandering on the steep cliffs, and even grazing in our study plots!
I have a really cool job where I get to spend my summers in beautiful places, hiking and looking at plants. I’ve done work in the Elwha river valley, Sierra Nevada mountains, burned California shrubland, Kenyan savannah, and more. I study how plants respond to disturbance—fire, drought, dam removal, build up of nutrients—and how those responses are shaped by other plants and by herbivores.
This summer, I’m working somewhere I’ve always wanted to go–Finnish Lapland–studying tundra plants. The project is testing how plant communities recover from years of added nutrients. It’s amazing to be so far north (the sun never sets! also, the sun never sets) in a patchwork landscape of mountains and lakes. And the tundra—the plant community itself—is incredible.
This is Mount Saana, where I’m working. From a distance, the area above the trees looks like a homogenous greenish-brownish blur. But get closer, and more and more variation reveals itself in the patchwork of ankle-heigh shrubs. Even closer, and stunning flowers pop out in all colors and shapes. Here’s a picture of one of our study plots—just a mere 25 cm x 25 cm—with 13 species growing in it!
Check out just a few of the beautiful species growing in the tundra (and the views aren’t bad either):
One of my favorite moments on our trip to Trier was stepping into the Liebfrauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady.* Light colored stone and high windows let in soft, glowing light, and the whole space felt bright and peaceful.
The Liebfrauenkirche is the oldest gothic church in Germany—it was built in the 13th century, and stands on the foundations of a much older Roman church. Unlike most churches, it’s built in a circular shape, with eight alcoves in between the four ends of the typical cross shape, for a full form of a twelve-petaled rose. These twelve curves, and the corresponding twelve supporting columns, symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. The dozens of stained glass windows include older style painted glass and more modern and geometric patterns. Because of its circular shape, the main alter stands in the center of the room, with all the pews facing inwards toward it.
* Literally “loving women church”
Another of the Roman structures in Trier is Emperor Constantine’s basilica. Erected to be an immense throne room, the basilica is a single room over 200 feet long and eight stories tall. Since it’s original construction in the 4th century, it’s been damaged and rebuilt many times, including incorporation into both a medieval castle and a baroque palace. It was converted into a church at the end of the 19th century, sustained heavy damage in WWII, and most recently refurbished in the 1960s to match the original structure. Interestingly, some of the original Roman walls were the sections that survived the best through the bombing.
The size of the basilica is mind-boggling, and hard to capture with pictures. Each of the wooden squares in the ceiling is 10 ft x 10 ft—the size of a normal bedroom. The two organs are mounted high on the walls, and the arches and windows extend even further.
Trier is one of the oldest cities in Germany, and still boasts multiple Roman structures. One of these is the imperial baths, a sprawling multi-story complex of tunnels and arches. These are an active archaeological site and open for public viewing, with ongoing renovations to shore up the existing pieces and restore additional sections. Also geese.