Twin Lakes is a gorgeous slice of Colorado that we camped at this past weekend. After going through Leadville (the highest town in the United States at 10,152 feet!), you continue on Highway 24 alongside the Arkansas River which is a beautiful drive in itself. Mt. Elbert is what overlooks the lakes.
Cathedral Rock from "Buddha Beach"
Ever since I visited Boulder for the first time, I fell in love with these unique geologic formations that make up a tiny yet stunning section of the Rockies. In a way, it reminded me of home on Maui. My favorite view of them is to the side, where you can see how they got their name.
Springtime can mean that Colorado's famed sunny days are nowhere to be found. Last night's rain brought low laying clouds to Boulder, gently enveloping the peaks in a serene mist...
My once minuscule kitten is becoming a lanky little teenage boy cat. His blue eyes have gone green, and chocolate chip of a nose turned pink.
My cousin John married his long time girlfriend, Kelly, at my parent's house in Cornville, Arizona.
Meet Nigel, a barn bred tabby kitten that I picked up from some lady on a farm in Arvada.
That day, October 6th 2015, would be a big day for both him and I.
As soon as we put him in the crate to take him home, it hit me that I now had an animal that I'd have in my life until I was quite possibly 40 years old.
He calmly sat in the crate the whole way back, not making a peep even once. I watched his tiny face from behind the wire door quietly observe his surroundings. A small sense of pride came over me; what an easy-going little guy!
Like a baby, he sleeps a lot, and is just the right amount of playful when awake. It's astonishing to see how much he grows week by week.
The electricity went out in our building when we were having dinner.
The snow glows with faint ambient light from elsewhere.
Toe chilblains aside, I am still captivated by winter.
If you're wondering, yes, that is a baby bottle.
No, we do not have a baby!
At the restaurant Le Refuge des Fondus in Paris, they serve wine in them.
It is my only souvenir from Europe other than some coins.
Summer is for hiking.
When a lovely girl you meet has pink hair and also is graciously willing to pose nude, you take advantage of it (Thank you Megan!).
I am always impressed by how easy it is to access seemingly remote wilderness in Boulder.
A rare lunar eclipse occured in the early hours of April 15th, perfectly visible from Boulder's clear skies.
I took "artistic license", shall we say, to create this composite. In other words, it's not an accurate portrayal of a lunar eclipse phase. The shining orb appeared in the sky from the left and moved to the right, gradually fading away to reveal the highly anticipated "blood moon" in all its ominous glory, then repeated the process until it regained its pearly white innocence.
They are awkward but necessary for those pesky "about me's" and profile pictures alerting everyone to what you look like at the time.
Phone pictures could technically work just fine, but years from now, I want decent images for my kids to look at one day and I can say, with a sigh, "Hard to believe, but I used to be young, too..."
I fell in love with Colorado so much that I had to move here. This is the view outside my window in Denver (I'm very fond of the skyline sliver you see in the distance.)
I've never lived in a city before. It's never quiet in my apartment. I can always near traffic on Washington Street (where that car is headed down) through the single pane window in my bedroom.
I've also never lived anywhere with snow before. When I took this photograph it was 10 degrees outside.
I have quickly learned that you don't brake hard in the snow when driving.
I had the chance to visit my dear friend Molly in the northern Colorado town of Boulder. When we met up in Italy, she told me to visit her when I came back to the States. The quickest route's halfway point (clocking in at 6 hours) was to Moab, Utah, home of Arches National Park. Its most famous structure, the Delicate Arch, is a must-hike to witness in person. Utah is so proud that it's even depicted on their license plates.
I went out with the intention of staying there until night fall, then getting a long exposure of the arch with the night sky and stars.
People began leaving and the kangaroo rats started scurrying about. I'm embarrassed to admit it but I definitely got a little creeped out being all alone in the dark. I didn't wait for the sun to drop down any further; I got my exposure and took off into the night, thinking of all the worst possible things that could happen to me.
I still like what I got, though. Moon shadows are a beautiful thing!
I set out in the morning for another 6 hour drive from the Moab KOA. The sweepingly beautiful and barren desert landscape transitioned to lush pine trees and a view of the Colorado River running right along the highway.
Boulder is nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills, offering both stunning outdoor accessibly and the metropolitan city of Denver in about a half an hour (without traffic!) It's also home to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Molly is a student.
What better Euro-Trip grand finale is there than to experience the Pamplona festivities of San Fermin? I decided on going about a month prior and it was almost impossible to find accommodations. I found a hostel that could take me for 3 days, but unfortunately was a day after it started. I would have loved to photograph the opening celebrations, but ah well. It seems that many other people suffered the same fate; when I arrived at the very tiny train station, it was mass confusion as hoards of tourists began hunting down taxis. Pamplona goes from a population of 200,000 to 1,000,000 for the week of San Fermin. When I made it to the hostel, they offered me a festival outfit package if I didn't already have the proper attire: a white shirt, white pants, red handkerchief, and red sash.
"Oh, I'm pretty much here just to photograph."
"Believe me, you're going to need it. Even the photographers wear the clothes."
Oh, really now. Still not entirely convinced, I went ahead and took the package anyways... Which I'm so glad I did. Maybe about 10% of people were not wearing the outfit and stuck out like sore thumbs. Even though I wasn't partying like the rest of the revelers, I still felt part of the experience, which made it that much better just being there to document. It was amusing seeing the "sexy" variations of the clothes worn by young women, like white booty shorts instead of pants, or red bras underneath sheer white tank tops. I think the one uniting factor for everyone was the red handkerchief tied around the neck. It seemed like the most important aspect of a San Fermin outfit. On the last night there is a solemn midnight ceremony called "Pobre de Mi" where candles are lit and the handkerchiefs are removed.
BULL RUN, DAY I
The daily celebrations begin each morning with the infamous running of the bulls, the encierro, starting at 8 AM. I arose at 5 to make sure I could find my way down to the town square and locate a good spot somewhere along the streets. I barely caught a wink of sleep because of the heat during the night, fiercely missing my air-conditioned hotel room in Madrid. Around the hours of 4 to 9 AM it finally cools off and feels glorious, and was a blessing for watching the bull run.
Well, of course people stay up partying all night long, so the streets are filled with drunken revelers that have already claimed their fence spots. The only other option of viewing the race, which many people find much more favorable, are balconies that overlook the streets. These must be reserved months in advance and cost quite a bit of money.
I met some Ecuadorians who saw my camera and invited me to sit with them on the front fence. It was also their first day. We were unaware that the front fence is reserved for press, police, and medics, so we scrambled to get another spot when were told to get off about 30 minutes prior to the run.
When the group ran by, we jumped off and made our way into the street to see the runners and the bulls inside Plaza de Toros. Don't ask me why the police didn't say anything to us, but apparently the race wasn't quite over. So many people participate nowadays that the run is divided into two sections. We suddenly saw more runners flying by, heard the pound of hooves, and before we knew it, more bulls came barreling down the cobblestone street. It was a very surreal moment as they passed by just feet away.
We continued our way into the Plaza de Toros, where participants are funneled in and run around with a single bull if they so choose. The runners, still intoxicated (most of them anyways), think it's great fun scurrying around and agitating the frightened bull, who is also subjected to the screams of belligerent people by the hundreds. I was pulled into the frenzy by the Ecuadorians at one of the entrances... Quite literally pulled. It was like being at a concert. As I was squeezing by, my pockets were quickly felt up and rooted through. This is why putting your money into shoes, preferably boots, is ideal. I was told that thieves from all over Spain come to Pamplona for the amazing pickpocketing opportunities during San Fermin.
BULL RUN, DAY 2
The second morning, I went out in hopes of finding a spot that was situated closer to the front fence and on a curve so I could get a better view of the action as it came towards me. I found a decent place and quickly claimed it, defending my position until 8 AM finally rolled around and the run began. With my 70-200mm lens, I was able to reach past the people on the front fence, but they still got in the way occasionally. I envied the press who arrived just ten minutes before, taking their spots on the front fence with completely unobstructed views.
All the gorings happened the day I left. There was a 20 year old student from Utah who got a horn through the abdomen and had his spleen removed, a Spanish man who was pierced in the thighs and buttocks, and a 23 year old Australian woman whose chest was perforated and suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung. There's no way I can feel sorry for these people though, because they essentially have 'done it to themselves'. The bulls attack when people fall and try to get back up, or when a bull gets separated from his herd and panics.
Aside from the bull runs and bull fights, people celebrate throughout the streets of Pamplona, all in honor of the city's patron saint San Fermin.
Every evening at 6:30, there is a scheduled bull fight at the Plaza de Toros. The stadium (third largest in the world) is divided into two halves: sol or sombra, sun or shade. Shade is more expensive, understandably, and people serious about the sport of bullfighting sit here. The people who sit in the sun are slowly roasted for two and a half hours, but are too busy dancing to the peñas (social club brass bands) and pouring sangria on each other to watch the bullfight or care about the heat. I waited for 2 hours the following day to purchase my ticket from the official ticketing counters, getting there extra early before they opened to ensure that I'd get a favorable seat the following day. Scalpers lurk everywhere trying to sell off tickets that are more than likely counterfeit, and as a tourist there's no way of gauging authenticity. Ideally, I wanted a shade seat in the first tier of the stadium. After learning that the cost would be around 150 euros (close to 200 dollars), I opted for the middle seats, which drastically brought the price down to 40. When I got to the ring the next day, I found myself seated directly in front of a pillar. The people sitting next to me didn't seem to mind when I invaded their personal space to get around the pillar.
The event starts with a parade around the ring of everyone involved in the bullfight (the cuadrilla) as the peñas begin to play. The toreros remain in the arena as the bull is released. The four toreros work together, teasing and tiring the bull as it charges their fluttering magenta and canary yellow capes, catching the attention of the agitated bull. Usually only one of the toreros holds the title of matador, being the most experienced bullfighter of the group.
Two picadores arrive at the scene, dressed in attire just as intricate as the toreros on blindfolded and armored horses. They hold a spear with a short blade that is plunged into the bull's neck when it notices the horse and attempts to gore it. This is the first stage of the fight; Tercio de Varas. It is remarkable watching the horses as they are literally lifted into the air by the bull and remain impressively calm. The stab weakens the bull's charging force and also drives it into a wounded frenzy.
The picadors exit as the toreros continue to tire the animal, taking turns running at it with banderillas, decorated barbs, that they plunge into its back. This is part 2, Tercio de Banderillas. The bull is a sorry state at this point, with blood sometimes beginning to stream down its back. Its tongue lolls out, breathing frantically.
The matador exchanges his cape for a bright red one, the muleta, and is handed a sword. With controlled poise and ballerina-like grace, he performs the final act, Tercio de Muerte, with the exhausted beast. It is a dance of death both beautiful and saddening, a clash of visual splendor and brutality.
When the matador senses that the time is right, he drives the sword into its back, usually dropping the bull to its knees. He is given a shorter blade which he stabs into the neck, delivering instant death by severing its spine.
If the matador is truly skilled, the first sword plunge will successfully kill the animal. The crowd roars with approval if this is the case and the matador will triumphantly throw his hand up, showing his appreciation of the pleased crowd. The brass bands begin to play music again and onlookers cheer voraciously as three decorated horses are led out. The carcass is attached to the horses and they run out of the arena.
To watch this tremendous animal come bounding into the ring at the full height of its power to 20 minutes later being dragged away bloody and lifeless is quite something. To watch this six times in a row was a little overwhelming, I'll admit it. I knew I'd be a little uncomfortable watching a blood sport but when you're in Rome, do as the Romans do. I came, I saw, I documented. If I was going to experience San Fermin as a whole, the bull fight was just as important as any other element. I realize how significant bull fighting is to Spanish culture, but it's a shame that the animals have to endure such torment.
Barcelona was a bust. After the fiasco just getting there, I came down with a cold and did nothing but sleep in my air-conditioned hotel room. I hate when people tell me that Barcelona was their favorite European city of all. I was sick, tired, and a little burnt out after 4 months of non-stop traveling. A few days later and feeling better/not so sorry for myself anymore, I moved onto Madrid, determined to make the best of my last country to visit.
I had positive site seeing experiences by way of the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace) and the Prado/Reina Sofía art museums. The Royal Palace's interior was stunningly ornate and in immaculate condition. I couldn't take any photographs but snuck some phone ones.
The Prado Museum houses an impressive collection of European art stretching from the 12th to early 19th century. The highlight of the collection is paintings from the Spanish greats like Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco. They even had a few Hieronymus Bosch works including his most famous, The Garden of Earthly Delights. That was a great surprise and worth the entire visit for me.
The Reina Sofía museum, or the Queen Sofia Arts Center, is Madrid's modern art mecca. There was a special Dalí exhibition that displayed a wonderful assortment of his works but the famous melting clocks, The Perception of Memory, was not included (gotta go to New York's MoMA for that.) I was just happy to find my favorite painting of his, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening, again having to sneak phone pictures of.
No photos, just bitching about losing my wallet which made my journey to Spain a nightmare.
I completed the 10 hour bus ride from Dubrovnik to Split and boarded another overnight train. I was so pleased to finally get a night train with a bed, although it was the top bunk with about 6 inches of space between the mattress and the ceiling.
I woke up to an employee banging on the door. We had arrived in Munich. Still waking up, I went down the stairs to the bathroom, opening up my wallet to pay the 50 cents required to enter. I left the wallet in my hand, dragging all my belongings into the stall. I must not have put my wallet back in my purse. I again dragged all my things out of the stall, forgetting my wallet which I probably put on top of the toilet paper dispenser. I went back up the stairs and to the luggage lockers. I reached in my purse for my wallet to pay… Where was my wallet? I remembered the bathroom. I bolted back down. It must have been about a 5 minute time period. I yelled to the janitor to let me back in so I could get it. This has happened to me before in life, much more when I was younger. I've become far better at not forgetting my belongings by learning the hard way, but shit still happens. It wasn't there. I hoped for the next best situation, that an honest person discovered it and turned in my missing wallet. I was wrong. In the 4 hour waiting period for my train to France, then to Spain, I went back numerous times to lost and found. Nothing. I could only be thankful that my passport and travel documents were still with me, but it still didn't help the situation of having absolutely zero money (okay I had about 20 cents but you can't purchase anything in Europe for under one full euro.)
I felt incredibly vulnerable being alone in a foreign country with no ability to purchase anything, especially not sustenance. There were of course problems with a Western Union money wiring and instead of being able to receive in minutes, it would take 5 hours. I would be on a train at that point, in fact I'd be on a train all the way into the next morning. I would only have to endure not eating for a good 24 hours, which was disappointing, but thought all the millions of people who starve on a day to day basis. I would be fine. I suddenly realized the predicament of paying for a metro ticket in Paris to transfer trains. All I needed was 1.70 euros, but I only had 20 cents. I would have to beg, there was literally no other way. I thought about how utterly embarrassed I would be, how shameful I'd feel… Then I realized that I'd been collecting coins from every country I'd been in so far. Maybe the currency exchange would take my coins! I dashed over to the counter 20 minutes before departure. They said they'd take my pounds which was converted into a little over 2 euros. I was saved! Hungry, but everything would be okay... Until my metro ticket didn't work.
It happened to us a few times in Paris; the machine says your ticket is good but the revolving bars don't turn. That wasn't going to stop me. I shoved my luggage under the bars and hopped over them, and never was yelled at. I didn't have loads of time to make this transfer either, so talking to a security guard just couldn't be on the agenda, nor was buying another ticket in a line that was getting increasingly longer. I finally boarded my night train heading for Spain with two other British girls munching on a wide assortment of snacks in their bunks. I was too proud to ask for some. Too proud!
The next morning I navigated my way to the nearest Western Union. It was a seemingly never-ending walk, but I could see the light at the end of this tunnel... Until I was notified that not all Western Unions in Spain let you receive money. I sat on the street outside with my belongings in the hot, mid-morning Spanish sun and cried. People walked by and stared. What if the next one to receive was miles away? I couldn't pay for a bus or a taxi. With my phone I was able to find out information leading to a currency exchange that would do it just across the street. The information was wrong, but they were able to tell me that any post office in Spain can do it. Why didn't the first Western Union tell me that? The language barrier can be a real problem. A post office was a 10 minute walk away. I waited in line with an American who had lost his debit card and phone the night before (heavy drinking was the culprit.) The woman didn't speak any English but somehow the transaction was made and I came away with a glorious wad of Euros. Unfortunately, this was the wrong country to carry large amounts of cash in but c'est la vie, or should I say "que es la vida"? I went immediately into a cafe and had vegetable paella to break my fast. It sure wasn't top quality seafood paella from a 5 star restaurant but I had never had paella before. It was one of the best meals I've ever had.
JUNE 27 -30
My journey into Croatia from Salzburg would start off going direct to Zagreb (10 hours), then to Split (10 hours during the night). From Split I would take a bus into Dubrovnik as there is no train station there, taking another 5 hours. It would be long, but at least time would be spent sleeping on a night train. Well, here's a traveling tip: never get on a train to ask if you're on the right one. I didn't see any assistance outside at the platform where my train was supposed to be so I hopped on one that I believed was mine that had come in early. It was an older train so there were no digital signs anywhere that stated the final destination. Suddenly the train began to lurch away before I found out it was the wrong one. I got off at the next stop and tried to figure out what I needed to do at this point.
Trains running from Salzburg only go once a day so my only other option was to get on a train bound for Munich and wait a whopping 7 hours in the station for a night train into Zagreb, then finally take a relatively inexpensive plane ride to Dubrovnik which would make up for all the wasted time. I didn't have a bed reservation for this night train into Zagreb and it was too late to make one, but a ticketing assistant told me that you can simply march up to the conductor and request a bed. In the meantime, he gave me a regular seat reservation. Well, that sounds easy. When it finally rolled into the Munich station, I followed the ticketing assistant's instructions and "marched up" to the conductor, asking about a bed. He looked at me like he thought I was trying to piss him off.
I cannot sleep sitting up, so it was going to be a restless night. I dejectedly climbed into my car and slid open the door to my assigned seat with three other Croatian men who looked up at me from the depths of the dark. In night trains, there are individual rooms that seat six people at a time. I at least could be thankful for one seat between myself and the other man next to me. When you have a bed, an assistant comes and takes away your passport and tickets as to not disturb you later. All throughout the night the attendant would come asking to show our tickets at every stop made (there were about 4), and seemingly always when I was on the verge of a half sleeping state. When we crossed into Croatia, the train stopped at border patrol. An officer came in around 6 am, barking at us for our passports. Even though I knew I was fine with my own, I felt nervous in the presence of this officer who was already treating us as if we didn't have proper identification. After the process I put mine away and looked out the window. We were crossing over a beautiful river cutting through lush hills, bathed in fresh morning light. For a moment, it almost made up for the sleepless night and gruff officer.
An hour later we pulled up to Zagreb and I stumbled off the train with my belongings, making a beeline for the ticketing counters as this would be my only opportunity to make a train reservation into Spain. I waited in line for 15 minutes, nervously checking my watch. I only had so much time to figure out how to get to the main bus station to then take a shuttle to the airport. I successfully got a ticket from Zagreb to Munich (the first leg would be back to Munich oddly enough), but could not get a ticket from Split to Zagreb because I was in the international line, not local. I would have to wait in another line and simply did not have the time for it. Not knowing what else to do, I left and decided to figure it out later with better sleep.
I counted out my money for a taxi, which would save valuable time by taking me directly to the airport. I then remembered what I had read about the Croatian taxi drivers that lurk outside the Glavni Kolodvor station: clearly they know you're a tourist, so they think you have money and will slap you with a ridiculous fee of around 3,000 Kuna (equivalent to 50 U.S. dollars) for a ride to the airport once you're there. I had just enough money for an honest fare, and approached a driver with my sum. He shook his head at my offer. I assured him that I was not bluffing, I really didn't have any more money, and knew that the amount I had was enough to the airport. No luck. Same situation with another. Even if I wanted to, I could not pull out anymore cash because I had lost my debit card in London and only had a credit card. Withdrawing money meant having to purchase money, which I couldn't do just anywhere. My only other option was public transportation.
I bought a ticket and got on the crowded bus which I believed was going to the main bus station. Inside, there was no map of the bus route. Turns out it was the right one, but wrong direction. It took me ten minutes to figure this out and I jumped off at the next stop, and another bus took 10 more minutes to come. My time was running out. I couldn't miss this flight. We finally arrived at the main bus station and I hauled my things up a long flight of stairs then waited in another line just to talk to someone, taking 5 more minutes. When my turn was up, I asked about the airport bus and the man spoke back to me in Croatian, pointing in a direction. The signs are not in English. I ran down another flight of stairs, towards where he had vaguely pointed. I had three minutes before the next bus left. The buses leave on the hour. Well, he technically had pointed in the right direction. There were hoards of buses, but no clear sign about an airport one.
I frantically ran up to a bus driver. "Airport bus???" More pointing, more Croatian. I ran in the direction. Oh my god, I see a bus that says airport (the only English I'd seen so far.) The clock hit the hour. I was the last passenger to board. I sat sweaty, exhausted, and blissfully relieved on the ride over. It was smooth sailing until taking public transportation again. Dubrovnik's buses get crammed to the gills, and I mean crammed. It was almost as bad as that initial ride on the Paris metro with Molly and Dakota. It was a hot, and not to mention stinky, ride. A Croatian woman grabbed a holding bar at the ceiling, her dark armpit hair inches from my face. I was just so happy to be finally, almost, at my hotel.
That night I slept in a real bed and had proper sleep. I couldn't have asked for a better way to start my birthday. I spent the morning lounging in the hot sun and the afternoon swimming the Adriatic, which I discovered is a touch colder than Hawaii's waters. Brisk, refreshing. The water was dazzlingly clear. The next day I went out to the Old Town. There were so many tourists, but very seldom were Americans. I think the majority are from neighboring countries who go to the Dalmatian Coast for a seaside escape. They communicate to the Croatians in broken English.
Dubrovnik was beautiful, but the people were different. There are no extra frills to their personalities, no extra effort given to be friendly, not even with their own people seemingly. The looming darkness over the Croatians stems from 1990's warfare that violently tore Yugoslavia into the countries that they are today. Dubrovnik, in fact, was specifically targeted by the Serbians and extensively bombed, the Old town specifically. This was especially shocking and controversial due to Dubrovnik's UNESCO World Heritage Site protection status, which was completely disregarded by the Serbians. I heard a tour guide try to answer a member of her group's question about the attacks and she choked back tears. "I'm sorry… It is still hard for me to speak about, I lost very close friends during that time."
Going back on the bus to Zagreb (my only option as I never was able to get that train reservation), I spoke to a young woman, Tea (Tay-ah), about Croatia and its people. She herself is an aspiring jeweler, someone who is constantly looking to the future, a genuinely positive soul. We talked about war, about their poor economic condition. "People need to stop frowning, stop looking down, and start looking up. The war is past and we can move forward now."
JUNE 21 - 24
Traveling to Zermatt (located in the German speaking sector of Switzerland) was especially beautiful, most notably during the "Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn" ride. It is the last train leg on a journey into the town of Zermatt, going at a steady pace, climbing in elevation as it makes its way into the famed alps.
The whole town can be walked edge to edge in a half an hour. There are no cars, but small vehicles provide taxi and even bus services. Near the rail station is a cozy cluster of 1 and 5 star hotels existing peacefully together.
The Matterhorn can be seen from everywhere in Zermatt, though because it is so tall its peak is almost always hidden away in clouds.
JUNE 14 - 21
My first stop in beautiful Switzerland was the rural village of Valeyres-sous-Ursins, located near Yverdon-les-Bains where I came in on the train. If you weren't able to guess from the names, this is the French side of the country. Switzerland is divided into three including the German and Italian speaking areas. Park and Christine live in a farmhouse originally built in the 1800's, and are neighbors with dairy farmers (where they get fresh milk from.) They themselves have two hens and a garden, providing eggs, fruits, and vegetables. On Sunday I helped Christine with a lunch party for her brother and nephew's birthday. She even made homemade strawberry ice-cream to accompany a cake that Park made for dessert. During the party I was speaking to the girlfriend of Christine's nephew who grew up in a small French village. We were talking about the sound of different languages, and I mentioned that American English probably isn't too pleasing to the European ear. Her eyes lit up as she said "No, you sound like the people from the movies!"
One day I took a specialty train bound for Gruyères, where gruyère cheese comes from. The cows, as I was reading, graze on a myriad of wild herbs such as vanilla pods and cumin which you can faintly taste. We were also brought to the medieval town of Gruyères, which was first established in the 11th century. On the way back was a stop in Broc where the Cailler chocolate factory is, Switzerland's first.