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Stories from Month 16

Paris, France

Speed Rocks

timI hate to use such a silly expression, but there is no other way to describe the Thalys high speed train...

It hauls ass.

But what would you expect out of a train that makes the Brussels to Paris trip in a short 1:20 and whose operational speed reaches 300 kph (188 mph)?

I catch myself using the word "flight" instead of "ride", but "flight" is more fitting than a word that holds you to the ground.

The Thalys' tracks banked like a racecourse and tilted me hard around corners - sometimes with the same jerky motion of a roller coaster. I crested hills fast enough to feel the same fall in my stomach that I would get from zipping over a small rise too fast in my car. I passed highway traffic so quickly that it appeared to be standing still.

The effect reminded me of the last few minutes before landing... bank right, bank left, quick rise, quick fall, then small jerky movements followed by periods of smooth flight. All the while, your destination seems so close that the expectation of arrival never leaves the back of your mind. top

Modern Art

timI find myself increasingly bored by the realism of classical art. What is to be gained by painting a scene perfectly when these days, a photo would do a better job?

I like art that punches me in the gut, that makes me love, hate, feel joy, be afraid, or gives me a sense of wonder about the world I live in. I find that classical art falls down in this respect. Where is the emotion? Look an enormous battle scene and you won't see the anguish of real death on the painted faces, but the anguish of studio models holding their poses for 10 hours straight.

So with that said, the Museum of Modern Art in the Centre Georges Pompidou sent me straight to heaven. What a collection! Klee, Kandinsky, Picasso, Caldor, Chagall, Corbusier, Dali, Miro, Ernst, Matisse, Warhol, Man Ray, Brassai, and so many other wonderful lesser-knowns.

Finally, a collection with soul.

I floated through the museum, breathing inspiration and energy from the work around me. My mind was awash with creativity - ideas shooting at me from all directions while my hand struggled to keep notes. I felt at peace with the world and lost myself for the day, completely throwing away all the plans I'd made for the afternoon.

That is what real art is all about. top

Musty bones in the Paris Catacombes, a spooky subterranean maze of tunnels filled with thousands of exhumed bodies from nearby cemeteries in 1785. Musty bones in the Paris Catacombes, a spooky subterranean maze of tunnels filled with thousands of exhumed bodies from nearby cemeteries in 1785. A unique covered escalator rises up the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The center houses one of the world's best collections of modern art. (Also known as Centre Beaubourg.) A unique covered escalator rises up the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The center houses one of the world's best collections of modern art. (Also known as Centre Beaubourg.) A fantastic fresco and gilded ceiling in the Paris Louvre. The Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs-Elysees in Paris, finished in the 1830s, now the final resting place of the World War I Unknown Soldier. An evening shadow created by the 320-meter high Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) falls over the Paris skyline. The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel), built for the 1889 World's Fair, rises 320 meters high into the Parisian sky. Built between 1163 and 1345, the Gothic Notre Dame cathedral is one of the most famous Paris landmarks. Built between 1163 and 1345, the Gothic Notre Dame cathedral is one of the most famous Paris landmarks. The Pantheon of the Latin Quarter in Paris is the final resting place of Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Victor Hugo. The Pont Neuf crossing the Seine in nighttime Paris. Loius XIV stands guard out front of the Chateau de Versailles. Sun filters into the Royal Chapel of the Chateau de Versailles, build by Louis XIV in the middle of the 17th century. Artwork in the sculpted gardens of the Chateau de Versailles, built by Louis XIV in the middle of the 17th century. A painting-lined hall inside the Chateau de Versailles, built by Louis XIV in the middle of the 17th century. The Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs-Elysees in Paris, finished in the 1830s, now the final resting place of the World War I Unknown Soldier. Arches in the basement of the Conciergerie, a 14th century palace turned prison during the 1793 Reign of Terror. Arches in the basement of the Conciergerie, a 14th century palace turned prison during the 1793 Reign of Terror. Architect I.M. Pei's glass pyramid, a new addition to the Louvre Museum (Le Musée du Louvre), presents a striking contrast to the rest of the museum's classical look. Architect I.M. Pei's glass pyramid, a new addition to the Louvre Museum (Le Musée du Louvre), presents a striking contrast to the rest of the museum's classical look. Architect I.M. Pei's glass pyramid, a new addition to the Louvre Museum (Le Musée du Louvre),  presents a striking contrast to the rest of the museum's classical look. Architect I.M. Pei's glass pyramid, a new addition to the Louvre Museum (Le Musée du Louvre), presents a striking contrast to the rest of the museum's classical look. The classical style of Paris - wrought iron balconies, French doors, and Romanesque arches. The vaulted ceiling of Paris' Saint Eustache Cathedral, constructed between 1532 and 1640. The cathedral is the final resting place of Molière, Richelieu, and the Marquise de Pompadour.

San Sebastian, Spain

Party Party, Political Party

timSpaniards love to party.

Three days in San Sebastian and all Ive done is sleep in and stay out late eating tapas and drinking beer. What a life.

It is Sunday, but the only Sunday suits that I see are the blue and white stripped shirts of San Sebastian's soccer team. Today's match between San Sebastian and Bilbao marked the start of the season, and as you can imagine, people started the party early. The streets below my pension were echoing with the sound of revelers by the time I woke up and by 2 PM, the street had grown into a miniature Mardi Gras - with loud music, random fireworks, bawdy singing, and trash covered pavement.

But this is Basque country, home of a strong separatist movement. Today on my narrow street alone, Basque separatists hung banners and a vendor sold separatist t-shirts from a nearby stall.

The people rally behind their Basque team as an icon of independence. So soccer is more than just a game. It is a chance to make a political statement.

Forty-five minutes before game time, the large drunk party organized into a political march and walked from the old section of San Sebastian to the stadium en masse. They chanted slogans, threw fireworks, and flew the red, green, and white colors of their nationalist flag.

I followed the parade along with my friends and got caught up in the moment. With so much energy and excitement, it seemed just clean fun. But the movement's violent side is responsible for many deaths, including two people here in San Sebastian just a few days ago. So maybe it wasn't the smartest thing to do. But what could be safer than hanging out with the terrorists themselves - at least I knew I was safe from bombs in their company. top

The soccer season starts in the Basque city of San Sebastian with a party several hours before the opening game. But the game represents more than sport, as a Basque separatist banner hangs over the street. San Sebastian is playing the nearby Basque city of Bilbao, so the fans of both teams drink together. Red church candles offer prayers in a San Sebastian Catholic church. Why sit down to eat when you can pick and choose your food at the bar? The range of tapas at most San Sebastian bars overwhelms you with choices. Just remember the honor system applies when you tell the bartender how much you ate!

Barcelona, Spain

Photos

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Modernist chimneys on the rooftop of the Pedrera, an apartment building designed by Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi's influence in Barcelona's modernist movement reached its highpoint in the unfinished, yet still magnificent, La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Modernist chimneys on the rooftop of the Pedrera, an apartment building designed by Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi's influence in Barcelona's modernist architecture movement reached its highpoint in the unfinished, yet still magnificent, La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. The tree-lined pedestrian area of Barcelona's La Rambla attracts tourists, locals, and street performers such as this human statue. This black bandit stands still until offered a coin, then he turns into a fountain, pouring mysterious liquid into an oil pan below his feet. The tree-lined pedestrian area of Barcelona's La Rambla attracts tourists, locals, and street performers such as this human statue. This brown soldier stands still until offered a coin, then he gives an inspiring John Wayne salute and a wink. The tree-lined pedestrian area of Barcelona's La Rambla attracts tourists, locals, and street performers such as these human statues. This gold couple stands still until offered a coin, then they move slowly into position for photographs with the kids. The tree-lined pedestrian area of Barcelona's La Rambla attracts tourists, locals, and street performers such as this colorful clown who plays a pan flute with a bird on head to the accompaniment of his howling dressed up mutt. Barcelona's 1992 Olympic Stadium (Estadi Olímpic) has a permanent capacity of 55,000 and can fit up to 77,000 with temporary seating. Barcelona's 1992 Olympic Stadium (Estadi Olímpic) has a permanent capacity of 55,000 and can fit up to 77,000 with temporary seating.

London, England

Photos

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A bobby guards London's Big Ben and Houses of Parliament. Dale Chihul'Ys glassblowing amazes crowds at London's Victoria and Albert Museum in the first showing of his work in the U.K. The flowers bloom in front of London's Saint Paul's Cathedral, completed in 1710. An unusually beautiful blue sky over London's Tower Bridge (built 1894). An unusually beautiful blue sky over London's Tower Bridge (built 1894).

Dublin, Ireland

Photos

timI traveled through Ireland for three weeks and had some great times. I met interesting people, enjoyed the country's beautiful scenery, and drank many a Guinness. I also hit some lows, since I was there during 9/11 and watched the Twin Towers fall in a small village pub with the stunned locals. The outpouring of grief from this faraway country across the Atlantic was overwhelming.

I also wrote many stories about my time here, but they were erased by the faulty handheld device I'd typed saved them to. I can share my photos, but not much else. :-( top

The sun sets over row houses on the streets of Dublin. Light filters down on a doorway in the Guinness brewery, a 64 acre complex founded in 1759. Two and a half million pints of Guinness are brewed behind these doors every day. Dublin's famous River Liffey during sunset. A couple walks adjacent to Dublin's famous River Liffey during sunset. The Temple Bar in the lively A Guinness advertisement adorns one of the many pubs in the lively Temple Bar area of Dublin.

County Wicklow, Ireland

Photos

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A Celtic cross headstone in a graveyard near the Glendalough Monastery. The monastery was founded during the sixth century and remained active until the sixteenth century. A Celtic cross headstone in a graveyard near the Glendalough Monastery. The monastery was founded during the sixth century and remained active until the sixteenth century. An unlikely sculpture in Ireland, a statue of the Hindu elephant-god Ganeesh stands in Victoria's Way Sculpture Park in Roundwood. The park is the product of one person, an interesting man who spends several months out of the year directing his team in India to build sculpture embodying his theories on life. A sheep looks curiously onward in the middle of a green Irish hill covered in yellow wildflowers. Two sheep walk up a green Irish hill covered in yellow wildflowers.

Kilkenny, Ireland

Photos

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Three traditional Irish pubs sitting side by side in the quaint town of Kilkenny. Traditional Irish pubs line a street in the quaint town of Kilkenny. Originally built in the 12th century, Kilkenny Castle is pictured here with an exceptionally green lawn and blue sky.

Cashel, Ireland

Photos

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The arches of a 700 year old gothic cathedral on the Rock of Cashel. Other medieval stone buildings share the view from the Rock, rising high off the surrounding plains on this solitary hill. A Celtic cross sits in front of a 700 year old gothic cathedral on the Rock of Cashel. Other medieval stone buildings share the view from the Rock, rising high off the surrounding plains on this solitary hill. The stone wall and historic gothic structures of the Rock of Cashel.

County Kerry, Ireland

Photos

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Cows stand watch in a field near Killarney in southwest Ireland Sunset reflects over mountains near the Healy Pass, the area between Counties Kerry and Cork in southwest Ireland. A few minutes later a sheep farmer in a tatty wool sweater greets me warmly with his in a thick Cork accent, saying

County Cork, Ireland

Photos

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The Hodnett family built the Belvelly Castle in the 15th century to guard the thin waterway separating Cobh's Great Island from the mainland. The name of the castle means Blarney Castle, built in 1446 by the King of Munster, now made famous by the Blarney Stone. Legend says that to kiss the Blarney Stone brings the gift of articulate and convincing speech. Blarney Castle, built in 1446 by the King of Munster, now made famous by the Blarney Stone. Legend says that to kiss the Blarney Stone brings the gift of articulate and convincing speech. Cobh was the last port of call for the Lusitania, a port of call on Titanic's last voyage, and the last port a majority of Irish immigrants saw as they sailed away to America and Australia during the potato famine. The port exists today as a picturesque small town with a line of colorful buildings facing the water. Rowhouses rise up a hill in Cobh, County Cork. Shadows fall over the sidewalk in the city of Cork.

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

Photos

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A colorful Irish pub on the Dingle Peninsula. A beach in the beautiful Dingle Peninsula, reaching off Ireland's west coast along the Atlantic. The rugged Atlantic coastline in Ireland's beautiful Dingle peninsula. A statue of the Virgin Mary overlooks the Atlantic in Ireland's beautiful Dingle peninsula. The sun shines patches of light onto a beach in the Dingle Peninsula.

County Clare, Ireland

Photos

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The rugged shale and sandstone Cliffs of Moher, rising 660 feet above the Atlantic on Irelands west coast. Smiling cows look over the hill on Ireland's west coast. An old stone bridge crosses a stream in the small village of Doonbeg, County Clare. A grass roofed house on the west coast of Ireland. An old shoe sits in the window of a traditional grass roofed house on the west coast of Ireland. Boats in Ballyvaghan sit high and dry during low tide. (West coast of Ireland.)

Galway, Ireland

Photos

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Surf crashes along the cliff-covered coast of Inishmore Island, County Galway. The 87 meter-high view looks out from the 3,000-year-old Dun Aengus ring fort, inhabited from 1100 BC to 1000 AD. Surf crashes along an 87-meter high cliff of Inishmore Island, County Galway. The view looks out over the 3,000-year-old Dun Aengus ring fort, inhabited from 1100 BC to 1000 AD. (The fort stands on top of the cliff.) A fisherman's net piled alongside a country road on Inishmore Island, County Galway. Unique rock formations surround the 3,000-year-old Dun Aengus ring fort on Inishmore Island, County Galway. Celtic crosses stand on a hill near the small town of Inveran, west of Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. Clumps of yellow and brown seaweed cover tidal flats during low tide in County Galway on the west coast of Ireland. A tree stands alongside a lake in the Connemara area of County Galway, near the Kylemore Abbey. The image of a mountain and a group of trees reflects from the surface of a lake in the Connemara area of County Galway, near the Kylemore Abbey. A tree stands alongside a lake in the Connemara area of County Galway, near the Kylemore Abbey.

Antrim Coast, Ireland

Photos

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The unusual rock formations of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, a mass of 40,000 basalt columns created by cooling lava. A small home on the Antrim Country north coast island of Carrick-a-rede.  The island is connected to the mainland by a small rope bridge that dangles high over the water. Larry Bane Bay in the north coast of Antrim Country, near the Carrick-a-rede Island rope bridge. Larry Bane Bay in the north coast of Antrim Country, near the Carrick-a-rede Island rope bridge. The unusual rock formations of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, a mass of 40,000 basalt columns caused by cooling lava. The unusual rock formations of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, a mass of 40,000 basalt columns caused by cooling lava.

Belfast, Ireland

Photos

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Mural on Sinn Fein headquarters depicting Bobby Sands, the IRA leader of the 1981 hunger strike in Maze Prison. Located in the Falls Road (Republican area) of Belfast.XXXXInscription reads, Mural in Protestant Shankill Road area of Belfast honoring the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). XXXXInscription reads, Cartoon mural in Protestant Shankill Road area of Belfast depicting a caricature of Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, being chased back to Dublin by a Loyalist bulldog. Mural in Protestant Shankill Road area of Belfast honoring the Loyalist martyr Cartoon mural in Catholic Falls Road area of Belfast depicting a caged bird escaping from behind bars.XXXXInscription reads (In Irish), Mural in Protestant Shankill Road area of Belfast.XXXXInscription reads, Mural in Protestant Shankill Road area of Belfast honoring the Scottish Brigade of the Ulster Defence Association. The UDA is the largest Loyalist paramilitary organization in Northern Ireland.XXXXInscription reads, Mural in Protestant Shankill Road area of Belfast honoring the  Ulster Defence Union (UDU), Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). XXXXInscription reads, Mural in Protestant Shankill Road area of Belfast honoring the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF).XXXXInscription reads, Mural in Protestant Shankill Road area of Belfast honoring the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), 2nd Battalion.XXXXInscription reads,

Dublin, Ireland

Photos

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The sun sets over row houses on the streets of Dublin. Light filters down on a doorway in the Guinness brewery, a 64 acre complex founded in 1759. Two and a half million pints of Guinness are brewed behind these doors every day. Dublin's famous River Liffey during sunset. A couple walks adjacent to Dublin's famous River Liffey during sunset. The Temple Bar in the lively A Guinness advertisement adorns one of the many pubs in the lively Temple Bar area of Dublin.

Washington, DC, USA

Slacking?

timWhat do I have to say for myself? It has been five weeks since my last update and I appear to be slacking off, lazy, and missing in action. But since then I have been really busy, traveling through Barcelona, passing through London, driving around Ireland, and ending my trip reuniting with Michelle in Manhattan.

Ending, you say? Yes, you heard me right. I'm back home in Washington, D.C., facing another full time job in the nine-to-five world. But I have so much more to share about my trip - five weeks of stories (resurrected from the unfortunate accident with my Palm handheld), reflections of being home, help for people interested in taking similar journeys, and a new photo database with hundreds of photos fresh from the photolab. (I'm weeding these from over 3,500 - you should see the mess!) top