Portugal, Primero Parte – Lisboa

So Lisbon was an adventure from the beginning. I was hesitant to even go, since I was getting more busy by the day, but leaving work in Friday afternoon and returning on Sunday night seemed like a good plan. The flight and everything was smooth, as was finding the metro.

Problems arose when my phone wouldn’t work. I’m still not sure why, but my French phone cannot make calls or send texts from outside the country. I can receive them fine. Well, I was going to call Lourenço when I got close, and he could meet me at the metro stop. No go. I found some pay phones. The first was broken, the second took my money but Lourenço couldn’t hear me. The last didn’t even have a receiver! I’m not in Paris anymore! There was a taxi stand, so I started asking if I could borrow, or even pay to use one of their phones. You won’t believe this, but the first 6 drivers in a row were “out of minutes.” Imagine that, a guy who lives by the phone cannot make a call. Well, you can imagine they were a little dishonest with me.

Finally I found one who was willing to let me use his phone. I gave him €2. We got directions to Lourenço’s, but he wouldn’t take me because he was not in the front of the cab line! Ok, I’ll ask him in front. This time the excuse was that the address was too close. Now I’m more than an hour late, have no idea where I’m going, and not even a cab will show me! With no sense of direction, a phone that doesn’t work, in the dark – I start walking. Thankfully an empty cab appreciated my hail, and he got me to L’s. Phew!

The reunion was a good one, and L showed me up to his house where I met his beautiful wife, Juliane. Then he showed me around this 400 year old palace that he is inheriting. He has the top floor of 4, but it’s big enough for three huge apartments. The one he chose is the size of my house in Texas. Not to mention how cool it is. I took some pictures the next day.  Notice the rain 🙁

And the view from the windows was also awesome. (first three photos from a later day)

I want to mention that I was leaving a cold and very rainy Paris. Lisbon is not known as a rainy city, in fact they only get a dozen or so days of rain per year. That was a bummer, but I was still happy to be in a warm place with friends. The last photo above gives an indication of what nice weather was for the majority of my trip.

I was happily surprised when L told me that he had guests in one of the other apartments and that I might know them. Of course I did, it was Trent and Lori Hare from USGS in Flagstaff! Trent was as surprised to see me as I was him. What a strange encounter, but in reality not so. Lourenço had invited Trent to work with him for a week in helping get their program of analyzing Mars photos running. They were productive, and since it was now weekend, we could have a good time. The first night was steak at an Argentine restaurant and some wine. Not bad 🙂 Later L took us to his favorite bar, one with a long line to get in, but we didn’t have to wait. At this point we began to realize that L should run for Mayor of Lisbon, he knows basically everyone in the town. Even with the back stage passes, so to speak, we were all tired and didn’t make a late night of it.

The next day L had to work. This was disappointing since I had come to see him, but Trent and Lori wanted to do some sight seeing, so we went out on a walking adventure. Of course it rained the entire time, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. Here they are, and a few more of our walk through Lively Lisbon.

Notice that every sidewalk is paved with small stones.  EVERY SIDEWALK!  – through the entire town.  This is impressive and really adds to the city’s beauty.


Our destination was an old castle, built on the foundation of Roman ruins – the one you see in the last photo. We didn’t have a map, but navigating was easy enough, just walk uphill. We found our way, passing an impressive church along the way and enjoyed the scenery.

As you can tell in the last photo, the weather was getting worse. And because we had a lunch date with Juliane, it was time to head back. There was plenty to see along the way, including nice apartment buildings and an open air market.

Lunch was at an Austrian fusion place, yep, a new one to me too. It was good though, and a nice respite from the rain. Sadly, Trent’s duct taped umbrella was lost when another damp soul grabbed the wrong one. Trent was left with a broken thing that became the the butt of jokes for the rest of the day. There is normally a beautiful walk along the river towards the coast, but with such bad weather it was decided a cab would be best. My feet already felt like they were swimming, so there were no complaints from me!

We had a nice time at the sights, making our way back.

The last was an old abbey. We got there just after closing time but got to see the church part. After a stop for pastries and wine shopping it was time to head back. Trent and Lori had to leave for a 6AM flight, and we were supposed to meet Lourenço for dinner. He had a surprise in store for us.

Walking back, eerily nice.

Dinner again was at a nice tapas restaurant. The Mayor got us seats, a group of now about 10, including the 5 of us and other friends, family, and a stranger in town – friend of a friend of L. He evens knows strangers, except that no one is a stranger to him. Dinner was really late, well after 11, and we took our time.

The surprise from L was the he wasn’t going to let anyone sleep that night. It kind of made sense for Trent and Lori, since they would only get two hours of sleep anyway, so we all agreed and we went directly to a bar. This was a gay bar, and we all had a good time. Oddly enough gay people are very nice. Something I don’t like is that drinks in Western Europe are very expensive. Jack Daniels was something like €8 per shot. I don’t know exactly how much I spent that night, but there were multiple shots and more wine and plenty of drinks. I probably bought a round or two for a girl also.

After the gay bar we took a cab to the premier dance club in town. I don’t recall the name of the bar, or very many things from this point on, but even though it was raining, and there was a long line of wet people outside, we walked right in. It’s nice knowing the Mayor. Inside was two floors of loud and crowded. The drinks were strong enough, and it was fun. L, T, and L had to leave, for the airport. Juliane had gone home after the first bar. I stayed, under the encouragement of Lourenço, and this is where things took a left turn. More drinking, flirting, and whatnot, but it was getting late, and I decided to walk back. Too bad I had no idea which way I was going. I turned right and followed the tracks. At least the tracks were headed towards downtown right? After a couple of hours of stumbling drunk on the tracks and arguing with God I found a train platform and laid down. The sun was right behind me. Eventually someone else wanted to take a train, and he was kind enough to make sure my drunk ass found my way back. I had walked well over 5 km in the wrong direction. The train I took led me the wrong way back to town, but it did end at a metro stop. Sometime in the morning I made it back to L’s and fell into bed. My slumber wasn’t to last however; the doorbell made sure of that. L had been locked out of his house all night! Juliane was sound asleep, and he had lent me his key to come back when I needed. Thankfully he could sleep for a while in the other apartment when Trent and Lori left, but the entire situation was comical. Ok, damp, drunk, and more than tired I finally got to lay down. Too bad we had a lunch appointment in a couple of hours…. next time the 700 acre bull ranch and cork trees.

More photos here.

I love my job sometimes.

Today I’ve been looking at pictures of Mars, lots of pictures. Yea, it’s a sweet gig.

More than that, I sometimes see things when looking at all those pictures that helps me figure out or solve a problem that has been bothering scientists for a long time. Of course that’s why I look at so many pictures. It’s not that I solve the problem completely, but often I find something that wasn’t previously known, helping us in the end solve the problem.

Today was one of those days:)

Just for fun, this is the image I was looking at when I had my realization.  There are better images to show the science, but have a look and see what you find.

Shortest day of the year

Living in Paris has some disadvantages. For one, it rains every single day. Since arriving on 25 September there have been maybe 10 days without rain. Sometimes it rains in the morning and gets sunny later, but very rarely do we have a day without rain, and even more rare is a real sunny day. I could count on one hand.

Another disadvantage is the length of day. Paris sits at 48.383 or 48° 22’N, approximately that of Havre, Montana, just below the Canadian border. People in Havre are used to short winter days, but as a good ol’ Texas boy I prefer more daylight. Today the sun rose at 8:40 AM and set at 4:54 PM – just over 8 hours of “daylight”. Compare that to Austin: 7:23 AM sunrise and set at 5:34 PM.

Now, you may say, “poor Isaac, he’s living in Paris and complains about the rain and darkness.” Well, next time I’ll make sure to come in a warmer, drier, and sunnier month. Did I mention that it’s also cold here?

Happy Winter Solstice and shortest day of the year!

Office Holiday Party

The French sure know how to have an office party. In the last week we’ve had two PHD defenses and one Christmas party. Each of those parties required lots of food, including good French des(s)erts, and either champagne or wine. Normally they start at 5, or mid-afternoon, but today we started at 12. It’s 3:30 now, and they’re still going. I think they stop when the wine runs out.

I promise to post about Portugal soon.

Final Stretch

I’m in my last week working at LMD. There are a few projects that I want to finish up, but things won’t get too out of hand.

Also, my blog and photogallery have been hacked. The blog seems to still work, but I cannot access my photogallery to upload photos. I’m working on a fix for that and hope to have some more posts about Portugal, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, and Slovakia up sometime soon, plus a lot of cool Paris stuff.

Ultra Busy

I’ve been crazy busy lately. After Portugal I had just a few days back in Paris before leaving for The Netherlands and Belgium. I got back from that with just a few hours before flying to Poland to see Kuba. We had a blast. I’m trying to get all my photos together to make some posts about the traveling and realize that I didn’t get through Morocco. I’ll get a summary of Morocco together hopefully tonight so I can start working on the other trips!

Today was a great day

I woke to sunshine, something that seems ever more rare as I live in Paris.  They say that fall is not the best time to visit if you want sunny days.  Next time I’ll try May and June.

So, it was great to see the sun.  And then I got to spend the day with my best friend in Paris, Matleena.  She’s been a good friend to me and quite a guide, even introducing me to her other friends between walking tours of trendy neighborhoods.  I’m pretty thankful for her company.  She’s helped me to see new things even in a place where every day is new.  Today we enjoyed a sunny walk through the 5th Arrondissement, stopping twice for ice cream.

Matleena is leaving for China tomorrow.  She’s looking for a change and wants to practice Chinese on a daily basis.  I guess Shanghai is a good place for those things.  I’m going to miss her for a lot of reasons, one of which was our conversations about gender roles in art and life.  Another is her big genuine smile.  I told her today that my experience in Paris was better because of her.  And that is true.  Even today she helped me see the sunshine when I might have stayed in.

I wish her all of the best.  I’d say good luck, but she’s good at making her own luck, and things will work out.

Another Day in Morocco

Field Trip Day 2.

The second day of our field trip began very early for me. I was awake around 5 and up well before my 5:45 alarm. The plan was for Roderik and me to watch the sunrise, and then I was going to go for a run. As they say about the early bird getting the worm, I got all of my goals done before 7AM, and this wouldn’t be the last time on this trip that I did. One extra advantage of getting up early was the wonderful sky watching. The starts were brilliant, and as I was a little farther south than normal, it was easy to pick up Canopus above the horizon. The Winter Hexagon and all constituents were big and bright, so my early wakening, well before the sunrise, was worthwhile.

Roderik and I started with some palms and architecture while awaiting the sun. He still owes me a shot or two from that morning.

Eventually I got anxious and left to run even before the sun showed itself. The run was great, without pictures of course, but there was a really nice feeling of solitude. Already our hotel was far from a paved road and again far from anything resembling a city. This made for a really nice solo run through the desert. Eventually the path took me over a mesa where the view grabbed me, and I stopped to take it all in. No where in sight was there anything man made. The sun was just peeking above the horizon, and a tremendous view looked back at me. “One could get get lost out here and never be found,” I thought. There would be no reason to look. I wish there were more time to stay, but our group had another ambitious day planned, and being the one person to hold up a big group was not in the cards for me. My run back took me towards the now risen sun. The bright sun in my face made the way more difficult, even though I could see the rocky path more clearly. I had to look down more rather than enjoy the wonderful expanse in front of me.

Our hotel/castle from the outside

Breakfast was the traditional bread with butter and jam. We ate that every morning. We left the hotel on time and within a few minutes were at a French military outpost, long abandoned. I should have taken more photos. It was nice.

Now we’re on our way to some exciting things! Well, we first have to stop in town for coffee. This was when we noticed the pattern of 1 hour coffee stops immediately after breakfast. After coffee we were back on the road and this time headed to see some desert estuaries. How cool!

Of course there was time for some nice beach and dune walking. 🙂

During the day there were some interesting sights: camels in the road, crazy taxis, fields of trash, and even some good tea.

The fields of trash were pretty common downwind of every village. I don’t think the locals care though. That tea was something special. It’s a typical Moroccan mint tea. You are supposed to put the entire lumps of sugar in the tea pot, pour the tea into a glass, empty the glass back into the tea, and repeat 10 times. This is to praise and thank God 10 times. Sometimes the lumps of sugar were as big as roma tomatoes. The guy who served it to you did it with a smile, one with more than a few teeth missing. I think he drank a lot of tea.

Camels are pretty common to see in the open desert. Usually there is a sheperd. We ate camel at least twice on the trip, which was interesting, because most of us westerners had never tried it before. If the hostesses hadn’t told us, I might have thought it was stewed beef. The main difference as far as I could tell was the shape of the bone.

And the open desert, quite a sight.

After day 2 we went to Tan Tan Beach, a nice town on the coast. Several of us went swimming around sunset. It was a great pleasure after being in the cars all day. That experience was a little hazardous though. Some of us went pretty far out and were taken downbeach by the tow. We struggled at first, but it was getting dark, so Eventually we just went with the tow and beached on some rocks. Everyone was fine, but I came back with some scratches, and one guy got more than a mouthful of water.

Dinner that night was pretty good. Our hotel fried local fish for us: flounder, sardines, and two others I cannot remember. It was a great dinner, if not a little greasy. We went to sleep late promising to get up very early to watch the meteor shower. More next time!