Portugal, part two

After all of the adventures in Lisbon, rain, taxi drivers, getting drunk and lost – walking towards the wrong town, I needed some rest. It wasn’t meant to be. We woke up around 11 to shower and get ready for our ride. We were to have lunch out in the countryside, something that sounded extra nice, after being in Paris for two months already. The drive wasn’t a long one, and seeing new things helped me stay awake.

We arrived at something spectacular! This was an old bull ranch, one that raised and trained bulls for the famous bull fights. The ranch was quite large, even by American standards and beautiful. The big house was delightful and old. We were invited to snack beside a fireplace, and I got to know the other guests. They were all in their 30s and early 40s, young good looking people. At one point I thought to myself that this could be an episode in some extravagant soap opera – one with attractive people idly chatting in a mansion. The group had a range of backgrounds, only some of which I can remember. Our host, Maria, was the daughter and heir of the ranch owner. Besides her there was a Lithuanian singer, a Brazilian fashion model, there was a Spanish businessman , and about a dozen others from all over, including Lourenco and myself – two humble scientists.

Between chatting we dared to go outside and observe the bulls. These guys were bred to be mean, which scared us. The aggressive babies are kept and trained, while the less aggressive are sold for meat. Eventually the best bulls go to big arenas to fight, in what was described to me as a far worse fate than those from Spain. The bulls aren’t killed at the end of the fight. Instead they are left to bleed out and die several days later. No one could tell me why. I had respect for the animals and kept my distance.

Eventually it was dinner time. The original plan was to ride horses to the house on the other side of the property, but rain in the previous days made that impossible. Instead we took trucks. The drive was not a short one, and we were able to get a good look at a lot of bulls and the enormous property. Something that stuck me was the odd trees that had their bark removed. This bull ranch was also used to harvest cork from special trees. Next time you get a Portuguese bottle of wine, think about where that cork came from.

Dinner was excellent, the food and the company. I got to tell my favorite bull joke, our hostess couldn’t remember any herself, and we spent a delightful evening. Unfortunately for me (although fortunately in the end) we hadn’t planned well in our hung over states that morning, and I left my bag at Lourenco’s house. This was bad because I had to leave the dinner party for the airport in order to catch my plane. I rode with a couple that was also returning via plane. Well, I got to the airport in time, but my clothes didn’t make it. Like I said, this was probably for the best as the next day was pretty awesome. Still I had to book another flight and make preparations to miss a day at work. Juliane made us a nice dinner, and we relaxed by the fire that evening.

The next day brought much better weather. Finally I got to see how beautiful Lisbon was most of the year. I enjoyed walking through the hand paved streets, stopping for chocolate or snack. It was a relaxing and pleasant day. Juliane successfully took her motorcycle exam, and we met later for lunch. She was happy. I also got to help Lourenco and his mom do some home improvements, kind of a running theme in my travels. Earlier this year I helped Dan B cut down a dead tree and Johannes G build a counter with sink for his kitchen, among many other things. Finally the day came to an end, and I made for the airport, much happier than I would have been to leave the previous evening.

Here are some pictures from that day.

And some subway scenes for AJ

Enjoying London

I arrived in London on Friday night after a harrowing lecture from a British customs lady.  Since then I’ve been having a good time with Justin Waghray and his roommate Nizomi.  lots of cool things to do here!

Packing today

I won’t be home for another 11 days, but it’s time to pack. On Friday I leave my apartment. I’ll head to London for a week and leave a suitcase in my office. After London it’s back to Paris for one night, then goodbye Europe.

Packing is a little sad. It just hit me this morning that already more than three months have passed, and I’m in the end game of my visit. A lot of things were accomplished while here, probably (certainly) more than would have happened if I had stayed. I say probably because other things would have been done sooner, but not necessarily better. Working with Aymeric Spiga at LMD has been a great experience, on that will fuel our friendship and collaboration for years to come. We’re already planning two papers out of the work we did with more likely to follow.

I’m going to miss Europe, but it’s a good thing. That means I enjoyed myself here. And that’s really true. Living in Paris meant I could see and do things that were only dreams most of my life. I was also able to visit old friends and make new ones while here. I’m glad for that. I’m also glad for the opportunity to learn and practice French. While there is a long way to go before speaking French well, I’ve got a solid footing which will facilitate my next go around. That’s how I learned Spanish, so it’s a good strategy.

Even though I’m going to miss Europe, I’m looking forward to going home more. Home is Austin, where my house and motorcycle are. It’s where I plan to plant a garden this spring and turn in my dissertation this April. I’m ready to be physically active again, and that means playing Ultimate Frisbee with friends and continuing my Kung Fu lessons. I should test for brown belt this summer. I’m also ready to be able to run again without interruption of cars or traffic lights. And maybe lastly, I’m ready for some warmth. Paris in fall is wet, cloudy, and chilly. Even though Texas will be that way for January and some of February, it’ll be warm far sooner than in Paris, and it is likely much drier.

As I pack I’m reflecting on my imminent departure, one that seemed so far off in September and thankfully didn’t go by too fast. Europe has been great, and Texas will soon.

Best and Favorite Photos of 2012

I took a lot of photos in 2012, about 4,500.  This was no record setting year for number of photos or even most places visited, but there was a lot to pull from.  Choosing 20 “best” photos wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of runners up. Some of the photos were meant to be good; I took the time to set up the shot and adjust the camera. Others were accidental in that I wanted to take a nice photo but wasn’t thinking about how good it was. Other photos I’m showing here are important to me in some way, even if they aren’t visually stunning, which makes them bests in my view.

If I had to pick a personal favorite, it would probably be this one. It was taken just last week, at the very end of the year, but it was one I had been composing in my mind since November when I moved basically next door to Notre Dame. I took a lot of photos of the cathedral, but this one, with the river, bridge, and Eiffel Tower takes the cake.

Here’s one taken in Lisbon this November. It was on a day I was just walking around. The photo turned out great with almost no forethought.

Here are two of my favorite moments of 2012. They were firsts for me and really important in my life. The first one is of me and some friends viewing the solar eclipse of May. We were on a geology field trip to Guadalupe Mountain National Park and were within about 1 hour drive of a great view of the eclipse at sunset. The moment wasn’t just the best of the year but one of my favorites of all time. I’ve always heard that eclipses stirred emotions, and now I know just how true that can be. The second is a step in my life, one that I never expected. Growing up I learned about the Thinker as a very young kid. I don’t even know why we talked about it in school, but we did. And as a young kid I expected that I would never see the statue. The feeling I got on seeing it for the first time was one like I got the first time I visited Maine, a feeling that this would or should never happen. It was another great day for me.


While those and a few more are technically photos I was in – and therefore did not take myself, they were with my camera, and I set them up. It’s similar to when an artist gets credit for a painting that his students contributed to because the was teaching them his style.

Here are two more geologically oriented (plus some in the also ran album). I really enjoyed visiting several caves and canyons this year. The canyon is in northern Arizona and is similar to the famous Antelope Canyon. We didn’t go there on our conference field trip, but we did get to see a slot canyon, which was quite impressive. The other is Longhorn Caverns in central Texas. This cave didn’t have as many cool features as Natural Bridges or Carlsbad, but it had this wonderful view that I was lucky enough to capture.

The next one one caught me by surprise. I was at the Palace of Versailles with my mom and expected to have nice photos, and there is a good rainbow one in the also ran album, but this little girl stood out from the photos that day. Walking around the gardens, we came across her doing practice bows – just like she had finished her debut on Broadway. I was told once by a photographer friend of mine that anyone can take a still landscape photo, but capturing people was a lot tougher and more pleasing. This is my attempt to think along those lines 🙂

This one needs absolutely no explanation

And the big, beautiful Mississippi river on a motorcycle trip to Kentucky and Virginia.

Another from that trip. This photo came on a really good day. I was riding in the Smokey Mountains, just outside the National Park and on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The riding was excellent and by far the best from the trip. This day was special for another reason. I had just broken up with a girl, one who I had thought was the right one. We broke up before my trip, which was a mixed blessing. In one way it was great to be out on the road, seeing things. But in another way it meant I had a lot of alone time to think about her. Riding in the mountains that day was the first time I could think about her and not be angry. I had Fleetwood Mac on the headphones, beautiful scenery, and a big smile on my face.

Here are three fun ones from Morocco: in a salt mine/sabkha, along the beach, and in the Marrakech market.

This photo, also taken in Morocco, and an associated video that I’m not showing, changed the way I think about the north pole of Mars. That’s an odd statement to make. What do they have in common? Well, without writing a dissertation for you, the flow and sedimentary features share a lot of commonalities with winds and structures on Mars. There you go, everything you ever needed to know about Mars in one photo. It’s not the best of the year, but it sure had an influence on my thinking.

Two more from Lisbon. The first was meant to be artsy. It was taken at the home of my Friends Lourenco and Julaine Bandiera The second I knew would be good but didn’t have time to really set it up. Surreal huh?


This one was meant to look cool. We never did find out why the police were blocking this bridge in front of the Hotel de Ville, but the shot was a good one.

Of course when you go on a tour of underground Paris and run into the bones from 6 million people you should take a photo.

A fun view of Paris from within Musee d’Orsay. You’re looking through the clock towards Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. I used to live at the bottom of that hill and find the view awesome.

And of course, there is another set of photos that didn’t make the cut. Check them out here.

Lastly, is one of me and my friend Andrew. He and I climbed to the top of Texas that day. We had been roommates for nearly 2 years at the time, but the class field trip to the Guadalupe Mountains really solidified our friendship. Andrew is in Norway right now with a Fulbright Grant. He’s having a blast. Cheers.