Bordeaux, France

The Plan

Here’s the plan for my next few posts: I divided this trip into five chunks to make these photo essays a little more manageable.

  1. Bordeaux, France. You’re reading this right now!
  2. Basque Country Tour: Bayonne, France; Pamplona, Spain;  San Sebastián, Spain; Bilbao, Spain
  3. Scotland, pt. 1: Edinburgh, St. Andrews,  and Inverness
  4. Scotland, pt. 2:. Isle of Skye, Oban and the inner Hebrides, Stirling, and Glasgow
  5. Reykjavik, Iceland.

September 19th, 2016

Finding a place to get over jet lag is one of the most important early steps of any trip involving a long flight, especially if that’s an eastbound time zone change. We decided to spend two nights in the southwestern French city of Bordeaux. Rick Steves claims that “Bordeaux is french for boring,” but after looking at some maps and checking out the new efforts of the city to rehabilitate the historic and downtown core, it seemed like a good choice.  Bordeaux is roughly the size of Tacoma, Washington, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for 18th century architecture.

After two long-haul flights we arrived in Paris Orly for a brief recharge before taking the third and final flight to Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport.

Icelandic Sunrise
Keflavík was beautiful as usual

The final slog from the airport to hotel is always the hardest part of any European trip. You’ve been up for probably 20+ hours with only an hour or two of light sleep on the flight, your stomach is growling, and there’s always a bit of culture adjustment when dealing with a new city and mostly unfamiliar language. Dinner that night was at Ye Olde British Expat pub (not the real name), which while perhaps uninspired, did provide us with English speaking staff and excellent veggie burgers.

After which we promptly went to bed at 21:00.

September 20th, 2016

Up bright and early, we started exploring the downtown core that the city is known for. Originally a walled city, the inner core showed scant evidence of the existing walls except for a few freestanding guard towers. Rising above the urban morass, they were a reminder of the historic and strategic significance of this location.

Old Bordeaux Gate
Looking up at a watch tower, one of the few extant examples of the wall

 

Note the headless statue of the building architect
With plenty of preserved buildings, there were gems in plain sight throughout Bordeaux, and quit a bit of creepy/weird ones as well. This multistory apartment building had a statue of the architect perched above a balcony, but the passage of time had caused the head to fall off in a macabre display. Also note the eagle below the balcony.

Along the waterfront, nested between the tram lines and the river, was a pedestrian walkway which had a distinctive work of public art: it created a foggy mist that people could walk through and disappear quickly in the shroud of moisture.

All that exploring can really tucker you out though. By 15:00 I had reached a wall and fell asleep in a coffee shop.

Fun side note! Not only was I in the depths of jet lag, I also decided to completely cut off my caffeine consumption at the beginning of the trip. It was a very dark and low energy first few days.

Too sleepy. Continue on without me.
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Recovering energy, we went to the Musée d’Aquitaine, which contained lots of artifacts tracing the history of the region through recovered artifacts and records. One of the more striking pieces featured was the remains of a large gothic church rose window from a ruined building.Gothic Rose

September 21st, 2016

It was a train day! The only train day on this entire trip! Besides being historically interesting, Bordeaux is also on the main TGV fast train line running South from Paris, and it was under two hours away to our next destination of Bayonne.

But first, we checked out Wok to Walk, which Tracey had excitedly found out existed in Bordeaux. It’s a Wok fast food restaurant, but their ingredients were fresh and had plenty of options for our picky dietary preferences. Remember the name, because we’ll go to these places multiple times in the trip.

We finally get to the train station and hopped on for a quick journey for the start of our Basque Country tour.

 

TGV to Bayonne.
TGVing it up

Next up

Next post we’ll explore the Basque Region together. If you can’t wait, or want to see more pictures of Bordeaux, a full album is published on flickr.

Activity or Whatever

Dear lord. My last post was in May, and when I neglect the blog for long I’m essentially required to make a new Fun and Exciting wrap up of everything I’ve been doing besides writing things.

So what have I been occupying my time with?

Politics

All I really remember from my sophomore year in college is living in the dorms and watching Hardball with Chris Matthews constantly as we held onto every shard of news and analysis of the Clinton/Obama Democratic primary. The general election appeared with exactly zero loss of momentum, and by the time the actual vote came along, any interest I had in politics came to a screeching halt.

And then 2016 happened. Trump Happened. And I’ve been sucked right back into every shred of news and analysis. Spare time now consists of reading the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Politico, and twitter. Twitter has completely taken over my life and I mostly only do other things when there’s a lull in the action and/or the internet is broken.

Wedding(s)

We’ve been to a few weddings this summer, which is a few more than usual.

The first was a lovely low-key affair with my dear friend Serene and her lovely husband Brian. Held in their cozy backyard, we sat on pillows and ate vegan food during a nice summer evening.

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Lego representation of the ceremony.

The second was a complete contrast, held at the Washington State Capitol House of Representatives. My aforementioned sophomore college roommate Brian got married to his wife Amber, and I even wore a tuxedo since I was in the wedding party!

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Groom Brian, Best Man Justin, and Assistant Goon Nikky

 

 

Eyeballs and Earholes

When not beaming political things into my face, I spent some time exploring the wonderful games XCOM2 and Orbital Trading Company. The former is an outstanding turn-based tactical strategy game, and the latter is a real time economic strategy game. They’re both outstanding.

Since we last spoke, the best book I read was The Martial Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. They’re a fun and quirky collection of Science Fiction, and a lovely way to spend a few commutes on the bus.

Cat Wrangling

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She’s a fierce predator

Basque Tour

Immediately after the wedding of Brian and Amber, Tracey and I headed off to the Basque region for a Rick Steves’ tour of the area. There’s going to be more posts and pictures about that later, but the hot take is that it’s a pretty swell region.

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Hiking in Basque Country

Sunny Scotland

After the Basque tour, we were off to Scotland to rendezvous with Brian and Amber for a two week roadtrip through Scotland. Despite the rumors of near constant rain on the west coast and highlands, it was sunny skies and beautiful weather throughout the entire trip. Thanks for nothing, rain pants.

There’ll be a post about this too at some point.

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Neist Point Lighthouse

 

 

Marsh Island Muck and Birds

While much of the city is currently working themselves into a froth about a few dozen super scary people wearing anonymous masks that may break in a few windows of generic megacorporations, I took the opportunity to head off to the Washington Park Arboretum and check out the local wildlife scene.

The island trail was aptly named, and as usual there were large amounts of muck and standing water all along the marshy path. After fording a particularly mucky section in my boots, the trail suddenly opened up and was free of humans.

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Settling off to one of the side docks, I was able to identify some lovely Wood Ducks before a resident pair of Canada Geese decided to stop on by.

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The area was so devoid of foot traffic there were frogs sitting along the path that would loudly chirp and jump into the water when I got within 10 feet of them. I wasn’t able to actually see one of these frogs until much later, when I was able to spot a rather large black toad at an extreme range with binoculars. As usual, one of the most visible signs of the changing conditions at the trail was visible in the form of a bench that only allowed access via water.

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One particularly challenging stretch was around a foot of a water/mud mixture with a very tenuous central core of small branches. After witnessing the only other people on the trail barely make it across without falling, I used a combination of balance, luck, and a very long stick to ford my way across.

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You may recognize this as the location of the marsh dunking incident some years ago.

After the spotting of a very elusive pair of American Goldfinch, a peaceful gathering of Mallard Ducks quickly escalated into a fight between two drakes and a hen. A struggle ensued.

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The hen was able to wrest herself away and fly off to freedom!

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After crossing a final marsh, the main path resumed and more pedestrians showed up, including a couple with an extremely large off-leash dog. This was a sensitive wetland area that clearly had “no dog” signs, but not only did they ignore that, they decided it didn’t even need to be on a leash with all of the migrating birds around.

Friendly reminder that if you’re going to be on a trail with your pet, make sure you’re following the rules and not being a total asshat.

 

East Coast Spring 2016

United States history was the theme this year on our spring vacation as we charted a course through Boston, New York City, and Williamsburg, Virginia. Taking the trip to the airport is normally a Bus->Link transfer, but with the new Linkstation completed, we got to ride the train directly from the new station directly to the airport!

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First trip to the airport from the new Capitol Hill Station!

Boston

One redeye flight later, we arrived in Boston early on Saturday March 26th, 2016. After dropping off our backpacks at the hotel, we went out and explored the Public Library, Back Bay, and other neighborhoods to get ourselves oriented. The best way to figure out a new city is using the soles of your shoes.

Easter Sunday brought with it the idea to explore the Freedom trail while the weather was cold but moisture-free. After the traditional Easter breakfast at a bookstore/cafe, we started the trail in earnest. Cemeteries featuring revolutionaries and just ordinary folk were seen and pondered.

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Lots of important people were buried here long ago

Past government buildings were seen and photographed behind us.

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“G Dubs” once stood on this balcony

And, of course, the current Massachachusetts state house was found and photographed.

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Required legislative photo

Faneuil Hall brought with it crowds (Easter Sunday was still busy! Who knew?!), food, and most importantly: sugar-filled snacky cakes.

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Pondering on Travel Photos

Note: Yes, it’s another post that was written ages ago and never published! Now revel in the glory of it and the questionable quality within!

We’ve all done it: gone on a trip somewhere and then spit out a few hundred snapshots to post online. Except you’ll never look at these again, and nobody else will either.

After years of experimenting and tweaking my editing of vacation photos, I’ve eventually settled on the idea that you should take around 100 photos a day, and aim to publish up to 10 of these. Of these 10/day, perhaps 3 or four should be “you” shots: pictures of yourself or other people you know. This keeps the photo album size manageable, the people shots add a much-needed personal touch, and forces you to only pick photos that add something unique to the album while helping document your trip for (let’s be real here) your own future use.

When I spent a month in Italy, the resulting Flickr album clocked in at a hefty 646 photos. That’s not too bad, as the average is only 20 pictures a day. But remember that most of this time was spent in Rome, so when you factor in these days had much less photos taken, every day spent travelling away from Rome was actually getting much higher shot rates.

The next two European trips saw published photo rates of around 40/day: atrocious! After those episodes I started realizing that you need to make a decision about what photos you take when travelling: are you going to document the entire experience, or instead try to pick the highlights that others may have missed? I realized I actually fell into the latter camp. If a photo wasn’t outstanding, it wasn’t published. After that, I saw my publish rates fall to 15 or 16 photos a day. It wasn’t perfect, but I was starting to like the results: the album was useful and enjoyable (I think) for anyone viewing it who may be interested.

The 10/day formula isn’t set in stone, and open to lots of interpretation. It’s an average overall, and includes travel days between locations. If you’re moving around every day or two, this average may go up a bit to 15/day, and that’s okay! If you’re settling in and relaxing, this number may dip into single digits. 10/day isn’t a hard and fast rule, and I use it as a general guideline when editing photos. If I can say “yes” when I ask myself that it’s one of the top 10% photos I took that day, and if I can say “yes” that I’d be okay with hanging this photo on my wall, then it’s probably worth publishing.

An Ode to the Breda Trolleybus

Let us pause for a moment to pay tribute to the old workhorses of the King County Metro Trolleybus fleet as they slowly trek towards a well-earned retirement. Originally designed as dual-mode, the 60′ Breda DuoBus 350 has seen more-or-less continual service in Seattle since 1990.

Dual mode, you say? Yes! When I was in elementary school, I fondly remember taking one of the 80s-colored Bredas in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) when it was in Trolley mode, and as it left the tunnel converting into diesel power for the remainder of the route. As the DSTT was converted in the mid 2000s for service as a mixed-mode Light Rail and bus tunnel, the electrified wires of the Trolleybuses were removed and as Diesel-Electric buses became cleaner, the Bredas were converted into full-time trolley mode.

While only 59 existed in the fleet, these articulated beasts were well-known sights to residents of the U-District, Capitol Hill, Downtown, South Seattle, Wallingford, and Ballard.

Many bus stories exist about this resilient model. Their routes were heavy with traffic and well-used. They often carried a full load. I’ve never been quite clear if they were air-conditioned or not, but if they were it was frequently ineffective in the summer as the buses got their very noticeable “Breda” scent.

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They were selfless buses of the people

And they sometimes got T-Boned by cars.

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They often, through no fault of their own, ran in convoys.

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Sometimes they came in pairs

And they were, of course, prone to break down as they rapidly aged. The planned replacement of the then 18-year old fleet was delayed by the recession and as they entered their second decade of service, a tow was a common sight.

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As the Purple and Gold clad New Flyer Xcelsior XT60 fleet slowly replaces the Bredas, we look forward to a new low-floor future while fondly, and not so-fondly, remembering the fleet that carried us for countless journeys.

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(Heading image of post taken by Nikkormat FTn. 50mm f/1.4.)

Riding U-Link: Observations

Riding the new ULink extension of Sound Transit’s Central Link Light Rail, I went from petting Minerva the cat in Capitol Hill to standing in the UW’s Red Square in 31 minutes. As many others have already stated, this is a transformative stage in our region’s transit network, so I won’t get into too much about how great this besides what I’ve already stated. But I do have some notes!

Based on the the riders observed mid-afternoon today, there were many users who seemed to be riding Link for the first time ever. ULink extension may bring in more riders, especially weekend riders, to all stops along the line by opening up new transit possibilities. Part of this may be that the destination of Central Link prior to Capitol Hill/University of Washington was Downtown. As one teenager said to their parent on the train, “I don’t think there’s anything interesting about downtown,” and they aren’t wrong.

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