San Francisco’s Ocean beach can be a beast. Even when it’s small and the tide is out, thin waves lay corduroy to the horizon. The place looks harmless, until you paddle out to find a little four foot face that pounds you down and holds you gasping. Now add size, say 15-20 feet, and an incoming tide, that moves water like converging rivers. The rip tide runs parallel to the shore, and has enough teeth to take you south, in a hurry. Toss in twenty-one of the finest Stand Up Paddle Board athletes and what a visual feast for the men, women, and children, all snug and warm on the beach watching. What a feast for the ocean. I’ll take these guys and grind them into so much sand. I’ll swallow them whole and spit them into a sand bar down the coast.
It was a water start, along side two US Coast Guard rescue craft, practicing their skills in thick, lumpy water. The Red Bull horn blew the paddle boarders into action. They road rolling waves on 11-12 foot boards, hit the shore running around two flags stuck in the sand, and turned to challenge the ocean. They were supposed to paddle back out, around a set of buoys, and back to shore. They were supposed to do this twice, then paddle around lands end, under the gate, and into St. Francis Yacht club. Not all of them made it past the ocean’s big fist.
Denmark’s Casper Steinfath, not only made it through, but ran away with first place and made it look pretty darn easy. Check out the video.
My wife and I get a lot of mileage out of our vacations. From pre-trip planning to the embrace of each city as we’d get to explore them, and then basking in the memories through photos and story telling after we’re home and back to business.
This year, as part of our pre-trip planning, we dove into WordPress Reader posts every morning, before going to work. We continued looking at Reader posts during the trip. We discovered things like the giant wooden sculptures outside Copenhagen, or how best to get to Chatres to visit their famous cathedral.
We booked all our rentals through AirBnB and enjoyed getting acquainted with each city through their photos, maps, descriptions, and tenant critiques. The units got smaller as we headed south. The Paris apartment was very small but what it lacked in size made up for in efficiency, proximity to services and the metro.
I’d say the world is a better place than it was 10 years ago though there is strife, in our own back yard. But we found plenty of heart, plenty of light. Now Anaïs Nin might disagree, since she did not like this image displayed in the Irving Penn exhibit in the Grand Palais, but I found the photo engaging, personal, and it was my favorite.
But how on earth did we get to Irving Penn? We stumbled upon him in Paris, the same way we found ourselves in Chartres, laughed with Chinese tourists in Amsterdam, and got a museum recommendation from an Iranian in Copenhagen. Our guides were out there and we kept running into them.
Even in Paris, where it’s big and fast, guides would materialize with a regularity that we started to expect. Paris was the only destination where we saw signs of terrorism. Not terrorists, per se, but the vestiges of anti-terror. Police patrol in groups of four, machine guns at the ready and no-nonsense looks.
The Eiffel Tower was completely fenced off. If you didn’t have a ticket and cleared security, you didn’t get in. At train stations, large parks, and Notre Dame we saw baret-clad police patrolling the grounds. In Chartres and other prime terrorist targets there were large stone slabs around the perimeter to prevent cars and trucks from getting too close.
I just love train stations like Amsterdam, Antwerp, Montparnasse and Gare de Lyon. The symmetry and size of the old stations is worth a coffee and a few photos. The vanishing lines, the repetition of simple themes to adorn large structures that house the likes of all electric trains that can travel 170 k/h. They leave the station, rolling smooth, gaining speed as the city shrinks from view, and accelerating to love-on-a-fast-train speed through the countryside.
I wasn’t prepared for Copenhagen, but I say that in a good way. I’d done research to find attractions like Tivolie Gardens, Nyhavn, and Paper Island for food choices galore. We walked through Nyhavn and it was a vibrating place with boats and outdoor cafes.
The day after we arrived we decided to let our senses guide us and what guides they were. We found photo ops everywhere, a metro system that connected us with lots of exploration, and a city that has made bike riding an art form. There may be more bikes in Amsterdam, but there are more bikes on the road in Copenhagen, and the bicyclists move along as a well-oiled machine.
I had issues with Musee D’Orsay. People with smart phones and cameras were getting selfies in front of Monet, Renoir, and Manet. But it’s still a feast for the senses with all those impressionist paintings in one place. I had an awakening there a few years back, when I started to cry and couldn’t stop. It started as I approached the Renior painting of Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette.
I started to get emotional, like the work meant more than paint on canvas or a name on the painting. I’d seen it in books during college, and never thought I’d see it in person. When I walked around the corner there was an enormous painting of a woman on the hill with a white flowing dress and parasol. It overwhelmed me, in a way that I could not then, and can’t quite now, explain. I’ve recounted the story of seeing this painting many times. When I entered the room this year, I found the painting smaller than I’d remembered and there were two, like it had been a study of the same woman in the same dress on the same hill and then I thought that there’s probably more to the story. BUT, this year, after looking over paintings, I was shocked to find that they were not Renoir paintings, but Monet. MONET.
We spent three weeks on this trip. A good amount of time to be gone without breaking the bank, or overdoing my capacity to play from late morning until ten or eleven at night. We walked between three and seven miles a day. We’d keep my injured knee happy with a stop for a coffee or a perusal in a charming shop; there were plenty of both.
In the countries we visited, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, and France we felt a sense of unity; like we belonged to each in our own way. In each country I was mistaken for a local. And it was fun to fit in. But as with all our vacations, it came to a close, and we came home to jet lag, stacks of email, and colds. Tune in as I traverse those steps again, with photo and motion pictures. Let me make my vacation last a bit longer and perhaps give you a short one in your office or home.
A friend of a friend lives in Copenhagen. We invited her to join us for art at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. We met at the Metro, took a 40 min train ride up the coast, a short walk to the museum and spent the next couple of hours engaged with Rineke Dijkstra’s portraiture exhibit which almost demands you attention.
I read a lot of blog posts before arriving here but was still surprised by the vibrancy of this city. The people are fit and friendly. The metro runs fast and smooth deep beneath the city. The terminals and escalators are sleek and clean.
We found a small, quiet restaurant in the Norrebro neighborhood. The restaurant, called Gonzo, was lit with candles and hosted by a young woman who made us feel right at home. We met an expat from Iran who seconded a tip we received on the Metro about going to Louisiana. Not the state in the US but the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art which is 45 minutes north of Copenhagen on the coast. We are visiting it today, with our friend Lisbeth who lives in Christianshavn.
On day two we did the stroll through Nyhavn which felt like an upscale Fishermans Wharf in our San Francisco. The buildings are colorful, the tour boats are spacious and the beer was flowing. We kept walking.
We wandered through Christiania, a neighborhood with lots of graffiti, people enjoying a good meal at outdoor food stands and Cannabis for sale in a street fair environment. No photography allowed but I grabbed a graffiti shot as we left.
And on the way home from our 31st anniversary dinner we used restrooms at the metro stop.
The green glows like electricity. It’s everywhere in the forest. It’s on the ground, stuck on twigs like christmas decoration. I get lost by moving it. The electriciy goes dim, the sky turns blue, my wrist begins to throb.
A beast lives deep in the valley, out of sight, lonely, blue, true to its nature. Heaven and earth cannot move it into the light until it decides for itself. Footsteps crunch bark, boasting its strength as the day heat dims. While the town goes to close, the beast’s wide eyes glow bright red, so fierce they could start a fire.
The wind pulls tufts of moss from the tall pine, with the broken branch that healed itself, then started growing down until it fused with a granite slab and made a seat large enogh for a family of four.
Over the mountains the clouds drift east until I stop to ponder their movement. Then they stand still, quiet like fog.
A friend gave me a beautiful yellow Iris a few years back. Each May, it bloomed and brought me a smile. His did the same, on or about his birthday. But our Echium (Pride of Madeira) grew to overwhelm the Iris. The Iris leafed but wouldn’t bloom from under the spreading Echium. The image below was its 2015 bloom.
This year the Echium got leggy, branches broke, flowers dimmed. On a lark we had our gardener pull the sucker.
Now hundreds of baby Echium fight each other for space as our patient Iris is strutting its stuff.
In 2013 we stayed in the village of Saignon in the South of France’s Luberon Valley. The structures were made from stone that was pulled from the fields, in century’s past, to make the earth into farm land. Our unit had this latch on the front door. Security at its finest.