The Monkey Tail

No doubt because of my [strictly documentary] habit of making and posting ridiculous beard pictures, a couple of astute readers pointed me to The Monkey Tail. And hey, a good idea is a good idea.

It turns out it is really hard to get a good picture of the monkey tail. Hopefully from these pictures, you get the idea. I submitted my photo to the website, but it got shot down. Snap! Oh well, at least it can be added to my ever increasing beard portfolio.
Wednesday June 8 2011File under: beard

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Out of Steam in London

London is a great city, I'm sure. It can't have been such a business, cultural, and historical center for all these years without having its charms. But for me, I just wasn't feeling it. After being on the road for over 2 and a half months, my travel tanks were running low on the fuel needed to get out and "do" a city, so I just couldn't give it the fair chance it needs.

I did a very brief taste of most of the required sights and enjoyed them. I loved that the museums (Tate Modern and National Gallery) were free without long lines, metal detectors, etc. And all the buildings (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Parliament) were spectacular*. I rode a double decker bus and took the tube*. But my heart wasn't in it. I did, however, have a great time seeing some old (and new) chums who were kind enough to put me up, talk circus, and send me away with a wonderful new bananagram-esque word game.

This abbreviated visit to London, however, was planned this way. I fully intend on doing the city up properly someday, when I have the time and focus required, and I didn't want to lessen my motivation by seeing too much. Just a taste to get me excited to come back. And it did just that. See you later, Britain Greater.
Sunday June 5 2011File under: travel

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Big Paris Post

I had a really really great time in Paris. I also took some really great photos, thanks to a temporary upgrade of camera. So instead of weeding the experience down to fit in a normal sized post, or posting just the photos, I've put together this slightly longer than normal review of my favorite Paris attractions. I hope you enjoy.

Notre Dame
Being that it's located pretty much right in the middle of town, I passed by many times. Each time, I couldn't help but stop to admire this gorgeous cathedral. The inside is equally as impressive as the out, just as the way a good cathedral should be. Art, sculpture, and architectural embellishment is everywhere. If I lived there, I know I would make a habit of popping in, just to soak in the aura of the place. After all, entry is free!*

Versailles
Although not technically a Paris attraction, it is a short train ride out to this palatial palace*. This catalyst to the French Revolution is as overwhelmingly lavish as it is inundated with fellow gawkers. Luckily the site is more than the chateau. Our favorite part was the mother-in-law house on the back of the property. Much less crowded and, IMHO*, more tasteful, we were bummed we didn't come there straight off and spend the day enjoying the relative crowdlessness and the hidden treasures surrounding.

The third part of the Versailles trifecta is the gardens (although more of a forest) with fountains, statues, and...geocaches!! Next time I come to Paris, I'll set aside a day for just lounging in the gardens, because, again with the magic word, it's FREE!

Sacre Couer
The only top notch Paris attraction that I had never heard of*, I didn't really know what to expect. But sometimes, this is a good thing. When I first saw this gleaming white cathedral and its hordes of Sunday visitors, I was quite taken. The surrounding neighborhood, full of street portrait artists, "Toulouse-Lautrec slept here" signs, and 3-card monty specialists, just added to its charm.

Louvre
Think of all the well known art in the world. I'd say about half of it, at least from a given time period, is in the Louvre. I guess, however, that isn't saying much because of the sheer size of the collection. Either way, it makes for an enjoyable afternoon of perusing vast halls of spectacular work after spectacular work.

But almost more impressive than the art, at least to me, is the building itself and esp. it's courtyards. The outdoor courtyards are even (you guessed it) free, which makes for a great place to do a little juggling.

Eiffel Tower
In my 6 day visit to the City of Lights, I visited this icon 4 times, which, I hope, indicates how much I like it. Most visits, we'd just sit in the park and admire it or stroll underneath, both of which cost nothing. In fact, the thing that actually costs, ascending by either elevator or stairs, wasn't even as good as admiring it a step or two away, but I suppose it's gotta be done.

Yes, this possibly most famous building in the world actually completely lives up to the hype, if you ask me. And the next time I return to Paris, a visit to its shadows will be up near the top of my list.

Thursday June 2 2011File under: travel, France

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Things I Learned in Paris

One of the many fun things about traveling is learning, esp. learning about things you knew of before, but not so much about. So in the spirit of sharing, here are a few things I found interesting in my time in Paris. (To just tell you the trivia tidbits would be way too easy, so instead, I present it in quiz form.)

1. What is the river that bisects Paris, and how is it properly pronounced?*

2. The popular Paris attraction, which, in French is known as La Joconde, is known as what in English? hint*

3. There is a smaller (but still largish) Statue of Liberty on an island near the base of the Eiffel tower. Was it made before or after New York City's statue of the same name?*

4. Moulin Rouge translates to what in English? hint: it's not "skimpily clad dancing girls"*

5. Who designed the famous pyramid at the Louvre (and, for bonus points, what other famous monuments has he/she designed)?*

6.For how many years was the Eiffel Tower the tallest building in the world: 0 years, 21 years, 41 years, 61 years?*
Tuesday May 31 2011File under: travel, France

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Paree

       
After a couple months spent travelling is slightly lesser known parts of the world, I now find myself in Paris, where there's a famous monument, museum, or building on every street corner. And to tell you the truth, I'm enjoying it much more than I thought I would. Versailles, the Eiffel Tower (twice), Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, Notre Dame (twice) done so far, with the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, possibly the Pantheon, and much more to go.
Friday May 27 2011File under: travel, France

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A Country Divided

Bosnia and Herzegovina is the official name for this country that I've been hanging out in the last couple weeks, although it seems that most people call it plain old Bosnia. But the duality implied in the name is well placed, as I have learned. Politics, geography, language, and more all seem to come in sets of two.

The country is divided into two states, the Federation* and Republic of Srpska*, each with its own territory, its own political system, and even its own alphabet. Republic of Srpska generally uses the Cyrillic alphabet on street signs, etc. while the Federation uses Latin characters. They both spell out the same words, mind you, but in different alphabets.

The whole alphabet thing is pretty intriguing, but the thing that really gets me, that really makes this duality thing so hard to ignore is that they have two different versions of each denomination of paper money, one with a representative of the RS and one from the Federation. They have the same value, and can be spent exactly the same, but it is just that the country couldn't agree on who to put on their money.

I try hard not to judge this duality that is rather impossible to ignore. I know there are years of history behind it, and it is much more complex than I can imagine. But I can't help but wonder if this duality is sustainable. If I return to this area in 10 years, will I have to pass through passport control in going from Banja Luka to Sarajevo? Or maybe it will get all worked out through a charismatic leader that everyone can get behind.

However it pans out, for this trip, it has made for an eye opening experience.
Tuesday May 24 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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Most Mira Recap

How do I sum up a week spent volunteering at the Most Mira festival, an arts festival for kids in NW Bosnia to promote peace by teaching children to play and create together? Well, I can tell you now, inadequately. But I'll try here with a 3 pronged approach.

Prong #1 - the Kids: Kids are kids the world over. They like to laugh, to play, and the circus*. The fact that we didn't share a common language* didn't stop them from learning just about every trick I could remember in my diabolo workshop. Gestures, high-fives, smiles, and a universal "bravo" go a long way. And at the end of the week, what a better way to celebrate new skillz learned, friendships formed, and smiles had than by putting on a show under the big top. (Oh, and it wasn't just kids that like to learn and play...)

Prong #2 - the People: One of the things that made Most Mira so wonderful was the other volunteers I got know. How often is it that in a single day, one can have a meaningful conversation about European politics, get a lecture on the gypsy language Romani*, give an impromptu clown/juggling performance with a perfect stranger, watch more hands than necessary go up for any task that needed to be done (no matter how unpleasant), and fall asleep to amazing drum music? Well, at Most Mira, that was pretty much every day.

Prong #3 - Bonuses: Outside of the magic of the festival, there were all sorts of hidden bonuses. Just one example: we got to attend a performance of traditional folk dance/music as the guests of honor (where, among others, I ended up on stage doing a club passing routine with some of my clowny friends).

See? A totally inadequate summary. But fitting an experience that big into just a few words is just downright impossible. I guess to get the full story, you'll just have to ask me about it sometime. I'm happy to share!
Sunday May 22 2011File under: Balkans, circus

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Peace Through Circus

What happens when you get a mix of people who speak Romanian, English, French, and Serbo-Croatian* all trying to put up a circus tent together? Well, the tent gets put up all the same and we all get to know each other a bit better. Oh, and we all have a dry place to juggle!*

Did I mention that I'm in NW Bosnia volunteering with a circus at an arts festival to promote peace between the strongly divided communities of children here. (Clever segue, eh?) The festival is called Most Mira* and it is pretty awesome concept. In a country where people seem to dislike people only because of their religion or which alphabet they seem to prefer (which, if you recall, led to some rather extreme nastiness back in the 90s), focusing on teaching the children that we all like to play, create art, make music, and dance and building friendships between them before the hatred is too ingrained seems like a pretty good idea to me.

I feel infinitely lucky that I've found my way here, to help out and experience the magic in person. Plus, any place where I can juggle 4 hours a day (shoeless and shirtless no less) and not be out of place is a place for me!
Sunday May 15 2011File under: Balkans, circus

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Ask a Vela Lukan

I'm here in Vela Luka, Croatia, another sister city to my home town of Anacortes. (Previous coverage on sister cities here.) I thought what better way to find out about the town than to take to the streets. Special thanks to Horge for acting as translator, photographer, and motivator!

What do you like best about Vela Luka?
Healthy living and there are good jobs here.

~Svjetislav, parks maintenance worker
It's not so touristy here. Just a real town with real life.

~Lynny, bike trip leader
I dunno. I guess I'm used to it and my friends are here.

~Ivan, waiter
The sea and the sun.

~Andres, parks maintenance worker

Wednesday May 11 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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Dubrovnik the Exclave

Dubrovnik, Croatia is geographically very interesting. To get to Dubrovnik from any other part of Croatia, you have to drive through Bosnia (albeit a span of about 10 kilometers). That chunk of land is detached from the rest of the country, much in the same way Alaska is detached from the lower 48*. These separated chunks, I learned, are called exclaves. In the case of Dubrovnik, it is a pene-exclave because theoretically, you could take a boat, without leaving Croatian waters, there. This geographic anomaly, which is somewhat rare, is something I've always wondered about. Now I've got a name for it. How many exclaves can you think of?

Speaking of Dubrovnik, it's awesome. Narrow [carless] streets, wonderful architecture, sculptures, churches, and more. To wander through the town, grabbing a slice of pizza or and scoop of ice cream, discovering all the back alleys was my main activity. But I also got out for a hike up to a geocache (while tempted, we did not take the cable car), checked out some of the parks, and plotted how my visit will go next time I come back to Dubrovnik. Yes, folks, it is just that awesome.

Fun and learning—all and all, not a bad way to spend a couple of days*.
Tuesday May 10 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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