a new familiar place

Tumblr has informed me that my blogging life made it successfully through its terrible (post-devoid) 2’s and was birthed 3 years ago today! Figured to celebrate I would throw a little post in here incase any one is still following this travel blog.

With last year being my solo venture to Europe, this season has felt a bit lack-luster inspirationally; though some quick, magical weekend trips have been peppered into 2013, and this was my favorite. For my birthday, two friends and I headed a few hours north, hopped the Anacortes Ferry to Orcas Island to stay on an organic farm and to pretend we were pacific northwest islanders for a few days. 

With the scarcity of cell service, we contentedly stowed our mobile devices away in the car and explored in the way we did when we were kids - untangled from technology, on summer vacation. Gently scolded by a local for locking my car doors outside her shop, I quickly learned to drop my city-instilled paranoia and to relax. Needless to say, being on the island was a minor culture shock. There was an obvious outweighing of women over men, and many of the women working in the local shops came off strong and self-sufficient. Through chatting with them we found out many of them were just that - entrepreneurs / independent business owners, single mom’s striving to live healthier lives and to provide a simple more organic upbringing for their children. One woman described living on the island as a “safe environment to cultivate the lives we’ve always wanted to live”. Part of that made me sad, to see these women striking out on their own for whatever reason, but I was also comforted by the fact that they’ve found a place in this country to grow this subculture that is seemingly uninfluenced by mass media, free of uptight social standards, and non-engulfed by the rapid advancements in technology. 

I wanted to tuck my camera away with my cellphone, but I’m sure I would have regretted not capturing the beauty of this place to share with you. I also was coincidentally commissioned to take some photos to be printed, large format, for display at East Sound’s only grocery store, the Island Market, and above are a few that will be on permanent display.

If you are a Portlander, and you get a chance to take a long weekend, this place is a no-brainer vacation spot. It is unreal to me how many amazing and diverse places there are to discover in the proximity of this city. 


Hi Sarah,

I randomly decided to look at your blog today, and there we were!!! We love the picture you took of us behind the curtain - please could you email it to us?

Lots of love


As I mentioned, last night was the closing evening of camp. Families spent this morning saying their goodbyes and filtering out of their cabins to head back to their homes all over the world. I spent the morning savoring my final camp baguette smeared in cold butter and sipping bad coffee from what Americans consider a cereal bowl. As the routine goes, after breakfast Caleb and I gathered cleaning supplies and were seemingly contemplative as we changed linens and tidied the cabins. I don’t know where Caleb was lost in his head, but I thought ruefully about the fact that I had one last week of living out this fantasy life I spent a year quietly preparing for. What does “reality” even look like for me after this? I let a bit of stress loom as I thought about this extension of my trip costing more than I had. Then I realized that money comes and money goes and it comes again…then came peace. I have been provided for in so many ways before and during this excursion I have no reason not to trust. 

Beau is a key character in my returning trip to France. Beau was a camp volunteer this time around; the most unsuspecting yet eager and servant-hearted of the team. I watched him with intrigue through out the week, picking up tidbits of his life story out of overheard conversations during meals. It was clear to me that Beau had a particularly rough personal background, yet a mindset and a life that has been genuinely, miraculously renewed by his faith. I experienced this first hand on this last day. 

After Caleb came with me to wrap up our goodbyes to the wonderful Ensoll and the Lindquist families (photos of these people I grew to love, above), I stopped by Beau’s cabin to return the money he gave Caleb for an errand we ran for him. He chatted me a bit about what I would do after Paris, and encouraged me in the possibility of running my own business in design and photography when I returned to the States. He told me to keep in touch and then placed in my hand 400euro for my and Caleb’s spending in Paris. He told me not to mention this to Caleb until we were off the train, if at all, and quoted Matthew 6:3 “but when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” 

…yet another lesson in trusting provision.

"What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies." - Jack Kerouac, On the Road

These guys got this diddy together in just a few days - needless to say, watch out for an up-and-coming killer French band in these next few years. I’ll be sure to inform you when they get famous.  

Little happenings these last few days have worked my attitude out of its tired funk and camp this time around has become much more endearing to me. I needed a lot of sleep today so Caleb cleaned the bathrooms solo while I napped, which I was so grateful for. I bonded with Rose, a full time volunteer at Camp, over the last few days as we both enjoy photography and I was able to give her a few tutorials on Photoshop and Lightroom. Over dinner I complimented her on her earrings so she subtly slipped them off of her ears and into my pocket. I admired that act of kindness more than I admired the earrings themselves. I’d like to be as quick to let go of my belongings to someone who may need/appreciate it more than I. It was the last night at camp and so we ended with a talent show. I ran my travel slides while Caleb played his guitar and sang a song he wrote, like last time. Everyone, including the kids are so musical! (A video or two to come.) I didn’t intend on playing favorites at the camp, but I definitely found myself loving Pierre and Noemi, half French/half English siblings. It all started with Rhea telling me how Pierre, with stars in his eyes, told her he thought the ski lift was romantic. That 7 year old charmer. By the end of camp there was something to remember about all of the kids, and so I captured them both for fond memorie’s sake as well as for the parents. 

Camp started today, and everybody has been so welcoming and excited to have me back, so it’s unfortunate that I am feeling incredibly unmotivated to be here. I was mentally prepared to leave Barcelona for the States, ending on that note with my best friend. My knee is still really bothering me from the “ski accident”, and one more week at camp means I’m going to have to practice immense amounts of self control or else accept 10lbs weight-gain. I’m unconsciously finding too many little things to complain about at this point…maybe I’m just a tired traveler. I think back to Lisa from Germany, and all the times people told her how tired she looked. She wandered around for 8 months…I 25% get it.

Though, I realized on my bus ride in, that I’ll be right where I need to be…experiencing 10 more days of simplicity, winding down in the mountains rather than jumping into my active life in Portland, where I would have little time to reflect independently, and feeling pressured to get back into the flow of life. So prying myself out of the bad attitude is my goal for the next few days. I’m sure it won’t take long and won’t be hard — I’m in the flipping Alps. I’m going to bed under a blanket of stars. I’m surrounded by loving people. I am blessed.

the french alps petting zoo

I’m back in France. This time the weather is much less frosty than it was when I first arrived a few weeks back; and because of the shift toward the next season, it’s feeling like a new familiar place. Camp doesn’t start until tomorrow, so Caleb and I took advantage of the warm and sunny day and headed to Venosc. He convinced me to ride the windy mountain roads on the back of his motorcycle even though I knew the over-confidence he held in driving his car along the switchbacks, so I warned him that I’d poop my pantalones if he drove the the bike that way today. He did good, for the most part, then these little buddies hopped over the barrier wall and surprised us as we were taking a turn. Luckily we were slowing down and enjoying the view from the top when it happened! They were friendly and curious about us, as we were about them, so we spent some time enjoying the view alongside the goats. Definitely the highlight of the day. 

This last set is forever encapsulated in my mind’s creative storage container. In Barcelona, Gaudi liked to scramble them up, which is some of what you see here. The rest are from palace floors and walls in Seville, convenience shop doors, and park benches. If you want to know what magic entails, I believe an element is attention to detail and beauty in unsuspecting places. In Spain, magic was around every corner, making it a bit heartbreaking to leave! But now I must say adios con amor, España. xx

montjuic & parc guell

La Fuixarda climbing tunnel at Montjuïc

Jessica impresses all of the dudes

Antonio Gaudi’s Parc Guell

Community siesta

Yes, sometimes we’re all still middle schoolers

There have been two points on this trip that I’ve observed Jessica in an extreme and contagious form of elation. First was when I arrived to Barcelona and we caught up and chowed down at a Basque restaurant covered in photos of jolly old men. Then there was today, perma-smile on her face, upon our finding of this urban climbing gem in Parc de Montjuïc. At some point in time, the road of La Fuixarda was over-taken by climbers and they closed it down - turning the driving tunnel into a perfect place for climbers to play; rain or shine, day or night. There were so many people taking advantage of the free playground, but hardly any women. With a killer toe hook and an entirely graceful finish of the route, Jess knocked the socks off a group of experienced looking fellas. How proud I was of JZ!

It was our last day in Barcelona together so we packed it in. Floating around to the remaining corners of the city that we wanted to see, finishing out with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Arts, a climb to the top of the uniquely beautiful Parc Guell, and an evening coffee with Federico. In a few hours the three of us would be dispersing to our separate parts of the world - Jess to the States, Federico to India, and me to France. In a way, my heart felt divided in 3. I wanted more time with Jess, things were just getting good. And we were just beginning to feel at home in this city with a friend like Fede. If Barcelona had a Trevi Fountain, I would have thrown the last of my coins into it. Either way, one day I will return. 

losing marbles & other important things

Arc de Triomf

Found a piece of home in Barcelona - aw yayeh, New Belgium


So many awesome old men in this park

Fede saves the day

A bit stressed & no sleep was had last night.

For one, I had a tough decision to make, and quickly. Mentally prepared for Barcelona with my best friend being the last stop in Europe before returning to the States, I was thrown off by a request to come back and help at the camp in the Alps, then leave from Paris, a destination I had not yet been to. That would be ten more days I did not budget for and other provisions were running low, but I was still feeling extremely torn for various reasons that some of you are aware of.

For another, last night after the art shows and on our way back to our hostel with Federico, Jess & I got in an unstoppable mood to stock up on our new favorite Fruitissima Haribo snacks - popping into basically every bodega to find them. I must have set my newly purchased photo of Fede’s down in one of the shops, and by the time we got to the metro (with 5 minutes to spare us before the last train of the evening), I realized my hands were missing the print I had been carefully carrying around all night. Where is my brain? Fede proved himself as the most patient and kind person in Spain when he looked me in the eyes and confidently told me do not worry, then volunteered to miss the train while he biked around to see if he could find it. Jess and I watched Fede’s stack of art in the metro stairwell and waited for him; he didn’t find the photo and we all missed the train so we made our long trek home together. Fede’s spirits were up (as usual), Jess was probably annoyed with me, and I felt terribly, not only for losing my most prized souvenir from this adventure, but for how disrespectful it felt to misplace a friends piece of art - essentially over those junky Haribo gummy snacks. Bust. 

We woke early this morning to face the impossible. We searched the maze of streets to find the lost print in one of hundreds of bodegas that looked exactly alike, and in our exceptional spanish explained our situation to every clerk encountered.
Half our day was gone and no success.
So grumpy.
We gave up.
I decided to go back to France. 

To cheer ourselves up and to maximize what we had left of our day, Jess took me to the Arc du Triomph, we climbed orange trees, watched dogs play in the park and wild parrots bathe in mud puddles. At one point there were sirens going off just as we we called Fede to tell him we couldn’t find the photo, and I could hear sirens on his end of the phone as well. Barcelona is huge so it seemed unlikely that Fede would be in the same area as us, but next thing we know he walked passed us with me on the other end of the phone, yelling, I found it! I found the print! I could hardly believe it, such a twist of fate. 

Needles to say, the remainder of the day was perfect. Fede lounged with us in the park while Jess and I painted. We were approached by a crazy male gypsy and Jess told him off. Then the three of us joined forces with Fabrizio and Manfredi after eating ASIAN food (delicious, much missed asian food) and spent our night out at a lively local bar containing a diversity you would never see in an American bar: young Spanish hipsters, old mellow people, old feisty people, Italians, Argentinians, Americans…etc. My favorites were the old Catalans though, as they were extremely proud of their culture within their region of Spain, and made sure to educate you, if you weren’t aware, of why they are the best. In every region of Spain I experienced had a rich distinction, but I will say that the Catalans have the most picturesque old men. 

There is something about Federico and his photographs that left an impression on us. Over the last few days, we discussed them often and agreed that even with our dwindling cash on hand, his art was something we wanted to take back to the states with us. So last night after talking to him at the squat, Federico agreed to carting his creations to us for a business exchange the next day.

Down to my last pennies, I committed to a purchase of one small postcard, but when the moment of decision came, I melted over a large print of sleepy-eyed horses, and bought it. There was no remorse though, this money was helping Federico get to and through India for 5 months. I knew what the purchase would mean to him, and that every euro put toward his adventure would lift stress from his shoulders and would enable him to travel farther, meet more people, capture more beauty. Artists helping artists. Travelers helping travelers. I understand, this is the cycle I’m in now.

Our exchange took place, then he invited us out with his friends Fabrizio and Marta to go to a few art exhibitions. Obviously we agreed. Walking through the dark but lively streets of Barcelona, we learned more about our new friends and the creative culture in this city. Not only is Federico a talented photographer, he constructs lamps out of paper. Fabrizio a graphic designer. Both of them doing what they love and surviving; which got me analyzing what my life looked like before this trip, and how I would choose to assemble it afterwards. Appropriately, one of the exhibitions had a room of poster manifestos designed by fiery creatives, firing me up also and reminding me of directions I’ve wanted to take, and paths to avoid. “First thing’s first…In common with an increasing number of the general public, we (designers) have reached a saturation point at which the high pitched scream of consumer selling is no more than sheer noise. We think that there are other things more worth using our skill and experience on." Yes, a much needed reminder. 

gold stained feet & rainbow shadows

Let’s talk about just how magical this little place Barcelona is. 

On the clearest, bluest morning, Jess and I connected on the ocean front with the charming Manuela, a friend of a friend back in Portland. After we sipped the last drops of caffeine from our cups, we walked along the beach collecting sea glass, small shells, and wondered at the gold glitter swirling about in the tide pools. For the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona shipped in new sand to tidy up their beaches - from where I’m not sure - grains from the golden roads in heaven is a likely source though. Later when we went to put our shoes back on, we noticed our feet looked like they were painted gold! Just when I thought our marvel of the day was fulfilled, we found ourselves at the face of the Sagrada Familia and our minds continued to be blown. 

Antoni Gaudí had an interesting childhood, isolated from interaction with other children and a delayed start to school due to poor health / bouts of rheumatism. His mother entertained him by taking him on walks through the countryside; its obvious all that time spent in observation of nature has influenced his take on architecture. He studied the crystallization of minerals in polyhedral systems especially, the growth of trees, and common patterns in nature, and you see the prominence of these things in the Sagrada Familia. Look for yourself in the photos below! There is no cathedral like it. 

Also, tonight Jess and I ended up going to the jam sesh in the squat that Federico told us of, and we had a great time. Our English detecting ears lead us to some Americans which hardly detracted from the local experience. Fede found us and hugged us like old friends. Jess and I made new ones and smiled till our faces hurt. I suppose I’m quick to fall in love with locations, but Barcelona is successfully wooing me. Did I say I’m so happy to be here?

The beautiful Manuela Lyle

The Mediterranean and me

The lovely Jessica Alphabet

Barcelona’s little tide pools were filled with gold flakes from who knows where

and our feet were left metallically stained

Sagrada Familia

paint like a child

Honestly, I’ve never liked Picasso, but today Jess and I dropped into the Picasso Museum, and it was stinkin fantastic. Had it not been fantastic, I knew that Jessica’s appreciation for cubism/abstract/Picasso’s art would open my eyes to something to like about it, but the museum was fantastic. Laid out as a timeline of Pablo’s life and creations, I saw what a truly talented artist he was. At the beginning of the museum were beautiful drawings and paintings - a fruition of his diligence and studies under his father, in school and of masters Goya & El Greco. By the end you see that he wanted so badly to discard all of the rules of art and get back to the basics, revert to the purest form of thinking - that being like a child. The art I witnessed in chronological form is summed up in these words by Pablo himself: "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."  I do have a newfound appreciation for the man - full of wonder, ardent to discard boxed in ideas, fearless to begin, and hungry to create. 

Outside the museum Jess and I met Federico Frangi, a vagrant Argentinean photographer selling his art off the back of his bicycle. Both of us in awe of his work on rice paper he retrieved from Nepal, we stood there shuffling through every last print. Eventually we began talking with him and somehow ended up getting invited to a local jam session that was happening down the street from our hostel. I’m so happy to be here in Barcelona with my best friend for many reasons, but especially to see where our shared gregariousness takes us in this city. 

marseille bound

There’s something indistinctly wrong about saying goodbye to a city at night…which I’ve ruefully had to do too many times, taking midnight busses out of pretty much every city I’ve visited. But I was pleased to be able to say au rivoir to La Rivoire this time at the crack of dawn. We-the-trio packed our things and rode out of the mountains as the golden sun rode to it’s vertical point in the sky. Caleb had his first (American) football game of the season in Marseille and I was taking the train out from there to Barcelona the next morning. While the team warmed up, Steve and walked into the city and stumbled upon the humble, hardly announced place of painter Paul Cezanne’s birth. Gladly I was with Steve who speaks French and he translated the small black type above the unassuming door. I would have just walked passed that had I been alone. Europe is so cool, I should just assume every stone cobbled street has been one on which a history-maker has trodden, has loved, has been inspired by.

When the time came, Grenoble killed the Agronauts while Steve and I watched from a distance - drinking beer and eating hot dogs outside of the chain-linked fence & feeling like out-casted teenagers. I can’t remember the last time I was at a football game, and I could have never guessed my next game would be in in this country where American football is practically unheard of. It was a fun day and a great way to say goodbye to France and friends.

Goodbye little room

Au rivor mountains


Baguette in the back seat of a US military vehicle

Sarah, my lovely host for the night