By Type of Adventure

Boulder Skyline Traverse

September 9, 2016

Today I managed to cross off my list a Boulder Bucket List item.

The famed Boulder Skyline Traverse.

The traverse consists of summiting the five peaks that flank Boulder’s western mountain ampitheatre. We started at 5:45 am on the Goat Trail in North Boulder. We summited Sanitas Mountain at 6:40 am. Followed the Red Rocks Trail to Settlers Park, Boulder Creek, and EB Fine Park. Took the Viewpoint Trail to Panorama Point Trail, which led us to Flagstaff Mountain (which we summited at 9:30 am). The GM Greenman Trail took us, by 11:40 am, to the Green Mountain summit. The Green Bear Trail took us to Bear Peak, which we summited at 2:00 pm. Our final summit was South Boulder Peak, which we topped at 2:55 pm. We then took the steeply descending Shadow Canyon Trail to the South Mesa Trailhead near the Eldorado Springs Canyon. Arrived at 5:45 pm.

In total, our hike was 12 hours of half-awake boulder scrambling, and being rewarded with dazzling views into Boulder Valley to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west (click here for the photos I shot during this hike).

We had a formidable 6,000 feet of elevation gain. Our average gradient of 13 percent was not for the faint of heart, either.

Route for Boulder Skyline Traverse Sanitas, Flagstaff, Green, Bear, South Boulder, 16 mi, Sept 7, 2016

Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Hiking | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Return to Sicily, December 2019

Our travels in Sicily are my second experience here, as I have previously toured Sicily in November of 2006. For Maggie, a person with a Sicilian father, this is her first trip to Sicily. It is the land “of her people.” A return to her original roots.

We start our two and a half week trip by taking a train from Roma to Napoli. In an “only in Italy” experience, our train ticket checker is a high-class woman with four-inch-long red glossy fingernails who looks like a model for a high-priced magazine.

An early stop for us on our trip is the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum, found on theHerculaneum Nov 30, 2019 (50) western Italian coast. The town was founded in the 6th Century BC. Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD. While Herculaneum was almost entirely preserved by being caked with a shell of solidified mud (it is one of the very few ancient Roman towns preserved almost in its entirety — including much of its woodwork), Pompeii (which I visited in 2006) woodwork was consumed by fire.

Both towns are well worth your visit.

Our first full day and night find us in the very pleasant coastal town of Sorrento. Like so many charming Italian cities, Sorrento is a “Christmas Town” in December, as its lovely and romantic old streets lend themselves to be sweetly decorated with holiday lights and ribbons. So that is exactly what is done in Sorrento. Of course, it is irresistible to walk in Sorrento Italy, Dec 1, 2019 (26)Sorrento, which means that we notice a great many residents walk in this little town.

This resort town has a character much like Old Towne Key West Florida. Streets are very festive — particularly during the winter holidays. It is very much one of the charming Italian Christmas Towns.

The very picturesque town has been the home of many notable authors and musicians over the years. A delightful, romantic place to stroll.

Sorrento is a worthy place to visit along the impressive Amalfi Coastline in southwest Italy.

We always make it a point to spend all of our time in the “Old Towne” or historic center of the city, where one invariably finds the most charm, romance, lovability, and walkability that the city has to offer, and Sorrento does not disappoint in this regard. We find that Sorrento has many “walking streets” in its historic quarter, and particularly in this time of year, these streets are very enjoyably festive with happy people out and about.

Having forgotten my belt in security at the JFK airport a day earlier, we check prices and see that most street vendors are selling belts for 20 euros. But then we come upon a vendor who is selling her belts for only 5 euros. Not only is her price very low, but she is happy to quickly cut the length of the belt for me when I discover it is too long for my thinner waist due to my low-carb, high-fat diet.

The views of the Mediterranean Sea are outstanding!

Our next day is a three-for-one day, as we visit the romantic, charming, storybook Amalfi Coast towns of Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello. Each of these towns is set straddling deep coastal ravines, which adds immeasurably to their delightful, unspeakable beauty. Once again, as an indication of how beautiful the cities are to me, I cannot stop taking photos. A reliable measure: The more photos I shoot, the more I love the city. Which is a bit of a tautology…

Wikipedia has this to say about Positano, our first stop today: Positano was an essential Positano Dec 2, 2019 (23)stop for the ancient Greeks and Phoenicians on their expeditions to western areas. It is said that the coastal village was named after Poseidon, God of the Sea.

Like many other places along the beautiful Campanian coast, it was a favorite site for wealthy ancient Romans to build rich and grand villas.

Positano became a wealthy market port from the 15th to 17th century and has only continued to grow in popularity over time.

Positano was a port of the Amalfi Republic in medieval times and prospered during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Positano began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s, especially after John Steinbeck published his essay about Positano in Harper’s Bazaar in May 1953: “Positano bites deep”, Steinbeck wrote. “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

Amalfi is the second town we visit on our Amalfi Coast tour of towns. Amalfi is a lovely, Amalfi, Dec 2, 2019 (33)historic village. It was easy for us to see why this town has long been a place to visit and live in by many luminaries. Like other towns in the vicinity, Amalfi is set in a deep, dramatic, scenic ravine. Amalfi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Long, romantic, ancient stone stairways weave throughout the town, like other towns on the Amalfi Coast.

Of course, like almost every town I’ve visited in Italy over the years, I fall in love with this splendid, breathtaking town. We highly recommend visiting Amalfi.

These are the photos I shot while we strolled in Amalfi.

The lovely village of Ravello was founded in the 5th Century and splendid enough to draw a large number of famous artists, writers, and musicians over the years. Ravello offers a seemingly endless network of ancient, romantic stone walkways and stairways. Ravello is an easy town to fall in love with, and enjoy with a loved one.

Next, we summit the mighty Vesuvius Volcano. It is an easy, 20-minute walk on a wide, ash-filled path. The crater at the top is enormous, and steam continues to issue from it. Vesuvius, you see, remains a grumpy mountain. To celebrate our visiting the volcano, Maggie and I toast at the rim of the crater with a glass of wine.Maggie and Dom Vesuvius hike, Dec 3, 2019

According to Wikipedia, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae, as well as several other settlements. The eruption ejected a cloud of stones, ashes, and volcanic gases to a height of 21 miles, erupting molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 7.8×105 cubic yards per second, ultimately releasing 100,000 times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. More than 1,000 people died in the eruption. It was one of the most catastrophic eruptions of all time.

Vesuvius has erupted many times since and is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years. Today, it is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because of the population of 3,000,000 people living near enough to be affected, with 600,000 in the danger zone, making it the most densely populated volcanic region in the world, as well as its tendency towards violent, explosive eruptions.

Our plan, designed to save some time and lodging money, is to take an overnight ferry from Salerno to Catania in Sicily. Our walk to the ferry dock starts out leisurely, as we are hours ahead of the departure time for the ferry. But our little walk turns out to be a HUGE, hours-long ordeal, as it turns out that one must traverse for miles and miles in an industrial, parking-lot-choked area full of 18-wheeler tractor-trailers. With no signs informing us of which direction to take, we are obligated to ask for directions several times. Each of the first three times we ask for directions, however, leads us astray, as the Ferry Sorrento to Cantania, Dec 4, 2019directions are wrong each time. Finally, after a great deal of stress and worry, we happen upon an entry. There are no signs. Only huge trailer trucks streaming toward a hidden dock. A man in a security booth ushers us to a shuttle van after he learns we are looking for the ferry, and the van drives us through an obstacle course maze of big trucker rigs.

It turns out, in other words, that it IS impossible to walk to this ferry! Unless one is a lunatic. The area where the ferry is found is in the middle of an industrial freight container truck zone packed with hundreds of massive tractor-trailer trucks (our ferry was so huge that it must have held 2,000 18-wheeler trucks).

We discover that we seem to be the only non-truckers on the ferry. Our room, thankfully, was clean and adequate for the journey.

We arrive in Catania and soon travel to Ortigia in Siracusa, where we dine at Osteria La Gazza Ledra. After finishing our first course, I wait over 90 minutes for my second course only to learn that the reason for the very long wait was that the waitress had never taken my order! Good thing we asked, because had we not, I would STILL be waiting for my second course!

Soon after Catania, we find ourselves in the medieval neighborhood of Ortigia in Siracusa. I love Ortigia perhaps more than any other place on earth. We spend glorious Piazza del Duomo, Siracusa, Dec 4, 2019 (8)days enjoying Ortigia. On one particular day, we engage in one of our favorite activities in the medieval town centers of European cities — bicycling! In Ortigia, the food market and deli are can’t miss experiences.

As these links to the videos I shot show, one finds a lot of singing and shouting and endless food in the outdoor Italian food markets.

The castle at the south end of the Ortigia peninsula is overwhelming and seemingly impenetrable based on its many fortifications. The ancient Greek Theatre (Teatro Greco) is also quite impressive. Because it is so charming, human-scaled, and romantic, Ortigia is happy to show itself off as a “Christmas Town” by festooning its streets with festive holiday lights.

The Ortigia historic quarter is FILLED with stupendous streets that make my heart sing every time we encounter and stroll on a street here. I feel as if I can barely stand the joy. BIG smile on my face the entire time we are in Ortigia. I am like a kid in a candy store. I Siracusa, Dec 5, 2019 (9)could visit this place every month and be as happy as a clam (or live here permanently!).

In sum, I am in love with Ortigia.

Ortigia has the full package, which explains why I love it so much. It has overwhelmingly spectacular food, wine, happy and attractive people, architecture, and sightseeing. It is also a festive place.

Here, we come upon a telling quote at what is perhaps the best food market on earth in Ortigia: “I don’t envy god heaven…because I’m happy to live in Sicily.” – Frederico II di Svevia. Exactly, Frederico…

We train from Siracusa to the lovely little medieval hill town of Ragusa Ibla. So lovely that even though I had first visited it in 2006, I feel it worthy to visit again — breaking my travel rule of not visiting a place more than once. I tend to live by that rule because there is so much I want to see in the world that I don’t have time to see places more than once!

According to Wikipedia, Ragusa Ibla was founded in 2 BC. The town was devastated in the 1693 earthquake. Historically, it was conquered by the ancient Romans and the Byzantines, who fortified the city and built a large castle. Ragusa was occupied by the Ragusa Ibla, Dec 5, 2019 (11)Arabs in 848 AD, remaining under their rule until the 11th century, when the Normans conquered it.

The town is home to a wide array of Baroque architecture, including several stunning palaces and churches.

According to Wikipedia, the Cathedral of San Giorgio started in 1738 by architect Rosario Gagliardi, in place of the temple destroyed by the 1693 earthquake, and of which is the only place in the city a Catalan-Gothic style portal can still be seen. The façade contains a flight of 250 steps and massive ornate columns, as well as statues of saints and decorated portals.

On a narrow winding street connecting Ragusa Ibla with Ragusa Superiore lies the church of Santa Maria delle Scale (“Saint Mary of the Steps”, built between the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries). This church is particularly interesting: badly damaged in the earthquake of 1693, half of this church was rebuilt in Baroque style, while the surviving half was kept in the original Gothic style (including the three Catalan-style portals in the right aisle). The last chapel of the latter has a Renaissance portal. The chapels are adorned with canvases by Sicilian painters of the 18th century.

One of our day trips from our four-day base camp of Siracusa was to visit Noto and Modica. We tour the wonderful town of Modica central area of Sicily on December 5th. Modica is known for many things, and one of the most obvious to us was their fame for Modica, Italy, Dec 5, 2019 (42)chocolate. We see it everywhere in Modica.

Another noteworthy attribute is the endless stairs one must climb in Modica.

That night, we are fortunate to serendipitously stumble upon an enoteca wine bar in a quiet little alley. The proprietors bend over backward with their generous kindness and offerings of fantastic platters of various meats and cheeses, as well as having us sample their special wines.

We have a fabulous time there.

We have a lot of fun in Ortigia Siracusa and Modica. Noto, however, does not quite meet our expectations. The town is cute-ish and has some nice architecture. But during our December visit, it was too lacking in street life and seemed too quiet. Still, in 2002, Noto and its church were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We arrive in the beautiful, wealthy resort town of Taormina on December 8th. Here, as I still recall from my visit here 14 years ago, we enjoy the many stunning views of the sea that Taormina offers.

At our first ristorante here, we sample pistachio expresso for the first time, and a Arco Rosson Enoteca in Taormina, Dec 8, 2019 (110)pistachio crème liquor (southern Italians and Sicilians are very big on pistachios, probably correctly boasting that their nut is the best in the world). We also enjoy a very nice half carafe of local Rosso wine along with two absolutely delicious plates of assorted cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, and meats.

By this time in our trip to Italia, by the way, it seems that I have been eating crazy delicious food and drinking fabulous vino, almost continuously, morning, afternoon and night since our arrival.

On our second day in Taormina, we visit the spectacular Teatro Greco, Taormina’s ancient Greek Theatre, which is said, rightly, to be the most impressive in all of Sicily. One of the things I’ve always been impressed by at this theatre is how the designers set up the venue so that spectators would have an incredible view of the picturesque bay and the imposing Mount Etna on the horizon just above the stage.

After visiting the theatre, we ascend the nearly endless stairs to Chiesa della Rocca, a church that offers huge panoramic views of the region beyond Taormina. We then ride the cable car (Funivia) down to the charming little cove in Taormina Bay, where one finds little coves and a beautiful island (appropriately called Isola Bella).

One finds the three-legged Sicilian flag all over the island. The three-legged ancient symbol of Trinacria is the head of Medusa (a gorgon with a head of snakes) overlaying three legs conjoined at the hips and flexed in triangle and three stalks of wheat. It was first adopted in 1282 by the Sicilian Vespers.

We arrive at Mount Etna on December 10th. Our guide (“Mr Excursions”) is very Mt Etna hike, Sicily Dec 10, 2019 (7)knowledgeable about the region, and takes us on a very impressive hike on the slopes of the volcano, including ash/cinder fields, volcanic cones, volcanic craters, and a long underground volcanic tube. While hiking, we hear Etna growling loudly several times. The volcano remains actively angry and is talking to us during our hike. Even our tour guide gets nervous and wants us to pick up our pace.

The guide then takes us to one of Mount Etna’s best wineries. Gambino Winery provides us with six bottles of vino to sample their product, along with a fine selection of local meats, cheeses, tomatoes, and fish. Our winery guide provides a very thorough summary of their product. The winery, we learn by tasting, produces outstanding Rose and Rosso wines. Gambino wines, like other wineries near Mount Etna, produce wines that benefit from the rich volcanic soils they grow on.

After Taormina, we bus back to Catania. There, of course, we visit the obligatory La Pescheria. As you can see in the video I shot in this link, the place so boisterous, raucous and fun that crowds of people stand along a balcony above this world-famous fish market just to enjoy the action below them. At La Peschericia, we feast on the famous Sicilian street foods of boiled tripe and boiled beef cheek (barbacoa), and the vegetables of roasted red pepper and roasted artichoke, among other similar delicacies. We have eaten none of these street market delicacies La Pescheria fish market, Catania, Dec 11, 2019 (3)before, and enjoy them so much that we vow to prepare them when we return home.

We walk the impressive, Baroque street named Via Crocifori. From there, we stumble upon a medieval neighborhood just west of the main city train stazione. Surprisingly, the neighborhood – despite very impressive urban design “bones” – is a festering sore in the city. It is a skid row full of drug pushers and prostitutes. I wonder why it has not gentrified, and decide it must be partly due to opponents of gentrification.

In sum, we recommend visiting Catania, but we suggest not allocating more than a few hours to walk the city.

Our next base is the little hilltop medieval town of Enna. Enna has the highest perch of any of the many Italian hilltowns, which provides it with spectacular panoramic views of the central Sicily landscape. In Enna, we go to Tommy’s Wine, which gets RAVE reviews from our Enna apartment proprietor as well as many online reviewers. The reviewers were SO RIGHT! His wine is one of the best I have ever had in my entire life (a Nero d’Altura Lombardo). And Tommy’s food is out of this world. Tommy has a very tiny place (only five tables), but it is perhaps one of the world’s best examples of how one must Enna, Italy, Dec 12, 2019 (43)prioritize quality over quantity.

It is cold and rainy while we are in the clouds of Enna, but I manage to squeeze in a morning town perimeter walk. Enna is worth a few hours of your time to walk it. Shockingly, we are awoken this moring at 5:30 am by an outdoor marching band! What marching band performs at that ungodly hour? We are informed that it was likely part of the annual celebration of one of the many Catholic saints.

A day trip from Enna brings us to nearby Piazza Armenia, where we encounter fabulous building architecture and wonderful streets.

The Duomo itself is worth the price of admission.

While in Piazza Armenia, we take a taxi to the overwhelming Villa Romana del Casala. This Roman palace is immense in size and nearly all of its floor space is covered with highly impressive mosaics that tell stories about hunting and other aspects of Roman life at that time. According to Wikipedia, excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest, and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world, for which the site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villa and artwork contained within date to the early 4th century AD.

The mosaic and opus sectile floors cover some 3,500 square meters and are almost unique in their excellent state of preservation due to the landslide and floods that covered and therefore preserved the remains.

For me, the most memorable and astonishing aspects of the palace is a mosaic of women of Ancient Rome wearing what appears to be an ancient version of a bikini. The Villa Romana del Casale, Piazza Armerina (75)inscription at the palace informs us, however, that this is a depiction of female athletes wearing athletic attire.

We recommend allocating at least two hours to the palace.

After the palace, we are fortunate to visit Siciliartegusto, a fun enoteca run by a father and son. We arrive too early for their hours, so we opt for the palace visit and promise to return after the palace. Our taxi driver actually knows the enoteca owner, so when he drops us off in Piazza Armenia after the palace visit, he calls the owner to inform him that we are waiting for his shop to open again. We are greatly amused when, while we walk to the enoteca, the owner passes us in his car and shouts out the window that his shop is open again after the Dom Maggie at Sicilartegusto Enoteca, Piazza Armerina w proprietors, Dec 12 2019afternoon siesta!

Probably because it is the off-season, the enoteca father and son bend over backward to offer us generous kindness at their shop. They insist we sample their best wines and their many fresh foods.

That night, our nightcap is at the very good PaccaMora wine bar in Enna, which has been recommended to us by our apartment proprietor.

For our first night and day in Palermo, on the northern Sicilian coastline, we experience a drenching rain. We walk the polished limestone streets regardless of their being slippery rivers under these conditions.

Palermo is quite a monumental city – comparable to Rome in that regard. I find the architecture here to be similar to what is found in Barcelona.

We dine our first night at the highly-rated Palazzo Sambuca, and now know why it is rated so well. They are known for their fish and seafood – particularly their swordfish. We sample their grilled calamari, and it is the best calamari we have ever eaten in our entire lives. After that remarkable antipasti, I opt for their homemade gnocchi, which is combined with swordfish. Superb. For secondi, it is squid stew, which I thoroughly enjoy, as it is highly flavorful – a taste for big flavors and spices I have learned earlier in the trip by one of our hosts is something the Calabrese (like me) are known for.

After dinner, we encounter — in this video I shot — street music in a piazza.

Tragically, too many of the ancient polished limestone streets in Palermo have been covered with dull, crappy, crumbling asphalt. Now, instead of the timeless, durable, beautiful charm of the original limestone, these routes are now ugly, litter-strewn alleys no one loves or cares about. And again, the new asphalt is much more of a maintenance headache and cost than the limestone. Who needs enemies when we have ourselves to degrade our streets?

The next day, under sunny and warmer skies, after peeking into a few overwhelmingly Church of St Catherine of Alexandria, Palermo, Dec 14, 2019 (3)ornate Palermo churches (St Catherine of Alexandria is particularly mind-blowing), we visit the Monreale Cathedral, said to be one of the most important sights in all of Sicily.

Earlier in the day, we have lunch at Mercato del Capo, one of three fine outdoor food markets in Palermo (all of which are well-known for their outstanding street food). Mercato del Capo turns out to offer many fantastically delicious street foods, which are both highly flavorful and extremely affordable. I opt for a tray chock full of several different fresh seafoods sprinkled with lime juice (squid, octopus, clams, etc.). Large enough for two, it costs me a mere 5 euros. In combination with other accessory items we buy, it is my most wonderful lunch ever.

One of our favorite treats when we visit an Italian town is to encounter the much-loved evening community stroll. The ritual is known as “la passeggiata,” Each evening, between the hours of 5 pm and 8 pm, Italians take to the streets, to walk and socialize. Sociologists label la passeggiata a cultural performance, and on Saturdays and Sundays entire families participate, this frequently being the main social event of the day. Afterward, everyone heads home together for the evening meal.

The passeggiata in Palermo mostly occurs on their main walking street (Via Maqueda), and it is an unforgettable, inspiring sight to see. This link is a video I shot as we joined the stroll.

Via Maqueda is a large street, yet like our recent experience in Bologna, la passeggiata so fills the large street that it is a Passeggiata in Palermo, Dec 14, 2019 (2)gridlock of pedestrian congestion that one normally only sees with a road clogged with cars.

But in contrast to car congestion, when everyone is angry with everyone else on the road, pedestrian congestion adds to the sociable joy of being on common ground with other people. As Dan Burden once said, cars are happiest when there are no other cars around. People are happiest when there are other people around.

One of many things that makes me proud to be an Italian is the Italian tradition of la passeggiata.

As I understand it, the size and popularity of la passeggiata on Via Maqueda has been growing over the years (it became a walking street in June 2018). I believe that is because such an event benefits from being a self-perpetuating virtuous cycle. That is, because humans are a social species and our world tends to isolate us from each other, something that draws people to sociably be with others is so enjoyable and such a “people-watching treat” that others in the city start learning about the enjoyable event and join in. And this growing number of participants induces even more to join as word about it is spread (or people encounter it on their own). And so on and so on.

La passeggiata is, in the words of urban designers, a “social condenser” that most humans seek out to enjoy.

In my view, all cities, to be healthy, should have a nightly passeggiata.

We bus to a suburb of Palermo, which contains the extensive and utterly fascinating Catabombe dei Cappuccini. Highly morbid, but extremely interesting. DO NOT MISS THIS!Catacombs dei Cappuccini, Palermo, Dec 15, 2019 (5)

For lunch, we first stroll through Ballaro Market in Palermo and then return to the culinary delights of Mercato del Capo. Our wine for lunch was simply stupendous! And again, highly affordable. This is a video I shot as we walked through Ballaro.

Tonight we visit an enoteca on the Via Maqueda walking street (we can’t resist!)

All in all, Palermo is highly enjoyable – particularly on the Via Maqueda walking street. Such a delightful city that we are anxious to return again, despite my “rule” about not visiting a place more than once.

We enjoy a delicious meal of typical Sicilian dishes in Piazza Armerina, topped with a superb Sicilian Nero D’Avola wine at a remarkable wine shop in Piazza Armerina. We spent the day wandering the streets and visiting Villa Romana del Casale and popped in here to warm up and have a glass of local wine. The hospitality Giusseppe and his father show us is unmatched. The food and wine are superb but their generosity is beyond our expectation.

We notice a number of times in our travels on the Amalfi Coast and in Sicily that many ancient buildings have a great deal of plaster flaking off the exterior walls. We see this happening on so many buildings that I wonder if it is being flaked off deliberately. After all, the medieval stone under the plaster looks much more impressive and interesting and ancient than the plaster. In addition, the underlying stone surely requires less maintenance than the plaster. Here is to more flaking!

Our newly-discovered loves from this Italy trip include Frappato wine, Nero D’Avola wine, grilled tripe and grilled barbacoa (beef cheek), and fried chick pea flour.

Our trip to the Amalfi Coast and Sicily highlighted tradeoffs for off-season travel that our December trip exemplified. On the one hand, prices are lower, and crowds are smaller. On the other hand, some retailers and restaurants and services are closed for the season, proprietors starved for customers bend over backward to serve you, and the smaller crowds make the cities less festive.

 

Categories: 2011-Present, Beyond North America, Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Five-Country Bike-and-Barge trip in Europe, August 2019

By Dom Nozzi

Tuesday, August 13 and 14. We arrive at Paris airport and high-speed train to Strasbourg at the border of France and Germany. In Strasbourg, we tour the Notre Dame Cathedral, which I find to be gray and dreary inside. Remarkably tall ceilings, and a massive Notre Dame Cathedral Strasbourg France, Aug 13, 2019 (31)amount of stained glass windows. We visit the once-daily Astronomical Clock inside the Cathedral. Enormous crowd assembles to see it. I manage to squeeze my way into an area that gives me an unobstructed view of the Clock, only to realize that by doing so, my view of a video screen is blocked by an enormous masonry pillar, which means I miss a detailed 40-minute video describing the history of the Clock. The animation itself is highly disappointing, as a mechanical crow flaps its wings a few times and a few mechanical human figures rotate a few times. After 50 minutes of waiting, that is what 3,000 people have assembled to see?

We climb the 330 steps to the top of the Cathedral spire, which offers a superb view of the terra-cotta-roofed city. We also enjoy a 90-minute boat tour on the River Ill.

We are fortunate to have an opportunity to rent and ride bikes while in Strasbourg because in 2017, Strasbourg was rated the 4th best city to bicycle in the world.

Strasbourg is a party-till-late-at-night city, which means that bedtime for many does not start until 5 am and places do not open until 9 or 10 in the morning (including Starbucks).

I would give our Bed and Breakfast in Strasbourg a negative five rating (on a scale of one to ten). No soap. No shampoo. No waste can in the bathroom. No spare keys. No closet space or fridge space (because it is jammed with his clothes and food). The water heater closet is stuffed with fire hazard clothes and towels. And because the proprietor does not provide a user name, and has chosen an impossibly long password with handwritten letters making it impossible to know if the letters are uppercase or lowercase, it is impossible to log into WiFi.

Strasbourg is mostly a city containing one prominent feature: A charming shopping street main street. Even as a one-important-street city, the city is lovely and contains an outstanding walking street full of pedestrians.

The fabulous historic main train station for Strasbourg, very sadly, is now criminally fronted by a Modernist glass blob. A disgraceful design blunder.

According to Wikipedia, Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament. In 2016, the city proper had 279,284 inhabitants and both the Eurométropole de Strasbourg (Greater Strasbourg) and the Arrondissement of Strasbourg had 491,409 inhabitants. Strasbourg’s metropolitan area had a population of 785,839 in 2015 (not counting the section across the border in Germany). Strasbourg’s historic city center, the Grande Île (Grand Island), was classified a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honor was placed on an entire city center.

The Roman camp of Argentoratum was first mentioned in 12 BC; the city of Strasbourg which grew from it celebrated its 2,000th anniversary in 1988. The fertile area in the Upper Rhine Plain between the rivers Ill and Rhine had already been populated since the Middle Paleolithic.

Thursday and Friday, August 15 and 16. Our initial plan is to drive our Eurocar rental car to Mannheim for a visit. Fortunately, during our drive, we opt instead to visit the charming medieval village of Heidelberg.

According to Wikipedia, in the 2016 census, the population of Heidelberg was 159,914, of which roughly a quarter consisted of students.

Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, “Heidelberg Man” died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907. Scientific dating determined his remains as the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of worship were built on the Heiligenberg, or “Mountain of Saints”. Both places can still be identified. In 40 AD, a fort was built and occupied by the 24th Roman cohort and the 2nd Cyrenaican cohort (CCG XXIIII and CCH II CYR). The early Byzantine/late Roman Emperor Valentinian I, in 369 AD, built new and maintained older castra (permanent camps) and a signal tower on the bank of the Neckar. They built a wooden bridge based on stone pillars across it. The camp protected the first civilian settlements that developed. The Romans remained until 260 AD, when the camp was conquered by Germanic tribes.

Heidelberg has what looks like many newer buildings that mimic historical and ornamental style. My hat is off to the city and its architects for at least making an effort to design lovable buildings rather than unlovable Modernist buildings. But lacking the patina of age, the buildings looked too new. And therefore a bit sterile. The many newer buildings is a sure sign that many historic buildings were lost during World War II.

After Strasbourg and Heidelberg, we tour Nuremberg Germany – mostly on rented bikes. A great many historic buildings have been replaced with awful mid-century Modernist buildings. Again, a sure sign of the many buildings tragically lost during World War II. The Modernism severely detracts from the former charm of the city streets.

According to Wikipedia, Nuremberg has a total population of 787,976 (2016), while the larger Nuremberg Metropolitan Region has approximately 3.5 million inhabitants. Nuremberg was the site of major Nazi rallies during WWII.

We have dinner on a town center island at the Restaurant Trodelstuben, which served me absolutely delicious, authentic German food. I opt for “pig knuckles,” which is a very fatty, buttery meat (when served boiled). I also enjoy knockwurst Barbarossa, which consists of three types of knockwurst in three different types of sauerkraut beds – a total of nine knockwurst. To top off the meal, I enjoy a delicious glass of smoked dark bier and an unfiltered bier.

There are a good number of walking streets in town center Nuremberg. But nearly all of them are too wide and are degraded by too many Modernist buildings of recent decades.

Saint Sebastian Church in Nuremberg is stunning, as I learn upon entering. In a design I had not seen previously, the main alter of the Church is set far back from the parishioner seating.

We enjoy a wonderful museum in the Nuremberg Castle, and we cross “Hangman’s Bridge” to reach a café where I opt for “Gunpowder” tea.

We then visit the still-functioning Nuremberg courtroom where the famous Nuremberg trials were held for Nazi war criminals at the end of World War II. It is a very moving Nuremberg Trials Courtroom 600 Nuremberg, Aug 16, 2019 (79)experience to be in that courtroom – a courtroom that tried. Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Alfred Rosenberg, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel, and Arthur Seyss-Inquart were all hanged after being convicted. Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess were tried. And Hermann Göring committed suicide before he could be executed following the trial.

We have lunch at the Behringer Bratwursthausle (the original, serving traditional German food). I opt for Nuremberg bratwurst, and delicious dish of cured tongue and smoked sausage.

Saturday and Sunday, August 17 and 18. We visit Regensberg Germany. Dom Saint Peter’s Cathedral contains amazing stained glass. And Saint Emmersam’s Abbey (Benedictan) contains ornamentation that is so busy that it makes one dizzy. We try somewhat St. Emmeram's Abbey Regensberg Aug 17, 2019 (60)unsuccessfully to avoid disturbing a wedding ceremony while there.

Regensberg contains a gratifying number of great human-scaled streets. And the city is attractive in part due to the playful pastel colors used to paint many buildings.

According to Wikipedia, Regensberg was founded as a hilltop fortified settlement about 1245 by Baron Lüthold of Regensberg.

Later, we arrive in Munich, where we again rent bikes and later dine at Haxnbauer Restaurant in Old Town Munich. This restaurant is said to serve the most loved and popular veal and pork knuckle in town.

According to Wikipedia, Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second most populous German federal state. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg. The name of the city is derived from the Old/Middle High German term Munichen, meaning “by the monks”. It derives from the monks of the Benedictine order, who ran a monastery at the place that was later to become the Old Town of Munich; hence the monk depicted on the city’s coat of arms. Munich was first mentioned in 1158. Catholic Munich strongly resisted the Reformation and was a political point of divergence during the resulting Thirty Years’ War, but remained physically untouched despite an occupation by the Protestant Swedes.

The first attempt of the Nazi movement to take over the German government in 1923 with the Beer Hall Putsch was stopped by the Bavarian police in Munich with gunfire. After the Nazis’ rise to power, Munich was declared their “Capital of the Movement”. During World War II, Munich was heavily bombed and more than 50% of the entire city and up to 90% of the historic center were destroyed. After the end of postwar American occupation in 1949, there was a great increase in population and economic power during the years of Wirtschaftswunder, or “economic miracle”. Unlike many other German cities that were heavily bombed, Munich restored most of its traditional cityscape and hosted the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Marienplatz in Munich is MONUMENTAL!

Unfortunately, our hotel is situated in a town center Munich location that seems to be a Middle Eastern skid row.

Also unfortunate for Munich is that there appears to be regular competitions held in which architects compete with each other to see who can design the most hideous, ugly building. It is agonizing that there have been many winners of this “contest.”

Munich, for me, turns out to be the most disappointing of the German cities we visit on this trip. The streets (now roads) are too wide – including the walking streets. There is too many Modernist buildings. And too many parts of the town center are run down.

The English Garden Park in Munich is extremely interesting. We come upon a grassy field packed with Woodstock-like sunbathers. Streams flowing through the part have such a strong current that several swimmers float down the streams without using tubes or life preservers. The park also contains a wave park, where several SURFERS took turns surfing the waves. Who knew you could surf in Munich?

Dom w 1-liter dark Bavarian beer Hofbrauhaus, Munich Aug 18, 2019 (3)For dinner, we are at the Hofbrauhaus, where I opt for boiled pig knuckle and a ONE-LITER glass of dark Bavarian bier. It is the largest glass of bier I have ever been served.

Monday and Tuesday, August 19 and 20. We arrive in Passau Germany, our gateway city for the bike and barge trip we are to embark on. Our first bicycling day after barging down the river a bit starts in Engelhartszell. Here we climb stairs after passing by the lock system along a pathway that crosses the Donau River. We find nice, flat, paved trails for our 30-mile ride this day.

Along the way, we cycle through vineyards, cornfields, plum and apple orchards, and forest.

According to Wikipedia, Passau is also known as the Dreiflüssestadt (“City of Three Rivers”) because the Danube is joined there by the Inn from the south and the Ilz from the north.

Passau’s population is 50,000, of whom about 12,000 are students at the University of Passau.

In the 2nd century BC, many of the Boii tribe were pushed north across the Alps out of northern Italy by the Romans. They established a new capital called Boiodurum by the Romans (from Gaulish Boioduron), now within the Innstadt district of Passau.

Passau was an ancient Roman colony of ancient Noricum called Batavis, Latin for “for the Batavi.” The Batavi were an ancient Germanic tribe often mentioned by classical authors, and they were regularly associated with the Suebian marauders, the Heruli.5-country tour

During the Renaissance and early modern period, Passau was one of the most prolific centers of sword and bladed weapon manufacture in Germany (after Solingen). Passau smiths stamped their blades with the Passau wolf, usually a rather simplified rendering of the wolf on the city’s coat-of-arms. Superstitious warriors believed that the Passau wolf conferred invulnerability on the blade’s bearer, and thus Passau swords acquired a great premium. According to the Donau-Zeitung, aside from the wolf, some cabalistic signs and inscriptions were added. As a result, the whole practice of placing magical charms on swords to protect the wearers came to be known for a time as “Passau art”. (See Eduard Wagner, Cut and Thrust Weapons, 1969.) Other cities’ smiths, including those of Solingen, recognized the marketing value of the Passau wolf and adopted it for themselves. By the 17th century, Solingen was producing more wolf-stamped blades than Passau was.

In 1662, a devastating fire consumed most of the city. Passau was subsequently rebuilt in the Baroque style.

At Niederranna we and our bikes are ferried across the Donau. Upon finishing our bike ride, we rejoin our barge at Brandstatt.

Wednesday, August 21. We enjoy a self-guided walking tour of Bratislava. Here we find very nice ornamental architecture and smooth paved stone streets and sidewalks.

For lunch, we dine at the Bratislavska flagship restaurant. I select Klastorny Leziak Tmavy – a half liter of tasty, dark Monastic bier. We also sample one of Slovakia’s trademarks: Currant wine – which to me tastes a little like a light, sweet cough syrup. For food, I select Pecena Klobasas Oblohou (a roasted homemade sausage).

Biking Old Town Bratislava is a treat. We start with a diversion that takes us to the location of the former Soviet-block wall that the Soviets told the world was needed toBunker at Slovakia border Bratsilava Slovakia Aug 21, 2019 (13) “protect the peaceful Communist nations from the decadent capitalist aggressors.” Only tiny remnants of tall, barbed wire fencing remains at the Slovakia border, along with a number of grim, heavily fortified concrete bunkers. We also find time to visit the Bratislave Castle.

Overall, a very good day.

According to Wikipedia, the first known permanent settlement of the area that includes Bratislava began with the Linear Pottery Culture, around 5000 BC in the Neolithic era. About 200 BC, the Celtic Boii tribe founded the first significant settlement, a fortified town known as an oppidum. They also established a mint, producing silver coins known as biatecs.

The area fell under Roman influence from the 1st to the 4th century AD and was made part of the Danubian Limes, a border defense system. The Romans introduced grape growing to the area and began a tradition of winemaking, which survives to the present.

In 1968, after the unsuccessful Czechoslovak attempt to liberalize the Communist regime, the city was occupied by Warsaw Pact troops. Shortly thereafter, it became capital of the Slovak Socialist Republic, one of the two states of the federalized Czechoslovakia.

Bratislava’s dissidents anticipated the fall of Communism with the Bratislava candle demonstration in 1988, and the city became one of the foremost centers of the anti-Communist Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Thursday, August 22. We are in Budapest Hungary.

According to Wikipedia, Budapest is the capital and the most populous city of Hungary, and the tenth-largest city in the European Union by population within city limits. The city has an estimated population of 1,752,286.

The central area of the city along the Danube River is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has several notable monuments, including the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Gresham Palace, Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Matthias Church and the Liberty Statue. Other famous landmarks include Andrássy Avenue, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Heroes’ Square, the Great Market Hall, the Nyugati Railway Station built by the Eiffel Company of Paris in 1877 and the second-oldest metro line in the world, the Millennium Underground Railway. The city also has around 80 geothermal springs, the largest thermal water cave system, second largest synagogue, and third largest Parliament building in the world. Budapest attracts 4.4 million international tourists per year, making it a popular destination in Europe. The first settlement on the territory of Budapest was built by Celts before 1 AD. It was later occupied by the Romans.

On a guided bicycle tour. Our guide has a very heavy French accent, which made her extremely difficult for we Americans to understand. In addition, despite her soft voice, she used no voice amplification, nor did she do well in keeping the cycling group together. To top it off, she offered very little information about what we were seeing on the tour. Overall, the tour was so disappointing to us that we successfully got a refund from our barge tour operator afterward.

Bizarrely, at the start of our bicycle tour, a German tour leader was trying to stop vehicles so that cyclists could cross the street and start the tour. One car fails to stop, which infuriates the guide so much that he angrily tries to slap the car with his hand to show his unhappiness. But his slap turns into vandalism, as his hand actually knocks a sideview mirror off the car! Immediately, the two in the car slam the brakes on the car, open the doors, and – red-faced – angrily storm toward the guide to confront him with their understandable rage. The guide gets in their faces and SCREAMS at them for not stopping. It is an ugly scene of fury.

Known as the “City of Baths,” Budapest sits on a fault line, and its thermal baths are naturally fed by 120 hot springs. The city is home to an impressive selection of thermal baths, many of which date to the 16th century.  I convince my companions that an obligatory part of any visit to Budapest is to visit the Széchenyi Thermal Baths.Budapest Aug 22, 2019 (23)

Budapest always provides delights. Everywhere one looks, there is a statue or monument that is over-the-top in splendor. The same is true with the stupendous buildings in the city.

Friday, August 23. Our 60-kilometer bike ride today takes us through the very pleasantly charming little villages of Visegrad, Vac, Veroce, Nagymaros, Zebegeny, Szob, and Esztergom. Esztergom, we are surprised to learn, contains a spectacular Cathedral that is the fourth largest in Europe.

Saturday, August 24. We are in Vienna. Immediately we can see we are in a monumental, world-class city with spectacular architecture. The city is also a very good place to cycle, although as is the case with many large cities in the world, car infrastructure has gone too far – particularly with the monster roadway widths and oversizing of intersections.

Saint Stephen Cathedral and Hofburg Palace are remarkable.

On a guided bike tour, we visit an artistic smokestack, the Gaudi-like Hundertwasser painted apartments, Saint Charles Church, the Vienna Opera House, the Hofburg Palace, City Hall (WAY more spectacular than city halls in America), and Saint Stephen’s City Hall Vienna Aug 24, 2019 (86)Cathedral.. But we miss the famous Narchaet Food Market.

For lunch, we opt for the delicacy that Vienna is world-famous for originating: Strudel. We sample both apple and plum strudel. So good that one has not eaten strudel until it is eaten in Vienna.

According to Wikipedia, Vienna is the federal capital, largest city and one of nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria’s primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million (2.6 million within the metropolitan area, nearly one-third of the country’s population), and its cultural, economic, and political center. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today it is the second-largest German-speaking city after Berlin. In 2001, the city center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger. Apart from being regarded as the City of Music because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be “The City of Dreams” because it was home to the world’s first psychoanalyst – Sigmund Freud.

Vienna is known for its high quality of life. In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the city first (in a tie with Vancouver and San Francisco) for the world’s most liveable cities. Between 2011 and 2015, Vienna was ranked second, behind Melbourne. In 2018, it replaced Melbourne as the number one spot. For ten consecutive years (2009–2019), the human-resource-consulting firm Mercer ranked Vienna first in its annual “Quality of Living” survey of hundreds of cities around the world.

The UN-Habitat classified Vienna as the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013. The city was ranked 1st globally for its culture of innovation in 2007 and 2008, and sixth globally (out of 256 cities) in the 2014 Innovation Cities Index, which analyzed 162 indicators in covering three areas: culture, infrastructure, and markets. Vienna regularly hosts urban planning conferences and is often used as a case study by urban planners.

Between 2005 and 2010, Vienna was the world’s number-one destination for international congresses and conventions. It attracts over 6.8 million tourists a year.

Evidence has been found of continuous habitation in the Vienna area since 500 BC, when Celts settled the site on the Danube River. In 15 BC the Romans fortified the frontier city they called Vindobona to guard the empire against Germanic tribes to the north.

Sunday, August 25. We bicycle from Wachau to Pöchlarn, Austria. We bicycle through the very sweet little villages of Mautern, Forthof, Durstein (which has an exceptionally charming main street – so charming that we wished we had a day or so to enjoy it), Spitz, and Melk. Our day ends with a pleasant Austrian wine tasting near our barge in Pöchlarn.

Monday, August 26. We drive our rental car from Passau to Frankfurt. On the way, we stop in Erlangen to stretch our legs and enjoy this German college town. Frankfurt has the unfortunate distinction of having an enormous number of glass and steel skyscrapers.

Town center Frankfurt turns out to be very quiet at night. I was not awoken by sirens or scooters.

Random, general observations about this trip…

The older the city we were in, the more lovable it was. The more recent the cities and the more recent the buildings, the more awful those cities and buildings were. This has been true in my travels throughout the world, but most strikingly in Europe, where one finds extremely ancient settlements.
Many German cities have been ravaged and degraded by Modernist buildings that are destroying the lovable charm that once graced these cities for several centuries.
Nearly all of the cities we visited on this trip had outstanding bicycle path and bicycle lane infrastructure.
We found that many larger German cities contain a large Middle Eastern and Muslim population. We were surprised by the overwhelming number of burka-wearing Muslim women we saw in German and Austrian cities.
German cities, in general, tend to be late-night party cites, where vast numbers of citizens seem to drink and dance and laugh into the wee hours of the morning. And not just on weekends.
We found ourselves driving at speeds at or above 140 kilometers per hour on the German Autobahn (about 89 mph). And yet we were regularly passed by motorists driving 200 kph, which made it seem like we are standing still.
Our barge traveled through countless locks on the Donau (Danube) River – some changing our river height by 60 meters.
The Donau River is very wide, and is milky green in color – a sign of eutrophication caused by agricultural fertilizers.
For many of the eight days of our cycling and barging, we experienced very warm, muggy, humid weather.
Interestingly, the Hungarian language contains many words that are extremely long and mostly use seemingly random letters that make for a daunting effort to try to pronounce. Hungarian, our barge guide told us, was about the most incomprehensible language in all of Europe. Amusingly, our guide informed us that the Hungarian word for “kiss” is “puszi,” which is pronounced “pussy.”

An Unfitting, Agonizing End to an Otherwise Remarkable Trip

Two big, crushing lessons learned on this trip from severe brain damage and stress associated with not learning this lesson previously. First, I must never again go on a trip to Europe where travel from city to city is by rental car. With our rental car, we experienced agonizing levels of stress and rage from one-way streets, lack of parking, a rental car company that sought to force us to pay for damage we did not cause, and the stress associated with driving in both congestion and crazy high speeds on highways.

Second, I must never again fly with Air France or through Charles de Gaulle airport. For our flight back to the US from this airport and with Air France, I experienced the most enraging, stressful, unpleasant airport debacle I have ever suffered in my large number of airport experiences.

Unbeknownst to us, Air France now has a punitively low maximum limit for luggage weight. At 12 kilograms and FOUR trips through a baggage weighing line, I was compelled to THROW AWAY three-quarters of my belongings in order to get under 12 kilograms and be allowed to proceed to security (shirts, sandals, pants, food, underwear, socks, etc).

Because airport staff could not speak English, and because they were utterly incompetent, I spent almost two hours being sent on an almost infinitely-looping wild goose chase. I circled between baggage weighing and passport clearance FOUR times. During that entire time, I had no idea what I was supposed to do, nor was the airport staff able to provide correct, consistent information. I repeatedly lost my temper with the incompetent, power-drunk, bureaucratic staff. In fact, the staff threatened to call the police to have me arrested, to which I responded that I would be grateful to be confronted by the police as maybe they would allow me to proceed to the security gate.

It was miraculous that I did not miss my flight, and was only able to catch the flight because my girlfriend heroically called Delta Airlines (the sister of Air France) to have a staff person guide me through the impossible, Kafkaesque infinitely looping quagmire that I was trapped in. It became obvious that the prime qualification that Charles de Gaulle airport looks for when hiring employees is that they must be utterly incompetent. And they must love exerting their paltry, lower-level power whenever they can as a way to punish air travelers. A useful tip for Air France: Please inform your passengers BEFORE THEY REACH THE AIRPORT that there is a draconian weight limit so passengers have a chance to retain possessions at home before being forced to dispose of them as a way to board your plane. Of the hundreds of flights I’ve taken in my life, I have never had to weigh my luggage at the airport, which means this is a very rare requirement.

News flash to Air France: the rarity of this sort of policy should make it obligatory that you notify passengers of this far in advance.

Categories: Beyond North America, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking in Colorado, Summer 2019

By Dom Nozzi

The snowfall for the 2018/2019 ski season in Colorado was so epic that it left a snowpack that was 529 percent of normal. And as several media sources and whitewater vendors trumpeted several times in the spring, that epic, enormous snowpack means there would be a epic season for whitewater rafting and kayaking as well.

And that gave me a golden opportunity to sample some of the wild-eyed whitewater that rages in Colorado!

On June 7, 2019, Maggie and I rode the 12-mile Mishawaka Falls section of the Upper Poudre River with Wanderlust Adventures. The river that day was relatively high (and therefore barrels of churning, chaotic, hair-raising fun, at about 1500 cfs.

The Poudre is the only designated National Wild and Scenic River in Colorado, and flows through a beautiful canyon. We were fortunate to spot a group of longhorn sheep along the way.

The big surprise was that I was flung out of the raft at a notorious rapid called “Guide Hole,” where the raft guide often falls out (just a short distance downstream there is another demanding rapid called “Customer Hole,” which is where you would think I would have fallen out).

I blame Maggie for not grabbing my arm to keep me in the raft. :^)Maggie and Dom Poudre River whitewater June 2019 (1)

In any event, it was the first time I was the only one in the raft to fall out. I’ve fallen out a number of times in the past on whitewater trips, but only when the entire boat flipped. Others in the boat had to rescue me by pulling me back in. Because falling out in a big rapid is so exhilarating, that one event made my entire ride worthwhile, although the overall trip was a lot of fun. In fact, Maggie was surprised by how much she enjoyed it, after initially thinking that Dom was going to once again lead her into something too scary and way over her head.

Sadly, the photographer — who had shot many photos of our day on the raging Poudre — learned when he got back to the shop that all of his photos and videos were corrupted, so we didn’t get any pictures or video. It was the first time that had happened to him in his 3 years of being the company photographer.

Our next Living-on-the-Edge ride was battling Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River in Central Colorado. It was a warm-up for taking on the roaring, churning, angry Clear Creek whitewater in a few days. Browns Canyon was at a very high water level (3720 cfs), but we avoided casualties and no one went swimming. This short video shot with my helmet-mounted camera shows us early on at Browns. https://youtu.be/kh8fFvQyux8

For our next whitewater sample a few days later, Maggie and I rafted the “Advanced Express” run on Clear Creek just west of Denver with the Clear Creek Rafting Co. The Creek, which is quite demanding at high water levels due to the large boulders and narrow channel, was running at a relatively high level of 700 cfs. We conquered the following rapids: Upper Beaver Falls, Lower Beaver Falls, The Nixon Rapids. We then paddled hard as we dropped into Guide Ejector, Double Knife (particularly nasty), Hells Corner and Terminator.

I shot this video with a chest-mounted camera. https://youtu.be/mafm77QAoUU. And here is a photo montage I assembled with photos shot by the Rafting Company during our wild-eyed ride. https://youtu.be/pGThwtp6tB0

Then, before we even had a chance to catch our breath, we stormed down the rampaging Boulder Creek, which was running at about 235 cfs. It was the maiden voyage for the 2-person Inex inflatable raft we had recently purchased.

It took us a while to get our whitewater skills honed, as Maggie had never whitewater kayaked, and my whitewater kayaking skills were very much at the beginner stage, as my 25 years of kayaking experience included 20 years of flatwater kayaking in Florida (which is nothing like whitewater kayaking), and a few very short and very tame whitewater kayaking forays in Colorado in recent years.Dom and Maggie kayaking Bldr Ck, June 27, 2019

It was truly a trial by fire experience.

Adding to the difficulty was that Maggie sitting in front of me meant that most of my view of approaching rapids was obscured by her back. In addition, at 235 cfs, Boulder Creek is rather swift, and as a very narrow creek, there is very little margin for error. In ski difficulty terms, it was running as a single black diamond.

The Inex, fortunately, behaved well for us in the swift wave trains and drops on Boulder Creek. It’s upturned head and tail made the kayak ride over and through each of the rapids we encountered. I shot this video of our kayaking starting at the kayak playpark just upstream from Ebon Fine Park to the Justice Center. https://youtu.be/GReOZNZejHk

This video shows us kayaking from the Justice Center to the Library: https://youtu.be/xvFRF1PMkbY

The swift, narrow creek finally caught up with us near the end of our ride. As you will hear in this video my chest-mounted camera recorded, I was boasting to Maggie about my superior kayaking navigational skills and how the most fun to be had was when the boat flipped in the rapids. Maggie had never been in a flipped boat and did not believe me. Sure enough, soon after my well-timed comments, we approached a drop which was creating a powerful rapid and I was unable to keep the nose pointed downstream. Instead, I committed the cardinal sin at a hydraulic by entering it with our kayak sideways. As you will see in the video, our kayak quickly and somewhat unexpectedly flipped, sending us into a “swim” mode. I come up under and inside the upside down kayak, and Maggie is alarmingly floating downstream out of the kayak. https://youtu.be/1X2X5P5O7OI

Overall, though, we had enough fun that we plan to saddle up again for another kayaking ride down Boulder Creek in a few days. We had planned to kayak again on July 1st, but the cfs was at 565 (!!), which is the highest, fastest water level all year.

Insane, death-zone conditions on the Creek

 

 

Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Paddling | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Whitewater Rafting the Upper Poudre

Maggie and I took a wild-eyed whitewater rafting ride on the Mishawaka Falls section of the Upper Poudre River. The Poudre is the only designated National Wild and Scenic River in Colorado, and flows through a beautiful canyon. We were fortunate to spot a group of longhorn sheep along the way.

The water level was a relatively high 1500 cfs, which made the river particularly hair-raising.

The big surprise was that I was flung out of the raft at a notorious rapid called “Guide Hole,” where the raft guide often falls out (just a short distance downstream there is another demanding rapid called “Customer Hole,” which is where you would think I would have fallen out). I blame Maggie for not grabbing my arm to keep me in the raft. 

In any event, it was the first time I was the only one in the raft to fall out (I’ve fallen out a number of times in the past on whitewater trips, but only when the entire boat flipped). Others in the boat had to rescue me by pulling me back in. Because falling out in a big rapid is so exhilarating, that one event made my entire ride worthwhile, although the overall trip was a lot of fun. In fact, Maggie was surprised by how much she enjoyed it, after initially thinking that Dom was going to once again lead her into something too scary and way over her head.Maggie and Dom Poudre River whitewater June 2019 (1)

Sadly, the photographer — who had shot many photos of our day on the raging Poudre — learned when he got back to the shop that all of his photos and videos were corrupted, so we didn’t get any pictures or video. It was the first time that had happened to him in his 3 years of being the company photographer. 

As I pointed out to my rafting group yesterday after we defeated the Upper Poudre River, the most dangerous part of even a big water rafting trip is the drive to and from the river (and our driving in general), not the trip on the river.

Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Paddling | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Jackson Hole Skiing, January 2019

By Dom Nozzi

I ski this resort with Maggie in January 2019. It was my first ever visit. We find Jackson Hole to have a very steep pitch, which made for very difficult blue, black, and glade runs. Not well suited for Maggie or I. Particularly due to the lack of fresh powder. I could see myself enjoying this mountain much more if there was a fresh layer of “hero” powder.

The tram ride to the summit is memorable. Each car packs in what seemed like about a hundred skiers. Near the top, a resort employee cautions skiers that there is no non-expert trail down. If any skiers are uncomfortable with that, they are welcome to ride the tram back down. After we shoot some scenic photos of ourselves at the summit, dom and maggie jackson hole, jan 14, 2019 (9)Maggie opts to ride the tram down.

I, on the other hand, choose to do battle with the steep mogul runs, which means slow-going and many falls. At one traverse, I notice an uphill climb in BOTH directions. Wondering what to do, notice that if I skied under a lift nearby, I could ride the lift to a place that would allow me to continue skiing down to the base area.

These days, glades are nearly all the skiing I do, but with the very steep pitch at Jackson Hole, I can only tolerate a minute or two in the trees before needing to bail. I end up spending a fair amount of time on a glade slalom course set up for kiddies.

Our last day at Jackson Hole Ski Resort is excellent. But very unusual weather. While the skies are clear again, we have a severe temperature inversion. At the base, the temperature is a brutal -3 degrees Fahrenheit. At precisely the same time, 4,000 feet jackson hole, jan 12 2019 (6)HIGHER at the highest elevation at Jackson Hole, the temperature is a broiling hot 28 degrees!

After each day of skiing, I soak in an outdoor jacuzzi in icy cold nighttime temperatures at our Snow King lodging.

During our drive to and from Jackson Hole, we notice a huge number of highway signs in Wyoming pertain to passing zones, how far it is to the next passing zone, and warnings about passing. I guess there have been a lot of highway deaths in Wyoming due to impatient motorists passing on highways.

Major industries in state appear to be highways, energy, and ranching.

In addition, on Wyoming highways we see lots of concern (via highway signs regarding wildlife crossings of roads). In addition, we see lots of wildlife statues near the roadway. We also see significant concern expressed by the fact that there are several substantially over-designed and over-priced wildlife bridge crossings. I must say, though, that these bridges are much more attractive than the hideous, modernist bridges we are used to seeing all over the US.

We learn that Jackson WY has a VERY high cost of living, as exemplified by the very expensive restaurants. And the very expensive apartments and homes.

Sinclair gas stations apparently have a WY monopoly for gas stations. We hardly saw any other station.

It seems that every time we drive highways in WY there is a huge backup of cars. Fortunately, on this trip, we did not experience a highway debacle.

On our drive back home, we opt for the scenic route through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. We spot large herds of elk and bison, as well as a bald eagle perched in a tree next to the highway.

Jackson Hole characteristics:

With 2,500 acres of raw, sometimes terrifying lines, Jackson belittles flatlanders and challenges even the toughest locals with 55-degree chutes, wind-scoured bowls, and 5,000 acres of resort-accessed backcountry bordering Grand Teton National Park. (ranked #4 by Outside Magazine in 10/08 for snow and terrain)

  • Terrain: 2 mountains, Apres Vous and Rendezvous
  • 2,500 acres of in-bounds terrain
  • Vertical drop of 4,139 feet (greatest continuous rise in U.S.)
  • Base elevation: 6,311 feet
  • Summit elevation:10,450 feet
  • Uphill capacity:12,096 skiers per hour
  • Open backcountry gate system accesses over 3000+ acres

111 Named Trails on the map

The most (in)famous trail is Corbet’s Couloir. Many who gaze over the precipice simply lose their nerve, as the first move you face is a two-story drop onto a 55-degree slope. If you don’t carve the right turn quickly enough, you come face-to-face with a rock wall.

It is said that the backcountry that most makes Jackson Hole shine. Some say Granite Canyon in the backcountry is one of the most beautiful places they have ever skied. You need to take avalanche gear, and you need to know how to use it. Once you’re beyond the gate, there are dozens of chutes you can take. You need to know where you’re going, as its serious stuff; some of the chutes end in death cliffs.

Here are the photos I shot during our ski weekend at Jackson Hole:  https://photos.app.goo.gl/GZCCKnA4Dj8sjMpV8

 

 

Categories: 2011-Present, Skiing, Wyoming | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Spain is Splendid Again, Nov and Dec 2017

By Dom Nozzi

We arrive at the Denver International Airport. Surprised that our bus to the airport was full, as it was Thanksgiving Day. Who travels on this holiday?

Weather forecast for the coming week in Boulder will be unusually warm for this time of year. I am hoping that we will return to a lot of snow and good ski conditions, however.

We started the trip by walking Brooklyn and Manhattan. Bad idea on BLACK FRIDAY.

Barcelona

Friday, Nov 24: Our flight from Toronto to Barcelona took off at 9 pm on a Friday. By 8 pm the next day, after 11 continuous hours of travel by plane and bus, we finally arrived at our first Spain hotel in Valencia.

I have previously traveled in Spain (eight years ago). Maggie has never been. She is in for a treat…

Oddly, I have been in Spain twice and both times I had a train trip be cancelled. This has never happened to me for any other trip I have taken in the world. First cancellation in Spain had us be transferred to fly from Madrid to Barcelona. This time, it was a bus from Barcelona to Valencia. Turns out that rail workers were on strike in Barcelona.

Valencia

Saturday and Sunday, Nov 25-26: Old Town Valencia at night is lovely. We have a very charming, romantic, festive first night in Valencia. The streets are surprisingly vibrant even during a non-tourist time of year. Our tapas bar serves fantastic food at a place full of happy customers.From our hotel, Valencia, Nov 25, 2017 (1)

We start with a very tasty breakfast at a place called BBVA. Boisterous, loud Sunday morning crowd. I have the smoked trout omelet and Maggie has the salmon bruschetta. We then rent bicycles and have a very enjoyable ride along the Valencia greenway, where we pass athletic fields containing soccer games, rugby (who knew Spaniards played rugby?) and baseball. We bike to the beach. Valencia, of course, has many street trees that are orange trees. Valencia oranges. I opt for a FANTASTIC Imperial Brown Ale at Tyris Craft Beer.

At the end of our greenway bike ride, we spot several surfers surfing at the beach of the Baltic Sea. In late November! Who knew that Spaniards surfed?

The architecture in Valencia Old Town is mind-blowing. Ornamentation is stunning.

Our last night in Valencia is spent on a shiny marble piazza surrounded by fantastic medieval architecture. We dine on very tasty paella and a glass of house red wine. The view from our Valencia lodging is above. The photos I shot while in Valencia are here.

Sevilla

Monday, Nov 27:

Old Town Sevilla is a delight to stroll through DESPITE very narrow sidewalks (much of it less than 10 in. wide). The streets are so crooked and cranky that we got disoriented and lost several times. Which, of course, adds to the delight. Nearly all of streets are medieval cobblestone.

The modernists have added “tripe architecture” to Old Town Sevilla. A blight on the charming ambiance of the neighborhood, but a handy landmark for finding our apartment.

The Sevilla churches are noteworthy for containing an overwhelming amount of intricate gold. They can’t seem to get enough of it, to the point where it makes the observer dizzy.

Alcazar, Sevilla, Spain, Nov 27, 2017 (33)Alcazar boasts Islamic (Moorish), Christian, and Renaissance architecture all blended together by successive kings over the centuries. An incredible place to visit (again, for me).

Great, fun, tasty tapas are to be found in Sevilla. Our first stop for tapas is at a bar that opened a few years ago (1670, to be exact). They serve us excellent red wine and delicious tapas. A quirk is the bartender slicing thin strips of meat from a leg of a pig. And writing our check total on the bar with chalk.

So far, our biggest mutual problem on this trip is our inability to get enough sleep. We are both sleep deprived.

Nearly all of the street trees and courtyard trees and plaza trees in Seville are orange trees which are loaded with oranges. Valencia oranges are EVERYWHERE! Are the oranges harvested from street trees, or left to drop and rot?

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, Maggie is too sleep deprived to get out of bed in time for our planned day trip to Malaga. Unfortunate, since Tuesday is the window of fair weather for the next few days in that southern coastal town. She sleeps until noon, which gives us a relatively late start on our second day in Sevilla.

But I am happy to have her sleep late, as today is her birthday. On her birthday she will enjoy a full day in Sevilla. For her birthday last year, we were in Rome.

Lucky girl.

Since loss of sleep was due, at least in part, to the noisy cobblestone street traffic outside of our apartment, and because our washing machine was in disrepair, we are happy to learn that we can move to a nearby apartment with quiet conditions and a working washing machine.

First stop is the incomparable Cathedral of Sevilla. Like eight years ago when I was first humbled by what is the largest gothic cathedral in the world, the Cathedral is stunning. Built to such a crazy huge and ornamental size, according to Rick Steves, that the builders would be considered “madmen.” So huge that one feels like an ant inside the colossus – surely the intent of the Catholic designers who seek to make mere humans Barrio Santa Cruz Sevilla, Spain, Nov 28, 2017 (30)seem puny in the house of their infinite god.

Again, the Cathedral is full of altars and sanctuaries that feature overwhelming gold flake. The support columns inside are too tall and wide to believe. Somehow, we are again not converted to Catholicism despite the dizzying splendor.

We depart Ground Zero Catholicism in Spain for a walk in the nearby Santa Cruz neighborhood, which is a delight. The dimensions are too cute. A lot of very narrow, Venice-like, cobblestone “kissing” streets (so narrow that people on balconies of buildings facing each other can kiss). Indeed, some of the streets in the neighborhood are so narrow that we are able to touch building walls on both sides of the street at the same time. Delightful! Romantic! Charming! And utterly inconceivable in America, where 100-foot wide roads are considered Nirvana. And the only way to prevent babies from dying in burning buildings.

After our stroll, we reach a place to rent bikes. Biking in Sevilla is relatively pleasant and safe with its okay supply of grade-separated green-painted bike paths flanking many streets. We enjoy a delightful ride through an enormous park with flat clay pathways and a lush forest, where trees there today had been planted in the 19th Century. The park contains extremely impressive military and university building towers that are linked by a crescent-shaped building system.

Over-the-top palaces seem to pop up around every corner in Sevilla. In its history, the city has seen the construction of both palaces and parks and cathedrals fit for kings.

We drop off the bikes and walk back to the Cathedral, where we are disappointed to see that only a small handful of horse-drawn carriages are waiting. Earlier in the day, we had been descended upon by an endless gauntlet of carriage drivers begging us to be their passengers. It is, after all, the “shoulder season,” when tourist customers are relatively scarce, so the begging is particularly fierce.

Now, at 7 pm, only 3 carriages are in the Cathedral plaza, and we are unable to find a driver who speaks more than a few words of English. And it is also starting to rain. This is our only opportunity for a romantic carriage ride in Sevilla, so we board a carriage with these less-than-optimal conditions. Happily, it turns out to be a pleasant ride.

The photos I shot while in Sevilla are here.

Day Trip to Malaga

Wednesday, Nov 29th: Our day starts out in an unfortunate way. After only 15 minutes of travel on our train to Malaga — a coastal town on Spain’s southern coast — we passengers must deboard the train and board an “autobus” (a bus). It is the second time we have been transferred from a train to a bus in this Spain trip. This time due to a huge flood in Southern Spain.

Why, when we bought our train tickets 15 minutes earlier, did they sell us the tickets and not tell us that there was massive flooding ahead of us in Southern Spain? Had we known, we would probably stayed in Sevilla and not boarded the train to Malaga.

This would have been a mistake, as we are to eventually learn. Malaga is a delightful place. Even in monsoon rains.

Our bus finally arrives in Malaga three full hours after we would have arrived had our train not been stopped by the biblical floods.

I am immediately struck by the large size of the city. I had thought we would be arriving in a small coastal village, but Malaga is a large metropolis.

We stroll along a festive walking and shopping street festooned with holiday lighting. The surface is a polished marble not unlike the main street in Dubrovnik. Skinny, fun, smaller shopping streets branch off in odd directions from the main shopping street. We stop at a restaurante with outdoor seating facing the amazing Malaga Cathedral and order a fish and seafood paella that is both very filling and very delicious. Rioja house wine is our beverage. An excellent choice.

The Cathedral is simply stunning. We walk inside with our faces looking straight up at the splendor looming above and around us for about an hour.

Alcazaba, Malaga, Spain. Nov 29, 2017 (66)We then explore nearby Alcazaba, a medieval labyrinth with brick passageways, small Moorish doorways, and brick steps leading in all directions. Several times we find ourselves with a very nice view of Malaga and the seaport. A delight. In its heyday, this was surely a romantic place for a walk with a loved one. To top off the Alcazaba, we stumble upon Teatro Romano, a medieval theatre that surely was the venue for many a play or performance. The photos I shot while in Malaga are here.

In the end, we find ourselves on a higher speed train than the one we were bumped off of in the morning. We are heading back to Sevilla, wishing we had more time for surprisingly pleasant Malaga. The train upgrade is a compensation from the train company for our morning inconvenience.

Day Trip to Cordoba

Thursday, Nov 30th: We awake to clear skies after the Wednesday deluge of rain and clouds. We hop on the 8 am bus from Sevilla to Cordoba.

Our first stop in Old Town Cordoba is the incomparable Mezquita. A massive former Mosque that since the 16th Century has a Christian Chapel built in the very center of it. An astonishing place. One of the Wonders of the World. Indeed, I ask Maggie how it was possible that neither of us had ever heard of the place until now. Over 800 arches areMezquita, Cordoba, Spain. Nov 30, 2017 (17) inside. The contrast between the Muslim and Catholic symbolism is striking. We spend hours wandering around in wonder.

After Mezquita, we have lunch at a small, quiet, out-of-the-way restaurant (Casa Mazal) in the Jewish Quarter. The food was DELICIOUS. Maybe the best lunch I had ever eaten.

After lunch, we stroll the lovely, romantic little cobblestone streets that move in all manner of crooked, confusing, delightful directions. The sun in the clear skies is so brilliant that it hurts our eyes.

Unfortunately, our time is rushed, as our train leaves for Sevilla in the afternoon.

Back in Sevilla, we stop at a very nice tapas bar/restaurant and dine on very good food. We nailed two consecutive tasty meals in a row today! After dinner, we walk down an impressively busy, bustling, lovely shopping street (Teutan?). So full of happy strollers that it seems like a “paseo” (an evening community stroll). I could not stop taking photos of the beautiful lighted streets and people.

From dinner, we walk across Old Town to a house now converted to a Flamenco singing and dancing venue (Tablao Alvarez Quintero). The acoustic guitar based performance is riveting. I have never before seen live Flamenco singing and dancing, and am quite impressed. The dancer and singer display pride and anger in their movements and facial expressions. Very, very good.

On the way home, we pass several bars that are overflowing with huge numbers of chatty beer and wine drinkers. We stop in one of them for a beer. The beer and wine, we notice, is in the one to two euro price range. Sevilla late at night is a party town containing what seems like the Spanish version of German beer halls.

The photos I shot while in Cordoba are here.

Madrid

Friday, Dec 1: We train from Sevilla to Madrid on a crystal clear day late in the morning. Our first destination is the infamous Plaza Mayor, historic site of much mischief in the name of the Catholic god by the immensely cruel Spanish Inquisition. At this Plaza, countless “heretics” were executed or tortured. Today the Plaza is filled with silly amusements for tourists. A stark contrast.

After failing to find a tour guide-recommended restaurant, we opt for a random place on the outer walls of Plaza Mayor based on the charming medieval arches and walls within. It turns out to be a stroke of luck, as the food and wine are stupendous.

Dinner is followed by our walking at a brisk pace (it is now icy cold and very windy in Madrid) toward the Prado Museum. Unfortunately, the line is several blocks long. Forget that! We continue down the street to the Reina Sofia Museo to visit the stunning, larger-than-life Guernica masterpiece by Picasso.

On the way back from the Museo, we cross the heart of Madrid: Puerto del Sol – an Madrid, Spain. Dec 1, 2017 (42)immense and always festive piazza. Tonight Puerto del Sol is jammed with happy people – tens of thousands crowd the piazza and nearby walking streets. We stumble upon what appears to be an annual event where a massive crush of people are squeezed into three or five street blocks to watch an animated Christmas holiday show being performed on a building façade by little mechanical elves and snowmen.

Throughout our walk in Madrid, we are stunned by the stellar, ornamental, monumental buildings and architecture. Truly a MONUMENTAL, world class city. Madrid shows off much of its architecture by lighting up the building facades at night with brightly colored lights. If only American cities had a decent collection of such lovable buildings to flaunt at night with lights!

We don’t.

Madrid

Saturday, Dec 2: Our apartment sits on a vibrant walking street in Madrid. Despite my fears, we are not awoken overnight by the 24/7 party atmosphere just outside our 2nd story balcony. But our earlier plans to enjoy bicycling in Madrid today are put on hold. It is chilly and in the 30s this morning! Spain is unseasonably cold for our trip.

“Breakfast” is at the world famous Chocolatería San Ginés, said to be the best chocolatier in all of Madrid, and a place that has had a long list of famous customers in its over 100 years of existence (including Audrey Hepburn, Penélope Cruz, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Sophia Loren, Tony Curtis and Naomi Campbell). All seats were filled when we were there, and EVERYONE was enjoying dipping their churros into chocolate sauce.

We walk to the Royal Palace (Palacio Real), which is only a short walk from our Madrid accommodations. The sumptuous splendor of the rooms (there are 2,800 of them in the palace!) is mind-blowing. When one looks up “over the top” in the dictionary, there is a drawing of this palace.

Upon departing, the sun is out and it is warm enough to bike, so we rent a couple of “Donkey Rental Bikes” to sample bicycling in Madrid. We discover that the large park behind the palace is off limits to bicycling, as are the gardens in front of the Edifico Espana palace that we stumble upon. The superb Gran Via shopping street in Madrid, we also learn, is not very bikeable at all (the occasional “sharrow” is dangerously out nearPlaza de Cibeles, Madrid, Spain. Dec 1, 2017 (20) the middle of the heavy traffic street). So we walk the Gran Via.  We enjoy the Puente de Cibeles city hall (?), which is impressively ornamental inside and out. We then enjoy bicycling in the very large Parque de El Retiro flanking Madrid Old Town.

Overall, I’d give Madrid a 2 or 3 on a scale of 10 for bicycling quality.

After bicycling, we visit the Mercado San Miguel. As it always seems to be, the place is PACKED with happy, festive customers hungrily jostling for more and more tapas to gobble down (and washing it down with great Spanish wine). We enjoy a delicious salmon tapa, sardine tapa, octopus tapa, cod fish tapa, tuna tapa, squid ink and seafood paellas tapa, and raspberry tapa. Along with a few glasses of tinto (red) Spanish wine.

We walk to La Gayalos restaurant – reputed to serve outstanding paella. Along the way, the streets of downtown Madrid are utterly JAMMED with people out walking. It is as if New Year’s Eve at Times Square is occurring on every street in downtown Madrid. I have never seen so many walking people packed onto streets before. And these were not tiny streets. Utterly astonishing.

At La Gayalos, we have black rice paella with shrimp and squid. Superb. The chef comes out to serve our paella onto our plates from the pan, and at the end of the meal brings out a Spanish brandy: Spanish Grappas. Very tasty end to an excellent meal.

Later that night below our 2nd story apartment balcony on a Madrid walking street, an acoustic guitar player and opera singer performed. An unexpected treat.

The photos I shot while in Madrid are here.

We will be sorry to be leaving Madrid.

Day Trip to Toledo

Sunday, Dec 3:  We learn at the Madrid train station that we need to be at the OTHER Madrid station to get the direct train to Salamanca, our planned day trip today. So we opt to instead go to our other day trip option: Toledo. Salamanca will be tomorrow.

Alcazar and Tagus River, Toledo, Dec 3, 2017 (3)Toledo is spectacular medieval charm, as always. The entire city, after all, is designated as a world heritage site.

We enjoy walking (and getting lost several times) on the crooked, often nameless streets. Fortunately for us, many of our church and museum destinations are free on Sunday, including the military history museum, which we very much enjoy.

The Cathedral of Toledo knocks our socks off with its splendor, as it does to everyone else who visits.

The photos I shot while in Toledo are here.

One thing we have noticed in our Spain travels overall, by the way, is that the trains are impressively spotless in cleanliness. Or as they might say, the trains in Spain are mainly without stain!

Salamanca

Monday, Dec 4: We board a metro subway train at Puerta del Sol to get to a Madrid train station. That station will take us directly to Salamanca, a charming, medieval college town in the remote northwest of Spain. The college there was established in the 13th Century and is the oldest in Spain.

It is a very chilly day in Salamanca, so we skip our plans to rent bikes. Too bad, since Salamanca has a very nice bike route system that circles the old town.

The city turns out to be far more impressive than I had anticipated. The medieval streets and buildings are wonderful – particularly the main cathedral.Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain, Dec 4, 2017 (16)

For lunch, we have a very, very good tapas meal overlooking Plaza Mayor in Salamanca. It is a bustling place. We order several tapas overflowing with delicious seafood. Along with two glasses of nice red wine, our final bill is $13. Surely there is a mistake. Is there a zero missing in our bill??

We have a bit of a SNAFU on our return train trips. First, we struggle to exit as our train cards are not opening the gates to let us out. Then we get on a train going the wrong direction for our destination. But we figure things out, and end up at the Mercado San Miguel again for another round of sumptuous tapas for dinner.

The photos I shot while in Salamanca are here.

Barcelona

Tuesday, Dec 5: We hop on a luxurious bullet train to be whisked from Madrid to Barcelona. The countryside shows of mountains and a very arid landscape. Looks a lot like the American southwest – albeit with olive trees here in Spain.

The trip is only 2.5 hours due to the speed of the train. We are served a large and tasty breakfast as part of our train ticket.

In Barcelona, we immediately have smiles on our faces. This is a great, fun city. After checking in at our apartment up the street from Las Ramblas, our first errand is to rent a few Donkey bikes. The weather is sunny and warm. Much more pleasant than the frigid Barcelona, Dec 5, 2017 (1)cold we experienced while in Madrid. The bicycling is fun and impressively safe in this big city. We bike down Catalunya, walk through the incomparable Las Ramblas, and get on the bikes again for a ride along the marina and waterfront (near the Christopher Columbus statue/tower). We also have great fun riding in the wonderful, historic, kissing street neighborhood of the Barri Gotic (getting lost over and over again, happily).

I would give Barcelona a 6 or 7 regarding bicycling system quality. On the downside for transportation, Barcelona is afflicted with a large number of enormous, hostile streets. Many are 4- and 6-lane one-way roads that have very high car speeds. Even when on a bike lane or protected bike lane, I found bicycling unnerving at times.

Barcelona has many sex shops. Seemingly more than even Amsterdam. We visit the Cathedral of Barcelona for another WOW experience. Outside the Cathedral, we enter a market of vendors selling a dizzying number of Christmas manger figurines. Bizarrely, I notice that on top of one of the vendor carts, there are two male figures squatting to poop. The next morning, I very coincidentally see a posting from a Facebook friend who reports on this strange Catalonian tradition. She reports that “…[f]or at least the past two centuries, the traditional nativity scene in Catalonia has included a character called a caganer. In polite terms, the best translation is ‘the defecator.’ When residents were asked what the tradition is about, they seemed confused and came up with varying answers: ‘It’s typical of Catalonia. Each house buys one for Christmas, I don’t know why (we do it), it’s just a tradition.’ or ‘There was the legend that if a countryside man did not put a caganer in the nativity scene, he would have a very bad year collecting vegetables,’ he said, claiming that the figurine is a symbol of fertility and good fortune.”

Later, after a surprisingly long search, we opt for a restaurant on Plaza Reial (considered by some to be Barcelona’s best-loved porticoed square) after comparison shopping the many restaurant options on the square. Delicious black ink seafood paella and tinto wine.

Barcelona

Wednesday, Dec 6: Our day starts with our stumbling upon a very large demonstration by Barcelonians marching to oppose the separatist efforts by the Catalonians.

We visit three of the most famous Gaudi creations in Barcelona. Today is Bizzaro World, Barcelona, Dec 5, 2017 (29)so we visit Casa Batllo, Casa Milla, and Sagrada Familia. Next, we spend a lot of time bicycling in the Barri Gotic neighborhood (see photo at left). Big smiles on our faces while we ride in this stupendously enjoyable place. Every street beckons us with its charm. I could visit Barcelona, spend weeks doing nothing but walking or bicycling in the Barri Gotic neighborhood, and have the time of my life.

We serendipitously stumble upon ancient, unearthed stone ruins and view them for an hour or so.

Next we enter Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral, which is quite impressive (as are so many European cathedrals).

We walk through an absolutely crushing number of Barcelonians browsing a vendor outdoor sale of a dizzying number of Christmas manger and manger figurines. What is it with the Spanish and mangers (and manger figurines)? We have seen so many of them sold in Spanish towns on our trip. Included was a large set of “pooping boys.” We areBarcelona, Dec 5, 2017 (35) VERY tempted to buy a set today. Especially when we saw a vendor selling pooping famous figures, like Obama, Bob Marley, Trump, etc. They are surely a collectors item. Big crowd of people gathered around this evening to snap photos of them. What an ODD tradition!

Dinner is at the very homey and locals popular Petra restaurant. I have a delicious meal of cod mixed with purple potato gnocchi, pumpkin sauce, and vegetables.

 Day Trip Montserrat

Thursday, Dec 7: We hop on a bus for a guided group tour of the highly popular Montserrat, a “serrated” mountain with an extremely important history – it was instrumental in bringing Christianity to Barcelona.

We see (and learn) much about Barcelona on our bus ride. Montserrat is unusually shrouded in a cloud, which gives it a spooky appearance. At Montserrat, we hike to the San Miguel cross high up on a ridgeline about the town, Impressive views.

Dom and Maggie, Montserrat, Spain. Dec 7, 2017 (33)I then opt to wait in a line for over a half hour to see the highly beloved “Black Madonna” in the Basilica, which was found in the 9th Century and spurred the creation of the Christian community in Montserrat.

After that, Maggie and I enjoy a Tuscan soup, and FOUR (!) complimentary shot glasses of four versions of a very tasty liquor.

The photos I shot while in Montserrat are here.

Back in Barcelona, we happily get on our bicycles for another fun ride experience in the city. Maggie spots a craft beer place, so I insist we stop so I can sample their wares. I try an Espiga (Blackcelona) Imperial Stout. It is extremely tasty. The way an Imperial Stout should taste.

We visit a much-talked-about neighborhood transportation experiment being conducted in Barcelona: The “Superblock.” The Superblock is intended to improve quality of life and reduce air pollution, noise pollution, and safety problems by reducing the amount of car traffic within connected city blocks.

According to a 2017 book I am now reading, Barcelona was substantially failing to meet European Union air quality standards, and car emissions were an important reason. The City learned that 85 percent of its public space in a typical city neighborhood was being consumed by cars. In response, a pilot program has been started to address these problems. Started in 2016, nine city blocks are aggregated into a “superblock.” Within the superblock, car access is strongly limited but not completely prohibited. Car traffic declined within the superblock by 40 percent, which noticeably improved air quality and freeing up a lot of new space for people, cafes and playgrounds.

The Superblock we visited was very interesting. A few of the very large intersections have been retrofitted to include a kiddie playground. Trees in large planters are used to close off street lanes. Single lanes in the Superblock are “sharrows” (lanes where cars and bicycles share the lane safely). It appears that only neighborhood vehicles (how doSuperblock near Sagrada Familia, Barcelona. Dec 7, 2017 (63) they regulate that?) and service vehicles are allowed within the Superblock. The Superblock we saw seemed to be relatively “permeable,” which was a fear I had when I first heard of the idea – that a Superblock might be inwardly turning by putting its back to the outside world and creating what amounts to an urban gated community. But the Superblock we saw does allow car, bicycle and walking traffic to pass through.

The Superblock was quiet and seemed very safe for bicycling and walking. But it seemed rather dead and lifeless. Many blank walls and other blank building designs deaden the streets, as do the overly wide streets, overly wide sidewalks, many vacant lots, and overly generous building setbacks. We also did not see any “activating” buildings on the street, such as cafes, bars, restaurants, or retail. No “third places,” in other words. In sum, it appears that the Superblock idea might have some potential over time, but the example we saw in Barcelona seems a long way off of being a great place. For starters, the Superblock needs to have skinny, human-scaled streets and intersections.

We are in search of churros with chocolate sauce, but the THREE places we stop at in the Barri Gotic neighborhood all have very long lines of hungry customers (each place has no seating due to their capacity crowds). We have now seen these long churro lines several times in more than one Spanish city. The Spanish seem to LOVE churros and chocolate!

Barcelona

Friday, Dec 8: We get a very early start because the day before, our Montserrat guide had given us the handy tip that entry to Park Guell – a Gaudi creation – has free entry just before their official morning opening time. Unfortunately for us, the park opens at 8:30 am, not the 8:00 am we were told about. The second misfortune for us this morning is that unbeknownst to us, very steep hill climbing on our bikes will be required to ascend to the park. A tiring way to wake up!

Park Güell, Barcelona. Dec 8, 2017 (41)Curving tile formations are everywhere, as are stone pillars and caverns and caves for this hilltop park. Park Guell is a place where Dr. Suess meets Fred Flinstone. In sum, his Park Guell was very interesting, and in many ways admirable and appropriate.

Gaudi’s building designs in the city outside of the park are certainly remarkable. His design of buildings is worth seeing to check out Bizarre World. It is like being on LSD without taking the drug.

I strongly dislike the modernist (ie, innovation is the imperative) design that Gaudi was a pioneer of. Modernism is a failed paradigm, and in my opinion, Gaudi is a failed architect. We know that because successful design is replicated over and over again (indeed, replication is the biggest compliment that can be paid to a design). When touring Gaudi’s buildings, it is strikingly obvious that almost NONE of his ideas have been replicated. He threw timeless design that has been loved for most of human history out one of his weirdo windows and replaced it with things that are so impractical and unloved that none of it has been replicated.

Gaudi should have stuck to designing parks and leaving buildings alone.

We bicycle back to our apartment along a very nice, tree-lined boulevard. Little did we know that the “Fiasco of the Day” was awaiting us.

After preparing at the apartment for the remainder of our last full day in Spain, we depart for lunch. European door locks have always befuddled me, and this strongly contributed to what is about to happen.

I make it a habit to ALWAYS keep my keys in my pants pocket. But today, I opt to follow Maggie’s habit over the past few days to leave our apartment keys in the keyhole of the backside (inside) of the door. When we move through the first door of our apartment (there are, oddly, two separate lockable doors), I forget to pull the key out of the keyhole to take with us. At the instant our first door shuts behind us, a horrifying thought explodes in my head: OUR KEYS ARE INSIDE THE APARTMENT DOOR!!!!!

There are two huge problems with that. One, our apartment door automatically locks without a key when it shuts behind us. Two, we had been in the habit of locking the outer second door when retiring in the apartment each night. What that meant is that we now had the crushing, slightly panicky realization that we are trapped inside this tiny 2 ft by 3 ft vestibule with locked doors on either side of us! And no keys. Yikes.

Maggie retains her reasoning skills enough to call the hotel proprietor to inform him what has happened.

The first solution tried is to send the cleaning lady to unlock our door. We wait over a half hour for her to arrive. While waiting, I contemplate what we would have done if we had to spend days inside that vestibule prison. Try to break down the door like in those TV detective shows? Resort to cannibalism?

When the cleaning lady arrives, the next awful event occurs. Her key will not open the inner door, since our keys on the other side of the lock are preventing her key from unlocking the door!

We call the proprietor again to report the latest debacle. He informs Maggie we will need to pay for a locksmith, and the locksmith will be both difficult to find due to the holiday this day, and very expensive (due to the holiday). Maggie admirably and firmly points out to him that since we were given no clear instructions about locking the doors, we are not liable for what Dom had stupidly done (forget the keys). Fortunately, the proprietor learns that he will be covered by his insurance.

The locksmith, we are told is 90 minutes away. So we opt to find lunch in the meantime. Unfortunately, we are unable to find an acceptable place before we must return to meet the locksmith. The locksmith arrives, and in a flash he opens the locked door.

For lunch, we visit a highly popular tapas restaurant in the Barri Gotic quarter. The night before, we passed by and I noted with extreme envy that the place was PACKED with happy, hungry tapas costumers. As the Beastie Boys would say, you would have to fight for your right to TAAAAAPAAAAASSSSSSS. Just the way I prefer it! (could anything be more enjoyable?) But this afternoon, the place is nearly empty. We go in anyway and enjoy great tapas.

Happily for us, these lost hours are not a crushing blow, as we had time to burn before starting our last Barcelona experience: the Magic Fountains.

We arrive by the easy-to-use Barcelona metro subway at the Montjuic. Before the show, we marvel at the immensity of the Olympic facilities near the fountain, as well as the splendid and enormous palace that is today a museum. Impressive to what extent the city had put so much time and money and effort into their selection as the 1992 host city for the Olympics. Besides the Olympic facilities, the city actually re-located a number of large industrial operations out of the city.

It probably paid off, as Barcelona, ever since those Olympics and accompanying world exposure, has been a huge draw for millions of tourists throughout the world.

The Magic Fountain show is, as it was when I first saw it eight years ago, quite…well… magical. A masonry wall rings the fountain pool. Unfortunately, while this arrangement accommodated hundreds of Barcelonians as they joined hands and danced to the Dom and Maggie at Magic Fountain, Barcelona. Dec 8, 2017 (12)choreographed colored lights, water, and music, the wall is now roped off, so we did not see much dancing.

On Saturday morning, as we prepare to depart Barcelona and Spain, we find a restaurant in downtown Barcelona that serves us a wonderful breakfast. A fitting farewell to Spain.

The photos I shot while in Barcelona are here.

All in all, we enjoy Spain enough to want to return.

And no, we did not return to a lot of snow in Colorado, as we (actually, just Dom) had hoped. Not a flake of snow has fallen in Boulder for over a month.

 

Categories: 2011-Present, Adventure by Location, Adventure Chronologically, Beyond North America, By Type of Adventure, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Denmark, Sweden and Germany Trip, Sept 2017

By Dom Nozzi

We arrive at the Denver International Airport at the crazy early hour of 5:00 am. At the security gate, a large man is being told he must remove his stability boot (for an ankle/foot injury). He is not happy. He shouts angrily that he will not remove the boot. He states that underneath the boot is a bloody mess. No matter. A supervisor arrives and informs him he must remove the boot.

The episode reminds me of how America has lost its mind and gone off the deep end regarding safety, which in my view is so patently permeable that it is clearly a form of security theater. I realize that the level of concern for safety will be much more relaxed (ie, more sane and reasonable) in Europe.

Boarding the plane, we passengers sit for an hour with no “pushback” by the plane. Periodically, a flight attendant or pilot informs us that there is a tiny, minor scratch that is being evaluated on the right wing of the plane. It needs to be documented, logged, and photographed so that an engineer in Dallas (!!!) can evaluate it. “We will be underway shortly,” we are promised.

We are then told that the “minor scratch” will scrub the flight. For the first time in my life, we passengers must deboard the plane and board another plane in the airport.

Finally, more than two hours after our flight was scheduled to depart, our new plane (hopefully free of “minor scratches”) lifts off. Fortunately for us, our relatively long (3-hour) layover in Chicago allows us to avoid missing our connection for the flight to Providence RI (where my brother and sister-in-law have generously agreed to host us for the night before our trip to Copenhagen the next day).

Copenhagen

Sunday, Sept 24: Our first day in Copenhagen starts as cloudy and muggy but eventually and mercifully became bright and sunny for most of the day. We rent bikes and enjoy seeing the sights.Copenhagen, Sept 24, 2017 (8)

We have a large brunch at a café called – appropriately — Apropos. We find a delicious, broad sampling of many Danish delicacies. The bread and cheese is hearty and tasty.

Dinner is at “Tight” restaurant. I order a HUGE and very tasty vegetarian burger and wash it down with a yummy Dracula Licorice Porter from Estonia.

Impressions from our first day: To begin with, I am disappointed by the large number of cyclists I see who are wearing helmets. When I was here 13 years ago, I don’t think I saw any. Today about 3-4 percent use them. Probably a bad influence from the US, where bicycle helmets are obsessively pushed and aggressively required for all cyclists on all bicycle trips. An effective recipe for perpetuating the myth that cycling is dangerous and unfashionable and inconvenient. Such an overwhelming, crusading pitch to always demand cyclists wear a helmet surely reduces the amount of bicycling in America. Ironic, since many helmet pushers are firmly convinced that increasing helmet use PROMOTES bicycling.

Second, I feel as if the streets and bicycle infrastructure seem a bit more safe and comfortable for cyclists in Copenhagen than in Amsterdam. Amsterdam certainly benefits from a quite large number of cyclists, which provides huge “Safety in Numbers” and sociability benefits, but motorists seem more patient and slow in downtown Copenhagen.

Signage at the Copenhagen airport and within the downtown leaves much to be desired. Signs are either missing or confusing.

Copenhagen, Day 2

Monday, Sept 25: Another pleasant weather day, despite initial worries that the Denmark climate would be cold and wet this time of year.

Disappointed to notice how many overly wide streets are found in Copenhagen, which requires a VERY long crossing time for pedestrians (we were often stranded in the center median because we have insufficient time to cross a very wide street with too many lanes). Also disappointed to notice that Copenhagen does not seem to have countdown crossing signals, so pedestrians don’t know how much time they have to cross.

We find a very affordable, fun, and quite delicious place to have lunch today. Papioren (also known as Street Food) has a large number of food vendors to choose from (about 50?). The foods are very tasty. The prices are very moderate. Seating is indoors or outdoors on long wood picnic tables. The outdoor tables sit along a waterfront. The ambiance, however, is “warehouse.”

We visit the very entertaining Christianshaven neighborhood, which is Copenhagen’s popular counterculture neighborhood. The lifestyle is CLEARLY “alternative” and “utopian” here. For me, it seemed like the Haight-Ashbury of Copenhagen. Here one finds a great many funky homes and businesses, including an enormous number of marijuana vendors. Squatters took over the abandoned military base in the early 70s and have made it a desirable, “rules are different here” kind of place.

Here are the photos I shot while in Copenhagen.

Malmo

Tuesday, Sept 26: Malmo, slightly more than Copenhagen, is a delightful, safe, and comfortable place to ride a bicycle. The city is home to spectacular, photogenic, medieval Statue parade, Malmo Sweden, Sept 2017 (9)and classical architecture, which is tragically and jarringly juxtaposed in many cases with modernist architecture in buildings next door. The sterilizing, deadening, blank modernist building walls made of glass, metal, or concrete are obliterating the former charm, interest, and lovability of the historic building facades. It is as if the city had great architecture built prior to the 1930s, and then skipped over anything from the 30s through the 60s and lurched right into the utterly failed, hideous, unlovable modernist architecture since the 70s.

I am thrilled to learn in an Internet search of famous food and drink in Sweden that the best beer made by the Swedes consists of about 30 imperial stouts and porters, so of course I have to try three of them during our day trip to Malmo. DELICIOUS!

Here are the photos I shot while in Malmo.

Dusseldorf and Cologne

Wednesday, Sept 27: So far, I find the Danes, Swedes and Germans to be attractive, healthy, and in good shape.

Dusseldorf turns out to be a surprising treat. On another day of pleasant weather, we find that the Old Town has a huge number of heavily used walking streets loaded with outdoor cafes and happy strollers. Dusseldorf had been nearly leveled by the Allies in Dusseldorf, Germany, Sept 2017 (2)WWII, apparently in retaliation for what the Germans did to London, and it shows. Nearly all buildings seem to have been built since 1945. The very few remaining historic buildings are churches, which leads me speculate that perhaps the fighter bomber pilots for the Allies were given strict instructions to avoid bombing churches. Despite the brutal bombing in its past, the city seems to be happy and normal.

 We dine on our first night in Cologne at Brauerei Päffgen. This place is WILD FUN! They keep serving us glasses of beer without our asking, which, we later learn to our joy and amusement, is the tradition at German beer halls. We almost have to beg them to stop serving us. Even the waiters are chugging glasses of beer while they are serving. Very loud, good times, rollicking atmosphere (without the loud music you get in the US). First time I have eaten brotwurst and sauerkraut since I was 12 years old.

In both Dusseldorf and Cologne, we are pleasantly delighted to notice that the beer hall waiters tote around large trays full of several glasses of the same beer in the same 6-8 oz glass. The staff IMMEDIATELY replaces empty beer glasses with a full glass WITHOUT YOUR ASKING THAT THIS BE DONE.  We later learned that the signal for your being finished drinking is to place your beer coaster on top of your glass.

Here are the photos I shot while in Dusseldorf.

Cologne and Bonn

Thursday, September 28, 2017: On the way to the Cologne train station this morning, we take in a few sites in Old Town Cologne. We stop in at the Old City Hall (Rathaus) and then enter what many believe is the most exciting cathedral in Europe: The Cologne Cologne Cathedral, Sept 2017 (34)Cathedral (Dom). Like other German churches, this cathedral is relatively understated and not as bright and colorful as we have grown used to in many Italian churches. The inside, however, is quite impressive given the very tall, soaring ceilings and columns. Cologne Cathedral is an immense, towering, over-the-top-intricate building.

In Cologne we visit a very interesting church that was brutally bombed in WWII. Since then it had been restored by raising walls and installing a new ceiling. Tragically, the intricate colors were not restored and what one sees today is plain vanilla, unadorned concrete butting up against the splendor of the original sections.Bonn, Sept 2017 (2)

Bonn is relatively small but still has many pleasant things to see and do. We rent bicycles and have a lot of fun bicycling for many miles in the Old Town and points south along the Rhein River. We end up having a great time at the Bonn Markt.

Back in Cologne, we enjoy the 18th Century charm of Peter’s Brauhaus beer hall in Cologne over several Kolsch beers. A fun, vibrant place full of happy people.

Here are the photos I shot while in Cologne and Bonn.

Aachen and Cologne

Friday, Sept 29: We train west for a day trip to Aachen. Tragically, Aachen suffered destruction of 80 percent of its city during WWII. Had I known that in advance, I would have opted not to visit. Too much of what we see is awful post-WWII architecture. Much of it needs to be leveled again as it is sterile, dated and not enjoyable to visit as a Aachen Marktplatz, Germany, Sept 2017 (71)pedestrian (or cyclist or motorist). We do visit a few medieval sites that are interesting – particularly the Aachen Cathedral and plaza, which is impressive.

Later that night, we do a pub crawl to several top beer halls in Cologne. Brauhaus Sion, Bierhausen d’r Salzgass, and Beverai Zum Pfaffen.

Aachen makes me realize that the more a city has been destroyed by bombing, the less I am interested in visiting that city. Too much of the lovable, charming architecture has been forever lost. Replaced by post- WWII architecture that is part of the failed era of architecture (roughly the 40s up until the present day).

In many cities in Germany, we notice the sale of “currywurst,” a type of veal sausage. Of course, I have to try one in Aachen.

Here are the photos I shot while in Aachen.

Berlin

Saturday, Sept 30: We take the high-speed rail from Cologne to Berlin. Unfortunately, we pick a train car that turns out to be the child care train car from Hell. For the entire 4 hours, it seems, each of the 10 or 12 3-4 year old kids were screaming at the top of their lungs in seats next to us.

After a rain-filled ride, we arrive to clear, warm, sunny skies in Berlin. We are there in the late afternoon so we stroll through some awe-inspiring sites in the city center, confident we will return the next day for a more leisurely review. We only have time to check out the Berlin Wall Memorial and the many exhibits about the Nazi and East German history in Berlin. Our first impressions are that Berlin is surprisingly bike-friendly. It is a city full of outdoor cafes and buzzing with energy.

East Berlin is far less sterile in architecture than we expect. Impressive residences and several tree-lined streets.East Berlin, Sept 2017 (13)

Our first effort to find a dinner spot is foiled by the very long line out front. We walk a few blocks looking for an alternative. I spot a very funky, quaint, cool-looking, popular place that does not even have a sign out front of its brick façade. Is this a restaurant or someone’s home? I walk in and eventually get help from the staff. Our meals and drinks were very good. Our appetizer is a smoked tabouli with shrimp. I have a white fish with risotto main dish, which is divine. As is the octopus dish Maggie opts for. Our waiter treats us to complimentary spicy scallop in red sauce. And a round of anise for our end of the bar.

On our ride back home, we experience what I never thought would be possible: A 4-mile bike ride at night in the middle of a very big city felt very safe and comfortable.

Our second day of bicycling in Berlin – October 1 — is cool and drizzly for most of the day. We have a fantastic breakfast at a place in Hackescher Markt, stop at Checkpoint Charlie, Humboldt University, Berliner Cathedral (which is on par with many Italian cathedrals that stunned us in the past), the DDR Museum of life in the Soviet Block (mostly East Berlin), the Memorial of Murdered Jews Museum, Brandenburger Tor Gateway, the Reichstag, and Hitler’s Bunker (I am amazed that it is today a parking lot paved over the site of the bunker).

Berlin is clearly a monumental world class city on par with Rome and Barcelona. On our first night, we accidentally and serendipitously stumble upon an unnamed restaurant that looked charming, hip, and popular. It turns out to be a place called “Night Kitchen.” I have smoked tabouli, white fish risotto, and Maggie again has octopus saute. To be more German, I have a glass of Riesling German wine. Exciting night life here.

Here are the photos I shot while in Berlin.

Leipzig

Monday, October 2: We visit Leipzig in a day of drizzling weather. The town turns out to be much more enjoyable than I had been led to believe by the guidebook I was using. The Leipzig, Germany, Oct 2017 (31)guidebook claims that Leipzig is the most drab of any city in Germany, as so many quaint old buildings have been replaced by bulky box modern). I see less than I had wanted to as we are rushed to catch at 2:15 train back to Berlin (the next train is 3 hours later).

That night, Maggie’s son Ryan leads us on a walking tour of the seedy, grimy, run down part of Berlin, where we stop and a great meal at an Indian restaurant.

Here are the photos I shot while in Leipzig.

Dresden

Monday, October 3: Our last day for this Europe trip includes a day at Dresden, Germany.

Dresden is a big surprise, as we did not expect anywhere near the splendor that is found there. Stunningly spectacular. One of the most photogenic places I have ever visited. This city has clearly been a capital of an empire in the past. Wish we could have spent more time here.

Dresden was viciously firebombed by Allied forces in WWII, which destroyed nearly the entire collection of spectacular medieval buildings. The controversial American and British bombing of Dresden towards the end of the war killed approximately 25,000 Dresden, Germany, Oct 2017 (24)people, many of whom were civilians, and destroyed the entire city center. After the war restoration work has helped to reconstruct parts of the historic inner city. It is quite impressive to see that a great many of those destroyed buildings have been rebuilt to close to their original splendor. Much of the detailing is no longer there in the newer sections of buildings. Many sterile and unlovably boring and dated modernist buildings have marred the Dresden streetscape in the Old Town. And many gaps remain in the Old Town where bombing destroyed buildings. But the reconstruction effort is nevertheless a job well done.

To bid farewell to Germany, I eat knockworst on a bun with sauerkraut and mustard and a dark Dunkel German beer. I also sample a very interesting, unusual German version of Italian gnocchi, which is mixed with sauerkraut, of all things. That night, I dine on salted raw herring filets with scalloped German potatoes.

Here are the photos I shot while in Dresden.

Germans are relatively fit and attractive. At German restaurants, the meals served tend to be quite hearty and huge in size. In many instances, we notice that bar and beer hall staff drank alcohol while at work. Vonderbar!

All in all, we enjoy Germany enough to want to return. Tops on our list is to spend more time in Berlin.

 

Categories: 2011-Present, Beyond North America, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Touring Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Belgium, May 2017

By Dom Nozzi

It is Thursday, May 4, 2017. Maggie and I depart Boulder at 8:30 a.m. It is the start of a very long day of travel. First, we fly from Denver to Washington DC. It was not until 1 p.m. the next day that we arrived at our European gateway – Zurich Switzerland.

Iceland airport, May 2017 (1)Our airline – IcelandAir – takes us to their home base in Reykjavik, Iceland. First time I have ever touched land in Iceland. The Iceland landscape from the airport looks barren, volcanic, and treeless. The photos I shot are here.

Unfortunately, IcelandAir loses my luggage on our flight from Reykjavik to Zurich. Despite the fact that Maggie sees my bag being loaded onto the plane in Reykjavik. The consequence for me is that I have no change of clothes for three days. One benefit: It was lightning fast for me to get ready in the morning!

We train to Bern. Like all cities I have visited in Europe, Bern has an impressive, charming old town district. We enjoy strolling the city streets, and learn the old town can easily be seen in less than a day. Our fondness for Bern is tempered by the fact that the Bern Switzerland, May 2017 (42)streets are relatively wide. Most of the streets we walk, therefore, lack the human scale I adore so much in Europe. Here are photos I shot while in Bern.

We are informed by a Geneva, Switzerland friend who has met up with us in Fribourg that Switzerland has suffered a long, terrible drought. That drought comes to an end on our arrival in Switzerland. Saturday morning greets us with a steady, cold rain, which starts before we wake up and ends up being continuous for over 50 hours.

As I often say, if a place is suffering from drought, the effective method for ending the drought is to have Dom Nozzi visit…

On this day, we enjoy touring Fribourg — a very lovely, charming town. We ride the only poop-powered funicular in the world while in Fribourg. Photos I shot in Fribourg can be found here.

We make a quick side trip to Medieval Morat down the road. I find it to be a very nice little town. Fortunately for us, we are mostly able to avoid the rain, as the ramparts we walk along the edge of the city are covered. These are the photos I shot while in Morat.

Entry to Gruyere Switzerland, May 2017 (1)We then tour the town of Gruyere, famous for its cheese. Again, a quite pleasant little town. We are treated to a delicious fondue in the best place in the world to have a fondue. Here we start what will be several consecutive days of eating a lot of cheese. Photos I shot while in Gruyere can be found here.

Lodging for the night is in Chateau-D’Oex at Hotel de Ville. Our ride there by Michael Ronkin, our tour guide today, takes us through lovely, typical Swiss villages and mountain valleys. My Chateau-D’Oex photos are found here.

Our next stop is Montreux, home of the Montreux Rivieria on Lake Geneva and a striking Freddie Mercury statue. Our friend and guide that day – Michael Ronkin – tells us that in 1970, he played in a band that opened for Deep Purple just before that band wrote Smoke on the Water. “We all came out to Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline…” We walk by the new casino that has replaced the one burned down in the early ‘70s, and I start singing the lyrics I have not forgotten since first hearing the song in the early ‘70s, “…some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground. Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky. Smoke on the water. They burned down the gambling house. It died with an awful sound. Funky Claude was running in and out. Pulling kids out the ground. When it all was over, we had to find another place. But Swiss time was running out. It seemed that we would lose the race…We ended up at the Grand Hotel. It was empty, cold and bare…” You can see the photos I shot in Montreux here.

Michael drives us to the small lakeside town of Nyon, where we first walk a bit of the town (here are photos I shot), then board a historic steamboat to ride to Geneva on Lake Geneva. We spoil ourselves by ordering a delicious red wine on the boat, and marvel at the Swiss palaces along the shoreline. Upon arrival, we enjoy a quick walk through Geneva Old Town. These are the photos I shot.

In the early afternoon on Monday, after a brief walk and nice, affordable lunch at a popular Lake Geneva dock-based restaurant, we fly Geneva to Amsterdam on EasyJet. Soon after arriving in Amsterdam, we rent bikes and go for a fun ride on random streets. I love riding in large groups of cyclists. Safety in Numbers is palpable.

We arrive at our apartment, It is a fantastic, two-story abode featuring large, unfinished wood beams.

Tuesday morning finds me ordering goat cheese, spinach, garlic oil, and pine nuts pancakes. We top that off with mini-pancakes smothered in chocolate sauce.

Lunch today is fun and fantastic. Zeppo’s in Amsterdam. It is the first time I have ever sampled raw herring. I gobble down two of them without retching. My friend Michael Dom Nozzi eating raw herring for lunch at Zeppos, Amsterdam, May 2017 (27)Ronkin had informed us that he has lived in the region for 30 years but has never had the courage to sample the Dutch delicacy. It takes me less than a day to beat him to the punch.

This day also includes my first consumption of marijuana (an edible in a brownie) in 39 years, as we stop into an Amsterdam pot shop. I don’t opt to consume enough to get high, but since I last had pot in 1978 and experienced extreme paranoia and hallucinations, I have no idea if even a few crumbs would send me to a mental asylum.

We make the obligatory walk in the Red Light District, where many “ladies of the night” beckon me with winks and hand waves. We also decide to tour the very amusing Sex Museum.

Maggie has eaten too much of her pot brownie and ends up flat on her back on this night. This nixes her much-desired tour of the Anne Frank House. She is too knocked out to get out of bed for dinner, so I have to set out on my own at 10 p.m. for dinner (at a café bar). Latest time of evening I have ever gone to dinner. My photos of Amsterdam can be found here.

On Wednesday, we decide to make a day trip to Utrecht. We find Utrecht to be delightful. I revel in the vibrant atmosphere and the charming, lovable, human-scaled streets and canals.

Our favorite city so far on this trip. My photos of Utrecht are here.

We buy four different cheeses and a hearty bread for our train trip from Amsterdam to Delft.

We happily take advantage of a complimentary meal offered to us by our Delft apartment proprietor at a restaurant across from our apartment.

Delft Markt for breakfast, May 11, 2017 (7)Thursday morning finds us grabbing breakfast and shopping at the big Thursday outdoor market at Markt Square in Delft (my pictures of Delft are here). We bike a bit in Delft and without more to see in Delft, we decide on biking the countryside to visit the beach and then The Hague.

Despite detailed advice from friend Michael Ronkin, we get lost several times, even though we use a numbered bike route map described to us by Michael. Our problem? A huge percentage of bike route numbers are missing. The missing numbers has us guessing several times and ending up biking much further than we need to.

Town center in The Hague is quite bustling, I grab a delicious Queen Bee Stout brewed by a British brewpub in the center. We end up much more quickly getting back to Delft as we mostly abandon the bike map and just follow the motorist street signs back to Delft.

Friday finds us hopping on a train with our bikes from Delft to Gouda. We spend a few hours enjoying Gouda and biking around the small, quaint town. I decide to order a fantastic quadrupel beir and a great carpaccio sandwich for lunch on the main piazza.

We then train to Leiden, which is another charming canal town FULL of cyclists. It warms my heart to see huge numbers of cyclists on major city roads. My Gouda and Leiden photos are here. We then bike 15 miles back to Delft in the late afternoon and early evening through a very stereotypical, delightful Dutch countryside. Our ride Leiden, May 12, 2017 (36)includes the stereotypical Dutch weather: on and off drizzle through much of the ride.

In general, in our time in The Netherlands, we notice that the Dutch start their mornings relatively late. Public outdoor markets and breakfast cafes don’t really open and get started until well after 9 am.

On Saturday, we train from Delft to the Belgian city of Antwerp. Antwerp turns out to be surprisingly impressive. We emerge from exiting the train to arrival in the main train terminal hall. The hall is spectacular. I quickly snap a large number of photos, as do many other arrivals at the hall. My Antwerp photos are here.

Our plan to rent “Blue Bikes,” which would allow us to conveniently use the same card to rent a bike in multiple Belgian cities at a relatively low cost is foiled as we are surprised to learn that the Blue Bikes office is closed on weekends (we arrived on Saturday). Instead, we opt to rent from another company for a few afternoon hours. We head straight for Old Town Center Antwerp and we are immediately immersed in a crowded flow of pedestrians on a large walking street. Our evasive and reflex bicycle skills are tested as we must constantly weave in and out of crowds of walkers.

After a few blocks, we arrive in an area of fantastically ornate medieval buildings and tiny walking streets. Both the large and small streets are full of high-end shopping (one comment I had spotted on the Internet before our arrival stated that this was a woman’s favorite shopping city in the world).

Maggie cannot resist buying a Belgian waffle, so we stop at an outdoor café where she enjoys a delicious version of one. We rush back to the train station where we quickly return our bikes, grab our luggage from the lockers, and arrive at our platform to board a train to the sightseeing powerhouse of Bruges, Belgian.

We walk Bruges at sunset. Over the top charming and huge wow factor. Overwhelmingly picturesque (my photos here). We enjoy dinner at a pleasant place along a canal. Then take a romantic evening horse-drawn carriage tour of the old town sights.

Finished the night at a very local beir joint that has a huge selection of beers. Sampled a lambic for the first time. AWFUL. Also tried a very nice Hawaiian stout. Ended up drinking a good Belgian local Hercule Stout.

We rent bikes in Sunday morning and have an enjoyable day bicycling around town and in the southern suburbs of the city. Belgian drivers seem to be more aggressive and faster near cyclists than in The Netherlands.

We treat ourselves to a pleasant, large lunch where I order a huge steaming pot of mussels (along with fries).

To our great fortune, as we start bicycling again, we stumble upon an ENORMOUS celebration by thousands and thousands of fans of the Bruges soccer team. The Bruges team is to face off, as the #2 team, against the #1 team. We were told by a fan that if the #1 team won, they would win the championship. But, he added, that won’t happen. The Massive fan pep rally before huge Bruges soccer match, May 14, 2017 (60)celebration is a near riot of yelling, singing, loud firecrackers, blue (the team color) smoke flares, and a sea of blue clothing. Shocking how rowdy the fans are in this spectacle of fan support for the team. And this BEFORE the match. Having played high school football, it is difficult for me to imagine the stirring joyfulness the team must experience when the team bus drives into this party.

We get so caught up in the hysteria that we end up watching some of the match later on a pub TV.

Dinner tonight is at The Flemish Pot in Burges. Delicious slow, fresh food. The Flemish eat a LOT of food, so our portions are HUGE.

As I sit at an outdoor café with another delicious Belgian beer and the convivial atmosphere of happy people all around me, I wonder: “Would I prefer living in a place of walkable, compact, convenient, charming, romantic urbanism where the weather tends to be cloudy and damp? Or would I prefer a more sterile, suburban, isolating, boring lifestyle that features sunny and dry weather?” I decide I would lean toward the former.

On Monday, we have a delicious breakfast at Julliette’s in Burges. After fueling up, we climb the 366-step Belfry at the Markt.

We learn to our great dismay – despite what we were told when we called in the US before the trip – that we cannot rent a “Blue Bike” unless we have a Belgian passport.

We train from Burges to Ghent, regretting that we have not lodged in Maastricht rather than Ghent. Rick Steves has given Ghent an average rating, noting that it is a working town without the charm of Burges. But we found many striking buildings and charming medieval buildings in Ghent (my photos of Ghent). We tour the castle (intended more to intimidate local citizens than to protect the city, according to Steves) and I am so impressed by the structure that I shoot quite a few photos.

We chance upon a restaurant which has a fun motto: “We love organic ingredients, local products, and f**king rock and roll. The pizza names are also hilarious. We cannot resist, so we have antipasta and a nice salmon pizza at the restaurant.

After dinner, we select an outdoor café for a Belgian beir. Oddly, we are unable to find a suitable outdoor cafes for beer along the Ghent canals.

I cannot resist the urge to sample Gruut Bruin, a local dark, sweet beir brewed a few blocks away in Ghent. Gruut is made without hops, but instead uses a medieval mix of herbs that brewers call “gruit.” I decide Gruut tastes much more like a beer than I expected. And tastes much better than I expected.

Overall, we find that foods such as yogurts are much less loaded with sugar than they are in the US.

We also discover that Belgians are beir connoisseurs, not tea connoisseurs, as we learn through the fact that all the restaurants and lodging have only Lipton tea.

Throughout Belgian we see a large number of severely pruned large trees. We also note that the great majority of homes and commercial buildings are brick rather than wood.

We start the day with a lovely breakfast at an outdoor café in Ghent. On the way to breakfast, we get lost along the way on our bikes – which just meant we got to see more of Ghent.

We drop off our bikes at the bike rental shop, walk home, collect our luggage, forget our bread and cheese in the fridge, and hop on a tram to the train station.

Our Rail Pass today is taking us to Brussels. This city has a very noticeable “big city” vibe compared to other cities we visit on our tour of Europe. Our apartment is on the third floor, which has us climbing a LONG and narrow wooden spiral staircase to the apartment.

Grand Place — said to be the most beautiful place on earth — is a block away and its tallest tower looms close by outside one of our windows. We stop at a café in the Grand Place to Grand Place at night, Brussels, Belgium, May 16, 2017 (61)map out our city stroll this day. We don’t notice as many cyclists here in this city as we had in previous cities in Belgium and The Netherlands. It is only late in the day that we discover we could have cheaply rented Villo bikes without being local resident “members.”

In general, we find Brussels to be impressive, but too hostile to biking (at least compared to other cities we biked in The Netherlands and Belgium). We end up disliking the Villo bike share system, as the bikes are far too heavy and too commonly out of repair.

Brussels has an impressive number of pedestrians. The city seems very alive, electric and vibrant – particularly at night. We enjoy the many streets closed to bicycling. I personally find the city to be too “Big City” for my taste. That is, streets too big, and distances to destinations too large.

On our first night of sleeping in downtown Brussels, we learn what it is like to be in a “real” city – a city that is, in other words, a 24-hour city. From about 7 p.m. till about 6 a.m., we hear a continuous buzz of talking and socializing outside on the streets.

Looking outside our apartment window upon being awoken, I hear a lot of people talking. Since I could see street buildings, I assume this means it was the early morning breakfast crowds at outdoor cafes. Instead, it was about 2 or 3 in the morning, and the street buildings are visible not due to morning sun but because the streetlights are on. These are my Brussels photos.

On Wednesday, we train Brussels to Leige to Maastricht first thing in the morning. We rent bikes to ride around Maastricht on a very warm day (85 degrees). Maastricht turns out to be an impressive medieval city. Quiet and low-key – particularly compared to 24-hour Brussels. My Maastricht photos are here.

We have a delightful, festive final dinner at Arcadi Café, a 1900-era café in the heart of downtown Brussels (and across the street from a very loud, boisterous art opening). As a Dom Nozzi on Delirium Tremens beer alley, Brussels, May 17, 2017 (2)nightcap, we stumble upon “Delirium Tremens” Alley, which is lined with several connected Brussels bars full of great Belgian beer on tap. I have the infamous Delirium Tremens, and a taste of the black Delirium Nocturnum.

It is always a treat when I am able to freely and legally join wine and beer drinkers in a public street outside of a bar, and this is the scene here in the “Alley.” In nations where I have experienced this, which includes Belgium and Italy, adults are treated like adults and allowed to drink in public streets outside of the bar. By contrast, in America adults are treated like misbehaving children. A form of Nanny State.

Overall, streets are very difficult to navigate in downtown Brussels. As Andres Duany would say, the streets are very “cranky.” They are crooked and stubby and twisting every block. The French street names use what seems like 6 to 8 unpronounceable words, and the names seem to change every block. The street name signs, to compound the problem, are also hard to find, and often too far away to read.

I find myself enviously admiring the strong outdoor café culture in The Netherlands and Belgium. Over and over again we come upon large happy crowds of people enjoying this delightful, convivial, festive scene in the cities of those two nations.

On this trip, I must have drunk over 30 different Belgian beers. The Belgians certainly excel in making high quality beer. A delicious aspect of visiting Belgium.

Water quality in Belgium, as confirmed by how awful the water tasted to us — and what we were told by a waiter — is amongst the worst in the world.

It is no wonder that the Belgians are so avid about brewing beer.

 

 

 

Categories: 2011-Present, Beyond North America, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sampling Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, April 2017

Maggie and I now make a decision about our next trip based on a “screaming deal” we see for travel prices. Maggie notices that we can fly to, and lodge relatively cheaply in, Puerto Vallarta. That is all we need to know. We are soon on a plane.

It will be my first time spending a meaningful amount of time deep in Mexico.

Our first day is a Tuesday. For an early April date, I immediately notice that this locale is a FURNACE! How can people stand the much hotter conditions in the summer, I wonder?

At the Puerto Vallarta airport, when walking to get bags, one is inundated with THOUSANDS of offers to take a taxi. Taxi and bus service is everywhere. VERY tourist-driven economy.

I also notice, with both trepidation and amusement, that the city buses are very Third World. The bus lacks identifier numbers. Instead, one sees on the windshield a list of major stores the bus serves. The bus is loud, and packed with people — so much so that many are standing in bus stairwell. Also, the bus has no shocks. And seems to have been built in the 1940s.

At first, I see no ability to signal to the driver that we would like to get off at the next stop. Then I hear what sounds like a male whistling to stop. I don’t see any men whistling, and notice that this is the sound that is made when one presses a button to have the bus stop.

Glad we won’t need to just leap off a moving bus like skydivers…

Another Third World trait: We are almost constantly hounded by people hawking tourist trinkets, food, and drink.

Maggie Waddoups at Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (16)Impressive public art is everywhere in Puerto Vallarta. Maybe this town is not so backward after all.

In what we soon learn is a sample of things to come during our time in Puerto Vallarta, we enjoy a very tasty and affordable ceviche for what we make a combination lunch/dinner at a “locals” restaurant/bar.

We discover that “old town” is very fun and vibrant, with nice cobblestone streets, good street dimensions, and a party atmosphere full of music and dancing at night.Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (4)

The main north-south coastal roadway in Puerto Vallarta is an awful, miserable highway to hell. Impossible for pedestrians, dangerous, and full of loud cars and trucks.

Affordability is a pleasant trait of the town. When we were there, $20 USD was about $300 pesos.

On Wednesday, we opt to rent bikes and quickly learn that bicycling is really tough here: zero bike parking, and very hostile roads. The major roads are commonly high-speed and crowded. A great many neighborhood streets feature a lot of bruising cobblestone surfaces – which would be charming if in a compact, walkable area, but are mostly a nuisance when distances require bicycling. To add insult to injury, there are almost no signs informing you of street names.

On Thursday, we take a catamaran on a two-hour ride to the Marietas Islands. We see many dolphins and sting rays breaching the water surface. We also catch a glimpse or two of quite rare whales along the way.

At the islands, we hike along a very scenic beach filled with interesting arched rock formations. From the catamaran, we do a little kayaking and paddle boarding, and a Maggie Waddoups paddleboarding at Marietas Islands, Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (56)little snorkeling. On our way back, it was Booze Cruise time. I had two margaritas, two pina colodas, a salted beer (Mex style), and a Bloody Mary.

On Friday, we have a great breakfast on the beach at La Palapa restaurant. We then walk for several blocks in old town, where we stumble upon a very enjoyable, local produce market.

After several months of urging Maggie to try paragliding (and her saying “NO WAY NO HOW!”), I finally talk her into something safer and approximate: parasailing, which we both try out on the Puerto Vallarta beach.

Delightful.Dom Nozzi parasailing over Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (5)

Soon after, we grab lunch at what most call the best fish tacos in town at Marisma’s Fish Taco stand.

On Saturday, we make our daily trip to Old Town, and today I wonder about how charming the streets must have been before the tourist invasion. Like Cuba?

In general, authentic Mexican food is quite spicy hot. Yet here in Puerto Vallarta, many restaurants we visited often served noticeably mild food. I conclude that this is likely due to the fact that the restaurants do not want to scare off the more mild taste preferences of Americans. A menu today read, for example, something I have never seen on a menu: “Don’t order a dish if you do not know the dish.” Surely a sign of this concern. Too many tourists in the past have surely Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (32)refused to eat a dish when it turned out too spicy, and the restaurant was obligated to dispose of the dish.

Throughout our trip, we notice a curving cobblestone decorative pattern inlaid into public sidewalks. I joke to Maggie that this was a way to humorously mimic the path taken by people staggering home after getting drunk on too much Tequila. I mentioned this to a taxi driver later and he confirms my speculation was true.

We very much enjoy browsing in an open air Saturday market in the public square in Old Town. We sample many delicious breads, cheeses, grains, drinks, pestos, and oils. We wonder why there were not more vendors at this market in a square and guess it is due to pressure from nearby restaurants concerned that they would lose business.Puerto Vallarta Mexico, April 2017 (10)

Late in the afternoon, we enjoy watching four entertainers on the beach spinning upside down from a tall tower while hanging from ropes.

Pinatas are everywhere in Puerto Vallarta. Not sure why this is so.

During our time in Puerto Vallarta, I notice that it seems unusually easy to bargain down prices for goods and services in the community. My speculation: This is a sign that prices are inflated, which makes it likely that vendors are easy to bargain down on their prices, since a lower price is the “reasonable” price.

In our five days here, we drink alcohol like fish. We also eat high quality fish and seafood Dom Nozzi and Maggie Waddoups breakfast in Puerto Vallarta, April 2017 (70)for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.

It turns out to be a bad trip for my glasses: First, I forgot my sunglasses at home, which meant I had no eye protection from the several days of intense sun in Puerto Vallarta. Then, I discover after getting off the plane from Denver to Puerto Vallarta that I had forgotten my reading glasses on the plane. To top it all off, I discover to my extreme annoyance that I had forgotten my back-up pair of reading glasses on the plane from Puerto Vallarta to Denver!

I think I need to have my sunglasses and reading glasses surgically attached to my head…

Here are the photos I shot during the trip.

Categories: 2011-Present, Beyond North America, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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