Taking it easy on the coast

12 Mar

12 March 2022.

March on the Oregon Coast is a crapshoot for weather. Spring teases us, lurking around the corners of lashing rain, and daffodils defy the wintry conditions promising better days ahead.

It is a true act-of-faith to commit to a non-refundable hotel reservation. One could endure staring at the ocean for four days of pelting, icy, wind-driven rain or one might get lucky and find chilly overnights give way to sun, blue skies, and tolerable mid-50s.

View from our cottage, a colorful sunset after the rain.

We were lucky. A mid-afternoon heavy shower greeted us as we hit Highway 101 but as we checked in, the western sky was clear, the ocean calm, and the temperature not-too-bad. The forecast: two days of clear skies and sun. The god of getaways was smiling on us.

Lincoln City is a history trip for us having lived here for a few years until the combination of a scary forest fire and the pandemic drove us into the Willamette Valley. I miss seeing the ocean where we live today but love that Trader Joe’s is 20 minutes away instead of a 75 minute one-way drive.

Molly’s last trip before her planned sibling arrives.

This trip gave us a chance to relax with Molly before we adopt a sibling for her, and to celebrate our anniversary at a special restaurant. Eating fresh fish tacos for lunch two days in a row was a bonus.

Revisiting two favorite locations for light-hiking, Cape Perpetua and the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, we fueled ourselves with ocean views, rainforest paths, and clean coastal air.

Cape Perpetua is even more magnificent in person.

The Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge from the lookout.

Our lodging was far from luxury but the only place I could find that would accept a cat. Salishan Lodge will take big dirty dogs (we brought one there ourselves a time or two) but not our sweet Molly. All of the “pet friendly” places I checked out were dog-only. WTF? The Ester Lee, dated but with amazing views, welcomed us with a modest daily pet fee of $10 and Molly was happy to explore the rooms and gaze out the window at seagulls.

Molly was terrific once we arrived but oh did she “sing” for at least half of the 90-minute car trip!

We departed under gray skies with high wind warnings in our rear view mirror. Happy #37 to us! Now, to find Molly a friend.

Seagulls and the big blue Pacific transfixed our little girl.

Two Books for 2022

20 Feb

19 February 2022.

Perhaps I should repurpose my worn out boots like this Swiss gardener did.

1.2 million steps. That’s what my Fitbit logged on our trip last fall to update our two easy-hiking books. Converting that to miles, between 400-480 miles in 10 weeks.

No wonder I needed a new pair of hiking boots when we got home.

Those steps have come to fruition at last: the 2nd edition of Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland and the 4th edition of Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena are now available on Amazon in all markets worldwide in Kindle and in paperback. (These URLs are to the US site. Listed below are links to the sites for the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Please search your country’s Amazon site – Italy, Germany, Japan, India, etc. – if you are buying elsewhere.)

The Val Gardena book still features 23 hikes and minimal changes were made in this edition. We checked the local information and retook many of the hikes, rechecked URLs, transportation, cost of passes, and so on. For those with earlier versions, there are not a lot of changes and significant ones are noted on our updates page at ProjectEasyHiker.com.

An outing not in the book is one we call “A Path to Lunch,” an easy but satisfying outing in the Val Gardena that can be split into two shorter walks.

Seven new hikes were added to the Berner Oberland book for a new total of 20 outings. We spent 28 nights researching in the area last fall and never ran out of ideas for easy hikes. While the new book is the only place we’ve written up all of the new hikes, updates to walks featured in the first edition are on ProjectEasyHiker.com.

All of the hikes in both books feature maps and all of the maps are available to download to your mobile device.

Most notable this visit versus our last trip in 2019, there are now great apps for transportation in both Switzerland and the Südtirol. The SBB app links travelers to all modes of transportation: train, bus, boat, and mountain lifts with an interconnected route planner. It is also an easy platform for buying tickets on the go.

In the Südtirol, the südtirolmobil app offers timetables and a trip planner that are invaluable when you are on-the-go.

As always, we are happy to answer questions and get your feedback. Please drop us a note at ProjectEasyHiker@gmail.com.

Happy Hiking!

UK sites: Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena and Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland

CA sites: Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena and Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland

AU sites: Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena and Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland (Sorry, Kindle only. Amazon makes it impossible to offer this book in paperback in the Australian market at a decent price.)

Travel in the Time of COVID-19

23 Oct

23 October 2021.

So, my friends, it has been a bit since last I blogged. After Ortisei we headed to the Alpe di Siusi for two nights and then passed three nights in Merano, a new-to-us town in Italy’s Trentino Alto-Adige. Lovely place with nice walking and an exceptional garden at Trauttmansdorff Castle. Photos below. 

Then we turned east instead of proceeding west as planned — a left instead of a right if you will — practicing the flexibility we expected might be needed during travel in the time of COVID-19. Venice called and the call was rewarded with mostly light crowds and fine weather. Without cruise ships there were no throngs of lost day trippers gaping at the scene and clogging the bridges. 

From Venice, three nights in Paris, always a fine stop before taking the EuroStar to the UK. 

Enough about locations and travel direction. This post is about conundrums: the observations we have after almost two months visiting five countries and the idiosyncrasies of pandemic response.

  • We could fly into Germany with proof-of-vaccination…but Italy would have forced us to quarantine for 5 days. Switzerland allowed us in as vaccinated persons so we went there first and stayed for almost 5 weeks.
  • After 14 days in another bloc country, Italy would allow us to visit without quarantine…but no one ever checked to see that we had actually spent the required time before entering.
  • Switzerland demanded we complete a pre-arrival questionnaire online that dispensed an approval code…but no one asked to see it. Ever. Ditto Italy. 
  • The canton of Valais in Switzerland provided us with a QR code proving we were fully vaccinated, the so-called “Green Pass” for the EU…but the actual scanning of the pass was erratic in Switzerland though mostly compliant in Italy and France.
  • Swiss trains do not require the Green Pass…but taking a EuroCity train from Switzerland to Italy did require it. An official came through the train before the border to check that we had the credentials.  
  • High-speed Swiss, German, and French trains sell food and drinks on board…but the Italian fast trains do not for COVID safety reasons*. This was startlingly inconvenient on our 8:18 AM three-and-a-half-hour trip from Venice to Torino. 
  • Parisians are very mask compliant on public transportation (and I love that they do not talk on trains or the Metro)…but in Italy and Switzerland there are a lot of exposed noses.
  • In Italy and France, one does not need proof of vaccination to check into a hotel, nor to eat breakfast in a common area…but one has to show a Green Pass to even have a coffee inside a café. Restaurants checked proof-of-vaccination assiduously. I was a wee bit worried about the breakfast room situation. By contrast, in Switzerland a Green Pass was required check-in to a hotel because of the dining/breakfast room situation.
  • The EuroStar requires vaccination or a negative test result to go from Paris to London…but in England they do not require proof nor even masks on the Tube, trains, buses, nor in museums and restaurants. 

*When I wanted coffee on the TGV from Torino to Paris, the bistro was not open even at 11:00 AM. However I had seen someone carrying coffee cups. I stuck my head in the door where a woman was preparing the service area and asked, politely, in Italian if it was possible to get coffee. “Certamente, Signora!” I think I bought under-the-counter coffee as the services were not opened until we crossed the French border. 

Other observations

Hotels in Switzerland, Italy, France, and Germany are still serving breakfast, on a buffet, requiring a mask to approach the food. They are also servicing rooms daily, unlike in the US where COVID-19 has become an excuse to cut services. It was wonderful to have our bed made on the rare occasions we stayed in hotels, and to have someone tidy up, not to mention laying out breakfast. (We have only stayed in hotels 12 nights in 9+ weeks.)

Why-oh-why can’t people talk on a phone without pulling down their mask? And what is the need for a lengthy conversation on a crowded cable car going up a mountain? That would annoy me even if there wasn’t a nasty disease circulating. 

No one in any country is able to measure one meter (generally advised distancing in Europe) or six feet. I find it really unnerving in England where people tend to queue up just as pre-pandemic. Shudder. We are wearing masks. Everywhere. 

England requires even vaccinated visitors to get a COVID test on-or-before Day 2. We tested negative so I guess our strategy of distancing, masking, and generally anti-social behavior worked. 

We are currently in Salisbury, England, a place we visited in spring of 2019 and were quite taken with. The apartment we found is cute and comfy (at least there is heating on demand unlike Venice in mid-October). Monday we go to London and we’ll be home in Oregon on the 30th. Not sure I will be able to stay awake for Trick-or-Treating on Halloween, though. 

No especially relevant pictures for this blog, but here are a few snaps from our activities since we left the Val Gardena. Click on any picture for a slide show.

A Path to Lunch

3 Oct

03 October 2021.

Sunday lunch in Europe is a special thing. So many multi-generational groups gather in restaurants and, I suppose, at homes. Maybe Nonna still cooks for the family on Sundays. I like to think so.

We take great pleasure in carving out a more special meal for lunch on Sunday when we are traveling. It’s even a better experience if we can have a good walk before and after. 

The weather today is borderline bleak and truly bleak weather is in the forecast, but Sunday we avoided rain and enjoyed a six-mile walk, truly a path to — and from — lunch.

For the 9 years we have been visiting Ortisei we have managed to miss an incredibly easy but satisfying walk from Selva di Val Gardena to Santa Cristina Valgardena. This is half of the path known locally as the Il Sentiero del Trenino della Val Gardena or The Trail of the Little Train in the Val Gardena. It is also called La  Ferata de Gherdëina using the Ladin language term for train. We can simply call it the Railway Path or “Trail of the Seven Playgounds.” If you take this route with children, you may never complete it because there are so many — yes, seven — playgrounds to enjoy along the way.

One of the seven playgrounds along the route. A little different than the playgrounds in Forest Grove.

For the record, we’ve walked the Ortisei to S. Cristina section both directions several times. We just never managed to do the Selva section and it might just be the best part.

Castle viewed from the trail. Private residence, dating to 1640 or so.

Why railway? There’s no train here now, but in WWI, Russian POWs were conscripted to build a narrow gauge railway between Chiusa and Selva di Val Gardena. After the war, it became a tourist train (history here https://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferrovia_della_Val_Gardena) until it was discontinued in 1960. Eventually, this path was created and serves as a lovely promenade through the Val Gardena for walkers and cyclists alike. 

Along the path one encounters historical pictures and descriptions of the creation of the WWI-era railway, public art, gardens, architecture, and valley and mountain views. The path is thoughtfully bifurcated in places to keep pedestrians and cyclists in separate lanes. There are ample places to stop and eat but we suggest timing this outing for lunch in S. Cristina at La Tambra, a restaurant/pizzeria/steakhouse.

Nothing says Sunday lunch like pork roast, this served with mushroom gravy and potato cakes that are rather like latkes. Of course we drank LaGrein, the local red.

Whether it is Sunday or not, this is a great stop. They have the best pizza in the Val Gardena and an excellent selection of soups, salads, pastas, steaks, and more. The dessert card is hard to resist. 

Warm raspberry sauce with vanilla gelato.

This isn’t a challenging hike. Almost anyone can do it. Most of the route is gently downhill, yet it is 6 miles worth of calorie burning activity with delightful views. What’s not to like?

Logistical details: Buses 350 and 352 from any of the villages take you to Selva Plan. The path starts just a tiny bit uphill from the stop and is quite evident. At S. Cristina, one can continue above the village without stopping in the center, or descend at Dosses to enter the pedestrian zone and find the restaurant. After dining, continue downhill and at the intersection with this sign.

Turn right to enter the interesting  display about the old train. Leaving the tunnel, again follow the obvious path, now steeply down a hill but eventually level again all the way to the church in Ortisei. Total a bit over 6 miles and 2.5 hours. 

Swiss Wrap-up

28 Sep

28 September 2021.

Five weeks ago we flew out of Portland. Condor Airlines whisked us from Seattle to Frankfurt and I have to say we quite enjoyed the flight. It wasn’t a full plane and we were propelled by the excitement of going abroad after two years. We were able to fly in Business Class thanks to Alaska Airlines’ extraordinary Mileage Plus Program and the miles we hoarded. Condor has some of the best in-flight food we’ve had plus we got some sleep. After a night in Frankfurt, we spent most of a day getting to Saas-Grund and finally, on the fourth day of our travels, our trip began with the infamous hike at Spielboden (See Glaciers and Butterflies).

We had a good time exploring the Saas Valley but the best was yet to come as we headed off for four weeks in the stunning Berner Oberland, establishing Base Camp Barton in James’ and Michelle’s cozy Lauterbrunnen Apartment. With a waterfall view and less than a kilometer from the train station, it is perfectly situated and very comfortable.

We’ve been here many times over the past eight years but never for such a prolonged period. The length of stay was a tactical decision made when Italy was requiring 10 days of quarantine for anyone who passed through the UK, which had been our original plan. If we spent at least 14 days in Switzerland, Italy would let us in without quarantine. The Swiss were happy to have us arrive vaccinated with no further restrictions. Of course the rules vis a vis stopping in the UK and transiting to Italy changed before we flew, but we had a course set and had managed to avoid LHR anyway by taking Condor instead of British Air. All ist gut. (See “Hey Europe! We’re Back!)

We’ve hiked over 80 miles. Astoundingly, my Fitbit tells me we’ve walked another 166 miles above-and-beyond the hikes! That’s just to-and-from transportation, doing daily grocery shopping, walking to meals, taking an evening passeggiata to stretch the legs. I hope my theory that exceeding 16,000 steps per day will counter the amount of cheese, bread, butter, potatoes, chocolate, wine, and Scotch consumed, the first five items being prominent in the Swiss diet. I can still zip my jeans.

During our stay, Switzerland enacted a requirement that to dine inside a restaurant one had to have a COVID Certificate which is only given to those who are fully vaccinated or who have tested negative in the prior 72 hours. We had our COVID Certificates issued by the Canton of Valais in August as I had discovered we could do so online in advance of travel. (Based on reports from others, I managed to do this before a logjam of requests slowed the system for travelers.) It turned out to be a great convenience when restaurants started to scan the QR codes on our phones. These coded certificates are viable throughout the EU so we don’t need new ones in Italy or France. It is a relief to know that inside restaurants we are relatively safe since this was enacted. Earlier, with good weather, we took great pains to eat outdoors. Now only the unvaccinated (or those willing to eat in cold temperatures or rain) eat al fresco here.  

Base Camp Barton allowed us to take two side trips, one to Kandersteg (See Another Valley to Discover in the Berner Oberland) and the other to Bettmeralp. I didn’t manage to blog about Bettmeralp this visit (See Finding Peace and Quiet from 2019), but we are quite taken with the area after two short visits and will likely stay a week next year. It is one of the quietest places I have been outside of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I will leave you with a few tantalizing pictures of our time there. The hikes won’t be in the book because Bettmeralp is in Valais, not the Berner Oberland.

There will be several new hikes in the second edition of “Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland,” so if you are planning a trip next year, wait until February to get the new book on Amazon. Three are in Kandersteg where there is potential for many more days of activity, one is in Gimmelwald, one near Stechelberg, two start from Zweilutschinen, and one is above Grindelwald. That will make 21 walks in the second edition. 

The cows, sheep, and goats are largely down from the higher elevations and the hiking season is coming to a close in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Hoteliers and restauranteurs will take a break, lifts will have their annual servicing before ski season, snow plows will be readied to clear train tracks, roads, and the paths for winter wandern. All must be ready when the snow flies. And so we take our leave, looking forward to a return in 2022.

Late morning coffee in Mürren. We hiked 90 minutes for this!
Sheep being herded from mountain pasture to valley. I would hardly call it a ”parade.”
We never used to see these signs here but in the past we did see tourists with unnecessary cars venturing where they were not wanted. Not sure the signs are helping.

Yesterday we arrived in the Val Gardena of Italy, after one bus, five trains, and a taxi. It was simpler than it sounds thanks to Swiss efficiency. This is the only other location we’ve ever passed an entire month on holiday (See Training Cats and other blog entries from 2016). It’s time to speak Italian — after two years of no practice — and it is a relief to understand most of what we read. My German is poor at best.

Leaving heavy Swiss schnitzels and sausages and rösti behind, I know there will still be great chocolate and cheese here, plus grappa and great Italian food. After the eye-watering prices in Switzerland, costs in Italy seem quite sane although the price of an espresso in the mountains would make a Roman cry. We’ve already had superb pasta twice and taken a two-hour hike at about 7400 feet of elevation. Off to a good start!

A presto!

Sunrise on the Sassolungo as viewed from our apartment in Ortisei.
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