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A perfect hike, a perfect day

19 Sep

19 September 2022.

Leaving Bettmeralp and the amazing Hotel Waldhaus in snow flurries, we arrived Saturday, north of the mighty Jungfrau to find sun in Lauterbrunnen, the peaks here freshened with snow and a powdered-sugar dusting even in the high meadows. 

The fabulous Hotel Waldhaus behind me as we head for the cable car to the valley. Goodbye, Bettmeralp!

We are “home” here for the next four weeks and settled into our favorite digs at Ey-Hus. We can’t seem to quit this place.

Yesterday (Sunday) dawned cold and bright, a delightful day to take in the views from perhaps the most perfect of easy-hiker hikes, Grütschalp to Mürren. The three iconic peaks are in constant view, watching over us, showing off fresh mantles of snow in the morning sun. The Eiger, the Mönch, and the Jungfrau have seldom looked better and the skies have seldom been clearer. The sun teases the 40-degree temperature to feel much warmer and soon we are shedding gloves and unzipping jackets. In and out of forests, over rivulets that become waterfalls as they hit the cliffs, with the little electric mountain train chugging back and-forth along the cliff. The train is filled with passengers intent on the cable car ride to the Schilthornbahn. Every step is picturesque and the only sound our footsteps. Only the cows are missing as the alpabfahrt (descent from high summer pastures) has already occurred for many. 

The last mile or so of the hike is mostly level, with lovely views and in sight of the little train.

All of the work on this hike (featured in our book) is in the first half. With only about 500 feet of gain in a mile-and-a-half, the wide path has no tricky footing and accommodates those who run, those who seek more strenuous connecting paths, and those of us out for a little exercise and to take in the day. The last mile undulates with many flat portions along the tracks as it enters Mürren. I think this path actually made us fall in love with the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Now we have taken it perhaps a dozen times and it never gets old. Especially on a perfect day.

The Eiger (left) and the Mönch. The Jungfrau is out of sight on the right.

After a restorative cappuccino at Café Liv in Mürren we hightailed it to the mountain train and transfered back down to Lauterbrunnen via cable car and on to the eastern side of the valley, taking a cogwheel train up beyond Wengen to a place we know for Sunday lunch, Bergrestaurant Allmend. 

Mürren main drag. No cars!

You have to experience it to understand the transportation here. This area is a wonder of Swiss ingenuity and the ability to efficiently connect multiple forms of transportation to get from car-free village to car-free village while respecting nature and serving the people. Every conveyance coincides seamlessly with the next.

The Wengernalbahn runs between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg but stops on request at Bergrestaurant Allmend.

Sunday lunch is a thing for us when we are traveling. It is an opportunity to slow down, indulge a bit, and join with the locals. Wherever we are in Europe, we find families gathering on Sunday for a midday meal. Often multi-generational, sometimes groups of friends, and many couples like ourselves. While the tourists are taking photos on the Schilthorn and Jungfrau, we gather at Allmend with families eating fondue, couples enjoying a pre-lunch aperitif, and groups of adults, kids and dogs playing, eating, and lounging in the autumn sunshine. 

My phone said it was 46 degrees at 13:00, but in the sun we peeled off jackets and ordered Radlers and burgers. What a treat at 4951 feet above sea level to gaze upon the peaks, watch the waterfalls, and be served fine food by a cheerful waiter! 

The blue sky followed us back to the valley and the reality of needing to get groceries. Sunday means a lot of closures in this conservative country, so we hopped on a train to a neighboring village that had an open store. What a wonderful way to commute to the market! We arrived home just as the sun slipped behind the western cliff but it lingered for hours on the peaks to the south as we cracked open a bottle of wine. 

A perfect day. 

Our last day at Bettmeralp a chilly but beautiful hike from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp. Tough downhill for my cranky knees but Ric handled it like a champ.

A coastal prairie and a peninsula ramble: Nestucca Bay NWR

12 Aug Deer

12 August 2020. 

A discreet brown and white sign points the way to the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge from Highway 101. Although we have traveled this highway dozens of times in the past three years, we had never noticed the turn-off until clued into this new sanctuary by an article in Oregon Coast magazine.

A pre-hike stop in Pacific City was a bit out of our way but allowed us to fortify ourselves with an Americano and a fine sweet scone from Stimulus Coffee. A few hundred people were already hitting the beach, many carrying surfboards even at 9:15 AM. Not our scene.

Haystack Rock, beach, and ocean

Pacific City’s Haystack Rock, one of many along the Oregon Coast.

We backtracked a few miles to the sanctuary. The first pullout gives a view over grazing lands that provide important habitat where geese gather during migration and also over-winter. We will be back if only for that scene several times this fall. Moving on to the trailhead, we found a genuinely nice parking lot, newly paved and striped, with a convenient – and clean! – chemical toilet. The solitary car there at our 10:00 AM arrival was just departing.

One feels rather far from the ocean but even from the parking lot, the sound of the surf crashing is unmistakable. We made the first leg of our walk the Pacific View Trail, an all-access paved path that leads to a large deck with a magnificent view to the West encompassing the ocean, a haystack rock, and even distant Pacific City.

Haystack rock and ocean

Haystack Rock at Pacific City is viewed from afar at the NWR.

The Pacific View Trail traverses a rare coastal prairie, alive at this time of year with many flowering plants. Prairie habitat was once extensive along our coastline, but development has brought a loss of habitat and with it the decline of species such as the Oregon silverspot butterfly. Approximately 21 of the 35 acres of prairie habitat have been reestablished with native species and restoration work is ongoing.

Meadow and ocean

The Pacific Ocean viewed across the coastal prairie.

Birds Only sign

Stay on the path and no dogs allowed!

Sign

There is a fair amount of interpretive signage in the refuge.

The refuge is a study in contrasts. After the .63 mile out-and-back on the Pacific View Trail, we took the highly forested Two Rivers Trail to the confluence of the Nestucca River and the Little Nestucca River. The trail has modest elevation change and varies from gravel to dirt to grass. The only sound we heard was birdsong. One doe silently sought out tender shoots in an open spot. The trail ends with a view of the estuary where we found many waterfowl lounging on the spit and several splashing in the water.

Click on any picture for a better view.

We encountered no one until we were within sight of the parking lot after 11:30 AM. Apparently, most people start later than we do!

Having amortized the morning scones, we headed to The Riverhouse Nestucca, arriving just as they opened their doors at noon. It had been almost six months since we last visited thanks to COVID closures and restrictions. This day, we were the only indoor lunch customers (they have picnic tables in full sun) and we relished those Howard burgers and rosemary fries.

man and hamburger

Ric is ready to dive in to his burger.

hAMBURGER AND FRENCH FRIES

The Howard Burger at the Riverhouse Nestucca. Best burger within driving distance of our house.

My Fitbit clocked in at just under four miles and 90 minutes for both trails and a side trip to the picnic spot. This is a hike we will take again and again, especially with a favorite restaurant nearby. Sadly, no dogs allowed.

Woman and flowers

Laurel with the late summer daisies near the picnic area.

 

Walking off the pizza

19 Sep

19 September 2019.

It is so wonderful to have fine Italian pizza again! Nothing in the U.S. compares, for us. Here, we each eat an entire pizza and while full, we never feel bloated or grotesque. And my jeans still zip the next morning.

Pizza

The culprit: Pizza Golosa, which means ‘delicious’ or ‘gluttonous.’ Fresh mushrooms and cherry tomatoes with spicy salami and gorgonzola. Ric had a Siciliana with anchovies, capers, and olives.

Italian pizza crust is made from a type of flour that is more digestible. (Ask any Italian about digestibility and you’ll be entertained for hours.) The toppings are fresh and pure and distributed with a light hand. Each ingredient shines on its own and together, well,  Mamma mia what a product!

Pizzeria & Steakhouse La Tambra in Santa Cristina is our favorite in the Val Gardena. Usually, we make the trek to La Tambra in the evening catching the infrequent and elusive night bus back to Ortisei. The other day, while tromping around on Monte Pana and Mont de Sëura, we realized that it was almost lunchtime and Santa Cristina was only a chairlift away. Does La Tambra serve pizza at lunch? Turns out they do, and as it was a sunny day, we could dine on the terrace. But what to do after lunch? It was only 14:30 and we certainly could use some steps to retard the growth of fat cells after eating THE WHOLE THING.

Ric’s idea? Walk back to Ortisei on the Sentiero del Trenino. This mostly level path takes one between the towns of Santa Cristina and Ortisei where the WWI supply train ran from 1916-1918. Eventually, it became a tourist train which operated until 1960. This area was part of Austria when the railway was built and was annexed by the Kingdom of Italy after WWI. Some 6000 Russian and Serbian POWs were conscripted to build the line, which they accomplished in only 5 months of brutal day-and-night labor.

WWI picture

Photo from one of the informative panels along the route. 6000 Russian prisoners and 3500 locals were employed in building the WWI rail line to resupply the front. This was Austria at the time.

We started our walk a bit before the official start of the path, launching our pizza-stuffed selves off the terrace of La Tambra and making our way up to the picturesque church in Santa Cristina. The cemetery is stunning and beautifully maintained by the families. Seasonal flowers are planted on each gravesite.

More-or-less beneath the church, a tunnel used by the narrow-gauge train was reopened in 2017 with informative displays about the line. It is well worth a 15-minute detour to walk the 203-meter tunnel and study the displays. The tiny renovated station house (from tourist train days) has short films of the trains in action.

Click any photo for more detail and a slide show.

Continuing on after the church, one heads steeply downhill. We encountered cyclists going both directions but felt exceedingly sorry for one guy who was pushing a pram uphill while his wife struggled along behind. We’ve done this hill in both directions and would vote to go down every time. Ugh!

S. Cristina pat

This path is steeper than it looks. After this descent the rest of the path is mostly level.

Then the path levels out and it is a delightful stroll to Ortisei, past farms, playgrounds, and beautiful hotels. Sunny vistas are interspersed with forested sections. The 3 miles passed quickly, taking about 90 minutes including the train tunnel detour.

At least we made a dent in those pizza calories since we are back on the weekly pizza plan during out trip!

Click any photo for more detail and a slide show.

 

Postcard from Paris: Paris had its own ideas

11 May

11 May 2019.

A two-hour delay followed by a complete cancellation of our train from Bayeux set the stage for the Paris portion of our trip. I learned a new word in French, supprime, that is “removed” or “canceled.” <SIGH> France, why are you so petulant?

So what if we arrived two hours late? Et alors? The day is lovely, we’ll skip our plans to journey to Saint-Denis and instead enjoy the sun (we had been cold in Bayeux) and parade around the Champ de Mars to the Trocadero and back. We had three more days to execute our minimal plan. This is our 6th stay in this delightful city so there are few “must sees” only the desire to walk hand-in-hand, eat well, drink wine. Our first night’s dinner at Le P’tit Troquet was magnifique!

View from our room on the night of arrival.

Day 2: So what if it is raining? We will enjoy the Musee d’Orsay! Arriving at opening, tickets in hand, we entered with a small crowd and enjoyed almost an hour with the Impressionists on the 5th floor. Last time we were here, there were schoolchildren everywhere. This time, we were knocked to the side only a couple of times by people with selfie-sticks ensuring those at home would know they’d seen a Renoir in person.

I love Musee d’Orsay as much for its architecture as for its collection.

Rain? We walk. It is only a drizzle, like at home. It comes and goes.  Stop in a cafe for espresso and croissant. How Parisian! The Monnaie de Paris was open and uncrowded and pretty interesting, extremely well-done. Ah! Here is the sun, for five minutes. No rain! Lunch at a small place we know (after 6 visits, we have places) across from poor old Notre Dame. Lovely salads and we got to hear the owner’s tale from the “Day of the Fire.”

Poor old Notre Dame! Work is underway.

Another view of the icon.

Tres bien! It is not raining. “Let’s cross the river and walk back on the right bank,” suggests Ric. Luckily we hit the porticoes along Rue de Rivoli just before the rain comes, along with thunder and lightning, eventually a DOWNPOUR with hail. As it eases, we jump into the Metro station at Concorde. Non mais oh! A train passes by without stopping and security steps in to close the station. We are unclear but we think a manifestation or maybe just President Macron moving about. It was a holiday (VE Day). We must walk again and now it is raining in earnest. Soaking wet we arrive back at Hotel Relais Bosquet. We must have dinner close by as we already have 20,000 steps on the Fitbit! But of course, the sun comes back at 17:30 and though chilly it was not a bad evening.

Clearing at sundown, once again!

Day 3: The morning is dry, broken clouds, off to see the Basilica of Saint-Denis, right on our Metro line #8. Coffee on the piazza? Mais oui! The church is open but to our chagrin (as this is rather out-of-the-way from Central Paris), a strike has struck and one cannot visit the museum or the tombs of the kings.

We could see a few tombs from the sanctuary but I have no idea whose this is.

 

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Basilica of Saint-Denis, resting place of French royalty.

Not to worry, we’ve meant to tour the Opera Garnier! Off we go. But today, instead of being open 10:00-13:00, it opens at 13:00 which is two hours off. Let’s walk to Canal St. Martin, then, for lunch since the weather is holding. Whoops! Here comes the steady rain. We find a store and wait awhile, losing interest in our plan for an outdoor lunch. Abort! Find a Metro. Let’s just go home and find lunch. I also find also a manicure and pedicure to pass the rainy afternoon. Once again, the evening turns nice. At least we are able to make our reservation at Les Cedres du Libnan! A fine evening for a walk and a wonderful meal with Lebanese wine.

This sums up the weather on several of our outings.

Napoleon’s Tomb at Invalides, beautiful under (finally) clearing skies at sunset.

Day 4: Now we are cooking! Today it is mostly cloudy but I need my sunglasses on our urban hike! I will write more on Project Easy Hiker soon, but when you are in Paris and have a couple of hours, the Promenade Plantee aka, La coulée verte René-Dumont is worth exploration. It hardly seemed possible we were still in Paris!

The Promenade Plantee is atop an old railroad viaduct from Bastille southeast toward Bois di Vincennes. Serene!

No rain! No umbrella! 10,000 steps on the pedometer before lunch! We won’t talk about the Metro station closure, the wrong way tram, or my leaving Ric behind at the turnstile when his ticket didn’t work. We will speak instead of glorious moules frites, divine Italian food in Paris at Il Sorrentino (Vermentino, grappa, and polpo!), and something to blog about.

These walkers had about 15 dogs between them. Some unleashed, many triple leashed. 15 dogs at 15 Euro per dog maybe 225 Euro for an hour?

It snowed last week in Liguria. At least we weren’t there!

Off the beaten – Piemonte

12 Oct
12 October 2017.
Leaving Le Marche and moving across the country, we took three trains to reach Bra in the Piemonte. No, it is not named for a feminine underthing. That word in Italian is reggiseno. There was, however, a bra thief that struck there.

Kitty has a view…of trains. Tromp l’oeil in Bra.

Many people have heard of Asti and Alba, but Bra is a smaller town with less than 30,000 people, famous as being the place the Slow Food movement started. For such a tiny place it had amazing restaurants. Two out of our three dinners there were truly stellar.
Boccondivino was the first restaurant to be opened by the Slow Food Movement in the 1980s. We found the food to be inspired without being pretentious, and prices unbelievable for the quality. It is Michelin-listed; no stars, but still! Even excellent Piemontese wine was available by the glass for €3-5 per glass. Our total bill was only €70 including a shared antipasto (a roasted yellow pepper wrapped around tuna pate), two secondi (rabbit for Ric that was perhaps the most beautifully prepared rabbit we’ve ever seen, and roasted guinea fowl for me), a shared dessert, four glasses of wine, a grappa, and caffè. We so appreciated the impeccable-but-not-stuffy service and fair pricing to go along with memorable food. Unfortunately, I was so caught up in the moment, I did not even take any food photos. That is a good thing.
We so enjoyed Boccondivino that we wanted to go back on our third evening. But I did not call until lunchtime Friday and they were completely booked. I sought out something completely different: a seafood restaurant in land-locked Piemonte. Ristorante La Bula serves only seafood and the reviews were terrific so we reserved a table. It may be landlocked, but this part of the region is quite close to Liguria where seafood is a religion.
I think I woke up the owner when I called to make the reservation in the mid-afternoon and we were the first to arrive half-an-hour after they opened. They did not look like they expected a big crowd. It is a lovely space, tucked back under the portico of a very old building, but modern and chic.
I am happy to say a few more dinners arrived and we had an amazing dinner! It was the best seafood dinner we have had since leaving Roma. We started with calamari alla griglia con crema di ceci (grilled calamari with creamed chickpeas, much like a soft hummus), then shared tagliatelle con ragu di polpo (pasta with octopus ragu). Ric had the fried Mediterranean goodness of fritto misto, while I enjoyed the branzino alla griglia con verdure (sea bass with vegetables). The wine list included many regional wines, but we snuck across the border to Liguria for one of our favorites, Vermentino. A lovely grappa capped off the dinner. I might not have reason to return to Bra, but if we are ever within 50 miles, I would detour to eat here.

Boccondivino night 1, La Bula night 3. Where did we eat on night 2 in this food capital? It was not so much where as when: we ate in the 1950s. Our B&B recommended Badellino and on the strength of that recommendation (after all, he also recommended Boccondivino) we made a reservation. We were first to arrive, but the restaurant quickly filled, mostly with locals, it seemed. The menu was uninspired, the presentation and preparation even less so. There was an antipasto cart where for €13.00 per person the woman in charge of the dining room would load a plate for you with beef tartar, the local bra sausage served raw, insalata russie (I abhor insalata russie!), guinea fowl salad (no doubt made from last night’s leftovers), and a few other rather unsavory looking items that had been sitting at room temperature. Can you say ptomaine? As a primo we chose a pasta which was pretty good, made from the local sausage that was mercifully cooked. My main course was roast beef Barolo, which was, in fact, a tender piece of beef in a Barolo sauce, but it was so lonely on the plate, just a slab slathered in the gravy, no side dish, no color, not even a sprig of parsley. It looked like something served in a church basement in the Midwest when I was growing up. Neither of the servers spoke any English, which was odd in a destination that attracts an international wine crowd, and the décor of this 100-year-old establishment might last have been spruced up in 1959. We paid the same here as we did at Boccondivino! At least they had grappa and the wine was a good value.
So what did we do besides eat? This is an amazing wine region after all. We took two daytrips: Alba and Cuneo.
We enjoyed traveling some by Regionale, the not-so-fast workaday trains of the Trenitalia system. Trains that are taken more by Italians commuting to work or to shop, and by students from middle school through University. There is a lot of commuting between cities like Torino and Bra and Bra and Alba. Every day we encountered swarms of students: out in the morning, returning mid-afternoon. 
We also saw a wide variety of agricultural landscapes, quite different from other regions of Italy. Corn fields dominated where we expected grapes, and small vineyards clung to hillsides. There were more hazelnut (filbert ) trees than in the Willamette Valley! In Alba, vacuum-packed bags of dried and roasted nocciole (hazelnuts) were in nearly every shop and a hazelnut torta was a featured dessert.
Bra is not really in the hills where they produce wine. It is rather on the edge, whereas Alba is right in the Langhe. In Alba, we found an immensely attractive town, very focused on the upcoming La Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba (white truffle festival). We are not truffle fans (you either are a fan, or are not, IMO) so I am glad we missed those crowds. We also found that Alba is the home of Ric’s favorite grappa, Sibona. We dithered for about five minutes before deciding to ship a winter supply home. You cannot buy this stuff in the U.S. 

In a small world moment, the little cafe we chose for lunch had a slight Oregon connection: the owner’s sister-in-law is in the wine business and knows Ponzi.
Now a departure for a few fashion photos. As anywhere in Italy, style is important and even in these little towns of rural Piemonte there were some interesting trends that caught my eye. 

We also ventured to Cuneo, capital of the province that encompasses Alba and Bra. This is an amazingly beautiful city, very busy and a delight to wander. There are no tourists, it seems. True, no big “sights” or “sites” but that is what off-the-beaten-path is about: Seeing places that do not attract the hordes. We only had a few hours, but could easily have stayed a few days. It is nestled up against the Maritime Alps. I would love to see it in winter when the peaks are snowy.

 

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