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Postcard from Wales: Alla fine!

30 May

30 May 2019.

Alla fine! At last, we come to our time in Wales and what a wonderful place it is! Why do so few Americans make their way to Wales? Perhaps it is the lack of big sights. There’s no Uffizi Museum, Tower of London, nor Louvre; no Colosseum, Big Ben, nor Eiffel Tower. What Wales has is beautiful countryside, unspoiled coastline, friendly people, charming pubs, and historical castles.

It does take significant effort to ferret out information and construct an itinerary. Rick Steves does not have the best bead on Wales, in my opinion, and maybe that’s because much of his audience does not have the time to devote to this rural corner of Britain.

Penny Lane Sign

We started our time together with a short Beatles Tour in Liverpool. Paul autographed this sign. From left, me, Ric, Jane & Rick.

Maybe Americans don’t go to Wales because of right-hand drive cars. My brother, the intrepid driver, has experience with “wrong side” driving and we take advantage of his willingness to be the driver when in the UK or even in other European areas where having a car is advantageous (Scotland, Puglia, Croatia, rural Emilia-Romagna). With brother Rick at the wheel and husband Ric in the navigator’s seat, Jane and I could relax and enjoy the scenery from the back seat of the Range Rover.

We all met in Liverpool coming from our various directions. After taking a private “Magical Mystery Tour,” we headed to Caernarfon in North Wales. It is lovely country here, dominated by Snowdonia National Park, but it does take a bit of effort to get around: a lot of windshield time as the going is slow. Without a car, one can use some buses and scenic trains to aid hiking, but a car is quite useful. Easy hikes are not too hard to find with the help of the tourist office. We did find getting detailed walk info in advance of the trip a little challenging but once on site we were happy with walks that included a good pub lunch at the end. We stayed in the Gatekeepers’ Lodge at Plas Dinas Country House. Quite charming and we slept well, ate well, and drank fine whiskey.

Please click on any picture for a slide show and captions.

From Caernarfon, a drive down the coast allowed us a stop in Aberystwyth where the TV drama Hinterland is based. It was a bit dark and brooding on this gray day which is fitting for the show. Watch it if you can. Netflix has it.

By the way, our luck with the weather was amazing. Brother Rick says he always brings the sun to the UK and we only had rain on days we were changing cities, i.e., during car time. Ric and I got wet once since leaving France, and that was in London after Rick flew home. Go figure!

On to St. David’s, Britain’s smallest city. St. David’s is a cathedral city of some historical religious importance and we were drawn to this remote section of Wales for the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Once in the city, you can just about get around without a car thanks to a bus network, the Celtic Coaster, but having a vehicle and a willing driver makes it easier and faster. The walks were just what I expected of country walking in the UK. We hiked across meadows of sheep and buttercups, along hedgerows, through small copses, past lovely gardens, through kissing gates, and along narrow shoreline paths: all in one walk! In the evenings, dinner was a 10-minute walk from our homey B&B, the Ramsey House. Thank goodness we were walking so much! Big breakfasts then chips and beer at lunch became a habit we need to break.

Click on any photo for a slideshow and captions.

The Welsh language is a major factor in the culture of this part of Wales, separated from the more English-speaking section by the Landsker Line. In Caernarfon and the villages of Snowdonia we heard Welsh spoken often and still heard it a bit in St. David’s. Once we got to the city of Pembroke and on to the Brecon Beacons, the only Welsh we encountered was on the bilingual signs that are required everywhere.

Welsh sign

From menus to road signs and waymarkers, almost everything is presented in both Welsh and English.

Map

Pembroke Castle is very important in Welsh history, indeed in the history of the UK. We took a very informative tour. There is a giant map of Wales in the courtyard which Rick and Jane are shown touring.

One night in a pub in the Brecon Beacons village of Pontsticill, I overheard a table of 30-something men discussing the language with their 60-something waitress.

“Do you have the Welsh then?” asked one of the men.

“Nah, but me grandkids have it at school,” she responded.

Guffaw from the lads. “I could never when I were at school!” said another.

Speaking of the Brecon Beacons, what an extraordinary area! So vast! Although it carries the title National Park, this is nothing like a national park in the United States. These are lands set aside to preserve the way of life as much as to prevent development, so one finds villages and estates right inside the parks, and grazing lands abound as well as farming in sectors. There are no big hotels nor resorts but there are campgrounds and facilities available along with guesthouses, holiday houses, and B&Bs.

It was challenging to find detailed information about walking in Brecon Beacons until we arrived there. We had a faint notion to try a short, local segment of the Offa’s Dyke Path and did a couple of small sections but learned too late about supporting transportation options that would facilitate one-way half-day hikes. A return trip could be more focused. There was a fine walk through sheep pastures to an Iron Age hill fort in the Brecon Beacons. That was pretty darn cool.

We had a very nice house on the edge of Brecon Beacons, at the southern edge of the park, but close to some cute villages with nice options for dining.

Once again, please click for captions and larger photos.

Alle fine (in the end), we had a great trip through Wales and Liverpool was worth exploring as well although our time there was short. We could have extended any location by a night or two and gone deeper and hiked more. Leaves something for “next time.”

We wrapped up our trip in Salisbury, but you’ll have to wait for the next blog to hear about that fine city!

 

 

Postcard from Alsace: Wine, Wisteria, and Storks

30 Apr

30 April 2019.

It is always time for wine in France’s Alsace Region, but only for a short time in the spring do the storks roost here to rear their young. Until we arrived we had no idea about this annual migration nor did we know how revered the storks, or cigognes blanches, are.  They are symbols of happiness and faithfulness bringing fertility and good luck. There is a fun read here from the Seattle Times a few years ago.

Ric captured a close up of this nest with both parents present. They were clicking away at each other, their method of communicating. The nest is perched atop a steeple. Note the supports. The towns build and maintain platforms to support the huge nests.

The storks feature prominently in town art,

We have had a full itinerary, one day taking a tour of a small portion of the Route des Vins d’Alsace visiting three family-run wineries, and another day exploring the beautiful and tiny villages, spotting storks, and enjoying the seasonal decorations that adorn every house, shop, and square. Wisteria drapes from walls, roofs, and trees, enhanced by bunnies, eggs, and other signs of the just-past Easter holiday. The air is fragrant with lilac.

The wisteria is at its peak while the tulips have just faded.

A day hike through the vineyards got us away from the hordes and tourist buses in Colmar, which has been our base for five nights. There has also been plenty of time to enjoy the local cuisine.

Flammekueche or tarte flambée, depending on your language choice. Think of it as Alsatian pizza. It is FABULOUS.

As usual, we are car-free. I can imagine why a car would be helpful in this region as public transportation is a bit thin. With the help of a taxi driver named Isa, we have managed quite well. Three times Isa took us to villages that were difficult to reach by bus. We feel like we have our own personal driver in Colmar. Three taxis were far more economical than renting a car for 4-5 days.

For now, I will let our pictures do the talking. Between us, we took far too many in four days: almost 500! Watch for a post (soon!) over at Project Easy Hiker as well about our backroads walk from Riqewihr to Ribeauville along with our visit at the Centre de Reintroduction which has helped in stork recovery.

One of the more brightly colored buildings, this one in tiny Riquewihr. Can you see the bunnies in the window boxes?

The decorations would be tacky on one house, kitschy on two, but when every building has them, it is a theme.

Even this restaurant in Turckheim was bedecked. This is where we had the tarte flambée along with seasonal white asparagus, another specialty of the region.

In Alsace, they use some very old wine barrels such as these beautifully decorated ones from a bygone era.

An eye test chart in an Alsatian winery. The real test for me was pronouncing the names.

Even in the overast that predominated our days in Colmar, the buildings are charming. No wonder this area is called “La Petit Venise.”

 

 

Southern (Oregon) Coast surprises

29 Mar
29 March 2019.
Where does one go for a break when one lives on the Oregon Coast? Another part of the coast, naturally.
When we lived in Portland, Cannon Beach was our coastal-town-of-choice. We usually enjoyed two, 3-or-4-night off-season stays each year, often with dog in tow. In fact, knowing we enjoyed Cannon Beach even in colder weather led us to decide to live on the coast.
However, in 30-odd years of living in Oregon, we had never ventured south of Florence! It was high time to go before the tourist season kicks in and Highway 101 becomes a convoy of gigantic RVs pulling tiny cars.
For one reason or another, we chose Bandon as our base and we were delighted with the decision.  It is less than four hours from home: far enough for a getaway but not so far as to require a driving marathon which neither of us enjoys.
Because the immediate post-Lewis and Clark history of the Oregon Coast is one of exploration and shipping, there are myriad lighthouses so in my mind I dubbed this The Lighthouse Tour, but there were other surprises awaiting us: among them, cranberries, sheep, and lakes.

Cranberries

I knew we grew cranberries in Oregon. I did not know they were grown so close to the ocean. Turns out Coos and Curry counties are the epicenter of the industry. The well-ordered, burgundy-hued fields would make Marie Kondo proud. There are many bogs and sloughs in the Bandon area but these fields, clearly visible from the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (aka, Highway 101), were dry. Seems they are only flooded to harvest the berries. Wouldn’t that be fun to see?

We did not get a good shot of the cranberry fields, but they are not “bogs” at least at this time of year. They are fields rimmed with berms to allow flooding for harvest. Photo by KnightedAirs

Sheep

Who knew the southern Oregon coast was prime territory for sheep? As green as the area is, we felt transported to Scotland where sheep grazing within view of the ocean is commonplace. While sheep farms are not as common here as in the Willamette Valley or Central Oregon we also were not traveling on an Interstate so we traveled closer to the pastoral views. Something about sheep always makes me happy.

Sheep and cows graze with a view of the ocean, Cape Blanco,

Lakes

Oregon is not lake country. Rivers we have. The Pacific Ocean, of course. As I hail from “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Oregon has always seemed a little light on freshwater bodies. Driving along 101 south of Florence, there are a lot of lakes, some due to dams created by the famous Oregon dunes. It really is a peaceful drive from Florence to points south, unlike 101 near us. While the photo below is of a tiny lake, some are huge. Look up Siltcoos Lake or Tahkenitch Lake.

Lake Marie in Umpqua State Park, a stone’s throw from an ocean beach but fun — and safe — for kids and dogs.

The Trip

We spent four days exploring, mostly under clear skies. Bandon makes a nice base with some good restaurant choices, plenty of lodging options, and a choice of river or ocean views. We chose the Bandon Inn, on a hill overlooking the old town where one can walk to many restaurants.

Sunrise view of the Coquille River, Bandon, from the Bandon Inn.

Our travel day south afforded an opportunity for a few scenic stops between Newport and Coos Bay. One of our favorite coffee stops is in Yachats at the Green Salmon, with the best pour-over coffee we’ve found. Amazing pastries, too, and you could have a different sandwich every day for a month. They will lace any drink with CBD if you like. We never get past the pastries and coffee. Haven’t tried the CBD.
Bypassing Cape Perpetua, having visited there several times, we proceeded to the dramatic Oregon Dunes and the Umpqua Lighthouse in the eponymous state park.

The Umpqua Lighthouse still operates, now as a Private Aid to Navigation (PATON) as the personnel assigned to the Coast Guard station were relocated in 2008. It shines with a distinctive red and white Fresnel lens.

This is what people like to do at the Oregon Dunes. Only a few hardy souls out in March, but ATVs are available to rent at many locations nearby.

Arriving in Bandon about 16:00, we had time for a loop through the old town, where we discovered that night’s dining destination, Bandon Brewing Co., where pizza reigns! (Watch for a review over at Our Weekly Pizza very soon.)
Heading south the next day our focus was on Cape Blanco and Port Orford. Further south there were road closures and delays due to landslides last month, so we limited our wandering a bit. Cape Blanco turned out to be a delightful stop with an easy walk to the closed-until-April light. We were the only visitors on this warm and surprisingly wind-free morning. Imagine the hardships in living in this remote location when the light was built in 1869?

The Cape Blanco Lighthouse can be toured during limited hours, April-October.

From this viewpoint on Cape Blanco, it is easy to see how important the lighthouses were to ships navigating the Oregon Coast.

Port Orford is a dot on the map but Port Orford Heads State Park and a surprising ocean-front restaurant make it a perfect combination for outdoor fun and refreshment. Port Orford Heads offers a network of paths with remarkable views far out-to-sea made even more interesting by the unique rock formations. Here we saw one formation that looked like a whale and another resembling a henge sunk into the Pacific. We spotted our first whales of the season, beginning their northward migration to the feeding grounds in Alaska. It was shirtsleeve weather by late morning, convincing us that spring was at hand.

Lovely view of the entrance to Nellie’s Bay at Port Orford. From this bay, the Coast Guard used to launch their lifeboat. There is a museum dedicated to these brave “surfmen” as they were known.

Offshore islands at Port Orford Heads. This is a terrific whale watching viewpoint. See the “henge” far out to sea?

We could have spent the day on a handy bench overlooking the whales’ path, but growling stomachs called us to lunch at The Redfish. The cafe’s ocean view was surpassed only by the cuisine. Their fish tacos were the best I have eaten. Ever. Well-seasoned, grilled rockfish, encased in grilled tortillas (firmer for the grilling so they don’t fall apart) with a tasty, non-drippy slaw, and an underpinning of queso fresco plus salsa fresca. We passed on the fries and were rewarded with a large side salad dressed with a compelling citrus vinaigrette. I wish we lived closer. Or that they would move.

The Redfish Cafe at Battle Rock Wayside Park. best fish tacos ever.

Another day we passed in-and-near Coos Bay. First stop: Shore Acres State Park. Our promised sunny day started out with patchy fog and cleared to cold and windy near the ocean, far from the shirtsleeve weather of Port Orford. We were almost alone for an hour-long exploration that included the amazing formal gardens at Shore Acres, on the former estate of timber baron Louis Simpson.
From the website:
The initial holding was purchased from Louis J. and his wife, Lela G. Simpson, in 1942, and included the Simpsons’ oceanfront estate with its formal garden. Later additions were acquired from other owners between 1956 and 1980. The garden fell into disarray in the period 1942-1970 but it has been restored to perhaps an even grander scale than that achieved by Louis Simpson. “Shore Acres” was the name given by the Simpsons to their large estate on the spectacular Cape Arago sea coast. The house sat on a precipitous bluff overlooking the rocky ocean shore. The Simpson family was important in the development of the Coos Bay area, beginning with Captain Asa M. Simpson, who founded the town of North Bend after his arrival on Coos Bay in 1855. Simpson and his sons were leaders in shipping and the lumber industry. They owned land from Cape Arago to North Bend.

Almost alone at Shore Acres on a day of pounding surf and cold winds.

Dramatic surf at Shore Acres.

The former Louis Simpson Estate is now a state park, Shore Acres. I am told the current garden is more beautiful than the Simpson’s was. They have the best gift shop we’ve been in. Ever.

Found this tiny bunny having a snack at Shore Acres. We never see them in Lincoln City. He was so small, maybe 2 pounds.

Not far away, the lighthouse at Cape Arago once kept ships from harm. When you see the rocks all along this part of the coast, even far offshore, it is no wonder shipwrecks were common and lighthouses necessary.
Moving on, the aquarium at Charleston was closed (one of the perils of off-season travel is fewer days open and shorter hours) so we headed to Coos Bay. The heyday of lumber that built this port has passed but there is a tidy downtown core with a pleasant boardwalk and, surprisingly, a railroad museum whose open day our visit coincided with. Fish tacos from Sharkbites didn’t quite compare to the Redfish but they were of excellent quality.

Oregon Railway Museum. This outdoor museum is best savored on a dry day. You can walk through many cars, including some ancient cabooses. Limited hours.

There is a nice boardwalk along the waterfront of this calm natural harbor.

One can spend a nice morning just taking in the views from Bandon itself. When the sun is at your back, the Pacific shows itself best. Once again, we found ourselves virtually alone while we tromped around Coquille Point in Kronenberg County Park on a mild March morning. A lovely loop with vast views takes one along the cliffside to see the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge bursting with bird life. Table Rock, Cat & Kittens Rocks, and Face Rock are among the formations that capture the imagination.

Cosmo the puffin watches over the Coquille Point Nature Preserve. He is made of plastic pollution found in the ocean, part of a project called “Washed Ashore.”

Face Rock, one of the fanciful formations off the coast at Bandon.

While there are many dining options in Bandon — we tried several — the Bandon Brewing Co., Bandon Coffee Co., and Edgewaters were our favorites. Edgewaters was so impressive we dined there twice. Seafood Romesco (like a cioppino), a creative arugula salad, and a unique preparation of calamari caught our attention, as well as a decent local wine list. For the population, Bandon’s restaurant options far surpass those in Lincoln City.
I thought of this as The Lighthouse Tour as they are abundant on the coast. Between Lincoln City and Port Orford, we passed lights at Yaquina Head, Heceta Head, Umpqua, Coquille, Cape Blanco, and Cape Arago. But we found much more than lighthouses in our south coast break. Next stop: France in late April!
If you would like to know more about walks and hikes, head on over to Project Easy Hiker for a companion piece.

Second edition: “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena”

2 Feb
2 February 2019.
If anyone ever tells you writing a book is difficult, ask them how the editing and publishing process went.  Publishing is to writing as cooking is to eating: It takes a lot longer to create the meal than to eat it. At least it does for me, self-published as I am. The writing process was a piece of cake. Floundering through Kindle Direct Publishing gave me a stomach ache.  In fact, the author page links still are not working on all Amazon sites. Grrrr.

Ric on a new walk at Passo Gardena, with Jimmy Hutte in the distance. Many of our walks feature great places to relax and have lunch along the trail.

It has been a while since I last posted in November. We’ve been very busy. The last trip was, in part, to update our book and at last, we have published the second edition of “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena!” Now containing 23 hikes (previously 20) and updated information as of autumn 2018, this is the book to take along on a trip to Ortisei or anywhere in Italy’s Val Gardena. There’s not much written in English in detail on this part of Italy. 
We had such a magnificent trip again last fall that I could hardly wait to get this published. Alas, the writing and (worse) editing process did take some time, but now the content is fresca fresca fresca, as our Italian friend Pellegrino used to say.

The approach to Fermeda on one of our new walks. How about having pizza with this view?

If you have never been to the Dolomites, put it on your list and spend a week. Heck, spend a month if you love hiking and mountains. Our best trip ever was passing the month of July parked in Ortisei while we did the initial research and writing the first edition.
Click on over to Amazon.com and get your copy, paperback or Kindle. Also available worldwide on Amazon.it, Amazon.co.UK, Amazon.de, or any other country Amazon site you buy from.
Note the first edition is still out there because that is where the reviews are. I am hoping to see some reviews of the Second Edition soon! (Hint Hint.)
I will be back with a new post soon about cooking while traveling. Until then, Ciao!

This little marmot was hanging out with his “madness” at Seceda, above Ortisei. Hiking directions are in our book.

We make a point of hiking to this little chapel at Rasciesa each trip.

Also from one of our new walks at Passo Gardena. What a view!

On the trail from Ciampinoi to Passo Sella, a marvelous view of the Sciliar.

Postcard from Switzerland: The Lauterbrunnen Valley

4 Oct
4 October 2018.
Weather (near) perfect, locals friendly, cheese coming out of our ears.
This was our fifth visit to the Lauterbrunnen Valley, aka the Jungfrau Region, and it was difficult to leave after a week of great weather.  We have rented the same apartment three times now and it feels like coming home. There’s nothing to figure out: we know the transportation, where to shop, where to eat, and that James’ and Michelle’s apartment has a slow cooker for our convenience. Day one, we put a pot of chicken soup on low and headed to the mountains.

We can see this waterfall from our apartment in the valley.

People ask why we go back to the same place over-and-over. That could be a bore in some places but here we always find new things to do. So many new things this trip that we did not get back to a couple of old favorites.
New to us was Sulwald and Isenfluh, a peaceful little community with views not seen by the masses heading elsewhere.

The cable car to Sulwald from Isenfluh can hold 8 people or one cow. Ric and I had a private ride.

In 4 trips to this area, we had not been to Isenfluh or Sulwald. It was a world apart. If you ever get to Isenfluh, stop at the restaurant there for a Sulwald Burger and a Radler and enjoy this view.

Eight people or one cow. The attendant showed us how the right side of the car opens to create a ramp the cow can use for boarding.

Another new-to-us adventure was the Aare Gorge. Our arrival was unexpected: the stop-on-demand train halted inside a tunnel and opened the doors. We thought it was a mistake until, magically, a door in the tunnel wall slid open revealing a path. We traipsed across a suspension bridge, then followed a somewhat rugged path up the hillside to the official entry. From there, the wooden walkways took us through the gorge to the train station at the other end.

A new-to-us walk was through the Aare Gorge on a slightly overcast day. We exited our train at the same level as the river, climbed up to the gated entry where the walkway began leading us down again.

People have been walking here for over 100 years. The ingenious Swiss build paths, tunnels, and walkways everywhere!

I have read about the Ballenberg Open Air Museum for years. Finally, we managed to visit. What a unique museum! 50 years ago the Swiss decided to create a place where their heritage could be preserved. Imagine a wooden building from 1336 preserved for posterity! While that is the oldest, it is far from the only ancient structure maintained at Ballenberg. Visiting was like taking a walk across all of the cantons in a couple of hours.

Many of the buildings at Ballenberg are hundreds of years old. They were disassembled, moved, and reassembled on site.

The day we visited there was a horse event. The Swiss Army turned out to help.

Handsome rooster at Ballenberg.

At Ballenberg one can walk across many of the Swiss cantons in a couple of hours.

A threshing demonstration at Ballenberg. Many Swiss crafts and skills are on display.

An old favorite is the hike from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. Although we’ve done the hike four times, there is always something new. 

Since we last visited in 2016, this Trojan Cow has been added at the Männlichen playground. It moos and has a slide inside.

On the way to Kleine Scheidegg. There are a lot of improvement projects and building everywhere in Switzerland it seems.

I love this picture of a woman taking a photo of her dog at Männlichen. This is the start of our favorite hike to Kleine Scheidegg.

In four weeks of travel, we have had one day where rain kept us from doing what we had planned. ONE DAY! Big contrast to last year when we froze for the first two weeks of September.

Our last morning the snow level had descended considerably. It was about 40F/4C when we left.

This little guy was out-and-about, drinking from the stream through the pasture behind us and keeping an eye on the ‘hood.

We do not eat dinner out very often in Switzerland, but we found tasty pizza at the Camping Jungfrau restaurant.

If anyone needs a clean, comfortable place to stay in Lauterbrunnen, let me know and I will hook you up. See this pictures here but contact the owner directly to book. LMK and I will give you an email address. 
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