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Archive for June, 2012

I’ve been in Kansas City for 4 (or 5?) days.

Since my arrival I’ve visited the state capital, eaten Mexican food three times, been to Murray’s for an ice cream twice, activated my American phone, spent time with: my parents, sister, brother, brother’s girlfriend, grandpa, grandma; I met a few new people hung out with an old friend, trained at the gym, made plans for dinners with various friends around the city and a soccer game (Sporting Kansas City), translated at Tea Drops with a bubble tea, watched a movie, made a friendship bracelet; I went to breakfast at YJ’s and looked around the City Market downtown, bought a sketchbook from 1950 full of exciting portraits of politicians; I swam at the Intercontinental hotel and did a photo shoot for a pregnant mother and finally this morning I slept past 6:30 am.

I think I may be over my jet lag and I’ve still got two weeks to go!

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I have arrived.

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My tiny balcony. This is my new favorite place in all of Strasbourg – from the 4th floor (5th to Americans) I have a lovely view of the tree tops and Neue Stadt architecture in the neighborhood. Today, we (me + LP) had a late lunch and enjoyed the beautiful afternoon on our balcony. (Sorry for the photo product placement. I only took two pictures and the bottle was there – though Bionade orange and ginger is delicious.)

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Headed to Gare Centrale at 8 a.m. to catch a train to Saales for a walk to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges.

Stefanie met up with me on the platform just in time to catch the train. It was a 1.5 hour journey through some beautiful green countryside. We arrived in Saales and quickly found our way to the trail head. This task wasn’t so difficult since there were only three streets (I may be exaggerating).

Both Stefanie and myself were suffering from Saturday morning lag and Stefanie had a cold…the previous weekend she stayed in in order to recover, but didn’t. I guess this was her attempt at curing her cold…with an extended aerobic activity – climbing the Vosges. She says it worked!

This walk was particularly difficult because of its steep inclines and descents that were never-ending (for nearly 6.5 hours). It was also a pretty long walk at 21 km. The views were beautiful – nearly half of the walk was along the ridge of three separate “mountains” (actually 870 m high hills) from there you could see the valleys on either side. The pine forest was magical – the only thing missing was a forest sprite to play a trick on us or a wild boar to come charging.

We passed several enormous ant hills along the way – just outside one was the half consumed carcass of a tiny grey mouse. It was gross, but I was fascinated with the cycle of life at that moment (and had to take a picture). Near the end, the trail joined up with a historical way-marked trail for World War I structures still standing in that area. There were old air raid shelters, observation towers and bunkers for the soldiers.

Saint-Dié was a bit of a disappointment – it could have been the treeless lots with high rise public housing or empty streets with an occasional lazy cat on the porch (I’m not sure what I was expecting, but at least the people at the café I spoke to were nice). On the train home we ate a box of brownies, a sandwich each, Powerade, carrot sticks, apple and other dried fruit…then we slept.

Here are a few highlights:

WWI iron observation tower

Thistle

Post walk Coke in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges

Au revoir Lorraine

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This man is a genius. Sadly he’s not wearing a Lenin t-shirt for this event.

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Me in the Pyrenees – Spring 2011

In less than three months I will be setting out to conquer the HRP (Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne or High Pyrenees Route). I will cover about 500 miles and have a total climb of nearly 140,000 feet during the nearly two-month trek (from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea – my feet will take me across France, Spain and Andorra). I’ve tried to imagine what it will be like to walk ten hours and climb 5,000 feet and then do it again the next day and the day after and the day after that, but right now I can’t.

I won’t be undertaking this adventure alone. In fact, there will be two of us who complete the Pyrenees crossing and several other friends (and husband!!!) will join us along the way.

There are so many things to prepare (including my mind and body) for this long journey. John Muir is my inspiration for packing for this trek (as well as for previous trips). In his 1,000-mile Walk to the Gulf, he notes that in his bag was “only a comb, brush, towel, soap, a change of underclothing, a copy of Burns’s poems, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and a small New Testament.”

I wonder what I will pack and read.

 

 

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Before this trip, I thought that Tenerife was a place where British vacationers looking for a deep tan went. I was partly wrong…they are mostly German and it’s not just a tan that draws the tourists (though there are plenty of those kinds).

If you’ve never heard of Tenerife then I’ll explain. Off the coast of Africa is a small archipelago of 13 islands. Millions of billions of years ago the earth spilled its guts and created these lumps of rock. Time passed and seeds and dust and and debris and insects were blown in by the wind or brought to the shore by the ocean…eventually you have a beautiful subtropical island with a few small lizards, birds and mammals. People eventually came.

First came the Guanches. They deserve a whole post (at least and probably a short Kindle book, too). Then came the Spanish – first it was the Spanish priests. They were on a mission from God – convert the savages and settle…or something. Christopher Columbus hung out on the islands before setting out for the Americas (or India?). However the story continues it’s fascinating.

They still have a magical whistle language called Silbo Gomero that is used on the island of La Gomera. The BBC has a short interview that you can listen to if you’d like to hear what it sounds like and a short history of the island. I recommend it!! Click here to listen.

The food is also something special. Two reasons: the price and the cortado leche y leche. You can eat like a king on the cheap – if you’re cooking yourself, the fresh fish is amazing! Plantains! It’s perfectly tropical. But we also discovered the art of the cortado. It’s a short espresso with sweetened condensed milk on the bottom and a bit of steamed milk on top. It makes for the sweetest and most delicious 80 cent coffee ever. My favorite location for a leche y leche was at the main bus station in La Orotava (where we stayed for the week). They also made delicious Spanish tortilla and the next shop down made arepas – corn flour pancakes cut in half and stuffed with all things delicious.

We spent two days on the black sand beach called Bollullo. The sand was so hot that even the small bit that got in my sandals burned the bottom of my feet – so we rented sun umbrellas from the little drink shack on the beach for EUR 2. It was worth the expense and once the sand was shaded it cooled off pretty quickly. The water was just the perfect temperature and the waves were big.

We hiked three days. Our first hike was around La Caldera. It was a 16km hike that took about 6 hours through the pine forests with beautiful views of El Teide (the volcanic peak of Tenerife island). The flora was spectacular. I’ve never seen so many kinds of flowers on a single hike. The deep ravines and sheer cliffs made for a slightly vertiginous trek part of the way. It was good preparation for what was to be two days of high altitude trekking.

The morning we set off for Teide National Park, we (of course) started at the bus station with an arepa and a cortado leche y leche. The bus took us up 1700 m (to 2200 m). The trip took about 1 hour and we took a 10 minute leche y leche break at El Portillo. By 11 am we were at the teleferico for a 1000 m lift. While waiting for our 4 pm ride up to the top we ate snacks, took walks on the pumice hills and people-watched. I’m pretty sure that Nicolas and Jim took a nap or two.

Once to the top of the teleferico we hiked to a vista of one of the enormous volcanic craters surrounding El Teide (alt. 3717 m/ 12,195 ft). We had to wait until after 5 pm to hike to the peak – that’s when the guards go home for the night. It took about 45 minutes to go up about 160 meters. There is an obvious path to the top, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Sulfur fumaroles created an eerie atmosphere around the peak. We and two Austrian women were the only five souls left on the mountain (until the refuge where we slept with about 25 others). It was breathtaking at the top. We could see the other islands out in the Atlantic. The clouds were closing in around us and the sun was still high. Woah!

Nicolas took the opportunity to catch up on the previous day’s events with El Dia – the Canary Islands’ daily newspaper.

Our trip down to the refuge was a lot like a scene out of Lord of the Rings while Frodo and Sam are in Mordor. The lava rock was black and the wind was gusty.

The next morning we skipped going back up the peak for sunrise. We preferred to sleep in (til 7 am) and start the 1200 m hike down to El Portillo before the high heat of the day. (The night before Nicolas and I had a bit of dehydration/altitude sickness a few hours after going to bed.)

The hike down also had a film reference – it was like walking on Barsoom (cf. John Carter from Mars).

Back at the hostel we prepared a big fish dinner and chatted with the other people staying and shared our adventure on El Teide.

The next day we left for a long day and night before flying out the following morning at 6 am. We visited La Laguna and the Island History Museum and then down to Santa Cruz de Tenerife for the Anthropological and Natural History Musuem. At midnight we took a bus to the South Airport and slept on airport chairs for about 3 hours. The flight home included more sleeping and a cup of coffee.

Perhaps the feeling of a post-vacation letdown is coming on, but I’ve got a new and bigger adventure in the works to keep my mind busy…aren’t you curious?!?

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