Our penultimate weekend in Nice

Friday was gorgeous, the sun was shining, and the temperature was in the low 20s.  We walked from our apartment to the Musee Matisse, which is nestled an area called Cimiez that is straight north of where we are staying. Like so much of the French Riviera, Nice is surrounded by hills, so once you leave the shoreline you are heading uphill. The walk was only about 3km with a 100 meter incline – easy compared to Istanbul, but still uphill. The museum is in his house and much of the collection was donated by his wife. You enter through a recent addition that is below ground level and work you way up. The lower floors display earlier works and explain Matisse’s education and influences. The top floor holds most of the collection. I was very surprised by the amount of work that he did in sculpture and other media as I think of him only as a painter.

Just outside his house there is a large park that leads to the monastery’s cemetery, where he is buried. Of course, we wandered through the graveyard until we found his tombstone (it was well marked, and we really just had to follow the signs). Dead person bingo part ??? I don’t remember. I have lost count.

We walked home (all downhill!) and then had dinner at a Portuguese restaurant (Le Barbecue) that one of Sue’s friends recommended. After dinner, we wandered through the old town and found nice bar (where the waiter refused to speak French to us and many others around us were speaking English, feh!), sat outside, had a drink and watched the world go by.

Saturday, Abi was flying home from Marseilles. Our plan was to rent a car, drive to Calanques National Park, hike for a while, drop Abi at the airport and then come home. Unfortunately, the weather gods were not cooperative. It rained all day, and we did not bring our wet weather hiking gear, so we had to abandon our hikes. Instead, we decided we would have a late lunch and then take Abi to the airport. For the first time that I can remember we found that Google had incorrect information about restaurant hours. We tried three different places, all of which were listed as open, but none of which were. We finally settled on grocery store take out. Not our most memorable Saturday, but it is always nice to spend time with my daughter. There were a few successes: we managed to drive a couple of miles into the park and find a nice photo spot, we had an interesting tour of Marseilles including a “road” called Impasse du Moroc – which was nearly one car wide, and our rental car was a sweet little Mercedes. (I think maybe Steven has been convinced to buy a Mercedes in Germany, drive it around and ship it home. Win for me!)

We only have one more weekend left before we return to the US for Thanksgiving. We are really looking forward to seeing our friends and family.

Into the Alps

We headed out Friday morning for a town called Chambéry. It is about 4 hours southeast of us and in the heart of the French Alps. For those of you who are fans of the Olympics, it is an hour north of Grenoble (1968) and an hour and a half west of Albertville (1992). Once we arrived, we did as we always do and wandered the town. For some reason there is a giant fountain of elephants in the main square. I will leave it to you to investigate why.

On Saturday morning, we went for a stroll in the market and then headed out for our day’s main activity, a “leisurely” 11.5km (7.2 mile) hike that we found on AllTrails called Circuit of the Bridges. It was in a small village called Saint-Jean-d’Arvey about 10km away. I neglected to notice that it was also 335m (1,000ft) higher than Chambéry.  For those of you who do not know me, I am very skittish when it comes to heights. Driving up and down mountain roads is at best difficult and at worst has me wanting to curl up in the back seat and whimper – even when driving. So the ride up to the trailhead was a little unnerving, but we made it.

The trail started at 600m (2,000ft) and was easy to find, but AllTrails states that the elevation gain is 450m (1,500 feet) which is well within our limits; afterall, we climbed Toubkal in Morocco, which was 16km and 2,500m (8,000ft) in elevation gain – just to the base camp. However, that was 4 years ago, and we had not been sedentary for 18 months due to the pandemic. I found the hike quite difficult. It started by dropping 250m to a single span wooden bridge over a deep ravine. (Oh yeah! Walking across a wooden bridge with a terrible fear of heights! ) I took a deep breath and pressed on. (He’s very brave.) I even stopped for Sue (who has no fear of anything and is a hiking machine) to take a photo of me – I am attempting to smile.

From that point it was an all-uphill hike to about 700 meters (2,300 ft). We had a picnic lunch along the trail and then climbed up and down the ravines.  We made a detour of about 1.5km when we followed an incorrect sign on the path. (Oops! It said Thoiry, but we didn’t notice it also said “the long way.”) The village of Thoiry is about halfway through the hike. We had hiked almost 8km (5 miles) and I was done. Sue graciously agreed to cut short the hike and we took a couple of short cuts and ended back at our car in Saint-Jean-d’Arvey after about 12km (7.5 miles), a bit longer than the original hike length. I still don’t understand how we cut the hike in half and took a shortcut, but still hiked longer than the original long route. Faulty GPS, faulty AllTrails, faulty us? Over the entire walk we saw perhaps 10 people, so it was just us, our cameras and our thoughts. Enough words…Here are photos

Sunday we decided to go to Grenoble to look around. We started by visiting the Resistance Museum. It was very well done (and free, but they did not have a “Viva la Resistance t-shirt — disappointing) and we spent about an hour in it. Afterwards we wandered into the old part of town and were terribly disappointed. Nothing was open (ach, dimanche!) and we just didn’t see anything of any interest. We walked back to the car and headed home.

Google says it is a 4-hour drive on the highway; we drove to Lyon on the highway, stopped for some lunch on the highway and made the grand decision that we were in no hurry to get home. Steven neglects to mention that we took the highway hoping that the rest stops were open since there was no other way to get food on Sunday. We told Google to find us a way home without the highways and off we went on a scenic tour of France. Boy do the French love roundabouts (des rond points). We hit one every kilometer or so. After a few hours we decided to head to a medieval city called Beaune that one of our friends said was pretty (also it is the wine capital of Burgundy). By the time we got there, it was about 7pm and we once again had a wander. (Restaurants were open. Viva la tourisme!) The place was packed with tourists and after about 45 minutes we had enough.

Once back in the car, we decided to go back on the highway and covered the last 130km in about 90 minutes. It was nearly 9pm by the time we got home. A long but very fun day.

Have spreadsheet, will travel

Ah…the joy of Excel

In the world before the pandemic, Sue had booked a trip to Italy with her niece as a high school graduation gift. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus caused her to cancel the trip and her niece is not available for a trip this summer. We have about $3,000 of flight credits that we need to use up this year, so we decided to go out on a limb and book a trip for the summer. As you all remember, before we go anywhere, I start a spreadsheet and while I am a little out of practice, here is my first stab at a preliminary itinerary for our trip to France.

On an accounting geek side note: Since we are using flight credits to pay for the tickets, I am currently meditating on how to list the price for the flights. One one hand, if we are looking at this sheet as a measure of the cost of the trip, then I should include the price of the flights. On the other hand, if we are looking at this as a list of the amount of cash we will be spending for the trip and since the flight credits are use it or lose it, then perhaps I should exclude the cost of the flights. Just a quick meditation on the accounting for the trip. Feel free to weigh in if you choose.

Preliminary trip plan

I think we previously mentioned that Sue has a friend who lives in Paris. Last year she and her wife moved out of the city to Burgundy. We decided (somewhat uninvited?) to go and visit them. In outline, we plan to fly into Geneva, visit Burgundy, drive down through Provence, along the Cote d’Azur and up into the French national parks to do some hiking in the Alps and then back to Geneva. Our thought is that if we are both vaccinated we can safely travel, but perhaps this isn’t the time to go romping around the cities and visiting crowded museums and windy little streets. So instead, we will plan to spend much of our time seeing Sue’s friend, driving around the countryside (perhaps visiting a winery or ten?), and hiking in the Alps.

Right now we are doing our usual planning process which consists of us reading anything we can about places that may look interesting and writing notes down (usually on little slips of paper or Post-It notes). At some point we will collate them and figure out which ones make the cut. We usually end up with about three times the number of things that we can possibly manage in the time that we have, so hand-to-hand combat between Sue and myself ends up being the deciding factor. Yes, Sue always wins, but that is because she fights like she is from Queens and I fight like a gentleman. I created a very preliminary list of National Parks that look interesting and a few other places I have heard about/see somewhere etc. Sue has begun to read about places and we will, at some point soon start to make a plan. If anyone has suggestions, please feel free to let us know.

Who knows, by the time we finish the plan, for all we know we will spend three weeks in Italy instead. 😉

Hiking and Wondering

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Bear Creek Trail at Point Reyes

Saturday was beautiful and sunny. I loved it. No jacket necessary. Finally. We headed up to Point Reyes National Seashore after dropping the dog at day care. No dogs allowed on national park trails and Bijan has some separation anxiety. I mention this because we had to be back by 7 p.m. to pick him up. We were going to do a trail on a spit of land that pokes into the Pacific on one side and Drake’s Bay on the other, but we were lazy and got a late start and the trailhead is about 30 minutes into the park by car. Instead, we hiked from the Bear Valley Trail from the visitors center. The trail is mostly flat with very gradual incline, nice after Friday for my legs, which are Midwestern (read: flat, Flat, FLAAAAT) acclimated.

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Zion shirt, Costa Rica bandana

I am 95 percent sure I have done this trail before, long ago when I lived in the Bay Area, but I don’t ever remember seeing so much water. It’s been raining around here for a couple of winters now, so everything is green and the walk was verdant and smelled of fresh vegetation. Aaah.

As we walked, I thought, as I have done in the past when I hike, that an interesting research project (if it hasn’t already been done) would be to study who says hello to whom on the trail. I’ve noticed that young men tend to ignore us old ladies. (Are they afraid we’ll yell at them because their chores aren’t done?) What about other group, gender, race, and age dynamics? There’s a ton of material there. Hiking is a different social situation and self-selecting and I am really curious about what the norms are. I just handed someone a great sociology project. Go for it and let me know.

First Full Day

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A blue heron helped kick off our hike.

We were so busy yesterday, I didn’t have a chance to write, but I”m still feeling the effects of our hike. Did you flatlanders know that there are these huge mounds of land called hills and they are harder to walk up? Yes, it’s true. Yesterday we went to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and did a 3.5 mile hike into the hills about the beach. It was beautiful and only took a couple of hours. So strange how crowded the Bay Area is, but the open spaces feel so free. Mahru’s dog, who you met yesterday, loved the hike, too. We think he found a rattlesnake just inches off trail in the brush. We heard it, but didn’t see it. That’s fine by me.

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Just cool enough for a hike (which means a little too cool for me) but gorgeous views.

img_20190621_163637698_hdr-1.jpgAfter lunch, we stopped at the Columbia sportswear employee store and did some “I don’t need this” shopping by which I mean I walk around with things I like and then put them back because I don’t need them. We were really killing time until the East Brother brewery opened at 4. We each had a light, lemony pilsner called Bo Pils. Perfect for after a hike. The brewery is in a Richmond  industrial park and has some picnic benches outside, so we sat in the East Bay shade and relaxed. We got there right at 4, when it opens, but there were already a couple of people there. By the time we left, it was filling up. There’s no food, so a revolving list of food trucks parks outside. Yesterday was Thai. We didn’t eat any, but Mahru said she had and recommends it.

Then, we headed back to Oakland to get ready for an open mike and poetry slam. Once a month, MLK Cafe, an Ethiopian restaurant that also serves burgers and pizza, hosts the Root Slam. The community is welcoming and the artists obviously find great inspiration and support though the organization and events. Plus, they can write and perform! Just listening to other people’s stories and views makes it worth the trip. The food is pretty good, too, but shout out to my own neighbor, Eden, who makes the best Eritrean food ever. By the time we got home from that, I brushed my teeth and crashed.

P.S.: So far, the traffic is not nearly as bad as I imaged it would be. Maybe my bar was very low.

Oh The Things We Will Do & See

We (read Sue) did quite a bit of planning for Costa Rica this weekend.  Usually we try and organize quite a bit of our excursions before we go, or at least we sketch out what we are doing.  For this trip, we decided to plan what we wanted to do but then pretty much try and book on the day or the day before.

The first few days we are staying near the Manuel Antonio National Park. While there we will certainly go white water rafting on the  Upper Naranjo river.   We found a company call Pro Rafting Costa Rica and plan to book through them.  Some other things we are thinking about doing are:

Nighttime walking or boating tour in the National Park. The nice thing about the walking tour is we will be right in the ju03ngle, so close up to what ever we find. On the other hand…we will be close up to what ever we find!  The boat tour sounds more leisurely, but that isn’t usually our style.  Either way, it should be fun–in the jungle, at night.

Mangrove kayaking. There are lots of mangrove swamps and kayaking through them looks like it will give us a daytime view of the jungle at a safe distance from the land-based wildlife.  Sue tells me that the alligators don’t usually eat people as long as they stay in their kayaks. Hmmm: Could she be planning something?  One of the tour operators offers this at night, too.S o alone in a swamp, that is in a jungle, in a foreign country, where we don’t speak the language (Hey, I have been doing Duolingo for 64 days and can say useful things like: Do you work in a factory?) and separated from man- human- (?–yes, human, unless you think they are trained to eat only men) eating animals by a few millimeters of plastic. Sounds perfect.

Ocean kayaking/snorkeling. This tour takes us out into the ocean to kayak and then do some snorkeling.

Segway tour. Segway tour?  Really, going all the way to Costa Rica to ride a Segway?  Well, there is some history to this one.  Before started our blog, we traveled to Morocco (BTW: fabulous trip, fabulous place, a really great vacation for anyone with a small amount of adventurous spirit). For my birthday, Sue organized a Segway tour of Marrakech.  Unfortunately, the tour guide no-showed on us.  Needless to say, it is all Sue’s fault and she owes me a Segway tour.  Maybe we will do it in Costa Rica.

cano-island-costa-rica-scuba-300x216Scuba Diving.This is a long shot.  Sue didn’t really love diving when we did it in Hawaii, but perhaps she will give it another try.  (I said I would. I was just cold and seasick from the boat fumes.) One of the downsides to it is that there is a 10-mile boat ride to the island and she gets seasick (a very terrible feeling) so we will see.

Hiking.We will be going hiking, in the park, near the park, and anywhere else we can find.

Enough for today.  We will write about the things we will do near the Arenal Volcano for our next post.

It is Getting Kind of Late

We seem to be off to a slow start with our Costa Rica plans and I am not sure why. Sure, we have our flights and hotels. We have generally planned where we want to be and when, but no real firm plans. Perhaps this week we will get down to brass tacks and figure it out.

Day 1. We know it is all about getting there. It seems like we will be travelling all day. Our flight is from Chicago to San Jose, with a stop in Fort Lauderdale. I think we arrive early evening. We are renting a car and driving to a coffee plantation.

full-manuel-antonio-park-sign(1)Day 2. An early (9 a.m. I think –maybe a bit later) tour of the coffee plantation then a drive for a few hours (3? 4? more? who knows) to our hotel in the west coast town of Quepos that is right near the Manuel Antonio National Park (I always think that I am missing one of the names for the park….I feel like there should be a middle name in there–but perhaps that is just me).  No, I keep calling Manuel San Antonio. I expect we will just look around, settle in –maybe take a quick trip to the beach to see the Pacific Ocean (Yup…that’s the Pacific.  Yup…it is wet.  Yup…it has waves) and unwind a bit.

Days 3 & 4 & 5. We know we are going to go rafting one day. I have done some inquiries and found a 1/2 day trip on the Upper Naranjo river, I will probably book that this weekend. The other days will likely be hiking in the park (the one that is missing one name), visiting the beach, maybe a kayaking trip and seeing what other types of trouble we can get into. But we have no set plans –yet.

 

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Notice at Trailhead (Translated from Spanish):   It is forbidden to throw your hiking partner in the volcano

 

Day 6. We are going to drive up to the Arenal Volanco. (By the way did you know that Costa Rica has 200 volcano formations, 100 that show some signs of activity and 5 that are classified as active?) Once again, I have no real idea how long the drive is, but I assume it can’t be more than 2-3 hours. That should leave us with 1/2 a day or so to visit places on the way or find something to do once we are there.

Days 7 & 8. We have not made any plans. There seems to be a bunch of places to hike with hanging bridges (you all know how much I love heights), I found a link to a route that goes to a waterfall (only 16,000 steps & up both ways!), and who knows what else. Apparently tossing your hiking partner into the volcano is frowned upon (perhaps less so if they are a virgin?) so I guess I am pretty safe from that. Anyway, you can assume that Sue will run me ragged climbing up and down things for both days.

Day 9. We fly home.

spreadsheetI know! I know!  We are way far behind in the planning process and I must admit–it is all my fault–I haven’t created the spreadsheet… and as we all know…nothing ever gets done in this world without a good spreadsheet. I am not a spreadsheet convert, yet, but I know Steven can’t live without them.

 

 

Why I Go Anywhere

As I sit here with my winter break waning, I turn my thoughts to hiking in Costa Rica. I can’t complain about the weather here (it was above 50 degrees today!) but it won’t last and I need to have an out in my head for when it temperature drops like a stone.

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Manual Antonio National Park: The peace of the unknown

 

I’m going to leave the musings on whitewater rafting to Steven. I don’t imagine we will be doing 10-mile hikes in Costa Rica since the trails near us are short. Manual Antonio National Park is a mere three square miles. I am totally cool with that since that means I can really take my time and drink in my environment. I haven’t spent any time in tropical climes, so I am looking forward to being immersed in a world foreign to me.

Being surrounded by newness feels spiritual for me. When I’m amid a crowd of people who aren’t speaking English,  my senses bombarded by unfamiliar smells, sounds, sights, and even the air touches my skin differently, I feel at once in the moment and completely out of myself. That feeling more than anything else is the reason I travel.

 

 

Doing Canyonlands from the Top Down

OK, we’re a day behind again, but the heat and the hiking are exhausting! We decided that since we had seen Canyonlands National Park from the river, we would head to the top animg_20180627_140530634d see it from the road. The park is set up in such a way that you can pretty much see all the highlights by driving and walking maybe a half a mile or so to a site or viewpoint. We decided to try it and while we got some good pictures and walked a few miles all told, it wasn’t our greatest experience. Don’t get me wrong, the park is amazingly beautiful (as they all are) but it felt like the difference between hiking and sightseeing. These driving routes are great if you have little ones or are unable to really get out and see the park, but if you are an outdoorsy person and want to get away, this is not for you. It’s crowded and sightseers don’t have outdoor manners. img_20180627_1309394021

We did get a top-down view of the Colorado and Green rivers. We had rafted past their confluence the day before, so it was interesting to see it another way. Worth going to, but I would pick a hike and do it instead of hopping out and walking to the viewpoints. I’m not much of a drive and snap a photo traveler.

The highlight of our day was a class at Moab Yoga. It was the perfect counterbalance to all the hiking and rafting. The class just happened to be focused on the spine and I know I was walking taller by the end. Ah.

As a topper to another great day, the full moon shone clearly above the mountains as we drove back from dinner.img_20180627_205853614.jpg

Santa Fe Trail

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This picture is totally gratuitous, but I couldn’t resist because this woman is biking with a dog in her backpack!

After three days of driving, eating, and one too many beers, we decided yoga was in order. We went to Yoga Source, which has two studios. We went to the brand new one on Guadalupe and took an Iyengar class, which neither of us had done before. It was both energizing and really helped us stretch out our car-weary selves.

From there we headed to Santa Fe classic Cafe Pasqual’s for New Mexican breakfast (for me) and lunch (for Steven). I couldn’t decide between my all-time favorite huevos rancheros and the corn cakes, so I got a cake on the side with the eggs. I love the Santa Fe chile heat. Steven had a chicken sandwich with a New Mexican twist and apple-fennel salad plus some corn cake. You really can’t go wrong there.

Since we were in the plaza, we decided to walk around, but I hadn’t been in Santa Fe for _____ (I don’t want to say, it’s depressing) years and it is really really touristy in the plaza. We walked up and down a few blocks and then, since neither of us is really a shopper, we headed for Canyon Road and the galleries. But again, yeah, wimg_20180618_161640544.jpge’re really not buying anything sooooo, we decided on a hike. Unfortunately some of the wilderness areas are closed because of fire danger, so we went to the Dale Ball Trails. This encompasses a series of short trails in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo that you can cobble together into as long and arduous a hike as you would like.The trail is well marked with maps at every fork, so you can make decisions about how far you want to go. It was hot and there is really no cover, but it felt great to stretch our legs and be on hills. Plus, we did get some beautiful views.

For dinner, we walked from our AirBnB to the Tune-Up Cafe for Savadoran inspired deliciousness on the outdoor patio.