Author Archives: puu

Alpine Adventures

Two months ago we spent an intense week of outdoor activities with two friends for an experience of a lifetime! We don’t have all the photos yet because we had to use waterproof film cameras and ended up accidentally swapping it with a friend.

Saturday: Labor Day Celebrations

After taking a quick stop outside of Munich to pick up our fourth partner in crime, we arrived in Garmisch-Partinkirchen, the location of our quaint cabin. The resort hosted celebratory activities including traditional Bavarian musicians, mechanical bull riding, and short game challenges. Then once the sun went down, the fireworks came out! And it was quite a show, lasting 15 minutes. A fun way to start the trip!

Grilling.

Sunday: White Water Rafting

The rafting happened in Austria, but we were able to get in on a group that included travel to the location. Woohoo! The weather was agreeable (and seemed to trend that way once on the Austrian side of the Alps), so squeegeeing into the wet suit, while not easy, was exciting. We had a really fun guide, and some of the fellow rafters were in the water more than the raft… but mostly intentionally. Out of all the water-based activities, the rafting was surprisingly the least intense (just say that to your shoulders after paddling for an hour!).

Monday: Kayaking

Kayaking occurred on the German side of the Alps, and the weather confirmed it with grey misty clouds. Luckily, the instructors said this was good weather for kayaking. Unfortunately, one friend had to stay behind, feeling under the weather, so the three of us joined a small group to get some practice done in the Eibsee Lake before heading to the river. The lake was gorgeous, although the kayak paddling was much more difficult and tiring than it looked. And going straight isn’t easy too! Once we got the basics, they had us play kayak polo. It was a bit unbalanced (there were some really good kayakers in the group), but really fun anyhow!

The river was a bit intense, but at least the current would push us along. The more difficult aspect to the river was doing a 180 into eddies. I didn’t catch that a “rock” bar (think “sandbar”) was in the middle of the river, and got caught on the wrong side. I ended up “scooting” across the rocks, which was harder because I couldn’t stop laughing while everyone else passed me by giggling. By the end I think we all felt a bit bruised.

Tuesday: Tandem Paragliding + Bike and Hike

The morning started off cloudy, so we weren’t sure the paragliding was going to happen until an hour before. It was early, but the guides checked and give it the green. We rented a couple bikes and went to small hut to meet two locals. My guy had 5,000 flights under his belt, and spoke enough English for us to get along. They had on gigantic nylon bundles that looked to weigh as much as them, but we had to walk fast to keep up.

Taking the egg-shaped lift up the Alpine mountain, we turned down a dirt path to be ambushed by cows with giant bells around their necks. The lined up on the ridge, five or six, before breaking into a fast gallop at us. And what do they want? Treats and petting. Awwww… one was tempted to eat the parachute, but we were running and up in the air in time. Tandem paragliding means the only work you need to do is the initial run, then you let the guide take care of the flying part while you sit in almost like a canvas chair. We did some crazy spins before making a landing. It was awesome!

Unfortunately, the same friend felt sick again after that, so the three of us took the bikes along the trail to the Partnach Gorge, which was spectacular! We saw it a bit about four winters ago, but this time we walked the whole thing, then had the bright idea to hike up to walk along the ridge. I think one of us was feeling a bit murderous after that… but it was a beautiful day with a relaxing bike ride back to the cabin. I’m glad we didn’t do the tour thing for this and just went on our own. It was easy (the logistics), and no pressure.

Paragliding.
Gorge.
Gorge.

Wednesday: Geocaching and Spa Day

One friend had to head back home, so we took the morning to try our hand at geocaching, unsuccessfully. We weren’t terribly prepared, although we did print two geocaching sites from geocaching.com. We used a car GPS, and while those are fairly accurate for driving, we couldn’t input the coordinates properly, and it was off by 10-15 feet (not bad for a car GPS).

We had to return, but it got us on a geocaching kick. The few other times we were still underprepared though, not being able to translate the degrees properly and not having a handheld device (we tried the car GPS again, which just doesn’t work). Someday we’ll get it right! But as Herr drove one friend to the airport, me and our other friend enjoyed some time in the spa, pool, and outdoor hot tub. Woohoo! It was a nice needed break, especially with the activity coming up the next day…

Thursday: Canyoning

Canyoning. In one word? Awesome. We had to get up early to drive back to the Feel Free company in Austria. Once we crossed into the Austrian Alps, the sun broke through although it was still a bit chilly. Donning wet suits, rappelling equipment, and hiking boots, we piled in a van and drove up high in the Alps, where we were dislodged near a bridge over a rocky river. That we then rappelled over and into… we saw beautiful waterfalls, slid down natural rock slides, cannonballed into small but deep pools of water, rappelled a good deal, and earned several bruises. It was quite an experience! At the end, they set up a fire and grilled cheese spaetzle. Yum! I had only boiled spaetzle before, who knew it could be grilled, giving it a smoky campfire taste? This activity is one I think we all would love to do again (although I honestly can’t think of one activity we didn’t really like).

Canyoning with waterfall.

Friday: Vipiteno and Bolzano

Because we spent so much time on the go, we opted for a bus tour through Austria and into northern Italy. We made a stop in Vipiteno to sample wine and shop a bit, then went to Bolzano for lunch and to visit the Otzi exhibit. Otzi is the oldest preserved human and is “iced” daily. The exhibit was fascinating, although it was disturbing to see a musical had been made from his story… a musical. I had to look it up when we got back, and it seems absolutely dreadful. But it was a beautiful day in Italy (and honestly, there are very few days in Italy that aren’t).

Saturday: Linderhof Palace

After checking out, we made a slight detour to see Linderhof Palace. Photos aren’t allowed inside, but the interior was opulent and cozy at the same time. I think the grotto was the best feature, manmade for Ludwig II to enjoy his private opera or other musical performances, sitting in a cave or paddling around in his golden swan boat, and afterwards swimming in the interior lake that could be heated. Dude! He also created several cabins from folklore or fairy tales, where he would have servants dress in costume for the full effect. After that, the ride home was fairly humdrum, although we took a fairly scenic road along the border that inspired me to look into possibly doing this trip again in the future with a slightly different locale.

Linderhof Palace.

So concluded our outdoor adventures, but the bruises lasted a few weeks longer as a reminder. ;-)

Italy and the Adriatic: Part 5

Venice Day 1

The captain had mentioned early views of Venice from the ship around 6 a.m., but the sun was streaming in the port holes before that even. We made it out of our room by 6:30 a.m., but we were still well out of the Venice area. The ship finally docked at 10 a.m. after puttering through the city for nearly an hour, and the sun was out to greet us! After collecting luggage, many of the passengers bee-lined for the nearest water bus. It was a bit messy, but everything came together for our almost 45 minute ride up and through the Grand Canal. Luckily, the B&B was only a block away from the stop, so finding it and getting logistics in order was a snap.

Venice.Canals.

First up was a winding route to the Santa Maria della Salute, one of Venice’s four plague churches, after a quick lunch stop (seafood pizza, anyone?) in a campo en route. It’s mostly a huge domed room, and it does leave an impression. Worth the circuitous trek! The Guggenheim Museum was on the path back, but we kept going until the Accedemia Bridge and on to San Marco Square. Crowded, but not phobically so. I understand “loggia” now, so many arches! The basilica wasn’t open, although a line funneled through the entryway to get a sampling of the golden mosaics littering the ceilings of this building, so we bought the ticket to the Doge’s Palace that included four other museums.

Santa Maria della Salute.Basilica mosaics.

The Palace wasn’t terribly busy at all (still have shivers at the thought of the people crunch at the Vatican), so seeing the Doge’s apartments, the judicial suites, and the new prison over the Bridge of Sighs was quite pleasant. I particularly enjoyed that last bit (I don’t know why I find dungeon-y areas to be interesting), so we picked up Casanova’s escape from a Venice prison to read later on. Just off San Marco square in direction of Rialto, we ate at a standard Italian restaurant and learned some important lessons. One. Don’t sit, there’s a fee. Two. Italian waiters aren’t all that friendly, but it doesn’t matter because they throw in their tip in the bill. Three. It’s better just to order “on the go”.

Prison.

After that enlightening experience, we went our separate ways as Herr and I wished to see the square at night. There was some time left before then, so we mostly “got lost” (Venice is very much so a rat maze, but one could hardly get lost if one wanders enough; it’s an island for heaven’s sake!) looking for a Bankomat. We gave up and asked for directions after a while and made our way back to the square for dusk. Not as many folks, but still a substantial number (only 9 p.m. though). We got photo happy then made our own way to Rialto Bridge and back to the B&B.

Shop window.Gondolas.Marble walls.Gondolas.

Venice Day 2

A wicked storm passed through in the night that made for bad sleep, so waking up was not an easy task. Sunday isn’t a very active day in the city as well, which was good for us as most places didn’t open until 10 a.m. Because the weather was so cold, we spent much of our day indoors. The day before we passed a permanent da Vinci’s machines exhibit in a de-sanctified church, and it was en route. It held 55 of 60 reproductions from da Vinci’s codices and was a fun way to start off the museum run.

This time was much easier to find our way to San Marco, where we explored the Museum Correr (a more general museum of Venetian history), the Archaeological Museum (which really didn’t feel like it had much to do with Venetian history), and two rooms of the National Library with displays of books from the San Michele monastery and a fabulous map created by a monk, Fra Mauro, that I really enjoyed.

By then the check clomid stories had opened up and we popped in line to see the interior. It is worth seeing, but photography is not allowed (strictly speaking), and still too many tour groups! And that was another prohibition: do not give explanations inside the basilica. No one was following those rules very well, and no one seemed to care too much. Because the bell tower was just across the way, we paid the eight euros a person to go up the elevator (I never paid so much to go up to a vantage point yet in Europe, and that includes the Eiffel!). The top was extremely windy but offered great views of the city that we didn’t stick around to enjoy so we could get out of the wind just as quickly. We later learned that in 1902 the bell tower crumbled to a pile of rubble of its own accord, so this one is fairly new construction for Venice and is already experiencing the cracking the previous thousand year old one did. Herr learned the city is putting a titanium ring in its foundation to stop the ground from shifting out from underneath it, so I’m curious if that really helps.

Venice.

We took nearly the same path as the day before and crossed the Rialto bridge in the daylight. I was interested to see the famous market, but it’s mostly closed on Sunday (except for some vegetable sellers and souvenir shops). So that was a quick run through and back to the B&B to drop off our goodies. Herr went to a Vivaldi concert that evening, but I took it mostly to relax. We did a lot of touring this trip, and it was all starting to catch up to me!

Venice Day 3

Venice, in the last day, was spent at the Guggenheim Museum and the park with a whole lot of wandering around aimlessly (mostly wherever shiny objects glinted) until the train left for Verona. Sadly for tourists, weekdays seem to be jam packed with classroom visits (the museum was formerly a house, so get the large airy vault-like rooms out of your head), with children showing very little interest in the subject matter that a full paying audience would have liked to appreciate. At the Guggenheim, I counted around seven or eight classes that came jabbering like a flock of seagulls all with some critical proclamation to make about life. The collection itself suits a broad audience, some of it appealing more to others in different rooms. We both saw fascinating pieces, regardless of the feeling of struggling upstream in trying to forge through the masses.

One of the last remaining parks on the main island is near the bus and train stations. Hearing the sounds of cars and buses was jaunting after two days within the carless town (although motor boats are everywhere). We sat in the shade of trees with the entertainment of pigeons playing in the water then walked some more along the Grand Canal with gelato in hand. Late in the afternoon we caught the train to Verona. The B&B was located on the top floor, so there was no getting away from MORE STAIRS! Oh the stairs, stairs, stairs… but I digress.

Verona

Verona wasn’t quite what I expected. I think I had more of a Tuscany village picture in my mind based on Letters to Juliet, but the city is a fairly modern European city. On the way into the old city is the Roman Theater and Archaeological Museum. The Ponte Pietra bridge (partially bombed in the war and reconstructed with brick) took us in with no real plan. Piazza della Erbe isn’t too far from the bridge and houses a fun market filled with several fresh fruit vendors.

Roman ruins.

Just farther south is Juliet’s House. The archway is littered with graffiti (e.g. love notes), but the house itself is now kept clean. The alley was crowded, and we decided to pay to go into the house. Keep in mind that Juliet’s house isn’t really a historical fact, and even the “infamous” balcony isn’t real. The protrusion was added in the early 1900s and could even be a sarcophagus! We saw several “hanging” sarcophagi, which made me curious about them in their open air stone gazebos (I believe they are the Scaliger Tombs). The house’s interior was reconstructed to resemble what a house may have looked like in the time of Shakespeare. The Romeo and Juliet theme was carried throughout, but it was overall a modest display and surprisingly quiet (most people just do improper things in the alley to the poor bronze Juliet statue).

Love graffiti.Juliet house.

We stopped for a fresh fruit cup snack, then walked down the main shopping street that came out at the amphitheater that is still in use. Unfortunately, the troubles we had getting in (bring exact change!) weren’t quite worth the effort. Along the trip were some beautiful theaters and amphitheaters already, and while this one was still in use (workers were setting up a stage while we sat there), we found nothing really significant about it. However, afterwards we stopped for a fruit popsicle dipped in chocolate and found heaven! Ohhhh, so good! We sat in the neighboring piazza and devoured them. My goal from that point on was to have another one, but sadly we never did cross another shop by happenstance (grrr).

The Via Roma cut right to Castelvecchio, which was an impressive structure right on the river. It houses a museum, but we liked the idea of moseying around outside more. Another unique Veronese feature are the forked battlements. I’m not quite sure what their purpose was, but they do stand out. The Ponte Vittoria is connected to the Castelvecchio with even more stunning views of Italian hills, the river, and architecture, and it offered a good deal of languorous water and bird viewing. After a while we made it a bit farther north to a park for some more viewing in a seated position and finally determined to see at least the exterior of the duomo up close. We crossed back into downtown, saw the duomo and Anastasia church exteriors, came across the Scaliger Tombs and Romeo’s House around the corner. That building is privately owned and only offers its exterior to the public.

Scaliger Tombs.

At that point we were pretty cooked and made our way back to the B&B to meet up with our ride (the innkeeper) to the airport, but we had enough time to jaunt up more stairs in a hill (more!) for a decent vantage point of the city. Verona wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was still a good visit. I’m not sure I would have put it at the end of our trip like we did (with so many fantastic cities already in our memories), but it was fun to get a little caught up in the Romeo and Juliet romance and have one really tasty fruitcicle. :-)

Verona.

Italy and the Adriatic: Part 4

Montenegro

The captain recommended the passengers make an early wake up (6 a.m.) to view the entrance to the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Absolutely beautiful. He pointed out an old submarine repair station (a tunnel in the side of the “mountain”) and several small war ships sitting derelict along the shore. We could hardly peel ourselves away from the windy deck to sit down to breakfast (we watched out the windows the entire time). Our last paid tour took place very early, and overall I must say Montenegro is definitely a place to visit! The tour took us to a number of locations in the country, starting with a trip up 25 switchbacks to get over the mountain. I call them stitches. Seriously, look at Google Maps. In fact, the tour guide described it as the civil engineer’s best work (I’d have to agree, now that my heart is back to normal after the harrowing corners our bus took). Oh, and what a view! The Bay of Kotor is listed by UNESCO as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. I can see why.

Bay of Kotor.Bay of Kotor.Cows.

Our first stop was in a small village that produces the smoked ham that is one of the country’s specialties. The curing/smoking process takes an entire year to complete! The bus pulled into a quaint restaurant to sample the ham and local cheese, as well as the local wine for those so inclined. I have to say the ham (like a prosciutto) did have a delicate distinct flavor not at all bad.

Mountain.

The next stop was in Cetinje, the former capitol, when it was still a kingdom (prior to Yugoslavia). The mountain village only held several thousand inhabitants. The entire country, now, is just over half a million people. The limestone mountains make for an interesting history and difficult expansion. Our guide walked us through the St. Nicholas Museum, once the palace of the royal family, then gave us a couple minutes to wander back to the bus on our own. At this point we met up with the highway, so no more crazy scary roads!

Back down the mountains the bus made its way through a larger (35,000 inhabitants) town of Budva, now famous for its hotel used in the recent Casino Royale movie. Following the highway was our last stop back in Kotor. The guide took us in a circle route around Old Kotor, surrounded by an old wall, then left us to discover whatever we wished. This was the most time we got on our own, and Herr and I decided to walk up to the mountain’s fort by way of the miniature “China Wall”. Granted, in retrospect, this was a bad idea in the bright sun in the middle of the afternoon, so about halfway we went our separate ways. Herr was determined to see the top, and I was determined not to pass out from heat exhaustion. I did a little shopping while cooling off in the shade of the buildings and hightailed it back to the ship. I did have a scoop of samalad (ice cream!) and found it quite agreeable. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind living there.

Church.Ramparts.Bay with yacht.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Thursday was the first day on the cruise we did not take a pre-packaged shore excursion. The ship dropped anchor in the bay outside of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and we took our ship’s own tenders right up to the walled old city (another UNESCO site, woohoo!). The first order of business was to get the local money, the Kuna. Croatia does not use the euro, although many shops will take it. The main street has smooth white paving stones and the shops all have arched doorways. The wall runs very high and allows easy views of the famous red tiled roofs (many tiles had to be replaced because of earthquakes and the recent war).

Dubrovnik.

We found the morning market first, which was cute. The cathedral and Rector’s Palace were just around the corner, so our first stop was the palace. Inside was a museum with historical artifacts of Dubrovnik, which was a nice relaxed introduction to the city. The ticket covered three museums, so after a quick stop inside the cathedral, we walked to the pier to visit the Maritime Museum. It was located on the upper floor of an old fort attached to the wall and had some interesting information about maritime activities in the city over the years (Dubrovnik was a major port for hundreds of years). The museum itself is simply one room and is thusly a quick visit.

Cathedral.

Luckily, the city wall connects right at the museum entrance, so we were fortunate enough to walk part of the wall for free! It was great to enjoy the view of the port and get a close look at the roof tiles before descending again. We were at the drawbridge gate at that point and used the opportunity to go outside the wall and up the cable car for an overarching city view. The sun was beating down, so after exploring some of the bunker ruins from the 1991-2 war, we had a lovely seafood lunch with much of the cafe to ourselves (everyone else was eating outside) with the best indoor view. We went back down, did some shopping, and came across the St. Ignatius church before heading back to the ship for a big barbecue buffet.

Dubrovnik.Coast.Sunset.

Hvar, Croatia

Our last day on the cruise, we made a brief half-day stop in Hvar, Croatia. Hvar is known as one of the sunniest islands in the world as well as the longest at 33 miles along the Dalmatian Coast. And lavender. Lots of lavender, although the fields weren’t visible from the port city (sigh). We made it on the first tender out bright and early around 7:45 a.m. when the city was still waking up. The port opens right into the main square with the arsenal and clock tower posted at the corners. The first road off the main square is also the main gate into the old city. And then there were stairs. Lots of stairs. Again. Again! All of the old city streets are paved with white marble stones, so they were slightly slippery going up. Hvar is a small town though, so it was a short ascent to the gate of the Spanola Fortica (the Fortress), and the rest of the climb was on an easy sloping path.

Plants.

The fortress had many uses over its existence, but the primary purpose was always in defense of the city. Along the path up, we jogged off a bit to see the fortress’s church. In the fortress itself, we saw a small amphorae exhibit and the prisons on top of the view. We took a different “street” back down into the old city and saw the old well, a small church, and the vegetable market just on the other side of the wall at the bottom. Just a quick peak in the main cathedral on the square before we poked our heads into a couple of shops. I found some lavender and had a bit of ice cream before returning to the ship.

Church.Fortress walls.Hvar.

We intentionally made the city visit short so we could try out the marina on board. Herr went water skiing while I hung out on the inflatable trampoline, slide, and water mat. It took some building up of courage to get into the briny cold water, but at least the sun warmed us up quite nicely. Since it was our last day on the ship with a morning arrival in Venice the next day, we had to pack our bags and get ready for our time back in Italy.

Italy and the Adriatic: Part 3

Capri, Italy

Our first shore excursion, Capri! It started off wet. And cold. A front had gone through, and the cloud was hovering over the highest point of Capri. The ship anchored out of the harbor, and we hopped aboard tenders straight to the Blue Grotto. Along the way, the tour guide gave us an amusing overview of “Boar Island”, and I wasn’t sure just what we were really going to get to see on a cloudy day in the grotto. From our larger tender boat, we jumped into smaller row boats in groups of four for an intimate ride through a very small hole in the cliff wall. We all had to lie down in the boat to get through, but wow! The water lit up underneath like a giant neon light. The rowers entertained us with song as we ogled the glowing water.

Blue Grotto.

The tenders then took us to the main port of Marina Grande, and a bus weaved us up to the town of Anacapri. We sat for a while to do a wine tasting that Herr thought was “okay”, but we both agree the bruschetta was tasty. From there we got tickets to ride a single-seat chair lift to the tippy top of Solaro Mountain. The ride was a unique and peaceful experience that took a little over ten minutes dangling in the air to reach our destination that sat in a cloud. Despite not getting the view from the top, the ride itself was worth doing.

Solaro Mountain lift.Marina Grande.

When we came back down, we ate a lunch of sandwiches we grabbed from the ship (free food!), and I bought a gelato (it was also just “okay”). The shops were cute though; expensive, but I didn’t have enough time to truly check them out (or I’m sure I would have spent a good deal of money). The tour guide shoveled us back into buses to go to the main port of Capri, pointed out the major highlights around the main square, and left us to our own devices. Herr and I looked at a few shops, then took the funicular railway back down to the port for some more quick shopping (just a summer dress). Back to the tender and a good nap for me once on board while Herr dutifully checked out the fitness center. By the time we had left, the sun was out, so we both got a little pinker.

Capri harbor.

Taormina, Sicily

Ah, Sicily! The day was much more pleasant, weather-wise, but there was some frustration with how much time we had. The port of Messina isn’t terribly interesting as most of the city was rebuilt after a 1908 earthquake, so we took another tour that required a bus ride to Taormina, about 30 miles south. The city of Taormina is beautiful with views of the coast from its mountainous location with Mt. Etna (the tallest volcano in Europe, and quite active) in the background. The bus brought us to the south end of the main street, which we walked to get to the north end where the ancient Greek theatre is located. The theatre was retrofitted by the Romans to be an amphitheater, so it has a mix of stone and brick infrastructure. While sitting down to hear its history, one found it difficult to take their eyes off the mountain in the distance.

Messina harbor.Amphitheater with Mount Etna.

We ate lunch once the guide let us go and only had 45 minutes to walk the long stretch of road back to the other end. Along the street were several confectionery shops that looked good, so we sampled some of the local food. I wanted to do much more shopping – the streets were just beckoning me – but we hardly had time to get back. We did make one side tour to see the English garden that was visible from the theatre. It was quite a sight, I just wished we could have seen more of it.

Taormina.English garden.

Practically jogging back up the hill to the main street, we made it back to the tour group to get back on the bus back to Messina. Unfortunately, Sicily has a three hour siesta during the time we arrived, so we couldn’t get into the church to see the 16,000 pipe organ. So back to the ship to chill out. Amusingly, one of the huge cruise ships had pulled in as our ship was docking; it was so huge! About as big as a mega-hotel on water with roughly 3,000 or 3,500 passengers. I don’t think I would ever enjoy something so crowded and large. The WindSurf sailing yacht is quite big enough for me! We had high tea and chatted with others as we pulled out of the harbor. Herr went for dinner (I couldn’t handle yet another 3 course dinner!), and I finally got a chance to watch A Room with a View (recommended to me by a friend).

At Sea

Today was a day at sea, with the shores of Italy hanging off one side of the ship for a good part of the day before heading straight into the Ionian Sea towards the Dalmatian Coast. For the most part, I chilled out in the library playing word puzzles and Trivial Pursuit until our afternoon spa appointments. The sea was a bit rough with high winds but sunny; I found walking in a straight line a challenge so preferred to sit.

Herr tried acupuncture for the first time. He came back to the room looking more relaxed than I have ever seen him, so I am curious now to try it myself. Dinner was another three course meal that left me feeling full beyond capacity. We camped out and watched Back to the Future, vegetable-style.