|Bye bye house and vineyard|
|Hello city apartment|
|Coming over Devil’s Gate on the Wellington South Coast|
|Bye bye house and vineyard|
|Hello city apartment|
|Coming over Devil’s Gate on the Wellington South Coast|
|Landshut is a beautifully preserved town|
|Love your shoes|
|Clothes not available at H&M|
|Village life in the kitchens|
Well gentle reader, I left you on the edge of your seat, wondering what became of us after we were unceremoniously dumped in Cortina, still with two and a half days to run on our six day walking tour.
Leaving us and our bags at the hotel and driving off with the rest of the walking group, Gary, the least flexible tour guide in the business, said "we'll be here tomorrow night and meet you in the bar at 7:00". Huh? WTF? You seriously think we're keen to see you again?
Meanwhile, back in the real world where tours are professionally run, our blokes were enjoying a 10 day motorcycle trip with paradisemotorcycletours.co.nz. As luck would have it we find they are due in Cortina at lunchtime the very next day. A discussion with the fabulous (and flexible) motorcycle tour operators Mike and Jo, reveals there is room in the support vehicle and an extraction plan is put into action. Cue Mission Impossible theme....
|The excessively charming Hotel Senger in Heilingenblut|
In fact it's much less dramatic; all it involves is Sue and I packing our bags and jumping in the van for a beautiful drive through the alpine passes. The scheduled stop for the night is the small town of Heiligenblut which clings to the side of an Austrian mountain. Bonus! Austria wasn't on our Italian walking itinerary and the motorcycle riders seem happy to have us along. As we enjoy a raucous evening we imagine Gary arriving in Cortina and being devastated that we've disappeared.
Next morning we watch the riders get a briefing before they head off to one of the highlights of the trip - the Grossglockner. At 2,800 metres it is the highest alpine pass in Austria, and the second highest in the Alps.
|Pre ride briefing|
|The h-g and his BMW|
Sue and I join the lovely Jo in the van and head up the same road. I am sincerely glad I'm not driving the hairpin bends.
The views are stunning. I wish I'd worn warmer clothes.
|It's freezing up here|
|Glacier emerging from the Alps|
It's an enjoyable drive back to Munich and we're grateful to Mike and Jo of Paradise Motorcycle Tours, and of course the rest of the bikers, for letting us tag along. We had such a good time and it was capped off with a farewell dinner at a fabulous Italian restaurant in Munich. Rather gloriously, my spaghetti with parmesan and truffle is finished in a huge parmesan wheel.
And so ends that part of the adventure.
Next installment - surfing in Munich!
At 61 years old, I never expected to be sent to the naughty step.
That, and a little bit more happened on the Dolomites walking trip my friend Sue and I took after our days at Lake Garda.
We chose Right Path Adventures on the promises of their website http://www.rightpathadventures.com/ which states it's a luxury walking tour (and it would want to be at the price - $3,495US which puts it at nearly $5,000NZ) taking limited numbers, with "custom trips available for all ages, skill and fitness levels". Along with promises of world class cuisine, wonderful hotels, no single supplement, and no hidden costs, what's not to like? It promises one of the best weeks of your life.
The owner and guide, Gary Scott, certainly knows the Dolomites and has set up great relationships with restaurants and hotels in the region. The mountains are fabulous; the scenery breathtaking; the walks enjoyable, if challenging, in places; the hotels charming (but by no means luxury); the food is delicious regional cuisine.
|White risotto with herbs|
There are only five of us on the trip with Sue and I being the slowest, in part because Sue had been suffering from a large blister. However, in our naïveté we were taking "all ages, skills and fitness levels" literally.
It would have been helpful to have more information about the walks each day. Where were we going? How long was the walk? What sort of terrain, for example did it start up the plateau off? Or undulate? What could we expect to see? We hadn't received anything before the trip so expected a daily briefing at breakfast (where's Gary?) and debrief afterwards at dinner (where's Gary). But Gary was like the Scarlet Pimpernel - hard to find.
But Gary likes to do things his way, and they aren't with the group. He joined us for dinner the first night but never again, either at breakfast or dinner.
You know when you give feedback at the end and people say "why didn't you say something at the time so I could've fixed it?" Well I had the temerity to give a Gary the above feedback after day three, and that's when we got sent to the naughty step.
He told us in no uncertain terms he wasn't going to change the way he did things, he had 1,000s of satisfied customers who gave him big tips, people came back again and again and they didn't need an itinerary, he'd been successfully leading trips blah blah blah. Long diatribe short - he was throwing us off the trip and dropping us at Cortina.
There are worse places to be exiled.
After four sweltering days at Lake Garda (35 C) it was a pleasure to move into the mountains, but not before enjoying swimming in the lake and visiting nearby attractions.
|Desenzano dal Garda|
A day trip to Sirmione reveals not only a blue haired million day trippers, but a castle fit for Game of Thrones!
Given my prep for five days walking in the Dolomites (the Italian Alps) was ensuring a zero fitness base then building on that with two months eating and drinking through the USA, it is no surprise to me that day one was a bit of a bitch.
|Onwards and upwards|
In fact, it was a pretty mild hike with a few sections of uphill and a steep downhill at the end, but otherwise undulating moderately. Hot sun and 28 degrees didn't help, but I've no one to blame by myself for my lazy approach and lack of match fitness.
Subsequently the story gets a lot more interesting, but in the meantime here's photos of the fabulous Dolomites and their surrounds.
|Made it to the top|
|You climb and climb, and suddenly! Cows - with bells|
|Shale and rocky bits|
|There's always a Refugio for coffee and strudel|
|And a chapel for a quick prayer|
|Ready to roll - 220kms to go The flight to Frankfurt and then train to Mainz go without a hitch. On arrival in Mainz we realise we have no idea where the hotel is, so we pile our bags into a taxi and tell the driver Hotel Konigshof. He turns and points 100metres down the road. Sheepishly we unload the bags and walk across the street.|
We've booked a five day six night trip running along the Rhine from Mainz to Cologne (Koln). Most days are 35 to 40-ish kms a day with the exception of one longer day (which you'll have read about in the last blog, many of you laughing unkindly at my misfortunes!)
We've arrived a day early to do some siteseeing. High on the list is the Gutenberg Museum, as we recently saw two early editions of the Gutenberg Bible, one in the Senate Library in Washington, and the other in the New York Public Library. Sadly, the museum is closed on Mondays. The h-g was interested in the Museum of Ancient Shipbuilding. Guess what! Closed on Mondays. Our disappointment was short lived when we went to St Stephen's Church - not closed on Mondays.
I think this is the first time I've walked into a church and gasped in awe. It's not really large and it's certainly not ornate. What it has is a series of blue stained glass windows by the Russian/French artist Marc Chagall. Just breathtaking.
|Chagall stained glass in St Stephens|
Our bikes are waiting for us at the hotel. Three of us are on e-bikes and the h-g is doing it the old fashioned way. It's my first time on an e-bike and I LOVE it. You still have to pedal but getting the power assist up a hill, not that there's many going along the river, is wonderful.
|Loving the e-bike|
Our trip runs from Mainz to Rudesheim, to St. Goar, to Koblenz, to Bad Godesberg, and finishes at Cologne. A couple of cable car trips give us stunning views of the landscape and river course.
|Vines around Rudesheim|
We're travelling through the expected: vineyards plunging down vertiginous slopes, castles perched on rocky promontories, and twists and turns of the bike path. We rarely have to encounter traffic as the Rhine bike path runs its own route. In fact it runs 1230 kms from Andermatt in Switzerland to Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands.
I guess that means we'll have to do the other 1,000 kms or so another time. I'll definitely be on an e- bike.
|Yet another castle on the Middle Rhine|
|The longest sweep of the river|
l was looking forward (not) to day four of our cycle trip along the Rhine - 60kms and a feisty headwind. We are leaving Koblenz to ride to Bad Godesberg.
Koblenz is lovely. Sitting at the confluence of the Mosel and the Rhine it has lots of walking and cycling paths through parks and along the water. The old town is charming and beautiful.
I start the day well, genteelly falling off my bike as I put my foot down to the kerb, but miss. Ankle, knee, thigh, hip - bruises will ensue. The day only gets better when I inadvertently brush against stinging nettle and my leg suffers death by 1,000 cuts - or stings in this case.
After 40 ass burning kms we stop for the requisite beer and Germany sausage for lunch: Currywurst in this instance. It turns out currywurst is not, as we expect, a spicy curry sausage but a regular pork sausage drenched in tomato sauce and sprinkled with the merest hint of curry powder. Huh? Actually this turns out to be the highlight of my day.
|The fries were really good - currywurst, not so much|
What luck, in an historic first, I kept the receipt for the sausage fest so we can call the restaurant. Yes, they have my bag. Cue €55 taxi to restaurant and back to collect said bag, and €10 thank you to lovely waitress.
Could the day get any better? Only with alcohol.
I've now had the quintessential American experience: I've been to a baseball game at Yankee stadium. Woohoo!
We arrive at Yankee Stadium!
A native New Yorker friend took us to the game. Bill knows everything there is to know about baseball, but has a healthy cynicism when it comes to the "hokey-ness" of the overall experience. He was the perfect guide.
It's the game crowd and the going-home-from-work crowd on the number 4 train uptown. It takes about an hour and as we finally spill out at 161st street, the legions of cops heavily armed with military style assault rifles make me suddenly think: aaargghhh 40,000 people in a stadium - perfect terrorist target. Yikes!
Inside Yankee Stadium
Who's on first?
But it's not our night to die for either terrorism or American sports.
And what's more, we have fun, although the cheese could not be laid on any thicker. Stand and sing the national anthem, hand over heart, before play commences. At the top of the 7th inning we recognise and applaud tonight's chosen one - not a sports hero, a combat veteran. Yes, two tours in the Middle East and we thank you for your service. All stand and sing God Bless America, hand on heart again. It strikes me that Vietnam vets must be sooooo pissed off at the glory and gratitude bestowed on current servicemen and women after the way they've been treated.
Tonight's American hero
The game recommences with a rousing chorus of Take Me Out to The Ballgame, a song that's been on my mind all day - even though I don't know the words. All the while we eat Nathan's famous hot dogs with mustard and ketchup, drink appallingly bad American beer, have a round of Nathan's fried chicken, drink more beer and lap up the atmosphere.
Hot dogs, French fries and chicken
Hundreds of people, kids and adults alike, are sporting catcher's mitts, believing they'll be the one lucky enough to catch a fly ball or boundary breaking strike. Anyway, there are balls to spare. As soon as a ball touches the ground it is replaced. Doesn't matter if it was dropped, hit, or used for practice. Into the crowd it goes and a brand spanking new ball takes its place. The umpire, crouching behind the catcher, has an endless supply in his pouch - it's like Santa dispensing gifts from his sack.
The Yankees beat the Red Sox eight runs to zero so it's a good night for New Yorkers. The crush on the subway home is worse, if that's possible, than the way there. But it's a good natured crowd - after all, we're winners! Thank God it was only three or so hours, not five days