On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Five Days in Madrid

This is a recounting of the third leg of my European trip in September 2019. After the cool and damp weather of Norway, followed by the more temperate and drier Belgium and France, we finished off with the sun and heat of Madrid. The main purpose in going there, besides it being a place we had never visited before, was to see what the Prado offered. We discovered so much more.

Tuesday Sept 24
Paris to Madrid

Today was a travel day. Lucille and I didn’t have an early flight, unlike the others, so were able to have a relaxed routine in the morning before catching the shuttle to the airport. The 2-hour flight to Madrid, via Air France, was uneventful even though there was the possibility of a work stoppage by government workers, such as air traffic controllers, in the almost constant parade of French protests about various complaints.

Once at MAD, we took the very handy express bus to the Atocha terminal in Madrid, then walked the 20-minutes to the B&B that Lucille had arranged. We were greeted by the landlord, given a tour of the apartment and some safety instructions (make sure you lock all 5 deadbolts, the safety chain and, when outside the building, don’t talk to anyone!). The views from the 4th (top) floor unit were not great, just walls on all sides, but the location was very handy for all the things we wanted to do. She gave us directions to the local grocery stores so we went out and bought enough breakfast and snack items to last us for our duration there.

The view from Lucille’s room was, um, limited.

 

At least the view from my window had some greenery.

 

That’s a lot of deadbolts!

Wednesday Sept 25
Madrid

Went for a bike tour of Madrid in the morning. Took about 30 minutes to walk to the Bravo Bike shop from our B&B and get our bikes set up. Nice new Trek hybrids, much nicer than the bikes we used on the barge! Only Lucille and I were in the tour, led by Alex, so it was much easier to follow him in the crazy Madrid traffic than if there were more of us. Narrow streets, lots of cars that don’t give you much room and, of course, avoiding the pedestrians kept us busy and concentrated. Alex took us to most of the interesting sites in the downtown area, covering about 11 km in total. Finished the tour around 12:30 and walked back to the B&B.

We had nothing planned for the afternoon, wanting to save a full day for the Prado, so we went to the much smaller Reina Sofia Museum. A nice bonus was that it was free entry for seniors! We took our time in the museum, going through all the rooms and then walked over to the Parque de El Retiro which we had biked through earlier. It was nice to go at a pace faster than “museum pace” and the park is huge and beautiful. Many people were out enjoying the weather – jogging, walking, biking, picnicking or just lolling around on the grass.

The “living wall” on the side of a building in Madrid.

 

Mike and Lucille by the Crystal Palace in the Parque de El Retiro.

Thursday Sept 26
Madrid

Spent the day at the Prado and got in for seniors rate (€7.50). Perused most of the first floor from 10am to 12, had a small lunch in the cafeteria downstairs, then did about half of floor 0 from 12:30 to 3:30. Finally museumed, and religioned out. Will have to go back on Saturday to do the rest. It is a very nice museum but, unlike in the Louvre, the guards would not let us take any pictures! Not just no flash but no pictures at all. I was able to get a few anyway when they weren’t looking.

We had a rest and a bite to eat back at the apartment then did a 25-minute walk to where we had to meet Yolanda for the flamenco tour. She is a professional flamenco guide as well as a flamenco student and translator. We met her at 6pm and she took us to a tapas bar to have a wine and tapas, then to a flamenco studio (her old one), then to a flamenco guitar maker (one of the guitarists in Supertramp bought a guitar made there), then to a flamenco shoe store and costume store. All of this was to give us a background in the art of flamenco, as well as the history of it. The final stop was at a flamenco bar (Las Carboneras) to watch a show. The place was packed, and we had the best table in the house, right in front of the stage. The show was fantastic – athletic, artistic, dramatic – with the dancers showing off their best moves. It was not something I would have thought of doing so I thank our friends, John and Vida, for recommending it. Definitely a show to remember and well worth the money.

After the show, we walked back home, getting in around 11. A long but satisfying day.

The Prado is a lot less crowded than the Louvre!

 

The alternate Mona Lisa. Said to be painted by da Vinci’s students in the same studio and at the same time as the one in the Louvre. I like this one better.

 

One of the 4 dancers at Las Carboneras flamenco club. Great show!

Friday, Sept 27
Toledo

Chris and Susan had recommended that we take the train to Toledo if we had time. Sounded like a good idea so we got up at 6am and caught the 7:50 train to Toledo, only a 35 minute trip. It was about a 20-minute walk from the train station to the main square downtown. We were way early for the 11am walking tour so we stopped for a coffee at a bar on the plaza then wandered around for a while. Very pretty town, lots of stone walls, castle type buildings and churches, of course.

The walking tour took us to various viewpoints overlooking the city, with the guide (heavy Spanish accent) explaining the history. Combination of 3 cultures – Christian, Arab and Jewish – all reflected in the architecture. We finished the tour around 12:30 so had a beer in the Jewish quarter before visiting the synagogue museum (free for seniors!).

Afterwards, we wandered over to the cathedral, which was recommended by our guide. Supposed to be one of the largest in the world, though it didn’t seem too big from the outside. Not so! The place is enormous, with more naves, chapels and other rooms scattered around. Opulence galore, with gold, artwork, and artifacts displayed all over. Took lots of pictures and spent almost 2 hours in the warren of rooms.

After finding our way out of the church, we found a restaurant that our guide recommended. A non-touristy place with good prices but, unfortunately, the food was mediocre at best. We didn’t linger after dinner and made our way back to the square then down to the train for the trip back to Madrid.

Toledo in the sunshine.

 

Quiet, narrow pedestrian streets in Toledo. And lovely stonework walls.

 

Part of the massive cathedral in Toledo.

 

A wall of gold and gems behind the altar in the Toledo cathedral.

 

The Monstrance of Arfe, a 10-foot tall sculpture of gold, silver and gems.

Saturday Sept 28
Madrid

Another Prado day and we finished off all the rooms that we didn’t see on Thursday. Definitely museumed out now.

We went back to the apartment for a snack then walked to the San Miguel market for a look around. Lots of yummy-looking food and drink which, of course, required more pictures. Lucille bought a bottle of sherry to bring home for €10. Went across the street to the restaurant that Yolanda recommended to have a patate (potato based tortilla) and a beer then back to the room. Finished off the day by relaxing and more games of Farkel.

 

The busy San Miguel market in Madrid.

 

Some of the many goodies available to eat, if you could find a spot to squeeze into!

 

In case you have a sweet tooth…

Sunday Sept 29
Madrid – Amsterdam – Edmonton

Got up at 6am and got to the Atocha station in time to catch the early (7:03) express bus to the airport. Approximately a 40-minute ride, €5, and very handy.

First leg to AMS was on a KLM B737-800, with a window and middle seat. Unexpectedly, got a hot meal, though small.

Schiphol airport is large and the signage was not great to find out which gate our next flight left from. We arrived at B gates and departed from E gates, a long walk away. Glad we weren’t in a hurry! Lost Lucille for a bit but we met up again at the passport control. We tried to change our seats for the next leg – I wasn’t able to choose our seats when I checked us in the day before – as we had the middle 2 seats in the middle 4-seat group of a 2-4-2 configuration. No such luck, the flight was full.

The homeward leg was on an A-330. Comfortable seats but the middle of the middle row sucks! I was surprised that so many people are going to YEG but I’m glad that KLM is able to maintain the route.

Unlike my outbound trip from Edmonton, I wasn’t happy with our plane. I couldn’t get any sound from the entertainment system (using their headphones) and the USB charging ports didn’t work. Fortunately, Lucille had earbuds and the proper 2-prong airplane adapter, so I was able to watch a movie (Rocketman) to help pass the time. I need to remember to bring my adapter next time I travel :/

Afterthoughts

So, what did I like on this trip, after visiting 4 countries and many different cities? Well, everything of course. It was all fun, even re-doing the old bike route from 7 years ago. But the things that really stood out and that will live longer in my memory bank were the unexpected:

  • The spur of the moment decision to, unprepared, hike the 15 km trail between Mt. Floyen and Mt. Ulriken, outside of Bergen;
  • The harp concert in Bruges that we heard about by chance;
  • Biking up the cobblestone hill on part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Oude Kwaremont,on the way to Tournai;
  • The string sextet/choir/organ practice in Peronne that we just happened upon.

Some of the planned activities were memorable too, considering that they were completely outside of our experience so had no idea if we would enjoy:

  • The zipline outside of Flam; and
  • The flamenco tour in Madrid.

The common thread uniting all these is the experience of something new. I have always loved being challenged physically, which is why I loved hiking Machu Pichu, so the Bergen hike and the Oude Kwaremont climb, besides being surprises, fit right into that category as well. But a harp concert? And delving into the world of flamenco? Knowing me, who would have thought! The zipline was just pure fun – I knew that I would enjoy that experience – keeping a smile on my face the whole way down.

Note to self, and anyone who happens to read this – aim for the new, be it places or activities, even if they are outside your realm of experience or (within reason) your comfort zone. The greatest fun, and greatest reward, is in expanding your horizons.

Biking From Bruges to Paris

The second leg of my European trip in September was a re-do of a bike-and-barge trip that I had done previously in 2012. I enjoyed that trip so much, probably because it was my first bike-and-barge and my first trip back to Europe since 1973 (!) that I decided to do it again. This trip was with a totally different group of people, though I had biked with most of them for years with our ski club’s biking group, and on a different barge. The destinations each night, where the barge would moor for the night, were pretty well the same as before but I was sure that our daily routes would vary, simply because there are so many bike route options in Belgium and France.

Saturday Sept 7
Bruges, Barge

We spent the morning walking around Bruges. We couldn’t get on the barge until 3 so just sightseed until we could check in. I have been to Bruges twice before and have visited all the top tourist spots so I was fine with the wandering. While walking on the bargeweg, the area where the barges dock, in the morning, we said hello to the captain as he was getting it ready for us. He looked concerned that we might want to board but we assured him that we were only curious and would be back at the proper check-in time.

With only a 20-minute walk from the hotel to the barge, we all dragged our suitcases down the streets instead of taking cabs. The captain met us as we climbed on board the Zwaantje at 3 pm, helping us heft our suitcases down the steep, narrow stairs to the cabins below deck. We were introduced to the crew: Martijn (captain), Andre (guide), Bo (hostess), Gabriel (mate), Frank (cook), and Michael (engineer). We checked out the bikes for proper sizing and made a few adjustments but didn’t do any riding. The last 2 times I left from Bruges, our check ride was out to the town of Damme, a few km out of the city. I guess Andre will just eye us up tomorrow to see what sort of riders we are.

Sunday Sept 8
Bruges to Ghent

It rained during the night and over breakfast but lightened up as we left and didn’t rain the rest of the day. We had a few opening day incidents – the batteries on Susan and Brian’s e-bikes lost all charge after just a few kms. Andre had to get the boat to send out 2 charged up spares. A few hours later, Susan got a flat. Took longer than usual to change it because Andre wanted to patch it instead of just removing the wheel and replacing the tube. That proved unsuccessful – the patch wouldn’t stick properly – so he eventually changed the tube anyway. Don’t know why he didn’t do that to start. Maybe he was more used to dealing with internal hub bikes where removing the wheel is a pain in the ass!

We stopped at the SAR (South Alberta Regiment) memorial, then at a herb garden, where I managed to hit myself in the teeth with the bungee holding my pannier down. Cut my lip and sore but teeth all right, thank goodness. I thought that I had broken a tooth, it hit with so much force. Lucille and I were quite the pair – her with a black eye from her fall on the hike and me with a fat lip!

Made it to Aalter for lunch just after noon. Stopped at a bar in the town square so coffee and/or beer could be ordered to supplement our bagged lunches and to make use of their washrooms. This will be our plan for most days, especially if we don’t stop for coffee in the mid-morning.

Got to the Ghent town square around 3:15. Walked around the old downtown area, visiting the churches. Paid €4 to see the Ghent altarpiece again. Didn’t get the audioguide again though. A group of us then went to a bar before getting back to the square by 5pm, when Andre led us back to the boat. Had another beer on deck, a shower, washed my jersey, then supper at 6. Went for short walk after supper, followed by a game of Farkel. To bed a little after 10. No internet in the cabins ☹️ so I couldn’t do my French lessons. I’ll have to take time during the mornings to do them in the lounge before breakfast. Total riding for day was 57 km.

 

Didn’t take us long to get our first flat! Unfortunately, this was a common occurrence over the next 2 weeks 😦

 

The Belgian version of a corn maze, though no one got lost.

Map of the day’s ride: Bruges to Ghent

Monday Sept 9
Ghent to Oudenaarde

Started off at 9 again with sunny skies but cool temperature. Made our way through the outskirts of Ghent to country roads and forest trails, wonderful for biking. Stopped for a break in Huise. We stopped outside Oudenaarde at the archeological park in Ename to look around. The park has the remains of a Benedictine Abbey that existed from the 11th to 18th century before falling into ruin. All that exists now are the outlines of the foundation walls. We then went into downtown Oudenaarde to visit the biking museum, hoping to be able to buy some souvenir biking shirts. The museum was closed but the store was still open. Lots of pricey jerseys on display but no XXL shirts to fit me! I tried on a L but it was a club fit and waaay too tight for this recreational rider body.  Lucille and Susan, both being small, had better luck and bought the nice black and yellow Flanders lion shirts. Back on the boat by 4pm after 59.6 km of riding.

More of the wonderful Belgian trails

 

Oudenaarde city hall. Also a tapestry museum.

Map of the day’s ride: Ghent to Oudenaarde

Tuesday Sept 10
Oudenaarde to Tournai

Another sunny day and quite warm for a change. Didn’t take long until we were down to just jerseys. We rode to the city hall for a tour of it and the tapestry museum within. I had seen the tapestries last time but not the collection of silver and gold tableware and fine cabinets in the attic. Impressive collection.

After a coffee on the square, we headed off at 11:30 – an unusual late start for our riding day. After about 15 km, we started to climb up out of the valley – this time on cobblestones! The Oude Kwaremont is a section of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, one of the professional spring classics. One website describes it thusly: ”Since 2012, the Oude Kwaremont has been part of the finish for the pros. It’s the penultimate climb challenging the pros. Just as in previous editions of the Tour, this climb may well be the deciding factor. The steepest kilometre has an 11% gradient”. The maximum grade shown on my Garmin was 8.9% but I believe the website. Damn that was hard work – the cobblestones made it seem so much steeper! The e-bikes ate it up, though the rest of us needed a little recovery time once at the top. A little taste of what the pros have to endure, although we had suspension and bigger tires to better absorb the teeth-rattling cobbles.

Not long after, we entered a wooded trail that followed the border between Flanders and Wallonia, the same one we took 7 years ago. I rode behind Andre and he sped along pretty good, and we eventually left everyone else behind. Not sure if he was testing me because I passed him going up the Oude Kwaremont or maybe he was just enjoying the ride. We waited for Carol, who was next to show up, then I waited as a corner as everyone else made their way through the forest. We passed by the restaurant that we ate at 7 years ago (it appeared closed) but stopped at another one a few km beyond. After lunch, we got to do a really nice downhill to make up for that brutal climb.

The stretch into Tournai is a flat towpath beside the Canal du Nord that was a joy to ride. We caught up to and passed the Zwaantje as we rode into the city. Stopped in the square for 45 minutes to look around the Notre Dame church and have a beer, then back to the boat. Total riding for the day was 47.5 km.

With 24 riders, we tended to overwhelm most restaurants that we stopped at, especially the ones with only 1 employee on duty (like this one)!

Map of the day’s ride: Oudenaarde to Tournai

Wednesday Sept 11
Tournai to Bouchain

The barge started cruising at 7 am and moored at a temporary spot outside the town of Maulde at 9:30 to let us off. We started riding in light rain, but it didn’t last too long and it was warm enough to be comfortable. Al and Susan chose to stay on the barge for the day to rest their legs. It was a pretty easy day as the route was flat all day and we made more stops than usual.  We actually disembarked the barge in France, rode back into Belgium and then back into France 8 km later at a little “customs stop” at Rumegies. We stopped for a coffee at 10:30 and lunch at around 1 pm, complete with huge bowls of French fries for everyone to share. We stopped at the mining museum at Lewarde, which I had enjoyed 7 years ago, but we couldn’t get a guided tour for 2 hours so decided to just have another coffee break 😦 That was very disappointing, as I was looking forward to doing the tour again and I was sure that the others would really enjoy it too! Andre knew that we would be going there and should have phoned ahead to ensure that they would be ready for us. Poor planning on his part.

After 15 more km, we met the barge in Bouchain then cruised for another few hours to our evening dockage in Arleux. Total riding for the day was 58.7 km.

Me giving the “customs inspector” a wet willie.

 

Lucille having some fun with the customs guy. He seemed unperturbed.

Map of the day’s ride: Tournai to Bouchain

Thursday Sept 12
Arleux to Havrincourt

We started biking in Arleux at 9 am. After only a km, we stopped at a garlic market in town for a look around and pictures. The town is well known for producing garlic, both raw and smoked. A braid of 10 smoked garlic heads went for €8. They smoke them over peat for 10 days before putting them out for sale.

A little further on we stopped at lock number 1 on the Canal du Nord and watched while the Zwaantje went through. The whole lock system is an interesting process and works very well. Obviously, the barges have to be narrow enough to fit but many barges, like the Zwaantje, have to reduce their height as well. The transom house is the highest part of the barge and most are fitted with mechanical or hydraulic systems to raise and lower the walls as required.

Biking through a small town, we noticed something that we had not seen in Canada – a bread vending machine! Our guide told us that it is a law that every town in France is required to have a bakery to provide fresh bread for its citizens. Obviously, there must be a loophole as the town we were pedaling through did not have a bakery but did have that vending machine to provide bread from a nearby town. There was a proviso though – a sign on the machine said that the bakery is closed on Monday and the bread within was from Sunday!

We continued biking on through hillier countryside to Cambrai where we had lunch and a walk around. Very nice cathedral (Notre Dame de Grace de Cambrai) and worth visiting. We stopped at a Cistercian monastery further on, but it was not open for visitors.

The countryside here is more rolling and we ended up doing more climbing (476m) than previous days. Lots of turns and, with the slowdown on the hills and me generally in front, I ended up being a “corner” numerous times, i.e. waiting for the group to catch up so I could show them where Andre went. Once the sweep was in view, the corner could rejoin the flow of bikers. Whoever happened to be behind Andre when numerous turns were made would be the next “corner” person. I liked doing it because it gave me a nice workout getting back up to the front.

We met the barge on the Canal du Nord pretty well in the middle of nowhere. We will stay here the night and cruise through a long tunnel tomorrow before resuming our biking, ending up in Peronne. After supper, Martijn walked us over to lock number 7, a short distance from where we were docked, and explained the process of how the locks work. Interesting concept with the surge pond to accept the first half of the water when lowering the lock level and then feed that water back into the lock when raising the level again. Total riding for the day was 54.4 km.

One of the garlic shops in Arleux. Pallets of garlic braids ready to be shipped off.

 

The Swaantje entering Lock #1 on the Canal du Nord. Tight fit!

 

A bread vending machine, selling fresh bread daily.

Map of the day’s ride: Arleux to Havrincourt

Friday Sept 13
After tunnel to Peronne

After breakfast, we cruised through the 4.3 km long tunnel. We had to wait to enter for 3 other barges to exit, then took about 40 minutes to get through. Docked just after and started biking from there. Stopped at the South African memorial at Deville Wood, a very impressive commemorative site with museum, cemetery and expansive grounds on the site of the battle. This must be their version of our Vimy Ridge memorial. We stayed for about an hour then biked a km or so to a bar in Longueval for lunch. It started raining lightly just before lunch but finished by the time we did – great timing! Another cemetery stop at the Necropole Nationale in Maurepas, a French one this time.

After that, we did a lot of rolling hills before getting to the bike trail beside the Canal du Nord for the last 5 -7 km. Total riding for the day was an easy 52.8 km.

Leaving the barge, after exiting the tunnel, to start our day.

 

The South African memorial at Deville Wood. A very sombre place for quiet reflection and an impressive memorial and museum.

Map of the day’s ride: tunnel to Peronne

Saturday Sept 14
Peronne

Today was our, and the crew’s, day off. No biking or meals, except breakfast, so we headed over to the large WW1 museum in town. Spent 4 hours wandering through the museum and the market. I have to say that I am getting pretty tired of seeing the always depressing results of war, especially WW1. So much suffering, destruction and death, only to serve political purposes. Which, I suppose, is the whole point of these memorials – not to glorify war but to serve as a reminder that humans have to do better at resolving conflict or risk repeating history.

After a nice group supper at one of the higher rated restaurants in town, Le Bistrot d’Antoine, we broke up into smaller groups and wandered around. Chris and Susan heard some music coming from the St. Jean-Baptiste church, went in and there was a string sextet practicing for a concert next month. Four more of us followed, after getting permission to sit quietly by. They also had a choir and the enormous church organ as accompaniment. That was a nice treat and the acoustics were incredible, with no electric amplification needed. Another unexpected highlight of the trip! No riding today.

The war museum in Peronne.

 

The giant organ in the St. Jean-Baptiste church in Peronne. You can just see the top of the organists blond head below the centre pipes. Glad to have heard it perform in the evening.

Sunday Sep 15
Peronne to Noyon

Headed out at our usual time on a sunny and warm day. We stayed beside the Canal de la Somme on the towpath or on nearby roads, for quite a ways, eventually stopping for lunch in the town of Ham. Found a patisserie a few blocks away to supplement our packed lunch and succumbed to our sweet tooth (teeth?) with a nice dessert. Damn, I’m going to miss good bakeries once back home!

The route the rest of the day was mostly flat and restful – country roads, little traffic, sunny, warm and gentle breezes. Great riding day! We rode into Noyon and spent an hour or so poking around the large ancient cathedral, originating from the 12th Century, and its grounds. Still lots of evidence of war damage in the form of bullet holes and chips in the foundations, possibly left unrepaired on purpose as a reminder of the destructiveness of war. One poignant area was a stitch of bullet holes, positioned at chest height, on a wall in an interior courtyard.

Total riding for the day was 63.7 km.

Rolling along the quiet secondary roads in France.

 

The war damaged church courtyard in Noyon showing an ominous line of bullet holes at chest height on the wall.

 

Old and older and still surviving. If those walls could talk…

Map of the route: Peronne to Noyon

Monday Sept 16
Noyon to Compiegne

Left the barge at 9am. Cool again to start but people were shedding after the first hour. Everybody was anticipating the hill between Tracy le Val and Tracy le Mont, based on what I had told them the night before. I had climbed that hill 7 years before and remembered it as long with a steeper section. It was actually only 1.5 km long and maxed out at 5.6%, kind of like Groat Road North back in Edmonton. No one had any problem with it (maybe because I had sold it as something worse).

We stopped at the Abbey of Ourscamp for a look around and pictures. Old ruins but still a functioning abbey. After the hill, we rolled on up high on country roads with great views of the area. Eventually, we cruised joyfully down a long winding hill to Bitry, the town at the base, and stayed low the rest of the day. Stopped for coffee at Vic sur Aisne, followed by a flat tire by Doug just as we started off again. Andre led us along a path beside the river that was interesting in its, um, closeness. That is the narrowest single track that I’ve been on, ducking and weaving to avoid the branches the whole time and only occasionally successful! This was followed by a really nice rail trail, but it led onto a busy and dangerous main highway for almost 5 km. Andre almost got hit by a semi and informed us that he will not be leading his return group along it!

We had lunch at a grocery store in Rethondes, then a short ride to the Clairiere d’Armastice, where the 1918 armistice was signed. Spent an hour there going through the museum but I am “warred” out. The €7 admission fee was not well spent as I took no enjoyment looking at more war mementos. The ride from there to the dock in Compiegne was quick and pleasant. Total riding for the day was 58.5 km.

More French country roads on a sunny day.

 

One of the wider areas on the single track. Usually the branches stretched across the whole trail.

 

The train car in the Armistice Museum.

Today’s route: Noyon to Compiegne

Tuesday Sept 17
Compiegne to Creil

Started off at 9 again, warmer but cloudier than the past few days. Stopped at Compiegne palace for a few minutes for a look around outside then started off through the woods. Great paved trail for 10 km at least, then headed off to Pierrefonds castle. We stopped for 45 minutes to let people check it out and have a coffee/beer and pastry just off the town square. It is still the best looking castle we have seen, like a movie set.

We had a few minor uphill sections over the day, but it seemed like most of the riding was downhill for some reason. Nice weather, great trails and lots of downhills! What more could a cyclist ask for 😊.

We did a stop at the abbey of St Jean aux Bois (open for mass on the 4th Sunday of every month), as we did on my previous tour, and then at a picnic spot in the woods for lunch. Rather than riding through the traffic-filled streets of Creil, the barge picked us up at Pont Ste. Maxence and cruised down the Oise the rest of the way into Creil. The highlight of the day was John breaking out in a version of Chantilly Lace in the evening 😁🎶 in anticipation of our ride tomorrow.

I was surprised to see the barge that I was on for my Bruges to Paris tour in 2012, the Feniks, docked right behind us in Creil. It was on its way in the opposite direction to us, towards Bruges.  It now has a new owner/captain and has undergone a few very necessary renovations – increasing the room sizes (badly needed) so that it now houses 14 passengers instead of 18. The captain said that they will add air conditioning for next year., also badly needed.

Total riding for the day was 55.2 km.

The lovely bike trail out of Compiegne on the way to Pierrefonds.

 

Our first view of Pierrefonds Castle. Like a movie set.

 

Not all trails are paved but most of the dirt ones are in good condition and fun to ride.

Today’s route: Compiegne to Pont Ste. Maxence

Wednesday Sept 18
Creil to Auvers sur l’Oise

Interesting start to the morning. Around 2:30 am, some thieves cut the cable securing the bikes on the boat. That set off an alarm in the crew cabins, so Andre and Michael ran upstairs and chased them off before they got any bikes. Last year, 6 bikes were stolen while in Creil. Not a good place to dock apparently. The people who went out for a walk last night said that the location was pretty sketchy, and they did not feel as safe as at the other towns that we docked at.

The day started cooler than it has been, around 6C. I wore gloves and a jacket to start but quickly peeled off once up the hill out of Creil. After getting out of the city, we rode on the lovely forest trails to the Chateau de Chantilly. We spent 2.5 hours there roaming the museum (€17), the stables and having lunch. I never got to see it the last time through as it was closed that day, and I am glad I got the chance this time. The place is like a mini Versailles with 100’s of paintings, other works of art and the furniture and accoutrements of life in a palace. The library is also impressive: “The library of the Petit Château contains over 1500 manuscripts and 17,500 printed volumes, that is part of the collection of over 700 incunabula, and some 300 medieval manuscripts, including one page of the Registrum Gregorii (c. 983)” – Wikipedia

After leaving the chateau, we again hit the lovely trails through the forest around Chantilly. Saw a couple of horses being run on the sandy, well groomed, horse trails. Some of our bike trails were a little sandy too, forcing us to pay attention in some sections.

The rest of the day, which turned out to be a nice temperature, was spent on bike paths, busy roads, in busy towns, and single track. Passed through a unique, somewhat diabolical, gate intending to keep motorbikes off the trail in a regional park. Probably 80% of the day was good biking and the remainder required plenty of concentration! Total biking for the day was 59.9 km.

The Chateau de Chantilly.

 

One of the many art-filled rooms in the chateau, like a mini Versailles. The Musee Conde contains one of the largest art collections in France.

 

Part of the vast library, containing books and manuscripts dating as far back as 983.

Today’s route: Creil to Auver-sur-l’Oise

Thursday Sept 19
Auvers to Bougival

Our last day of cycling. Blue skies again and the promise of warmth. We started by riding to Van Gogh’s house in town then up to the cemetery to see his grave. The hill wasn’t nearly as steep as I remembered! We headed back down but took a meandering route through the town to get back to the Oise and the bike trails. After going 14.5 km we stopped for a stretch and realized that Lucille wasn’t with us! Andre called the boat and was told that she was at the tourist office, so he rode back to get her. Don’t know why the boat didn’t call Andre first, as soon as they were aware of the situation! Apparently, there was a miscommunication and Lucille went down to Auvers a different way than we did. She handled the predicament perfectly though – going to the tourist office, calling the boat (which had already departed) to let them know the situation and getting maps of where our lunch stop was scheduled. Andre got back to her just as she was going to leave – good timing.

We all waited in Pont Cergy, having coffee (€4 – welcome to the outskirts of Paris) and relaxing in the sun on a beautiful day. Once they got back, we continued on to Conflans where we had lunch. Conflans is where we docked for the night 7 years ago. Then on bike paths, paved and dirt trails, to St. Germaine, the site of Louis XIVs palace and with a view of Paris in the distance. We stopped for a refreshment and then on for another 7 km to our dockage on Ile de la Chaussee, near Bougival. Total riding for the day was 47.2 km.

 

Fun hard-packed dirt trails after leaving Conflans.

 

Our first view of Paris from St. Germaine.

One of the life-size sculptures in a park near our dock on Ile de la Chaussee. Very well done!

Today’s route: Auvers to Bougival

Total route: Bruges to Paris

Total riding for the trip was 614.4 km

FridaySept 20
Bougival to Paris

Left Bougival at 7am to cruise down the Seine into Paris on a nice sunny morning. Although we were not that far out of Paris, all the bends in the river made it a longer trip than we anticipated. We got to La Defence at 10am and the locks around 10:30. Got to the bridges and Eiffel Tower at 11:30 and our dockage at Port Morland around 1pm.Went for a walk with Lucille, John and Brian in the afternoon. Walked to Notre Dame but the perimeter was completely sealed off as they work at the extensive renovations. Took a few pictures but no good perspective through the fencing and scaffolding. Stopped at a bar on the river walk on the way back for our first, though not last, expensive Parisian beer!

Entering Paris on the barge. View of the Eiffel Tower and mini Statue of Liberty.

 

Mike and the Eiffel Tower.

 

Notre Dame from the Seine.

Saturday Sept 21
Paris

We had on final breakfast on the barge, finished packing, then we all left. Andre had arranged for 3 taxis for 9am and they all arrived on time! Our taxi, with 5 passengers, was €38 to get to the IBIS Opera La Fayette hotel. Brian, John, Lucille and I then went for a walk to check out the sights. We walked down to the Louvre, then through the Tulleries gardens to Place de la Concorde. It was completely sealed off by riot police, anticipating problems from the yellow-vesters, so we headed across the river, past Musee d’Orsay and to the Eiffel Tower. The lineup was too long to waste time in and no one wanted to climb up the tower except for Lucille and me anyway, so we went to a side street, had lunch, and headed back towards the Arc de Triomphe. The closer we got, the more cops lined the streets, many dressed in riot gear. The Arc was sealed off by police, with no entry underneath let alone up top, so we started off towards the Champs Elysees. That is when we got hit by the tear gas. The yellow-vesters had co-opted the climate change demonstration and the hooligan cohort were vandalizing cars, stores, etc. The cops were using tear gas to disperse them, and it wafted up to us. Not a pleasant experience! I can see why the professional demonstrators wear ski goggles to protect their eyes, as well as masks. We made a wide berth around the problem area and finally made it back to the hotel after a much longer walk than we anticipated. It is interesting to note that Lucille and I walked through a climate demonstration in Oslo just a few weeks before. It was completely peaceful – just speeches by the coordinators – and, though the crowd was large, it was more a party atmosphere than confrontational and destructive.

The riders and the crew.

 

Notre Dame from the opposite shore. Couldn’t get close to it due to the construction barriers.

 

Didn’t want to wait in the long lines so took photos of the tower from outside the barrier.

 

The Arc de Triomphe guarded by police. NO access allowed 😦

Sunday Sept 22
Paris

A group of us walked to the Louvre, where we all went our separate ways according to our viewing priorities. Spent the day, from 9 to 3, there and were pretty much museumed out by the end. The place is just too vast, with so much to see, that it is impossible to give it justice in one day. But one day was all we had, so… Mona had been moved from the room she was in 7years ago, due to renovations, to a temporary display area and the room was packed. Guards cycled everyone through in airport security fashion, giving people about a minute for pictures before making them move along. The chaos and jostling disappeared once we left the Mona room. Unfortunately for all the other artwork hung on the walls, none of it was admired, or even able to be admired, by the throng. They only had eyes for Mona Lisa. In our 6 hours of walking around, at a tiring museum pace, we were still able to see almost everything on our list.

The hoard of people trying to get a view of Mona Lisa.

 

The closest I was able to get with an almost clear view.

 

The rest of the museum was far less crowded. Couldn’t use a flash but the guards had no problem with pictures being taken throughout.

Monday Sept 23
Paris

We wanted to go to the Musée d’Orsay but it was closed on Mondays so we decided to take a free walking tour of Montmartre. As usual, we walked from our hotel to an area across from the Moulin Rouge, about 20 minutes away, to meet the tour guide. There were about 15 people in our group, so a little crowded to always hear what the guide was saying, but it was still an informative tour of a pretty area of Paris. From what used to be a low-rent, bohemian district, it is now one of the priciest and sought-after, certainly gentrified, places to live. Our guide took us through many of the side streets to show us examples of present-day art, also pointing out the old studios of masters like Degas, Van Gogh and Picasso, among others. I love the idea of the Love Wall, where “I Love You” is written in over 100 different languages. Her recounting the tragic love life and death of Dalida, when showing us her former house and the statue erected in her honour, showed us that fame doesn’t always bring happiness. The tour ended at Sacre-Coeur which, she stated, was hated by most Parisians, a carry-over from when it was built in the late 1800’s. “It is only loved by the tourists” was her comment.

Later in the afternoon, most of us changed hotels to be closer to CDG airport. Most of the group had early flights to catch on Tuesday morning and didn’t want to fight Paris traffic to get there. We went for a final supper as a group at a restaurant near the hotel, enjoying our last night together.

Our guide in Montmartre beside the statue of Dalida. The breasts are buffed bright because touching them will supposedly bring you good luck in love (much unlike Dalida’s life).

 

The “I Love You” wall.

Summary

Although the bike/barge trip was enjoyable, I did not have the same level of enjoyment as 7 years before. For the most part, the weather was great, the barge was comfortable, the crew of the Zwaantje was outstanding, the routes were interesting and my fellow passengers were a hoot. No complaints in that regard. My main disappointments were that we didn’t get to visit Versailles or La Defense or take the “underground” tour of the Lewarde mine, which I knew that everyone would have enjoyed, even though I had seen all those places before. But the same feeling of wonder and discovery that I had on the initial visit wasn’t there. Somewhat similar to “you can’t go home again”, because it will never be the same. In future, I’ll stick to visiting places that I have never been to before and just savour the memories of the places I have seen already.

 

A Week in Norway

For the month of September, I had planned 3 distinct trips in Europe with a friend and group of friends. The first part was spent in Norway, on an itinerary set up by Nordic Visitor. What follows is my report on that portion.

Thursday – Aug 29
Edmonton to Oslo 1

Picked Up Lucille at 2pm and got to the airport 40 minutes later after missing the turnoff to Calgary Trail! So much for being wide awake and alert in mid-afternoon ☹ Had checked in online the day before and there were no other passengers at the KLM counter so dropping off our bags was fast and easy. My bag was 15 kg and Lucille’s much smaller one was 12 kg. How can I be packing more stuff than a woman!!

KLM had us on an A-330. Nice plane, comfortable seats with seat-back entertainment system and a USB port. We sat in 2nd to last row in back (2-3-2 configuration last 4 rows – rest of plane was 2-4-2). Attendants were friendly and efficient- a very comfortable flight. Arrived in AMS early but had to wait for another plane to leave our gate. Then a pushback truck broke down while pushing, blocking the whole taxiway so had to wait another 20 minutes for it to be moved. Sitting so far back in plane, it took about 15 more minutes to deplane.  So got to the gate about the time we should have! All in all, a nice flight though.

Friday – Aug 30
Edmonton to Oslo 2

Fast walk between D gates and B gates at Schiphol and got to our gate 10 minutes before loading the flight to Oslo. KLM E-190 (2-2 configuration) tight but enough leg room for us. 1 hour 30 minute flight to Oslo. Once there, Lucille bought express train tickets to the city, which departs every 10 minutes, and we caught it immediately. Arrived at Oslo Central Station in 20 minutes. Good, efficient service! We were booked at the Comfort Hotel, which was right in the station, so very handy. They gave us the wrong room by mistake, but after changing to the type we booked we went out for a walk.

Got a map from the tourist info in the station and headed up to the Vigeland sculpture park, about a 4 km walk away. Karl Johan’s Gate is a pedestrian street leading from the train station up to the royal palace. Lots of high-end shops and pubs and crowded, mainly due to a climate change demonstration. Very orderly though – no professional demonstrators or hooligans causing trouble. Passed the National Theatre, went through the grounds of the Royal Palace, and found the sculpture park after a lot of map checking and passerby assistance. Don’t know how we couldn’t find it – it is huge! The sculptures are all nudes – women, men and children in playful poses, as well as fanciful and artistic ones. Nice grounds and we enjoyed walking around.

A small part of the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo.

Started to tire on the return walk, mostly from lack of sleep. Had a laugh while passing through the Royal Palace grounds again. Norway is very “tap” friendly – almost all transactions are done with credit or debit cards, even for small purchases. Most locals don’t seem to use cash. We passed a public washroom where 2 women were having trouble getting the “tap” to work with their card. We tried to help, making light of the situation, but one of the women, with legs crossed, said good naturedly “please don’t make me laugh”. We left before they were successful (or not) getting in, wishing them good luck.

Had a pizza back at the hotel, then to the room. I showered, sorted stuff for tomorrow, did French lessons (lots of sleep-deprived mistakes!) and crashed at 9:30. Lucille asleep before me.

Saturday – Aug 31
Oslo to Trondheim

Woke at 1:30 for an hour (damn jet lag), then, luckily, at 6:30. Lucille had set her alarm for 6 but it didn’t go off because she had mistakenly set it for pm!  Hurried packing and down to breakfast by 7:05. Quick bite and coffee then to track 19 to catch the 7:30 bus for Ringebo. Glad the bus was leaving from the train station.

Sat up top in a double decker bus so had a great view of the countryside. Low clouds, some rain and fresh out. Views are similar to home – forests of spruce, poplar, and birch, and lots of small farms. Except for the road signs in a strange language and the number of roundabouts, very reminiscent of the topography of the Maritimes!

We transferred onto a train in Ringebo for the rest of the journey to Trondheim. Comfortable but no plug-ins to charge up our devices, not that we needed to. The train had a snack car though where we settled in to play some Farkel. And free wifi!

Once we arrived in Trondheim, it was about a 20-minute walk to the Thon Hotel. Google Maps came through again to lead us to the hotel. The hotel, or Nordic Visitor (the tour coordinator), had booked us into a room with only a double bed instead of the twin room we ordered. No other rooms were available. The desk clerk called all the not-yet-checked-in customers to see if they would change to a double and was successful after a few hours What great service! We walked around town and checked out the dock where we had to board tomorrow morning, about a half-hour walk away. Not really a lot of time to get a good feeling for the town or what it had to offer.

Sunday Sept 1
Trondheim to Bergen 1

Had a good breakfast at the hotel then walked down to the ship, the Nordlys. Moderate sized ship, with 7 decks, and our cabin was on #5. Small room but ok. Spent most of our time on deck 7, where the lounge was, playing cards, watching the shoreline, or walking around the deck. The ship was not only a means of transport from port to port but was also a cruise ship. Some passengers had been on board for over a week, having cruised above the arctic circle. To pass the time, and for interest’s sake, we attended a lecture on Norwegian history over the past 1000 years. Well presented, with humour along with the information. This was the last lecture of the trip – all of them set up for the people who had been on the full cruise. Relaxing time though. Hit some rough seas around supper time, making walking around somewhat of a comedy. The ship was not equipped with stabilizers so pitching and rolling in the waves wasn’t tempered at all. Videoed the swivel chairs in the bistro doing a dance.

Not the “Nordlys” but the same type of ship.

The ship docked briefly in several ports during the voyage, usually for a half-hour or so, to on- and off-load passengers and supplies, and we took the opportunity to go for a short shore walk when we got to Molde. They told us to make sure that we were back in plenty of time because the ship wouldn’t wait so we walked quickly. We were able to leave the harbour area and see some of the town, but this was mostly to stretch our legs not sightsee. Felt much better than the strolls around the deck!

Typical shore scene from our cruise on the Nordlys. Much like Newfoundland!

Monday Sept 2
Trondheim to Bergen 2

Hit more rough seas from 1-3 a.m. The motion made sleep a little difficult, though not in a sickly way, so I was tired by the morning. More time spent playing cards and farkel in the lounge until disembarking at 2:30 pm in Bergen. Looked up the Zander K hotel location on Google Maps and followed directions there, about a 20-minute walk. It is located beside the train station, so it will be handy for leaving on Wednesday. I’ve got to give Nordic Visitor credit – they booked us into nice and convenient hotels.

After checking in and stowing our bags, we walked to the funicular and took it up to the viewpoint on top of Mount Floyen to get the lay of the land. We had a full day tomorrow to spend here and wanted to see what the city looked like from that vantage point. It was also one of the recommended things to do while in Bergen. After a look at the vista, and Lucille buying a nice looking down jacket at the gift shop, we rode it back down again. While in the funicular, we talked to a couple of girls who had just completed the hike from Mt. Ulriken to Mt. Floyen, another of the recommended activities for active people. They said the hike was “rocky” and seemed pretty beat so we didn’t get into more detail. We walked through old Bryggen for a while – neat shops and arty places developed in the historic part of Bergen. We had been told to make sure that we visited the fish market, conveniently located right downtown and close to our hotel. It is kind of like a farmer’s market – kiosks selling everything from clothing to food, as well as a few restaurants set up in large tents. We settled on a place that had a good selection of fish dishes and a warm seating area. I had a tasty fish soup but the fish and chips were only so-so.

Looking down the funicular towards Bergen

 

The front part of Bryggen, the historic old part of Bergen.

 

Bergen from the viewpoint on Mt. Floyen

After trying samples of reindeer, moose and whale sausage at one of the kiosks, I bought a package of moose sausage to take back home for Brendan and Rhianne. The taste of the other 2 were a little too gamey for my taste buds. It should survive the upcoming month packed in a suitcase better than other things I could get for them.

Tuesday Sept 3
Bergen

Had a big buffet breakfast at the hotel and then set out for a hike. It was obvious yesterday that the funicular was the quick but lazy way to get to the top of Mt. Floyen. So we walked the switchback route to the top, taking about 40 minutes. At the top, we stopped into the Information booth and inquired about the hike to Mt. Ulriken. The info guy walked around his counter, looked at our footwear (running shoes – we had not packed for any hikes on this trip) and said that it would be muddy, but we shouldn’t have too much trouble. He estimated that it would take us about 5 hours. Five hours! To hike only 15 km? We would show him! We got a map and set off.

The hike is classified as “medium/experienced” or “demanding”, depending on which website you look at, but we didn’t think it would be any problem. The reverse route is easier since it loses 300 metres elevation from Ulriken to Floyen but that didn’t deter us either. After all, we had both hiked Machu Pichu, did a lot of cycling over the summer and were in pretty good shape. Well, the demanding part was right! The first part of the trail was in good condition – wide, packed dirt and crushed stone, easy to follow – perfect for lulling us into a false sense of security. Then it deteriorated significantly after about 5 km. Rocks, mud, streams, constant short but steep elevation changes (i.e. cliffs), and the trail eventually devolving into, um, NO trail! Above treeline, just a series of rock cairns, then skinny steel posts, disappearing off into the distance to give us something to aim for (if we could see them). The route was whatever we figured was the driest and easiest way to the next cairn. Yup, took us almost 5 hours to do it. Lucille went for a headfirst tumble when clambering down one steep rock face and banged her head on a rock. It bled profusely but stopped quickly with a Kleenex and pressure. She was fortunate – that could have been so much worse! Glad to finally arrive at the gondola at Mt. Ulriken to take us back down. Although “demanding”, there were more than a few trail runners bolting past us in both directions, mud and water be damned. Norwegians take their trail running seriously! We got our shoes, socks and pants pretty muddy, as well as blood on Lucille’s shirt. After taking the gondola down from the top, we took a bus back downtown and walked to our hotel.

Lucille, on all fours, “walking” on the trail between Mt. Floyen and Mt. Ulriken

A cairn in the far distance. Get to it however you see fit!

 

Had to clamber up and down lots of these.

 

The boardwalks were nice to come across and some of them were even above the water!

 

View of Bergen from the gondola on Mt. Ulriken

We spent some time in our room getting as much mud off our shoes and clothes as we could then took the clothes over to an adjoining hotel to do a proper laundry. Thank goodness our room had a hair dryer, which we used to try to dry out our shoes! Needless to say, the hike was memorable, and we are glad we did it.

Wednesday Sept 4
Bergen to Flåm

All the clothes that we had hung in the room overnight were dry by morning. Not surprising considering how dry our room is. Raining pretty good this morning but the train station is only across the street, so we didn’t get too wet. Caught the 8:39 train to Voss, a little over an hour away. Transferred to a bus that took us down a series of -18% switchbacks, past a number of high waterfalls, and into Gudvangen, another hour or so trip. Then another transfer to a fjord cruse boat for a 2-hour cruise into Flåm, rain continuing for the whole trip.

Got our room at the Fretheim Hotel and went to the tourist info centre nearby (everything is nearby in Flåm) to find out about the zip line and bike/hike possibilities for the rest of the afternoon. Best choice, considering the wet weather, is to take the train up the mountain (which we were scheduled to do tomorrow as well) to the last stop before Myrdal (Vatnahalsen) and get off. The zip line is about 200 metres to the right. We did as suggested and it was definitely a hoot. The bottom of the 1300-metre long zip line, advertised as the longest in Scandinavia, is at Kårdalen, on the road back down to Flåm. The employees at the top gave us helmets, got us to sign a release (always comforting), strapped us into the slings and set us off gliding through, and out of, the fog into the farmland below. Lucille’s zip line was about 10 metres away and I filmed her the whole way down. Although we couldn’t see bugger all for the first part of the ride, with the whole upper valley enveloped in a cloud, we could still feel the sensation of speed due to the wind whistling past our ears and clothes snapping. It was certainly like flying into the unknown. But, like an airplane coming in for a landing, we broke through the clouds and had a great view of the world beneath us. It took about 90 seconds to travel the 1300 metres, so we never got up to the advertised speed of 100 kph (more like 52 kph) but it was a thrill anyway. The video link of our ride is below. The zip line employee who unhooked us from the apparatus at the bottom also doubled as a goatherd for the Rallarrosa goat cheese farm at the base of the ride. We read later that it had a coffee shop and made wonderful goat cheese, but she never mentioned it so we continued our walk 3 km further down the road to the Blomheller station to wait for the next train back to Flåm. We would have liked to bike the rest of the way, about a 2-hour ride, but it was too wet out and we would have gotten soaked. With no laundry facility in the hotel (we found out the next morning that they DID have a laundry room), we didn’t want to take the chance on our clothes not drying in time for our trip tomorrow.

Riding the zipline

 

The zipline disappearing into the clouds below

 

Goats at the Rallarrosa goat cheese farm enjoying the weather.

Thursday Sept 5
Flåm to Oslo

Our train was scheduled to leave at 12:20 so we just wandered around Flåm, taking a few of the hiking paths around town and looking through all the many clothing stores. We both found jackets that we liked – to be used for x-c skiing this winter – so have even more stuff to take home!

The train ride back to Oslo was 7 hours long and boring, except for the first hour or so when the scenery was beautiful. The rest of the trip just reminded me of home! Arrived into Oslo, had supper and bought tickets for the early express train to the airport tomorrow morning. Early night.

Friday Sept 6
Oslo to Bruges

Up early to catch the train to the airport. The flight to BRU on Brussels Airlines was comfortable enough. Got there in time to catch the direct train to Bruges, so we didn’t have to transfer. It was about a 20-minute walk to the hotel where all 24 of us on the barge trip were staying, along the trail to Minnewater Park and on to Katelijnestraat. Not having any schedule to meet, we stopped for a beer and lunch at a bar on the way. We met some of the group at the hotel, the Ibis on Katelijnestraat. Chris and Susan told us about a free harp recital later in the day near one of the churches and Lucille and I decided to go. Wow! What a good decision. The harpist, Luc Vanlaere, also made the instruments and was definitely a master at them. He played his own compositions on 3 or 4 of his own instruments, without any commentary to break the mood, then did a presentation and a q&a. Very well received by the small (his shop/studio was small) audience of about 25 people. His TripAdvisor reviews give him a rating of 5.0 and I have to agree with them. An unanticipated highlight of the trip so far.

Back to Coffeeneuring again after missing last year due to my bike trip to Portugal. This fall, the weather in Edmonton has been abysmal for biking. Almost the whole of September and early October has been snowy and cold. Lucky for me then that I spent most of this time on a bike trip in PEI and Newfoundland, on Canada’s east coast, where the weather was far more conducive for biking. I arrived home just in time for another dump of snow but, by the official start date for coffeeneuring, the snow had melted and the air temperature smartened up a bit. So here goes my attempt to get in my 7 rides in 7 weeks for 7 coffees!

Coffeeneuring #1

Where: To Big Lake, just outside St. Albert, Alberta

When: Sunday, October 14, 2018

What: A latte at Sips & Sweets (also known as La Crema Caffe), St. Albert

Distance: 16.8 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28727307

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. Three bike posts across the street but nothing in front of the cafe itself.

Weather: Sunny, 0C to start my ride but warming to 5C by the time I got home. Nice day for riding.

Duckweed on the storm ponds frozen into pointillism-like swirls.
The trees are mostly bare now. No fall colours here.
I love the frozen duckweed patterns in the ponds. Very artistic.
A very humdrum latte. No art here! But it was warm inside, sitting in the sun.

Coffeeneuring #2

Where: Edmonton Garrison, Namao, Alberta

When: Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip muffin at the Tim Horton’s on the base.

Distance: 51.81 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28806351

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No bike racks, have to lean bikes against the building, but pretty safe.

Weather: Sunny, 10C when started at noon but warmed to 20C by the time I got home. Abnormally beautiful fall day.

Leafy trail through the woods on the way to the base.
On the bike trail to the base. Field finally harvested after all that snow in September.
Small Tims coffee and chocolate chip muffin – my usual treat at the 38 km mark.

Coffeeneuring #3

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Sunday, October 21, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip cookie at Good Earth Cafe, 130 Bellerose, St. Albert

Distance: 26.61 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28929473

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No bike racks but lots of bolted down steel chairs to attach a bike to on a large accessible patio. This place is one of our “go-to” stops on our club rides in St. Albert, when 40-60 of us show up.

Weather: Sunny, 5C when started at noon but warmed to 10C at finish.

The Sturgeon River in St. Albert. Not much greenery anymore but no ice yet.
Nice enough day to have my coffee outside in the sunshine, although I was the only person on the patio.

Coffeeneuring #4

Where: My usual route to Big Lake, just outside St. Albert, Alberta

When: Friday, October 26, 2018

What: A french press coffee at Cerdo Tacos & Tequila, Perron Street, St. Albert

Distance: 16.0 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29058214

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. One bike rack, which can accommodate a few bikes, on a common patio for the shops in the area.

Weather:  An overcast 8C with a cool north wind. The coffee was a nice warm-up.

The only coffee they offered was a french press and I was not allowed to take it outside on the patio. Afraid of me running off with the press I guess. My bike just visible through the window.

Coffeeneuring #5

Although I went to the gym for a stationary bike ride and a workout, I needed to get this coffeeneuring ride in while the weather was still nice for riding. So I just did a short ride over to Juntos, a nice coffee shop in the Campbell industrial park. For a change, I rode up Poundmaker Road, a dirt road on the edge of St. Albert. It had been recently graded and sprayed with calcium and, although a little slick, was not bad to ride on. If I didn’t have to get back home to prepare for the trick-or-treaters (carve pumpkin, get treats ready, etc), I would have done a longer ride.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip cookie at Juntos Bistro, St. Albert

Distance: 8.1 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29189397

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks at all even though our bike club takes up to 40 riders there on our rides in St. Albert. Gets kinda crowded in the parking lot with bikes strewn everywhere. I was the only bike there today though so just leaned it up against their window.

Weather:  An overcast 5C. Not much wind so it was really pleasant for riding.

An only mildly bumpy Poundmaker Road but still shook the camera enough to fuzz up the photo 😦
Coffee and cookie, with my bike patiently waiting outside.
It has been dry enough, finally, for the fields to be combined.
Bare trees but clean trail. Flurries in the forecast for tomorrow so it was good to get out today.

Coffeeneuring #6

After 2 weeks of roller coaster weather – snow, followed by a partial melt, followed by frigid temps (-20C wind chills), then more snow, and repeat ad nauseum – I was finally able to get out for a ride. The streets and paths had melted off enough to ride, although I took it pretty slow going around corners. It started out sunny and +5C and ended up overcast and +4C by the time I got home, but still felt great to get the bike out again. Took advantage of the “coffee shop without walls” rule.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What: A coffee on the Poole boardwalk in Lois Hole Provincial Park, St. Albert.

Distance: 16.1 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29542484

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks, it being a boardwalk through a wetland and all, but lots of observing areas to park a bike and um, observe.

Weather:  A sunny then overcast 5C.

Critter tracks on the frozen ponds. Probably a fox looking for any waterfowl that got caught in the last freeze.
My bike on the snowy, though melting, observation boardwalk. Nice place to sit and have a coffee.
The path was wet but not icy. Yet. That skim of water will turn to slippery ice by the evening.

Coffeeneuring #7

It was touch and go whether I would be able to complete the challenge this year but a few days of thaw enabled me to take an embarrassingly short ride out to the gazebo at the north end of the Red Willow Trail in St. Albert. With no fat bike or studded tires, I took it pretty carefully on my completely iced up residential street. The main roads and the Trail were mostly ice-free but it still required my full attention to make sure that I stayed vertical. There were still a few sneaky ice patches lurking in the shadows ready to do me harm if started to get complacent! My target destination was the final rest stop that we use on our weekly road rides in St. Albert – a gazebo at the north edge of town. This ride approached it from the opposite direction from what we usually do and after a considerably shorter ride. The city had not cleaned off the trail in that part of the park and it was mostly glare ice for the last few hundred metres but doable with care. There is no coffee shop anywhere nearby so this was another “coffee shop without walls” ride.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What: A hot chocolate at the gazebo in Kingswood Park, St. Albert.

Distance: A paltry 4.1 km

Ride Link: No link this time. Hardly worth it 😦

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. No bike racks but lots of room to lean bikes on the gazebo and bushes surrounding it. Our summer rides have had as many as 12 bikes comfortably and safely resting.

Weather:  A partially sunny 4C.

My icebound street. Sidewalk was mostly ice free but the street needed my careful attention.

 

The gazebo – a dry island in a field of snow and ice.

 

The approach to the gazebo was a little slick. That is solid ice, not slushy at all. Slow riding.

 

My thermos of hot chocolate and coffeeneuring patch from a few years ago.

 

The Sturgeon River ice-free again. Has been frozen and thawed multiple times already this season with our roller coaster weather.

My South American Adventure

Pretty deficient on posts in the last while but this should make up for it. I spent Nov 8 to Dec 7 in Peru and the Galapagos touring, trekking, sightseeing and just having a good time in places I’ve never seen. This is the diary of my travels, with a few pictures to hopefully enhance my non-flowery prose.

Nov 8 – Awakened just after 3 am by what my sleep-muddled brain thought was my alarm. I opened my iPad to turn it off and saw that Air Canada had emailed me that my 7:25 am flight to Toronto was cancelled due to a mechanical problem! I then realized that it was my cell phone ringtone that woke me up so then listened to the phone message. They had re-booked me on a 6 am flight. Could I get to the airport in time for it? Yikes!

I called Lucille, who I was supposed to pick up for the 7:25 flight, but no answer. I no sooner hung up when she called me. She was re-booked on a flight through Winnipeg at 9 am but wanted me to pick her up anyway so I quickly left. No traffic, only went through 2 red lights (it was 4 am and no cars in intersections), and I got to her place and the airport quickly. The check-in attendant arranged for her to get on my flight. Lots of room! Why didn’t the others get re-booked for this one? They got routed through Winnipeg instead. An uncomfortable start to a month-long trip!

We arrived in Toronto just after noon, had lunch and loitered around the terminal while waiting for Gaye, Blaine and Deb to arrive.

They got in just after 4 pm, had a bite to eat and we all waited to board our 5:50pm flight to Lima. The Air Canada Rouge 767-300 is an old, tired airplane! Our A-321 from YEG was way more comfortable. We were in the air shortly after 6 pm for an almost 8 hour journey in discomfort. I was seated in 27C, an aisle seat just behind a bulkhead but it was the shortest legroom bulkhead I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t stretch even my short legs out, except for the one on the aisle. And a hard seat, with not much padding. The bathroom door springs were worn out so the doors didn’t close on their own, leaving lots of light spilling out after people left. Not the best situation when on an overnight flight and sitting right behind the bathroom! And the vents were cycling between hot and cold. Sigh…it was to be a long flight. They served an acceptable meal around 9 p.m. – I chose chicken this time, after the lousy pasta experience on the Portugal flight a few weeks before – and settled in with half a book that Lucille gave me (literally – she ripped it in 2 after finishing the 1st half, ever mindful of the extra weight). Got up to walk around a few times but limited places to go!

Don’t think I dozed but my eyes closed for a while after I finished my half of the book. It was going to be a long, tiring day ahead.

Nov 9 – We arrived in Lima at 4 a.m. but Blaine and Deb’s bags were delayed for some reason. Ours had arrived on the carousel right away. Eventually their bags appeared and we made our way out. A cab driver was waiting for us and took us to Hotel El Ducado. Asleep by 5:30 am but awake again at 7:30 am to get ready for our bike tour of Lima that Gaye had booked a few weeks before. We had breakfast at the hotel then off to the bike shop by 10. Jose, the tour guide who Gaye had arranged, had bikes waiting and after signing forms we were off on city tour. Lots of traffic, horns, some nice separated bike lanes and some quiet streets. Peruvian drivers verge on manic and impatient but, remarkably, we didn’t see any collisions. It’s a chaos that they are used to, obviously. The historical centre was busy and crowded and we had to walk our bikes a few times when the crowds got too thick. Stopped for lunch at 2 p.m. at Tinta. Got back to the bike shop at 5:30 after 23 kms of touring. Here’s a link to the tour route. Had supper in a mall by the ocean then went back to the hotel to pick up our bags and grab taxis to the bus station (30 soles per cab). Took the Excluciva overnight bus to Nazca, with the fold-flat sleeping pods on upper level. Very comfortable and we all got a good sleep. If you ever take a Peruvian bus – get the 180° sleeping pods, even for day trips. The extra expense is worth it!

Nov 10 – Arrived in Nazca at 4 a.m. and the taxis that Lucille had arranged were waiting for us. Got to the Travel One hotel and went immediately up to the room. Again, asleep by 5:30 and awake at 7:30 but with enough sleep because of the overnight bus. The cost of the hotel was only $9 US each! The driver from the hotel/airline (Aeronazca) drove us to airport, arranged the flight over the lines, drove us back to the hotel to pick up our bags, and drove us to the bus. Said it was all included in hotel price! We all gave him good tips. The flight over the Nazca lines, and the bored commentary by the pilot (“…and, pay attention, here we see the triangles…”), was pretty unremarkable. The lines/figures, for the most part, are very indistinct. It was a clear day but they were hard to see, except for the 2 by the observation tower on the highway. That is understandable considering their age but there are a lot of other much more recent and distracting lines (survey lines?, vehicle tracks?) that serve as graffiti on that ancient canvas. Although I am glad that I did see them, I would not recommend spending the time and money to see them if any of my friends plan to travel to Peru in the future, especially if time is an issue. We had lunch at Mamashama and walked back to bus station for the Cruz del Sur trip to Arequipa.

The “tree” and “hands” figures from the Nazca Lines.

We departed a little late at 3 pm. Nice bus again but on the bottom floor this time and not in the 180° pods on the upper level. Should have spent the extra and got the pods – these bottom level seats don’t recline as far and you are in your neighbours lap, like on an airplane. Otherwise quite comfy though, with seatback tv screen and power receptacles. They served a warmish supper soon after departure and we just watched the landscape. Desert and desolate! Sand everywhere. Eventually got to the ocean and started many switchbacks up and down. Climb bluffs, back down and repeat. Big surf when the ocean was in view! Sun went down at 6 pm, straight down. Sunset sure is different close to the equator! After dark, couldn’t see through windows but still lots of switchbacks. Highest speed I saw on the public speedometer was just over 80 kph but mostly in 50s, reflecting the bendiness and steepness of the roads.

Had another bus snack at 8:30 pm. Mostly boring ride and, because of bumpiness, couldn’t do any reading or iPad stuff. Don’t think any of us managed to sleep either.

Nov 11 – We arrived in Arequipa 2 hours late, at 1 am. Apparently this bus is always late. Found a taxi to hotel, taking all 5 of us, and all 5 of us had to share one room (and 1 bathroom) due to their booking error. At least the room had 5 beds! Didn’t get to bed until 3 am then up at 7 to be picked up at the hotel at 8 am for the Colca Canyon tour. Another dozen or so people were on the 24-passenger minibus and we headed out. After a while we stopped for a break and snacks and I bought some coca leaves. Guide showed us how to use them – just place a wad of leaves between teeth and gums, let it mix with your saliva, then spit them out after 10 minutes or so. Numbs mouth a little but didn’t feel any other effect and the taste wasn’t offensive. Cruising along on Highway 34A, we stopped at a nice viewpoint to look at wild vicuñas, with El Misti volcano providing a particularly nice backdrop.

El Misti volcano and vicuñas on the way to Colca Canyon.

Vicuñas, a little closer.

And, of course, the ever-present ladies in costume, with their llamas and alpacas, selling souvenirs. I observed one unsettling sight though – road workers, whose job was obviously to clean up the plentiful road side trash, just tossing that trash over the side of a convenient bluff rather than picking it up! Out of sight, out of mind, though grossly lazy.

After turning north on Highway 1SE, we stopped for a pit stop and tea break. Our guide said that anyone with high blood pressure should not try the Inca tea concoction that they sell there, touted to combat the effects of altitude. My blood pressure is fine so I figured that I was safe to try it. It was a combination of 3 teas – coca tea and 2 others. Even though I felt fine at the time  – no symptoms of altitude sickness at all – I thought that the more help I had to get used to the altitude, the better. In retrospect, that was a bad idea to try it even though it tasted quite pleasant. Back on the bus, we continued to cruise along at 4200 metres elevation on the high plains on the way to Chivay. I started feeling strange after about 20 minutes, hot and sweaty and couldn’t focus my eyes – like veils being progressively draped over them – and then passed out. Lucille called for help and first thing I remember was wondering why the tour guide had my legs propped up over the top of the seat in front of me and why did my mouth taste like puke? Because he was trying to get blood back to my brain and I had puked the tea up when unconscious! The guide gave me cotton dosed with rubbing alcohol, which helps open breathing and blood vessels, enabling more oxygen to get to brain. My head and stomach felt like I had a bad hangover, which IS a symptom of altitude sickness, but it came on so suddenly and powerfully that I think it was a reaction to the Inca tea. Thankfully, I was able to change my shirt when we stopped a few minutes later. Took a picture at 4900 m elevation, the highest point on the road.

Gaye and a bloated me, post poisoning and with a clean shirt, on the highest point on the road – 4910 metres (16,100 ft).

Finally arrived in Chivay, where we were put up for the night at the Casa Andina.

Nov 12 – Felt crappy all day, still feeling horribly hungover due to being poisoned, but the fresh air when walking the Colca Canyon viewing trail helped. Great view of condors and saw about 14 of them soaring. Long day of driving again but spectacular views of the canyon. Arrived in Puno after dark so didn’t even see Lake Titicaca.

A condor coming right at me. Beautiful sight!

A small part of Colca Canyon.

Nov 13 – Got up early and walked to the lake for a few pictures then to the bus station which was nearby. Caught the bus to Cusco, which is at considerably lower elevation than Puno. Arrived at 2:30 pm. Our hotel, the two-star Casa Campasina, was very close to the main square, Plaza de Armas, and the taxi took us most of way there. Our street was too busy and narrow for it to stop on so we had to walk a few blocks. Checked in, then went for a walkabout. We found the Alpaca Expeditions office, Lucille paid for her hike – the rest of us were going to wait until Thursday – and had supper. Lucille found a place offering a Rainbow Mountain hike for tomorrow, so she booked it.

Nov 14 – The four of us did the free walking tour of Cusco from 10 till just after lunch while Lucille left very early to do the Rainbow Mountain hike. I was still feeling too bad to attempt that hike, to my disappointment. The city tour was informative and the guide (Diego) explained much of the history of Cusco. He took us to some retail places (great alpaca goods store), demonstration of Incan musical instruments, pointed out good examples of Incan stone construction and eventually up into San Blas for pisco sours (not for me, still with “tea” hangover). We asked Diego if he could recommend a good, cheap, lunch spot. He pointed us to a small restaurant in a non-touristy area close to the square so we tried it out. In my naivete, I asked the waiter “menu, por favor”. Well apparently that means that you want the set menu for lunch, not a paper menu to choose from! We only caught on when he started loading the table with soup, then drinks, then main course. It was all good though and only cost 9 sols apiece, about $3.50! After wandering around town some more, checking out markets and all, we met Lucille for supper – she none the worse for wear after hiking to 5200 metre elevation (over 17,000 ft) and still pumped after her hike.

An “Incan” performer in Cusco. He played many of the musical instruments on display.

A typical wall of Incan construction. The precise stonework showed that it was part of a temple foundation.

Nov 15 – We arranged for a tour of the Sacred Valley through our hotel for $35 US including lunch. We visited the Pisac terraces, had a great buffet lunch in Urubamba, then went to the Ollantaytambo ruins and Chinchero for textile dying demonstration. You can see why the valley was sacred – it is so green and fertile! The Incans, not to mention present day Peruvians, made very efficient use of the flat valley floor and the terrace system climbing up the mountain sides, with each terrace earmarked for a different crop that would produce best at the elevation/temperature.

Overlooking the Sacred Valley

Some of the terraces at Pisac. For scale, the dots on the highest terrace are people. Each terrace wall is about 8 feet high.

A Pisac terrace wall. The amount of work to build the terraces was incredible.

The Incan ruins at Ollantaytambo

The amazingly precise stonework of Incan temple walls.

Nov 16 – Finally feeling ok! We wandered around the city for the day, relaxing before the trek. Went to the Alpaca office in the afternoon to pay (cash only) and in the evening to get our duffels and meet other trekkers, 13 of us in all. Six women from Toronto (Linda, Jackie, Jen, Dara, Lynn and Heather), 1 woman from Belgium (Pauline, 23 yr old) and 1 girl from Australia (Audrey, 19). I was the oldest in the group. Alpaca said that every hotel in Cusco would have a scale to weigh our duffel, to make sure we stayed within the maximum weight, but not ours! Just estimated the weight and packed everything up for early morning.

Nov 17 – The Alpaca bus picked us up at our hotel at 4 am, picked up others at their hotels and then headed out to the trailhead. Drove for 2 hours to the trailhead, at km 82 of the rail line, where they made us breakfast, then we started the hike. Nice morning and not hard walking. Had a few hills and steps but not too strenuous, probably because the adrenaline was flowing with the excitement of what was to come. Lots of pack horses and mules on the trail carrying supplies to people who lived along the trail and for construction projects. I rounded one corner and saw a cloud of dust rising from the valley below. At first I thought that it was steam from a hot spring but NO! One of the horses, carrying 50 kg of cement, had fallen off the side of the narrow trail, rolling and crashing through the trees and underbrush down a steep and deep ravine! Everyone thought it was dead because it was a long way down but it was not hurt at all! They found it grazing at the bottom, minus the cement of course, none the worse for wear. We arrived at our Day 1 camp just before 5 pm, with Lucille and I ahead of the rest of our group. Good and plentiful supper, considering the chef only had the use of a 2-burner propane stove. Told we would be awakened at 4:30 am next morning, have breakfast at 5 and leave by 6. We needed the early start because of the long day ahead. Good tents (Eureka Timberline), thick mattresses and warm mummy bags. Wore long johns and socks to bed initially but before long stripped them off because too warm. 14 km hiked.

Our group of 13 at the start of the trek. All eager and ready to go.

There is climbing on the 1st day too. It’s not all flat!

Some steep sections on this day but it was still an easy day.

The group of 5 on Day 1. Not bedraggled yet 🙂

Our line of tents on 2 terraces. The campsites are clean and flat and the camping equipment is first rate. Thankfully, Alpaca provides their own toilet tents so we don’t have to use the nasty public squat toilets.

Nov 18 – Day 2 is hardest day on the trek because of the distance, steepness and altitude. Our guide, Lizandro, led the way uphill for the first 2 hours, stopping every 10 minutes for a rest. Good slow and steady pace. After 2 hours he let us go at our own pace while he stayed with the slower ones. Lucille, Jen and I kept together at a good pace, stopping every 5 minutes, or sometimes less, as the trail got higher and steeper. Lots of stairs, spaced unevenly and at random angles, so it’s hard to maintain a consistent pace. If you are reasonably fit, the climb and distance are not hard – it’s the lack of oxygen that wears you out. The muscles don’t hurt, you just feel bagged! Got to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point of the trek at 4215 metres, around 9:45 am and rested and waited for the others. Pauline and Audrey, with their young legs and lungs, got there before us but not by much. Blaine and Gaye arrived about a half hour after we did and we started down other side about 10 minutes later. Reached the bottom of the other side, at Pacamayo, after 2 hours and the porters had tarps and mattresses laid out for us to rest on while lunch was being prepared. Much appreciated, especially since we had to wait about another 90 minutes for rest of the group to arrive. Had lunch, then another 2 hours more to climb Runkuracay Pass, then 2 more back down to our Day 2 campsite, about 30 minutes past the turnoff to the Sayaqmarca ruins. All in all, it was a wonderful day. The challenge of the physical exertion combined with the altitude, the many Incan ruins that we passed and explored, the great scenery and – bonus – no rain at all, made for a great hike. 16 km hiked.

So near yet so far. Dead Woman’s Pass is just to the left of the nipple.

One of our many breaks on the way to the top.

Almost there. Rest breaks are closer together now as the air gets thinner.

At the top!! 4215 m elevation.

Waiting at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass for our group.

Only a dozen steps to go to the top but Gaye needed a break!

Down the uneven steps on the other side of the pass. Constant care and concentration are required.

One of our porters. These guys are awesome!

Nov 19 – An easier and even prettier day, with not as much climbing but a fair amount of descending. Went through the cloud forest and different ecosystems. The trail has many of the numerous types of orchids that grow in the park and Lizandro was good at finding them. The blossoms on most are about the size of a fingernail though, not the huge kinds you see in a botanical garden. It rained for about 3 hours in the morning but, surprisingly, the rocks were not slippery. The ponchos get in the way of our feet when on steps though, and there are some hellishly steep steps, so we had to tie them up a little and be careful. Passed by more ruins – Phuyupatamarka, Intipata – and arrived in camp well before supper. Lizandro led us over to the ruins by Camp 3, Wiñay Wayna, which he claimed were in better shape than MP.  Lots of pictures later, and getting slightly lost, we made our way back to camp. That is the first spot on the trail with cell reception so there were a bunch of people on the roof of the bathroom trying to get a signal! For the first 2 days, there are numerous campsites for the different trekking companies to use. For Day 3, every trekker on the trail had to use this one. So it was a confusing campsite with all 500 people staying there overnight on a multitude of camping terraces that all look the same! For supper, our cook baked a cake for Lucille’s birthday, which was a nice touch and hard to do on a propane stove! We had the porter tipping ceremony after supper, with all porters and trekkers introducing themselves. This is the last time we will see the porters, since they go down to Aguas Calientes by a different route tomorrow, bypassing Machu Picchu. 10 km hiked.

A rainy morning required ponchos but a pain on the steps.

One of the many Incan ruins on the way to Machu Picchu.

The steps on day 3 were worse than on day 2. Irregular, uneven and STEEP!

Wiñay Wayna ruins, near the day 3 campsite.

Nov 20 – up at 3:30 am so we could be close to the beginning of the line for entry to the last part of the trail. Had a light breakfast then a 5-minute walk out of camp before we hit the lineup for the Sun Gate registration! We waited until it opened at 4:30 then headed off to the Sun Gate. Got to the monkey steps, an extremely steep set of 60 steps leading to the Sun Gate, at 5:40. Misty and not great views of MP initially but a few breaks in the clouds allowed us to get a few decent shots. After about 45 minutes up there, we continued down for another 45 minutes to reach MP. We hung around the top for a while for more pictures, then made our way down to the registration office. Got our passports stamped (!) and then back up again, with Lizandro guiding and explaining what we were seeing.  Caught the bus down to Aguas Calientes around 2 pm, met the group for lunch then wandered around town till the 4:20 train back to Ollantaytambo. The Alpaca van was there to meet us and take us back to Cusco. Arrived back at our hotel around 8 pm. 5 km hiked on the trail but much more while we explored around Machu Picchu. We were very happy with how we were treated by Alpaca Expeditions and highly recommend them if anyone is planning to do the hike.

Gaye preparing to climb the Monkey Steps, aka the Gringo Killer, the steep part on the left. Yes, they are as steep as they look.

Almost at the Sun Gate. Hand over hand and don’t lean back…

Our view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate on a dull, foggy morning. We were still happy to be there 🙂

Gaye, Blaine, Dara and Lucille resting at the Sun Gate.

The group overlooking Machu Picchu once we were below the cloud layer.

Machu Picchu

Nov 21 – Because we were so impressed with Lizandro, our guide for the Inca Trail, we hired him for the day to do a tour of all the sites around Cusco that we missed before. Went to Minas (salt mines), Moray (concentric terraced greenhouses), Puka Pukara (defensive fort), Tambomachay (fine stonework indicating temples, used for water worship, royal bathing and also for defense), Q’enqo (used for sacrifices and mummification), and Sacsayhuaman, the huge fortified temple overlooking Cusco. A very interesting and full day.

The evaporite cells of the Moras salt mine, in production from pre-Incan times to present day.

The concentric terraced “greenhouses” of Moray.

127 tonne rock that the Incans moved from 7 km away, yet they hadn’t discovered the wheel! Moved by brute force and ingenuity. Or aliens.

The Plaza de Armas in Cusco in foreground.

Nov 22 – The 5 of us flew from Cusco to Lima to Quito to Baltra (Galapagos). The Quito airport has quite the process for entering Galapagos – paying an entry fee, checking luggage for any seeds or produce or animal traces. Once at the Baltra airport, a sniffer dog walks all over the luggage before being released to the travelers. We took the free bus for the 10 minute ride from the airport to the ferry crossing, 1 ferry ($1, 10 minutes across channel), then public bus into Puerto Ayora ($2). Our hotel (Vista al Mar) was just a block from ocean and bus stop. Settled in and explored the town.

Lucille at the Baltra, Galapagos airport.

The sniffer dog checking the luggage in Baltra airport.

Nov 23 – Arranged a guided tour to Los Gemelos (a volcanic collapse structure), underground lava tunnels, and El Chato 2 Ranch, a private tortoise reserve with lots of tortoises of many ages, and the Charles Darwin Center, all on Santa Cruz Island. In the afternoon, we wandered around town and arranged a tour of Isabela Island for the next day. Puerto Ayora is a very relaxed town! Nobody is in a hurry, nobody trying to hustle you on the street (like in Cusco), just very chillin’.

Blaine walking through the lava tunnels at El Chato Ranch.

I didn’t know that tortoises could read.

A tortoise spa.

Nov 24 – Up early to catch the 7 am speedboat to Isabela. Uncomfortable 2 hour ride in launch. Booked into our hotel for the night (Cerro Azul). Toured marine iguana sites (the critters are literally underfoot – need to watch where you step because they blend right in with the rocks), went snorkeling (the best part of the day) with sea turtles off the tour boat, saved Lucille from swimming out to sea, and saw blue footed boobies, Galápagos penguins and the ubiquitous frigate birds. Sea lions own this place, as shown in the following picture.

The sea lions relax wherever the hell they want to…

Marine iguanas by the dozens. You have to watch where you step ’cause they blend in so well.

Galapagos penguins and a blue-footed boobie.

Nov 25 – A tour to Sierra Negra volcano and Volcan Chico. Long hot, dusty hike, over 18 kms, but wonderfully stark topography, especially walking on Chico. Didn’t go into the vast Sierra Negra caldera, the most active volcano in the Galapagos with it’s most recent eruption in 2005, but walked a long way on the lava flows of Chico (last erupted 1979).  Returned to Santa Cruz on the 5 pm speedboat. Great day except for the very uncomfortable return trip, sardined in with the other passengers!

Me in front of the Sierra Negra caldera, last eruption in 2005.

Walking in the moonlike Volcan Chico flows, last erupted in 1979.

An uncomfortably cramped speedboat ride back to Santa Cruz Island. At least I wasn’t the guy with a ladder in his eye!

Nov 26 – Toured Las Tintoreras, on Isabela island, and saw white tipped reef sharks grouped together in a small channel. They rest there during the day, perfect for the tourists to see them, and go out hunting at night. Snorkeled again (not with the sharks), with a better mask this time, but not as good visibility in the water so didn’t see as many fish. Went to Los Grietas, a popular tourist swimming spot, and swam in the narrow, deep channel. Not very exciting – don’t know what the draw is except for a good place for diving off the rocks. Would have preferred more snorkeling off the boat.

White tipped reef sharks, 4 to 5 feet long, resting in a tidal pool. They swim out during the night to feed.

A gruesome looking marine iguana. I’m glad they are only a foot or 2 long!

Nov 27 – Blaine, Deb and Gaye wanted to relax in town, so Lucille and I arranged a tour out to the north part of Santa Cruz Island, accompanied by a Canadian dad and daughter (Ian and Alex) from Lachine, a suburb of Montreal close to where I grew up.  Laguna el Junco, a water filled collapse structure, was very misty but with a flock of frigate birds soaring and diving quite close to us. Although visibility was limited, it was a nice relaxing walk. The guide then took us to Puerto Chino beach for another snorkeling opportunity. It is a nice fine sand beach, but the water was too rough to see anything through the roiling sand. Eventually, we took our masks off and just enjoyed the water for 40 minutes. We then visited the David Rodriguez tortoise reserve to see yet more tortoises of all ages. Saw where they incubated the eggs and segregated the hatchlings into different enclosures based on age up to 5 years. All were from Santa Cruz Island. After 5 years, they are released into the wild to fend for themselves. This tour was a little different in that the guide didn’t speak English. Fortunately Ian spoke Spanish and translated a lot for us. When he wasn’t around, it was a lot of hand gestures and back and forth in our limited languages but, surprisingly, everyone made themselves understood.

Puerto Chino beach. Nice fine sand, complete with sea lions and hidden iguanas.

Nov 28 – Lucille and I went to the Charles Darwin Center for the morning then wandered around looking at wildlife, both at the center and in town at the fish market. That place is a lot of fun, with all the pelicans clambering to get scraps and iguanas underfoot (as usual). Even the odd sea lion looking for an easy snack. In the afternoon, the group got a taxi and we visited the lava tunnels at El Miramar. Not as large as the ones in El Chato but still cool to see.

Looking for easy snacks at the fish market.

Nov 29 – Went for coffee, checked in with Latam, and went for final island lunch. Got a taxi at 12:30 for trip to the airport ($25 for the 5 of us), caught the ferry and bus, then waited while chaos ensued at check-in with everyone arriving at the same time. Flew Baltra to Quito, then Quito to Lima. Arrived around 10:30 pm. Lucille and I said goodbye to Blaine, Deb and Gaye, as they were continuing on to home on a 5 am flight next morning and were just going to wait at the airport, while Lucille and I went to a hotel (Hotel Padama) close to the airport. 30 soles for the cab ride.

Nov 30 – Repacked for the Amazon then went for a walk in the neighbourhood by the hotel. Pretty rough looking, lots of storefront auto repair shops, laundries, generally an industrial area. The tiendas all had bars across the doors, either to prevent pilfering or enable owners to do other stuff in back maybe. Probably the former. Have to “hola” to get their attention, say what item you want, pay for it, then it is handed to you thru the bars. Wouldn’t want to walk around at night. Hotel arranged for cab to airport (30 soles again – a set charge from the hotel) at 3pm. We had nice lunch outside security, then went thru the cattle process. Took off boots and hat, forgot change in pocket so got wanded. Eventually made it through and just chilled until plane time at 6pm. The plane left a little late and we arrived Iquitos at 8. Oppressively hot and muggy! Lucille had arranged for a car to be waiting and a hotel employee drove us to the hotel. Lots of tuk-tuk and car traffic. Tuk-tuks far more prevalent here than anywhere else we have stayed. Probably has something to do with the remoteness of Iquitos – the largest city in Peru that cannot be reached by road.

Dec 1 – Up at 6, showered and breakfast at 7 (eggs, toast, fresh blended and thick papaya juice and instant coffee. What is it with Peru and instant coffee? They grow the damn stuff! Make it properly!!) Picked up at 8:30 by Ashuco, our guide for the week, and a tuk-tuk. Drove us to the Maniti office where we were informed we had to pay the balance owing for the tour in cash. They had a Visa sign and machine, and we had paid our deposit by credit card, but the manager claimed it wasn’t working. From the reviews that I have since read on TripAdvisor, this is a common occurrence with this company! The place gave me the impression of being very unprofessional, which was not a good sign of things to come. The boss said some people’s expectations were different from what the tour actually provided and Maniti got bad reviews as a result. I would give him bad review on his attitude alone, not to mention a shoddily run office! Ashuco, our tour guide, walked me over to an ATM but it wouldn’t give me any soles or dollars on my BMO debit card. Went to another ATM with the same result. Was getting very frustrated with Peruvian banking system. Lucille was able to get money out as a cash advance on her Visa card and lent me enough to pay my outstanding bill with rest of the dollars and soles I had, leaving very little for spending money for camp. After settling the bills, back in a tuk-tuk to the boat. Took about 90 minutes to get to camp, about 23 km down the Amazon River. The Amazon is a lot bigger than I imagined – wide and deep – and has lots of traffic on it.

The Maniti camp is just off the Amazon, about 23 km downriver (NE) from Iquitos. (Thanks to Google Earth)

Access to the camp is off a little creek where we dock, climb a ramp up the riverbank, then a 5 minute walk to the huts.

The dock for Maniti camp, as well as for the local inhabitants.

The rough, narrow and slippery boardwalk leading to Maniti camp. Note the water mark on the tree on the left. This whole area is under water during the rainy season (max in February). Access to the camp is then by boat.

The Maniti camp is not bad. Pretty basic huts – 8 foot walls, bottom half plywood, top is screen, no windows just open to the air. Water for sink, toilet and shower is pumped straight from the Amazon and not heated. Never a problem in that heat! Had a good lunch (catfish, rice, veggies) then relaxed in a hammock tent till 3pm. For our afternoon tour, we took a boat for half hour or so to a path in jungle. Ashuco led the way, pointing out all the different trees, birds, tree iguanas, pygmy marmoset monkeys, turkey vultures… Back on river, he took us to an area in the river where grey and pink dolphins were surfacing.

Our hut in the Maniti camp.

Inside the hut. Pretty basic but lots of room for 2 people. Would be cramped if all 4 beds were used.

The large dining hut.

The hammock hut. Nice place to relax between jungle walks.

Back in camp, we met a couple from Israel and Canada, and another from India and Thailand (I think). We had a night walk scheduled for after supper but a thunder storm moved in and cancelled those plans. Ended up just showering and lying in bed listening to music from 8:30 onwards, waiting for lights to go out (power is only on from 6pm to 9pm).

Dec 2 – Ashuco woke us up at 4:30am to see the sunrise but said that it was foggy and wouldn’t be good. So why did he wake us up!! We went back to sleep while everyone else went out. Later reports of the sunrise varied but sounds like we should have gone out after all. We went for a jungle walk behind camp after breakfast for about 2.5 hours, walking on trails, bushwhacking, crossing streams on questionable “bridges” and sweating profusely the whole time. Extremely hot and muggy all morning but no rain. Still, we came back as wet as if we had been in a downpour! Saw a few saddleback tamarinds high in trees, tried to encourage tarantulas to leave their holes (without success). No frogs either but saw lots of bats exiting from their tree with a little help from Ashuco’s prodding. Good picture of one when it crashed onto the ground and Ashuco held it up by its wings. It wasn’t hurt and it immediately flew away when Ashuco let go of it. All in all, a fun morning.

A tree iguana relaxing on a branch.

Gotta watch where you put your hands! There are some nasty plants in the jungle.

Lucille crossing a slippery bridge on our jungle walk.

A fruit bat that crashed near us. It wasn’t hurt and flew away when released.

Back at camp, some new people had arrived, from Germany (Anna, Pascal) and US (Meagan, Matt), by the time we got back. Had lunch (roast water buffalo!) and hammock time till we went out to Isla de los Monas (Monkey Island) at 2:30. More like a monkey petting zoo, with 8 different species and 35 individuals, but they were friendly, except when Lucille tried to retrieve her walking stick from one. They also had a very colourful scarlet macaw as a pet.

Very tame monkeys on Monkey Island.

Last stop on the trip on the river was at the village, close to our camp, where they produced sugarcane rum using traditional methods to extract the sugar juice from the cane. They make a number of drinks, from non-alcoholic to potent and we sampled 3 of them. The one I liked the best was a pink-coloured concoction called “flamingo”, citrusy and strong, a combination of ginger, camu camu (source of the sour citrus flavour) and honey.

After supper, we went out for night walk behind camp. Ashuco fished a black tarantula out of its hole using a thin twig but we didn’t get to hold it. Also saw yellow frogs and black frogs but no green ones. Ashuco’s grandfather was a shaman and taught him what all the different plants and animals were used for. Don’t lick the green frog.

A black tarantula, prodded out of it’s hole in the ground.

Dec 3 – Ashuco woke us up at 5:30 to go birdwatching. Too misty to see sunrise but saw hummingbirds, oropendola (with hanging basket-like nests), turkey vultures, a hawk, flock of parakeets and a bunch of others I cannot remember names of.

Back in for breakfast then out at 9am to a traditional native camp where we were face painted, danced with them and got to try out a blowgun. Everyone hit the target on 1st or 2nd try but it was only about 15 feet away. The dancing was meant to be an audience participation performance (traditional welcoming maybe? Don’t know, as nothing they did was explained to us) but seemed forced and not entirely comfortable.

Back to camp for siesta, lunch and another siesta then out to the “flat forest” to look for tarantulas.  A 30-minute boat ride across and up river then through a forest of ficus, acacia, wimba trees and palms. The pink toed tarantulas hide inside the dried, rolled up palm leaves so Ashuco was searching in those. He found one and gently persuaded it to climb on Lucille, then me. Remarkably gentle and soft feet as it climbed over our heads. We left camp hearing thunder and the storm arrived just as we finished playing with the tarantula. Heavy warm downpour and we were drenched in no time. We took refuge in the local “bar” until most of it passed, then down to the boat and camp. No night walk tonight.

A pink-toed tarantula. It was very gentle but I wouldn’t want to piss it off.

Dec 4 – Went to an animal rescue centre, more like mini zoo, in the morning. Got to hold a baby sloth in the sloth enclosure – unbelievably cute – then to the anaconda enclosure. One huge one that, thankfully, was sleeping, another about 8 feet long and thick as my calf that Lucille tried to hold but too heavy and slippery, and a nasty and irate 5 foot long python that lunged and hissed anytime someone got close. Then to the caiman cage to see a pygmy caiman, about a foot long, a black caiman and a white caiman. I was under the impression that caimans were all small but the black ones can grow up to 7 metres long and the white to 2.5 – 3 metres. Both caimans in the enclosure were about 2 feet long. The pool also had a couple of turtles. Spotted more parrots outside – a green one and another scarlet macaw – then back to the boat. We picked up another tour group whose boat was having trouble and we were taken to a floating bar where we did some piranha fishing. I got 2 little catfish but Lucille caught a piranha, which the guide kept to cook up for lunch. The bar was hopping, with music, selling beer and about a dozen people on it. Glad we came here rather than just fishing at the mouth of our creek like some other groups did.

A baby sloth is very cute.

I don’t know if Lucille appreciated just how big that anaconda was!

We had lunch, including the pitiful small and bony piranhas, had our daily after-lunch siesta then headed out to the Garzal Conservation Area for our night in the jungle. Nina (from Finland) joined us, along with her guide Linder. Passed through a lovely little village, clean, tidy – even had garbage bins along the sidewalk past the houses – registered, then walked into the bush. After about a 30-minute walk, including stopping to play on the Tarzan vines hanging from a huge wimba (?) tree, we arrived at our camp for the night – two large screened-in huts with an outhouse between them.

Lucille playing Tarzan (Jane?) on the vines hanging off the huge trees.

Our “night in the jungle” hut. About as basic as you can get and still have walls.

We dropped our day (night) packs then started on the trail to the observation tower, Palo Alto. After 50 feet we hopped into a boat and Ashuco and Linder poled along a narrow waterway. After about 10 minutes, we beached (jungled?) the boat, and followed another indistinct path to the next creek. Same procedure until we beached again. After about 20 minutes, we arrived at the 3-story tower, climbed it and waited for sunset. Frogs and birds (and Ashuco) got louder and louder as sunset approached. Once dark, we descended and looked for frogs. Ashuco has amazing eyesight and he found 3 of them, each one bigger than the last. How the hell does he see them? Their eyes don’t glow in the dark and they were quiet!

A storm had been approaching the whole time we were at the tower and rain was imminent, so we headed back to camp. Pitch dark, with only our lamps for light, walking in the jungle at night is much different than during the day! Ashuco was rushing to beat the rain but the boat got stuck in the vegetation a few times so we almost made it back before the downpour started. Didn’t get too wet though and Ashuco and Linder doled out dinner – 1 potato and a piece of chicken each – then set up the mattresses and mosquito nets. With nothing else to do, we were all into bed by 7:30. It was a quiet night, with the rain you couldn’t really hear anything else anyway, and blacker than the inside of a water buffalo.

Ashuco poling our boat through the jungle creek.

Mosquito net tents over our mattresses. It was very cozy.

Dec 5 – Got up at 5:30, packed our bags and headed back to meet Teddy, our boat driver for the past 4 days, in the boat. The other people in camp, a new group, had been out for a sunrise trip so we all headed back together. Back in camp, we showered, had breakfast and a short rest, then Ashuco took us in a canoe for a paddle up the creek by camp. I paddled in the bow, Ashuco in the stern and Lucille took pictures (my camera battery had died). The creek is barely wider than the canoe is long and we got stuck a few times on logs but it was a nice change from walking in the jungle. Managed to turn the thing around when the creek got too clogged with downed trees and sweepers blocking our path and went back to camp for an early lunch. Another shower, pack bags, then head upriver for the 2-hour trip back to Iquitos.

Our last morning paddle up the creek by camp.

Lucille and I finishing off our 5 days in the jungle with a nice quiet canoe ride.

Once there, we took a tuk-tuk to the office, dropped our bags and walked to the main market, Belen. Quite large and lots of variety of goods and food but garbage was everywhere and not clean. Spent about half hour there, walked to an ATM where Lucille was able to get some money for us for Ashuco’s tip, then took a taxi to the airport.

Had a beer and pizza while waiting for plane, which took the edge off our hunger (still hungry from not much to eat yesterday). Plane was 45 minutes late to Lima but our taxi was there to meet us and we got to the hotel around 11pm. After showers, repacking and a final celebratory beer each, into bed at 1am.

Dec 6 – Lucille’s iPad alarm, buried in her pack, went off at 5:30. Hauled her suitcase downstairs but didn’t make it far before Manuel (the night crew reminds me of Fawlty Towers) jumped up and grabbed it from me. Got a brief goodbye hug as she dashed off to the waiting cab, on to her next adventure in Argentina. Going to miss her company. She has been a great roommate for the past month.

Went upstairs to the hotel breakfast room at 8 am – 1 egg, 2 buns, coffee. Not much choice but at least they offer it. Went for a 5 km walk around lunchtime, in the same areas covered a week ago, just to get a little exercise. Pretty unexciting area to walk in, no parks or anything, just an industrial area. When I got back, the front desk lady had me change to a 1-bedroom, just down the hall. I had paid for the double earlier that morning but she didn’t understand that I should now be getting a cheaper rate. Not worth pursuing for only about $15 difference. Tried to sleep in the afternoon and evening but couldn’t. Lucille called on FaceTime around 7 pm but connection bad so didn’t talk long, just to let me know she arrived safely at her apartment in Mendoza. Finally got to sleep around 10 pm and woke up just before the alarm at 11:30. Going to be a long day tomorrow unless I can sleep on the plane!

Cab came early, at 11:45 pm, and no traffic so got to airport in about 7 minutes. Through bag drop and security quickly, had some supper and settled down for the +3-hour wait. A Snickers bar at Lima airport costs $4US!! Didn’t buy it. I’ll have to get my Snickers fix in Toronto.

Dec 7 – Plane delayed for 35 minutes and we ended up rolling down the runway at 3:50 am. No big deal as I have a few hours layover in Toronto anyway before the YEG flight. I was alone in the centre row of the 767-300 so it was a pretty comfortable flight. Didn’t sleep but was nice to be able to sprawl over 2 seats for a while. Watched Rogue One on my iPad on the Rouge system. On a Rouge flight, they don’t have any seatback screens, you have to rent an iPad or bring your own if you want any streaming entertainment. We arrived in Toronto around 11:30 am and I treated myself to a Timmy’s coffee and muffin. Peruvians haven’t discovered muffins yet, which is probably a good thing. Good internet at Pearson so emailed a few pictures to family.

Rolling down the runway at 3:45pm on second leg of flight home. Lucked out again with no one in the middle seat between the window and aisle on the A320, so I had lots of space. The A320 has plugins on 2/3 seats on each side of the aircraft to charge devices although the USB port on the seats don’t work or not enough power to charge an iPad.

Overall impressions of this trip? Wow. It was my longest yet and certainly the most diverse, with 3 distinctly different aspects to it. A very enjoyable and enlightening month. My favourite part had to be doing the Inca Trail hike, day 2 specifically, because I was most worried about it due to altitude and fitness concerns. But, after my initial episode on the Colca tour, altitude and fitness did not prove to be factors at all. Well, maybe having to stop for a break every 4-5 minutes on the way up to Dead Woman’s Pass would be considered a factor but no headaches or other symptoms. Just a general lack of oxygen slowing us down. Muscles didn’t even get sore, except for slight tightness above knees with all the down on days 2 and 3. Guess all the biking, stairmaster and workouts were worthwhile 😊. Very pleased with how I fared physically and I loved the challenge. I thought that Lucille would rocket way ahead but we kept pace with each other all the way. Nice to be able to do that together. My biggest disappointment was not being able to go with her on the Rainbow Mountain trek due to still recovering from being poisoned by that damned tea. My priority was being healthy for the Inca Trail and I did not want to compromise that.

Galápagos was a total contrast to the noise and hustle of Cusco. Laid back atmosphere, great temperature – I thought that it would be much hotter at the equator – and interesting environment. No being pestered on the streets and felt safe everywhere. They do have to work on their boats though! Bloody uncomfortable island hopping unless you are sitting in the very back of the boat. Noisy but better than sitting canted over on the side seats and wrecking your back for 2 hours. My favourite day there was doing the Volcan Chico trek. Hot, dusty, dry but great topography. And of course seeing the animal life on the islands that we can’t see at home.

The jungle was pretty well as I imagined – hot and sweaty with enormous plants, flowers everywhere, and lots of crawly things. I had no expectations of how I would like it, especially with the heat and humidity, but Ashuco showed us a lot of varied places – poling the boats through the swamps after dark and the jungle walks were highlights. Monkey Island and the animal recovery center felt more like petting zoos but were still enjoyable and we saw animals up close that we didn’t see, or only saw at a distance, on the jungle walks. It was good to see how cute the sloths were up close! The theatrics of the Yaguas tribal dance felt contrived but it was intended to be a performance, albeit with audience participation. And I got to use a blowgun! The enormous size of the trees was a surprise, although I knew that the Amazon was being logged for a reason. It is not just palms and vines. These are trees right out of Tolkien, some nightmarish, some fantastical. After the poor customer treatment in the office at the start, our time in the jungle was enjoyable and interesting, due mainly to our guide Ashuco’s knowledge and enthusiasm.

Would I revisit anything? The Inca Trail was great, because it is everything a hike should be – challenging, historic and scenic – but there are too many other hikes in other parts of the world that would now take precedence. I would go back to Galápagos but by booking a boat tour to see more of the islands and do more snorkeling off the boats. Not to see more iguanas and tortoises and boobies specifically – I pretty well had my fill of them – but to chill out in the relaxed atmosphere and play in the water. Again, other water holidays in places I have never visited would take precedence. The jungle was interesting but 5 days was enough to get a good taste of that environment. So I guess I would say a reserved no to return visits to any of the areas. Overall impressions of Peru are dirty and noisy (they have a love affair with their car horns), with ridiculous banking rules (1 withdrawal a month from some ATMs and extortionate fees). Although all our tour guides were very conscientious about keeping the environment clean, the general population still needs a change of mindset. The amount of garbage and litter on the roadsides, in the cities and in the country, is staggering. Saying that though, I still enjoyed the country. On a positive note, I saw very few people smoking! And their buses are way more comfortable than ours. Don’t know if Galápagos was typical of Ecuador but it was much cleaner and we had no problems with ATMs. It would have been nice to have scheduled at least a day in Quito to get a (minimally) more informed impression of that country. I loved my time there.

Glad I went on this trip. It helps having a great roommate and companions and I met a lot of interesting and adventurous people. I hope to keep on traveling for as long as I can!<<<<<<
;

2016 Coffeeneuring

After almost a year of not blogging about any ski or bike trips (or anything else, for that mater), the annual  Coffeeneuring Challenge has shamed me into action. You can read all about it in the link provided but, in a nutshell, the challenge by biking blogger Chasing Mailboxes is to visit 7 different coffee shops between October 7th and November 20th, with a maximum of 2 visits per week. I normally park the bikes once the snow flies and, since I live near Edmonton, Alberta, the snow usually flies early. So my challenge isn’t to find different coffee shops, it is to beat winter! There are a few more rules to follow but all are quite doable, especially for a retired guy. I completed the challenge in 2013 and 2014 but missed last year while in Italy and Slovenia on organized bike trips at the time (planned bike trips are ineligible). So this is my official documentation for 2016.

Coffeeneuring #1:

Hot chocolate on a chilly day. On the viewing deck on Big Lake.

Hot chocolate on a chilly day. On the viewing deck on Big Lake.

When: Friday, October 7, 2016

Where: Lois Hole Provincial Park, St. Albert, Alberta, Canada (Invoking the “Coffee Shop Without Walls” rule).

What: Hot chocolate from a thermos

Distance: 16.0 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11411648

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. A 3- or 4-bike lockup post just off the deck but rarely used unless people wander off out of sight.

Weather: -2C, overcast and windy.

Leaves littering the trail through the wooded area.

Leaves littering the trail through the wooded area.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

Coffeeneuring #2

We got hit with, what I hope, was an early season snowfall on the 8th and 9th. Not a lot of snow, about 10 cms (4 inches) total, but the ground was cold enough to retain it on the greenery (brownery?). The roads and trails, thankfully, managed to retain enough summer heat to melt off after a while so I was able to venture out today without worrying too much about the traction. I did my usual ride out to Big Lake then veered off on a part of the trail that has been closed for over a year due to nearby condo construction. I  circumvented the concrete barriers that still bar the trail (is the city ever going to remove them?) to visit Good Earth Cafe. This is the go-to coffee shop for our club rides in St. Albert in the summer, mainly because of the large common patio just outside it’s doors. And having decent coffee and treats. A little too cool to sit outside today though.

Warm inside but snowy outside.

Warm inside but snowy outside.

When: Monday, October 10, 2016

Where: Good Earth Cafe, St. Albert

What: Black coffee and praline brownie

Distance: 16.5 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11457311

Bike Friendliness: 4/5. Few bike racks but plenty of space to park bikes by shop.

Weather: -1C, overcast. Snow lingers on ground from recent snowfall but trails are clear.

Two days after our first snowfall. Trails are clear though.

Two days after our first snowfall. Gotta watch out for slippery leaves!

The Sturgeon River in downtown St. Albert on a damp, -1C day.

The Sturgeon River in downtown St. Albert on a damp, -1C day.

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Coffeeneuring #3

After last week’s early snowfall, we had yet another 10 cm dump on October 14th. So much for starting week 2 of coffeeneuring on a high note :(. The temperature has hovered between -4C and +2C all week under cloudy skies so not much melting has been going on. Thankfully, the city has plowed the trails and they are mostly ice-free. Today’s excursion was my usual route out to Big Lake again, with a side trip to the Glasshouse Bistro. I imagine that it gets it’s name due to the fact that it is housed in one of the largest, if not the largest, greenhouse/garden centres in the Edmonton area.

Latte and a chocolatey muffin on a cool day.

Latte and a chocolatey muffin on a cool day.

When: Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Where: Glasshouse Bistro and Cafe

What: Latte and double chocolate muffin

Distance: 18.6 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11564541

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. One bike rack (although it holds ~6 bikes) about 100 feet from the entrance. I have locked to it many times but today I just chained my bike to a fence by the door.

Weather: -1C, overcast, with a penetrating dampness.

The trestle rail bridge on a gray day.

The trestle rail bridge on a gray day.

The viewing deck at Big Lake, complete with snowman on the picnic table.

The viewing deck at Big Lake, complete with snowman on the picnic table. Glad that people are having fun with this early snow 🙂

My requisite picture of the trail though the woods. Looks much the same as a week ago.

My requisite picture of the trail though the woods. Looks much the same as a week ago. Fewer leaves on the trail though.

The beavers doing what beavers do, munching down trees near the river.

The beavers doing what beavers do, munching down trees near the river.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–


Coffeeneuring #4

The weather has finally changed to more bike-friendly, and biker-friendly, conditions. After almost 2 weeks of snow and temps hovering around 0C, we are now having “normal” fall conditions – normal for here being sunny and 5C to 10C. The city kept most of the trails swept clean during the cold spell but the thaw has meant snow melting during the day, flowing across the trails and freezing at night. A thin layer of melt on top of the ice patches is perfect for unseating an unwary cyclist 😦 The trails were actually in better shape when it was cold!

I went on my usual ride out to Big Lake, in Lois Hole Provincial Park, around lunchtime. Although my wife saw some trumpeter swans out there in the morning, they must have been hiding by the time I got there. Lots of Canada Geese and various ducks though. The temp was +2C when I left home and I’m glad that I dressed in layers as I was forced to shed a number of times during the ride. Nice to feel the heat of the sun again! The snow has pretty well disappeared, except in the shadowy and north-facing areas. Still some ice on the ponds and puddles though.

After my out-and-back to Big Lake, I decided to head to the north end of St. Albert. There is a new commercial development out by the Costco, which includes a Tim Hortons that I have not visited before. Not that I am a big fan of chain coffee shops – I would rather patronize the independents – but there are also some nice trails at that end of town that make for a reasonably scenic trip. But no independent coffee shops 😦

Coffee and very chocolaty muffin at Tims.

Coffee and very chocolaty muffin at Tims.

When: Saturday, October 22, 2016

Where: Tim Hortons, 1075 St. Albert Trail

What: Coffee and chocolate lava muffin

Distance: 26 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11617660

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. Three bike posts outside the coffee shop and another 3 about 50 feet away, so good for 6 bikes. Other than that, would have to lean bikes against walls or windows. Could be much better since there is adequate space for more posts but, being in a “power centre” where bikes are not the normal mode of shopping transportation, I suppose it is adequate. Typical for Tims though.

Weather: Sunny (yay!!) and +2C when I left home. +6 by the time I returned 90 minutes later.

Snow mostly gone from bush (compare this to the previous entry).

Snow mostly gone from bush (compare this to the Coffeeneuring #3 entry above).

Trail through a park by a decorative, but functional, storm water pond.

Trail through a park by a decorative, but functional, storm water pond.

Still snow in the shadowy areas but trails clear.

Still snow in the shadowy areas but trails clear.

Some nice trails in the north end of town - backyards on one side, bush on the other.

Some nice trails in the north end of town – backyards on one side, bush on the other.

I think the remains of a snowman on the trail.

I think the remains of a snowman on the trail.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Coffeeneuring #5

Taking advantage of the sunny weather while we still have it, I went out to the garage to prepare for another coffee ride. Well damn! A flat front tire! Thankful that it didn’t happen while on the ride, I put a new tube in and set out. My plan was to ride out to Big Lake (again) and check out a coffee shop in St. Albert that is now under new management, complete with a new name, on my way back. As I noted on yesterday’s ride, all the melting during the day has resulted in a lot more icy patches to contend with after the overnight freezes. It was down to -6C last night so I expected the usual wet areas of the trail to be a little treacherous. After the first 7 km, my front tire was feeling squishy so I added more air. It had me concerned though – I had filled it up adequately when I changed it earlier. Did I miss a tiny wire or stone poking through the tire? I had felt all the way around inside the tire and didn’t feel anything. The hole that I found in the previous tube was just a pin prick so it was definitely something small that caused the flat. I had wanted to do a little exploring today but, preferring to have to change the tube in the comfort of my garage rather than in the cold (it was 0C when I left) I headed for the coffee shop.

As I anticipated, the normally wet areas on the trail were now covered in sheets of ice. I managed a little skid on one of them when I was forced to make a slight steering adjustment but stayed upright. One helpful walker even offered a warning of ice ahead around a bend, which I appreciated. I checked my tire again at the coffee shop and, sure enough, it was down again. I pumped it up again, had a quick coffee and muffin, and boogied off back home.  The Sips and Sweets Cafe – formerly La Crema Caffe, formerly St. Thomas Coffee Shop…) seemed to be no different from it’s previous incarnation, just with a new name on the inside. All the La Crema signs were still up outside. Can’t really say that I noticed any difference at all but I only go there once or twice a year. The latte was passable but the barista was evidently not trained in coffee art. Doesn’t affect the taste, of course, but helps with the presentation!

Once home, I pulled the tube and put in my third tube of the day! Still can’t find the hole though. Some days, biking is just like that.

Latte, muffin, and a slowly deflating front tire.

Latte, muffin, and a slowly deflating front tire. And my Year 2 Coffeeneuring patch (2013, I think).

When: Sunday, October 23, 2016

Where: Sips and Sweets Cafe, St. Albert, AB

What: Latte (nothing to rave about) and blueberry muffin.

Distance: 15.8 km, on a flattening tire shortened day.

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11632695

Bike Friendliness: 4/5. Three bike posts (good for 6 bikes) across the street and a wrought iron patio fence, good for another 6 or so.

Weather: Sunny, 0C when I left home, +2C when I got back. Nice day for trail riding.

Too much of a hurry to get home so no other pictures from the ride.


—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Coffeeneuring #6

After a wet, dreary week I was finally able to get back in the saddle and continue my quest for 2016 coffeeneuring success. Although the weather still wasn’t the best – typical of late October in these parts – it had been a week since I was last on the bike, so off I went to search for new and better coffee experiences. One of the aborted aims of last week’s ride was to find the location of a new coffee shop that I had heard about. Not wanting to just meander last week with a slowly deflating tire, I instead went to a centrally located cafe. This week, after my usual trip to Lois Hole Provincial Park, I cruised around to try to find the hole-in-the-wall location of DaVinci’s Cafe. It turned out to be hidden in a back lane in an industrial park near the park. The place is just a gem though – a small family-run independent shop with great coffee selections and a yummy looking lunch menu. They are actually a gelato making operation and the coffee shop is a new, and very welcome, addition. Thus it’s location in a bay of the gelato plant.

Even cool, grey days can generate some internal sunshine! Glad I went out today.

Treats, coffeeneuring patch and part of my rear tire through the window.

Treats, coffeeneuring patch and part of my rear tire through the window.

When: Saturday, October 29, 2016

Where: DaVinci’s Cafe and Gelato, St. Albert, AB

What: Latte and chocolate chip muffin

Distance: 16.9 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11710550

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks, nothing to chain up to, and even limited vehicle parking due to it’s back lane location.

Weather: +2C (36F), misty and damp but no precipitation.

The ever changing patterns of the duckweed on the wetland ponds are always intriguing.

The ever changing patterns of the duckweed on the wetland ponds are always intriguing.

Kind of like a monochromatic pointillism that changes with the meager current.

Kind of like a monochromatic pointillism that changes with the meager current. One of these times I expect “The Scream” to appear!

DaVinci's location in a refurbished bay of an industrial building. Pretty well the only place I could park my bike, with a giant ghost guarding the other empty spot.

DaVinci’s location in a refurbished bay of an industrial building. Pretty well the only place I could park my bike, with a giant ghost guarding the other empty spot.

The trees are almost leafless now, waiting for the white stuff.

The trees are almost leafless now, waiting for the white stuff.

The Sturgeon River from the Woodlands/Oakmont foot bridge.

The Sturgeon River from the Woodlands/Oakmont foot bridge.


 ———————————————————————————————————————————————-

Coffeeneuring #7

October was an abysmal month for biking – cold and snowy when it wasn’t cold and rainy – with only rare glimpses of sun. November, however, has broken all sorts of records around here for warmth! Instead of turning the clocks back an hour, like we have to do tonight, it seems that the weather gods have turned their clocks back a month or two. I wasn’t able to make use of the nice weather earlier in the week (highs of 18-20C) but got out today for my last coffeeneuring ride. Not my last ride of the year though, I hope, with the good weather forecast to last at least for another week.

I did my usual route out to Big Lake, stopping at the waterfowl viewing platform and walking the boardwalk through the wetlands. Not a breath of wind was rippling the water – it was the calmest that I have seen the lake for some time. Still some ducks and geese hanging around and I was able to watch a muskrat swimming back and forth gathering food for future use.

It was a pleasant ride and there were lots of people on the trails taking advantage of the nice weather. I like seeing people enjoy the trail but having to avoid all the dog walkers who think the trail was made for only them and their dogs on 8-foot leashes gets frustrating after a while. But that’s what I get for going out on a sunny Saturday.

I had a surprise at the coffee shop. They rotate their urns through the usual Second Cup offerings and I normally get whatever medium roast is displayed. Today it was “Holiday Blend” WTF?? It’s only the beginning of November, not even to Remembrance Day, and they are already flogging their Christmas offering? Sorry – Holiday offering. It’s akin to stores putting up their Xmas decorations as soon as Halloween is over. I told the barista that I thought it was a tad early but she just shrugged it off. Maybe I was just getting owly after avoiding all the dogs :/ At least it was nice enough out to let me sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

Able to sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

Able to sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

When: Saturday, November 5, 2016

Where: Second Cup, corner of Bellerose and Inglewood, St. Albert, AB

What: Coffee (Holiday Blend, whatever that is) and lemon-poppyseed muffin

Distance: 16.4 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11802151

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No racks but an iron patio fence to chain up to, good for a few bikes.

Weather: Partially sunny but +9C (50F) and dead calm. Ending the challenge on a high note!

Not a ripple in the wetland ponds, mirroring the boardwalk and vegetation.

Not a ripple in the wetland ponds, mirroring the boardwalk and vegetation.

The trail through the woods, now snowless and dry as well as leafless.

The trail through the woods, now snowless and dry as well as leafless.

A beautiful day for November in the north. Great for getting out in the kayaks and enjoying the Sturgeon River.

A beautiful day for November in central Alberta. Great for getting out in the kayaks and enjoying the Sturgeon River.

 

 

 

Homeward Bound – Oct 26, 27

Today was a travel day for everyone. First to leave, shortly after breakfast, was Lucille. After goodbye hugs, she was off to the airport to catch her flight to eventually get to Tanzania and a week of safaris – on her own again after a month with our company. Alan, JoAnn and I caught the GoOpti bus at 10 a.m., which I had booked months before, to take us to Venice. Chris had a few more hours to go before his ride to the airport and his flight to back to Edmonton. I chose the flight home from Venice because it was cheaper booking a return flight from the same city, even including the cost of GoOpti and a hotel room for the night.

The 8-passenger bus trip was comfortable and fairly quick. We stopped after 2 hours at a truck stop for a wc break and snack, then drove another 1.5 hours to Marco Polo airport outside Venice. We had booked rooms at the Gronda Lagunare hotel in Tessera, a small town about 5 minutes from the airport, because it was way cheaper than staying in Venice and handy to the airport. We caught a cab from the airport, not expecting the driver to be too excited taking us the short distance, but he was ok with that. The rooms in the small 5-room hotel were not ready for us when we arrived so we dropped our bags in the rooms, while the staff made them up, and went for a walk. There is not much to Tessera and we ended up having a nice walk along farm roads then relaxing at the café beside the hotel. At one point we spied 2 women with luggage getting off a bus at a stop near the hotel. We wanted to find out how much the bus fare would be to the airport for tomorrow (the tobacco shop that sold tickets was not open) so we stopped the women. “Do you speak English?” JoAnn asked. The answer was yes and we chatted for a while, finding out that a single bus fare to the airport was €8! They were looking for a hotel that we had noticed just a few blocks away so we gave them directions. Eventually, we asked where they were from. “Oh, Edmonton, Alberta” and “Grande Prairie” were the answers. The world is certainly a small place. We had a nice supper at a nearby restaurant and turned in for the night. Even though the hotel was on the main road from Venice to the airport, it was a quiet night with little traffic noise.

The next morning we went for a walk again, stopping in at a wine shop (a bottle of 1965 Amerone for only €365 – we didn’t get it) and a grocery store. We all bought a wedge of Grana Padano at the grocery to take home.

The hotel manager called a cab for us. We could easily have walked the distance to the airport with our bags but the only road had no sidewalks and it was too busy to walk beside the traffic. We caught a Lufthansa flight from Venice to Frankfurt, had a 2-hour layover, then off to Toronto on Air Canada. The AC flight was far more comfortable than the AC Rouge flight on the way over! After another short layover in Toronto, where we were all questioned by customs for checking off cheese on our declaration cards (it was no problem), we finally caught our final flight to Edmonton. We arrived just after 1 a.m., though our bodies considered it to be 7 hours later. I drove JoAnn to her son’s place to pick up her car, then drove Al home. A long day, but it was good to be home after a very fun 28 days away.

Tag Cloud

chasingmailboxes.wordpress.com/

ride your heart out. washington d.c.