Travel

Is the Cablecar Cheating?

Posted on January 11, 2016. Filed under: Switzerland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

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Uh, the answer to that would be, “NO!”  Let’s not forget we are on vacation!  Perhaps a 6-8 hour hike in the mountains (read:  either all up or all down) is enough exercise?

We found the cablecars (téléphérique in French and seilbahn in German) in Switzerland to be fast, efficient, and a lot of fun.  We used them from our base of Zermatt to get up into the mountains to begin our day hikes.  We also planned to use them on the Haute Route whenever we could, but nearly missed the one into Zinal. 

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This is because the trail passes a cable car that closes at 4:15 and we had just missed it.  (Maybe there was some crying and stomping of feet.)  But then we found out 45 minutes later that first cable car station was for an entirely different town!  We just made the 5:00 last car down the mountain after a very difficult, wet, cold hiking day.  Our eyes bulged out watching the trail below the cable car.  It took about 20 minutes to descend on the cable!  We estimated an additional 2-3 hours if we had had to walk that path.

We couldn’t believe it when we were suddenly done with the day and off to find our hotel.  Ah…that sweet feeling of completing the hiking day.  Body buzzing…thanks to God for the help!

 

 

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Barcelona’s Sagrada Família

Posted on December 20, 2015. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , |

Our first approach through a little park was not a surprise as we were eagerly looking for the façade to come into view…

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But the magnificence was already apparent.  Begun in 1882, and designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926), the building is still under construction.  Cranes are busy all over the place.  And when we got closer we could see the line that stretched all around the entire city block on which the building sits.

In my view, it is foolish to stand in that line, wasting a whole day of your vacation!  We learned our lesson at Park Güell from 2 days prior.  After that bad experience of waiting too long to get in, I came back to our apartment to research buying tickets online.  I was glad I did because the wait was 2 days for online tickets!  It did make me a little nervous because I had never done this before and I had no way to print out the tickets I bought.  I found out this is unnecessary as they will scan your phone at the entrance and you are on your way.  We did have to find the proper entrance for this, but it wasn’t too hard to do that and we had arrived plenty early for our entry time slot so we weren’t too bothered.  We bought tickets for entry and for the elevator up the towers.  So, visiting this cathedral went off without a hitch for us.

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I am putting a lot of photos in this post, but I have to just accept that they are so inadequate.  I have been in a lot of European cathedrals, all magnificent in their own way, but this place actually took my breath away when I entered.  It seemed otherworldly to me, and so special, yes, I would say holy.  Holy means set apart and completely unique.  These are perfect descriptions of this space.

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The rainbow windows and soaring, plant-like pillars created these otherworldly effects.

Don’t miss the museum in the basement showing how the building was designed.  You can look into the workshop where they are still carving stone too.

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After this, the bus back home for fresh fish from the market for dinner.  What a great day!

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Casa Batlló, Barcelona

Posted on December 8, 2015. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , |

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We passed by on the bus in the morning.  The line outside snaked around and wasn’t moving at all.  I made a mental note to check on it when we passed on our return because, of course, we had to see  Casa Batlló, one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece apartment buildings from 1904.

This is another time to buy tickets online, but, happily we discovered that late in the afternoon the line disappears and you can waltz right in (at least in November.)  So we squeezed an audio tour in at the end of our day.  Of course this place is more magnificent in person than any pictures I’d ever seen of it.

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Whenever we tour historic homes I love to imagine living there.  This apartment was so unusual it was a little hard to do.  It would have been quite an oddball in its day.

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And yet, the attention to things like light and airflow would have made it more comfortable than most dwellings.

 
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And the beautiful lines, colors and details are everywhere.  Door handles are molded from human hands and even the servants’ quarters and roof are part of the design.
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This was a great way to close out our long day of Antoni Gaudí’s work.

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Barcelona’s Park Güell

Posted on December 5, 2015. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , |

DSC07438We did some things right and some things wrong.  Isn’t that always the case when you are traveling by your own wits?  It’s also part of the adventure.  Our first full day in Barcelona I was itching to get to the famous Park Güell, designed by  Antoni Gaudí, the famous modernist architect in 1900 to serve a small community of well-off society.  It had grown larger than life in my imagination and I wanted to sit on those undulating, mosaicked benches!

We proudly hopped on a city bus to take us to the north into very residential areas.  This is always fun.  You get to see how people actually live in a place, not just the busy tourist areas.  Also, the number of tourists on these buses are usually low and those that are there are like us, and we often meet interesting, adventurous people!  Also, it’s a bit nerve-wracking because, “Yikes!  How will we know where to get off!  And how does one indicate to the driver to stop?  And how do you get the door to open!?”  All these things get figured out in a snap, sometimes with and sometimes without help of local passengers.

When you unload you are a bit rattled from the experience, but also gratified that, indeed, you used the bus to arrive!  Ok, so we got to the entrance and found out that we made a big mistake.  Here is my proclamation for you if you are going to Barcelona (even in the supposed low season, which I don’t think really exists):  Use your smartphone to make reservations at all Gaudí sites unless you go very, very late in the day except for the cathedral for which you absolutely should have reservations in advance.

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We had to wait in line for an hour in the hot sun to get a ticket which gave us an entrance time 2 hours later.  So we killed 3 hours of our first day in Barcelona waiting around at the entrance to the park.  If I had just gotten the tickets on my telephone we could have waltzed right in.  It is very easy to go on the websites of these sites and purchase tickets.  Then you just show your phone and they scan it.  Boom, done.

Ok, so I can learn!  But for this day we were stuck.  There was nowhere to go, really, and the vendors at the entrance knew they had us.  Sky high prices for ice cream, water, and soda.  And, although it was October, it was hot in the sun, so we did spring for some water.  When we finally got in it was worth it, of course, there is no place like this anywhere in the world!  I felt as though I was inside a piece of art.

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In spite of the tickets and specific entrance times, it was quite crowded.  We had to wait in a line of sorts to get that photo of us with the lizard fountain.  The good part, though, is how all the various tourists from literally everywhere help each other out taking pictures for each other.  This simple act always warms my heart.

That morning I had thoughts of seeing the park in the morning and the cathedral in the afternoon.  Ha!  I knew that wasn’t happening, but we did pass Casa Batlló on the way to the park.  The line for that stretched very, very far.  But now, later in the day, I wondered what that line would look like.  Next time I’ll tell you about Casa Batlló!

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Sisters in a Slot Canyon

Posted on December 4, 2015. Filed under: American Southwest, Poetry, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

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Traveling with a sister
What joy to slip
Between the slot canyon walls!
Pictures snapping all around
The colors, the lines, the space
So sinuous.
We are amazed.

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Quiet Place at Arches National Park

Posted on December 2, 2015. Filed under: American Southwest, Poetry, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

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La Sage to Cabane de Moiry

Posted on November 29, 2015. Filed under: Switzerland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

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This was a crazy day!  We hiked from La Sage, Switzerland to the Cabane de Moiry.  It was a total of 8.12 miles in very difficult altitude and elevation gains and losses.  One of the hardest days of the Haute Route, we jumped right in and made this our first day.  Not so smart in retrospect.  We were not adequately adapted to the altitude yet which made it more difficult physically and added to the estimated hiking time.  A 6.5 hour trip took us 8 hours.  To make things worse there were no views almost all day.  We were in some of the most beautiful mountains in the world and we couldn’t see a thing.

By the time we got to the Cabane we were wet, cold, and exhausted.  It was wonderful to come into the dining room, though, which was warm and welcoming and flooded with light from the huge windows.  Mind you, no views of the extraordinary glacier right outside were available with all the fog, but we were going to be more comfortable soon, at least.

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We got checked in and got our own room even though the room could hold 4 people.  We bought our shower tokens (about $5 for a 5 minute shower.)  Got settled and then headed back to the dining room for dinner.  It was so good!  Lentil stew, lasagna, salad, dessert.  Really, really satisfying.  But just as we were starting to enjoy that physical buzz you get after a tough day, it began to snow.  Very soon 6 inches were evidently piled up.

Bill and I both lost sleep that night worrying about our descent in the morning.  The rocks at the end right before the cabane were tricky without snow, I was wondering how we would manage with 6 inches covering everything.  We decided, though, we would just figure it out and in the worst case we could turn around and stay another night.

By morning, though, the snow was melting and very slushy.  We worked with our poles and managed the rocks fairly easily.  Those rocks, fresh in the morning, after some rest, were a lot easier than tackling them in ascent at the end of the long day before.

We even got some stunning views of the mountain, glacier and barrage in the morning with some sun poking out.  It didn’t last long, but at least we got to see it!

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Arches National Park

Posted on November 28, 2015. Filed under: American Southwest, Travel | Tags: , , , , |

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We took on some of the stenuous trails at Arches National Park last month.  These involved some scrambling over enormous rocks, balancing on top of very tall ridges, and squeezing through some narrow spots.  It was so much fun!

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The rewards for our efforts were that we got to see a lot of the arches which are only visible by hiking to them and we escaped a lot of the other visitors.  It’s a popular park, easy to get to and full of amazing structures so any time of the year there are quite a few visitors.  We were happy that late October had greatly thinned the crowding of summer, but it is still nice to feel you’ve gotten into the wilderness somewhat.

Hiking at Arches was a great warm up for the big Grand Canyon hike we were about to tackle but it was equally awesome in its sights.

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Grand Canyon Ascent

Posted on November 24, 2015. Filed under: American Southwest, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Grand Canyon AscentAfter a good nights sleep at Phantom Ranch and a hearty breakfast we set off in the cloudy morning past mule stalls and across the mighty Colorado River.  I was happy to find a few small streams to cross as well since I always like to put my Keen hiking boots to the test again.  It really does amaze me how they do not leak even one drop.

The day progressed fairly quickly and easily.  I find ascending tiring which I tolerate much better than descending which can produce pain for me.  We clipped along for most of the morning enjoying how the bands of rock changed color.  Several times we were convinced we were getting close only to be chastised by the next turn.  After about 4.5 hours we could see people at the top so we knew we were getting there.  The last hour was interesting because we heard so many different languages of all the day hikers on the trail.  I was amused by the Eastern European ladies in all their finery getting down into the canyon.  I was also disheartened, however, to realize that I heard very little English spoken.  It seems few of my fellow Americans venture below the rim.  At Phantom Ranch rangers told us only 1% of all visitors hike into the canyon.

That’s a shame.  We have this world-famous geological wonder right here in our backyard.  I felt I had gotten acquainted with it having spent these two days in the canyon.  I also felt very accomplished to have completed the 5 hours of hiking down and 6.5 hours up!

Grand Canyon Completed

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Hiking the Grand Canyon

Posted on November 23, 2015. Filed under: American Southwest, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

DSC04008The Grand Canyon has been on my hiking bucket list for some time now.  My husband hiked it years ago and I’ve been a little jealous ever since hearing the story.  So this was the year!

We decided on October to avoid the heat and crowds.  I knew I had to call very early for reservations at Phantom Ranch at the bottom.  The Park Service website confused me when it said I had to call on the first of the month, 13 months prior to my desired reservation.  I started calling  September 1, 2015 where I found out I should call on October 1 for any date in the following October.  So, October 1, 2015 I started again.  In this age of technology, I was dismayed at the arcane process one must go through to obtain a reservation.  It is a matter of starting the calling when they open, which one must determine and which is tricky due to time changes and whether or not the call center observes daylight savings!  At 8:00 a.m. my time I started the repetitive calling and calling and calling.  I received busy signals for 90 minutes and I was just about to give up when my call was answered.  I got the last 4 spots for my desired date (full moon night) and the last 4 reservations for beef stew for dinner.  It was very irritating.  I cannot understand why it must be such a painful process.  An electronic queue would make so much more sense.

My group and I were happy to finally have the secured spots, however, and we booked everything else around the Grand Canyon hike.  We did the South Kaibab Trail down to the bottom.  The picture above is me on this trail.  It was breathtakingly beautiful, of course.  We had perfect weather, sunny and about 60°F.  With rain predicted later in the week this was such a blessing.  The trail is wide and easy to follow.  The 5 hours of almost constant downhill steps was a challenge, though, and I was again very thankful for my trekking poles.  Sometimes people wonder if they create more work than they are worth, but the answer is no.  They help provide stability and extra support especially going downhill.  I would never want to do a hike like this without them.  Anytime we have significant elevation gains and losses I want my poles!

Nevertheless my knees and hips were talking to me by the end and I was ever so glad to reach Phantom Ranch.  Our dormitory was clean and comfortable considering it housed 8 women for the night.  That’s another oddity:  no co-ed dorms.  In European mountain refuges this wouldn’t be a requirement, but we had no choice.  We missed out on the private cabin reservations so this is what we had.  I must say it was better than I expected.

That stew was fabulous too.  I was glad it was all-you-can-eat because I was ready for a serious refuel before the next days haul up the canyon to the rim again.

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