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Why yes, that man in the woods wore a Tyrolean!

17 Feb

Wikipedia notes that a Tyrolean hat is:

a type of fedora hat named for the Tyrol in the Alps. It is essentially the shape known as the trilby. Tyrolean hats are made of felt, traditionally having a corded hatband and a feather on the side as trim.

And why does this matter, you ask?  Well, it’s one thing to see a fedora on a nice Shriner back in the US who is telling you about the good work they do for a children’s hospital, and quite another to see one on a man who appears suddenly from a cozy-looking cottage in the middle of the woods, in a snow-blanketed landscape, speaking German with you and insisting that he take your picture.  You blink a few times and wonder if it’s real.

Last weekend, on a quick trip to see Vienna, Austria, we took a train to the Alpen town of Semmering, south-west of Vienna, to cross-country ski for a day.  Our morning had already had a few adrenaline-induced charges (the train station platforms were not terribly self-explanatory, and we had to do some searching before finding an outfit to rent cross-country gear), but finally we were set up in traditional skis (no skate skis available) and took off on the trail.  Few people were out, and after a few kilometers, we came across a log cabin, with a fire and all of the window shutters wide open.  We stopped, had a drink of water, and pulled out the camera.  To our surprise, a friendly Austrian man in his Tyrolean (or Alpen) hat came out to chat with us (in German) and insist on taking our pictures.  I was so focused on remembering German that I forgot to take a picture of him – he must have skied to his place, as there really was no other access.  He told us he owned one side of the property that was split by the cross-country ski trail, and it appeared that he spent a lot of time greeting people who ski up past his place.  It was definitely a highlight for us.

Our new friend in the Tyrolean hat insisted on taking pictures of us - I just wish I had taken a picture of him!

Our new friend in the Tyrolean hat insisted on taking pictures of us – I just wish I had taken a picture of him!

Cozy does not begin to describe this little abode!

Cozy does not begin to describe this little abode!

After approximately 130 turns where we would decide if we should keep going up the never-ending hill, we finally gave in and turned around.

After approximately 130 turns where we would decide if we should keep going up the never-ending hill, we finally gave in and turned around.

We spent most of the afternoon out skiing, primarily discussing our interpretation of the “trail” information and whether or not the trail was an out and back or a loop.  After a never-ending uphill slog, we decided that the trail must have been an out and back, and turned around to ski downhill.  For me, I practiced snow plow until my legs were jelly – Justin swooped along like he had never stopped downhill skiing years ago.  Back in Semmering, we had a very long lunch that would make our Spanish friends proud (and it was complete with 3 different hot alcohol drinks – hot chocolate with rum, Gluhwein and hot tea with brandy to warm us up!).  Completely refreshed, we made our way back to the train that would bring us the 180 km back into Vienna.

Many of the houses in Semmering used solar panels.

Many of the houses in Semmering used solar panels.

The following day in Vienna, our goals were to see the open air market, sample lots of chocolate, and experience the famous music scene.  We did the first two items on our list easy enough, and then finally ducked into a music store to purchase a compilation cd set of the famous musicians of Austria.  Our music collection is now graced by Mozart, Strauss, Haydn and Schubert.  The food in Vienna was fantastic, especially a dinner we had in a small restaurant recommended by our hotel that was out of the touristy center.

Temperatures were cold, with a blustery wind.  We took any and all opportunities to taste chocolate.

Temperatures were cold, with a blustery wind. We took any and all opportunities to taste chocolate.

The golden horns must be functional to keep the horses' ears warm, but there was a lot of eye rolling - we're not sure the horses liked being dressed up as cows.

The golden horns must be functional to keep the horses’ ears warm, but there was a lot of eye rolling – we’re not sure the horses liked being dressed up as cows.

...and after a while, the disagreement escalated to a lot of finger-pointing...

…and after a while, the disagreement escalated to a lot of finger-pointing…

The Naschmarkt was one of the best open air markets we had been to, as it was not too crowded.  We enjoyed the cultural diversity, including more eastern European foods.

The Naschmarkt was one of the best open air markets we had been to, as it was not too crowded. We enjoyed the cultural diversity, including eastern European foods that were completely new to us.

Sauerkraut is made from green cabbage and then fermented in enormous wooden barrels.  This fresh stuff looking amazing, although Justin gave the barrels a wide berth.

Sauerkraut is made from green cabbage and then fermented in enormous wooden barrels. This fresh stuff looked amazing, although Justin gave the barrels a wide berth.

Car2Go is the same car sharing program that we have in Austin!

Car2Go is the same car sharing program that we have in Austin!

Vienna has its share of modern buildings, often nestled next to distinctive historical buildings.  This is the Haas House, located a stone's throw from St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Vienna has its share of modern buildings, often nestled next to distinctive historical buildings. This is the Haas House, located a stone’s throw from St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

This picture was my favorite of those I took of St. Stephen's - unfortunately a good part of the building was under restoration.  Many of the historical structures we have seen in Europe have been involved in these types of reconstruction or restoration.

This picture was my favorite of those I took of St. Stephen’s – unfortunately a good part of the building was under restoration. Many of the historical structures we have seen in Europe have been involved in these types of reconstruction or restoration.

We thought about renting bikes and exploring the city that way, but opted to walk since the zone we had targeted was in a limited area.  However, we always notice the bike culture of a place, though!

No track stands allowed!

No track stands allowed!

Curiously, the rider appears to be sidesaddle.

It’s probably better for your knees to not ride bow-legged.

We fully intended to have a beer here, but never made it!

We fully intended to have a beer here, but never made it.

Wir machten viel Spaß!

45 hours in Paris

19 Nov

After watching the start of the Vendée Globe, we headed to Paris to see for ourselves if the city of light was all that and more.  We had a full day, plus a bit more before and after, for exploring.  I had downloaded a Rick Steves’ guide (thanks again, Tammy) through the Kindle app on our phones, and we had selected a few of the “must see” sights to commit to seeing.  The rest of the time was allotted to wandering and eating croissants, of course!

What we loved about Paris…

  • Musée d’Orsay – We both enjoyed the art (lots of impressionist and post-impressionist art) and spent our time really marveling at the talent, creativity and beauty inside the old train station.
  • Musée du LouvreAlthough we enjoyed seeing some of the “important” pieces of art at the museum, we had more fun joining in on the art…
  • Eiffel Tower – We planned to save some euros and climb the stairs up to the second level, where we would then take the elevator to the final 900 foot-tall viewing platform, but security closed the stairs access before we were able to purchase tickets (we had decided that we wanted to see the tower at night, with all of the lights, but apparently climbing at night is not allowed!).  So, we hopped on the diagonal elevator to the second level, and then took the normal elevator to the top.  The view was fantastic – maybe not totally worth the 28 euros total, but definitely not too bad!
  • Riding the Vélib bikes – Paris has a fantastic bike rental system, and we used the bikes every day we were in Paris.  The bikes were in good shape (without coaster brakes which tend to do their best to throw me, since I am used to being able to back pedal!).  There were lots of Parisians out and about, using these bikes, too – so great to see!  Unlike Madrid, the streets in Paris are much wider, so bike lanes are an easy addition to make.
  • Escargots – We Chris just loved the escargots (Justin was a sport and tried a snail, made faces, and ate the bread on the table instead while Chris polished off the rest).
  • French bread and croissants – We were told that the bread would be different, and until this trip to France, we had not noticed this.  Apparently lots of butter and a different kind of flour make a huge difference – bread was chewy, super-flavorful, and a terrible distraction for anyone trying to eat a more Paleo diet.

A few pictures of our trip are below…

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La Vuelta – una vez mas!

11 Sep

For the last day of our friend Bill’s visit, we shamelessly dragged him to the final stage of the Vuelta – well, not exactly “dragged” since he’s a good sport, appreciates things done well and sees interesting things in everything.  And he rides bikes now and again!

The lead-up to watching several laps of the final stage of the Vuelta was pretty good, though:

  • Bus ride to show Bill the Torre Picasso building where Justin works and the stadium where the professional soccer team Real Madrid plays (Estadio Santiago Bernabéu) – the games are starting again, and with binoculars, Justin could watch from his office!

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu - home of Real Madrid!

  • Metro ride to the Puerta del Sol, the center of Spain.  Literally, as in THE “kilómetro cero” (kilometer zero) of Spain is in the square.  Everything is measured from this point.

Kilómetro Cero - who knew that everything started here?

  • Coffee at the 400-year-old Plaza Mayor, a busy square with cafés, shops and many people – an excellent people watching site.

Plaza Mayor - 400 years old and still hopping!

  • Finding the kukuxumusu shop (from the Basque language – “the kiss of the flea”) on Calle Mayor to buy some funny tee shirts.  Although we didn’t buy everything that made us laugh (ahem), I did find some great gifts.
  • A walk through the grounds of the Palacio Real de Madrid or Royal Palace of Spain.  Although the king and queen of Spain don’t live there anymore, the building is used for official events (…that need 3,000 rooms, apparently).

The Spanish Royal Palace - impressive, but not where King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia really live.

  • A stop for Bill to pick up a lovely flamenco dress, in pink, for his beautiful daughter, Zoe.
  • A much-needed granizado recharge (also called granitas in the States – fruit juice that has been frozen and continually stirred so that the juice becomes a slushie).  Granizados here are fantastic.

Two weeks ago, Justin and I watched the finish of the El Escorial Vuelta stage – we really enjoyed watching the hilltop finish, but it was over so quickly.  In contrast, the grand finale stage for the Vuelta a España was set up so that the riders started just north of the city and rode into the heart of Madrid onto a circuit.  Then, after doing 10 laps around the circuit, the racers would finish the stage and the tour.  Because of the 10 laps, we would have many opportunities to see the racers.  As a reminder, the Vuelta is one of the three major European tours – the Tour of Italy (Giro d’Italia), Tour of France (Tour de France) and the Tour of Spain (Vuelta a España), so all of the big professional teams send riders.  We enjoyed getting to cheer the riders on again with other spectators (it’s hard not to love, “Venga venga!”), and there was a lot of Spanish pride because the rider who won the general classification (GC) was a Spaniard – Juan José Cobo had a fantastic showing in one of the most difficult grand tours ever.

Pre-race entertainment.

Parade lap for Cobo (in red).

These guys go really fast on the flats.

Suitcases by the Saxo-Bank team bus. It makes me wonder how nice it feels to be done with a three week race?

Roman reminders – Segovia

10 Sep

We had our first visitor this weekend (thanks, Bill!), and had fun toting him around to a few places we had been and enjoyed, as well as to some new destinations.  Bill flew in from the UK on Friday to spend the weekend with us in the middle of a 2-week business trip in England.

Saturday morning, we were up and ready to go to the mountains northwest of Madrid and beyond, after a breakfast of fruit, oatmeal and fresh empanada…made possible by an important discovery earlier in the morning that Justin and I made while walking the dogs.  We finally (finally!) found the mysterious panaderia/pasteleria (bakery/sweet shop) that we knew must be in the vicinity (because we have a neighbor who we often see in the mornings with his daily loaf wrapped in the newspaper).  It was a momentous occasion that may ultimately be our downfall, but maybe we’ll be able to control ourselves once we try all the empanadas and rolls and breads just once.

Our first stop was Puerto Navacerrada – we love this place – where we hiked up to the little statue of Mary on the rocks high above the town below.  The smell of pine in the area is just amazing, but it’s a different sort of piney smell because the area is pretty dry.  To me, it makes this area so unique from anywhere I have ever been – even though pine trees in general are well adapted to drier conditions (or areas where there is a wet/dry part of the year), most of the places where I have been to pine tree stands have been in wetter climates (or my visit was timed with the wetter part of the season!), and the smells are different.  With the fresh wind and bright blue sky, our short hike was enjoyable – Bill and Justin talked a bit about the area reminding them of hiking in Idaho, back in the days.

The hike up to the nice lady on the rock.

Annie alga took a lichen to Freddie fungus and now their marriage is on the rocks.

After our walk, we headed to the other side of the mountains, on our way to Segovia.  The north side of the mountains was obviously the wetter side, as we noticed ferns and discernibly more plants.  Spaniards love these areas, and we noted numerous cars with trekkers or mountain bikers ready to enjoy the natural beauty of the Sierra Guadarrama.

We thought that Segovia would be a good place to explore – the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with several claims to fame.  After a menu del día for lunch, we focused our energy on seeing the aqueduct, with its 167 arches, and the 16th century cathedral in our wanderings around the city.  The aqueduct was simply incredible, as it was designed to transport waters from a river located ~11 miles from Segovia to the city.  All of the large stones comprising the structure had indentations on two sides, and Justin hypothesized that those areas were “grab holds” for the system that the builders must have used to put the stones into place.  The structure was built in 100-200 AD by the Romans, whose empire included all of Spain (no surprise, of course, given the influence the Romans had on the Spanish language!).  There’s nothing quite like learning history by seeing what the people built and imagining how they might have gone about their days by visiting the places where they lived.

Justin & Bill on the stairs alongside the aqueduct.

He was excited to see an aqueduct, I think.

El Acueducto de Segovia.

(Museum people - look away!) No rocks were harmed with this little stunt.

The 16th century cathedral - visible for miles!

We wandered through the serpentine streets in the early afternoon with the sun on max power, and after seeing the famous cathedral, we decided to head back to Madrid to rest up for an enjoyable evening.  Side note – it’s been a bit of a surprise that all of the walking in Europe actually takes some skill to be able to “tourist” enjoyably – but we’re learning that we need to make sure that we take breaks and put our feet up now and again.  So, while we didn’t see everything there was to see in Segovia, we’ll enjoy what we did see and will be back!

With Bill around, Justin seems to be regressing back to his teenage antics.

Bill knows how to be a good tourist.

After a short siesta, we were ready to think about the evening.  I had learned about some caves north of Madrid that housed restaurants, but since it would require another car ride, we opted to walk to a fun tapas place that Justin and I really like.  The three of us sampled a bunch of different Spanish dishes with tinto (me) and Mahou Negra (for the boys – this is an excellent dark, Munich-style beer made by the Spanish beer maker Mahou).

The plan for Sunday – see the city and wind up at the finale for the Vuelta a España!

Sintra’s Castelo Mouros

4 Sep

After spending a fine day along the Lisboa waterfront and the Portuguese coast to the north we retired to our lodging for the night.  The place Chris found was fantastic.  Here we were in a city of 3 million, right in the center, in a campground, in a forest, in a cabin (bungalow).  The soft sound of raindrops falling on the roof during the night didn’t bother us a bit and the pups really enjoyed the long walk we took through the campground, admiring the different equipment common in Europe and the variety of license plates from countries across Europe.

Uh... No comment.

Our destination for the day was Sintra, a mountain village just to the north of Lisboa.  We arrived with our wonderful guide, Bob, well before most people as perhaps more so even than the Spanish, the Portuguese are not early risers.  The village had some great architecture and beautiful tile.

Lovely colored cobbles

Tile artwork

Lord Byron spent some time in Sintra

From Sintra we started the winding, narrow drive up to Castelo Mouros.  The road up was really popular for cyclists.  I would definitely give it a shot if I passed this way again with a bike.  At the top of the mountain, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is the old Moorish castle.  Built in the 9th Century, this thousand year old walled fortress was built into the rocky landscape and provided defense against the enemy as well as an excellent lookout to the sea.  We spent about hour crawling up and down the narrow walkways, along the fortified wall, and up the long, long staircase to the highest tower.  Trying to imagine what it must have been like over a thousand years ago to inhabit this castle…   Well, I’m just not sure I can imagine it, but I’m sure it would have been interesting.  I was certainly impressed.

Yep, it's old and way up in the clouds a lot of time

From the higher points of Castelo Mouros you can see several other castles, including the Palace of Pena to the south, and the Chalet Biester to the west.

Coming back down the mountain around lunch time, Sintra was swarmed by tourists, but Bob, quite familiar with the area, took us directly to a quiet café with parking(!!!).  We loaded up for the trip back to Madrid with some amazing pastries that this region is famous for.

Bark of a sycamore tree

Bug-eyed Sprite. Bob called it a Frog-eyed Sprite.

Poor Haley-bug!

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