Monthly Archives: July 2017

Lucerne

Hello from Lucerne! I’m approaching the end of a restorative week in Lucerne, Switzerland. Rainy days encouraged the slow pace, however, the goal of the week was to simply rest, eat right and relax on a level not quite possible moving from place to place – and it was achieved. I’ve been feeling a bit worn down from travel, having an erratic sleep schedule and not eating as well as usual. Getting the right variety of nutrients had been an unexpected challenge during constant travel. 

Well, not exactly healthy a food, but I appreciated the extra time to bake a Nectarine Pie

The luxury of having free time meant home cooking every meal, something I have missed a lot over the last month. Of course the week involved plenty of treats! After a few tries, I figured out a decent pancake breakfast by converting an American recipe to metric measurements that better fit the kitchen equipment. Math was never my strength but I’m a bit ashamed of the disasters I created my first two attempts. A nectarine pie made for another sweet treat near the closing of the week. I must confess though that I didn’t intend to bake a pie at all but was forced to when I realized the pizza dough that I bought was actually dessert dough! 

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A performance after a long rain.

Aside from wonderful tastes the week offered amazing sound as a music festival was on at the lakefront. The week-long Blue Balls festival meant free shows and art performances took place every night along the beautiful lakefront and brought out all sorts of people. The festival provided an excuse to walk around the old town and to the shores of Lake Lucerne after dinner or try food from a variety of food stalls selling everything from roasted nuts or cheesecake to spicy curry. Aside from the major stages, smaller-scale performances were on a few street corners or mini-stages, giving the festival goers a nice variety of sound and styles. Bands come from all over and a fair number performed with English lyrics so I was able to follow along very well. 

Lucerne is a wonderful base for challenging mountain routes and public transportation makes it easy  (but not cheap) to reach trail heads. Only the final full day of the stay was clear enough to for a day hike and I chose Pilatus. The mountain looms over the city and the dragon tales associated with it made it seem like the perfect Lucerne experience. I visited the city once before and did not have time to hike the mountain. So, I was really happy to do it on a second visit.

The hike began at Alpnachstad, an uncomplicated place to reach from Luzern while being less than an eight hour round trip. Alpnachstad is the start of the famous cogwheel railway which goes to the top of Pilatus and drops passengers off at viewing platforms and a cafe. I would have to really work for my coffee and walked the route starting behind the cogwheel rail station. The six kilometers up is very steep, winding through forest, pasture with happy cows and then a series of rocky switchbacks.

Following the steep footpath up from Alpnachstad took 3.5 hours and the views are amazing.

After gaining almost 1,700 meters, at the top I felt a mix of awe and relief. To the west and south are views of beautiful snowy peaks; To the east is glistening Lake Lucerne. I wish there had been another day for exploring the network of different trails around the mountain and beyond but I’m very happy with how the week progressed. 

Now I’m a bit sore, still hungry and planning a few days exploring Prague!

As always, thank you for reading!

Walking Scotland

Scotland has been home for the past two weeks and the experience has actually been very comfortable. I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland but felt overwhelmed by the number of fascinating places to go and wonderful things to see. It packs a real cultural punch and in every corner offers an amazingly diverse landscape. For example, just by riding the busing between destinations I have been able to see the Cairngorms, Loch Ness and Eilean Donan Castle.

My visit wasn’t planned very well in advance but I am so happy with the experience that came together. The journey has been on foot and by bus which has limited what I’ve been able to reach but this has forced me to get out and to meet others and take each day at a time. I started in Edinburgh then went to Inverness, Fort William, Isle of Skye and Glasgow.  One of the most interesting things about my time here has been the people that I’ve met. Too much has happened to post in the normal style so here are a few highlights:

I was blown away by the spectacular view from Arthur’s Seat in Hollyrood Park, just one of the numerous parks and green spaces in Edinburgh. Spending an afternoon with a book and a coffee in the grass at Princes Street Gardens, with view of the castle, is also lovely.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is a colorful way to spend a gloomy day! Water of Leith Walkway passes right by it, providing a beautiful route to the museum from the city center. Glasgow had multiple great and free museums!

Playing in the fairy tale forest all day outside of Inverness is such a treat. The Great Glen Way goes up to Craig Dunain with beautiful views of the area. This is where I spotted a deer and admired the gorgeous wildflowers.

On my first full day in Fort William the sky was relatively clear and I jumped on the chance to hike up Ben Nevis. The march from the hostel to the route start was 10 kilometers round trip so it made for a brutal and long day. IT WAS SO WORTH IT. The summit was thick with fog but views about 3/4 up were incredible. People make fun of Scottish food but a warm hearty dinner and a Scottish beer hit the spot after a long day of hard work.

The very happy (and soon-to-be-sore) hiker. For every beautiful day in Scotland there is a rainy day but it makes for a perfect cycle of hiking and rest days. I especially liked http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk for trail info and a bit of background about each hike.

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Due to the popularity of Skye, my only option was to stay a night in Kyleakin, just over the bridge onto the isle. The village wasn’t on my radar before booking my bed but after spending a rainy afternoon exploring the area I came to like it. I was thankful for and impressed by the amount of maps and information publicly available throughout Scotland’s trails. On each hike I was able to learn about the history, wildlife and geology and this enriched the experience. On one of such walks I explored the now ruined Caisteal Maol, which can be reached from town at low tide.

Skye has so many natural wonders it was truly difficult to pick just two days worth. I decided to do a 15 km trek across the isle from Broadford to Loch Eisdort. The trail passed through woodland, along the gorgeous shore cliffs ending with views of the Cuillins, Bla Bheinn and Red Hills. The day began with light rain moving in almost almost a horizontal direction, due to the strong isle wind. Things cleared up nicely by afternoon and the hike ended with great views.

Sheep roam around the remains of Boreaig, a village cleared in 1853. People were taken away and their homes burned to make way for pasture. As an American I was unaware of the clearances and the hike was educational and bit sad. 

It’s been a peaceful and enjoyable two weeks. I’m going to miss the hiking, kind people, rich foods, and rainy days that provide an excuse to hide in a cozy bed reading and sipping coffee. If you love the arts and outdoors and aren’t afraid of of a bit of rain, you will adore Scotland. This is a country I can see myself returning to many times in the future.

Thanks for reading!

Spain: Ruta del Cares

Ruta del Cares is one of my all-time favorite hikes. Not only is it a beautiful journey through nature but the heights give it a scary edge, making it just as challenging mentally as it is physically.  The famous route has been in use for more than 100 years and lies deep within the Cantabrian Mountains. It spans almost 11 km point-to-point between the towns of Posada de Valdeón and Puente Poncebos cutting into the mountainside. I first read about the trail while researching hikes for a winter trip with a friend but it ended up being much too far from our other destinations of interest to visit at the time.  After a short wait and with much anticipation, I was able to fit it into a trip across the northern coast of Spain.

To reach the park from my guesthouse in Covadonga, I used a private rental car and headed to the Puente Poncebos side. I wanted to begin on the quieter of the two villages and it happened to be the closest to my accommodation. I chose to hike the trail out-and-back style to avoid having to hire a shuttle to take me 2.5 hours back to the starting point. On a nicer day I might have enjoyed a drive in the heart of the park but it made more sense to walk, especially since it would be no slower than taking a vehicle.

Unfortunately at the time, Northern Spain was experiencing wetter than average conditions and the day of the hike was cloudy and rainy. I thought I could still enjoy the hike, especially the dramatic atmosphere, fog and all, and I really didn’t want to skip it, as I had no idea when I could make it back to this part of the world.IMG_20170627_174837_397

The route is straightforward, well maintained and it’s impossible to get lost – if you stray from the narrow path you can only fall down into the canyon. A map is not necessary although I brought one so I had a general reference of how far along I was at any point. As I set out the rain briefly broke and give me some hope I might spot the peaks towering over the Cares River canyon. As expected, the first two km were a zigzagging and steep along loose rock that then becomes relatively flat. Rock falls are a mild concern the entire way and clear evidence of slides can be seen in some early sections. Seeing this made me realize I should pay attention to not only what I see but also what I hear. After abut 15 minutes rolling thunder moved through the canyon and truly worried me; Steady rain doesn’t necessarily translate to danger on an established level path but lightening could be deadly. As I couldn’t hear or see lightening strikes I decided to wait a bit and hope for conditions to improve but didn’t go any further on the route. My stubbornness and dread at the thought of missing the opportunity to experience the hike was keeping me on the trail. Many people passed me on their way back to the start, having abandoned the walk themselves. Eventually there was no one in sight on the trail and as far as the eye could see the sky was dark and gloomy. After 30 minutes of rain and thunder I turned around and headed back down to the start point, feeling discouraged and disappointed by my bad luck. Feeling sorry for myself, I walked a bit slowly and at some point realized I could hear birds chirping in the distance, the sound coming from around a bend further along the route. I waited a few minutes more to see if the sounds would continue and when they did, I decided the storm must be over (for now). I reversed my direction again and started the second attempt of the day.

Eventually the path follows along undercuts in the limestone that forms the rocky mountainside and this provided small chances to get out of the light rain. The rest of the hike was a beautiful journey and well worth the troubling start. I’ve noticed how rain intensifies the colors of a natural environment, and the Cares Canyon was no exception. The river below appearing emerald in some places and a deep blue in others against the dark jagged limestone made a gorgeous contrast. Purple and yellow wildflowers dot some dark green slopes. I took a few photos during the experience but couldn’t quite capture the intense colors, the thick (spooky) atmosphere and the sheer scale of the mountains along the valley. I have much more experience hiking on top of ridges or along paths elevated over a valley so going low along a narrow canyon was a new experience and made me feel as if I was walking under huge towers. Overall the hike had a magical quality, truly exposing me to the nature of the valley – something I will never forget.

I’m so glad to have visited Picos de Europa and to have experienced Ruta del Cares.

Thank you for reading!

Spain: Asturias (Road Trip Part 3)

Playa del Silencio

This beach is amazing! Visitors descend onto Playa del Silencio from a long wooden stair case. About half way down you can feel the loud and forceful winds that have helped to carve out this beach location. The main part of the beach consists of large smooth pebbles which are pushed back and forth by each wave and this area is suitable for swimming and sunning. The way the water and sunlight play off the textures and colors or the rocks create a beautiful palate of jewel colors. A large cliff face shields the beach from the East while the West end becomes a series of jagged rock poking out from the ocean in neat lines. It’s possible to wander very far during low tide, stepping among the rocks (with sturdy shoes). Low tide also brings a great opportunity to look for small sea life.

The cliffs that loom over the beach show a mix of soft soil with grasses and wildflowers and exposed rock layers. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes while looking at the colorful sections of earth, made especially vibrant when dampened by rain and sea. The name of the beach misleading, as the sound of powerful waves hitting rocks and the strong winds is anything but silent.

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 This gorgeous rock sits exposed to the ocean along a small beach. The cliffs, rock formations and exposed folds can tell the story of the area.


Playa Campiecho

A small town along the coast, Cadavedo, has many beaches and a dramatic coastline. I recommend Playa Campiecho, a stunning, natural beach with a beautiful view of the coastal cliffs. This isn’t such a safe place to swim with so many rocks, especially if caught during a tide change (the weather here changes quickly; in the same one hour visit, torrential rain broke to full sunshine and then back to overcast). However, it is a wonderful location for viewing the geological features that make the Spanish coast so beautiful and distinct. There are two “roads” to this location and one is an incredibly steep dirt road leading through a farm field; I found this is the less-desired route!

Playa Campiecho in Cadavedo

Playing in the waves and rocks on the coast of Asturias is a beautiful adventure! Although some beaches are quite well-known and their accessibility allows visitors to easily find them, I feel it’s impossible to claim some are more beautiful than others. Sometimes nothing is more inspiring than seeing life at work and tiny ocean communities blooming with plants and animals, or the wide range of colors nature creates in one viewpoint – reds, yellows and purples in rock and green grass featuring blue and white wildflowers. Coastal weather is just as dramatic as the landscape with a steady and rapid cycle of cloud cover, showers and sun. No doubt this only adds to the wonderful natural characteristics of the lands. I highly recommend a visit to any “beach,” manicured or completely natural along the coast of Asturias. Please know a rain coat and shoes with a sturdy sole are just as important and as a swimsuit and towel of you want to really enjoy the surroundings!

Thank you for reading and if you want to see more pictures find me on Instagram: @cestlaruby 

 

Spain: Basque Beaches (Road Trip Part 2)

Writing to you from Santiago de Compostela, with my feet up, hoping to get some rest after a long, hot day exploring the city. It’s a charming place with a rich cultural scene, history, and even though a bit inland, still has delicious seafood.

Now it’s time to finally catch up on some posts. Spain has been a bit chillier and more rainy than usual, which wouldn’t bother me at all had I been a bit more prepared. The rain coat (bright blue and bound to make several appearances in photos) and sweatshirt have been a daily wardrobe staple and my poor hiking shoes are constantly damp. The breeze is strong and the weather changes every fifteen minutes but I find it beautiful and very powerful. The two week trip across the northern coast from Santander to San Sebastian (and a quick stop in France) to Gijón and A Coruña is about 1,600 km.

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The coast a few kilometers East of Bilbao.

 

The Basque area was really beautiful with many small roads hugging the coast and frequent beaches with hiking routes. Gentle mountains to the south and the ocean to the north provided contrast and wonderful landscapes all the way. I’d heard Basque food cannot be missed and ate out as often as possible. The delicious fish, cheeses and wines, as well as Basque cakes, were all very good. Nights with a cool air coming off the of the ocean made a warm or heavy dish tolerable.

Playa de Laga

 

The next day I took a short hike beginning just outside of  Urdaibai –  Biosfera Erreserba beginning at Playa de Laga. This was such a beautful views of the coast. I’ve been using Wikiloc with mixed success for finding hikes. My main issue is not having quite good enough Spanish to understand routes or using the correct Spanish hiking jargon while searching. Almost the entire coast has a hiking path, official or not and numerous networks exist slightly inland. Northern Spain is a perfect place for  a “choose you own adventure” kind of hike. 

 

Where a river meets the ocean.

 

Weather was challenging during the section between Zauritz and Biarritz  (FR) with full clouds or rain most days. San Sebastian looked cute even in a storm but there was no time to wait for sun and take a look at the beach. The most easternly destination on the ride was Hossegor, France and the long sandy beaches that make it a surfer’s paradise. These days provided a nice opportunity for trying some local food, in particular, cheeses. Admittedly, I was delighted to score some Belgian beer in France a touch cheaper than it is other places. I enjoyed playing beach bum.

Playa de la Arnía, just West of Santander was a highlight. The day had been rainy from the start but the evening cleared up a bit for a visit to the iconic beach. The Urros that thrust out of the ocean and have been shaped by waves and wind over time are amazing. Some rock appears razor thin at some points and the features seem to defy gravity! Around this area there are so many beaches it’s almost overwhelming. I love walking along beaches with interesting geologic features and thought I might fall in love with all of Spain’s northern coast.

At Playa de la Arnía

Thank you for reading!