Tag Archives: hiking

Lovran and the Učka Mountains

With so many national parks, islands and beautiful cities, I struggled to narrow down where to spend my last three nights in Croatia. After experiencing so much difficulty with transportation near Plitvice Lakes National Park, it made sense to visit a more populated area with a local bus system to use as a base for back to back day hikes. I researched the big northern nature sites and decided on Učka Nature Park and the coastal town of Lovran. I’d never seen the Adriatic and wanted to get more time on the sea before wrapping up my travels. Early September being past peak season meant three nights in a comfy guesthouse and a bus ticket from Plitvice was within my budget. Also, getting from Lovran to Ljubljana (my next stop) via train is easy and straightforward.

A small vacation town west of Rijeka, Lovran has no grand old city center or major attractions. It’s a place you go to rest by the sea and maybe head into the mountains for the day.  This stretch of coast is beautiful and quiet enough to have peace after a day of hard activity. The salty smell of the Adriatic Sea hangs in the air and the sky puts on a nice show of pinks and blues every sunset.

I stayed uphill from the coast with a nice sea view and a 15 minute walk down to the coast where cafes and shops are clustered. After checking in I headed down to the supermarket and picked up my day-hike usual: yogurt, fruit and a local beer to have in the evening afterwards. Although much warmer than the inland, the weather was still rainy. I got pretty sick of sitting indoors for several days during storms in Plitvice and decided to hike whatever the weather happened to be on my first full day. I picked out a basic route up Mt. Vojak with the goal of beginning at the sea shore in Lovran front and climbing the 1,400 m to the top of Croatia’s third highest peak.

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Učka park can be reached on foot or bicycle from the city, no map required with regular signage marking the route. A paved road goes all the way to the summit and would be one hell of a bike ride on a nice day. Once at the park, the maze of trails within offer wonderful views of the sea, several islands and Istrian Peninsula. Supposedly in clear weather you can see Venice but I wasn’t so fortunate although I loved the view. 

The hike up was brutally steep yet fun and beautiful in some ways. Remnants of old settlements are hidden in the forest and rock formations form obstacles as you go. The mountain range has more vegetation than other coast mountains of Croatia. The forest is thick and there is no view of the sea until over 1,000 m. I loved seeing all the colorful newts crawling under leaf piles or poking out from mossy tree roots; on a rainy cool day the wooded slopes where full of flashes of bright orange and yellow.

Morning on the beach before climbing Mt. Vojak.

At the top fog wrapped around me like a chilly blanket and hid anything more than 3 meters away. I was happy to be at the top anyways and proud of finishing such a tough grade. Sweaty, wet and cold, I bounded almost all the way down – and experienced my first hiking injury. A slip that bruised up my right forearm pretty badly. Turning 30 on this trip, I’ve realized hard physical activity isn’t as easy as it used to be and it really need to make time to recover and rest when needed (like sleeping 9-10 hours most nights). 

On day two I decided that since I’d enjoyed the hike so much that I would walk up the same mountain but along a route with a less severe grade and longer distance. The skies were clear with Cres and Krk islands visible from summit lookout point. It may seem silly to visit the same point twice but the hikes were two totally different experiences. One was physically intense and focused on the nature of the forest. Up and down I was completely engaged in what I was doing. The other was slower and more about the destination and view points along the route. Day two was probably the toughest hike I’ve done just because I was so sore and tired from day one and it look look a lot of mental work to remain motivated. The fog had masked some of incline the first time up and the second day I was painfully aware of how steep and long the climb really was.

Aside from hiking, the people seemed nice and language wasn’t an issue. Bus drivers, grocery workers and people working in tourism know some English or German and are willing to communicate with you using multiple languages in one transaction if needed. Croatia uses it’s own currency, the Kuna, and I stuck to budget drawing from the same 600 Kuna (about $93 US at the time) that I withdrew upon arrival in Zagreb. This covered groceries, meals, park entry tickets and small souvenirs for the week while I used my credit card to book accommodation and regional transportation.

I must say wasn’t impressed with the restaurants I visited in Croatia; the food always felt  overpriced for the quality, granted I was in the tourist hot spots. The routine of enjoying a local meal for dinner after a long hike wasn’t the usual highlight. The best dish of the trip was black risotto. I ended up having pizza more times than I would have liked but it was easy to find and familiar. On a happy note, several Croatian beers are pretty good! I brought an amber beer back home with me to share with friends.

Thanks for reading!

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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!

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!

Spain:Gaztelugatxe (Road Trip Part 1)

One of the first stops on the tour of Spain’s coast: Gaztelugatxe, an islet in Basque country. The Basque name translates to castle rock and fits the location perfectly. It is a beautiful combination of man and nature with a man-made bridge connecting the island with its hermitage (Gaztelugatxeko Doniene/ San Juan de Gaztelugatxe), dating from around one thousand years ago. Only used as a convent for two hundred years, it has a very rich history, including use as a defense outpost and possible use during the Spanish Inquisition.

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This is one of the few places that  when I saw in a photograph thought, “I want to experience this in person.” I was extremely excited to visit and absolutely loved it.  The rocky coast surrounding it is stunning with exposed layers jutting out of the ocean in bold stripe patterns. The partially submerged rocks provide habitat for some ocean creatures which, if you’re lucky, may make an appearance.

Jagged exposed layers along the coast

A very steep one kilometer walk from a parking lot followed by 241 stairs takes you up to the hermitage with views of both the coast and wide open ocean. Although I traveled here by personal vehicle, the area connects to coastal hiking trails. Navigation was a bit challenging with road signs in Basque. It’s located about 35 km east of Bilboa and the drive is rather scenic and pleasant. I was surprised that the site was both free to access and not crowded (on a weekday). According to legend, after climbing and reaching the church you should ring the church bell three times and make a wish. This was fun to do but hearing everyone else ring the bell was a bit much after a while trying to enjoy the view and appreciate the ancient place, so go with that in mind.

The stop is a gorgeous introduction to the dramatic Basque coast which eventually mellows further East. I absolutely recommend visiting if you can.

Thank you for reading and check back for more!

Madrid: Hiking Spain

On my third visit to Spain I was accompanied by a dear friend and it was a lovely experience introducing someone to one of my special places. I’m thrilled to say she enjoyed the trip a lot! We wanted our journey to focus on day hikes around central Spain and ended up having a magical time exploring each day. Our first two days included hikes in the Community of Madrid which were easy and cheap to reach from Madrid via the regional train system. Now I’m saying it’s easy for any normal person but we managed to get a little turned around due to our excitement and exhaustion from travel. These are the highlights of the first two days of hiking:

On day one, just outside of Cercedilla, we hiked Montón de Trigo, along the forested Roman Road within the Parque Nacional Sierra de Guadarrama. The 10 km hike is a small part of a much larger trail system. Getting to the trailhead required a 3 km uphill walk from the Cercedilla train station (nice warm up) but we quickly entered a calming pine and oak forest with the trail clearly marked. The course had us skipping over a few streams and much of the path was a challenging rocky surface that the old road was built with but it was a great first hike and were extremely excited to reach the top which offered it beautiful views of the town and nearby sub-ranges.

Most of the day was overcast but occasional bursts of sunshine came through the clouds.

Day two began with both the thrills and terrors of me driving us along the streets of Madrid to San Lorenzo de El Escorial to hike Las Machotas, also in the Sierra de Guadarrama. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more stressed on a vacation than while trying to navigate streets, conquer roundabouts and constant pedestrian ways, and park on incredibly narrow streets.

Real Monasterio

After arriving to San Lorenzo de El Escorial unscathed, we headed towards Cueva Del Oso, first passing the beautiful Real Monasterio and then following the magical hillside trail woven through massive, mossy boulders. The fun feeling of the beginning of the hike put us in a playful mood. However, we quickly found our directions were not exactly accurate, or, that the trail may have been overgrown. We lost our way but decided to explore the hills in our own way. Maybe it was the fact that we survived the car ride that emboldened us to take our hike off trail? I don’t know but it was not the greatest decision. The way “up” towards the peaks was two hours of a physically challenging climb but it was very engaging, like a puzzle and every time we turned around we were treated to stunning views if the villages below us and even of the highest buildings in Madrid. For a cloudy day the visibility was fantastic!

Sunset approaching over the village.

Eventually, exhausted and hungry, we realized there was not a way to get to one of the true peaks and focused our on navigating a way back down, over the giant slippery boulders and through prickly junipers and thorny shrubs before rain or darkness caused serious issues. We eventually made it but not without some bruises and scrapes and getting nice and muddy. We both were relieved (and shocked) that we didn’t have any falls and were just overjoyed when we reconnected with the true trail (I wanted to kiss the ground). Once it was over though, it felt like we’d gone on a true adventure and had us excited for what was to come during the rest of the week.
Thank you for reading,

Ruby

San Francisco (Part 1)

The Golden Gate Bridge from Chrissy Field East Beach.

Hello from San Francisco! I’m on day three of a long weekend and my first trip that is part work and part play. For two nights I’ve been staying downtown in the Financial District and making it out to eat some great dinners in the Jackson Square (such a variety of cuisine styles can be found here!) and Chinatown areas. I love diving into the very distinct neighborhoods, all offering their own version of San Francisco. On night one my boss took our work group to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (in a narrow Chinatown alley). We tried a few samples and see how the cookies are made. Interesting fact: The cookies get their shape from being folded over twice while still warm, not from a mold. It was a really fun thing to watch. “Naughty” fortune cookies were available to buy in bulk so I helped myself to what I thought would be a humorous gift to friends. However, upon opening one of these cookies I saw that the fortunes didn’t make a lot of sense and if I could get a meaning out them they were still PG – not the level of sassiness expected. Edit: The bag of cookies was obviously too large to survive the weekend without getting crushed in my luggage so most of them ended up being nice snacks at the hostel.

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Sticker art in Mission.

I’m super excited to have found a hostel (Green Tortoise) in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood,so for the first time ever I will stay in an American hostel. I’m wondering if it’s similar to the hostels I’ve used abroad and if I will pick up any friends for the weekend.Edit: I befriended South American and Australians also traveling alone and we had great fun visiting a neighborhood beer bar, taste-testing and comparing San Franciscan coffees and exchanging travel stories and dreams. I’m so glad I got to know them.

I’m trying to look big, like a redwood.

Today centered around a visit to the beautiful Muir Woods. The National Monument,, more than 100 years old, is just fifteen miles from the city,depending on where you start. I probably could have cycled here but chose to drive; conditions were a little wet and I have heard cell service isn’t so great in the park and many visitors end up trapped and unable to call for taxis and other rides. I suspect all this is true, as I saw TWO functioning pay phones near the Muir Woods parking lot. The park visit was a nice hike along the Lost Trail and really being in awe of the towering and aromatic redwoods. The light rain helped to give a colorful pop to all the plant life and may have scared some visitors away. The entire hiking route was very peaceful and empty. I only saw two other hikers.

Tomorrow’s plan is to march up Telegraph hill for the views, then down to Chrissy Field East Beach and then up to the Golden Gate Bridge and maybe beyond if my feet aren’t destroyed. The weather is gorgeous and this city feels very safe. I’m really excited to see what the weekend brings.

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Keeping warm and dry in the boat.

Edit: I also did some whale watching, leaving with a tour from Monterey Bay (above Monterey Canyon). This was one of those things that I though could either be really cool or maybe kind of lame. I’m glad I took the chance because it totally rocked. We saw a pair of whales and they came to “play” with the boat. It was beautiful! The chilly temps and drizzle did nothing to take away the shine of the whales. The drive out to Monterey was enjoyable and the ocean geography make this place a much better option than the tours leaving from San Francisco proper. Unfortunately I have no pictures to share because I was so happy with watching the whales in real time and didn’t want to miss anything fiddling with a camera. I have an extremely solid stomach and found the more powerful waves to be a little fun but I would not recommend this kind of trip for just anyone.

Thank you for reading!

Ruby