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Preview: A Wandering Knight

A Wandering Knight

Thoughts mostly about travel and places I have been. While a lot of my travel is into the backcountry backpacking or paddling I do my share of trips to more traditional front-country locations too. From time to time other items of note will appear that de

Updated: 2018-03-16T07:27:55.817-04:00


5 Days in Stockholm


If you are hoping for a longer post describing our 4 and a half days in Stockholm I think you willl be disappointed. I am a bit unhappy that I can’t write more too as we were there for a long time. We had bigger plans and maybe we could have pushed harder to carry them out but the weather was against us the entire time we were there. It is hard to get motivated and so certain things when every day is, at least, completely overcast and moderately breezy. Toss in a couple of days of on and off again modest rain with blowing conditions that certainly pushed the windchill below 40F and  perhaps you can see how our enthusiasm waned. Still we did explore the city to a degree and we did see and experience some very good things. I’m going to focus on those.Our hotel , Courtyard by Marriot, is on Kungsholm. Kungsholm is one of the 14 (I think) island that make up Stockholm. If you are starting to imagine a city where water is always in sight and clearly affected by water: stop. No doubt Stockholm’s access to the Baltic Sea and the interior lakes of Mallaran and Vartan (to name 2 I know of) has a great effect on the city but as a pedestrian you won’t notice the water all that often. This is not Venice. From our hotel you certainly do not see any water. We were perhaps a quarter mile from the nearest train stop. That train quickly took us to the heart of downtown or wherever we wanted to go.I don’t think I’ve ridden escalators as long since riding the Metro in Washington DC. Trains were clean and quick.  Our biggest  problem is dealing with words, the street names, that just don’t come easily. But we got by. We found pedestrian streets and all sorts of people wandering about the cold (OK, normal temperatures really but we were not expecting it) blustery days as we tried to find things to do.A visit to the Museum of Modern Design (my name). Was on the agenda and it is worth it. At least if you are interested in modern design and art especially with a Swedish bent. The lunch we had at one of the cafes, Blum I think, was also quite nice and fairly inexpensive. A walking tour through Gamlastan is also worth it. But the numerous stores that sell all sorts of good including artisan works seem to have rather limited hours.  Even after 11:00 plenty of shops were still closed up tight. But Gamlastan is the old town of Stockholm with properly twisting cobblestone streets and that helps make it worth a visit. We might not have seen much in the stores but we spent a couple hours there nonetheless and even had some very nice coffee. Coffee in Stockholm came in good amounts. No tiny little cups of Americano let alone finding just a brewed decaf or a nice sized latte. Nope. In Stockholm coffee drinks were a proper size. Is their a relationship between temperature and coffee size? Colder air temperatures yield larger coffee drinks.We also took a boat tour. X runs the tours and the two-hour tour is definitely worth the money. The boat is comfortable, protected from the weather, and the audio guide is excellent. It’s totally canned but well put together. You will get a sense of history, a bit of knowledge about Swedish culture and values, a sense of what makes Sweden Sweden. It is more than a mere recitation of facts that can quickly go in one ear and out the other. And when the weather is iffy as it was for us sitting inside the boat absorbing the sites of Stockholm and listening to the audio is a fine way to spend some time.Another superb tour is the one provided at City Hall. You see the building from a distance on the boat tour. The building tour itself gets you up close and personal. It is a remarkable space. I don’t honk you will find City halls much like it elsewhere. From the great exterior courtyard , to the Blue Hall (not blue at all) where big events like the Nobel Prize awards dinner happen, to the Golden Hall filled with exquisite mosaics depicting  Sweidsh history and other things , and more the tour is de finely worth your time and the modest fee. If you like sculpture vis[...]

Spain Trip: Barcelona - 2 Days in the Big City


I actually am not going to have too much to say about our time here in Barcelona. We didn’t visit many “destination” sites during our day and a half here. No doubt we could have checked out many places but that was not our choice. Instead we spent the time just walking the areas within a few miles of the hotel. It is better to say over the hours we walked a handful of miles using the hotel as our base. For example, yesterday - the whole day - we probably walked between 7 and 8 miles. The city is a mix of broad avenues and narrow streets. It lacks the twisting narrow streets with exceedingly narrow sidewalks of a place like Seville or Granada let alone the twisty streets and sidewalks of Punto Delgado in the Azores. Of course, Barcelona is a city of several million and has gone through many re-designs and expansions over its long history. Even the “old city” though feeling older doesn’t feel quite as ancient as other old centers. Along with the broad and narrow streets toss in large palazzos and, of course, La Rambla (sometimes referred to on signs as La Ramblas). The latter is the long pedestrian way lined with innumerable shops and cafes and restaurants and no doubt all sorts of other shops . La Rambla is also clearly where the greatest concentration of people, likely mostly tourists, are. Boy is it crowded. The crowds thin out considerably if you get a few blocks away from La Rambla but they can still be thick. This is a bustling city and a cosmopolitan one. You will hear many languages spoken in many accents. No doubt most of what you hear is being spoken by people like us: tourists. But tourists need infrastructure and the city provides that in abundance with touristy places and plenty of more “local friendly” places you can find if you look just a little bit harder.One thing Barcelona is known for, famous for, is the buildings by Antoni Gaudi.  Sagrada Familia, still unfinished, is his biggest work but he designed many buildings. We’d been to several before several years ago and this time just planned to visit one: La Pedrera. We recalled others places fondly like the Serpentine benches of Parc Güell. La Pedrera though stood out in memory especially for its roof.The roof of ochre stone slabs has several structures on it. Like all rooftops you have chimneys, ventilation housings, and other things sitting on top. Gaudi saw no reason not to make these things intriguing to the eye as well as functional. They certainly are both. It really makes the rooftop a special place to just be on. We were also struck by the public spaces in La Pedrera more than the apartments themselves. When first completed in 1912 a family, the people who commissioned the building, lived in the first couple floors and rented out the rest of the space. They had a huge living area: 1,300 square meters (better than 13,000 square feet). Today the private dwellings are much smaller. The attic, again today, is back to being one great curving , catenary arch filled, space. Originally it was where things like laundry and other community-related machinery (elevator motors, for example) was housed. The attic also provided dead-air space to help insulate the building. It’s a neat place with the arches. The grand central space around which everything is built is also cool. But, I don’t think I would want to live in La Pedrera with all the people tripping through every day to see the public accessible spaces.Our wandering took us through some parks including past a triumphal arch near the Picasso Museum. We glimpsed the sea but did not actually go right to it. We visited a huge street food market that completely overwhelmed us in its size and throngs of people milling about buying meats, veggies, fruits, drinks, prepared food, and no doubt more. On La Rambla  we saw some interesting busking going on from the fellow making huge soap bubbles to several slow-moving performance artists and a surprisingly small smattering of people playing music. Sadly, we also saw a fair number of homeless peo[...]

Spanish Pyrenees Walk 12: Cadaqués and Cap de


Our final day has arrived. The sun gleamed off the whitewashed buildings of Cadaqués as we ate breakfast and planned what to do for the day. Inntravel had a couple of suggested walks and we knew we were not going to tackle the 18km trek. The 15km, out-and-back, hike to the lighthouse atop Cap de Creus seemed much more doable especially if we took a taxi to the lighthouse and walked back. We decided to spend the morning in Cadaqués and the afternoon would be given over to the walk with a possible lunch at the resturaunt at the lighthouse.Cadaqués began to grow on us. Our apprehension, if that is what it was, of the afternoon before eased. It is a resort town but it has character for all that and certainly places worth checking out. If you spend any time here it is well worth your time to visit Salvador Dali’s home. He and his wife Gala lived there for several decades. It is a remarkable place for its size, intricate passageways, unusual outside cascades and interesting design.  You will certainly find things to admire even if you aren’t particularly interested in Dali’s artwork itself. We spent well over an hour exploring the house and surprisingly substantial grounds. It sits at the base of a small cove and you can see how the cove could inspire someone of an artistic bent.  By the time  we were done it was time for late-morning coffee. This is a hit or miss thing for us. While we have generally enjoyed the pastries, coffees have been so-so. Sometimes exceedingly tiny, barely more than a shot or two, of coffee even if you get an Americano.  It’s just not satisfying sometimes.  We worked our way through the twisting sometimes steep paved and cobblestones (well like cobblestones) streets to a grocery to get supplies for lunch. We had come to suspect that although the lighthouse resturaunt might be excellent that it would also eat up more time than we wanted to give it and not have small lunch-like meals anyway. We were able to get a taxi to drive us to the lighthouse. An open-topped Jeep pulled up and we tossed our packs and trekking poles in the back and got in. If you think of something like the Pink Jeep Tours of Sedona, AZ you should have a notion of what our vehicle was like. We zoomed off and up the twisting two-lane  paved road that takes you past multi-million dollar homes nestled in coves before rising steadily through rock and scrub filled slopes to Cap de Creus lighthouse which sits on the easternmost tip of Spain and has provided navigational aid to sailors since the mid-19th century. It was a ride well worth the 10 euros per person. I think the walk was nice enough but it is an out-and-back 15km walk that could seem dull if you go both ways so splurge and do it one way. Since getting a taxi from Cadaqués is almost certainly always going to be easier I suggest doing what we did and ride to the lighthouse and walk back.If my GPS is to be believed the lighthouse is on a headland that’s about 240 feet (73m) above sea level. It looks higher than that. Your walk starts on the road but within 750 meters you join a trail that takes you into the rocks and scrub and gradually winds down and sometimes very close to the road. Now and then you climb up and over a knoll of rocks and through a denser section of prickly scrub. This is a harsh landscape. We actually would mess up a bit and lose the path and be forced onto the road sooner than we should have been. That speeds up the walking but probably doesn’t change the views much. You actually don’t get many views of the coves below as you descend. The main feeling is that you are walking through a tough to live on land.The road certainly has traffic but it isn’t moving that fast so you don’t feel too nervous even if walking on the road. We enjoyed the descent and within 2 hours we were passing by the cove of the Dali home. Not long after that we made one last climb and steep descent before returning to the hotel. Even with a break for our sandwiches and later oran[...]

Spanish Pyrenees Walk 11: Going to the Sea


We had a late start today. Our taxi to the starting point of the walk arrived at 09:45 and in about 30 minutes dropped us off at a spot high in the hills not far from an old American, maybe now Spanish, military base. I suppose it must still be in use because a large radar station sits atop of mountain not that far away. The sky was overcast but the weather report promised it  would clear up as the day progressed.  At first we would have to hope for spectacular views of the coves and bays of the Mediterranean Sea below.We were walking along an old mountain road and so were able to set a brisk pace. This is pretty wide open countryside.  Rocky, scrub filled,  hard to imagine farming ever happening here though we passed an old ruin or two of farmhouses. The clouds moved off and the sun came out making the promised views much more obvious.Our first lovely view of the cove that the hamlet of Monjoi sits in was a nice treat. Just 1.5 or so kilometers away we were promised, by our Inntravel guide, that a cafe sat on the beach waiting to welcome us. It would be the perfect time for a late-morning coffee and pastry if we could have them. The trail left the road and wound down switchbacks, sometimes a little stony, towards the hamlet. Occasional sounds of life drifted up but it didn’t look like much as we descended. The sound of surf steadily increased and the gorgeous blue green of the cover drew us on in. Too bad the beach doesn’t compare to the lovely color of the water. Not much of a beach except in name only. And, sad to say, the cafe not only was closed but gave all signs that it had been for quite a while. We climbed out to the coastal road, a surprisingly busy road where we probably saw a dozen cars go by over the next couple km, and began to walk around the headlands to our next good stopping pointThat turned out to be at Casa Rapla.. We left the road walk for what turned out to be a bit tougher segment than we expected. Dropping down into a modestly rocky narrow valley only to climb out again before coming in a few hundred meters to the cliffs of a cove in which a fancy hotel sits. This hotel was also cited in our guide as a place to eat. The path wound down once again somewhat stony parts to the barely-a-beach and the hotel. It is clearly fancy. It is also clearly  a place to go for a meal but  If you want a modest lunch you best go elsewhere. If you want even just a start of ham and melon be prepared for sticker shock. Unless we misread things that starter was 25 euro. Must be some super melon and super ham. Even just getting a couple dishes of tiramisu flavored ice cream and one big beer was a challenge. I would swear our waiter forgot about us. It just should not take minutes and minutes to place the order and then get a bowl of ice cream. At least it was tasty and the setting was nice. But we knew we would be feeling hungry by the end of the walk as the picnics provided by the hotel in Pilau-Saverdera were mediocre to say the least-an interesting idea of a takeout box of pasta, a hard boiled egg, and a small tomato. Up and out of the hotel cove. Perhaps the steepest bit of ascent of the walk was on the first road and then stone path. Since the temperature had steadily risen to about 80F we felt it as we climbed to the top of the land once more. When we came to a coast road we were at about the 10km mark: 5 or so kilometers to go.The rest of the walk was pretty much entirely on the coastal road. It’s a dirt-gravel road that is well built and pretty quiet. Now and then Cadaqués would pop into view. We could see the whitewashed buildings curling around the bay from quite a ways off.  Eventually we were walking through the resort town and feeling a bit underwhelmed. Maybe it was because it is a resort town that we felt that way. Maybe we were just tired. It would turn out that our feelings were misplaced but I am getting ahead of things.It is a very nice bay that the town [...]

Spanish Pyrenees Walk 9: Garriguella to Pilau-Saverdera


Let’s start with dinner in Garriguella on October 18, 2017. We had an adequate, fortunately inexpensive, meal at one place and figured to go there again. A big plus for us was they were open early. The other place kept “Spanish hours.” We walked over arriving around 19:00 and found it closed. The other place wasn’t open. A little bar/cafe was open but we couldn’t decipher the menu and what we could figure out wasn’t appealing. We were stuck. But we had noticed 2 grocery-type stores on the block. Time to find food we could heat up at the house-hotel we were staying at.  A butcher shop provided us with a pasta and meat dish along with a meatball dish; another shop yielded tomatoes and drinks. I am quite sure the total cost was tiny and once we returned and warmed everything up we actually felt we had a tastier meal than the meal at the resturaunt on our first night in Garriguella.  Now this wouldn’t have worked if we hadn’t had access to a kitchen with microwave and a hostess who was fine with our using the stuff. But the kitchen facilities did exist and she was fine so all is well that ends well.We set out at 08:44 under heavily overcast skies. Throughout the night it had stormed including thunder and lightning. You could tell rain was still in the air, though as we departed the house it was only spitting just a little bit. The Inntravel notes say the walk is 17km and we agree with this number (I actually failed to turn on the GPS track right away so likely lost 50-100m but that’s not really much). The first few km of the walk would take us out of Garriguella first along the surprisingly busy paved town road to dirt roads that wound through farms slowly gaining elevation as they passed by olive orchards and vineyards (maybe).  It was becoming clear that if this were a cloudless day the views would be quite good indeed.We continued on through the hills passing beehives and old Spanish civil war (Nationalist) bunkers that even under these cloudy conditions had superb views of the surrounding countryside. We could see a long way too.After crossing a very busy road, likely the most dangerous bit of the hike,  we entered a natural park area and continued to climb along a dirt road. Up we went and the sounds of a rock quarry faded away. It was easy going and the weather though gray was still co-operating. I suspect the temperature had crept up a bit into the low-mid 60F range. It was nice hiking weather and we were making good time. At 11:30 things changed. The rain came. At first it was gentle but though it slackened from time to time it also intensified a fair bit too. We were first walking along a narrow trail between two paved roads and we had a little tree cover. We lucked out sometimes when in more open country as the rain eased a bit. That was especially true on a 400m or so stretch of road walk. But it didn’t last.  As we climbed a steep and rutted dirt and stone track that would climb for nearly a km to the top of a hill where lonely homes sit, one under renovation and the other occupied, in the rain pelted down. This was not a place you would want to get stuck.  It eased off some at the top but the wind picked up so we felt the chill as we paused to have snacks and keep the internal fires burning. We were still having a good day even if the steep climb had made us nervous whether we were truly on the right path. As we walked across the top of the hills towards our next goal, a ruin of some sort, the rain tapered off completely. At the ruin - call it about11km I think - we settled down for a fast lunch. The sun even made a very brief appearance. Just enough to show a shadow or two but it didn’t last. By the time we hoisted our packed again (15-20 minute lunch ) that moment had pretty much passed.As we approached Mad Vente (Farm of the winds) we found we had entered another type of terrain: a tiny pine grove. Lovely.Our only c[...]

Spanish Pyrenees Walk 9: Garriguella to Pilau-Saverdera


Let’s start with dinner in Garriguella on October 18, 2017. We had an adequate, fortunately inexpensive, meal at one place and figured to go there again. A big plus for us was they were open early. The other place kept “Spanish hours.” We walked over arriving around 19:00 and found it closed. The other place wasn’t open. A little bar/cafe was open but we couldn’t decipher the menu and what we could figure out wasn’t appealing. We were stuck. But we had noticed 2 grocery-type stores on the block. Time to find food we could heat up at the house-hotel we were staying at.  A butcher shop provided us with a pasta and meat dish along with a meatball dish; another shop yielded tomatoes and drinks. I am quite sure the total cost was tiny and once we returned and warmed everything up we actually felt we had a tastier meal than the meal at the resturaunt on our first night in Garriguella.  Now this wouldn’t have worked if we hadn’t had access to a kitchen with microwave and a hostess who was fine with our using the stuff. But the kitchen facilities did exist and she was fine so all is well that ends well.We set out at 08:44 under heavily overcast skies. Throughout the night it had stormed including thunder and lightning. You could tell rain was still in the air, though as we departed the house it was only spitting just a little bit. The Inntravel notes say the walk is 17km and we agree with this number (I actually failed to turn on the GPS track right away so likely lost 50-100m but that’s not really much). The first few km of the walk would take us out of Garriguella first along the surprisingly busy paved town road to dirt roads that wound through farms slowly gaining elevation as they passed by olive orchards and vineyards (maybe).  It was becoming clear that if this were a cloudless day the views would be quite good indeed.We continued on through the hills passing beehives and old Spanish civil war (Nationalist) bunkers that even under these cloudy conditions had superb views of the surrounding countryside. We could see a long way too.After crossing a very busy road, likely the most dangerous bit of the hike,  we entered a natural park area and continued to climb along a dirt road. Up we went and the sounds of a rock quarry faded away. It was easy going and the weather though gray was still co-operating. I suspect the temperature had crept up a bit into the low-mid 60F range. It was nice hiking weather and we were making good time. At 11:30 things changed. The rain came. At first it was gentle but though it slackened from time to time it also intensified a fair bit too. We were first walking along a narrow trail between two paved roads and we had a little tree cover. We lucked out sometimes when in more open country as the rain eased a bit. That was especially true on a 400m or so stretch of road walk. But it didn’t last.  As we climbed a steep and rutted dirt and stone track that would climb for nearly a km to the top of a hill where lonely homes sit, one under renovation and the other occupied, in the rain pelted down. This was not a place you would want to get stuck.  It eased off some at the top but the wind picked up so we felt the chill as we paused to have snacks and keep the internal fires burning. We were still having a good day even if the steep climb had made us nervous whether we were truly on the right path. As we walked across the top of the hills towards our next goal, a ruin of some sort, the rain tapered off completely. At the ruin - call it about11km I think - we settled down for a fast lunch. The sun even made a very brief appearance. Just enough to show a shadow or two but it didn’t last. By the time we hoisted our packed again (15-20 minute lunch ) that moment had pretty much passed.As we approached Mad Vente (Farm of the winds) we found we had entered another type of terrain: a tiny pi[...]

Spanish Pyrenees:Figueres


A special guest post from my parent Judy and Jonathan Knight. Today, October 18, we decided not to hike but instead visit the Dali Museum in Figueres, about 10 miles  southwest of  where we are currently  staying, the village of Garriguella.  But how to get there? Bus schedules were not good and so a taxi seemed in order.  Our hotel owner offered a third choice: she was going into  Figueres and would drive us there.We arrived in Figueres  about 10am and following street signs quickly found the Dali Museum.  The museum was designed by Dali, and there is no mistaking that the building is a Dali work as well as devoted to his work,as the attached photos plainly reveal. The highlight of the museum visit was a special exhibition of jewelry designed by Dali. We did not know about his interest in and creation of jewelry. In a word, the pieces are stunning, so much so that we purchased a catalog of the jewelry exhibition providing more details about each piece.After the museum visit  (we were there for about 2 hours),  lunch was next, easily found given the profusion of restaurants in the center of Figueres.  Before our visit to the city, we had not known of it or the Dali museum.  A visit to both is recommended, with train time from Barcelona to Figueres about 1 1/2 hours.To return to Garriguella we got a taxi at the train station. The ride was no more than 20 minutes. The attached photos were taken by Kenneth. While he got less out of the visit to the museum than we did, his photographic skills exceeded ours.Judy and Jonathan[...]

Spanish Pyrenees Walk 8: Vilartoli to Garriguella


High spotty clouds dot the sky and we are hoping for somewhat cooler temperatures than we have seen. From the overview of the walk we think it should be an easy one as well as one with some interesting  things to see. Our driver dropped us off at 09:44 at an intersection near the hamlet of Vilartoli. He would continue on to Garriguella to drop off our luggage. We hoisted our packs as a friendly dog came to check us out and soon we were walking up a farm road passing grape vines as we looked for the small blue rock piles that would mark the path to the dolmen in the area. Finding them we followed the dirt paths between vineyards up a small hill to a set of dolmen. One, in particular, was in perfect condition.  These millenia-old stone structures are the entry ways into what I think could be fairly elaborate tombs for more than just one person or family. we also passed by an intriguing , much more modern, round stone shelter with a tiny door that I find hard to imagine a use for. I suppose fieldhands use it for something but it really was a tiny seeming door that you’d almost have to wiggle through to get into what looks like a large (and very dark) shelter. By this time into the walk, call it a kilometer, we had picked up our unwanted companions for the day. Flies were out in force and, if possible, more irksome than the day before. Clearly we were unable to outpace them even as we continued to walk farm roads and some minor paved roads through more vineyards, sheep pastures, olive groves, and so on towards the village of Espolla. The cafe/bar we passed in that quiet small village was a bit tempting but it was stuffy inside and still pretty early in the day so we just kept on going. We were making fine progress as the hiking was on dirt or concrete minor roads. No vehicle traffic. In short order we were approaching the village of Rabós and this , once again very quiet, village had more to offer.Rabós sits on a hillside. Like other places we have walked through it feels old. Many solid stone buildings, a modest village square (actually had a few people in it)  and a Romanesque church. The church bell tolled the time as we took a break on a park bench.  We found an open tiny grocery store and got some cookies. The selection was small. I don’t think I saw any fresh fruits or produce their.  Mom and Dad noticed some lovely buildings and you wonder what they’re used for today.When we left the village for the farm track through a vineyard  we looked back and up to see Rabós and its fortified church standing proudly on the hill above. I can easily imagine this as a prosperous place , as those things went, several centuries ago. Today I wonder.The farm lanes would eventually turn into a trail that we would follow for a couple km. While the trail is waymarked it doesn’t get much tender loving care. It is overgrown but at least the plants aren’t full of sharp pointy bits. We walked through valleys and across two dry streams with our ever-present swarms of non-biting flies. By now the clouds had cleared away and the temperature was pushing the 80F mark.  A shady area just off the trail provided our lunch spot. A quick lunch so we didn’t have to deal with the annoying flies.When we climbed out of the valley, not much of a climb, we got some wind and that pushed the flies back. Hurray. We also got more expansive views. You might argue they weren’t great views, no majestic mountain ranges or views of the sea, but expansive nonetheless. After a quick break for a snack in Delfia our walk would take us on more farm roads passed very large fields with the village of Garriguella  visible in the distance.We worked our way around those fields to a paved road that for the last several hundred meters would lead us into the center  of Garriguella.  It is bigger [...]

Spanish Pyrenees Walk 7: Above Cantallops


This walk had a bit of everything and that isn’t necessarily good. After a lovely hot breakfast, what  a pleasant change from the merely continental style breakfasts we have been having, we got ourselves ready for the circuit-hike of the day. We expected it to be another very warm day with a high temperature touching 80-82F (it did). However, at the start of our walk around 09:20 the sky was mostly cloudy and the temperature was cool. We strolled on down into Cantallops (Can-ta-lopes) and through the modest sized village. We believe they have some industry in the form of vineyards but at this time of a Monday morning at least it was awfully quiet. We found our way to a dirt single track that had a snail (scallop, isn’t the scallop shell used on Camino de Santiago paths?) shell along with more common yellow waymarks. We began to climb through the hills up the valley. I’m glad it wasn’t too hot yet because though the climbing wasn’t strenuous it certainly got my sweat glands working. Over the next couple km we gained a couple hundred meters and when we remembered to look back were treated to some fine views of the valley below. We tried to find , admittedly not too much effort was expended, some of the dolmens in the area. They represent burial grave sites from the 5th century. We continued working our way up. A castle was visible in the distance. But only now and then as we worked our way through cork oak forest trails. The tantalizing sound of a stream could be heard but we never really did see it.In time we came to a mountain road which we would follow northerly and it got us to within a km of the castle. We chose to continue on. We saw numerous cows wandering the roadside or sometimes just laying alongside the road -tails and ears constantly flicking to try and keep the flies at bay. One constant of the walk today were the flies bouncing off us. Irritating. Annoying. At least they weren’t biting flies. Why were the cows up here? I certainly saw no land they could reasonably graze.Our road walk would take us past the ruins of the Santa Maria church. That church was a pilgrimage destination up through the mid-19th century. People came to pray for a certain type of wind whose name I’m not sure of. But for reasons unknown that practice faded and when combined with the de-population that has struck this region the church fell into dis-use and several decades back whoever decides these things just decided to let it go to ruin. Many stone buildings we have passed have been restored, many in ruins. We passed more cows. We continued descending towards a stream. We actually crossed a bridge over a stream with running water. Too bad we could not dangle our feet in the water. By this time though clouds were breaking up and the temperature was certainly rising.  We were a bit more than halfway and had some modest ascending on a trail truly full of spiny plants to contend with. Over the next kilometer we climbed and then for a while we descended and then popped back out of the col de Medas where we had tried to find the dolmen earlier in the day. By now the clouds were gone and the air temperature was clearly heading to that 80 plus mark if it wasn’t already there. We could have descended the sane path we climbed this morning but we took the somewhat longer but far easier road descent. The first 1.4kms were on mountain dirt road. Easy going. Then we turned onto what I suppose could be a 4x4 track. For the next 1.75km we continued on down. It took a half hour but felt longer. We were getting tired and the long stretches of just up or just down can be wearing. Besides the views weren’t all that interesting. We were all coming to the point where we were wishing for the end to arrive. The few hundred meters along paved roads into the oh so busy [...]

Spanish Pyrenees: Rest Day (day 7)


I am sitting in my posh room in Hotel Canxiquet (Can-chi-let)  feeling quite sated after another very good supper. The village of Cantallops (Canta-hopes) though tiny shines just a few minutes downhill from here and way off in the distance what we think is a combination outlet strip mall and mega truck stop glints. The sky is pretty dark but we don’t see much in the way, if any, of stars though the Moon when up is still quite bright. It’s been a restful day.We spent the morning exploring a bit more in Besalú. We had planned on visiting Figueres but the bus schedule , from what we could tell, did not work for us. So insteaad we spent time in Besalú and then came earlier to this large, though seemingly pretty near empty, hotel on a hill above Cantallops. Our impression that Besalú is a bustling town that does a serious tourist trade was re-enforced though we remain unsure why this is the case. I suppose it doesn’t matter but you wonder sometimes how things develop. It was a nice way to spend a sunny clear morning. Seeing actual grocery stores and some very nice little shops that sell all sorts of goods from Knick-knacks to fine leather products was enjoyable.When we were dropped off by our taxi in early afternoon at the hotel it was time for lunch. What a meal. If we had lost any weight up to today I bet we made good inroads on gaining it back. Lunch was very good from the salmon rolls to pork; the small starters to salad; they made very good food. Like our first hotel, back in Mollo, the food (lunch and dinner at least) are clearly going to stand out here. I expect that breakfast will be basic “continental.” Cantallops seems tiny. We found the local cafe/bar which had a few people, including another couple doing an Inntravel trip, enjoying afternoon drinks. Other than that place I don’t think we really saw anyone. In fact, the liveliest people we saw were I guess the prostitutes (we assume though hard to see what else they were) hanging out on the minor highway a handful of km short of the truck stop. One even gave us a wiggle as we went by. I wonder what the laws on solicitation are here in Spain.Tomorrow we return to the walking. We will do a circuit-hike of about 16km. We have options to do a couple excursions but I doubt we will. One is to a castle that we might be able to see but can’t explore as it is closed tomorrow. Also if it is as warm as it was today that will likely affect how we feel. The heatwave is continuing and as far as I know tomorrow will be much like today which means sunny, clear and quite warm for this time of year.[...]

Spanish Pyrenees Walk 6: El Sallent to Besalú


The morning dawned overcast and cool. Our first day with weather anything other than clear and warm. We understand that this part of Spain is experiencing something of a heat wave. Average temperatures should be considerably cooler than we have been feeling. Today I doubt it really got much above 70F until the sun eventually did break through the overcast and the clouds moved away. But at the outset of our walk things were much cooler at least compared to what we had seen. Our taxi dropped us off just outside the village of El Sallent where we joined the GR2, walked past a house with what seemed to be an exuberant and maybe dangerous dog before joining a paved road that we would follow for several kilometers to the hamlet of El Torn. The road wound through farmland but was pretty uninteresting. El Torn is quite tiny though large enough to have a church and civic center. But beyond the couple of tiny dogs we saw no people in obvious evidence. We continued on more gravel roads which were rather uninteresting.In time we joined a mountain path that took us up and over hills that were full of scrub forest and briars and brambles. We met a fellow, with his two dogs, doing some  pruning. He has lots of work to do. The trail continued to be rather uninteresting. The forest was scrub bushes and small trees with little distinctive character like the dark woods we climbed through on walk 5.It wasn’t a hard walk just unexciting. The rocky dry streambed we had lunch at was a nice place. But after that we returned to a winding gravel road that would eventually take us past the church of St. Fruitos which is a couple kilometers outside of Besalú. More road walking and then narrow woods trail and then road into town. Besalú is certainly the high point of the walk. By now the sun was out and it had warmed well into the 70s and we found hundreds of cars and camper vans parked outside of town. It’s clearly a town with a thriving tourist industry.  Most visitors probably from Barcelona about 140 km away. This is another distinctive hotel just outside the town walls and on the east side of the Fluvia River and is a little worn but nice enough. We joined the throngs of people strolling through the town to explore a bit. The L-shaped bridge with portcullis is certainly a standout feature. We couldn’t really see the old Mikva which is one of 2 or 3 still in this part of Spain (though not used I think). Jews that once thrived in the town were forced out in the 15th century in just a couple of decades.  We also saw a bit of an artisan market. Besalú has a population of some 2,000 people but it is clear that tourists come to visit though we aren’t quite sure why as the town isn’t near the sea or mountains. A not terribly exciting walk but a very nice town.Distance:  14.4kmAscent: 240mDescent: 429mTotal time: 6:10Break Time (not moving): 58 minutes (bit surprised by that amount).Photos1. Mom and Dad in El Sallent.2. After dinner at the restauraunt the hotel recommended where we had a pretty good meal in a very elegant setting we walked back across the L-shaped bridge which is wonderfully lit at night.3. Looking east from the Jewish quarter towards the river Fluvia and the 13th-century bridge. 4. The bridge over the Fluvia not long after sunrise the following morning.[...]

Spanish Pyrenese Walk 5: Finestra Sanctuary


What a day. We would tackle a circuit-hike today that would start and end at our hotel (Cal Sastre) in the village of Santa Pau. The hike was reported by the Inntravel guide to be about 12km long and have elevation gain and loss of 675m. Those numbers would turn out to be off if the GPS track is correct. The distance was 12.77km and we had a gain and loss of just under 500m (call it 490). That is a larger difference than we have been seeing but I am here to say it was more than enough for us.Like the last several days the morning temperature was probably about 60F when we set off under clear blue skies. A handful of hot air balloons drifted above us as we left the village. They look so peaceful. A mist was clinging to some areas we could see but it would clear away in short order. We strolled along concrete and dirt roads that wound past small farms and homes and took us over dry streams or streams with so little water you couldn’t tell.Soon our gentle ascent on roads and later mountain paths would steepen and get more rugged. In fact, the terrain became quite a bit more challenging after the first couple kilometers. We were climbing narrow and steep, sometimes rocky, trails that wound upwards through dense and dark thick forest. It was definitely tough going for all of us. I think we were all quite happy not to have sun beating down upon us even though you could be forgiven for thinking you were entering into a realm of some dark fantasy story as the forest blotted out the light.It is hard to judge from the altitude profile but I reckon the bulk of the 440 or so meters we gained to reach the sanctuary probably happened in less than 3km.  I am glad we were ascending that rough trail. It would be far worse descending. Why people would set up charcooal burning ovens here is beyond me. Just moving the wood and then charcoal would be a wretched chore. For that matter why anyone would build the Finestra sanctuary just below the top of the mountain we were climbing is something of a myterdy too. It is certainly a tough place to reach and so I guess a good place for contemplation but building it must have been very difficult. Today it seems all but abandonded. We thought we were alone when we reached it about 3 hours into the hike. It turned out a Catalonian couple (and dog)  were there. They had a key so maybe they’re caretakers or perhaps the place is now rented out for couples or other people like them to use. They left us and hiked down a small trail to where a road must be as we heard a car pull away.The descent followed a trail that wasn’t nearly as rugged but , for me, wasn’t all that easily dealt with. This hike was proving to be a tough one indeed. Down and down we went through forest that seemed only a bit less impenetrable than before.  We crossed more dry streams and took great pleasure in sitting on the edge of a long grassy field a third of the way down. We still had considerable trail to descend before reaching concrete roads that gradually took us back towards Snta Pau.Even when we got to that point the tough bits weren’t done. We passed through another church (church or maybe now school: Santa Maria dels Arcs) with several yowling cats in attendance and for  the next couple hundred meters climbined up a forest path once again more than merely gradually before picking up a narrow path that wound through farm fields  down and towards the village. A cruel joke as we were still not back to the hotel and had walked more than 12km. The final hill climb along the road that had taken us out of town hours earlier was just a pain even if it was only a couple hundred meters long. Just under 7 hours after setting out and we were back sitting down for well deserved drinks. This walk is cer[...]

Spanish Pyrenese Walk 4: Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park


I suppose I should be calling these walks now something more like Catalonia Walks as we are certainly still in that particular region of Spain. We are certainly moving away from the Pyrenees mountains. The walk today continued the trend of moving us from one town to another. We left our hotel in Olot to hike through Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Parker and the seemingly older Santa Pau which appears to have the feel of a much older village.We got a small sense of what parts of Olot might be like as we walked along a busy street and then past many small gardens, what Inntravel call “allotments,” and past small and slightly bigger homes. It was easy walking. So easy we made a mistake. I think we just skipped a direction in the guide and so kept walking along the path we were on. That path gently curved around for nearly a kilometer. We popped out on a busy major set of roads, clearly still in Olot and could not find the field or major monument to people who died in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. We wandered around and saw nothing. We found a path that looked promising and followed it. Mom and Dad recognized the place. We had seen it before. We just walked a near 2km circle. The GPS track confirmed that.  Mom had felt we were making a circle before that confirmation. I had no clue.  We still weren’t quite sure what had gone wrong but with the help of a local we found a way back to where we should have been all along. Her way may have been an alternate route to get us back on walking route 3 (as signposted). What a joy to see the big field with the cross memorial standing tall in it. The goof cost us likely almost an hour but at least it was easy walking.For the next 1.4km we ascended a paved quiet road past small farms and homes before turning down a woods path that seemed to have plenty of people on it. Families were out and about. Maybe hunting for mushrooms. We were working our way towards the visitor center  in Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. It got more crowded as we got closer. When we walked through a parking lot it was clearly full. Walkers everywhere. A couple of horse drawn wagons carrying people went by. Families with numerous dogs were all over the place. Our walk took us along single-track dirt paths that gradually ascended through thick forest towards a mountain road and a hot air balloon center (we saw balloons in the early morning; sure looks like fun but I guess we will never do that). The mountain road would open up and take us through a wide open space bounded by fields and volcanic cones rising in the distance. Vil Crascot rises and people do walk the slopes to the summit. We ambled down the road along with scores of other people. The views are decent but there was something missing when I think of this bit of walk as compared to the between-the-peaks walk along a mountain high road in Sao Jorge in the Azores.I can’t put my finger on what that something missing is but the Azores walk had it and this stretch doesn’t really. I am not knocking the walk just saying it lacked something.We had a leisurely lunch at a roadside picnic/park area. The scores, if not hundreds, of people were still about. It is a national holiday of some type and that accounts for the crowds. We decided to climb up Volcano Margarida and down into its crater. It’s a steep-ish climb covering some 500 meters on a woods road. You’ll know you worked. Then you drop down along a 300 or so meter descending path into the crater of Vol Margarida.  The volcano last erupted ages ago. The crater floor is covered by grass and shrubs and is probably a couple hundred meters across. The church Santa Margarida sits in the middle of the crater. An odd spot for a[...]

Spanish Pyrenese Walk 3: Oix to Castellfollit de la Roca


Some  breakfasts are more “continental” than others. Our breakfast at Can Pei was very continental. We had a tiny selection of bread, ham (very pale), two cheeses, a hard salami, donuts that made us all think of Dunkin Donuts, and that was about it. Perhaps we should have seen that coming as dinner was limited in its way too. However, we enjoyed dinner with its good bacon and potato starter, hearty though hard to pierce with a fork sausages, well seasoned potatoes, and chicken. They also provided a nice dry red wine. If you stay at Can Pei it helps to think of it as a farmstead, though not a farm anymore as far as I can tell, that happens to host guests. We were out the door and on our walk by 09:20 on yet another clear blue morning. The temperature at this point was creeping towards 60F but it was not there yet and we started the walk along the road into Oix (Osh) along the quiet road past working farms wearing some xtra clothing. We goofed a bit and so did not walk through the heart of Oix. I doubt we missed much as the goof was slight and had us go one block beyond the “Main Street.” Maybe I am doing Oix a dis-service as a quick check of Wikipedia suggests the population is 970 and that suggests to me a decent sized village based on what we have seen thus far. However, we will never know as we quickly left the buildings behind and began climbing a dirt road past numerous sheep grazing along the forested road.We were passing mountain farmsteads I suppose though the amount of farming that they can do must be limited as the slopes are hardly ones you could sew with crops. I guess that is why they have scores of sheep grazing here as they can get by in this type of terrain. Up and around we went. In time we actually had some views of the River Oix valley below (about 4.5km into the walk). I suppose the most exciting bit was when we had to slow down to let a momma goat her newborn  pull ahead and move off the dirt road. We didn’t want to disturb them more than we had too.After reaching the high point of the walk we began descending on more mountain road and then a rock-strewn path that got rockier as it went. For most people it would be merely irksome. I slowed down somewhat.What views we had earlier were all but gone by now. We gradually lost elevation as we walked more woods roads down into another valley. No views. No animals. Plenty of heat as the temperature soared to about 80F.In due time we approached the cliffs that Castellfollit de la Roca sits atop. It’s too bad we were walking and looking into the sun as the stupendously large Catalan flag that is hanging from the cliff top is certainly quite a sight. CastellFollit itself is impressive in its way too. We were in the most densely packed bit of civilian action (as it is) that we had seen since disembarking the train in Ripoll. The streets are clean and there is a mix of the old and new in this town of just over 1,000 people. Not that we saw many people out and about but maybe that was because it was just edging past 15:00 when we settled down for a snack in a cafe before walking the final 100 or so meters to where we would catch our taxi to the hotel we are staying at tonight.This is a walk that I would not really recommend. Perhaps we missed something special but I am not sure what it would have been. Spending a bit more time in CastellFollit might be alright but otherwise this walk was mediocre at best.Once again the GPS reported ascent and descent numbers that were about 120 meters less than the numbers Inntravel cites in their notes. The distance is pretty likely correct since I stopped the track before reaching the “end” of the walk and given we made a couple hundred meter goof wa[...]

Spanish Pyrenese walk 2: Beget to Oix (Osh)


The night was quiet, still and not as dark as I would have expected it to be. Perhaps the nearly full moon accounts for that but I am not convinced. After a fitful sleep morning came with clear skies and crisp early temperatures. I expected it to warm up considerably though it turned out that it would warm up a lot more than I thought it would (that’s what you get for not checking the weather report - Dark Skies is a great app).  We had nice hot breakfasts of eggs and bacon (of a sort; not cooked well and gristly) before hoisting our packs and heading out on our second walk starting at about 09:20. Today we would hike to the outskirts of the village of Oix (pronounced “Osh”). The book says this is a 12km walk and gave ascent and descent numbers that were substantially less than the day before: an easier walk perhaps. We left Beget without company. Shep and Panter did not re-appear. We walked down steep cobblestone streets past more aged buildings to the river where we picked up a concrete path that took us quickly to a modern paved single lane road that connects Beget with Oix. We would follow the road, a very quiet one, for about 1km before turning onto another concrete path. These paths are interesting. The concrete is rippled which must make for an interestingly bumpy bike ride or , I suppose, drive. This path lead us through extensive corn fields with mountains rising quickly not far away. It’s a pretty scene. A quiet one too. Some bird calls, squirrels, and bugs buzzing but not much else. Certainly few, if any, mechanical sounds. This gives you a sense of remoteness even though you are clearly walking through lands worked by people. We followed our gentle path to a stream crossing. In spring and early summer perhaps this water rages and represents a major water crossing but now the water was just a couple inches deep. We had been making excellent time. The sun was steadily rising and the temperature in direct sunshine was already well into the 60s. . We were heading towards a place called Talaxia. By this time we were once again following the GR11. We would leave the path for the major climb of the walk at his point. We climbed through forest up a mountainside for 1.5km gaining perhaps 200m in the process. The footing was good so we made good time. It was warm going but not stressful. It also was not particularly eye catching as the forest blocked any views. Throughout the morning remains virtually free of man made sounds. When someone started up an internal combustion engine to do something (cutting fields, slowly driving) it ruined the feeling somewhat. We kept climbing.At the top is a ruin of a house and a decent view. It would have been better if we’d not been gazing into the sun but it is a spot that shows off how long people have lived here as the stone house is just bits and pieces now with roof tiles scattered on the ground.  There were several trails at this point. We turned to the right and began descending a woods road. We heard voices in the distance and soon came across a man and woman wearing full backpacks heading up the road we were descending. We’ve no idea where they are going. They would be the only people we would see.The mountain road wound down and down the mountain. Over 2km we probably dropped nearly 200m to a pasture with some more old stone buildings and our lunch spot.  By now it was midday and the temperature was pushing 80F. It was still a lovely day if suprisingly warm.  Our mountain road would plunge us further down through forests taking us past a small church which I suppose we should have checked out. I suspect it is quite nice. But we didn’t make the de[...]

Spanish Pyrenees Walk 1: Mollo to Beget


Let’s start with a final look into Mollo. It was certainly a tiny place made of stone buildings snuggled into the foothills of the Pyrenees not far from the border with France. In fact that closeness meant that somewhere between 85,000 and 95,000 people fled through there in March of 1939 during the Spanish Civil War on their way to France. Signs abounds describing the retreat of the locals from the nationalist forces. Other signs describe some of the very old or newly rebuilt (new is a relative term here)  buildings. People have been making Mollo home for over 1,100 years. Our Swiss chalet style hotel is likely rather newer than most but still has a great old European feel about it. Even at this late date in the year we saw one tour bus present, Thoughwe never did see lots of people at dinner or breakfast. Dinner was, as expected, excellent. Breakfast was adequate.The morning dawned clear and crisp. When we hoisted our day packs and left the hotel at 09:30 I suspect the temperature was in the low 50s but even at that it felt pleasant enough as the sun was shining on us and there was little if any wind. We would be hiking through the valleys to the village of Beget some 12km distant. The Inntravel guide informed us that we would gain about 250m and loose 900m. That’s quite a bit of ascent and descent over the 12km walk. Signage suggested that most people hike the paths, mostly the GR11, in not much more than 3 hours. We left Mollo and were slogging down a stony descending; the guide says cobblestones but that suggests something more regular than it is. I found it stressful going. We popped out at the Rive XX  As we passed a water purification building we picked up  our hiking companions for the day. Two dogs, we named them Shep and Panther, came down the cement path happily barking to greet us. We figured they lived nearby and were just checking us out. That may well be true but they did more than just check us out. As we climbed up and away from the river on a now dirt single track that steadily climbed away from the river the two dogs stayed with us. Shep would move ahead and settle down and waiting gazing at us. Panter stuck to Mom and Dad like glue and now and then would trot back to me if I had fallen behind to check on my progress. They’re either well trained to stay with whoever they adopt or maybe that is just how they are. They stuck with us over hill and dale. We left the river behind leaving the dirt single track for a grassy path that would up and down through pastures. The dogs kept us company. We passed through electrified fences and they stuck with us. We walked one-person wide paths that clung to the edge of hillsides descending towards streams and they stayed with us. For something like 10.5km Shep and Panther stayed with us all the way into the village of Beget. Remarkable but we understand they adopt walkers who make this hike routinely which means they trot easily 20km each time they do it if the place they picked us up is their home base.It was a lovely day. The walking , for  people with good vision, is easy going. Even the steep narrow descending path that drops you into a dense forest is not too bad  as the trail bed footing is pretty consistent. For me it is somewhat slower going especially on some bits but  as long as it wasn’t stony I did alright. We certainly were not moving at anything close to the suggest speed the signage posted (about 2-2.5MPH we were likely  moving around 1.5MPH).   Now and then views of the valleys would open up but this isn’t a walk that will sate your desire for grand eye candy. It is a walk through history in so[...]

44th Annual Wheatland Music Festival


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(image) I don't know how many Wheatland Music Festivals I have attended. I know many who have been going for decades. It is a a festival full of music, workshops, dance, and good times. You might not enjoy all the music that you can find but chances are good you will find something you will like. In this episode you will hear music from Bruce Moksly and the Mountain Drifters, Don Julen's Mr. Natural Project, Ruthie Foster, Session Americana, Lunasa, and Jayme Stone'sLomax Project. There was considerably more than just this.

Check out this episode

3 Days and 2 Nights: Sea Kayaking in the San Juan Islands - July 2017


As part of a celebration of my 50th birthday my parents and I decided to take a return trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. When we went there 20 years ago we also visited Victoria Island. I think Mom and Dad recall more of what we did and saw in Vancouver than I do. However, that is grist for an upcoming blog post. In addition to the visit to Canada we also decided to go sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands which are just a couple hours drive from Vancouver. It has been more than 15 years since I did a professionally guided sea kayaking trip (I am not counting trips with Fortune Bay Expedition Team because those while certainly organized by people that know their stuff are certainly not commercial). Mom and Dad probably haven’t camped since before I was born. The closest they’ve come would be the lodge-to-lodge trek of the Milford Track which while definitely physically demanding had the massive plus of a proper bed, hot showers, and superb food every day. It is certainly true that on a kayaking trip you can cook far more extravagantly than you can on a typical backpacking trip it still pales in comparison to what we ate in the lodges. But we all were looking forward to the trip and it was just going to be 3 days and, more importantly perhaps, 2 nights. I think, and I hope you can tell from the upcoming photos and video,  that the trip went off splendidly.The company that ran the trip was Sea Quest Kayaking Exeditions. Our guide was Adam Oken. The trip guests were me, Judy (Mom), Jonathan (Dad), and Rebecca Smith. Ada proved to be a very good guide. . He managed our trip quite well. He was attentive and certainly did a very good job of getting us where we needed to go and in our care and feeding. The gear Sea Quest provided was certainly adequate for the needs of the trip even though it makes me cringe from a technical point of view. However, being sturdy and able to stand up to use and abuse from people that may have little to no experience with camping gear is certainly an asset. My only real complaint is I think they should replace their tent stakes a bit more frequently. You shouldn’t send people out with bent stakes or ones missing their heads. But this is a minor quibble as they  did work to hold tents down just fine. Rebecca, our fourth trip participant, had never done any camping before. She is an avid runner and clearly enjoys being outdoors but this was going to be a wholly new experience for her. I think, overall, she also had a very good time. I will stop here and let the photos and especially the 16-minute video speak for themselves. I will just say that personally I would return to kayak more of the San Juan Islands. While we did not see everything we  could have wished to see we had plenty of experiences to enjoy.You will also see interactive maps that show each day’s travels. The pin marks where we were that day. You will have to zoom in to see the actual track. Use the +/- buttons on the map or your mouse/trackpad to do this.If you want to view the photos in albums you can view them here at Apple (no obviousmetadata) or here on Google (with metadata).
src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="">Click this link to play the video.July 28, 2017 - Day 1We would leave Friday Harbor around 08:30. The morning was foggy and even a tad cool. We piled into a van towing all our kayaks and drove to South Beach. Once there we unpacked everything, shifted it all to the beach,  packed the kayaks with all the gear that we would need, had a cursory talk from Adam about paddlin[...]

Sao Miguel, Azores - Walk 9: Lagoas Azul and Verde


Our last big day on Sao Miguel we decided to drive to the northwestern men's of Sao Miguel and check out Lagos Azul and Lagos Verde. The hike would skirt the rim of Caldeira Alteres dropping down from Vista da REI into the village of Setes Cidades before completing the loop back at the viewpoint. The hike isabout 12km in length and you ascend and descend about 320m at times on rather steep mountain roads. With the exception of perhaps 1km a few hundred meters outside of Setes Cidades where you slowly ascend away from the colorful lakes on a trail through woods you hike on dirt mountain roads or, briefly, along paved roads in town. When we arrived at the bviewpoint a handful of cars were already parked in the shadow of what was once a grand hotel. It's been abandoned for a long time but the spot is clearly popular: good toilets and a food truck were present. We left the car under cloudy skies that threatened rain but never managed more than a momentary spit before clearing away later in the morning. To our right was could see the green and blue lakes below. Lagos Verde was closer and a more noticeable green than Lagos Azul was noticeably blue. I think I was imagining richer color: rich Emerald and vividly blue; these were much more muted. We walked by plenty of foliage, including ever present hydrangeas, that opened up now and then to pastures with cows. Yes, people work the land up here too in this seemingly a bit more out of the way spot. A few cars passed on by.; a couple other Hill walkers too but we were pretty much alone. It's an easy walk along the dirt road. We had no real trouble finding our way down the road towards Setes Cidades. At about 5km we followed a paved road for a short stretch before returning to dirt roads that would soon steepen considerably and drop us over 100m in likely not much more than 500m into the village itself. That last bit wasn't fun but I bet less scary than it'd haven riding the quads we saw a few helmeted people riding down that bone jarring Track.There isn't much in the village. The walk takes you to a church and back but for our money you could just keep going towards the gray buildings on the shore of the lake. There is a resturaunt there too that's lijrly just as good a place to have a bite to eat as S. Nicolau's was.from the village we walked along paved roads for perhaps 1km before turning onto a dirt path with Lagos Verde on our left. We gradually began climbing through a nice bit of forest Soon we passed what I'm pretty sure was the first campground we had seen. I saw a blue tent and maybe there were others in the Glade. The trail continued to ascend at a modest rate for about a km before joining a mountain roads that plunged down from the hieghts of the caldera to the lakes below. That last, just over a km, was the final challenge. This time we rapidly gained elevation. I'd not be surprised if the grade was comparable to what we encountered on our ascent to Lagos Fogo. We were working hard but the views under the partly cloudy sky of the lakes below helped make it worthwhile. Our discovery of the gelato selling lady at the top was icing on the cake. At the top we found the place jammed full of cars. We did see a couple people and one family (those had better be strong young kids) coming down as we went up but I figure most were doing the loop like us (clockwise) or some out-and-baclk  "clockwise" version. Besides the gelato seller we saw two food trucks. All were busy selling to people. If you plan hiking in this area get to it early and beat the traffic. We arrived at[...]

Sao Miguel, Azores - alk 8: Around Lagoa das Furnas


The town of Furnas is mentioned in many places as a place to visit. It has a major lake nearby and several geothermal features from fumeroles to hot springs pools. We know many people stay in the town, it is better located to Inntravel walks than Maia. After a bit of futzing around with the driving directions we found the car park and got ready for the hike. Like many, if not most walks this one would be on several species of roads. We left downtown Furnas on a tarmac road heading into farmland. Gently ascending we came to a dirt path then climbed more steeply into the hills. We thought this was where we should go: up and over we went. As we neared the forested top we had some doubts but the path was now heading down towards  the lake so we kept going. When we got to a road we saw that it came in from the south and sure looked like what we'd left to climb over the hill. Our alternate path shaved, I think, well over 1km perhaps much closer to 2km. Soon you encounter the majority of geothermal features. Many hot mud pots, fumeroles and hot springs. You can walk near them via boardwalks (think Yellowstone). Plenty of people, most would have driven in, were doing just that. Yellowstone NP in the US and Waimangu Valley in New Zealand won't be overwhelmed by the hot spots of Lagoa das Furnas but they're still worth visiting. The lake is sizable. A light green in color and calm. You could take paddle boats out. We began our near circumnavigation on the lakeshore road. You walk through forest, some really great big trees, passing other hiking trails now and then. There are places beyond the lake to explore. Every few hundred meters we walked by a chainsaw carved wood sculpture: hiker, dragonfly, hedgehog, bird , wolf. It's an easy level walk. At about 5km in, on our version of the walk, we paused by some truly tall trees. An  Araucaria is reported to be the second tallest of its type in the world. The tallest is on a Hawaiian island. Nestled against a wall or something was a tiny painted sign, maybe 15x5cm with the word "BAR" in red showing at about my eye level. If you weren't next to it you wouldn't see it. You wouldn't think to look for it as the gray stone building you can just sort of see looks like nothing of interest. Unless you walk down a path towards the lake the true nature of things won't become clear. The building is a wonderful stone structure, much bigger than it seems. It is home to a snack bar, museum and research center. The museum was closed but the pastry and coffee counter was open. The place has been here for several years so why the signage is so abysmal is unclear. You'd not see the place from either direction on the cobblestone road ( our fellow Inntravelers missed it). On we marched. Passing old buildings that used to be privately owned. We had a spot of confusion thinking the cobblestone road was something it wasn't. That added about 1.4km of our-and-back to the hike. Oh well. We began walking alongside the cobblestones EN1 for a  time. That was the confusion source. If we were doing things again we'd follow the grass and dirt path that is visible hugging the lake. We followed a path alongside the EN1 up to a viewpoint. We had lunch. From there we descended  rather steeply, hell on brakes steep but paved, road into Furnas. Furnas is busy but it was hard to tell from what we saw how much there is to do. Clearly the visit to the thermal pool and it surrounding superbly maintained botanical garden is a high point. I think it's called Terra Nostra [...]

Sao Miguel, Azores - Walk 7: Whale watching and the Lagos do Fogo Loop


This would turn out to be among our most eventful days so far in the Azores. Dawning with a light overcast that would be left behind as we drove to Vila Campo de Franco for whale watching we joined a couple dozen people for a chance to spot whales and dolphins off the southern coast of Sao Miguel. Our Zodiac-like boat was actually comfortable.  We straddled a cushioned seat like you would a bike saddle. I was confident my inner thighs would notice the setup later. Even on near glass smooth water you're bound to bounce but the ride was quite smooth.We saw several types of dolphins ( e.g. common dolphin and striped dolphin)not that we could tell them apart. Sea birds were also plentiful especially  the Shearwater Gull. But we saw no whales. For the next 2.5 hours we motored about and had a pretty good time. At the end of the trip, at the marina, we disembarked our boat. The captain, who helped everyone on and off, gave me a hand. I stepped onto the pontoon decking and hearing instructions to go straight ahead I learned that the water temperature of the Atlantic in the Azores is comfortable. I stepped into the water fully clothed.It was tough getting back out. I bet that doesn't happen often to departing guests.  I'm glad I had a swim suit I could change into. That and the tee-shirt I bought would be my hiking attire for the afternoon. Certainly a change of style. After lunch , surprisingly decent burgers though hardly award winners, at the cafe at the marina we drove to the start of our afternoon hike.  Shia de Alto (UTM 26S4176 634): is the starting point for the walk. I wonder how many walkers can read and use the UTM co-ordinate. For most it serves as a general guide to help locate the proper grid square. We found the place and parked. It was about 13:20 and we knew we had a good walk ahead of us. It's a shame we didn't know a bit more about the ground we'd be walking. The instructions while not precisely wrong certainly lacked some useful information. We began climbing and climbing. The road we were following started gently enough but within a km the grade steepened considerably. It stayed steeper and we slogged up the dirt road. It's a woods lines road and now and then a good view of the southern coast hundreds of meters below and km away would appear. Up and up. In less than 4km we climbed well over 400 meters. The walking directions made no reference to this slog. Once we finally got to the top we caught our first views of Lagoa do Fogo. It's a good sized lake and seems to be home for countless birds, particularly gulls. The mountain road began descending at a modest rate. By now we had passed a few dozen people coming down the other way. Maybe they were doing the loop clockwise or an out and back. My guess is the former. We didn't hang out long as the clouds rolled on in. We passed more people before leaving the shoreline. The best part of the hike was really starting at this point. 5km in not the 6km the directions suggested. We began following a levada and that was a great change. We were passing many buildings, groomed short grass, and many water channels. This is an area where hydroelectric power is clearly being used and done in a nice way. Our only complaint is that the directions though technically accurate were written in a way to make us wonder whether we had missed a turn. Some people who had been at the lake caught up with us and we were assured we were on the right track. They had done and out and back route so we weren't total[...]

Sao Miguel, Azores - Walk 6: Maia to Lombda da Maia and back with a Look Back at Faial


Before we left for Sao Miguel late Saturday we had enough time to return to Capelinhos Volcano site. We took time to walk across the 60 year old new land created from the eruption of the volcano in 1957. It's only about 500 meters but it's worth stepping across the sometimes soft and silky sandy crusty lava and ash. Now and then a lonely shrub appears but if it were not for the gulls you'd think the area lifeless. We spent the morning checking out the area and then spent some time in the museum which is very well done. Cap it off with 158 steps to reach the top of the old, no longer used, lighthouse. If you're planning to use a taxi you should expect a driver to take upwards of 30 minutes to reach you. We killed the rest of our time at the hotel before catching the plane to Sao Miguel. Once there we took a bit longer to get the rental car sorted out (automatics cost more and they were not the default choice of our travel company) but we found our way to the hotel in Maia by 20:00 and had what may have been the best dinner to date: homemade vegetable or Bolognese spaghetti. Our first day walking took us from Solar de Lalem ( our hotel) in Maia to the next town. It's about 5km one way. Inntravel suggests you can walk it in less than 2 hours and for most that will be true. Our return trip certainly was well under that mark. You leave Maia on paved road and if there is a way to shorten that I would likely choose it. Turns out it might be possible as a marked trail seems to go the right way. But within 1km you leave the twisting high-speed road behind. A coastal trail of generally good quality slowly drops you down to a seasonal river which was dry. You pass a variety of abandoned water mills and a "vineyard". Then a short but steep descent on rocky switchbacks deposits you at a dark sand beach. I suppose the sand is volcanic in nature because it's dark gray.  By that time we had done about 60% of the walk by distance, likely all the descent, a big chunk on the switchbacks to the beach Praia de Viola and almost no ascent. That was going to change. You climb seemingly countless stone steps along a curving path that winds past cascades of water. I'm pretty sure an abandoned water mill station or two was passed. In time you came to a drivrable road. This is a popular beach as these things go. That doesn't mean it's bustling but people do visit. Up and up the moderately steep road we climbed. From this point it's an easy walk into the town of X. our walking time was 2:08:00. I bet the biggest time eater was the descent to Beach x.If we could've gotten a taxi back we would have. We failed. We weren't about to walk the 4 or so kilometers (4.1km according to Google Maps) on those narrow, no shoulder, let's-drive-fast roads so a return via the trail was in order. It really turned out well. We saw things we would not have otherwise done. The poor "stuck on-a-dry-waterfall" cow was just one instance.  Several men were figuring out what to do. It's a short walk and but you feel like you see and experience a lot. About the PhotosPhoto 1 is at the Cove we think whaling boats docked that belonged to the now buried whaling station. Photo 2  provides a view from the now no longer used lighthouse of the new land, the youngest in the Azores, of Faial. Photo 3: Hydrangeas seem to be everywhere. But the specimens here are something special. Mom and Dad look good too. Photo 4  really shows the impact of man. This wall i[...]

Pico, Azores - Walk 5: A Stroll on the Island of Pico


Pico is home to the highest point in Portugal. Pico is the youngest Island in the Azores. The human population stands at about 15,000; cattle at about 60000. ,Pico stands out in several areas. But our walk, more a ramble through countryside wouldn't announce those facts to you.  Our ferry ride from Faial went as easily as you could wish arriving at a ferry dock that is more developed than Sao Jorge. We grabbed a taxi, another driver with US ties to California and this time the NYC area as well. When he dropped us off the morning had clouded over and it felt pretty quiet except for traffic on the tarmac road. We started by checking out the entrance to a lava tube but  didn't see much. It's more proof , if you need it, that volcanos made the Azores. In the distance a cow would moo, frogs croaked near by, and a few workers were doing something on a pole. Otherwise nothing. We struck out on the tarmac road for several hundred meters before turning onto a dirt lane, a bit more than a two-track,  with low stone walls and roses. Views of the shore came and went; views of fields broken by a stand of trees now and then were a constant feature. We descended the dirt and gravel lane past homes. Birds sang. Cows mooed. Dogs as seem to be routine excitedly barked as we went by. We continued to descend. It wasn't a terribly exciting walk. Maybe that explains why we goofed along the way. I think we zigged when we should have zagged by the supposed picnic spot. We ended up on paved roads that we figured we're going the right way.  Around 12:30 we found a cafe we could get drinks at and stopped for lunch. We were in the heart of Setes Cidades. Between the paper and digital maps we figured out where to go and continued on. Within a half hour we were seeing definite signs we had rejoined the "official" walk as we entered the port town of Madalena. by 13:30 we had reached the ferry and got the 14:00 back to Faial. One last easy walk back along the coastal sidewalk to our ivy coated hotel and our day was pretty much done. For what it's worth if you stay at the hotel we did you can't expect much from the bar.  If you want a reasonably decent coffee go across the street. The gelato shop just north is also nice. About the PhotosApproaching Pico we passed my these rock formations. The ferry takes about 30 minutes to go between Pico and Faial. This dirt lane is lined with rose bushes and farm fields. The stroll down towards Madalena was mostly on lanes likely this[...]

Faial, Azores - Walk 4: Volcanic Badlands at Capelinhos Cruzero to Varadouro


This is our first full day on Faial. Yesterday we caught the 09:00 ferry out of Velas and about two hours later arrived at the far more impressive pier in Horta. Horta is definitely a more active city than Sao Jorge.  While some buildings near the shore are in need of TLC many other places seem quite well kept. We found some nice little parks, a great pastry shop, and overall enjoyed our 3 miles of strolling. Today we tackled the so-called volcanic badlands walk. There is a higher elevation route but because we thought descents would be more modest we decided to do the lower option. The taxi dropped us off at a small market at Capelinhos Crusiero. The morning was bright and clear and we began our walk along a tarmac road uphill passing small white stucco homes.  We soon reached a dirt road and turned left. A waymarked trail appeared that we thought might go where we wanted but our directions didn't mention it. We climbed on.We are pretty sure that the marked trail on the left as we climbed from below is a new trail but our way also worked.  Up we went. In time we found the grass and dirt trail that we would now descend. It was still a great morning and we had some fine vistas. Down we went. Nowhere near as steep as the descent of walk 2 or the kilometer of rock strewn path just above Ouvidor but you'll know you did it. It was, however, a pretty trail  through forest. But when we reached a forest road confusion returned. Between our maps, digital  and paper, we sorted ourselves out and continued down an increasingly overgrown  track to a paved road. It's at this point we think the higher route would go a different way. We eventually found a paved road and, at last, several kilometers into the hike, got a glimpse of the volcanic badlands. In 1957 the volcano Capelinhos began erupting. A large chunk of the island was affected and at least one major whaling station was buried by ash and abandoned. I didn't get a sense of how much damage was done but I believe it was substantial. Emigration to the USA, helped in large measure by JFK getting quotas greatly raised, soared. Today the area surrounding a large lighthouse looks like a lunar landscape though less filled with the black lava we saw on Lanzarote but instead is an all-covering gray ash. The visitor center is definitely worth a visit. But this quick look at the results of the 1957-58 volcanic eruptions was the end of the best parts of today's hike. Soon we were striding down a dirt road that provided a view now and then but was basically bland. 2km in a red and white lighthouse relieves the monotony but then you trod another 3.5km past a infrequent homes, dull views, and no shade. It's an easy walk into the village of Varadouro but since there isn't much there (a small swimming area and small cafe). In all, better to stop at the volcano visitor center and call for a taxi from there. About the PhotosPhoto 1 , by Mom, is at the start of our climb. It's a fine  morning. Photo 2: We are descending a moderately steep stretch of trail. This grassy bit is just a pause, a gap, in the forested slope. Along the way we passed by a lava tube entrance and around a great dip in the land where trails went both ways around. Photo 3 , taken by Mom, shows the start of the bulk of the descent. The log steps would be replaced by dirt and rock trail. Far easier travel than what I found on wa[...]

Sao, Jorge, Azores - Walk 3: Pico das Caldeirinhas to Faja do Ouvidor via Norte Grande


The morning of our third full day on Sao Jorge dawned with clouds, sun and a maddening ache in my quadriceps. The descent yesterday did my legs in. Fortunately the hike today would, we believed, be on good tracks and be gentle as far as descents were concerned. We hope the  mixed sky wouldn't hinder views but you get what you get. At 09:50 at a spot in the center of the island about 840m above sea level we began our hike. Clouds were above and below but thin and moving fast. Views would come and go. As one passed by I watched a mountain fade from  view in 10 seconds as clouds blew in. A few minutes later it was visible again. We walked along a cinder-bed mountain road between numerous volcanic cones. Little signs noted the names and heights of these mountains as we went by. If we weren't looking at the mountains we might be gazing at high pastures. Now and then the clouds below would clear and views of the coasts below would spring forth. The changing sky made things more interesting as far as we were concerned.  It's an easy hike along the road. You can focus on the scenery instead of your feet. Besides the grand views that came and went you could find all sorts of wildflowers blooming. The morning was thoroughly pleasant.         We made excellent time. Just after 11:30 we had reached Pico da Esperança. Superb time. Inntravel suggests not going all the way up as the trail becomes muddy so we only went about 400m and the view a dry caldera was fine. The sun was shining and the lower clouds had cleared enough to give us more great views of the land and sea below. A lovely morning.    We had hit the highest point of our walk. Now it would be all downhill: 1,025 meters down over the remaining 12.5km. We expected it to an easy walk continuing the cinder track. We had the hills pretty much to ourselves, though two French women would leapfrog with us all the way to Norte Grande.By the time we hit the more-or-less halfway point for lunch it was just past 12:30 and we felt pretty smug that our walk was going so well. Down we strolled passing more fields and mountains and getting clearer views of the north coast below. A little before 15:00 we strolled into the village of Norte Grande and paused for refreshments and to visit the 4 year old eco-museum. They're definitely trying to get people, certainly kids, interested in the natural world of the Azores.     We could have stopped here but instead continued on. 2km more to reach  Faja do Ouvidor. If we had only known then what we do now. Maybe there is a nice natural swimming pool and a cafe someplace else (not likely) that is open. What we found was an awful 160m descent on a path a bit over 1km long that was steep,  strewn with rocks and not even pretty, which made this bit painful to the quads and just not worth it; a come down after such a fine day. At about 17:10 we piled into the taxi to head back to Velas. We spent a lot of the time driving through clouds. By late afternoon a low overcast had settled on that part of the south coast. We did much better where we were I think. But if I do the hike again I'll skip OuvidorAbout the PhotosSigns like this one in photo 1 appear now and then to tell you what the volcanic cones are. Clouds came and went throughout the morning and early afternoon. Here mom is coming out of[...]