Southwest Adventure- Days 2, 3 and 4

Needles, Scenic Route 66, Kingman AZ and Sedona

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Driving the Mojave Desert gave me lots of time to imagine how this huge desert looked under a rapidly changing ocean. All the cholla cactus gardens teased us from behind miles of wire highway fences. This is what happens on a long desert drive; lots of time to think. After the day was done, food was consumed and, with a glass of wine and a camp chair, these thoughts of the power of the naked raw mountains cooling off beneath a sunset consumed my road weary body.

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Franny found the old Route 66 highway on a paper map! Google didn't want us to take the historic back road. We saw 10-12 cars over the 40 mile drive to Kingman, AZ. Of course, we sang the groovy Nat King Cole version of (Get your kicks on) Route 66 all the way. We did stop from time to time as our jaws dropped uncontrollably over some of the awesome scapes.

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On the way to Kingman on old Route 66 one travels through Oatman, AZ, a town filled with memories and burros. This town, the home of many Hollywood western shoot outs, fills up a long block with an old hotel and curio shops with memorabilia from the old gold mining days. We didn’t feed the burros ;-)

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As we descended down the grade towards Kingman, these standout cliffs acted as a gateway to what we’d transition into Sedona.

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Ok, just to conclude the Kingman AZ portion of the Route 66 song, we took this photo. Note, we’re standing out in the middle of the street. This is not tourist season and the weather is perfect. A great time to dive in and digest the romance of the territory.

We arrived in Sedona via Oak Creek Canyon. On our way out to Canyon de Chelly we’ll spend more photo time there.

Our house in Sedona is south of the main part of town (way too crowded for us) and a wonderful entry point into some awesome hikes to the east. These views are on the Little Horse trail.

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Below are the praying nuns. The feelings of the spirits within the earth are large among most folks who walk these trails. Lots of mountain names have spiritual connotations like Cathedral Rock and the praying nuns. Some irreverently named rocks go with Chicken and Snoopy. Either way you roll, these monumental territories within our Southwest are precious and need to continue to be protected. While the mountains themselves seem to roll with the flow of the frictions in time, we short-timers can take heed and learn what we can about some of life’s foundations and strategies for longevity. Nature rocks!

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Southwest U.S. Adventure

Day 1, Sebastopol to Tehachapi

Day one of our longest planned excursion in Bessie, to date. This trip is a trial for Franny and I; to determine what it’ll be like to take longer adventures around the US. I’m excited and taking notes. I’m imaging there’ll be a pace that fits us; a few days of driving, in this case to Sedona, before a few day ‘rest’ of activities without Bessie.

We covered 375 miles today and need to cover 478 miles more over the next two days.  The drive is one many of us have taken over the years, down the 5.  The nut and fruit trees are bearing or past bearing now. Earlier this year as I drove the route the estuary of blossoms made wows’ jump from my lips.  These trees go on for hundreds of miles and feed millions of people all over the US and in pockets of the world. 

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Farmers want to plant as many fruit and nut trees as the market will accept. So they plant, plant, plant. They need, of course, more and more water. They plant first and demand later; expecting taxpayers to build dams and charge the farmers a fraction of the actual cost. And definitely not considering the impact to the natural world. It’s all about the capitalist urge to grow. We have no way to signal, the amount of nuts we have is enough. Let China buy them somewhere else. We don’t have enough water to grow the trees for their entire life of 30 plus years. These sorts of thoughts go nowhere, but the slogans breed frustration and divisiveness. Capitalism will surely wring the earth of all its life. Enough is hard to define, but all the rest of nature will have the last word. I am sure.

I’m learning about trees and how they communicate. Thinking about the Pando aspens in southern Utah and how it forms the largest organisms in the world. It’s a colony of 47,000 identical quaking aspens! Though an almond orchard, miles long, isn’t made up of identical trees, it does all have a common root stock. The roots of these trees must connect after some number of years. Many of them must be sharing stories and advice. I think about all this as I pass by signs set up by the nut and fruit farmers with slogans such as ‘is growing food wasting water?’ or ‘we’re running on empty. Build dams!’.

As I speed along, passing semi-trucks, moving over for speedy SUVs, my vision is long and sustained with only modest changes in landscape.  We finally turned east, heading to Techachapi. The landscape changed dramatically showcasing the start of the high deserts we’ll be driving through for some time.  The fruit and nut trees disappeared; replaced by rugged hills and transitional forests of oaks and pines & firs.  I enjoy long views of vistas and approaching mountains.

The road up to Tehachapi Mountain Park wound up a narrow mountain road. with a near deserted campground we had our pick of sights. we saved the best sights for folks who may choose to stay there for a few days or a week. we took the flatest one!

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We finished the night with a round of playing our Ukes. Lots of practice required to grow the simple skills required to remember songs, chords, rhythms and the bit of soul it takes to hit the high notes! 

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The McCloud River. Last trip for the season.

Somersaults, perfectly performed across the top of the river, heading towards me.  The McCloud River set the stage for my last fly fishing trip of the year. In October the hatches of caddis and mayflies are so consistent and big that catching fish is extra challenging. Each October caddis is so big it’s a mean of it’s own. In between snacks for the trout are little midges that are barely visible to my aging eyes.  Their desire to grab my fly is smaller than a micro mayfly midge!

In the early evening I fished deep, along the bottom with black rubber leg and a posey bugger flies. With some added weights the flies dived deep and carried along with the current.  No luck came. I looked around at the hatch as my flies repeatedly passed through a 10-foot deep channel in a mild current in a long ‘pond’.

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A smaller caddis caught my eye, a size I recognized as a good attractor. So I put one on and within a minute hooked into a large trout. So large it went straight down and pulled the tip of my rod, bowing down to a god of the river.

As a young boy a special summer included beach time.  The power of the waves, the crashing, the pulsing was mesmerizing.  After wearing out a couple canvas water mattresses and rubbing my chest raw, I began body surfing.  This learning, over and over, paddling hard, heading in and out of the surf lasted for hours. I learned to appreciate exhaustion as much as anything.

On a day with particularly large waves I paddled hard at the top of a particularly large wave; probably a good ten feet tall. With that hard paddling I caught the wave and slide down the face, scared to death and fully exhilarated.  Then the ‘roof’ fell in on me and I was somersaulting in the middle of a wave ‘storm’. I didn’t know where to go, where was up or where was down. I looked around which didn’t help. Remembering my shortage of air and my inability to gather more oxygen, I simply relaxed and let my life go. Within a few more seconds, which felt like minutes, my head was bobbing on the water’s surface and I saw the shore with people calming playing around.

The large trout hit the surface as I was winning the tug-of-war. His defense, his hope to shake out the hook in his lip, was continuous somersaulting.  As I pulled more quickly, to shorten the fight and keep the fish from becoming exhausted, the somersaulting created large splashing water; so powerful and unrecognizable to me until I thought of my somersaulting beach experience. Looking at the large trout in my fishing net gave me pause to collect myself and release the ‘hunt’ from my mind. After the initial flopping about in my net, after I pulled the caddis fly out of its jaw, the trout settled a bit and we both calmed down. The fish and I had a moment of connection, both with eyes and the passing of a bit of energy. I released him from the net, never touching him. The trout calmly collected itself at my side and then hurried off.  That night, sitting by a campfire, I listened to the river and the mesmerizing sounds of its power and current. With a bit more understanding I placed myself under the river, down with the bugs and the fish. What a wonderful home!

I swam back to shore after somersaulting out of my body surfing lesson.  Nature’s force impacted me, permanently.  With great respect and gratitude for nature’s kindness towards me, I laid down on my beach towel; shivered for a minute and then let the heat pull my spirit back into my body. The exhilaration faded and my day became just another day.

 

Notes from the Mendocino Coast

Little River.

The river is little, a perfect name and quick description. Way up the trail, on the down side, on the other side of the pygmy forest of mini-trees, I 4-rock (stones, really) hopped over the river. I looked up river and thought about the water source.

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Last night, arriving home in the afternoon after the two hour drive home from Little River, another source crossed my mind; photosynthesis. Every living thing is living because of it. Imagine green plants chewing up sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to grow. And then the plants pull some nutrients out of the soil, but they don’t weigh much.  My body takes tons of stuff to stay alive and functioning. Maybe my soul is like a plant and feeds very lightly off the sunlight and water and carbon dioxide passing through me.

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The path we followed held tight to the little river, passing over it with 10 little bridges. One subtle curiosity that I didn’t notice but my partner did; the sword ferns were on one side of the little river and the common bracken on the other. Deer ferns communed more randomly. Why pick sides? Friends walking along trails tend to become very authoritative as they spot a bird or a unusual plant. When they’re not naming things they’re dialing up their curiosity about all the wild things around them. Not many take notes so I hope they remember to research their findings when they return to their resource materials. One thought on the fern communities was that one type required a bit more water to be happy.

More and more books are coming out about all the wild things and how they communicate and how they live their lives. we clearly know very little about the complexity of life on earth and in the lack of knowing, have very little respect for it.

I picked a word yesterday, to name my interest in this topic; animism. This word is defined as the religious belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence.

Animism encompasses the beliefs that all material phenomena have agency, that there exists no hard and fast distinction between the spiritual and physical (or material) world and that soul or spirit or sentience exists not only in humans, but also in other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind and shadows. 

The deeper I get into the subject, the more defining words come up.

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The paths and bridges along Little River were created by the California Conservation Corps. At the same time they created dams, culverts and walls to control the flow of the little river on its way to the ocean. I’ll have to read more to put my mind in their time and place. But the result of their work meant the end of a free flowing river that could perpetuate life for the coho salmon.  Along the trail an artist has planted metal sculptures of coho. My spirit turned and, feeling a bit ashamed of the human interference, realized how relentlessly we have perpetuated this sort of activity.

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 My mind didn’t hold on tight to that sadness and shame. But it did hold tight to a list of things I need to get done when I get home. The feeling of ‘should’ takes me out of myself and makes me anxious, distracted and inattentive to the conversations among all the wild life around me.

Pygmy Forest in Van Damme State Park

We parked at the Albion River Inn where we’d celebrate our hiking buddies’ birthday the next day.  A lightly used road across the highway took us on a 3-mile reminiscing walk. All four of us had walked the Camino in Spain. Over our hour and a half uphill saunter, we relived large chucks of our Spanish adventure. So much goodness comes from sharing stories and appreciating the lives we live.

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The Pygmy forest entrance pulled us with a wooden walkway; part creating wheelchair accessibility and part keeping all of us walkers off the delicate pygmy bushes and sea foam lichen.  Way, way, along time ago, the ocean floor pushed up relatively quickly and created some new space for trees and bushes to settle. However the soil, rising so quickly didn’t have time to develop nutritious soil; just couldn’t overpower the hardpan soil. So a few varieties of pine trees and cypress and bushes grew, but with poor soil they haven’t grown much. They’re 1-8 feet tall and over 100 years old!

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Spring Ranch Coastal Preserve

 Starting out for the day. Found the hidden trail up the ravine off the beach.

Starting out for the day. Found the hidden trail up the ravine off the beach.

The bluff walk from Van Damme to the village of Mendocino matches up in style with the Bill Kortum trail in Sonoma County and the trail along the west coast of Cornwall near the town of Port Isaac.  We met a couple from West Los Angeles who called the views stunning. So there you go.

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One standout site is a blowhole hidden in a bunch of rocky coast nested in the shoreline. The very little geyser like burst of water surprised me, like the sudden movement of a grouse in a stand of shrubbiness on a mountain trail.

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Back when our girls were little we traveled with another family down the Baja California coastline to Ensenada and came across a bufadora, blower in Spanish. We drove and drove and finally found it. Blowholes are an attractor like waterfalls.  Heading out of Cuenca Ecuador on a bus to a small town famous for a cookie made of canna flour we passed a sign for a waterfall. The waterfall signs appeared along the highway more often than speed limit signs. Everyone wants to go see a waterfall. We did stop and took a walk to one. They’re pretty spectacular; not in size necessary but in their sharing of their power.

Powerful people have a hard time sharing their natural strengths while waterfalls let you do whatever you’re capable of doing with them. If you can’t harness their energy enjoy taking a picture of yourself in front of it or paint it. At the end of the summer and all the snow has melted and the river lowers enough to begin warming too much for trout to travel far and wide for meals, they live deep under waterfalls; to gobble up oxygen and swirling nymphs and larva.

I search out oxygen when my systems are tired and in a personal season that has lost common sources of nourishment; like unconditional friendships and emotionally safe environments. The speech therapist came through the door of my kindergarten class. I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me but I followed her down the corridor to a small room, like a doctors office. After sitting on a hard school chair I almost expected to get a booster shot of some kind.  The pain I almost continually felt, the knotted gut and tangled throat, came from the stuttering. The stuttering seemed to be born naturally in me. Most kids go through stuttering and move on to other problems. But for some of us, stuttering grabs on to us and messes with us for years; a life time, really. 

The therapist asked me to relax and breathe. Of course, I couldn’t relax and I couldn’t relate to her theory on how to solve my problem. But I breathed in and out and in and out. The extra oxygen didn’t do me any good. I returned to my class having missed the art time in my class schedule. I didn’t know about trout searching for oxygen and how important it is. But you can see why I pay attention to it now.

Deep meditative breathing is an important exercise and is integrated in many practices from playing wind instruments to taking care of one’s body.

While walking the trail I breathed deeply on occasion, nurturing and massaging my whole internal operation with oxygen.  Out of my trance, looking continually out at the sea, I looked off to the east. Almost like clouds, the landscape of nearly wild grasses floated and called out in a very relaxing melody. I hummed but stayed my course. The grasses couldn’t pull me away from the trail.

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Trails make my life easy and take me to interesting places. I’m following behind sightseers now but I smell deer and coyote and know they were here first. We bushwhacked from the coast to the highway to cross the bridge over Big River to get to the village of Mendocino. Apparently the deer and coyote don’t go to the village for lunch!

 Bessie and Zorro waiting for us back at camp.

Bessie and Zorro waiting for us back at camp.

 The hurricane storm Rosa took a break and gifted us with a wonderful day.

The hurricane storm Rosa took a break and gifted us with a wonderful day.

Baker back at it.

17 days A.J. (After Journey)

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When pear season arrives; I know the Gravenstein apples should be in the dryer; I know I’ll be backpacking soon and I know special friends will call with a fruit alert.

These Bartlett pears are a blend from two locations; Asti, CA and our backyard. It just so happens that Bartlett pears are one of the best for tarts along with Anjou. However I love tarts and I love using neighborhood fruit, so I’ll put any kind of pear in my tarts!

The call came in from our down the street neighbors. They had recently picked pears and their family home in Asti. Indeed good friends, they kept a bag ready for me on their back porch.

Given our recent reentry into Sebastopol life and home maintenance backlog, I took several days to pick up the pears. During that time they began to ripen, some a bit too much to put into a tart. When you build your pear tart use firm pears. Can the softer pears or toss into an evening salad.

I sorted the bag of pears and found the best tart pears. After peeling, halving and coring them I tossed them into a pot with water, sugar, vanilla bean and sauvignon blanc wine (my preference). Alternately use your favorite white wine. Use a decent quality wine but it doesn’t need to come from your special occasion stash. The fresh vanilla bean is critical for my taste. And the combination of white wine and vanilla is fantastic!

 

6 Firm Bartlett pears

2 Cups white sugar

3 Cups water

1 Cup white wine

1 Vanilla bean, split

 

Poach the pears to a cooked but still firm stage. Fork test the pears which means the fork should go in pretty easy but should not continue easy into the middle of the pear. You should have to ‘tug’ a bit to get the fork out of the pear. Let the pears then cool. They continue to cook a bit as they cool.

I usually build my tart over a couple days; a few minutes here and few minutes there. So I then put the pears into a glass bowl and cover with juice and store in the refrigerator.

Next I make the tart dough. I have modified a recipe from Martha Stewart, one of my go to bakers. Tart dough is pretty forgiving since the recipe calls for room temperate butter. In additionally forgiving since I’m using gluten free flours and they don’t toughen like gluten flours. So mix away!

First mix the butter and powdered sugar together. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the fresh orange juice and then the gluten free flour. I use 1/3 each of rice, sorghum and tapioca flours.

Let the dough chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, for at least a couple hours (like any pie or tart dough).

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

½ Cup powdered sugar

2 Egg yolks, large

1/3 Cup rice flour

1/3 Cup sorghum flour

1/3 Cup tapioca flour

½ Teaspoon kosher salt

2 Teaspoons fresh orange juice

 

The final component of this fabulous tart is the frangipani filling. It’s super easy and fun to build. Two steps occur simultaneously; browning butter and fluffing up the eggs. Browning the butter is more critical (to keep an eye on) while the fluffing eggs need to expand three fold (and won’t burn or ‘fall’).

 

9 Ounces unsalted butter

2 Rosemary sprigs

4 Ounces white sugar

1 Ounce rice flour

1 Ounce sorghum flour

1 Ounce tapioca flour

4 Eggs, large

 

In a small pot melt the butter and add the rosemary sprigs. Over medium heat boil the butter with rosemary until the butter is golden brown. Then slowly pour through a fine wire sieve into a glass heatproof measuring cup to catch the rosemary and residue from the butter. Let sit while you finish up fluffing the egg, sugar and flour mixture. I used the same mix of rice, sorghum and tapioca flours.

After the egg mixture is fluffed add the browned butter by pouring slowly into the edge of the mixing bowl. After all the butter has been added and blended pour into a container and rest in the refrigerator for a couple hours (or over night). While resting is good, the batter can also be used right away.

Finally roll out the dough, put into the tart pan, clean up the edges and chill. I chill in the freezer. Then pour the frangipani fill into the tart shell. Finally add the prepared pears. To prepare the pears slice thinly across the top of each pear half. This thin slicing is traditional and adds a textured look. However, do what you like it. Discover your personal artist taste and wow your friends!

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes. The tart should be light to medium brown. Most importantly the crust should be brown (rather than golden brown). A more baked crust keeps away the sogginess on the bottom of the tart shell.

I serve with a slap of soft whipped heavy cream. Ice cream is good or straight up too!

Pear season is a wonderful time of year!

Trout Lessons in Santiago

Backwards to May 29. 

We participated in a procession through the streets of the old town Santiago. While we walked other processions in small Spanish cities, this procession gathered force and became a river of folks within several blocks.

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We traveled straight down several blocks as the street narrowed. I held a position shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet with other walkers.  

i felt a oneness in the crowd like we had indeed become a river. As this feeling grabbed a strong hold on me, we took a dogleg to the left. As we began the turn we slowed. Throughout the turn my cadence slowed significantly.

As we left the turn and returned to straight the pace of the crowd, the river, picked up again.

While roses fluttered from overhead windows and the marching band played exceptionally well, I thought about trout resting in a turn of the river. I felt the change in the current during that procession and took a lesson on the preferred habitat of a trout.

I'm looking forward to fly fishing in Montana on my way home in late July!

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Swiss Alps

From Vienna we trained to Zurich,  got frustrated by their internet policies, adjusted a bit after a nice (and very expensive) dinner, Airbnb nights sleep and then headed out for Maloja the next morning.

So happy to get out to the Swiss Alps. Good friends from Sebastopol have a family home there who we met (there) and visited with for several days. 

I've never been to Switzerland or the Alps so we spent our time visiting some small villages and hiking. 

Maloja is a bit east of St. Moritz and is well known among skiers as a fantastic cross country venue.

 

 Soglio

Soglio

We took one day trip to Soglio which requires a crazy drive down some corkscrew roads at steep declines and inclines. The village name means Sun which has lots of value in the winter. The villages in the valley see no sun for three winter months.

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Our hosts and Franny on one of the many mountain trails in the area. The whole region is very hiker friendly.

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Vistas galore, at every turn on our hikes; quaint farms and villages too. 

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And so we bid the Alps adieu. A wonderful visit with friends and new friends and with a beautiful piece of this beautiful earth. 

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As I hiked through the Alps I was reminded of our grand Sierras and became quite homesick. I look forward to exploring new regions, new trails and new lakes later this summer and early fall. Onward.

Vienna, pastries and all.

I have always held Vienna high in my mind for their pastries. I imagined glass cases in old world cafes filled with over the top pastries, cakes, tarts and cookies. I've studied bake books that support this thinking. 

So my primary goal for Vienna was to explore the pastry shops and to find inspiration. Not easily done as it turned out. 

I started with a short list of six shops. I was lucky to have my biking pals with me for my first tasting at Gerstner.

 

 The variety at the Gerstner. 

The variety at the Gerstner. 

We tasted three cakes and one pastry.  We scored each item based on looks, flavor, freshness and personal taste.  

 The famous Sachertorte

The famous Sachertorte

The cakes included Dobostorte, Gerstnertorte and the Sachertorte. The Sachertorte has been around for a couple hundred years and placed dead last in our tasting, while the pasty placed first. Perhaps an unfair comparison but the tortes should have had no problem beating out a lowly pastry!  The cakes were either dry, lacking in flavor or over chocolated. Great fun was had by all judges.

 The pastry contestant, Kardinalschnitte

The pastry contestant, Kardinalschnitte

I then walked all over Vienna searching out a good sampling of the top 10 pastry shops. 

 The bakers of the Demel pastry shop

The bakers of the Demel pastry shop

Demel was listed as best in Trip Advisor and other websites and magazines. I found their case of cakes tired and uninspired; just the basic tried and true with no stretching of flavor combinations or artistic over the top decorating. Definitely not s leader in the trade.

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Then came Oberlaa, another favorite. Their cakes only filled two thirds of a case. The other case and a third were filled with equal parts, candies and macaroons. Too small of a selection to be top tier, plus their selection was too 'plain vanilla'.

 Oberlaa pastry case

Oberlaa pastry case

I also reviewed the selection at Cafe Diglas, Cafe Sacher, Aida and the Cafe Mozart. None of them were picture worthy.

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My top choice was Cafe Central which has been around for years but somehow fell off the top 10 list. They showed great depth in their product line, wonderful freshness on the look of their pastries and cakes and fantastic attention to detail in the finishing of the treats. They make unusual items not seen in the other shops and cafes. By far the winner in my pastry expedition in Vienna. 

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Bottom line, I was hugely disappointed in the Vienna pastry scene. This disappointment isn't so much a slam on Vienna but a call out to the pastry scene in the SF Bay Area. We got it going and one doesn't have to travel so far to find some of the best pastries in the world! 

Apple Strudel

I hoped to find a group of older women stretching dough across a kitchen but resolved to enjoy a tourist demonstration near the Palace in Vienna.

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The young baker was full of charm and certainly showed good technique. Turns out he learned the recipe and touch from his grandmother. 

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Like a pizza, he further spreads the dough.  After this stretch, he further stretches using his entire arm cocked at a ninety degree angle.   see image below.

 

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He then adds the apple filling.  The big secret to the mix was to chop the apples unevenly, adding a varied apple texture. 

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Franny volunteered to spread the melted butter over the raw strudel. She's become a strudel rock sar.

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The finished strudel varies from bakery to bakery. All had excellent attributes but eating them warm from the oven was always best! 

 The final stretch  

The final stretch  

The demonstration was excellent and I was happy to attend.  

Several days later we bumped into the young baker on the metro train. We showed him a video of himself at the strudel demonstration. He had never seen himself on film.

He was happy and shy and probably didn't understand the personal value of his bakers touch.   I hope someday he will understand.

Biking along the Danube

I haven't been much of a bike rider since adolescence. Too many of my friends have been injured while pedaling. Franny enticed me to bike with a 'flat' ride to Vienna. So onto the bike I go!

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The bike path was mostly flat though our group found a bunch of hills on the way to various side trips.

I survived a light crash on day two as I was taking a steep downhill turn around a blind curve. I hit a curb as I avoided an oncoming speedster cyclist out on an afternoon sprint.  

My knee is slowly healing from the. bone bruise. 

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We rode with three CA friends. Every day included biking for 50-70k and stopping ocassionally for sausage and beer.  This day we found BBQ sardines!

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The Danube is a wide deep river that serves as a highway for cruise ships, ferries and barges. 

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My eyes wandered all day; enjoying the flavors of farmland, wild spaces, castles and old Austrian villages. Red poppies have been a favorite throughout Spain, Portugal and Austria.

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Our most solemn and reflective stop was at the Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz. We spent several hours walking the grounds, reading the history and absorbing the pain and suffering, the inhumanity and senseless nature of war.

 Metal sculptures like this Menorah nested through the camp as symbols and reminders, of honor to the victims and markers for meditation. 

Metal sculptures like this Menorah nested through the camp as symbols and reminders, of honor to the victims and markers for meditation. 

Every turn in the river provided another awesome view and splash of history. 

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And so our seven days on the Danube flowed. Awesome buffet breakfasts at comfortable hotels, kilometers of cycling, sightseeing, beer and sausage tasting and late night dinners. What's not to like. 

i love bike trails. They were very helpful getting into Vienna. Now for Vienna.

R&R in Portugal. June 6

When we originally thought about a Portuguese respite, we pictured beaches. But the weather forecast continued with clouds and sporadic showers so we made a spontaneous choice and headed for the mountains of northern Portugal near the Spanish border.

Via Airbnb we found a stone cottage in the very small town of Vilar, a bit north of Terra's de Bouro. 

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Because Vilar had no restaurants we enjoyed cooking in most days. Many of our veggies came straight from the store owner's garden. We took a couple leisurely reading, writing and crafting days. The other days we explored a section of Portugal's only national park.

Along the edge of the park we followed a Roman era cobblestone road through several villages, dropping down over 1,000 feet, crossing over a river in a long canyon like valley and then back up. Lots of flowers, budding fruit trees and general nature love.

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Our park hike looped around a large reservoir used to generate electricity. We climbed up to around 4K feet and covered a modest 6-7 miles.

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Getting to Porto took no time at all. Our across the street neighbors from Vilar (owned the grocery store) dropped us off at the bus and a few hours later we are toasting you!

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Got serious on port tasting after some initial light hearted tastes. We had a selection of five; a young white,  a 10 year white: a young and older tawny and a vintage late harvest ruby. The older tawny won our votes. 

Turns out all the Portuguese ports are blends due to the small size of the old vineyards used for their ports. The years are also blended. For example, a 10 year port will includes 7 year and 13 year port. The average is 10 years. After this round of port education my understanding of port and its history has permanently changed.

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Besides port tasting and food I was most interested in hearing some Fado music, a unique style of music popularized in Portugal. Turns out non commercial live Fado music is not easy to find. Thanks to random luck we found a 'pop up' club and enjoyed awesome and earthy musicians and community singers into the wee hours of the morning. Our recordings came out pretty darn good. I'm still pinching myself to make sure I'm still here on earth and not off in some other plane. What an experience!

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Franny loved this local sweet treat, a Bola de Berlim. In her words it's the closest pastry to a New Jersey creme donut (that she has tasted).  I couldn't disagree.

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It's sardine season in Porto. No meal is complete without a plate full! 

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Our best sunset in the EU so far. Farewell to Porto, a wonderful city! 

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One last task before heading to Austria.  My barber is fantastic and full of charm and talent. 

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My new look for the Danube bike ride. Onward! 

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Completion. Santiago, Spain

Our Santiago walk is winding down. Time has passed but the 440 miles and all the experiences flash before me daily as we continue down the trail for the last 10km.  

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We have arrived in Santiago but still have a couple kilometers to the cathedral. More and more pilgrims press on with us. The trail has become a highway of peregrinos. 

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We arrived in the Cathedral with minutes to spare. A pilgrim Mass occurs every day at noon. But to participate in the Mass on the day you arrive; that's a truly special moment.

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We sat in perfect position to watch all the activities related to swinging the large incense burner. Historically they swung the incense burner over the pilgrims because they smelled so strongly after their lengthy pilgrimage.  While I still had the smell of the trail seems like most folks had a shower and change of clothes before Mass.

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Here are the folks controlling the swing of the incense pot.  They are seasoned and act in precise unity. I watched them as often as I could given all the activities. Note the incense haze from the massive burner.

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Way over to the right and mid way up (above picture) you can see the huge incense burner. The power of the swinging, the weight and the extension of the rope shouted out awesome to me. 

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This image shows the intensity of the event and the focus of pilgrims on the swinging pot. A very unusual time and place for many of the folks in the Cathedral. 

Most inspiring though was something I didn't catch on 'film'. Just as the incense ceremony began a nun launched into a series of songs so beautiful and so in tune with the swinging incense and my state of mind, I came to tears.

As she sang flashes of my 47 days of walking came at me in rapid fire. So clear the flashes of specific places and people that I quickly became full: in fact overflowing with the richness of this experience: the Camino. The impact of this experience will surely show itself in the days and weeks, months and years ahead.

After absorbing Santiago for a couple more days and letting a virus go that I acquired  through too many hugs and kisses, we will go to the end of the earth (for Spain), Finisterre to give our final goodbyes. 

 

Molinaseca, Ponfereada, Trabadelo and on to Cebreiro

I'm standing on Puente de Perregrinos, a medieval bridge that leads pilgrims into the historic pueblo of Molinaseca. My spiritual nature sends my eyes downstream into the riffles and channels looking for trout feeding lanes. 

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Deep into the Bierzo wine region we found a refuge in Fuentes Nuevas, restaurante La Casona. The white tablecloth meal took local ingredients to a delightful space where I could relax and savor the flavor a of the meal and the vino tinto. Another great wine & foodie region.

 Turbot with lemon based sauce served with sautéed potatoes and pimentos. 

Turbot with lemon based sauce served with sautéed potatoes and pimentos. 

 Ensalada mixta with local cheese, lomo, olives and more. 

Ensalada mixta with local cheese, lomo, olives and more. 

Another classic vineyard pose.  The vineyards are small and checkerboarded with canola and wheat fields. 

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We have been following Spring by the day. Wildflowers have been stunning as are the views around every turn in the road.

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 Walking through a chestnut grove. I haven't seen any flour or baked chestnut pastries or breads.  

Walking through a chestnut grove. I haven't seen any flour or baked chestnut pastries or breads.  

This sunny morning came after a rainy night at Albergue El Serbal y la Luna. Metta, the woman out front, is Danish and became a good friend over the next week.  She eventually moved beyond us and we remain in touch via email.  

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Rain and Fog. Over the mountain.

Walking in the rain and fog made be feel like a kid.  

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We marched towards O'CEBREIRO, 

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Where we were dazzled by one of the oldest buildings on the Camino, Iglesia de Santa Maria Real. 

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We walked through some mystical passages and found ourselves in a Celtic 'Disneyland'. Historically there's a rich and ancient Celtic history on the region, but they've made the place a little too cute, aka Carmel CA.

I didn't take any photos of the cute stuff. 

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We had received a tip on great pulpo in the big O. We found the restaurant and ordered the pulpo; our first on the walk. Served on a classic wooden board, the pulpo is boiled to perfection and then sprinkled with olive oil and paprika. One of the best, but as it turns out, not the very best.

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By the next morning we had gained enough kilometers and list enough altitude to lose the fog. With the storm moving on we caught a great view.  

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Astorga, Foodie notes. May 6

Taste testing at its best; in a quiet little bar on a quick stop near the Museos. This one is a bit of a puff pastry, sticky with honey.  

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Astorga is famous for El Cocido Maragato, a dish with many types of pork plus chicken. The meal was served family style. With the meats first, garbanzos and cabbage second, followed by noodle soup, then a vanilla pudding with cake, a carmelized hot liquor drink and coffee. Wine and water ran freely throughout the meal. The server, an old veteran for the front of the house, worked the entire restaurant (serving around 40 people). He was masterful.

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A rich history of chocolate permeates the streets of Astorga. Shop after shop sells one form of chocolate or another.  We toured a museum that laid out a time table for the growth of the industry in the area. Between the late 1800s and early 1900s the growth peaked at around 400 different chocolate manufacturing companies.  The museum displayed some of the original equipment, the packaging, and a film telling the Astorga chocolate story. 

The unanswered question was why did a manufacturing operation start? Not close to a port to receive the cacao? Not close to sales outlets or distribution channels.  Another reminder to invest in people rather than companies.

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We didn't tour the Gaudi building in Leon. However we did get a chance to tour the Gaudi in Astorga. Lots of stained glass and artifacts. 

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This is the original iron cross. We'll see a replica when we reach the the the mountain top with the iron cross atop a tall pole, La Cruz de Ferro.

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The food of Spain and their ingredients have not disappointed!

The Iron Cross, May 8

La Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross has a rich history in Camino lore. Pilgrims bring a rock or some other totem of meaning to add to the base of the Cross. When one gives the rock, the pilgrim gives up something.... Something that blocks one's path to one's destiny. 

I gave two rocks; one that I carried for a couple hundred miles and one that I picked up from the morning stream (dominating our path on this rainy day).

My first rock forgave my parents for the poor start in life that they gave me. They've been gone for some time, so this forgiveness has been a long time coming. In this forgiveness I have released myself to move on. A huge relief today on a pile of rocks supporting an ancient symbol.

My second rock directs me to better choose how I serve my community and friends.  More 'just say no', more service aligned with my changing interests. 

A really big day for me and a great start for the final third of my pilgrimage, the spiritual segment.

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Here's a funky little town with the population of one. He runs a very rustic Albergue with 35 mattresses cast about the floor. The bathroom is outside, just take a walk. We can all be ourselves and find a place to grow and mature. I give this one man town a star and a five minute visit.

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Here's our rainy day. Before this moment the fog and clouds sat low, so low I had no view and thoughts of missing the Iron Cross. But this moment lifted the clouds and we hustled to the Cross.

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Great views walking 'down the hill'. Just beyond the Cross we crossed over the highest peak on our journey, at around 4,600 feet.  All the guidebooks write about the toughness of this portion of the walk. Definitely not tough by our Sierra standards. 

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We arrived in Acebo a bit worn from the rain and lack of places to rest and snack along our 10 mile walk. Our hotel is very nice and I liked the wood  oven downstairs. It wasn't fired up tonight.

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We're expecting more rain for the next 4-5 days. My clothes will be dry in the morning, my tummy will be full and we've decided on a 9 mile walk to a small city with an old Templar castle. Stay tuned. 

Beyond Leon

We set out on a two day walk to Astorga. Officially leaving the massive Maseta which we had been traveling across for days left me full of anticipation for more mountainous terrain. 

This image of mountains to which we're heading is framed by this field of Rape (used to make canola oil). The colors just caught me. No rushing on the Camino. Maybe no rushing anywhere anymore. Hmmm  

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We've made friends with folks from many countries in the Albergues where we sleep and, sometimes, recharge. This friend, Metta, is a Danish banker.  The switch off between sleeping in Albergues and Casa Rurals (like small hotels). The Albergues offer a chance to exchange trail or pueblo or city stories, to listen to other folks life stories and occasional community dinners. Casa Rurals give me quiet time to recharge or to read or write or needlepoint.

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This Albergue offered a outside protected patio where we visited and snacked on various cheeses, pork products and membrillo.  And wine!

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This pueblo,  Villavante, featured many beautiful old doors. Not intentionally, just by chance or many a great carpenter had once lived in town or maybe the village folk at an artist eye for beautiful doors.  

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Franny is a very inquisitive person. Curiosity breds inside her while she sleeps and springs out of her pores for all her waking hours.  

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I do miss fishing. Watching the rivers never tires or bores me. But I never see hatches or movements of fish. My river crossings are usually mid day. 

This piece of water looked interesting. Lots of movement, some eddies, some riffles.

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The Camino has given me some of the same joy and peace that I find in the Sierra. Walking in such joy and peace everyday can be overwhelming at times, but I'm adjusting. I can live with daily joy and peace and I now know where to find it!

Next up, Leon. May 2.

This thirteenth century Gothic cathedral is just behind the Chartes cathedral in France for the square feet of stained glass windows. OMG I wish I had binoculars to view the images more closely.  

it's a fact in my world that so much craftwork in the churches and cathedrals goes unnoticed and certainly under appreciated. So much great work by anonymous crafters and artists crammed into walls fifty plus feet high. These walls of carved fugues and designs tell stories of a time. And probably like grocery store shelves the key products or stories are at eye level.

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Our master guide for this adventure, Dave Martinez, directed is to this shop for potato chips. So happens that 38 years ago in Granada Spain we stopped by a shop that fried churros on the morning and potato chips in the evening. Warm memories nestled in a window. Yumm.

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Cheers to our Camino guides! 

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Traveling is rich and at every corner something new reminds me of something or someone important in my life. This almost constant ah- ha moments give me cause to pause and to reflect on the important connections in my life.  This one is for all my many avid cyclist friends. 

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Leon Spain created a big basket full of memories for us. These are just a few; some rich in history, others just whimsical.

Hobbits? No.

Many pueblos throughout this region store their self manufactured wines in hand dug caves. We stayed one night in Moratinos where w found a whole 'hobbit' hillside filled with these caves. 

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We missed taking a photo of one local bringing some long chorizo sausages to his cave for some aging time. 

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Imagine having one of these in your town. Makes me slow down just to walk by it, to sit in a plaza looking at it, with a picnic of cheese, chorizo, membrillo and fruit! 

 After the butcher, in a square guarded bySan Lorebzo

After the butcher, in a square guarded bySan Lorebzo

I love bridges becaus I love running water. Walking over it, pondering as I go, feels good. Of course walking through it is even better. And walking through it waving a fly rod is the best!

   The Rio Cea pushes around this very old bridge  

  The Rio Cea pushes around this very old bridge  

These springs are old, centuries old. I imagine a time with no water bottles or water bags. The only water they carried fit in a gourd. Lots of water runs along sections of the Camino while water is sparse in other sections. Franny had run out of water and really enjoyed this 'area se descanso'.

 Just before Calzadilla

Just before Calzadilla

We're quickly approaching Leon, an ancient city of Spain. 

May Day

While I feel an awareness shift in my soul I still find some good perspective in the numbers. As of today we are half way through our Camino walk and half way through our six month adventure.  

 I believe this bar was in 'The Way' movie. The owner is a real character. 

I believe this bar was in 'The Way' movie. The owner is a real character. 

I am near the end of th Maseta potion of the walk. Days and days of flat terrain with vast expansive views of mountains, some of which we will be hiking over. I love the solitude; the movement and quiet are a nice blend that generates mental jewels.

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Rather than ordering menu deal dias sometime we order rationes (ala carte portions).  

 Potatoes with red peppers and ham. 

Potatoes with red peppers and ham. 

 Tripe in a red sauce, a bit spicey. 

Tripe in a red sauce, a bit spicey. 

 Mushrooms with chorizo spices with some tiny hot peppers (similar to the ones we found in southern Texas). 

Mushrooms with chorizo spices with some tiny hot peppers (similar to the ones we found in southern Texas). 

That's my May Day, celebrating as Peregrin@s do in Spain.