Sunday, March 5, 2017

Back to Alpine landscapes

I can't tire of flying into Switzerland
It seems as if I spend more time in Europe these days than back in Lubbock. And there may be some truth to it, but the reason is simply that some of my travel plans were all screwed up because of that clavicle break back in September, and trips to Europe suddenly came in three-week intervals, or so. Well, no complaints here.
Old Geneva shop ...
... and modern World Cycling Center in Aigle
My latest trip was a freebie, and those are always good. In the middle of the February I had to attend a seminar in Switzerland to seek re-accreditation as a Doping Control Officer, and the CADF (Cycling Anti Doping Foundation) footed the bill for my flight to Geneva and my hotels and meals while on business in Switzerland. Thankfully the cost for a flight directly back from Geneva to the US would have been a few francs more expensive than a flight back from Munich, and I was given the green light to book an open-jaw flight. All I needed to pay for was my own transportation from Geneva to Munich. I was quite lucky to find a 76-euro flight on Iberia that generated miles on top of the ridiculous fare (especially nice since I first had to fly backward from Geneva to Madrid and then back to Munich--re-qualifying for top-elite status with American is becoming harder and harder).
Pay less going back-assward: GVA-MAD-MUC. 79 bucks--go figure.
I had arrived one day earlier than needed in Geneva since I had to burn a hotel certificate before its expiration date and because I never really have had a chance to get to know Geneva. I had a nice room in the Intercontinental, sleeping a few floors lower than Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and Henry Kissinger had during their visits. Oh well, we can't get upgrades every day to the Presidential Suite. The hotel came with a free public transportation pass, and I made good use of it in the 24 hours that I spent in Geneva before taking the train to Bex, close to Aigle, where I and about 35 other DCOs from all over the world were put up for the weekend seminar. It sure was nice to see old friends, people I knew from former classes and also from the Olympics. The seminar was extremely interesting and informative, the best one I have ever attended.
Give Freising some sunshine and temps above 45 F, and folks will sit outdoors!
After this official part was done it was time for quality time with Sabine. Of he two weeks until my eventual departure for the US we spent almost one in our favorite winter destination, Koessen in Austria. Every year since we started our relationship we have managed to squeeze in a few days in this sleepy Tirolean town, and every year we have been quite lucky in regard to both accommodations as well as snow conditions. While Germany was green, a solid layer of snow greeted us after the barely two-hour long drive from Freising. This time around we stayed a little way outside of town, in a nice Pension (owned by Familie Dax) with direct access to the cross-country trails. It doesn't get much ore convenient than that.
Landhaus Familie Dax, our domicile for four nights. First floor, on the right.
Upon arrival it was sunny and as picturesque as any postcard. the snow softened up quite considerably in the afternoons, with temperatures well above freezing, but that was OK with me since that meant that my skis were slower and the risk of crashing and hurting yet another body part was greatly reduced. As a matter of fact, in four days of XC ski action I sat down in the snow only once, most definitely a new record. On the third day it was overcast and then started to first snow, then rain, but we went out nevertheless. Exercise is exercise, right? And on the fourth day, the sun popped back out and we headed out for a long trek that ended up at our traditional spot, the Cafe Annelise.
Some days are sunny ...
... some are overcast and foggy ...
... and some are just plain wet!
After checking out on the fifth day we went for long snowshoe hike in splendid conditions. I have to confess that I prefer snowshoeing to XC skiing in some ways. For one, they are more secure and don't slide as much! Downhills are a piece of cake, something that I can't say about skis (but then, I never claimed to be a skier). The other thing is, on snowshoes one has a tendency to look around more and notice the beautiful landscape even more intensely than while trying to concentrate on a well-executed stride. Anyhow, we walked for about five miles and ended up at one of the many mountain huts that serve food and beverage. Man, nothing beats sitting outside in the sun, in 55-degree temperatures and eat a good schnitzel and wash it down with a half liter of beer.

Snowshoeing above Koessen on a perfect day
The kids all brought their toboggans to the hut for a fast descent toward the Walchsee
How do you spell "happy" and "content"?
Since we had so much fun on our trip we decided to extend our stay in Austria by a night. i had made a last-minute points-and-cash reservation at the Innsbruck Hilton, a nice property where we had on several occasions before. This time we hit the jackpot: We were upgraded to a large two-bedroom suite on the top floor, with a fancy bathroom and various amenities in the form of a few free drinks at the bar and snacks and a bottle of wine from the hotel pantry. Needless to say: We never left the hotel that evening but rather soaked in our big bathtub.
Shitty view of Innsbruck (south, toward the Brenner) from our crappy room. LOL.
All good things come to an end, and the next day we had to finally drive back to Germany. We detoured a little more and had a first look at the Leutasch area (the winter vacation spot of choice for our friends Tom and Regine) which, like Koessen, is also blessed with predictably good snow conditions and an extensive XC ski trail network. The topography is a bit different, and Sabine seems to prefer the mountains around Koessen, but who is to say that we can't go to both places in one winter? Our final stop-over was Mittenwald, a picturesque town just across the border on the German side. How do they manage to make everything look like a Sound of Music soundstage?
Downtown Mittenwald
Sabine had to eventually go back to work, and I spent my time doing a few minor chores around the house and cooking the occasional meal. We had friends over, and we had a nice dinner in Munich when I picked up Sabine from work one evening (after having having seen my old friend Inge who lives in Munich). Over the final (mardi gras) weekend we were able to go on a few beautiful bike rides since the weather cooperated fully, and then it was already Fat Tuesday and the day of my departure had come. That's how quickly time flies. Late at night on February 28 I was finally back home in Lubbock.
Gravel grinding on one of our rides
My beloved hops are not growing just yet
The proper way to announce your recent wedding
I had thought that I would spend the next ten days in town, but less than 48 hours after my return i received an e-mail asking whether I'd be available to work a road race in the Austin area on Saturday and Sunday. So, Friday I fired up the Beemer and drove 375 miles to Lago Vista for the annual La Primavera. It's now Saturday evening, and the first day's racing is done. (It rained cats and dogs but fortunately nobody crashed.) Since I have a roommate and there's no table or chair in our rather iffy "resort" here on Lake Travis I will have to wait another 24 hours until I can add pictures to this blog entry tomorrow night when I will stop for the night in Sweetwater. And then I will finally publish blog entry number 268. So long!
My roomie, Bill, making last-minute adjustments to the FinishLynx camera


PS: I just had to add a few pics from our days in Koessen.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

At home, yet not entirely

Part of my 31-mile ride through the Canyon Lakes. Yes, this is pavement.
With the Superbowl making noises in the background, and New England attempting to come back from the dead, I start this particular blog post that will bridge from Prague to Geneva, via New Mexico, Texas, and California. Huh? Well, the last entry was written just a few days after our beautiful trip to Prague, and now I am less than 48 hours away from leaving for Switzerland. And life didn't stop in between.
My good friend Janet treated me to a birthday dinner
 at her place with Tom and Trish--thanks, Janetta!
The time in between flew by, as it always does. There was a 61st birthday, snowshoeing in New Mexico, the better part of a week in California, 210 miles of riding the bike in just one week in Lubbock, and today's first High School mountain bike race of the 2017 season. I washed clothes, went to the store, bought a new bed (to be delivered once I'm back from Europe), tried to support my neighbor Janet when her bathroom was ripped up thanks to a pipe leak under the slab. I bought a ticket to fly to Argentina in April, I took care of my taxes, and I participated in a demonstration triggered by the inauguration of our 45th president. In other words, it was a busy few weeks at home, When I was actually was there.
My neighborette, Janet, and I at the Women's March in Lubbock
My birthday was really beautiful, to use Trumpian language befitting a grade schooler. While in Germany, I had pre-planned a little get-together to celebrate the fact that I am still kicking, and on a Saturday night nine good friends came over to the house for raclette and Feuerzangenbowle. Honestly, I dont quite remember when everyone left, but it was a memorable event, and nobody caught on fire. No, that evening didn't help my waistline, but then, aren't we supposed to splurge once in a while?
On the verge of being unconscious--or just not photogenic: Tom, Trish, and Janet
Pre-spectacle meet-and-greet at la casa
I tried to work off a few calories during my three-day trip to Albuquerque, where I needed to pick up a bike at my old friend Liz's house. The Sandia mountains had received some fine snow in the days before, and I went out for a 3 1/2 hour snowshoeing excursion that convinced me that at age 61 I was still able to do things that I used to do a few years back--barely. Seriously, it was a tough but serene and amazingly picturesque trip that I should put on my annual list of things to do. As a bonus, I got to spend a bonus evening with my good old friend Wayne out in Mountainair, something I had sorely missd for the past year and a half.
Have bike, have snowshoes, will travel
I had the entire mountain to myself. Really.
Old mountain man
Panoramic view from the east side of the Sandias
Remember that stupid collar-bone that I broke a few months back? During the time that I was laid up, I completed a gazillion training modules for bicycle mechanics, offered by the world's most important manufacturer of bicyle components, Shimano. That effort earned me a free ride to one of Shimano's s-TEC seminars, meaning that I just had to pay for my flight to Irvine, California, and received free room and board for the late January seminar. I was floored by how well-organized this workshop was, and what a classy company Shimano is. The three days on the ground in Orange County were chockful of superb instruction, hands-on training, in-person road bike and e-bike rides, and superior food and drink for ALL of our meals. Dave and Austin from Shimano, you guys totally rock!
All of us passed the s-TEC workshop in Irvine
Instruction was broken up by a 20-mile road ride
We spent some serious time in the classroom
It was nice to get a chance to ride in Southern California on Di2-equipped Moots bikes, but it felt even better to have a few days in Lubbock with almost no wind and temperatures that allowed me to wear just shorts and short-sleeve jerseys. It felt like spring! So, no wonder I managed to ride more miles than I had in a long time. That, coupled with a bit more discipline in regard to calorie intake, was responsible for a bit of weightloss--nothing major, but a step in the right direction. In addition to my daily riding I also re-embarked on a new walking (and even running) regimen, meant to hit the fatty cells just a little harder. We'll see how the next few weeks are going to pan out, of course.
Driving ...
... and driving ...
... and driving!
Today's high school race at Reveille Peak, the first one of the 2017 series, played out in better-than-expected weather conditions, after a cold front had hit us a few days ago. It felt good to be back among this young crowd, seeing the eager faces but also some of the anxiety of the newcomers in the middle school and freshman ranks. Everything came off without a hitch, nobody got seriosuy injured, and I drove away with way more hugs and high-fives than I had anticipated. It's a bit of a bummer that I will miss the second race in two weeks in Warda, but I am sure Sabine won't mind since after my seminar in Switzerland I'll be able to hop over to Freising for a couple of weeks (and we've already booked a B&B in Austria for more snowshoe action).
Office for the day
Vance McMurry, the man, getting ready for the "crazy selfie" with
the crowd at the awards of HS#1 at Reveille Peak
It's been a really good month at home, or wherever the heck I was. It felt as if I was home, but I really wasn't, by most people's standards. Doesn't matter: I thoroughly enjoyed myself and will do so for another two days before getting back on a jetliner.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Minus 15 Celsius is cold, whether in Europe or in Texas

Siberian cold in Prague in early 2017
When thinking of cold temperatures, Europe appears to be a much more certain shoe-in than Lubbock, but when I left home three weeks ago it was bloody cold in Texas--almost as cold, by just a few degrees, as what Sabine and I experienced in Prague last week when the thermometer hit minus 15 Celsius, or something like 5 degrees Fahrenheit. What a difference from the DR, which by now is just a faint memory for me.
After one pretty day and a bike ride ...
... winter arrived in pre-Christmas Freising
I spent Christmas and New Year's and the first ten days of 2017 in Europe, never in one place for much longer than three or four days. The Friday after my arrival we drove to Dortmund to celebrate Christmas with Sabine's mom and brother, who live together in the family's old home outside of the city. It was a green Christmas, with much wind and drizzling rain and live candles on the tree and a very happy Oma. In between opulent meals we went for occasional walks (weather permitting), but in general it was all laziness. One evening we visited an old friend of Sabine's, a successful photographer with whom she had spent time on the south Pacific island of Tonga.
Only the candles burned, thank goodness
To break up our time in Dortmund, we went for a 36-hour field trip to Cologne and Schleiden, my old hometown. In Cologne we spent a few hours with my cousin, Paddy, and his family, and then we drove the remaining 50 kilometers to visit my old friends Tom and Regine and their extended family in Schleiden. I hadn't seen them since my summer trip in 2014 when Angela and I had stopped through, so there was much catching up to do. For Sabine it was the first time back to Schleiden since her first and only visit sometime in the late seventies. We had a great time!
Our old house in Schleiden, sporting a T-Mobile racing stripe
Raclette for New Year's Eve
For the turn of the year we were back in Bavaria. We had been invited by a befriended couple, Gerhard and Corinna, and together with them and other friends we celebrated the evening in their stylish home close to the Starnberger See. So far we hadn't seen much snow except a sprinkling right after I had arrived, but that night it was cold enough for ambient moisture in the air to freeze and look like spindrift. On New Year's Day, after sleeping in at our friends', the sun was out and we decided on a detour to the lake. With the Alps rising in the near distance we found a comfortable spot in a busy restaurant and basked in the afternoon sun. What a great way to start 2017! And on the way home, we took pictures of the icy landscape around Freising.
Starnberger See, with Alps in the background

We spent several hours in this nice cafe on the lake

Is this really the SUN????

Still Life with Latte Macchiato and Beer (appr. 2017, digital camera)

On the way back to Freising the icy fog once again started to move in

Not snow, ice from the fog

That's how ice grows
After New Year's, it finally started to snow, and the weather forecast painted a dire picture of the next few days as a low pressure system by the name of Axel was bearing down on central Europe. We had first thought about driving Sabine's Skoda to Prague but thought better of it--good decision as on our travel days conditions were especially dicey. We took advantage of the railroad's Prague Special and spent about 60 euros each for the four-and-a-half-hour trip--stress free in a compartment of our own, and almost on time. (OK, so what if the toilet was frozen on the way back and ice formed inside of the corridors?) To make things even easier, the train station is only a few minutes' walk from the Hilton Old Town Prague, where we had booked a room for three nights, right in the heart of the city. Nice.
Not another colon photo or some cranial exhibit--just the frozen toilet on the train

The joys of riding the train in winter
This was my fourth visit to Prague, and just like the first time with Judy sometime in the '90s it was bitterly cold. Add some wind to this Siberian cold, and the best course of action is to spend as much time inside as possible. That's really not difficult in Prague as there are exhibitions, museums, shops, coffee houses, and jazz clubs galore. Since we had visited the "must see" sights before we were free to simply drift and duck into whatever establishment looked right. In a tiny antiques store the elderly store owner invited us to sit down with him for a coffee and a brandy and a chat. Quite civilized! We went to various coffee houses, art deco affairs with waiters who look as if they have worked here forever. The Dali and Warhol exhibitions were quite interesting, as was the visit to the Sex Machines Museum--yes, we stooped that low and came away with more knowledge than anticipated! Jazz at night rounded off our four days in this fascinating and superbly picturesque city.
Enjoying the budding craftbrew scene as Pivovar Narodni

At Reduta Jazz Club we sat in the very same seats as these folks

The interiror (nope, the extrerior, too) of Kavarna Obecni Dum is as art deco as it gets

I clocked the cake cart at exactly 13 minutes per circuit through the entire coffee house

It wasn't quite cold enough (or not long enpugh cold) to freeze the Vltava; Pragues castle district, the Hradcany, is in the back left

Sabine enjoying the cold and ample birdlife in view of the Charles Bridge
Jazz Republic, where there's never a cover charge, where you can reserve
 seats, and where a decent beer costs $3. Now, how smart is that?

Prague's roofline is second to that of no other city that I have visited. None.

David Cerny's oevre d'art puts Manneken Pis in Brussels to shame. The penis moves up and down, side to side, activated by viewer's text messages.

Cerny is also reposible for this non-native species; no excretions here
Old coffee machine in another iconic coffee house, Kavarna Slavia

The National Theatre, in all of its late afternoon glory

Tantalizingly barbaric devices in the Sex Machines Museum. Do
not use this at home with your car battery attached.

And now I am sitting in the Munich airport waiting for my flight to London and then back to the US. In just a few hours, this entire trip will be history again. Sabine is back at work today after her vacation time, and my life will return to its normal routine (whatever that may be) as well. Happy New Year!
Hradcyn during the day
Hradcyn and Charles Bridge at night