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


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

R&R in the DR

Summer in December
Sun, warm breezes, humidity, crystal clear water, a white beach--how different than Lubbock in early December! But that's what I treated myself to last week when I used up one of my timeshare weeks to simply hang out and not worry about a thing in the world. It's not really that I needed  a vacation after just having returned from Europe a few days before my departure for the Dominican Republic, but thanks to the clavicle break (mostly mended by now) things have been a bit chaotic with the timing of trips. I could have cancelled this one, but then, why?
One of two large pools, with swim-up bars, of course.
H10 has a property in Punta Cana, on the east side of the island of Hispaniola, which the DR shares with Haiti. I cashed in about 100,000 miles for a first-class flight that took all day and arrived late on a Friday afternoon at PUJ. Forty-five minutes later my shuttle driver dropped me off in the resort, and by the time night fell I was sipping the first pina colada.
Beach butler service, please
Life in an all-inclusive is not for the faint of heart. You have to be able to stomach a veritable assault on your body in the form of too much food and too much booze. Sure, the days of buffet-style only resorts are pretty much passe, and all the better ones now offer "specialty restaurants" where one can eat a la carte. But while that does help limit the calorie intake somewhat, it's still not easy....
Tropical storms are a sight--and sound--to behold
Thanks to night-time rains some streets made for some interesting riding
To combat ballooning beyond the point of no return I had taken a bike along. The weather forecast had threatened much more rain than actually manifested itself, and therefore I had chosen to take the old Bike Friday along, which runs with a single chainring and about six or seven speeds in the back. It's seen its fair share of rough trips and shows the scars, so it's ideal for a trip that promises some equipment abuse. The fact that I didn't even take bike shoes or shorts along but rather rode just in Patagonia baggies and sneakers tells you how little I expected to ride. But I wanted to have a way to escape from the "compound," and overall I rode 83 miles while down there, some of it quite enjoyable as I found the old north/south highway that's now decommissioned but still is used by very light local traffic.
This big ol' crater could have swallowed the Bike Friday whole
Bike Friday and banana trees
Unfortunately it was not mango season
Litter is ubiquitous along the roads; dumping seems to be a national pastime
The old highway lies pretty much abandoned, with the jungle encroaching
Obviously, most of my time I spent on the beach or by the very nice pools. Morning reading sessions started just minutes after sunrise at 7 a.m., with a nice cup of joe and a prime spot overlooking the beautiful sea. I'd have a light, heavy-on-the-tropical-fruit breakfast in the H10 Privilege Lounge, to which I have access as a TS owner. Nice. Ownership also means a somewhat private beach area with waiter service and comfortable chaise lounges in a prime location to watch the beach walkers filter by. The H10's beach has suffered some pretty big hits from storms in recent years, and they have to struggle not to lose even more sand; the pictures show some of the stopgap measures management has taken to preserve what is left.
Massive reinforcements are supposed to keep the beach from total destruction
Continued erosion by the sea is going to take out these palm trees sooner or later
My rides usually took place before noon, for an hour-and-a-half or two. After returning, the routine consisted of cooling off in the wonderfully warm Caribbean, followed by a refreshing round in the pool and a nice drink to finish the morning. Then read, lounge, read more, maybe have some lunch, and watch the Eastern European babes that flood this part of the world, accompanied by Speedo-wearing beer-bellied dudes 20 years their age, with lots of gold chains. In all seriousness, I would guess that during the time of my stay at least half of the guests were from Russia, the Czech Republic, and some other Slavic countries. Quite a few Canadians and Italians were also noticeable, but relatively few visitors from the US, who generally are easy to spot because they can be almost as obnoxious as the Brits .... Anyhow, the sightseeing was quite delectable, but I didn't want to cause any international incidents, of course, and so I didn't try to speak Russian.

Evening comes early in the DR at this time of the year, and pina coladas were replaced with G&Ts while enjoying the last daylight at the Lounge before heading for the piano bar, dinner, maybe the entertainment in the theater, and then a final toddie in the main bar. You see, a week of this will destroy anybody.
This does beat the hell out of Lubbock--any time of year, not just in December
I had a really good time and enjoyed a few nice conversations with various tourists from different places, but mainly I was by myself, which suited me just fine. And after a week of all this I was ready to head back home, even if now I question whether I was out of my mind when considering that the low is supposed to hit 12 F in a few nights. Maybe a good time to test whether memories can keep one warm....