Friday, November 30, 2012

Slumming (and riding) on the Riviera Maya

The Ritchey loves Mexico, and so do I
It's that time of year, once again, when I set sights on my timeshare in Mexico and escape the first hints of winter in Lubbock for a week. Why I don't stay for the three weeks that I own, I don't know—probably that sense of "having to do stuff at home." Oh well. Let me know if you want to use one week during the final month of the year, and maybe we can work something out.
Orange-monger by the side of the road, outside of Cancun
Anyhow, here I am, just about 2 miles up the coast from Puerto Morelos. The Ritchey and I arrived three nights ago, and together we've already explored 99 miles of Mexican roadway. Of course, since this is an all-inclusive I know that I will add poundage to the midriff, but at least the 99 miles will lessen the effect a little bit, or so I hope.
Beware of the reptiles ...
... and don't t-bone the mammals
My daily routine is that of a Man of Leisure: Get up with the sun (oh, around 6:30 a.m. or so, listening to the sound of the waves coming through the window and the doors to the terrace that I leave open overnight), read a bit, have a leisurely breakfast, and then mount the Ritchey. When we get back around noon, the pool and the swim-up bar beckon, and it doesn't take long for the calories that I burned to be replenished. A light lunch (great salads and fruit and fish in various forms!) around 2 p.m. is followed by reading and lounging on the beach or around one of the pools. The sun sets shortly after 5 p.m., and by 5:30 p.m. it is pitch-black dark. The other slummers recede to their respective hovels, like I do, to do whatever one does during that time. I check e-mail and then gussy up for the evening. This is a classy place where men are expected to wear real shoes, slacks, and a nice, collared shirt. And so I start the evening with a few civilized drinks in the lounge and then progress to a meal in one of the five or six specialty restaurants that are part of this resort—I leave the big buffet to the Brits and Italians who are here on a package deal and don't "own" the place (and generally don't dress up). Man, it is nice.
This morning, as seen from my terrace, before going for a ride
I think that without the bike I wouldn't enjoy myself as much. For one thing, I'd really have the feeling of ballooning too quickly. Also, riding is such a big part of my life that not doing so induces a serious emotional and even physical response—I'm not a moody person, given to gloomy days, but I do know that I simply feel better after a good ride. And finally, traveling to a place like this by yourself, surrounded by couples (and a few families) even a gregarious guy like I misses small talk other than that with the occasional drunk Brit at the swim-up bar. Nothing like a bike and a good book (Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient right now).
Still life with blue-and-white skiff
Well, I just had a nice drink from my mini-bar; the waves continue to wash ashore, and I'm listening to some fine Coltrane. Dang, life is good, so good that I have to keep pinching myself. And yes, I am serious about that extra week for the remainder of 2012, either here or in the DR—only X-mas week might be problematic. Even those of us who live in the slums like to share. (Thank you, Carol C., for the inspiration on that word!).


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Here, there, and everywhere (or nowhere?)

What a whirlwind it has been since the last post. Reconnecting with real life after my European sojourn was one thing; grappling with the house remodel, another race, and getting ready for one more out-of-country trip was another.

While Irene's flag continues to fly at half-staff because of that "fakir" (as evidenced in today's A-J's Letters to the Editor—sorry, I promise not to mention any more politics until after the New Year) I had a few great riding days at home while trying to tidy up the house a bit and dealing with those decisions that need to be made when you remodel not your house but your home.

Then came Thanksgiving. After a nice 41-miler with Smitty and Carl I had dinner with Martha and Alan. That damn Martha just had to beat me to fixing cochinita pibil, a fabulous Mayan pork dish that I had first tried a few months ago in Ogden during the Tour of Utah. Damn you, Martha Howell, for fixing such an unbelievable meal before I could produce the same in a mediocre way! Since we took it upon ourselves to kill three bottles of CH wine that night I decided to stay over ...

... only to slip out the front door early and partake in Black Friday activities. Yessir, I went to Office Max at 8 a.m. to buy myself a Nüvi 50 for $99, minus a $10 coupon I had received in the mail. Holy crap, I'm so American.

A few hours later I hopped into the Miata, dropped the roof, and drove to Dallas, where I was Chief Referee for the Crossgiving cyclocross races on Saturday and Sunday. I stayed at my friend Mike M.'s house (who, himself, was in alien-town, Roswell) and babysat his pussy in the evenings. Nothing like a purring cat at your side....
Downtown Dallas, as seen through the windshield cum bugs, on Sunday morning.
Sunday afternoon, after the conclusion of the final race, I headed back to Lubbock, together with about 30,000 crazed Texas Tech students who blew by me at 90 mph, just waiting to meet death. Sadly, a few did over the weekend.

I made it home unscathed and celebrated by sharing some wine with myself. Monday—Cyber Monday, that is—I highhandedly jump-started the US economy by buying thousands of dollars worth of appliances such as a gas range, microwave venting hood, additional wine cellar, snazzy kitchen faucet and filtration system, etc. All online, of course, to stay with the theme of the day.
Sierra Nevada on the way to the Riviera Maya ...
And now I am 15 minutes from boarding my flight to Cancun for a week of R&R. It doesn't get much better, I must say. In a few hours I'll be listening to the sounds of the lapping waves.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Two weeks after the election

When I look out of the front door, that's what I see:
Old Glory at half-staff because we have to live with Obama for four more years
My elderly neighbor across the street—otherwise not too meschugge and a rather pleasant lady—once again is flying her flag at half-staff because of "that" president that is not hers. After the last election, she was in mourning for a full three months; we'll see how long it takes her this time around to overcome the grief that we're led by this Marxist/Communist/Socialist/Nazi abomination who's Muslim and not Christian (all descriptions that I have read in the Letters to the Editor of our illustrious Lubbock Avalanche-Journal). The sign shows what could have been!
The last of these signs that I have seen over the past week—and it's in my neighbor's yard
Good thing I haven't told her about flying the flag upside down. Ah, you gotta love America where people can do almost anything (apart from burn a flag!).


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

When was the last time you strutted around naked?

Clothes are VERBOTEN, as are cell phones and cameras
Well, I did yesterday. All day. Yes, in public. And it wasn't a big deal. Europe really is different from the US. You get invited to go to the Therme Erding, described as a sauna and pool place where one can spend a few hours in a relaxed way, and the next thing you know is you have to shed your trunks unless you are to be kicked out by the authorities. Old and young, fit and fat, hairy and not-so-much, they all just go there to enjoy a few hours or more in saunas with themes, pools with swim-up bars, and restaurants without clothes. Maybe Lubbock isn't so cool, after all.
Approaching Innsbruck via the backroads
My past week and a half has been one of hectic, crazy, wonderful life-sipping. I went to Berlin, where I inhaled more nicotine and tar while with my dad than the average rock-concert-goer in a lifetime. I returned to Freising, only to run off with Sabine to spend a night in Innsbruck, a beautiful Austrian town half the size of Lubbock at 110,000 souls, just two hours away—and it wasn't just a night that we enjoyed, but much more, especially the hike up to the Sistranser Alm, one of those places straight out of the Sound of Music. Then there was the a-Capella concert in Munich's Prinzregententheater that Sabine treated me to, plus the day in the nude.
Meat of a different kind

We spotted these pre-packaged balls (OK, Knödel, to be precise) not in the Erding Therme
but the Innsbruck MPreis
What a life.

No, seriously, what a life! I'm now sitting in DFW's terminal D, in the Admiral's Club, waiting for my last flight of the day after already having passed through London and Miami. Those past two weeks were full of so many impressions and emotions, so much unusualness that I have to keep pinching myself.
Tousled by 30-mph-winds (on the peaks 140 kmh) at the Sistranser Alm, close to Innsbruck
When I got back to the US, one of the first things I saw on an airport TV-monitor was a running headline that 100,000 people have signed some petition for Texas to secede. Well, I'm all for it if we also include a measure to establish beer-dispensing huts on the way to New Home, mandate (free) decent concerts in the governor's mansion on a weekly basis, and—most importantly—forbid the use of swim-wear at the Tech pool, especially the Lazy River section.
At Heathrow, home for British Airways
Pics have now been added. No nudies, though. You'll have to go to Therme Erding's website yourself. And if you check out the link, remember: All those pieces of cloth they put into the photos are not depicting the truth! I know—I've been there.
Upgrade to a top-floor suite and a perfect view of the mountains—que mas quieres?
Life's good, indeed.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Traveling in the Alto Adige (Südtirol)

After I had hopped across the pond a week ago (or at least started the trip on Tuesday and arrived on Wednesday in Munich/Freising), Sabine and I chartered her little white Skoda and headed for Austria and beyond on Thursday. Along the way it occurred to me that I hadn't slept for two consecutive nights in the same bed for more than a week.

Taking the Autobahn, it's less than an hour from Sabine's place to the first "real" mountains in the Alps, and we were greeted by blue skies and vibrant fall colors.
Looking out of the window shortly before the Austrian border at Kufstein
Only stopping to buy the obligatory 10-day pass ("Vignette") for the Austrian Autobahn for 8 euro, and shelling out another 16 euro for the two-way permit to cross the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy, we bypassed Innsbruck and headed into the clouds south of the highest mountains in this region of the Alps. The plan had been to spend three days in the Alto Adige, a sun-blessed region of Italy in the Dolomites that is so warm that banana trees and vineyards prosper while a few kilometers to the north the denizens run around in fur coats. But the tables were turned on us: Südtirol was hidden in clouds and fog for two of the three days we were there, while strong southerly winds cleared out the northern portion of the mountains. Thus it goes.
Even fog can create spectacular images—Seilbahn between Ritten and Bolzano
But we had fun nevertheless. For one glorious day in Bolzano (or Bozen, in German), we enjoyed sunshine and mild temperatures. The sights were spectacular, and both of us are certain that we will have to come back. This interesting region, annexed by Italy after the first World War in 1919, still is heavily influenced by the Austrian/German culture, with all official signage in both Italian and German, has little if any to do with the poverty-stricken South of Italy or the industrial areas of the North. Prosperity oozes from the area, with beautiful villas set in vineyards and people shopping in expensive boutiques. The vegetation is at times Mediterranean, and orchards abound. At the same time, the wild and snow-covered Dolomites loom just a few miles away.
Bolzano, with the Rosengarten range of the Dolomites in the background
Located smack-dab in the middle of the commerce routes that since the Middle Ages were used to pass goods between the north and the south, this area prospered early. Add to that the perfect climate that allowed the cultivation of grapes, and one can understand why there are so many estates, mansions, and castles. Reinhold Messner, the well-renowned Austrian climber, owns his own little chateau somewhere around the area. When I make my next million, I may just consider doing the same....
Burg Runkelstein, one of many castles in the area
Runkelstein features secular frescoes of life in the Middle Ages
Need a castle? Südtirol has them!
We spent one night close to Bolzano and then moved on for two nights in an amazingly well-appointed apartment in Merano, just about 30 kilometers away. Unfortunately the weather started to turn sour on Saturday, even though it stayed dry and we were able to go on a long hike through the beautiful countryside. We snooped around town and drooled over all the savory specialties in the stores. And if I get to taste the beers in three different independent brew houses (one dating back to the 13th century), well, then my life is nothing but happiness. Batzen, Hopfen & Co., and the Buschenwirtschaft Pfefferlechner all had unfiltered suds and old-world atmosphere. Who cares about the weather?
Filling a growler at Hopfen & Co. in Bolzano
Industrial-caliber slicing equipment
Local mountain cheese
Can you smell it?
Relaxing at the Pfefferlechner in Lana, outside of Merano
On Sunday morning we headed back to Munich, seeing a bunch of snow through the fog at the top of the Jauffenpass—by our standards not much of a pass at barely 6,000 feet, but one of the higher ones in the Alps. Once we made it back across the Brenner the skies lifted, and we decided on a final stop at the Tegernsee, a posh area on the fringes of the mountains that attracts tourists galore, especially on a last nice fall Sunday.
The Tegernsee in Bavaria
Last night (Monday) I boarded an Air Berlin flight to Berlin, where I am now spending a few days with my dad before heading back to Munich later on in the week. I'm going to spend the next three nights in the same bed! Wow!