Tuesday, August 8, 2017

CABRILLO NATIONAL MONUMENT - SAN DIEGO

OLD POINT LOMA LIGHTHOUSE

     One of the most popular tourist attractions in San Diego is Cabrillo NationalMonument, located about 13 miles from downtown at the tip of Point Loma peninsula. It offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego Bay, Coronado, and the downtown skyline. On a sunny day, it's the perfect place to enjoy a walk, appreciate the beauty of the area, and get a little history lesson at the same time. It's also a short drive from the San Diego International Airport making it a great place to take visitors for a spectacular view of the city and Pacific Ocean.
BAYSIDE TRAIL

     Juan RodriguezCabrillo was the commander of three vessels that departed from Navidad, Mexico, heading north with a mission to “discover the coast of New Spain.” On September 28,1542, Cabrillo's fleet entered what is today San Diego Bay, their first landfall along the western coast of what is now the United States. Cabrillo called this inviting harbor “San Miguel” in honor of the saint whose feast was the next day. The area was officially renamed San Diego in 1602. To commemorate his life and explorations, the national monument was established by the Park Service in 1913.

     There is an impressive limestone statue of Cabrillo on a point near the visitors center. It is a replica of the original sandstone statue that was donated to the US by the Portuguese government in 1939. It suffered severe weather damage and was replaced in 1949.
     I arrived on an April day with plenty of sunshine when acres of wild yellow encelia flowers were blooming throughout the grounds. I took my time meandering around the visitor center, enjoying the lovely views before heading over to the Bayside Trail. This is one of the most beautiful hikes in San Diego, and I try to stop by to enjoy it whenever I'm nearby. It follows an old US Army roadway and winds past several military bunkers that were part of the defense system used to protect San Diego Bay during World Wars I and II.

BAYSIDE TRAIL
CABRILLO NATIONAL MONUMENT 
    It's a 1.86 mile round trip hike overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with views that stretch to Mexico and the Cuyamaca Mountains. The first half is an easy downhill walk, mostly on gravel. The return is a gentle uphill climb with a 340 foot elevation gain. The walk offers a chance to observe the sandstone cliffs and coastal sage scrub ecosystem that is becoming increasingly rare in southern California. There are a few benches and interpretive signs along the trail highlighting common plants, birds, animals, and other facts about the area.

     Perched at the highest point of the park is the picturesque Old Point LomaLighthouse that was built in 1855. Unfortunately, high fog at this level obscured the beacon light, causing its closure as an active lighthouse in 1891. It was replaced by the current lighthouse that is located at a lower elevation, in a beautiful setting, closer to the point. The old lighthouse and keepers house are now open to the public as museums and include the original occupants living quarters. The tower of the lighthouse is open to visitors three days a year.
   The tide pools are another popular attraction of this 160 acre park that should not be missed. It is an easy drive down with convenient parking. This area is considered one of the best protected and easily accessible intertidal areas in southern California. With careful exploration and low tide, you should be able to observe crabs, starfish, anemones, snails and many other treasures of the sea.

     Cabrillo is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. There is an entrance fee of $10 per car. Restrooms are near the visitors center and the lighthouse. Food service is not available so if you plan to linger, be sure to bring some snacks along.
                                                * * *
    Note for those over age 62, the $10 lifetime national parks senior pass will be increasing to $80 on August 28, 2017. Be prepared for extra long waits at the entrance gates because many are just getting around to purchasing them.

Related Posts: "Best Place in California" - August 2, 2014
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

VALLE DE FASSA - THE DOLOMITES



THE DOLOMITES

"The most beautiful architecture on earth."  --Le Corbusier, Swiss Architect
    
     The Dolomites, with their impressive peaks, jagged ridges, rock pinnacles, deep gorges, and steep rock faces, lie in the eastern section of the northern Italian Alps. The highest point is Punta Penia (10,968 feet) in the Marmolada range—often referred to as the “Queen of the Dolomites.” We recently spent a few days in May in the Val di Fassa—home to this spectacular range.

    
VALLE DI FASSA
Our base was the village of Vigo di Fassa (pop. 1,256)—one of the smallest of the seven municipalities in the valley. We arrived by bus from Bolzano—a two-hour ride providing spectacular scenery and dozens of hairpin turns as we rose 4,000 feet in elevation. We were dropped off about four blocks from the Mason La Zondra, our apartment for the next few nights. Although an uphill walk, the location was convenient to the bus stop for our daily excursions.

     We chose to stay in Vigo because it was recommended by friends who especially liked the cable car up to the Ciampedie Valley. It departs from the town center. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to enjoy the gentle hikes on top because the cable car was closed until June 1. As a matter of fact, most of the town of Vigo was closed in May; we were lucky to even find a restaurant open. It seems that the locals like to take vacation between the busy winter and summer seasons.

    
AVISIO RIVER
It was still beautiful, and we could easily ride buses to the larger and more active villages in the valley. We also loved the walks along the Avisio River that flows through the valley. I enjoyed an early morning hike to the historic Santa Giuliana church that is perched on a hill overlooking Vigo. 

    
CANAZEI 
The ski and summer resort of Canazei (pop. 2,000) is located at one end of the 20-mile long valley, easily accessible by bus and bike. The village, with its colorfully decorated houses and old wooden barns, is surrounded by the majestic Dolomites. It is home to the largest ski area in Europe. Cable cars take you to the top and were operating on the day we were there. It was well worth the ride up because it provided one of the most spectacular and unforgettable mountain views I've ever seen.

    
GIRO D' ITALIA
We didn't realize, until arriving in Italy, that the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) was passing through Val di Fassa while were were there. In Europe, this 21-day bike race is second only to the Tour de France in popularity, and it was celebrating its 100th Anniversary.

     We decided to head over to Canazei to see what takes place in a
DECORATED PINK BICYCLES
100TH ANNIVERSARY GIRO D' ITALIA
small village that is honored with the Giros' Stage 17 finish line. When we arrived, there were already four bands setting up and playing music on this sun-filled morning. Flowers and decorated pink bicycles, honoring the pink jerseys worn by the daily winners, adorned the town. Vendors with food, beverages, and t-shirts lined the streets. The “people watching” kept getting better as hundreds of people descended upon the town to see the best bikers in the world roll in. They began arriving about 4 p.m. after the completion of another challenging day of pedaling 160 miles through the peaks and valleys of the Italian Alps. They still had four days remaining before the finish line in Milan.

Related Posts: Castelrotto, Italy South Tyrol - July 2015
                        Haybaths, Dolomites, Northern Italy - July 2015
                        Merano, South Tyrol Italy - June 2017


RACERS DEPARTING CANZEI

Thursday, June 22, 2017

MERANO, SOUTH TYROL ITALY - A HIKER'S PARADISE



PASSER RIVER- MERANO ITALY

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
                                                                                                             -Dr. Seuss

     We just returned from Italy, and I've been thinking about some of my favorite places. I remember the charming old city of Merano--a health resort that's located in a lush valley, surrounded by the Italian Alps, in northern Italy. 



There are a lot of things I love about this place, but what really stands out are the lovely walks. This “city of flowers,” located on the roaring Passer River, is full of promenades and gentle paths. They offer incredible views of the river and nearby mountain ranges and have interesting names like: Passer Promenade, Gif Promenade, Summer Promenade,Tappeinerweg Trail, and Prince's Castle.
SAN LEONARDO, SOUTH TYROL


     When a person tires of the nearby walks (if that's possible), they can take advantage of the extensive transport system to access more trails and bikeways. We purchased the seven day pass called the Mobilcard (28 euros) that grants unlimited access to all public transport in South Tyrol—one of the best deals anywhere. Hundreds of trails were available to us, and the best part is that we could return by bus or train when tired.


     The old city of Merano has 900 year old porticoes, medieval walls, arches, and a 19th century Kurhaus. There are sculptures, flowers, museums, and mature cypress trees to enjoy. It's also home to the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff, one of Italy's most beautiful gardens.

     A visit would not be complete without experiencing the Merano Thermal Baths—a modern oasis in the heart of the city that has 15 indoor and outdoor pools, eight saunas. mountain views, a park, fitness center, and more. The health benefits of this area were discovered by European nobility in the early 1800s. In addition, the Austrian Empress Sissi arrived for the first time in 1870 with her imperial household of over a hundred. She spent nine months here recuperating from tuberculosis. After that time, she made repeated visits to Merano. One of the many trails to enjoy is Sissi's Path that highlights some of her favorite spots. 

      Merano is one of those special places that I could linger for a month or longer and the month of May would be perfect. The weather is cool, the days are long and the flowers are blooming. 
                                                                 * * * 
   
     Meran/Merano (pop. 40,000) is located in the Trentino-South Tyrol region of northern Italy. From the eighth century until 1918, it was part of Austria-Hungary. It was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1919. Public signs are in two languages: German and Italian. Meran is German and Merano is Italian. More than half of the population speaks German. The Dolomite mountains cover most of the area. South Tyrol is also among the wealthiest regions in Italy.

Related Posts: Castelrotto, Italy South Tyrol, July 2015

                        Hay Baths, Dolomites, Northern Italy, July 2015
                     

STONE BRIDGE 
BUILT IN 1616 BY ROMANS



CITY GATES 
MERANO'S OLD TOWN



THE KURHAUS





Wednesday, April 19, 2017

RED BULL AIR RACES - SAN DIEGO 2017


RACETRACK PYLONS IN SAN DIEGO BAY 


     When I heard that the Red Bull Air Races were coming to San Diego, I really did not know what to expect. I only knew that the Red Bull beverage was way over-caffeinated for me. I had never heard of the air race. However, since they were held in San Diego from 2007 to 2009, many seemed to know about them. I heard mixed reviews. For people who lived near the bay it was generally negative. There were complaints about noise, crowds, possible plane crashes, and the fact that it was being held on Easter weekend. Others looked forward to the entertainment and, of course, returning to the quiet of their homes in the suburbs when the show ended.

      When the time came, tens of thousands of spectators came from all over to view one of the most amazing aerial events in the world. Some compare it to NASCAR races in the air. I have to agree that it was a spectacular show.


     San Diego is the second stop on the Red Bull World Tour schedule that began in Abu Dhabi in February and goes on to Japan, Hungary, and Portugal from here. It ends in Indianapolis on October 15 when the 2017 Red Bull Race Champion will be decided. The competing 14 masterclass pilots are considered the best in the world, with numerous flying achievements in their backgrounds. Their planes are streamlined to perfection and at the forefront of light aviation technology.

      The races were launched in 2003 and have been held annually, except for 2011-2013. During that time they were they were stopped for safety improvements following a fatal crash in 2010.

     The conversion of quiet San Diego Bay into an air racetrack started many days before the official event began on April 15-16. Large platforms were installed on the bay to mark the track, and to hold the pylons so that the pilots could swoop down and fly between them. The course covered the area between the San Diego Convention Center and the North Island Naval Air Station.

     The official viewing area was at the Embarcadero Marina Park with tickets starting at $20. A perfect place to be if you wanted to know who was racing, what their backgrounds were, and how the competition was scored. However, the visual spectacle of high speed, low altitude, and extreme maneuverability could be observed free from just about anywhere along the bay.

     The planes were based at Brown Field Municipal Airport and approached the track by flying over the Coronado Bridge.

      The free practice sessions began at noon on the Friday before, and continued, almost nonstop, until 7 p.m. They stopped a couple of times to allow for the military ships that needed to pass by. Otherwise, no luck if you were hoping to enjoy some boating on the bay, ride the Coronado Ferry, or even enjoy a conversation. It was the loudest day without much time in between the practice flights. I was beginning to understand the nay sayers.

     The event included a large black helicopter that was used for taking photos and videos for the news media. It was televised all over the world. Some said the helicopter was louder than the planes, and I think they were correct.

     Not surprisingly, San Diego provided near perfect 70 degree days, sunshine, and a mild breeze for the event. It was spectacular to see these small planes, flying at speeds up 230 mph, quickly changing directions, spinning around in the sky, and then swooping low through the pylons, circling again and repeating the maneuvers, all in a record speeds of 1-2 minutes. It was impressive. The downtown skyline in the background made it even more so. The planes were colorful. Some of the wings had stripes and other interesting designs which you could see as they flipped over and flew sideways.

    
      About 3 p.m. on Sunday we decided to walk down to the
Coronado Ferry Landing to observe the round of eight/final four races. There were thousands of spectators gathered in both directions along the water from the landing as well as many standing on the dock. I heard estimates that there were 40,000 spectators enjoying this event over the weekend. The winner of this event was Yoshihide “Yoshi” Muroya from Japan.

     One of interesting sideshows that took place on both days was the Red Bull helicopter stunt show. I didn't know they could fly upside down and flip around just like the small planes. Also, I used my binoculars to view parachuters drifting down from overhead and landing in a precise spot on the Embarcadero amongst the crowds.

                                                * * *

      It's the day after the Red Bull Air Race in San Diego and there's an incredible crew out there that is busy handling the logistics of moving the entire infrastructure of the race track, the planes, the pilots and their teams, race crews, and tons of materials to the next stop which is Japan. 

     I appreciated my peaceful walk along the bay more than usual and secretly hoped that the races don't return anytime soon.
RACETRACK MOVES ON TO JAPAN







Tuesday, April 4, 2017

NOMADIC MATT FOR TRAVEL INSPIRATION





      For anyone that wishes to travel the world on a budget, following Nomadic Matt on his blog, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter is a must. Matt Kepnes  (aka Nomadic Matt) has been traveling and writing for over 10 years and is always up to something new. Currently, he is hosting meetups in 11 cities across the country, as part of The Nomadic Network Tour, and promoting his latest book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day.

      Just recently, in San Diego, Ron and I decided to meet up with this talented young man at the Brew Project Bar and Restaurant, where we were joined by at least another 50 interested travelers.

      Nomadic Matt is what I call a hardcore traveler, although he claims to be slowing down some. About 10 years ago, he quit his job in a cubicle, sold everything, and began to travel full time. He quickly realized how much he didn't need all of that stuff he left behind. He has been writing and helping others travel on a shoestring ever since.


     He spoke to the group for about 20 minutes and then answered dozens of questions. He recommended planning a trip one step at a time, which is usually good advice for most things. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the multitude of websites, books and blogs available to everyone these days. The first step might be to look at your budget and figure out a way to set a specific amount of money aside. He also said that he doesn't worry much about planning. because he never follows the plans anyway.
    
Another step he mentioned, which always works for me, is getting the flights booked—it's kind of like the point of no return.
     Matt develops travel community more than most writers do. For example, he organized a travel book club on his website that anyone can join. An avid reader himself, he found that the club motivates him to read a book a week. A favorite: Walking the Nile by Levison Wood.
   Matt's favorite place is Thailand, where he lived for two years.


    
BELGIUM
Some of his recommended websites: Couch Surfing (stay with locals & meet new people), Warm Showers (hospitality exchange for touring cyclists), and Camp in My Garden (private gardens for camping).

     After the presentation, he encouraged everyone to introduce themselves and learn from each other. Ron and I had a good time walking around visiting and were impressed with the diversity of people attending. We met a man who had couch surfed over 80 times. We visited with a woman who was going to spend six months on an Oceania cruise, traveling around the world in 180 days.

     Others were on their way to Greece, Peru and Italy—some with reservations and some without. One young photographer had lived in Africa for a year and was anxious to return. A recent retiree was about to begin traveling while writing two blogs (Matt offers online courses on travel writing and blogs). Some were even talking about their favorite travel shoes. You name it, and it was probably being discussed somewhere in that room.

     I think I went home with a case of travel overload--I had a nightmarish dream that night that all my stuff would not fit into a suitcase and it caused me to miss a plane to Sweden.

PORTUGAL

Saturday, March 25, 2017

FOUR DAYS SKIING IN COLORADO

COLORADO MOUNTAINS

      As far back as I can remember, I've loved skiing, even to the point that I dropped out of the conventional workforce when I was young to spend a winter skiing and working in Aspen, Colorado—before the rich and famous moved in.

     This leads to why I am writing about this now when I'm clearly over-the-hill and haven't skied for five years. I'm not even sure if the passion is still there, or if I can still get down the mountain in one piece. Then if I were to ski, there is the effort required to pack up the clothing and the old ski equipment, drag it to the airport, and hope that it is all still functioning. I was beginning to think that maybe I'm getting too content (I won't say old) to get up the energy and effort a ski trip requires.

     However, the lingering memory of floating down a mountain, surrounded by the elements, nature, and snow-filled trees prevailed. Other special memories were the times I spent with my son on the mountains where he snowboarded while I skied. He always shared my love of gliding down the mountain.

     Despite some hesitation, I still needed to ski this season and the perfect trip would be to Colorado with my son, Ben. I decided to ask him if he would like to join me for a few days of skiing and he agreed. He chose four days at the end of February, and I made the arrangements. We both arrived early on the Tuesday morning after Presidents' Day at the Denver International Airport, rented a car, and headed up for an afternoon of skiing at Loveland Ski Resort—75 miles west of Denver.
    
     We got on the mountain that afternoon. The snow was light and fluffy; the temperature was about 20 degrees (I've always been a fair weather skier); there were no lines at the chairlift; and the slopes were wide open. I still experienced that same thrill of skiing down a mountain. It was a joy to see Ben snowboard down ahead of me; eventually taking off for the more difficult runs, just like it use to be. We skied until the lifts closed at 4 p.m. As we drove off, I recall telling Ben that just this one afternoon of skiing made the entire trip worthwhile.

     We continued driving another 12 miles west to the Dillon Inn, where we had booked a room for a few nights, with just enough time to head next door to the award-winning Dillon Dam Brewery (100 Little Dam St.) for happy hour.

    
FRISCO JAIL
Day two would have been a perfect ski day at Arapahoe Basin as planned, however, it wasn't meant to be. I woke up nauseous, with stomach and back pain that kept getting worse. I thought it might be altitude sickness, but it turned out to be more serious. Ben brought me to the emergency room in nearby Frisco, where I spent the day.
They ran tests and finally, before sending me home with just had a bad case of flu, they did a CT scan and discovered a small kidney stone. The doctor was confident that it would pass in a couple of days, and I was released about 5 p.m. with the appropriate medicines. I was lucky. The stone passed that evening, and I felt much better. My son said that he enjoyed his day walking around the old scenic mining town of Frisco—anything is better than a hospital. 


     The next day I felt fine, and thought, what a difference a day makes. We went back to Loveland. I skied at my usual casual pace and enjoyed every moment of it. It's hard to describe that sensation of freedom you get from flying down the slopes and connecting with the elements. It was a great day. Snow was in the forecast, so we headed back to Denver for our last night.

     We didn't get in as much skiing as we had hoped, but I still smile when I think about my four days in Colorado with Ben.

                                                *****
     When planning the trip, I searched for senior lift ticket rates at the various ski areas in Colorado. The best deals were:
-Loveland Ski Resort – age 70+ unlimited season pass $89,
age 60-69 $50 full day.
-Arapahoe Basin – age 70+ walk up window rate $30 full day,
age 60-69 $82.
-Sunlight in Glenwood Springs – age 65-79 $45 full day,
age 80+ Free.
-Aspen – 70+ $479 senior season pass.

  The worst deal for seniors: Vail Associate properties: (Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek) -65+ a $10 discount off full day ticket. Full days at Vail are $179 if purchased online the night before. They do not give the walk up window rate on their website—which means it's more than $179.
LAKE DILLON COLORADO


Friday, March 10, 2017