Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A 3 Fingered Christmas

It was a great Christmas except for a sore elbow received while "bowling" on my grandson's Wii. I cannot be the only person who sees the irony in this. I long for the days of real bowling. The smell of stale beer, cigarette smoke, and ugly shoes. The thrill of trying to find a bowling ball that actually fit my hand and didn't weigh, seemingly, 200 lbs. *sigh* But now real activites are replaced by video game replicas. We're doomed. (I shouldn't complain, I can't hold a regular bowling ball now, anyway. I just wanted to whine.)

I did a quick Desert Classic, at South Mountain, ride on the Specialized after work on Christmas Eve. I guess I should have cleaned and lubed the bike after the 24 hour race in early November. It made a lot of noise. Or, maybe those were just squeals of protest caused my the weight of my massive mid-section. Small planets have been known to be drawn into it by its strong gravitational pull. I have, also, finally killed my rear Crossmax wheel. It is worn out after 5 hard years of use. Now I get to build those Chris King's I have been dreaming of. I have the hubs. Just need the rims.

My X-Mas present to myself was a nice 5k run in the cold rain Christmas morning. Fun, fun, fun!!! I at least "earned" the right to drink all the Hoegarden I wanted that afternoon. Well, three at least. I also needed the alcohol to dull the pain in my upper lip. While putting on my arm warmers my hand slipped and I smacked myself in the mouth. Not hard enough to see stars but enough to make my eyes water.

A buddy from Flag, Marc, came down to see his girls for Christmas and we ended up doing Desert Classic Sunday afternoon. For someone who doesn't ride as much as he wishes he could, he is super strong. I dreaded the ride a bit since I was forced to ride the single speed due to the other bike's wheel issues. I held my own, though, and actually put a bit of hurt to him. What a change. Last time I rode with him I coughed up a kidney. Oh, my lip was sore again. My hand slipped while I was putting on my arm warmers and...well you know the rest. Santayana said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Who am I to argue? I'm doomed and I didn't even forget.

Well, on to 2009.....Will there be more 3 Fingered Moments? I'm doomed.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another 3 Finger Moment and Other Stuff

I went to the post office to mail a couple of letters and somehow found myself at the drive through book return at the library read to dump the letters. Fortunately I caught myself in time. I wish I could say that weighty matters caused me to make this mistake, but no, just a Three Fingered Moment.

I've heard some grief from male co-workers and friends about my last post that refers to a study showing French men require the largest condoms in Europe. These people say that the French lied, or exaggerated, the size of their, um, assets. I disagree. When I mentioned that the average size was claimed to be only six inches, almost invariably everyone replied with, "Well, that's a size Small here in the U.S. of A." Who's exaggerating now I ask?

The Colon and Rectal Center of Arizona has either the best or worst name ever for their website. Kolonokopelli.com. The logo is Kokopelli's cousin blowing into....well you just need to see it yourself. Kudos for their imagination. I am tempted to run away with this, but I am sure I would be told to just blow it out my @$$.

Here is a picture of the newest addition to the household, Stella Fitzgerald. She is an adoption and has quickly made herself the queen of the house, if not the globe.

I finally took my first run since being sick at Thanksgiving. The first 100 meters were smashing. The rest of the run was a complete suffer-fest. I am turning into a complete weenie. I better get cracking with the training. Keir signed us up for a Duo in February's 24 Hour of Old Pueblo. I stunk up both 24 hours I did this year and don't want that trend to continue.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's Twue, It's Twue!!!

Thanksgiving Day has come and passed and I have finally recovered from the past week's intestinal adventures. One news item which helped my recovery was a report from Reuters that stated The Institute for Condom Consultancy has found French men require the biggest condoms in Europe. This statement raises (no pun intended) no questions or surprise from me. My friends have always told me us French are the biggest pricks in the western world. I think they are just jealous.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just In Time For The Holidays

I got a bad case of food poisoning on Sunday. It's Tuesday and I am now up to eight pounds lost since Sunday night. But fortunately I am starting to feel a little better. I am trying to think of humorous things to say but I can't.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why Cable TV?

The cable TV box died and went to Digital Heaven. Its demise was preceded by its freezing of the screen every five seconds then coming back to life after 10 seconds and then repeating the cycle again. After trying a reboot, the cable box flatlined and a new one was necessary. The replacement works great but even with 180 cable stations the programming still sucks and I find myself always reading a good book for entertainment instead. (Does a Donald Duck comic qualify as high literature? Carl Barks' four-color covers from the '50s for Comics and Stories and Uncle Scrooge do qualify as high art, though. Look him up. But I digress) All this begs the question, why have TV at all?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Tale of Two Races

In the spirit of literary references here is a visual tale of two races.

It was truly the best of times and the worst of times...weather wise.

The Team Squid Pro Quo race headquarters in the February 2008 24 Hours of Old Pueblo:

The Team Squid Pro Quo compound in the November 2008 24 Hours of Fury:

Can it really be November? 87 Degrees? Oh, how we suffer.....

The Sound and the 24 Hours of Fury

Mine is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and the 24 Hours of Fury, and our efforts resulted in nothing.

I have finally recovered from the 24 Hours of Fury put on by 4 Peaks Racing up at McDowell a week and a half ago. Team Squid Pro Quo had penciled this in as our prep race for the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo and we were pretty excited. On the same course four years ago, in the 24 Hours of Adreneline, we put in 23 laps farting around and figured being in better shape we could contend for at least a good placing.

The Squid Pro Quo Compound in about the most perfect racing weather imaginable:
I won't bore the reader with how we did, but I'll only say I got sick during the first lap, barely finished the second lap, slept for ten hours and never darkened the track with my presence again. Fortunately, I had three Warsteiner Dunkels in the cooler to soothe my fevered body Sunday morning (It turns out I had gotten an infection).

I had a feeling we were doomed when Keir called just before the noon start and said he couldn't show up (he traditionally always does the first lap). He had a work emergency arise just before the start of the race and wouldn't make his appearance until late afternoon where he did one lap and promptly disappeared again until Sunday morning. Cesar stepped up to the plate and attempted to give us a strong first lap, but two flats killed his effort.

Cesar at the start pulling away (Lee is across the way taking a picture of Cesar's "good side"):
Cesar and Lee carried the torch and kept us in the hunt for third to last place. But, alas, without Keir and I to spell them, we slipped into second to last place late Sunday morning despite their best efforts. I just stayed at the compound and moaned and complained to everyone.

I was reminded of Macbeth's soliloquy after the death of his wife. It seemed apropos with references to "the way to dusty death" etc... We strutted our way upon the stage for each hour that a lap took but in the end with all of our sound and fury, it signified nothing. But maybe I doth exaggerate. Next year we will be heard from again!

The Soulcraft ready for battle with the S-Works waiting in the wings behind:

At the end of the first lap. It took so much effort to smile I could not even suck my gut in:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
That about describes the race for me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Does A Bell Ring Every Time A Pinkie Gets Its Wings?

A news item that has been making the rounds the past few days involves a young football player at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado, named Trevor Wilke. It seems that Mr Wilke badly hurt his pinkie during a practice seesion and was told by doctors that it would require surgery and with four months of recovery, he was done for the season. AS a senior, this would effectively end his career. "No way,"said the brave Wilke. "I can't let the team down. Cut it off." So now I raise a toast to young Trevor who has joined the hallowed ranks of those with three fingered hands.

Rick Reilly, the famous sports writer, commented that Trevor's team mates now say "High Four!" when a good play is made. How cute. My grandson said the same thing to me when he was four years old . The best line in Reilly's piece was "Trevor only has one regret. The doctor didn't give him the finger. " My surgeon, Dr. Hand (no joke on his name), gave me the finger. That's when he caught me riding the motorcycle to a check up. Definitely verbotin.

Anyway, Mr. Trevor, I trust you will enjoy the life of the digitally challenged and though I am pleased you have joined our ranks, I hope you bring honor to your pinkie who now resides in Pinkie Valhalla.

O’ what does a finger think
upon the loss of a brethren digit?
Does its sorrows drown in a drink?
Does it worry or does it fidget?
Does it it cry “Oh the humanity”
And fret for its fingery sanity?

It might feel it is really fine
that another has gone a-missing
It might look around and opine
with a sniff, “I am not distressing”
Adding “I think we all agree
'Twasn't it good it was not me?”

Some say the remainder sing
A song of the missing pinkie
And what the future does bring
Be it good or be it kinky
I think they do intertwine
And all sing “Now we are nine”

One more thing, Mr. Wilke, as you look back upon this in the future, there is no smart way to lose a body part, but keep laughing about it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Back In The Saddle Again

Yesterday I went to Tucson for a niece's wedding reception and took advantage to bring the singlespeed along and visit the 50 Year Trail near Catalina. When I lived in Tucson and Oro Valley, I would ride this trail at least four times a week (since 1994) and it still remains one my favorite rides. But in the almost four years since I've moved to Phoenix, I have probably been on this trail only 5 times. Rain and erosion have taken their toll and places that I remember as sidewalk smooth are now rutted and bumpy. That's one of the things I love about mountain biking. Trails are living entities and they constantly evolve. So, each year brings new challenges to the same ride. Road rides are pretty much static and, usually, only the road surface changes and not always for the best. (As an example, I rode the TT bike down HWY 87 today, south of Chandler, and got a flat about 15 miles out, like I usually do on that section. The ride is always the same for people cycling that road, they see me standing on the shoulder with a look of extreme concentration as I am trying to figure out how to make my CO2 quick-fill work. I won't mention the CO2 cartridge taking off like a rocket and the dead rabbit since I do not have a hunting license. In fact, I look so stupid trying to fix a flat that everyone offers to do it for me even though the entire process takes me less than five minutes from flat to back on the road. I just have that "look". Tongue sticking half-way out. Narrowed eyes. Pointy head (The pointy head allows my helmet to sit at a rakish angle which gives me a touch of that "je ne sais quoi" air of suavity) And in a true Three Fingered Moment, I've forgotten where I was going with this aside. So let us return to the regularly scheduled crapola.

The parking lot at the end of Golder Ranch Road was, as is normal, pretty full. There were quite a few people riding on the lower trail out to the Chutes and I saw Dan, an old friend/neighbor. I see him every few years riding and we stopped and caught up for a while.

When I got to the Chutes, I decided to ride the long upper loop and quickly found out it was not as easy as it used to be. Let me rephrase that. it was never easy and had a couple of lung busting climbs, but I could ride the entire trail with, maybe, one dab. Of course, that was on a multi-geared bike. I discovered to my chagrin, and my knees' disappointment, that my singlespeed was not the best choice for the condition of the trail. I had to walk a few places I normally ride but, hey, that's part of the deal. I refuse to accept that my advancing age and weight have an affect on my riding capabilities.

It seemed that most people are avoiding this part of the upper loop. It used to be well ridden in, but yesterday I saw only two sets of tracks and that turned out to be one person who went up about a 1/4 mile then turned around. Too bad for them, it got better towards the top. A little rain just added to the fun.

I got to the fence line where the real joy, and challenge, begins and I just wimped out. So, I turned around and enjoyed the thrill of going down what I had just climbed. Except when both my pedals got jammed in the sides of a deep narrow cut in the trail and I almost went over the bars. I also left some skin from the side of my ankles in the same spot.

All in all, it was a excellent ride and I need to "come back home" more often.

The sun setting against Pusch Ridge. This view is one of the reasons I wish I hide never moved away.

Some Extra Trip Pics

A friend asked me to post a few more photos from the trip.

The clock tower in Anduze. Anduze is also known as The Gateway to the Cevennes. It is about 22 miles from St Roman. The restaurant, La Place, has incredible pizza and salads. I think it's the best food in town.

Looking for a place to pee on the Col de Galibier.

A view of the high French Alps.

A street in Turin at dusk. I wish we had kept walking another 1/2 mile because we would have then found ourselves in the heart of old Torino. Which from the pictures I've seen is spectacular. We unfortunately only saw the more industrial parts of the city. Too bad. I need to go back. Just around the corner is a great restaurant we found called Mina's. The special of the day was fresh mushrooms grilled, fried, and raw with a little olive oil. That was proceeded by a small plate of Taglietelle with a light tomato sauce and washed down with a very nice local red wine. A very nice, hic, wine. I've never had the Piedmontese cuisine and wine before and was very impressed.

The Fiat office building at left. The old factory at right. I've had four Fiats and loved them. Maybe because I'm half Italian or I'm a fool.
The bank and post office in Wallgau, Germany with our rented turbo diesel Renault in the center of pic. I could go 750 miles on a tank of gas, averaging about 40 miles per gallon. Because Americans have better technology in our vehicles here, I get 21 mph and can get 400 miles on a tank with my personal car in Arizona. Hmmmmm. The cable going to the top of the Aiguille de Midi at Chamonix, France.
A couple of last thoughts about the trip. I did not have one bad meal the entire trip. This was a first. In every restaurant or cafe, the food was excellent. The weakest meal was in Oberaudorf, but it would still rate as four star quality here. Every beer and bottle of wine was top notch, too. This was a first for me. I usually have one or two food disasters in France each time I go there. These are the meals where the service or the food are not even up to Denny's standards of presentation, taste, and hospitality. And, though I groused about the Germans in Wallgau, in retrospect it could have just been an off night for the owner in combination with a barrage of flash photography from Arlette. I would go back to the Hotel Post in a heart beat.

Although the American style of fast food has invaded the shores of Europe and one finds McDo's, Burger King, the Colonel with his chicken, and awful cafeterias, there are plenty of smaller places where the food is top notch, the service is excellent, and the prices very reasonable. I love eating in small villages. We ate lunch in La Grave, a small French Alpen village, and spent quite a bit of time talking with the server would had lived her entire life in this one small village. We were not treated as customers but as old family who just stopped by for a quick visit. (The restaurant is La Meijette in La Grave. Order the Tartiflette). Wow, now I'm hungry. Time to call Papa John's Pizza.....yeah...right..

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On to Paris and Home

We woke up to beautiful weather as the village's church bell rang out 6:00am, its first ringing of the day. The bell rings out the hours every hour and at five minutes past from 6:00am to 10pm with a single gong on the half hour. It used to ring every hour for the entire day until one gentleman who had just moved into the village threatened to sue if it continued to ring at night. He could not sleep with the bell pounding in his ears. Most of the village wanted it left as it always had been but the threat of a suit made them reach a compromise of ringing until 10:00pm and starting again at 6:00am. His honor and sleep satisfied, the genteman proceeded to move out of the village within a year of moving in, but the bell still remains silent at night.

After a breakfast of bread, jam, and coffee (plus the end of some every good goat's cheese from the village of Le Pompidou just up the road) it was sadly time to leave and head down to Avignon and the TGV. At least Kelly was going to get a chance to sit in the front seat of the car for once this trip since she spent the entire drive in the back seat. Arlette says she gets car sick in the back and so always claims shotgun. I think she's pretty sneaky.

A last look at the front door of the house.

The village from the road to Col D'Exil. Just after I took this picture I stepped in a deep hole while walking and fell flat on my face. After removing the debris from my mouth (which is usually open) I found the grass in the Cevennes had a more earthy, yet pleasant taste, than the grass here in Chandler. The dirt is better tasting here, though.

The drive to Avignon was uneventful and I drove slower than usual enjoying the perfect weather and the unusual lack of traffic. I did not even make my normal coffee stop in St. Jean du Gard. In fact I drove so leisurely that we missed the train we had hoped to catch to Paris. But, no worries, another TGV was arriving and leaving within 90 minutes.

The TGV is an incredible train and riding it should be on every ones' list of things to do before dying. It fast, smooth, comfortable and, well, fast. It reaches speeds of 180mph on stretches of the track. It doesn't feel like you are moving at that speed until you fly by cars on the autoroute which are traveling at 80mph.
As the train travels up the Rhone valley you can see many hilltop villages and towns that border both the left and right banks of the river. Before the new high speed track was built for the TGV, it shared the normal track which the slower trains use (they only travel at 80-100mph). It passed through Montelimar, Valence, and the vineyards of Hermitage (my favorite wines). I prefer the old route, though it added over an hour of travel time because it was so much more scenic.

The church of Saint Michel de la Garde Adhémar from the TGV at 180 mph. This is one of my favorite Provencal Romanesque churches. It was constructed on the site of an existing chapel and dates from the second half of the twelfth century, though its bell tower was heavily reconstructed in the 19th century. It also contains a wonderful medieval wooden Madonna and Child in its presbytery.

Arrival at Gare de Lyon after 2 hours and 50 minutes of travel.

We took a cab from Gare de Lyon to a nice hotel in the LAtin Quarter across the street from the Cluny museum. It was such a gorgeous day we took off to Notre Dame, which was less than 1/2 mile away.

Notre Dame from the Pont Neuf.

Notre Dame from the Parvis.

As I was taking the preceding picture the bells began to ring for Sunday mass. It was awesome. We have been in the bell tower before as the bells were beginning to ring. They quickly move you out of the room as the big bell begins to swing (it takes awhile to get any moment. The ball on the clapper is larger than my quite sizable head). When you are standing on the landing outside as it rings, you feel the entire structure vibrating under your feet. It is an incredible feeling. I sure hope the gentleman who left St Roman does not live near here.

Statues flanking St Anne's Portal on the west facade.

We didn't have much time to hang out in the Latin Quarter or go to Montmartre so we found an Italian restaurant, chowed down and went to bed so we could catch an early flight back to Phoenix.

And thus ends a great trip. Well, there was the umbrella incident at security in London Heathrow, but that's a story for another time. I'll only say that it was not a 3 Fingered Moment on my part, but it had the potential to be so. And, I no longer have a nice yellow Tour de France umbrella.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Yay For The Last Day Driving

Dinner at the Vieux Leysin was phenomenal. We were given a great table towards the back, next to the bar. Arlette wanted to get the local white wine to go with dinner which she said was called Fendant. She has never had it, which is a great surprise to me, but has always wanted to try it since she first read the Tintin adventure L'Affaire Tournesol (In English The Calculus Affair).

In this story Tintin, along with his boozing friend Captain Haddock, are visiting a scientist in Nyon, Switzerland and he offers them a bottle of local Fendant wine for their enjoyment. Haddock is quite the drinker and eagerly awaits a glass, but unfortunately each time the professor is going to open the bottle he goes off on a tangent and poor Haddock is left staring with ill disguised longing at the bottle. Before they can drink, there is an explosion and the house is destroyed. Haddock does get his wine in the end as he saves the bottle and drinks it as he is carried away on a stretcher. This happens to be Arlette's favorite scene in all the Tintin adventures and the opportunity to drink the same wine was too much to pass up. ( I can't believe I am actually talking about this) The woman behind the bar was listening to our conversation about the wine and joining Arlette, they laughed uproariously in describing the scene to each other. It turned out that she is also a huge Tintin fan. I know this scene very well myself since I love Tintin and his dog Milou is my cycling mojo. (I have a Milou decal on all my bikes but one mountain bike, which happens to be the one I crash the most...hmmm)

The woman explained to Arlette that they don't have Fendant since it comes from a completely different region (maybe 20 miles away. Fendant also happens to be the popular Swiss varietal and is called Chasselas in France). Anyway, she offered us an excellent Yvorne from Aigle Les Murailles down the road and it was very, very good. The meal at this restaurant was awesome and the vegetarian dishes were incredible.

The woman asked Arlette where she was from and Arlette responded with, "Lozere in France." The woman came back with, "What a coincidence. Your waitress is also from Lozere." The waitress, who was in her mid twenties, immediately adopted us and spent most of her evening ignoring other customers and talking to Arlette about home. Arlette got all the personal details, "Father is ex-mayor of Le Luc. Grandfather and grandmother own the Hotel-Restaurant de la Gare. Etc..." Arlette promised to go visit her family, the Coulons, next time she drives through Le Luc, which means she will make a special visit just to say hello. I did feel bad because there was a German couple that were dying to leave, but they were continually ignored by the staff who spent their time jawing with us. What can I say? The residents of some countries obviously recognize my family's inherent quality and so treat us as we deserve to be treated. So the poor Germans received what their compatriots had dished out to us the days previously. (It doesn't make it right, though......much....)

After the wine and a glass of Génépi (the official liquor of the Haute Savoie and Alps) the hike up the hill to the hotel was taxing. Poor Arlette had to stop a couple of times to catch her breath. This was a momentous occasion for me as this is the first time I have ever seen her show any weakness in walking as she usually walks at the same pace that she talks. In St Roman, she walks about 10 kilometers a day. I forget that she is 79 years old. I just hope I am in as good of shape as she is when I, hopefully, hit 79.

I woke up to sun above and clouds below:

Arlette at breakfast: "Are you trying to kill me by giving me straight orange juice? Where's the Vodka?"
The entrance to the Bel-Air hotel. Notice how unpretentious the name is by not having an "E" at the end of "Air."

We hit the road and headed to Martigny to catch the route to Chamonix, France. Right after Martigny we found La Cascade. The roar of the water was loud enough to be heard as one drove by with the windows up.

Almost to Chamonix and Mont Blanc looms ahead.

Arlette was adamant about about us taking the cable car up to the top of the Aiguille de Midi, a peak right next to Mont Blanc. It was quite a wait for a cable car, but was worth every moment. The cost for the ride up to the peak was very expensive. It was about $50 a person. The entire ride takes about 30 minutes and that includes one stop to switch cars. You climb about 9000 feet and the views are jaw dropping. It did get very crowded on the first gondola. The first stop is prime for para-sailing and these guys just force their way into the car with their giant packs. It does look like fun though.

I would prefer to be climbing like the guys in this picture:

Mont Blanc, another 3000 feet higher in altitude.

We skipped elevator ride that would take us up to the actual tip of the Aiguille (which means Needle) because our stomachs started to growl as it was nearing two o'clock in the afternoon and lunch was beckoning. We found a little restaurant nearby after we descended to Chamonix. Once again the food was excellent. This is the first trip to France that I have taken where every meal was memorable for all the right reasons. I enjoyed a Mont Blanc lager while Arlette chose a Leffe instead. She really prefers Bavarian brew over all others but I am getting her to appreciate the Belgian ales more and more.

After being verbally accosted by a bombastic neighboring diner for awhile (I think he was hitting on Arlette, really!), we headed, finally, towards St Roman which was still five hours away.

My final view of the French Alps before we hit Grenoble and the autoroute home.

The rest of the drive was in the dark and not much was said as we were totally fragged. We arrived at the house at 9:30pm and drank a celebratory Karmeliten beer which is brewed by monks and called Sturm Bio (Bio for Organic). It's awesome and is now my official second favorite brew after Duvel...and maybe Bohemia... We also had a very nice bottle of Cairanne Cotes de Rhone wine with cheese and olives and spent until midnight rehashing the entire trip. We were too tired to drink the Veuve Clicquot. That'll wait until next trip.

Tomorrow- The TGV to Paris.

Monday, October 6, 2008

And I Thought The French Were Snooty

A quick back-step to the hotel in Oberaudorf:

Breakfast at the Lambacher, in Oberaudorf, was a silent affair except for Arlette's continuous conversation. She has one speed on speaking and that is at warp-speed. I feel that part of the reason behind her speaking so fast, and much, is that her mind works so quickly, one thought merges into another and another and another so she ends up with a lot to say. 99% of it is very interesting since she is so smart (not many people would point a town while passing by and comment, "on September 13, 1786 Goethe was arrested on suspicion of being a spy because he was caught sketching the castle." She is brilliant.

There were two other people there, Germans, who completely ignored us as we walked in. One of them, an attractive younger lady, was also sick and she and I played quite the duet with our sniffles, coughs and sneezes. The delicate interplay between us, as each sniffle was layered upon another, with the contrapunction of a cough or wheeze inserted where needed, was moving. Though, I am not sure the New York Philharmonic will be booking us soon. I do believe my nose raised the art of the French Horn to new levels.

And now back to the story in progress:

We left Salzburg (sadly) and headed to Wallgau, a small Bavarian town. Arlette was raving about the beauty of this town and the fact that there was a very well known hotel there that she had always wanted to stay at. We left the highway and soon were on a very beautiful, windy road. We still could not see the mountains because of the low clouds and rain, but the countryside was amazing. As we got closer to Wallgau, well marked bike paths and hiking trails started to appear along the road. I would love to come back and spend some time riding and hiking here.
We finally arrived in Wallgau and quickly found the hotel.

It was huge and obviously well known as amongst the pictures of previous guests was one of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Arlette got the rooms as I got the bags from the car. The first thing Arlette told me was that she was sure it was a very good hotel since the woman at the reception desk was very snooty and if her nose had been any higher in the air it would have been impossible for her to look at Arlette. I should write a new travel guide that rates food and hotels with Nose-Ups instead of Thumbs-Ups. The Normandy Hotel in Paris would be a Four Nose-Up hotel.

I wasn't too worried about it, all I wanted was a beer and some food. It was quite a hike through the labyrinth of hallways to the rooms, which were amazing. We headed down to the restaurant for some chow and discovered that there were two restaurants and bars. One small bar was for the "hip" younger town's people and one restaurant was for the hotel's guests. Arlette quickly steered us to the other bar/restaurant which was filled with locals. We were politely stared at as we chose our table up and out of the way of the main floor, but no one greeted us as they did others (read German) that walked in. Arlette was thrilled with the decor and local color and started snapping photos immediately. I think some patrons thought there was a lightning storm from the amount of flashing that was going on. One gentleman walked in wearing Lederhosen and Arlette was finally in heaven. She took a couple of pictures of him before he noticed and he immediately walked to her and grabbed her camera. He looked at her and asked her (in German of course) if she was an idiot. He didn't realize that she is completely fluent in German. He then looked at me who looks as American as can be and turning back to her asked her if she spoke English. I knew something was wrong because her face went white then red (if it had gone blue she would have had the French flag) I started to get up but Arlette responded to him in German saying she just wanted to get a pic of him in the traditional costume. He then acted like he was just kidding with her and I got a picture of them together. We were treated correctly after that, but not warmly. The feeling we got is that we had not stayed in the guests' side of the eatery and had the gall (maybe I should say "the Gaul" since we're French) to enter their space. I will say a visiting German couple came in also and they were not treated much better. (in the hotel's defense, I walked into a bar in North Carolina where I was treated even worse so I will not say that it's just a Bavarian thing).

The beer (all two liters of it) was excellent and I felt much better towards my fellow man as we headed towards bed. My head cold even felt like it was going away. I slept well even though the couple next door had their TV blasting all night long and I could hear it through the wall.

The next morning dawned cold, cloudy and rainy, but the town and countryside were still extraordinary. Arlette got me up early for breakfast since she hadn't slept at all due to her neighbor's TV blasting very loudly all night long. She banged on the wall and door and the front desk tried calling the room but all to no avail. I could hear it loudly in the hallway. But for me, at least, all was right with the world. I figured that my attitude towards everyone last night was caused by being sick and tired. We were seated and once again, no one said good morning as we greeted everyone upon entering. The hostess asked us if we wanted coffee with breakfast and we said yes. Arlette then asked (in German) if she could have some warm milk for her coffee. The hostess stared at her for a second, then pointed to a small carafe of cream and then to a pitcher of cold milk, next to the cereal and said that is all there is. As we were eating, a German couple of guests walked in and were greeted by everyone warmly. The wife asked the hostess for some milk and received a pitcher of warm milk!!! I then noticed that all the German guests had warm milk for their coffee. I guess we were truly "untermenschen" in their eyes and undeserving of such small niceties. The one other non-German couple on the room was also ignored and had cold milk.

I noticed Lederhosen man hanging around in normal clothes and it turns out he is the owner of the hotel which has been in his family for over 350 years. That's pretty cool and deserving of mention even if he was a jerk to us. I checked out the town's website and this is what it says:
In our cosy village, you can experience old customs, traditions and Bavarian hospitality and above all, the local cuisine will pamper you in every possible way. Moreover, there are no limits concerning any sport activities in Wallgau. The fascinating countryside invites everybody to discover and conquer or simply enjoy it – in any case it is charming.
I have experienced Bavarian hospitality in Oberaudorf and in Wallgau and maybe it was the weather but the greetings were as warm as the outside air temperature. But, it is so beautiful there, I am willing to give it another chance.

As I was getting the bags and heading for the car, Arlette's neighbor left his room looking like he had had a very rough night of it. No wonder there was no response from him. He looked so hungover I felt sorry for him. I think his condition was an exeption to the house rules of imbibing, though. One thing that impressed me with the locals in their barroom was that they were drinking quite a bit, but they were never drunk or obnoxious. They were relaxed and enjoying each other's company and having a good time in a very convivial atmosphere. There's a lesson for us to be learned from them.

Local church with typical Bavarian onion dome:

High fashion at the Dirndl Boutique. Check out the nifty hats!

Arlette looking quite dashing in front of the Hotel. It's hard to imagine she is 79. She doesn't drink, or eat, much, but when she gets into a rhythm, she can put it away. Just ask my buddy Darrell as he and I found ourselves crawling out from under the table as she was opening another bottle of Cointreau....
We headed south towards Austria before cutting over to Switzerland and our next stop at Leysin. We had planned to stop at Garmisch but the weather was so bad we decided not to. Next time.

As we hit Austria the clouds started to go away and sunshine soon greeted us with warmer temperatures.
After cutting through Lichtenstein we stopped for lunch in the Swiss town of Bad Ragaz. We found a little Gasthaus that was amazing. Ultra modern and chic, but the food was incredible. The local beer was good too. I give this place Three Nose-Ups for the modern, hip atmosphere and the decent cuisine.
Bad Ragaz, Taxis in front of the train station (just kidding):

Somewhere in the Swiss Alps looking for Heidi:

As we got closer to Lake Geneva and Leysin the weather started to turn to crap again. We arrived in Leysin as it was getting dark and found the hotel. The proprietor greeted us like old family, showed us our rooms, and made reservations for us at a local restaurant. The restaurant was about a 3/4 of a mile away and was a little difficult to find. It was called the Vieux Leysin (The Old Leysin) and was in a four hundred year old wooden building. We were seated next to the bar with some Americans near by. Arlette went into her loud, in English, "Listen! They are American don't you think?" She is awesome.

To be continued:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Maseratis and Mozart Meet

As we crossed the Brenner Pass and entered Austria, clouds soon obscured the mountain tops as in France. We were unable to see anything but the base of the mountains as we passed through Innsbruck. We had decided to go to a small town in Bavaria called Oberaudorf, about 40 miles from Salzburg, Austria. I was excited for the opportunity to drive on the German Autobahns which I believed had no speed limits. Alas, as soon as we crossed into Germany we were stopped by road work and the average speed was about 10 miles per hour. At this time it was raining hard enough to preclude any idea of traveling at a high rate of speed anyway. Fortunately there was an exit just a couple of kilometers up the road and I quickly got off the Autobahn. As I exited I noticed that there was a speed limit sign stating that the max speed for the freeway is 130 kilometers per hour, just the same as in France. Oh well, the European Union strikes again and another dream shattered.

Brenner Pass in sunshine.

Traffic jam and heavy rain at the German border

It was dusk at this time and with the low lying clouds and the rain, the road to Oberaudorf was surreal in its beauty. It wound up, down, and around small hills, through trees and fields, and small hamlets. The rain continued to fall as we arrived in Oberaudorf and the first sight that greeted us was an old Bavarian man, pushing an equally ancient bicycle, dressed in traditional leather knickers which were filthy. Arlette was in heaven and proudly pointed out this gentleman as proof that the Bavarians are the acme of western civilization. What crusty leather pants have to do with man’s ascendance from savagery I have no idea. But, Arlette is one of the most brilliant persons I have ever known, if not a little whacko (being whacko must be a genetic trait in my family so my kids and friends would tell me. Except my kids would say that it stops with me since they are obviously superior to me in every way. Punk kids.), so I will take her word for it.

We arrived as it was getting dark and tried to find a hotel with a couple of rooms. There was a typical hotel/restaurant next to the church in the center of town and we made that our first stop. We were disappointed to find out that all the rooms in the town were taken up by people from Munich. My guess is that they were escaping the madness of Oktoberfest. There was one hotel left that had rooms, but it was the one that the other hotels sneered at. It was actually quite nice and inexpensive. It just didn’t have the ambiance of the others. I think that the local distaste for our hotel was that it was plain, simple, and inexpensive compared to the others that were trying very hard to provide that real “Bavarian” experience that Arlette was looking so forward to. All I can say is “Viva la Revolucion!”

We ate at the Alpen Rose restaurant across the street from the hotel and the meal was okay but not spectacular. Arlette soon realized that she was the only person besides the server dressed in a Bavarian fashion. I feel a little bad for her because I think she is slowly realizing that her world is no longer in existence. She remembers things as they were before 1968 when social revolutions started to change the face of Europe. The typical greeting in Bavaria is “Grüße Gott” But aside from the hostess greeting us that way, the Germans we met entering any restaurant or place of business never said that to us (The one exception was a very old lady at a gas station who was definitely “old school”). Unlike in Austria, but I will get to that later.

The Alpen Rose with church behind.
Visitor's Bureau guaranteeing the true local experience. Notice the McDonalds sign.
The local bank
We left Oberaudorf to low lying clouds and rain and headed up the road to Salzburg, Austria.

I got into a fast driving line of cars that included a couple of seven series Beemers and one Maserati. I loved the fact that as we were heading to Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, I was listening to a symphony from the exhaust of the Maserati. Italians may not be able to keep a government in place for more than 6 months and their cars have a reputation, in the US at least, of being suspect in reliability. But, they certainly put passion and a sense of beauty into all their creations. American cars have exhausts that are silent and blah or are brutal and try to overpower you with their “studliness.” The Maserati's exhaust note was mellow, yet powerful at low RPMs, but as the driver got on song with the throttle, the exhaust became this wonderful mix of speed, power, and desire for covering huge amounts of road quickly. *sigh*
But I digress. Pulling into the outskirts of Salzburg, I got stuck in some noontime traffic and noticing a small neighborhood Gasthaus at a stoplight, I made the executive decision to stop for lunch. Actually I held my breath until I turned blue, whined, cried, and sniveled until I got my way. As we walked into the restaurant/bar, it felt like we were in a Clint Eastwood movie. All conversation stopped, the piano player stopped playing (just kidding), and all heads turned and stared at us. Then, all at once, everyone smiled and exclaimed, “Grüße Gott”. The bartender seated us in a small side area where only one very old man was seated with a half liter of beer and some munchies (“schnibbles” as a friend would say) in front of him. He looked up and with a serious tone greeted us politely. As we ordered our meals and some decent local brew (Stiegl) I could tell he was trying to listen in on our conversation. But not in a nosy way, just through curiosity for strangers being in the pub, so to speak. After he finished his meal he stood up, grabbed his hat and coat, and asked us in German where we were from. Arlette responded in German that we were from France and Arizona. He then asked us in broken English if we knew Tucson, which he pronounced “Tuckson.” I answered that I was born in Tucson. At this point he stood up a little taller, slapped his chest proudly and loudly exclaimed, “I was prisoner of war near Tuckson.” It turned out that he had been in Rommel’s army in North Africa in 1943 working clearing mine fields when he was captured by Patton’s army. He then stayed in several camps throughout the US until 1946 as a POW. He said Arizona was the best place he had been interned and still had a piece of cotton saved as a memento of his time as a prisoner.
We drove to the city center, parked the car, and wandered in the rain for a while soaking in (no pun intended) the beauty of the city. We finally ended up at the house where Mozart was born but did not take the time to visit it since we had to get back to Germany and a little town where Arlette was raving about this hotel she had to stay in or her life would forever be incomplete.

Here's Arlette proving her street cred by flashing a gang sign in front of the house where Mozart lived.

Next time, “Wallgau. Where the inhabitants make the French look like St Francis of Assisi.”