Germany: Black Forest and Romantic Road

Picking up where I left off, we departed La Haute Grange on Monday morning, the 22nd of December, and drove across the border to Germany. We stopped in Freiburg for a walk around the city center and our first taste of Germany, literally and figuratively (I had been to Germany just once before, over a decade earlier on short trip to Munich, and this was Andy’s first time).

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Freiburg seemed like a fun little city, with a bustling town center and nice architecture. The Christmas market was very nice, and we split a cup of gluhwein to warm up, and Andy got a sausage while I got a flammekuchen, a thin, pizza-like dish found all over this region (on the France side it is known as tarte flambée).

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Back in the car, we drove further into Germany and into the Black Forest, to arrive at our base for the next few days, the small town of Gengenbach.

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Gengenbach was picture-book adorable.  It is a small village with a medieval main street of half-timbered buildings, anchored by medieval gates to the city.

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The village center was bustling with the Christmas market.  With the sun setting in the background on our first evening there, the atmosphere was magical.

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Gengenbach claims to have the largest Advent calendar in the world, and the main event of each evening is watching that day’s window be unveiled.

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The next day, we set off for exploring the Black Forest.  We took a short train ride (I think about 30 minutes) to the village of Shiltach, another perfect little village at the base of some excellent hiking trails.

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We honestly could not get over how gorgeous this little place was, and would definitely recommend visiting.  The people were quite friendly and the tourist office sorted us out with a hiking map and advice for a short day hike.

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We made our way up out of the village and climbed into the forest.  I know this is cliche, but neither words nor photos do it justice.  We quickly were ascending trails up steep paths past impossibly tall pine trees.  The air was fresh, the trees were beautiful, and the views breathtaking.

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After ascending trails for awhile, things leveled out and we traipsed through meadows and past sun-drenched valleys and the occasional farmhouse.

Germany 1 - 10We had perfect weather and got quite warm at times.  We were surprised there was no snow, but it made for a lovely autumn-like hike and don’t worry, we had plenty of snowy hikes later in this trip.

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We covered about 11 kilometers total, and eventually found ourselves back in Shiltach.  We tried in vain to get a slice of Black Forest cake at one of the recommended tea shops in the village but no luck!  Apparently they sell out quick each day.  Lesson learned: get your cake before the hike.  I would much rather enjoy my cake after the hike than before, hmmph.  No matter, we boarded the train back to Gengenbach.  This was easily one of the highlights of the entire trip for me, and I’d love to explore more of the Black Forest.

The next morning, I awoke early for a run through and around Gengenbach, including a dash up to Jakobskapelle, a chapel overlooking the town.  It was a steep climb to the top but did not take long at all, and I was rewarded with views of the sunrise over the town.

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I rounded out the run with an out and back along the river stretching out of town.  It wasn’t always easy to work out on this trip; most of the locations we were in had some running paths, but our days were actually quite packed and I somehow got in the habit of having a lie-in until at least 7 or 8am most days.  Typically I am up by 6am, but the sun didn’t rise until 8 in most places, and while at home I would run in the dark, I was not interested in doing that in unfamiliar places.  Besides, we were on holiday.  Since we did lots of hikes and long walks most days, I figured it all worked out.

After another trip to the excellent breakfast buffet (we are really well at all of our hotels on this trip; love the European tradition of providing a true “Continental” breakfast with loads of breads, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, muesli, and more – including champagne!) we headed deeper into Germany, driving a few hours to the small Bavarian city of Dinkelsbuhl, on the Romantic Road.  This was to be our destination for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

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Dinkelsbuhl was a very cute and very quiet city at Christmas.  We quickly learned that it shut up tight as a drum for Christmas Eve.  When we first arrived we were not terribly hungry (see above about the fabulous breakfast spreads) so we explored the town and had a coffee but no real lunch –> mistake.

As we realized that every restaurant was closing for dinner, we decided to make the best of it.  All I really wanted to do for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was relax and take it easy, and we had a nice dinner booked in for Christmas night so we were fine with winging it.  We drove around the area, watched the sunset, and procured some snacks to have in the room for dinner.  We spent the evening back in our hotel room having assorted fruits, bread and other snacks with a bottle of Alsatian wine and movies on the iPad.  It was actually really fun.

The next morning, I got up for a peaceful Christmas day run around the old city walls, followed by breakfast at our hotel and later, a nice Christmas day walk around the village with Andy.

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We also spent some quality time reading and having tea, before heading off for our evening plans.  We first went to the city center of Nordlingen, where we watched the sun go down and the Christmas lights come up, and stopped for a pre-dinner drink at a lovely little wine bar.  Then, we moved on to the main event, dinner at Meyers Keller, which turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip; it was traditional German cuisine but done with a modern twist, in a lovely rustic farmhouse setting.  The food was excellent and while the service was a bit odd, we later gathered that this was typical German service so nothing to be concerned about.

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It was an excellent meal and a wonderful, unconventional Christmas for us.  Up next, on to Austria!

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Alaska

Last week I was in Alaska for work. Although most days were spent indoors at meetings, I did get to squeeze in a half-day of touring on the first day, and then a quick hike on my last afternoon before flying out.

IMG_5331The city of Anchorage did not impress me much at all, but the surrounding scenery is breathtaking. On my first morning I went for an early morning run along the coastal path. The sun was up by 5am every day and didn’t set until 11pm or later. Thanks to jet lag, I was up by 4 or 5am each morning, plenty of time to work out before starting the work day. IMG_5336 IMG_5337On our first morning a few of us drove out to Whittier and to Mount Alyeska. We saw a moose on the drive and a number of bald eagles. The scenery is just what you would expect from Alaska: snowcapped mountains, tall pine trees, bubbling streams. I also saw my first glacier. It was really gorgeous.

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The rest of the week was spent working in downtown Anchorage. On Friday afternoon I was able to fit in a short hike (about 1 mile) up to Thunderbird Falls. IMG_5396IMG_5394

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It felt great to get some fresh air and nature before a long night of travel.

Alaska was beautiful, and I am glad I had the chance to go. I know that I barely got to see anything that the state has to offer, but I really didn’t want to extend the trip any longer. It felt so good to get home on Saturday. I don’t think I would ever plan to go back to Alaska for any reason; I love the outdoors, but the long trip up there wasn’t worth it to me. But at least I have one more state checked off the list!

 

Travels in France: the Côte d’Azur (Part Three)

On our third day in the Côte d’Azur, we ventured out early in the morning to do more exploring. We drove along La Grand Corniche, the most romantic road in Europe. The views from the Fort de la Revère at the top were stunning.CDA_1 CDA_2 CDA_3 CDA_4 We stopped to explore the hilltop town of Èze, which was incredible, full of history and character.CDA_5 As in St. Paul de Vence, we were glad to get there early so we could explore the narrow medieval lanes before they became overrun with tourists. If you’ve ever seen the Cary Grant/Grace Kelly film To Catch a Thief, that is exactly what this looked like.CDA_6 We had a light breakfast of espresso and bread at a small cafe just outside the old city walls, and bought a baguette and cheese and fruit at a small outdoor market set up near the cafe, preparations for our hike to come.CDA_7 We drove back the other way across the Riviera, towards Marseille. Our destination was Les Calanques, a set of rocky limestone cliffs punctuated by secluded beaches.

The drive was long, but worth it. It is impossible to drive directly to the cliffs and beaches, so the options are to take a boat from nearby Cassis or Marseille, although those boats don’t actually go ashore, or to walk along the coast from Cassis to a closer-in beach, or rent a kayak.

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Our trusty guide for the hike.

But to get to the most beautiful, hidden cove, at the third Calanque, known as Calanque en Vau, we would need to hike through the park. We didn’t have perfectly clear directions to go on, but pieced together what we read in guidebooks and articles online to determine that we needed to start in a rather random, practically hidden parking lot of a national park. I’m not really sure why it was so hard to get clear directions about how exactly to go about this; it was not like visiting a U.S. national park with visitor centers and park rangers. Rather, we read a random blog post or article somewhere that had directions for where to park, and when we got there, I snapped an iPhone photo of the lone map at the parking lot entrance, and off we went. CDA_9 CDA_10 The trail got quite steep and rocky at times, and there were a few moments when we weren’t quite sure if we were going the right way (turns out, we weren’t – there was some faulty signage). It took us around two hours, I think, to make it to the shore.CDA_11 CDA_12 CDA_13 But eventually we made it, and it was absolutely stunning. Definitely one of the major highlights of this trip. I love hikes that end with an amazing beach.CDA_14 CDA_15 The hike probably took us about two hours, and we collapsed gratefully in the sand (err, pebbles) and dug into our baguette, cheese, and fruit lunch. So very tasty.

We dove into the freezing cold, crystal clear water and I kept pinching myself, unable to believe this was real. It was like no place I’d ever been. I felt like I was in a movie. A European movie.CDA_16 After about two hours on the beach, we left for the return hike out, with some trepidation. However, we found an alternate route that was much easier, and it took probably an hour or an hour and a half to get back to the car.CDA_17 CDA_18 Upon our return to Vence that night, we cleaned up quickly, and despite being kind of exhausted, we dashed back out for our last evening in Vence, anxious to explore the town some more.CDA_19 CDA_20 CDA_21 We had one last meal and carafe of wine, sitting in an outdoor courtyard in Vence.

The next morning, we grabbed a quick espresso and croissant for breakfast, taking in the sights and feels of Vence one last time. Vence felt like the most livable of all the small towns in the area that we explored, like a real town with people going to work, more than just tourists and art galleries.

We embarked on our drive up to Provence, our destination for the next few days. The drive, which took about four hours, was gorgeous, taking us over mountains and along cliffs, through more hilltop villages and river towns.CDA_22 CDA_23 CDA_24Up next: Provence!

Summer

This summer brought lots of great travel, lots of (mostly) great running, and some pretty nice weather for much of the summer here in DC.

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Best part of summer is Sunday morning farmers market trips.

June and July were dominated by our amazing Turkey/France trip (which I haven’t quite finished writing about).

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Istanbul

After we returned in July, I started training for the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon. The first few weeks were a bit rough as I tried to up my mileage in the midst of a heat wave and a work trip to Forth Worth.

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Early morning run in Fort Worth. They have a nice riverfront path there. That’s about all I have to say about Forth Worth.

In August, I got into the rhythm and fell in love with marathon training again. I went to Philly one weekend to see friends, and to Portland (Maine) for a work trip. Somehow I have no pictures of Portland. I was kind of underwhelmed by the town, to be honest; I think my expectations were too high, and I’m sure if it had been a trip for pleasure I would have had a different experience.

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Rittenhouse Square in Philly. Love Philly.

Marathon Training

I am doing Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 plan; perhaps it is a bit ambitious for me, but I want a challenge. I like that he has me doing five days a week, and I’ve integrated hill work, pace work, and speedwork into the weekday runs. For some reason, I actually prefer doing hill work to speedwork, but I know I should do both. I really want to break four hours in the marathon, but I have to be realistic that my paces this summer just aren’t predicting that.

Hal Higdon Intermediate 2 Marathon Plan

Hal Higdon Intermediate 2 Marathon Plan

I’ve had some amazing runs, like a 17-miler on a cool morning two weeks ago that felt like the easiest thing in the world, and some fantastic mid-week hill workouts. I’ve also had some disappointing runs, like an 18-miler this weekend on a hot, hilly, un-shaded course. I’ve tried to remind myself that some runs are better than others, and not to beat myself up over the bad ones.

I’ve also been living in fear of the recurrence of an injury that could keep me out of the race again. I admit that my hip has been a tad twitchy, so I’ve been stretching and foam rolling constantly, and also doing exercises to strengthen and balance my hips, core, etc. I really like the Nike Training Club app for this, and I also use the Pocket Yoga app sometimes.

I let my pilates, spin and yoga class passes all expire; I know they are good for me, but it’s too much pressure and too exhausting to try to fit in scheduled classes on top of running five days a week and working more than full-time, so I’m happier fitting these things in at home when I can, on my own schedule, and the apps are especially helpful with that. I’m sure I’ll go to a random yoga class here and there over the next two months, but I’d rather do it on a drop-in basis than have a class pass to use up.

Hiking the Billy Goat Trail

I have been so ridiculously excited for this three-day Labor Day weekend, you’d think I had a week off, not just one day. Yesterday, Andy and I decided to rent a car and do fun stuff in the region that’s not easy to do without a car. First up was hiking the Billy Goat Trail, a popular local trail in the Great Falls National Park, located just outside DC on the Potomac. It’s not far at all from the city, and you can actually bike or run there via the C&O Canal; I’m thinking about routing one of the long runs up that way soon.

Anyway, we did Part A of the Billy Goat, which is billed as being difficult and involving lots of scrambling over rocks.billy goat1Much of the “path” goes along craggy rocks and boulders. It’s not terribly steep, but it’s quite technical so you have to really pay attention to every step. There is one particularly steep section (see below) that requires you to basically crawl up the side of the cliff, but we did it just fine.billy goat3The views over the water were gorgeous, and it felt amazing to be out in nature, yet so close to the city. However, yesterday was a really hot, humid day, and the path was pretty crowded with other hikers so it didn’t feel that isolated.billy goat4 billy goat5 billy goat6I really enjoyed this, but I think next time I want to go someplace different. I would rather hike to the top of a mountain in the woods than scramble over rocks.

After the hike, we did several other things that it’s best to do with a car: drive along parts of the Marine Corps Marathon course on the Arlington side (umm, it is hillier than I thought…that scared me), go to the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Falls Church (first Punkin Ale of the season!), and have Vietnamese in Eden Center. We went to Nha Trang, and felt like we really were in another country.eden1

Today, I am enjoying a long, relaxing day of reading and writing at home. I’m sad to see the summer ending, but excited for fall weather, cool mornings, more pumpkin ale, and marathoning!