Woke up last Wednesday to a veritable snow storm. It was the day we were planning to drive to Italy - which meant crossing the Alps on the Brenner Pass. We still had our snow tires on the car so we took off and hoped for the best. There was actually no snow on the Brenner, I needn't had worried. The abundant snow - abundant at least for this time of year - made a nice contrast to the sunny side of the Alps.
Our first stop was in St. Michael, a small wine growing village in the South Tyrolean community of Eppan, where we treated ourselves to a fine meal and a good bottle of wine. It was our wedding anniversary and we celebrated.
The next morning we continued on to Lake Garda, leaving the mountains behind us. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful spring day.
It was a short trip. We spent two days in Moniga de la Garda and were home for the week-end ... where we are still waiting for spring temperatures.
Flawless weather and it's only a 20-minute bike ride from home to Munich's Botanischer Garten. Mainly tulips and daffodils are blossoming, but some cherry trees are still in bloom and the magnolias are magnificent this year. Loved it!
It's a sunny morning and we have a traditional bicycle date. Every spring sometime around Easter, that is whenever we get a nice day, we ride our bikes with our friend Jane to Schleissheim, 13 km north of Munich, for a beer garden breakfast - without beer. Bavarian beer garden etiquette allows you to bring your own food but not drinks. But since we were there early and knew that the stands selling either coffee or beer wouldn't be open yet, we violated the tradition and brought our own coffee in a thermos, Jane brought the Easter cake.
We enjoyed our picnic at the tables under the chestnut trees. The leaves on the trees were just beginning to open, but then we didn't need shade. The sun was welcome.
As tradition will have it, after our coffee we took a walk in the park behind Schleissheim Palace.
Perfect weather for our pre-Easter outing. Although the morning was cool, by the time we got on our bikes for the ride back home we didn't need our warm jackets any more.
A sunny spring day and you don't have to ask me twice to go on a bike ride to a beer garden for lunch. It wasn't quite as warm as it looked however. It was definitely too chilly for the bike shorts that I was wearing. But the sun was grand and the trees were budding a tender green.
Janos and I cycled out of Munich to the west, past Nymphenburg Palace and Blutenburg Palace and its church which is well worth visiting. The interior is beautifully furnished in the late Gothic style.
After 17 km we arrived at the Bienenheim beer garden in Lochhausen. We sat outdoors of course, as it was a beer garden, but it was still a little too cool. I ordered a proper Bavarian meal and hoped that would warm me up. It helped.
The sun was stronger for the return trip and by the time we pedaled the final kilometers, I was feeling as warm as toast.
Time to start getting in shape so we took advantage of some pleasant early spring weather for a short, two-day tour. Under a bright blue sky we headed for Scheyern, location of a monastery and beer brewery established in 1119, as well as a place to sleep, all located in pretty Bavarian countryside.
All went well although we had some challenging hills as we got closer to Scheyern, and we definitely were a little saddle sore after not having ridden a tour of any length for quite a while!
How good it was to be on the road again, to sit down on a park bench for a simple roadside picnic, to discover little towns we didn't know existed, to curse the climbs and gloat upon reaching the top with the best views, to be outdoors all day long and to experience the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching our destination at the end of the day.
For the return ride we chose a different route, which again treated us to a pretty and hilly bit of Bavaria. We marveled at - and were also thankful for - the number of excellent dedicated bike paths we encountered which took us off roads with no shoulder and too much traffic.
In the two days we covered a little over 100 kilometers. A good start into the season. A few more days in the saddle and we'll be fit for the big tour.
Our time in Andalusia came to an end and in mid-February we returned to Munich. The snow was gone and it looked like spring was just around the corner. Which meant one thing to me - time to get on my bike.
Since then I have had bike touring on my brain. Janos and I haven't been doing too much cycling for a while. Everyday cycling around town, yes, but we haven't gone on any extended tours. There was a short tour in the Czech Republic and another one north of Berlin, but neither of them was much more than a week. The passion was dormant, but it's still there and has now resurfaced.
We have decided on a tour in Belgium, or more precisely Flanders, home of my maternal grandparents who immigrated to the US when they were in their teens. My mother spoke Flemish - or Dutch, it's the same language - as a child and yes, I'd like to have a closer look at the country where my grandparents came from.
Another reason for touring in Flanders is that there is an extensive network of bike paths. Not to forget the many varieties of good beer, the pommes frites, waffles, Belgian chocolate ... oh, so many reasons to go to Belgium. And last but not least - it's flat! At least Flanders is, and that is where we are headed.
I think I have the logistics worked out. It should be simple. There is a direct train from Munich (where we live) to Düsseldorf which takes bicycles. From there it will be about 100 km to the Belgian border. The return trip is still open. I like to picture us cycling all the way back - but let's first see how we feel on a longer tour after so many years. We're both closer to 80 than 70 and I want to remain realistic.
I haven't written much about my recent hobby, walking, yet. It started last August when I decided to take part in a 5K charity race for walkers and runners. I knew I could walk the distance, that was no problem. In the past I was such a slow jogger that I never would have dreamed of taking part in any race. I was curious to see if I would be just as slow at power walking. I made a training plan for the six weeks I had before the race and when the the date in early October rolled around, I was ready. I was able to finish first in the 75 - 80 age group for women! And I was proud to be the second oldest walker altogether. I'm still not fast, but everything is relative.
Fast forward to mid-December in Conil: Since the race in Munich, I have continued power walking and have been working on increasing my distances as well as pace. In Munich I had a choice of a few parks where I enjoyed walking, but they were parks. For walks with more country and nature I had to drive a fair distance. Not so in Conil - here I can walk from the front door and am on the beach or on the path behind the strip of marshland behind the beach. No city streets, cars, buildings to the right and left, just the feeling of endless sky, water and sand.
We've been here three weeks now and I have been walking regularly and increasing my distances. My pace is erratic. Sometimes I think I am making progress, some days I am just as slow as ever. I have been walking but not journaling, alas. I had every intention to record my walking experience here. Today, the first day of winter and when my shadow is at its longest, is the beginning.
This morning I did 8 km at a very slow plod. It was actually a record for slow. I walked the path that starts on the other side of the Rio Salado. It continues along the marshland bordering the beach and on past the Torre Castilnovo, ending at another little river before you reach El Palmar, the next village. It's a rough path with stones, some big puddles left by the heavy rains earlier in the month and some soft sand, not a path for achieving a fast pace but more for forgetting the time and enjoying a good walk.
So here we are in our cosy apartmnet in Conil de la Frontera. What do we do all day long you ask? The answer is, about the same things we do at home. As at home there is shopping and cooking and eating, photography and time at the computer, and walking. Here we are also busy discovering our surroundings. As at home, some days I sleep well, some days I don't. Some days I'm full of energy and on top of things, some days I'm not. Same as at home. But some things are different.
We were in Conil three years ago. On our way home from Portugal in our camper van, we stopped in Conil for two weeks, mainly because friends were also here and we enjoyed their company. We saw enough of Conil to know that we liked it. However, staying at the camping grounds on the outskirts of the town, we never got a feeling for the town itself and were on the beach only a few times. We were living in Campervanland, not Conil. This time it's different.
The most obvious reason I like it this time around better is that we are in town and three minutes from the beach. Almost everything seems to be within walking distance. I have miles and miles of walking opportunities. I can cross the Rio Salado on the one side of Conil and walk to the 16th Century defense tower down the coast, I can walk along the beach in the other direction to little restaurants for a glass of wine or until the beach stops at the foot of the cliffs. I can walk to the market, If we take the car a short distance, there are new paths for us to explore near the lighthouse. Although we had our bikes with us three years ago, we weren't half as active. I wasn't into walking then, either.
I say I am busy with about the same things as at home, yet it is very different. Not just because it's Spain and not Germany but because it's not city. It's being on the coast, seeing the ocean from the living room window. When I walk, it's being alone on the beach with the wind and waves. It's experiencing weather, not good weather as opposed to bad weather but sky, storm, sun, wind, the sound of the surf, the blinding reflection of the sun on the water, the change of the beach at high tide and low tide.
That is what I love most about Conil.
Perhaps it's more than Conil.
.It must have been a cold grey day sometime back in February when Janos and I decided that we didn't want to spend next winter in Munich. We have been through this before. We rode our bicycles in Thailand. We spent one winter in a camper traveling the Portugese and Spanish coast. Yes, we have found escapes, but they aren't quite as viable today as they were some years ago. Cycling in Asia is a big undertaking - to put it more honestly, we are feeling too old for that kind of adventure. We are very glad we did it when we did. The camper was also good - for a while. But it meant living at very close quarters, and when it rained, and it does rain in Spain in the winter and not only on the plains, it was a bit cramped. It was a fun adventure, but we've been there, done that, and knew when it was time to say goodbye to the camper.
The new plan was to rent a small apartment on the Spanish coast for part of the winter. That is what we did and that is where we are now. We were lucky - we found a rather perfect place through Air B&B and as it is off-season the price was right. It might be off-season officially, but I wouldn't want to be here any other time. There are almost no tourists here now, in the summer the population is four times higher, mainly Germans and Brits. Fortunately, the town of Conil is big enough to exist in its own right. Shops and restaurants are open, you see children on their way to school in the morning, there is life in the streets. Of course it's not Florida or Arizona, not as warm. But we are enjoying the sunny days and knowing that we won't have to contend with ice and snow. I don't think a few rainy days or cloudy skies will be able to spoil our time here.
Our apartment has a view to the ocean. We can see the surf, on stormy nights we can hear it. We can walk to the beach in three minutes. For good reason it is called Costa de la Luz, Coast of Light. The light here is magic. And the sunsets magnificent.
A few photos from my walks in and around Conil in the first week.
Four months later :
The sequel to our bicycle tour never took shape, neither in writing nor in pedaling. We didn't spend too many days on the road after we stopped cycling. I'm not for car travel. We spent the rest of August, and all of September, October and November at home. And enjoyed it.
I spent leisurely days with my camera and got involved in a new project - walking. Now at the age of 76, I decided to enter a 5K charity walking race, my first race ever. I figured I can walk 5K and either I do it slow or not so slow. So I trained for the six weeks that I had before the race and had a ball. I was quite satisfied with my race results, being the second oldest participant and not the last to cross the finish.
At the moment that I write this, we are in Spain on the Costa de la Luz, in the town of Conil de la Frontera. More to come on our stay here.
... is a space for every day shots, day outings or longer trips, and those photos that are simply documenting the what and the where. I hope I will have some hikes and bike rides to write about - and maybe some longer bike tours again? There will also be car trips and trips by plane, for sure. Stay tuned!