Biking Portugal

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Anyone considering biking in Portugal, there’s an essential tool you must have and that’s the National Cycling Network guidebook, which maps out nearly 5,000 km of routes and includes GPS tracks in KML and GPX file formats, so you can follow the routes on your smartphone. As well, the guide has great photography and descriptions, so you have a really good idea of what your trip will entail before you begin.

The author, Paulo Guerra dos Santos, is an engineer specializing in road project design, so this is right up his alley. This was a huge project and he undertook it basically all on his own. I was fortunate to have some participation in the guide, as after purchasing the English version I quickly realized that his text could use some copy editing. I contacted Paulo and offered my services, for free, and he took me up on it. Worked out very well for me, as it has forced me to get to know Portugal’s biking pathways from north to south, east to west. I feel I now have a good understanding of the terrain and what to expect. I’m more than ready to begin and plan to start biking Portugal sometime this fall.

The National Cycle Network Map

Is a Southern Border Wall Inevitable?

Having spent nearly half my life in Mexico, the same amount in Canada and the remainder in the USA (and some in Europe), it is impossible to not have given some thought to Trump’s wall along the U.S. southern border. I’ve been against in from the beginning. Aside from being a nearly impossible (ie: its costs and logistics) project to actually accomplish, the world doesn’t need another wall separating countries, and it especially shouldn’t need one between two countries that share so much in common and are so intrinsically linked.

But I’m starting to think that perhaps the wall is going to be something the U.S. may need, unfortunately, if corrupt governance, impoverished economies, climate catastrophe and criminal violence in Central American countries continue to increasingly drive migrants north.

And I think there are many smart people who know this, but it is not a topic that they can openly talk about. Trump and his wall supporters can’t because they deny climate change, which is primarily the reason why the wall, ironically, may now be needed. Liberals can’t talk about it because of the terrible humanitarian and socially unimaginable actions this would entail.

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My Daily Cancer Schedule

Each week day I have radio treatment. No set time, they give me a schedule at the end of the week for when I have to come in for the following week. I have chemo treatment as well, scheduled at the beginning, middle and end of my radio therapy treatments.

I take the #89 bus, which fortunately stops a 1/2 block from our apartment. Usually it’s a 20 minute ride, down Vaugirard, over rue de Rennes, past the Luxembourg Gardens and then stops right in front of the Pantheon. It’s a lovely route and I’m getting to know nearly every shop and restaurant storefront along the way. Luxembourg Garden’s gates are lined with professional photography (they do this every year with a different theme) regarding work around the world. I’m getting to know those images quite well as well. 

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My Current “Travels”

I haven’t posted recently. First, because every year in November we return to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where we’ve spent much of our lives, and what we do there seems to be, for the most part, a repeat of what we’ve been doing for years. So no need to repeat myself, or write about what I’ve already written about so many times for the many publications we’d published here over the years. Been there, done that.

In the spring, however, we returned to Europe, which usually entails a series of new adventures, adventures we’d been planing and working on while in Mexico. But this year I returned with something I certainly hadn’t been expecting to bring – cancer.

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Cinque Terre from the Air

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Making the movie above nearly cost me my drone. On the last day of this trip to Cinque Terre I got perhaps a little too confident in my flying abilities, and that of the drone.

Although I own a drone, I don’t consider myself as one who “flies drones”. Some like to race them, performing amazing maneuvers or tricks, but that’s not why I have a drone. I see it more as a camera that has wings. Getting the camera away from me and up in the air has opened up a whole new approach to taking pictures. With the drone I can place my lens in places where previously I could only accomplish with a helicopter or plane.

A photographer is always trying to find a new angle, searching for a new way to express themselves or their subject via still images or video. It is what has driven me to climb mountains, rock faces, to go to places where if I didn’t have a camera around my neck and an idea in my head of what a great shot this could be, I would never otherwise have done it. Good photographers are always pushing the envelope.

When I got a drone, I was quite conservative with my flying as I learned how it functioned and flew. I kept close to shore and away from potential objects I could run into. But the more I used the drone, the more it opened me to new possibilities. I’d start thinking, “Well, what if I were to…” I soon learned that if you aren’t getting into a little trouble with your drone, well then, you aren’t pushing yourself to get some really great shots.

But that’s also when I started getting into trouble. Continue reading

Visit to Cinque Terre

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Corniglia, in the middle of Cinque Terre

The week before we were to head to Cinque Terre from Nice, the weather forecast said it would be raining the whole time we’d be there. And the day before we left it did, indeed, rain. But then the skies opened up, the weather Gods looked fondly upon us, and we ended up with clear blue skies during our whole trip, until we returned and the clouds started rolling back in. Lucky again.

We drove over, stopping for lunch in the seaside town of Alassio. The drive should have been about 2 1/2 hours, but with the collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa, traffic was so bad that it added 40 minutes to our trip. We could see the bridge as we drove through, and also see the effect it is having on the city. It is making life terrible for the residents of the town. Unfortunately there is no good alternative route, so everyone that’s traveling on the coast freeway has to detour and drive through the middle of the town. It’s a mess and it will be for awhile.

Cinque Terre is situated on the eastern shore of the Ligurian Sea, a sea which has Italy for its northern and eastern borders, France for its western, and Corsica for its southern border. We had thought it would work out best for us if we had a hotel in the middle of Cinque Terre so it would be easier to access all the villages we wanted to see. We felt somewhere up high, near the village of San Bernardino would work best, and found a wonderful B&B called Ca de Ventu just above the village. And because of the clear skies that we had, we could see basically all of the Ligurian Sea from there.

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Ca de Ventu B&B (to the left)

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Train (and bike) Ride to Tende, France

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We’ve been wanting to venture farther from the coast with our bikes, but not having a car to take them has made that difficult. So we looked into taking a train and found one that goes leaves to Tende, a small town that sits alongside the Italian border in the national Mercantour park, and allows bikes on board. The train follows what was the old “Route de Sel” or salt route.

Salt production and trading has been carried on in the Nice-Piedmonte region for over two thousand years. It was transported by boat along the Mediterranean coast to Nice and then brought inland through the mountains by mule. Salt was an essential part of the lives of those living in the Piedmonte/Savoy region, known as “white gold,” used to preserve foods during the summer in order to last through the winter, and for nourishment.

During the Bronze Age these were simple paths that followed the Roya River into upper Italy. Later, the Romans built roads, but by the 9th century they had disappeared, mostly destroyed by locals to protect themselves against invading barbarians using them. In the 14th century trade began once again as the Count of Savoy took control of the salt trade and improved the route. By the end of the 16th century the route was a road once again, linking Nice and Turin, and upwards of 30,000 mules loaded with salt made the trip each year.  The train route followed during the 19th century.

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Nice train station

IMG_4092What a surprise was in store for us, for not only was it a comfortable train and ride, with plenty of space for our bikes and us, but there was also a guide on board who provided a running commentary, in French and English, about the history of the places the train passed through on its journey north.

The train departs the Nice station daily at 9:17, from June until the end of September, (on weekends only in May and October), arriving in Tende at around 11:30. One can go the whole distance or get off at any of the 14 stops along the way. And the tickets prices are reasonable, our one-way tickets cost us together just 13 euros.

We were in for another surprise for as soon as we got off the train it began to rain. We rode into Brei-sur-Roya, but it only started raining harder so we stopped at a cafe for strong cappuccinos. After a half-hour the rain eased up so we decided to try our luck. Continue reading

Our time in Nice has come to an end

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Nice Pano 1After six years of living in Nice for close to six months of each year, our time is coming to an end. We’ve very much enjoyed the Cote d’Azur, and are not ruling out that we could be back sometime down the line as Nice just has so much to offer. The weather may be the best in Europe. The location, just next to Italy, with the Med in front and the foothills of the French Alps behind, is exceptional. There’s Old Town, the port, and amazing markets such as Saleya. Restaurants are wonderful and plentiful. The transportation system with the buses and trams works very well. The airport has more connections to the outside world, (136 direct-by-air destinations, at usually great rates, to places throughout Europe and elsewhere), except for perhaps Paris. The promenade is superb, as is the Pavillon park that runs through the middle of the city.

Most of our outdoor activities have involved walks, hikes, and biking. We’ve walked most of the coastal “sentier” trails along the Cote d’Azure, which I covered here and here and here. Once we had done those we started hiking up into the hills, which I covered here and here and here. When we were done with that we started biking, first along the coast and then up into the hills, which I covered here and here and here and here . And there are just so many great hilltop villages to visit, such as St. Paul de Vence, Gourdon, Eze, St. Agnes and so many more. In the winter (when we were in Europe) we went skiing in Auron or Valberg.  Although we’ve done a lot, we’ve really just barely touched upon all that there is to do in and around Nice.

As our time was coming to an end, we had just started traveling outside of the Cote d’Azur by car, into Italy and Provence, short trips that that only took a few hours, and which I covered here and here and here and here.

We’ll miss our daily swims in the Med from late spring until early fall. Will definitely miss the fresh food markets and the many wonderful events held annually, such as the Nice Jazz Festival, Monaco Boat Show or Grand Prix.

But there’s a lot going on in Lisbon and we look forward to discovering all there is to do there. More of that to come…

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L’Ile de Noirmoutier

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For more than 20 years we have returned each summer to the island of Noirmoutier, (just off the French coast, a little south of Nantes), spending the month of August visiting family and enjoying a very laid-back style of life, a welcome change for many years from our otherwise busy business lifestyle. For the kids it was a time to reconnect with their cousins and polish up on their French.

This past August I brought my drone along and did a little filming of the island. Shooting with a drone on Noirmoutier can be difficult as it is often quite windy and the weather can change quickly. I had hoped to film the Gois Passage, which at low tide links Noirmouter to the mainland. But the combination of having good weather and no wind when the tide was down, did not work out.

British Columbia Summer Visit

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Downtown Vancouver and False Creek basin

For the past few years I’ve been spending the month of July in Canada visiting family and old friends, staying primarily in Vancouver, but also visiting the central region of British Columbia known as the Okanagan, as well as Vancouver Island. I love returning to cosmopolitan Vancouver for so many reasons – many shared also by Condé Nast Traveler readers who continually rate it as one ten best cities in the world. Surrounded by mountains and ocean, its rugged beauty attracts people from around the world, to both live and visit. Vancouver is a city of ethnic diversity. A short walk down any street will have you hearing languages and seeing people from around the globe. And those that have come have brought their culture, especially their cuisine, making it a great food city as well.

In the Okanagan my father has a home that overlooks Kalamalka Lake just north of Kelowna. It’s a beautiful lake that sees very little wind, few boats, making it perfect for paddle boarding. An old school friend has a paddle board rental shop close by (Kalavida Surf Shop) and lives across the street where he keeps 2-3 boards in his garage that he lets me take out whenever I want. It’s also a great area for golfing, with numerous courses scattered around neighboring Okanagan Lake.

Okanagan Lake is called a fjord lake, (long and narrow), as it has been carved out by repeated glaciations that have left it with a steep shoreline and very deep waters; maxing out at 232 meters. It is 135 km long and it is not uncommon for the lake to be 100 meters deep only 10 meters offshore.

IMG_0429Over the past year my father has been working on building a small 15′ wooden (and fiberglass) gaff sailboat in his garage, so I was excited to get the opportunity to try it out and sail with him. But with little wind on the lake, we decided to trailer it down to Vancouver. Once in there we launched the boat at a ramp under the Burrard Street bridge and enjoyed a few days of 14-16 knot winds allowing us to really give the boat a good run. Once out of the mouth of False Creek we sailed into English Bay, following the shores of Stanley Park and Spanish Banks, with the gorgeous skyline of downtown Vancouver behind us.

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After about a week of sailing we headed over to Vancouver Island, visiting friends in Nanaimo before making our way to Tofino on the western coastline of the island. Tofino is Mecca for surfing in Canada, with people coming from all over to put on wetsuits and surf its cold waters. The area is simply spectacular for hiking, fishing and of course, surfing.

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Cox Bay, one of Tofino’s most popular surf spots

 

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Rosie and Chesterman (far background) Beaches

In Tofino we stayed at the Pacific Sands resort which is made up mostly of apartments and townhouses situated along the beach for rent, but there is also a home at the far end of Cox Bay that sits up high on a point that provides spectacular panoramic views of the beaches of Cox, Rosie and Chesterman. We stayed for four nights visiting family and friends, then leaving to make room for the next guest who happened to be Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and family, who would be staying for two weeks at this lovely home. Justin enjoys surfing and the privacy Tofino provides his family. This would be his second time in two years he’s returned to Tofino for a summer vacation.

Tofino is an oasis of old-growth rainforests, wildlife, recreation and exploration. Locals include whales, eagles, bears, salmon, otters, cougars, wolves, herons, ospreys, and steelhead; and visitors are migrating whales and birds. It is also eclectic and bohemian in nature. For those familiar with Sayulita, the surf town just north of Puerto Vallarta, there are a lot of parallels between the two. I’m sure many of the people I saw this summer in Tofino are the same ones I’ll see again this winter in Sayulita – at least in character.

From Tofino I returned to Vancouver for more family/friend visiting, plus a little more sailing, before departing back to Nice.