Wednesday, July 21, 2010

High roads, low jokes

I remember when I used to write letters and not have any photos. Then I started writing shorter letters and including a few photos. Now I'm mostly telling stories by using the photos. Either way, it's fun for me. Enjoy!


I'd spent the night not too far from here, back under those clouds, and let the GPS tell me the route. It turned out to be a famous cycling route, featured in the Tour de France as recently as 2008. The top is called "Col de la Bonette." It's one of the highest roads in Europe. 
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In the full-sized version of this photo, I can see five or six bicyclists climbing the pass, even in this weather.
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Here's the top. It turns out the riders were competing in the Tour de Faroz-mi-Bolox. It was cold! It must have rained very hard just before I got there, too, because parts of the road were littered with big and small boulders that had rolled down from the hill.
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The original road had been a donkey trail before it was turned into a road in 1832 and maintained by the army. I think these are part of the military ruins.
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The French are serious about their biking! I couldn't even be bothered to get out of the car to take this pic - I shot it through the windshield. There are many of these signs along the route, on both sides of the pass.
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Now we're down the other side, approaching Nice. An inviting hiking path leads across the little bridge. I really love hikes in the forest.
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This stream bisected a beautiful little village.
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I bought the optional adapter that allows my GPS to map my lower intestines! That would be amazing if it was true. This is another road the gizmo took me on. I've been amazed at the trouble that this thing can get you in. It doesn't just pick easy routes, that's for sure.
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I know I'm not the fastest driver when I'm sober, but GEESH, the bleeping French are something else! My dumpy little rental car can barely attain the speed limit on the curvy roads, and these race car drivers come from behind then pass me so fast it's hard to believe. I'm sure we share a lot of things with the French, but the laws of physics and deodorant (based on the jokes) are not among them. This isn't my rental, by the way.
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I camped below this amazing little village of Touet Sur Var. Amazing! I walked up and into the old medieval part at the top.
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The outskirts of the village, before going into the walled section.
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Looking down from a trail on the far side of town.
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Still higher up. The campsite is out of frame, but just across the river.
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I saw maybe 10 cats in the village. That's an intense expression.
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Inside the walls. I felt like I was wandering through someone's living room.
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Back down in town - this is the "highway" that goes right through town. Seriously, you'd be shocked to see how fast some drivers come through town.
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The view of the pizza maker, looking up towards the old village.
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A different view at dusk.
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The "camping" light was flashing on and off, and I imagined a bzzt-bzzzzzzt noise. It was a funky, bare-bones campsite with hardly any grass, a pet ferret in the cafe, and John Wayne poster hanging on a wall. The owner didn't speak a word of English, and I don't speak a word of French. Interesante! (That might be French, but I don't know.)
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Culture shock. And traffic shock. The Mediterranean, one day after snowy mountains. I wanted to cruise along the coast for a while, but I got in a massive traffic jam, and it was really hot, so that cured that longing. It was a long day of driving anyway as I resigned myself, reluctantly, to driving on the toll roads. I'm turning in my car tomorrow morning, and taking a train to where the walk starts in the afternoon. 
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European liberalism, explained. (As seen on a toilet in a Swiss campground.) If it's not obvious, it means sit down to pee. So it doesn't splash all over your quirky S&M uniform, I guess.
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(The End)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Drive Pray Love

When I'm on the road there are so many beautiful photos. Sorry to be clogging up your inbox! I left Munich three days ago and spent two nights in Switzerland before spending last night in the French Alps. European campgrounds are mostly like KOA's back home, which is not a compliment if you don't know them. But the spot I'm in now is great, in a deep valley with a rushing river on one side and a little stream on the other. And they serve lattes. And today there was a van in the campground with a full-sized pizza oven inside, cranking out great pizzas. Nice.

This may be my last newsletter before I'm away from internet for three weeks. If you don't  hear from me, that's why.


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A small but beautiful chapel in Switzerland.
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A manicured Swiss cemetery.
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How do you build an arch like this over such a deep canyon? I have no idea. That's the rail line, and the car highway is behind it.
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This plaque was embedded in a large rock in a park in the town of Novara in Italy.
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I can't forget Novara. I'm trying, though. I parked my car, started walking down a pedestrian-only lane in the center or town, made a few turns, had some good gelato - and realized I had NO idea where I was parked. None. I imagined walking the perimeter of the town to find my car, or tracking down a taxi, or, or I don't know what. I don't do it often, but it's not the first time. I did the same thing once in a town in China at 11 pm, and didn't know my hotel name so I couldn't even ask anyone, not that they'd understand me. I wandered around for about an hour before I found my car in Novara. I miss my Mom, even when she'd say, "Honey, you've got to be more careful!"
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Steve Martin: "It's like those people have a different word for EVERYTHING!"
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The rest of the photos are from today's hike into a French national park in the Alps. The blue color in the water below is natural, even though it looks otherwise.
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The valley in the distance is where the hike starts, and where I'm camped.
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Lunch. Since when did I get to be so delicate? Is this what taking care of yourself looks like? Maybe that's why I don't recognize it.
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One of two lakes on the hike. This is at 2500 meters, or around 8,000 feet elevation.
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The rockpile graveyard. This is where they go to die.
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The second lake.
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The lake spills out to this river, which plunges, eventually, about 3,000 feet to the valley floor.
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Why does everyone love waterfalls? Really. I'm asking.
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You can see the trail across the center.
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The river out of Lake 2.
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That is one big mountain.
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The very old village has been incorporated into the national park, and people live here. But they have to walk up a pretty good grade for 45 minutes to get here. You can stay overnight in one of the buildings. It looks like a beautiful place to stay.
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(The End)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Photos of the drive to Munich, and around

Surely I must have some stories! None that need sharing at this moment. It's 2 a.m. here, and I'm hitting the road tomorrow. I've been staying with my friend Brigitte, who I met at Canyon de Chelly National Park in Arizona, in 2001. She lives in Munich, and has been taking great care of me, since she recognized early on that I'm pretty well unable to care for myself properly. I like that! I play the incompetent role so well that I don't think anyone doubts it. Especially not me.

I'm off to a group walk in the south of France that begins on July 22nd, which means I have something like 1,000 miles to drive before then. Yikes. Good night!


A kayaker's paradise in the French Alps, just before the border into Italy. Lots of English and Dutch tourists in the area.
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Mountainous terrain.
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I love these valleys.
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My Jason Bourne moment, without the expensive car, beautiful girl, or helicopter giving chase. 
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Sometimes you just need your privato. We're in Italy!
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I am fascinated by old stone houses.
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This waterfall was within earshot of the campground where I spent the night.
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I got such a great deal on my rental car! I got it from "Rent Ze Wreck I Spit On You! Patooh!!, Inc." Those guys rock. As the BMW's and Audi's come FLYING past me on the freeway, I yell out, "How does it feel to beat up a cripple?!" This isn't my car, by the way.
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Just near here I came up to Immigration Control on the highway. He asked if I had anything to declare. I wanted to say, "I'd like to declare that I don't know what country I'm driving into." I thought it was Austria, but there'd be no immigration. Turns out it was Switzerland, and I was too embarrassed to tell him I didn't know. I was just driving around looking for clues, and it took a while. True story!
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A perfect and uniform Swiss cemetery, as opposed to the (relatively) chaotic French one from the last newsletter.
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An old solid metal bolt on a barn door.
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These guys were sweating this one. It wasn't obvious that it would make it, but it did.
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This beautiful little girl, suffering from car sickness, has a Swiss father and Taiwanese mother. Mom lived in San Francisco for some years and speaks good English, Mandarin, and a local Italian dialect that her extended Swiss family speaks. She can't speak proper Italian.
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A manor built in 1800.
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Incredibly green grass and rugged mountains surround these villages.
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It was tough enough getting up this in my little rental car, but big ol' busses drive it too.
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Not far from St. Moritz, Switzerland.
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A difficult drive in the car with the hills and turns, but I saw lots of bikers riding this road. This is the top of the pass.
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Swiss cheese makers.
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A circus was set up on the outskirts of Munich.
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A group of people "canyoning". (Some years ago a sudden rainstorm created a flash flood and buried something like nine canyoners in a wall of mud.)
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This chute was pretty tight.
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We hiked in this area.
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A canal on the way to Salzburg, Austria, for a day trip.
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Salzburg, Austria. Beautiful place!
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Cuz tonight we're gonna party like it's 1599.
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Trink Coke. This is Munich's rail station.
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This reminds me of an M.C. Escher diagram. A shopping center in Munich.
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A fountain near the center of Munich. It was really roasting the week I was here, like 90 degrees and humid. Unlike Singapore, many of the buildings don't have air conditioning.
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This river is a popular bathing area right in the center of Munich. Some of the women go topless. I was taking photos, like I do everywhere, until a security guard told me it wasn't permitted. So they take their clothes off, and I'm the perv? Nice. A minute later, a guy with a big telephoto lens was clearly taking close-ups of topless women while keeping an eye on the security guard so he wouldn't get caught. Oh. I see why they need a guard.
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Beautiful classical music in the main square of Munich, including a guy playing a grand piano.
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One of the famous beer gardens in Munich. They're HUGE. So are the one-liter jugs of beer, seen in the front of the photo.
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A famous church in Munich, originally built for the private use of someone with too much money. He probably would have disagreed.
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The Marienplatz square in Munich, from a tower that I climbed.
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From the tower.
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You don't normally see so many combs in one window. Nope.
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My friend Brigitte's dog, Lisa.
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Beautiful Noah. He's the one year-old child at the house where Brigitte is house-sitting.
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(The End)