Thursday, July 28, 2011

In the south of France, the Dharma Yatra begins!

Hello all,

I don't have time for much of an update. I dropped off Regina yesterday near Albi, France, after we drove from the French Alps. You can see the drive we took, more or less, on Google Maps here: In two hours I'm picking up another friend who needs a ride to the start of the Dharma Yatra, which I wrote about last year (read it here.) The yatra begins this afternoon and continues for 10 days. I'll be out of touch during that time, but should have some photos of lovely smiling people when next I write.

Here are a few photos from the last few days...


Regina and I finally managed to do a short hike. This ancient village on the left ridge may date back to the 5th century. The national park that it's in is encouraging ancestors of the original inhabitants to live there (during summer, at least) and restore some of the old houses. It's a beautiful spot, and we had a delicious lunch at the little refugio there. Except they call it a "gite" cuz everybody wants their own words for things in Europe.
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This river flows just below the village and then plunges into a waterfall.
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Our reward for a hike well hiked. The guy served this out of a little aluminum trailer thing, and it was wicked good.
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This is us driving into the Gorge du Tarn. My GPS has its own ideas about the best way to get to places, but it suits me. The sign said no vehicles longer than 19 feet, and I found out why. My van is just about that length, and we could barely make it through the turns. All day long the GPS would announce a turn, and Regina and I would say, "That can't be right!" But eventually we did get there.
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Life and Death.
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Life and Life. (And Love!)
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(The End)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Awe and Wonder in the Dolomites

I've been dreaming of spending an entire summer in the Dolomites, and maybe sometime I will. Although I can't imagine becoming complacent about the beauty of the place, I could already see in the 10 or 12 days that Regina and I were there that it's hard to hang on to that "Big Wow" energy. The feelings do change over time, and you can get used to even the spectacular vistas, in a way. I've always wondered about kids who grow up in magnificent (or tragic) surroundings. They wouldn't have anything to compare it to that makes them think that it shouldn't be just as it is. I always remember going on safari in Kenya, and seeing my first wild giraffe. Thrilling! And by the end of the long day, as my energy was lagging, I would barely turn around to see yet another giraffe. In one day, it can happen. One of my meditation teachers described the spiritual path as the movement from the gross to the subtle. I suspect there's a connection between what he was pointing to and the gathering complacency in the midst of such beauty.

Happily, we are all surrounded by beauty, and it is but our duty to recognize it. It may take the form of dramatic vistas, or tiny flowers, or a glimpse of the divine that you might see in the eyes of a child.

In the impossibly beautiful Dolomites, we met an older Swiss man who drove south from his spectacular mountains to marvel at these mountains of northern Italy. That's impressive - but not just the mountains. The feeling of awe, of wonder, of an expanding chest and open arms, of so-much-bigger-than-me... now that's impressive.

Too much love!

The Big Daddy's of the Dolomites are known as the "Drei Zinnen" or "Tres Cime" or "I forget the other one" or the "Three Peaks." Because they're so famous, there were walkers everywhere. For my money, I'm loving these rugged mountains that face the Three Peaks.
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I really needed a super wide angle lens, because I couldn't get everything I wanted in one shot.
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On the same day we took a bus ride up to see Drei Zinnen, two uber-fit Czech guys from our campground went on a 7-hour hike into these mountains and back on this same day. Our four-hour circumambulation of the mountains was plenty for us.
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I mostly chose this photo for the quality of the light. It was an incredibly bright and clear day, and the light is amazing. These are Japanese tourists, most of whom were struggling to get their photos taken in front of such massive mountains. I'm just saying'.
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These are the Drei Zinnen, from the backside of where we started. We're approaching a big "refugio" where we had a hot lunch.
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You don't have to be a cow to know how good this feels.
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Further around the mountains, this is looking back towards the refugio.
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It's a climber's paradise, apparently. I love how rugged the rock faces are.
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This might be my favorite photo. If you look carefully in the center left, you'll see the red refugio building where we had lunch.
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Coming back around to where the walk started.
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I decided to walk back to the campsite rather than take the bus down - an additional two hour walk. Lucky for me half the Italian army decided to do a training hike that day. I ended up walking with them most of the way down. I was hoping they'd draft me into their foreign legion or something - think of the stories! No such luck.
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It rained like crazy that night and the next morning, and this is fresh snow just above Lake Misurina. We camped just near the lake. We finally got out of our sleeping bags around 10 a.m. Freezing!
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This very life-like statue turned out to be a very statue-like real person, who must have balls of steels, if you'll forgive the expression. (It's an Italian phrase and perfectly fine in mixed company here. My other favorite Italian expression, said with a thick Italian accent: SUNNOVABEETCH!!) It was SO cold I was whimpering, which isn't that rare, but whatever. It was COLD. In World War I the Italians were fighting the Ottomans/Austrians (somebody help me out here.) When the Austrians lost, the Dolomites were given to Itality, after being part of Austria since 1368 or something. Interesting little WWI history story here.
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Something's changed: we dropped maybe 4,000 feet in elevation, and camped near the main town of Bolzano (in Italian) or Bozen (in German.) Pretty much every town has a name in both languages, and all signs will show them both. Many people speak both languages, too. In this town, German was the main language. A mountain pass or two later, and the main language was Italian.
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I've taken up oil painting, and this is my first work. Yes, it's for sale. No, I'm not serious. It's a photo of a pond.
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This restored castle was built in 1244. It has what may be the oldest grapevine in the world, at 350 years, if you believe their brochure. Maybe it's true.
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Why does Mary have seven swords piercing her heart? Because six wouldn't be enough. And eight? Come on, that would be ridiculous.
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This is just above the town where we stayed, and the entire valley (between Bolzano and Merano) is incredibly fertile. (Some of the young women looked like they might be, too, but I would never say it.) Almost every inch of plant-able space is covered by either apple trees or grape vines.
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We hiked from this town, Madonna di Campiglio. There are many tourist-oriented towns, and this photo gives an appropriate sense of the busy-ness of the place.
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My fifth failed attempt at a short hike. I was trying to catch the ski tram down, but I was very close to missing the shut-down time, so I ended up walking all the way down to the valley you can't quite see below. Ouch.
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Back in Madonna di Campiglio. You can see why people come here.
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I love the weaving around this fence. We ate at this restaurant, a beautiful big-recycled-timber place serving German food, and playing kind of loud rap and hip-hop music. I happen to like that music, but it was a mystery why they'd choose that music, other than that the young wait-staff would like it.
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Goodbye Dolomites. See you soon...
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(The End)

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Big Wow: more hiking in the Dolomites

We had a rainy, rainy day yesterday, with more predicted today. But we decided to head out for a short walk, and four-ish hours later decided that it's hard to do a short walk around here. There are paths everywhere, with ski lifts, and gondolas, and endless beautiful destinations. It's an incredible place for hiking. The photos below are from a hike we did a few days ago plus today's hike. Enjoy!

Much love!

p.s. It was hard to boil down the photos to the group below. There are more to be seen here:

If you've seen it before, you may know that the deep blue sky in photos like this come from using a Polarizing filter. Clouds mixed with blue sky make for much nicer photos than do solid blue skies, generally, and especially nicer than grey skies.
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Regina isn't crazy about cows, especially house-sized ones. This is the start of a BIG hike, but she didn't realize it, which is why she's coming with me.
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This is a typical signboard is most towns. The blue lines are roads, the red lines are walking paths, white lines are maybe gravel paths, and the black lines are gondolas. You can take a fantastic walk just about any direction you choose, and it would be hard to make a bad choice. Unless you just stayed home.
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An impressive gondola ride. In 1989 a US fight jet flew too low (about 300 feet elevation) and too fast (540 mph) and clipped a cable on one of these gondolas, plunging 20 people 250 feet to their death. The pilot and navigator were acquitted in the first trial, which didn't go over well with the Italian public. The crew had destroyed a videotape of the flight and were later convicted of that. Big drama.
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The trail hugged the base of the cliffs until we came to a beautiful "refugio," where we had a delicious hot meal. Delightful.
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We started downhill from the refugio and walk (for two-ish hours) to the valley, where we took a gondola back to the top to get the van.
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Rain threatened a few times, and clouds came and went.
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On another day we drove the endlessly windy roads to another town. On one mountain pass each of the 24 hairpin turns was numbered.
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Now this in my idea of a nice woodpile.
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At the start of today's walk everyone was cooing about the cute duckies.
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We're camped as I write this near this lake, in the town of Misurina. (Google Maps link here:
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We took a chairlift up from the lake and started walking around this massive mountain.
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Bluebells, I guess.
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We ate lunch at this refugio. Delicious pasta dish (I should have written down the name, since I didn't recognize it) and another lovely server.
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This is the view from the refugio. I intended to walk back to the lake on the path that hugs the cliffs, but when black clouds came in, threatening rain, I changed my mind. And it never rained! Dang it.
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The view from the other side of the refugio. We ate lunch outside.
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Regina's new Facebook picture, or so I told her when I took it.
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A couple of hours later, and we're back to the lake.
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We stopped into this bar for a hot chocolate, which traditionally is as thick as pudding.
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Another view across the lake.
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And the van at our campsite. Just off to the left is a nice restaurant where we're using internet. Sweet! (Brigitte let me take her bicycle, which is on the back of the van!)
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There are more photos here:

(The end)