thingelstad

Jamie Thingelstad's personal website

Month: July 2004 (page 1 of 4)

Scuol to Guarda

First of all, let me wish my sister Alona a Happy Birthday! I was on the other side of the world and was unable to get in touch. Hope this is some small consolation for that. :-)

Today’s Stats: Moving Time 5h 25m Distance 12.99 miles Ascent 2,250′ Max Elevation 7,365′

Today was the first day of our hiking trip! We just finished dinner with the group at the Hotel Meisser in Guarda. It was a buffet style dinner which suited me fine since I was starving after a long day on the trail. As I told Tammy, I was “deeply hungry”. The sensation is similar to when I finish a century ride. I’m not completely sure how to explain it.

The hiking today was sensational. We left from the front of the Hotel Guardaval and hiked to a gondola in Scuol. We took the gondola up 800 meters to start the hike. This hike is in the easiest category that Ryder Walker does, which doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park.

The scenery was simply amazing. Every bend in the trail made me think “wow”. Tammy summed it up best, and as only she can with a simple “I love it!” repeated several times. Apparently it kept reminding her of the movie Heidi. I haven’t seen this masterpiece so I cannot comment. It was hard not to stop every few steps to take yet another picture.

We had a great picnic lunch mid-day and spent the entire day on the trail. We left at 8:50 am and arrived at 4:45 pm.

We have also been lucky to be in Switzerland on one of their big national holidays. Today is Dependence Day in Switzerland (also called National Day). Not independence, but dependence. It is the celebration of when the major kingdoms of Switzerland came together and recognized their “dependence” on each other. One of the strong traditions of this holiday however is an amazingly independent tradition where people climb up in the mountains all over and light huge bonfires. On our hike today we saw some of these ready for the evening. After dinner tonight we looked at the ridge line and there were over 10 huge fires visible. How very cool. All of the cities shoot of fireworks as well. It’s a big celebration.

I ate a ton at dinner, need to rest the feet to complete the readiness for tomorrow. I made it through today with no blisters or anything. Tammy wasn’t so lucky, she’s got a quarter sized blister on her heel, no good. She’s talking about hiking in her Keen hiking sandals tomorrow, and I’m sure she will. I’ll be in my boots thank you. We are going to be tackling a shorter route tomorrow, only 7 miles, however with more climbing involved.

Tammy is in the middle of repacking suitcases right now. Remember that I mentioned we have too much luggage? We are solving that problem and shipping two of our bags via train to the Zurich airport where we can pick them up before boarding our flight home. Yeah!

Zurich and on to the mountains…

After our amazing train ride we arrived in Zurich. Switzerland is such a different place than France. It’s much more multi-national. A lot of different languages; almost all signs were in four different languages. We spent some time at the train station getting Euros changed to Swiss Francs and checking our luggage at the rail station since we were taking a train the next morning, no need to lug it all over the place. It’s nice to be in a currency that is less than one on the dollar, however things are pretty expensive so far.

Zurich is a nice town. Seemed very orderly, similar to the train station itself. We got a pass for the city rail system to get to our hotel but I don’t know that we really needed it since nobody ever looked at it and there was no device to run it through. Guess it was the honor system at work.

The Hotel Rigihof in Zurich was fine. Tammy observed it was the dirtiest of all the hotels we had stayed at so far, but it seemed fine to me. On the plus side it had relatively fast WiFi so I was able to send all my digital photos taken so far to the server at our house for safe storage (took about 10 hours while we slept!).

Some other items of interest…

Train Update – I went on and on earlier about how great the Paris to Zurich train was. I now know that not all rail travel in Europe is so great. Our train today from Zurich to Scuol was perhaps 1/2 of a step up from a Greyhound bus! Plus, we made the mistake of getting in a smoking car and not realizing it and then having to move. Did I mention that we have too much luggage? We do. We plan on sending some back to Zurich on the train tomorrow if possible. We are new to packing for a three week trip and definitely have more than we should.

Language – Switzerland is all German. Leave your French at the border. Zurich was very good with English as well, but so far the mountains are pretty sparse on English. For some reason I’m finding this easier to deal with but Tammy is finding it much harder.

Technology – I’m having terrible luck tech-wise. I brought three compact flash cards for our cameras along. Of the cards only the 1 gig card (thankfully!) is still working. The 512 mb and 256 mb cards have both decided to stop working in different ways. The 256 mb just corrupts anything you put on it. And the 512 mb won’t format and just gives an E50 error when I put it in the camera. This sucks and we’ve left Zurich now so I doubt I’ll be able to get anymore cards. Hope the 1G holds out. I even had to get a new card reader since my PCMCIA reader seems to have gotten loopy as well and freezes the laptop whenever inserted! I think this is what killed the 256 mb card. Argh! Tammy’s theory is that it has something to do with the power differences, who knows.

As you may have figured out by now we are in Scuol, Switzerland. This is a fairly small mountain town near the border of Austria on the upper side of the Engadine Valley. We meet our hiking group in a little over an hour for dinner and orientation. We hike 13 miles tomorrow on a fairly flat route only ascending 1,000 feet of elevation. The mountains are all around us. I’m looking to my left out my window right now in this converted Engadine hotel and can see two peaks well above the tree line with a saddle in the middle. Great stuff.

Tammy Speaks

Jamie is always clicking and clacking away at this thing and that’s great…the man can’t get enough of the ‘puter. I decided that perhaps I should take a spin at the keys and finally speak on the bloggity-blog-blog too. So, here is my take on all things tripish.

Le Plane

The flight over was uneventful, scary, but somehow manageable. I did a much better job managing the flying fear than I’ve been able to muster in my adult past. I didn’t stomp my feet or talk fast or beg to get off; I calmly accepted my fate and fear as best I could. Jamie was most thankful; the last (and only other flight he’s ever been on with me) was a taste of my flying medicine that he didn’t want to ever take again. I think the saying goes: quite a handful. They now have these groovy things on the international planes where each seat has their own little screen where you can rent movies and play games. The games are free and quite entertaining. I’m sure that most of you are aware of this, but the last time I flew internationally no such thing existed. Enough about the plane already…

Le Tour

I must say that I enjoy watching the tour much better on T.V. There are far too many people milling about in the world of live tour coverage and all of the coverage is in French. It’s hard to figure out what is going on. And the French, they don’t know their junk food very well either. Missing in action at the finish line was any sight of cheese curd, mini-doughnut, or other fried creation. There were usually two or three food stands in total at each finish that serviced a huge multitude of folks. They sold weird hamburger and hot dog things, french fries and beverages (most of the French bring their own food to the tour stages). It was a far cry from the commercialism that I’m sure would have been present if Le Tour de France was Le Tour De America. So it goes. Tis both a blessing and a curse. The French seem very different to me as a people. They seem more content, more able and willing to experience life and not have to control it.

Being at the tour stages in person was not as big a thrill for me as it was for Jamie. I had imagined being able to stand right by the side of the road and watch the tour come through, but you have to arrive at least a day in advance and be willing to sit by the side of the road for all of the those hours to do that and I was not willing. So, for the most part, Jamie and I watched the tour come by 8 deep in a pack of tour-loving folks from all over the world who were excited just to be there and didn’t care that they were seeing the peloton through a crack in the crowd.

For me the great part about the tour part of our vacation was bicycling. I’ve never had a better time on a bike. The scenery was so beautiful I was ready to move to the French countryside. The whole experience was like something you would see in a movie and think I want to go there. The tiny towns dotted the landscape every couple of kilometers and they were quaint and peaceful and so pretty with flowers, flowers everywhere. The landscape rolled and the mountains were big and everything was grand and wonderful. The motorists make you feel secure on the bike; you know that they aren’t going to hit you. They love the bike. Riding on the tour routes was also a very special thing. That is where I felt the excitement of the tour and felt most at home at the tour.

Pizza

The French make some good pizza. If you are in France, give it a try. Mmmmm.

Art

We got an Art yesterday and I love it. It’s sooo perfect and lovely and divine. I think Jamie has put a picture of said Art up on this bloggie so that all can see how friendly and happy it is. It might be my favorite painting ever.

Ice Cream

The French eat a lot of it and so do I. I love menthe (peppermint bon-bon).

Paris

I dunno. I feel like I could take it or leave it. I loved the countryside and in comparison Paris was not a shining star. Our hotel was great, shiny and modern and comfortable with lots of rich woods and warm tones, a bathroom to die for and it was just the right size. The housekeeping people were amazing; we never saw them, but they were in our room all of the time cleaning things and giving us towels. The gallery where we got our art was also a highlight. The rest of the place was alright, but nothing to write home about. Okay, I know that’s a harsh thing to say about such a lovely city, but it’s kinda dirty and loud. I’m not really a big city sort of girl.

Switzerland

This is the part of the trip that I was most excited about initially. Hiking through the Swiss Alps and staying at nice inns along the way sounds like a good trip to me. We officially start hiking in two days, until then we are hitching rides on trains to get where we need to go.

The End

Guess that’s all I have to say. Jamie is much better at this writing stuff than I, which is why I leave it to him most of the time. Thanks for the ride, see you at school.

Heft On Wheels

Most people that know me know that I used to weigh quite a lot. Then I weighed a lot less. Now I weigh a little bit more, but by no means quite a lot. I went through a bit of a learning experience later in life. I’ve often thought that if I were a good enough writer (something I’ve been enjoying doing on my blog by the way) I would write a book about the experience.

I just finished reading a book that I think would be very similar to the book I would write. Heft on Wheels by Mike Magnuson recounts his transference of his obsession with drinking and smoking to riding his bicycle. Magnuson’s book is a fun, quick read and I felt a kinship to him in reading it. We shared many experiences, while still clearly being very different people. For example, he finished at the head of the pack in the Cat V race he tried while I was shot off the back very early on!

I should think it would be interesting to meet him some day. Perhaps on a ride.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I’m sitting in the most luxurious form of transportation that I’ve ever experienced. We are taking a high-speed train from Paris to Zurich. I think we are in first class, it was required to get a reserved seat on the train and it turns out to be a fairly smart idea since we had room for our ample luggage that would have been pretty tight in the other cars.

The train is amazing! It’s silky smooth. The chairs are like miniature lazy boys. There are power connectors for your computer. We situated ourselves in one of these double units so we could face “the right way”. I was getting motion sick after only a few minutes so we needed to switch around. They served breakfast, a traditional hot chocolate and croissant kind of thing. Sorry, no WiFi on the train, I checked. :-)

If something like this existed to get us from Minneapolis to Chicago, a distance I believe shorter than our trip today, it would just be great. Chalk one more up for Europe!

It was a little confusing getting on the train, as Tammy said because it’s just so simple. You just get on after all. Didn’t really know what to do with the luggage or where to go. Airport terminals are definitely more internationally friendly than train stations but we finally figured it out. I got a bit grumpy trying to figure out what to do but have no fears, Tammy kept me in my place. :-)

Last Call from Paris!

In my last note I mentioned how confusing Paris was to get around. Amazingly enough I think I’m starting to get the hang of it however, of course just as we are only a ‘wake up’ away from leaving on to Switzerland. We spent much of the last two days zipping around on the Paris Metro and doing a little more exploring. Tammy did a little shopping today, although the city doesn’t really fit her shopping tastes from what she can tell.

City of Light

   

Last night we hopped on the metro after dinner to do some night photography. I brought my little portable tripod (thanks REI!) and did some fun ‘bulb’ exposure shots. For those that are not aware, that means taking pictures where you leave your shutter open for a very long time. These shots were taken with 20 to 30 second exposures. I dig this stuff probably because it’s really easy to create a shot that looks so cool. I’ve put three above that I liked particularly well. Paris get’s to be both the City of Light and the City of Love! Pretty lucky, both light and love!

Anniversary Art

Some of you may know that Tammy and I decided when we got married that our wedding presents were going to be art, and that after that we wouldn’t get each other anniversary presents but instead together get a piece of art. As you’ll know from reading our site this is only our 2nd anniversary, but the tradition continues. We went out today to find a piece that we really enjoyed and came out even better than expected. The beginning of the search was a bit disappointing as we got excited about 15,000€ paintings that we obviously weren’t bringing home. We then returned to a gallery we had visited shortly right by the Louvre called Art Club. We found a a piece called Allez Saute! that we thought was great — and now it’s ours! It’s by a young Parisienne artist named Corniere. She had a number of pieces but this one we particularly liked and it fit our budget.

Kilometers

We’ve decided that we like kilometers. Let’s get these in the states as well. They are great for bike riding. The numbers are so much higher and they just go by so fast! Plus you can use the abbreviations k’s which is just so cool. While we are at it, let’s chuck the pounds and ounces and go for grams as well. Although, I don’t find ordering a 240g steak nearly as exciting as a half-pound steak.

My feet and legs are tired from walking around the city all day lately. That’s maybe not such a great way to begin a week-long hiking trip in the Alpes! We head out on the train to Zurich tomorrow morning. I don’t expect to be online much, if at all, so you probably won’t see anything else from us until we return. See you all soon, when we have to return to reality!

Paris Update

Yesterday was our 2nd anniversary. It seems like it’s been so much longer than two years, in a good way that is. We spent the first half of the day exploring Paris by foot. We walked around in the 8th, 9th, 10th, 2nd and 1st sections or arrondissements of Paris. You see, Paris is laid out in 20 of these arrondissements, I’m not going to try to get into a history lesson of the reasons or layout of this, you can read about that out on your own.

I find Paris to be an incredibly hard city to navigate. Nothing is at a right angle. Years ago I saw this TV show where they were studying the patterns of spider webs. They did a study where they gave some spiders a very small dose of hallucinogenic or psychedelic drugs. Sure enough, the spider webs lost their concentric patterns and turned into these jumbled up messes. If you overlayed one of these jumbled spider webs on a map, that would be Paris. Everything is named, no numbers, which adds a little bit more adventure to the challenge. At least in Manhattan you can rely generally on the street grid, no such luck in Paris.

Our hotel is great. We are staying at the Hyatt Regency Paris-Madeleine. This is definitely the nicest place we’ve stayed thus far. We intended it to be a little oasis in the middle of our two structured trips. The amenities are wonderful, however there broadband is horrible. I can only get around 12 kbps of bandwidth, no good. Tammy has decided that this is now her favorite hotel ever, dethroaning the previous holder of that position which was the Hotel Monaco in Denver.

We walked our way from our hotel through a variety of shops and got to La Sainte-Chapelle. We checked out the courtyard of the cathedral but didn’t go inside, the lines were terrible. We then went over to Notre Dame and walked through the inside of the cathedral. Amazing stuff. The effort that must have went into constructing these things. Wow.

After a lot of walking we got a pass on the Paris “yellow & green” open top buses and circled our way around much of the city.

Paris isn’t that hard to get around without knowing French. Tammy’s extremely rusty and fragmentary knowledge of French from school has been very helpful. Also, so many words are similar in English that it’s fairly straightforward to make your way through a restaurant menu or read signs. It also helps that many in Paris speak either very good English or enough to get through purchasing something.

We had dinner at the Latina Cafe on the Champs Elysees. It was wonderful food and great ambiance. It’s owned by a Latina or Salsa radia station and clearly there was some serious dancing going on at this place from time to time.

Today was a full blown tourist day. We slept in and made our morning voyage to the patisserie for some breakfast. We then headed to the Louvre.

Yes, that’s a picture where you aren’t supposed to take one. We headed straight for the Mona Lisa (which seems to be a popular place to head to right away). Going to the Louvre was like taking a bubble bath in art. It’s huge. Gargantuan. So big that it would take weeks to take it all in. We only had three hours plus or minus. We strolled through the museum as if we were soaking in a huge bathtub overflowing with bubbles. We didn’t take the time to question why the bubbles existed or what would become of the bubbles, we just enjoyed that they were there. We swam in art. And just like a bubble bath, it sticks with you after you get out. The power of art is almost hard to take at such high volumes.

After our bath in art, we perused some local shops and had our ugly American lunch in Paris. We went to what I must imagine is the American oasis for travellers in Paris. We visited the Hard Rock Cafe Paris. This place doesn’t even bother to put out French menus. The waitress came up and spoke near perfect English. The food was as normal as we would get in Bloomington. The water even came with ice! Didn’t have to ask.


Can you believe it’s taken me until now
to put up a picture of the Eiffel tower!

After taking our temporary trip back to the states for some lunch we headed off to the Eiffel Tower. We took a bunch of pictures and were bothered by some of the people that you run into at the super-duper tourist spots in Paris looking to scam you for something. The Eiffel Tower has only three floors: pretty high, really high and stupid high. We walked the stairs to pretty high. Both Tammy and I are scared of heights so really and stupid high were simply out of the question. I also have an extraordinary fear of heights when combined with open air stairs. Luckily the stairs were not the metal grates you can see through or there is no way I would have made it up. I was clinging the railing making my way up stair by stair. The tower is really neat, we are going to make a trip back tonight when we do some night photography in Paris.

That’s it for now, this has gotten long and we are going to get dinner. I’ll probably put up one more thing before we head for our hiking section in Switzerland and I expect there will be no Internet anywhere on that trip. Au revoir!

The Stepford Wives

Oh boy, we did it again, went to yet another movie in Paris. This time the Stepford Wives. Fun movie, probably better to rent. This time the theatre had air conditioning, what a plus!

Spiderman Deux

Tammy and I went and saw Spiderman 2 this evening in Paris. I always think it sounds kind of wierd to go to a movie when you are on vacation, but it’s always a lot of fun. Anyway, movie was very good, better than the first. Luckily it was in english with french subtitles. The theater had no air conditioning and was rather a dump, and the tickets were only 9€50! Ouch! Paris is not a cheap city.

Fin de Course or Intermission, Act II

The thing that I liked most about coming to see the Tour de France in person were the sights and sounds that you never get to see on TV. The energy of the people on the roadside. The caravan coming through. The thrill of the peloton. Running the Tour de France is an amazing job. The race is assembled like a rolling caravan throughout the country and as soon as it goes by the roads are restored to normal circulation. One of my favorite things in watching the tour was the special truck that drives right at the end of the race behind everything. It’s a non-descript vehicle and on the back with red letters on white are the words

Fin de Course

I don’t know exactly why I found that so special. I told Tammy it was like a classic movie where they actually put “The End” on the screen before rolling the credits. It just seemed well suited.

If I can extend the metaphor, we have finished the first course of our trip and are sending off the hectic days of the Tour de France in favor of relaxing days of strolling the streets of Paris and visiting museums.

Before we leave the cycling, a couple of notes:

  • If you plan a cycling trip to the Alpes, be careful. You do not want to go through the expense and hassle of coming here only to be stupid on a mountain descent, go down and hurt yourself. A decent number of people had accidents and in nearly all cases it was a lack of IQ and skill. Remember, you didn’t grow up descending alpine roads.
  • Packing your bike and lugging it around is a pain in the neck and very heavy. We’ll be glad to drop them off at UPS today.
  • The French are amazingly nice and considerate to cyclists. The only time I ever felt the pressure of traffic was a short jaunt on a freeway when we were lost on a ride. The drivers in the country and villages are amazing and even though there are no shoulders, you feel completely at ease.
  • Seeing the Tour de France in person is amazing, but I missed OLN. The daily TV coverage is so much more informative. If you love the tour and do not at least read French, be ready to have very little information. While there is ten times the coverage here, it’s entirely French. (They show the tour live on three channels all day!)
  • Bikestyle did a great job. The accommodations were fine, travel was well managed and Tammy and I both felt comfortable at all times.

That’s all for that. We’re going to transfer to our next hotel and I’ll probably post some more frequent notes before we head off to Switzerland. I’ll try to get some photos up as well. I’ve been copying all the photos we’ve taken so far to the server at home but it takes some time to transfer 2.5 gigabytes even on the high-speed in the hotel.

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