The first few time I visited Rishikesh I was astounded by all the usual tourist activities, such as white water rafting on the Ganga River, trekking through the Himalaya mountains, and shopping for exotic handicrafts. Then, last year around this time I took a 200 hour yoga teaching training course and learned that Rishikesh has…
I always thought chianti was a style or type of vino. Boy was I ignorant. Chianti is actually a region found in Tuscany Italy. So, you can even get white chianti. I learned all kinds of interesting things on my wine tasting tour, like you can buy a $70 bottle of balsamic vinegar, and that it’s pretty hard to hold a yoga pose when you’re a little drunk from all that wine. It was an incredible autumn day in Chianti Tuscany, and it was full of fun, fascinating facts, and new friendships.
The day wasn’t perfect. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, the lack of organization surrounding the transport of guests was pretty shocking. It was kind of similar to my experience at the Rolling Stones concert in Lucca. It was a great event with lack luster planning. I can’t recommend to anyone using My Tours or GetYourGuide. The shuttle on the way out was 45 minutes late, and the shuttle at the end of the tour was over an hour late. I’ve been told that is just what you should expect as “Italian time”, but really? At the end of the tour, I had to call and pester the guide service to actually do what they had promised, shuttle me and some new friends back to our originating town. It was a real buzz kill, quite literally!
I went to the Rolling Stones concert in Lucca Italy, but I didn’t “see” the show. Probably only about 10 percent of the 55,000 people attending were able to see the show, because it was general admission on a flat field, that sloped slightly downhill the opposite direction. It didn’t take long for the crowd to get frustrated and soon drunk concert attendees were climbing up anything they could find to get a glimpse of the stage. Trees and concert rigging were popular places to perch, but it seems the best seats in the house were on top of the portable toilets! The Rolling Stones concert in Lucca Italy can only be described as a spectacular disaster, but I’m still glad I went!
I didn’t go to Lucca with the intention of going to the concert. But on my second day there we drove by the venue where they were erecting the stage and I realized that the Rolling Stones would soon be playing only three blocks away from where I was staying. So, I decided to go, but by that time tickets were next to impossible to find. I tried buying some online but the websites were all in Italian and they would only snail mail the tickets. With only a few days to wait before the show, I didn’t want to risk the tickets not arriving in time. Finally, I looked on Craigslist and got lucky! An American many (Jason) was going to go with his girlfriend, but she cancelled on him at the last minute. Like I said, I got lucky, and he got $200.
When my Italian friend and host suggested we go to Sassi for the weekend, I agreed, but I had no idea what, or even where, it was. Next thing I know we are headed out of Lucca and towards the mountains of northern Italy. Before long we are zooming along steep switchbacks, away from the city, enjoying the changing colors of autumn and the view of the valley below. Finally, we enter the most charming little historical village and stop in front of a giant red home, made of stones and concrete. To my right the Alps are towering in the distance and an ancient castle sits high on a hill. It was like like a view from a postcard. Staying in a 250 year old home, enjoying the astounding view, and mushroom hunting in the forest were all remarkable, and made for a most delightful weekend in Sassi Italy.
The Historical Home
Paolo Pocai’s family has owned the old homestead for generations. The front part of the home was built in 1770 and there is still an old brass plate above the door with the date on it. As if that isn’t remarkable enough, the back part of the building was a 15th century tower and still contains some of the ancient doors and the original circular stone staircase. The home contains some of the most beautiful antique furniture and chandeliers I have ever seen! It’s hard to guess how big the “house” is, as some rooms in the basement have never been completed, but I would estimate that it was well over 4,000 feet, which seems to be about normal for summer homes in the country in Italy. I helped Paolo prepare the home for winter as he doesn’t go there much anymore in the off season.
I was enjoying some Swiss cheese fondue and a glass of wine in Zermatt when I saw them walk by. They didn’t look like the other tourists. They carried helmets on their packs and walked with a certain resolve that immediately caught my attention. These guys are on a mission, I thought to myself. Imagine my surprise when I returned back to my hostile and found them lounging in my door room. I introduced myself and asked about their gear. Christoph and Herbert Maile couldn’t contain their excitement. They were about to fulfill their 16-year dream to climb the Matterhorn, and sometime later that evening they agreed to give me the honor to tell their story.
I did my pre-climb interview the next morning with Chris, who speaks fluent English. He was 24 years old and full of energy. As we sipped our cappuccinos and ate our breakfast, I pestered him with a bunch of questions. His enthusiasm was contagious and I hoped to god they would make the summit.
Me: How many people are in your climb group?
Chris: Me, Dad (who is 56) and two guides. One is assigned to helping my father and one is assigned to helping me.
Me: Do you mind if I ask how much the guides cost?
Chris: No, that’s fine. They cost 1,000 euros each (about 1,180 USD).
Me: What does your mom think of this?
Chris: She knows she can’t stop us, so she just accepts it.
Me: How long do you anticipate it will take you?
Chris: A few hours the first day to reach the Carell hut where we spend the night. Then we will leave at dawn or whenever the weather is right for the summit. That should take another 4 to 5 hours, even though it is only 700 meters. It will take an additional 3 to 4 hours to climb down to the Carell hut and then we have to leave that night so we are hiking all the way back down to the bottom which will be another 4 hours.
Me: So, you could be climbing for 12 to 13 hours that day?
Chris: Yah, (he says, with a shrug of his shoulders, like it’s no big deal).
Zermatt Switzerland reminds me of Whistler, Canada and Rhotang Pass in India mixed all together. The panoramic views of the Alps, combined with the easy access to world renowned trails for recreational sport, make Zermatt, Switzerland a biker hiker, skiing paradise for tourists from around the globe. And by biker, I mean bicycles, because no gas engines are allowed in the town, nor are any private cars. The taxis and delivery vehicles are all electric, and residents get around by walking, bicycling, cable car or train. It leaves the air smelling about as pure as you can find anywhere on the planet.
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise
With a cost of about $135 USD for a round trip to ticket, it’s expensive to get to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, but it was worth every penny. It sits at an elevation of 12,739 feet and the view will leave you breathless. It’s about a 45-minute cable car ride to the top. As you sit in the relative comfort of your cable car, you look down on glaciers, green meadows with pretty wild flowers scattered about, pristine waterfalls, and lots of people hiking and biking the trails. At the top, there is an ice palace full of ice caves and ice sculptures, a restaurant, café, and panoramic viewpoint for tourists to enjoy.
Vienna is a fascinating city, that provides a crazy mix of history, culture and modern-day amenities. With a local population of nearly 2 million people, plus all the tourist, it is a big and bustling city. Two days was not nearly sufficient time to enjoy all it has to offer, but I got enough of…
I spent only a couple of days in Salzburg, but it was long enough to realize that Salzburg is a most extraordinary city. It’s a fantastic mix of ancient architecture and modern-day cosmopolitan conveniences. The food is delicious and the people extremely friendly. Honestly, there is nothing I didn’t like about the city, except for…
Road trips aren’t just about all the destinations, but the journey. It’s the adventures, the possibilities, the change from our daily routine that beckons us, and it’s even more true when taking a solo road trip on a motorcycle. Space is limited. Nature is in your face. Fatigue sets in sooner and the risk of injury is much greater. I had an amazing time on my ride across this beautiful nation. I had a lot of time to think, and this what I learned in 31 days, 19 states and 7,000 miles, alone on my motorcycle.
I’m No Princess
There once was a time in my life when I had to have my coffee a certain way, I couldn’t sleep without a fan and a feather pillow. I wore those comfort requirements like a badge of honor. I don’t know why we do that. Maybe to show how civilized we are. Maybe it’s for attention or to demonstrate that we have evolved into a lifestyle that can require such things. In any case, those days are long for me. I slept on a two-inch air mattress with a tiny pillow. Most days I didn’t get coffee, or if I did it was from a convenience store. I averaged about 350 miles a day. I camped in 40 degree temperatures. I rode through torrential rain, 30 mile an hour sustained winds and 106 degree heat. I’m no princess anymore. I’ve gained a lot of self-confidence and feel like I’m strong enough to handle just about anything, even ending up 3,000 miles away from home without any money, ID, or credit cards.
It’s amazing how a road trip can make you appreciate the simple things that we generally take for granted. I found myself grateful for a hot shower, a cup of coffee, dry clothes and a quiet place to sleep. The sounds of the birds chirping in the morning, children laughing while they play, or a babbling stream, were like music to my ears. We have so much to be grateful for, but we are often too distracted to even notice.
I’ve had a lot of weird experiences on this cross-county motorcycle trip, but my wild night in Badgerville, Wisconsin might top them all. I spent the night in Badgerville RV Park, just off the freeway, and next to Kegonsa State Park. I was assigned a cute little spot next to the fish pond.
As I was setting up I met the neighbors, Dave and Tami. I couldn’t help but notice that they, and most of the RVs in the park, had decks and sheds. Turns out that instead of buying a weekend cabin like many of us do in the northwest, people in that part of Wisconsin buy a year around spot to park their RVs, and then they proceed to customize it with decks, fences, sheds, and so on. As a result, most of the weekend residents know each other. They also have their own golf carts just for driving around the RV park.
Next to the office was a cute little bar, and I had some computer work to do that required WIFI, so I figured that was as good of a spot as any to get my work done. I sat there working for about 2 hours and it was nonstop entertainment. I met Jan, who had lived in the park for 15 years! She was the first to arrive and one of the last to leave. I also met Big Joe, a large guy with a fun sense of humor. who insisted on buying me a drink, and another drink, and another….