seek drive climb

Simplify our lives, meet new friends, climb new crags. Go Goose Go.

Barcelona

After our week in Buoux, with the final day ending in rain, we decided it was time to move south to Spain and get to the better weather. We broke the trip up into two days again, as the Goose can only handle so much driving at a time (yes, we are still having our over-heating coolant issue; we have learned how to deal with it by driving around 80kph and always carrying coolant and distilled water with us). I found a campsite, using the ACSI website (the off-season camping card for Europe), which has proved to be quite useful when we can't find wild camping or when we know that we are going to arrive late in the evening and will have no time searching for wild camping.  The campsite was in Narbonne, a town on the southern coast of France.  Had also done a little bit of research on the town and found that on Sundays, there was a terrific food market that was a must-see for foodies, according to TripAdvisor.

Our beautiful campsite in Narbonne

Overall, Narbonne was a must-see, as the town was not even close to being on par with the small towns and cities that we had encountered during our travels. The campsite was horrible as well. Since it was off-season everything looked pretty downtrodden. i am sure that in the summer this place is bumping but in November, it was all pretty bleak. We did get our own bathroom though...strange place...

The one upside of Narbonne was the market. We headed out early and parked at the end of the outdoor market, an outdoor flea market that flooded the Quai and walked through to our true destination, the indoor food market.  Somewhat similar to the Embarcadero market (for you Bay area residents), the market had a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, patisseries and small restaurants. In the front, there is a wonderful spicery with fresh spices from all over. We even got to taste the spices prior to buying them.

Later that morning we left Narbonne and headed for straight for Barcelona. The drive took about 5.5 hours. We had a rough estimate of the address, along with some pics and a phone number, but of course, in Steve and Corinne traveling fashion, our phone minutes had expired and we didn't make sure that we knew exactly where we were going. Antonio, our Airbnb host, had not left the exact address, figuring that we were going to call or email prior to arriving.  So, knowing that in France, McD's was our internet savior, we asked Alice to find us one. We found one approximately 2 km away, but alas, no internet. Luckily for us, I found a wifi connection at the bar/pub next door, asked for the password and skyped Antonio's cell. A female voice answered, which turned out to be his ex-wife Margarita. As it had turned out, Antonio had had a heart-attack a couple of days prior. She assured me that he was going to be fine but had to stay in the hospital while we were to stay at the house but that she and her sons were going to help out and accommodate us at the house. We never got to meet Antonio, which we were looking forward to, but Margarita, her twin sons, Rafael and Santiago, Rafa's Brazilian girlfriend Daiana, live-in friend and helper, Roger, along with Antonio's 101 year old father made our stay incredibly warm, comfortable and welcoming. We highly recommend this house to anyone planning on staying in Barcelona. The house is unique and only twenty minutes from La Rambla via the green line. The rooms are spacious and inviting and the company is unforgettable. We loved it!

For our first night in Barcelona, we wanted to go out for food and see some music. After doing some research, and talking to Rafa and Santiago, we decided to head into the center and grab some fresh pasta from Tucco and then make our way over to 23 Robadors for some live flamenco. Unfortunately, it being Sunday, Tucco was closed but luckily, there was another fresh pasta restaurant a couple blocks away. The meal was delicious and inexpensive. We then headed over to the Raval district for the flamenco show. The club was tiny and we had to stand in a hallway with a small view of the singer, guitar player, dancer and percussionist. We watched two sets of the show, though the show continued long after we decided to return home. No matter what night of the week, Barcelona is active all night. At this stage of the game, I can only handle so much nightlife. We returned to Gaspatxch via the metro and began planning our big day of sightseeing.

We arose to a delicious home cooked breakfast at 9am and began our perusal through the world of Gaudi. Though I had been to Barcelona six or seven years prior, I was excited for Steve to visit all of the wonderful sites and structures Gaudi created. Our first stop was Park Guell.

Next on the agenda was La Sagarda Familia. This was perhaps the most stunning piece of architecture we saw on our travels.

Some HDR photos of the amazing interior of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral.

We had a pretty aggressive plan and attempted to visit both Casa Batlló and La Pedrera but when we arrived and discovered that the cost was 15-20€ per person for each site, we changed our plans. We had already spent quite a bit in the city and been to many museums throughout our trip and we felt that spending money on food was more on the agenda than spending more money on museums. So, we continued to walk toward the center and find a nice lunch place. Of course we wanted to have some recommendations for where to eat, and luckily we walked directly passed the apple store and everyone knows that the apple store is a great place to mooch wifi. We got a great recommendation via yelp to a small restaurant in the outdoor vegetable and fruit immediately off of La Rambla. Unfortunately, after twenty minutes of waiting for some seats to free up, Steve and I hit our top frustration level and had to move on. Fortuitously, there was an amazing Crepe master around the corner to supply us with the necessary sustenance that we both so desperately needed. He included spinach, goat cheese, onion, tomato, and oregano wrapped in a beautifully made crepe that was absolutely delicious (Steve had the jamon as well, the delicacy of Spain that I have had to forego during my pregnancy :( ).

After lunch we continued to walk through the maze of central Barcelona, attempting to head into the gothic area. Exhausted from all the walking, we decided to stop in a square and grab a coffee before meeting my old colleague Laura Nuñez.  Laura and I taught at Lick-Wilmerding together, we started the same year and both left two years later after realizing that theschool just wasn't the right fit for either of us.

Laura has been living in Barcelona for the past four years, working at an international IB (International Baccalaureate) school. This is her fourth international school, as most of these international school jobs last for two years and then you move on. Her previous locations have been: Mexico city, Paris and Milan. She now speaks French and Spanish fluently and additionally has a good grasp of Italian. Teaching has taking her all over but not surprisingly, she misses the bay area; she is always considering working in SF again and bay area education would be lucky to have her.

Laura took us to more of the gothic sites and introduced us to her neighborhood, where we went out for a drink to catch up and then to her local favorite tapas restaurant for dinner that was absolutely delicious.

We awoke Tuesday morning to another wonderful breakfast thanks to Rafa and Daiana. We packed up our things and began our journey to Albarracin. Our trip to Barcelona was absolutely perfect thanks to our wonderful hosts and Laura. We were sad to leave but also excited to get back to the mountains and to do some bouldering.

Daiana, Rafael, Roger and Corinne

Post from the Past : Reunited with the Goose

The following is a post lost in the annals of the blogosphere...enjoy: After our lengthy and eventful busride (a guy in in the back got busted for smuggling hash!), we arrived in Plüderhausen tired but glad to be close to home. We had told Kaddi's folks that we would be there close to 8:30pm, as our bus was originally supposed to arrive in Stuttgart at 7:30pm and we figured about an hour for our travels to Plüderhausen. BUT we didn't get in until close to 11pm and despite our incredibly tardy arrival time, as we literally threw the crashpads off the train, Erik, Kaddi's father walked toward us with a big smile and a warm welcome. Once we reached their home, Cristal, Kaddi's mom welcomed us into their home with hot mushroom soup and fresh baked bread. This welcome was indicative of our entire visit; every meal was amazing, fresh from the garden and homemade. Cristal used the Thermomix for practically every meal; this amazing invention chops, dices, blends, purees and even cooks. Unfortunately, they do not offer the Thermomix in the states. It is unfortunate as I truly think that it makes cooking easier. I may be able to get one in Canada, thus bypassing the 220 to 110 volt issue. We ended up staying with Cristal and Erik for two nights and then made our way to Geneva to go see our new friends, Stephanie and Morgan, whom we met in SA.

Though our stay in Plüderhausen was relaxing and needed, we were so excited to jump back into the Iron Goose and continue traveling the way that we originally intended. We couldn't wait to get back to our home on the road, where we are able to camp in the wild and go wherever we choose.

Reunited!

We wanted to take our time during our drive, so we decided to stop in Constance, next to Lake Constance, as recommended by Erik and Jochum, a close friend of Christy, that we also met in SA. The drive was beautiful. We arrived in Constance and a guy on a scooter gave us a thumbs up; though this was not the first thumbs up that we had received but this one turned to be a bit more significant. After parking and taking a walk toward the lake, a man came up to us and began admiring the Goose. It turned out to be the same guy that we saw earlier on the scooter. He was so excited and asked us if we needed a shower or wanted to go get a beer. He gave us his card and told us all about his Syncro group, made up of nineteen Syncros in the town of Constance. They were having a BBQ that weekend and would love for us to come and join them. We really wanted to stay but knew that we were expected in Geneva later that day. It was Friday and since Steph and Morgan work during the week, we wanted to be able to spend the weekend climbing with them, so we had to decline the invitation. We wished we had created more flexibility for ourselves so that we could begin taking advantage of these random encounters, as you never know who you are going to meet on the road when traveling in a Westy. The VW Westy community is a good one and we all tend to join together no matter where in the world we encounter one another.

Quick! escape the rain...where to?...Amsterdam, of course...

After being in the rain for two straight days in Fontainebleau and not foreseeing any stop, we examined the map to see where we could go to escape. While unblocking our phone at the SFR, we discovered that we could use the internet in the store (another free source, yet you can only use their device, much like at the library in Font). We looked at the forecast and saw that the rain was to continue for four more days and then we looked at the map...and that is when it hit me. Steve had to go to Amsterdam, so that is what we did. The next morning, we packed up and headed for Europe's version of the sin city, with it's brown cafes, "coffee" shops and red light shananigans.

We found a lovely campsite immediately on the outskirts of Amsterdam proper, called Camp Zeeburg. We arrived at the camp in the evening and decided to make dinner and keep it mellow for our first evening in the Netherlands; the next day, we would truly begin our Amsterdam adventure.

Wild architecture was common throughout the city

We woke up the next morning and decided to rent bikes, as Amsterdam is the most bike friendly city in the world and it takes a mere 20 minutes to pedal to the center of town from the campsite. Off we set on our two wheeled cruisers to the AMAZING Van Gogh exhibit at the Hermitage museum. The normal Van Gogh museum was closed for renovation so it had been relocated and re-imagined in this alternate location. Then we walked through the town center, watched a fire juggler in the square (Vin would have been psyched..contact fire BALL juggling), discovered a flea market near the music concorde, had another chance to enjoy a Döner, and enjoyed our requisite walk through the Red Light district so Steve could see the ladies of the night...

Steve taking a coffee break with his Tawainese group tour

Food stop in the Red Light District

The next day we were a bit sore from our day on the bikes, so we decided to take the metro for the day instead. To get to the metro, you need to walk about 1.5 km but the day was crisp and dry, so we grabbed a backpack and headed out. We began our day at Vondel park, a beautiful park in the center of town near the Rijks museum. I had spent several days in the park many years ago on a previous visit to Amsterdam; I had a friend who worked at the Teahouse, a round building in the middle of the park, where you can hang out outside of in, eating delicious sandwiches and drinking delectable Belgian beers. We walked around the park until we arrived at the Teahouse and stopped for a bite, while enjoying the beautiful weather. Then we set off to find the perfect sunny spot to have my first juggling lesson (actually, my second, I faintly remember Vin attempting to teach me for a short time in Alamo square once before). I thought it was time to try something other than climbing as my belly grows.

Juggling 101

After an almost one complete volley of three balls, a quick Yelp search returned a Belgian restaurant serving a large selection of beers of the same origin. With time to kill before dinner we hunted down a small photography museum called Foam. It was a refreshing change from paintings of Jesus, the usual fare in European museums. These included some particularly moving portraits of young gypsy children taken by an extremely talented young female Dutch photographer who died at an early age while visiting Guatemala.

Ummm...beer in weird glass

This being our last night in Amsterdam, we felt that we had to attempt to go out and enjoy some of the nightlife. After dinner, we headed off to the Paradiso, a local nightclub where we could see both live music and hear some local djs. Unfortunately, the band we ended up seeing was not quite our cup of tea and the music played by the local djs pandered to a much younger crowd and was overall pretty terrible. We stayed at the club for two and a half hours and really gave our best effort, but in the end, we just couldn't handle any more than that. We headed back to the campsite, still yearning for a night of good music and dancing. I guess we can try again in France or Spain.

Sunset on a canal tour

We left Amsterdam the next day and headed back to Font. We originally thought that we might want to visit Brussels on our way back up but realized that visiting cities puts quite a dent in our budget and that we needed to get back to our usual modus operandi - wild camping, home cooking, and hard climbing...

-C

Geneva: A city we could live in

Our friends Stephanie and Morgan live in the center of Geneva in a one bedroom apartment on the second ( but what they call the first) floor with their dog Tao; an expat pooch from West Virginia. Since they knew we were driving around Europe, they invited us to come see their home in Geneva while we were traveling. We knew that we loved Switzerland, having already visited the Italian and German regions, so we went visit them for some climbing in the French Alps. We arrived on Friday evening, which happens to be Aperitune night. Morgan created this get together on Friday nights, where a couple of friends head over to his house and have drinks and share music. The catch is that the music that they share must be a song that no one else has heard before. It is their way of discovering new music together. Another couple came by and we all hung out, had drinks and food and listened to music. It was a delightful way to spend the evening; it felt more like being back in SF, except for the fact that everyone was speaking French most of the time. Later that night, we headed to a concert a couple blocks away from the house. The opening band played old gypsy tunes and classic Russian, Romanian and other eastern bloc music.

Though we went to the show to see the main band, by 1am, they still hadn't come on and we were pretty exhausted (Steve was actually getting sick AGAIN) and needed to crash. We headed back to the apt, where Steph and Morgan had moved their loft bed to the floor due to my "condition", making getting in and out a little easier. So thoughtful! We were incredibly comfortable and I was truly thankful that I didn't need to make a ladder descent in the dark...

We were hoping to go climbing the next day but like many other days we have experienced here, it was going to rain, so instead, Steph and Morgan showed us around Geneva. Since it was Saturday, the city was bustling with activity. We took the metro and headed toward the lake, the central attraction in Geneva, for lunch. We ate right on the lake with a view if the Jet d'Eau Fountain, a 140 meter geyser that shoots out of the middle of the lake. You can tell that during the summer the area is packed, there are beaches, separate swimming areas with diving boards, boating areas and the like. It reminds me of Lake Tahoe in California, but perhaps a bit smaller.

On our way back to the house, we bumped into some friends of theirs who told us about some bike comp taking place in town. We had nothing else to do, so we decided to go and check it out. In the center of town, there is a large open space, where they host a variety of activities. It is next to the skate park that the city just built. The bike comp was a type of freestyle, bmx biking on different obstacle courses. These guys were pretty incredible to watch...

Later that eve, we headed over to a small Ethiopian restaurant. A food that we missed dearly. We often forget how much the bay area has to offer, especially the food; it is so easy to eat well in the bay area and boy, do we miss it! The restaurant was an everyday apartment converted into a restaurant. Morgan explained that these types of small businesses, just like their climbing gym (more on that later), are considered non-profit or small-profit, so do not fall under the same laws as normal businesses. These small businesses can operate without being taxed and are encouraged. Tt is a way for small businesses to make enough money to cover their expenses. These businesses are not looking to become bigger and more profitable, they want to remain small and cover what they need and nothing more. Dinner was absolutely delicious but of course the price tag was very different than in SF. The dinner that we ordered included a meat dish, so it probably would have cost $50 for the four of us, but alas, in Geneva it cost $68. Switzerland is quite expensive but as Morgan explained to us another day, people make more money, so in the end, it is all relative...

The next morning we headed to Chamonix to climb. What an amazing place! After taking the train to the top with a beautiful view of la mer de glace, we hiked a little ways down to do some bouldering.

F*** alpine, we're going bouldering

Morgan and some of his friends had already discovered and cleaned off a new cluster of boulders in the canyon, that included a very special compression problem that Morgan was dead set on conquering. Steve was excited to climb on the granite boulders; since most of the problems that they cleaned off were tall, 6b or above with sketchy landings, I was in charge of taking pics and watching from the sidelines. I need to be careful with little Crankenstein now, no more falling, so only easy climbing for me. With their efforts combined the boys managed to send the new compression line, an instant classic. While Steve grabbed the first ascent, it was a team effort for the beta and all the boys sent. Morgan later named the problem Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with a mutual agreement on 7b+/7c grade. Nice work guys!

Morgan setting up to clean the new compression line

Cleaning...

The beta hunt begins

Lots of chalk is showing up

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_DRLiQpoNw&feature=youtu.be;rel=0] ..and the ascent.

Both Morgan and Stephanie had to teach on Monday, so we just hung around the house attempting to figure out insurance and other admin that we needed to accomplish prior to our return home. That night we all headed to their gym. Yes, they are part owners. It is a co-op, one of these small businesses that makes enough money to upkeep and slowly make it better and better as the years progress. It is a true training gym, not quite like Moritz's gym in Nürenberg, but it is purely for those training to get better. Steph coaches the climbing team there on Monday evenings, others coach on other nights. Monday is Morgan's night to feed everyone who is working there that night, so we all headed over there and he cooked a feast, which included huge globs of melted cheese cooked in what looked like a grill cheese sandwich maker. The idea is that you melt the cheese then drip it onto potatoes. It is somewhat similar to fondue, called raclette. Not the healthiest meal but he did include fixins for salad on the side that he had picked on his friends farm outside of Geneva. We continued to hang out there for several hours, drinking beer (of course, there is a bar) and fraternizing while people climbed and congregated throughout the night. This gym is a pretty special place; it is more like a club, they even host bands several times a year and special events that include climbing hard boulder problems as part of the activity. Everyone there drinks, smokes and enjoys, without the interference of cops or authorities. We wish there could have a place like that in SF, but it would have to be underground and in the end, would probably be busted or shut down anyway...

The world's tallest campus board

Though it rained almost everyday we were there, we attempted to get out of the house. On Tuesday, we headed to CERN, the European organization for nuclear research; it houses the largest Hadron collider. We walked through the two exhibits, read, listened and attempted to absorb as much info as we could. This is where the créme de la créme of the intellectual elites do their research. Even the internet was invented here...

Corinne and the Atom Smasher

The first WWW web server

Since Stephanie and Morgan are both math teachers, I hoped that this would be an opportunity to watch teaching in another country. Though I had planned on doing this in several places while traveling, I had yet to do so, as we were never really in places long enough for me to inquire (except for SA, where I just wanted to climb more than work). On Thursday, Stephanie set it up so that I could go and watch a class that was actually taught in English. The kids in these classes were year four, seniors, and were the best of the best, when it came to mathematics; not only were they in a top level class, a mix of Calculus and vector analysis, they were also willing to learn in English, which was NOT their native language; for most, English was their second language but for some, English was their third. The class was run as a normal lecture class, much like a college class, where they attempted to absorb as much as possible. It was a two hour class with a ten minute break in the middle. They had class four times a week. Though the teacher may have had a plan for hw, all of that changed when the students were asked how to prove that the smallest set of vectors that had certain characteristics was the null set. They guessed that the answer was null set, but when their teacher asked them to prove it, they were baffled. So, that became their homework, to prove that the null set was the smallest set. No grumbling, no arguments, they just accepted that they were to attempt to prove it. It was a pleasure to sit in on a class where kids actually enjoyed being challenged and actually, yearned for it. I realize that not all classes are as special as this one, but it does inspire me for the future.

Due to the rain, we were only able to do one more day of climbing in Geneva. On Thursday, we headed to another spot that Morgan and his friends had discovered. It was an old granite mining area, that unfortunately was too hard for me but proved to be a pretty good afternoon for Steve and Morgan...

The view from the boulders

Morgan and Steve preparing for a climb

Stephanie and Morgan were the most amazing hosts; we couldn't have asked for more. Though we were vacationing in Geneva, we also needed to complete a lot of admin...insurance, tickets back home, decisions as to where to have the baby (east coast vs. west coast), plans for shipping the van back, etc. Though we would rather not admit it, it was all a bit stressful and having a home in which to broach these decisions, made our lives so much easier. These two made it very relaxed and we can't wait until we get to see them again. In fact, we should be seeing them very soon, as they are planning on meeting us in Fontainebleau in late October. It will be great to climb with them once again...we are anxiously looking forward to their arrival.

Of course, we hope that we can return the favor when they come to climb in the states. ;)

-C

Cape Town to Madrid

We flew out of CPT international on September 5th after staying the night with the infamous Justin Hawkins. Of all visits with Justin this was the most mellow. We arrived, hung out for a little, went out to a casual dinner at a wonderfully delicious Thai restaurant, and fell asleep watching the paraolympics. Which by the way were amazing if you did not get a chance to watch them. Watching a one-half armed man beat everyone in the 100 meter freestyle was badass.

Unfortunately this trip was not on business class, like our flight to CPT. Since we had to purchase one of the flights, as we did not have enough frequent flyer miles to pay for them all, we flew on Turkish airlines with an 8-hour layover in Istanbul. We had hoped to be able to check out Istanbul during our layover but after our hellish hot and uncomfortable flight, all we could do was sleep on the benches in the halls of the airport. Though Turkish airlines has free tours of Istanbul if you have a long layover, the tours do not start until 9am and end at 3pm. We arrived in Istanbul at 6am and left at 2pm. :(

Though the temperature on the flight to Madrid was cooler, there were no private monitors for movie watching. They were showing Snow White and the Huntsman, which we both really wanted to see, but we were seated directly below the monitor and could not see the movie at all....ipad to the rescue! We watched a few episodes of Forbrydelsen (The Killing), a show that Colin and Jen turned us onto.

We arrived in Madrid with no problems. We received a new visa upon entry and BOOM, we were admitted for three more months to the EU.  Two minutes after our exit, Erin and Matt arrived and off we went to navigate through the metros of Madrid to their amazing flat.

They live in the western portion of Madrid, between Arguelles, Moncloa and Islas Filipinas (three different metro stops). You can get to anywhere in Madrid pretty easily; it usually takes 10-20 minutes to any part of the city. We laid pretty low during our first few days there, as we were tired from traveling and climbing in SA. We then began to get back into our groove; however, as Erin noticed, my groove is getting slower and slower as I get more and more pregnant. I am not quite as motivated as I usually am. Though my energy level is supposed to be back to normal, carrying the extra weight and sleeping a bit more fitfully is definitely sapping my energy.

After a few days of rest, we began to actually see the sites of Madrid. We got our museum fix on; we visited the Prado twice, the Reina Sofia, the Thyssen for a special Hopper exhibit and the monastery in el Escorial de San Lorenzo.

Outside the monastery in El Escorial

Inside

The caskets for all the deceased Spanish kings

Checking out some surrealism

Of course food is a huge part of Spanish culture, with lunch being the most important meal of the day. Most of the days we cooked, well, most days Matt cooked, but we also went out for some meals. Matt is becoming quite the Spanish cook; his tortilla con patatas is amazing, as well as his preparation of sea bass and liver; we definitely enjoyed the food in Spain. Mid-way through our stay, we were invited to have dinner with Fernando, Erin and Matt's landlord. Fernando is Claudia's father, a good friend of Erin's who I climbed with last time I visited Madrid with Frederique. Fernando is a professor in Barcelona but also has a couple of apartments in Madrid, which he still considers his home. He is also an amazing cook. He made us a chilled soup, similar to Gazpacho but a little tangier, a hake dish with baked egg on top, as well a black sausage with a tasty green sauce (can't remember the ingredients). For dessert, we had whole cream and peaches. The evening's conversation revolved around American politics, the election and the media that presents it.

Fernando's handy work

Our time with Matt and Erin was relaxing and exciting. We did more than eat and visit museums however. Stay tuned! -Corinne

Golf Day

Exactly a week after Rockstock, de Pakhuys and other Clanwilliam businesses hosted the second annual golf day. On a beautiful Saturday, about 40 climbers decided to take a rest from the rock and compete against each other on the golf course. Our team, the PorkNeck Putans, were last year's champs and we were determined to win again. (Corinne was not part of the original team, but she and Shannon replaced Kieran, who was not in attendance this year) Paul Raad, our Lebanese/South African assigned "golfpro" was sure to win again, as he is a top-notch player and with Ricky on our team, there was no way we could lose.

"How do I do this?"

The master and his disciple

Shannon hammering it off the tee

Our pro, Paul Raad

Bakkie bar break

Eventually Corinne got the hang of it

The two top men at work

But lose we did. Though Ricky and Paul both played a beautiful game, there were others who played well AND had better handicaps, thus we came in third. Third wasn't so bad; we all received free brick oven pizzas from de Pakhuys which all of us enjoyed, excluding Paul, as he doesn't live close to the camp area and coming to the campsite bar and hanging out with a bunch of climbers isn't really his cup of tea.

The winning team. Our friend Daniel on the left

The team that actually played the best game thanks to semi golf pro Jackson in the blue

Fortuitously, almost a month after golf day, we also received the first place winner's prize, free dinner at Muisbosskerm, as the winners never claimed their prize except for Daniel and we refused to let a free all you can eat fish dinner go to waste. Thanks for the hook-up, Thys!

Our day at the fish buffet

Until next time. C and S

Holy Backblogged Batman!

We departed from South Africa yesterday afternoon and are on our way to Madrid. In six weeks of climbing, exploring, meeting new friends and visiting with old ones we managed only two updates. Obviously a bit more happened during our holiday away from our Euro holiday. We attempted to defend a championship, sent projects, put up new boulder problems, had visitors from SF, forgot what it was like to eat green vegetables, and have some very big news. Stay tuned as we sort out text and photos.

Döner Macht Schöner

Germany is known for it's beer. Bavaria is know for the high concentration of breweries in it's region. Nürnberg is know for the highest concentration of breweries in all of Germany. Germany is know for it's high concentration of limestone crags. Frankenjura is known for the highest concentration of hard limestone crags in all of Germany. Nürnberg is 40km from Frankenjura. Sounds good, no? We were to arrive in Nürnberg the evening of the Germany and Italy match in the Euro Cup. Unknown to us, Moritz and Julia were planning to go watch the match at a public venue. Due to poor planning and construction on the autobahn, we arrived later than expected. Moritz greeted us outside when we arrived in "Little Istanbul" or as what he called the southern ghetto of Nürnberg. Yet, as far as ghettos go, the area was more like the outer sunset in SF than Hunter's point. Due to the amount of Turks in the "ghetto", this area could also be considered "the home of the Döner", the German version of a burrito, insofar that it costs €3 and is a cheap meal that is quite suitable after a hard day of climbing.

Steve met Julia and Moritz in Rocklands last year. Moritz is almost as tall as Steve and they are both obsessed with climbing hard and training hard; they are like two peas in a pod. They climb at about the same level and are able to use similar beta; Steve truly enjoys climbing with Moritz.

We arrived in Nürnberg on a Thursday, as we planned for a full week in the city; we wanted to have a German garage check the Goose. We figured that if anyone would know how to fix the van, it would be a German, being that Goose was born in Germany.  We were still having our coolant issue and we just can't figure out how to fix it ourselves. Steve has been religiously reading forums to help him problem solve but it seems like the more he reads, the further down the rabbit hole he goes. We ended up bringing it to a garage, called N&M, on Monday, explained the problem (well, not all of it but most of it) and they found that part of the radiator was clogged and that the temp sensor for the water temp was old and needed to be replaced. When we picked it up on Tuesday, Goose was definitely acting better but still after a 45 minute drive on the autobahn, the minute we slowed down, Goose's temps were rising again. Not to the level where he is about to overheat, like before, but definitely reading temps above normal, but since it wasn't heading toward the super high temps, we thought maybe, just maybe, they had fixed our issues. That was until Saturday when we headed out to Frankenjura with Julia and Moritz and began to overheat. Once more Goose was acting up and all we could do was unscrew the cap on the expansion tank to release the pressure that was preventing the coolant from flowing. The coolant is getting stuck in the overflow and then cannot push back through to the expansion tank because of the pressure inside the tank. We have no idea why the pressure is building up in the first place. So,a week after our first visit to N&M, we went back and thoroughly explained our issues. The mechanic listened to us but decided that he had absolutely no idea what was wrong. He claimed that it shouldn't make a difference whether the engine was idling or being pushed at 80kph, it would overheat either way, but when he ran the engine all day, it resulted in no overheating and perfect coolant distribution. He kept it for another day, but found nothing wrong. Thankfully, he didn't charge us for his efforts. Once again, we were frustrated and annoyed, as we knew that our coolant problem was going to be a continuing thorn in our side.

We were psyched to head to Nürnberg to visit with Julia and Moritz but we were also psyched to hit Frankenjura, another climbing destination known for it's short, steep but often run out routes. Unfortunately, between our car and the relentless rain during our ten day visit, we spent more days in Nürnberg at the apartment than out on the rock.

We arrived on a Thursday, spent Friday in town sorting ourselves out and headed out to Frankenjura Saturday morning. We received a message that Kaddi, her brother Christian, and some friends were going to be climbing as well, so we headed out early to meet them at Kalte Wald. Though the weather was pretty warm, this area stayed pretty cool and had a nice array of routes from 6a to 7b. There were a couple of really fun 6a's and a great 7a called Stracciatella (sp?) that I enjoyed, while Steve, Moritz and Kaddi worked on a couple of 7b's that seemed to serve them well.  It was a great day and we were excited to see what else Frankenjura had to offer.

After a full day of climbing, we went to do what everyone in Bavaria does at the end of the day in the summer and headed down the road to the Biergarten. The beer in Bavaria is varied and plentiful and ALWAYS tastes good, except maybe the smoked beer, which Steve says tastes a bit like drinking bacon. Not only are there varieties in beer but there are also varieties in non-alcoholic beer; they even have several types of alcohol frei hefeweisen and they were all fabulous. Thank you Bavaria!

After the biergarten, we all were pretty hungry. Moritz knew of an awesome restaurant next to a pig farm but unfortunately, they were having a private event, so we headed to another place in the sweet little town of Pottenstein, right in the center of the Frankenjura region. Noone had been there before but it turned out to be one of our best meals yet. Steve and five others ordered the schäufele, while I ordered another smaller pork dish, as I had had the schäufele two evenings prior and I couldn't finish it the first time.

We were told that the schäufele was one of the best folks had ever eaten; it was pretty fantastic, the rind was perfectly crisped and meat just fell off the bone. We all rolled out of the restaurant after our huge, hearty meal and went looking for a place to camp for the night.

Though Moritz and Julia headed back to the city, the rest of us camped out in one of the very few bouldering areas in Frankenjura.  At around 10pm, it started to rain. We all sought refuge in our respective shelters, Kaddi and Christian and Wupi (Christian's dog, who is a mix between ewok and a wookie) sleeping under a cave with a couple of hard as nails  boulder problems. The rain continued throughout the night, along with a lightning and thunderstorm. It rained all throughout the morning as well. Despite the rain, Moritz and Julia STILL drove out to meet us, as promised. After several hours of relentless rain, Kaddi and friends decided to head home, as they had a long drive back to Freiburg and Basel, Switzerland. While Moritz and Julia gave Steve and I a quick tour of some other nice climbing spots on the way back to Nürnberg.

We dropped the car off on Monday at N&M. Julia has off on Mondays and being the amazing host that she is, took us around the sites of Nürnberg. Nürnberg is a cool little town; it has a central area which is only for pedestrians and maybe bicycles, like so many other cities in Europe; why aren't there more of these in the U.S.? I can only think of Boulder and Burlington off the top of my head. It is so nice being able to walk around, stop at a cafe, go shopping and never have to worry about cars, lights, etc.

For the rest of our stay in Nürnberg, it either rained or was hot and sticky. Limestone sucks when it is wet and does not dry too quickly in heat and humidity. Though we did have three more days of climbing in Frankenjura, we still have yet to truly experience all that place has to offer. Since we need to go and pick up our van in Germany in September and were promised that Jasper Bote would be there if we returned, we are planning on spending another week or two in Nürnberg to give Frankenjura another chance. Though Moritz and Julia will be in South Korea during our second visit, we will have a new base with Melissa and Jasper on the northern end of the city. But don't worry, there are Döner shops there as well...

Just want to give a shoutout to our amazing hosts, Moritz and Julia. You guys were so amazingly hospitable and we hope that we didn't cause too much strife in your life. When we think back to our stay,  we will warmly remember Döner macht schöner, your amazing training gym, great food, great beer (including alcohol frei), Crankenstein and your incredible hospitality. Thanks again you two and we can't wait to climb with you again soon! -C&S

PS - more posts soon hopefully. :)

Finale Ligure

Stefano and Laura had raved so much about this place that we decided to check it out for ourselves... We left Zandobbio around 10am and arrived in Finale close to 2pm. Since it stays light until 9:30pm, we figured that we could do some afternoon climbing before the day was out. We headed to Bric Scimmarco, one of Stefano's recommendations. The hike in took a half an hour and was a little tough to find; we got in three climbs, which at this point was quite enough for an afternoon. Once again, we were presented with slippery limestone with tricky reads. The length and abundance of climbs was promising.

Later that day, we set off for camping.  We found the wild camping pretty quickly, as the signs to the Monte Cucco climbing were plentiful. Monte Cucco is a great free campsite with one squat toilet and running water for dishes. The tent sites are much more private and enjoyable but we found a more secluded spot after our first night that we continued to use...until the one night when a couple of Italians put there tent up within 5 feet of our site when there were tons of better tent sites in the area...It is almost as if other campers are magnets for Italian campers. Where we try to find the most secluded area, they seem to be as close to another campsite for safety. WTF?

Finale is a huge limestone area right off the coast; it is part of the Italian riviera, as it is situated right along the Mediterranean. There are tons of areas, each with many climbs. The only issue that we had with Finale besides the greasy and hard to read routes, were the temps. How do they do it? Climbing in the summer is miserable, yet there are always peeps out there.

Finale Ligure has a lot more to offer than climbing. Being on the Meditteranean coast, people from all over Northern Italy come to vacation there. We truly enjoyed both the town of Finalborgo and the coast, during our rest days and middays. Gelato and pizza were plentiful and thoroughly enjoyed.  Internet was always a challenge but Finalborgo ended up serving us well; it just took a lot of asking and creativity.  Also, a little shoutout to the Rockstore. They did a fabulous and quick job on resoling three pairs of our shoes. Thank you so much!

Though the heat was practically unbearable, we did have a couple of favorite areas...Superpanza is fantastic and has a ton of multi-pitches that look phenomenal. We never got to do a multi-pitch while there though; the ones we saw were all a bit too hard and it was a bit too hot. We wanted to do the classic Superpanza but after asking some locals, they advised against it, claiming that the bolts were just too old. I desperately wanted to do my first multi-pitch but alas, I will have to wait. on the higher sector to the right, we found a cave with overhanging, powerful routes that fit Steve just right...me, not so much, but there were vertical slabs to the left that suited me just fine. Here, Steve sent Viaggo nel Futuro, a 7c+/8a on his second go, not bad... Le Manie was another amazing sector. A little trickier to find but with short, stout, bouldery routes. Museo dell'uomo, a classic 7b, turned out to be one of Steve's favorites thus far. The bouldery, powerful moves served him just the right amount of challenge that he could muster on the 31°C day. He also tried the 8a near to the 7b, but the temps were just too high. I worked hard on a 15 meter 6b+ that just kicked my ass...I just couldn't get past the two crux moves...another day, another time...

After a weeks worth of hot, greasy climbing, we were ready to go up into the mountains...we needed to cool off. The area was truly amazing and we hope to visit again, but in the spring or fall, when temps foster sending rather than sliming...

-C

The Heart of Italy

It is rare in life that you meet individuals that in only a few days can have such a wonderful and positive effect on your life. After our time in Croatia we set Alice (our GPS) to the small town of Zandobbio in the Bergamo Province of Italy and pointed the Goose west. Our destination was the home of Stefano Codazzi and his girlfriend Laura Gugolati.

The notorious Tommy G had put us in contact with Stefano after having met him on the sunny shores of Railay Thailand some years ago. We did not know what to expect and thought we would spend no more than two days in their company before we set out again on our way north.

Upon our arrival Stefano greeted us with a big grin and open arms. We realized we had briefly met him a few years ago when he and his friend Paolo had visited Thomas in San Francisco. Stefano ushered us into his home and we met Laura for the first time. We spent a quiet evening chatting and planned to climb the next day. In the morning we had the pleasure of meeting Giulia, their adorable nine month old daughter.  A bubbly, inquisitive ball of joy, Giulia accepted us with no hesitation.

After breakfast we set out for Valgua; a crag that Stefano has assisted in developing over the past twenty years. He continues to develop new crags in the area, always making sure that there are lines for people of all levels. His newest crag even contains a board where climbers can give their input about the new routes, grades, stars, info, etc.  We picked up Paolo (no, a different one) on our way. We spent the day climbing wonderful moderate routes on the tricky limestone.

Thumbs up to a day of crushing limestone!

After dropping off Paolo and meeting his beautiful twins we went to Stefano's home and enjoyed the first of Laura's many delicious home cooked meals.

Sunday morning, we were invited to join the family for an excursion into the historic city of Bergamo. We spent the day winding our way through the cobblestone streets and vast array of stunning Catholic churches.

The wall surrounding the upper city.

Lunch break - Delizioso!

That evening we enjoyed another fantastic Milanese meal, made by none other than Laura the master chef. Laughter and conversation continued until late despite the fact that Stefano needed to wake up at 6am for work. He works as the production manager for Climbing Technology, creators of the Click Up and Alpine Up. Unfortunately, Stefano woke up late...something he has never done. Sorry for keeping you up so late!

Our next day consisted mainly of admin tasks. Changing the oil, organizing and cleaning the van, which included a trip to one of the many autolavaggio in Italy; they are everywhere, and trying to get flights to South Africa with our United miles (what?! South Africa? More later....). We spent the latter half of the day with Laura and Giulia; eating, playing, napping and practicing English. Stefano returned home later that evening and we all enjoyed another night of chef Laura's amazing cooking.

For our last day in Zandobbio, we went to Milan to meet with the consulate general for South Africa; there was this little fine that Steve had to pay for overstaying his visa last summer (a whole 14 hours!).  We had a a bit of a late late start due to never ending rain, but headed to Milan and paid the fine. We then decided to spend a couple of hours actually enjoying Milan and seeing what the city has to offer. After doing a little research, we decided to go and view The Last Supper, as it is housed in the abbey of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the ZA consulate was quite close to the church. We found parking right next to the church but unfortunately, to view one of the most important and famous paintings in the world you need to book tickets three months in advance.  Lucky for us, there was an exhibit of Da Vinci's sketches that was available for viewing in another area of the church.

We viewed twenty sketches and notes in the Great Masters crazy backwards writing. The twenty sketches consisted of diagrams and notes on water irrigation systems but also included one or two sketches on flight and geometry, much to Steve and my delight. The water stuff was cool, but flight and Geometry was way cooler.

Next we decided to head over to the Duomo, Milan's most impressive Cathedral. We walked through the crowded streets of Milan and suddenly arrived at a large open square packed with tourists, in addition to masses of Senegalese men hocking their wares. As we walked up, one looks at us and says "my african friends, come, let me talk to you." Knowing that he was going to either try to sell us something or attempt to have us give him money, I attempted to veer off, but he walked quickly and grinning from ear to ear, he spoke again "look at how dark you are, you must be African". He held his arm next to my white but slightly tanned arm. We laughed and decided that it wouldn't hurt us to talk with him for a few moments. We told him that though we weren't African, we had indeed been to Africa and that we were going back again next month. He put bracelets on our wrists (string friendship bracelets) and we, in turn, gave him a couple of euros. He was so sweet that we just didn't mind being swindled at the time...

The Duomo of Milan is an amazing sight. Stretching up high above the piazza del Duomo, it's the third largest church in Christendom. A staggering 3,500 statues and 135 spires adorn the marble structure, which has a Baroque and neo-Gothic façade, as well as five bronze doors carved by different artists. It's no wonder that it took 500 years to complete and building work continues today.

Stefano says that it is very common to say that you are like the Duomo, if you take far too long to get ready...I guess 500 years is quite a bit of time...

That evening we went back to Zandobbio to spend another lovely evening with our newfound Italian "family"; we enjoyed laughter, great food and conversation for yet another glorious night.  Stefano and Laura are two of the most caring and generous people we have met on our travels and we will cherish the time we spent with them in the small valley town of Zandobbio.

Ciao S&C

Fixit in Freiburg

Our last day in Font we decided we would watch the horse races at the hippodrome since we had been sleeping there most nights and thought it might be exciting to see the grounds in action. It was not. The horse races were probably the lamest thing that I have seen on the trip thus far. Perhaps if they ran more than 300-500 meters, it might have been better, but it was the same short race over and over with seemingly no rhyme or reason to the order or the results. I fell asleep, hoping the rain would stop and we could actually climb our last day in sandstone paradise. I awoke to more horses trotting past the van and drizzle coming down in a steady stream. No climbing. That meant shopping at the Super Carrefour. The Carrefours are all over place and are basically your Safeway/Walmart of France. The Super Carrefour on the other hand is like a super Walmart on steroids. This place is huge. Too huge actually. They have two cheese isles and a gardening section with lawn mowers. You can get everything you need but you need a rest day after you're done. Maybe two. Anyway, we went, we shopped, we conquered. Upon our return to the hippodrome we saw Raul and Emilie parked so we pulled up next them and I hopped out of the van. As I made my way around the back of the van I smelled the sweet scent of coolant. I also heard a distinct water flowing sound. I dropped to a knee and saw coolant freely flowing from the engine bay into the grass. I leapt into action, grabbed a stainless steel pot and caught the over flow. I opened the engine bay for inspection and found that the 25 year old expansion tank had finally decided to give up the ghost. The threads on the tank could no longer hold a tight seal. As the pressure from heat builds in the system the tank should overflow to the burp tank but instead was exploding from the top of the expansion tank, which could cause engine overheat and if not monitored, catastrophic engine failure. We were leaving for Freiburg the next day, we had spare coolant and I figured what better place to fix a Westy then in Germany. One last night at the hippodrome and we set off. We had to stop about midway as the van started to overheat. Carrefour to the rescue again. We grabbed 5 liters of coolant and made it to Freiburg.

Freiburg is a college town. The beer is good, the girls are pretty and the pretzels are plentiful. We arrived at Scott and Kaddi's place early evening and enjoyed a a nice meal out after almost a year since we last saw them in South Africa. They live in a small flat with three more room mates in a fifth floor apartment with no elevator. Kaddi graded the stairs 5a. She never forgets anything upon departure.

A small local climbing wall under a bridge near Scott and Kaddi's apartment.

It's a good spot to chill and enjoy company and a German beer.

The next day Kaddi worked on a project for Uni while Scott, Corinne and I went to Gueberschwihr to do some sandstone route climbing. The rock was unlike anything I had seen before. You would start a route on an overhang with small crimps and powerful moves. Then do a technical slab. Follow this with dead vertical lay back crack climbing and finger locks. Finish the route with greasy side pulls and underclings on horrible feet and you have yourself some of the most entertaining routes I have climbed in some time. This could be due in part that the crag is a man made quarry. Either way it was a blast.

The next day Scott and Kaddi were going to Stuttgart for the weekend to set routes on an outdoor climbing wall. The van behaved the previous day when we went to Gueberschwihr so we thought we could take it to Chironico in Switzerland to do some bouldering for two days. No sooner than we started the van did it start to overheat. The cap was on the fritz and it looked like we need to address the problem sooner. After visiting auto parts stores to no avail and getting directions in German we made it to a VW dealer and ordered a replacement tank and cap for €36. The part would not arrive until Monday, so we had two full days to kill in Freiburg.

We filled our days with internet, reading, and eating pretzels, bratwurst and gummi bears while strolling around the picturesque town of Freiburg.

Come Monday we picked up the part and asked if the dealership could install. For €100 in two days, no problem. Forget that, we still wanted to hit Chironico and visit Osp in Slovenia on our way to Croatia. I was not doing 16 hours of driving in two days. After visiting several shops, all booked until Wednesday, one caravan shop, also booked up and calling three more, we were directed to a Russian fellow who also lets you do the work yourself if you like. The job was a simple one, even a DIY, but we needed somewhere to dispose of coolant, so this seemed like the best bet. We went over, and were told to wait an hour. He switched out the tank then took the overflow coolant and dumped it down a drain on the ground...so much for proper disposal. He charged us €20 and we were back on the road.

We left the next day and drove through the Swiss alps to the Italian region of Switzerland and a quaint town called Chironico. It is home to a small but dense bouldering sector with rough granite and thrutchy moves on tiny crimps. It also happens to be one of the former backyard playgrounds of a boulder named Fred Nicole.

Two days in Paris

On April 30th, we had a tour scheduled with Sight Seeker's Delight for a four hour tour along the Seine. The tour was led by the one and only Karen , one of my oldest friends from the Philly dayz. Karen is not only a tour guide but the owner of Sight Seeker's Delight, the number one tour company in Paris on tripadvisor.com. Though our tour did not begin until 11am, we decided to take an early train into Paris and meet Karen at her place prior to the long walk.

We have all survived so long without the Internet or cell phones, but life seems so much harder without them now...there aren't many payphones around since everyone and their mother has a cell phone but when you are a traveler and aren't ready to throw down the cash to keep your cell phone going through other countries, getting in touch with people is a bit of a hassle...luckily, there was a McDonalds right next to the Place d'Italie metro stop, a stop close to Karen's apartment. We went in for a cafe créme and an expresso and used their free wifi. Fred, Karen's husband, picked us up, along with his coworker and buddy Benoit. We arrived, dropped off or bags and headed out to meet the rest of the folks on the tour.

The tour was phenomenal. Karen was as charmingly witty and enthusiastic as ever. There were four of us on the tour and we hoofed it for the complete four hours, beginning at Notre Dame and ending near the Palaces on the Champs Élysées. We walked along the Seine, through the kings church, the courtyard of the Louvre, alongside the Comedie-Français, the Samartaine, and the grand Palaces, in addition to a getting a glimpse and pic of the Opera House. All this and a fifteen minute lecture on 2,500 years of Parisian history while sitting in the famous green chairs at the Jarden Tuileries. Karen is right at home, relaying the stories while always focusing on the irony and/or gruesome details. Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Who knew that a children's tale was all about cannibalism in gay Paris?

After the tour, we headed back to Karen's pad to hang with Fred and Azriel, Karen and Fred's absolutely adorable and energetic 2 year old. Hanging out with Azriel is just the thing that I need to show me the joys of parenthood. "Pud", Azriel's nickname, is the perfect bundle of energy and intelligence; he is an absolute joy to be around. It is amazing that a two year old (well, 23 months) can open an iPad, turn it on and put on the music that he wants to hear. He is already addicted to the iPad and iPhone. Who knows what it will be like in another ten years; I can't even imagine.

On Tuesday, Karen had another tour to give but we decided to head over to Montmartre, the "Soho" of Paris. Since it happened to be May 1st, which is a holiday in France (labor day), Montmartre was packed. People from all over were there, but we mostly heard French. The weather was beautiful, a wonderful respite from 3-4 days of rain. Everyone wanted to hang out in sunny Montmartre and see the best views of Paris from the Sacre Coeur. Later on was another wonderful evening with Karen, Fred and Azriel, with great food, conversation (Fred spoke the most English that Karen had ever heard him speak) and laughs (Pud is a constant amusement).

Karen and Fred were amazing hosts. Everyone should visit them! We had such a great time that we extended our visit and of course, I am definitely planning on going back again...not sure when but definitely at some point and Karen knows that I actually visit when I say I will...

Big hugs and love to Fred, Karen and Pud! ~the big C

Musee D'Orsay in a day

Due to the incessant rain, Ginny, Daniel and I decided to go into Paris instead of climbing. We drove in and checked into a hotel for Daniel, Ginny and Marykate, as Ginny and Marykate were to spend the next day shopping in Paris.

We arrived in Paris in the afternoon just in time for lunch. Daniel walked us through the fifth arrondissement toward the sixth, slowly making our way from the hotel to the Musee D'Orsay, the goal of the day in Paris. We stopped in a semi-touristy brasserie and had a small bite, served by an adorably sweet and young French waiter.

We then made our way to the long line outside the museum where we parted from Daniel, as he had some other sights in mind to see during the rest of the day. Ginny and I waited for maybe 45 min before gaining entrance; Ginny picked the only line that did not move for 10 minutes. We waited very impatiently while listening to announcements that the museum would be closing in an hour and fifteen minutes. Feeling rather rushed, we tried to figure out what we could see in such a short amount of time. We saw an advertisement for a new Degas exhibit, but we had to pay extra, so instead, we wandered through the first floor paintings, which included paintings by Millet. We had been by Millet's house in Barbizon the day before so this was a nice continuation of our Font experience; it seemed quite fitting. We then headed for the Impressionism exhibit on the fifth floor. I wanted to take the stairs; I had not for two days and any exercise that I could get was welcomed. As we headed up the stairs, we decided to stop on each floor along the way to. IWW the other exhibits. We saw some very cool Norwegian and Finnish furniture, paintings and plateware from the late 1800's. They were pieces that I normally would not go to see but I was so pleased that we did. Once we made it to the fifth floor, it was already closing time, so we speedily viewed some Monet, Manet, Degas etc as we headed toward the exit.

Though the visit was not as long as I would have liked, I can only handle about two hours in a museum before I am completely exhausted. The price is also cheaper later; it only cost €6.50. It was a short but sweet visit. I am glad we are returning on this coming Monday!

Au revoir! Corinne

London calling...

Well, we have arrived.
We have begun our journey, our travels, our new life on the road.

We first arrived in London at approximately 8am on April 17th unscathed, for the most part. Our luggage ended up costing us an extra $270 total, mostly due to our climbing pads; United charges a whopping $200 for the sports equipment...they first tried to charge us $400 ($200 each) but luckily, our new Organic pads link together pretty easily, thus seeming to be one piece of equipment. Oh and the $70 was for having an additional bag, which had the rest of our climbing equipment. So much for customer service when flying internationally...we now realize that the best way to use United miles is to book on other star alliance airlines, ie. Singapore airlines, where customer service is still part of their business model and they don't attempt to nickel and dime you...

We had already booked a room in London, using an online flat room rental site. The room, located in Maida Vale, was great but it was on the third floor, ugh as we had a lot of bags. The room wasn't quite worth $60 per night but hey, it's London, what are ya gonna do...London is a great city; the pubs are awesome, the Indian food is delicious and the mix of old and new architecture is awe-inspiring.

During our last day in London, we visited the Tate Modern museum, where we witnessed For the love of God, the diamond skull created by Damian Hirst and worth £50,000,000. A bit overkill but cool to see nonetheless. The most impressive piece of work that we saw at the Tate was Giuseppe Penone's sculpture, called Tree of 12 Metres, created from two wood beams, placed vertically, that were actually carved back into trees, branches and all, representing the form from whence it came.

After visiting the Tate Modern, we decided to stroll over to Burrough Market. Unfortunately, most of the market was closed but luckily, we did find some delicious drip coffee, by Monmouth, which reminded us of our favorite San Francisco coffee haunts, Blue Bottle, Four Barrel and Sight Glass.  To accompany our coffee, we had a delightful little snack there, called a torta (sp?), a wafer-like cookie made from flour, water, brown sugar, fennel and olive oil.

For anyone going to visit London, the tube is the best underground around, well, at least compared to SF or Philly, both of which we have some...ahem...pretty thorough experience with. Getting around on the tube is so incredibly easy. We were told that the bus is best in terms of sight seeing while traveling but as far as efficiency, the tube wins out...

On our second and last night in London, we got to visit with Almudena Castro, a friend of mine from Madrid, whom I met during my solo travels around Barcelona about seven years ago. We met Almu in front of St. Paul's and went to this great pub nearby. Don't remember the name of the pub but the food was fantastic and filling, as traditional pub fare always is...Almu was a trooper and hung out with us until late on a "school night" and then bid us adieu as we journeyed back to our room in Maida Vale for our last night in the big city.

London is rad...we will visit again...when, I don't know but it WILL happen.

With love from the UK,
Corinne

The first of many big grins.

MMM...Firm.
Outside the Tate Modern.

For the love of God. Damian Hirst. 

Giuseppe Penone, Tree of 12 Metres, 1980-82
Inside the Tate Modern

It has not stopped raining since we arrived. Not a constant down pour, but enough to make London feel exactly as everyone has described.