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Killarney and Cork

Spent Saturday hiking in Killarney National Park.

Took the train to Cork on Sunday and spent the day exploring there. This afternoon I moved on to Waterford for a couple of days. Still no rain but it has gotten windy and much cooler.

Dingle Way – Dun Quin to Tralee

Left Dun Quin at 10am Tuesday and walked 22 km to Feohanagh in about five hours. Walked along boreens and across grasslands, then across a long beach and on high cliffs.

Wednesday I departed at 9:30 and it took me almost eight hours to walk the 21 km to Cloghane. Descending Mt. Brandon was time consuming as it is a steep, muddy, slippery mess with a 2000 ft. cliff on one side.

The photo above shows the cutting of peat for fuel. The plastic bags are full of peat blocks ready for delivery.

Wednesday night I stayed at O’Connor’s pub which reminded me of PG Wodehouse’s Angler’s Rest. There was even a character telling outlandish stories like Mr. Mulliner.

Thursday I left at 9:30 and walked about 35 km to Camp in 8 hrs. It was mostly an easy walk on beaches.

I made it just in time to catch the bus to Tralee, where I stayed last night. This morning I took the bus to Killarney where I will spend two days hiking in the national park.

Dingle Way – Annascaul to Dun Quin

Left Annascaul at about 9am after having my traditional Irish breakfast – 2 sausages, 2 “rashers” (strips of bacon), an egg, tomato, mushrooms, 3 slices of toast, and tea – and walked the 22 km to Dingle in about 6 hours. It was a beautiful day and the muck never went into my boots – you can’t ask for more than that.

This dog appeared out on the moor. He would run up ahead of me, drop a stick on the ground, back up and lay down until I threw the stick, then he would fetch it and repeat. He continued this for about a mile, then disappeared. I think he was supposed to be working herding sheep but decided to take a break and play.

I walked through 3 miles of this.

But with scenery like this it wasn’t so bad.

Dingle is a lively little fishing village known for its pubs with “trad sessions” (traditional Irish music). I stayed two nights as it rained heavily on Sunday.

Today (Monday) I left at 9:30am and walked 20km to Dun Quin in about six hours.

The trail was very mucky after yesterday’s rain, and overgrown with briars (blackberries) which shredded my clothes.

But walking over Slea Head the view is magnificent, one of the finest I’ve ever seen.

Everything out here is closed or closing for the season. Tonight I’m one of two people at the youth hostel, the only accommodation still open (it’s closing on Wednesday). I had a cup of noodles for dinner because all of the restaurants are closed.

Here is a description of tomorrow’s walk to Feohanagh.

Dingle Way – Tralee to Annascaul

Spent two days in Dublin, then decided to take the train to the Dingle Peninsula before things shut down for the winter. Yesterday hiked 18 km from Tralee to Camp. Rough going over boggy, mucky, and rocky moors – took almost six hour. Beautiful day and scenery, though.

Today walked 17 km from Camp to Annascaul. Much easier walking mostly on “boreens” (back roads). Took less than four hours.

Tomorrow I continue on 22 km to Dingle. Five km of it is described as mucky so I bought a roll of Saran Wrap to wrap my shoes.

Lap of California: Kayaking the Sacramento River – Redding to Ord Bend

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Sundial Bridge
I assembled my kayak and launched it into the Sacramento River at the Turtle Bay Park boat ramp just above the Sundial Bridge in Redding on Monday 22 June 2015. The weather was warm, the water was cold, and the current was brisk. Rapids are frequent in the stretch of river between Redding and Red Bluff, and even with a late start I covered most of the distance to Red Bluff (about 45 of the 55 miles) on my first day.
The first few miles the Sacramento River runs through Redding, Anderson, and Cottonwood, and there are houses lining the banks. There are a few jet boats and drift boats on the water along this stretch. Then, after Jellies Ferry, the river swings to the east and the houses and boats disappear.
Birds and wildlife are more abundant and diverse.

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Deer
The terrain changes from river canyon to volcanic rock strewn moonscape to savannah to forest. Frequently there is a view of Mt. Lassen or Mt. Shasta as the river (which in general runs south) turns east, west, and even north at times.

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The first night I camped in beautiful Iron Canyon a few miles above Red Bluff. It is cut through the lava from past eruptions of Mt. Lassen. My phone battery was dead so I couldn’t take a photo as the river and canyon walls changed color as the sun set. With no lights nearby the stars were incredibly bright and appears to be nearer than usual. The only sounds were the river, bullfrogs, crickets, and distant coyotes.

The next morning I packed up and pushed off fairly early, hoping to stop in Red Bluff for a nice breakfast. It was a nice paddle through the the rest of Iron Canyon, then rolling hills just upstream of Red Bluff. I landed at Red Bluff River Park. None of the river parks look like real safe places to leave a loaded kayak, and that is especially true in this case. I dashed off looking for a nice breakfast, and all I got was a breakfast burrito at Taco Bell.

Not far below the river park is the Red Bluff diversion dam, which is now opened all year.

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Red Bluff Diversion Dam
From here on the river passes through farmland and grassland. There are frequent sloughs and islands.

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There is more wildlife than I expected south of Red Bluff, especially birds. Swallows build nests in the river banks and on bridges, and as you pass the colonies hundreds of them leave their nests and try to lead you away from the nests. There are herons and osprey looking for fish, and occasionally hawks and eagles. Sometimes you see beavers, and turtles slip into the water from logs as you approach.

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I had planned to camp at Woodson Bridge but I went on the wrong side of the island and passed it. I tried to paddle back up on the other side of the island but the current was too strong (or I was too hot and tired), so I continued on. I found a nice camping spot on an island just below Capay.

The forecast was for very hot weather beginning on Thursday so I decided I would stop the next day at Ord Bend and continue on at a later date. Once again I was hoping for a nice breakfast, this time in Hamilton City, and I didn’t get it. I left my kayak at Irwin Finch River Access and walked around town, but could only find a gas station with a convenience store. I bought some water (I drank 9 liters in 2 days) and moved on.

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Living on the Edge with Swallows
I made it to Ord Bend by early afternoon and packed up my boat.

Hiking in Northern Italy

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My plan for Italy was to spend a week hiking the Dolomites, then two weeks kayaking from Venice to Trieste – if the weather was good. It wasn’t. I waited on Isola Lido near Venice for three days to launch my kayak but the weather remained cool and drizzly.
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So I put my kayak in storage and went hiking in Cinque Terre instead. Cinque Terre is on the Ligurian Coast near Genoa. There are small villages built into the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean every few miles and hiking trails that link the villages. It is a beautiful area and a popular hiking destination so it gets pretty crowded in the spring when the weather is pleasant. But except for the most popular trail along the coast from Monterosso to Vernazza you can usually hike all day and see few hikers until you reach a village.
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The trails are steep, often climbing from the coastal villages for an hour or two and then traversing the top of the cliffs before descending to the next village. Along the trails are olive groves and lemon orchards and vinyards that are only accessible on foot. Then as you descend towards the sea you catch glimpses of the village you are approaching clinging to the cliffs. Once you’ve reached the village it’s time for a tasty Italian lunch – the seafood in Cinque Terre is outstanding.

One day I took the train to Genoa and wandered around. As one would expect in the hometown of Christopher Columbus there is a huge port with thousands of boats, everything from feluccas to mega-yachts.image

After a few days in Cinque Terre I headed to Milan for some urban hiking.
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There is a really nice new neighborhood, Porta Nuova, that I liked.
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Via Della Spiga and the Quadrilatero Della Moda is always a scenic hiking area.

I ended my hiking vacation in Italy with a few days in Trento.
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Trento is on the western side of the Dolomites and is on the route to the Brenner Pass, so it is a bit more of a tourist destination than Feltre. The hiking was excellent, but an unexpected highlight was the train trip through the Dolomites on the way back to Venice. It was the most scenic train trip I’ve been on in many years. Some day I would like to ride a bike along this route.

Hiking in the Dolomites

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Feltre is just an hour and a half drive from Marco Polo Airport in Venice. For the first hour you drive across a flat plain without even realizing there are mountains ahead. It almost always seems to be hazy, so visibility is limited. And then, without ever seeing the mountains in the distance, you are in the mountains and they are stunningly beautiful, rising almost vertically all around you with idyllic villages dotting the valleys and clinging to the cliffs.

The area is sparsely populated (even Venice only has a population of 60,000 actual residents) and except for the A27 between Venice and Ponte Nelle Alpi, the roads are narrow (the equivalent of a one way road in the US but with two way traffic) and twisty. Feltre is one of the larger towns in the region – probably about 20,000 people – and has a very nice and active downtown with lots of cafes, restaurants, and shops. There is also the ‘Centro Storico’ – the old walled city dating from Roman times – with a lot of really nice boutiques, bars, and restaurants that never seem to do any business but always seem to survive. Feltre doesn’t change much. The bookstore where I bought my Italian English Dictionary 30 years ago is still there. Next door the Garbujo bakery has been in business since 1870. I’m pretty sure about 80% of the businesses were there 30 years ago.

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The nice thing about hiking in Europe is that camping is rarely allowed. Instead there are huts or refuges every few miles where hikers sleep and eat. So you don’t need to carry any gear or food – you just walk for a couple of hours and stop at a refuge for lunch, then walk a little more in the afternoon and stop for dinner. Unfortunately many of the refuges don’t open until mid June and in late April there was still snow at the higher elevations, so I had to limit my hiking to a few areas that were open. My first day I hiked at Val Canzoi where I had been before. It’s a beautiful area where you start hiking around a lake, and then climb along a river into the mountains. The refuge at the beginning of the trail is open all year and serves some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant. 

I got in one more full day of hiking the next day. Then on Friday I stopped by to visit my dad’s family, and after that I did more eating than hiking. On Saturday afternoon my dad’s cousin Angelo took me hiking on Monte Grappa, and I remember doing the same trip when I visited 30 years ago. We drove up the back roads and first stopped to check Angelo’s casera, or summer farm, about half way up the mountain. After that we stopped every couple of miles at some refuge or bar for an espresso and Angelo would visit with his friends there for a few minutes, then we’d move on to the next place. At the top we parked and walked about a quarter of a mile to the lookout, then we drove back down on a different road, stopping every few minutes for espresso. I think Angelo might do this every Saturday.

I don’t know if the food in this region is especially good or if it just seems that way to me because it reminds me of the food my grandmother cooked, but I really eat well when I am there. If I had to guess at what makes it good I think it is because everything is fresh – I don’t think my dad’s relatives have a freezer – and because they use a lot of really good cheese and fresh butter. Some of the highlights from this trip; gnocchi with a pumpkin sauce, pastine in brodo, risotto with fresh vegetables, polenta with melted cheese and butter, and spaghetti pomodoro. I wish I could bring some home with me.

 

Istanbul

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I never made it inside the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sofia – too crowded for me. I did go to the Archaeology Museum, which was fantastic even though much of it was closed due to construction. There aren’t many other places where you can see a 4,000 year old Sumerian shopping list written on a stone tablet. The collection is vast, with artifacts from the beginning of western civilization through the Roman and Byzantine periods. Just the junk in the hallway to the men’s room would make a pretty good museum.

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One day I took a boat up the Bosporus to the Black Sea, and another day I took a ferry to Buyukada Island in the Marmara Sea and rode a bike around the island (a popular pastime – it was crowded even on a weekday). I got up early one morning (jet lag) and ran a few miles along the Bosporus as the sun came up and the city was still quiet. Without the traffic and crowds you can really appreciate the amazing views. Unfortunately the city is so large and spread out that it is impossible to take a photograph that shows its beauty.

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For me the best days were spent wandering around the different parts of the city. Like most European cities Istanbul has areas dedicated to certain commodities – a shoe district, a hardware district, and so on. But because Istanbul is so large (about 20 million people) the areas are huge. Instead of a street dedicated to shoe stores, there are several blocks of shoe stores – hundreds if not thousands of shoe stores with every imaginable type of shoe. 

There is also more specialization. There is one street of stores that sell nothing but springs, and another that has nothing but belt buckles. You can buy raw materials for making belt buckles, machinery for making belt buckles, and any style of belt buckle, but if you want a belt you have to go somewhere else – this street only has buckles (I’m sure there is another street somewhere that only has belts). 

Like everywhere, prices are proportional to how close you are to a tourist attraction. A leather jacket might be $100 at the Grand Bazaar, which seems like a pretty good deal. Walk a couple of miles down the street to a market with fewer tourists, however, and the same jacket will be $10. No, I didn’t buy anything.

Another thing that seems universal is the idea that all problems are caused by foreigners, usually illegal immigrants. In Turkey that means Syrians. There really aren’t that many homeless people here, but several people told me the Syrian beggars are ruining the place. And apparently Istanbul was virtually crime free until Syrians showed up a couple of years ago. When I get to Italy the sentiment will be the same, but it will be Libyans instead of Syrians. And at home of course it’s those damned Canadians.

I also am amazed at how hard people outside the U.S. work. The man at the front desk of my hotel has been there every day for about 12 hours a day. I asked when is his day off and he said when business is slow. When is that? November.

Istanbul is a great city for those of us who prefer tea to coffee. One is offered tea everywhere, usually free. If you are looking in a shop window the proprietor will often invite you in for tea. At breakfast You get tea unless you ask for coffee, and after dinner they bring you tea. It is usually chai ( much milder and better tasting than our chai) served in a small glass beaker.

All in all it’s been a nice visit. The weather has been very nice. The tulips are in bloom. The people are hospitable. The sights are fine. The food is good. What’s not to like? 

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In the morning I leave for the Dolomites.