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.

Hiking In Northern Italy – Map

Feltre - Centro Storico 2013
Feltre – Centro Storico 2013

Here is a link to the map for my hiking trip to Italy (Click Here – Map of Venice to Trieste) or you can select the ‘Kayak the Adriatic’ link at the top of the page.

The weather isn’t looking good for hiking in the Dolomites the week of 21 – 28 April 2015 – the forecast is for rain every day. I may have to do something else. I do hope the weather improves in May – I won’t kayak if it rains every day.

Lago della Stua, Val Canzoi, Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi, 2013
Lago della Stua, Val Canzoi, Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi, 2013

Lap of California: The Mission Trail – San Francisco to Fremont

The Bal Theatre, San Leandro
The Bal Theatre, San Leandro

On 17-18 November 2014, I walked the 26 miles from the ferry terminal at Harbor Bay to Mission San Jose in Fremont, mostly along Mission Blvd. The first section of the walk is through the light industrial area around the Oakland Airport. They were testing the new BART connector to the airport on the day I walked by.

Oakland Airport BART Connector
Oakland Airport BART Connector

Walking  through San Leandro and Hayward is like traveling back to the 1950s. Emil Villa’s was one of my grandfather’s favorite BBQ places, and is still operating on Mission Blvd. From Hayward, the east side of Mission Blvd. is open space with good views of the East Bay hills.

East Bay Hills
East Bay Hills

Union City has a bit more of a muti-cultural feel.

Union City
Union City

In Fremont I detoured a block off of Mission to walk through the Niles district. Fatty Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin made movies at a studio in Niles in the early 20th century.

Niles
Niles

Mission San Jose is in a residential are of Fremont – it is not the most scenic location.

 

Mission San Jose
Mission San Jose

Lap of California: The Mission Trail – San Rafael to San Francisco

On 10 October 2014 I walked the Mission Trail from San Rafael to San Francisco while my car was in the shop. I walked from my mechanic’s shop at Post and Leavenworth in San Francisco to the Ferry Building and took the ferry to Larkspur. Then I walked to Mission San Rafael, back to the Larkspur Ferry, and took the ferry back to San Francisco.

I had lunch at the Ferry Building, walked down Market St. to Mission Dolores, then walked back to pick-up my car.

100 Miles on the Mississippi River

I arrived in Minneapolis on Tuesday evening, 23 September. On Wednesday I did some sightseeing in Minneapolis and St. Paul, then bought food, water, and a few supplies for my trip. Thursday morning I took a taxi to a boat ramp I had found on Google Maps. The ramp in North Mississippi Park on the north side of Minneapolis is right at the beginning of the navigable portion of the Mississippi River at river mile 858. Just above it is Coon Rapids Dam which doesn’t have a lock and is therefore impassable to boats.

I unloaded my kayak, gear, and supplies from the taxi. The driver asked if I wanted him to pick me up later. I said no, I’m paddling to St. Paul today. He left. I looked at my pile luggage and wondered if I should have gotten his phone number.

Pile of Luggage
Pile of Luggage

I assembled my kayak.

Kayak Frame Assembled
Kayak Frame Assembled
Kayak Skin on Frame
Kayak Skin on Frame
Kayak Loaded With Deck On
Kayak Loaded With Deck On
Launched
Launched

It took about two hours to assemble and load my kayak, and I pushed off just before 10:30 am. It was a cloudy but warm morning and the river was like plexiglass – more like a calm lake than a river. There was little to no current on the river the entire week I paddled on it. The Mississippi River from Minneapolis to St. Louis is more like a series of lakes than a river. There is a dam with a lock every few miles. When I was there in late September there would be a bit of current just after each dam, then nothing. If I stopped paddling I would usually start to drift back up the river because there often seemed to be wind blowing upstream.

Soon I could see downtown Minneapolis ahead of me.

Minneapolis Ahead
Minneapolis Ahead

The first lock (more information about locks on the Upper Mississippi River is here) is in downtown Minneapolis. Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock drops about 48 feet and has the biggest drop of any of the locks on the Mississippi. This is what it looks like when it’s full.

Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock - Full
Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock – Full

And this is what it looks like after the water has drained out.

Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock - Empty
Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock – Empty

A few hundred yards below Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock is Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock. It took about an hour to get through both locks. Not far below the locks was a nice beach so I stopped for lunch – two bananas, half a bag of carrots, and a Nutella and almond butter sandwich. Then I continued on to St. Paul. It was a beautiful Fall day with temperatures in the 70s. The leaves were starting to turn color.

Autumn Colors
Autumn Colors

Mid afternoon I locked through Lock No. 1, which is actually the third lock – Upper and Lower St. Anthony Falls Locks aren’t numbered. I arrived in St. Paul at about 5:00pm.

St. Paul
St. Paul

I left my kayak at the yacht club and walked to a hotel downtown. There is not much activity in downtown St. Paul on a Thursday evening – even most of the restaurants close at 5pm.  Senor Wong – a Chinese  taco place – was highly recommended (as the only restaurant within walking distance that was open) and it was pretty good.

At 7:30 on Friday morning I was back on the river. It was a warm morning. South of St. Paul is very scenic with many interesting industrial plants and barges lining the shores of the river. This continues for several miles. Then the river becomes a large lake. I had seen very few boats up until this point, but as I approached Hastings on Friday afternoon boat traffic started to increase (all power boats – I only saw one other kayaker while I was on the Mississippi).

Just before Hastings is Lock & Dam No. 2.  As I approached the lock a couple in an anchored boat told me a barge was coming through the lock and there was a two hour wait. The river banks were rocky and there was nowhere to land. A strong wind was blowing up the river. I’d been sitting in my kayak all day and really needed to stand up. For two hours I sat there, getting blown up the river, paddling back down, then getting blown up the river again.

I finally locked through at dusk. I paddled down the river looking for a place to camp.  I found a place  just below Hastings as it got dark. The mosquitoes were thick and I couldn’t find my insect repellant. I ate a quick dinner and climbed into my tent.

At first light on Saturday morning the hunters began shooting. For once I was glad I wasn’t a duck. I was on the river at 8:30.  Soon I was at the junction of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, and instead of having Minnesota on both shores of the river, Wisconsin was now on the east shore.

Prescott, WI at the mouth of the St. Croix River
Prescott, WI at the mouth of the St. Croix River

Saturday was another beautiful day in the 70s, and the scenery was quite scenic. But the river was like a freeway with power boats going full throttle in both directions. I paddled near the bank to keep out of the traffic. When I stopped for lunch a big wake washed over my beached kayak and flooded into the cockpit. Later in the day I passed a large sign pointing up a side channel to a casino, and all the boats were turning off towards it.

Just upstream of Red Wing I locked through Lock # 3 with several other boats. Red Wing (home of the boots) was fully booked for the weekend so I camped south of town. I still couldn’t find my insect repellant. From my research I knew mosquitoes aren’t a problem in Minnesota in the fall. I’m glad I wasn’t there in the summer.

Barge Near Red Wing, MN
Barge Near Red Wing, MN

It was a warm night – I didn’t need my sleeping bag. In the morning it took me about an hour and a half to get everything packed in the kayak and I left at about 8:30. Ahead of me was 35 miles of Lake Pepin. By late morning it was close to 80. Many people were out enjoying what would probably be the last warm weekend of the year. I paddled near the channel buoys so I wouldn’t lose my way.

I made it to Lake City at 2:30 and left my kayak at the city marina. After lunch I found a hotel. It was a very warm afternoon so I went for a swim. By the time a got out of the pool the wind had picked up and it had cooled off.

When I woke up the next morning it was cloudy, windy, and cold. There were whitecaps on the lake. I loaded my kayak, put on a wool shirt and windbreaker, and left the dock at 8:30. At first the wind was at my back and I flew down the lake. But there was a wide bend in the lake and as I went around it the wind was at my side and then in my face. I paddled hard and slowly moved ahead. Finally the lake narrowed and the wind and waves moderated.

Wabasha
Wabasha

Early in the afternoon I passed through Wabasha, and at 2pm I arrived at Alma, WI.

Alma, WI
Alma, WI

Tuesday was rainy and cold so I stayed in Alma. The forecast was for colder weather so I packed up my boat and headed home.

I’m Leaving Tomorrow on a Mississippi River Cruise

I’ll be paddling a folding kayak. I’m starting in Minneapolis. If the kayak actually floats with me and all of my gear I’ll go to St. Paul (about 15 miles). If I have an acceptably good time and the weather remains fine I will continue on from there the next day. I’ll keep going until I get too tired, or the weather gets too cold, or I stop enjoying the trip, or I run out of time. You can follow my daily progress on the Mississippi River Map and in real time on my Spot tracking page.