Category Archives: Nature

A Day in Monterey

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Today Abby, baby Genesis and I headed down the coast a bit to Monterey. The drive down was gorgeous, and it was amazing to watch the landscape change from mountains to redwoods to dunes and farmland…there is a lot going on in this state, for sure. We arrived around lunch time and were starving, so we quickly parked by the beach and took a stroll down the fisherman’s warf.

The place is lined with restaurants (didn’t think to get a picture of this–you’ll just have to believe me that it’s intense), all basically with the same menu at the same price point, all offering the same view off the two sides of the pier. In our first few steps, we were stopped by a girl standing outside one of these restaurants, offering clam chowder samples out of a vat in a cart. A little surprised, we happily accepted, and sipped our little plastic cups (it really was delicious) while she told us all about how stroller friendly they were, about the beautiful ocean-view table she had for us, and gave us a card for a free calamari appetizer. We decided to walk all the way down the strip before deciding.

As soon as we turned away from her, though, we realized that her tactic was not at all unique. Outside of every restaurant was a man or woman offering samples of THEIR chowder and talking up THEIR eateries. Since we were still holding our little sample cups, we were immediate targets for the “Come on over here and compare” pitch. One could easily, we soon realized, eat a whole meals’ worth of chowder in samples just walking down the pier. It was a bit intimidating, but sorta hilarious too.

We avoided getting another chowder sample and walked to the end of the pier, where I got to meet my first seals and sea lions outside of a zoo. They were really fun to watch for a few minutes. Most were lounging in the sun on a wooden platform, but others had formed a sort of…seal clump in the water, and were just floating on their backs with flippers sticking up out of the water. A boat came through, and had to come to a full stop and drive around them.

After seal-gawking for a few minutes, we chose the path of least resistance and returned to that first restaurant for lunch (much to the delight of the chowder-hawker out front). This turned out to be a fantastic idea; the food was delicious. The free calamari did not suck (I was a bit surprised by this) and our blackened fish sandwiches were wonderful. We chatted, watched a seagull hang out on the window next to us, and enjoyed a nice leisurely lunch while Genesis continued napping.

Eventually, though, she did wake up, and we headed on over to the Monterey Aquarium, which is awesome. I especially enjoyed the jellyfish exhibit, and the huge tank with sturgeon, seven-gilled sharks and lots of other fishies. So cool. There were a lot of beautiful tanks there, and we had a great time. Sadly, due to dogged interference by a small boy intent on violently splashing, I didn’t get to pet a ray, which was a drag. But, I DID get to pet a sea cucumber, which was…sorta gross actually. Not slimy, just squishy feeling.

After the aquarium we made a brief stop at The Twisted Stitch so I could get my yarn fix (you didn’t really think I’d be able to come home without finding a yarn shop, did you?). I had a lovely chat with the proprietor, Dawn, about the rationalization of vacation yarn as souvenir rather than stash, and she helped me pick out an appropriately California yarn. We did, however, find perfectly good reasons for me to buy yarns from Europe (she’s from Whales, and Europe is right next to Whales, so it’s basically all the same thing), from Australia (she has an accent, so an argument could be made, since they also have accents), or from Lorna’s Laces, because they started out in California. Smart woman, Dawn. I did manage to limit myself to one skein, but only by exercising self control.

It has really been a lovely day. But I’m being called to the table, where Abby’s brother has crafted a home-made BBQ sauce for grilled chicken, and then we’re going for FroYo. Yup, life is hard out here. 🙂

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Down Time

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I had the morning off a couple of days ago, so I went on another good hike on the mountain. This time instead of going straight up I went up and then over for a mile or so around the valley. The weather has been amazing here–mid seventies or lower during the day. It’s much easier to want to go out and walk around when it’s not a million degrees in the summer.

At the top of the ridge opposite our Schloss is an adorable Gasthaus, and a playground, which I will have to visit for beer and food some afternoon before we leave and take pictures… I wandered around on trails for about an hour and a half, then took a different route back across and down to the Schloss. On the way, I passed these statues by the path.

I also got a good picture of the Schloss on my way back to my room:

I spent an evening in Graz with some buddies from the program. We had a great Italian dinner (Austrian food is delicious, but we are ready for some variety), and walked around the city for awhile. We eventually found a live broadcast of The Bartered Bride happening in one of the courtyards off of the main drag. Despite the cold night, the rows and rows of chairs they had set up were totally full, and there were lots of Grazers standing against the walls to watch. It was a very European experience.

We didn’t stay long–we were pretty wiped out, and would have had to stand the whole time. We took a cab home again–this time with 5 of us crammed into a BMW being driven by a guy who puts Jo’s driving to shame. I was in the front seat, so I had an unobstructed view of my life flashing before my eyes. He was friendly, though, and we had a miraculously low fare thanks to his speeding.

The following night we had planned to return to the Gasthaus on top of the mountain for dinner. We hiked to the top…but were disappointed to find that their kitchen had closed. So we headed right back down, past the Schloss to a little place that we had visited before. It was a pretty walk, at least, with the sun setting behind us and some truly spectacular clouds.

As we walked, we passed a group of burly looking guys, who were all talking animatedly amongst themselves. It took both groups a minute to realize that we were all speaking English. 🙂 They were from Canada, and looked like Hockey players, though that might be a gross generalization. In all fairness, they were wearing Hockey jerseys… We ordered dinner in our usual halting, awkward way, guessing a lot at what food each 27 letter word on the menu might refer to. We thought we’d done pretty well, and apparently we did even better than we thought. When our food arrived we had seemingly ordered half the menu. After our extra-long trip to dinner, we were grateful for a good meal. We had a great evening of food and fellowship. 🙂

Yes, we did somehow order 4 sides of fries. Oops.

Lauren and Valerie listening intently to one of Doug's stories.

Jo is deep in thought. Or a food coma. Hard to tell.

Doug himself didn’t photograph well (he moves around too much and turned out blurry every single picture), so he is absent from this photo grouping. Happy Fourth of July to everyone back home!

A perfect bird's nest that I found on the ground next to the Schloss on my way back from breakfast yesterday morning. Gorgeous little thing. I put it back in the tree.

This is why you’re fat

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Apparently folks didn’t like my last entry–or were just scared by the all German title (all it says, btw, is I speak a very very small amount of German). Lesson learned. 🙂

This morning dawned clear and gorgeous, and I was moved to hike up the mountain before my poetry coaching. I set off after breakfast with determination, up the (very) steep road to the mouths of the various hiking trails. I ran out of breath quickly, and since I was passing people pretty regularly on my way up, I tried to disguise my need to stop so my heart didn’t explode as a burning desire to look at a specific tree, or look intently at my phone. That’s how I got this random picture of a face on a tree:

He has a pipe. I have no idea why.

I thought I was quite successful, and felt pretty good about the whole thing.

My confidence soon withered, however, as several retirees with walking poles got out of their cars along the road and started the ascent with no apparent effort–meanwhile I was huffing and puffing like a two pack a day smoker with a Krispy Kreme addiction. Some of this difficulty can be blamed on the altitude change (we’re quite a bit higher here than at home, and even the fittest of us have complained of getting out of breath on stairs), but really.

In a rather herculean effort (that I of course tried my best to play off as nothing) I pulled ahead of them and tried to beat them to the trail. I was trying to avoid walking WITH them, in case they wanted to start conversations (terrifying!) or that I might find out that they are indeed in far superior cardiovascular health. I made for the trail head as fast as I could without stroking out in the process, and found three options ahead of me with somewhat cryptic signage. My choices were Uphill, Uphill and Very Uphill. I could here the little white haired couples gaining on me, so in a moment of panic I chose Very Uphill and dove into the trees, hoping to gain enough ground so that they wouldn’t hear my pathetic wheezing as they passed.

Here I feel I should interject a word about Austrian hiking trails, and hiking in general. Hiking is very popular here; on Sunday afternoons you’d be hard pressed to find folks who were not out walking somewhere in the woods. All ages, all the time. Austrian trails, at least in the mountains, appear to be designed for mountain goats and triathletes. They do not believe in switch-backs here, so every trail takes a very aggressive, direct, Germanic route straight toward the top. Add a little rain, and the whole thing basically becomes a death trap. Because this does make the going a little challenging, even for the very fit 70 year-olds who easily mopped the floor with me this morning, Austrians tend to walk with poles. Like these:

Don't they look wholesome?
Don’t they look wholesome?

So here I go, huffing my way up this just stupidly steep stretch of trail, hoping to avoid looking like an idiot. This game of cat and mouse continued with other hikers as I continued up the mountain, stopping often to breathe and ponder my lack of fitness and question my sanity. But I kept on climbing! I was determined to see some kind of vista, dangit, and was not going to turn back until I had–or until I ran out of time before my coaching, I suppose.

Visions of myself staggering, sweat-soaked, red-faced and puffing into my coaching with Wolfgang ran through my head as I went on. Also, a scenario where I collapse of a heart attack in the middle of the trail and am set upon by eager horse-flies, only to be found hours later by fit, cheerful Austrian old people who don’t speak English and look confused while I weakly protest that I am close to death…Flies chased me, and I found a little evergreen branch to wave about me as I walked. I gasped and wheezed and sweated. Just as I was thinking that it might be wise to turn back, I saw a break in the trees ahead.

I found my vista. And it was totally worth it, even though I thought I was going to die.

It look me 45 minutes to get up. It took me less than 15 to get back down again.

Vacationish

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No time or brain to write much tonight–we started working on poetry, and I couldn’t be more excited. I took a little post-dinner hike tonight, and was able to record the sound of the Austrian forest. It’s totally gorgeous, and the number and variety of birds are just amazing. Since I was having a problem posting the audio file alone, I put some pictures from my walk together and made a little video out of it. 🙂