Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Amsterdam, along with Venice and Prague made it into our top three favorite cities. Even though it is a big city, it feels very quaint. There are about 10 bikes for every car, canals lined with canal houses from the 1600s and hundreds of bike lined bridges. Of course there are also hookers in backlight lit lingerie and porn filling the windows, but that’s only in the red-light district (well mostly). The red-light district was seedy but on a very touristy level. It was interesting to walk around but the novelty wore off fast and we were eager to head back into one of the quaint residential neighborhoods.
We were only in Amsterdam for three nights. Time flew by and before we knew it, we were at the airport on our way home. Of course first we just had to get through this whole expired visa situation. When we went through the border control to leave they asked how long we had been in Europe. We did not want to lie and get in over our heads so we answered an honest nine months. The agent explained that we were only allowed three months and said we would have to go with his colleague. His colleague, a Dutch cop, led us into the airport police station and told us to have a seat. Of course we were shitting bricks. Our fears eased up quickly as all the Dutch police in the office were our age, laughing and joking with each other, putting ungodly amounts of sugar in their coffee and whizzing around in their whirly chairs. They were also chatting us up about our trip, and when they found out we entered Europe through Amsterdam, apologized that no one told us of the three month limit to our tourist visas. As it ended up they said they had to write a report on us. It was not up to them whether it would get filed or not and if someone (we are not sure who) does file it we may or may not get put on an unwanted alien list for 3 years. So worst case we cannot go back to Europe for three years. A bummer but totally worth it and no regrets! I would be shocked if we had the money to return to Europe in that time anyway!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
On the road again for our last couple of weeks we decided to get some climbing and warm weather in before heading north. We had flown into Madrid from Mallorca and spent just one night there before heading south to the Costa Blanca for some tower climbing. There was no train to Calpe, the town where the climbing was, so we had to take a train to Valencia and then a 3 hour bus (to go just 60 km) from there to Calpe. On the bus we went through one tourist nightmare city after another. They were all built up with high-rise condo buildings for the Germans and Brits, one leading into the next like the sprawl on the front range. This was by far our least favorite part of Spain. Calpe was a little better because at least there was an old part to the city, and more importantly it had the Peñon de Ifach, a thousand foot limestone tower rising straight out of the sea. The whole reason we came of course! Unfortunately it never stopped raining long enough to climb it. Instead we hiked up the descent trail to the summit (better than nothing) and climbed one short route at the base it a short break in the weather.
After our soggy non-climbing experience we had a really long (15 hour) day of travel to Granada. Again its not all that far but we had to go all the way back to Madrid, do a 180 and head back to the south. When we were in Andalucia before, everyone asked if we had been to Granada, when we said no they all said we had missed out. They were right. Granada was absolutely beautiful, a white Moorish city at the base of the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains. It is also home to Flamenco and the Alhombra. The Alhombra is a Moorish (Arab) palace that is the most ornate thing I have ever seen. Ever inch of interior wall is covered in intricate carvings and tiles. The outside is covered with elaborate gardens with perfect views of the city below. As well as seeing the Alhombra and getting harassed by Gypsies with herbs we took in some culture at a Flamenco bar. We went into the bar which was actually a cave under the buildings that was just big enough to squeeze 30 to 40 people into. When the show started we were surprised that it was all men. We did not even know men could do Flamenco but they were unbelievable. Some chanted while another did a combination of what I would think of as Flamenco, tap and stomping. The show totally blew us away!
After Granada we headed back to one of our favorite previous climbing destinations, El Chorro. When we got there we started walking to a cottage that we had booked. It ended up being way outside of town and far from the climbing. Whats more, when we arrived there didn't seem to be anyone working there. Finally we saw a lady and asked if she worked there and she informed us that she had until last week, when her husband kicked her out. We had seen enough and headed back into town. We ended up staying in the same exact cabin that we had the previous visit. We had three days there and spent the first 2 climbing in some of our favorite spots from before and spent the last hiking in the rain.
For our last stop in Spain we had a five day stint in Madrid. Since we had five days we were able to take things at a much more relaxed pace; having lots of coffee and chocolate with churros dates. We did our usual walking all over the city but also had time for some shopping (first time on the whole trip!) and made it to a climbing gym. Overall Madrid was a really nice city and most people seemed nice. Also we were finally able to get some good Spanish practice in because they speak very clear Spanish there. The city was nice but nothing stood out as spectacular to me. Our favorite part was getting mulled wine and roasted sweet potato at the market. It was also really nice having Christmas lights and trees everywhere and everyone in the Christmas spirit, running around shopping.
At one point Lisa thwarted a pickpocket attempt. We were coming home from the climbing gym on the subway. I had our climbing pack so I looked like a backpacker. We got on the train that was so packed we were surprised to see someone cram in behind us. The guy who packed in behind us had his coat thrown over his arm so you could not see his hand. The train was so packed that we had to hold on to the bar above our heads, exposing our torsos. Just as we were pulling into the next stop Lisa felt the zipper to her jacket pocket open. She quickly put her hands down and covered her pockets. Knowing he had been caught the guy with the jacket cleared his throat awkwardly and nervously ran off the train. It was a good thing Lisa was so fast because there was an iPhone in her jacket pocket (usually a safe place) that he was going for! It was a fluke because usually I have the phone!
I guess that just shows we have to be diligent until the very end! We had fun in Madrid but were happy to move on to our last city: Amsterdam!
Saturday, November 27, 2010
After the press we headed to a town called Soller to go climbing. Unfortunately it starting pooring just as we got there. Luckily there was a section of the crag that was a huge cave and therefore dry. The only bad thing is that all the routes in the cave were roof routes and way out of our leauge. We went for it anyway and surprised ourselves by doing ok. We tired ourselves out for the next two days of climbing. After climbing we checked out the town that due to heavy trade in the past felt more french than spanish and had its own language.
The next day was my birthday so of course we went climbing. This time we headed to the south coast where the weather was perfect. We climbed right on a beach and were even able to take a break and swim. That night we wanted to go out to dinner at a traditional Mallorquin restaurant that was recomended to us. When we showed up at about 7:30 it was closed with no signs of life. We wandered around and everything seemed to be closed. Finally we settled on a British restaurant that was open. The food was mediocre at best but we had fun anyway. As we were leaving at about 9:00 we walked past the restaurant we had planned on and were surprised to see it was packed. Oh well.
On our last day with the car we went to another climbing spot on the coast and climbed another full day. When we went back to work on Thursday we felt like we needed a vaction to rest. We continued working with Tolo and learing all about the land, he seemed to know everything! One day when we were walking up to pick, a solid 15min hike, and he was telling us how he uses his dogs for goat hunting. They trap the goat on a rock and by instict it will just stay there, then he throws a rope over it like a leash. By amazing coinsidence just as he finished explaining, a herd of wild goats went running by. He whistled at the dogs and pointed and they were off. He threw is stuff down and followed close behind. They all ran over a hill so we couldn´t see. Within 3 minutes Tolo came walking back walking/dragging a live goat by its front legs. He put a leash on it and tied it to a tree. Later it was put in a pen with a few others where it will be kept until it is needed for meat.
Step 2: Tolo sorting the olives from the leaves
Step 3: A horse pulls this stone in a circle to crush the olives
Step 4: Put the "Tapanade" into baskets
Step 5: Stack the baskets in the press and add boiling water
Step 6: Press the baskets
Step 7: The oil seeps out along with juices and water. It flows into a tank and seperates over time.
After our big finale press we were ready to hit the road again!
Monday, November 22, 2010
The next day we made an exhausting journey to Barcelona. We had made a rookie mistake of forgetting it was sunday (we had not done this in months) and had not gotten any food the previous day for the journey. The only thing open was McDonalds and a Bakery. I was able to just grab somthing at the bakery, but of course they did not have anything gluten free so Lisa was forced to Micky Ds. On the menu the salad actually looked kind of good, but the real thing consisted of wilted lettus and soggy cheese. Yum. I think it will be another five years before we go back (except to use the free bathrooms.)
We spent two night in Barcelona and saw some tourist attractions like Gaudi`s Segrada Familia, which has been under construction since the 1920s, and a huge fort on a hill overlooking the city. We then made the one hour metro ride to Montserrat, a monistary that is built on a mountain with hundreds of conglomerte pillars. Of course we went for the latter. We were so excited to get there that we didn´t even stop at the hotel, instead we just lugged all our shit to the top (really not that bad as a handy cable car cuts it down to a 10 minute stroll) and locked it to a handrail while we climbed.
Our first day of climbing we did a free standing tower that is supposed to be the "safe" version of montserrat. Even as such, the bolts were generously spaced, up to 40ft apart, so we were glad we started with this tame tower. A solid week of climbing in Corsica had paid off and we were supprised to cruise the route without so much as a hesitation. (this is rare!)
The next day we climbed a five pitch face that was not in this "safe" area, but is was no worse than the climb the previous day. At the end of the day we decicded to climb one more small single pitch tower. This time it did not feel safe. The bolt spacing was similar to the other climbs, but the holds seemed as though they could pull off at any time! Luckily none did, and it was a mental victory getting to the top. Our last day we just did some sport climbing before heading back to Barcelona.
We spent another 2 nights in Barcelona and saw most of what we missed before: Las Ramblas (just a shopping district) and Parc Guell, a park full of Gaudi sculptures and pickpockets. Our favorite part was the bustleing food market in Las Ramblas where we bought a bunch of fruit and some fish for lunch. Our last day we went to the beach where Lisa got a 15 minute massage from one of the many asian women wandering the beach offering "Massagy?" We had sent at least 20 away until we saw somone near us get one and the lady actually knew what she was doing, and it turned out to be only 5 euros!
Finally we headed to the airport, a bit of a pain becasue the Pope had just arrived in Barcelona, to catch a flight to Mallorca for our last wwoof!
Monday, November 1, 2010
Lisa climbing at Isla RosaWe headed back through the cosmopolitan trash heap of Marseille to the airport to pick up a rental car for our "vacation" to Corsica. We had to go to the airport because it was the only place that we could find that would rent us a car without a young driver charge which would have doubled the cost. After a couple of trains and a bus we got the car no problem, which is actually quite remarkable because we later found out that the mob of strikers had blockaded the airport the same day. We drove back through our campsite, picked up our stuff, and headed to Toulon to catch our ferry.
St. FlorentThe ferry was about 10 hours over night, which we spent camped out on the floor as opposed to paying for a cabin. It was slightly more comfortable than our nights at the airport. We arrived in the port city of Bastia on the North tip of the island with no real plan. We decided to take a scenic route to Calvi, a tourist town on the West Coast. We took back roads but even the main highway on Corsica was a back road by most standards. Along the way we stopped at a small fishing village then in the town of Ilsa Rosa where Lisa forced her way into a book store as they were closing for siesta and we bought a climbing guide. It turned out that there was a crag right in the town we were at. The climbing was unmemorable but the setting was unforgettable. The crag stat below a lighthouse above a crystal clear cove with mountain views behind.
Lisa posing in a tufoniAfter some climbing and a nice dip we headed to our campsite in Calvi. The next day we headed inland for some more climbing. (We finally had a car and a guide book, we were going to make use of them!) The climbing here was better, and the view was from the top of the mountain we had been looking at the previous day. The climbing itself was bolted granite cracks. In America bolting a crack is frowned upon because it can easily be protected with clean removable protection, but since we only had sport gear we were happy to hqve the bolts. After climbing we started to explore inland a little and check out a wine route. Other than signs telling us we were on the wine route it seemed to not exist. There would be a sign for a winery, then nothing there. When we finally found one, it seemed as no one was there. Eventually another couple arrived and must have made more noise than us because a garage door opened with a small tasting bar instde that felt as though you were in someones garage.
CalviThe following day we slowly made our way towards Ajaccio, the largest city on the island, stopping to admire crazy red granite walls that fell straight into the sea that looked like if you were to flood Eldo with turquoise water. We also stopped to climb on a beach, just a beautiful as the last couple had been. Corsican rock is famous for tufoni, rock fins as thin as a quarter inch thick. While they are great fun to climb, they are nerve racking because they vibrate if you even breath on them!
Lisa bouldering near BonifacioAfter playing with the puppy for a while we continued south to Bonifacio, the far south tip of the island. Again it was a slow windy road but we were in no hurry because we had found four campsites that said they were open. When we arrived we went to the tourist info office so they could direct us towards the campgrounds. We were informed that they were all closed. All? Yes all. We confirmed this by driving around for two hours looking at all of them. We ended up staying in a hotel in Porte Vechio, a 30 minute drive north. We stayed there for 2 nights. It ended up being a good thing because all three nights we spent in hotels it poored. Every other night was perfect.
BonifacioThe next morning we went to a beach with bouldering. It poored so there was no climbing to be had but it was seriously gorgeous. The weather cleared and we headed to actually see Bonifacio. Bonifacio is probably the coolest town I have ever seen. It is old run down Mediterranean building precariously perched on a a hundred foot white cliff trying not to fall into the sapphire sea below. The same cliff band continues for 10 miles with only a light house in the view. The only down side is no climbing because the rock is to soft and crumbly.
BonifacioWe drove around looking for a beach that was supposed to be beautiful but never figured out how to access it. We spent the evening watching the sun set behind the hanging buildings. (Less romantic than you might think because it was mostly me telling a shivering Lisa "only a few more minutes until the light is perfect, then we can go."
Bonifacio at sunsetThe next day we headed inland to Bavella, Corsica's most famous climbing destination. It was unreal. It looked like a combination of Chamonix and Estes Park but with a view of the sea! As we drove up to it we watched the thermometer drop to just above freezing and we were planning our escape back to the coast. Luckily just as we started climbing the sun came out and it ended up being a perfect day. That night we headed to a camp site up halfway up the east coast, having called ahead to confirm they were open. When we arrived we were surprised to see a huge billboard advertising it as a nudist resort. Luckily it was cold so there were no nudists. (I guess the fat German men dont like the cold!)
Climbing at Bavella
On our last full day we went inland to the Largest inland city, Corte, where we climbed for a few hours then explored the town. We liked Corte much better that the larger coastal cities because it had a much rawer feel. The down side of this being all of the graffiti of the liberation groups. (Corsica does not want to be part of France and they don't hide it. The french in all of the road signs has either been painted over or more eloquently replaced by bullet holes. They also seem to love camo, one in three men wearing it, which I think has something to do with this.)
CorteWhile in Corte we just strolled around, making friends with another black dog that wanted our lunch (he didn't know I have 3 black dogs trying to take my lunch at home, so it was easy to resist.) Before catching the ferry back to the mainland Friday night we went climbing on top of a mountain above Bastia. It was a nice way to end the trip with views of both coasts until we were interrupted by some very loud cows. Since we were now finished with our sweet tent (we tried to send it home but could not communicate with the lady at the post office) we gave it to a group of guys climbing. They were very thankful and even tried to give us a bag of pot in return. (Thanks but no thanks.) After another shitty nights sleep on the ferry we returned the car (mirrors intact) and were back to "reality."
Our new friend from Corte