Horseback riding on the Camino Santiago

Today we went on a little horse ride up a  mountain trail on the Camino.

Elizabeth was still suffering from a blister on one of her toes,  and although we tried all the recommended therapies it was necessary to give her foot a rest so it could heal.  We decided to skip hiking for a day and to ride horses along the Camino trail instead.

Our next area to walk was up to the mountain hamlet known as  O’Cebreiro in Galicia and I found a horse stable called Al-Paso that caters to Pilgrims.  Al-Paso is located directly on the Camino in Herrerias and has twice daily trips up the mountain for about 30 euros each.  The manager’s name is Victor, and he was a wealth of information about the horses and the Camino.   Elizabeth was the youngest rider but luckily there was another young person about 18 years old for her to chum around with.  Our group consisted of about 8 riders,  2 guides and the rest Pilgrims from Italy, New Zealand and the USA.

The horses well-cared care for and were given a lot of attention and love by Victor and his staff.   There were a lot of flies swarming around the horses’ heads and they were not wearing fly masks,  but the assistant assured me that horses were used to it and it didn’t bother them.  Still,  I spent a lot of the time swatting the pesky insects off of my poor animal’s head during our ride.

Our group rode straight up the mountain and passed many Pilgrims and runners along the way. The ride was smooth but we moved at a quick enough pass that it was fun and exciting.  The farmlands and valley views were spectacular and we both really enjoyed this experience.

We only stopped once so the horses could have a drink from a water trough in the center of a small village about  3/4 of the way up.  Once we arrived at the top and dismounted we took some photos and then headed to the center of the ancient but tiny village  called O’Cebreiro,  where we  enjoyed local music, some tapas and liquid refreshments.

O’Cebreiro weather is startlingly different from the other parts of the Camino we had walked in.  It had a thick mist surrounding it and was much cooler and comfortable out.  There are lots of things  to see  in a small space which has been described as a hobbit’s hamlet. The round stone buildings with thatched roofs are called pallazas and they appear to be right out of a fairy tale.   I bought several tee shirts and the prices were very affordable.  This is a cool place to spend an afternoon.

Buen Camino

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Herrerias, Spain on the Camino Santiago de Compestela
Bridge above Herrerias, Spain
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Elizabeth about to ride to O’Ceb.
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We’re off
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Camino Santiago
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Camino Santiago
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Camino Santiago on Horseback
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Side of the trail
Horses at the top of O'Ceb on Camino Santiago
O’Ceb, Camino Santiago de Compestela
Mother and Daughter on top of the O'Ceb.
O’Cebreiro, Spain
The crew on top of O'Cebreiro, Spain
After completing our horseback ride we took a group photo with Victor.

 

 

 

Mother & Daughter Bonding in Galicia

The next few days rushed by and I hardly had time to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the Camino way.   We completed walking in the Leon Province and then entered the hypnotizing countryside and vineyards of the Galicia Region.

Elizabeth and I were eating, sleeping and most importantly walking together, day after day, with no breaks from each other or the schedule.  To pass the time,  sometimes we discussed history, politics, how talented she was twirling her walking stick and how difficult middle school was.   We took care of each other, me by ensuring her toe blister was cared for and her by handing me her walking stick each time we descended steep hills,  so I did not kill myself in a tumble.   We were both entirely committed to each other’s success here and in life.    She seemed to mature right before my eyes and my stress levels vanished to a non-existent level.   The life I had was perfect at this time, as we wandered up and down the hilly pathways and inched closer to Santiago.

Departing Ponferrada,  we enjoyed the path out of town because this flat Camino section runs parallel to a river or creek that was partially visible with our head lights.  But just when I thought it was going to be an easy day, we were faced with a monstrous stone staircase that needed to be climbed.  It was only 6:00 am, and I was already overheated and panting climbing these killers.  But once we arrived at the top, it was satisfying to know that we were able to do it without stopping to rest.   Our bodies and our mother-daughter bond were getting stronger by the day.    After the stairs, we were rewarded with a lovely stroll through the edge of town.  We then entered the bountiful and green,  wine producing region of NW Spain known as Galicia.

Spain is the worldwide leader in exporting wine, ahead of even Italy and France, and its wine production dates back 2,000 years.  Galicia is well known for its lush landscape, white wines, and seafood.    At one point on the Camino, we approached a large wine production factory that bottled wines called Vinas de Bierzoso.  It was opened to the public and although there was a wine tasting area,  this was a real wine factory with its workers in protective clothing and hairnets. I wanted to buy a bottle but did not want to carry it, so we continued on.  It was so nice to walk in and out of different grape vineyards  during this wonderful day and we sat down regularly to enjoy the pretty scenery.

The heat wave continued to haunt us and that night while staying in the lovely town of Villa Franca del Bierzo  we found some relief.  The town has a picturesque river flowing through it with a beach area for swimming and sun bathing. This place seemed different from the others to me in that it wasn’t a  typical Camino type stop with tourist stores everywhere but a real town with restaurants, stores and  locals who were out and about, working and socializing. I liked it here.

After checking into our Refugio, we went for a swim in the crystal clear, fresh water river.  I expected to see many pilgrims cooling off  but didn’t any.  It did not matter because we had a ball.      Elizabeth was thrilled to be swimming and devouring ice cream at the foot of Leon mountains we had just walked over.  The icy cold water was the perfect remedy for my aching legs and Elizabeth’s sore foot.

 

Buen Camino

 

Click here to follow our journey

 

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Galicia Grape Orchard
Elizabeth walking through among the grape vines
Elizabeth on the Camino
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Wine liters for sale in Galicia
Elizabeth and her map on Camino
Elizabeth on the Camino in Galicia, Spain
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Swim Spot on the Camino
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Villa Franca del Beirzo, Spain
Enjoying the ice cold mountain water in Spain
Elizabeth enjoying the river on Camino Santiago

 

Tieks Ballet Flats for next trip to Europe

I just purchased a ridiculously expensive pair of burgundy ballet flats and will be wearing them everyday next week while on an 9 day tour of Portugal.  The shoes are called Tieks by Gavrielli and I paid $175 for my first pair.  I sure hope they are worth it.

If you haven’t heard about this line yet,  the shoes all have a signature  light blue sole on the bottom and stripe up the back,  but that is not why I bought my pair.  Supposedly they will be extraordinarily comfortable and perfect for the walking traveler.     The shoes are made of Italian leather and the backs of the shoes are constructed with a cushioned back as opposed to the regular ballet shoes’s elastic back. They are fold-able and will fit in  purse for a quick shoe change when dressier shoes are starting to hurt  and  can be worn all day and night.

I will let you know what I think and if I will be buying more Tieks or donating to a worthy charity.   As far as I can tell the only way to buy real Tieks is through their website at:

https://tieks.com/.

The website says free shipping and returns but I needed them fast so I paid extra.

Stay tuned for an honest review.

 

 

Tieks Ballet Flats
Notice the blue non-slip rubber sole.

 

Real Pilgrims

As Elizabeth and I continued our pilgrimage towards Santiago, we started to feel like real pilgrims.  We seemed to recognize the others everywhere we went and felt comfortable eating and socializing with them.

Just like the other pilgrims, we washed our sweat soaked clothes in a sink each day and then immediately tried to air dry them,  because we would be wearing them the following morning.  We took a glorious siesta every day after our walk by falling into a deep sleep for a couple of hours around 4:00 pm.  This allowed us to recharge and recover from the brutal heat and the steep hills, both up and down.   The best part of all was all the stress and concerns from our life back home ceased to exist for us.  Camino related concerns were the only thing we worried about, and they were minimal at best.  Life was definitely good.

After Cruz de Ferro we walked several kilometers through mostly mountain trails.  At one point we saw a paved street abutting the Camino.    Parked in a small pullout area was a food truck complete with 5 or 6 plastic tables with umbrellas.  This truck stop/rest area was clearly popular because it was the first place to buy anything in a long while.  We stopped and had some refreshments including my first beer of this trip.  I hardly ever drink beer, but this drink was the best cold one I have ever had in my life.  I was so depleted from the heat and the Estrella Galicia beer was so cold and delicious, that I did not care that I was drinking a beer at 10:30 in the morning in front of my daughter.  After that day I made a rule that I would reward myself with one delicious Estrella every day until we left Spain.

While at the rest stop we were speaking with a Spanish pilgrim and she explained there were 2 Camino routes available to get to the next town of El Acerbo.  One was on the paved road we were on and the entry to the more difficult route was across the street back into a mountain trail.    Up to this point we had been walking on loose rock-filled dirt trails and you had to be extra cautious of where you were placing your feet because the rocks were so unstable.  My feet were killing me, it was hotter than hell out and I had no desire to fight pesky unstable rocks anymore that day, so we decided to walk on the side of the asphalt road to the next town.

When I grew up, many years ago,  the kids in my neighborhood use to race barefoot and I was quite good at it.    After walking about 20 minutes on the asphalt route, I removed my hiking boots and walked for the next 45 minutes with just my socks on my feet.  Having shed the heavy boots for a period proved to be the most comfortable my feet felt the entire time we were in Spain.  My daughter removed her hiking boots as well and walked the same distance in her flip-flops.  We were happy campers.

After about an hour we re-entered the other route and started hiking in the mountains again. The trail was treacherous and I fell once, but soon enough we were back in our grove.   We passed through El Acerbo and the picturesque village of Molinaseca and spent the night in the city of Ponferrada, which has a population of about 65,000.

At this point, Elizabeth complained of a blister on her toe.  On the Camino blisters are a big deal and the pain can dash a pilgrim’s hope of finishing the pilgrimage, so off to the pharmacy we went.  In Spain, you don’t have to go to the Emergency Room for some basic medical care instead people go to the local pharmacy. The pharmacist listened to our blister problem and then provided expert treatment recommendations.  I then purchased every kind of blister remedy she suggested and then some.

We then walked around this fairly large city and visited a few of the cultural and religious sites,  including the exquisite Basilica of Our Lady of Encina.

Here is the website if you want to learn more:  http://www.basilicadelaencina.es

After strolling through a couple of the pretty plazas within Ponferrada and having a quick supper, we retired to our rooms and collapsed for the evening.

Buen Camino

 

Click here to follow our journey

A picture of the trail  before El Acebo, Spain
Trail in El Acebo area in Spain
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Elizabeth on the Camino
Is this trail ever going to end?
Is this trail ever going to end?
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Elizabeth outside of El Acebo, Spain
Estrella Galicia Cerveza
My new best friend

 

 

 

 

Advice for travel with kids to the Medieval town of Segovia, Spain

2 Nights in Segovia, Spain

While visiting Madrid’s wonderful Christmas Markets my daughter and I decided to spend a couple of days exploring Segovia.   The high-speed AVE train takes about 35 minutes and costs around 10 euros.  We got on the train at the downtown Madrid’s Chamartin train station which is an extremely busy city rail station and exited the train in Segovia’s AVE station which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, all you see is farmlands surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  The station is about 4km outside the city and there are plenty of taxis waiting outside to take passengers into Segovia.

Segovia is a walled medieval town guarded by ramparts that were built-in the 11th century.  Its rich and complex history ensure it is a very popular destination for engineers,  historians, religious folks and tourist in central Spain.

We had reservations at the Hotel Candido in Segovia because it had both an indoor pool and a Turkish Haman.    The lobby and common areas were festively but tastefully decorated for Christmas and our room was luxurious and richly draped with exquisite textiles and Spanish furnishings. The bathroom was enormous with a steam shower, separate whirlpool tub and the largest collection of high-end amenities that I’ve ever seen.    Walking the halls of the hotel we were impressed with the exquisite carpeting, wall hangings, and stain glass ceilings.  The Candido has an expensive, old world charm with photos of the King and Queen of Spain and other luminaries who have stayed there proudly displayed on its walls.

The Candido’s spa is exceptional.  We loved every minute we spent in the Turkish bath or Hamann,  the fiery Finish sauna,  hazy steam room and tranquil indoor pool with a delightful waterfall faucet and separate whirlpool.  Since Segovia is in Europe swim caps are pretty much mandatory, so pack your own or purchase in the Spa.   The hotel is about a mile away from the main tourist area inside the Old City but we did not mind as it is easily walkable downhill to the Plaza Major and uphill on the return.

Most of the top sites of Segovia are within the Old City section of town.  To get to the Old City you must enter through the impressive Roman Aqueduct bridge.  About 2000 years ago Roman Emperors had the Aquaducts built to bring water from the Frio River to the Segovia citizens and is still in use today.   In 1985 the structures were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.    This water conveyance method is widely considered to be an example of perfect engineering because the massive Aqueduct was built using the opus quandratum method, which included using over 20, 000 large stone blocks perfectly balanced on themselves but not affixed with cement or mortar.  We kept wondering how the arches and bridge did not collapse with no cement to hold the granite together. We climbed to the top of the bridge and had an inspiring view of the mountains and countryside.

After obligatory photos in front of the Aquaducts, you then to climb a hill to enter the Old City where most of the major historical sites are located.  The streets are lined with cafes, confectionery stores and small stalls selling medieval era toys, such as swords and archery bows, local cuisine and religious items.  Another must-have while in Segovia is a churro or two.   A churro is defined as a strip of fried dough dusted with cinnamon or sugar but in Spain, they have mastered the culinary delight by adding a cup of hot chocolate pudding to dip the dough in.  Deliciouso.

At the top of the hill, you enter the beautiful Plaza Mayor and you will immediately see The Cathedral. The Cathedral is a 15th-century masterpiece that houses over 15 chapels. The cloisters alone are worth the visit but every inch of the holy place, including the altar, and choir stall contains significant works of art.

We really enjoyed our visit to the Alcazar which reminded us of a fairy-tale castle and it’s only a few blocks from Plaza Major.  The Alcazar dates back to the 12 century and was the home of King Alfonso VIII in the 13th century.  It has everything a medieval history buff could ask for. Its Gothic style has a tower ringed with 10 circular turrets and a drawbridge. Visitors can walk around and enjoy its exquisitely furnished tapestries, armors and arms and then climb the tower and enjoy panoramic views of the countryside.  The Alcazar was originally used by the military and was built on a steep rocky crag hill.   During the 800-year Reconquista period, Alcazar occupants had an excellent vantage point and this castle proved to be impenetrable to approaching Moor invaders.

The Spaniards love to eat ham and this place is no exception. Everywhere you go you will see signs and displays for Cochinillo Asadoor or Suckling Pig.  It was explained to us that the roasted meat is so tender because the baby piglet is less than 3 weeks old, have never eaten any food just its mother’s milk and must not weigh more than 5 kilograms.  The dish is so popular that every tourist shop even sells suckling pig refrigerator magnets.

When in Spain we always have a hard time with the time schedule for eating.  They enjoy long, leisurely lunches, afternoon siestas and then around 9pm or later supper is offered in the restaurants. Sometimes this doesn’t work when traveling with children but ‘when in Spain.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Segovia, learned a lot about the Reconquista and the defeat of the Moors, Roman engineering genius, and how delicious churros are.

 

Family visit to the Great Synagogue and Holocaust Museum in Budapest

Budapest is a great place for family travel. It’s relatively inexpensive, extremely child-friendly and there are unlimited activities to keep the kids engaged, active and happy.

While touring Budapest with my then 10-year old and 20-year-old nephew, we visited the Jewish Quarter and were overwhelmed with great sadness of their history and awe of the strength, wisdom, and courage of the Jewish people.  We visited the Doheny Street Great Synagogue, which is the second largest Synagogue in the world after Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, and its neighbor the Jewish Museum and Cemetery.  These buildings comprised one of the borders to the 1944 Budapest Ghetto and contain plenty of exhibits about the Holocaust.

Inside the Synagogue my nephew was given a yarmulke by the attendant and we stood in wonderment of this magnificent building.  It was constructed in the 1850s in both Moorish and Romantic-style architecture and can easily hold 3000 worshipers. It was fully renovated in 1990 in large part with a generous donation from Estee Launder.

In the late 1930s there were approximately 750,000 Jews in Hungary but during the war, Hungary aligned itself with Germany and the Jews were forced into Ghettos.  These Ghettos were short-lived and about 430,000 of them were deported mostly to Auschwitz.  By the time the Soviets liberated Hungary in 1944, approximately 570,000 Hungarian Jews had perished during the Holocaust.

During the war, the Great Synagogue was used by the Nazi’s as a communication center but now it serves as the central location for the Jewish community in Budapest.  Although my daughter did not seem to appreciate the history of this building I could tell the significant impact this building was having on my nephew. He stopped being cool for a while and just stared with respect to the magnificent organ, balconies, and architecture.

My child was much more fascinated at the next door Jewish Museum which houses fascinating artifacts, clothing and memorabilia from Jewish history, traditions, and customs.  There is also a large exhibit area that deals with the terror of the Holocaust by displaying unique Hungarian videos, artifacts, newspaper headlines, and photos. The children in the videos and photos send a heartbreaking message about the cruelty of this war.  We all agreed more time was needed in this section but it gets very crowded.

Behind the structure lies the Raoul Wallenberg Park which is home to the Emanuel Tree. The Tree is a metal sculpture of a weeping willow tree with leaves inscribed with the names of the Hungarian Jewish Holocaust victims.  There are also memorial plates dedicated to non-Jews who selflessly helped during the war, including Swedish Diplomat Wallenberg who saved so many lives by preparing Swedish protective passports allowing thousands to escape. This is a somber, reflective place where many people are weeping. I know witnessing this sculpture made a real impression on my 10-year old because she immediately started asking questions about the Holocaust.

To get there take Street Car #47 or #49 and get off at the Astoria stop. Once you exit the trolley the streets are lined with cafés and shops prior to arriving at the entrance to the Synagogue and Museum.  To enter the Synagogue women must have their shoulders covered and men must wear hats or a yarmulke.

The Jewish Quarter is a must see while in Budapest for young and old alike.

 

Doheny Synagogue Budapest
Great Synagogue, Budapest
Budapest Synagogue
The Great Synagogue, Budapest
Emanuel Tree in Raoul Wallenberg Park, Budapest
Raoul Wallenberg Park, Budapest
Emanuel Tree Budapest
Emanuel Tree in Holocaust Museum Courtyard
Holocaust Museum Budapest
Holocaust Museum, Budapest

 

 

 

 

There really is a place with white washed building and blue domed roofs overlooking the sea in Greece.

Our Cruise to Greece

While in Europe walking the Camino Santiago de Compostela, my daughter and I decided to take a cruise to the Greek Islands.  We flew from Santiago, Spain to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and jumped into a taxi en route to the cruise terminal in Civitavecchia, Italy. This was an expensive endeavor because it’s 1.5 hours away but we needed to be at the terminal at a certain time and had no choice.

We decided on a Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Sea cruise because of the fantastic itinerary. This ship stops in Santorini on one day and it remains in port until about 9 pm while the other ships depart much earlier. I have always dreamed of sitting at one of  Santorini’s famed cliffside café at sunset while sipping an ouzo and this ship’s itinerary fits that bill.

We had a lovely stateroom with a large porthole window and plenty of space.  We were down on the 3rd deck which was considered a low deck, but it was fine by us and had the added bonus of no turbulence in rough waters.  After the safety drill, we explored the beautiful ship, signed up my daughter for the teen club and met our dining companions at the restaurant.  This is definitely an international cruise and most of the passengers appeared to be from Europe and Australia.

Soon after the ship departs it passes by Sicily with its incredible mountains and volcanos.  The next morning you will quickly see the change in color of the ocean with its brilliant color of blue. I spent the whole day at sea just gazing at the incredible water.

Our first port stop was Santorini.  We tendered to the dock and then you are faced with a large cliff in which you must get up to be in Fria, the capital.  You can either walk, take a scary chairlift or ride a donkey but all ways are straight up.  We choose the chair lift because it was about 100 degrees out and we felt sorry for the donkeys.  Once at the top you will be in a lovely, touristy town with lots to see, eat and shop.  But if you’re like most people your goal is to visit Oia, which is the town with the white house and beautiful blue roofs you see in most postcards.  We took a taxi and spent an enjoyable late afternoon in Oia where we browsed the expensive stores, watched the rich and beautiful folks stroll by, took too many pictures and enjoyed my supper by the sea at a cliffside restaurant at almost sunset.  GIA MAS!

Next port was Mykonos and I messed up. I decided against purchasing the cruise ship excursion to a family friendly beach because I thought I could do it myself and save money,  however, Mykonos is not the place to venture out without transportation.

After departing ship at the new port terminal in Tourlous you can walk to town which takes about 30 minutes  ( some sections are without sidewalks) or take a perilous ferry ride to Mykonos Island. Maybe it was just the day we visited but the rough seas almost tipped our ferry and no one seemed too alarmed. Once at Mykonos we were unable to find public transport, a taxi or instructions on how to get to the famous Paradise Beach. Finally, after an hour of wasted sunlight, a man approached and offered a ride for 40 euros. Normally this is not something I would do but I was desperate to get to the beach so I accepted. The ride was only about 10 expensive minutes and the beach turned out to be ‘party city’ with empty champagne bottles piled high and not in my opinion appropriate for my child, so we turned around and took a public bus home. Next time I will spend the money on the excursion unless I am certain I can get where I want to go.  This is now day 4 and we still haven’t had a swim in the Sea.

The next stop was Athens and everyone had warned me that I wouldn’t like it, but they were 100% wrong.  We spent 9 euros to uber to the Acropolis and then walked around the surrounding old city which I thoroughly enjoyed.  The people were very friendly and welcoming and there is an unlimited supply of shops, historical sites and small cafes in the area. I would go back in a heartbeat but it was very hot there, so be forewarned to bring a hat.

Our last port was Katakolon which is the closest port to the Ancient Olympic Stadium. All of our new friends on the ship were going to the Olympic area but we were going to the beach. I rented a small Avis car at the terminal which couldn’t have been easier. I drove about 20 minutes to Plankes Beach, rented a lounge chair or as they call them in Europe a ‘sunbed’ , ordered an ouzo and jumped into the picture perfect the Aegean Sea.  So beautiful and picture worthy that I am smiling writing about this wonderful family-friendly beach.  There are beach dwellers walking the beach selling linens from India, souvenirs and beach items but they did not pressure anyone. I bought about 4 linen beach cover-ups for about $5. each and when I returned home and gave them out everyone loved them.

I finally got to jump in the Sea and can’t wait to return to this port and Greece.

 

 

 

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Aegean Sea Actual Water Color
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Mother Daughter Adventure
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Santorini in the background
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Jewel of the Sea Window Room
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Santorini
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Santorini Life
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Santorini Life
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Mykonos’ new ferry terminal
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Welcome to Mykonos
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Pretty lane in Athens
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Historical Site in Athens
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Acropolis in the background
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Athen’s historical site
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Author enjoying the beach
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Katakolon vendor

 

Cycling Alaskan Mountains is not your typical cruise ship excursion.

Sockeye Cycle Klondike Bicycle Tour – Skagway, Alaska

Have you ever wanted to escape the typical motor coach tour that is offered as an excursion while on a cruise ship?  Do you dream about getting outside and really seeing the port, especially in a place like Alaska?   We did just that last summer while in port at Skagway, Alaska.  Prior to our cruise I researched mountain bikes and found a company that offered guided 6-hour mountain bike tours and signed the family up.  The price was about $200. per person.

Once we disembarked from the cruise ship we met our fellow cyclists inside the Sockeye Cycle Store in downtown Skagway.  This is a professional cycling store that offers different types of biking tours including bike repair and sales. There were about 10 of us in the group and we were fitted for bikes, helmets and whisked off in a van to the Yukon Train, about 5 minutes away. The guides then gave us a train ticket and told us they would meet us later in Canada.

We boarded the historic White Pass & Yukon Route Train, which travels on a narrow-gauge railroad for a scenic hour and a half trip through the Alaskan mountains into British Columbia, Canada.  A guide on the train provided narration on life during the Gold Rush and pointed out important sites along the way.  The train ride was a fascinating experience through wildflower fields, gold rush sites, raging rivers, waterfalls and mountain ranges. Most of the people on this train were there to simply enjoy the train ride but we were going on a 15 miles bike ride

After departing the train, we were met by our guides and a driver in a van hauling a trailer with about 12 mountain bikes.  We were then transported thru the U.S. Canadian border crossing and arrived at our starting point on the Klondike Highway.  This is a real highway with trucks speeding by and the bikes were so tall that my feet couldn’t reach the ground and I am 5’9”.  This is not an adventure for the timid or those afraid of heights.

We were given a few minutes to practice with our bikes on the highway and then headed down the historic Klondike Highway for a thrilling 15-mile ride downhill.  We were told to keep our speeds between 15 and 25 miles an hour. Yikes.

During our ride, we rode past glaciers, rivers, mountain ridges and cascading waterfalls.  We saw bald eagles and sheep along the way and at one point we stopped at a large waterfall just off the street and enjoyed some delicious spring water.     It was a magnificent experience that I will never forget.

Once we completed the downhill ride we then cycled our bikes thru the Alaskan countryside for a total of 15 miles and returned to the Cycle store.   We were all exhausted but exhilarated by our mountain bike ride in Alaska.   I am so grateful I did not do the typical cruise ship excursion and did something off the grid.

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Waterfall stop in Alaska
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Cycling Adventure in Alaska
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Mother Daughter Cycling
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Into a mountain tunnel in Alaksa
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White Pass Train Skagway, Alaska

This trip would be perfect for families, groups or singles looking for an outdoor cycling adventure.

 

Attention all Sugarloafers and snow fans who want to spend February School vacation week hitting the slopes

righttobeararms
“Support your right to arm bears” –  🙂

 Sugarloaf USA Ski Resort 

 

My extended family enjoys all types of adventure travel.  Our group of 20 people includes about 10 young men who seem to want a bigger, faster, tougher travel experience.  What thrills them is to surf/board giant waves, to ride fast bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, and horses and to jump off cliffs to go for a swim.  If there is a ski slope that is considered double black diamond my crazy nephews & brothers will be first in line. Not me, I like peaceful glide down an easy blue/ green ski slope with my nervous daughter in tow.  It is never easy to please everyone on a large family vacation.

In 2017, during school vacation week we traveled from Massachusetts up to Sugarloaf Ski Resort in the Carrabassett Valley of Maine.   It took us about 5 long hours to drive to Sugarloaf but you could also get there by bus, train or plane by flying into Portland, Bangor or Boston and then using a transfer service or rental car.  We stayed at a rental house a few miles away from the resort but Sugarloaf has plenty of lodging options such as hotels, condos, and house rentals.

Sugarloaf is considered one of the East Coast’s Big Ski Mountains along with Killington and Sunday River.  It has Maine’s 2nd highest peak at 4, 237 feet and the only chairlift that services above-treeline skiing on the East Coast. It has a vertical drop of 2, 830 feet, with 160 trails and 12 lifts.

2017 was a terrific year for snow accumulations and all the trails were open with great conditions. The snow was magnificent and I observed drifts up to the roofs on many of the condos roofs.   It actually took us 5 adults an hour to dig out a path from the car to the rental house we stayed at when we first arrived.   There was easily 4 plus feet of snow on the ground from the previous night.

Skiing is such an expensive sport and I don’t know how families do it.  For a 2-day lift ticket with no add-ons, like rentals,  the price is about $173. each.    I found that because my daughter and I don’t ski the more difficult slopes that it is much more economical to buy a Mid Mountain Pass, which costs about $110 dollars each. With the Mid Mountain, you won’t be allowed on the black slopes but we wouldn’t be there anyway and I receive a significant price reduction.  My nephews roll their eyes at these passes because of their cool,  but that’s ok at least I have some money left over for a hot chocolate and some lunch.

We all enjoyed skiing Sugarloaf because there is something for everyone. Lots of trail options available with varying degrees of difficulty. I like riding on trails that provide a nice view or ride through forests, over bridges and rivers. Sugarloaf even has a tunnel that you can ski into which is under a small road and at the end you come out the other side.  Very cool.  The rest of the family likes to race down steep vertical drops and over moguls.  We usually meet in the base lodge every few hours to discuss the slopes, the abundance of corduroy and to warm up.

Something you will notice right away is that the slope workers are nice folks. They appreciate families making the long drive to ski/ride and it shows.  You will hear a lot of “Grateful Dead” and “Yes” blasting from the restaurants, bars, and chairlift speakers so if you like techno or rap you might need your own music device close by.

I skied Sugarloaf a lot as a child and all I remember is the cold and my clothes literally freezing to the chairlift but now, because of the high-tech clothing,  we were able to stay much more comfortable.  This mountain is no joke and some days the temperature is well below zero, so if you want to try it out make sure you pack accordingly.

The parking lots are well thought out and the shuttle buses stop and pick people up even if they are not a standing at the bus stop, again an example of the incredible positive attitudes the workers possess. Also, there is plenty of room on the outside of the shuttle for your gear.

While we were there they announced that the Sugarloaf Snow Fields were opened for the first time in 2 years.  This rarely opened ski area is an all-natural ski terrane that is not groomed.  Its entrance is located at the 4,237-foot summit at the top of Sugarloaf.   We all took the chairlift to the top to see what the fuss was all about.  The chairlift was pretty amazing because it was above the tree line on the mountain. It was windy and stunning but a bit scary.  At the top, you have a 360-degree panorama view of Vermont, NH and Canada .  You then have a choice try the powder-filled Snowfields or ride down a long, leisurely green slope.  My brother chose the Snow Fields but was exhausted when he returned to the lodge.

Sugarloaf has great stores for winter clothing and ski/board shopping.  It was not overpriced and they had a lot of unique items to choose from. The restaurants are plentiful with lots of options and the servers apparently work there so they can ski/board when they get off work.

The highlight after a strenuous & exhausting day of riding the slopes is always a visit to the Widow Maker Pub. This bar is loud, proud, has live music and serves Shock Top beer, what else could you want?  And oh yeah, they play a lot of Jerry Garcia tunes because they know what makes their customers happy.  We are going to try the Reggae Festival next winter.

Keep on Truckin!

 

Snow Banks
Too much snow to shovel
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Shock Top Apres Ski favorite of mine
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View from WidowMaker Chair Lift
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Sugaloaf Ski Resort Maine
Ski Sugarloaf USA
View of deep snow from chairlift
Top of the Mountain
View from the top of the mountain
Warming up
Taking a break
Sugarloaf Ski Area
View from the top
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Ski trip during February Vacation