Tag Archives: dining

Tuscany, Italy 2014

I have been slacking on blogging lately and this post is long overdue. If you read my previous post about the start of our Tuscan holiday you know it did not get off to a good start. While it was not one of my favorite trips, looking at the pictures now I can hardly complain. It just wasn’t quite the active trip that I enjoy.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Our flight arrival in Copenhagen, Denmark

We eventually made our way to Bologna, Italy after a couple short layovers in Oslo and Copenhagen, although it was a day later than planned. We were originally supposed to stay in Bologna the first night, so it wasn’t a huge loss skipping that one evening. Instead we just headed to the place we would have stayed the second night in Florence. It turned out that one day in Florence was enough anyway.

Florence

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Our Italian Wheels-The Fiat 500

While planning this trip we had read horror stories about how crazy the drivers were on the highway was from Bologna to Florence. They apparently have never driven with my wife. Denise drove to Florence from the airport and she fit right in there. Actually, it was fine and we had no problems until we got to Florence that evening. Florence is pretty confusing to drive in with the crazy streets, circles and traffic. Fortunately Google Maps app on my iPhone was AWESOME! I don’t know what we would have done without it.
We arrived at the Il Palagetto Guest House a bit late the first evening, but they waited up for us and were very accommodating. They even made us reservations at one of their favorite restaurants, Trattoria da Sergio, while we unpacked. We then walked a few blocks through the large gates of the old city of Florence and enjoyed a fabulous dinner. Now we were feeling like we were on vacation!

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Denise enjoying some wine at Trattoria da Sergio-Florence, Italy

After a good nights sleep and some breakfast, we headed into Florence for the day. As we got into the main part of the city it became very crowded! Loads of tour groups with their little flags and earbuds filled the streets. I was not diggin’ it. The area around the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo were the worst. We had hoped to go in the Duomo, but the line was around the block. Instead we opted for our first(of many!) gelatto tasting. Yum!

We had 2pm reservations for the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David statue, which everyone says you have to see. We headed over that way to find where it was and to pick up our tickets. People were lined up the street to get in there. Seemed kind of strange when all they had to to was purchase tickets on the other side of the street or online beforehand. Then they can walk right in the door at their reserved time. I don’t know why people would not do that? Whatever. We walked down the street and found Ristorante Accademia. We enjoyed a nice lunch while we waited for our entry time.  The food was delicious, our waiter was really nice and spoke good English too.

We headed back to the Accadmia with full bellies and entered pretty quickly. We started looking at some of the works around the entrance and then quickly skipped right to the main hall where the David statue was. We are not really “art” people so this was a stretch for us. I was not blown away by the David statue at first as some had said it would do. Perhaps the masses of tourists distracted me. It wasn’t until I got up close that I was really amazed. The size and articulate detail of this statue was amazing. Carving veins and bodily details out of solid marble like that just blew me away. Definitely worth seeing. We spent a bit of time looking at David and then sauntered through the other statues, but the other stuff was snoozeville compared to David.

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David by Michelangelo-Accademia, Florence, Italy

The rest of the afternoon was spent “lolligagging” around the city. My wife enjoys this, but it just bores me to death. It is like mall-shopping for me. We got a good lay of the city and ended up at Piazzale Michelangelo where there was a gelatto-fest going on. The view of the city from there was amazing too. We decided after this we had enough and made our way back to the Il Palagetto House and started on our way down to Lucca. We would be staying at Il Gallo Guest House just outside of Lucca for the remainder of our trip.

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Il Gallo Bed & Breakfast

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Our place at Il Gallo B&B-Bozzano, Tuscany, Italy

The drive to Il Gallo went suprisingly fast. Google Maps directed us precisely up the winding little road up the mountain and into the driveway. We were immediately greeted by our friendly hosts, Robert & Katinka. They showed us lovely accomodations and invited us down for some local wine and snacks after we unpacked and settled in. We immediately felt at home with Robert & Katinka. It felt more like we were getting together with friends we had not seen for a while than hosts we had never met before. They are actually Dutch, but have lived in Italy for quite some years and new the lay of the land. We had told them of our dietary preferences, me being plant-based and Denise more a hybrid paleo, and they were very accommadating with our breakfasts. They even adjusted the breakfasts throughout the week based on what we did and didn’t eat. The first night Robert drove up the road with us to the little village above. He took us into the local restaurant and translated the menu and ordered for us in Italian before driving back home. The little restaurant in the town of Bozzano was pretty much only locals and was only open a few nights a week, but the food was amazing and so inexpensive. It is one of those places you just don’t find on your own.

Every morning, weather permitting, we make a short walk up into Roberts’ olive grove to our private terrace for breakfast. Robert had already delivered our wonderful breakfast which would be wating for us there. It was just an amazing scene looking out over the mountains that surrounded us. I didn’t want breakfast to end. On days when it was cooler or raining we would eat down by the main house which was very nice too and still provided the spectacular views. My only complaint about the week was that we didn’t spend more time there hanging out a bit, but we had all these cities to visit.

Denise enjoying breakfast on the terrace at Il Gallo, Lucca, Italy

Denise enjoying breakfast on the terrace at Il Gallo, Lucca, Italy

Isola Santa, Barga & Lucca

 

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Denise walking through Isola Santa, Italy

On our first day we drove north towards Castelnuovo di Garfagnana then west to a little ghost village in the Alpuane Alps called Isola Santa. Isola Santa is tiny town nestled into valley surrounding a beautiful spring lake. The town is so small and hidden we almost past by it. The parking area is basically just a turnout on the road. We walked through the little town and explored some of the hiking trails around the lake. By the time we got back to the tiny village, it was almost lunch time. There was one place with some outdoor tables that looked like they would serve food. No one else was eating yet, but we sat down at a table and a girl came out with silverware and things. Immediately after that several groups of people came in and sat down too. It now looked like this would take much longer to eat than we planned since they were not heavily staffed. We decided to leave and get something at one of the towns down along the Garfagnano valley.

We ended up stopping in the city of Barga for lunch. Barga has a very large Scottish population, which is highlighted by there Sagra di Pesce e Patate(Fish & Chips) festival every year. So we figured it would be easier to order and eat there since they most-likely spoke more English. We ended up eating at L’Osteria located in a small courtyard in town. It was quite good and the waitresses spoke decent English with a slight Scottish accent. We followed up our late lunch with a little gelato at the shop around the corner too.

We walked around Barga a little more after luch and then made our way down to check out Lucca. I think Lucca is one of my favorite towns in Italy. It has all the characteristics of an old medieval city but a little smaller and less touristy than some of the others. It is surrounded on all sides by a wall which you can run and bike around. I did neither of those, but we did walk a little bit around it 🙁 . To get into the city you must go through very narrow tunnels through the wall entrance which has cars on the outside and people on the inside. This leads to a bit of confusion when you get to the inside and everyone collides in the street.

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Lucca town center panorama

The labrynth of streets in the city are lined with many shops. There is a central piazza called, Piazza Anfiteatro, which has many shops and restaurants. Our host Katinka works in one of the shops so we decided to stop in and say Hi. While there she gave us some things to see in the city such as the Guigli Tower and also an opera that was going on that night. The tower was pretty cool. It had trees growing on the top and provided a magnificent 360-degree view of the city. The opera, well, was not really our bag. I tried to keep an open mind but neither of us was into it and we left at intermission. 50 Euros down the tube.

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View of Lucca from the Guinigi Tower

We then went in search of somewhere to eat dinner. We ended up walking back-and-forth across town because Denise could not make up her mind where she wanted to eat. We ended up eating at Gigi Trattoria, which Katinka and Robert had recommended. It was a good meal, but we were a bit grumpy for the undecisive walking about we had done. We naturally followed up dinner with some more gelato sampling in town.

Fuori dal Centro Gelateria, Lucca, Italy

Fuori dal Centro Gelateria, Lucca, Italy

One stop was at a place on the main piazza which was ok. The better one was a place on the street outside of the main city, named Fuori dal Centro, which was right where we had parked. Denise had spotted some locals in there, so we figured it must be good. And it was!

 

Monte Forato Hike

We enjoyed anothe great breakfast before heading north again to the town of Fornovolasco to do the Monte Forato Hike. The Fiat 500 was getting bit low on fuel so we needed to stop and refuel. There is a gas station down the bottom of the hill from Il Gallo, but Denise said she had seen numerous other stations along the road we had taken the day before. As we drove on we didn’t see any and we were quickly approaching our turn to head up into the Alps. I finally spotted one on the other side of the road and made a turn in. I filled up the tank with around 50 Euros of petrol and then gave the attendant my Mastercard. Rejected!! I then gave him my Debit card VISA…Rejected! WTF!! I asked him to try my credit card again…still nothing. I didn’t know how much cash I had and started digging into my pockets. I managed to piece together the 50 Euros using every little piece of coinage in my pocket. Whew! Apparently gas stations in Italy use some special card for their gas purchases that is different from a regular credit card. I would highly suggest looking into this beforehand or just carry cash.

We eventually drove through the small town of Gallicano which had a ATM and a grocery store. We were also out of water, so we needed to stock up. I ended up purchasing a 6-pack of large bottles, but I unfortunately didn’t notice the word “sparkling” on the side. We noticed this later after we getting ready to start our hike in Fornovolasco. Not a good start to the day.

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Fornovolasco, Tuscany, Italy

We headed across the little bridge and up through the town. I somehow lost track of Denise while I was taking pictures, but eventually found her down at the lower end of the street. She was all mad about it, which I didn’t get since I thought I had seen her go up the way I had gone. I like to take my time hiking and take pictures and she is all focused on hiking, so she just takes off without me. We followed the stream uphill and eventually got off onto some trail going past some small gardens. There were some nice waterfalls along the way, but heaven forbid I stop and take pictures, so I just kept hiking. We eventually straightened things out at the next trail junction.

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Rainbow on Monte Forat Hike-Apuane Alps, Italy

The trail is mostly uphill for the first half before topping out on some rocky peaks. There are some great views of the valley and the coast on the opposite side. The trail had also gotten a little tricky to follow at the top as well. We ran into another couple on the climb up, who we chatted with a bit on the top. They John & Sarah from Massachusetts. We told them we were from Allentown, PA and John said he had done a Tough Mudder at Bear Creek Ski Area which is just up the road from us. They were a really nice couple and we had much in common with them. We hiked together for a little bit and then went our separate ways but kep running into each other again. We ended up hanging out with them at the bar back at the trailhead afterwards. We never got their contact information though, which I have regret.

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The great stone arch of Monte Forato-Apuane Alps, Italy

The climax of the hike is the rock archway with a view of the valley in the middle. It was really clouded in when we first got there, but eventuallly cleared up to give us a view. We also got a nice little rainbow on the other side too. The hike down was not as much fun. It has briefly rained and made for an extremely slippery descent. Denise and I both fell several times. One of my falls was pretty intense too and my wrists were hurting. It was a pretty nice hike and we could have lengthened it a bit more if we had more time.

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Fornovolasco, Tuscany, Italy

On our way up to Fornovolasco, we noticed a small church nestled in the cliff side of the windy road up the mountain. We decided to take a ride up the small driveway to check it out. The Santuario Mariano Eremo di Calomini was lit up really cool as it turned dark out. Unfortunately, they had it gated off so you could not get up close to it. We also noticed a very narrow driveway that skirted the cliffside and a sign indicating a agriturismo and restaurant. We decided to check it out. Threre was a sheer dropoff on the right side of narrow driveway. We eventually came upon the Agriturismo Antica Trattoria dell’Eremita. It appeared to be open so we went in and had some dinner. It was pretty basic, but good. The best part was that they had some local spelt beer which I had yet to try. Definitely a good add for my Untappd profile.

Montepulciano & Siena

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Toscana View from Montepulciano, Italy

Wednesday morning we got up a little earlier, had breakfast and were on the Autostrada heading to Montepulciano. Montepulciano is one of our favorite types of wines, so we were looking forward that. It was about a 3 hour drive down there via east to Florence and then due south. The scenery was nice, for being on a highway, but the landscape was a bit browner than I would have expected. Perhaps it was that time of year. We got into Montepulciano around lunch time, found a parking spot in one of the parking garages on the Southeast side of town and headed into the city center to get some lunch. Denise had picked out La Pentolaccia as a good place to eat in the Rick Steves Italy book and it ended up being right in front of us when we walked into town. Perfect!

La Pentolaccia translates to “The Stinkpot” in English, but there was nothing stinky about it. We grabbed the last table outside which we shared with anothe couple from Arizona. They were really nice and we ended up chatting away with them. The lone waittress there was really sweet, but she was so busy you could tell she was really struggling to keep her composure. The food took a little long, but it was so worth it. I had some bean soup and gnocchi for my main course. We also had a small bottle of wine to wash it down with. Rick Steves did not steer us wrong there.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the town, which my wife likes to do. I tend to get a bit antsy when there is no particular destination in mind. We stopped at the de Ricci wine cellar which was really cool I got some pretty cool long exposure shots in there. The best part was at the end when you pass through the sliding glass doors into the tasting room. People in front of us were paying for wine tastings which were served at the counter. When we flashed our Rick Steves book at the wine stewards, we were immediately whisked over to a nice table and chairs complete with snacks and a full flight of tastings. Wow…Thanks Rick!

We then wandered around some more and then to the main Piazza Grande, which is the main square in town. I ventured into the Duomo and took some photos in there. It was fairly dark, so I had to do some longer exposures on the tripod. Next, was a short walk down the street to the left to Cantine Contucci to see the ever popular Adamo (Pallecchi) and taste some of the legendary Vin Noble. Adamo is known to be a bit of a character and he surely did not let us down. When Denise asked him if she could get her picture taken with him, he immediately starting fondling her and went in for the kiss. On the lips no less. Everyone was cracking up, including Denise and I. I didn’t manage to get the kiss shot because I was laughing so hard. It was so funny. Oh yeah the wine was pretty good too!

Europe, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Adamo putting the moves on Denise

We left Montepulciano in the late afternoon and decided to drive the more “scenic route” back to Lucca. We wanted to see more of the countryside and also avoid rush hour traffic on the autostrada. The countryside was beautiful, but much more brown and dry than you typically see. Most of the fields were plowed and the soil has very ash gray color to it. Nonetheless, it was still beautiful country. We decided to stop in Siena for dinner and check out the town.

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Montepulciano, Italy

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Duomo of Siena, Italy

Siena was really cool. Very old and has many tiers to the streets. The most impressive part was walking out into the Piazza del Campo, which is a large, amphitheater-like courtyard which is surrounded by the large Tower of Mangia on the lower end and numerous restaurants on the upper side. We headed past the Tower to dine outdoors at Antica Trattoria Papei, another Rick Steves recommendation.  Rick did not let us down this time either. The food was really amazing and they allow you to order a bottle of wine and only charge you for the amount you drink which I had never seen before.

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Panorama of Il Campo-Siena, Italy

As if Piazza del Campo was not amazing before, it was even better after dark. The tower was all light up and there were tons of people just hanging out in the piazza. We got some gelato’s and sat down for a while and took in the view. There was something really cool about that place, but I just could not put my finger on it. We then made our way back to Lucca and Il Gallo. But the excitement didn’t quite end there. I noticed that the gas gauge was going down pretty quickly on the way home. It was around midnight at this point and there were no open gas stations. I was sweating it out towards the end. The warning light came on and we still had a 12 miles or so to go. As I was winding up the steep and narrow road to our place, the warning light began flashing and some italian words came up on the dash. I pulled into the driveway on fumes around 1am! Whew..made it!!

The Cinque Terre

The next morning I literally coasted down the little road to the gas station at the bottom of the hill to fill up. Now that we had relieved ourselves of that stress, we jumped back on the autostrada and headed west to the city of La Spezia. La Spezia is the main trainstation for getting up to the towns that comprise the Cinque Terre along the coast. You can drive up there but it is not recommended since there is not many places to park in the tiny cliffside coast towns. We parked in a underground parking garage below the train station. The was a big sign on the door saying to take your parking ticket with you, which I would not normally do. But I suppose there was a reason for this. After taking some time to figure out where to get our train tickets we eventually got on the train and headed up to the town of Monterrosa, which is the most northern of the popular towns. It is also the most touristy and less quaint, but we were just there to get some lunch and then hike the trail down the coast to Vernazza.

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We had lunch at Cantina di Miky, which was right on the beach. To my surprise they had a full menu of Italian microbrewed beers! My Untappd profile got a few nice additions of some international brews and badges. They food was also good. Denise had some anchovies that were nothing like the ones we typically see in the States. These actually looked like fish and they didn’t even taste fishy. There was a group of four next to us who just arrived from St. Louis who gave them a try too. After several IPA’s, one a double, I was ready for some hiking! But, we couldn’t do that until we had some gelato first.

We made our down the crowded promenade towards the end of the beach to pickup the trailhead. Throngs of tour groups crowded our the walkway making it difficult to move at times. We eventually reached the narrow trail and began our making our way up. Two German women in full packs and hiking gear played hopscotch with us until reached the ticket booth of the trail to pay our trail fee. The trail was pretty narrow and with amount of people on it it made it very annoying. You would get behind people in high heels or flip flops who should have stayed on the promenade and then you would need to wait for a time when someone was not coming the other way to pass them. I was getting irritated with it quickly. This is not my idea of hiking.

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Monterrosa, Cinque Terre

Despite the traffic, the views along the coast were beautiful. This made all the more difficult since it was really hard to take it in. The highlight was when we rounded the final bend to get our first views of the town of Vernazza. It is so picturesque with the brightly colored buildings which bend out on a penisula into to the sea. The beauty becomes afterthought though when you enter the town into the masses of people bustling about. We wandered around the town a bit and stopped into the closes gelateria to refuel a bit. I don’t think we missed having a gelato in any town in Italy yet.

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Locks on the Cinque Terre trail.

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Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

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Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

We decided to skip the hiking since it was not what we were hoping for there. So next we headed up to the train station after checking out the town a bit more. They never checked our train tickets on the ride in, so we decided to try and ride for free this time. We skipped the next town of Corniglia and headed to Manarola.  It was a pretty quick ride, but it seemed longer since I was stressing about not buying a ticket. I don’t think it was worth the stress to save a couple dollars. Karma will come to play later in the day for doing this.

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Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

We spent some time walking around Manarola looking for prospective restaurants for dinner. We walked out the walkway to the North where the classic picture of the town is taken. It was early yet, so we walked to the little outdoor restaurant just above it to have a cocktail and take in the beauty of the town. By the time we were done, crowds of people had accumulated on the walkway to get their evening photos. Most were just smartphone or handheld shooters, but there was one or two other guys with tripods to get a real shot. The lighting was not spectactular, but it was still beautiful regardless. I took a bunch of shots including one of Denise and I in front of the town. Then we were off to find some dinner. We settled on Trattoria la Scogliera at the lower end of town. It was busy, but they had room for us. Food was very good too.

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Happy Travelers at Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

 

After dinner we hopped on the train again, this time with tickets, and headed to the next town of Riomaggiore. After a long walk through a tunnel, we popped out right in the middle of town. Riomaggiore is a very narrow town that is nestled between the mountain that surround it. It is very difficult to get a good shot of the town without going out on a very craggy seawall. The waves were pretty large crashing into it so I decided against that. We walked up the street into the town and found what else but a gelateria. Why not have a gelato! After finishing up our gelatos we made our way back down towards the train station. It was around 9:30pm now and the last train was at 10 or so. As we walked I started digging around my pockets for our parking garage ticket. Hmmm…nothing? We stopped and I went through everything to no avail. Ugh…Karma had struck. To make matters worse, the train we were waiting for was delayed so we stood there just anticipated the adventure that awaited us. Would we be stuck in the garage all night? Could we even get in to our car? I could see Denise was stressing much more than I was. With the train being even later was making our exit of the parking garage even less likely.

The train eventually came about an hour later and we were on our way back to La Spezia. We departed the train and made our way down the steps into the parking garage. We walked over to the ticket machine and tried to figure out what to do. There was nothing on the machine to indicate some option for help. Meanwhile, Denise ran up to the upper level and was trying to talk to a taxi driver who didn’t speak English. He didn’t know what to do. I had pressed a button which had an icon that resembled an RSS feed icon on it and a voice spoke in Italian on the speaker. I said “I lost my biglietto!” which is ticket in Italian. He said something I didn’t understand and then “drive to the gate”. There is a metal curtain gate at the exit to the garage. Right after he said that, I saw “€25.00” pop up on the little screen. I slid in my credit card and out popped a ticket! My stomach immediately eased. I ran up the steps to the upper deck and Denise was actually walking past the top of the steps. I said “Come on, I got it!”. We fired up the Fiat and headed out the gate.

So, we would have had to pay €17.00 to park had we not lost our ticket. So it cost us €7 more because I lost the ticket. That is about the same amount it would have cost us for the train ticket from Vernazza to Manarola. Karma?

We made the hour or so drive back to Lucca without too much issue. It was so nice to crawl into that bed though, since I had started wonder if we were ever going to that night. Friday was going to be a chill day at Il Gallo since it was supposed to rain and we had no real plans. I was looking forward to it.

 Chill Day in Lucca

I slept in a bit on Friday morning. There was a light rain which made it easy to roll over for some more z’s. Not that I have a problem with that. We had breakfast down on the veranda at Katinka and Robert’s home which offered just as nice a view as our terrace, but shielded us from the rain. It eventually started thunder & lightning and Katinka invited us in her home to hang out for the morning reading or catching up downloading photos. I was able to help them with some computer problems as well, which was cool. We invited them out for lunch and they took us to one of their favorite places in Lucca, Locanda Buatino. It was a really good meal and very inexpensive. Katinka had an appointment in town that afternoon, so we said we could walk around town some more and then take her back home.

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Our Favorite gelateria in Tuscany, Fuori Dal Centro, Lucca, Italy

We made a B-line for our favorite gelateria in Tuscany, Fuori dal Centro. It worked out great and we stopped at the grocery store and picked up some snacks too.

We lounged around during the afternoon and then had our last nights dinner at the little local restaurant up at the top of the hill. It was another fabulous meal and a great way to finish off the trip. We enjoyed a couple bottles of the local wine and some good dessert and cappucino before sauntered down the hill back to the house.

The next morning we packed up and said our goodbyes to Robert and Katinka. It was a wonderful place to stay and they are magnificent hosts. I would HIGHLY recommend staying here if in the area. We loaded up the Fiat and drove back to Bologna.

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Room at Radisson Blu Stockholm Arlandia Airport

 

The flights home went pretty smooth. We had a long layover in Stockholm, which we had picked because we love staying at the Radisson Blue by the airport. The rooms are awesome and the breakfast buffet is one of the best I have ever seen.

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Part of the breakfast buffet at Radisson Blu Stockholm Arlandia Airport

While this was a very nice trip, it probably wouldn’t be one of my favorites. The main reason for that is that it was it was just too short. I felt like we were just rushing all over the place to see everything. I like to just settle in to an area and really focus on that and do more hiking. I also am not into aimlessly walking around cities, but my wife is so she really like that part. I get kind of bored with it and I don’t like dealing with crowds of people. I also wished I could have had more time to do some cycling. The area we stayed is a mecca for road cycling and their were cyclists everywhere as drove to the next city. But the place we stayed was excellent and the area is beautiful. I would go back in a heartbeat, but I would just do some things differently next time.  Thanks for reading!

 

Road Trip: Pittsburgh 2014

It is really hard to believe that I have lived in Pennsylvania for over 45 years, traveled all over the world and have never been to the city 4.5 hours to our West. It is the place we Eastern-PA-er’s usually refer to when we hear of a PA town that we have no idea where it is. “Oh that must be out near Pittsburgh somewhere…” is the typical phrase. If you ever meet someone who is from Pittsburgh or grew up there, they have nothing but great things to say about it and there is a large sense of pride for their city. My wife has been itching to visit there recently and came to the realization that the only way she could get me out there was to find some type of endurance event to sign up for. She saw the Pittsburgh Marathon table at the last years’ Runner’s World Half Marathon race expo and made a B-Line for it. Before I knew it we were signing up for the Half Marathon in 2014.

Over the months that passed between signing up for the event and the event itself, my wifes’ knees had not cooperated with her training. She eventually came to the realization that she was not going to be able to do the race. So it was down to just me, but we were still doing a long weekend in P-Burgh.

We made the 4 1/2 hour drive west on the PA Turnpike on Friday morning after I knocked out my long swim for the week. It was a recovery week for me so it worked out pretty well with the race on Sunday. My wife had performed in-depth analysis on all the restaurants in the Pittsburgh area locating all “farm-to-table”, organic restaurants. They were also required to have at least one vegetarian or vegan option for me. Dining out for us has become much more complicated these days since my wife has changed to eating a more “cavewoman”-like diet and me being the plant-based vegan. Although I sometimes slide into more of a vegetarian while traveling just to make things a little easier.

Friday Lunch

2014-05-02 13.40.06

The big leather couches in the dining room of BRGR in the Shadyside district of Pittsburgh

Our first stop in Pittsburgh was BRGR on the Eastside of the city. They also have a couple other locations, one of which is in the PNC Park baseball complex. The place was really good and they have an extensive draught beer selection. This came in handy for my new favorite social network, Untappd! They have good selection of handcrafted burgers which you can get with the roll or lettuce for any of you carnivorous folks out there. For the veg-head, the “Santa Fe Hippy” burger is outstanding! I think this is the best veggie burger I have ever had in my life. I knew when we left here that we would be back again before we left. At least once.

We made a quick stop at the Whole Foods Market just down the street, before making our way to our hotel. One of good friends is from Pittsburgh and her dad had helped us with where we would should stay. We stayed at the Hampton Inn just north of the city which was a very nice hotel and the location made the logistics for getting in and out of the city very easy. It is a short drive to get to the “T” light rail line at the Allegheny station which is right next to Heinz Field. Two stops and you were in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. It made the whole experience very enjoyable. Especially considering all of the events that were going on downtown that weekend. Marathon of 30,000 people, Penguins playoff games, and Pirates baseball games.

Friday Dinner

We settled into our nice room at the Hampton Inn on McKnight Road and before we knew it is was time to head out for dinner. For dinner, we had made reservations at Salt of the Earth (NaCl) which was also located on the East side of the city not too far from BRGR in the Garfield neighborhood. The area looks like it had been pretty run down at some point but they were working to bring it back to life a bit. The NaCl looked to be the “seed” for doing that as it stuck out well against some of the more dingy buildings around it. Although the lime green Mexican restaurant up the street did its fair share of sticking out too. Salt of the Earth is a pretty trendy looking place, with a very high ceiling and the dining room lined with long tables providing a more communal dining experience. The bar wrapped around the perimeter of the dining room on two sides and a large chalkboard wall and a large front window took the other sides. We were seated upstairs in a loft-like area that overlooked the downstairs in the middle. It was kind of odd décor since there was nothing on the walls. It was also very warm up there since all the heat had eminated up there.

To start off I had the White Asparagus soup and my wife had the Steak Tartare(ugh!). The soup was a puree soup with some almonds on top for garnish. It was very good. My wife seemed to enjoy her raw animal flesh and said that the pickled vegetables added to the flavor. It looked like dog food to me though. For my entrée I had the Tofu Curry which was also very good. It was a mix of spice and sweet and was definitely a unique mix. My wife enjoyed the Duck entrée but said that the carrot puree that came with it didn’t really blend well with the asparagus and duck.

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Mmmmm…beer!

It was also Craft Beer Week in Pittsburgh so I hit it at a good time. NaCl was running a food pairing with Shawneecraft brewery this evening so I was able to sample their Double IPA along with my meal. It was pretty good. Smile After dinner, we stopped at Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar for a nightcap. My wife was itching for a glass of wine and the wine at Salt of the Earth was a bit pricy for her taste. Toast had sampler taste size glasses of wine which was perfect for her. I enjoyed a Lagunitas IPA, which I had had in San Francisco last month and also a Breckenridge Brewery Ophelia(draught) which I didn’t care for. I am not a fan of wheat beers. I traded the Ophelia in for a Dogfish 90 minute IPA, which is always good.

Saturday

After a good nights sleep we had breakfast at the hotel. The conti breakfast was one of the best ones I have seen, but there was a large group of kids in green t-shirts infiltrating it when we went down there so it was pretty hard to get what you wanted. I ended up going down an hour later and it was smooth sailing. I enjoyed a fresh Belgian Waffle which was rather delicious. While we ate in the room, we researched our logistics in the city for the day. We would do a dry run of our plan for Sunday Race morning just to familiarize ourselves with it. Park at the Carnegie Science Museum/Heinz Field, then T-rail to downtown. Piece of cake!

We then walked around the city a bit and headed over to the area called “The Strip.” A lot of outdoor markets and things along the way. It was about a mile and quarter, but seemed a bit longer. Our plan was to hit the Church Brew Works for lunch which was another 1.25 miles past the strip. On the way I decided we would catch a bus back into town. I hate how we always seem to walk all over the place the day before my races. I should be taking it easy.

Church Brew Works was really cool. It was an old church converted to a brew pub. Food was pretty good and the Thunderhead IPA was excellent. I found out later that the Thunderhead IPA was not actually brewed by the Church Brew Works. Oh well it was good.  To eat I had pizza and pierogies. Kind of lame, but I was rushed to order and kind of choked. Regardless, it was tasty.

After lunch, we then took the bus back to downtown. It worked out well because it had started raining. The bus stop had a bit of shelter so it was a good decision. We then went to the convention center for the packet-pickup and expo. It was a huge expo and there were tons of people pouring in and out. This was bigger than the San Francisco Rock ‘n’ Roll Expo. We collected our swag and were out of there. The rain was just stopping as we left.

Next, we walked downtown a bit and ended up at Point State Park. This is the triangular-shaped park at the convergence of the three rivers. Very nice park with a fountain and nice landscaping. We ended taking a little siesta due to the insulin surge and beer buzz from lunch on the river wall that runs along the Monongahela River side. The sun had come out and it was quite nice out. The breeze had a nice coolness that balanced out the heat of the sun.

After walking around a bit, we decided to go to dinner a little earlier than planned. We had reservations at Six Penn Kitchen for 6:30pm on OpenTable, but I was into eating a little earlier with the race tomorrow. They agreed to seat us early, so we did. It was a really good meal. I think the best one we had in Pittsburgh. Service was outstanding too. We decided to split a bottle of wine, which probably wasn’t the wisest decision for me with the race tomorrow but what they hell. The wine was called the “Immortal Zin” which I though was funny since we were at the Church Brew Works for lunch. It was a whole religious, alcohol theme today. We started out with the house salad, which was a really good salad. I had the Garden Risotto and Denise had the Braised Short Ribs. Both were outstanding. Denise said the Short Ribs were amazing and she was kind of uncertain about it when she ordered. Great meal and worth a stop for sure.

Post-dinner, we made our way back out of the city and up the highway to our hotel. Early to bed since I had to get up at 4:30am for the race. I will create a separate post for the Race Report and will add a link here once I get it done.

Race Report

Pittsburgh Half Marathon 2014 Race Report

 

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Pittsburgh Marathon Finish Line

Sunday

After the race, we quickly made our way out of the city and back to the hotel. It was still before 10am, so I was able to get last dibs on the hotel breakfast buffet. We then showered up and headed north to the BRGR located in Cranberry Township mall. It was about 20 minutes north of the hotel. This one was quite a bit larger and they had almost double the beer selection. I had another great veggie burger and best of all was a Mojo IPA that was a NITRO tap. Yummy! It was like a creamy Boddington-style IPA. This put a damper on my trying any other types of beers and I ended up having two of them. So good!

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Mojo IPA NITRO!

We then headed over to a nearby Whole Foods. My wife had gotten some Gouda cheese at the other store and was desperately seeking more to stock up on. She was pretty psyched to find they had a bunch of it too.

We then headed back to the Hotel and I headed down to the Hotel Pool. I was going to jump in the hot tub but there was an older couple in there and the guy was massaging the lady’s shoulders, so I decided not to crash their party and jump in the pool for bit. They eventually left and I jumped in the hot tub for a bit. This was then followed up with a little nap afterwards.

For dinner we had made reservations at Spoon also through OpenTable. I am a big fan of OpenTable. Here is a list of all the Pittsburgh restaurants they serve. Spoon is the big brother restaurant of BRGR and is located right next store to the Shadyside BRGR location. Spoon is a little more fancy and expensive than BRGR. The food there is well presented, but portions are pretty small. They are also pretty lacking in vegetarian or vegan options on the menu, but most places in Pittsburgh are. I had their only option which was the Spring Vegetable Tasting, which consisted of saffron and mushroom rice “grits” , white asparagus puree, artichokes and fava beans. It was pretty good again not a lot of food for someone who just ran a half marathon.  My wife had more steak tartare (“raw meat”) for appetizer and the duck for entrée. She said it was good.

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The Duquesne Incline(aka Vernicular) on South Side of Pittsburgh.

After dinner we ventured over to the Duquesne Incline which is a funicular that runs up-and-down the steep hill on the South Side of the city. We parked across the street and took the steps and pedestrian bridge over the road to the station house, paid our $2.50 each and road to the top. We were the only ones in the car which was pretty cool. There is a small museum at the top and an overlook of the city. They had large wrought-iron bars around it so it was kind hard to get any pictures on the tripod. There was also a bunch of East-Asian tourists jockeying for position too. The view of the city was pretty nice though.

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Pittsburgh At night. Not the greatest shot, but you get the idea. Tripod mounted here but it was windy and I was trying to squeeze lens between a wrought iron gate. Really, you couldn’t ame a little room for people to take some pictures??

We took a walk down the street hoping to get some better views but it was totally blocked by either houses or restaurants. Since it was Sunday night most of them were closed. We did manage to finagle a glass of wine at La Mont Restaurant by the manager who was nice enough to serve us despite the bartender going home already. It was a really nice view from there through the large picture windows. The place seemed like it was out of the 20’s with the large glass beaded chandeliers and very ornate woodworking on the walls and ceiling. The people eating there seemed ot be out of the 20’s too, except for the one girl with the skin-tight red sequined pants. Hmmm? I hope that was his daughter?

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Denise excited for her ride on the “incline”.

Our ride back down was solo too. It was a great finish to a nice weekend to our city to the west. The city has a very special feel to it. It is big city with a small town feel to it. I always felt very safe here and it is so easy to get around. I think it will only get better in time. Hope to get back again soon.

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Last night in Pittsburgh. Glass of Wine at Le Mont overlooking the city. Great weekend in the city to our west.

Monday

We enjoyed another hotel breakfast and then packed up our stuff. We made one last stop at BRGR for lunch and then we were on our way back east on the PA Turnpike. Denise ended up getting sleepy, so I took over on the drive home. We had a pretty smooth drive with no traffic issues. It was a fun weekend, but back to reality.

Winter Cross-Training & Vacation 2014- Stowe, VT

We decided to change things up a bit this Winter. We have been spending our Winter vacations in Lake Placid, NY for the past several years. This year we decided to give Stowe, VT a try mostly because they had much more kilometers of skate skiing trails than what LP has and I was starting to feel like I could ski the Mt. Van Hoevenberg trails with my eyes closed. This is surely not to say that Van Ho is not challenging me anymore…it surely does kick my butt every Winter! I just needed a change of scenery.

The surprising thing is we actually ended up Alpine(downhill) skiing this week much more than we usually do. That basically means more than once or none really. We ended up finding some more reasonably priced mountains to ski. We also got some nice snow midweek, which helped too. We found a nice little apartment for two to rent right in the heart of downtown Stowe. It was the perfect base of operations for the week. I have to say I was a little disappointed with the layout of the town of Stowe. I thought it was going to be much more consolidated so that you could walk everywhere. It was not. There were many places located up Mountain Road which heads north towards the Stowe Resort. We were in the most consolidated part, but we ended up having to drive most of the time to get to restaurants. Regardless, I did grow accustomed to this by end of the week.

Saturday(2/1)

We were packed up and on the road by around 9:30AM. We wanted to hit a place called The Hungry Fish in Troy, New York for some slow-food and also try to beat the snow forecast for NY & Vermont later that afternoon. Denise drove the whole way up, so I had time to play around on my phone surfing the web and stuff. Lunch was pretty good and they had several plant-based options and some locally sourced, grass-fed meats for Denise. We were also entertained by some live guitar entertainment.

We got into Stowe around 5pm or so. It was getting dark and snowing pretty good at that point. We stopped at a little health food store just before Stowe and got some snacks and things. People were real nice and the guy grew up near Collegeville.

One way to kill some time on the long drive up to Stowe…

 

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Stowe apartment pano

We eventually arrived at the little apartment in Stowe and were pretty impressed from the beginning. The place was nicely furnished and very clean. Perfect place for the 2 of us to relax a bit for the week. We then headed out to the Crop Bistro & Brewery for some dinner. The place was pretty nice and fairly busy. They told us we may have to wait a bit, but everything came very quickly. They had a couple vegetarian/vegan dishes on the menu and great homemade microbrews. I was a happy camper. Our waitress, Kathrine, also hooked us up with some good local skiing info. Namely, Burke Mountain, which was $25 lift tickets on Sundays and it was about an hour east of Stowe. We were all over that tomorrow.

Sunday(2/2)

Sunday morning we got up and made some breakfast and were on our way to Burke Mountain near East Burke, VT. We didn’t realize this until later, but this is the same town that is base to the Kingdom Trails mountain biking network that we had looked at going to some years ago. The drive over was long and the roads were still kind of snowy. We got there around lunch time and had lunch in their Tamarack Bar & Grill. We had a nice table overlooking the mountain. Mountain was really nice and we found some pretty decent runs with ample snow on them. It was a pretty good deal!

We made the long drive back to Stowe, showered up and headed over to the Bangkok Bistro Thai restaurant on the hill in Stowe. Food was good and pretty spicy(I did ask for that). It was Super Bowl Sunday, so no one was in the place except for us. Go Seahawks!!

Monday(2/3)

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Trapp Family Lodge

On Monday morning we headed up the road to the Trapp Family Lodge to do a little skate-skiing. Denise wasn’t feeling quite up-to-snuff, so she decided to rent some classic cross-country ski’s for a more relaxed day in the snow. On my first run, I headed out on the Telemark trail which was a little tough for the first run of the day and year for that matter. It went uphill right away around the back of the lodge, but eventually mellowed out a bit. I then headed down to some of the lower Deer Pond Trail section ending with about 6.5 miles for the morning jaunt.

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We then drove down the street to the Deli at Trapp Lodge for some lunch. We quickly realized we could have just skiied there. Lunch was pretty good and the Beer was equally good. I had a pistachio hummus wrap and a mug of Dunkel Lager, which was good fuel for the afternoon ski session. For the afternoon ski, I headed out the Luce Trail and then hooked up with the Haul Road trail which skirted the border of the property. I bumped into Denise out there but then we parted ways at the Oslo trail intersection.

“Cherish the cabin!”

– Mr. Ross(Susans’ father on Seinfeld)

The Oslo trail sucked to say the least. It was steep uphill the whole way and I was dying. It did have nice scenery with the sun going down. I was planning on meeting Denise at the Slayton Pasture Cabin outpost. I eventually got there but Denise was still making her way around the mountain behind the cabin. Stopping at the cabin was a mistake as I got pretty cold as my sweat had chilled. I decided to ski out and meet Denise since the cabin was closing anyway.

For dinner we walked down the street to the The Whip Bar & Grill at the Green Mountain Inn for dinner. Food was very good and they had a nice selection of options. I had the Butternut Squash Ravioli, which was to die for! There bread was also incredible and I ate the whole loaf. What the hey…I burned a ton of calories today!!

Tuesday(2/4)

We enjoyed a nice, relaxing, and lazy morning on Tuesday. I enjoyed an extra cup of coffee while catching up on the latest the Internet had to offer. I eventually got a bit antsy and we headed out for a walk up through town to find the bike trail. It is located behind the Church in town and is well groomed for x-country and skate-skiing. It parallels Mountain Rd. and is far enough away so you feel a little bit out and about.

 

For lunch, we hit the Cafe on Main just down the street for a quick lunch. We enjoyed some soup and sandwiches. Denise dropped her glove over the counter and down into the store front window display. One of the skinny kids working there had to climb in and fish it out for her.

Later, I had Denise drop me off at the Stowe Cross-Country Ski Center which is located just before you reach the Stowe ski resort up Moutain Road. It was a bit more low-key than the Trapp Lodge, but was a little bit more expensive too. I heard it was more popular with the locals. I actually enjoyed the trails here much more than Trapp. They were a little more narrow(which isn’t always great), but they were well-groomed and I had the place all to myself. It was a hard climb all the way out to the farthest outskirts of the area and then fast downhill all the way back. Some school kids had come out later on and came flying by me in the other direction.

We headed up the street to Harrison’s for dinner. It was a little place tucked in the basement of one of the stores in town. We didn’t make reservations and it was busier than we expected, so we ended up eating at the bar. I had the Vegetable Stir-Fry which was REALLY good! Denise enjoyed her meal as well, but I had forgot what she had. Their menu seemed very similar to the Whips’ menu. They may be connected which isn’t that surprising since they are across the street from one another. Worth a trip here, but make a reservation just to be sure.

Wednesday

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We awoke to a fresh coating of Snow on Wednesday and it continued all day. I think we ended up with a foot overall. We decided to head up Mountain Road to the Matterhorn Bar for some lunch. The place was pretty empty and freezing cold, but the food was really good. I had the Pizza which was excellent and Denise had a salad that she also enjoyed. The snow continued to fall as we overlooked the frozen stream behind the restaurant. This is probably a really killer atmosphere in Summer time too.

After lunch we headed over to the Sterling Forest to do some snowshoeing. We found our way via some unplowed roads to the trailhead at the start of the Sterling Upper Gorge trail. The plow actually came threw right behind us. We enjoyed a beautiful hike through the woods while the snow continued to pile up. We passed a few backbountry skiiers coming out as we headed in, but other than that we had the place to ourselves. The following Stowe area map provides a nice overview of the trails in the area.

For dinner we headed to The Bistro at 10 Acres Lodge just outside of town as you head towards the Trapp Family Lodge. It was a nice, cozy little place with good food. I had the Indian Vegetable Curry dish which was killer. The Stowe or Vermont Tourist board was also filming a video while we were there, so we may even make the Fox News on Channel 44 up there. Stay tuned for that. Anyway, this was a really good meal and I highly recommend it. It was also rated as one of the best restaurants in Stowe.

 

Thursday

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We ventured about 45 minutes South on Thursday to do some skiing at Mad River Glen. MRG is a cooperative ski-area so it is owned by the public skiing shareholders. They pride themselves on preserving the traditional ski-area style complete with a single-person chair lift and NO SNOWBOARDERS!! (A beautiful thing!). They also have no snowmaking so they are dependent on the weather and getting good snow. Since we just got blanketed with a fresh foot of the white stuff, we figured this would be a good day to hit it. It did not let us down.

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We found some really nice runs with ample snow for some fine skiing. There were a couple bad ones and some barespots here and there, but nothing bad. The barespots were also grassy and not rocks, so it was not a big deal. It was also a beautiful day too. The lift tickets were only around $47 each if you purchased them online, which we did, so that was a nice little bonus as well. I will let the pictures say the rest…

Denise shreddin’ some turns on our favorite run of the day. It was the worst run to get to though.

 For dinner we headed back to The Crop Bar & Grill again. It was much less crowded this time, but the service was twice as slow. Hmmm. We sat in the bar(the nicer one) area this time. There were a handful of very loud drunkards at the bar when we first got there, but they soon left and things got back to normal decibel levels. For dinner I had asked if they could prepare the Chicken Green Curry dish without the chicken and put some of the veggies from the Winter “Spaghetti” Primavera in the dish instead. The waitress said no problem. While it was a little more tasty than the Winter “Spaghetti” Primavera dish, it didn’t really taste at all like Green Curry. Not sure what it was. I did eat it and didn’t complain since I was pretty hungry. I wasn’t totally impressed with this place this time.

Friday

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Jay Peak-It felt colder than this!

For our last full day in Vermont, we headed north towards the Canadian border to ski at Jay Peak. My wife always has horror stories about when she was young and here with family. It was apparently excruciatingly cold then and she has not forgotten it. Well, Jay Peak did not change too much…It was COLD!! Them temperature was actually much higher than yesterday at Mad River Glen, but the wind was brutal and it it was snowing most of the morning.

We payed for our most expensive lift tickets so far(~$70) and stood in the long, slow line for the tram to the top of the mountain. Fortunately, there was an entertaining gentleman ahead of us to listen to the whole time. We eventually got to the top and it was so brutal! Really high wind, snow and freakin’ cold. I could not even see my way down the trail.  We ventured around the mountain to find some more protected runs and eventually found some on the western side of the mountain.

 

Finally lunchtime arrived and we headed to Alice’s Table restaurant for some lunch. I had a extra beer because I really was in no hurry to get back out again to ski. Denise decided she was done, but I was venturing out for a few more runs. I headed up the eastern side of the mountain. It wasn’t too bad at first but then I came up over a ridge on the chairlift and the wind was brutal again. Ugh! The chair was swinging side-to-side it was blowing so hard. I made two runs that pretty much sucked and then I had enough.

We headed back to The Bistro at 10 Acres again for dinner. It was another good dinner there. Pretty consistent. A bit more crowded this time. We had made reservations on OpenTable which I would recommend, especially on a weekend. OpenTable is great for easily making reservations via the web and we use it a lot, especially when traveling. Also, here is a listing of all the Stowe Restaurants on OpenTable.

Saturday

Saturday morning we packed up and started on the long drive home. We stopped over in Burlington, VT to do some shopping at the Eastern Mountain Sports store which had a huge sale and we had some gift cards to use from Christmas time. Next we stopped for lunch at Magnolia Bistro in downtown Burlington. It is hidden away in a basement of a back alley building, so it is a little hard to find. It was very busy though and the food was delicious. They had all local, organic foods and plenty of veg-options.

One thing with Vermont is that almost every place is local and organic. It seems to be a given there. It is great! Most every place had some veg-only options too. I wish PA would get with the program with that stuff. VT almost felt like Europe in this respect. It was a great week with plenty of Winter activities. I took my running and swimming gear with me, but I never really needed it. There were so many other activities to do to take their place. There will be plenty of time for that stuff during the rest of the season.

The drive home was not too bad. Of course I wasn’t driving either…ha! We stopped in Clinton, NJ for dinner at one of our favorite Thai restaurants, Pru Thai. A good ending to a great week.

Thanks for reading!

 

Training Log-Prep Week 3-NYC & Miles For Meg

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Central Park Skating

I started off this week with a day off from official training, but that didn’t mean I didn’t rack up any miles on my feet. I attended the National Retailers Federation(NRF) expo at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City on Monday. My wife came along and while I was talking to vendors, she was out perusing the streets of the city. We took the Bieber Bus up and I ended up spending about 4 hours at the show. I set my Jambone UP to timer mode and it said I tracked about 2 miles while expo-ing. Walking and talking for 4 hours just exhausts me.

We made reservations that evening at Candle 79, which is a highly acclaimed vegan restaurant on East 79th Street just east of Central Park, so we had some time to kill. I stopped off at  B&H Photo on 34th & 9th Ave while Denise made her way up from Chelsea Market. It worked out perfectly as she was coming up the block as I exited the store. We then took the subway uptown and walked through Central Park for a bit. We still had a couple hours to go, so more walking. I tracked 10 miles for the day.

We eventually made our way to Candle 79. It was very nice and I was a bit overwhelmed by all the options that I could eat the menu. My wife, who is leans more to the Paleo side of things these days, didn’t have quite as many options. The tables were turned. I ended up overdoing it a bit with soup, appetizer and entree, but still found some room for dessert. It was pretty good.

Training

Enough of the gallivanting around NYC, and back to training. The work week was pretty basic with a couple rides on the trainer and a couple swims. On Wednesday, I did a graded treadmill test as per Joe Friels’ Triathlon Training Bible to measure my current LTHR for the start of the season. My results were not that impressive, but neither were my first FTP test. I hope to do this at the end of my prep phase and after each base phase to assess my run fitness and progress. My LTHR was around 167-170bpm.

image

Saturday was the Megsmiles day, in honor of Meg Cross Menzies who was tragically killed by a drunk driver while out on her morning run on January 13th. It was pretty fun following everyone who was cranking out some miles that day. I started out with a 2 hour trainer ride and then threw on my shorts and headed out for a 4 mile brick run after. I tried to take my dog Yuki, but he wasn’t too fond of the wind blowing in his face. It was a nice run, a little cool though.

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Running into the Sunset

Sunday I was feeling a bit groggy in the morning. Perhaps a 4 mile brick run after a 2 hour trainer ride was a bit much for this early in the season. Regardless, I did head over to Rodale Fitness Park for an EASY hour and ten minute LSD run. It was nice day for a run, but I was feeling it. I think I will take another Monday rest day next week.

That’s about it that week. Nothing too exciting. I do have a new race announcement coming that should be pretty cool. More on that later.

Cooper-Norcross Run The Bridge 10k-A Birthday 10k PR!

I had never run a 10k in my entire life until this year when I ran the Celtic Classic 10k in Bethlehem, PA this September. Since it was my first 10k it was obviously a PR, but I also came in 3rd place in my age group. I had then run another one in October as part of the Runner’s World Hat Trick, but didn’t PR since I had run a PR 5k immediately before that. My wife really wanted to run in an event on a birthdays(we are a day apart) but she did not have time to prepare for a half-marathon. So instead she found the Cooper-Norcross Run the Bridge 10k in Camden which seemed like a good alternative. Unfortunately, she ended up aggravating a metatarsal injury a couple weeks before and decided not to run at all. Now, I would be running by myself again and so I might as well try to better my 10k again.

I really didn’t have too much confidence I would do so. I had not run very much in the two weeks after the Runner’s World Hat Trick so I wasn’t sure how my fitness would hold up. I also knew that running bridges can be pretty tough from my experience at Ironman 70.3 Miami. They are like a big hill with no protection from any winds that may be blowing. The event started at the NJ side toll booth and went across to the PA side, turned around and came back and then through streets of downtown Camden, NJ(Yikes!!).

We decided to make a weekend out of it and stay overnight in Penn’s Landing. We got a room at the Holiday Inn Express Penn’s Landing right near Dave & Buster’s. It was a nice hotel, except that we were not able to check in until later that night after dinner. We ended up having to change in our car in the parking lot before walking to dinner. They also charged us $25 to park at the hotel, which is a ripoff too.

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Fall Colors in Washington Square Park

We walked to dinner at Talula’s Garden right next to Independence Hall. It was a really good farm-to-table restaurant, but they only had one vegetarian option on the menu which I thought was a bit sparse for this type of place. Regardless, it was very good. I had a pumpkin entrée and root vegetables with a Fegley’s Imperial Pumpkin ale. Definitely worth a stop if you are in town. Make reservations ahead of time though since they fill up fast.

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Independence Hall

When we got back to the hotel and finally got a room, we then had to deal with the most obnoxious neighbors in the room next to us. It sounded like a bunch of really drunk guys and they must have been practicing for a WWF match since they kept banging into the walls and yelling at the top of their lungs. I could not believe how anyone could have regard at all for others in a hotel. Fortunately they were not there too long and must have headed back out again since it had gotten quiet again.

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Washington Square Park Pano

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Liberty Bell at Night

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Night shot of i-95 and Ben Franklin Bridge from Market St. Bridge.

Just I had started drifting into some heavy REM sleep, I was woken up around 2:15am by our obnoxious neighbors walking down Columbus Blvd 4 floors below. It wasn’t too long before they were then heard banging on peoples doors as they made their way down the hall from the elevator. The steel cage match began again in the room and they were yelling at one of their compadres to “GET UP!!” who had most-likely passed out from their night of partying. Thankfully, before too long I heard a loud pounding knock on their down followed by a deep voice stating that he was “SECURITY!” Thank YOU!!! The noise immediately dropped a few decibels and then I heard some mumbling conversation and the door closing. The noise picked up a little bit and then slowly faded into silence again.

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Ben Franklin Bridge, Delaware River and Camden Waterfront night shot.

I had drifted back to sleep and didn’t wake again until my alarm went off at 5:30am. Not a bad night sleep considering. I slammed down a banana and few bars for breakfast before heading down to the lobby. Our car was parked in and I had to warn the car park attendant we needed to leave. He joked with me asking if I could possibly wait until later in the day to leave. When he saw my eyeballs bulging out of my sockets, he started laughing and said he was just kidding. Wise-guy!! We then grabbed some coffee and a few things at the hotel breakfast which was just opening up.

We then made our way over the bridge and into Camden. The main street down to the waterfront and Campbell’s field was a bumper-to-bumper slow go. There were about 4500 people participating in this event, so I think it is probably one of the largest 10k’s in the country. We eventually got a nice parking spot right across from the baseball park. The registration, packet pickup and finish line were all based in the Campbell’s baseball park and it was a long line to get into since they were checking everyone for security. It was a little breezy and chilly this morning, but really perfect running temperature. We picked up our race packet & t-shirts and headed back to the car. Denise was going to do the walk which basically just went back and forth over the bridge. We hung out in the car until the 8:30am start. I did some laps around the parking lot just to warm up a bit.

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Campbell’s Field and BFB

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Not often that you see us with different ages in writing. Nice to be younger for a day!

The race started at the bridge toll booths which were almost a mile away from the baseball park. We made the long slog with the rest of the herd of participants down Pearl St. which paralleled the bridge on the south side. We reached the start of the bridge and parted ways. I got into the 8 min/mi pace area which I thought was safe. It was a bit warmer being in the herd of people since it blocked the wind a bit and provided some body heat. Before long the horn blew and we were off.

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Starting crowd back to the BFB NJ Toll Booth

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The Starting Gate – BFB

On the climb up to the crest I was feeling really good despite the incline and it got even better on the decline. Making the turn on the PA side and heading back started to get a little tougher. I was only running an 8:11 pace for the first mile(about 2/3rds of span of the bridge) which would explain why it felt easy. I am sure that some of that was also dealing with navigating people too. I passed the leaders, going the other way, as I was almost to the PA side which surprised me a bit. I eventually hit the crest of the bridge and was relieved that it should be mostly downhill or flat from here. Time to turn it up a notch. I should be running mid 7:00’s from here on out.

I passed Denise, who was coming up the other side, as I was heading down to Camden. She shot the picture above as I passed. The hat came off as I got off the bridge and was starting to really heat up. I played around with stuffing it in my shorts, but it kept falling out so I just stuck it in my little pocket where I normally put my keys.

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Wow…I didn’t realize that hat looks that dorky. Glad I took it off eventually. So far still chipper.

The course was pretty flat as it made its way through the streets of downtown Camden. It didn’t really seem that bad there, but that could be cause it was 9am in the morning too. We did hit a little incline as we ran through Wiggins’ Waterfront Park along the Camden waterfront , which I wasn’t expecting. It seemed much bigger than it probably was. The worst part of the race was when we were heading down Delaware Ave and Campbell’s field was firmly in view. I started thinking just hold it flat straight down this street and then we had to make a hard right up Market St. taking us farther out of the way. It played with my head a bit, but it was only around the block so before I knew it we were back on Delaware Ave again. Then down into the back of the baseball park to the finish line. I tried to scan the people lining the finishing chute looking for Denise, but I never saw her. Apparently, she was still walking. I had my phone strapped to my arm, so I texted her to let her know I finished.

I crossed the line as the clock had read 27:58. I was pretty confident I was going to PR this one most of the way since I was holding pretty steady 7:30 pace. My previous PR was a 7:54 so that was fairly easy to figure out. I also knew that it had taken my at least 10 secs or more to reach the start line, so I was definitely under the clock time. I got my finisher medal and a couple bottles of water as I waited for Denise to show up. She eventually turned up and we headed up the stands into the concourse of the park. They had tables with food, but it was a lot of processed junk, so I just grabbed a couple bananas and a bagel that I never actually ate. I guess it should not be surprising that the food was processed junk since it was probably donated by Campbell’s Soup Corporation.

All-in-all it was a pretty fun birthday weekend. It was a shame that Denise could not run the event too, but she made a smart decision since she really wants to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon next May. I was pretty happy to have PR-ed my 10k for the second time this season and on the day before my 45th birthday too. Hopefully I can keep getting better with age!!

I think that will conclude my running events for this year. I am planning on taking totally off from running now for at least a couple weeks and let the legs recover a bit. I am going to start getting back in the pool regularly and on the bike trainer too. I also have a spare bathroom that needs completion before another triathlon season starts up again. Thanks for reading!

Haute Route 2013-Geneva to Chamonix

It was a quick two and a half hour flight to Geneva from Stockholm. We quickly made our way through passport control and into the baggage claim. I hunted around for a ATM while we waited for our one checked bag to hopefully come around the conveyor belt. We only check a bag because our trekking poles and my tripod most-likely be not allowed on the plane. There was no ATM, but they did have an currency exchange window where I exchanged enough USD’s to pay for our transportation to Chamonix.  We then anxiously awaited our bag to come flopping down the chute. It took its good old time as usual, but it finally did come. Ahh!! That is always a bit nerve-racking. We have been so lucky so many times, that I fear the next time is going to be the one where they lose our luggage.

We then looked around for the Alpy Bus desk which was our transportation to Chamonix. The Alpy Bus was the cheapest I found(~52 EUR for both of us) and they had very good reviews. When we found the desk there were a bunch of others there and we just had to wait for one more person. The other person came pretty quickly and we ended up leaving about 20 minutes early. The drive was around a hour and half and we made several stops before our hotel. We had left around 7:30PM, so it had gotten dark quickly and not much scenery to see. You could just make out Mont Blanc as we came into the valley as some last bits of daylight illuminated the white peak. I was glad we went with the Alpy Bus. I think it was a better move than trying to deal with the French trains which sounded much more complicated.

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They dropped us off at the back of the Hotel Richemond, which was the hotel we would be staying the next two nights in Chamonix. It was a very large, old concrete building and the decor inside matched it well. We quickly checked in, received our very large, heavy keychain, and took the tiny elevator to our room on the third floor. Room was also old style, but clean and comfortable. It had that old world style which really made you feel like you were in Europe. We quickly unloaded and made our way out into town to get some food.

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The Hotel was located on a main walking strip which had several restaurants and shopping. Most of the shops were closed but there was a lot of activity on the street. The North Face Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc was taking place the entire weekend which was pretty cool. There was a whole endurance vibe going which made me feel right at home. We walked around a bit and finally settled on a little Italian place called Casa Valerio which was right on the other side of the river from the hotel. It was a tiny place, but it was packed with people so we figured it must be good. There was a bunch of trail runners in there and a big table of Americans sitting behind us. We had a couple pizza’s, which were great, and some vino. Everything was really good.

We walked around town a bit after dinner and checked out the town. There was this street band marching around town playing this really catchy beat. It was drawing everyone in to see what it was all about. They kind of reminded me of some Mardi Gras-type band. Anyway, I have a video of it which will show you what I mean…

We had a really good night sleep after being awake for over 24 hours and made our way down for breakfast. It was the usual European hotel breakfast of croissants, bread, cereal, lunchmeat, juice, and coffee. I quickly broke my plant-based diet with some cereal & milk and a croissant with butter…Yum! That didn’t take long! I also had coffee which I had not had in awhile either. The view from the dining room was excellent. They had these very large windows that perfectly framed Mont Blanc and the surrounding peaks. It was like a giant 3D picture. There were several UT Mont-Blanc competitors having breakfast too. They were very easy to spot was they slowly hobbled bow-legged around the dining room. Ewwe…I know what that feels like!

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Shoe Shopping in Chamonix

A couple weeks prior to our trip, my wifes’ favorite pair of 10+ year old Lowa hiking shoes decided to self-destruct. This lead to a huge panic in an effort to finding a replacement pair in a short amount of time. Lowa’s current model was not the same quality as before, so that made things a bit more complicated. Also, the fact that there are no good outdoor stores in the Lehigh Valley(PA), forced her to mostly ordering online and driving down to Philadelphia. Our living room began to look like a shoe store with several sizes of each shoe were ordered. The credit card bill also began to rack up with many pairs of $100+ shoes ordered. She eventually found a pair that were not great, but were the best-fitting she could find. They were from Cabela’s of all places! I was teasing her about getting a bunch of camo attire to go with them. Anyway, she finally had hiking shoes but she was planning on looking in Chamonix too when we go there.

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Immediately after breakfast we made our way out of the hotel for some shoe shopping. The first store we stopped in she found a pair of Salewa approach-style hiking shoe that she really liked. She walked around in them for what seemed like forever and then we had to do the obligatory check of other shoes at other stores. Of course we came back to the Salewa’s again. They were not cheap, but hey if they worked it was worth it. While she was walking around I took the shoe box with her old shoes up to the La Post(Post Office) to see how much it would cost to ship home. It was only ~20 EUR which was great. I ran back to the store and she immediately bought the new ones in the Gore-Tex version which was another 30 EUR.

As we were walking down the street, her new shoes started making a clicking noise with each step. We checked them over rigorously, but still could not find what was causing it. So, back we go to the store to exchange them. The salesgirl looked them over, but could not find anything either. The only option was to go with the non-GoreTex model. She tried these and they were better. There was still a little clicking sound, but not as loud as the GTX model. We then exchanged them and the salesgirl refunded us the difference on my credit card. At least we thought she did at the time.

Finally we are done shoe shopping and make our way to the Post Office to send back the Cabela’s shoes. The Post Office is right next to the finish line for the UT Mont Blanc race so there are tons of people there. Just as we round the corner to the post office we see the galvanized metal garage door covering the entrance to the post office. I glance at the time on my iPhone and it is 12:05PM…they close at 12PM on Saturdays! Ugh! We stood there dumfounded for awhile. We were starting our hike tomorrow and they are closed on Sundays. We weren’t sure how long it would be until we got to another town that had a full-fledged post office. She would have to carry an extra pair of shoes for the next couple days at least. Bummer!

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Next, we headed out for a little day-hike to stretch the legs and Denise to try out her shoes a bit. We took part of the trails on the mountainside heading towards La Flegere, opposite of Mont Blanc, to get some views of Chamonix and the snow-covered peaks in the background. The trail we were on was used for the trail race, so runners were coming by every few minutes. We would clap for them and cheer them on a bit. It looked pretty brutal, but I have to say the thought of it started to swirl a bit in my head for a future event. Denise seemed to read my mind as she warned me “don’t get any ideas!”

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As we made our way up the hillside, the path went directly through a little cafe situated on the mountainside called Cafe La Floria. It was covered in beautiful flowers and had an amazing view. Runners were actually running through the seating area, which was quite narrow. We eventually dropped down and looped back to where we had started. We ended up doing around 4 miles or so. Denise’s shoes also stopped the clicking noise during the hike. She was not wishing she would have stuck with the Gore-Tex model. I thought it was a little ridiculous to need Gore-Tex for such a low shoe.

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We arrived back to the hotel, showered up and heading out for some dinner. We got a good recommendation for some pizza from the lady at the hotel lobby desk, so we headed up there. The place was called La Bartravel. It was right across from the Post Office, which we could state at menacingly during dinner. They had super large beers and killer pizza. Another good one. We were really diggin’ the pizza here as you can see. It was really good and probably the safest thing to order since we could not translate most things.

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We then walked around Chamonix a bit after dinner. The street band was out again playing their beats all around town. At one point we saw them overtaking a outdoor dining area at one of the local restaurants which was pretty funny. We headed back to the hotel to get a good nights sleep to get ready for the start of our Haute Route trek tomorrow.