Category Archives: Travel

Slow Walking in Italy

Slow Travel Fest for Nordic Walkers and others.

SlowTravelFest-logoThis announcement of the 2015 Slow Travel Fest is so intriguing (and tempting) that I am sharing it in its entirety. The website, alas, is only in Italian.  Here it is:

The inspiring new Slow Travel Fest, taking place in and around medieval Monteriggioni, near Siena in Italy from October 9 to 11, is offering walkers of all levels some unique propositions, as well as the chance to explore stunning Tuscan landscapes and the ancient pilgrim route – the Via Francigena.

This sustainable tourism focused festival – Italy’s only festival devoted solely to slow travel – will be welcoming walkers who wish to reconnect with nature, increase their health and fitness, discover incredible new villages, beauty spots and architecture, or simply walk for pleasure.

Continue reading Slow Walking in Italy

San Antonio’s Growing River Walk

More River Walk mileage good for fitness walking

RiverWalk-logoThe San Antonio River through the heart of the city long ago was channeled and is no longer truly natural, but the pay-off is the River Walk, a lively recreation and entertainment area. To attract visitors and as a local asset as well, architect Robert H. H. Hugman developed River Walk for  a 21-block section, completed in March of 1941, that transformed downtown through beautification, preservation and flood control. Further revitalization took place in advance of Hemisfair ‘68, the world’s fair to celebrate San Antonio’s 250th anniversary.

Today,  restaurants and hotels line the walkway below street level. From late morning till late at night, it is a popular place for dining, partying, strolling and people-watching.  Early in the morning, it is also a wonderful place for joggers and walkers, with or without poles.

A quiet time and place on the River Walk.
A quiet time and place on the River Walk.

As the River Walk is growing, less congested extensions suitable for fitness walking, with or without poles are being developed — and these also show greater 21st century regard for the natural environment and creativity. In the mid- 2000s, city leaders dreamed of expanding the River Walk to ultimately span 15 miles. The 1.33 mile Museum Reach north of downtown completed in 2009 features visual and aural works of art, terraces landscaped with native plants and pedestrian access to the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the historic Pearl Brewery complex. River taxis pass through a lock-and-dam system to transport visitors to and from the original River Walk area.

To the south, the one-mile Eagleland section incorporates ecosystem restoration, a walking path and hiking and biking trails. The Mission Reach section, opening in phases with completion slated for later this year, extends eight miles to Mission Espada. Key to this segment is restoration of the river and its banks for aquatic life and wildlife, along with construction of 15 miles of recreational trails, picnic and seating areas, pedestrian bridges, pavilions and portals to four Spanish colonial missions—Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada.

I just recently spent a long weekend in San Antonio, but with a full schedule, there was not enough time to put in any mileage on this beguiling walkway. Next visit.

To Petra with Nordic Walking Poles

Nordic Walkers spotted at Israel/Jordan border crossing

While in the Middle East recently, I half expected to see some Nordic Walkers on the broad recreational path along Tel Aviv’s scenic Mediterranean shoreline or in Eilat where the paved path skirting the Red Sea is referred to as “the boardwalk.” I didn’t spot any Nordic Walkers either place when I happened to be looking, but I did see Nordic Walkers on the Israeli side of the border with Jordan. Among a group of travelers waiting at the Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing was a group of eastern European visitors (probably Russians). Among them were twowomen  standing around with Nordic Walking poles, waiting for visas to be processed.

TWo women (one with a white outfit and the other with a black coat) have Nordic Walking poles. Only three of their four poles show in this picture.

I was on the lookout for her in Petra, the day-trip destination of just about everyone crossing into Jordan at that time, but I never saw their group again.

Snowshoe Mesa Verde Natl Park for Free

Free entry to  & activities in archeological park in January and February

My resolution again is to be more conscientious about maintaining this blog to encourage people to pick up poles for Nordic Walking whenever and wherever the ground is bare and poles plus snowshoes when it’s covered in white. There’s good news for snowshoers and in fact, all visitors to southwestern Colorado.

Entry to Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado is FREE during January and February. The park’s main road and Mesa Top Loop Road remain open throughout the winter, 8 a.m. to sunset, weather permitting. Bring your skinny skis or snowshoes to  explore four winter trails with a total of 28.4 miles of cross-country and snowshoe terrain, snow permitting. More than 20 miles are groomed; the remaining miles are located on Wetherill Road, closed to vehicular traffic in winter.

Seeing Mesa Verde's famous cliff dwellings sheltered under a commodious overhang shows how the ancestral pueblans lived through the winter there. (MVNP photos)

Moving across this timeless landscape with snow underfoot and the big blue dome overhead provides ample reason to explore Mesa Verde National Park, but don’t neglect is archeological treasures as well. The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum is open daily, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until March 10.  Put your snowshoes aside for an hour and  join a ranger for a FREE walking tour of Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde NP’s third-largest cliff dwelling and the only dwelling open during the winter, available daily at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Food is available at Spruce Tree Terrace, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. The park is near Mancos in southwestern Colorado. For more information, call the Chief Ranger’s office at 970-529-4622, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wish I Could be Nordic Walking in Napier

Schedule leaves no time for New Zealand coastal city’s fine recreational paths

I’m in New Zealand to attend the Society of American Travel Writers annual convention that will take place in Wellington on the south end of the North Island. My husband and I are part of a small group exploring wineries and restaurants of the Hawke’s Bay/Napier region for a few days before the convention. Particularly in light of the abundant food and drink, I miss my daily Nordic Walk. My tummy and taste buds are happy, but otherwide, I feel like a slug, eating, drinking and being driven around. The realization is painful, but without time to walk and stretch, it has become awkward to hop on and off the motorcoach.

Napier Rotary Pathway.

The schedule is too tight to get for more than a very, very short stroll even now and again. If I had any time beyond a few minutes , I would try to connect with a group of local walkers who could tell me about their lives in their lovely little city.  New Zealand in general and central New Zealand in particular have many such groups. Or, if I had time here, my poles and I might explore the miles of paved recreation paths around Napier. Funded by the Rotary Club and the city, the prettiest part follows the seafront for miles. I saw a group of fitness walkers striding down the path sans poles but with matching T-shirts, and Nordic Walking New Zealand offers courses in the Napier/Hawke’s Bat area.

The Rotary Pathway Trust was formed in 2002 to create combined walk and cycleways in much of  the city and outskirts with links accessing much of the Hawke’s Bay area, where possible utilizing  paths that were in place before the project was begun, hard beach frontages, rural roads  and riverbanks.

Paths are generally 2.5 meters wide, are suitable for all weather conditions and are well defined using concrete, lime sand and asphal pavement.  The routes are landscaped amd  provide seating, drinking  fountains, signage maps and information, exercise areas and shelter, and they are well lit around Marine Parade  and other high-use areas.

There is  currently a flat coastal route of about 25 miles to and through the picturesque coastal communities of Haumoana, Te Awanga and Clifton, including well-known Cape Kidnappers. Much, most or all of it seems suitable for walking. The inland Tukituki River Valley loop is described as “a flat off-road trail that overlooks vineyards on one side and the river on the other. It boasts changing scenery and views of the impressive Te Mata Peak, expansive Pacific Ocean views, world class wineries and beautiful countryside.”

I’ve seen much of this countryside through the bus window, and if I had time to explore on foot as well, I’d have shot at working off some of the wonderful food and wine. As it is, one of my “walks” was down the street from the hotel (actually, small apartments operated by Quest) to a clothing shop to buy new pants with an elastic waist.

New Easy-Access Backcountry Cabin

New cabin near Leadville, Colorado, ready for winter occupancy

Access to most of the 19 huts, cabins and A-frames owned or managed by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association is quite challenging for most snowshoers, requiring a long trek with a full pack from a trailhead and an equally grueling return, often with significant elevation gain.

The new privately owned Point Breeze Cabin near Leadville is located at an elevation of 10,500 feet and less than a mile from the Tennessee Pass Trailhead near the Continental Divide.  The elevation might be daunting for some lowlanders , but the distance and the minimal elevation difference between the trailhead and the cabin are snowshoer-friendly. It is within a couple hundred yards of the popular Continental Divide Cabinat the gateway to miles of snowshoeing in winter (Thanksgiving through April 30) and hiking in summer (June 1 through Thanksgiving).

Lee Rimel, a long-time Leadville local whom the Hut Association describes as a steward of the area, owns the cozy cabin that sleeps eight in two private bedrooms for two people each and four bunks in the common area, a complete kitchen with all utensils, three gas burners and a woodburning stove with an oven, plus a gas-fired outdoor grill, a small refrigerator and Graco Pack N Play mesh-sided bassinets/play yards/cribs for infants.

The entire cabin must be rented by a family or group of close-knit companions for $340 per night. Reservations for the winter season are being taken beginning November 9. Contact the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, 1280 Ute Avenue, Suite 21, Aspen, CO 81611; 970-925-5775  or E-mail huts@huts.org.

“The Way” Inspires Walking Tourism

Martin Sheen on screen is paving the way for American tourists to walk across northern Spain

When Eat, Pray, Love became a bestseller and then a movie, American women (in particular) headed for Italy, India and Indonesia to find themselves and their soulmates. Sheen carries a single picturesque wooden walking pole, but of course, modern-day pilgrims are likely to use a pair of poles. In any case, what author Elizabeth Gilbert and movie star Julia Roberts did for those three I-countries (was that intentional?, I wonder), “The Way” will doubtless do for the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain. It stars Martin Sheen and is less of a chick flick than EPL, so men as well as women will most likely be motivated to follow the fabled pilgrimage route, known in English as the Way of St. James.

The Plot: Sheen is an American doctor named Tom who goes to France to retrieve the ashes of his grown son who died during a storm while walking the ancient pilgrimage route (a Roman route before that) to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. In his grief and to honor his son’s personal mission, he decides to walk the same ancient spiritual trail where his son perished. Carrying his son’s pack, he embarks on a journey that ultimately includes encounters with others from around the world, some of whom are also lost or grieving, and seeking for greater meaning or spirituality in their lives. Call it Canterbury Tales for the 21st century.

The Prediction: American travelers (in particular) will start looking at northern Spain as they never did before. By mountain bike, on horseback, in organized tours complete with sag wagons but especially on foot, they will follow the path that Christian pilgrims have followed for more than a millennium. It has been designated a European Cultural Route and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at roughly 750 kilometers for the whole route, surely the longest, skinniest such “site.”

Actor Martin Sheen in a scene from "The Way."

The Pilgrimage Route: There is not just one El Camino de Santiago (the well-known Spanish name, or O Camiño de Santiago in Galacian, Chemin de St-Jacques in French, Jakobsweg in German, O Caminho de Santiago in Portuguese and Done Jakue bidea in Basque, which is useful to know since the long route crosses the Pyrenees, Sheen’s fictional son perished). The four main tourist/pilgrim routes start in various places and measure out to various distances, All are are well mapped, marked with a scallop symbol, documented in media from books to blogs, and on film and video. Churches, inns and other simple places of refuge where pilgrims can spend the night, have a meal and wash are the traditional accommodations, but greater comfort is available in hotels along the way too.

The splendid Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where St. James is believed to be bured and the goal of an ancient pilgrimage route.

The Passport & The Certificate: Much like the National Park Service’s popular passport that can be stamped at all NPS units, there is a Compostela passport called the credencial (or something like that). Collect stamps along the way to earn the compostela, a certificate of accomplishment given to those who arrive at the cathedral after walking a minimum of 100 kilometers (roughly 60 miles) or bicycling at least 200 kilometers. To earn it, many walkers make their way to Sarria by bus or train, and head out from there. A daily Pilgrim’s Mass at noon includes the “Hymn to Santiago” synchronized with the swinging of the Botafumeiro, an enormous metal incensory above the pilgrims’ heads.

The Tour Packages: Something like 150,000 pilgrims have completed the route in recent years, but I’m betting interest soars. As the film gains traction, additional tours will be added and more tour operators will get into the game, adding “The Way” package options. Here are a couple that can be booked now:

  • Sentiers de France’s self-guided 12-day program from Puy en Velay. Basic walking tour with lodging in 1- and 2-star hotels; “comfort” tour with lodging in 2- and 3-star “charming” hotels with some meals.
  • Marly Tours walking and bicycling itineraries include lodging, support vehicle, luggage transfer, itinerary, security and some meals, but pilgrims travel independently.
  • Fresco Tours has a dozen scheduled 10-day, 9-night walking tours for small groups between April and October 2012; included are ground transportation, lodging, meals, support vehicle and guide.

Door County Welcomes Snowshoers & Other Winter Visitors

Writer finds quiet sports that highlight the wintry months on Wisconsin peninsula  

That little orange spot on the map between Green Bay and the main body of Lake Michigan is the Door Peninsula.

Door County occupies a slender finger of land in the eastern Wisconsin, lying north/northeast of Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay, which is the Door County gateway community as well as home to the NFL’s Packers. The county, which is to say the peninsula, is a popular Midwestern warm-weather destination that is both rural and sporty. With a long Lake Michigan and Green Bay coastline, it’s splendid for sailing, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, fishing and enjoying the many beaches and the local fruit and other produce are fabulous too. Like so many summer places, Door County turns inward in winter, with the quiet sports of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing popular.

My friend Laurel Kallenbach has started writing about sustainable travel for a  the website of Greenwala,a loose collective dedicated to green living. She could have picked any number of tropical eco-tourism destinations, low-impact beach-bumming or a voluntourism project where visitors restore habitat, assist communities or do other good work. But for her inaugural column, she chose a cold-weather destination. Snowshoeing, a favorite activity of Nordic Walkers when there’s snow on the ground, is involved in two of her four recommendations in her piece, “4 Carbon-Neutral Ways to Enjoy Winter in Door County, Wisonsin.”

She suggests a horsedrawn sleighride through the vineyards and woods at the Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery, near Fish Creek. I’m all for helping wineries make it through the winter, so thumbs-up on that one. Snowshoeing at The Ridges Sanctuary, which also offers guided snowshoe walks in January.

In addition to 16 miles of groomed Nordic skiing trails with an additional 6 miles of ungroomed snowshoeing trails  through scenic and remote areas of Peninsula State Park. The park also offers 17 miles of separate snowmobile routes, but if that bothers you, better snowshoe elsewhere. Finally, she suggests candlelight cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or (if there isn’t a lot of snow) winter hiking at Door County’s state parks: Whitefish Dunes State Park: January 29; Peninsula State Park: February 5, and Newport State Park: February 12.  Terrific.

Winter in Door County, an online magazine, is an excellent resource for snowshoeing there.

Rick Deutsch Nordic Walks on Water!

More precisely,  Rick Deutsch’s annual Nordic Walking presentations on a cruise ship that floats on the water


San Jose, California-based trekker, guide and Nordic Walking instructor Rick Deutsch again led complimentary classes for passengers aboard Crystal Cruise’s “Serenity,” sailing around the boot of Italy from Venice to Monte Carlo. The cruise line reports that since the Nordic Walking program was launched a year ago, several hundred guests have tried fitness walking with lightweight poles.


Through a partnership with LEKI USA, Crystal continues to offer Nordic Walking as a fitness option at sea. Most cruise ships schedule one or two formal nights a week, and Rick was ready with his tux and his “dress poles” — actually his regular poles — but I like the image of formal Nordic Walking poles. We already have the tussle over whether one-piece or adjustable poles are preferable. A writer cleverer than I could parody it with a debate over casual poles versus dress poles, or day poles versus evening poles. But I’m getting silly.



I digress. Rick sent me a brief report about his Nordic Walking activities on the ship:


“We sailed  from Venice to Monte Carlo in early October. I taught Nordic Walking every day at 7 am and 5 pm. The classes are complimentary and we had a nearly full house at most sessions. The mornings are a tough play with so much going on AND folks enjoying sleeping in during their vacationn


” I also gave an overview / benefits presentation mid-week. We have 10 pairs of Leki Instructor model poles onand have just  each of the 2 ships in the fleet.  We just launched the Traveller poles for guests that want to purchase their own. The Travellers are 3-section (vs 2) so they pack much better. They were a hit with the guests.


” The Fitness Directors incorporate the benefits of Nordic Walking during their classes when I am not on board and they guide the 2 daily sessions. The complimentary program has be running a year and participation is increasing. We have exposed well over 1,000 people to Nordic Walking. People first feel their triceps working and it goes from there. The 360 degree Crystal Promenade deck is 1/3 of a mile around, so folks get a good workout. Many “walkers” are being converted into NW users.”



Another successful voyage for Nordic Walking, I’d say.

Black Forest: Nordic Walking Nirvana

Baiersbronn accommodates  Nordic Walkers

If you ever want confirmation that Germany is geared up for Nordic Walking, head to the Black Forest and especially to Baiersbronn,the largest town in the region that in itself consists of nine villages. It promotes itself as “Wanderhimmel,” which means hiking heaven. I think it is also Nordic Walking Nirvana. It is the jumping-off point for some 160 kilometers of signed Nordic Walking trails promoted as a Nordic Fitness Park. That’s more or less 100 miles.

A group of us — some using poles, others not — arrived at the railroad station to meet Patrick Schreib, the tourist office director, who led us from the trailhead along a stream called Schankenbach to Kniebis, the top of a short chairlift and a wonderful mountain hut. This fall walk on a wide, smooth trail offered views of foliage, late-blooming wildflowers, distant deer in a wildlife preserve, mushrooms and lovely scenery. Alas, there is nothing like this in the US, so if you want a Nordic Walking vacation, you’ll have to travel. I’m glad I did.

Baiersbronn's small railroad station includes a visitor information and hiking information center.
Guests who arrive before the info center opens or after it closes can get material from this automat.
Large trailhead map shows where you are and what your itinerary options are.

 

Trailhead signage also features illustrated technique information. The wide, smooth route begins by paralleling a lovely stream.
...whose bovine inhabitants might be along the route.

 

Of the flowers along the trail, the pink blossom that translates as "Japanese spring herb" was the loveliest. The blossom resembles a pink pea, and despite the name, was blooming in October.
Signs along theroute designate the named trail. Until recently, fall 2010 has been wet in the Black Forest, resulting in a fantastic display of various mushrooms right along the trail. I stopped to photograph a lot of them and wish I had a German mushroom book to ID them. More gentle width, even near the apex of our6-mile route.

IMHO, another reason to take a Black Forest walking vacation is that you don’t need a car. You can get there amazingly quickly by train from Frankfurt or Munich, and it you are overnighting, your local guest card provides free us of trains and buses. That means you can start at one trailhead, pull off at another and get back to your starting point. You just pay a nominal €1.80 tax for unlimited transportaion throughout the Black Forest region. Hard to beat, isn’t it?

If you have to wait for the next train or bus, there’s usually a little café or hütteto hang out until it comes — enjoying a coffee, a local sausage, a piece of pastray, wine or beer while you wait. Not a bad way to end a Nordic Walk.

 Spring and fall are the best Nordic Walking months. Summer can be steamy, and in winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the alternatives. If you don’t want to ferry your snowshoes across the Altantic, Baiersbronn’s hiking center even rents them.