I haven’t posted here in a while and with the time I have on my hands right now I probably should be.

Two coincidental events came together at the start of March 2020. One was me concluding that it was time to take a break from work. After nearly 13 years at the most recent company … I needed a change. The opportunity presented itself. Timing was right.

Meanwhile, the world was being consumed by COVID-19 and it only really hit the fan here in central Texas about mid March. Good timing to be around home!

Either way, and certainly together, I have been spending a lot more time at home. And I’ve taken at least some of that time and spent it getting out on my bike(s) more. The Garmin data is pretty clear. I recently snagged the data over the last year and since the start of March, I’ve logged a lot more time in the saddle:

Because of the pandemic, almost all of these miles are very close to home though.

Observations

I’ve always ridden close to home but typically my rides would be on weekends – and certainly not during a pandemic. These days a lot of my riding is on weekdays.

Early in the pandemic there were a TON of people that were getting out on the streets! In my suburban neighborhood I have never seen so many people out running, walking, & biking.

On the one hand it was and has been great to see so many people out exercising in some way. But on the other hand … lots of people have become obstacles in a way they never were in the past.

People like to be in groups and try to ‘socially distance’ from one another so they end up walking and running in the street instead of the sidewalks – and in the place I’m trying to bike (and stay away from cars too). Even now, there are lots of people to dodge on the street. Not as many as earlier this spring though. (People are increasingly back to work – and it’s also just getting a lot hotter here as summer approaches.)

Meanwhile, kids will be kids… they have no idea what side of the street to ride on. So they are often coming at you on the wrong side of the road. And you never know if they will decide to cross to the other side right in front of you.

And since I would typically ride the neighborhoods on weekends, I had no idea how many service vehicles are around during the day! In these neighborhoods, I think I know where a lot of stimulus checks are going. People are getting new floors, new roofs, new additions, new windows, new paint, … meanwhile there are landscaping crews with trucks and trailers and mowers and blowers everywhere! Then there are the pool cleaners (or installers!). And the power-washers. I had no idea so many people power-washed driveways and rock walls. Nor had I any idea how many people would be getting completely new lawns delivered on trucks.

I’ve also learned all the different schedules for garbage pickup around the different neighborhoods. If it’s Tuesday, the streets over in Glenlake are lined with garbage bins (and the trucks that pick it all up). If it’s Wednesday, Westminster and lower Riverplace are stacked with trash bins… you get the idea.

UPS, Fedex and innumerable delivery vehicles are in and around the neighborhoods all day everyday. Not unusual at any time but with the pandemic on .. it’s noticeably higher traffic by delivery vehicles. They are everywhere.

In any case, I had no idea how busy the streets would be around here during a typical day.

Best time to ride: Sunday morning. Nobody’s mowing (at least not landscape crews), and the service vehicles are all gone. Traffic is low. People are about, but it’s mostly quiet.

I hope to keep up my riding even as the summer heat comes on here in central Texas. At this point I’ve become used to the obstacles and plan and ride accordingly.

I need to find a way to cycle somewhere more remote on a regular basis but where? … that’s still TBD.

Fall Color

Since I have posted in past years about our Austin fall color I would be remiss if I didn’t jot some notes on this year’s display.

I’m actually writing this on New Year’s Day of 2019 and back dating this post but I’m trying to catch up on my notes here. Call it a new year’s resolution.

2018 fall colors came earlier than I remember in past years. In fact, if you click thru the link above I had noted last year that we usually see our best color around the solstice in late December. That was not the case in 2018. In fact, both the photos here were taken the weekend of Thanksgiving.

The red Oak leaves were shot in Hunt, Texas. And the shot below was just in my neighborhood here in Austin.

I wasn’t the only one that noticed the display of color this year. Here’s just one reference I recall running across late in the year.

Fall generally seemed to be wetter and cooler than I remember in past years and I gotta figure that was a factor. And maybe some perfectly timed sunny days.

Sunday afternoon in the hammock

So you might think that in Texas, lots of days would be ideal for just hanging around in a hammock. I mean, we get some pretty good weather year round and plenty of sun, but the reality is that there’s really only a few times a year that I think, wow, I have to take time out and get out there and just kick back in the hammock. The temp, the breeze, the humidity … it has to be right for me to want to [ideally] snooze in the hammock.

Today was one of those days.

At mid afternoon we had temps in the low to mid 80s and a light and occasional breeze that was just about perfect.

As I lay there gazing up into the Live Oak above me I was treated to some visitors. First came the woodpecker. Hard for me to tell what kind. It was very animated and jumping from branch to branch and pecking away. It appeared to have plenty to feast upon.

Then came the hummingbird that swooped in out of nowhere. Without the motion of its arrival I would never even have noticed it. At best, it was only 2 to 3 inches tall and once it lighted, it hung out on a branch for quite some time. It was practically invisible without the movement of flight.

The other visitor I noticed was a lizard shooting up the same tree. Again, hard to tell exactly what kind but there are so many Texas Spiny Lizards around here that’s likely to be the case in this instance too.

This warm and restful moment was accompanied by the scent of Star Jasmine. (see pic) My neighbor has some planted and over the years this vining plant has taken over a rock wall nearby. There’s nothing more evocative of late April and early May for me than this scent. It blooms in places around the city and central Texas and when I catch a whiff I just have to stop for a moment. It’s imprinted on me and as memorable as Lilacs, Bluebonnets and Easter Lilies.

yellow flower
Cactus

It’s that time of year in central Texas when things bloom and as it warms up in the spring in late April and into May, the yellows and reds seem to be more prevalent.

We’ve had a pretty good display of wildflowers this year. My last post here showed the bumper crop of Bluebonnets. Since then I’ve snagged a few shots of yellow flowers. My Instagram feed has, in fact, become a bit repetitious. Lots of flowers.

The two photos posted here though were a couple I didn’t post to Instagram. Both of these were taken on walks in my neighborhood.

I have no idea what the daisy-like flower is but we had a ton of them around here for a while.

As it’s warmed some more, the Prickly Pear cacti have really started to open up. This one here I caught shortly after a recent rain.

Click the photos for larger images.

It won’t be long now and it’ll start to feel a lot more like summer and only the hardiest plants will bloom around here. Even the birds seem to go somewhere else in the summer. But the cicadas … they always return. I have yet to hear them but they’ll begin to screech soon and that’ll be a sure sign that summer is upon us.

I mentioned the Bluebonnets in the last post so I’d be remiss if I didn’t post an obligatory shot of the Bluebonnets this year. We’ve gotten rain at the right times throughout the fall and through the winter and early spring and this year we’re seeing a bumper crop of Bluebonnets and other wildflowers.

I took this one just in the last hour or so on a walk at the end of the day. As you can see by the bit of light hitting the trees in the background it was before sunset but not by much.

I liked how this shot turned out. I captured one main Bluebonnet up front and in focus while you still get some perspective of how prolific the flowers have been this spring. There wasn’t much light left but – enough.

Spring arrived here in Austin weeks ago. The Bluebonnets and enumerable other wildflowers are and have been in bloom for weeks. The Live Oak leaves are fresh and bright green again and their old leaves are being blown or have been raked into piles and carted off.

That means that hot weather will be upon us in short order. You can sense it like a freight train coming around the bend. It may not be “Summer” here yet but hot weather is just around the next corner.

It has been sultry through the weekend and into the early part of this week. The breeze has been from southeast and temps have been near 80 and while not ‘hot’, it’s just warm enough and different enough to feel uncomfortable at times – particularly when at this time of year we tend to shut off both heat and AC and just open the window(s).

So it was very pleasant today to have a front blow through with a little rain late in the afternoon. I got home in time to throw open windows and door and let the low 60s temps flow in. Wonderful!

I snapped the photo included here out the back soon after getting home. We may get some more rain overnight. The skies sure looked like it. In the mean time, you can’t beat the cool breeze coming out of the North right now. A breath of fresh air.

It’s a new year and time once again to focus on a new goal to keep me in the saddle, so to speak. At this time of year, even here in Austin, it’s often gray and at least chilly if not actually cold (where cold is reserved for temps around freezing). As much as I always enjoy getting out to cycle, gray and chilly isn’t typically a recipe to motivate me to get out there.

But then the realization hits that I have a bike tour that I’ve already arranged for the new year. At least I’ve put a deposit down. I don’t have flights or any other details worked out. There’s still the ingress and egress to work out. Using a bike tour company, the getting there and getting away are the main challenges to work out.

This year I’ll be cycling Corsica and Sardinia. Here’s the tour company take on Corsica at least from when I expect to be cycling and the distance. Details at this juncture on things like elevation are limited but based on what I know, I expect the tour to be “lumpy”. These islands in the Mediterranean are not flat.

For Corsica, day 1 and day 11 with “no cycling” is typical. Actually, you do cycle on day 1 but it’s just to make sure your bike is in working order. It’s short.

Day 11 is a transition/travel day from Corsica to Sardinia.

Looks like a good mix of cycling and rest days. (Where some of those rest days may involving hiking or some other activity.) If you’re keeping score at home, my tally of the mileage works out to be around 719 miles.

I hope to be ready to simply enjoy those miles rather than consider them a major challenge. So… I’ve been getting rides in any time I can so far this year. And, I expect to keep that up.

If you search back in this blog you’ll find that it’s pretty typical for me to go out looking for fall color at the end of the year. Here in Austin what would qualify as our autumn and winter seasons can sometimes be counted in days so if and when we have some fall color I try to take notice and capture just a bit. Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons.

Like most years, fall color peaks in Austin, TX closer to the winter solstice rather than after September concludes as it does in the more northern climes. So these pics are of course recent and just prior to Christmas.

These three photos all come from a single end of year walk and in fact were probably all within 100 yards of one another. The office complex just a couple block walk from my place has some nice trees and landscaping so as I walked through the area I snapped a few pics. (I was of course under the watchful eye of some security dude in a pickup the whole time … which is kinda weird in a way but maybe something for another post.)

My favorite of the bunch was the still bright red Oak leaf juxtaposed alongside its siblings that had already dropped to the ground. It was the only one I posted to Instagram.

I like Cedar Elms and it’s typical of them to get a lovely yellow hue before the leaves drop completely so I think I caught this one just in time.

You can get a sense of the time of day as well as the kind of filtered solstice winter light at the end the afternoon in the last of the three pics. I think this is called Maiden Grass (it’s not full enough to be Pampas Grass). I have some at my home as well. It’s one of the ornamental grasses we have planted all over this part of the world. Looks good year round. It’ll get cut back and then reappear in the spring.

As you can see by the big grin on my face in the photo below our weather in central Texas has finally felt a bit more like fall in recent weeks. And that means that I can cycle at something other than the crack of dawn (or at least pretty early in the morning) to avoid the oppressive Texas heat.

While this particular bike ride in the photo was out in the Texas hill country earlier in October we’ve generally had some pretty good weekends for cycling throughout October. While I’ve backdated this post I’m actually writing this toward the end of October on the 29th. This weekend and particularly today, the 29th, was superb for getting outdoors and cycling. I did a city ride of around 24 miles today and it was a perfect day to be out. As I write this the day finishes with mid 70s and abundant sun. You gotta love fall weather in Texas.

Out Cycling Between Burnet and Bertram, Texas

The bike tour I mentioned in an earlier post is now over and I’m back at home.

The brief recap: the tour had us cycling from Venice (actually very near Venice in the smaller outer town of Mira) to Konstanz, Germany. We headed north through Italy to Austria and then on to Germany.

If you only read this far, let me just say it was a wonderful bike tour through northern Italy and into Austria and Germany punctuated by just about every emotion you might want from a bicycle tour. From the exhilaration of descending mountain passes on winding roads in wonderful weather, to quiet scenic roads, to struggling up mountain passes when the wind was against you and it was starting to rain, to full on down-pouring rain, to some white-knuckled rides in what seemed to me to be some highly trafficked roads. Oh, and those dark tunnels… So, just about perfect! Just the diversion desired.

I typically have high hopes that I’m gonna post something here every day of such a bike tour but that ends up just not very practical. For one I tend to spend a fair bit of time digging through photos and finding links to things when I post and there’s just not time for that. I could adopt a different strategy and just make posts very short and sweet but I use Facebook and Instagram for that sort of stuff. The other primary reason is I’m just preoccupied. When you’re not cycling you’re either prepping to cycle or just enjoying yourself after cycling or with other tour participants.

And then practically, the wifi often sucks at many hotels and uploading photos or otherwise using the internet is marginal at best.

So, I’m gonna try to just summarize and then follow up with some other posts. Let’s see if I can get at least that accomplished.

See the map to get a better idea of the route covered:

This comes from combined Garmin data over 10 days of riding. If my Garmin data is reasonably accurate, we covered 462 miles and approx 42,500 feet of elevation (amount climbed in aggregate). Those are the major aggregate stats. Some days were harder than others based on factors of the day – heat, rain, steep climbs.

As you can see from the following elevation profile over the 462 miles, we climbed slow but sure from the coast of Italy and into the Dolomites. Those spikes in the overall profile were mountain passes we did along the way. It may not look like much in this context. Those spikes were a lot of work. 🙂

Highlights

Wine & Food

What would a visit to Italy be without some good wine?

Right from the start, and particularly toward the end of the first day of riding we began to see vineyards. That first day’s route took us from from Mira to San Pietro di Barbozza. The photo below was taken from the hotel stay at the end of the ride. Beautiful wine country and home of very good Prosecco (sparkling) wines from the Valdobbiadene region. (DOCG wine designation.)

The forecast on that 1st real day of riding was for rain. Ugh! And not just rain but ‘thunderstorms’. But we (or rather, many of us) managed to avoid the rain on that day. The route was pretty flat and 86K so we made hay while the sun shined and even with a stop for lunch in one of the small towns along the way we were in by 1:30pm. But not 20 minutes later, I looked out and saw that the rain had started. And then it just unloaded and came down in buckets. Some folks on the ride got drenched. Not only was there a lot of rain, but the wind picked up and it became a raging storm for at least an hour.

That kind of rain forecast pretty much stuck with us for the entire 2 weeks. It might rain overnight or early and then there would be dry (enough) weather to take off and ride for most of the day. But by afternoon, there would be rain again. If you timed things right, you could miss the big rains.

Late in the day of that 1st day of riding the rain subsided and we walked to a tasting of some excellent Prosecco wines (a Brut, a Very Dry and a Dry). Suffice to say they were all very good but I was more fond of the first two. The 3rd starting to be just a little too sweet for my taste.

As we walked to dinner that evening at Trattoria alla Cima it started to rain again and by the time we were seated at the restaurant it was a raging storm again. Dinner though was top notch and just a ton of food. There was a plate of starters and then a course of pasta with mushrooms, followed by a course of wonderfully done beef with potatoes, eggplant and zucchini. I was stuffed after all that (I had seconds on the pasta!) but of course had to try some of the Tiramisu for dessert. It’s a good thing we had ridden 86K.

There would be other wine and great food along the way and not surprisingly the cycling made for good appetites and the freedom to eat whatever we wanted along the way.

Scenic Mountains & Climbs

It didn’t take long in the tour for the terrain to become much hillier and mountainous. That made for spectacular scenery and some choice mountain passes.

The photo you see here is from very early on in my climb up Passo Falzarego from Cortina, Italy. We have only just begun the climb but the views are great! The town you see in the valley in the photo is Cortina. Click through the links for more insights on both of these.

We woke to fantastic weather the morning we rode up the Falzarego pass. Nice temps and little chance of rain. An excellent day to make the climb.

You’ll find alongside a couple photos of me during the climb as well as at the top.

In my experience you need to bring enough gear and layers to account for both heat and cold and possibly wet weather. You can see here I’m wearing a jacket. Near and at the top, it was chilly! A key reason I have a rack on the back of my bike is to stow the extra layers.

On the climb up we were really sweating but with the temp plus the humidity early in the ride I could see my breath as I huffed and puffed up the climb.

At the top I donned leg warmers and thicker gloves for the descent. Without the jacket and other gear you can get really cold on these long descents at high altitude. Your hands can easily go numb since you’re constantly gripping the brakes and your hands are cold anyway.

It’s always nice to find a little bar/cafe at the top of such climbs. In this case I went in and had a coffee and a bottle of water. The tour guides in both cases took these pictures of me. They were also very conveniently along the route for refill of water — though on this particular climb there were places that would have been easy to stop for that.

There were other days of big climbs that followed. Not least of which was a couple of days later when we did a loop ride out of Corvara. We did 4 mountain passes that day: Gardena, Sella, Pordoi and Campolongo. Regarding the links, I think I have the directions correct for which way we went up the passes.

I already posted some pics and notes from that day in a Facebook album so I won’t repeat here. Click thru the link for more of that day.

What turned out to be the most challenging climb of the tour for me – and the group, judging by the sentiments expressed after the ride – was the day we climbed the Hahntennjoch pass in Austria.

I’ve included here the result of the Garmin data from that day. We spent the morning riding a pleasant bike route along the Inn River. Generally the morning was a flat route though we did have some wind in our face that day and it was warming up fast. By the time we’d covered 40 miles and stopped for a bite of lunch, it was getting just plain hot. The lunch break in Imst was helpful though for the calories because even before you leave the town you begin to climb and it gets steep right away. And then you climb for about 9 miles. As you can see in the speed graph, my pace really slowed down! Click for a more detailed climb profile.

The climb was steep and toward the top it began to rain and the wind picked up more. As you can see in the temperature graph in the image the temp really dropped as I approached the top. The Garmin recorded 50s (F) but it sure seemed chillier than that. But … wind and some rain.

Finally at the top, the descent down to the small town of Elmen was fantastic. At one point as we came out of the switchbacks I stopped to take a photo. (My bike is facing the opposite way I’m descending. You can see the road up ahead down below my vantage in the pic.)

Tour Participants

Aside from myself and a guy from Hong Kong, all the tour participants were from Australia. The tour idea originated from AllTrails in Australia hence the group dynamics.

You often spend breakfast, lunch and dinner with folks on such a tour so it’s great when you find folks you can easily get along with for that much time.

I tended to spend the most time with the three guys in the photo here. We rode at a close enough pace to one another that typically at coffee stops and lunch stops we’d grab a table together. From left to right in the pic: Antony (who took the photo — it was bright out so I think he’s struggling to see he’s got this photo framed right), then me, Peter, and Jeff. The waitress was a surprise addition to the photo since we were all looking the other way and she seemed to get a kick out of it.

We often ended up at dinner at the same table too. Antony was a wine fan and so we often went in halves on a wine for dinner.

Here’s the whole group:

From the left (and more for my memory than for you the reader) : Bob (from Tasmania), Lisa (tour guide), Jeff, Richard (owner/operator of AllTrails), Antony, me, Jo (married to Richard), Di, Peter, Jan, Mary, Tana (married to Bob), Barry, Percy (from Hong Kong).

Only three of us (Antony, me and Percy) signed up for just the 1st half of the tour to Konstanz. Everyone else (plus a rider that only joined the 2nd half) continued on to ride all the way to Paris.

I’ll finish this section with one last photo of the usual suspects taken by Antony. Half the fun of these group bike tours is after all the hard work of cycling you clean up and spend time socializing with the other folks on the ride. Stories of the day. Politics. The locals or tourists walking by. You name it, we probably talked about it. This shot was taken in the old town and after arrival in Innsbruck on a particularly warm day. We had to stay hydrated of course …

After my recent bike tour I spent a few days in Lucern, Switzerland. Or, as my title would suggest: Lucerne or Luzern. The city names all seem to be interchangeable and it all depends on what you’re reading. The train station is ‘Luzern’ and that’s pretty official! Google maps will find them all.

The photo I put at the top is one among my favs of my short visit but I must have taken hundreds between the lake view and the mountain hikes and in between. This shot was taken from the back of one of the many tour boats that ply the lake all day long. The gulls like to follow them as the boats take off and churn up the water.

I have made a short visit to Lucern in the past but it was long ago. Almost 20 years ago. What I remembered was that it was a very beautiful spot and so I wanted to return for a short stay before heading home via Zurich, an hour away.

My hotel stay for the duration turned out to be just right for me. I snagged the photo of the hotel along the way. When I say ‘just right’ it turned out to have some things that I really liked: first among them was that I could drive up and park right next to it since I had a car, and they had parking. Then (as planned) I had booked a lake side room and even though the [single] room was ridiculously small it had all I needed AND the little balcony. I could sit for hours just having the door open to that balcony and watch the world below go by. The weather changed by the minute. The boats came and went. So despite the crackerbox room, the ability to enjoy the view from that perch was worth the 4-star price of admission.

On my first full day in Lucern I was up early and arranged to make my way to nearby Mt Rigi. The plan was to get to the top while the morning sun was still allowing great views and then hike.

I chose to take advantage of the well established tourist route to the top of Rigi: I booked a round trip via the Vierwaldstättersee to the top of Rigi. What that implied was the following itinerary: 1st, that you take a lovely boat ride down the lake to Vitznau and from there, a cogwheel train up to the very top of Mt Rigi at around 5900 ft above sea level.

One of the photos I have here is of the gondola ride back down later. It’s stunning to me the height at which you descend. I have no idea how high up it is but let’s just say I’m thrilled that it was in a glassed in gondola and not just open to the air. It’s frighteningly high.

Once at the top I chose to hike for a good chunk of the way back down. It’s not surprisingly very pretty. And based on the rains that seem to come a bit every day, very verdant. There were also lovely flowers clinging to the rocky mountain trail. I don’t know the names of these but I loved the blue ones I have posted here.

There were many flowers along the way. The ones above and the one I have below were just a couple of the many along the trail back down. These are just a couple of my favs.

Choosing to take the cogwheel trail all the way to the top and then hike down is, trust me, a winning strategy. It’s a long way up! (i.e. aroudn 5900 feet) and to walk up would be interesting for sure but also a big undertaking. Keep in mind I’d just finished a bike tour. The hiking I factored in could be classified as ‘easy’ hiking.

Toward the very top of Rigi I encountered these cows just off the trail. Most of the cows you saw along the trail were in distance so these so close were pretty cool.

Many of the cows wear a big bell around their neck. I’m not sure why it’s not all of the cows but it definitely seems to be only some of the cows. Anyway, it makes a lotta noise! For people like me that don’t hear this often it’s kinda charming. But between the cow bells and the church bells ringing through the day in this neck of the woods you’d hard pressed not to have bells ringing in your head day and night. As enjoyable as it is as a tourist I gotta figure the locals just tune it out – but I’m sure it does serve a purpose for finding these critters up in the mountains.

I took a similar day hike up a different mountain on another day after this one and may post some of those photos and notes too but the full day on Rigi is one not to be missed if the weather allows it!

I’m backdating this post so it’ll be a little odd that I’m referencing a New York Times article “Venice, Invaded by Tourists, Risks Becoming ‘Disneyland on the Sea’” that was published in early August 2017, and yet I thought it better to date the post when I actually visited.

The NY Times article was, however, pretty interesting for perhaps no other reason than it highlights just how much of a tourist haven that Venice has become. And even more so because they refer to it as Disneyland. This was exactly my thought after arriving in the city. It’s just so picture perfect.

And speaking of pictures, I took many photos during my short 3 day stay in Venice but I have only posted 3 of my favorites here.

The top photo was taken late in the day from the Rialto Bridge. There are only four bridges across the Grand Canal and as you might imagine given the tourists they are all pretty heavily traveled. No doubt I had to almost muscle my way to the edge of the bridge to take this photo.

Despite the overall negative tone of the NY Times article and how the city is overrun with tourists, I still found the city an enchanting place to hang out for a few days. I arrived jet lagged to hang out before beginning a bike tour that would leave from very near the heart of the city. And yes, I did find the city crowded with tourists but having been to the city only once before – and back in the early 90s – I would have to say it didn’t seem any worse or different. On that particular occasion I was most certainly a day tripper arriving on the train from Milan. The city was jammed with people as I recall and it was the same this time.

That said, it was not hard to wander away from the main places like the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco and find that crush of crowds was diminished.

Case in point … The photo I have here of the gondolier rowing up one of the many side canals that are everywhere throughout the city. Note how few people are along the streets next to the this canal. You could find similar throughout the city. Quiet spots with wonderful views and sights to see.

Side note: I don’t know whether these two in the photo are coworkers or brother and sister or what but given the romantic nature of the moment they don’t appear to be “together”. They are about as far apart as you can get in a gondola. Maybe they had an argument earlier in the day … who’s to know? But to me the city seems to really be ideally suited to a romantic getaway. (You can shop till you drop too of course but the authentic feel of the buildings and canals still seems to suggest the reason you go is ideally suited to couples.)

If it had not been for the bike tour I was joining, Venice would probably not have been high on my list of destinations. It’s beautiful of course and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit but I’ve been once long ago – and half the charm is the city hasn’t changed all that much in centuries – and if I were to go again I’d rather have someone join me.

This next photo was taken from one of the Vaporetto that ply the Grand Canal day and night. You do get a sense of the tourist crowd on the Vaporettos for sure. These are basically water buses that go up and down the canal and they are very handy but also packed. It was standing room only and given the temp was quite warm I was fine with that because I would find a place up near the front of the boat to catch the breeze.

I liked this photo in part because of the reflected light but also the brisk business of restaurants and the gondoliers along the Grand Canal.

Thought I’d finish up this post with a few notes about logistics for a visit to Venice. If nothing else, I may be able to refer back to this if I ever plan to go again.

Years ago I had arrived by train. This time though I flew into the local airport. The airport is actually a pretty good distance from the old island city. You have options to get into the city but the main ones are to either to take the bus (low cost), take a regular taxi (car, mid cost) or to take a water taxi (high cost). There may be others … I used this website and found it to be very helpful.

After having traveled over night I was not interested in waiting whatever amount of time it might take for the bus into the city so I opted to take a taxi to the main jump off point of the city, Piazzale Roma. The buses arrive at the same place. And so do the trains for that matter.

If you bus or taxi the way I did to Roma you still have to make it to your hotel destination. There are again options but I simply chose to hoof it. The advantage of taking a water taxi from the airport is you would typically not have to worry about the 2nd leg. The water taxi could very likely take you within steps of your hotel. But it’s also probably > 100 Euro for the one way trip.

Traveling with bike gear – including a bike – I left almost all of it behind at the airport at “left luggage”. 7 Euro per bag for 24 hours. (2017 prices). Worth the cost. There’s absolutely no reason to take large luggage into the city of Venice. Travel as light as possible into the city. I took only a backpack and lived out of it for 3 days just fine.

One last note about traveling around once you arrive. The Vaporettos are so easy and so frequent you have to use them. Basically a bus on water, they allow for a multi day pass you can buy. Online notes like you find at http://europeforvisitors.com/venice/articles/buying-vaporetto-tickets.htm are great and yet what it doesn’t tell you is you can also avoid any lines to buy a ticket and just do it all online using a mobile phone app. I got the app and bought via it and never had a problem. The only tricky bit was that few of the many Vaporetto stations actually have a QR Code reader so you just get on the boat and ignore it. For those (main) stations that have a reader you just skip the line and hold your phone showing the code under the reader and the gate opens like magic. All aboard!

Around Christmas time I was pretty set on doing an interesting bike tour once summer rolled around. I found one that fit the ‘interesting’ criteria and where the timing would pretty well suit as well. And so, I’ve been trying to routinely ride since then. Nothing like planning a bike tour to motivate you to get out on your bike!

On many of my rides since Christmas I’ve had a Garmin device on the bike. Perhaps the majority of the rides – but not all of them. But I found it pretty interesting that the Garmin website had a calendar view that identified the days that you had logged a ride. You can see a screen shot of the calendar in this post.

Seems pretty clear that the time I get a chance to ride has mostly been on the weekends. But I’ve tried to step it up a bit and get in some mid week rides at the end of the work day as well. It’s been easier to do that after Daylight Saving Time kicked in, and while we haven’t gotten into the truly hot weather of central Texas.

If I can keep a similar routine up I hope it’ll make the tour more enjoyable.

We took time out over the Memorial Day holiday weekend to head out into the Texas Hill Country to enjoy some wine tasting at a couple of really great Texas wineries.

‘Wine Country’ in this part of the world often implies just one stretch of highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, TX. (About an hour+ west of Austin.) And indeed these two wineries were 10 minutes apart on that very stretch of road around Stonewall. That so many wineries have popped up in that area is no surprise. Fredericksburg is very popular and that stretch of road is highly trafficked. But in reality, while there are grapes growing in the area and on the estates, much if not most of the fruit in Texas wine comes from the ‘high plains’ – up near Lubbock. Soil and temp conditions are just better up there. But… nobody goes up there if they can avoid it so consequently the wine biz has set up shop in central TX. They do grow fruit in the hill country though and have for ages … but most of it used to be peaches. There are still peaches of course but now there’s a lot more vines and grapes.

This visit out that way was mainly to catch a [relative] newcomer to the area. Kuhlman Cellars has only been there a couple of years, and yet judging by the quality of the wine, you’d never know that. I was throughly impressed with the experience.

You need a reservation for a tasting at Kulhman and if same-day, you can call them. In this case though I made the reservation online the day before. That was handy. I got the “Signature Food and Wine Pairing”. It’s the way to go I think. It was a few bucks more but the food pairings were a nice addition and enhanced the experience.

The tasting was a sit-down event and just about right on time per the reservation. A sit-down tasting / pairing isn’t something I see often at hill country wineries but I really liked it. I snapped a shot of the food pairings which you can see here in this post.

We were ably guided through our tasting by Jeremy Wilson. Follow the link to his blog postings at the Kuhlman Cellars blog. By his description, his job is essentially anything that needs to get done. From planting in the vineyard to driving the forklift – but he really likes doing the tastings and explaining everything. He’s very knowledgable about the regional wines.

We were fortunate enough to also briefly meet and say hello to the winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne. She’s originally from France. Her mom was visiting from France and was there that afternoon for a tasting, which was kinda cute. Follow the link for a bio.

There were 5 wines tasted and I enjoyed each. The Sauvignon Blanc was a surprise and very nice. “Green apple, pear and gooseberry.. crisp acidity”. You’d never guess the fruit came from Ft Stockton way out in west TX.

The reds in general were lovely but the 2014 Barranca was a standout. Tasting notes: “violets, sweet baking spice, cedar cigar box and cherry, .., dark chocolate, creme fraiche and intense mineralogy”. (I’m always amazed at how wine writers come up with these descriptions.) Anyway, it was 31% Mourvedre, 30% Tempranillo, 24% Malbec and 15% Sangiovese .. and it was yummy. Pricey at $36/bottle but as things go this is pretty much a specialty item and nicely done at that so you’ll pay a little more.

The photo at the bottom of the post of the vines and grapes is, if my notes are correct, Marsanne. You can read all about this at the winery’s own blog post here.

With plenty of time left of the afternoon we decided to also take in Hilmy Cellars 10 min down the road. I had been there only once and was impressed with their wines. So, off we went.

You can see another couple photos here from Hilmy. The first is one is of their 2015 Persephone. A blend of 2/3 Viognier and 1/3 Chenin Blanc. The white wines in general at Hilmy were excellent. My fav was their 2015 100% Viognier. A bit more floral than the other two white but with enough acid not to make it cloying.

The reds were equally enjoyable but the 100% Sangiovese was my fav and is it then any surprise that we got one of those with a plan to stop by Sorellina pizza on the way back to Austin for a couple of pies? Great combo! (Sorellina is just on the Austin side of the bridge over the Pedernales river and well worth the drive out west on hwy 71 if you wanna take the time.)

The guy in the photo at the bottom is Michael at Hilmy. Didn’t catch his last name. He’s only been in the area for 3 months. He moved from California. He was very knowledgable about the wines though and as you can see, he clearly enjoys what he’s doing.

Vines and Grapes at Kuhlman Cellars, Stonewall, Texas

The Willamette Valley came to Austin – at least for one night. I’m a big fan of Oregon wines and have written here before about visits up there. So I was excited to see an event called “Pinot in the City” come up right here in Austin that showcased nothing but Oregon wines from the Willamette valley area.

First and foremost I appreciated that the organizers somehow managed to make the winery to taster ratio a very good one so that we weren’t all just packed in there like sardines and making it difficult to get a tasting. In fact, it was a pleasure to just take our time, have a bit of food and then go check out the next winery that looked interesting.

In the end, I made note of my two favorites. One white and one red. Perhaps not surprisingly these came from two wineries I have visited in the past. And while these I noted as my favorites, there was nothing that I didn’t like.

The first of these was the Pinot Blanc from Brooks. When I saw they had a white I at first assumed it’d be a Riesling. They make excellent Riesling! But instead it was this 2014 Pinot Blanc. Lemon lime with a round and reasonably full body. I’d love to find some more of this. I don’t see this particular year available on the Brooks website but they have the 2015 there. Might have to give that one a try.

My favorite Pinot Noir of the night, by a nose – because there were so many good ones – was the 2013 Lange Pinot Noir Reserve. If you click through to their website you’ll find tasting notes there which who am I to argue with:

“Bright and lively, the palate shows an array of red berry fruit layered with sweet herbs and hints of rich earth.”

Lange is a lovely little winery to visit I might add. I have been there at least a couple times and hope to visit again one day.