It’s been another fun year of posting to Instagram. For the last couple of years there’s been a website you can use to collect the nine photos you’ve posted that got the most likes – from upper left to lower right. I wouldn’t use the term ‘best’ for these. They’re just the ones that happened to get the most likes. Sometimes that’s just a matter of timing or the hashtags that might have been used. Head over to Instagram and add your own like if any of them grab you.

Instagram 2016 Nine Most Liked

The only time I go out of my way go to Las Vegas is when there is a work related event there. The glitz of Las Vegas can be fun to look at but there’s something very unnatural about Vegas. I suppose that’s an understatement. This glitzy place with large water attractions like the one at the Bellagio and yet it’s right in the middle of the desert.

Regardless, it’s very photogenic and can be a fun place to wander the streets with a camera in hand. Over three nights while there I snapped the photos I’ve posted here. If you follow my Instagram account I posted these there but thought I’d capture some notes about them here as well.

Elvis and his dancing girl were standing on the street outside Caesar’s Palace and begging for attention. Quite literally. For a tip each they were happy to give me a great pose and show those great pearly whites. I really liked how this one turned out, considering how quickly it all transpired. There was not much setup time here. Just a few seconds. It was probably 40 degrees out there at that point so I’m not sure how long they were on the street. Probably not too long.

The black and whites below were each taken on separate nights on different sections of the strip.

The ballerina was all alone and had some music playing but was otherwise seemingly oblivious to passersby. But she was actually a pretty good dancer. I took several shots but this one turned out the best. She wasn’t in this pose but for an instant. And I was lucky to have so little traffic in the background.

The cowboy accordian player was on one of those pedestrian bridges over the street and between hotels. He had a tip basket out and I passed him twice – once going and later returning. On the return trip I tipped him and asked if I could take his picture. As you can see he agreed but he also asked me where I was from and then immediately broke into “Deep in the Heart of Texas” on his accordian.

The last guy with the guitar was out there a couple nights in a row on the bridge between Caesar’s and the Bellagio. I think I tipped him both times I walked by him. He was pretty good. I snagged this shot that second night I saw him out there.

These were some of the interesting people on the strip in the evenings that seemed very approachable. At other times – and particularly very early in the morning – there were some really sketchy people out there. They probably wouldn’t have been too happy with me taking their photo – and I was conference bound anyway.

I did leave Vegas though with the thought it’d be fun to go back and spend more time with the camera and on the streets there, seeing what I might be able to capture.

 

Day 3 had doing a loop ride out of Rocamadour and then right back to stay at the same hotel as day 2.

The weather and the riding on the routes in this area were again fantastic and especially in the morning.

The photo at the boulangerie (bakery) was a particularly fun little stop in the morning. Nothing fancy, just some good coffee and a croissant. That’s Jim on the left there, me on the right.

By mid day we had arrived at a planned activity for the day and that was a visit to Gouffre de Padirac. Quite touristy but also actually pretty cool – quite literally. You descend into this giant hole in the ground to find some spectacular caverns and an underground river. And, it was much cooler down there than up top so I was glad that we had been given a heads up to bring something more to wear. I was also glad to not be in cycling shoes down there. It’s wet, its slippery and you actually do quite a bit of walking up and down stairs.

You’re prohibited from taking photos while on the tour (though that has to be hard to police and I saw more than 1 tourist being admonished) so consequently I don’t have any to post here. I would suggest instead you check out the official website.

The darker evening photo was taken from our terrace dinner location back in Rocamadour. Rocamadour is pretty small. There where other restaurant options but many of us – based on recommendation – opted to eat again at the same terrace restaurant we had been at the night before. Food was again good – I got the duck. The most enjoyable part though was simply being able to dine outdoors in what amounted to room temperature. It was really perfect weather to be outdoors in the evening.

I’d be remiss while I jot notes about Rocamadour if I didn’t also mention the cheese I ate at every opportunity while visiting. I’d never actually heard of it before the visit but the 1st night it was served as part of the dessert courses and then I noticed it was available (along with some meats/cheese) at breakfast the next morning. It was rather aptly named Rocamadour Cheese and was a little goat cheese served in a small flat and round shape. I’ll look for it around here in Austin but I don’t expect to find it. I did, however, find it in other nearby towns. In fact, I bought some more in the town of Sarlat, which would be our next destination.

One last photo. This one was taken from my hotel room window just about sunrise as we prepared to head out and ride to our next destination.

From Rocamadour

Day 2 had us heading off from Brive to the little village of Rocamadour.

Check out the link to read more about Rocamadour but as you can see from the photo it’s a beautiful little town tucked into the limestone cliffs. As you can also see, the weather we had that day was spectacular. Warm but not hot – at least by Texas standards for the time of year.

The route from Brive to Rocamadour was in my opinion outstanding. While there’s undoubtedly some troublesome traffic to endure as you leave the center of Brive, once you’re out on the rural roads it was quiet, quaint, rolling and picturesque.

Not far out of Brive we had a pre-arranged visit planned at a little farm and bakery. Had this not been pre-arranged it would have been very easy to simply roll by just another farm. But having pulled in, we were directed into a little barn and inside was the owner of the farm/bakery was a big wood fired oven and a whole lot of loaves of bread and bread-making equipment. He was also in the midst of making more bread with plenty of doughy goodness ready to be stuffed in the oven. You can see a photo here of some of the loaves in a big bin. The best part of course was sampling the fresh bread!

After leaving the bread behind and what seemed like a relatively short ride on our route we passed through another pretty little town named Collonges-la-Rouge. The town is clearly mostly a tourist attraction at this point but it’s beautiful. I didn’t take a lot of photos here but you can see one I’ve included. The town was built entirely of red sandstone bricks. Had I arrived post the noon hour I would have been inclined to stop for lunch at what looked like some interesting little places. I was a little too early though so I kept on.

Our route that day was 47-something miles and the afternoon presented both some warmer temps and some hill climbs. Challenging enough but the grades were not that bad and the roads were quiet. It was an outstanding route into Rocamadour.

Rocamadour consisted of pretty much one main street at the base of the cliff. Along the street were mostly shops and restaurants and hotels. It definitely exists mainly as a tourist destination though I would say I didn’t find the touristy bits to be too overdone. In late August, we were told the crowds were much less than just a couple weeks before.

Our hotel was right in the center of the town and conveniently had two highlights: the first was that it had a really inviting terrace/bar next to the hotel. It was shaded in the afternoon and afforded good people watching at the same time. Our crew of riders and guides gravitated to the terrace given the fantastic weather and tasty beverages. You can see a photo of some of the group laughing it up at the terrace bar post that 2nd day ride. Good times.

The other good thing about the hotel turned out to be its restaurant. The food was excellent and it too had a terrace. Loved dining outdoors!

Next day: a loop ride and right back to Rocamadour.

Alright, let’s get to the cycling already. I mean, that’s the main reason I traveled to France this year, right?

There are a lot of different ways to do bicycle touring. I’m open to most of the options when it comes right down to it but in recent years tend to favor bike tours where you pay a tour company to literally do all the heavy lifting for you. The routes are time tested, you ride from town to town, hotel to hotel. Guides are with you all along the way with van support, water, snacks. They handle the details and you just enjoy yourself. Most meals are included. You enjoy the cycling and more often than not it’s just a good time.

Oh, but then of course you pay for all that convenience. But where in the world is that not true.

Sometimes I might bring my own bike on a tour like this one (like last year) but this time I took one of theirs. It really all depends on what the tour company has to offer. In this case, it was a titanium bike with plenty of gear ratios. My bike has better componentry but this time I concluded not by a wide enough margin to be a factor. So, I brought my bike shoes, seat & pedals (and seat post – which I’ll explain later) and it worked out fine.

The photo above is of the group getting all fitted and ready to start the tour. 11 riders, 2 two guides. Nice ratio.

The ride on the 1st day on a tour like this is invariably something short. I would hazard a guess the main point is just to check out the gear and make sure you don’t have any major surprises. Any bike tour company I’ve used operates this way – and yet I always wish we’d just get on with it and get in a good ride. At least this year it was a nice little lumpy loop ride that we could just do a 2nd time if we wanted more time in the saddle.

The other photo here is of the group at the first dinner. Intros all around, great food & wine, and you can see of course it also makes for a good point at which to review the next day’s route map and elevation profile. In this case we were gearing up for 47 miles and some hilly terrain. Nothing mountainous in this part of the world.

More on the next day’s route in the next post.

After my overnight at Le Petite Clos I headed for Brive and what would be the start of my bike tour down the Dordogne river valley.

I arrived a day early knowing I typically take a couple of days to deal with jet lag.

Brive seems like some other small cities I have visited in Europe in that it has something of a sprawling and modern outskirts and then a very small historical core center, often with one or more lovely old church or similar historic buildings. In my jet lagged stupor I mostly just walked and browsed the little side streets of the central core.

My hotel, the Truffe Noire, which you see pictured in this posting was essentially on the edge of the historical center. Other than it’s convenient location, the restaurant was the key feature that otherwise set the hotel apart. The food was good. The room was nothing special but then I didn’t spend much time there.

You can see my room from the front of the hotel because it’s the one, again, with the window wide open. The weather was nice.

The other photo below was the view out my window.

The hotel was the meet-up point for the bike tour and even before the official metope time on my 2nd day at the hotel we started to meet one another. But we all got together officially at 2pm in biking gear to ready bikes and do our first short loop ride.

Next up: we’re off to Rocamadour.

One of the fun things about visiting France is happening across the markets – what we’d refer to as a farmer’s market – that you find in the little towns and cities. I stumbled on this one in Brive on a Tuesday morning before the bike tour group met and just a short walk from the hotel. I didn’t investigate but based on the weekday time and the location of the market (under a big shelter house) they may run it every day. In other little towns they block off and take over the streets of the town/city.

This one in Brive had plenty of interesting things to choose from. Vegetables, flowers, meats and cheeses of all kinds. If I’d been staying in a house as opposed to a hotel room and about to bike out of the city I would’ve gotten some things for later. But it’s still fun to look.

For bigger versions of the images, click through to open new windows.

1st Stop: Le Petite Clos

I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything since January. I should go back and post date some travel experiences. I may just do that but then this post will look a little odd because the casual observer will see postings between Jan and August and then this comment will be a little out of context. Anyway … I’m off to France! Actually, I’ve already been and am just now starting to take some time to post some of the photos and maybe a few notes. More than just the caption in a photo album would allow.

As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I love to travel but the connections to my destination of choice are often the most exhausting part of the experience.

As with my trip to Spain a year ago I chose this time to simply rent a car upon arrival to make my connection to what would be the start of another bicycle tour. And as with last year I strategically found a small inn just a couple hours out of my arrival city to hole up and relax for a bit. (I use the map view of TripAdvisor to essentially do the equivalent of throwing a dart at a spot on the map that seems about where I would want to end up and then see what’s around there that looks interesting.) In this case, that was the small town of Chaumont sur Tharonne just a few miles off the Autoroute.

I really enjoyed my short stay at Le Petite Clos. This place is indeed small as you can see in the photo. (5 rooms) I had the room upstairs in the corner. The one with the window that is wide open.

My host Rene was both helpful and friendly. After showing me my room he offered coffee and cookies at a table outdoors in the garden area. Perfect place to unwind. And I needed the coffee. Experience shows that getting off my caffeine schedule can be one of the worst parts of jet lag.

Absolutely nothing was going on in Chaumont sur Tharonne on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing was open. No restaurants open either. And when I tried a nearby town, nothing I found of interest open there either. I was thankful for snacks I still had in my carry-on bag.

Breakfast in the morning was great. French toast, fruit, yogurt, croissant, coffee. Good for the 3’ish hour trip that remained to get to Brive. On to Brive…

Le Petite Clos

I’ve been wanting to try out Launderette in Austin for some time. Nothing really stopping me other than taking time to actually plan because the place is routinely booked up. And I can now see why.

For a change I touched base with someone at Launderette much earlier than I typically would and arranged for a table for New Year’s Eve. Having never been there I suppose it might have been considered a gamble on whether it’d pan out but reviews have been good.

Suffice to say everything – including the service and new year party atmosphere – were fantastic.

Ok, on to my notes. I snagged the menu off the website and I’m glad they had it there so I didn’t have to type it in. Let’s get started…

First Course

Choice Of:Rabbit Terrine
Boston Mackerel Crudo
French Onion Soup
Frisée Salad

I can have a salad anytime – and I make a good salad – so that was out as 1st choice. And I’m sure the French Onion soup would have been great but we went for things we wouldn’t normally find: the rabbit and the mackerel crudo.

The rabbit terrine was sort of like a pâté. Not entirely spreadable but close. Excellent flavor and particularly with the Langhe Nebbiolo we chose to go along with the meal.

The mackerel was a much smaller portion and indeed raw but it packed a punch. It was very spicy but in a good way.

A great start!

Second Course

Choice Of:Razor Clam
Truffle Gnudi
Boneless Sardine
Roasted Kabocha

Here I went with the truffled Gnudi. Had no idea what Gnudi was but the waiter helped and I know I like truffles and how can you go wrong as anything billed as a little dumpling? Click the above link for more on what Gnudi is.

Third Course

Choice Of:Duck Breast
Short Rib
Squid Ink Cavatelli
Loup De Mer En Brodo

We opted for the duck breast and short rib. Both were absolutely fantastic. Might be the best short rib I’ve ever had.

Neither were large portions but they were just enough. When the time came though, we were ready for the:

Fourth Course

Choice Of:Disco Trifle
Champagne Baked Alaska
Million Dollar Chocolate
Etherealmisu

We opted for the baked Alaska and the million dollar chocolate. Wow! These were both great. I especially liked the touch to add the gold leaf to the million dollar chocolate.

Great way to bring in the new year and I’ll be headed back at the first opportunity. Photos here are a couple I took of neon sign out front and a shot of the restaurant from the parking lot. The place was literally a laundromat prior to its current state as a restaurant and I guess you can kinda tell that from the look. It’s had quite a transformation into a restaurant though.

Launderette, Austin, Texas

I created an instagram account back in 2012 and promptly didn’t actually do anything with it. It was no doubt a busy time. I didn’t really start doing anything with it until just over a year ago. Since then, I’ve posted every few days. And sometimes I post more than once a day, but rarely more than that. (Actually I think it can be irksome to find someone you follow posting more than that.)

So what changed? I’ve enjoyed photography since I was a kid, but in the last couple of years I have renewed interest and the digital cameras and editing software available these days are very good. I’ve also found it to be a fun distraction at the end of the day. I can get into rush hour traffic, or I can take to the street, get in a walk and snag a few photos along the way. Both the popularity and simplicity of the instagram app have made it interesting as well. We all have phones practically glued to us.

Below are the 2015 stats by the numbers. From virtually no posts at the end of 2014 to 246 posts as I write this. Stats courtesy of the https://squarelovin.com website.
Instagram Posts 2015
The photos you see along with this post are the ones that have turned out to be the most popular (at least by way of ‘like’ counts) during the course of the year. The bicycle shadow with leaves was the most popular. And it should also be obvious that Austin folks and myself really like the Austin skyline. We do have a beautiful city.

I’d like to keep the same pace of posting next year but time will tell. This is most definitely a hobby and then there’s the real life & job.

I had the pleasure once again of taking some time out late on a Sunday morning for the once a month ‘classes’ that are put on by Hudson’s on the Bend chef Jeff Blank and team. Always fun and as usual, the food was fantastic.

That’s chef Jeff Blank on the left. He supervises and comments along the way as his team makes all the food.

I quote ‘classes’ above only because it’s really more of a cooking demonstration. The team of chefs make everything right in front of you and tell you what they’re doing all along the way. Along the way the staff keeps you lubricated with wine as you enjoy the show. Lake Travis forms the backdrop when it’s outdoors like the day I was there.

The menu of the day varies and on this particular day it was in my opinion: awesome for the season.

We started things off with “Wild Game Chili“. This was probably some of the best tasting chili I can remember. Of course, when you see what they put in there you can see why:

  • venison
  • wild boar
  • onion
  • garlic
  • bacon
  • freshly made veal stock
  • ancho chilis
  • poblano chilis
  • + other seasonings and goodness

You can see a photo below of the big pot they made it in. It smelled as good as it tasted.

Next up after the chili came “New Orleans BBQ ‘big ass’ Shrimp“. They referred to them as ‘big ass’ shrimp because they special order them for their size. The term also reminds me of George Carlin’s quote about “jumbo shrimp”:

The term Jumbo Shrimp has always amazed me. What is a Jumbo Shrimp? I mean, it’s like Military Intelligence – the words don’t go together, man.

This dish had LOTS of butter along with garlic, and a tasty collection of spices: bay leaves, rosemary (freshly cut from the yard), oregano, basil, paprika, black pepper, cayenne.

We’re not done yet, then there was also “Espresso Rubbed Venison Backstrap with lump crab in Chipotle Bock Beer Blanc Butter“. This one was was done up in a stovetop smoker that you can also see to the right on the stove in the pic here. Smokey flavors were excellent.

And for dessert? “Brownie Bread Pudding“. Wow, this one was decadent. Chocolate chips melted down with butter, sugar, vanilla bean paste, eggs, flour. They first make up a batch of brownies with the main ingredients and then they go crazy and break it all up in a pan and add 2 quarts of heavy cream and a dozen eggs. Mix ‘er all up and bake. Holy smokes. A little of this goes a long ways.

After the demonstration everyone goes to the restaurant not too far from the demonstration at Jeff Blank’s home and the restaurant staff serves all of these great dishes up.

Don’t worry about the calories on a day like this. Just go and enjoy it.

I’m finally getting around to jotting just a few notes on a two week bike tour I did this past summer. I really enjoyed this bike tour and while this short posting won’t do two weeks and 12 days of riding justice in terms of the experience I’ll at least give a high level perspective on the tour.

Nothing like a map to provide a little context so that’s where I’ll start. As you can see, the tour starts up near the French border in a little town named Roncesvalles and makes its way across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. The Camino – literally ‘The Way’ – is historically a Christian pilgrimage route.

These days the Camino has become something of a tourist fav or both hikers and cyclists – whether they’re on a pilgrimage or not. There are many tour companies that’ll help coordinate and plan your way to Santiago. It was also obvious that many along the way were packing everything with them – either on their bike or on their back. Let’s just say I was glad to be on my bike and letting someone else cart the luggage from place to place.

The terrain and architecture change quite a bit as you make your way across the country. At the start in Roncesvlles, the towns and architecture look more alpine than you might otherwise expect but then it is certainly up there in the hills. In fact, upon arrival, it was chilly, wet and foggy. But the morning we left couldn’t have been better weather. I think we lucked out generally. The weather was excellent all along the route. We dodged rain a few times and it was certainly warm a few days but not bad.

The actual Camino route is mostly a trail. Sometimes it’s off road, sometimes it runs along the road and sometimes it is the road. Since we were on road bikes we deviated from the traditional route from time to time.

If you’re going to do the route, I highly recommend you get a credencial. It’s essentially a type of passport and churches and other places along the way have stamps to prove you have made your way along the pilgrimage. Mostly it’s just fun to fill it up with stamps. You have to stop at churches and take a look around, and then sure enough you find someone there to stamp your credencial. In Santiago you can get an official document as proof of your journey.

Had I gone to more effort to chronicle the trip from day to day I might have a lot more notes here. Each day really deserves its own set of notes. Every little town you stop in along the way is interesting.

Though I liked all the places we stopped, I particularly liked going through the Basque and Rioja wine regions. I’ve included a photo of me along the way in that area between Laguardia and Haro. It was one of my favorite routes/days. Low traffic, winding through vineyards with great weather. What more do you want as a cyclist?

The map here plus the stats below that follow came from a little Garmin bike computer I took along. The elevation profile below is telling. While clearly not a flat route, the terrain is not mountainous. We never got over 5000 feet of elevation. But there were days that had a bit more elevation gain.

From left to right, that first spike in the elevation profile was the route into Laguardia.

The tour was done in two week-long editions. You could do either one, or both. I and 4 others did both. The rest of the tour group – another dozen – met us mid way and did the latter half of the route. As you can see from the elevation profile, the 2nd half of the tour had a couple more interesting climbs. That said, only a couple few of us actually did those climbs. The tour group arranged for transport for most on that spike in the middle. Most chose that as a hiking day along the Camino. The climb wasn’t that bad though. And yet I was glad that we went up the direction we did. Note the backside of that mid spike in the elevation profile. It was a very steep descent!

That long and mostly flat section in the middle of the elevation profile was referred to as The Meseta. The inner plateau. It had everything from vineyards, to sunflowers, poppies and wheat fields. Our longest day of 70 miles was on the Meseta. The photo included above in this posting of the open road and wide open spaces was on the Meseta.

You can also see some of the tour group below. One of the guys snapped a good shot of us on our way to the last group dinner.

Cycling Through Rioja

Last Dinner Group

The Stats


I hadn’t been out to the Salt Lick in a long time. But, it’s the kind of place that doesn’t change that much over the years. With it being the Thanksgiving Day weekend it wasn’t like I was in need of a lot more food. I’ve been more than well fed in recent days. But with some out-of-towners saying they really wanted to go to the Salt Lick it seemed like a good day to go check it out again.

With weather wet and in the 40’s I would have figured there wasn’t a lot of folks that were interested in getting out and driving down to the Driftwood area to have a big meal of BBQ. But then of course I’d be wrong. Now as crowds go, they can be a lot larger at the Salt Lick. You can wait for hours. But arriving mid afternoon on a holiday weekend Sunday, we got in right away.

I got the baby back ribs but had the luxury of sampling some of the brisket as well as the sausage. The ribs and the brisket were very enjoyable. Wasn’t as much of a fan of the sausage. BBQ aficionados from here in central Texas can sometimes pooh-pooh the Salt Lick. It’s touristy and this or that and doesn’t measure up to some other vaunted BBQ place somewhere in TX. But they’re popular and have been for ages for a reason. It tastes good. And the service is good especially considering the throng of people they deal with routinely.

These days, they also have a wine tasting place right on the other side of the dining room where you can find Texas wines that just happen to go quite well with a plate of BBQ. We opted for a bottle of Fall Creek Tempranillo sourced from the Salt Lick vineyard. Can’t get more local than that, and it worked well with the barbecue.

Sides were potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, jalapeños, pickles, onions and mounds of bread. I passed on the onions and bread but tried the rest. All fine if not exactly piping hot. I’m not as much of a fan of the sauces but that’s just personal taste.

All in all, can’t beat a trip out to the start of the hill country and some tasty BBQ. A nice finish to the Thanksgiving Day weekend.

With temps hovering in the low 40’s and everything looking wet and gray it wasn’t exactly an inviting day for my usual weekend pursuit of cycling so it was time to hit the trail. And since I’m routinely in search of fall color around here at this time of year it was a good opportunity to look for some colorful foliage.

Rusty Yellow

Many of the leaves this year have a kind of rusty appearance. Like the color just couldn’t quite take hold. I wonder if it’s because it’s been very wet – for Austin – this fall?

We don’t seem to get those big hillsides full of colorful trees around here so you have to get close to take in the color. Real close!

I spotted this little group of leaves shortly after getting on the trail. When I see three leaves together like this my first thought is always poison ivy but I don’t think that’s what this is. But who knows?

Wet Leaves

A bit further down the trail, I happened upon a section that was mostly leaves underfoot. The tree above was practically bare already. I really liked the colors though. This spot just off the trail hadn’t been trampled.

Red Leaves

This pretty tree was next to where the trail was covered by leaves. Loved the color. Here again though some of that rusty kind of color.

Can’t Quite Decide

The reds and greens together on these oak leaves were beautiful. But it’s like the tree couldn’t quite decide it was time to get colorful or not. Both brilliant green and brilliant red at the same time.

I think I have gotten my fall color fix in at this point but I may yet spot some more this year.

Just when I think our fall color for the year is gone I run across a bit more while out and about today. As my earlier note suggested, we can see spurts of color emerge from Oct to Christmas around here. It’s just rarely a whole lot at once. When I spot it, I admire it and if I’m lucky enough to have a camera handy I’ll snag a shot. Today was one of those days. I noticed this at the intersection of Hwy 2222 and Hwy 360 earlier this afternoon. I don’t know what kind of tree it is, but it’s one of the few species this year with brightly colored leaves. Can anyone tell me?