October 28, 2017

Augusta Raurica

The work week over, I headed west to visit some friends near Basel.

Saturday started with a visit to Augusta Raurica, a site near the Rhine that had been a bustling Roman city for a few hundred years (with more than 15,000 inhabitants) .

Some features remain, some have been restored. Over the centuries, people naturally reclaimed stones from the abandoned city for new buildings. The amphitheatre faces stone steps leading up the hill to what remains of the temple.

A section of the aqueduct is displayed, along with statues and carved stones that have been excavated. This triumphant warrior, victorious over the foe trampled by his mighty steed, is long gone but not forgotten (nearly 2,000 years later).

We next drove to the top of Schartenflue, to begin a hike along the ridgeline.

The plan was to hike to Seewen, but the trails were unmarked after leaving the summit and (not surprisingly) we strayed off course. We made our way to the town of Hochwald instead.

The views were limited, but what's not to like about tromping through the forest on a crisp fall afternoon?

We finished the day with a performance of La Traviata in Basel.

At the first intermission, another patron struck up a conversation with my friends. When he turned to me, they explained that I don't speak German. “English,” I smiled. Evidently he was a fellow American ... and not familiar with the story line. “No,” I assured him, the dazzling setting for the first act was not a “beauty parlor” by day.

Opera is not my thing, really, but Corinne Winters was riveting as Violetta. After the final act, I thought we might never leave the theatre—there were that many curtain calls. Simply, wow.

October 26, 2017

Herbst in Zürich

Autumn in Zürich. It was surprisingly warm, with flowers blooming. Leaves were still changing color and falling.

Arching trees and a leaf-strewn path along the Sihl River, Zürich, Switzerland
Each morning I'd pass this lonely elephant and giraffe in a local park. Children were on their way to school, no time for playful climbing. I felt sad about graffiti on the elephant's ear; there seemed to be more graffiti everywhere, this trip.

Elephant and giraffe play structures made of wood and rope, along the Sihl River, Zürich, Switzerland
While the iconography on street signs is sometimes baffling, the message near some tram tracks was clear enough (even for those of us who don't know that “gleis” means “track.” [Except that, now we do!]

Warning sign showing a cyclist flipping over the handlebars, front wheel caught in tram tracks, Zürich, Switzerland
I could have biked to the office, but didn't feel confident enough about the rules and traffic patterns. My route entailed crossing up and over some railway tracks, with elevators on both sides. Cyclists, however, are meant to take the stairs: note the narrow trough at the base of each railing. Cyclists need not portage their bikes; they simply roll the wheels along the edge as they climb and descend the stairs. [Brilliant!] This accommodation is not an add-on: it's part of each concrete step.

Concrete steps leading to bridge over rail tracks, edged with a path for rolling bicycle wheels, Zürich, Switzerland
The days were shorter, this time of year; the sun had long set by the time I walked back to the apartment each evening. The bridge over the tracks was photo-worthy, at night.

Steps and elevator to cross rail tracks, lit up at night, Zürich, Switzerland
The days were also packed with meetings, leaving no real time to explore. I was proud, though, to master the route to and from the office, navigating by landmarks rather than GPS after the first day.

Nighttime view of the towers of the Grossmünster church and other church towers reflected in the lake, Zürich, Switzerland
As Friday approached, my colleagues seemed disappointed that I would already be heading back. Hmm, two weeks, next time? [I'm in!]

October 22, 2017

The Uetliberg

A rainy day in Zürich. A rainy Sunday, in fact. Most places are closed—shops, and such. I considered buying a train ticket and riding off in some scenic direction (pretty much any direction, here), but rain would spoil the views.

I slept in, instead, which apparently banished any jet lag. When I arrived last night, I was indecisive about choosing a place to eat. Then it dawned on me: I'm staying in a corporate apartment during this visit—shop, and cook!

Watching the radar map, the afternoon promised a break in the weather. I set out for the Uetliberg, finding myself walking uphill almost immediately after turning the first corner.

Girl's pink bike locked to a railing, Zürich, Switzerland
If you were the owner of this tiny pink bike, of course you'd secure it with a pink cable lock. Note the rim brakes—no silly coaster brakes!

There was a detailed topographic map at the base of the trail I found, labeled with numbered segments and their distances. Most had one word in common: steep.

I had no idea where I was, relative to the map. Up the trail! [“Up” being the operative word.]

Fallen leaves cover a trail through the forest, Uetlibergweg, Zürich, Switzerland
Fall, as it turned out, was a marvelous time for this climb. I've lived in (dry) California so long I'd forgotten the earthy fragrance of wet leaves.

They weren't kidding about steep. From time to time, I paused to get my heart rate down. There were no trail markings along the way; I just followed my nose.

Cows graze in a sunlit field near the summit of the Uetliberg, Zürich, Switzerland
During most of the climb, I didn't see another person. It was so quiet I could hear my throbbing pulse.

Section of topographic map showing the Uetlbergweg to Gratstrasse segment, Zürich, Switzerland
A closer look at the topo map, later, suggests that I chose the steepest path—the segment from point 7 to point 5: Uetlibergweg to Gratstrasse, continuing along Gratweg to reach the tower atop the summit. [A mere 2.6km, in all.]

Viewing tower atop the Uetliberg, as seen from stairs along a cliff, Zürich, Switzerland
The exposed rock at the top of the hill revealed that this land was once below the sea.

Swiss flag banner atop the Uetliberg, view overlooking Zürich, Switzerland
Of course I had to climb the tower. Access to the viewing platform involved feeding 2 Swiss francs into a machine. I found myself helping other confused tourists through the payment process, and the turnstile, before I was able to pass.

Looking down and across the Zürichsee from the viewing tower atop the Uetliberg, Zürich, Switzerland
After sweating my way up the hill, I was glad to zip up my jacket and pull on my gloves. The storm front was blowing in; the winds were strong, and cold.

View toward towns in the valleys to the southwest, with rain and storm clouds in the distance, from atop the Uetliberg, Zürich, Switzerland
Both sets of stairs lead to the top; having climbed one, I descended the other.

Twin staircases lead to the top of the Uetliberg, Zürich, Switzerland
Along the way, I found Jupiter, a feature of the Planetenweg. With the first raindrops falling, it seemed prudent to reserve my journey to the other planets for a future visit.

Representation of Jupiter, to scale, along the Path of the Planets on the Uetliberg, Zürich, Switzerland
At work the next day, one of my colleagues exclaimed “You walked up?!” There's a tram that takes you to the top. [But, why?]

October 8, 2017

Pretty Pescadero

Last year we had a touch of rain for this ride; this year was picture-postcard perfect (but, windy). Good thing I'd tossed a jacket in my bag, at the last minute; it was 44F at the start. Volunteers were swaddled in quilts.

The moon was still high in the western sky as I set out on this year's Arthritis Bike Classic Pescadero ride. I arrived later than I'd planned, surprised by one-lane traffic controls on roads still being repaired from last winter's fury. Nonetheless, I managed to start pedaling a few minutes earlier than last year.

Belted Galloway cattle grazing in a field along Cloverdale Road, Pescadero, California
I paused to admire some fancy cattle up close: Belted Galloways, they are. Those white bands are lush and wavy. You might imagine running your fingers through that fur ... that is, until you realize that the dark hindquarters are covered (covered!) with flies.

There were a bunch of guys along Gazos Creek Road with binoculars trained on the opposite hillside. “What's up there?” I asked. “Birds.” Seriously? You make the effort to visit this remote road, and that's the best you can do? The group was so fixated, I thought maybe they'd spotted a condor. “Birds.”

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, viewed from Highway 1 near Pescadero, California
The Pigeon Point Lighthouse looks best in morning light. I took care not to linger, as the headwinds were picking up early.

Field of colorful blooming flowers, Pescadero, California
I chose the “45-mile” route again, which makes two loops centered on Pescadero. This year, one rest stop was hosted at the fabled Archangeli Bakery, where we sampled cinnamon bread as well as the amazing Artichoke Garlic Herb bread. Silly me, asking for half a piece of that bread ... of course I went back for more. As many times as I've been here, this was the first time I noticed the field of flowers next door.

A sign along Stage Road caught my eye, asking people not to feed the pigs, or the dog. Sure enough, there was one large pig and many little pigs. (They weren't photogenic, as pigs go, so I just rode on.)

Yesterday, on a rural Sonoma County road, a young man deliberately swerved his enormous pickup truck into four cyclists on a charity ride. This weighed heavily on our minds today, as we reassured ourselves that normal drivers don't wield their vehicles as weapons to assault other human beings. [The culprit was found and arrested, in large part thanks to video footage from a passing motorcyclist's helmet cam.]

Happily, an uneventful day of riding for me: 44 miles, with some 2,565 feet of climbing.

October 6, 2017


Snowflake light display, Vasona Park, Los Gatos, California
How I loved our family traditions at Christmastime, growing up. Cherished ornaments, homemade cookies, beloved carols, and of course ... brightly-wrapped presents. A special time. My mom shared stories from her childhood, of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.

Not in September. Which is when I spotted the first display in a local department store this year. [Really? A month before Halloween?] At this rate, maybe we'll wrap back around the calendar and start pulling out the trappings in December. [If only.]

We're starting to run low on daylight; my opportunities for an evening ride home from work are fading with the sunset. (The full 18 miles, in the dark, is too stressful. I've tried it.)

I had every intention of making the round trip this week; my schedule was free of early meetings on a couple of days. But it wasn't until this morning that I woke up feeling well-rested and pulled it together.

A few quail scurried across the road in the morning, then winged it when they realized they weren't outrunning me.

Cycling tomato wearing a Santa Hat, light display, Vasona Park, Los Gatos, California
In the evening, malfunctioning barriers along a little-used railroad line created an unexpected neighborhood traffic jam; I re-routed myself accordingly.

The sun had dropped below the hills, but there was enough daylight to pass through Vasona Park. Where they have, already, begun to set up the displays for the annual Fantasy of Lights. Which doesn't light up until December 2 (almost two months from now).

Merry ... October.