21 June 2008

Cuenca and the exit from Spain.

Cuenca's old center bristles with medieval buildings perched above the deep gorges surrounding the town. The hanging houses, casas colgadas, are architecturally unique. They date from the 16th century and hang out high above the river below.

Cuenca (map) was a fun town to stroll around. Lot's of old buildings and even gargoyles to look at. I wish I had this door at home. More Cuenca pics here!

Later, on the outskirts of Madrid, we found a hotel near the airport. Hotels near airposts are expensive but we found one that was reasonable. It was the fanciest hotel we've stayed at - and the toilet had 2 buttons. One for a big flush (left button). One for a small flush (right button). Not the first time I've seen this in Europe but the first time I thought - Why can't we do this in the Western US (where water is precious?)

Madrid's Barajas airport's rental car return was a nightmare. We missed what turned out to be the only road to return the rental car. We spent spent the next hour trying to find our way back. There was only one road and you had to hit the master combination! The trick - Stay right and don't commit to a right turn until you see the small orange sign.

Spain was fun and such a huge, beautiful country .. we'll be back.

Montanejos & beyond

1. Julia climbing at Montanejos, 2. Cliffs above the gorge, 3. Yikes, I think there's a reason for the NO TRESPASSING sign. Let's get out of here!, 4. Puebla de Arenosa above Montanejos, 5. Double aqueducts in an amazing location, 6. An aqueduct that was

Montanejos is a cool little town perched on the side of a hill. There's paved paths all over town. They are well used - especially to get to the warm springs. We stayed at the Rifugio at the base of a canyon. Climbs were just a short walk from here.

West of town is an amazing water project (#3 above). I haven't seen anything like this. Here's another pic which has a link to the corresponding satellite view.

Leaving Montanejos, we traveled the small and windy road towards Cuenco (the next post). Incredible scenery on the way - note the 2 lower pics above.

More Montanejos pictures here!

18 June 2008

The Mystery of Peniscola's Castle

We could have spent the trip climbing and exploring inland above Tarragona but we needed to see more of Spain. We drove South along the coast. The destination was Peñiscola which had a castle from the 14th century jutting above the old town.

First a little swimming was in order. We had learned that the spanish beaches are crazy busy with no parking so we scanned the map for road near the coast without a beach. We found a little cove where the waves wouldn't pulverize us against the rocks. Note the old town of Peñiscola in the background with the castle above it. Here's a close up satellite view of the castle. The castle was/is very defensible from the Mediterranean side as well as from land.

After swimming we found our way through the old town to the castle. It was a maze. It seemed like they wanted to keep people away from the castle. Even Papa Luna (Pope Benedict) seemed to be waving us away. As we entered the castle I wondered if an airborne virus had wiped out all the tourists. The place was eerily empty. There was no one but us. It was great but a little suspicious. We entered room after room and finally found the dungeons. Still no people but we found a human skeleton in an iron cage .. then we saw a knight templar (picture / wikipedia) hiding in the shadows. Did we walk thru a time warp? Yikes!

Once our eyes adjusted, we realized we were in a ... museum. And yes, the curator was at a desk in the next room and very much alive. Mystery solved. No airborne virus, no wayback machine to the 14th century. No need for me to break out my superhero costume ..

More Peñiscola shots here!

17 June 2008

La Mussara - the wind, the history, the climbing

We arrived at La Mussara in the clouds. We drove past the refugio to the ruins and had to backtrack. The ruins were cloaked in clouds. If we weren't tired and worried about a place to stay, we would have taken some pictures of the clouds swirling around the turret and broken stone walls.

We set up a tent at the refugio and had a great dinner there. Why cook when the food is good and relatively cheap? We climbed at a couple of the La Mussara TV crags. Nice view of the Mediterranean sea from the crags. We climbed there 2 days. It was wild to watch & feel the moisture laden clouds rolling in every afternoon. The temps dropped and it turned cold - even in the hut during dinner.

The ruins were pretty special and trails wound down the mountainside to villages 3000 ft below. The rest of our La Mussara pics are here!

What did I miss? Oh yeah, the endless windy roads getting to La Mussara from Rodellar. As the hours wore on, I pushed the speeds and the shifting on the mountain roads. It was fun until Julia let me know that all was not good. She puked on everything nearby in the backseat. Poor girl. She was a good sport though. We also went to the Med near Tarragona. It was fun swimming where we went but we drove throught the tourist area on the way back. It was uncomfortably crazy full of tourists. Back to the refugio we went.

14 June 2008

Rained out in Rodellar

We arrived in Rodellar, Spain excited but exhausted. Staying awake while driving from the Madrid airport was tough - except for the part where the police pulled me over for an alchohol test. If they would have known, they would not have pulled me over. They gave me a little plastic thing. I looked at him and asked if it was a kazoo. I blew one direction, then flipped it over. No sound in the other direction either. Looking serious now, he shook his head as he struggled to pull something off his belt. Finally he motioned I should put my device in the hole of this instrument he held. The hole was too small. I shrugged. He sighed. He motioned I should flip it over. Then the kazoo fit nicely. Finally, it dawned on the jetlagged driver, me, that this was an breathalyzer test - not a test of geometry. It took a couple of tries before I understood that the policeman was after duration - not pressure. Finally he waved me away with a shake of his head.

We arrived in Rodellar in shaky weather which turned worse. The campground served great food but was suprised we wanted it before 10pm. When we said early was fine, we were still served at 10pm. We found this was normal even if they spoke English - which was rare. It rained that night and the next day. We could have slept well except for the canyoneering groups partying. We finally had a talk with the closest group at 3am. They were still drinking. I was in a fighting mood. Mia was more diplomatic though and told them to go to beddy-bye. It appears that basic canyoneering in Spain is like frisbee in the U.S. - a fun thing to do but little commitment required. Canyon trailheads, which start in town, are well signed with maps, descriptions, equipment lists, rope length and self administered breathalyzer testing equipment etc. This is sort of cool, especially being able to drop into the canyons from a beautiful town. What a place to live!

We took a beautiful hike in the rain the next day. As we headed back out of the canyon at 1pm, we saw the canyoneering groups stumbling in. (They must have skipped the self administered breathalyzer test. hah!) The Pyrenees forecast was bleak and we only had a week in Spain, so we headed toward the coast - toward La Mussara.

More Rodellar pictures here!

10 June 2008

Obituary of my Prosthetic Foot

I was running back to the cave, with headlamps for the kids. I hear the sound of a gunshot coming from the ground. Everyone looked at me as I looked at my foot. I had a strong suspicion that it was not a gunshot but a catastropic failure of my Vari-flex carbon fiber foot. I took a tentative step and confirmed my foot was a goner. It had lived a long life and handled a lot of shit. 8-1/2 years is a pretty good life I'd guess.

Without further ado, here is my maximally delaminated foot. Luckily I had an old backup in the truck.

09 June 2008

Spring in Dinosaur National Monument

We've been to Dinosaur National Monument before but this trip was special. Maybe it was because it had been a long, cold winter and spring had not really taken hold .. The air was crisp. The flowers were abundant and the cloud shadows made for special views. Without a further attempt at inadequate prose, here's the Yampa River in full flood conditions. The Green River is making an entrance from the left. The confluence is near but out of sight.

Most of the following flower pictures were taken on the Sound of Silence trail - a nice 3 mile loop.

It was a great trip with the Coopers. Jessica and Julia have so much fun playing together. I'd really like to spend some time exploring here. So much to check out - especially off the beaten path. The last day my foot broke but that's another post.

The full set of pictures are here!

04 June 2008

The Department Mascot - Our Scorpion

Once upon a time, I came back from a Utah trip with a scorpion - actually 2 scorpions and a huge, scary looking bug. The bug ate one of the scorpions - or maybe the scorpion escaped ... not a good thought.

Our department definitely needed a mascot. The scorpion was perfect. I put it in a terrarium and brought it in. From the start, the scorpion was "under-appreciated". While I thought it was the coolest mascot on the planet, my marketing job must not have been so great. A few people thought it was sort of cool but no one was ... really excited. I kept up my marketing job though and showed everyone that walked by my office. The word spread to the upper echelons of management as I stepped up my marketing job. We needed a cool mascot, right?

Finally our 3rd level manager, Lori Shaw, stopped by to see it. My manager, Diane McGinty, seemed to be ok with it. If Lori was cool, I might be able to keep it but this was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Mascot be damned. Mischievousness is 2nd nature to me so ..

Lori walked in and I displayed the terrarium w/ a sweep of my hand. Yep, our mascot is in there somewhere. Probably sleeping at this time of day. Let me see if I can find Mr. Scorpion. I looked this way and that way but I couldn't find the little guy. Finally I stood up, stepped back, looked at Lori, looked at the floor and pointed at her feet as I quickly jumped back and yelled "SCORPION". She jumped into the aisle as I roared out in laughter. She was a good sport and quickly recovered with a better appreciation of my humor or lack thereof.

A little before my fun stunt with Lori, I started hearing grumbling from my colleagues. Nothing direct but word got around. The word was 'Thumbs down' on the mascot. Just like in the Roman coliseums but the gladiator - our mascot - wouldn't stand a chance amoung the discord. I think it was Jim Logan, my 2nd level manager, who gave the final Thumbs Down. I relented and drove the little guy home as he wagged his stinger around and cried - "I was only trying to help". That was about the time when the shit hit the fan and our project & products were sold to CSG Systems. Oh, if we had only kept the magical mascot ..

For the record, this instance of "once upon a time" was autumn 1997.