Outside is Presidential

Aaron, like a true historian, is thorough and digs deep, rarely content for casual chit-chat and one word answers. He sparks the type of conversation that can make the two hour car ride to Guerneville seem to short. Luckily we had a day on the trail to come. We loaded up on citrus and hummus from the farmer's market; and bread and snacks from the pastry mecca that is Wildflower Bakery in Occidental and made for the redwoods.

Read More

In Reverence to Gifford Pinchot

School is about structure, organization and schedules, so when Daniel and I set off on our outdoor adventure, we actively avoided that nonsense. A quick glance at a map told us to go to Norway Pass, north of Mt. St. Helens, and a quick glance in the pantry said car camp so you can eat more food. So we loaded up the portable grill, some brats and other delicious food, camera gear, every type of outdoor shoe, and sleeping bags into Daniel's mommy van and headed south. Tacoma of late had been covered in a dense fog, thick enough to drastically increase the desperation to leave, and the fog didn't let up for an hour driving south on I-5. But when we turned east and stopped to buy some local apples, the farmer said give it a mile and we'd see sunny skies. He wasn't kidding as a quick drop in the road initiated a serious hallelujah as the sun shone strong and we leave the dreary gray behind.

Read More

Civilized hiking in Switzerland

Do a quick free association with hiking. Strenuous. Dirty. Outdoors. Nature. Wild. These are some words that may come up, it does of course depend on your attitude towards the activity, one which I quite enjoy. The Swiss, pioneers of mountaineering and keepers of some of the world's best mountains, may think of a few different words in terms of hiking. While hiking both in America and the Balkans where I've been is quite the outdoors experience, a physical excursion into the relatively wild nature, hiking in Switzerland is quite civilized.

Take our hike today for example. Yesterday we met my mom in Zurich, today we wanted to hike. A day trip to the alps is not worth the amount of time on trains, especially when you sleep in, so we took a short local train to Zurich local "mountain," the Uetliberg.

The train went nearly to the top of the mountain, where we found a restaurant. Along the way, the trail was wide, clean and had trash cans on the side. Luckily, there was clear signs for the extensive range of hiking aka Nordic walking trails, with arrows pointing in clear directions and distances marked. These signs were both frequent and accurate.

Picnic tables, fountains and even fire pits lined the trail, and after an hour we came to a cable car station back into town. Attached was an immaculately clean bathroom. Later we passed roads and farms, and always more restaurants.

It was two hours until it really felt as if we were in near wilderness, with a less manicured trail and no services along the way. It's not bad, just different. The positive argument is simple and easy to accept, this civilized and clean style of hiking, full of services and easily traveled to makes nature more accessible and hiking more practiced. Where I'm from in the suburbs, one is hard-pressed to get into nature without a car.

Go Switzerland for making the urban escape easy and enjoyable for everyone.

All Hail Olympus

Excitement levels were inordinately high as the bus left the city and headed for nature. Its a refreshing homecoming to depart the uniform and artificial sprawl of buildings for the expanse of trees that extends just as far, yet with such greater beauty. And what better way to accentuate this splendid scenery than with a challenge? Back in Tacoma, where I go to University, Mt. Rainier looms in the distance, visible and majestic from nearly everywhere. It rise up to over 14,000 ft from sea level unbelievably quickly, dominating the horizon with little effort. Mt. Olympus on the other hand, is nearly invisible. Just 3 kilometers as the bird flies from the sea, and less from the town of Litochoro which itself is nearly on the coast, the mountain itself sits behind a series of hills , so you don't get the treat of gazing upon the awe-inspiring rock until you're nearly at the top.

Read More

Freiburg = A day in Disneyland

Somewhere in between Frankfurt and Freiburg, the 300 kilometer per hour (about 180 miles) ICE train broke through the fog and emerged in glorious sunshine. The majestic silver bullet swept through picturesque green countryside and quaint towns, soon dropping me off at the Bahnhof (train station). My buddies Eric and Patrick met me there. The three of us have engaged in the best sort of travel, acting as guides in our respective cities. Its a great exchange that encourages easy and enjoyable travel. Its great to have friends where you go, and having a somehow who truly knows the destination greatly aids the experience. After our joyous embrace, I spoke my first German within minutes of leaving the train. Starving, Eric and Patrick directed me to the nearest sausage cart. Ein bratwurst mit zwiebel bitte put a freshly grilled sausage in a delicious bun and grilled onions into my welcoming hands. It was hot, flavorful and full of calories, just what I needed. Additionally it was much cheaper than any street food that you can find in Paris.

From there we went to the Münsterplatz, which is the German name for the plaza with a cathedral. The architecture was different from that of Paris, with different colored stone. Actually, many of the buildings were more colorful and ornate than Paris' detailed stonework. The array of colors on small streets gave a very Disneyland feel. There was a Saturday market in front of the cathedral, one of my favorite things to see in Europe. We get so excited about Farmer's Markets in the US, and they are trendy and good to go to, but in Europe they are a way of life and have been for generations.

Saturday Market and Munsterplatz Freiburg

Colorful and Ornate German Building

From there we decided to take advantage of the sun and take a hike up the Schlossberg, a large tree covered hill in the middle of the city that is part of the Black Forest. It made me extraordinarily happy to be able to take such a good hike so easily. The views were stunning, and the hill was accentuated by the autumn colors and fallen leaves. Freiburg has a true fall, unlike Paris. Along the way we found some cool artifacts and a broken bridge that was blocked off and said Achtung (warning). Being reckless, we crossed it without problem. At the top we climbed the Schlossberg tower (the Schloßbergturm) which gave us a panoramic view. It made me realize how accessible Freiburg is, you can go everywhere see everything so easily, from hike in the forest to exploring the city. Its a city life completely different from that of Paris, and fun to live the contrast.

Freiburg, a beautiful city in the hills of the Black Forest

Heading down the hill we stopped at the beer garden, which offered us a pint of delicious beer to go along with the view. The beer was so cheap (half the price of a pint in Paris) and really delicious. Obviously, Germany is known for their beer, but hearing about it isn't everything. It felt especially good to have earned it after a good little hike and to share it with friends.

First beer in Germany

Later that evening, we went for a Germany meal at a restaurant called Martin's Brau. Eric and Patrick's favorite place is called Feierling but it was too crowded. At the restaurant we got some terrible service but it didn't really matter because the food, beer and company were what really mattered. I had met their friends in Paris, so it was like I was part of the group. I had two big pieces of schnitzel, with spaetzle and a mushroom cream sauce. It was so delicious. From there we went to Feierling to buy beer for the night, which came in the form of a 2L growler, which is an incredible souvenir.

Despite a long night with some drinking, we ensured we woke up with plenty of time to wander around and eat breakfast and get the most out of time together before my train back to Paris. The coffee in Germany sucked, but there pastries were just as good. We sat in a park in front of a different beautiful church (it was sunny and warm again!) and shared our last stories. I bought some Milka chocolate to take back to Paris (it was so much cheaper) and had a long hug with Eric and Patrick before getting back onto the steed of a train. I'll see Eric in London next weekend, but won't see Patrick until September for school next year. Obviously that's sad, but rather than being bummed about the distance, I'm glad we got to hang out so much. Again, there's always a positive way to see things.

The trip left a really good impression of both Germany and train travel on me. It was so easy to get to Freiburg (even with my mishap). And the train was completely pleasant. I'd love for a high speed rail system to traverse the U.S. I never travel at home like I do here, and its often due to the difficulty of affordable, easy travel. Trains are a way of life in Europe, and a great one at that. Additionally, despite not loving the sound of Germany, it was great to be among such lively, jovial people for two days. Add the great food and scenery that the country offers, and it is a must return. Until the next time, keep on adventuring.

Canal in FreiburgAt the top of the SchlossbergStreet Canal - If you accidentally fall in you will marry a Freiburg(ian?)