Postcards from California Highway 1: Central Coast

I signed up for Chris Guillebeau’s book event in Santa Cruz, and convinced my friend Connie to go too. This quickly became a girls weekend starting at her home in Half Moon Bay. Getting anywhere in the Bay Area on the weekend is becoming more of a challenge. I avoided the Bay Bridge and SF City traffic by taking Highways 880 and 92. Although as soon as I got past Highway 280 it was bumper to bumper, because lots of people want to go to the coast for lunch, or to catch a last beach day before fall really sets in, or to buy a pumpkin.

Farmer John's pumpkin patch has a teepee, a tractor and an annual gathering of Burmese Mountain dogs.

Farmer John’s pumpkin patch has a teepee, a tractor and an annual gathering of Burmese Mountain dogs.

There are pumpkin patches all around the town of Half Moon Bay. The places on Highway 92 are competing with gimmicks like pony rides and bounce houses. Or going for the bargain, “All pumpkins $5”. I like the classic Farmer John’s pumpkin patch right on Highway 1.

We caught up as we drove down the beautiful coastline toward Santa Cruz. There is farmland signs pointing to beaches. Everything is gentle compared to the more rugged coastline below Monterey. The road is much straighter and makes for quicker progress than the windier route to Big Sur. We stopped in Davenport for a later lunch.

Whale of a Diner in Davenport

Whale of a Diner in Davenport

Our motel, the Continental Inn, was a fun redesign of a classic motor hotel. We LOVED the wood floors—brilliant in a coastal hotel where guests are likely to get sandy.

We did a quick walk around the harbor. I have not been to this part of Santa Cruz since Sarah Harriet completed Bike and Build (SC2SC11).

This morning we took our time and enjoyed the lack of agenda. I finished Colum McCann’s Transatlantic—a lyrical book that features Belfast. Then we drove to the main shopping street, Pacific Street. With a lot of time until Chris Guillebeau’s talk and book signing at 7:00 p.m., we fossicked around shopping and looking for a place to eat lunch. We ended up at the excellent Assembly for brunch. We ate amazing fried green tomatoes and enjoyed a very filling and delicious repast.

Assembly restaurant in Santa Cruz

Fueling station for fossicking around Santa Cruz, CA.

Lulu's coffee place

How could I not go to Lulu’s coffee shop in Santa Cruz. Lulu the adventure dog would approve: there is outdoor seating.

Now I am getting some work done while Connie finds a salon for a mani/pedi. I ended up at the Octagon in Santa Cruz called LULU’s!!! How could I not try the coffee? This is my first trip away without Lulu and I am like a new parent enjoying my freedom and fretting about her.

Meet Ivy

Mini Cooper S to be named Ivy.

Finally, Connie helped me decide to name my car Ivy. This was solidified when we went to Dig Gardens in Santa Cruz. What a shop! It is high praise from me to say it compares to the fabulous Flora Grubb in San Francisco. Garden inspiration. Ideas are flowing.

Dig Gardens

Dig Gardens in Santa Cruz

The place to begin planning your Otago Central Rail Trail adventure.

Planning the Perfect New Zealand Adventure, Part II Cycling

One of the challenges of visiting any country where it takes 12+ hours to fly to: you want to pack in as much as humanly possible in your schedule. (My kids say not everyone approaches travel this way. Whatever.) When I was last in Dunedin I really wanted to spend a day cycling the Otago Central Rail Trail. It takes an entire day with the coach pick up from the railway station, the cycling, and the return; plus it was not offered the one day I could have made it work.

So this trip I was determined to make sure to experience the retired railway, now pedestrian and cycling path.  After my experience with my Tour de France adventure, I knew I wanted a supported ride and as many days cycling as possible (in between penguin stops).

I started my research at the official website for the Otago Central Rail Trail. Interestingly, some tour operators advertise on the homepage but are not listed on the Tour Operators page. I made a complete list of possibilities. Then I went to Trip Advisor and checked the reviews under Otago Central Rail Trail. It is ranked the number #1 attraction in the Otago region. There were a few more tour operators reviewed here and so I added their names to the list.

Then I began the laborious process of visiting their websites and reading what options are offered and the possible schedules to fill in my matrix. Some options were eliminated because they only begin offering tours in January. Seasons are opposite from North America in New Zealand. (I know, duh.) Early December is not quite summer. I also have some time constraints and some companies have a minimum of 5 nights. Many of the businesses put together all of your reservations and equipment, but do not support you on the road. I believe I found my sweet spot. At a price of $1,200 a person or more, it is worth the extra time and effort to do my homework.

I also discovered that I will begin my adventure in Queenstown. This makes it easier to coordinate my car rental but adds some drive time to my overall adventure. I will take a train at the end of my four days to spend some time in Dunedin and fly to Auckland and then to the US from there.

Making these plans has definitely reenergized my bicycling workouts. I am using the training plan from Bike Your Butt Off! by Selena Yeager with Leslie Bonci.

Have any of you done this trip?  What do you think, does it deserve its #5 ranking in AA’s 101 Must-Dos for Kiwis 2012? Any tips to better enjoy the adventure?

These plywood penguins are helpful educational tools, but I want to see real penguins in the wild!

Designing the Perfect New Zealand Adventure, Part I Penguins

My adult kids and I will be celebrating my birthday and Thanksgiving in St Heliers, Auckland, New Zealand. I am so excited to share my favorite places in Auckland with them and tackling some adventures such as climbing Rangitoto. We will make a traditional American groaning feast for my Kiwi friends and then we will pursue our own adventures.

Every trip begins with booking tickets on Air New Zealand. For $50 one of their helpful advisors will help make more complicated reservations over the phone. Sometimes there is a savings if you are traveling to several places within New Zealand during your stay. This trip I made all of my reservations on line. Their easy to use site allows me to book my flight, pick my seat and let them know if I have special dietary requirements or need to bring an extra bag.

With my bookends of arrivals and departures (and notice that you lose a day on the way over from USA and live your last day twice on the way back), I begin to fill in the middle points. If I have confirmed dates in certain places I typically log on to Booking.com and make my hotel reservations, Kayak.com for auto reservations and then Trip Advisor for ideas for things to do and for reviews of hotels if I am undecided on Booking.com.

I am going to South Island for a combination of penguin viewing and cycling.  Penguin viewing was my highest priority: I want to see both Fiordland penguins and yellow eyed penguins. And I want to visit Stewart Island (mainly for kiwi birds).  My challenge was figuring out the best places to see these and then create an itinerary that is reasonable and fulfilling.

New Zealand Penguins website is a life saver.  It lists several options for each type of penguin that I want to view.  I decided to visit Lake Moeraki in South Westland, Stewart Island in Southland, and Dunedin in Otago for my three penguin stops. I created a matrix for Dunedin since there are so many options. I have begun searching the various penguin guide websites and emailing for more details. I will soon have my tickets or reservations.

The complicating factor is the cycling. I really would like to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail from Queenstown to Dunedin (the last bit by train). I had to establish the timeframe for that before I could solidify my penguin plans. And I had to make some adjustments to my plans. Originally I thought I’d drive from Queenstown to Lake Moeraki to Invercargill to Dunedin, but the cycling trips begin in Queenstown. Some quick changes to my itinerary and voila! I am able to do everything I want to do.

It is a very full schedule, and not everyone would find four days of cycling the “relaxing” bit. I am super charged about it.

3 Great Places to Buy Wool in Oslo for the Hip and Chic Knitter

If you knit (or crochet) and you are visiting Oslo for a day or more, then you have three great options for wool shopping. In Norway, if you see “strikke” on the shop window then it is probably a wool or yarn store as we know it in North America.

If you are cruising the Nordic countries and docking briefly in Oslo, there are two shops within walking distance of the port. The first, Strikkedilla (translated as Knitting Craze) is conveniently located in the Oslo City mall (a highrise next to the main train station). The mall includes a grocery store, so be sure to check out the aisle dedicated to nut butters! The knit shop is the smallest of the three and jam-packed with colorful fun projects children would like to wear.

Glasmagasinet at Stortorvet 9

Glasmagasinet department store

The second shop is my favorite of the three, Husfliden. It is inside the department store Glasmagasinet at Stortorvet 9. I was a little befuddled at first by this idea of a department store; it was a bit more like a mall without walls. In the basement I found the yarn, buttons, traditional costumes, and many other beautiful textiles. It was a feast for the eyes and fingers. They also offered readymade Oleana sweaters. If you only have time to browse one store, make it Den Norske Husfliden.IMG_1010 IMG_1009 IMG_1013

If you are taking a day trip to see the Vigeland Sculpture Park, there is a yarn shop a stone’s throw from the metro station (Majorstuen) for the sculpture gardens. I did not spot Tjorven at Valkyriegata 17 right away, so I have included a photo. The clerks were friendly and the yarn lucious. They did not offer any patterns in English (they call them recipes). I realized too late that it would have been smart to look for some patterns on Ravelry before I went shopping. The store clerk showed me a website that has language choices including English. These are the same Norwegian inspired (modern, not traditional) patterns featured in Drops magazine.

IMG_0961 IMG_0960 IMG_0975

There are also two readymade wool shops that offer beautiful, albeit expensive, sweaters and other wool garments. Dale of Norway at Tullins gate 5 offers more classical sweaters and made me want to go skiing. Oleana garments are inspired by traditional Norwegian design updated with a modern twist and a more colorful palette.

It is Dah-ley, not Dale like Yale next to the Hard Rock Cafe in Oslo. No yarn for sale here.

It is Dah-ley, not Dale like Yale next to the Hard Rock Cafe in Oslo. No yarn for sale here.

One challenge with yarn shopping in Norway is the patterns are almost all in Norwegian, of course. I bought a couple of patterns with yarn to make them, thinking that between Google Translate, friends who speak Norwegian and my knitting experience I could figure them out. Hah! Not yet. When I return to Norway I am taking some patterns that I want to make and then shopping for wool. All of these shops are perfect if you need a tool, or inspiration.IMG_1008

I visited these three shops in July 2013, and I have just checked and they are all still in business. I also used Linda Marveng’s blog post as my guide. She lists additional shops and I visited a few others; however, I am including my favorites here. Linda Marveng is also enthused about Norway Designs, just know that there is nothing knitting related in the shop.

Norway can be one of the most expensive countries to visit in Europe, so I was very pleased to find wool prices a comparative bargain.  Shops are both plentiful and the ones mentioned here carry a good variety of quality yarn. It is good to be in a country where a lot of people still knit. There were some awesome patterns, if I only spoke Norwegian.

Oslo Defying 3 Stereotypes

Norway has been on my list of high priority destinations for a while. Walking around Oslo it quickly became obvious that I was operating on some old stereotypes.  The Norway I discovered is delightful, modern and much more complex than these 3 stereotypes I packed in my bags.  

1. Not Frozen.

Disney's Frozen animated fairy tale stars Olaf the snowman.

Disney’s Frozen animated fairy tale stars Olaf the snowman.

The Visit Norway folks are using the movie Frozen in much the same way the New Zealand tourism industry is marketing Lord of the Rings/Hobbit. There are some challenges. First and foremost, Frozen is a cartoon. Also, much of the story’s action takes place in deep snow; whereas, most visitors plan their trips in summer–a time when the animated snowman Olaf would be distinctly uncomfortable. Modern Norway is a progressive democracy no longer ruled by royalty–even spunky princesses. 

They do have reindeer. Frozen’s Sven is a very charismatic reindeer. I did note the reindeer in photos tweeted along the route of the 2014 Arctic Race of Norway, the world’s northern most bicycle race held over several days each August. Makes me want to go watch this race in person. (Adding to personal list.)

Sven the charismatic reindeer from Disney's Frozen animated film.

Sven the charismatic reindeer from Disney’s Frozen animated film.

 

 

2. Not Vikings.

Many people in Europe can trace their ancestry back to a Viking invader. My grandfather was 100% Norwegian, and very proud of the accomplishments of the ancient Vikings. Norwegians are not the only Scandinavians who can claim to descend from the seafaring and conquering Vikings–the Swedes and the Danes can too. Because of my grandpa Olson, if you say Viking, I think Norway. 

You can certainly see Viking ships and buy an impressive variety of souvenirs with Viking stuff on them in Norway. Grandpa loved the Hagar the horrible comic strip. I have since learned that Hagar’s classic horned hat is an inaccurate depiction of what a Viking might have worn. And the modern Norwegian is more known for peace than pillage. 

This did not stop me from romantically seeing these Viking laws as part of my DNA influencing my own values: 

Viking Laws
1. Be Brave and Aggressive
Be direct
Grab all opportunities
Use varying methods of attack
Be versatile and agile
Attack one target at a time
Don’t plan everything in detail
Use top quality weapons (or technological tools)
2. Be Prepared
Keep weapons (or tech equipment) in good condition
Keep in shape
Find good battle comrades
Agree on important points
Choose one chief
3. Be a Good Merchant
Find out what the market needs
Do not promise what you can’t keep
Do not demand overpayment
Arrange things so you can return (do business another day)
4. Keep the Camp in Order
Keep things tidy and organized
Arrange enjoyable activities which strengthen the group
Marke sure everybody does useful work
Consult all members of the group for advice 

(From postcard purchased in Viking Ship Museum)

3. Not my Grandfather’s Norway.

My grandpa was called “Ole” by his friends and he was an active member of Sons of Norway in Santa Rosa. His grandfather immigrated from Lillehammer to Donaldson, Minnesota in the 1880s. It took me a few days to realize that the things my grandfather cherished as Norwegian are actual artifacts of Norwegian life in the 1880s. These traditions of drinking coffee morning, noon and night; lutefisk, and saying “Uffda!” are carefully preserved pieces of culture that my great-great grandfather brought in his luggage and passed on to his children and grandchildren. Meanwhile, Norway’s culture continued to evolve.

The Norway we discovered is more ethnically diverse, a World War II survivor, a titan of the merchant marine and an oil producing state.  

Hope you discover Norway sometime soon. If you have been to Norway, what was your biggest surprise? What was your favorite memory?

Travel theme: Edge

 

Preikestolen, Norway in the fog

Preikestolen, Norway in the fog

Pulpit Rock was a real hiking challenge, for me. My son Tevis did not seem to work as hard to reach the top or to descend safely. It is also a mental challenge and I have lots of friends who would be terrified of the edge–especially given the 604 m drop (and no safety rails). When we saw pictures of Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock on Pinterest, all on a sunny day, we agreed it was one of the things we had to do when we visited Norway.

Preikestolen trailhead marker

Preikestolen trailhead marker

We left on the first ferry from Stavanger. There was only about 50 feet of flat before the climbing began so we were glad for the cool, foggy morning. We shared the trail with hundreds of European girl and boy scouts who were in Norway for a jamboree. It did not take long for this to become a “one step at a time” physical test for me. I found all of the languages, none of them English, oddly soothing as I focused on my ascent. Tevis waited for me at several points along the trail, always looking irritatingly fresh.

the trail

The last 100 meters was the hardest. I was so relieved to get to the top and see Tevis waving from the distance. I did not find the edge particularly intimidating; it might have been different on a clear day. We ate our picnic lunch and recovered from the exertion. We agreed that even with the view-robbing fog the effort was worth it.

Tevis and American Julie made it to the top!

Tevis and American Julie made it to the top!

I did not think I was concerned about the edge at the time, but notice how I am leaning away from the edge and into my son Tevis! I kept remember the stories of people who hiked to the top with their dogs and then stupidly tossing the ball and watching in horror as their dog chased it over the edge. Preikestolen legend or true story? I do not know, I just know that I breathed a little easier for children and dogs as we hiked away from the edge.

Descending was just as challenging, mainly due to the crowds ascending and my overall weariness. It took me 2 hours to hike up and another 2 hours to hike down to the Visitor’s Center. 

When I saw the Where’s My Backpack “Travel Theme: Edge“. I immediately thought of Pulpit Rock. 

 

 

Vote to Name My MINI

Mini Cooper S to be named...

Mini Cooper S to be named…

Please vote. I drove my British racing green Mini a lot this weekend and realized she needs a name! Since Mini Cooper is a classic British brand, she needs a British name with English roots.  Please vote for the one you think fits my Mini best: