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Pittsburgh and Baby Shower

We were in Pittsburgh for nine days where we saw our family and friends. More importantly, they all got to see me “in the family way.” It was a busy and hectic visit, but a good one. I’m in the last month I can fly, so we needed to get a visit in. The next time Pittsburgh sees us we’ll be a tiny family of three.

It certainly was weird to be in our home town and having to stay in a hotel. I’ve never been a guest in my own city before. Getting free upgrades to business class on both the outgoing and return flights was a huge bonus. I was worried I would be so uncomfortable flying at this point. But having seats that completely reclined to beds, real pillows, fillet mignon for dinner and so many other niceties went a long way. Epsilon’s first trans-Atlantic flights were done in style.

Cupcakes!  Chocolate brown and pink were the color theme of the day!I had a baby shower at my aunt’s and we now have so much stuff for Epsilon! Our flight returned this morning and already I have all of her gear unpacked, sorted and put away. I’ll get to the washing of her little clothes once I’m on Maternity Leave, which I gave my notice the week before we flew home to the Burgh to start in September.

Some nice family photos to be posted soon.

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Making Snow, Making Snow, Making Snow!

Snowflakes by Deb

I’m missing seeing some snow for the holidays, so I’m making some of my own using the Snow Days site.  I admit it is a little addicting.  It’s also making me want to make paper snow flakes for in our windows as we have no holiday decorations up. Maybe some snow flakes and white fairy lights… five days to Xmas, it’s not too late to decorate right?

shortest day of the yearAlso, happy Solstice! Today is the shortest day of the year, tomorrow begins progress to more sunlight each day, tomorrow will be a whole four seconds longer! When it’s dark out, I feel compelled to hunker down in my pajamas and relax for the night. It’s a little paralyzing on weekends where I like to sleep in until noon, leaving just a few precious hours of daylight. I can’t imagine living any farther north. I think I would end up hibernating!

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A Walk in Marlow Woods

Lately, our walks have become shorter and shorter.  Mostly because something like this happens.  We walk in about a quarter of a mile or so and find a large oak tree, we decide to climb said tree, take lots of silly photos, then find the tree swing and take more silly photos.  An hour passes and we realize we’re cold and hungry and walk the quarter mile or so back to the car. Maybe I need to make a “tree” tag for when this sort of thing happens.

Tree swing in Marlow Woods

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Walks In The Woods

Whiteleaf HillI realize I haven’t been posting about some of the mini-adventures we’ve been having. Mostly, this involves a sunny day and wanting to go for a drive, generally to somewhere we can take a walk in the woods, watch wildlife and play with the camera. We’ve visited quite a few nearby sites like this: Whiteleaf Hill, College Wood, Chinoor Hill, College Lake, all sites that are part of various woodland and wildlife trusts. The walks themselves are never all that long, we’re not embarking on expeditions, primarily they are absolutely last minute excursions. Grabbing the camera and a bottle of water and off we go. We’ve be rewarded with stunning views and sunsets and lovely drives through the countryside. The photography from these outings are more on the experimental side as we become more familiar with the new camera and lenses, so far, not many of the shots have been posted, but have produced some interesting results.

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England: Dorset, Bloody-Nose Beetle

Bloody-nosed Beetle

Timarcha tenebricosa

A lumbering, flightless leaf beetle, often seen plodding across paths or through grass. In this case, he was fighting against the stiff breeze on the top of a cliff on the Jurassic Coast at Lulworth Cove. When disturbed, these beetles exude a drop of bright red, blood-like fluid from their mouth. I must not have disturbed him, he didn’t spew any goo at me. This photo doesn’t capture the color very well, but the elytra had a metallic purple sheen too it.

After Lulworth Cove, we drove to Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch on the Dorset coast.

More Durdle Door

After Lulworth Cove, we drove to Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch on the Dorset coast. This coast line is riddled with interesting geology and features. If you can imagine a layer cake with three cake layers turned on it’s side: a layer of vanilla, a layer of chocolate and a layer of carrot cakes, you can imagine what this coast looks like geologically. The layers of rock have been uplifted and tilted, revealing interesting patterns in the strata, eroding differentially making these coves and arches.

We sat on the pebbly beach and dipped our feet in the cold cold water. Mark was significantly braver than me and went for a swim. Just to say he swam through Durdle Door. Mark remarked on the fact that we knew we were going to the coast, to the beach, and at no point did we even consider bringing swimsuits or towels. I was bundled up in a sweater. It was a gorgeous sunny day, no doubt, but the stiff breeze was chilly.

There is so much more to explore on the southern coast, we’ll need to make another trip, or a longer trip :)

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The Journey Is The Destination

We are back from the epic road trip that involved the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye.  Much to write about, many photos to share, you know the drill, it’s a backlog here when we’re busy experiencing life.

What a long day of driving, but, we were in Scotland this morning!

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England: Lake District – Catbells; Scotland Drive

When planning for this trip into the Fells, I was having a hard time narrowing down what hike to do.  I knew we had limited time so it couldn’t be an expedition of epic proportions.  But I wanted to make sure we got to have a good hiking experience. There are almost too many choices, all good choices, all with excellent views, I was paralyzed with all the choices.  Until the answer came to me through watching a program on England’s mountains where the program host followed one of Wainwright’s walks.

I own a copy of “The Best of Wainwright’s Walks” and still had a difficult time deciding what to do.  His hand written notes, maps and illustrations are all inspiring.  And upon this visit I can understand why he spent so much time exploring and documenting this region of the country.  This program, however, made the decision easy.  How could I resist a hike described by Wainwright as, “the perfect walk for after dinner.”

Given our time constraints, we hiked up Catbells.  The inviting knob rises up along side Derwentwater Lake just a few miles from Keswick.  It looks small enough to tackle, but big enough to make it worthwhile rising 1,481 feet in one and half miles.  It was a short hike and had enough moderately challenging bits scrabbling up rocky faces  for us to really feel like we were getting the full Lake District Fells experience.   We were rewarded with lovely views, despite the wind and clouds, the sun was trying desperately to make an appearance.

Although it was a relatively short hike, we decided we didn’t have enough time to do the other hike I had planned; which was a 4.5 mile level hike around Lake Buttermere, we’ll just have to do that one next time.  I could honestly return here and stay for week or more.  This is the most beautiful place we’ve seen in England so far, it is a shame we only really spent a day.  There would be so many walks worthwhile here, or sailing on the lakes or canoing or camping.  We will be back!  But for now, we hit the road for Scotland!

Once we were well past and had skirted around Glasgow, the drive became the destination. The mountains just seemed to come out of nowhere.  No sooner were we on what was a plateau of pretty even terrain, BAM!  there are the mountains towering above us.  I was surprised to see so many peaks still blanketed in snow and the tops were shrouded by clouds.  We wound around on twisty narrow roads that took us along lochs, rocky streams, dense forests and of course the mountains.  This was a drive made for the convertible.  It was such dramatically different scenery than anything we’ve seen so far.  Even in contrast to the Fells of the Lake District this morning.

We needed to make a bee line to the B&B we were staying at so we wouldn’t arrive after nine p.m.  After we settled ourselves in, we hit a local pub/restaurant, where there was a lively and divided crowd watching the UEFA  cup finals, red shirts in the bar, blue shirts in the restaurant.  The European football league that had two British teams in the final, and a game that was held in Moscow.  It was still light out when we left around 11 p.m. with the long lingering twilight.

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England: Lake District – Keswick

Today is the start of the Epic Road Trip. Our plan? To drive to the Lake District and beyond into the Scottish highlands and back by Friday night.

Mark stayed behind to take care of a few loose ends and would catch up to us later. It started off swimmingly, we were making excellent time.  Brian the sheep cookie, or rather the cookie sheep, joined us along the way.  We were thinking we would get there shortly after one or two in the afternoon. But then. Birmingham happened across our path. There was just nightmare traffic around t on the M5 and M6, and the ensuing horrible traffic spilling over through the city and on secondary roads getting away from the area. Apparently there was a large accident closing the motorway down to one lane and barely moving. At least we were good company in the car, making the best of the situation.

Things quickly changed as we passed into the Lake District National Park.  Watch as the countryside was transformed to rising fells through its boarders.   These hills were lined with a distinct variety of dry stone walls built from field stones and the vernacular building materials stand out as different from those in the Chilterns or the Cotswolds.  Darker tones of limestone and sandstone, and even slate.

We reached Keswick and found out that Mark, who had also be caught up in traffic, was still several hours off.  We made a brief stop in the town center.  It is an outdoors gadgetry buyers haven.  Every single store was sporting the latest in hiking and camping and water sports gear in the windows.  This is the sort of shopping on a High Street I could get into!

We continued to make the best of our time and went for a short walk around Derwentwater Lake.  We were on the shore opposite of Catsbells, the climb we would be taking on tomorrow.  I could live on one of the small islands in the lake.  Smoke climbing up out of the trees from a stone cottage  chimney looked so inviting.    We had the time on the way back to the B&B to climb up the much smaller fell, Castlehead.  Only reaching a height of 250 feet it sat dwarfed across the water from Catsbells.  As we hiked back down the hillside, we passed a much older couple walking up, leaning heavily on their walking sticks.  Clearly they were up to no good, it would be getting dark, I’m sure they were heading up there for a snog or otherwise get into trouble.

Mark finally caught up to us.  I was sitting out on the patio with a book waiting for his arrival.  I knew he was coming  long before he pulled up, the car has such a distinctive rumble :)

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Bluebell Woods

Mark in the bluebellsWe’ve had several days of amazing non-boring weather. One minute it’s clear blue skies, sun shining, the next, it’s thunder, lightening and hail. Lather, rinse, repeat. I love the mildness of the weather in England in general, but I do miss the occasional insane sort of weather we would get back home, especially loud rolling thunder storms.

In the Bluebell bloomAs much as I enjoy this bi-polar weather, it was putting a slight damper on our weekend plans of getting outside. We didn’t let it stop us. I made the decree, we would go in search of Bluebell woods, come rain or come shine. It just happened that it worked out perfectly around us, raining before we went into the woods, where we stopped for a Sunday Roast. And just as we made it back to the car after the hike it started hailing and thundering again. We’re going to be away at possibly the precise time that it would be best to see the bluebells, so I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss seeing them at all.

I had been keeping my eye on the Woodland Trust‘s website. Here they have a collection of the most marvelous phenology maps of British wildlife. I’ve been closely monitoring the sightings of Bluebells reported. There was a sharp peak in first bloom sightings about five days ago. I was hoping this meant we would at least get to see the start of this spectacular phenomenon. We were not disappointed.

Deep blue violet colorWe visited College Wood, a 130 acre woodland just outside Nash. It’s a designated “Bluebell Wood.” What does this mean? The native Bluebells are a protected species in the UK. It means we would be treated to an incredible display of native flowers. The forest floor is carpeted in Bluebells. A soft violet blue haze hovering over the rich green foliage. Their fragrance delicately perfuming the air. What we saw today is only the beginning, I can just imagine what a sight it will be in a weeks time. Hopefully they will still be out in force when we return at the end of the month. There are a couple of sites closer to us we can check out, maybe we’ll be able to catch the tail end of this phenomenon.

The Complete Bluebell Photoset

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Hiking: Hambleden Estate

Hambleden Hike: 2.6 mile hike  (back dated entry)

DSC_5406It’s just such a lovely sunny day out and what better way to take advantage of the weather than to go for another little ramble through the countryside. This walk took us up and around Hambleden Estate . We could see some areas that would be potential “Bluebell Woods” to visit once the flowers bloomed.

We encountered mobs of rabbits and the holes leading to their dens in the woods. In the nearby distance we heard the sounds of gun shots.  This estate is known for it’s game and the village store you can purchase anything from venison sausages made from estate deer to wild duck, pheasants and rabbits.

We are both easily amused taking photos that make us laugh, or make us look completely insane to the outside observer. I’m sure I looked particularly insane shaking my head back and forth to achieve the above image.

DSC_5316I nearly got myself stuck in a U shaped branch suspended over the meandering little stream. It was easy enough to get up onto and slide into the branches embrace. Getting out was another matter. Mark needed to come to my rescue. The water below me wasn’t deep, but I could imagine it wouldn’t be pleasant to fall into. Mark made it look easy after I was extracted from the position, he hopped up and even started to climb around. I just wouldn’t put my falling in out of the realm of possibility.

Halfway through the day we stopped at the Stag and Huntsman in search of food since we were getting hungry, we had just missed the cut off time for lunch. A break for a pint would have to do. Looking at the specials on the menu board, we could see that it is highly influenced by the game available from the area. A place we’ll need to revisit I think.

Complete photoset from the day

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A Long Walk

Still life tree in English countrysideToday’s hike: a 5.5 mile loop

We went for a walk this afternoon to clear the dark clouds and cobwebs out of our minds, get some sunlight and fresh air. It turned into a rather long walk that really did us some good.

Up and down hills and over rather slick and slippery mud making for a challenging hike. We just haven’t adopted using “Wellies” on our walks. Although my muddied jean legs and five pounds of soil sticking to either shoe would seem argument enough to use them.

Some of the smaller back pools of water were frozen over, I honestly didn’t think it was getting cold enough for that, but I guess being in the shadow of the hillside has contributed to that. These shaded areas were much less tricky to navigate, the mud solid like we were traveling across permafrost. With camera in tow and a new lens to play with, we of course could not resist a little photography, a pleasant distraction too.

Complete Photoset from today

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Cookham Loop

Deb along the ThamesCookham Loop Map

We’ll take England winter weather over Pittsburgh any day. It was sunny and pleasant today, they can keep their snow showers, grey barren trees. Even in the middle of winter, compared to home, England is so green and lush looking. The open green fields, there are enough evergreen trees and ivy filling the tree line with color. The air smelling so fresh and clean. We walked a favorite four mile loop taking us along the Thames in into Cookham. We stopped for a lovely lunch at the Bel and Dragon and continued on our walk home.

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England: Burnham Beeches

It was so sunny and inviting outside this morning I proclaimed to Mark, “we need to *go* somewhere, or *do* something!” We started looking around for nearby National Trust attractions or parks or caves. We came up with a few ideas that warrant revisiting with a little more planning. For instance, visiting Cheddar, where the largest gorge in England is located along with more cave systems. Or Warwick Castle. Mark came up with the idea of going to Burham Beeches, which is a nature reserve of over 500 acres just a few miles from where we live.

Although I know we weren’t going very far from civilization, both the drive and this park make you feel like you are driving into the middle of nowhere. We were on several single track roads ensconced by trees in full autumn regalia. Once we found a place to park we made our way in on the paths and forest floor carpeted in crunchy leaves. It turns out this is a very special piece of woodland. It is a slice of ancient woodland. More than sixty of the species of plants and animals here are either rare or under threat nationally. The area is protected as a National Nature Reserve and as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

We had such a lovely walk in the woods. Climbing the amazing pollarded trees and running through the leaves. The pollarded (yes, it’s a verb) trees are cut as a woodland management practice. This is where tree limbs are all lopped off at two or three meter height. This encourages a knobbly growth and was used for harvesting firewood that didn’t actually kill the tree. The result are these enormous trees that are hundreds of years old that look fabulously crooked and crinkled with a spray of numerous limbs sprouting from a single point.

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England: Blackpool – Sand Dune Nature Reserve

Here we are again, in Blackpool, in the off season, again. What to do? I can always find somewhere for a hike. On the far south end of the long stretch of beach is a treasure. I spent several hours in and around the Lytham St. Anne Sand Dune Nature Reserve. Here lies but 25 hectares of what was once a huge expanse of habitat. Rolling sand dunes that meet the coast. The vibrant green grasses and sedges buffeted about and rustling in the strong breeze. The soft honey colored limestone sand easily whipped up in the wind. Mini landscapes are carved out by the action of the wind. Is this a mighty desert of undulating naked dunes?

It’s a sunny day on the beach and I’m bundled up in a warm coat and scarf. The wind is chilled and gusting periodically. It’s not so cold, but cold enough that with the speed it hits it causes my ears to ache and eyes to run with tears. No chance to see mini beasts today.

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Austria: Siez

Low clouds over the mountains, morningWe awoke to a foggy drizzly morning in Siez. After Mark left for work I consulted the hiking map. I was given advice on two routes. The first was toward the smaller rolling mountains across the road. It sounded like the perfect hike for this morning, a couple of hours up the hill to where there was a cafe to have lunch and coffee. The other took me behind the hotel, up into the higher peaks, as was told it’s better when the weather clears up, there are views for miles up there. Unlike the previous hotel that had detailed hiking maps of trails around Leoben that I could take with me, I didn’t have a map to take with me. I studied the map and made notes before heading out.

I headed out the door to the cafe on the hill. It was moist, misty and foggy, but not enough to deter me. However, the driving rain that started to fall an hour later was plenty reason to head back. Not too mention the map I had consulted seemed to have no bearing on reality. There was a major highway in front of me that was not on the map and with no immediately obvious way to get around it I decided to head back to the hotel.

Mur river in SeizAfter a suitable drying out period, the day looked like it might actually clear up, I decided to head into the higher trail. For a while I felt as if I was following a path laid out by a Hash House Harrier. It may have been coincidence or on purpose, but there were white arrows spray painted on the ground leading me along where the map said I needed to go. One intersection indicated either direction would do. I followed these along, thinking at some point I would see or be directed into the woods on onto an obvious trail. Instead, I was led along extremely narrow country lanes where the one or two cars that happened to fly by were flying by at obscene speeds.

And then the skies opened up again, rain pouring around me, the country lane started to resemble a small mountain stream as I hiked back past the farms and fields to the hotel. I’m not terribly disappointed, they were both nice walks that were interrupted by rain. And frankly, I was still recovering from the trauma of the previous day. I didn’t really feel like pushing myself. I decided it would be a good idea to head into Leoben tomorrow, where there are things to do indoors in case of rain.

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A Hike and picinic dinner

Mark n'ciderToday’s hike: Gmaps pedometer rocks my socks so much

A little over four miles and stopping (just past mile 2) on the hillside over looking the Thames and our local community. We packed a picnic dinner with treats from M&S: Moroccan butternut squash parcels, wild mushroom and goats cheese frittata, marinated artichokes, strawberries, crisps, cider and biscuits and enjoyed the cool evening air as the sun set. We really picked an amazingly beautiful place to live!

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Greece: Athens – Acropolis and other thoughts

Deb with the ParthenonIt’s marginally less obscenely hot today, before we leave for our flight, we needed to make it to the Acropolis and the Parthenon. No archaeologists on strike today, up we went.

The Propylaia (the main entrance) and The Parthenon are both undergoing extensive restoration work, only small portions are not surrounded by scaffolding, maybe some day we will revisit the sites once the work has been completed. A project of Perikles, the complex of temples was built starting in the 5th century B.C. The Parthenon is a temple built and dedicated to the goddess Athena and over the centuries has been utilized as a church, a mosque and even housed weapons as an arsenal through various invasions. Even with the amount of damage it has sustained, it still remains the symbol and pride of Athens.

Deb with the ParthenonWhile Mark was working in the early afternoon, I also made my pilgrimage to buy some yarn made in Greece to add to my “knitting scarves as souvenirs” project. Walking by one of the many tiny Byzantine churches, around the corner and parallel to the Ermou Street clothes shopping is a long street full of textile shops, largely bolts and bolts of fabric. I initially asked at the hotel desk where to find such a shop. I didn’t want to wander aimlessly in the oppressive heat. She asked me how many and what colors I was thinking, “when you come back, we’ll have yarn for you!” stymied I explained, “No, no! I like to go look at the yarn myself!”

I’m starting to have a back log, snowy white fluff from Finland, soft blues from Spain and now a chunky wool of ochers and terra cotta. Scarves are quick (relatively), I’ll catch up!

Byzantine Church in the middle of Ermou StreetI did have a good bit of down time in the hotel escaping from the heat and sun, but even this time was spent reading about Greek life. I brought along with me It’s All Greek To Me by John Mole. Two English ex-pats who came to living in Greece for work and then decided to buy a home there, this place where they were the happiest they’ve ever been. He takes us through all the details as he buys essentially an abandoned goat shack in the 1970’s and remodels it into a home where they have lived for the past 30 years. Interspersed through his own story he includes tidbits of Greek history, mythology, culture and language. I learned quite a bit about traditional village life, Greek life philosophy, the haggling mentality, their love of their own food and identity. And even through the changes in modern society they managed to create a piece of their own Arcadia. It was a fun read made more real and relevant as it was contextualized within my own experience.

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Greece: Athens – Royal Gardens, Temple of Zues, Lykavittos Hill

Detail of inlaid stone around fountainWith a freshly soaking wet head I ventured outside on this marginally cooler day to see a few outdoor sites. Next to the Parliament building is the forty acre National Gardens. I went in the morning and spent a couple hours there. For one, it was at least twenty degrees cooler within the gardens than the rest of the city. Athens has few trees along roads or in squares. A cool breeze actually came out of any of the areas that had significant numbers of trees and greenery. So I didn’t mind staying there for as long as I did.

The turtle hiding among the flowers bolted as I approachedIt isn’t an organized botanical garden per se. It is a park riddled with meandering paths, pools and fountains. The fountains had intricately inlaid stones around them. The park was created in the 1840’s and was landscaped by Friedrich Schmidt, a Prussian horticulturist, who traveled the world looking for rare plants. It’s not the same park as it once was, but was a wonderful place for respite from the sun and heat.

Olympian Temple of ZeusThere were woodpeckers everywhere, just as many as the pigeons. I thought there was a strangely large bird under the leaves of a patch of purple flowers, until I noticed that it was actually a turtle. A speedy turtle that took off as I approached, but not before I could give him a little photo shoot!

On the far side of the National Gardens is the Olympiann Temple of Zues. It is the largest temple in Greece, even larger that the Parthenon. Construction began in the 6th century B.C. but was not completed until 650 years later. Only 15 of the original 104 columns remain, but there is enough of the temple left that you really get a sense for the enormous size and scale of the temple.

Fallen column of Olympian Temple of Zeus

In the evening Mark and I headed on over to Lykavittos Hill. At 910 feet it’s the highest point inside the city of Athens. The ancient belief was that it was the rock destined to become the Acropolis citadel, accidentally dropped by Athena. We rode the funicular which was like the inclines in Pittsburgh, but in a tunnel, I would have thought it would have been out in the open for the views on the ride.

Mark on the very edge of Lykavittos HillOnce to the top we enjoyed the panoramic views of the city, we could see the Aegean Sea off behind the Acropolis. There is a small monastery and bell tower on top of the hill as well. We enjoyed a lovely (and a refreshingly really non-Greek) dinner at the terraced restaurant on the hill. I had the Sole served with an orange glaze and almonds with a bitter greens salad with pomegranate. We shared a dessert involving flambeed tomatoes and strawberries served with a mango and green pepper sorbet.

Deb on Lykavittos HillWith the funicular on running every half and hour near midnight, we decided to walk down the hill. Even in the relative coolness of the evening air, it was a rough hike down, if we stopped moving, that gave the still air enough time to remind us how hot we were.

Most the of the dirt path on the way down wasn’t lit aside from what light from the moon. It was one of those quiet and private moments Mark and I get to share, with no one else in sight. Hiking down the highest hill in Athens at midnight. Midnight! The metro stops at midnight! We were a couple miles away from the hotel, but slogged through the heat and fell asleep the moment our heads hit the air conditioned hotel pillows.

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England: Didsbury – Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden

AzaleasWith Azalea’s aflame, carpets of Columbine and surrounded in swaths of fragrant Wisteria I walked through the Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens and hiked on through to the neighboring woodlands.

I purchased the mini guide book written by the curator/gardener of the grounds and read it while sitting in the gardens. He had his own flavor of humor interjecting the stories of how and why certain plants are included in this garden with tales of personnel past and present, and ghost stories galore associated with the buildings on the grounds.

It really felt like an oasis that few people new about. I visited the grounds and woods twice this week and barely saw another soul. On the hike I got a little “lost” well, not really, it was just a detour to the River Mersey by missing taking the right trail back to the village. It was only a problem when I realized how hungry I was and that I was probably at least an hour away from getting out of the woods.

I made it back to civilization and had a lovely lunch at a French cafe (Cafe Rouge), I ordered the Prix Fixe menu, hoping it would be a fast lunch. A tomato tartlet with creme fraiche, Penne with smoked salmon and zucchini followed by creme brulee and coffee took all of two hours to escape from.

The complete photo set

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Cookham Loop with Mark

Sunday Walk: Cookham Loop with Mark

Walked into Cookham, the path was significantly less slick with mud compared to a few days ago as well as there being mobs of people and their dogs on the trail. I felt very English, I just need the galoshes! :) We stopped and had a late lunch and watched some football in a local pub (The Crown). We wanted to continue on the Thames River Path, but it was approaching dusk and getting markedly colder. Given an earlier start we would have continued on.

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The Castle, aka Hedsor Towers

Today’s walk: Hedsor Tower

Mark joined me for this three mile walk with the aim of reaching the castle like building at the top of the hill. I thought it was going to be this mysterious Dropmore house I had been reading about, but examination of ordinance maps has me off by a couple of miles (an adventure for another day).

Hedsor Towers is a beautiful building with an amazing view, being on one of highest points in our neighborhood, overlooking countryside and our village. There were half a dozen Guinea Fowl running around excitedly on the grounds below the dozen or so Red Kites soaring on the stiff breeze over head.

It turns out Hedsor Towers Farm is a part of Copas Farms. We’ll have to visit some of the “Pick your own” fields for fruit and veg once it reopens for the season.

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Trying to reach the castle, thwarted

Today’s walk: Not quite to the castle like building

Almost five miles. I started heading up the path I noticed the other day heading in the general direction of the castle like building up on the hill. Once I reached the other end of the field, the trail I was on was blocked due to some construction. I followed the signs diverting the public foot path but my plans were thwarted as it led to a dead end and turned off in the wrong direction than I was trying to go. It was a lovely path though, lined on either side with planted rows of trees.

I backtracked to the crossroads sign, a little post by a bridge pointing to the paths radiating from that intersection, “Shakespeare Path”, “Beechwood Path”, general public footpath… I followed Shakespeare back into Cookham. There were three people on horses on this path, navigating the soggy terrain at a much faster clip than I was. I then just headed to Cookham’s High Street where I picked up menus from a couple of restaurants, some places have websites yet don’t have they’re menus online. And headed home. I’ll make it to that hill by path yet!

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Today’s walk: Cookham Loop

Cookham Loop Map

This 4 mile loop (well, 3.99 mile loop) took me along part of the Thames River Footpath. Since it has been a bit rainy lately, parts of the path along the fields were slick with inch thick soupy mud, leading me to walk along more inside the fields. I don’t have appropriate footwear with me, but will in a couple of days. But regardless, I need to pick up a pair of galoshes to properly navigate this terrain.

Across the river were a number of fabulous houses and their small boats moored in their docks. For the most part, I saw few other people out taking advantage of the sunny afternoon, but there were a number of people out with their dogs. It seems quite a few people have dogs here.

A swarm of coots, ducks, geese and swans were following me along a portion of the path. They must have mistaken me for a regular who doles out crumbs of bread.

Rather than continuing on the Thames path, I walked up into Cookham, the exit path leading me through a centuries old cemetery, headstones hidden in the trees and some maintained by the local flint and brick church. Passed by a couple of interesting restaurants on the main road back that we’ll have to check out, The Ferry and The Walnut Grove.

On my way home I stopped at the green grocer and the market to pick up some supplies and headed home laden with more than I could comfortably carry for the last half mile stretch.

In between miles two and three off of Ferry Rd, there is access to another public footpath leading up to the top of a hill where there is a castle like building (possibly Cliveden? A National Trust site, but I’m not sure). Friday is looking gorgeous and sunny, I’ll make that my destination.

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Switzerland, Hiking in Egerkingen

Deb hiking in SwitzerlandWhile Mark was on site with a client, I was left to my own devices for the day. A quick check at the hotel front desk revealed there were hiking trails within walking distance. I was handed a map of the loops they recommend to patrons for jogging and headed off into to the crisp autumn day. The rain had stopped and the skies cleared long enough for me to have several hours of hiking.

There were heaps of trails around the hotel that were not on this map. Had I known, I would have provisioned myself better with water and snacks. Narrow spurs that wound their way up the hillside were everywhere. We are here for a couple of days, I’ll have time to explore these routes.

MushroomsPhotos can’t seem to capture just how dark and dense the stands of black firs are. I could have been passing through a cave, I could see the light on the other side shining brightly through the golden birch leaves.

The air smelled clearly of autumn, of leaf decay, but had distinctly different flavor to the aroma than that of home.

In the grass, there were tall (8-10 inches high) mushrooms huddled together like friends caught up in conversation. All around me were new and yet strangely familiar flowers, trees and leaves. The shape and color, or texture of bark all told me these were plant families I knew, yet so unfamiliar.

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Travel: Switzerland
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Hiking: Allegheny National Forest

Mark minutes into the hikeMark and I joined our friend George on an over night backpacking and hiking trip in the Allegheny National Forest. We set out for the Tracey Ridge Trail System, in the northern-most part of the forest. We did not see another soul on the trails we were hiking on. Although we did see one boat full of folks with their loud music and after dark we saw two other camp fires across the reservoir.

Deb between bouldersWe were fortunate that the rain cooperated. It did rain, but at all the right times. It rained the entire time we were driving up Friday afternoon. It stopped to allow us to have several hours/miles of rain free hiking, to set up a dry camp and have dinner on a large flat rock next to the reservoir as well as a bonfire (despite the sogginess of available materials) and for night time forest exploration for Mark. Mark disappeared for some time, periodically we would see his head lamp light some distance away. It started raining just in time for us to settle in for the night and a heavy continued rain for most of the night. By morning it stopped and we had clear sunny skies for day two.

I did manage to fall into the reservoir, rather gracefully I might add, as opposed to Mark who went in the water on purpose:
Deb gracefully slipping into reservoir Mark went in on purpose

Since we diverted from the main trail on day 1 in search of a camp site near the reservoir and the GPS kept losing us, I estimate we hiked around 11 miles. Probably 3.5 on the evening we hiked in and the remaining 7.5 on the way out on day two. Early in the hike, any intersection we encountered had a convenient “you are here” map with a tack at the intersection. Very handy, we thought, it is an excellent idea, however, once you were miles into the 33 miles of interconnecting loops, the maps just weren’t there. I mean, they had been there, the poles and bolts were there, the signs were just missing.

Mark and setting sunWe tried a new food strategy for this trip. The morning before we left we pre-cooked and portioned out food for our meals into Ziploc bags. The idea being, use a boil-in-bag strategy using the JetBoil to heat the food. For dinner, baggies of pork tenderloin (one baggie had bbq sauce, the other with teriyaki sauce) over bagged rice. For breakfast, baggies of scrambled eggs to have with bagels and precooked bacon. Preparing the food like this packs small and light and leaves for minimal clean up. I wouldn’t want to be scrubbing cooked on dehydrated camp eggs out of a pot.

Wild life high lights: red eft, large round-leaved orchid, there were Indian Pipes all over the place yet I managed to not photograph any:
Red Eft Large Round-Leaved Orchid

The complete photo set

There were blueberry bushes all along the slope near the water, some of the berries were ready for eating. Give these bushes another week and foraging for berries would have been much more filling than the handful that we ate.

A bit of product endorsement as well. I love my new pack, a CamelBak Alpine Explorer. The reservoir holds 3 liters of water and is made of materials that don’t make the water taste funny. The pack itself expands and holds a surprising amount of gear. Even fully loaded, the weight was nicely distributed on my hips and has super comfy shoulder straps. I’m ready for the next trip already.

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