Thursday, April 9, 2015

Easter Weekend in the Lake District

I'm hiding in our apartment because I just told the restaurant host downstairs that my, wasn't he looking "sweet" today.  I really meant to say "sharp," as he was suited and tied today, when normally he is not, and we maintain a neighborly banter, the dialogue of which transpires whenever he is smoking outside the door of the restaurant and I am entering or exiting the door of our apartment.  I am the foreign neighbor lady that complains about the evening cigarette smoke that wafts up through our floorboards from their storage area, and he is the "good cop" manager who assures me that he always smokes outside.

The sun is shining here in Amsterdam and the temperature is what could be called "warm" without hesitation.  I went for a walk earlier, to collect groceries and whatnot, and it was almost as nice as hiking in the English countryside with mud under your feet and sheep all around and no people in sight.  But not quite.

We flew from Amsterdam to Manchester on Friday morning, and our friends collected us for the two-hour drive up to the Lake District.  Our first walk was combined two Wainwrights overlooking the town of Coniston, just south of center (centre) in the park.  Visibility was poor, with plenty of slush and wind on the ridge between Old Man and Dow Crag, by far the chilliest of the three walks of the weekend.  The clouds broke right at the Dow Crag summit, so I did manage one photo.

We loaded up on chips and beer in the Hesket Newmarket pub and readied ourselves for Day Two, much as I have loaded up on half a jar of peanut butter and a third of a loaf of bread in preparation for the pair of time trials I must run in one hour from now.  Hm.

Anyway, Saturday I opted to stay at lower elevations and go for a bit of run along the base of Blencathra, nearer to where we were staying.  It was sunny and beautiful and oh-so-glorious to be wearing running shoes in place of hiking boots.

So, while I scampered through the meadow down here:

The other three were moving slowly toward the top of Blencathra, shown here:

And scrambling up a steep little incline called Sharp Edge, here:

After overshooting the waterfall where we'd agreed to meet and trotting another two miles up the trail, climbing halfway up Blencathra without aid of a "permissible footpath," and making acquaintance with a few wooly grazers, I realized my navigational mistake and managed to return to the correct waterfall just as they were packing up to head back to the car.  I also saw some cool lichen growing on a twig.

That night, we cooked a proper English Easter roast (lamb, as it happens) at the little AirBnB we rented, and Ed and I caught two mouse-sized bats, like, with leathery wings and squeaking, in our bedroom and threw them out the window and then still managed to fall asleep.

Day Three was the "long walk," which would entail driving to Patterdale on the southwestern end of Ullswater and hiking about twelve miles:  first up to Helvellyn (950m) by way of a slight scramble called Striding Edge, then down and up again to Fairfield, over to St. Sunday Crag, and back down to Patterdale.   Google Maps it.  By the way, I hear people are playing Pac Man on Gmaps now?

Walk that ridge up there from right to left. Go.
Despite Ed's not feeling at all super, we made it up to Striding Edge and had a pretty fun scramble, following which there were some snow steps over a little cornice to the summit.  It should be mentioned that we saw more than one mid-calf-height dog sprinting up and down the slopes and rocks during the climb up.  Apparently little dogs thrive on razor-sharp shards of volcaniclastic sandstone.  Who knew?

Those trekking poles were a wedding gift, and they saved my knees.
Striding Edge is the ominous-looking one on the left.
Red Tarn down to the right.

After, I don't know, a while, we all made it over the rocks and up the steps in the snow, and ate some sandwiches and absorbed the many views from the summit:

We then enjoyed an easy stroll eastward along the ridge, over various pikes and crags, and down the hill to Grisedale Tarn.  Somewhere in the middle was an off-hand placard that mentioned a small aircraft had made England's first mountaintop landing here, in December 1926.  The sign said something along the lines of: "The men got out, looked around, and in a couple of hours, got back in the plane and flew away."  Must have forgotten the tea.

Ed was still feeling awful and I wanted very much not to piss off my ITB, so the two of us decided to head back down to Patterdale, rather than humping up and down an additional two fell peaks with our friends.

This turned out to be a solid-gold nugget of decision-making, because halfway down the hill stood a stone traveler's hut where two men from one of the UK's biggest cancer support organizations were greeting hikers and handing out huge mugs of tea and homebaked goods of every description.  We sat and enjoyed the view for about twenty minutes, and chatted with a lady from Leeds.

Then we ambled the rest of the way back into Patterdale, noting the places where frogs had lain their eggs in jellied coats over the soggiest parts of the footpath, and the giant bootprints where unwitting walkers had gooped their feet with frog spawn.

Then Ed threw up in the corner of the beer garden at the Patterdale Hotel, proving once and for all that he had indeed been pretty darn sick for the duration of the 18 km, seven-and-a-half hour loop.  We shuffled into the lobby and confessed to the nice man at the front desk, who I think might have seafaring experience because he cheerily told us he would "get the bucket and swab up."

Poor Ed slept out in the parking lot while the rest of us ate a pub dinner, but rose again on Monday morning and managed to stroll with me in the little town of Grasmere, where my oldest sister lived and worked for a spell over a decade ago.  We dabbled in the daffodils, lunched on tea and cake in the little shop where she had waitressed, and bought some famous Grasmere gingerbread for the road.

With some elevation in the legs, we're back into the Amsterdam routine, waking up to the cat's muttering and walking down to Ed's work with coffees in hand.  With the Amsterdam sunrise and the chittering of bike chains and buzzing of motorscooters, it's almost as nice as taking a mug of tea down the lane on a misty morning, when you can hear the farmer rattling through the paddocks on his tractor, but can't see him until he passes you on the other side of the hedge...

... almost.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Two Days in Hong Kong

We broke up the 20 (two zero) hours back to Amsterdam in a shoebox (I mean airplane) with a visit to our friend Danny, halfway up the famous Central-Mid-Levels escalator (whaaat) in Hong Kong.  We ate many noodles.  And giggle, as foreigners everywhere do, about translational faux pas.  Pas's.  Pass.  Passe. You know:

And were amazed, as foreigners everywhere are, to see familiar faces so far from home:

This is the scariest thing I've ever seen in a public restroom:

And we walked through the Edward Youde Aviary in Hong Kong Park.  About 70 species of bird there, and I didn't take photos of the bird ID chart.  Oops.

No bird!  Just plant!

Danny even took us on the ferry over to Lantau Island and we hiked from Mui Wo to the Po Lin Monestary (interchangeably known as "Big Buddha").  Lantau Peak is as high as the highest peak we climbed in the Lake District this past weekend (spoiler alert), 934 meters.  Only in Hong Kong we began at sea level, instead of at 120 meters.  So.  

There were only about two thousand steep stone stairs to climb and descend.  I don't know truly how many, but my right IT band is finally recovering, two months later.

Danny on the visibility: "You guys are lucky.  This is actually a good day." 

Looking at what we've covered so far.
The top!

Now we go down.  That's the monastery, down there.

That was fast.  Here we are, already.

There's Lantau Peak, where we just were ten seconds ago.

"World's largest gondola exhibition."

Garmisch-Partenkirchen gondola! Ja!

Gondola ride down... HK airport in the distance.
You can see the pylons for the massive bridge they are building from HK to Macau. 

After the clean, fresh coastal air of Jervis Bay, it was depressing to breath the noxious stickiness that floats down from China.  Really, really sad.  Gave us new perspective on environmentalism and how fortunate we are to have grown up in Washington State.

We were discussing China with another friend of ours who has traveled in mainland China for work.  While there, his Mandarin interpreter was a nineteen year-old Chinese girl... who had never seen stars before.

We walked around the city a bit more the second day, while Danny was at work.  The city is not terribly pedestrian-friendly, and I felt like I would be dead within five minutes on a bike.  Still cool to walk around and see the colors, though.

Man Mo Temple.
Man Mo Temple Detail.

After lunch (ramen!), Ed and I took the ferry and a train over to the Chi Lin nunnery and Nan Lian Garden in Kowloon.  We've been to China.  There were some lovely rocks there.

Beautiful rocks in the rock garden.
We met Danny after work for one last hill walk up to "The Peak." Which was impressive, and bizarre.  Gorgeous views of the garbage-misted skyline, from this weird kind of shopping center/food court thing on top of an otherwise restful and natural island mountaintop setting.  I have no photos.

Our flight left at midnight or so, and that was Hong Kong.


Australia Part II: Jervis Bay

Just returned from an invigorating Easter weekend of fell-walking in northern England (Lake District), so going to spew the rest of the Australia/Hong Kong photos here and now.  Make room, make room!  I guess it should be "chunder" the rest of the Australia photos here, in the jargon of Oz. No worries.  

 Following the last week of January in Sydney, Ed and I rented a car and drove a couple of hours south along the NSW coast and threw up (chundered?) our tent at Cave Beach campground in Booderee National Park.

We arrived in the dark, but the full moon gave us plenty of light for walking the quarter mile or so down to the camping area, and cast plenty of shadows that all looked like pythons or red-bellied black snakes.  Both of which animals were featured on "recently sighted" notices posted on the campground bulletin board and next to the women's bathroom.  

This wallaby is not a poisonous snake.
There were also wallabies, kangas, possums, and at least one echidna living around the campground.  Plus more varieties of birds than I'd ever seen in one campground before in my life.  Waking up in the morning was like waking up to a huge, chirping, tweeting, crawing orchestra.  Lots of ants, too, but these were harmless.  Plenty of people walking around barefoot.  No crazy spiders.  All in all, great.

We arrived on a Tuesday, and had the place mostly to ourselves.  Things got loud and crowded beginning on Friday,sadly.  This included a crowd of Spaniards who arrived after two in the morning, drunk and shouting, and tried to set up "Aquí, aquí!", meaning about five feet from my head.  My pleas for them to shut up, we're sleeping, were neither loud nor threatening enough.  Ed, though, was able to dissuade them through sheer power of upper torso whiteness, shaking his eye mask, and screaming profanity.  The pack departed to the far side of the campground, and for that, I was thankful.

Go over there with your warm beer and discotecas, chulos.

We had a couple of good hikes over the week, one to a gorgeous, secluded little spot called Kitty's Beach.  Lots of sand, lots of sun, little shade... but no sunburns.  Success!

Munyungawaraga Dhugan Trail.  Cape St. George Lighthouse ruins way out there.

We drove back to Sydney after five days, via Kangaroo Valley, a lush green place.  Steep climbs in and out with the car, but well worth it.  

Saw the only poisonous spider of the entire trip: a black widow, outside the window of the women's bathroom at Fitzroy Falls.  The park ranger at the gift shop desk shrugged, kind of apologetic/amused, and said "We usually don't do anything about them."

Cool.  I'll just stay over here, then.  And you stay over there.

The real danger, though, was approaching this ferocious beast in the town of Kangaroo Valley.

Once back, we spent one last night in Sydney to get proper showers and a good night of sleep, and then it was two long flights back home, with a two-day stopover in Hong Kong.