Nice & Monaco GP

After riding through Corsica, we took the ferry from Bastia to Nice. Since the cycling tour ended at just the right time, we were able to stay in Nice and ride the train to Monaco the day of the Monaco F1 GP.

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View of Nice’s coast
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View from the stands at the Grand Prix de Monaco

We flew home through Madrid. The airport is gorgeous, and I had my first taste of the amazing Jamón Ibérico.

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Madrid Airport
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Jamón ibérico

Corsica

Day 1 – Bastia to St Florent

A bit nervous to start since I wasn’t as fit as I was in 2012, and the Croatia tour was really tough. The Croatia tour had lots of steep grades that went on and on and on.

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We started off easy with a pretty flat ride with tail wind on the Eastern coast until lunch. After lunch, we followed the “cap course” path and cut through the center of the island. After some time, we started climbing (to get to the other side of the island). It was relatively long, but very manageable. At some point, we took the “high road.”  It was very narrow with few cars. Impressively, most managed to stay on their side of the narrow road. During this section, we had to navigate a herd of goats.

The high road didn’t last forever, so we had to rejoin the major road (D81) on the west coast. The designated stop was Nanza, which I should see across the valley. With all the bends and turns, it was still miles away. With the wind swirling in the bends, it took forever to get there.  After Nanza, we had headwind for a bit. As soon as we turned, we had a downhill with a tailwind into St Florent.

Day 2 – St Florent to Calvi

Since we got started after the other folks on the trip, we rode with Bob (the tour leader). After the town, we started climbing. We expected a headwind into the mountain, but we had a nice tailwind help us up. As we headed up, we look back on St Florent in the bay. All along the way, we could see rock formations. During the descent, we saw a busload of riders (including tandems with blind riders in the back) about to start their day. As we ascended into Belgodere, we could see it from several bends away. We also saw another town in the distance.

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After a long lunch stop, we headed to that other town.  As soon as we passed through it, the rain started to pout. I decided to ascend the big climb of the day and pass on the descent on the rough roads. I climbed into the warm van and saw the scenic views from the inside.

Calvi had a nice citadel and port.

Day 3 – Calvi to Porto

We got an even later start out of Calvi. We wanted the laundry to dry took our time. According to Lonely Planet, the ride from Calvi to Porto is one of the most beautifull rides, and I wholehearted agree. We did rollers on the coastline, descended into a valley and rode back out to the coast. The road surface started off nice and then got awful for a long stretch. I started hoping to uphills to ease the strain on my back and hands.

After we crossed a bridge, the pavement finally got better. We had lunch right before our climb. It was a nice, gradual climb. We would see a point on the other side of the valley and go through multiple bends before reaching it. We were rewarded with a lovely view at the summit.

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We then had a nice descent with wide roads. We had stunning views after each bend. My legs finally felt good, so I added some effort to the climbs. On one of the narrow climbs, a bus got stuck trying to pass a car.

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Day 4 – Porto to Ajaccio 

We climbed out of Porto and stopped for a tour of the rock gardens. [Wind, erosion] formed these rocks over time, and we spent about 45 minutes hiking through the rocks.

After exploring the rocks, we continued the climb to the top.  As with the other days, the views were gorgeous, and we could see the coastline to the right. We descended on the inside of the island with wide empty roads and lovely views. We even got to navigate through a smaller herd of goats. We did some rollers back to the coast and went through several quaint villages. I could smell food wafting through the town in these villages, and I was counting down the miles to lunch. We stopped at a beachside restaurant in Sagone. I was particularly excited that there was an egg on my lunch pizza!  After Sagone, we climbed a bit (with the sun upon us) before descending into Ajaccio. I was so tired after the efforts, the heat and the five course traditional meal at Restaurant 20123 that I fell asleep right after dinner.

Day 5 – Ajaccio to Evisa 

Today was the “queen stage” for the trip. Tons of climbing, and not very much mileage to do so (6300 ft in 43 miles). We climbed out of Ajaccio and ran into the same construction/gravel from yesterday. I got through a few sections of gravel, but ended up walking the looser bits. (Need to mountain bike more to get used to loose surfaces). We climbed out of the pass going in the other direction to Sagone and grabbed a quick bite to eat at the bakery. No one really wanted to do the big climb on a full stomach.

The climb could be broken into two parts: Sagone to Vico and then Vico to the summit. For the first part, we had plenty of shade and the sun was hidden behind the clouds. I kept myself in low zone 4 on the ride up to Vico, but right after Vico the pitch went up to the 14-15% gradient. My heart rate skyrocketed, and with the sun beating down on me, I had trouble keeping my heart rate low(er). Towards the end of the climb, I just wanted to stop. In fact, I was going so slowly, the Garmin auto-paused itself ($%@# !!!).  I saw what I hoped was the summit, but didn’t dare hope too much in fear of disappointment. Thankfully, Chantal drove the van pass me and told me it was the end! I kept moving, and voila! I was done with the climb.

We waited a bit for others at the summit, so we had time to hang out with the pigs.

We decended a bit and had to go back uphill to the hotel in Evisa. In Evisa, we sae hikers (presumably doing the GR20 hike) walk into town.

Day 6 – Evisa to Bastia 

The day started off with a delicious breakfast at the bakery in town. After breakfast, we climbed out of Evisa to the top of the Col de Vergio at 1467 meters. The serene climb took us through an alpine forest, and we cleared the treeline close to the top. At the summit, we could see ski slopes across the valley.

To prepare for the long descent, we put on all our warm gear: armwarmers, kneewarmers, jackets, long-fingered gloves. Even so, I was too cold. We had a nice coffee stop and then descended through the magnificent Golo Gorge.

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After the gorge, there was a nice bit of pavement, so we picked up the pace to lunch. After lunch, clouds threatened to rain, so we made short work of the distance back to Bastia. I was exhausted from holding pace for so long and was relieved to see the Chez Walter to end the trip.

Corsica Thoughts

If you ever do a tour of Corsica:

  • Make sure you do a tour that rides through the west coast from North to South. You’ll want to look over and see the gorgeous coastline.
  • Make sure you descend through the Golo Gorge. You don’t want to ascend through it with the traffic.

Travel notes 

  • TMobile rocks. My cousins didn’t have TMobile, and it was a bit difficult to communicate with them when we were separated.
  •  Bring conditioner. It’s not offered in many hotels, and leave in condition doesnt cut it
  • Pack warm layers and rain gear. Quality gear is expensive overseas.
  • Be careful with your passport. I’ve been a bit lax on this lately, but I’ll be more careful from now on.

Vienna

After we went to the US Consulate to get my brother’s temporary passport, we spent the day taking it easy in Vienna: eating, shopping, catching up on lost sleep and visiting St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

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Losing your passport overseas

Too early in the morning (and with too little sleep), we took the train from Budapest to Vienna. Unfortunately, since we were all passed out (and neglected to lock our luggage together), someone stole my brother’s bag with his passport in it. This put a wrench in the plans, and my brother and I didn’t make it over to Salzburg.

If you lose your passport overseas, here’s a quick explanation of what you need to do (the mobile version of the embassy page was a bit wordy and difficult to understand):

  1. File a police report
  2. Make an appointment with the local US Consulate Office (for US Citizen Services)
  3. Cancel credit cards
  4. Collect items needed for an emergency (or replacement) passport
    • Forms DS11 & DS64
    • Passport photos
    • Printouts (copies) of existing passport and driver’s license. A picture on your phone won’t cut it
    • Money (credit card, local currency or USD will work)
    • Anything else the local US Embassy/Consulate may require*  The local police pointed us to the US Embassy, which was out of the way. We were redirected to the US Consulate (near the tourist areas), which was already closed by that time.  Save some time and figure out the correct location and their hours (the Consultate was only open from 8 AM – 11:30 AM for Citizen Services).
Take a deep breath, and don’t stress too much about it. Don’t let it ruin your trip. I lost some sleep and missed out on some sightseeing due to lack of sleep. After reading stories on the web about passport theft and replacement horror stores, I think international travelers should pack the following:

  • Current passport photos (Saves money and time looking for a passport photo place. You can get them for < $10 a stack at Costco. That said, there’s usually a photo place near the US Consulate.)
  • An extra $135 (+ local currency) or credit card for emergency use. This process is much more difficult if you don’t have money to pay for the passport or for printouts, passport photos, etc.
  • 1-2 copies of the passport’s picture page (as well as a snapshot on the phone/ in email inboxes)

Pest – day 4

After getting some nice rest, we set about on a hike around Gellert Hill. With no specific plan nor map, we visited several scenic areas. We got a bit lost trying to get to the Citadel. Unfortunately, both the monument and Citadel were closed for repairs.

 

Gellert HIll
Gellert Hill
Gellert HIll
Gellert Hill
Gellert HIll
Gellert Hill 
Citadel
Citadel
Gellert Hill
Gellert Hill
Gellert Hill
Gellert Hill
We had a nice Italian dinner at Tony George’s Italiano Etteram with a view of the Basilica and headed over to the Jewish Quarter for a live action puzzle game, the Diamond Heist. They’re very popular in Budapest, and as luck/skill/whatnot would have it, we came close to the record time. Not bad for our first try. (Team Chatty Cathy Cousins with a time of 39:33).

Diamond Heist @ mindquest.hu
Diamond Heist @ mindquest.hu

Pest – day 3

Panorama at the top of Saint Stephen's Basilica
Panorama at the top of Saint Stephen’s Basilica

After an action packed day, we took an easy day. We shopped, ate and visited St. Stephen’s Basilica. 

Sarah at Saint Stephen's Basilica
Sarah at Saint Stephen’s Basilica
Up to the top of Saint Stephen's Basilica
Up to the top of Saint Stephen’s Basilica

Pest

We woke up early and headed to the Central Market. We spent the next couple of hours eating buying souvenirs. The strawberries from the market were the best we ever had, and we went through 6.5 lbs of strawberries in 2 days.

Strawberries at Central Market
Strawberries at Central Market
Souvenirs at Central Market
Souvenirs at Central Market

After taking an midday siesta, we dragged ourselves out to see the Parliament Building, City Park, Heroes Square and the Jewish Quarter.

Hide & Go Seek at City Park
Hide & Go Seek at City Park
I'm there for you
“I’m there for you”
Oops
“Oops”
Vanity
Vanity
One of the oldest metro lines in Europe
One of the oldest metro lines in Europe

Budapest

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My flight over to Budapest was filled with delays. I waited on the tarmac for two hours in Houston waiting for weather to pass, and then the flight from London to Budapest had even more delays. Even with the delays, I did get breakfast with my friend Graham during my long layover at Heathrow.

Sparty
Sparty
A few hours after we landed, we headed to a “Sparty” at Szechenyi Baths. While the concept is cool (club night at a bath), the boy/girl ratio was a bit off and it was filled with tourists. The next morning, we cross the Chain Bridge to Buda to see the Royal Palace, St Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion.

Crossing the Chain Bridge
Crossing the Chain Bridge
Sarah & Christine in cow costume
Meeting the locals
Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion
Saint Matthias Church
Saint Matthias Church

 

Colorado Mountains – December 2013

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Powder day at Breckenridge

As soon as I heard I had Thanksgiving week off, I booked tickets to Colorado for the week. As luck would have it, Colorado is having a great season of snow, and we had tons of trails open. We spent a few days at Breckenridge and stopped by Arapaho Basin and Vail. We have several great dinners, including Thanksgiving, at Modis on Main Street.

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Beaver Creek

A few weeks later, we headed to Beaver Creek. With recent time spent in the mountains, I had enough confidence to try the baby jumps at the terrain park. I got air! (Maybe 2-3 inches, but it’s still air.)