Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Saturday 5 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 9 - Lischana Hütte to Lago di Braies


 
Last night's rain had cleared by the time we rose for a 7.30 am breakfast before ambling back down to the road head above Scuol. The lovely path dropped through bands of thin cloud. Redwings and a larger thrush sized bird flitted amongst the foraging marmots. There were frequent pauses for photos of one or other of the huge variety of wild flowers, with numerous different orchids gracing the path side during the course of our two hour descent.

After 5.5km and a vertical drop of over 1000 metres we were back at the car by 10.30 on a pleasant day with blue patches of sky on the one hand and drops of rain in the air on the other hand. 

The 150 mile journey to Lago di Braies passed uneventfully, with no traffic problems. After elevenses at a roadside café we descended slowly along the Merano road towards Silandro. For many miles our windscreen was filled with the sight of the snow draped Stelvio Alps, shrouded in several layers of cloud. By Bolzano the temperature had risen to 28C, so we were pleased to rise to 1500 metres, where it's a bit cooler and we are ensconced in the splendid Hotel Pragser Wildsee, the view from which is shown above.

Markus will be pleased to hear that the food and accommodation are both excellent. We arrived here around 4pm and then spent some time washing clothes and preparing for a week's hutting trip on Alta Via 1.

We went down for refreshments and were greeted by Susan, Roy, Karen and Mike, who had just arrived from Munich (having started earlier from Connecticut and California) to join us on this trip.

Thanks go to various folk for your comments and emails. The 'phone has been playing up today and this posting is only possible thanks to the hotel's wifi, as no network service is being recognised. It may be some time before another wifi is encountered, so don't worry if there are periods of silence.

Here's a slideshow for the day (26 images)
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Friday, 4 July 2014

Friday 4 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 8 - Lais da Rims


 
Today was rather overcast and a bit windy. I'm writing this from inside the cosy Lischana Hütte with a pot of tea, waiting for rain, whereas yesterday we were outside in t-shirts and blinding sunshine.

After an 8am breakfast - this is not a 'crack of dawn' establishment, though Silke will oblige if asked, Markus and I were requisitioned to the site of Heinz's love nest, where what looked like the components of a garden shed were piled onto a foundation of pallets. We helped Heinz and Marlene (who luckily is a carpenter) rearrange the piles and erect one wall. Unfortunately, as we lifted the second wall that should have meshed with the first, it fell to pieces. Shame! But Markus and I obtained our honourable discharges, leaving the others to assemble the shed bit by bit. 

We bade Markus farewell, and he headed down the hill and home to Dornbirn. It was great to see you Markus, and thanks for orchestrating this bit of our trip. 

Meanwhile, Sue and I headed up the good path to the plateau, Lais da Rims,  south east of the hut. After only a few minutes we encountered a traverse across a steep snow gully. I baulked at this but managed to find a way around the obstacle by tiptoeing up some very loose scree, at the top of which a couple of ptarmigan were having a 'love-in'. They were still at it when I returned several hours later. 

Sue entertained herself by taking flower pictures while she waited at the top of her 'easy scramble'. I should have brought my ice axe and crampons instead of leaving them in the car.

There were no other technical difficulties as we ascended to the plateau at around 2950 metres. By now we were wishing that we had snow shoes as we kept sinking deep into the snowfields that dominate the scenery up here. We met the man with his son who are staying at the hut, then three Swiss who had walked up from San-charl and admitted to being a little disorientated. We comforted them by pointing out the path. "Three Swiss taking directions from an English couple" they mused "it doesn't seem right, but thank you."

We continued slowly onwards in the footprints - well, footholes - of the Swiss as far as an iced lake at 2856 metres,  4.5km from the hut. Lunch time - nice bread, cheese and tomato from Scuol's Co-op. Today's picture is taken from here. You should be able to see the Ortler Alps in the distance, but today's visibility was far inferior to yesterday's. 

Two joggers postholed past us, and a heavily laden pair stumbled towards us through the snow. We saw them later descending slowly to reach the path to Sur-En.

A front was slowly approaching. The limited views were diminishing. We flogged our way back up to the plateau's high ridge, retracing our steps to the high point. This is the start of the ascent of Piz Lischana (3105 metres). It's mostly a tricky scramble, but the walk up to the first high point - 3044 metres, was easy so we went up, despite increasing wind and cold. Sue justified the visit by finding Glacier Crowfoot and a variety of Rock Jasmine that has her stumped. This is probably higher than any point reached on last year's Pyrenean Adventure. 

Then it was back down to the hut to complete our 9km walk with 700 metres ascent by around 3.30, for a welcome pot of tea and another leisurely afternoon and evening. On the way we passed the shed/love nest and were impressed to see that it now has four substantial walls, if not a roof. Heinz and Marlene are probably rectifying that defect whilst I write this and Silke prepares supper.

That's all for now from a very warm and cosy Lischana Hütte, where Khaled Hosseini's brilliant novel 'And the Mountains Echoed' has been succeeded by the rather lesser literary qualities of the adventures of Agatha Raisin.

Here's a slideshow for the day (37 images)
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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Thursday 3 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 7 - Scuol to Lischana Hütte (Chamonna Lischana)


 
As predicted, early morning sunshine burst onto the tent. Sue and I didn't wake until after 8 o'clock. A quick brew for us kept Markus waiting - "I'm not in Challenge mode, I haven't even brought a stove" he professed. Eventually we enjoyed breakfast in town, where the 'Café' was the place to be - an excellent spot.

Apparently Scuol has 2000 residents of whom 500 are Portuguese. "Nice people" reports a local, "but rather prone to a surfeit of children." In the holiday season there are an additional 4000 tourists.

It was noon by the time we had done our shopping, showered, dried out the tent, sorted all our hutting gear, and parked at the start of the Lischana path on a beautiful cloudless day. The 6km, three hour climb of just over 1000 metres to the hut at 2500 metres was a delight. Through woodland at first, passing copious clumps of Lady's Slipper Orchids - it's worth walking up here for that reason alone - then into a more open area with fine views back to Scuol and the Silvretta Alps beyond. Paragliders in the distance looked like moving bits of snow slopes. The hillside glittered with a rich tapestry of alpine flowers. 

It was good to see Markus's sister Silke again. She spends her summers helping to run this mountain hut together with Heinz, Gabi and Marlene. They have just six guests tonight. Sue and I have an excellent room to ourselves.

We lounged with beers for a while after arriving at around three o'clock, before visiting Silke's nearby herb garden. Markus helped her to cultivate and seed it a couple of weeks ago. We hope it survives the ravishes of 'Fritz the Ripper', Lischana Hütte's resident gluttonous marmot, and the ibex that regularly visit.

The rest of the afternoon passed as much of this holiday, in 'chilled out' mode, in the sunshine outside the hut, before adjourning for a fine meal.

Today's images are of the iconic orchid, and the view from just above the hut to Scuol and the Silvretta Alps.

Here's a slideshow for the day (50 images)
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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Wednesday 2 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 6 - Heidelberg to Scuol


 
We said goodbye to Thomas last night as he had to leave early for work, and the unenviable task of a three hour telephone conference between Germans and Japanese, conducted in (pidgeon?) English. 

By the time we'd dragged ourselves from holiday slumber, Andrea had laid out the traditional table of buns, cheeses, cold meat, yoghurt, fruit, jams, etc, with her home made jam and cheese stealing the show.

Leaving at 9.30, we avoided the rush hour traffic as we started our 330 mile journey to the Swiss village of Scuol. The A6/A7 route to Ulm worked fine as we left the sunshine of Heidelberg and ventured into gradually more overcast surroundings, eventually turning hillier, but by then the sight of any hills was obliterated by persistent rain. 

Lunch in Lindau brought back memories of a wintry visit to Dornbirn and Markus and Wolfgang's 'Ritzy Shack'. It was warmer today. But wet. Memories of E5 returned as we wound our way around the waterways that flow into Bodensee. 

From Lindau we took a scenic route via Buchs and Klosters to reach the excellent campsite at Scuol by 6.30. More memories for me as we passed over the 2300 metre Fluellapass, pictured top, that Markus and I cruised over on our TransAlp bike ride a few years ago. Given that this same Markus arrived at Scuol's posh campsite at the same time as we did, the reminiscing carried on long into the evening. We had passed through here on the bike ride, shortly after accidentally appearing to lead a mountain bike endurance race.

Tents went up under a seriously leaky sky. Then after a quick brew we adjourned to admire the Hotel Traube's lavish menu. We couldn't resist. The top of a mountain had appeared as if by magic between two buildings in Scuol, and Traube's chef turned out to be on good form. The pictures should speak for themselves. 

I'll mention Swiss prices just as an aside, being as we are paying a brief visit. The campsite costs slightly more than twice as much as its French equivalent. Other prices are subject to a similar formula. Be warned and consider staying away if you are on a tight budget. 

We emerged from the restaurant to a cool, clear evening, today's weather having ranged from a sunny 20C to a snowstorm at the pass. We are now set for a frosty night. Brrr.

Here's a slideshow for the day (7 images)
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Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Tuesday 1 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 5 - Heidelberg


 
A lovely day with Andrea and Thomas, walking into and around Heidelberg.

Sue found a website with '97 attractions in Heidelberg' and we visited quite a few of them as well as gathering candidates for another three attractions. 97 seems to us rather a pathetic failure to reach 100. So 'wild fruit' can be added to the list, with blueberries, raspberries and blackberries - yes, on 1 July - all being sampled today.

After a substantial 'Full German' breakfast on a lovely sunny day, we set off around 11 o'clock and rose through woods to a communication tower near a convenient café. There are a myriad of signposted routes in this area, especially for mountain bikes. We followed a red route through woodland that emerged at the ruins of Klosterruinne St Michael - a religious centre dating from before 400BC.

The ruined abbey was an interesting place, as was the amphitheatre like structure nearby. The latter, pictured top, is Thingstätte, built by the Nazis in the 1930s with a huge capacity. Hitler never came here, but the place was used for the shameful glorification of Naziism. Nowadays it occasionally hosts concerts.

Below the amphitheatre was another of several towers encountered today, Stephansklosters Tower. We climbed to the top to admire views of Heidelberg. Nearby was a 56 metre deep hole in the ground - Heidenloch - which appeared to be someone's persistent but futile attempt to dig a well. An impressive hole, especially when I found the light switch that illuminated it. 

Lower down, we passed Bismarcksäule, another tower that we climbed (maybe that's the answer to the 'why do I feel so tired?' question as I try to avoid nodding off whilst writing this).

Views of the town slowly got closer as we made our way down to the Philosophersweg - another of Heidelberg's attractions. I'd been here before, on a summer holiday in 1981. Only two other readers will remember this trip, and neither is listening at present, but the wonders of text messaging will see to that. It doesn't seem to have changed much in those 33 years. The middle picture was taken from the Philosophersweg whilst watching a red squirrel devour the fruit of an almond tree. 

The 'Old Bridge', which is actually a new bridge because the Nazis destroyed the old one in an attempt to halt the Allied advance in WW2, delivered us to the tourist zone, and a welcome beer. Beer o'clock is indeed alive and well, Humphrey. 

Duly refreshed, we stumbled up to the castle, which covers a substantial plot overlooking the town. The castle deserves an entry of its own; all I have time to report now is that it is a miscellany of different architectural styles, partly ruined and partly fairly new, with a rich and colourful history.  The bottom picture was taken from here. 

By the time we got back down to the Old Bridge we'd walked a good 18km on a hot day and were pleased to be able to hop on a bus to return to Wilhelmsfelder Strasse and the delights of an evening with Andrea and Thomas. Their cooking philosophy is very like ours, as is their taste in wine, so we've really had a great day and a great evening. Thanks A and T - for your companionship and wonderful hospitality. We miss you in Timperley. 

Thanks also to HMP3 for your recent comment on this rather mundane trip on which my diary entries are principally for the purpose of keeping in touch with friends like you, and family whilst we are away. Believe it or not there really were zebras and camels outside yesterday's supermarket, beer o'clock is alive and well, and my daughter has finally got round to reading about my 'Pyrenean  Adventure', perhaps at some cost to her children. My son may find a copy in his chalet room next week.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Monday 30 June 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 4 - Verdun to Heidelberg


 
The campsite restaurant echoed to groans from a subdued Dutch contingent in front of an unseen TV. "Mex1" muttered a distressed man in orange as he passed our patio table.

Meal finished, we made our way to a window outside the crammed TV room. There were five minutes to go. Things looked bad for the Europeans to whom we had earlier sworn allegiance. Those five minutes proved very entertaining. We left our Dutch friends to celebrate and headed off down cycle track number 13  for a couple of kilometres,  returning in light rain from a seemingly clear sky.

The birds here at Verdun are as vociferous as those at Montreuil. One of the many delights of camping in such places.

After another fine sleep (we both sleep better in a tent than virtually anywhere else) sunshine greeted us, as did tea in bed and croissants from the campsite's local bakery. Excellent. 

Another leisurely departure saw us drive into Verdun for a quick look around. It's a pleasant town with a river and a citadel. We wished we had time to explore. Verdun would be a good spot to stay at for a few days - there's lots of walking and cycling and other stuff to hand, and the campsite is excellent, with good facilities including a pool.

Today's pictures were both taken near the centre of Verdun. 

A trip to a 'Cora' (think of Tesco Metro x 3) sorted out lunch, and we left the excitement of the retail park, complete with its zebras and camels, to continue our journey along an assortment of French byroads through small communities who farm in the pretty countryside. A massive field of sunflowers stands out in the memory. 

These small villages failed to reveal a coffee shop until nearly lunchtime, when a snack bar in Longeville-les-Saint Avold drew us through its doors. Our two coffees came black, with a bottle of milk. The milk was off. Our genial host disappeared for a while, returning with an abject apology. "My wife was making yoghurt out of that milk" he pronounced "This bottle will be better." So the coffees were replaced and everyone was happy. Here you can still get a cup of coffee (two on this occasion) for a euro.

Once in Germany we took to the motorway for the final part of our 190 mile drive to Heidelberg. 

The Satnav was very handy for locating Andrea and Thomas's apartment on Wilhelmsfelder Strasse, where tea and delicious apricot chocolate cake awaited us. A and T used to live a few doors away from us in Timperley, and kindly looked after our house and plants when we were away. Having abandoned the UK, in the process abandoning much of their large collection of plant pots in our garden, we have been forced to lure a homeless couple into our house as full time replacements for A and T (thanks Pam and Paul), and it's a pleasure to visit our old neighbours in their new home, where our European allegiance has now switched from Holland to Germany. 

Meanwhile, we enjoyed a 4km stroll down to the abbey at Neuburg, for an excellent meal and a bus ride back home.

Here's a slideshow for the day (13 images)
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Sunday, 29 June 2014

Sunday 29 June 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 3 - Montreuil to Verdun


 
It's great to wake in a cosy tent to the sounds of cooing doves and chattering blackbirds. Apparently it rained in the night, but the Hyperspace tent, built to withstand just about anything, was as oblivious to that as I was.

Today was spent mainly in the car, on a 240 mile journey avoiding motorways.

After calling in at Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise for croissants from the Boulanger Patissier (Andrew Junior would have been impressed by the two lines of chocolate) and eating them next door in the Café de la Paix, we headed along quiet roads through occasional downpours past fields of white and pink, and past lots of water towers and newly installed wind turbines.

Diesel is €1.30 per litre, so if you are driving to the 'mainland' you'll save by waiting to fill up until you are out of the grip of UK taxes.

In the area that borders Belgium we passed lots of unsightly slag heaps, so we shied away from that heavily industrialised zone in favour of the poplar lined byway of the D643 road to Charleville-Mézières.

Lunch was provided by a roadside CoOp - baguette with cheese and tomato. 

During the afternoon we met a convoy of around a hundred caravans, mostly being towed by white vans. What was that!

A storm followed us for much of the afternoon, but it had dissipated by the time we reached Les Breuils campsite at Verdun. Another friendly, familiar and cheap spot where we can eat in the restaurant and form a 'European' alliance with some Dutch football supporters.

Today's pictures are at the campsite. The second one is the view from the empty chair on the first picture. So you can picture where we are. ..

That's it for now. If we do anything interesting during what remains of the day we'll report on it tomorrow, but 'chilling out' is the current name of the game, with Sue engrossed in 'The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules' and me enjoying Khaled Hosseini's 'And the Mountains Echoed'.

Here's a slideshow for the day (12 images)
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