Hello Hanoi

Our arrival went exactly to plan. As we were arriving near midnight, we had a private car organized by our guesthouse to pick us up. We crashed hard.

We stayed in the Old Quarter, but chose accommodation that was specifically well-reviewed for its quiet street.  Booking.com let’s you search reviews by key words such as ‘quiet’ or ‘breakfast’ or ‘bicycles’.

The sidewalks are for everything except walking.

Hanoi is a crazy, vibrant town. The sidewalks are choked with parked motorbikes and myriad other obstacles, including but not limited to:

piles of discarded construction debris

tiny plastic stools belonging to established and transitory cafes

sandwich wagons

commercial goods displayed well beyond the natural borders of the shop.

As a result, pedestrians are forced into the street amidst the manic honking vehicles. So there is absolutely no walking-and- looking-around. You walk, or you look.

Two days was the perfect amount of time for us in Hanoi.

We walked around Hoan Kiem lake in the rain, went twice to Train Street, which was in our neighbourhood, and toured the Hoa Lo prison where John McCain was imprisoned (the Hanoi Hilton.)

Outside Hoa Lo prison.
Memorial to the mistreatment of the Vietnamese by the French at Hoa Lo.

Train street is widely reported to be closed to tourists now, and there is a guard forbidding you to pass. So what you do is linger around the barrier, and wave at or catch the eye of one of the track front entrepreneurs – the guy at The Railway Cafe is a good bet. Once you signal them, they walk down the track and escort you, their valued customer, back to their establishment, where, yes, you must buy something!

We went earlier in the day, got the lay of the land, found out when the train was coming that evening, and planned accordingly.  Even without a train scheduled, it’s worth the price of a beer to see it.

Train street by day, minus train.
2nd floor viewing for the evening train.

We also stuck a toe (figuratively) into local cuisine, and jumped with both feet into the cocktail scene. But all of these were a sidebar to putting the worst of the jetlag behind us and getting our bearings.

Cocktails at Polite & Co.
Cocktails at The Mad Botanist.
View of St. Joseph’s from the Mad Botanist.

The cocktails, please understand, were purely therapeutic. A way to ensure a good nights sleep. We haven’t had a bad one, and even in the bars mentioned above, they run only about 100-120k VND. That’s $5-6 CND. We haven’t done the exact math on these because it’s enough to know its half of Vancouver prices.

When we left Hanoi, our only regret – mostly mine, I suspect – was not seeing the women’s museum. Everyone we met said GO, and we were walking in that direction on our second afternoon when a wave of sleepiness overtook us and we turned in the direction of naps.

Never hurts to leave something for next time. We were on to our next adventure on Catba island…or so we thought!

Vietnam Bound!

And so for something vastly different.

Rand has never been to Asia and I haven’t been, except for short work-related stops, since I was a super-scrawny (120 lbs!) backpacker 30 years ago.

That mostly positive preboarding feeling

It’s just a tiny bit outside our (Euro) comfort zone, but we are determined to see more of the world while still fit and active enough to explore on our own terms, which means foot, bike and, perhaps, kayaks!

There are some serious challenges compared to our usual destinations: fairly expensive visas and preemptive visits to the travel clinic, complete lack of familiarity with the currency, language and customs, and our current challenge: a 20 hour flight sequence (Vancouver-Incheon -Hanoi)

Luckily, we scored a great flight with Korean Air. No charge seat selection, no charge bags, nice amenities on board: a very serene experience so far.

Just time to sample a Korean beer at Soeul Incheon airport…
Followed by a little de-icing.

This is helpful, given the Coronavirus scare that is ongoing. This had us a bit stressed to be leaving home for parts unknown, but we are feeling good about our trip, and know that if circumstances change, we have enough experience and resources to change plans where necessary.

So I mentioned the challenges, but what about the benefits?

Based on our prebookings for accomodation, we anticipate a more luxurious experience at a fraction of the cost. We enjoy our budget hotels and Airbnb’s while visiting Europe, but having access to a pool, free bikes and a cooked breakfast could also be nice.

We have been led to expect that the food will also impress us. Hope so!

And perhaps the beverages too. One place on my list to visit in Hanoi is a cocktail bar called the Mad Botanist.

It is up four flights of stairs above an ice cream shop (!) And specializes in gin. Stay tuned for a report.

Of course, escaping February in Canada is, on its face, a benefit. Its expected to snow there tomorrow. And more importantly, by travelling in winter, we benefit by being home in the spring to enjoy our garden and other projects.

So, here’s hoping for a successful trip. Any trip from which we return home safely qualifies, but I am hoping for something really different. If this trip cranks up our spirit of adventure just a bit, I anticipate we will consider Africa next.

And then we were arrived. Rainy and 18 degrees vs. slush at home. Free loaner umbrellas and a quiet room near the lake in the old quarter equals a good start.

Home2Home

Last week I took advantage of the lovely late fall weather to cycle from our cottage in Gibsons to our city condo. Brisk and sunny 36 km.

Home1
GPS recording distance whilst sitting on ferry; actual cycling distance was 36 km
Langdale ferry terminal
Looking east towards Stanley Park from Marine Drive in West Vanccouver.
Me at high point of Lions Gate Bridge.
Looking west from bridge.
English Bay
False Creek East
Home2

Pfalzer Weinsteig Day 10: Annweiler am Trifels to Bad Bergzabern – the End of the Trail, sorta.

Distance: 24.9

Climbed: 1062m

So we knew all along that we had no accommodation at the end of this stage, which is at Klingenmunster. So, figure that out later….

Today was later. The ice cream factory had an associated cafe a few blocks away, and we had a really nice breakfast there.

So now, how to cover two stages in one day, to get to our reserved room in Bad Bergzabern?

As previously noted, there is such a plethora of signposted trails running along the Wein Strasse and throughout the Palatinate, that we felt confident we could do this.

We decided to do the first half of stage 10 along the steep track. This took us to Trifils castle, one of the marquee sights in the area, with views of and paths connecting to three other castle ruins.

A final castle

After exploring Trifels in depth, and seeing the other ruins from there, we descended to the town of Leinsweiler. There we jumped off the Weinsteig and onto the Wander Weg, an easier walking path along essentially the same route, but skirting the woods and vineyards, and much more direct.

I had a hug with a big tree.

In this manner, we were able to complete the stage by 2 pm, have a biggish lunch at Weinhof Pfeffer in Klingenmunster, and then do the next stage to Bad Bergzabern in about 2 hours, along the valley.

The Germans know how to make a salad.

Along the Weinsteig, these two stages totalled 29 km and a lot of climbing. We walked a total of about 24 km, the last 15 over less challenging terrain – although we still climbed over 1000 m.

Bacon and onion tart – a local favourite
A brace of schorle, with a sampler of neuwein

We had a fantastic apartment – Feriamwonung am Berg – in the old town for the rock bottom price of 65 euro, but not much energy to celebrate the end of our walk. Although there was one stage remaining, we had a tight schedule to meet our biking group in Konstanz on Sunday, so decided to cut the last stage to be sure we made it. We had a good train connection from Bad Bergzabern that we would not have at the official end of the walk in Schweigen Rectenbach, and therefore, the opportunity to arrive in Strasbourg in the afternoon, instead of late in the evening. So off to Konstanz, via Strasbourg, we go!

Pfalzer Weinsteig Day 9: Dernbach to Annweiler am Trifels

walked 22.17 km

climbed 825 m

This was our 27th anniversary, and a very nice way to spend it.

We started more or less directly up into the woods, where we passed our second or third – but not the last – “clinic” (residential hospital) of the walk. The fresh air of the Palatinate woods is reckoned excellent for those needing psychic rest or grappling with addictions, we have learned.

There was no food shop or bakery in Dernbach, so we set our hopes on the first town, Eusserthal. Like many other places, it had the air of a tidy ghost town, but I was NOT leaving without some food. So I left Rand and our packs in a central location and roamed the town until eventually finding a very picked-over bakery. I got a few pastries, an orange pop and a sleeve of cookies.

A typical small Palatinate town, where it appears that everyone has been whisked up to heaven – possibly because there is so little food to be had.

A few more km through the chestnut and oak forests under our belt and we found a perfect place to enjoy this feast. It was a dedicated walker’s rest stop, with picnic tables and view of not one, not two but THREE castles.

Pastries, pop and cookies for lunch.
And a castle view too.

There was another climb into the hills and another cool rocky outcrop with outstanding views before the day was over, and we strolled into Annweiler am Trifels. Here we had accommodation above an ice cream factory! And it was in the centre of town, and had a view of the main square, and was everything nice.

There was a bit of time for shopping and exploring this lovely town, which I do recommend a visit to.

Annweiler is lovely!

Eventually, we washed up at an odd bar whose name , Rotbarbe (?) translated to Red Beard, and we had our afternoon reward, which in my case, means an Aperol Spritz and for Rand it was a schorle.

Enjoying the late afternoon sun at Red Beard

After consulting Tripadvisor for some dinner ideas, this turned out to be one of the most favoured places in town, so we returned, after showers and some rest. Rand had the ubiquitous local specialty “rumpsteak,” and I had a yummy galette with salad.

Anniversary dinner

The only disappointing thing was that our ice cream place closed at 7 pm, but knowing this in advance, we found another place before heading back to our room over the Eiswerks.

Our room is on the third floor of the Eiswerks, far left.

Pfalzer Weinsteig Day 8: Burrweiler to Dernbach

Walked 15.2 km

Climbed 756 m

We ended a good 5 km past Burrweiler last night, at a really nice hotel, Wirsthaus Berghof, with stunning views over the Pfalzer wald. Since we had a short distance to go today – only about 8 or 9 km by the most direct route on the Weinsteig – we did some extending detours around the Orensfel – a magnificent rock out cropping on Orenberg mountain.

The Orensfell lookout

This was also the day that we found our favourite castle of the whole walk. Its called Burgruine Neuscharfeneck. We spent quite a bit of time clambering over it and took lots of pictures.

The ruins of Neu Scharfeneck castle
A ruin where you are free to injury yourself if you wish it.

We also enjoyed a more leisurely lunch at a very nice hutte run by the local mountaineering club. We shared a flammenkuchen and two fresh pretzels, we each had a large schorle (wine spritzer), then we shared a cake and coffee (cake for me, and coffee for Rand, though he always trespasses on my cake.) Total for this lunch was 18 euro. I mention this because we are often asked if we don’t find travelling in Europe expensive? We find many great values there, like this mountain hut lunch.

o Happiness! A mountain hut, and its open!
Flammenkuchen for lunch

After lunch and more climbing up and down some hills, we made a detour to the town of Ramburg, before walking up the valley to our oddly Christmas-themed B&B in Dernbach.

A rare site. A grocery store. I bought a beer and met a girl from Montreal inside.
A nice room, with wrapped presents on the range hood and on top of the cabinets

Cafe culture is really not a thing in this particular area. Hard to find a good place for a cocktail, or an inviting morning coffee or even a small corner store, though we did finally find one in Ramburg today, and bought one large pils to share.

We didn’t much like the look of our B&B restaurant so we walked back to a weinstube at the beginning of town, Weinstube Hahn. Here we received a warm welcome and enjoyed a shared appetizer, very good home-made style schnitzel (pan fried) with deluxe german style salad plates, plus three drinks, plus strudel. All for 38 euro. This is the sort of excellent value that we frequently encounter off the beaten tourist path in Germany, and which keeps us coming back.

After dinner we played two hands of Monopoly Deal in the weinstube, before ambling back to our room. This place did have a lovely, very sheddy dog who played frisbee with me.

Unlike Sankt Martin, Neustadt and Annweiler, we would not suggest Dernbach as a place to visit, stay, explore. Eat and sleep if you must, but tarry not.

Pfalzer Weinsteig Day 7: Sankt Martin to Burrweiler (but actually, Albersweiler)

walked: 23.17 km

climbed 825 m

We had to walk 1.5 of the official stages today, as we had been unable to book accomodation in either Burrweiler or the two following villages.

To accomplish this feat, we began our day on the lower “Wander Weg” trail, which follows a shorter easier route along the wine road of about 90 km total distance vs 170 on the Weinsteig. The marker for this trail is a bunch of green grapes. It was nice to be back in the vineyards and move quickly over flatter terrain for a bit.

The Wander Weg is a relaxed walk covering the same area as the Weinsteig, but on gentler, more direct trails totaling about 90 km.
This is a big part of the scenery on the wander weg. A pleasant change from the pine and chestnut forests higher up.

We followed this trail as far as Ludwigs Hohe – an italianate villa. From there we rejoined the Weinsteig to Burrweiler.

Along the way we passed a grotto of flowers dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and walked a section of trail with dozens of carved figures and dioramas.

The Marian Grotte
The beginning of a trail section full of carvings and other artwork

Since we had such a long walk, and would be passing through a handful of towns, we planned to enjoy a nice sit down lunch somewhere. Most likely Burrweiler, which the map showed to be a reasonably sized town.

What we found, however, is that all but one restaurant in the town was “geschlossen”. And that one could only seat those with a reservation. They suggested a bakery in the next town, Gleisweiler, might offer some food for hungry walkers. So on we went, only to find the bakery, too, geschlossen!

It looked like this might be our only lunch.

So we kept on to the next town, Frankweiler, where we found wine bar Muller.

Amazing place! Great wine, nice terrace, where we enjoyed a typical local dish: beef and pork meatballs in horseradish cream sauce with boiled potatoes.

From Muller, with nicely rounded bellies, we sauntered a final 2 km to our comfortable accomodation at Hotel Berghof, near Albersweiler.

Our lovely stop in Albersweiler

We napped, drank a bottle of wine from the “honour fridge” out on a sunny terrace, and then, since the Wirsthaus at our hotel was also geschlossen that day, we walked -and I danced a little – two km back to Muller for a second go: curried chicken this time, and salad and pannecotte and drinks, yum.

Plentiful food and wine after a half day of privation, and I was ready to dance.
This wander weg does not suck.

Then homeward again through now dark and, for some, romantic vineyards. It was a very memorable day. Famine and then feast. Times two.

Pfalzer Weinsteig Day 6: Neustadt an der Weinstrasse to Sankt Martin

Walked 20.1 km

climbed 792 m

This is the longest stage of the Weinsteig and involves a lot of climbing.

First stop was the Hambach castle. We enjoyed the views but didn’t visit the museum.

There were some very cool natural rock formations along the way, but we were mostly concerned with the fact that since the weekend was over, all the hikers huts would be shut tight.

We learned here, once again, that signs displaying knives and forks did not guarantee that food would be available. But it was always nice to have hope!

And we were now carrying sufficient bits of food – including the delicious, but unfortunately named Mogenbrot (stomach bread). Yeah, the Germans have cleverly figured out that if you give a delicious cookie a gross name, you might not have to share it!

The high point of the Palatinate Forest is a peak called Kalmit. We had already climbed several hills nearly as high when it swam into view, a 1 km uphill detour from the trail. Having decided that we would have a similar view and similar deserted hiking hut as we had just seen on the next highest spot, we passed on this detour and began our final descent to Sankt Marten.

A hikers weather shelter. We saw a few of these but never had to use one
I appreciate this effort to protect my life from cars, but what about my head, huh?
A mercifully flat section of a hilly day.

We had a very nice hotel in Sankt Martin – Hotel Dalberg. After a few cold drinks at a nearby patio, we showered and returned to the same place for Poutine (Rand) and a schnitzel burger for me.

Heading for celebratory bevies. Knowing it could end any day, we ate, drank and relaxed outdoors at every opportunity

After dinner we had regained enough energy for a walk around town. This is certainly one of the more charming towns along the route, and would be an excellent base for some day hikes as well. We found a charming beer garden lit with white lights, but alas, bed was calling!

Pfalzer Weinsteig Day 5: Deidesheim to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse

Walked 18.79 km

Climbed 722 m

Well we didn’t do what the title says, so there.

After nearly losing our lives in Deidesheim the previous day we had no big jones to return. Looking at the trail map, it seemed all the top sights were at the Neustadt end, so we resolved to do half of the stage, going out and back from Neustadt, to give us a full days hiking.

But without our 18 and 20 pound packs, hurrah!

First stop was a castle called Wolfsburg with, you guessed it, refreshments! Rand had a schorle, and I had a few sips.

Then we went up the steep trail.

This is some of the rougher trail seen on the Weinsteig. One had to keep eyes down!
The high points were high.
And the views were rewarding!

We eventually arrived at a particularly popular hilltop stube called the Wein Biet. And its Sunday, so packed of course, but our experience here more than made up for the Winzer steaks of the previous day.

First we cooled off with beer in the shade, then moved to a view table where I enjoyed a big salad with a few chicken morsels and Rand had bratwurst and fried potatoes. I could have stayed all day.

Back into town, shower, finally had correct wifi info, so off to the No.1 rated restaurant in Neustadt: Maharaja Indian. It was the worst tikka masala ever passed off as tikka masala and the pakoras were not much better. I couldn’t complain because I really didn’t know where to start. You win some, you lose some.

Pfalzer Weinsteig Day 4: Bad Durkheim to Deidesheim

Km walked – Weinsteig: 15 km

Fitbit : 23 km

Climbed 871 m

The sole benefit to our Airbnb’s location was that we could begin this stage with a visit to the very cool Limburger Monastery, right above our town.

Not only was the ruin interesting but low and behold, there was a woman setting up a beer garden. So we had ‘one’ to reward the climb and then we began to walk again in earnest

Limburger Monastery ruin near Bad Durkheim
Early to have a drink, but you learn not to walk past food, beverages and especially biffies!

This stage would end in Deidesheim, a town that had persistently failed to offer up a room for us. Our plan was to jump on a train there for the end of the next day’s stage at Neustadt, and train back in the am to continue the walk to Neustadt. To this end we had booked a two night Airbnb in Neustadt.

It was a very hot hike! About 28C and an arid landscape.

See how shiny and red our faces are!

Around midday we came across a castle and viewpoint which had a restaurant alongside. As it was Saturday, it was packed with people.

We got jostled along in the food line until at the order desk. The menu there had nothing that looked familiar. In a panic, I ordered two Winzer Steaks. Tip: if you dont know what you are ordering, increase your chances of a win by ordering different things!

Winzer steak turns out to be a thick slab of tough ham served with an immense amount of stomach curdling sauerkraut and brown bread.

So lunch, from my perspective, was a bust. A little thinly sliced tender ham and a dob of pickled cabbage, yes.  This, no. The beer was cold!  On we went.

The Weinsteig was increasingly intermingling with more and more hiking trails, offering opportunities, it occurred to us, to tailor our walk somewhat, should any day be too hot or wet or long!

On arrival in Deidesheim, it became clearer why we had been unable to find reasonably priced accomodation. It seemed like the “Whistler” of the wine route. Very upmarket.

As we stepped off the trail at the edge of town onto an apparently empty road, a black BMW rounded a curve and – we both swear it – accelerated towards us,  requiring us to literally jump out of the road. It passed within an inch or two of Rand, who doesn’t leap as far as I do.  No effort to slow or swerve around us. Unbelievable. So much for a big tourist welcome in Deidesheim!

We jumped on a crowded waiting train without tickets and hoped we wouldn’t get busted. We needed showers and cool drinks and a place more friendly. Could not risk the train leaving without us.

Neustadt fit the bill, although the Airbnb was another palaver.

The guy had sent us a code for a key box via email, and I replied to reminded him that he had promised us a non attic room (reviews said the attic apartment was not suitable for persons over 160 cm)

We still have no data for our phones at this point – which I told him! – so that was the end of our conversation from my end. Long story short, he was waiting for us, which we couldn’t know. Then he was mad because he was waiting for us. We were drinking Aperol spritzes near the train station, because why rush at this point? We have been given a code to retrieve a key.

When we arrive, he looks at me and says “you’re not so tall” and takes us to the attic, of course.

Then he gives us wifi information that is handwritten and completely wrong, so we still can’t connect to tell him we have no wifi except by lurking outside a donair shop. The apartment was nicely renoed and perfect for shorter people!

Here is the set of keys the Super Host gave us for our apt. That’s just weird.
And his incorrect wifi info. Why not just post it in the flat?
And here is our attic flat. The bathroom was the real challenge tho!

On the plus side there was an amazing pizza place and to-die- for bakery just (down 4 flights) and across the street!