25 July 2009

Spontaneous combustion?

Found in France. I am not exactly sure what the traffic department is trying to suggest here. It pretty much looks like they try to warn you that your vehicle might suddenly and spontaneously blow up :)
Whatever its meaning - it certainly does qualify for my #1 favorite road sign ever!

16 July 2009

Les Gorges du Verdon

From the small town of Barcelonette in Provence, Susan and I descend southwards into the famous Canyon of Verdon (French: Les Gorges du Verdon). This natural canyon offers hiking, biking, canoeing, canyoning and whatever else outdoor enthusiasts can imagine. There are two routes along the canyon: north and south (or left and right as they are called locally). We opt for the southern route with its high climb up to 1200m and thus its harsh, steep, gasping nearly vertical walls of more than 700m straight down (picture on the right). The weather is hot and we arrive tired and sweaty at a big deep blue lake at the bottom outlet of the canyon where we set up camp.
The next day we head to Arles, a very beautiful town in Carmargue with narrow alleys, amphitheater and other roman feats. From Arles it is just a dayride to Montpellier, another fascinating place with historic old quarters an cozy atmosphere. We spend three days there to fuel up on city life and good food before we head south for the French/Spanish border.

Suzin 1000

On the way from the 2250m high "Col d`Allos" into the Verdon valley we hit Susan`s first 1000 kilometer on this trip. Since we are in France, what is better to celebrate this event than a bottle of Champagne?

We stop at the roadside in a small forest and "Hurray (French: ´urray)!" goes the bubbly. With it goes our balance. After we drown the bottle we both decide that we better leave the bikes be bikes for the rest of the day. Conveniently, there is a beautiful camping spot right there in the forest (...I guess a bottle of booze might have the power to turn quite a large number of average camping spots into beautiful camping spots...).
After we set up camp and start feeling less dizzy we realize what a beautiful camping spot it really is: there is a wild roaring river with cristal clear glacier water right next to us and the whole forest is full of wild strawberries!!! We start loving the place so much that we stay for two days before we continue towards the grand canyon.
Wild strawberry milkshake - great!

Apricot cake (or: the double boiler)

One day we decide to eat pancakes. Pancakes rock - they are sweat and easy to make, especially when one carries a hiker`s teflon pan (it`s just a standard household pan but with the handle sawn off... very recommendable :)
The downside of making pancakes: what do you do with the rest of a whole kilogramm of flour and sugar? Having had a double whammy of pancakes for breakfast (with self made plum jam from self picked plums on the roadside - yummy) one is less likely to eat another serving for dinner.
Pancakes won`t happen for a while.
Since we have a big bunch of apricots (also collected at the roadside) I decide to start a small experiment: "Is it possible to use my Primus fuel burner as an oven?" Using my biggest and smallest pot I create a double boiler. A butter-rich dough spiked with fresh apricot slices goes in. I try various variations for the lid: no lid, flat lid with holes, upside down teflon pan. The teflon pan works best!
After an hour of fiddling I`ve got a slightly soggy but coherent apricot cake on my plate. Success - long live the Primus double boiler!!!

(It also works great for Thai rice, Polenta and Spanish Tortilla. No burning at the bottom... let me know your recipies if you start your own experiments :)

15 July 2009

Piemont and the Maritime Alps

From Corsica Susan and I ship to the Italian port or Savona. We hadn`t yet determined how to continue from here. So now we need to decide between the ocean route the along the Mediterranean Cote d`Azur (via Nice/Nizza and Monacco) and the up-and-down of the Piemontese Alps. We are both pretty tired from the tough hike in Corsica but in the end opt for the more challenging but pitoresque inland route: via the provincial capital Cuneo through the steep Piemontese Stura-valley across the 1996m high "Col de Larche" pass to Haute-Provence in France. The pass will be Susan`s first by bicycle. After a good rest in the small and welcoming town of Millesimo we head to Cuneo and into the hills.
To the majority of people Piemont might only be known because its cherries are turned into the candy "Mon Cherie" by the producer of "Nutella" and golden "Rocher" balls. Tourism has not touched Piemont much in the past - the landscape is much to rough for skiing tourism or easy hiking. Additionally (or as a cause of this) Piemont has become depopulated; the young polulation continually moved away to the bigger industrial Italian cities to find employment and pleasure. But since a few years so called "Eco-tourism" has been introduced into the region and offers breathtaking hiking routes combined with an experience of the local culture and cuisine. The famous long distance route GTA (Gran Traversale di Alpi) crosses Piemont during its 60 day-hikes from Switzerland all the way to the coast of the Mediterranean - a fabulous trip that leads almost every day a steep way over a high pass and down into a new valley.
(I hiked part of the GTA in 2007 and highly recommend this trail to all long distance hiking enthusiasts!)

But for now Susan and I are riding bicycles. Considering the weight we both carry in our panniers even the lower passes are challening. The "Col de Larche" has been part of the famous "Giro d´Italia", the Italian equivalent of the "Tour de France". In two daytrips we make it to the top and cross the Italian-French border. Susan is tired but also very happy as she whizzes downhill into French province Provence.

When we arrive the small town of Barcelonette I discover that I had been ignorant to the fact that the magnificent canyon of the Verdon river lay to our left. There is only one problem between Verdon and us: another alpine pass: "Col d`Allos".
Surprisingly, Susan is all up for it. On my map the pass is indicated with an altitude of 1759m, a small cookie compared to yesterdays 1996m. As Barcelonette is already on 1100m we only have to make a bit more than 600 meters - not so terrible.

The next day we start off early any wind up the narrow pass road through breathtaking terrain. One detail that we observe is that the road is closed for motorized traffic every friday morning so that cyclists can enjoy their ride without petrolized disturbances. What a great idea. The second thing we observe is that there are little milestones on the roadside every kilometer to indicate the gradient and the actual altitude. The third thing we observe is that there is a milestone that says 1844m. Wasn´t the pass going to be at 1759m?
I verify with the map and realize that I had gotten the wrong number - the pass is at 2250m, so we actually have to cycle almost twice as high as expected!!! In the end it all works out - once you`re at it you`re at it. We are both exhausted and happy when we arrive on top and take a glance into the next valley and at the gorgeous downhill that expects us.