Bike Bahn

Bike Bahn

I love to plan trips but every once in a while I love to just go along for the ride when someone else has built the plan. It brings an element of surprise that delivers a bit more excitement for what my otherwise be a routine activity. 

Today, this is just what I did. I rolled out of bed at 6 am, brewed some coffee, had a quick breakfast in the courtyard while I took my cat for a stand (cats don’t really walk) and then put the finishing touches on my bike – pumped up the tires and the frame shock. Threw my wallet, a rain coat (it’s Germany you can NEVER trust the forecast) and a banana into my camelback before rolling out of my apartment for the ride to the Düsseldorf HBF (hauptbahnhoff = main train station).

My instructions were to meet my friend (aka epic bicycle tour guide) at Gleis 7 to catch a train for Hamm (supposedly – German trains are notoriously late) departing at 8:47 am. Our plan was to ride a stretch of the Römer-Lippe Route. You can link to the route here

Römer = Roman and this trail is so named because it is located in one of the territories that was ruled by Rome during their reign in Europe. Later it became, and continues to be, an industrial region fueled by a ready supply of water from the Lippe river. This region was also in the past dominated by coal mining and coal power generation. The coal power plants are now gone, but the remnants of coal mining remain in the form of huge iron structures near the river banks.

I thought this post could be a bit about our actual ride and a bit of an instructional guide about how to travel by bike and train in Germany. It’s not so complicated but could be a bit intimidating for the un-initiated. Also, legal disclosure, I am certain there will be some errors and omissions of rules in this post. Honestly, it’s impossible to know all the rules in Germany! But, what we did today worked so hopefully it would work for you.

The first thing is to buy a ticket. While this may sound easy, it can be very complicated! Fortunately, my friend had a local help with this. What we used was a ticket that was a 24 hour fare for the entire state of Nord Rhein Westfalia. In addition to the ticket for you, you also need a ticket for your bicycle (aka Fahrad). You can try to make these selections online but I highly recommend (I cannot underline this point enough) that you go to the DB office and ask for their help during your first few trips. The people at the counter speak English and are very helpful. These are the tickets we used for our trip.


You will also notice the price on the ticket. This ticket is for up to 5 people because we originally planned to be a group of 3. It was still cheaper than two individual fares though. Be prepared to pay to play on German trains! They are not cheap. If you believe you will ride them often you can purchase discount options. As it turned out, I didn’t ride trains as much as I’d anticipated so I never did buy a discount card. But it’s worth exploring if you plan to be a frequent traveler.

Then when it comes to boarding the train with your bike, you need to look for the bike train car. You’ll see this on the sign board. In NRW the platforms have four sections: A, B, C, D. When you see the details for your train you just need to look for a pictures on the electronic sign board at the platform that has a picture of a bicycle under a letter. It’s often under the letter D. When you board the train have your fingers crossed that it’s not already full of bikes or baby carriages. In that case you’ll need to wait for the next train. Fortunately, we found space for our bikes probably because it was a bit early in the morning. As the train car filled with more bikes we lost our seat in the carriage, locked up the bikes and headed upstairs for the hour ride to Hamm.


As we traveled along we chatted exchanging travel stories and getting caught up on life. I found a great farmscape at one of the stations we passed. The tractor was the right color!


When we arrived in Hamm, we walked out and found the bicycle sign and started our ride to Lünen.


Our route was marked with the Roman centurion helmet. It was relatively easy to follow. We quickly left the city center and found the Lippe. I paused to admire a tall corn field that bordered some grain bins.

We paused near some cooling towers for a photo. They were impressive structures! I couldn’t tell if the plant was still active.

Soon we entered into a section of trail that was closed in on both sides by trees and we stopped to pick some blackberries.


As we started to takeoff I noticed a sign for a natural area and we paused to admire the view.


About a kilometer later I spotted what looked like a small path to the right so we stopped to check it out. What a surprise when we discovered a herd of cattle called Heckrinder that looked a bit like buffalo. My friend translated the sign for us and we learned that the habitat was a semirestired natural grassland and the herd is an attempt to restore European buffalo. I enjoyed watching the herd move about and we even spotted some calves!


By now we started to get a little hungry and fortunately our lunch stop was nearby. Our plan was to stop at a yacht club in Bergkamen. We passed my favorite bridge of the day and then entered the city.


I knew it was going to be a great lunch destination when a few Harley’s passed us and then we saw a guy in a root beer brown stingray getting an ice cream. Then the place was actually called California! That was too coincidental for me.


This is one of the best parts about bicycle touring by train in Germany. You can enjoy a nice bier with lunch without worrying about the drive home!


The next half of the ride went pretty quickly. Along the way we saw some retired coal mine equipment, an interesting industrial plant and a beautiful swamp.

Soon we entered Lünen and made a very important observation. Almost everyone was carrying an ice cream! This was certainly a sign. We needed gelato. We paused to snap a photo finish and then made our last refueling stop. 


I could not believe they had watermelon gelato. Of course, I had to try some.


We rolled the final 400 meters to the HBF and boarded the train to Dortmund. Then transferred to a train running to the Düsseldorf HBF. This is where it got interesting… the train was packed! Like, standing room only packed. We were able to cram ourselves and our bikes into the car.


Then, perhaps the most entertaining part of the day happened when I watched a girl grab her bike and walk off the train with a tomato plant, an entire tomato plant (!), peaking out of the top of her rucksack.

Soon we pulled in to the Düsseldorf HBF, lugged our bikes down the stairs from the platform in to the station. I was biking home and my friend needed to catch another train to her home. Happy and sleepy and relaxed we hugged and parted ways. Promising to try to squeeze in one more ride in September before I move back to America. Yes, the clock is ticking down. It’s time to grab hold of every moment. But, when is it not? 

Life is short, make it a good ride.

My Practice 

My Practice 

Many things have changed in my life – school, work, state, country, but one thing has remained constant – my yoga practice. I did not realize just how long I’ve been practicing until a teacher asked in a class recently. I did some quick math and realized I have been practicing yoga for more than 20 years!

What makes me keep going back? 

Why is a studio one of the first things I seek out when I move to a new place? 

Tonight as I walked home from the studio in Düsseldorf, I pondered  these questions. 

My interest in yoga began when I was a teenager. I don’t recall if I was first introduced through a home video course or at the racquetball club we belonged to when I was a kid. I do know that it was one thing that made me feel graceful and confident and strong.

When I went to college I kept up my practice at a 24 hour fitness studio that I would pedal to after class on my town bike. I began to learn more about body movement and used yoga as a way to stretch out muscles strained from bicycle racing.

During my postdoc we lived in the Texas hill country and I’m not certain that I practiced but we did take up country dancing. Which is kind of the same thing…? Maybe??? This two years was a blur of working during the day and teaching at night. While I was a charter member of the local YMCA, I’m sure I had stretches where I didn’t train as much as I’d prefer. I spent most of my time either driving to work or working.

Louisiana is where I again returned to my practice, training at the local YMCA, but I soon found the training in a open space near the noisy weight racks to be a little less than zen. This is when I discovered the peacefulness of a true yoga studio. I began to practice at yoga bliss with some skilled instructors. At this time I was really in to running, I completed a half marathon and trained for a full. I also returned again to bike racing. Yoga became an essential part of my recovery program.

In North Carolina, I became friends with a German expat and learned she trained in hot yoga, so one day I went to the studio and found the perfect combination – Louisiana climate + yoga! Most people won’t believe it, but I actually missed the hot, humid climate of Louisiana when I moved to North Carolina. The studio became my oasis a few nights a week. I enjoyed the physical challenge and deep stretching of hot yoga practice.

When I moved to Germany I wasn’t sure how I’d practice since I was only beginning to learn German. This is when I made a spectacular discovery. I stumbled upon the magic of learning a language through movement. I found a studio that had two English speaking instructors. First I only went to their classes. Then, one day, I wanted to go to class, but it would be taught in German, and I figured “I might be learning German, but I can speak yoga, so maybe I can do this”. I went up to the instructor, explained I was learning German and asked her to correct me if a pose was wrong. As we flowed through the poses I was amazed at how much German I could understand, but also how my body simple knew what to do. Most poses follow a sequence and after decades of practice my body knew what to expect.

Now we come full circle: what keeps me coming back? I believe it is a craving for balance and understanding my body and how I move. Also, funny enough, I don’t usually make friends at yoga, although over time I’ll certainly begin to recognize a friendly face, but simple knowing I’m with like-minded people is a comforting experience. I believe this spirit of belonging is one thing that keeps me coming back. Oh and that familiar tightness is my left hamstring that spring up if I run too hard… or the tightness is my shoulders after a long day on the computer. So, again it’s a mind and body craving.

Why is a studio one of the first things I seek out when I move? Perhaps this is my attempt to find familiarity and peace, in the midst of changing environments and circles of people. I associate a yoga studio with the chance to escape from everything for 60 to 90 minutes. No phones, no speaking, no thinking about anything except my breathe and movement. The studio becomes my home. The one place I can go and know that in the midst of the chaos of my life this one place will always be the same. For this next 90 minutes, I will know what happens next and if I happen to get lost a caring and compassionate guide will come along and help me make small adjustments to find my balance. 

I do believe that this is why I continue my practice. I might pull anchor and sail across a new sea but when I land and drop anchor again, it will be there waiting for me. Much like a sailor seeking out a seaside inn to rest and find nourishment, so my practice provides nourishment for my soul on this journey through life. I find it again every stop along the way. The simple beauty of my practice is that although I, and my studio and my teacher may change, the practice stays the same. Downward facing dog is the same in California and Louisiana and Germany. The only thing that changes is me and my increasing gratitude for my practice and the people who teach me how to understand my body, nurture my soul and be kind to my spirit.

Namaste

10 countries in 10 weeks

10 countries in 10 weeks

As I sat in the cab, early on a Monday morning, traveling from Guarahlos airport to the center of São Paulo, I suddenly found myself very sleepy. I thought back on the past weeks and months, did a quick count, and realized I had visited 10 countries in 10 weeks. This was not my intention and the balance of the numbers made me smile a bit. I was sleepy after all…

I began to chat with the cab driver about my travels and I’ll share it with you now. 

To begin, my husband and I traveled to England (1) by car for a road trip through the countryside. What an amazing adventure! We took the eurotunnel from Calais, France (2) and on the way passed through Holland (3) and Belgium (4). But I couldn’t include this in the count because that made it 10 countries in 11 weeks and, frankly, that doesn’t have the same ring to it. Fortunately, I realized that we passed back through the same countries – although our route out of England was via car ferry from Dover. The Dover cliffs, by the way, you need to see them. Then we back-tracked through France (2), Belgium (3) and the Netherlands (4) – so they made it back into the count. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking – driving through a country doesn’t count! I agree!!! Lucky for me we actually made a pit stop at a McDonald’s in the Netherlands. In addition to suspiciously consistent french fries, they offer clean bathrooms in every corner of the world. Now to France – we did board the eurotunnel there, which was pretty epic, but I had a chance to return to this lovely country, and I say this with all honesty, on a quick business trip to the Cote de Azur. 

The first weekend of June, I decided to take advantage of one of our German bank holidays by popping up to Spain (5) to visit my college friend Christina, but you already know about that adventure.  

Hold up a minute here, what about Belgium? A drive through doesn’t count! Never fear, this count is legit! A couple of weeks after our trip to England, I rode the train over to Brussels for a quick visit to the EU parliament building. Quite an interesting place and got me to thinking about the fundamental roots of government that are different between America and the European Union. This explains a lot of our cultural differences.

Next I was off to Greece (6) to launch one of my new products – BioAct DC. We visited customers and held a workshop in Heraklion, the capital of Crete. I am in my happy place visiting with farmers and helping them solve crop pest problems! Of course the food and Raki after dinner was a bonus!

After all these euro-countries, it was time to head back to America (7) for a country music-induced reset. I flew in to North Carolina to visit my husband and join some business meetings at our North American headquarters. My husband flew back with me and we cheered on the racers at the Tour de France which, incredibly, departed from Düsseldorf, Germany (8) this year! But this experience deserves an entire post so that’s all on that subject for now.

On the 4th of July, we celebrated American Independence Day by heading to the airport and both flying west, but to different continents…hey, someday we’ll get this straight… my husband flew back to America and I headed to South America for business meetings in Buenos Aires, Argentina (9). Ironically, while I was in Argentina they celebrated their own Independence Day! Quite a bit more low-key then the way we blow off fireworks and barbeuqe in America. From Buenos Aires, I headed back north to São Paulo, Brazil (10). 

I wrote this post partly out of a selfish desire to not forget this coincidental travel run. When I planned all my trips, I had no idea they would roll up this way. Now, I think, it’s time for a break and I’ll settle in here in Germany for a few weeks. My whirlwind expat chapter is coming to a close, just about 60 days to go now. I found myself desiring to explore again all my favorite places in Germany before I leave my adopted city of Düsseldorf. 

About a year ago I was struggling living in Germany on my own and wondering about the choices that had led me here. I’m glad that I decided to “stop looking back because” as I saw on a tshirt recently “you’re not going that way”. Life is about moving forward, taking it as it comes and choosing happiness. 

My tour through 10 countries in 10 weeks reinforced my belief in the fundamental good of humanity. I enjoyed the kind hospitality of friends. I ran through quaint neighborhoods and parks and along beautiful beaches. I bicycled across London and Oxford and the island of Ilhabela. I dined on simple and elaborate foods while enjoying the company of smart and witty colleagues and friends. 

Everywhere I went I found beautiful things (some obvious and others tiny surprises) and met kind people who went out of their way to help me when I needed them. I was reminded that we are never alone. In every corner of the world you can find a quiet space, or a noisy environ. You can shape your experience because experiences are what you perceive. 

I was a bit amazed that I came through this marathon heathy and not (so) exhausted and I wondered how I managed in spite of the time zone changes. Here’s what I can say – sleep, eat healthy (ok 80:20 rule), exercise and be kind. Most importantly, BE KIND, it will make you (and the people around you) so much happier. I also realized that I paced myself along the way as I recently embraced the philosophy that life is a journey, not a destination, but I sure am curious to see what I will find at the next stop. Aren’t you?

Project LIFE: bye bye McFit

Now that I’m in maintenance mode I’m tracking myself with daily weigh-ins and experimenting with different foods to add some variety. I also felt like it’s a good time to reassess my workout routines.

I went to my gym for a morning workout last week and found it was closed for the final days on an ongoing renovation. I went to the grand opening yesterday and was sort of shocked my what I found!!! It has been transformed from a basic (occasionally stinky) McFit to a too cool for school John Reed. 


Complete with uber cool lounge areas, spin class and workout rooms with virtual instructors speaking English (and attempting a Texas accent) and I got a free new member t-shirt!


Strange art now adorns what used to be marked up walls. Actually I don’t remember the old color, funny how you can go somewhere every day and not really see it…

When I walked into this room I wasn’t clear if it was a workout room or a changing room… things could get awkward!

Is this the temple of doom or the men’s locker room…maybe they’re not so different from each other?


I just don’t understand the purpose of this space at all. Is this where people discuss their workout over a protein shake? 

The change is strange, but comes at a perfect time when I’m looking to revamp my workout routine. Now I have tons of easy options to build in to my mornings.

Nice touch screen next to the workout room that explains the class options. A great example of danglish, by the way, a mix of German and English.


The workout set was an oil farm in Houston, Texas! Complete with a working oil derrick and an instructor who was possibly trying to impersonate an oily worker, complete with oil smudges on his white tank top. He even said things like y’all, yeehaw and boy, this Texas son is hot! I was very entertained.

The virtual class trainer is an interesting concept that I’d never encountered before. Has anyone else seen this at a gym?

Project LIFE – maintenance mode

Project LIFE – maintenance mode

I DID IT! Y’all, I did it! I hit my goals (adjusted, I’ll explain in a bit) and now I’ve moved on to chapter 2 (aka the rest of my life): maintenance mode. This is a vague path for me and it feels a bit like a hike I took over a rocky path (see feature photo for this post) where the trail was marked by a series of red dots. The dots were strategically placed at any point that I needed to decide where to go next – especially if the next step was up a suddenly climb or through an otherwise indistinguishable series of rocks. As on this hike, where I sometimes found myself teetering on a rock ledge and hopping between stones. Now that I’m in maintenance mode, it’s a bit unsettling to not see the entire path at once. I expect that I will build this maintenance chapter through a series of experiments (red dots) that appear as I approach them. Some dots will take me along the correct course and other times I might find myself drifting and need adjustment. I’m ok with this method of trail mapping. I feel though like I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me first explain how I confirmed I had achieved my target…

Over the past couple of months I’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback from colleagues and friends who’ve noticed my weight loss progress. This often involves a fun discussion about how I managed to drop the weight and exchanges of healthy habits. A few weeks ago I was chatting with my manager about my project LIFE and I mentioned that I was encountering trouble dropping any more weight. I had hit the dreaded walk and I began to wonder if maybe I’d achieved my healthy weight. She told me about a recent health assessment she’d completed at a work event and emailed me the contact of the person who ran the assessments. I shot him a message and then we both were traveling over Easter so I practiced another muscle I’ve been growing lately, patience, and after a few weeks we managed to meet for my assessment appointment.

I woke up early the day of my appointment (scheduled for 7:30 am, gulp) and fought off hunger pains. I was instructed to arrive on an empty stomach. The night before I had deposited notes around the house in strategic locations (near the coffee pot, on my backpack) saying: “do not eat”. I usually eat first thing after I wake up. I allowed myself one cup of black coffee so I could drive safely….threw on some yoga tights and a tank top and brought work clothes to change into. Then I headed to the office in Leverkusen.


I met the assessor and then the rest of it went quickly. He asked my specs – height, age – and then I stood barefoot on the machine and gripped the handles. Then it ran its magic analysis.


The machine works, I believe, by running a current through your body and measuring the amount of resistance that helps it calculate the relative percent of water, fat and muscle in your body.

My report spit out in about a minute and we sat down to analyze. I was pretty curious and excited to study the results. The report told me what I had suspected: my body weight (plotted as an average – below, healthy, high) came in at the upper end of healthy. I wasn’t surprised by this outcome – my BMI calculation is never good according to the averages charts. I know I’m a strong type of build (with very strong bones – once I had a body scan that told me my bone density is in the 90th percentile, further when I was a kid I suffered a bone tumor that in most people would have led to a broken bone) and I’m fine with that, I enjoy being strong. 

The next figure explained the body weight being on the high end of healthy – this was my estimated amount of muscle calculation, which was 20% above average. The person running the assessment was pretty happy with this result. My profile was falling out as expected as a strong body type. For me this explained why I struggled to achieve the same weight I had 8 years ago when I was running for exercise 80% of the time. Changing my exercise patternsto more  fighting and weight training had subsequently resulted in more upper body muscle which of course brought more muscle weight.

The last figure also made me happy and this was my estimated amount of body fat. I know I always carry a relatively high amount of body fat for a fit person, or at least I’ve always had this opinion of myself. According to this assessment, my current body fat is 22% which is good and healthy, not super lean, but, wow, that’s a tough way to live. Maybe not right for me. Although part of me still toys with the idea of a 6-pack for a day. 

At this point, we paused to discuss how I could use this data. The assessor asked me a simple question: “what are your goals?”. For a moment, I was lost. I have to admit, I was so surprised to find that the weight loss journey was done, that I didn’t know where to go next. I think I really didn’t believe I could do it, so I hadn’t thought to the next step…

But, as we talked, it came to me. My goal is to be healthy and strong and capable of tackling any physical challenge that comes my way, I would say within reason, but who defines what is reasonable? 

I also have a new goal to maintain my healthy weight and built a sustainable eating and exercise balance to eliminate as much as possible future swings.

Throughout this post i have bantered about the term: “healthy weight”. I’m sure there’s a scientific definition of this term, but here is what it means to me. First I start with what it is not: healthy weight is not super-lean. I’m by no means currently super-lean. Healthy weight for me is feeling strong and happy with how clothing fits. 

Over the past 7 months through attention to diet and a solid exercise routine, I dropped nearly 3 pants sizes and now find medium tshirts to be a bit too large. For me, this is a very rewarding combination (although it does mean I might need to get some of my skirts adjusted and buy some new blazers – hmmmm, I’ll survive).

Now we get to one of the most interesting parts of the discussion. When I said I was happy with the report and agreed that I didn’t want to drop any more weight, we shifted the topic to daily calorie needs to maintain my current body profile. The report informed me that with my weight and muscle mass combination, I need 1500 calories a day when I don’t exercise and 2000 on the days I exercise. Which basically means I need 2000 calories nearly every day! What a surprise!

Now I encounter an unanticipated challenge – how to increase my daily calorie intake in a healthy way? I cut loose a bit this weekend (increasing the fat in my diet a bit and adding back in a bit of bread) and found I was suddenly again losing weight. Strange predicament to be in since I no longer want to lose! But, I’m going on vacation again soon, the England, the land  of pubs, fish and chips and meat pies, and I predict I’ll gain a bit and then can stabilize.

Now that I’ve hit my target I am savoring success. Sometimes this is a new piece of clothing hat fits. Sometimes I allow myself a bit more ice cream, but I’m surprised to find that I really don’t feel a need for the quantities of food I used to eat. Which is also surprising.

As I take my first steps down fork in the road from weight loss to weight maintenance, I would appreciate any advice from those who have traveled this road before me. Please share in comments, it will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragenent. Especially my husband who never told me I needed to lose weight, but when I decided that did, offered me help to find a path back to a healthy me. Then put up with a million silly conversations about dietary minutiae and how many 10th of a kilo I had lost or gained each week. Without you, I wouldn’t have had the courage to start the journey, let alone be where I am savoring the success of taking back my health and my life.

Flying high at Planica, Planica

Flying high at Planica, Planica

“Planica, Planica 

snežena kraljica!” 

The song rolled over in my head as I caught myself humming the rhythm for days after returning from the Planica ski-jumping hill. The first chorus from this polish folk song is played whenever a ski-flyer lands past the 250 meter mark on the famous hill that is called Planica. In sync with the rhythm, hundred of fans waved their country flag: Slovenia, Polska, Austria, Netherlands, Deutschland, Japan, and one lone America flag, happily danced through the air. Music over the speak was accompanied by a variety of noise makers – horns and rattles creating a fantastic unified roar of satisfaction. I wonder now what it sounded like for the fliers clipping out of their skies as they waited for their score. The only jumper who was greeted by almost complete silence was the Russian jumper. Not too many folks cheered for America either. But when a Slovenian flier was on the gate, the crowd went crazy!!! It was a good weekend on the hill, so we heard it A LOT! 


But, let me back up a bit and set the scene. After our half day tour through Ljubljana. we checked in to our room in Podkoren. We stayed at a recently renovated lovely house/hotel that had been in the family for more than 100 years. The house was decorated in local themes – one dominant theme being a carnation flower pattern. As we checked in our lovely and accommodating hosts asked us when we’d like our breakfast. Then we made a little dinner from the foods we’d gathered at the market in Ljubljana and turned in for an early night. The next day we would head to the hill!


The next morning, we used this fantastic European invention (an electric tea kettle) to boil some water. Seriously, I don’t know why we don’t use these in America! Incidentally, I purchased one when I was home for Christmas because I now find life difficult without this kitchen gadget. I stirred up a cup of surprisingly good instant coffee and took a stroll through the town. I often have a hard time sleeping in, even if I’m late to bed, which is why I don’t stay up late too often nowadays. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to take a sunrise run or walk in the neighborhood where I’m sleeping, which is why I prefer to find a central city hotel, or a place in an interesting neighborhood. Sometimes I meet folks, but often I’ll meet a friendly cat or focus on listening to the birds chattering to each other. I notice more details as I walk with the absence of human interaction – beautiful lace curtains, interesting architectural details on the buildings, slightly hidden political messages in the stickers attached to a power box.

On this morning, as I strolled through town, the sun slowly crested the mountains. As I held my coffee mug in my hand to stay warm, I greeted a man out walking his dog. A few blocks later, I paused to admire some horses in a small corral in the center of town. The town was very small, maybe 10 blocks, and as I made a right turn to loop back toward the hotel for breakfast, I could hear a burbling brook and was delighted to find a functioning sawmill! I took pictures and a small video to send to my dad in Oregon who is a lumberjack and has his own sawmill.


After a delicious breakfast of fresh local farm eggs, local yogurt and delicious Turkish style coffee, we took off for a hike to the ski-jumping hill. This is one thing I loved about the event – the only way to arrive was by shuttle bus, helicopter, or the best way of all, a hike through the forest! Fans proudly flew their flags and happily chatted as they trekked to the ski hill. Some already with a bottle of bier in their hand at 8 in the morning. Yes, I kid you not. The atmosphere was a bit NASCARish. How was it like NASCAR? The first thing is the flags (country flags instead of numbered car flags but some flags were emblazoned with the name of a favorite ski-flier) and country scarfs (in the place of ball caps), copious volumes of bier, greasy food, loud noise (in this case coming from the fans and not the athletes – cars on the tracks), and lots of friendly folk happy to meet fellow fans. 


On the first day the jumping began in the afternoon, so we planned a diversion hike on our way to visit Zelenci Spring – the headwaters of the Danube River. Trees were breaking bud and the forest floor was dotted with wildflowers. Very few people hiked along the same path. We were enveloped in the gentle sounds of the forest. As we walked, we were amazed at the spring scenery because we expected everything to be covered in snow. In fact, the weather seemed a bit strange – it was very warm and sunny and I regretted that I hadn’t packed a light weight long-sleeved hiking shirt to protect my arms from the sun.


As we walked the meandering path to the spring we enjoyed the shade and after a short distance, caught our first glimpse of Zelenci spring – sheltered on one side by trees and opening up onto a meadow with mountains towering above. We approached the spring bank and looked to the left to find an observation tower with some people taking in the views. Ahead of us was a small dock. We walked to the edge, sat down, and swung our boots over the water. After a few minutes the folks in the tower headed off down the trail and we had the spring to ourselves.


I began snapping pictures as we studied the spring, searching for signs of life. After a few moments we spotted a trout swimming through the crystal clear water. Then we saw another, and another. In total we watched about a dozen beautiful trout lazily swimming through the water. Midges danced above the water, providing bait for the fish, who occasionally broke the surface leaving behind circular ripples in the wake of their attack. As we continued gazing in the water we saw caddis fly larvae walking along the floor. Caddis flies are amazing creatures – the larvae build for themselves a case that they carry with them to protect their soft body. The case can be used to identify the location where they live because they use local “supplies” – rocks, twigs, bits of plants – that are glued together with silk. My mind flew back to my aquatic entomology course at UC Davis as I explained to my friend the curious details of the life of a caddis fly.

Time passed quickly as we shared memories of fishing in our home countries. The silence was broken by a runner who burst out from the trees and stopped to say hello. She asked where we were from and we answered Japan and the USA. Her face was puzzled, and we went on to explain our connection via a German employer. As we chatted we discovered that she worked with the US and Canadian ski-jumping teams. We inquired about the health of Kevin Bickner, who had recently had an injury during a jump. I was looking forward to him jumping in the team competition the next day and she reassured me he was in good health and would jump! We snapped a photo for the memories. Then after a quick viewing from the platform, we continued onto Planica.


The trail was now filled with more fans traveling to the event. We strolled up the hills and through a meadow, then a path through the forest and suddenly we were there and I had my first view of a ski-jumping hill! 

What a curious thing it is. A giant piece of ice and snow, striped with lines to mark distances. A narrow ramp at the top from which the jumpers leap after seating themselves on the starting gate – which looked to me to be a relatively small piece of wood. The ramp reminded me a bit of the giant slide at the pool that we all nervously waited in line for as a child. The courage of these jumpers. Hurling themselves through the air at speeds of 100+ km per hour!!!


The sun was beating down on us and I hadn’t brought a hat, so I bought my first souvenir – a felt Slovenian cowboy style hat. My friend bought us a couple of Slovenian team scarfs. We asked a photographer we met to snap our photo and then headed off to set up our viewing station.


My friend had a giant Japanese flag to wave after attaching it to a collapsible fishing post. Such a clever system! I never would have thought of such a thing, but she wasn’t the only one. Dozens of other fans were expanding their fishing poles and hoisting flags to the sky to cheer for their country jumpers.

As the crowds began to grow I ventured off to find lunch. We’d been hiking for a few hours and I’d worked up a hunger, besides I saw people eating these giant sandwich-type things and I was curious to try it out.


Verdict – not sure of the meat source – maybe grilled spam (?) on a focaccia style bread with a curry type sauce, peppers and mustard. It was good! I was now reloaded with energy and ready to cheer!

After a few more minutes, the jumpers began to fly. Between jumps we chatted with the Polish fans who were stationed around us. Friendly folk! German was the common language, although some spoke English, and we chatted about our respective country cultures between loud rounds of cheering for the jumpers. Bier flowed and the sound level climbed. I wasn’t drinking bier in support of my Project Life goals and it made the people watching even more entertaining. 

I used my telephoto lens to snap some photos of the jumpers and also found it served as a nice binocular to get a better view of the jumpers on the top of the hill.


After the jumpers were finished for the day, we hiked back to town to rest up for day 2. During the evening, we watched some local TV coverage of the day and my friend explained to me more about what was happening and how the jumpers were scored. I felt more prepared to watch the next day. It’s not all about distance. Points are deducted depending on the direction and strength of the wind, or the style of the landing. 

The second day was the team event and this was my chance to root for Team USA. I strapped my American flags on to my backpack for our hike to the hill. I’d bought them at Walmart on a recent trip home and was pleased to discover they were actually Made in America!


As we approached the ticket controls, we met a crowd of folks waving Canadian and American flags and enjoyed a round of high-fives. As we set up our cheering station, my friend attached one of my American flags to her pole so we could wave it wildly for the American jumpers.

The jumping began as we walked up and it was a spectacular day at the hill. Team USA wound up placing 7th out of 12 teams, which was a very respectable place for the team. But, the most amazing moment was toward the end of the day. The great Austrian jumper  Stefan Kraft set a new record on the hill. Everyone went wild! Then the next jumper from Poland, beat the new record!!! Everyone went completely nuts at this point!!!! The starting gate was moved to ensure safety of the subsequent jumpers. The guys were practically jumping as far as possible on the hill. Conditions were incredible – the perfect wind.


Jumping ended early-afternoon and we walked down the hill happy and satisfied with the day. After a quick lunch, we hoped in the car and headed off to explore Bled. Bled is fabulous enough o deserve its own post. More on one of the prettiest places on the planet later.

My impressions of a European ski-jumping event. It’s a lively, loud, friendly, rambunctious environment. I was so glad that I took a “leap” and decided to travel with my friend to Planica. As a bonus, the countryside and people of Slovenia are lovely. I’m tempted to return this summer for a visit with my husband.

Surprising Slovenia

Surprising Slovenia

This post is the first in a small series about my long-weekend trip to Slovenia. I visited Ljubljana, Bled, Planica and Podkoren. It’s a beautiful country, the people are friendly, the food is good, castles and dragon stories are found in every little valley and mountain region. I highly recommend it for a holiday in the mountains.

Four days ago I landed in Ljubljana, Slovenia to attend the FIS ski-jumping world championship event held at the famous Ski-Flying hill called Planica (here’s the song – more about it later). 

Ski-jumping…. I think I’ve watched it on TV a couple of times. So, why did I travel to Slovenia to watch the final championship event of the year? Well, one day, after moving to Germany I took a long bike ride with a friend I had met years ago on a field trip in California. After riding for a few hours, we stopped for a coffee break at a restaurant next to the trail. As we rested and chatted, she mentioned how much she loved watching ski jumping. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I asked if I could possibly accompany her sometime on a weekend excursion. She said we could discuss it over the coming months, and here we are! Sometimes you just need to jump at life. Why not jump off a high hill with only a pair of skis strapped to your feet?! 

The funniest thing about planning this trip was the reaction I received when I told folks my plans for the weekend. So many people asked if I was going to jump myself! What, are you kidding???!!! I laughed. Then I felt a little bit of pride that people who know me actually thought this was a possibility. Or maybe they were just pointing out the apparent oddness of just spontaneously deciding to head off to Slovenia to watch a ski jumping event. Whatever it was, it made me smile and laugh. So, it was good.

We made our plans, the months passed on the calendar and, finally, last Thursday was the day. We arrived in Ljubljana around noon and headed into the city center to explore.

I hadn’t done any research for this trip – I booked a flight and my friend helped with buying my entry tickets to the ski-jumping event. I had no idea what to expect in the city. As we drove from the airport to the city, I took in the beautiful mountain scenery bordering the valley. After about 20 minutes, we turned off the highway and entered the outskirts of the city. The buildings lacked decoration – a reminder of the stark communist era. Maybe for this reason the city seemed even more magical when we turned a corner and found a bridge guarded by a pair of dragons on each bank of the river.



This was the first of many dragon sightings on this trip. They form a strong theme in Slovenian lore and culture. We roamed around the bridge snapping pictures. Then headed toward an outdoor market to search for some local treasures to remember the trip. The offerings were clothing and fresh produce. Slovenia borders Italy and the market stalls were stocked with tomatoes, strawberries, clementines, carrots, lettuce, and every other vegetable and fruit you could imagine. We decided to stop by on our way out of town and buy some produce for dinner and snacks during our trip.



We noticed a castle on a hill loomed over the city and decided this would be our destination. It was easy to find signs pointing to the castle and we began the long walk up to the top, pausing to admire the unfolding city views and decipher the graffiti lining the walls. The hills were dotted with wildflowers and trees were breaking bud. The sun shone over head and bird song filled the air.




As we reached the top of the hill we looked up at the castle – a quite impressive and well-preserved structure. When we entered inside, we were surprised to find a variety of museums, shops and a restaurant and cafe. We decided to sit outside in the square and take in the warm sun while enjoying a local bier with a super-cool label. You guessed it, more dragons! 


To mix things up, we walked back down the opposite side of the hill and then popped in to town for some shopping along the river banks. 


As afternoon approached evening, the tables outside the cafes began to fill with people. Music flowed through the air. Some bouncinf out of the turn-table of a DJ dressed in a black suit jacket and hip clothes. I was mesmerized by the city scenery and architecture. The colors contrasted with the river and the streets were filled with young people. Energy oozed from the place. At the same time it felt peaceful and calm. An interesting paradox of emotions.


As evening approached, I was sad we needed to leave the city, but it was time to go on to our next destination. We drove through the countryside toward Kranska Gora and our hotel room in a neighboring town. The scenery was beautiful – fields and farm houses. One interesting feature was wooden panels in the fields. My friend told me they’re used to dry the hay after harvest. Apparently, a similar structure is found in Japan’s rice country. That was just the beginning of geologic and natural similarities between this landscape and Japan. It was intriguing to learn how two places so far away could be so alike.

As we neared our hotel, the country roads were lined with billboards promoting the ski-jumping event. 


Anticipation was building, but fortunately the day had been long enough, and our home-made dinner filling enough, that I had no trouble to fall asleep. 



Up next: first day at a ski-jumping event. It was off the rails!