Monday 29 August 2016

Cape Town mountain walks and an inspirational woman

When my mother drives to work, as she does every day, this is where she goes.

Her 'office' is Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, one of the most famous botanical gardens of the world and surely the one with the most spectacular natural setting.

As one of Kirstenbosch's leading guides, an expert on the region's flora, she has walked and talked many many hundreds of visiting botanists and plant enthusiasts from all over the world around these gardens.

(See here for why this UNESCO World Heritage listed area is one of the world's six Floral Kingdoms - by far the smallest yet by far the richest in diversity)

For her family, this means we score with the best possible guide for the mountain walks and trails that Cape Town has in abundance, and which she knows like the back of her hand.

Leading the way - on Table Mountain paths, in May last year ...

and at Silvermine Nature Reserve, April this year ...


Inspecting the cycads at the gardens of Babylonstoren, April this year ...

Passion for her work and for life is what has always driven her.

On her 80th birthday, her gift to herself was an abseil - she fulfilled a dream by launching herself 1000 metres into vertical space off the top of Table Mountain ... 


I've been a little afraid of what she might have been planning for today, her 90th birthday.

Celebratory lunch two days ago (photo Ann Swanepoel)

The only thing I'm sure of is that she'll continue to be an inspiration.

Happy 90th birthday, Mom! May the paths continue to open up in front of you 
with many great adventures ahead.

Cape Town, 2015 & 2016

Monday 22 August 2016

From the Alps to the Black Forest

From Innsbruck the Fern Pass connects the Austrian Tyrol with Germany, a fabulously scenic route with views to the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain. 

And just as well there were pretty sights, since we encountered an Alpine traffic jam over the Fern Pass (the beginning of European school holidays) and were obliged to inch forward in a slow crawl -
as the weather shifted from cool with dramatic clouds ...

to stifling (even this high up) July heat. 
I watched enviously as the driver in front raised the doors on his vintage Mercedes Gullwing to let fresh air flow through - what a fantastic design!

By mid afternoon we reached the Black Forest and the spa town of Baden Baden. 
I'd posted (here) about taking the waters here in the autumn a year ago, and was really excited to be back in this lovely town in full summer.

Baden Baden has such a solid, prosperous feel. There's conspicuous affluence but it's understated and undershot with a sense of the history of this town

and cushioned in the surrounding natural beauty of the Schwartzwald.

Walking from the town centre we passed the colonnaded Trinkhalle (pump room) for tasting  the restorative spring waters

to the less salubrious Kurhaus (casino) where Dostoyevsky famously gambled his earnings away.

In front of the casino, the July Sommernachts fest was in full swing, with food and drink at outdoor tables. 

Crossing the road at the grand Theater, in the style of the Paris Opera,

 we headed along the Lichtentaler Allee, the parkland that runs along the river Oos, lined with elegant classical villas

where well-dressed people were walking well-groomed dogs 

past the Museum Frieder Burda, designed by Richard Meier, which has one of Germany's biggest collections of modern art

ending at the grand 19th century Brenner Park Hotel 

for a drink in the terrace gardens, before heading back into town in search of dinner.
And to contemplate the end of a fantastic 8-day road trip from London through France and Belgium to Luxembourg, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, the Austrian Tyrol, Germany 

Baden-Baden, Germany, July 2016

Monday 15 August 2016

Flying high in the Austrian Alps

From sunny Trieste on the Adriatic we drive up through the Dolomites and over the Brenner Pass into Austria. 
In Stubaital, very close to Innsbruck in the Austrian Tyrol, there are enticing views to the Stubai glacier.

Sadly a trip up to the glacier was a no-go as the lift was under repair. But the Kreuzjoch mountain peaks are accessible via a cable car that whisks you up well over 2000 metres - to some pretty fabulous close encounters with the Stubai Alps.

In summer this is fantastic walking territory with the dozens of trails that are mapped out across the alpine landscape full of hikers. But the Stubai Alps and the Kreuzjoch in particular is also flying paradise for hang-gliders and para-gliders. 
It's something to do with wind conditions and thermal lift - whatever, there were countless human birds floating well above the height of these dizzying peaks.

I watched as Birdman here made awkward progress towards the take-off platform, suited in a contraption not designed for walking on terra firma ...

and stood for a very long moment on the edge, perhaps considering the wisdom of the terrifying leap he was about to make (well, I would too) ...

before tipping himself forward over the precipitous edge 

and into flight.

 This one, in contrast, less encumbered by gear and on a different slanted platform like a ski jump, didn't stop to think, just ran madly headlong downwards and off ...

Walking along an alpine trail I was glad to have the earth under my feet but couldn't stop wondering how incredible it must feel to be floating at these heights, light as air

At the chalet style café there is local beer, sausage and strudel served by dirndl-ed waitresses

and the less adventurous enjoy the views from benches

Give me a ski resort in the summer months any time.

Kreuzjoch, Stubaital, Austrian Tyrol, July 2016

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