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Europe, Finally!

Riverside Rock Quarry

In the late summer, when the temperatures started cooling off a bit, we started to get into sport climbing outdoors a bit more. One crag that has been developed in the last ten years and has probably the best quality of sport climbing in SoCal is the Riverside Rock Quarry. Although not very scenic, the length and difficulty of the routes make it a great around-town destination for a morning or afternoon of climbing, without a big approach. Here's a picture of the quarry from near the road:

As you can see, it looks pretty nice from a distance. Once you get a bit closer, however, you realize that it's located in a pretty dirty area, with lots of debris and graffiti, even on the rocks. This doesn't detract from the quality of the climbing, but it also doesn't present a feeling as if you're out in nature. People that I've climbed with at the Quarry include Ivan, Rafaela, Brian Luther, Adam, Colin, Ronen, Ryan, and others. Here's Ivan and I relaxing between climbs:

And here's a picture of Adam Luetto at the Quarry:

Adam was a beginning leader who quickly pushed into the 5.10 grade, which is impressive. The routes at the quary are long and typically hard, with very few routes in the 5.10 range and below. Here's a random climber tackling a 5.12 called Balrog:

As you can see, the top of the Quarry is a long way up, and there are many large features, like that huge roof, that can make things interesting. The rock is really solid granite, however, and the holds are easy on the hands, unlike Joshua Tree, allowing for long climbing sessions. Here's a picture of Ivan attempting a small roof on a challenging 5.11:


In the fall of 2009, I finally got to see Europe with Rafaela, and I'm not talking about the band. I personally had waited for years to cross the Atlantic ocean, and Raf and I had never travelled internationally together, and we finally found a (somewhat) opportune time to do so. Although things had been a bit crazy with CyPace, I managed to sneak away for three weeks to visit the countries of Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. The plan was to start in Munchen (Munich), in Bavaria, which is the South of Germany, and stay with James, Martin's brother, at their childhood home. Anna, one of Rafaela's friends from the East Coast, would join us for this leg of the trip. In addition, Scott, another of James's friends, would be visiting as well. While in Munich, we would get a rental car and visit Austria, and then return to explore Munich before continuing to visit Jan in the Czech Republic. After Czech-land, the plan was to return to Germany and stay in a nice hostel in Berlin, where Rafaela had already spent some time. Here's a poorly made map of our three-stage trip:

The first stage being Austria and Munchen, the second stage is Czech Republic, and the third is Berlin. This plan was incredibly exciting to me, especially since it really constituted sort of a bootstrapped way to visit Europe. We were planning on packing light, and I actually decided to take my father's 40 year old external frame backpack to hold my stuff. So, enough with the planning hoolabaloo, let's get to some pics!


Raf and I arrived at the Munich airport and quickly located Anna, Scott and James. We picked up our BMW at the Sixt counter (they tried to switch it to a VW, but James and I got pissy) and set out for the city. After arriving and unloading, we took the U-bahn into Marienplatz. I was immediately blown away by the architecture in central Munich. Here's a picture of the city hall we took that night:

We spent some time walking around before settling on a less-busy beer hall near the center of town. Of course by 'less busy' I mean only ridiculously busy. We were barely able to find a place to sit down, and from there we could watch the middle-aged german women thrashing around, attempting to satisfy the hundreds of patrons that filled every nook and cranny of the establishment. Even though the place was very large, it felt like eating inside of a very very large house, except that every room was filled with tables and chairs. Here's a picture of the group of us (minus Anna), enjoying some beers at our table:

And here's a picture of Anna with Rafaela:

The following morning we planned on leaving for Austria. While we were getting the car ready, James's next door neighbor invited us in for a planning session. She had been down to Austria several times and had many good suggestions. She also had a MASSIVE dog that was quite a bit bigger than Rafaela. Here's the three of them:

And here's the group of us planning our excursion:

After the planning session, we loaded up the car and left for Salzburg. It turns out that driving on the German Autobahns (highways) is not nearly as cool as everyone thinks. They're just highways without a speed limit. The vast majority of cars do not fly along faster than 100mph, and instead drive at speeds that maximize fuel efficiency (it's like $8/gallon of gas). It is impeccably maintained, however, and there are really futuristic signs to indicate the current speed limit for a given stretch of road. The drive to Salzburg from Munchen was a whopping eighty miles. Unlike the United States, however, you could see little towns dotting the countryside, each with beautiful looking houses and bed & breakfasts that looked incredibly cozy. Very often the towns were centered around old-looking chapels as well. Rafaela and I both appreciated the additional scenic beauty and liked how you could tell that people had meshed with the natural landscape without impacting it nearly as much.


Once we arrived in Salzburg we could already tell that the city was going to be incredibly picturesque and beautiful. There were several plateaued stone outcroppings around the city, one with a fortress on top, as well as a beautiful turquoise alpine river running through the center of town. We quickly found a spot to park in the older part of town and began walking around. Here's a map for reference:

We parked on or near Franz-Josef Strasse and planned to walk down near Schloss (castle) Mirabell to see the Mirabellgarten (garden) there, before checking out a few church's and crossing the Salzach to where most of the landmarks were. We also knew that Mozart was born here, and the Sound of Music filmed here as well, so we were planning on seeing some related landmarks. Here's some pics of the Mirabellgarten:


James and I

The Yellow Monastery on the Hill

The Fortress, First Glimpse

After exploring the gardens, we left to walk down this street toward the cathedral with the green roof that you can see in the distance:

I remember entering this cathedral and thinking it was really ornate. I hadn't been in all that many churches in my life. In retrospect, it was absolutely tiny compared to the cathedrals we would see later in the trip, but I'm sort of glad that we didn't see the big ones first, because it allowed Rafaela and I to appreciate each of the smaller ones that we saw beforehand. Anyway, here's a couple pics of this one:


After looking at the church, we crossed the river that runs through the center of town. Here's a picture looking down-river away from the Alps:

After crossing the river, we were in the center of the old commercial district. There were lots of quaint little shops and stores, that were actually pretty upscale. Here's a look at the street and the chapel at the end:


In addition to the shops, there were many food and flower vendors. Although the central Oktoberfest was in Munich, each of the other cities in Bavaria were hosting little festivals of their own:

After travelling through the shopping area on Griesgasse and Getreidegasse, we headed for the central part of the old town where the largest cathedral was. Outside the cathedral was a little square where the small festival was being held. There were many street musicians and carnival rides for the young'uns:

And even a beer-hall for the old'uns:

The cathedral turned out to be quite a bit larger than the two previous ones we'd seen that day. I had certainly never seen anything so ornate previously in my life:

The Outside

The Altar

The Ceiling

The Organ and Vaulting

After exploring the cathedral, we decided to hike up the rocky escarpment to the massive fortress overlooking the town. Although we didn't end up paying to get into the Fortress proper, we found that we could get a really good view of the town by climbing up on the walls. Here's a picture of Salzburg from this spot:

We discovered that there was a trail that followed the top of the plateau, so we decided to follow it and see if the vistas from the other side were as good. As it turns out, they were:

We were also hungry and decided to get some food at the restaurant there overlooking the city:

After we finished eating, we walked back toward the Fortress and continued around to an old nunnery on the far side of the hill called the Stiftskirche Nonnberg. Rafaela had remembered the nunnery from a few scenes in the Sound of Music, so it was really nice to be able to check it out in person. Here's a few pics:

Rafaela at the Gate

The Path to the Entrance

The Altar

Ye Olde Church

After checking out the nunnery, we again descended into the city and meandered back toward the car. One of the larger shops that we found was this Christmas store that Scott was really excited about:

As we crossed back over the Salzach, Scott snapped this picture in the early sunset:

Berchtesgaden und Obersalzburg

After we got back in the car, we left Salzburg and headed for the German Alps. Here's a map of the area in question:

We came from the north down route 20 into Berchtesgaden where we stopped for some pizza. Afterward, we continued on the 20 in search of camping. We found a few places, but they were basically just trailer parks, and they were really overpriced. We asked for assistance from a worker at one of the places, and he recommended a spot further West. Here's a picture of James and I trying to find our way on a map:

To find the camping, we had to take the Grunsteinstrasse to route 305 and then the Deusche Alpenstrasse. The camping spot was next to the little lake on the left-hand side of the map near where it says 'Taubensee'. It took us about two hours to find the place, but we got to pass through a lot of quaint towns on the way. Unfortunately, the guy's advice turned out to be slightly spurious, since they still charged us like 40 euro for the camping spot, and it was no more than a tiny dirt/grass plot in the middle of a trailer park. In spite of the crappiness of the camping, the area itself was really beautiful, and surrounded by mountains:

Here's a shot of the five of us messing around in a field:

And here's another pair of nearby peaks:

After we packed up and left the campground, we headed back East to bum around Berchtesgaden and Obersalzburg. As it turned out, there was an old Nazi bunker in Obersalzburg that had been converted into a museum. We spent some time getting really bummed out reading about all of Hitler's atrocities in the museum, and then we headed underground to check out the bunker:

A Passageway

Another Passageway

A Third Passageway

A Shaft After exploring the bunker, we bought some tickets to go the Eagle's Nest, which was Hitler's Summer retreat in the mountains above Obersalzburg. To get to the retreat, you had to take a bus up an incredibly steep mountain and then take an elevator that was built in the center of the mountain, to the very top. It was a pretty incredible ride to get up, but the view from the top was absolutely breathtaking:

What was once Hitler's stomping ground had been converted into a restaurant. A restaurant with the most ridiculous view I'd ever seen. Here's James and Scott enjoying some brew next to a 4000 foot drop:

And here's Rafaela and I holding one another in the midst of the beauty:

And finally, an eagle silhouetted against a mountain:

After coming down from the Eagle's nest, the five of us decided to check out one of the abandoned salt mines nearby that gave tours. Here's our group ready to descend into the mine:

In order to get into the mine, we had to ride a set of mine-carts for at least a mile or two. The air became very cold as we descended. The tunnel was really small, and I imagine some people might get claustrophobic:

At one point we took a little boat ride across an underground lake:

During the boat ride, they played this pretty corny music while flourescent rods created a scene of dancing salt crystals against the wall of the cavern. Overall, it was a pretty corny tour, but it was neat to go so far underground and ride the carts. After the salt mine, we got back in the car and drove to Innsbruck, Austria. The drive from Obersalzburg to Innsbruck took us through the heart of the German Alps, and the scenery from the car was really incredible:

We saw dozens of bed & breakfasts with flowers hanging from windowsills, much like this one:

As the sun started to set, the contrast against the mountains increased, and we were able to grab some really beautiful shots, including this one of a castle:

And this one of the mountains:

Finally the sun set directly in front of the car:


After a couple of hours of driving, we arrived in Innsbruck, just before the sun completed setting. The town hosts a significant college population, and from a distance seemed more similar to an American city in terms of layout, but once we entered the older part of town, its character changed drastically. Here's a shot looking down one of the main drags heading toward the mountains and the river:

One of the things that Rafaela and I really liked about Innsbruck was how the building facades seemed to slightly tilt this way or that, and how each corner created a unique little nook in the middle of the city. I don't think I would had nearly the same appreciation for this sort of thing if it weren't for Raf. Here's Anna in one such nook, and you can see the stars starting to come out:

Here's a wonderful picture of Rafaela and I in another nook. Doesn't Rafaela look more European than normal?

Here's another couple pics from the main area of Innsbruck near the river:


We decided to get dinner at a little italian restaurant. Rafaela and I shared dishes, and she got the gorgonzola tortellini, which was amazing. Even though we spent very little time in the town, Rafaela and I both strongly felt its appeal. Considering there's incredible snowboarding right next door in the mountains, I could certainly see myself spending a little bit of time there in the future if Raf ever wanted to go back.


After arriving back in Munich, we decided to spend our evening walking around the Olympic Park, where the Summer Olympics were held in 1972. It also happened to be near the BMW headquarters, where we overheard Walk of Life by Dire Straits being played inside of a restaurant on the ground floor. Here's a couple pictures from the park:

After seeing the park, we stopped at a grocery store on the way home and bought some beers. I was astonished that ten half-liters of really good beer only cost about ten euro. As it turned out, the only things that were not overpriced in Europe were the bread, cheese and beers (but only in the markets, not at the restaurants, bars or beer halls, where it was really expensive). When we arrived home, we decided to go to sleep at a reasonable hour to leave ourselves enough time to visit some museums in the morning.

In the morning, Anna, Rafaela and I left for Konigsplatz where we heard there were lots of museums. Here's a couple pictures of the buildings on either side of the square:

After entering one of the buildings, we learned that they housed ancient artifacts, etc, and that the art galleries were elsewhere, in the Pinakotheks. We purchased a pass that would allow us to enter all four of the art galleries. The first one that we entered was the Alte Pinakothek, which housed the oldest works of art. These were mostly from between the ancient era and 1400-1500 AD, meaning there was a focus on classical antiquity as well as christianity. Rafaela took some very nice photographs of the works in this gallery. Here are a few:

This last one was incredible in the amount of detail that it contained. Rafaela and I looked at it for probably 5 minutes, examining all of the various things that were going on. After completing a sizeable walk through the massive Alte Pinakothek, we went to the Neue Pinakothek, which housed works from the early 20th century. Many of the pieces here were very good, notably those by Picasso, Braque and of course, Dali. Since the pictures didn't come out too well, I'll avoid posting them here. Each time I go to a museum with Raf, I have found myself more able to engage and critique the paintings. I believe my perspective is entirely subjective, and I wouldn't push my opinions on others, but I certainly feel more adept at attaining my own understanding and engaging the artwork more. On this occasion, I was really taken with the painting by Salvador Dali, and it turns out that Rafaela also really appreciates his work.

After the Neue Pinakothek we went to the super-modern one, which both Rafaela and I knew was going to be a bit tongue-in-cheek for us. While we have nothing against modern art as a whole, we both share the opinion that all to often novelty takes the place of artistry and skill, and thus we find very few pieces are easy to connect with and appreciate. We found very little to admire in the super-modern gallery, and hence there were no pictures taken there. After we had our fill of art, we decided to walk all the way to Schloss Nymphenburg, which is a castle that Martin, James's brother, had recommended we visit. It was only about two miles from the art galleries. Since I was taking a lot of video that day with my camcorder, we didn't take too many pictures of the castle, but here are a couple:

The castle itself was massive, and circumscribed a very large courtyard. In the rear there was an expansive statue garden that had been converted into a park. The moat in front exited the courtyard under a bridge and headed directly East toward a mausoleum which housed members of the wealthy family that owned the castle. On the way back into town, we stopped at a shop and bought some cheese and bread to snack on. Rafaela and Anna decided to buy some fresh Gorgonzola that was absolutely incredible. I had never been much of a cheese person before, but the quality and pungeancy of the cheeses we encountered in Europe made me a convert forever. After snacking on our bread and beer, we found our way into the tower of an old church that overlooked the park where Oktoberfest was being held. Here's a few pictures of the church and the festival from above:



After marvelling at the scenery for a bit, we went down to check out Oktoberfest. We knew that it probably wouldn't be our favorite scene, considering it was entirely focused on the beer, and we couldn't speak German, but we figured that it would be nice to see and experience at least once. We decided to head for the Paulaner tent since we knew their beer was pretty good, and we luckily managed to find some empty seats at a table. We ordered a couple liter steins of beer and settled in for some festivities. Before long, the hall had worked itself into such a froth that everybody was constantly standing on their benches, and it wasn't too uncommon for them to tip over. There was a band situated in the middle of the hall, and they alternated from playing traditional German music to corny American pop hits, such as Bon Jovi. Here's a few shots:


  After Oktoberfest, we drunkenly stumbled home. On the way, we found this hedgehog:

At some point, we got sort of lost, and couldn't find our way to James's place. In our desperation, I stopped at a house where the garage lights were turned on, and asked a young man 'Entschuldigen sie bitte, wo ist die Franz-Josef Strasse?' Which, I figured, since it was a rare case where I knew all of the German words I needed, should have been sufficient to convey the idea as needed. The guy turned to me and replied 'Just ask me in English.' Hahahah! I was pretty embarrased, but at the same time thankful that I wouldn't have to struggle to understand the directions he was about to give. In a few more moments, we were back at home.

The next day, Rafaela, Anna, Scott and I all decided to do a walking tour of downtown Munich. We got up reasonably early and left for Karlsplatz, which is a nice walkstreet away from Marionplatz, or the city center. The street was crowded with busy-seeming people and we just meandered around. The first landmark that we checked out was the Frauenkirche, which is perhaps the largest church by volume in the city. Here's a picture of one of the towers from the outside:

The other tower was under construction, apparently to repair damages caused during World War II. We had seen many cases of buildings with older and newer materials mixed, evidence of these sorts of repairs, but most of the work had been completed already. This was a rare case of an incomplete restoration. Here's a pic taken immediately after WWII:

And here's a couple pictures of the current interior:

After leaving the Frauenkirche, we passed by a couple of Mongolian folk singers on the way to Marienplatz. One of them was doing throat-singing, and it sounded really cool. Scott and I actually purchased a CD, but I haven't gotten the tracks from him yet. Here's a picture of them doing their thing:

After passing the Mongolians, we arrived in Marienplatz once again, this time in the daytime. It was an incredible sight:

On the far side of Marienplatz was an old 12th century chuch called the Alter Peter. For a small fee we were able to ascend its tower and view the city from above:

After viewing the city, and having some bread and cheese for lunch, we started walking North toward the English Gardens. Our plan was to hit as many landmarks on the way as possible. Many of the areas we went through had walk-streets such as these two:

The first landmark we passed was the opera house

After the opera house, we found a really nice cathedral that was next to the river:


After leaving this church, we headed North parallel to the river, before arriving at......... another church!

This church was relatively quaint and small compared to the others, but still really nice. Afterwards, we finally found ourselves in the English Gardens. Near where we entered, there was a bridge that had some fast-moving water beneath it. Someone had put an object in the creek-bed to cause the water to create an artificial wave that people could surf. We must have spent 30 minutes watching these really talented 'surfers' riding the wave:

After watching the surfers, we continued along the river inside the English Gardens and found some nice, secluded areas. Here's a picture of me with the lovely Rafaela:

Sometimes people should just be up front and tell me to cut my hair. In the center of the English Gardens is a biergarten. As it turned out, it was just being resupplied by Hofbrauhaus when we arrived:

In the center of the biergarten was the chinese tower, which had a band playing traditional german tunes on the second floor:

After leaving the English Gardens, we walked down Ludwigstrasse toward the city. The facades on this street were very imposing, and it was said that many Nazi rallies had been held along this corridor:

On the other side of the street from where the previous picture was taken there was a strange looking yellow cathedral.

We were very curious what the interior would look like. It turned out to be highly ornate, but we all got a somewhat strange feeling from the place.

Once we reached Marienplatz, we took the U-bahn back to James's place and prepared some delicious spaetzle for ourselves. Here's the group of us about to chow down:

If you'll notice, I look a bit drunk, and that's thanks to my black friend on the table there, the Paulaner Salvator. This was definitely the best beer that I found in Germany, and it was like 8% alcohol.

The next day Rafaela and I parted with Anna at the train station and spent our first day alone together. Since we had only one more full day in Munich, we decided to check out the Deutschemuseum, which was supposed to be one of the largest technology museums anywhere. As it turned out, we spent a couple of hours on the first exhibit alone, before realizing that there were 26 of them!!! The place truly was monolithic, and although we only saw a small percent, we were blown away by the completeness of the various collections. We started in the minerals, and ores, and mining, and smelting, and metallurgy, and processing, and manufacturing exhibit:

Next, the wind power and water power, and steam power exhibit:

Later, the airplane, vehicle, glider, helicopter, spacecraft, rocket and jet engine display:

Afterwards, we wandered through the music-related exhibits, the nuclear power area, the boats and seaplanes, then the photography and printing, then the numbers and mathematics, then the astronomy and spaceflight, etc, etc. We spent something like six to eight hours in the museum in total and, brains fried, we knew we hadn't seen even fifteen percent of it. Afterwards, we definitely needed to relax, so we went down by the river and rested in the grass:

Later that night we got James to come with us to the Hofbrauhaus for some good food and brew. The place was absolutely massive and consisted of several beer halls that were actually multiple parts of the same building. The hall we ended up in was on the third or fourth floor, and was nearly packed, so we ended up in back.

Our neighbors at the same table were having a really good time with some girls they were with until the girls left. This caused them to become pretty pissed off, and then one of them started spouting neo-nazi rhetoric at us. I'm not even joking. At this point, James advised that we leave, and we did. The following morning we took the train out to the soccer stadium and boarded the bus for Prague, which came pretty late.

The Czech Republic

The trip to the Czech Republic was pretty scenic. We saw lots of little towns dotting the countryside. By the time we arrived in Prague it was getting pretty late, and the sun was setting. The facades of the buildings in Prague were even more ornate than any we had seen thus far in Europe, and they generally had a more imposing feel since the buildings were generally larger and more built up. After we crossed the Vltava River the bus pulled into a bus/train station in a darker part of town and we unloaded. Rafaela and I found a place to sit inside the food court and I exchanged some money into Czech Koruna. The exchange rate was around 18 Koruna to 1 US dollar. After exchanging the money, I sat down and setup my laptop so that I could Skype Jan. After trying the couple phone numbers he gave me, I tried his girlfriend's phone number, that he provided as a last resort. Fortunately he picked up the phone and turned out to be almost in Prague already. In a few more minutes he entered the food court and we were together for the first time since the hospital after my motorcycle accident. Rafaela and I jumped into the back of his blue Nissan pickup truck (one of the only pickups in Europe, he assured me) and we settled in for the long ride back to his hometown about three hours East. Rafaela wasn't feeling terribly well and we wanted to get back so that she would have the maximum recovery time.

Jan's town turned out to be really really small, and contained around 160 people. The landscape was generally rolling hills and forests, dotted with small lakes and ponds. It reminded me a great deal of the climate and topography of upstate New York. The roads and villages were very different, however. The roads were generally one-lane and lined with apple and pear trees. The towns were all very close together and very small, generally a cluster of buildings centered around a chapel or church. This gave the land a very old-seeming quality. There was very little to indicate that the country had only until recently been under the steel curtain of the soviet union.

After we rested that evening, we awoke early and went to grab some groceries. The prices for food in the Czech Republic were generally very reasonable, and we picked up some beers, cheese and fresh produce. Once we returned from the grocery store, we decided to go visit a castle with Jan and his cousins. The castle had previously been the residence of the royal family of Bavaria in the early 1000's and was one of the most prominent in the Czech Republic. The drive to the castle took us through several beautiful small towns. Jan explained that in the summer, it was a popular custom for Czech folks to ride their bicycles from castle to castle and spend time enjoying the fairs that were typically held in the large courtyards. Since it was October, the fairs had generally ended, but once we arrived, we could tell that the entryway to this castle had the amenities to provide for such a festival. Most of the media that we took at the castle was with my digital camcorder, but here's a few shots that Rafaela took with her camera:

Tour Restrictions (They were really anal about this stuff!)

Inside the Chapel

The Chapel Ceiling

The Castle Exterior

After walking around the exterior of the castle for a while, we decided to pay the $7 each for a tour of the interior, which turned out to be really fascinating. The castle itself was sprawling on the inside, with an incredible number of rooms and hallways. There was even an external keep which contained an iron grating in the floor, down which prisoners or criminals would be put to suffer and starve. Apparently the idea was that they would break their legs upon hitting the ground, and just lie there until they perished. Ugh...

After we had seen the entire castle, we returned to Jan's village and decided to go on a walk through the old forest and pick mushrooms. Since I had never picked mushrooms before, I had no idea what it would be like. I was very surprised how many varieties of mushrooms and the sheer number of them that we found. I would estimate that we found around 15 different types, and although we ended up picking only one kind for eating, we were able to fill up an entire basket with them. In addition to walking around the beautiful forest, we spent some time doing some impromptu rock climbing and just messing around the formations that we found in the forest. Unfortunately, we didn't take any pictures of the excursion. Once we got home from the forest, we made tasty omelettes with the mushrooms and watched some climbing movies before grabbing dinner at a restaurant in a nearby town and going to sleep.

In the morning we piled into Jan's truck again and left for Prague. On the way, Jan told a few of his fabulous stories. We also stopped in a town that had an old ossuary that was featured in Long Way Round. It contained a lot of 'art' created from human bones that had been excavated from a mass-grave nearby. The quantity of bones, as well as the detail in the ornamentation were both really incredible. It was a very solemn place, however, and we spent only a few moments there. Here's a couple pictures that we took:

Skull Sconce

The central chandelier

The coat of arms.

Once we arrived in Prague, we parked in one of the few empty spots and started meandering around the city. The first area that we headed towards was the Old Town area, called Stare Mesto in Czech. One of the first historic buildings that we ran across was a 'powder tower' where armaments used to be kept:

We entered the powder tower, and after having a mock swordfight with old-skool armor, made our way to the top, where we could look out across the city. Here's a few nice shots of Praha from above:

After returning to the street, we headed for the central plaza of Prague, called Staromestske. Here's a picture of Jan and I as we entered the plaza:

The square was really expansive and flanked by many buildings with beautiful facades. There was a Salvador Dali exhibit on display in one of the buildings, but because it was $30 per person and didn't contain any of his paintings, we decided against checking it out. As we continued walking we passed the archway leading to the Charles Bridge, perhaps the oldest and most famous of Prague's many bridges:

We then passed through a part of town with canals running between the buildings. I figured this must be something like what Venice must look like:

This part of town was incredibly touristy and there was a remarkable number of people, especially considering it was so late in the year and a weekday. We stopped into one of the marrionette shops, which we learned were a hallmark of Prague:

After checking out a few more shops, we found a nice cozy place to get dinner. Afterward, the sky had become a bit darker, allowing us to capture this evening shot of the President's House and St. Vitus's Cathedral across the river:

Next, we attended a show that Rafaela had discovered in a guidebook about Prague. The name of the troup was Laterna Magika, which is a great name, and we expected something along the lines of Cirque Du Soleil. Unfortunately, the show was pretty much complete crap. It was about two clowns that pretty much just dicked around with a magician for 60 minutes. Here's what the stage looked like at the beginning:

That night Jan's friend hooked us up with accomodations at a gym near downtown. We were able to stay for only $18 per night! In the morning Jan decided to return to his village to continue work (he now operated a sawmill) and Rafaela and I were left alone to explore the city. To start our day of exploration, we started once again at the old city square. We checked out the astrological clock that we had missed the last time:

We continued North from the plaza into the Old Jewish Ghetto, which is now in one of the most urban parts of the city. Here's a colorful synogogue in that area:

There was also a very old cemetary in the area that they were asking $20 per person to see!!! Rafaela and I of course weren't willing to pay that much, so instead we climbed the wall to take a look:

It was really neat how all the old tombstones had been crammed together for lack of space. I'd never seen any cemetery like it. After finishing our walk around the Jewish quarter, we continued back through the central part of town to cross the river. Here's the front of another church that we passed on our way:

We decided to cross on the super-overcrowded Charles Bridge. The bridge is lined with statues of biblical figures such as this one:

After we crossed the bridge we meandered around the streets and generally tended toward the president's house on the hill. At one point, when looking for a bathroom, we stumbled upon the bottom of the gardens below the president's house. Here's a picture of the beautiful terraces:

After checking out the gardens a bit, we started ascending the walkway up the hill toward the president's house and St. Vitus's Cathedral. When we were almost the entire way up, we snapped a few great pictures of Prague from above:

The Charles Bridge

The Opera House

The West Side and Forested Hill

Looking South Down the Vltava Once we had sufficiently captured the view, we continue up the steps toward St. Vitus's Cathedral, which is one of the oldest and most ornate cathedrals in Central Europe:

The exterior is obviously very impressive, especially thanks to the strange flying buttresses. The interior, however, was on an entirely different level from the rest of the cathedrals we had seen thus far in Europe. It was truly staggering both in size and detail:

The Main Hall

Super-Detailed Mosaic Window #1

Super-Detailed Mosaic Window #2

Super-Detailed Mosaic Window #3

Super-Detailed Mosaic Window #4

Super-Detailed Mosaic Window #5

Super-Detailed Tiled Mosaic

The Front of the Main Hall

Colored Light on Mural

Silver Coffin

Carved Wood Relief of Prague As you can see, the Cathedral was completely breathtaking in its beauty. We spent probably an hour inside marvelling at all of the sights. Once we left, we descended from the President's House and crossed over to the wooded hill just South. This gave us a good vantage point for taking pictures of the president's house and St. Vitus's Cathedral:

After exploring the wooded hill for a while we got pretty hungry and decided to find a place to eat. Rafaela's guidebook indicated that a place called Club Architectu which was a converted basement of a chapel was really good, so we headed there. It turned out to be by far the best dinner that we had in our entire trip to Europe. The place was really dimly lit and had low ceilings and was really intimate. The food itself was very reasonably priced and incredibly well prepared and delicious. Here's a picture of Rafaela about to enjoy a legit Greek Salad:

The food was so good that we decided we couldn't resist a desert as well:

The next day we boarded a bus and left for Berlin. On the way we passed a few really cool landmarks, including this castle on a hillside:


Rafaela and I arrived in Berlin after dark and had to take the subway to reach our hostel. The name of the hostel is the Circus and it is supposedly one of Europe's most famous and nicest hostels. I was hoping that living in a hostel would allow us to meet a lot of other travellers, and although we did meet a few, it wasn't as open and friendly seeming as I expected. Nonetheless, the hostel was really really nice and we spent a lot of time in the evenings drinking good beer and relaxing out on the patio.

On our first full day in Berlin the weather wasn't terribly good and we decided to head to museum island and specifically the recently opened Pergamon museum since we couldn't spend much time outside. The museum's most famous exhibit is the permanently-installed temple and reliefs that were apparently stolen from an excavated ancient Greek city called Pergamon more than a hundred years ago:

In addition to the temple and reliefs, they also had many other large and small artifacts and examples of masonry, such as gates and statues. Here's a couple examples:

After spending a few hours in the Ancient Greek section, we passed through the above gate and found ourselves in a series of exhibits dedicated to the old Caliphates of early Islam and their empires. I was extremely surprised that they actually had the entire Ishtar gate inside the museum. It must have taken a ton of effort to move this thing in its entirety, and I am sure there are a lot of people that are pissed off that it ended up in Germany. Anyhoo, here are three pics of the gate:

In addition to the gate, the exhibit contained a large number of artifacts from the 600-1100 time period. Many of them were incredibly intricate. Here's a couple of them:

Finally, we entered a room that was from the Christian quarter of a Persian city called Aleppo. The entire room contained ornate wood panelling and a lot of symmetry. Here's a pic from inside:

After completing this exhibit we were both pretty satisfied and since it had stopped raining, we decided to walk around the city a bit. Here's a picture of downtown Berlin near the Berliner Dome:

We didn't go to any of the more touristy areas on this day but we still managed to walk a long distance. After we returned to our Hostel we decided to walk North to go to the grocery store to get beer, bread and cheese as well as see a park where a mile-long section of the Berlin wall still stood. The wall itself in this area wasn't terribly impressive, but there was a super kewl swing that I had to spend some time on!

Once we got back from the park we spent some time playing Scrabble on the patio. This would turn out to be a favorite activity for us since we started needing more down time in the evenings to cope with our super long daytime walks. Here's a picture of me thinking hard about my next word:

As you can see, by this time my hair had gotten pretty out-of-control. The next day, Rafaela and I decided to do a walking tour of the central area of Berlin, concentrating on the Tiergarten and some older landmarks. After crossing the Spree River, we entered the Tiergarten from the North where some large goverment-related buildings were. Here's one of them:

After passing through this area, we entered the wooded part of the Tiergarten. Unlike some of the other city parks we'd seen, such as the English Gardens in Munich, the Tiergarten seemed more open and less detailed. There were fewer nice looking nooks, and generally fewer waterways as well. Nonetheless, it was a very large park, and it was enjoyable to explore it. Near the center we found several stones arranged in a field that had been brought from places far away in the world. Here's one of the sandstone ones that I decided would make a very hard boulder problem:

After passing this field we found a nice pond that was inhabited by several birds and some overly-malicious swans. One of them attacked me after I fed it a bit of bread. It got my backpack off me and proceeded to piddle it repeatedly while it was on the ground.

Once we finished walking through the Tiergarten, we walked through the city toward the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, which is a church that was destroyed during World War II and never fully rebuilt. Today it stands as a symbol of the destruction of war and the resolve of the Germans to rebuild Berlin by providing a contrast against the surrounding landmarks, many of which do not betray their prior state in the postwar period. Here's a shot from the outside:

And here's a picture of the mosaic ceiling inside the church:

On our way back to the hostel we walked through the Gendarmenmarkt which has a domed building on each end and the concert hall in the center. Here's pics of one of the domed buildings and the concert hall:

Closer to the hostel we crossed a plaza where a man was creating massive bubbles. Several times, the bubbles were floating over the outdoor seating area of a nearby restaurant and then bursting. The employees of the restaurant were a bit upset about this, since soap solution was getting into the food. It was pretty entertaining to watch the ensuing arguments. In the end, the man continued making bubbles but he moved a bit further away.

That night we played some more Scrabble and got a lot of sleep. Since we had been averaging between 15 and 25 miles of walking per day, we were definitely starting to feel the effects. The following day we decided to walk to the main part of the Berlin wall in East Berlin. This section was now an open-air graffiti art gallery. To get to the Berlin Wall, we decided to walk through the Volkspark Friedrichshain. At the entrance to the park was a really cool fountain:

The color in the trees was beginning to change, which created a nice effect in the park:

I felt like the Volkspark (which means People's Park) was even nicer, although smaller, than the Tiergarten. Here are a couple nice pics of the park:

After the park we arrived at the Berlin Wall. The batteries in Raf's camera were a bit low so we only got a few pics of the wall, but there were several examples of incredible graffiti art. Most of them invoked feelings of depression or alienation, so it wasn't necessarily an uplifting experience, but it was the Berlin Wall, so what would you expect? Here's a few shots:

While we were at the Park and the Wall, we heard lots of police sirens. Apparently there was a rally by the far-right NPD party (aka Neo-Nazi party) and that had attracted a lot of attention. That night we boarded a bus to go to the Berlin Airport and the bus driver stopped at one point to chat with his neo-nazi buddies, one of whom boarded the bus and trudged up and down the walkway in his military boots and overcoat, staring at all of the passangers. That was really wonderful. At the airport we slept for a few hours before boarding the early morning flight to Amsterdam. Once in Amsterdam we transferred to our flight to LAX and settled in for our uber-long flight home.

 Now that my first trip to Europe was over, I had the opportunity to reflect on the experience and compare it to my preconceptions of Europe that I had. Only two aspects of Central Europe were less remarkable than I expected, one was the beer, and the other was the general landscape and geography, which greatly reminded me of places that I had been in the States. In spite of how similar the landscape was in many places, the feel remained entirely different, and this was due to the more organic way that the little towns and villages had integrated with the land. Especially in the region of the Alps, I felt that the buildings that dotted the countryside created a much more pristine and natural environment. The Alps themselves were much more impressive, exposed and stark than I expected of mountains of their height. Everything else about Central Europe was totally riesig. The architecture, culture, and generally feel of the cities and countryside were bigger and better than their equivalent in the states. The big box stores, which destroy small towns, were largely absent. The level of waste was also much less, and I greatly enjoyed the general feeling of safety on the city streets. With the exception of the two neo-nazi experiences, I felt the people were happier and more communally focused than in the US. Our ability to see large amounts of each city by simply walking around was really nice, and the beautiful buildings that were found throughout added a sense of history and exceptional age to each place. Rafaela and I both look forward to returning and visiting the other European countries.

Right On!

Late in 2009, Brian Luther, Ivan, Colin, Rafaela, and myself decided to head up to Joshua Tree for one last long-weekend of climbing this season. In addition, my friend Ronen was going to meet me on Sunday and we were planning to do the multi-pitch climb 'Right On' on Monday. We didn't capture too many pictures on this trip, but there was a lot of night-time bouldering. One day we went to the Atlantis Wall area and setup a couple of top-ropes. Here's a picture of Rafaela on Grain Surplus (5.8):

Two of my favorite routes in the area, named Vorpal Sword (5.9) and Galumphing (5.10a) after the Lewis Carroll poem Jabberwocky, are also in this area and pictured here:

Vorpal Sword is the left-leaning crack system on the left and Galumphing is the blank-looking face between the two crack systems. Galumphing is definetely my favorite route at Atlantis, and I thoroughly enjoy the thin crimping moves and balance required to make it to the top. In addition to climbing these two routes, Ivan and I climbed an unnamed face to the right of Grain Surplus. There was almost nothing to hold onto on the rock slab, and we both agreed that the route was probably 5.11-. I surprised myself by making it up on my first try without falling. On some of the moves, however, I certainly felt like I could have slid off at any time. Here's Ivan working the tenuous moves midway up:

After spending a couple days climbing with the group, we left the park to have our traditional last dinner at the Crossroads diner in the town of Joshua Tree. After dinner Ronen arrived in town and we carpooled back into the park. We had a chill evening together and decided to get up early to gauge the weather and make the call on whether we would attempt the four-pitch Right On or not. I was somewhat apprehensive because I'd read that the first bolt is about 25 feet off the ground. Even though the climbing is only like 5.5 up to the bolt, it was still pretty sketchy to be so far above your last protection. In the end, Ronen was really up for it and we decided to go for it. We arrived at the base of the route at approximately 8am and there was nobody around. We stashed our unneeded gear under a boulder and started up toward the beginning of the route. For reference, here is a picture of the climb that I've marked up:

To get to the start you had to do some third class scrambling up a few granite ramps. At the start there was not a great platform for the belayer, and you were already thirty feet off the ground. This scramble is marked in red and where the route starts is where the green is. The short crack at the start takes a small cam and a decent midsize nut. At that point though, there's a 40 foot slab between you and the next crack and there's only one bolt in the center of it! This was the part that had worried me. Getting to the bolt took me into pretty run-out territory, where a fall would certainly have resulted in broken ankles at least. Fortunately, I made it and clipped the bolt. At this point I breathed a sigh of relief, but then I realized that I had another 20 feet to go before I reached the crack!!! In the end, the section between the bolt and the crack was the hairiest. The difficulty to the bolt had maybe eclipsed 5.5 at one point, and was generally very easy. The section past the bolt was very thin, and I would say the move to gain the rail before the crack, when you're 10 feet runout, was not terribly easy. I spent five minutes psyching myself up for the move before I did it. A fall at this point again would have been very nasty. I read of someone on Mountain Project broke their leg falling here... When I finally went for it, I was fine. After making it to the crack, I was ecstatic, and I easily cruised the short crack section before the optional first belay. Since we didn't realize that the second pitch was so short, I belayed Ronen up from here, even though it wasn't a terribly comfortable belay. Ronen actually fell once on the slab between the bolt and the crack, in the section where I rested. After he arrived at the belay we had our first belay change. Since Ronen had never done a multi-pitch before, I had to explain the mechanics of a belay change and this took awhile. Before long I started up the hand crack in the corner. The crack was really smooth and it felt incredible to jam without tape. We had already been on the wall for almost an hour by the time I reached the belay, and I was not enthused to see that the next belay ledge was completely in the shade. I knew I would be cold, but at least there was plenty of space for standing and a couple bolts in the wall, eliminating the need to waste gear on an anchor. Once Ronen had taken care of the hand crack, we switched again and I started off on the third pitch, which was to be by far the longest pitch of the route, and also the most varied. To begin you had to get physical in a squeeze chimney. The chimney was slick from the hundreds of people who'd climbed the route before us. I was also getting really cold and this added to the difficulty. Finally, protection was extremely rare in the chimney and I had to treat every potential fall as serious. Fortunately, I am very good at stemming and other chimney techniques, and I also managed to sling a few rock protrusions (called 'chicken heads') which made me feel slightly safer. Eventually I completed the chimney and managed to get a cam into a small crack on the left-hand side. After this, I had to traverse to the right via an undercling flake that was wicked cool. After this section I started up another crack system toward the top of the formation. I was able to make it about halfway up the crack system before I began to run out of rope. I could no longer hear Ronen since he was about 200 feet further down by this point. I only had about five pieces left but I managed to create a pretty bomber anchor and I started belaying Ronen up. Ronen did a great job cleaning the third pitch and before too long he joined me in my small perch. Switching belays here was tough because we didn't have a lot of room. It took about ten minutes but once again I was off, and this time to finish the whole climb. The fourth pitch was really spicy and provided both a transition into the sun as well as the first real exposure of the route. I started by finishing the crack system from the third pitch and then tenuously traversing to the left onto the face. I was able to put three equalized cams into a horizontal crack about 30 feet from the top, but from that point on, there was no more gear. The climbing was pretty easy at this point, mostly pulling on knobs and scoops in the rock, but there was also a 300 foot drop to think about. I had become much more comfortable with the potential falls and I cruised this section pretty easily, although I was concentrating on every move. Once I reached the top and saw the belay bolts, I knew that I had finished the climb. I didn't celebrate yet, however, since climbing is really all about the team, and I wanted Ronen up there with me to enjoy it. I quickly setup an extended anchor off the two bolts so that I could stand close to the edge and watch Ronen as he finished up. As Ronen completed the traverse and started up the final slab, I kept encouraging him to turn around and look down but he was too scared to do it. From above it looked like a straight drop below him, of over 350 feet. He cruised the final section without any trouble and we spent about 15 minutes together on the summit enjoying the view. Another couple people were starting the climb far down below, but we had plenty of time before they would reach the top. In all, the climb had taken us over four hours and we had two hours to return to the car to leave on time. The way down involved two rappels, and we accidentally trashed my rope on one of them. Fortunately, we were still able to make it down to the ground and return to the base of the climb. By the time we reached the car the sun was starting to set and I still remember looking up at the climb with Ronen and remarking how amazing it was that we climbed the whole formation that day. As my first real multi-pitch route, I was very glad that it went so smoothly. In fact, I had an absolute blast and was looking forward to more multi-pitch climbs at Tahquitz rock in Idyllwild. Unfortunately, there were problems that prevented me from ever going to Tahquitz, but we'll get into that in the next section...

Fresh Injuries for my B-day!

In early November we had a small birthday celebration for me at the apartment one day after climbing. Rafaela made me an awesome cake that was shaped like a giant cupcake. Here's a picture of her with her masterpiece in our kitchen:

Colin also got me a bottle of Makers Mark, so we had a great evening eating yummy cake and drinking bourbon. There was lots of cake left over, but I made short work of it in my typical style, by dunking it a forkful at a time into a glass of milk. Yum! Over the next couple weeks I suffered a few climbing injuries that would turn out to put a major downer on my life for (I would find out later) over a year. The first injury was actually caused by a specific incident. I was climbing a new V5 in the gym and there was a very awkward move that involved a three-finger pocket. I put my fingers into the pocket and on the ensuing move fell strangely without being able to get my fingers out. This caused the ligament on the right ring finger to tear, and it was very painful. The other two injuries were to each of my shoulders. They weren't caused by a single incident, but most likely were caused because I was boldering too hard too fast for the skeletal structure of my body. I developed some pain in my shoulders, especially at night, and it wasn't going away. I finally decided in November to stop climbing and give my body some time to rest and hopefully get better. This choice coincided with a significant increase in urgency in my CyPace work, so I rationalized my inability to climb by focusing on my work. In retrospect, this point in time represented a transition into a worse place for me that would last for several months. Find out more in the next section...

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