It Never Gets Old
That is a phrase I have used often in life. Just like a lot of other phrases it has a double meaning for me. During our travels we have seen many old churches, forts, museums etc and no matter how many times I see them the same thought that, it never gets old, comes to mind.
In reality they are all very old but seeing them is like seeing them for the first time and in most cases it is. We typically don’t go back to many places we have been before but in some ways the fountain here sometimes reminds me of fountain over there.
Another way to look at life is the fact that even though you might be getting older I never really feel that way. I might not be able to run a marathon as fast as I use to but it does not stop me from trying. We have run a distance of at least 13,1 miles in 24 different countries plus Antarctica and it never gets old.
This portion of our trip we are at a wedding of our older brother, Garrett’s, daughter Anna in Lake Como, Italy. I had not even heard of the place prior to wedding plans and many people who I have spoken to have at least heard of it even though they might not had been there themselves.
After that Catherine and I are off to Milan for a few days, Amsterdam for 5 nights and then Madagascar for 12 days. While there we will run a 1/2 marathon just about 2 months after my surgery to repair an aneurism in my gut. I ran a marathon 3 months after open heart surgery back in 2014 to replace my leaky aortic valve so this should be a piece of cake.
I have learned after 64 marathons and numerous races of various lengths that none of them should be taken lightly. We started this 53 day adventure in the Tuscany region of Italy with our runningcruise.com groupies and wrote about that wonderful week in my blog entitled, What is a land based running cruise?
Catherine and I then went on a 16 day Windstar Cruise and wrote about that lovely experience in my blog entry called, Windstar Cruise, take us away. Not sure how this month-long segment of our trip will turn out but I am sure I will have plenty of opportunities to say to myself or out loud, it never gets old.
Presently on the hight speed train from Rome to Milan cruising at 300Km/h which is about 186mph. Took me awhile to break the code for the free wi-fi. You have to use the ticket code when they ask for the PNR code during the sign on process.
Lake Como is in deed breathtaking but at the same time we have seen so many views on this trip that I believe I might be having desensitizing syndrome. I just made this up but what it means to me is that when I looked out our window of the hotel I was clearly not as impressed as others visiting the Lake Como area.
Maybe I need to look at a blank wall for a while for me to my senses recalibrated. We were able to get in a great run and long walk while here. Of course there would be a Castle/Fort here. Lucky for us we were able to find one way up to the Castello DI Vezio and a different route back down.
Once there after a small fee you were able to partake in views of the town of Varenna right beneath us. In front is Lake Como in all its splendor, cut off into two branches by the Bellagio peninsula: to the left is the branch leading to Lecco, whereas the branch right in front of us takes everyone to Como. The peninsula that can be seen in the distance is not the island of Cmacina, but the Ossuccio peninsula, with Villa Balbianello on its very tip.
The origins of the fortification are not clear. The beginnings of the Castle probably date back to Late Antiquity, a time that links it to being used as a strategic military hub during the late Roman period From the castle it would have been possible to keep watch over the road that went from Bellano to Esino Lario, and it was also used as a watch tower and signaling point that overlooked the whole lake.
The Italian wedding was held in the same church as the groom, Alessandro, parents and grand parents. The Celebration of Love was beautiful with over 100 of us were not from the local area. I wish Anna and Ale all the best in the future.
Off to Milan to get serious with the training for the half marathon in two weeks. My right knee is giving me some trouble for some strange reason. Don’t usually have knee pain but as I get older I am really starting to understand the mere fact that cells do not regenerate like they use to so I need to learn to compensate.
The first day of arrival we were able to get our bearings straight and ran around 9 miles the second day. The third day we got in a nice long 9 mile walk where we were able to see the third largest Church in the world, Milan Cathedral. Wonder if I have already seen number 1 and 2. Turns out that I have seen 1 but not 2 . We have seen St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City the largest but not Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida a Brazilian municipality in the state of Sao Paulo even though we have been there in the past.
After visiting the church we walked over to huge soccer stadium here in Milan, San Siro. It was hard to get some good pictures since it was so big but was able to find some great pictures on the web. My knee held up both days and feel like I am ready for the off-road adventure in Madagascar. Plan on getting one more longish run in while in Amsterdam later this week.
Maybe after I actually Fly Emirates in August
Another first for me. After dinner I put my credit card and receipt in the slot of my phone case. No big deal, I have done it a thousand times. Catherine and I decided to take the long way around back to the hotel and near the end of the route I checked to see how many miles we had walked today and noticed that my credit card and receipt were gone.
I traced our way back to the restaurant where we ate and no joy. Went back to our hotel and made a call to the credit card company to report it lost. While on hold the hotel phone rang and the lady on the other end asked me if I had lost my credit card and that someone had turned it in. I told the credit card company that it had been found and went down to retrieve not only the credit card but also the receipt from the restaurant.
I am still completely amazed especially since my impression of Milan has been somewhat mixed. There are so many people out and about with their cups asking for money and to know that someone went out of their way renews my faith in humanity. Tomorrow will be one of those days that I will give everyone asking for help some change. Pay it forward.
This is our third trip to Amsterdam as we run all over the world. The first being May 2015 and we ran the half marathon here in Oct 2016. Catherine and I went for a walk to find the AirBNB where we stayed on our first trip. We have stayed at the Renaissance back in October and back again this time around. I wrote about our first experience of Amsterdam in my blog entry called, It’s the people stupid
4 flights up very narrow stairs about 1 1/2 miles from where we are staying now
A number of International Marriott Hotels have welcome gifts for Platinum members of a half bottle of wine and cheese and crackers. At this hotel the full bottle of wine and cheese and crackers were already waiting for us in our room with a nice welcome back note. I love great customer service.
During one of our walks around Amsterdam we can upon the famous, Dam Square and when Catherine saw the adjacent buildings and structures she said, “It never gets old”. When asked what she meant by that, she explained, that there are somethings she does not remember but when she saw the square she remembered the other two times we were here and her impression was that these sights never get old. She did not know this was the title of this blog entry.
I am sure you have heard that you can buy anything in Amsterdam. I also know what I am talking about but in this case we needed somethings you can’t often find while on the road.
In this case it was Vitamins, knee brace, pair of new jeans. Within a few blocks of the hotel I was able to find them all. The jeans were the hardest one with an inseam of 36 but the first store I thought they would have some did. They actually had several styles to choose from.
The last day here we walked over to the other Marriott Hotel in Amsterdam that is near Vondelpark that we have run around in the other times we had been here. There were a ton of people walking, running and riding there bikes. I was able to find a tree I took a picture near the first time we were here and it brought back great memories for both Catherine and I. The walk back was a little longer since I could not go back the same way we came.
From May of 2015
After a great 5 day stay in Amsterdam we are now off for the final leg of this 53 day adventure in Antananarivo, Madagascar for 13 days. There we will run a half marathon in our 25th country. Before we set up this trip a few months back I had never heard of Antananarivo, which is the Capital let alone pronounce it. Turns out it is called Tana for short.
Renaissance and our motto
Central Station Amsterdam
Lucky we started this trip there from Amsterdam so the flights were not that brutal. 1 hour flight to Paris 2 hour layover and 10 plus 30 flight to Madagascar. We did not have time in our schedule to get a visa prior to the trip so I am not looking forward to the process of getting one at the airport at 11pm local time. I understand there is a 1 hour drive to the hotel after 45 of us are processed.
Joining us there are a few familiar faces and the owner of Marathon Tours and Travel, Thom Gilligan, the President, Jeff Adams and one of their finest tour coordinators, Karen Houch. We have done a number of trips with each of them and this is our 20th trip with Marathon Tours so looking forward to this adventure with them all.
Not fond of flights of this duration but lucky for me the middle seat is empty so I can do some modified leg stretching. Catherine is sitting across the aisle from me but is not so lucky with all four of her seats taken. The service on the Air France flight is pretty good but I am not looking forward to the trip back to the US.
It will start with a 10pm shuttle to the airport followed by a 1:25 am, 11 hour, flight back to Paris, 4 hour layover and then 9 hour flight back to ATL. At least we did get the upgrade to Business Class so we can get some sleep on the final leg. I am sure we will be a basket cases by then.
The process at the airport was like butter. I had all the paperwork filled out but they did not seem to care. Took our 50 euro and put a sticker on a page in our passport. We then went over to the third customs person and they stamped the passport page with three different stamps. The bag wait did take forever but by 1am we were in bed for a short night since there were tours the next day.
This place is amazing but not in a good way so far. Simple to say that there is despair everywhere. Moms and children carrying babies and begging for money everywhere you turn. Especially outside the hotel where they smile with their hands out. We did give out some money but there are so many of them. Catherine is not taking the whole experience very well.
They say the country has plenty of money but government corruption has kept it away from the people who need it. Whatever the reason, it is heartbreaking. Statistics indicate that 70% of the population is under 35, life expectancy is 65 years old and the leading cause of death is diarrhea. Sanitation is of great concern so hope we can stay healthy during this last portion of our trip.
There are people everywhere in Tana, and I mean every where, in large numbers. They look more Asian and there are so many people with so little space. Cars and every mode of transportation trying to share the same space, throw in roadside shacks/shops into the mix. A lot of food for sale in all forms and level of preparation. You get the felling that not many cook at home. On top of that there are folks just walking along side selling everything else and folks running along side pulling carts full of just about everything.
They have a very unique multipurpose use of the land. Rice is their main staple in their diet and is grown all over Tana. The other part of the rich, moist soil is used for making bricks. They dig up the soil and form them and then set them out to dry. They move them to a fire pit and then back out in the sun to finish the drying process.
Tending the land and making bricks
To tend the soil they use and Oxen type animals called Zebu. When I say tend, it is not with a plow it is just the process of the Zebu walking back and forth over the land. Everything you see the people do as we go from place to place looks like hard manual labor. No mass transit here, mostly vans of all shapes and sizes fully loaded both inside and on top. They barely stop as people jump off and climb on the back. We even saw one guy pushing a cart full of whatever with his head.
The main attraction to see is the Queen’s royal compound/Palace high a top a mountain and in reality it is not much to see. It was built back in the 1800’s and has a very rich heritage. A lot of fact and figures were given out but after 4 hours sleep all I heard was blah blah blah. We finished our tour of the day with a visit to a tiny museum where I learned that Madagascar split from other land masses 165 million years ago. A lot of discussion about how some of the animals got here from other parts of the world with no definitive answer given.
On top on the left is to represent a penis, long gross story about that
Before dinner they gave a very information slide show presentation about the island and the different cities we will be visiting and one fact stuck out for me. Turns out Madagascar is the only country that everyone speaks the same language, Malagasy. They also speak French and English. They use our alphabet with 5 letters left out. Can’t remember which letters they were but know that Q was one of them.
I got 8 plus hours of sleep the next night and presently on our way to Toliara near the city of Isalo, where the race will be held and we will tour for the next 4 days. Isalo is located on the west coast of Madagascar. The Air Madagascar magazine, on the airplane, had plenty of beautiful pictures from the other parts of the country with all their resorts and beautiful beaches. I can now see where all the money is.
The 5 hour van drive was not my favorite part of the trip so far and knowing that we have to get back to the airport the same way after running a half marathon is not something I am looking forward to. We went through at least a dozen villages of different sizes and level of prosperity or lack there of. Some were very organized and others were just a few huts on the side of the road.
Baobob Tree, they call it the silent giant
The last hour was at night which raised my apprehension level somewhat, especially since the two lane road we were on is also used by large trucks and Zebu drawn carts or Zebu’s themselves being herded in groups of 20 or more. When we went off-road for the last 5 minutes headed to the dark as opposed to the lights of the villages/cities we had passed, made me start to wonder.
Out of the dark we arrived at the Jardin du Roy which was jaw dropping to say the least. It was built 6 years ago and nothing was left to the imagination. Our room was spacious and you could tell that a lot of time, thought and rocks went into the design and construction process. I could only imagine how much something like that would have cost back in the states.
They had plenty of folks on staff so you really did not have to wait for anything. I felt better seeing all of them working there knowing that they all had families that would benefit from us tourist. It was a long-term goal of Thom’s to bring a marathon to this part of the world and this first annual race was flawless. Him and his crew really worked their asses off to make sure it was a success. I am sure it was a logistical nightmare but they all made it look easy.
By now I was feeling the effect of the local bacteria and even though it was not the worst experience in the world my GI track was not a happy camper. Zebu stakes were no longer sounding appetizing but a lady on the tour, Karla, had some miracle drugs she got from the pharmacy in Tana. It only took about 5 hours for Colicalm to kick in and no longer had to worry about finding somewhere to go out on the race course.
We arrived two days prior to the race and had a great 4 hour hike/tour looking for their local true bread winners, the Lemurs. All tourist come to the area to see the Lemurs and they don’t disappoint. The love to congregate at this one campground site and love to pose for all their fans. They say that 80 percent of Madagascar’s plants and animals are found nowhere else on Earth and is also the 4th largest island.
The day before the race we did a short hike to see the process of Sapphire mining up close and personal. It was nothing like I had expected. Very labor intensive and starts out with a group of men digging 10 holes about 25 feet into the ground about 10 feet apart. If any of the holes have any Sapphires then they will turn the ten holes into one big crater. All done by shovel and backbone.
They then take all the rocks to the nearby watering hole to sift the sand out and the true experts go through the stones to find the few and far between Sapphires. After that we were off to the closer, (Sapphire store), where I coordinated a van load of folks that had no interest to buy to leave soon after we got there. Other tours like this they would, at least, give everyone a welcome drink of some sort to loosen us up.
The race itself reminded me a lot of the Amazing Masai race in Nairobi, Kenya last July. The half marathon was 10 miles in a park with 2 miles along the main road and the last mile back off-road to the hotel with the finish line by the pool. The marathon did a bit longer course in the park several miles along the main road and then back into another park back to the finish.
The marathoners’ went through 3 villages and several streams and I would say both courses had every type of terrain surface known to man. The rocks and tall grass were not my favorites. I had to slow down to a walk to take into the beautiful scenery since every time I would take my eyes off my feet I would trip and almost fall.
I had two goals for this race and achieved them both. Not to fall and to enjoy a large frosty bottle of Three Horses Beer, THB, with my feet in the pool. We came a long way to achieve these goals and so far it has been worth it.
Sometimes I get caught up in my own accomplishments that I start to believe that I have done a lot, so far in my life time, but then I am slapped back to reality when we go on these trips with some true overachievers’. One lady, Inez, which we have been on trips before and she was the overall winner of the marathon, granted there were only 50 or so brave souls that partook in that adventure race.
Once again I was in a race where a world record was broken. The first was in Berlin back in 2014 where the world record time for a marathon was set. I can not say that I had anything to do with that. During this race a gentleman by the name of, Brent, broke the record for the most number of countries someone had run a marathon, that being 132.
Before and after with Richard standing, he is number two with a marathon in 102 different countries
I thought I was doing something having visited 61 countries and running either a marathon or half marathon in 25 of them. That is nothing to sneeze at, but with this crowd, it really not even worth mentioning to anyone here. We did have two super-duper overachievers in this group. One lady, Donna, made a wrong turn and put in an extra 3 miles for her marathon and still won her age group and Glen thought someone had made a wrong turn and put in an extra hour of running to try to locate her before giving up and catching her on the course as she did not get lost after all.
The tall and the short of it with Mari
I am presently in the back of the van, with plenty of leg room, bouncing our way back to the airport and reminiscing on the Madagascar experience so far. We are on the number 2 extension so we still have 6 more days of tours in country. I am now thinking more of the race itself. There were parts where it really sucked and my right knee really gave me problems with the uneven running surface but that sucky feeling quickly went away as each of the marathoners came across the finish line. The last one came in 8 hours and 2 minutes after she started and she was one of the younger runners.
Catherine and I were able to get some pretty good sleep back in Tana and now back on a Turbo Prop for Morondava which is also located on the west coast. Note to self, do not get row 6 on this plane unless you are in love with watching a prop spin at some mind splitting RPM right out your window. The Flight Attendant did come to tell me I could move to the exit row once the seat belt light went off. Must have been my legs sticking in the aisle that gave him that great idea.
I here there is a beach there so with 2 more days of tours then a free day I am looking forward to a day on the beach overlooking the Mozambique Channel. In actuality we will probably just go for a run/walk along the water’s edge depending on the terrain.
All I can say is that we found where some of those glossy pictures were taken when we pulled up on Palissandre Cote Ouest Resort and Spa. Our bungalow was only a few feet from the beach and I might not want to leave. It was a hike from the reception area but there were plenty of able minded folks ready to transport our bags.
After a short break we are off again, this time for Baobob Tree Alley. Not sure what to expect but our guide wanted to make sure we got to the perfect spot by sunset. This was another example when traveling never gets old. It is hard to explain its beauty so I will allow the following pictures speak for me. It was a rough ride in our off-road vehicle but well worth the trip. Suffice to say it was a spectacular sunset from another part of the world.
It was hard in this case to pick out just a few pictures so here you go.
Well I now know where the middle of nowhere is. After a 3 plus hour off-road ride we made it to Kirindy Reserve and research station There we had lunch and then went for a 2 hour hike in search for more Lemurs and Fossa. Little did I know that I really did not want to find the Fossa due to the fact they look like they would eat my ankles in one bite. They are Madagascar’s largest carnivore. We did find brown and dancing lemurs. As an added bonus Catherine got to give one little guy a drink of water out of a snail-shell. She was one happy lady.
Obviously a male
The Fossa that got away
One of my favorite things to do on these trips is to have a day off. In other words no planned excursions for us and being at a resort on the beach makes it even better. After breakfast Catherine and I went for a long walk along the beach. There was a 1 mile section in front of the some villages that was not very desirable but the rest of it was very relaxing and exhilarating at the same time.
It was very obvious that the folks that inhibited the undesirable section of the beach used it both as their public toilet and garbage dump. That made for that part of the walk to be more of an obstacle course. We had to come back the same way so 2 out of the 6 mile walk was not on my list of things I would like to ever do again.
From our porch Catherine and I were able to enjoy a nice bottle of South African white wine while watching a spectacular cloudy sunset over the Mozambique Channel. Cloudy sunsets can be some of the best especially if it peaks out just before it goes down. One thought that came to mind was the fact that very few folks like us can enjoy such an experience in this part of the world.
Once again we are on the move with an hour flight back to Tana then a 4 hour bus ride to Andasibe ,where the famous Eastern Rainforest is located. There we are to spend two nights looking for more Lemurs at the Analamazaotra Reserve and Lemur Island.
Safety card, only in Madagascar
Seems like everyone spends most of their time trying to find food to feed themselves or working for some money to buy food to feed themselves. Here it starts early in the morning as the fisherman go out in their little boats to fish. When they get back to shore they are met by folks to buy the catch of the day and the process begins. The fish can be sold or traded for vegetables or fruits. The chickens and zebu enter the food chain all day long and if there is any money left over then they might buy some clothes to replace what has been worn completely out. No fashion statements here just the basic mismatch clothes that will keep you warm during the chilly nights.
One thing is for sure and that is that I am done with traffic in Madagascar as a whole. It is either very hectic with all the different modes trying to compete for limited space including foot traffic or the sheer volume. They have given a new meaning to the term stop and go traffic. You know it is bad when the driver keeps turning off his engine after just moving a few feet every 5 minutes or so.
Well the Lemurs in the rainforest did their job. They made the 7 1/2 hour drive that was to only take 4 hours worth it. It was Independence weekend in Tana and the traffic was horrendous. They were celebrating their 1960 Independence from France and every where you turned they were out in the streets in force.
Once past that fiasco the challenge was coming out alive on the whining, pot hole filed, two lane road. Turns out the trucks to and from the port 200 miles east of Tana can only use this road at night. I lost count of the ones that were broken down and when we got to one little town they just decided to take a break for about 1 hour and blocked traffic in each direction.
We were able to experience the illusive creatures in two different settings while in Andasibe. While on the guided tour of the Zahamena National Park we were able to see all but the dancing Lemur up close and personal. The howling, territorial call of the black and white Lemurs was the highlight for me. The afternoon we spent about 2 hours enjoying Lemurs jumping from tree to tree and on everyone but me. The guide there was able to get the dancing Lemur to perform for us so I now have Lemur stories that will last a lifetime.
Call of the wild
I am not looking forward to the return trip to Tana but it is what it is. We will have a day room there and then the final push back to the states. This 53 day adventure has been varied but that also meant having to bring a lot of clothes that were not needed in certain setting. Who needs cruise and wedding clothes in the middle of nowhere. One thing is for sure is that it never gets old no matter where we end up.
The drive back to Tana was uneventful and at the same time eye-opening and stunning. I was able to focus on the beautiful terrain including the mountains as opposed to the hairpin turns. Some trucks were still broken down from the other night and only a few were brave enough to make the passage during the day since they only are allowed to use this road during the night.
There were patrols to pull them over outside of a few towns but were mostly there to off load the severely overloaded vans. People would pile out and start walking only to squish themselves back in the same van up the road. I can now see why that one town was picked as down time for so many truckers. It was located between two mountain ranges and the driver plus his brakes probably need a well deserved break.
I would say that this blog entry is writing itself. There has been so much to experience and as every moment goes by there is something different to see, some for the very first time. After our farewell dinner about 25 of us headed to the airport, way early, for our 1:25 am flight. Good thing, for the way early, because the Independence day and night celebration was in full swing, so once again people were walking faster than us.
No major issue but the gallant of folks with their hands out welcomed us at the airport. Not all that fond of Air France and they once again showed me why. They said that the ticket I bought did not include baggage. We had the same problems out of Amsterdam but they knew what keys to stroke on their commuter to make that silliness go away.
Here they just kept telling me that they wanted 200 per bag. I showed them our Diamond Status card with Delta but they were not impressed. After a phone call and the supervisor leaving the scene of the crime, to figure out what to do, they decided that they would let two bags slide and suggested I carry on my dreaded hang up bag with those cruise and wedding clothes. That was not an option, so I gave them my American Express card for the 200 bucks.
Not so fast was the reply and was told that I would have to go somewhere to pay someone and for me to come back. Our tour handler came over and explained to them that I was willing to pay but that I was going to complain to Delta, get my money back and Delta was probably going to contact them to find out why they did not make the matter go away. I have already written my complaint to Delta.
Another phone call and then they figured out what keys to stroke to make it right with the world. One would think that was the end of the mess at the airport but no, not here in Madagascar, they had one more trick up their sleeves. Catherine’s carry on bag was torn apart to find a pair of scissors that did not exist. Back and forth through the X-ray machine only to pin point where the invisible scissors were but then time after time the hand search came up empty. I can’t even touch the contents of her carry on bag so, of course, I found the whole experience entertaining.
Just when you think you have seen it all Air France decided to test my resolve on the phrase, it never gets old. After boarding 45 minutes late they decided that the best place to do one more bag search and wand exercise was outside, in the dark, right at the stairs of the airplane. Everyone took the experience in stride knowing that adventures like these is for folks like us that are adventuress.
Most of the people here seem very friendly, nice to us and have smiles on their faces. This was a very unique experience and might even be a life changer, as all the thoughts and sights settle in over the next few days. I know one thing for sure, is that, we will have some great stories to tell. We take so many things for granted but seeing someone with a big container on their head for there daily search for water slaps you back to reality. It is a huge world out there and would not come back to Madagascar but at the same time very happy I went.
Many ask how much longer for us to wander from place to place. The simple answer is as long as we have air in our lungs, the funds and places to go we will keep putting one foot in front of the other in our quest to run all over the world. Once again we were given a few places for us to put on our list and one idea, from Cathi, who suggested that we look into House Sitting. Throw in a dog or two and it might work for us.
The month of July we will spend catching up with family back in the states and a half marathon from Napa to Sonoma with Gwen and Joan. I turn 62 on the 6th and will be out in San Diego to celebrate with my eldest son, Aaron. The end of July we will reunite with our Motorhome in MIA and move it over to Naples on the west coast of Florida.
The month of August is shaping to be another grand adventure with a river cruise from Vietnam to Cambodia, a 2 night stop in Dubai as we fly back on an Emirates A380, on our way to Petra, for a half marathon in the scorching heat of the desert. What was I thinking when I planned this trip? It is only a half and I always wanted to go to Jordan. I also mistakenly thought it was winter there like it is here in Africa, but must not had looked at a map since they are above, not below the equator.
It never gets old