Hiking in the Snow in Southern California

It was a sunny day, not too cold, and friends wanted to go for a hike… We were heading east out of San Diego towards the mountains. Slowly slowly the landscape changed, slowly I had the impression that weather could be colder than in San Diego city. When we arrived I knew it was much much colder than at the coast.

Our hiking place was the Stonewall Peak trail near to Julian, a little place in the mountains and where I was once last September. The trail is situated in the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

We were 6 enthusiastic adults and a bunch of teenage kids with much less energy for a nearly 4 mile hike.

We parked our cars nearby the trail in a parking area and walked up the hill. It looked high. Actually it’s only a 823 feet climb, and perfect also for people like me without any hiking skills. The trail has smooth switchbacks. Once – they told me – there was a forest but years ago there was a huge fire that destroyed most of it. I saw a lot of dead trees – maybe they seemed to me dead but they are only in winter sleep. A mystic place honestly.

We saw snow everywhere even though not much. But the wind was super chilly and for me it seemed less than 30°F/0°C.

The last part was a little tricky as the ground was icy and slippery. Some of us fall, sliding on the ice.

When we arrived on the top we had the best ever view! So beautiful, a real 360° panorama view as far as to Salton Sea. The view was limited only by higher mountains.

Some of us took another way back to the car, some the same as we came. I took the same as it was the sunny side and easy to go back. I was freezing cold and couldn’t wait to go back into the warm car.

I hope I can do the same trail again in spring as I think it will be wonderful when it’s a little warmer and all green and with flowers maybe, birds singing in the (dead) trees. The view can be great then as well.

I confess I was happy to get back to the much warmer San Diego in the late afternoon.

Trail Stonewall Peak, California/USA:

For further information:
Trail Stonewall Peak

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My First Time with Air b&b – And I Loved It!

I wanted to get away for a few days between Christmas and New Years Eve. But it’s also one of the most expensive periods. So what to do? Airbnb is the solution. And we decided to go for a couple of days to Palm Springs.

It was my very first time using Airbnb and so I had to research a little bit and open an account with the web-page. That was easy, a photo, some describing words about me and my partner and all done.

We chose a nice looking place out of Palm Springs at La Quinta which seemed to be pretty near and also in calm surroundings.

After booking we got a fast answer, I got a text message and shortly after we communicated our approximate arrival time.

The description on Airbnb is already accurate but in the text message there were some additional information how to arrive. It was easy to find and soon we were in front of our host for two days.

Our host June is amazing. She welcomed us warmly with a hug, just like old friends. She showed us our lovely double room with a king seize bed and the bathroom (nearly en suite as it is ours for the time but attached the room). Everything well prepared, bedlinen, towels, even shower soap and shampoo.

We could use the kitchen any time, even cooking if we wanted. Coffee or tea always available, we found some things for breakfast and water was in the fridge. There is free wireless internet, we had free parking in front of the house which is in a condominium and therefore quiet and secure. We had the possibility for a gym nearby, could use the washing machine and the dryer.

The room had of course a heating system/air conditioning and a TV.

She gave us a key so we could go and come when ever we wanted. Her little dog is calm and not disturbing at all. The little patio is great to sit in the morning and having the coffee outside.

Personal experience:
The room is very comfortable as is the bed with a bunch of pillows. There is a big closet and the room has two windows which give a lot of daylight. The flat-screen TV we didn’t switch on. A little desk with paper and pens gave me the possibility to write some postcards.

The bathroom is right besides the room. June didn’t feel well and she was often in bed. Her room is on the opposite side of the apartment and has a bathroom en suite. For this reason we rarely saw her. We had complete freedom to move and feel home.

We had our coffee in the morning sitting outside and planing our day. Check-in was after noon and check-out before.

My first experience with Airbnb was the best one can have. I will do again the Airbnb and will hope I will always have such a nice host like June. She is new on Airbnb but highly recommended for her perfection. She gave us a lot of great ideas where to go, what to see, where to eat.

I recommend:
La Quinta is not far away from many great places. Nearby we found a Mongolian style restaurant. I liked it a lot as one can choose from a variety of meats, vegetables and fruits at a buffet, put all in a bowl and then they cook it for you. They serve your food at the table. It is a set price and you can return multiple times.

Nearby there is Shields Date Garden. Very touristic but interesting if you want to know about date cultivation in California. The old movie was rather fun to watch.

In the summer Coachella is a magic place as one of the biggest music festivals in California takes place here.

More appealing to me was the Coachella Valley Preserve Visitor Center. It was closed itself but the oasis with natural springs and palm trees is a great place for hiking. I loved it.

Palm Springs is not far away and easily reachable by car.

If you like hot springs there are some north of Palm Springs.

South there is Salton City and the Salton Sea. The town has nothing special but a short stop at the shores of the lake at the blue hour is great. Don’t think too much about the smell.. you don’t live there!

I recommend the Indian Canyons. Great for hiking and really impressing desert photography.

La Quinta, Palm Springs, California/USA:

For further information:

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The House of Hanover in Great Britain – Hans Caspar von Bothmer and the English Queen

It has been years that I’ve wanted to see this little castle in Klütz in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region in north-east Germany. But it was under restoration and opened only recently. When last summer I have learned about the re-opening I asked my usual friend if she would like to come with me. I am so happy we did because after those summer days she started to have severe health problems which she is still struggling with. I hope that in summer she will be fine and we can go on tour soon again!

Schloss Bothmer is situated in the so called Klützer Winkel not too far away from Lübeck where I am doing oftentimes some house-sitting for another friend. Not far from the Baltic Sea the hilly landscape appears most of the year green and full of wild flowers. Famous here is the spa resort Boltenhagen, worth a visit Klütz itself and of course the castle Bothmer.

Schloss is the German word for manor. Schloss Bothmer is a Baroque palatial manor house ensemble and was built by Count Hans Caspar von Bothmer – who never lived here. Th architect was Johann Friedrich Künnecke who built the manor during 1726 and 1732 after the Bothmer’s designs. The family had the property until 1945 when it was taken over by the new government. Today the State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern owns the manor and has it only recently restored to re-open it to public in 2016.

This history is long and interesting especially because the owner never lived here and visited only once when he bought the land. In his will he decided that only the oldest son of every generation will inherited the whole property without being split. In ended up to have more than 8.000 hectares thanks to marriages.

After 1945 it was confiscated and used as a hospital and then a retirement home until 1994. Between the 2009 and 2015 the restoration took place. A nice story in this: during the renovation of the park two chests of silver were discovered, neatly wrapped in newspapers from 1943. The authorities gave the silver back to the Bothmer family.

The Baroque country house was inspired by a few architectures in that period like the Dutch and the English one. Sash windows are an example. The buildings are not immensely huge but it has a main body with two wings, two stories high. The main house is the one to visit today and has around 20 rooms, mainly empty as there is no original furniture anymore.

The park is beautiful. An alley with odd linden trees is the one leading to the manor (not used anymore today but it’s possible to walk the alley). The former orangery has a little restaurant and cafeteria where you can sit also outside, very nice and in summer a must coffee-stop. In the back there is a nice round-way in which was once for sure a typical elegant English or French garden with a big pond in the middle.

But after all: who is Hans Caspar von Bothmer? And why is he connected to the English queen? That was the most interesting and awesome part for me. I could find this out reading the many information boards in the different rooms and thanks to a wonderful guard who is passionate about the Schloss Bothmer and is the best (unofficial) guide imaginable for the place.

Hans Caspar Count of Bothmer was born in 1656 in Lauenbrück, Lower Saxony. He was a son of the Hanoverian Dynasty. His education began at the Ritterakademie of St. Michael in Lüneburg. Languages, history, math, etiquette, dancing and fencing were the subjects a young gentleman had to learn. His nature was that of a fighter, he wanted to go to war but his father had other plans for his firstborn son. But lucky guy had a godfather who helped him to find a position in the diplomatic envoy to the Peace Congress in Nijmegen. He obviously changed his mind and found his satisfaction in diplomacy. He went to London, Den Haag, Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Stockholm and other places. His father’s plans about Hans Caspar to study at the university have blown into the wind.

He started his real career in London. Here he became an important diplomat and politician as an adviser to several British monarchs. He was very close to Queen Anne, to her follower king George I and king George II, both Hanoverian. Both kings often traveled to the mainland while Count Bothmer preferred to stay in London and pull the strings behind the scenes. As the first Minister of the German Chancery he was the smart operator at court. He rarely came back to his home country of the Welfs. Out of the Welf dynasty there are some kings and queens of Great Britain like the late Queen Victoria, George I, II, III and IV and others.

Because of the Act of Settlement in January 1701 the Welfs, and therefore the family of Count Bothmer, were able to become kings and queens. The today queen Elisabeth II is parented with the Hanoverians and therefore in part German. Even the king of Spain is related to the Welfs.

This discovery was completely new for me. Like also the extreme importance of a German count during that period.

The young guard who happened to be a great guide and storyteller gave us many other details. The passion of her for the history of this place made it alive. The manor itself is interesting, not too big like castles are and empty of furniture. Decorations are on the walls and ceilings, but that’s it. She gave life into this place, made shine a nearly forgotten time. And that’s because she heard me asking my friend something about history she also didn’t know.

We had later a light lunch in the former orangery sitting outside in the sun and walked after the coffee to the back of the house into the gardens to enjoy nature and the view from a less busy side.

The Bothmer castle hosts summer concerts and other performances. If you happen to be in this part of Germany you should definitely consider spending a day in this area. It is more than worth it.

Castle Bothmer, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern/Germany:

For further information:
Schloss Bothmer (in German)

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Princess For a Day – My Best Ever Birthday

I am no birthday party person and so normally I would not talk about my own birthday. But this one was so super special that I have to write about it. It was my best ever birthday, something so unexpected and so surprising. Not only for the happening but that someone would do something so wonderful to me.

I already said before that I don’t want anything happen at that particular day. But the previous day my sweetie asked me if HE can celebrate my birthday and if I trust him. Of course I trust him and yes he can. I confess I was a little nervous about that. But there was of course no reason for!

The next morning was a beautiful sunny morning, warm like it is in Southern California even in January. We were sitting outside in the front yard having breakfast and he asked me to pack something for an evening and a night out. Oh. My. Gosh. I really didn’t know or imagined anything.

A little later we were on the road to downtown San Diego (where he/we live). Parking and a short walk to the boat to go to Coronado Island. That’s where the beautiful skyline photos were shot.

We decided to walk into the center of Coronado Island where we would have lunch at Burger Lounge.

In September we have been here already once to Burger Lounge and I loved the paleo burger. I asked this time for a bison paleo burger. It is the best ever burger I had! Please ask for it if you happen in any Burger Lounge!

We had a wonderful walk back to the boat and then back to Downtown San Diego.

From there it was just a short drive to a beautiful little Victorian style b&b, the Britt Scripps Inn. Another surprise!

It was originally built in 1887 and is an award winning boutique hotel in Downtown SD. The little jewel is situated on Bankers Hill, just a few walking minutes from Balboa Park.

Inside it’s all old style, furbished with taste and has a lot of atmosphere, right how I love it. The room was beautiful and a real special place for two.

High speed wireless Internet, free parking (parking house opposite of the b&b), a nice garden, outside sitting in the patio, LCD TV, AC, hairdryer and many other amenities for the room. Breakfast with a good choice for sweet and salt lovers is included.

Later after dressing for the evening he brought me nearby at Mister A’s Roof Lounge for the sunset. As the airport is nearby we could observe the big planes landing in San Diego with the most beautiful background while sipping a drink.

After sunset we had a wonderful walk to Balboa Park, just minutes from there. In the evening time everything is illuminated, from architecture to palm trees, spectacular!

We had dinner at the Prado restaurant.

And guess what? We had a great waiter who advised me for my paleo eating as he is paleo as well. I found out a lot of people are eating like me and it’s only important to ask. Oftentimes I found out the people know exactly what I am talking about and know what to serve.

We stayed for a long time enjoying our dinner and the special atmosphere. In summer I want to come back and sit outside in the patio or garden. It’s so beautiful!

We walked back to our b&b and had a wonderful (and romantic) stay there.

The morning after before checking out we had a small breakfast. My sweetie tried a little bit of everything, I was more careful and had just fresh fruit and prosciutto with my coffee.

I had my best ever birthday and that’s because I have the most precious sweetheart. Thank you for your love! (anything else stays private!)

San Diego, California/USA:

For further information:
Britt Scripps Inn

Restaurant Mister A’s

Prado Restaurant, Balboa Park

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Where Mel Gibbson Filmed His Braveheart

One of the most interesting castles I have ever seen is Trim Castle. It is always an adventure to dive into history. And here I had also one of my best guided tours ever. The guy was amazing. Every word was coming out of his heart, he was living and making history coming alive.

The castle was built in 1172 by Hugh de Lacy. It had been the headquarters for administration because it was not seen by the seaside but it was very easy to access from the Boyne River. The construction was done on an old wooden fortress.
Hugh de Lacy unfortunately never saw his castle finished because he was killed in 1186. His son Walter finished the building in 1204.
In the middle of the XIII century there were built another few wooden watch-towers for fortification. This was done under Geoffrey de Geneville. It was probably him to build the great banquet-hall and the north-tower, the drawbridge and the moat.
Until the middle ages it continued being the headquarters of administration of County Meath.
In the end of 1425 the last of the family died and the castle was abandoned until the beginning of the XVI century.
Only with Richard II. the castle saw again better times and was restored to give a living place to two of his wards – one was the later king Henry V.
It was brought again in to a fine castle and the Anglo-Norman parliament had 7 conferences there. But in the following century it lost again its importance and was used only as a military station.
In the XVII century it started to fall in ruin and was lost to Cromwell’s army and then to the Wellington family.
The last owner was a Dunsany who rented it to several people through the years and in 1993 after long negotiations sold to the state. In 1996 Mel Gibson chose the castle for his movie ‘Braveheart’ and reconstructed it completely (unfortunately he had to dismantle it again).

The Barbican Gate is called also the Dublin gate due to the fact the street was the one to Dublin. Very curious is that along the street to the castle there were palisades on both sides. Due to a very clever system of defense with drawbridge, gates and rooms for control it was very easy to know exactly who was coming in, who was going out.
The curtain walls or the outer wall is more than 500 m long and is going in a lightly rounded triangle around the complex. About two third of it is still visible. The wall has eight towers, half-round and rectangular, and can be defended on two levels among small gaps in the wall. Furthermore there are two of the main-gates.
The complex was easy to defend due to the river on the north-west and the fields in the south-west which were easy to flood. For an even better defense there was built a deep moat.

It was the the house and the administration center of Hugh de Lacy built in 1175 on the remains of an old wooden fort. Due to the fact it was also a dwelling house it had to be perfect also in defenses and they used different techniques.
In the beginning there was only one floor to which was added a second and then a third one. The keep ended up to be 25 m high.
There was a public area, private rooms, a small family church and all they needed for a living like kitchen, lavatory, rooms for the priest and the officials, a small garrison and good filled cellars in case of a longer assault.
The inclinations at the walls and the staircase to the entrance were added only in the XIII century. From the originally four towers there are only three of them remaining.
The entrance to the keep was built of stone only in the end of 1100, had a few rooms shops, – waiting-rooms, control-room – and were a further protection to the real entrance. The whole was further assured by a dwell-bridge over a deep moat. Later after closing the whole complex with the well done outer wall the moat was filled and the dwell-bridge substituted by a stone bridge with a waiting-room.

The gate was leading to Trim, important place for merchants, is now the entrance to the castle.
The hall was built later and is situated near to the harbor. High windows gave much light and a beautiful view on the river, St. Mary’s abbey and the bell-tower and the Talbot mansion. The hall was built as a substitution to the hall in the keep which was on the third floor and not easy to reach on dark and small spiral-cases.
The harbor was used for merchandise, to receive livings and to go to the sea where the bigger ships were waiting.
In the mint they were coining the ‘Patricks’ and ‘Irelands’ in the XV century.

St. Mary’ abbey and the yellow steeple was an Augustine abbey of the XII century in which was preserved a statue of the Holy Mother Mary of Trim that was found on the beaches at Drogheda. In 1368 the abbey was restored but during the dissolution of the churches and abbeys under Henry VIII Cromwell burned the abbey and the statue to the ground. Of the abbey on the other side of the river and in front of the castle there is nothing anymore to see. The only remaining is the bell-tower, the ‘yellow steeple’, with his nearly 40 m height. The yellow is coming from the fact that in the evening sun the stone has a light yellow glow.

To go to Trim takes about 40 minutes from Dublin.
Open all the year from 10 am. to 5 pm., during the winter time only at week-ends. For the outer part one needs around 45 minutes, the guiding tour takes around one hour.

It is a beautiful example for the Norman architecture. The guided tour is the best, I really enjoyed it. The guy is fabulous. It’s a real ‘must see’ during a stay in this part of Ireland.

Trim, Co. Meath/Ireland:

For further information:
Trim Castle

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