family · fitness · Guest Post

There and Back Again: Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series of staying active while travelling with kids. Parts 1 and 2 take place in Rome, Italy during the author’s travels there without her spouse, with a friend and the friend’s son, during a conference trip. In Part 1, the group goes cycling along the Via Appia Antica on a sweltering hot Roman summer day. In Part 2, they escape the city for the hills above Rome and kayaking on a crater lake.

We actually slept in a bit the morning of our kayak trip, and put in a few hours of work before we headed out on a transportation mode extravaganza that by the end of the day involved walking, taxi, minibus, kayaking, more minibus, train, and a taxi. The task: escape the heat of Rome as the mercury climbed to nearly 100 F (37 C).

Mission accomplished.

We went out to Lago (lake) Albano, a lake in a caldera above which rises the summer home of previous Popes and below which lie the wrecks from naval training battles. It was apparently host to the 1960 Summer Olympic canoeing and rowing events. Pope Francis apparently does not summer there, believing it to be too elitist, and has converted the residence to a museum. The locals appreciate the upside: crowds of devout Catholics and tourists used to flock to the area on hopes of seeing and being near the Pope AND the streets would be shut down by police and his guard. Now, tourists and city dwellers still come for the lake, but the traffic is entirely manageable and the numbers are not a strain.

A screenshot of Google Maps showing Lake Albano, an oval crater lake, with the Sport Club from whence we launched marked in green.

The whole group was quite excited for this one, as well: both adult women (myself and Randi), the two 14 year olds (my Son1 and Randi’s son) and my 11 year old (Son 2, the avid cyclist among us). It was a bit spur of the moment in response to the heat, booked just a few days before as I paged through AirBnB’s new Experiences feature. I hate to give a plug for them cause capitalism and ain’t nobody paying me, but they did hook us up with some folks we would never otherwise have found including the former competitive rowers and kayakers who run the kayak trip we signed up for.

We took a taxi to the train station where we were to meet at the end of one of the metro lines; since the line was closed for repairs, our options were limited. The taxiride took us past beautiful fields and a distant rural section of the Via Appia Antica that we hadn’t peddled out to the day we rode (See Part 1). At the station, we rendez-voused by the “old blue train car” and the guide piled us and a few other folks into their well-loved, battered minibus for a rude even farther out beyond the edge of the city into the hills.

A weathered blue street car takes pride of place in an open area with an enormous agave in front of it, sitting on train tracks that go nowhere.

The lake was formed by two overlapping craters. We set off from a launching spot amongst the reeds near the swimming beach.

To the left, reeds and grasses rise tall above the water. Other kayakers in the group have already paddled out ahead of me. The red tip of my own kayak is visible in the foreground. The water is sandy-colored in the shadows. The rim of the caldera rises in the distance.

We kayaked almost 7 km, out and back across to the opposite side. Randi and Son 1 shared a canoe on the way out, her son and Son 1 had solo kayaks and paddled together much of the way, and I paddled about at will.

Left: the author, sunwashed and hair not yet sweat-plastered flat. Second from left: Randi and Son 1 taking a short break from paddling, Randig resting an elbow on the kayak and leaning back to turn to smile at the camera. Third from left: Randi’s son in a quiet moment, face shadowed. Rightmost: Son 1, eternally with a silly face for a camera, reeds behind him near the starting point.

At various points we were all quite close together in a flotilla as the guides talked us through the plan for the day and the history of the area, with an English-language flotilla and an Italian-language flotilla. We weren’t able to see the ruins of the ancient Roman naval practices that litter the floor of the lake, but we are assured they were there.

From left to right: Randi’s son in his own kayak (short dark hair and pale skin, smiling), Son 1 also in his own kayak (grinning until his face has wrinkles, short dark blonde hair beginning to clump with sweat), Randi in her glasses and baseball cap (dark hair pulled back in a ponytail), and Son 2 (very blonde short hair and pale skin, grinning). The kayaks are all red. Behind them, the rim of the caldera rises, covered in lush green trees. Palatial homes step their way up the side of the hill.

Once we got to the opposite side, the guides stowed all the kayaks in a great big precarious-seeming pile and sat on rocks and ate sandwiches the guides brought and drank water and swam in the lake and NO ONE GOT STUNG BY JELLYFISH because there were no jellyfish. This seems an odd thing to mention, but several days before we’d gone swimming in the ocean and Son 2 got blistered fiercely in several spots. So, the enthusiasm for no jelly fish was strong. Everyone was glad for a break. One strange feature of the water was that it wasn’t very cool at all. There seemed to be quite warm spots, not just sun warmed but perhaps geologically warmed. We never did get to ask about this, but I wondered if perhaps hot thermal springs feed the lake from below or some other kind of geothermal heating.

So, no jellyfish. There were, however, at least four lizards that Son 1 spotted and loads of red dragonflies darting about above the surface. Randi’s old elbow injury acted up a bit by the time we got to the swimming spot, so her kiddo took over being her kayak companion, a job that has been Son 2’s on the way out. About halfway back (3/4 of the way through a quite long bit of kayaking), Son 2 got tuckered out. One of the guides offered to use her life jacket to tie his kayak to the back of hers. He paddled when he could and rested when he couldn’t and she was quite happy to help. Another guide did the same for an adult who was tapped out, and the guides said they were quite impressed that a kid his age had gone so far without needing help yet, which took the edge off of having to ask.

Because the trip was well-designed to include a nice break, multiple guides to help people get the most out of this kind of activity regardless of physical condition, and also included help from the guides when needed, a good time was had by all across a variety of ages and injuries and capability levels. Those who love doing hard work got to do hard work and those who love swimming got to swim and those who love watching lizards and bugs got to watch lizards and bugs and those who love not being in a hot city on a 90+ degree day got to be on a lake in a caldera instead.

NEXT UP: Part 3 of There and Back Again, in which we are back in the States, Randi and her son have gone back to their home, and Son 2 and I set off on our annual bike ride along some part of the Northern Lower Peninsula of the State of Michigan.

fitness · Guest Post

Fit and Far From Home… (Guest Post)

Last week I was in La Belle Province running a workshop and was hoping to try to hop back onto the fitness wagon. I’ve been travelling a lot lately for work and haven’t always had the opportunity/timing/inclination/energy to work out. I’ve added a few pounds to my mid-section and really need to shake it off. I’m not ready to go pants shopping again!  On top of that I’ll be competing in the World’s Masters Heavy Events Championships in June in Iceland and need to keep prepping for the 2 day competition.

Normally when I travel, I’ll scope out my hotel options ahead and ensure I get a place that meets my standards. My needs really aren’t outrageous, but I need 2 things: a great breakfast and a decent gym. By great breakfast, I mean eggs cooked when I order them, not sometime before I crawled out of bed and by decent gym, I’d like a working treadmill and some weights. Dumbbells or some kind of weight machine is acceptable. Since I’ve been travelling the last 3 out of 4 weeks, I ran out of time to scope out the hotel, and left the details to a colleague I’ve never travelled with and recommendations from a client who recommended the hotel solely for price. In my colleague’s defense, I didn’t tell him about my “high” standards.

This week I’m travelling with a vegetarian who doesn’t drink much, so I figured I’d get the opportunity to eat healthy and not be tempted by all the things that impact my waistline. He also likes to work out. Perfect, I thought! A good influence! All the stars were aligned.  Oh, but wait!

I brought my bathing suit, in case they had a pool. I peeked in the pool area on day 1 and saw it was full of local children having a swimming lesson. Seems like laps were an unlikely scenario.  I entered the nearby gym and turned on the light. Hmm…no lights at 6:00…perhaps it wasn’t used much?  Well, I thought, they have 2 treadmills, that’s good…if my colleague and I are both in the gym, we can both run. On closer inspection, I realized the room was really half-sized, and just had a wall of mirrors, and one treadmill.

The weight machine was missing parts, but had a weird bar attached to pulleys.

The weight bench sat alone, and the dumbbells were nowhere to be seen.

The treadmill was super noisy, and once it got up to half-speed the tread started slipping. Fearing injury, I stopped the treadmill and got off.

The elliptical was also loudly squeaky and needed some serious maintenance.

Within a few minutes of my arrival, my colleague joined me. We did some back squats with the weird bar, but it was challenging as the pulleys were very mobile and would flip 180 degrees at random. Eventually we gave up and went for a run, where there were no sidewalks and lots of cars. Turns out, I haven’t had a real run in a while, so had to give up pretty quickly when I realized my lungs were going to explode. My colleague kindly ran back with me, possibly fearing he’d have to call 911, delivered me back to the hotel then left to finish his run.

I showered, checked email, and went out for poutine.

Day 2, I was inspired by a friend’s burpee challenge and did some in my room. The room has an excess of furniture, but I managed to squeeze some burpees between the beds. Then I realized I could yoga. I signed up for a year of yoga online and started working through it. (Because online yoga is somewhat affordable). Considering how tight my hamstrings have been from flying, it was actually hugely beneficial…until I had to spread out in multiple directions. Done. Just like that. I swear, this hotel doesn’t want me to get healthy!

Luckily I’ve got friends who are looking out for me and in no time at all, after posting my woes on Facebook, had several recommendations for hotel / bodyweight workouts. Looks like I’ve still got options! Now, I just have to stay off the poutine!

 

Sandi is a feminist in the throes of what some would call her mid-life crisis, having gone from exercising only her mind to lifting weights and throwing heavy objects.  Her natural curiosity and need to know everything serves her well in a career in research as well as all things health, science and well…life really.

 

cycling · training · traveling

Running and Rolling through Zurich

As I said in my post about fitness tourism, I’m trying my best not to stress about missing the usual workouts and instead to enjoy the opportunities that travel affords for doing different things.

One of the amazing things about Zurich, and Switzerland more generally, is how great the infrastructure is for cyclists. What this means is that lots and lots of people ride bikes–to the station, to their workplaces, to schools, to shopping.

There’s loads of bike parking all over the place. And most of the time, though the bikes are locked, they are not locked to anything. People feel generally comfortable leaving their bicycle untethered (though locked) outside of the main station in the middle of the busiest part of the city.

And what’s more, tourists (or anyone really) can borrow bikes for free through an initiative called “Zurirollt.”

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Still and all, Zurich is a busy city not all that familiar to me, so my friend Diane and I opted for a guided cycling tour. This was high on my to-do list, and I’ve been watching the weather daily to see when a good time would be for it. Every day so far there’s been substantial rain in the forecast.

Our lucky break came on Monday morning. I heard from our guide, Bruno, from Toptrek Tours, the night before. We arranged to meet him at 9 a.m. on Monday by the cube clock in the Zurich Haufbanhof (main train station). He sent me this picture so we would know exactly where:

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He assured us that the weather radar looked good, and also that he would have “emergency ponchos” for us if we ended up in heavier than a drizzle. We did encounter a little bit of rain, but for most of the four hours on the bikes we were in the clear. A bit chilly, not exactly a fine sunny day, but very little rain.

What’s great about a cycling tour of a new city is that you get to cover so much more ground than you otherwise would. Bruno was an excellent guide, with lots of local knowledge and a background in politics that made him more interesting than your average guide.

When I asked about good running spots, he showed me exactly where I should go for my morning run the next day.

There’s a paved path that runs through what used to be “needle park” (but has since been cleaned up) and along the river, past the public swimming baths (there are many in Zurich), and just generally out of the busy tourist and business districts and into a quieter part of town. I had an excellent run the next morning before the rain set in for the day again.

Running is another good way to see a place because, like cycling, you can cover a lot more ground than if you’re just walking. But walking has its place too. When I got back from my 5K run, Diane and I grabbed breakfast at the hotel and then wandered around the old part of town for the next few hours. By far, even with the cycling and the running, the majority of my vacation in Switzerland has been spent walking (with eating taking a close second).

The weather this week has been a bit of a let-down. We spent a very rainy day in Lucerne today, but since it was the only day we had we explored it on foot in the rain until we just couldn’t go another step.

Tomorrow, another run along the river, some more exploring across on the other side, one more lunch at Hiltl, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe (established in 1898). Then it’s time to pack and head home. I look forward to getting my routine back, but I can truly say that this has been one of the more successful breaks from routine that I’ve ever spent in terms of integrating activity into my trip.