Cycling and hiking in the High Alps

Covid-19 made the world small but as travelling opened up again in 2021, me and my dad visited France in early September to cycle at the grand alps. We ascended the Col de Madelaine (2000 m) in 2003 and the Mont Ventoux (1909 m) in 2015 during holidays in the region, but this time we’d dedicate the entire trip to climbing mountains.

My dad loves cycling ever since being a child, he listened to the tour the France on the radio and one a rare occasion got to visit the French mountains as a teenager as a fan of the Tour the France he was inspired to train with his friends to cycle up the French alps in the summer. Many years have passed, and it was fun to hear him share stories about those days. Cycling with him here was a great experience.

After the drive down France and after a good night rest, we started (DAY 1️⃣) cycling up the Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer from Bourg d’Oisans. The weather was beautiful as I started going up one of the toughest climbs in the region. It was a hard, but beautiful ride I will never forget. Some parts are quite steep with 15.5% inclines and continually changing gradients with majestic scenery and Tour de France history. Once up the Col du Glandon, it’s a short ride to Col de la Crox de Fer. We celebrated on a terrace and the first climbs were in the pocket. There were a lot of Dutch, Danish and Belgians on bicycles, turns out a popular mountain race – the Marmotte – would happen in just a few days. As an amateur (climbing my first mountain on a racing bike that very day) speaking with the participants and coaches who prepared themselves all year for this event, got me excited about cycling in general. In the evening, I realized my neck and upper back were sore — compared to cycling in the Netherlands (no mountains) I definitely was using some new muscles here. (crooked back while riding) – still I felt great!

DOWNHILL COL DE LA CROX DE FER TOWARDS COL DU GLANDON

The morning (DAY 2️⃣) we left the bikes in the valley and went hiking down La Meije. Yes, our rest day involved hiking, but the idea was that we would use different muscles and enjoy the sceneries. We took the cable cart up to a freezing 3211 m and enjoyed the Girose Glacier sights. Then we took the cable car a little down to the mid-station at 2400 m and walked back to La Grave from there. First only rocks, then slowly through the trees, and finally at the river and town. We hardly met anyone on the way down and got on wrong tracks (mountain bikes) but besides map reading, the walk was serene and beautiful.

LA GRAVE LA MEIJE

Charged up to cycle, the next morning (DAY 3️⃣) we drove the car up Col du Lautaret (2058 m) and cycled up the 9 km to Col Du Galibier (2642 m). On day 1️⃣ I wasn’t really sure what to expect but today I felt rested and more confident, ready to push myself a bit. However, the weather turned windy and cloudy I still went up that mountain about 30% faster than I went up Col du Glandon on day 1️⃣. I was enjoying myself, the climb was magnificent with wide views far-reaching views over green valleys flanked by grey spiky mountain giants and the road like a silver snake in between. On top of the mountain, I enjoyed some snacks and just observed other cyclists young and old arriving at the top and celebrating. It’s a funny sight.


The next day (DAY 4️⃣) it was time for another ‘break’ from riding bikes, so we went for a hike at the 160,000 hectares Écrins National Park. We wanted to get a sight of the ‘white glacier’ walking a rocky road past glacier noir (black glacier), then over the glaciers ridge to the glacier blank. The path started getting smaller, and the ridge steeper. At one point we saw enough and turned around back down into the valley. At first, I just saw rocks (at this scale I found it hard to get a sense of distance — a rock in front of my feet looks similar to a boulder next to the mountain) but a fellow walker pointed out some mountain goats in the distance, suddenly we spotted birds, marmots and flowers. The patch on the edge of glacier up to the cliff, looks like it would fall off the mountain any time.

ÉCRINS GLACIER NOIR AND BLANC

Next morning (DAY 5️⃣), we left early to cycle up Col d’Izoard (2360m) from Briançon. The blue skies had returned and I felt like I could push myself even further. I liked this Grandes Alpes road a lot, the rolling landscape ascending and slightly descending and back to ascending, through the forest and suddenly I got this beautiful view of the Pic de Rochebrune (3320 m) amidst a mountain landscape beyond words. There was this other cyclist we kept passing each other at times, it seems both of us understood what was going to happen in the last ‘moonscape’ (no trees) steep climb. Both of us made a run for it, and we had fun reaching the top. This final climb was pure bliss and a great conclusion to this trip. After recovering back in the valley, I felt like climbing more mountains but unfortunately it was almost time to go home.

Goodbye Dr. Panda and Chengdu!

 

It’s my last working day at Dr. Panda. I’m writing this now because we will go have a little party in Chengdu tonight! :)

I joined little over three years ago, and it was quite a challenging step for me, to go from ‘IT manager’ to ‘General Manager I was an experienced IT project manager, but had only a little experience managing people, let alone a whole studio. It was tough at times, it was engaging but most of all I appreciate the team. I say this not because I work(ed) here, but Dr. Panda is able to reach a consistent high quality. I found this can only be achieved with incredible standards, relentless work and a culture that allows this. I’m very happy to have worked with such great teammates.

Slowly I build up my role, and combined the role of general manager, executive producer, a manager for production & backend team and a producer of games, all at the same time. My boss, the CEO, was very patient with me and coached me. I look back on 100’s (!) of initiatives started with many completed, and am particularly proud of the transition from a traditional production company to self steering teams that we now have at the Chengdu office. The team matured, and I feel now it’s a good time to move on.

Last Friday I went to Shanghai and said goodbye to friends and colleagues at our Shanghai office.

The reason why we are leaving is family related. We have loved every day in China for 7 years total now, we got very comfortable living here. But we feel it’s time to move on, stay tuned!

Andaman Camping trip

After last year’s camp site, we spend another weekend at Andaman (Hubaba) outdoor camping. Surprisingly, our youngest (just 2 years old) also had fun on the zipline course. Last year we setup a tent, this year we could rent already setup tents. We spend the day adventuring in the nature, and the evening we took a walk with flashlights. It was raining all night but we didn’t care, it was fun. The next morning we were awakened by birds singing, and we had another day of adventures in the park. After all the kids ziplining, I also did a zipline. I’m not a fan of these hights, but with the kids cheering for me, I couldn’t stop!

World Earth Day, Camping in Andaman

A twenty minute drive past Dujianyan train station is Andaman park. We joined QSI school on a camping trip. Andaman is supposed to host the only organic lodges in China. Sleeping in these adult sized tree houses must be an experience is expensive. Andaman quickly seemed like a weekend park for the elite. Just recently they changed strategy, adding a couple of camping sites, and a hostel in order to receive more visitors. The park features a lot of activities in nature, mountain biking, horse riding, archery. Everything is band new, and the staff is nice and attentive, clearly they knew we were coming and wanted us to have a great time. We were received on Saturday morning by a friendly host called John. He also took us on a hike through the forest. After lunch we got to explore the rest of the park, my wife tried zip lining and we all went to a trampoline park. It’s like a heaven for kids, they are all bouncing around. Then we had a barbecue. As it was earth day, the power went off at eight pm, there was live music and a bonfire. During the party I met Dino, a Brazilian and the architect and builder of the ‘adventure park’. After setting up zip lining and rock climbing, he proceeded with a miniature version these activities but then for kids. This was the second time sleeping in a tent but last time Mia was really a baby. This time she is older, just hanging around the tent with a pocket light provided heaps of fun. Our little one slept surprisingly well in the tent. We slept later then usual and were awoken early by the birds.

We immediately tried the kids adventure park that Dino made. First Kids need to wear helmets, gear, the works. They get all dressed up and whilst tethered, walk down the track. Starting low and going up about two meters eventually. The grand finish is a zip line down. Zooom! Mia gained a lot of confidence walking that track today. Andaman was really a great family trip. Not only a first camping experience, we also experienced a lot of nature (saw frogs, gekko’s) and enjoyed clean air. For Chengdu residents I would surely recommend!

Pujiang (蒲江) flower garden and ceramic village

In Chengdu’s hot summer days, there is nothing much to do but sit inside a building or at the pool. Since this early spring weather is still really nice, we – compared to last posts, I am traveling with the family – are in Pujiang! (蒲江县), visiting a flower garden. Coloured fields of flowers welcomed us, the little ones enjoyed running around the fields of flowers. Further into the park there was a play yard and a model village showing how people used to live in this area. There is an important ‘stone elephant temple’ currently completely being reconstructed but somehow in use at the same time. The Stone Elephant Lake, Shixiang Lake, (保利石象湖景) is a lush quiet green area, a nice change of environment from the city. We rented a boat to rest our legs, the ride offered some great sceneries and was a nice variation for all the busy walking paths in the flower garden. In hindsight, this flower park probably has had tulips earlier in season, we had high expectations, as the website showed fields of tulips. However as the flowerpark is combined with the stone elephant lake it was still definitely worth visiting for a day trip. We spent the night in a nearby hotel in Pujiang. As there was not much to do in Pujiang besides the lake and golf, we visited moon valley ‘mingyue valley’ (明月) a bit far at 30km west. We rented bikes at the information center right at to main gate and enjoyed cycling through the tea field hills, I spotted some white crane birds and many other birds. The road is one big loop around the villages, with here and there a touristic activity like ceramic workshops, museums and coffee shops.

We visited a restaurant and a stamp museum. If we would have had more time, I would have liked the kids to try the ceramic workshop. Pujian is about to have a functioning train station, I suspect this area will develop a lot. For elephant lake, Tickets were 100 RMB for both the stone elephant lake and the flower garden. Boat was 60 RMB per person. Nice for a visit but our expectations were too high. Moon valley bike renting was 10 RMB. It’s unusually quiet area. Might be nice to sleep over next time to have more time.

More than just a bicycle

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Got my two year old a bicycle with training wheels. It’s a great investment so far. She talks about it every time and every day after work, we both take our bike’s out of our hallway and cycle around the compound.
It’s more than only simple paddling, this bike is a vehicle (pardon the pun) to so much more with a toddler:
  1. Basic directions (left/right/straight/stop etc)
  2. Spatial awareness
  3. Weather and day/night awareness
  4. Interaction with the neighbors
  5. Basic badassery -> Every time she gets stuck I resist my urge to help, I just give examples and make sure to give a high five once she overcomes the problem.

On the roof of the world

Slept in the small town of Luding, where life is simple and slow.

Slept in the small town of Luding, where life is simple and slow.

Well… close to… I visited Hailuoguo glacier park today, about 600km southwest of Chengdu and got an astounding view of mountains up to 7500m. The largest was Gonga mountain (贡嘎山). As a Dutchman (we have one ‘hill’ at 300m) I might be easily impressed but it was truly epic. Alhough most recommended to go to the hotspring, really enjoyed the views so I spent up the mountain from morning until the maximum time for descending. The pictures tell it all, the mountain wasn’t easily photographed, size and clouds and all…

I was so happy! Maybe it was the lack of oxygen...

Day trip to Chongqing

With the family out of town I decided to take a city trip. Woke up at 5:50am Saturday to take the first bullet train to Chongqing, arriving in Chongqing before 10am. I took a taxi straight to the three gorges museum.  Across the People’s Square is Three Gorges Museum, well worth a visit for its exhibits on the Ba culture and the area of the three gorges downriver from Chongqing. Also noteworthy are a series of exhibits on life in Chongqing during the Qing dynasty, the early republic, and the Word War II era. free.  Then I headed to Eling park 鹅岭公园 Quite foggy day (aqi of 70 – so mostly fog) – The park is right in the middle of Chongqing and features a tower which offers a brilliant 360° around the city. I just hang a around there to get a feeling for the city. I remembered that there is a famous metro station based inside a residential complex (李子坝). It’s quite funny, and a station with quite the view over Chongqing and the Yangtze. I navigated to a high ranked hotpot place to try the local dish. Couldn’t find the place. I ended up walking 20 minutes looking for a hotpot place in Chongqing. Yes, the city is full of them but i managed to take all the roads without any.Didn’t stay long but overall a city in a mountainous area with lots of lush green zones, spicy food and a cool monorail system, what’s nicer than that?!

A visit to Emei mountain

Beautiful day at mt. Emei (峨眉山) together with colleges Kai and Mark. We took the 7:20 bus from Xiannanmen bus terminal in central Chengdu. Which took about 2,5hr to arrive at the mountain side. We ate an early dumpling lunch and headed to the mountain. First we visited the Qingyin Pavilion (清音阁), which means “Pavilion of Pure Sound,” built in 877. We kept going up and walked the steps to Wannian Temple (万年寺) The Wannian Temple is one of main eight temples at Emei Mountain. Sitting 1020 meters above sea-level, with a Buddha statue over 1000 years old.

We then had to turn back in order to get back home but there are many other sights at this mountain to enjoy. In the bus back my chair was behind an eight year old kid, tedious at first , turned out he wanted to practice English and had fun talking away, learned some Chinese from him as well.

All and all a great trip!