Saturday, December 19, 2015

Homeward bound

Travel day, uggh!  Long haul international flights are definitely not my favourite thing but it's a bit difficult to have a European holiday without one.  We had decided to get a shuttle back to zurich because for the six of us it actually worked out to be cheaper than going by train which would have entailed a bus trip to the central area in Livigno, another bus to Zernez where we would have had to catch a train and lugging all of our luggage on and off of buses and trains isn't a joke.  The route was the exact opposite of how we came and we went back over the pass just between Susch and Davos which was just beautiful and what we expecting in our minds eye Livigno to have been.

The car was very quiet for most of the drive and I was left sitting in the back with my camera and managed to take some half decent photographs on the way down from Davos to Zurich.

Arriving at the Bahnhof in Zurich we left our luggage in the left luggage lockers at 9 CHF per locker and we needed 6 of them and, of course, we needed CHF of which we had none.  Fortunately there was an automatic note to coin exchanger at the left luggage which unfortunately didn't work.  We eventually found another, working, one on the opposite side of the concourse.  By the end of the trip we all needed a comfort break which has got to go down as my most expensive pee ever.  2 EUR.

After that it was off to meet up with Andre and Nicki at Kronenhalle which is an upmarket Zurich restaurant and, delicious as the meal was, we were rather grateful that Andre picked up the tab.  I'm not putting the cost of the meal in the blog because it was just an embarrassingly large amount of money for a meal which may have been slightly better than the Butchers shop in Sandton, may have been.  The wine was however, superb. 

Aside from the cost of the meal, it was great to spend the afternoon in a foreign city with friends and to enjoy the wine, company and food.  For the wine record, we started with a Hudelot-Noëllat Vougeot 1er cru 2005 from Burgundy and then followed that with a Château Beychevelle (3ème grand cru classé 2006) from St Julien in Bordeaux which were both marvellous to drink - thanks Andre. We spent the afternoon wandering around the old town of Zurich and eventually met up with Kirsten and Carl and walked up Bahnhofstrasse marvelling at the watches which were just ridiculous in price.  Caron saw one blancpain skeleton watch for 26,900.00 CHF and it made what I at the time thought quite expensive for her new watch look decidedly cheap.

Once Andre and Nicki had taken their leave everyone needed a bite to eat so we went to McDonalds as the cheap option.  We had five hamburgers (Three normal, one with cheese and a vegetarian) and four medium sized packets of chips and a coffee which cost the princely sum of 90 CHF or about R1,350.00.

From there it was a short train trip out to the airport and the normal waiting around with me trying to finish my book so that I could give it back to Kirsten but I didn't quite make it.  The flight took off and I went to sleep almost immediately and woke up about 2 hours outside of Johannesburg which wasn't so bad actually.  So that is it, another holiday done and no broken bones or permanent injuries, just a few bruises and bumps for a rather enjoyable Christmas break.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Last day in the snow

We were up and at 'em on the slopes early today expecting that it would be quite busy because tomorrow is change over day so we were expecting that everyone, just like us, would be making the most of their last day.  As it turns out, this was not the case and it was significantly less crowded than yesterday which was a pleasant surprise and we spent the entire day on the two red and one blue runs quite close to our apartment.

The run down from Costaccia was where we spent most of the day and has a couple of awesome sections in the middle as well as the final hill down to the end of the run.  It's an amazing feeling carving and feeling the ski's bite the snow as one moves from side to side and the motion is a little like a slow walk as you have first the one foot and then then other in front.  There was one section of the run where it was really, really icy as in the ice was blue and slick as an ice rink; both Alistair and Carl had wipe outs on this section of ice during the day.

Carl is coming around to my opinion that the difference between the first and the third world is that the third world knows that it is the third world; the first world haven't figured out that they are actually third world as well.  Carl highly unimpressed by the european inability to queue to get onto gondola lifts and their general behaviour on the slopes.  Carl was so incensed by the one snow boards behaviour, first he went over the back of Carl's skis almost wiping him out, then he narrowly missed Megan at which point Carl just went straight down the slope to catch him and hit him with his ski pole to tell him to cut it out.  Although he apologised his behaviour didn't change because the very next run he almost ran over me. "Poles" has now become the general accepted term for boorish behaviour.

We stopped for our last lunch in the apartment which was, as always, delicious but I am very much looking forward to getting back to some less refined foods.  Foods that actually have roughage in them that is.  At lunch having made a roll I was just about to eat it and Kirsten pointed out that a hair had somehow made it into my roll so I pulled it out, all 18" of it so I offered it back to Megan since it was clearly hers.  She ungraciously declined to take it back.

At about 15:30 I felt it was time to move across to the blue slope because the sun was down over the horizon so it gets really difficult to see where one is skiing and Kirsten had already been floored by a mogul which appeared out of nowhere.  We had just started going down the blue slope and Alistair wiped out in spectacular fashion and landed really heavily on his shoulder which was the point at which we decided that this was it and skiing was now done.  Kirsten hadn't seen the wipe out so I went after her and really enjoyed the moguls on the steep section, there must have been at least a dozen in a row that I negotiated nicely.  Compared with some of the mogul fields I have seen that is nothing but for the first time ever I am actually skiing them as opposed to surviving them.

We met up the Keysers for a last bombardino around a blazing fire opposite the Bivio hotel and then a very relaxed supper at Focolare;  I have officially got to the point where pizza is no longer an option for supper so I had pasta instead.  A small difference I know but I just couldn't face another pizza.

Tomorrow is travel day which I am not looking particularly forward to although we are having lunch with Andre and Nicki which will be a highlight.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Skiing the moguls

There was a light snowfall overnight of at best 5mm in all but although this sounds great, and it is visually, it isn't the best for skiing because the weather warmed up and the resort was not able to manufacture any snow and some of the pistes are starting to show grass through the piste in some patches.

The houses above are in the middle of the village as is the paddock and in spite of the the poor build quality, probably because they are ancient, they would cost a fortune.  A house similar in style to the one with the steps but about halfway up the blue piste which is about 500m from where this was taken would fetch about 1 million euro's and then one would need to spend between 500,000 and 1 million additional euro's to upgrade it to be really nice. Seems ludicrous but that is the way it is.

We headed over to Motollino again to introduce the lovely blue run that we found yesterday to Caron and Laurie and the first run or two went really well but by the third run it was starting to get busy and Caron had just descended a slightly tricky bit and was stationary on the side of the piste waiting for the avalanche of skiers to abate when one skied right into her hurting her left knee.  I don't think it is actually damaged beyond a slight strain but it is painful nonetheless.  I only found out about this when I saw her a bit red-eyed sitting in the coffee shop at the top restaurant. 

By 11:00 it was really getting too busy and we all naturally converged on the restaurant where we embarrassed ourselves by having a full-on snowball fight in the outside area of the restaurant.  Started by Kirsten I might add but eagerly joined by all the kids and Erin in particular.  I headed for home thereafter with the Keysers while Caron took the gondola back down and Kirsten and Carl skied a little more.

I got off the bus just outside Samdi to buy rolls for lunch only to find that ski boots are forbidden and so my cunning plan to reduce walking was foiled.  I had to walk back to the apartment in my boots and then would have had to walk all the way back if Gary hadn't kindly volunteered to get the rolls because I couldn't get into my apartment to change boots.  Caron hadn't arrived back yet which was a bit worrying but it turned out that she had taken the wrong bus and ended up going right around the entire town.

In the afternoon I headed back out on my own and met up with Gary, Anna and Erin doing the blue slopes behind our apartment.  Because it was the end of the day and there were plenty of moguls even on parts of a blue run and instead of avoiding them as best I can like I normally do, I headed straight for them and tried to ski them.  Moguls for all beginner and most intermediate skiers are an absolute nightmare and especially so if the slope is vaguely steep but for the first time ever, I actually managed to ski them which I was very pleased about.  I found that I need to look a little further ahead which is a general failing that I have and that I shouldn't turn as sharply as I have been in order to keep in the track between the moguls.

I got back from skiing at about 16:30, showered, and then took a stroll up the main street and met Kirsten and Carl at the bar across the road from the Bivio for a Bombardino before indulging in some retail therapy by buying some lego while the girls amused themselves in the Kiko makeup shop.

Supper was at Roxy's which was reasonably good but nothing great and by this time I was tired but the girls wanted to go the the club so Carl and Gary pretty much had to, unwillingly, go along.  Alistair also didn't appear to be too keen and I am very happy that they didn't try and rope me in as well.  I am not sure what time they returned because I was fast asleep after a good days skiing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fun in the snow.

We were scheduled to go fat biking today but cancelled because there is just about no snow other than on the actual pistes and, beautiful as it may be, riding through the forests, we can actually do that at home.  It was just as well because today was probably the best day of skiing so far.

We started out at Motollino which is firmly ensconced as our overall favourite run a skied it a few times before the crowds really arrived and then headed over to Trepalle which I still don't like and then down to Sponda numerous times.  I managed to take a tumble right at the bottom of Sponda, I was just gently drifting sideways down the slope looking around and the edge of my skis caught an edge in the snow and that was it. 

 As one can see from the photograph above, it was really snowing which lends a magic to skiing that just isn't there when it isn't snowing.  One can feel the vibe at the coffee shops that has been absent up until now.  The weather was quite variable as snow clouds drifted across us dumping a light dusting of snow down but also creating beautiful visuals with intermittent sun and cloud and mist, the photograph below should have been a silhouette so I'll have to doctor it at some stage.  My normal camera really is much better than my new indestructible olympus point and shoot but it is so inconvenient to ski with that I am going to stick with the point and shoot as a compromise between using a cell phone and an slr.

After a final run down Motollino Carl and Megan returned home and Kirsten and I went back for another 'final' run but as we were going up in the gondola Kirsten spotted the blue piste markers indicating that the blue run we have been waiting for almost two weeks to open is finally open.  So we just had to do it, twice, because it was so enjoyable and there was just about nobody on it.  I'm going to try to get Caron over here because it was just thoroughly enjoyable and this is the kind of experience that keeps people coming back for more.

By the time we arrived at home having had to take the blue bus which goes to the far reaches of the town, Carl was a little worried that we had had an incident.  In the afternoon I had a nap along with just about everyone else before I went out quite late and did some practicing on the blue runs close to the house.  Carl took Alistair off to the local gym and walked into the 'mens' change room only to find a bunch of ladies busy drying their hair and immediately backed out thinking that they had made a mistake.  Turns out that they didn't make a mistake; the mens and ladies share an entrance hall where items of common use, like hairdryers (it is Europe after all you know), are located and you need to go through this to get to the actual change rooms.  Modesty restored they made it into the gym only to find that they don't have any "ergo's" which is like a mandatory item in south african gyms so he had to make do with a run and some gym work which is better than nothing.

Back home we all went for a walk up the main street before supper time at Lauries, this rotating supper thing is really, really working out well for everyone.  After the usual delicious meal from Laurie we tried to take the edge off the limoncello by mixing it with some sprite but this didn't work out at all.  It was already too sweet and the sprite seemed to make it even sweeter and we were all barely able to swallow it.

I found a recipe for bombardino which we are going to have to try when we get home but I think that it is a strictly winter only drink.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Stitching down the slopes

Today we were up really early, about 07:00, which is a bit of a joke when one considers that my day at home normally starts at 05:30.  We really have slept well this holiday and have managed to get in at least an 8+ hours of sleep every night inspite of the Polish herd above us.

The reason for the early start was to get over to Motollino which is fast becoming our favourite run before it got really busy and our first couple of runs down Motollino were really great.

The view from the top of Motollino was quite spectacular as one can see from the above and this is where we had some more of their glutinous hot chocolate later on once we had been down to Trepalle, which I didn't enjoy, and then numerous runs down to Sponda which I did enjoy until my legs decided that they had had enough.  My right leg was fine and would bite in nicely to the snow or ice but my left leg was letting me down and acting a bit like a sewing machine.  Very disappointing, I don't know if it is just too much skiing and I need to have a rest, or it is the way that I am skiing and that it is my technique that is wrong.

The van der Riets at the top of Sponda looking over towards the black run which has just opened which is great because at least some of the Polish maniacs have moved over to there instead of pestering us on the red runs.  In spite of my misbehaving left leg, we are starting to ski the red runs quite nicely and are moving more with the general pace than being a bit slower than it.  There are still the odd close shaves just because there are so many people on the slopes, all of varying degrees of competence.

After a last couple of runs down Motollino Megan and I decided that we would head for home while Kirsten, Carl and Alistair would continue with another couple of runs and then follow us.  I was expecting Caron to be be at home so of course when we arrived she was nowhere to be found but luckily I bumped into the Keysers on their way out so we could at least relax in their apartment until Caron turned up.

I spent afternoon reading and relaxing and finished reading "Where Men Win Glory" which is the expose on the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and the manner in which politicians and the military spin things to their own advantage and never actually take responsibility.  It makes me realise that we are all like corks bobbing in the ocean of current affairs and the currents take us where they will, by our best efforts we may be able to swap currents but we actually have no real control over where we are going; we have just managed to move to a different current.  A bit sobering.

Caron made her potato and leek soup for supper and I helped out with the croutons and somehow manage to burn some of them but not too badly.  We chased the meal down with some limoncello and I braved the wrath of the parents and offered the children a tiny taste of limoncello.  The three girls jumped at the chance but Alistair declined which was, at least I thought, very mature of him. Such an asset in life to be able to say 'no' while everyone else around you is saying 'yes'.

Tomorrow we are expecting snow ... yay!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sometimes it just works and sometimes it just doesn't

I had forgotten just how annoying upstairs tenants can be in an apartment block especially when they start moving around at 03:00 in the morning.  It sounds like we have an herd of Polish elephants upstairs and because everything is double glazed and heavily insulated it is absolutely quiet inside the rooms which makes even the smallest sound noticeable.

We headed out early to avoid the masses because there just aren't enough runs open at the moment to cope with the number of people that are here.  I can easily imagine that if all the runs were open the slopes would be very empty.  It is reasonable before 10:00 but thereafter it gets a bit manic; if we were really good skiers it probably wouldn't make a difference but we are just a little bit slower than the average, especially on the steep icy bits, which means that we constantly have people hurtling past us.

After a number of runs on the red run which, all in all, were pretty good we decided to head for the blue run and we were stopped at the exit waiting for Megan to join us and as she did so, a snowboarder (Polish I am going to assume) ran over her and stopped just a metre down from us.  I tried to grab hold of his hoodie to give him some words but missed him, over balanced and because there were so many people standing or sitting around I couldn't get my balance back and went down in a heap, legs and body all at unnatural angles.  Oh well, I tried and I am sure that everyone else enjoyed it.

After a coffee break at the restaurant on the blue slope we headed back and then Caron and I indulged in some serious retail therapy.  It's her 50th in just over a months time and she has always lusted after a skeleton watch. The first one I saw at home was a million rand so that was completely out of the question but we have now found a Rado skeleton watch which, while rather expensive, is vaguely affordable so Caron is now the proud owner of a beautiful Rado skeleton watch.

After lunch and a bit of a siesta Carl, Alistair, Caron and myself traipsed off to ski slope 22 pictured below which will never really get busy because it only has a single button lift servicing two actual slopes.  For some reason I just couldn't get going this afternoon, it just wasn't working so after yesterday afternoons euphoria I am back to mediocrity.

It was Kirsten's night to cook and she outdid herself, bombardino's for starters, chicken cordon bleu with vegetables and pannacotta for pudding.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday the day of rest ... well almost.

Today was going to be a day of rest because we have skied quite a lot every day since we arrived and the knees and quads need a bit of a rest but when Caron said that she was going out really early for an hours skiing I just couldn't resist so we spent a very pleasant hour on the blue slopes behind our apartment before the Poles came out in numbers.  They don't seem to be early risers and I am guessing that it is due to late night drinking and partying and apparently there were some problems at the one of the clubs and the cops came and carted a couple of minibus loads of them off to chookie for the night.

On the chair lift up I saw a skier who had tried to, unintentionally, go off piste but got caught up in the netting like a fly in a spiders webs, there were skis and arms wrapped up in the netting and he was sitting there, legs at weird angles, trying to untangle himself while his partner looked on.  Very funny to see.  We got back in time to have a late breakfast with the Van der Riets and then it was off to meet Rob and Nikki for some hot chocolate and ended up meeting some other South African's whose son made a bee line for the girls.

Another humorous incident regarding the Poles happened without our knowing; apparently they have started bringing their own ski instructors with them which is, obviously, unwanted competition to the local ski schools.  The locals have finally had enough and the cops arrested the Polish instructors because they don't have the appropriate licences and insurance cover.  I would have loved to have seen that actually happen.

In the afternoon Caron and I indulged in a little retail therapy and, much to our dentists delight, have purchased an electronic toothbrush; it only took us two years to get around to it.  The other item, which we haven't actually purchased yet, was a beautiful skeleton watch for Caron.  We are still thinking about it but it was a really beautiful work of art and I am a bit of a sucker for beautiful things.

At about 14:30 Kirsten, Carl, Laurie and myself went over to a very under-utilised slope leaving the other slopes, which were just a little bit manic, to the Poles and Italians to slug it out.  The skiing on this slope was tremendous and I don't think will every get crowded firstly because getting there is a bit of a schlep and secondly because there is only a single button lift servicing two slopes.  The slopes themselves are very much like Afri-ski in that they are quite gentle at the bottom but get quite steep at the top so you can choose how difficult you want to make your run.

This is why we moved to a less crowded slope.  The slope in the foreground is a red slope so everyone is moving side to side all the time and with greatly varying degrees of skill.

I think I am finally starting to get the hang of really short turns where one is turning in a channel about two ski's width wide.  It seems so simple, as always, weight forward in the turn is key but as the ski's come around the hips need to move smoothly but quickly uphill which causes the edges to bite in and slow one down and this motion compresses your legs which then act like a spring ready to launch one's self into the next turn.  The amount that one wants to slow down is determined by the point in the turn that the hips move uphill because the earlier in the turn the less one slows down.  The springy action of the legs is really important because one needs it to maintain one's weight forward and downhill because the hips moving uphill tends to shift one's weight slightly backwards.  Easy peasy, so much easier to describe than it is to actually perform it!

After the obligatory bombardino at the cafe at the bottom of the slope we swapped back into our walking boots and walked back to the bus and back home.  So much easier than walking in ski boots.

Rob and Nikki had invited us to champagne at the Bivio club where we met the same South African couple as at lunch time had some champagne and snacks before moving onto La Pastorella for a supper of pizza.  I forced myself to finish the whole pizza which I regretted later.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A perfect day!

Skiing is one of those high risk activities where having a combination of great snow and weather and no crowds almost never happens but today it did.  Because it is 'change over' day there was almost nobody on the slopes which makes skiing so much more enjoyable and relaxing.  We had decided to make the most of our opportunity and head over to Federia which is over the mountain from where we are and only has two red runs open, the one we spent some time on because it was quite a nice, if awkward due to it's camber, run and the pleasing thing is that we are now actually skiing the red runs as opposed to just surviving them.

Getting a bit ahead of myself so back to the morning, we started off with a lesson with Ivan who has turned out to be an excellent instructor and we have all made at least some progress.  I even received some compliments from Ivan which I am choosing to take at face value but it takes concentration to get the position, weight and timing just right and if I am on steep icy slopes almost everything goes out of the window and I regress.  All of us really enjoyed the lesson this morning, I think because we are all skiing much better and with the slopes being just about devoid of other skiers so one didn't need to keep an eye open for unruly Poles bearing down on one.

Lesson done we took our leave from Ivan and after a quick hot chocolate, with cream of course, we took the bus up to Carosello 3000 where we met up with everyone else bar Gary who was inexplicably missing.  At the top there is another huge restaurant with prices to match the lack of competition where Caron and I shared a salad and a tiramisu cake which was absolutely delicious.

After spending a very quite some time on Federia where Anna amazed all of us with how much progress she has made from never having ski'd at all to be able to cope with a red slope reasonably well.

The two purple people eaters (song) having fun at the top of Federia before we took the red slope back home which was a whole different ball game because it was only one snow plough wide which is fine where it was reasonably flatish but where it got quite steep it was quite tricky what with faster skiers coming flashing past as well as slower skiers constrained by the width of the piste even more.  We all made it without incident though, a little excitement to end the day.

It was Keyser's turn to make supper and this alternating of which family is to make the evening meal is really working out well because it means that everyone is getting a break of at least 3 nights before needing to make another meal.

It would appear that Rob and Nikki's warnings about the Poles was not hyped up, when we got to the bottom of Carosello 3000 there were lines of buses bearing Polish registrations so it looks like they have arrived en-masse.  The apartment above us has been occupied and I don't know if the building just isn't soundproof but they were making quite a racket until quite late which doesn't bode well for the rest of the week.  Supper was great with lots of laughter and jokes and it was really nice to return to the lighter side of life even if it was only for a day.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Of Motolino and poles

We met up with Ivan at the bottom of Motollino to explore the 'other' side of the valley and did all three of the runs, which are open, a few times.  They are all quite decent although the one down to Trepalle is best done early in the morning as it gets icy quite quickly.  Megan almost got taken out by another pole but managed to stay on her feet while the pole tumbled past; Ivan had some words for him and, surprisingly, the pole apologised.

Below is the view from the top of Motollino just to show how much like a giant Afriski Livigno actually is.

 There is a huge restaurant at the top of Motollino so we sat and had some coffee and hot chocolate, really, really thick hot chocolate.  So thick in fact that the straw kept on collapsing while trying to suck the glutinous liquid up.  And below we can see that by careful framing one can create the completely opposite impression to the photograph above.

On our last run down I got to the bottom and Megan, Kirsten and Carl weren't behind me as they usually are and it took about five or ten minutes for them to arrive by which time I was worrying that something untoward had happened.  As it turned out, a pole got Carl, but not a pole as in from Poland but the pole attached to Kirsten's hand so Carl had a minor whoopsie but in doing so tweaked his knee but it doesn't seem to be too bad and I think in a day or two it will be just fine.  The run down Motollino is, aside from a tricky bit under bridge, great, it is steep and wide and then flat and then steep and wide and then flat which means that one can go a little faster down the steep bits because one can recover on the flat bits.

To get back to our flat for lunch we had to take the bus and thought it would be a good idea to take the scenic route which did turn out to be a good idea right up to the point where the bus stopped and the driver told everyone to get off so we ended up walking in our ski boots for more than we were counting on.  Fortunately it wasn't that far but definitely enough to get grumpy about.

After lunch and a bit of a siesta we headed back out to our local slopes which was really great because they were just about deserted so Friday afternoon is, it appears, a good time to ski. 

After skiing, we ambled into the centre to have a second attempt at bombardinos. We sat at Bivio's with heaters above roasting the top of my head and fire behind us. The bar has a help yourself snack section of olives, popcorn and chips, which the kids help themselves too quite liberally. Kirsten and I had bombardinos, Laurie and Carl had gluhwein (vin blure here) and Caron had a grand marnier hot chocolate (which was divine, says Caron).   When it came time for payment I thought the waitress said fifty six euro's which I was happily handing over only to have Carl interrupt me and pay it instead.  The waitress seemed to be unusually grateful for the four euro tip and as we were leaving we asked for the receipt only to find that the bill was actually for thirty six euro's and we had a slightly awkward moment before the waitress realised the misunderstanding and gave Carl twenty euro's back.  How awkward, no wonder she had been so grateful for the tip.

It was my turn to cook supper, no pressure, and I had decided to make an asparagus pasta dish which turned out to be quite tasty in the end but there were a few moments during the preparation where I thought that it was going to end badly.  At Woolworths in S.A. when one buys asparagus it is great from tip to stem whereas the one's here are definitely really, really woody at the stem and I had to boil them for quite a while to get them soft enough to actually eat without thinking that one was trying to ingest a log.

After supper there was a rather typically depressing discussion about politics, the state of the rand and the myriad of other problems that South Africa faces but the discussion feels a bit like being on a merry-go-round where it is just the same things again and again without any relief or solutions.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lesson number one ... avoid the poles

Day two of our lessons and today was my day for corrections to my skiing style and there are just so many things to think about all at the same time and as soon as you do some of them other things that one was doing just fine somehow go out the window so it was a bit of a frustrating day.  I must say that our instructor, Ivan, is excellent and much better than some of the other instructors that we have had elsewhere.  If we could just remember everything that he says and then actually get to put it into practice but I think it is like most students, in one ear and out the other even though we really are trying to absorb what the lessons are.  During the lessons we did the dreaded red run which we coped with much more elegantly than the first day and, hopefully, by the last day we will be skiing it properly.

After the lessons we celebrated with the now traditional coffee or hot chocolate and the staff are now starting to recognise us.  For some reason, after what feels like days without any photo opportunities, today there were just stacks of them.  After the lessons finished we spent quite some time on the beginners blue slope trying to burn the lessons into the muscle memory and, of course, that involves lots of chair lists and that increases the odds of getting on one with a snow boarder.  The one time I happened to get on with three snowboarders, one on the left and two on the right and I just knew what was coming.  Sure enough, when we got off the one on my left went straight, the one on the right went left and I was in the middle with absolutely nowhere to go, I couldn't even snow plough to let them go on ahead.  Another time there was just one snow boarder on my left who went straight forcing all three skiers to his right to ski straight into the barrier.  From now on no more getting on lifts with snow boarders.

At about 13:00 after a solid four hours of skiing we retired to the comfort of our apartment for lunch which gary had volunteered to get the rolls for but they hadn't arrived so Kirsten and Carl went out to get some only to find that all the shops were closed.  We are having trouble getting used to the opening hours of the shops, the one thing that was open was the restaurant next door so we had margheritas with various toppings on them for lunch.  We had just finished when gary turned up with a packet of rolls in his hands so they are going to be for croutons tomorrow night.

The view from our balcony and the ski run in the picture is motolino which is the one that we are going to be doing tomorrow morning.  Feeling a bit anxious about it because it is rumoured to be quite icy.  In the late afternoon Caron and I went for a walk on our own and popped into numerous shops, even Caron is keen on some retail therapy but the Johannesburg prices are actually quite competitive even though we are repeatedly being assured that the prices here are bargains and substantially lower than elsewhere.

Getting home for supper we found out that Laurie and Anna had been run over by a Pole who was completely out of control and Laurie smacked her head quite hard on the snow, thank goodness for helmets.  She was a bit concussed and feeling nauseous so they took her off to hospital for x-rays which came back negative so aside from some bruising and a nasty bump on the head she is absolutely fine but even small altercations of this kind leave a psychological scar that is hard to erase.  Anna escaped with a bruised wrist and it sounds like the Pole may have broken some ribs (hopefully!) and because he was further down the slope the medics got to him first and Anna had to run down the slope to tell them to come and attend to her mother.  Once Laurie had been trussed up and skied down the slope, I don't know how the rescue people do this as it is hard enough to ski down unhindered let alone with a person in a rescue sledge, they wanted to take her by helicopter at 11500.00 Euro per hour off to the hospital.  Fortunately she was compus mentus enough to refuse their offer and was treated in the local hospital.  The Italians get an A for their medical treatment, just maybe a little too keen to make use of the helicopter.

After a supper of spaghetti with buffalo mozzarella balls we dressed up warmly and went for a peaceful walk up and down the main street in the -10 degree weather taking a few photo's as we went and wondering if I was to order a bombardino whether or not Kirsten and Carl would think that I have a drinking problem given the whisky and the wine that I have already consumed.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The bombardino got me!

We have all now more or less got our skiing legs back and it is time to start refining our style, well as much as we can, given that there is no way that we will ever look like some of the youngsters going down the slope.  We met Ivan at 09:00 for a two hour lesson on a slope that we haven't been on yet which had one of the cursed button lifts.  Everytime Kirsten and I are on a slope with a button lift our calves are excruciatingly painful, we think it might be a genetic thing because everyone else seems to be perfectly comfortable.

Lessons are difficult because to learn how one should be doing it one has to first unlearn what one is currently doing and then re-learn the correct way and it just isn't easy.  The first and most important lesson is to have your weight over the front of your ski's and it sounds so simple but there is an innate fear built into each of us that as soon as the ski's are pointed downhill a wipe out is coming and to throw one's body into the impending disaster is difficult to overcome.  The thing is that as soon as one does manage to get one's weight forward, after overcoming the psychological barrier, it is so much easier to actually turn and thus keep one's descent under control.  But, as always, so much easier said than done.  The other little gem that the instructor gave me was that the perpendicular bisector of my shoulders should point over the tip of my downhill ski and that my hips must be uphill while my shoulders should be over the ski's.

Ivan our instructor who apparently used to be quite a top notch professional alpine skier.  A pity about the students though, it must be quite exasperating for the instructors to have to deal with people that can barely ski.

As good as the lesson was I was very glad when they ended and we could give my calves a rest and meet up with everyone else for chocolate and coffee while the snow gently fell around us.  I think that this might be the only snow that we are going to get so it was really nice for Anna and Erin to at least experience it.

 Caron was a little shattered after her lesson because the instructor took her up to the top of a red run, the one that the rest of us have been avoiding, and got her to go down it which was no mean feat.  I am so glad it was the instructor and not me that took her up there.

In the afternoon almost everyone other than Kirsten, Anna and myself had a nap and read while the three of us went back to our favourite blue slope which was just about deserted and tried to put into practice what we learnt this morning.  Sometimes I get it right for a few turns or even and entire run but then the next run is just a disaster.  Very frustrating.
Rob and Nikki had recommended that we try out "La Grolla" for a meal out and tonight is the night.  They also recommended that we try out a drink called "Bombardino" which I duly ordered but as the waiter was putting the drink down in front of me, I'm not sure what happened, the glass fell over and I was bombardino'd all over my jacket and pants which are now sticky as well as wet.  The others seemed to enjoy their food, and my distress I must add, but my pizza wasn't as good as the other restaurant and more in line with Johannesburg quality food.

After the meal we walked up the pedestrianized road admiring the Christmas lights and checking out all the shops.  I had unfortunately left my camera behind so I will take a photo another night.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Siemens and their hobs, really!

I did the early morning run to buy croissants and bread rolls for lunch which worked much better this time now that I know that the shops open at 08:00.  I also threw the rubbish bags away which might seem a strange thing to blog about but things work differently in foreign countries and that, at least to me, is interesting.  In Livigno the actual rubbish bins are wheeled boxy bins which are located next to the road at apparently odd intervals and everyone takes their small bags of rubbish and puts them into the big bins.  There is no such thing as separating recyclables and the bins just sit there until a truck comes to empty them.  This would be like heaven to the rubbish bin scavengers that we have in South Africa.

After another breakfast of coffee and croissant we returned to the blue slope that we were on yesterday which doesn't have a name but does have a number 23 next to it on the map.  This is by far my favourite slope thus far and we spent the entire day on it only going home at about 15:00 when our legs started getting tired.

Because the slope we were on was a teaching slope there were lots of people learning and more than a few collisions.  Kirsten ran over an instructors ski's and then wiped out.  Alistair collided with a really good skier who somehow appeared in front of him.  A little girl skiing down with her father was run over by a young adult woman and I stopped to retrieve the little girls ski while the father gave the woman a tongue lashing - in Italian of course.  When he had finished and got back up to me he said "And ... she's Italian" implying that he expects better behaviour from Italians which while he might have found to be exasperating, I found quite amusing.  In spite of all this none of us was even vaguely hurt which can't be said for a South African teenager who fell and hit his head really hard (no helmet) and had to be carted off to hospital while he was having convulsions.  Why is it that anything which is even vaguely fun carries risk.

Because Livigno is a village primarily with skiing as an extra as opposed to a dedicated skiing village there isn't really ski-in and ski-out like one has in Avoriaz so we are spending quite a bit of time walking to and from the ski slope in our boots and carrying our ski's.  Definitely not as convenient as Avoriaz but one gets used to it.  The one nice thing about all the slopes pretty much ending in the actual town is that there is a string of bars and restaurants at the bottom of the slopes to get the odd hot chocolate and meal from.

Instead of walking all the way home for lunch we had a meal at the restaurant which is surprisingly, by european standards, affordable and we bumped into nikki and rob and organised our ski lessons for the next few days.  Nikki left the book that she had been intending to read behind so I sms'd her to say that we had it hostage and would give it back to her for a ski lesson.  "Ha, Ha" she replied.

I could really get used to the habit we are falling into of having a siesta every afternoon and as it was Laurie's turn to make supper we lazed around, drank some wine and had naps or read the rest of the afternoon.  At about 18:00 Laurie appeared to ask for help to .... turn the stove on.  As simple as that might seem to be it really isn't.  Their flat has a Siemens induction hob which has touch panel controls and it really isn't obvious how to work it and of course the instruction manual conspicuously left next to the hob is in Italian with no English section.  After a bit of fiddling I did manage to get it to turn on but it kept on turning off for some reason so we gave up and Laurie cooked on our gas hob instead.

After a delicious supper of penne arrabiata we all played a couple of rounds of scrabble and I am ashamed to admit that I miss spelled some words and even that didn't help at all.  One round I managed to score a miserly 17 points which is just hopeless.

Monday, December 07, 2015

A little trouble on the piste.

One of the things about travelling is that sooner or later one does something really dumb just because one can't read the signs or the descriptions on packaging.  So when we arrived we went and did our first shop and everyone was complaining that the coffee and the tea just weren't tasting like they ought to; the culprit was tracked down to the sugar which turned out not be sugar at all.  We had mistakenly bought something like a lemon sherbert that looks and tastes vaguely like sugar but not quite so it was back to the shops to track down real sugar - sucre as we now know it.  We also purchased some mustard which wasn't; it turned out to be horseradish.  And lastly we bought some orange juice which inexplicably has carrot in it.  The orange juice, unlike the 'sugar', tastes quite good so it turns out to be one of those pleasant surprises that just happens during a trip.  The day started with a delicious breakfast of toast with last nights left over Gorgonzola sauce over it.  Mouth wateringly good fare.

The days skiing was quite eventful, apparently there are italian public holidays on at the moment so there are crowds of italians up for the weekend and there was one point this morning where there was such a crush to get into the cable car that I was considering stopping skiing for the day.  Fortunately it only happened the one time but it meant that the slopes were really busy.

We all went up to the top of the blue run which we had all recommended to Caron the previous evening and we all merrily left her to navigate her own way down.  My very first run of the day about 100m from the end of the run I was just about to turn and a kid skied over the back of my skis so I couldn't turn and skied right off the piste and took what must have looked like a spectacular fall because it was head of heels on the frozen grass next to the piste.  I hit my head really hard and was very thankful for the helmet.  A bit dazed I got back on my feet and remonstrated with the kid and his mother who just looked at me blankly.  How annoying! 

By this time Kirsten and Carl had already caught the gondola back up so I followed and spent a couple of extra minutes regaining my senses.  Skiing down the run to catch up to K&C I caught up with Caron who was not a happy camper at all - too steep given the number of people on the slope that came whizzing past her.  Needless to say that I was in deep trouble and sticking around doesn't actually help her - it just presents a target for her frustrations so on I went ready for my medicine later on.

 At about 11:00 we stopped for some hot chocolate and cafe in a restaurant half way up the slope.  It was completely full outside and we could only get a table inside.  Pretty nice none the less.

On the last run before lunch Alistair fell really hard onto his backside and incurred a typical snowboarders injury - seriously bruised or broken coccyx.  We don't know which yet but walking back to the apartment was clearly agony so we dosed him up with anti inflammatories and pain killers and we'll assess tomorrow just how bad it is.

We spent an hour or so after lunch relaxing and reading before joining the Keysers on a different blue slope which was really fun.  The slope wasn't as steep as the morning's one and had a few moguls but it wasn't a flat piste which made it really nice to ski on and as the number of people on it decreased it got to be more and more fun.

The evening meal was a vegetable stew created by Caron and then we spent the rest of the evening playing a game called Mafia - rather appropriate given that we're in Italy.  I don't know if it was the game or the alcohol but there were screams of laughter and at one point Carl was reduced to helpless mirth where he just couldn't stop and ended doubled up to try to give his stomach a rest.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

First Day of Skiing

My task each morning is to get up before anyone else and put the first cup of coffee on as well as to find some croissants to start the day off in, what we thought, was a european way.  So I confidently stepped out in the -7 deg temperature to find a bakery which proved to be more difficult that I expected.  In France one can't walk a 100m without tripping over one, here, I haven't actually seen a single one but there are a couple of shops which do supply fresh baked breads ... like the butchers shop which was the only place I have seen real croissants.  Having found the shop I was out of luck because they were sold out and I have to order for tomorrow.  Croissants clearly aren't part of the Italian way of life.

By 09:30 we were out on the slopes having struggled to put on all the paraphernalia required.  At the start of each holiday it always feels like there are endless things to put on and arrange but by the end of the holiday it all feels quite normal.

Our first run of the day was a blue run and I had this strange feeling that I would have somehow forgotten how to ski but after a shakey start it all started to come back quite quickly and we decided to get adventurous and try the red run just a little way over.  Instead of skiing down and then walking along the road to the start of the other run we trudged over the brown frozen grassland between the two runs and then down to the gondola lift.

We did the red run a couple of times but it felt a bit manic with lots of people going too fast for us and plenty of moghuls which for anyone other than good skiers are a nightmare.   With aching calves, Kirsten and I only, and lunchtime approaching we decided to give the red run a skip and return to blue runs in the afternoon.

Lunchtime was cold meats and cheese on the rolls that I had purchased in the morning which was just delicious.  So simple and yet so good and then we all had some downtime before we headed out at 15:00 to ski until the lift close at 17:00.  As it turns out the light goes at about 16:30 and it gets really tricky to ski without being able to see the moguls and there were a couple of near wipe outs but we all managed to get to the end of the day without mishap.

 The photo above has a blue cast to it because I had the camera's white balance set to a 'snow' scene which seems like it needs actual sunlight to work correctly.  When in shadow I should just use normal white balance.

 In the background one can see the barren brown hills devoid of snow so, at the moment, Livigno is a bit like a giant version of Afriski but a lot colder.

We have decided to change the way we do the catering with one family 'on duty' each night so that the people that aren't on duty can sit back, relax, drink wine and not have to think about chores and by doing this each family unit only needs to cook one every four days which I think is reasonable.

Tonight, Kirsten made a blue cheese sauce to go with the fresh gnocchi we got from the market.  Simply delicious ... and now she gets to put up her heels for a few days and let other people worry about the catering.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Settling in at Livigno

The flight was utterly uneventful and I watched "Mad Max - Fury Road" which I can now confirm is a total waste of time even on a flight where there is not much else to do.  If you had to delete car chase scenes and things blowing up out of the movie it would be reduced to a 5 minute wast of time instead of a 90 minute waste of time.

Going through immigration was interesting; Caron and I walked straight through but it took Carl and Kirsten about 10 minutes to get through.  We thought that they were having some problem but we weren't going back to associate ourselves with them just in case an arrest was imminent.  One does have to be careful with family.

We had hired a mini bus which is a small bus as opposed to one of the ubiquitous taxi's that we have in South Africa which we found quite easily and then we were off through the dark misty streets of Zurich to find Gary and Laurie who had arrived in Zurich a couple of days before.  We thought that the driver was definitely lost when we pulled up at an apartment block which was clearly being renovated but it turned out that it was only the first floor or two and Gary and Laurie were above that in quite a nice apartment.  Carl and I wondered if Gary had brought his work with him to Zurich but he denied this.

 The shot above was taken at 08:00 in the morning ... note the bright sunshine outside!
The trip took us about 3 hours through green valley floors, past beautiful lakes and snow covered peaks.  Really, really beautiful.  We stopped for a small break at the top of a pass which was completely snowed under and we were all getting excited only to have the driver, Marco, tell us that Livigno didn't look anything like this.  Going up the snow lined pass and down the other side was hair raising given our previous experience of driving on roads that have compacted snow on them instead of on the tar itself but Marco drove very carefully as did all the other cars and we had no real bad moments.

Livigno, it turns out, looks much like AfriSki in that there are brown grass covered mountains with some strips of white where they have manufactured snow and opened a few pistes.  Not quite the white blanket of my imagination but I think there will be enough to keep us busy for a while.

Most of the afternoon was spent doing the grocery shopping but by five it was dark and after a more or less sleepless night we were all really tired so we tried to grab a pizza for supper.  The first place laughed and said that they were only open at 19:00 so we found another place and like previous trips the food is just fabulous.  I could order the same dish in Johannesburg and it would not taste half as good; I don't know how they do it but it just tastes better here - much better than what we can get in johannesburg.  After we had asked for the bill a round of limoncello shots just arrived which we had to down in celebration of being here.  Rather a nice way to end off the meal and not as sweet as some of the other limoncello's that we have had.

By 20:00 the eyelids were drooping and after a great shower we retired to read until the sleep buzzards arrived to carry me off.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Hey, ho. Hey Ho. It's of to Livigno we go ...

Another year rolls over and dies.  I turned fifty this year and it feels a bit like a wednesday has passed; I'm over the hump year and it's all downhill from here.  Since both Caron and I are either turning fifty soon or have recently turned fifty it seemed like a good excuse to splash out and go skiing again.

This trip we have Kirsten and Carl along with their two children Megan and Alistair and for the first time we have Carl's sister Laurie and her husband Gary as well as their two children Anna and Erin along for the festivities.

We had originally planned to go to Lech in Austria based on a beautiful advertisement which I saw in a super yacht magazine.  I should have known that anyone advertising in a super yacht magazine is advertising to a specific clientele; one that I am not a part of.  Once we started getting some prices back we realised that Lech was utterly unaffordable to third world denizens and that we had better change our location; hence Livigno which we haven't been to but it has reasonable write ups and we shall see.

The typical last day at work before a holiday is characterised by frantic activity and last minute issues cropping up and is normally highly stressful.  Not this time ... what a pleasant change but I didn't escape scott free.  Getting to the airport was much more of a mission than it should be.

We left home with plenty of time to spare which was just as well and going along william nicol there was a huge accident in the oncoming traffic lanes and they were just backed up for kilometres.  Fortunately our lane was clear so we sped past hundred of cars just stationary feeling very pleased that we weren't in the other lane that was until we came around the corner into Rivonia road and the traffic just stopped; gridlock and it took us about 40 minutes to progress the final 300m to get to the gautrain station.  It turned out that there was some kind of conference on and that the cops had blocked off some of the roads which resulted in pandemonium.

I dropped Caron off as well as our bags and drove to my offices which are quite close and dropped the car there which worked quite well.  Walking back in the 35deg heat dressed for European winter conditions wasn't great but that is one of those things about travelling ... some discomfort is to be expected.

Getting back to Caron we went through the turnstiles only to find that the escalators were being serviced so we could either carry our bags down the stairs, not an enticing prospect or try and cram into the lifts which loads of people were now trying to use.  We chose the lift and did a reasonable impression of a sardine in a can down to the platform where a train was waiting for us ... at last something went in our favour.

Getting to ORT of course my Gautrain card didn't have enough money in it so I had to queue to pay some money into it and then we had to go through the normal formalities.  First we had to find the right terminal to be in because there is maintenance work going on so they have move some check-in's from terminal A to terminal B so we walked to terminal B only to find that the one's that we needed were in terminal A.  More walking.

Going through security and immigration was really busy with lots of people but it went quite quickly and at last I started to feel like holiday had started.  Kirsten and Carl were still in the crush of the check-in so we went to get something to eat and drink at Jacksons which was jam-packed; not a single table available but they have an upstairs are which I didn't know about which was all but empty which was where Kirsten and Carl joined us.

From there it all went really smoothly and the flight took off on time and we are now on holiday and, hopefully, have left the cares and worries of day to day life in South Africa behind at least for a couple of weeks.