A Travellerspoint blog

More Skiin' in Morzine

(If you say it right - Mor-Skeen in Mor-Zeen - it almost sounds the same)

sunny 11 °C
View Ski Trip March 2012 on GregW's travel map.

I seem to have an on and off relationship with skiing. I started skiing when I was in my pre or early teens (somewhere around 12, 13 or 14 I think). I skiied a lot when I was a teenager, mostly in eastern Canada and the eastern USA. Then when I started working after University, I gave it up due to lack of time and money.

After 7 years, I picked up skiing again when I worked on a project over the winter in Denver, Colorado, followed by a project in California that allowed me to try out some of the resorts there. My last ski trip was the trip to Heavenly, California. After that, I spent 13 months in Atlanta, which is not really a hot bed of snow skiing, and skiing left my life again.

So it had been over 9 years since I last skied when a friend from London suggested a ski trip to the Alps. I had never skied in Europe, so how could I pass that up.

We spent a week in Morzine, France, part of the Portes du Soleil ski area spanning the border between France and Switzerland.

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We arrived on Sunday, March 18th to a heavy snowfall. The week before the weather was bright, warm and sunny, and there was some concern that the snow would have melted off the hills. However, the snow continued through the next day, giving a hills an excellent coating of fresh snow and deep powder.

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The snow was thick on the slopes that first day, and despite forgetting my goggles at home, it was a good day skiing. I got back after the first day we burning thighs. I jumped into the shower to clean up and soak my aching muscles. In the shower, I saw proof I had pushed hard. Embedded in my shins were small blue balls of fuzz from my thermals, pushed into my shins as I pressed against the front of my boots.

We were staying at an amazing chalet called Alaska right in the centre of Morzine. The chalet included a cook, chalet host and the services of a ski guide to take you around the mountains. I have never stayed at a fancy chalet before, and the experience was amazing. Good food, great advice from our hosts and champagne and canapes as apres ski. If there is any problem with staying in the chalet, it was that it was easy to over do it on the food and have too much.

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Tuesday we woke to a sunny day on the slopes. I headed out with one of our ski guides on Tuesday and skied over towards the Swiss border.

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This being France, on hill dining is a little different than the burger and fries that seem to be de rigueur in North America last time I skied there. Restaurants dot the hills, offering sit down dining for hot meals. Lunches over the week included roast chicken, pizza, sausages and fresh salads.

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The week continued with sunny and warm weather. Beautiful spring skiing. One day I headed up to the top of Les Gets to check out Mont Blanc. There are views of Mont Blanc from all around Morzine and Les Gets.

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Sunny and warm, I decided to sit down and have a half pint (or demi, as the French call them) over looking Mont Blanc.

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Off the slopes, we also went and saw the Morzine Penguins ice hockey team play an exhibition match against a team from Megeve. The Megeve team plays in a lesser league, so it was a fairly one sided match, ending with the Penguins winning 15 goals to 3.

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By the end of the week the sun had taken its toll on the snow on the slopes, exposing a lot of grass. One of the lifts goes over a horse farm, and the horses were enjoying an early spring forage.

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It was definitely good to get out skiing again, and get my first taste of European skiing. Hopefully it won't be the last.

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Posted by GregW 31.03.2012 03:50 Archived in France Tagged skiing Comments (1)

Roll Up! Roll Up! The Rolling Bridge at Paddington Basin

More of a curling octagon, really.

overcast 12 °C

Imagine, if you will, you are walking along and ahead of there is a rather unassuming foot bridge. You might see a boat coming along, and think to yourself, "there is no way that boat shall pass under that bridge." Then the bridge starts to curl up, like a potato bug, getting out of the way of the coming boat.

That is what you will find at Paddington Basin, where Heatherwick Studio's have created the Rolling Bridge just outside the corporate headquarters of Marks and Spencer.

I previously worked in the area and had, in fact, crossed the bridge on multiple occasions without ever realizing there was anything special about it.

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Then a couple of man come out, blocking off the two entrances to the bridge, and slowly it starts to curl up. It rises like a straight lift bridge at first, but then the end starts pushing higher, and the bridge starts to warp into a curve.

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Eventually the bridge curls around onto itself, closing up into an octagon shape on one side, and freeing completely the channel it spans.

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After a few minutes, the bridge unfurls, eventually spanning the channel again.

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It becomes just a regular footbridge again.

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The footbridge can be found at Paddington Basin, just to the east of Paddington Train station. The bridge is opened every Friday at noon.

Posted by GregW 16.03.2012 11:00 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

The City is Eternal, but the Snow is Just Temporary

A cold and snowy visit to Rome.

snow 3 °C
View Roma for Superbowl 2012 on GregW's travel map.

Usually if a flight pulls away from a gate at anything other than the appointed time, its because you are running late. My flight down to Rome was one of those rare occasions where a plane pulled away early. The pilot and crew had gotten everyone on ahead of schedule so we could get away early. "Hopefully to miss the snow," explained the captain.

Snow? In Rome? That doesn't seem like travel as usual.

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It wasn't. In fact, the snow that fell on Rome was the first snow since 1986. The radio was telling folks to stay off the road, and I saw more than my fair share of cars rattling down the cobblestone streets of central Rome with chains on their tires. It was a unique way to see Rome for the first time.

The snow had finished falling by the time we landed, so the pilots rush to get us off the ground was for nought and the snow didn't impact the flight at all. We were 20 minutes early, though, which would give me an extra 20 minutes of site seeing in Rome. All I had to do was get into town. That's where the snow hit me.

I was already in a poor mood from the wait in line for customs (we arrived just after a couple jumbos from China and India) when I arrived at the train station. The train into central Rome was delayed by 30 minutes, and once it finally got going dropped us only halfway towards central Rome, at Roma Ostiense station instead of at Roma Termini. I had to transfer to the metro, and then try and drag my roller suitcase 20 minutes through the snow covered pavement and cobbled streets of Rome.

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Once settled into my hotel (right by the Trevi fountain), my mood improved. Despite the cold, snow and ice, the site seeing was good when bundled up against the cold. It did provide a few hitchs - for example, the Colosseum was closed due to the snow, there were a few streets shut down due to falling ice and I did slip on the ice, fall and jam my thumb. However, it did provide a unique view of many of the famous Roman sites I had seen many times in photos and on travel TV shows.

Snow in the Coliseum

Snow in the Coliseum


Columns at the Foro Di Caesar

Columns at the Foro Di Caesar


The Forum from Via dei Fori Imperiali

The Forum from Via dei Fori Imperiali


Columns at Largo di Torre Argentina in the snow

Columns at Largo di Torre Argentina in the snow


Largo di Torre Argentina in the snow

Largo di Torre Argentina in the snow


Lights along Via del Corso

Lights along Via del Corso


Spit it out!  Piazza Novona

Spit it out! Piazza Novona


Trident wielder, Fountains at Piazza Novona

Trident wielder, Fountains at Piazza Novona


Quirinale steps

Quirinale steps


Arch and fork in the road showing the snow in Rome

Arch and fork in the road showing the snow in Rome


Spanish Steps, icy and treacherous

Spanish Steps, icy and treacherous


Statues along Via Del Fori Imperiali

Statues along Via Del Fori Imperiali


Tiber River at Night

Tiber River at Night


Trevi Fountain at night

Trevi Fountain at night


Villa Medici, atop the Spanish Steps

Villa Medici, atop the Spanish Steps


Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano

Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano

Santa Francesca Romana o Santa Maria Nuova

Santa Francesca Romana o Santa Maria Nuova

By the end of my four days, much of the snow had melted, however the cold was still there. The snow and cold provided a unique view of Rome, but I would like to see it in a more traditional setting - perhaps with some sun and warmth next time. Definitely will want to come back.

So on my last night, walked around the corner from my hotel to the Trevi fountain. I took off my gloves, shivered a touch from the cold air on my skin, and then dug into my pocket. I pulled out a Euro coin, turned my back to the fountain, and tossed it over my shoulder.

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Rome, I'll be back.

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Posted by GregW 13.02.2012 12:58 Archived in Italy Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Rome and Ruin: Superbowl XLVI in Rome, Italy

SPQR: Superbowl Party Quakes Rome!

snow -3 °C
View Roma for Superbowl 2012 on GregW's travel map.

"I don't think I have heard this much English since I arrived in Rome!"

I overheard that as two people squeezed passed me through the pre-game throng. The place was packed with Americans, mostly students. Despite the fact that it was getting close to midnight on a Sunday night, the crowd continued to grow and showed no signs of easing up.

The reason they were there, and that late on a Sunday, was for Superbowl XLVI, and the place they were gathering was the Scholar's Lounge on the Via del Plebiscito in Rome, Italy.

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The Scholar's Lounge is a multi-room Irish pub with a fine selection of beers on tap and an international menu. It is as one imagines an Irish pub should be - wooden paneling, pictures of Irish poets, books lining book shelves and lots of whiskeys lined up behind the bar along mirrored shelves. It also, in the manner of many pubs nowadays, had multiple TVs to show all the latest sports, including American football.

Superbowl XLVI featured the New York Giants against the New England Patriots, playing in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Patriots were heavily favoured, however the New York Giants had beaten a heavily favoured and previously unbeaten Patriots squad in the Superbowl in 2008.

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As we got closer to midnight, the cramped quarters became even more packed, and I had to fight to find a space just to stand. Soon every inch of floor space was filled with people watching the Superbowl.

Getting to the bar became a chore, having to try and push through the crowds. At half-time, I switched from pints to bottles of Peroni, and ordered three large bottles so I could try and make it through Madonna's half-time show and through the end of the game without having to try and fight my way back to the bar. Luckily I was able to find a small space, which even included a small shelf to put my extra bottles on and provided a decent view of on of the big screens.

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Despite the crowds, the Scholar's Lounge was a great place to watch the game. It had an excellent atmosphere, lots of fans and a beautiful setting. A few less people might have made getting to the bar a bit easier, but one can't complain too much.

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The game came towards the end with the Giants having the ball. Afraid that New York would run down the clock and kick a game-winning field goal, the Patriots allowed the Giants to score a touchdown run, giving the Patriots 57 seconds to try and win the game. However, the Patriots were unable to move down the field, and the Giants ended up winning the game 21 points to 17.

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My own game plan worked out well as well. I was able to run through the entire second half without having to go back to the bar, and as the game ended still had half a bottle of Peroni left.

The crowd thinned out as the lights came on and I finished off the last of my beer. I walked out into the cold Roman night, wandered past the nearby Palazzo Venezia, up the street past the Trevi Fountain and back to my hotel. Another exotic location to watch the most American of events in an Irish pub.

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- - -

For more of my experience of watching Superbowl in international locations, check out my Superbowls Around the World Table of Contents.

Posted by GregW 08.02.2012 12:30 Archived in Italy Tagged sports superbowl superbowls_around_the_world Comments (0)

The Land of Goat's Milk and Honey

Malta

sunny 18 °C
View Malta December 2011 on GregW's travel map.

As November came to an end, I looked at my remaining vacation balanced and realized that I had almost as many vacation days left for 2011 as there were working days left. Booking off the time between Christmas and New Years and with carrying forward a week of holidays, I still needed to take a full week off sometime in December. So I booked a week and undertook the last minute planning of the unprepared.

After searching the internet for cheap flights and cheaper hotels, I wound up with a week to spend in Malta.

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The Republic of Malta is a country that are a series of islands in the Mediterranean, 80 km south of Sicily and 284 km east of Tunisia. Situated rather strategically in the middle of the Mediterranean, Malta has throughout history been ruled and conquered by a number of people including the Romans, Arabs, Knights of St John, French and the British before gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. Malta joined the EU in 2004 and in 2008 become part of the Eurozone (Not the greatest timing on that).

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I was staying in St. George's Bay, part of a continuous urban area that runs along the east coast of the main island that also includes Valletta, the main city and capitol. The whole area seems to be in a state of flux - half new and half old, half under construction and half being torn or falling down. Along the seafront there are numerous new hotels and luxury flats, with fancy restaurants. There is a lot of construction under way, especially as it was the low season when I was there and the construction industry was taking advantage to build. At the same time, though, between the new buildings and construction sites were older buildings - some faithfully maintained, while others looks right ready to fall over.

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I got myself a decent deal on the Corinthia Hotel, a five start that was going cheap because of the low number of travellers during early December. The hotel included a number of restaurants and bars, including Henry J Bean's American Bar, which offered two-for-one drinks during happy hour from 18:00 - 19:30 each night, and had a decent chicken wing appetiser.

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One evening I was there enjoying my two-for-one pints of Cisk beer and watching the biathlon on Eurosport on the big screen. Biathlon is a winter sport that combines cross-country skiing with target shooting. A woman, who was ordering at the bar, saw me watching and asked me in a Manchester accent what I was watching. I explained it was biathlon.

"I've never heard of it," she said.

"There aren't many great British bi-athletes," I said. "It is more popular in the Nordic countries and Russia." Just as I said that, the announcer indicated that the French team was leading the race. "...and other countries," I said.

"Who are you cheering for?" she asked.

"Canada, where I am from," I said.

"How are they doing," she asked.

"Not bad, for Canada, they are eighth. That's good for us. I don't know why Canada doesn't do better at biathlon. We have lots of snow, plus there are wolves and polar bears and such that a rifle is good to protect against. There is so much wide flat space covered with snow that Canadians have to cross. You would think we would be good at skiing long distances punctuated with the occasional need to stop and shoot something."

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The Maltese honey bee, Apis mellifera ruttneri, is a sub-species of the Western honey bee, and is native to Malta. The origin of the term Malta is uncertain. One of the most common etymology is that the word Malta derives from the Greek word meli, meaning "honey".

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I was mostly in Malta to relax, but did get in some site seeing. It is a place with a long history, and to get a feel for it decided to do one of those hop-on/hop-off bus tours that take you round to various sites.

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We breezed through Valletta (which I would go and see the next day), and spent my time in San Anton Gardens, Mdina and Rabat.

San Anton Gardens is home to the Presidential Palace, as well as a large and diverse garden.

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Mdina is the old capital of Malta, a medieval walled town situated on a hill in the centre of the island with views off to the Mediterranean. The oldest building in Mdina is Palazzo Santa Sofia, of which the ground floor dates back to the 1200s.

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The rest of the city is thin streets, and stone buildings. The island of Malta is very rocky, made of limestone, and many of the buildings - whether old or new - are made of the same limestone.

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Outside of Mdina is Rabat (the Arabic word for suburb), which contains St. Paul's Catacombs. The catacombs were used for burials of all manners of faith and people from the 4th century to the 9th century. Some of the catacombs are open to the public, and you can see where numerous burials had taken place.

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After wandering around, while waiting for the next tour bus, I grabbed a drink called a Kinnie. According to their website, "Kinnie was originally developed by Simonds Farsons Cisk in Malta in 1952, as an alternative to the innumerable colas that had proliferated in Europe since the Second World War. Kinnie is a unique tasting, alcohol-free, natural, refreshing beverage. Its golden amber colour, and the fact that it is made from bitter oranges and a variety of aromatic herbs, lend this beverage a bitter taste which is an excellent thirst quencher. "

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It tastes something like a orange-flavoured ginger beer. It wasn't an immediate hit for my taste buds, but I could see it becoming a taste I could acquire.

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The next day I went to Valletta, the capital of Malta. It is high on a hill on the water, and has massive walls. The city was founded by the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, the knights which ruled the island from the 1500s through the 1700s. The Knights of Malta, as their were known, defended the island in 1565 against the Ottoman empire.

Immediately after the end of the Siege of Malta in 1565, the Order decided to found a new city on the Xiberras peninsula to fortify the Order's position in Malta. The city is named after the Grandmaster of the Order, Jean Parisot de la Valette, who founded the city by placing the foundation stone on 28 March 1566.

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The Great Siege of Malta in 1565 occurred when the Ottoman's tried to capture the island. The Ottoman Empire wanted to take the island to give them a strategic advantage for control of the Mediterranean over the Christian nations. Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the vast Ottoman empire, sent 200 ships with 40,000 fighting men and another 9,000 cavalry. On the Knights side were the 600 knights, plus a few thousand mercenaries and a few thousand Maltese irregulars – in all between 6,000 and 9,000 men.

Despite the differences in numbers, the Knights were able to hold the island thanks to its rocky, hard to take shoreline as well as the toll which sailing from Turkey took on the Ottoman soldiers through disease. After three months, what was left of the invading Ottoman force gave up and returned home.

A third of the defenders died, and up to 30,000 of the Ottoman's might have died, though numbers are disputed. In central Valletta, there is a monument to the defenders of Malta.

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The second great siege of Malta occurred in the early 1940s, as the Axis forces of Germany and Italy attempted to gain control of Malta, which was being used by the Allies as an air and naval base. The attacks included a blitz by the German air force. 6728 tons of bombs to fell on Malta in April of 1942, 36 times the amount to fall on Coventry. In March and April 1942 more bombs were dropped on Malta than fell on London during the entire Blitz. Malta's people and her defenders were awarded the George Cross by King George VI for their bravery during the air raids "To bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people during the great siege it underwent in the early parts of World War Two."

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December 13th, when I was in Valletta, was Saint Lucia day, and in honour there were marching bands heading through the streets of Valletta.

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The city was done up in its Christmas' finery, as well.

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Round the corner from the busy Republic Avenue and St. George's Square was The Pub. The Pub is a small little watering hole, a cozy place filled with lots of British Naval memorabilia. It is also the place where Oliver Reed, while in Malta filming Gladiator, died after a bout of drinking. On the night he died, Reed had supposedly drunk eight pints of lager, 12 double rums and half a bottle of the Famous Grouse, and beaten a few young sailors in arm-wrestling contests. The pub is now also partially a shrine to Reed.

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I had a pint in The Pub, just getting in at 5:25 PM for last orders. Apparently it often closes early.

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Next to Valletta is Floriana. In Floriana There is a church there dedicated to Saint Publius.

Publius was the Roman governor of Malta. After Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on Malta, he met Publius, and after healing his feather, converted Publius to Christianity.

Acts 28:7-9
In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously.
And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.
So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed.

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Publius went on to become the Bishop of Malta, and Malta became one of the first officially Christian countries in the world. Catholicism was written into the 1974 constitution as the island's official religion.

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As an island, the cuisine of Malta has a number of seafood options. In addition, rabbit features on the menu.

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There is a Maltese cheese, as well. The Maltese goat breed, as the name suggests, originates from the island of Malta. It produces a large quantity of milk: from 500 to 600 kg of milk for 270–300 days, from which the Maltese goat cheese is made.

A name derived from Honey and goat's milk aplenty? Malta, the land of goat's milk and honey.

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Posted by GregW 18.12.2011 05:47 Archived in Malta Tagged tourist_sites Comments (4)

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