Nepal Holiday - November  View over misty fields and river

For our main holiday of the year, Jules and I headed to Nepal to visit Kathy & family in Kathmandu, to do a bit of trekking, and to visit Chitwan and Pokahara. Many thanks to Dawa at http://www.tctt.ch for putting together a really good itinerary for us, which really made excellent use of the three weeks that we had. Overall we had a great time, and it was good to see somewhere completely different - our last few holidays having been in Europe. We returned enriched, and in Jules' case with a slight obsession with honey, lemon & ginger tea!

Sunday 5-Nov
We arrived Kathmandu at 10:30,  after a fairly long, but not unpleasant flight. We met Kathy and the kids at home, and after a cup of tea to recuperate we headed out for a walk. Me made our way past the  west Stupa in Patan and the newly rebuilt water temple at Pim Bahal. We detoured to see some lovely little squares - small shrines tucked away in courtyards, accessed by narrow and low corridors, plus numerous temples. We also saw a fairly wide range of local shops including some very intricate metal workings and lentils and beans being sold out of traditional wooden boxes from narrow shop fronts.We walked past the Patan museum at Patan Durbar sq. but didn't go in as it was getting a bit late.  We went home via the very lively Mangal Bazar.  Four adults and two children in a Suzuki Maruti was fairly cozy! For dinner we had a rather good Dhal Bhat before collapsing into bed.

Monday 6-Nov
A fairly gentle start after a good nights sleep. We met the household, including Karma, Neela, Bagwarti and the guards. We had lunch with Joseph after morning school and then went to Kathmandu Durbar Sq.. There was still a lot of obvious damage from the earthquakes, but also some impressive buildings still standing. We admired the very ornate wood carvings on the windows and supports for the upper floors of the buildings. We slowly made our way along the market streets to Asam, then in smaller backstreets to Thamel. We wandered around Thamel (which we found a little touristy), and managed to buy a good local map of Kathmandu from a guy who knew a good deal about Zurich and Manchester, but only from people he'd spoken to, having never been himself. We ended up at the garden of dreams - very tranquil - where we met Kathy and the kids and made good use of the large swing. The drive back to Patan in rush hour was quite an experience and not for the faint hearted.

Tuesday 7-Nov
Another gentle start waking up fairly naturally without suffering too much from jet-lag. We had breakfast then picked up Joseph from school and went shopping. Jules managed to find a pink scarf and we had a very good lunch at Soma cafe - chicken dumplings and chili chicken. There was much excitement from Jules at the cows in the street, apparently oblivious about the world going on around them! After lunch we went to Patan Durbar Sq. to see the recondition work and the Patan museum. Karma kindly drove us back for dinner and a relaxing evening.

People on elephant back crossing a river

Wednesday 8-Nov
We had a fairly start to catch our flight to Chitwan. En-route to the airport we saw monkeys with babies which did a little to overcome jet lag and the early morning. It was a short flight and drive to Sapana Lodge, where we relaxed and unpacked before a slightly overdue, but very good, lunch of Momas; Chicken and vegetable curry. Jules managed to find her appetite despite seeing a huge snake and we witnessed a bit of the circle of life as small water snakes chased frogs in the stream. After lunch we went on the village tour, which was a very interesting stroll around the village, chatting about Thara culture and history - very interesting to hear a local's perspective. After a brief rest we went to see a local stick dance performance, which was a bit different, but quite entertaining. Dinner was a very good paneer curry (and acceptable fried rice for Jules) to round off a very pleasant first day in Sapana Lodge.

Thursday 9-Nov
After a night punctuated by the duvet thief, we settled down to an early breakfast enjoying the view out over the river cloaked in early morning mist. At 8am we headed off for an elephant safari, which was a bit of an experience. Although we didn't see all the animals that we'd hoped, it was very peaceful to meander through the jungle on the back of an elephant. We did manage to see two types of deer (Samba and Sika) plus crocodiles, and family of monkeys and a few peacocks. Late morning was elephant bath (and Jules shower) time, which was good fun, and it looked as though the elephant thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Lunch was spicy chili chicken with paratha and spicy chili paneer with honey, lemon and ginger tea which we thoroughly enjoyed. After lunch we headed out on the river boat cruise which was a very peaceful type of safari. We saw lots of birds (too numerous to list, but included various kingfishers, egrets and Jules' favourite woolly necked storks), plus a river tortoise, monkeys and both types of river crocodile. The boat dropped us off on, and we headed off on the jungle walk, which started with quite a safety talk about what to do in event of seeing each type of dangerous animal! The walk was good fun, and we saw quite a few deer, plus parakeets feeding in the trees. The guides tried really hard to find us a rhino and had just about given up when we stumbled across a wild elephant on the final leg. Fortunately our guide had a small stick so we quietly walked past, with just time to also see a wild boar on the way back to the elephant breeding centre. We were slightly surprised to hear that mostly the female elephants breed with wild bull elephants, which are stronger breeding stock than the captive males. Tired but happy we headed back to Sapana lodge for another delicious meal and well earned beer.

Friday 10-Nov
After a good breakfast we headed off on the drive to Pokhara. The road was pretty bumpy and bad for the first 30kms / 1.5 hrs, then improved a lot. Overall the 160km took about 5.5 hours as we wound through hills and valleys steadily making our way towards the Annapurna range and Pokhara. The road passed some fairly poor areas, but we also saw rice being harvested in the traditional way - beaten with sticks to separate the grains. We arrived at the Temple Tree hotel - a fairly modern and well appointed hotel near the lake, and headed out for a late lunch - a very good curry and Momo and chicken chili at Harbour hotel, just down the road. Suitably re-invigorated we wandered along the shops and the waterfront, taking in the sights. Jules managed to buy another scarf (not for herself, she promises), plus some other nicknacks. We turned around at the lake view pontoon and made our way back to the hotel for some dinner. We made the mistake of ordering 4 sides between us - two would have been plenty, and fairly overstuffed we settled down for a good night sleep in a very comfortable bed.

Jules getting a shower from an elephant

Saturday 11-Nov
After a good buffet breakfast we headed out for a city sight-seeing tour taking in the Davis falls (quite impressively deep, even thought it's not the wet season), the Gupteshwar Mahadev Guptha cave  (which was a bit crowded and hot), the  Tibetan refugee camp (where we saw the hand-made carpets), the Pokhara regional museum, the Seti river gorge  (which was very deep, and with an aqueduct feeding water to the hydro power station), and finishing off with the Bindhyabasini temple overlooking the town. After lunch at the hotel, went to the lake to try to get across to walk up to the Peace Pagoda. After obtaining life jackets from an lady who wasn't taking any nonsense we were rowed across the lake by a very small child - Switzerland doesn't have a monopoly on child labour! From there we climbed up the hill to the viewing platform, and then on to the (very white) Peace Pagoda. After the obligatory photos we headed back down a fairly rural track to the main road where we took a local bus back to town - quite an experience! Dinner was a good Thai curry and set Nepali dinner for Jules.

Sunday 12-Nov
After an early start and a relaxed breakfast we headed to the airport to fly back to Kathmandu. We booked the transfer for far too early, but the view from the cafe on top of the airport made the wait alright - the Annapurna range in all its glory. After an uneventful journey back to Patan and catching up with the kids we headed back to Soma for a late lunch (fried chicken for me, chicken and avocado burger for Jules, both very good), then on to Karma coffee for an almost full-on hipster experience.  We then retired for dinner; and to pack for trekking, which involved much concern over baggage allowances...

Monday 13-Nov
After a fairly early start we arrived at the airport to meet Bim, our guide. The flight to Lukla was short and easy - the landing at Lukla considerably less eventful than internet videos would suggest . The runway is fairly steeply sloped upwards which made the landing more gentle than I was expecting. After a fortifying cup of tea - and a shuffle of things between packs we set off trekking! We make steady progress up the valley on a well made path - a lovely green valley framed by impressive snow capped peaks. We saw plenty of Stupas, prayer flags and prayer wheels - all in surprisingly good condition. Lunch was a very good Dhal Bhat for me, and vegetable noodles at Nurning, with views up to the Kusum Khang Karda. After lunch we carried on up to Phakding to round off a gentle first day. Settled down in the restaurant for a hot honey, lemon & ginger before dinner.

Ama Dablam & Everest

Tuesday 14-Nov
After breakfast we left hotel Shangrila and headed towards Namche. We made good progress following the well made path along the side of the valley, learning for the first (but not the last) time that Nepali flat is not the same as actually flat. We stopped briefly for a masala tea & honey, lemon & ginger near Bengkar and made good time to Jorsale for lunch. From there it was a just a short walk to the last, scary, bridge (where Jules was very brave) for the climb to Namche. We saw our first view of Everest a little way up the slope, and some more views at the viewing platform a little further up. We arrived in Namche early afternoon, having walked a bit fast - the guideline being not to be out of breath, but old habits dying hard. We arrived at the very pleasant "Hotel camp de base" for a very welcome hot shower and dinner with no noticeable loss of appetite.

Wednesday 15-Nov
Feeling the altitude a little when I woke up (Jules was fine) we ate breakfast a bit delicately and then headed off for a day walk. We climbed steadily out of Namche and were rewarded with spectacular views, including Amu Dablan and Everest. We stopped at the well named Everest View Hotel for a tea (at Swiss prices) and a took plenty of photos. From there we headed down to Khumjung for a good lunch of noodles with vegetables. Suitably fortified we took a trip to the local monastery, which is the oldest in the region and a walk around the amazingly well built village. From there it was just a short climb up before the long-ish descent into Namche where Jules finally saw some Yaks, including some quite young calves! All in all it was a spectacular day, with amazing views all around. In the late afternoon we headed into Namche to but a Kata and for Jules to find an apple pie with cream and an espresso...

Thursday 16-Nov
After a good breakfast at Hotel Camp de Base, we headed off to Tengboche. Initially the we climbed out of Namche, but this quickly turned into a contour walk with white stupas against the mountains. Jules was quite brave at the occasional sheer bits. We were overtaken by a crazy rider who was galloping along the path and we saw lots of Yaks (& Dzos). We stopped for en-route for a coffee a small tea house where Jules bought some very good Nak cheese. From there it was a fairly easy descent to the bridge at Phungi Thanga for a good lunch. We tied the Kata to the bridge (in the middle for best luck) and then started on the ascent to Tengboche. We walked quite slowly, but seemed to make very fast progress, basically just managing our work rate up the hill. We arrived at the village in the early afternoon and headed to the monastery for a look around (unfortunately the 3pm ceremony wasn't happening that day) and then went to the bakery for some Swiss priced coffee and cake. It was starting to snow as we left the bakery and we were grateful that we'd taken plenty of photos already as the clouds had started to roll up the valley and most of the peaks were obscured. Wrapped up we settled into the main room at Tashi Delek for the evening, ready for dinner. 

Yaks on a hillside

Friday 17-Nov
We started fairly early, with a long-ish day to Monju planned. After a good breakfast, including the excellent Nak cheese that Jules bought the previous day we headed down from Tengboche. The descent was a bit quicker and easier that the ascent and we crossed the first bridge in good time. From there we climbed back up to the cafe where we stopped for morning tea and bought some more cheese. From there it was a steady pace to Namche whilst being treated to more great views of Mt Everest, Ama Dablam, and the surrounding peaks and valleys. E-route we also saw a Danphe (Himalayan Monal) - our first of two that day, as well as a mountain goat. We had lunch back in Hotel Camp de Base and then wandered through the market before saying goodbye to Namche. The second descent of the day was also fine, and we said goodbye to Mt Everest on the way down at the viewpoint. We made it back over the high scary bridge with no issues (Jules was very brave, again) and after the last short descent we headed back past Jongee to arrive at Monju mid-afternoon. Checking into the room at Mount Kailash lodge we found that we had the unheard-of luxury of an en-suite bathroom and a hot shower, which Jules particularly enjoyed. Refreshed we retired to the sun lunge to relax after a good and rewarding day.

Saturday 18-Nov
After a relaxed breakfast of Tibetan bread (Jules was less impressed than I was) we headed off at a gentle pace on our way back to Lukla. We wound our was down the valley saying goodbye to the various mountains as the disappeared from view. We made steady progress to Phakding for a cup of tea, then stopped just outside of Lukla for lunch. Jules saw a pair of stoats and we were walking alongside the customary Dzo and mule trains for most of the day. We arrived in Lukla at a little after 2pm, a little sad to have finished the trekking, but very pleased with the experience - and the weather in particular.

Sunday 19-Nov
After a fairly relaxed breakfast at the Paradise lodge we headed to the airport for the experience of flying out of Lukla. The flights aren't as much scheduled as sequenced, and we waited for a little while for our flight - no. 2 in batch 2. Arriving in Kathmandu we swapped bags and headed to Bhaktapur to see the old town. on the way to Dhulikel. The centre of Bhaktapur was damaged by the earthquake, but rebuilding appeared to be well underway. The town itself was very pleasant - mostly built out of brick and fairly clean, tidy, and uncrowded (for Nepal!). We briefly toured the pottery square and saw how pots are made and then dried in the sun before being fired. From Bhaktapur it was a short drive to Dhulikel where we checked into the the rather fancy Dwarikas resort for a bit of luxury to round off the holiday. The room was lovely, with views over the mountains as a the sun set, plus a huge bath for Jules and the luxury of a hot shower in a warm room. Jules was particularly impressed with the turn-down service which included a hot water bottle.

Bouda Stupa, Kathmandu

Monday 20-Nov
After an excellent night sleep in the very comfortable and huge bed, we had an excellent breakfast  (still no noticeable loss of appetite) then I wandered around the very pleasant resort whilst Jules attended a meditation class and had a trekkers massage. In the afternoon we went to the cooking lesson, where we learned how to make Momos and masala tea, and which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Tuesday 21-Nov
After another good breakfast, we left the Hotel resort Dwarikas and travelled to Kathmandu. In the afternoon we went to the kid's school and admired Joseph's hungry caterpillar and Elsie's maths exercises. After a last family dinner we took Jules to the airport to travel back to Zurich.

Wednesday 22-Nov & remainder of the trip.
Feeling up for the challenge, I took Len up on his kind offer of going cycling with a group of friends who head out regularly. It was good fun cycling with the group, but I found the pace a bit tough. I was apparently out of shape, and I was definitely holding the group up. Overall we managed 20 miles and 600m vertically in 2hrs 20 on a mixture of roads and tracks, which I guess is an alright pace at 1,500m altitude. At the top of the hill we were rewarded with a good sunrise view over the mountains.

The remaining days I spent with Kathy and family, including being invited to Santos' cousins wedding (which was a fun experience) and visiting the Bouda Stupa in Kathmandu, to round off a very special holiday with lots of new experiences and memories.

Girona - September View of Girona cathedral from the city wall

For a short-week break I headed to Girona in Catalonia to check out the city and surrounding areas, partly just for a nice break, and partly with some longer-term plans in mind.

I arrived late-ish on Tuesday but a fairly uneventful journey from Zurich by plane and train. I found the Hotel Ciutat de Girona without trouble where I was greeted with a friendly and efficient check in.

On Wednesday morning I headed out for a panoramic walk along the medieval city wall, with lovely views of the cathedral in the morning light. I stopped for an excellent coffee and croissant in Cafe Federal, on the way to pick up my rented bicycle. On the recommendation of the lady in the cycle shop, I took the Via Verde to Amer - a traffic free semi-paved route that broadly follow the river Ter up into the hills. I stopped for another good coffee in Amer - Spain really gets those right - in the medieval square watching the market. I headed back the same way, stopped once to be asked for directions (oh the irony). The GPX plot of the morning's ride is here. Arrived back in town early afternoon and decided to try to get up to the fort to the North East of town - this was a bit of a climb on the bicycle, and I'm pretty sure the old lady was telling me that it was hard work on the legs and not much to see at the top. Right on both counts! I kind of decided that it wasn't worth having the bicycle in the center of town - it's a bit of a faff in the (mostly) pedestrian streets, and no speed advantage on those conditions. The actual route I took around the town is here. After freshening up , I strolled into the old town for a well deserved beer and ended up at the (friendly) La Tasca bar on Rambla de la Libertat for a really excellent Pulpo a Galega and some chorizo.

Plaça de la Independència - Girona

On Thursday I went sightseeing in the old town and surrounding areas. I had a pretty rubbish croissant in El Cafe (the Nespresso machine should have been the  warning), but more than compensated by a superb Jamon baguette from Enrique Tomas. Wandered around the lower part of the old town (Barri Vell), the Basilica de Sant Feliu and the Parc de la Devesa. I did a small amount of shopping before ending up in the not-particularly-friendly Cafe Artusi for ... lunch. Refreshed I went on a tour of the upper part of the old town, round the very peaceful Jardins de la Francesa and the Jardins dels Alemanys before strolling through the streets of the old town. I landed for refreshment at Cafe Royal in Plaça de la Independència (perhaps not the best choice). In the evening I wandered back to the old town, found a cigar shop, and relaxed back in La Tasca with a glass of wine to watch the world go by. Dinner was a rather good Cassolet of beef tongue and potatoes with a charcuterie and cheese board to accompany.

After a good breakfast, I headed out on the Ruta del Carrilet down to the coast at Sant Feliu de Guíxols. This is a 40km stretch along a converted railway track which gently winds down to the coast. The route was pretty well marked, and traffic free for most of the way, which made for very stress-free cycling. The biggest surprise en-route was the fairly thick fog around Cassa de la Selva, which was slightly ironic as the route signs noted the particularly impressive views over the plain, framed by the Pyrenees. I arrived at the sea late morning, the route there having taken 2hrs 20 at a gently steady pace.

After a coffee at the beach I wandered around the town (looking in the occasional estate agent's window just for the shock of it), which was surprisingly vibrant and thriving. I stopped for lunch in the restaurant above the municipal market which was amazingly modern and well appointed with butchers, fishmongers and Xarcuteria. Suitably refreshed, I cycled along to the next beach at Sant Pol, taking in the beautiful coastline before looping back to the Ruta del Carrilet and heading home. The fog had lifted by the time I returned to Cassa de la Selva, but the mountains were now under cloud! I made it back to Girona just before the rain started to fall properly, having completed the 88 km in about 4hrs 45 of pedaling, and having been out for much of the day. The plot of my day's cycling is here After a quick shower I headed to Plaça de la Independència to support the local beer festival. I sampled a couple of beers from Terra Aspara - the IPA was superb, and the pale ale not bad either.

Jardins del Francesca - Girona

Saturday woke up with a vague plan to see some more of Girona by bus, but a challenge with tickets put paid to that. I did manage to go for a wander to the town market - definitely thriving. Still wanting to see a bit more of the town, I got back on the bicycle and did a little loop taking in Vila Roja then looping round the back of the hill to the area at the bottom of Montjuic, part the Arabic baths and then along the river to Pont Major. From there I looped back into town along one of the Via Verde routes along the banks of the river Ter. It was a nice stretch of the legs, although very relaxed and quite short. The area along Riera de Galligants was by far and away the nicest of the areas I passed through, and the restaurant El Cul del Mól looked to be worthy of a visit.... Plot of route is here.

On Sunday I caught the slower 9:36 train to Barcelona, and arrived in time to catch the 11:39 to airport, followed by a slightly dull bus transfer, finally arriving at T1 at 12:25 - basically a 2 hrs 45 transfer to get to the airport.

For places to go, I had two very good experiences at La Tasca, in the old town - chilled out, good service and good food. I wasn't so impressed with La Boira (service very slow) or Cafe Artusi. Although I didn't eat at Mon Oncle, the food smelled very good, and it gave the impression of being a friendly little bistro. The prize for coffee went to Federal (also and excellent croissant). 

Berkshire - July The Bell at Aldworth (closed)

For a more relaxing type of holiday, I headed to Berkshire to catch up with family and friends for a week or so.

The first event in the calendar was Alfie's birthday party, so I got on the bicycle and headed over to Great Shefford. The party was good - lovely to catch up with everyone, and generally over-eat and -drink... With the bicycle no less heavy on the way back I made the journey back on Sunday, narrowly avoiding the rain.

Most of the rest of the week was spent with Kathy and family, although Dad and I did manage to get in a cycle ride to the Bell at Aldworth (it was closed, but we knew that), followed by a constitutional lunch at the four points. Kathy and family also very kindly invited me out to a lovely lunch at the Royal Oak at Yattendon, which was excellent as usual - that cycle ride was a bit damp on the way back!

To finish off the trip, I travelled to town to catch up with Andy, B and the little ones, before flying back to Zurich with my belt somewhat tighter than I left!

Jules Riding - July Girl on horseback on a gravel road in trees

For their second riding weekend Jules and Imke chose their home country as somewhere close by to enjoy what they hoped would be flat riding paths and open spaces for that all important canter!

Neuhausen ob Eck was our destination and we decided to leave Friday mid afternoon hoping to beat the traffic everyone predicted we would get stuck in. Well, lets say we needn't have worried about speeding fines as we crawled through Zurich and Winterthur but it was all worthwhile as we were rewarded with views over country side that seemed to be made for riding!

After checking into our slightly strange B&B we went in search of some food and quickly decided the local "Adler" should be left to the locals... Instead we drove to the nearby museum. Finally the Q5 was able to do a bit of (allegedly illegal) off road driving on farmers lanes...

Horse and girl standing in field

After getting up quite early to beat the heat we met our host and horses for the day - Dagma, Flora and the ever so hungry one. About an hour later, wrapped up in various blankets and covers to keep off the horseflies we set off. The countryside didn't disappoint- open fields, wide forest tracks and generally not many people around. All of it made for great riding and our host Dagmar had stamina we could only admire. We politely declined the "extra loop" after about 6 hours in the saddle and decided that maybe we should invest in padded underwear! Overall it was a great day, except for the eating habit my horse had perfected over many years....

After a highly successful shopping trip to Mueller and Edeka in Tuttlingen we had dinner at Hotel Seltenbacher Hof and decided not to join the nearby Turkish wedding, tempting as the music was...

Our second day riding saw us swapping horses and this time Imke had the ever so hungry Haflinger. Still, we had a great few hours with some more canters and then made our way back, with a bit more traffic jam to round things off.

Overall we had a really great time, and would like to go back to the area but probably try another stable with less greedy horses!

Birthday Trip Away - June Green alpine valley, with snow-capped peaks

To celebrate a numerically significant birthday, Jules and I headed off for a long weekend in the mountains in Switzerland, for a bit of relaxing, some walking and generally enjoying the outdoors.

The first stop was Kemmeriboden, where I stopped on a long cycle ride last year. We arrived via the Sorenburg pass - the same way as last time, but considerably less tired! The hotel was pretty much as I remembered it, with very friendly staff and a well appointed room. After a brief stretch of the legs, we sat down to enjoy a lovely meal, finished off with the massive meringues that the hotel is famous for. To round off the evening there was a stunning sunset which framed the peaks around the hotel in deep crimson.

After a good breakfast we headed out for a walk, the blue route from the hotel up to and round Alp Tannisboden. The walk was very pleasant, with just a few spots of rain, but yours truly did manage to get a splinter which was a tiny bit dull. Overall the 7.5 miles with 1,800ft ascent/descent took us 2hrs 30 and it was an easy T1, with almost no navigation.

Sunlit waterfall, framed by trees

Arriving back at Kemmeriboden we packed up and headed over to Adelboden to check into the Cambrian hotel. The hotel itself was very pleasant, and we arrived just in time to catch the end of the annual farmers market, where they apparently negotiate grazing rights for the summer.  We haded back to the hotel for a perfectly good meal (although we thought they were trying a bit hard with their "sharing plates"  and it didn't quite work).

After a good breakfast we headed off to do a gentle walk up the valley to take a closer look at the waterfall we could see in the distance. The walk was good, but unfortunately the gondola up to the plateau was closed, and we didn't fancy the route up (which was also marked as closed), but we took in the views of the waterfall before a gentle stroll back to town. Overall it was 6.5 miles and 1,000 ft ascent/descent which took us 2 hours 10 at a pretty gentle pace.

Dinner was a very tasty meal in the Restaurant Alpenblick, but unfortunately the kitchen was a bit overstretched and the courses took quite a long time to arrive. We were grateful that we weren't in a rush, but declined the extra dessert courses, it being almost past our bedtime by that point!

In the morning the cloud was very low and we didn't fancy a walk in the poor visibility, so we packed up and headed back home, having thoroughly enjoyed the weekend seeing some new parts of Switzerland.

Orchid Walking Jena - May Rolling green fields south of Jena, Germany

Many thanks to Albrecht and Uschi for once again organising a lovely day of walking in the woods around Jena, with plenty of orchids for us to enjoy.

We decided to make the most of a strategically placed bank holiday to travel via Magdeburg on the way to Jena. After the effort of driving last time we did this trip we decided to go by public transport - first flying to Berlin and then by train to Magdeburg, and Jena via Erfurt. Unfortunately this turned out to be at least as much effort as driving, particularly when considering the bus transfer across Berlin and the extra taxis that we needed to take to get around. Overall we think that wasn't the most optimal way of doing the journey, but you live and learn.

The walk itself was very well curated by Albrecht, although some of the little legs found the entire distance a little bit of a challenge and so took a short-cut. The weather was very pleasant and the orchids were on good form, and we saw plenty this year. We finished the walk with a nice lunch in Goeschwitz, before freshing up at the hotel and then back to Albrecht and Uschi's for a lovely barbecue and drinks in the garden, enjoying the summer weather.

Alentejo, Portugal - April View down onto sandy cove beach, with steps leading down.

In search of some spring sun, good wine, food and beaches, Jules and I headed to Alentejo in Portugal for a long Easter break. This was definitely the hottest Easter break we've had (which was great) and the area certainly didn't disappoint.

Friday
We started with a pretty relaxed trip to the airport, and a fairly good flight with TAP (although slightly caught out by the time zone change). Arriving at Lisbon we picked up the car and had a fairly uneventful drive to Vila Nova del Milfontes, arriving in the early evening. After slight parking challenges we checked into our room in Mil Reis hotel, and went for a wander around the very pretty old town to stretch our legs before going to the (slightly disappointing) Ca d Ramim - definitely not the pinnacle of Alentejo wine!

Tiny pink flowers growing in sand

Saturday.
After a surprisingly good breakfast, Jules headed off to go horse riding. I went for a wander along the beach with my camera, and managed to take some photos of small flowers and shells which I was fairly pleased with. In the afternoon we wandered around town, taking in the pretty white houses with orange tile roofs and blue trim. We went for a very good fish lunch at Tasca da Vila (Pátio Alentejano had a very long wait), then strolled back into town via the tat shops and a coffee. We did manage to buy a map and guide for some local walks and sorted out a boat trip. In the evening we relaxed with a beer and (slightly better wine) in the cafe opposite the hotel "Stress Free". We retired for a glass of wine on the balcony watching the swallows buzzing overhead, followed by dinner in Tasca Do Celso, very good Pimientos Padron, and pork with clams.

Sunday
Suitably fortified by a good breakfast at the hotel, we headed off to do some of the walks we found the previous day, all featured in the Rota Vicentina. The first at the dunes in Almograve was very good - starting out along the coast, on sandy dunes and excellent views in bright sunshine. We then headed to Restaurant Bernardos in Boavista dos Pinheiros just outside Odemera for an excellent lunch of Secretos Pork - Alentejo style. After lunch we stopped briefly in Odemeira (less said about that the better), then into a circular walk at Troviscais - a lovely walk through rolling hills - cork oaks, the smell of eucalyptus, and views of the river and "ever present" mountains(!!). At the end of the walk we relaxed and watched some old timers playing a game of spinning metal disks down a concrete half-pipe - not quite clear what the rules were, but they seemed to be much under debate. We had a light dinner at Cafe Flor do Mira in Vila Nova del Milfontes - the wine was OK, but pretty bad fried squid.

Sandy beachc cove with low rock cliffs and grass/flowers on the top

Monday
We started the day with a boat trip (to Jules' delight), unexpected accompanied by Ray & Coleen, a fairly gregarious American couple. After a recuperatory coffee we went for a (quite hard) walk along the coast just to the north of Vila Nova - just a simple out and back walk in lovely sunshine. For dinner we managed to get into Pátio Alentejano (the third of Pedro's excellent recommendations) for a very good fish dinner.

Tuesday
We packed up gently and travelled back to Lisbon. After dropping back the car we headed into town and checked into the funky Art Deco Britannia hotel. We went for a stroll around town, but declining the tram tour - it only ran until 5:30-ish. We saw the castle and lots of the public Elevadores and yellow street trams. We made it through Barro Alto and eventually stopped at TimeOut food market for a drink & dinner. We were very adventurous and took the metro home!

Wednesday
After a lazy start and a gentle stroll we took the aero bus (still without suspension) back to airport, and headed back to Zurich to finish up a lovely break.

Skiing St. Anton - April

Hoping for a some reasonable late-season snow, I headed off to St Anton to meet up with the Gileys for some spring skiing. The conditions were a bit slushy, but it was bright and warm in the sunshine, and generally a good laugh. I stayed at the Hotel Arlmont, which was excellent - a great location and very friendly and helpful staff.

We skied quite a lot of the area over the course of 5 days, and our top picks were:

  • Cafe Sonnegg at the bottom of Nasserein, for a quick apres-ski or an early light dinner
  • Seekopf Restaurant up the mountain above Zürs
  • Restaurant Gampen above St Anton for a reasonably priced, and reliably good lunch
  • Rodelalm above Nassserein - good food, and convenient for a cheeky pint on the way back down

The days broke down as follows: View of Skiroute 44 from chair lift

Monday
After a slightly long but uneventful drive to St Anton, I arrived at the very helpful Hotel Arlmont where they sorted me out with a parking place and a lift ticket. After a brief trip to the shops to replace my sunglasses, I met up with the Gileys and went skiing! We started up Nasserein and then up to Kappall for a first run, before heading over to Zammermoosbahn. Once up the Schindlergratbahn to the scary top station, and down #85 - a bit hard packed and icy, then dropped off onto ski route #79 which was very pleasant - probably the best run of the day. Dropped down #52 - hard work in very slushy conditions, and went for a late lunch at the restaurant st the top of Nasserein. Once more up Kappall, and a long run down to St Anton (with a brief stop for refreshment at Rodelalm to recuperate). Met up with Jessica-monkey after her day of lessons and retired to the bar at the hotel. Walked into town for dinner - a quick pint in the bar at the bottom of the main chair, then a perfectly good pizza at Pizzeria Pomodoro to finish a very successful first day.

Tuesday
It was slightly damp in the resort as it had been raining first thing, but fortunately the rain stopped by the time we dropped Jessica off for ski school. We started with a run down from Kapall to the to the bottom of Rendlbahn, which was actually pretty pleasant - slightly soft, but not too slushy and not icy. From the bottom we headed up to Rendl to try that area. The conditions weren't great - the cloud was a bit lower on that side which meant that the visibility was lower and it was a bit more hard packed. We skied across the area, but declined the ski touring route #16 on the basis of poor visibility and (allegedly) large bumps. After a brief stop for a coffee (and a little jaegermeister livener) we set off again, but after a bit of miscommunication Giles and I headed down to St Anton and Woo waited at Rendl. Than bit of confusion sorted we headed up to Gampen for a HUGE schweinhaxen (Giles and I shared it) before going up to Kapall once more for a final run down to the bottom of Nasserein, where we bumped into Jessica's group coming down black #34. For dinner we headed back to the Pizzeria Pomodoro, which was perfectly pleasant again. Yours truly finished off in bar 37, which had good beer and a nice atmosphere, but was very small, quite full and not really the right place to read a book!

The gangWednesday
For a bit of a change of scenery we decided to head up to the highest point in St Anton - up the Valluga bahn. Unfortunately the clouds had come in a little , and the views weren't that good - the inside of one cloud looking very much like another! From the top we headed down #100 - narrowly avoiding being taken out by a runaway snowboard (pro-tip: don't take them off), before heading up the new Flexenbahn and then on up to Trittkopf, before cruising down the #134 down into Zürs. We spent most of the late morning in Zürs, under the Zürseebahn and the Seekopfbahn. We stopped in Seekopf restaurant for an excellent Knödeltrio (more dumpling than a single person should consider eating), and shared a Kaiserschmarm for dessert. We were very happy with the restaurant - friendly and quick service, would happily go back there. We finished in Zürs with a blast down #144 from the top of Muggengrat to return to the Trittkopfbahn and Flexenbahn. We cruised back to the Gampen side of St Anton to finish down #34 with the now customary stop at the Rodelalm. We opted for a bit of apres-ski, ending up in the cafe Sonnegg after an unsuccessful attempt at Tom Dooley cafe. We finished up with a couple of shots too many at the Keller bar next to the Hotel Nassereinerhof.

View over snow covered mountains under blue skies

Thursday
Started a bit more gently with Giley feeling a bit worse for wear! It was pretty much a white out in the morning - probably the second worst I've ever skied. We started out up Kapall and then made very slow progress over to Flexenbahn. We were skiing pole to pole and opted to stop in Ulmer Hütte for a hot chocolate to recuperate before heading down #100. Somewhere near the bottom we got separated and the Gileys carried on to Steuben in the cloud. All suitably re-united we headed off up the Felxenbahn. Giley and I had a look at skiroute #139 from the Trittkopfbahn mid-station, but in pretty bad conditions didn't fancy skiing pole to pole down a new route. We dropped down to Zürs for a good cheeseburger in Brundle Friendly restaurant before doing one loop around Muggengrat and back to St Anton via Trittkopf- & Flexen- bahns. By the time we arrived at Gampen the weather had clearer to the first sunshine in three days. The Gileys went to pick up Jessica-monkey and yours truly decided to have a crack at skiroute #40 from Kapall, which was quite hard work in very slushy moguls, and pretty bare patches (including one section where I walked). Arrived back at Nasserein bottom quite tired - the theory was that the stress of skiing in a white-out made it much harder work than the distance covered would suggest. Stopped for a brief apres-ski at Sonnegg before actually going for dinner at the hotel restaurant - very nice although I didn't manage all 5 courses!

Friday
Last day! Started a bit cloudy, but with the promise of the sun burning through. Headed up Kapall, then via Galzig up to the top of Schindlergrat and a long blast down #85 & #100, then on down to Stuben (great blast down the bottom of #102). From there we decided to explore the Albonagrat side, and took Albonabahn II up for one blast down 107, followed by a hot chocolate and apfelstrudel at the Albona Bergrestaurant (possibly the least efficient cafe in the world, but all very laid back and a good chuckle). we then headed back down via #105, a fantastic blast down the wide, empty piste in good visibility and bright sunshine - possibly the best snow of the week. We managed to lose Wendy-Woo on the way down to St Christoph (slight sense of humour failure there), before heading up to Kapall and down to Rodelalm for an excellent late lunch. We then headed down to see Jessica-monkey collect her award for .. being .. er …. small, and in ski-school, before doing a couple of runs all together to finish off a lovely week.

Skiing Graubunden - February

With a decent base down, and more snow on the way, Andy and I decided to head down to Graubunden to do a little tour of the resorts in South East Switzerland. We managed a total of 6 resorts in the 9 days, which was about as many as I'd hoped to do, and a pretty good selection of the resorts in the Kanton.

Skier in front of danger sign

Saturday 4th Feb
After a gentle start we headed down to Klosters for the fist day of skiing. We managed to find the resort on the second attempt (being distracted by Madrisa at the first attempt). From there we headed up to the main area of Klosters, and spent the day reasonably high. The snow conditions were definitely best on the higher sections above 2000m, and surprisingly good even on the main blue and red slopes in the central section. The Run of the Day (RotD) was definitely #2 down from Weissfluhgipfel, which had pretty good snow and was fairly steep. We also took the unprecedented step of nominating a Run to Avoid (RtA), being #24, which in the conditions on the day was icy hard, bare in places and generally rubbish. Lunch was an excellent home-made burger in Berghaus Alte Schwendi near Schifer, and the only upside to Run #24! We finished up the day with a couple of beers at the very pleasant Kultur bar in Chur, followed by an adequate pasta/pizza at Virdi.

Sunday 5th
We headed to Arosa for the day. The snow conditions were ok on-piste, but the light was a bit flat with low cloud. We cruised around on the Arosa side, and fairly low down for the morning, doing most of the runs. We lunched at Carmennahütte and had a perfectly good Roesti and Alper Maccaroni. We were lucky that there was some snow to freshen up the pistes in the afternoon, and the conditions were much improved when the cloud also lifted. We did runs #1 & #2 from Hoernli a fair few times - which was good fun - before heading back. We skied until the end of the day (actually on a lift at 4:30pm), owing to slight navigational errors. The low part of the day was Andy farting in lift with bubble closed, which should be banned under the cruel and unusual punishments clause. Back in Chur we went back for more drinks at the Kultur bar, and a good pizza in Mamma-Mia.

Monday 6th
We left Hotel Chur in the morning and drove to St Moritz, which was a bit tasty in quite challenging driving conditions. The Julierpass had quite a lot of snow and ice on the road despite obviously being cleared pretty frequently. Upon arrival at St. Moritz we had to park in an out-of-town car park and get the shuttle bus into the centre. When we finally got onto the slopes the conditions weren't great. The top of the mountain was closed owing to strong winds, and the main centre of the resort was closed in preparation for the upcoming downhill competition. However, we had a couple of good runs down #25 on the far right in to Celerina before lunch. After lunch we headed to the far left to ski runs #1 & #2 which were in pretty good condition. Overall it was good to see a different resort, but not really worth the 1hr30 drive each way + bus.

Tuesday 7th
A great day skiing Flims in good sunshine and fairly empty pistes. We started out on Stretch and run #10 from Grauberg, before heading up to the glacier. The snow was in very good condition up higher, but the drag lift is quite long and it was a bit cold in the wind. After a perfectly acceptable lunch at Vorab (Andy declined desert - not sure he was feeling right). we headed down run #31 which was a great blasting cruise. We skied the red run down to Treis Palas  a couple of times -  definitely carve-tastic and cruise-ilicious. Overall the snow was in better condition higher up, and a little hard-packed on the lower slopes. We finished with a run down black #24 - great snow, but the light was quite flat by that point - followed by a cruise down Stretch for a well earned beer.

Wednesday 8th
Looking for a new resort, we headed a short way down the valley to ski Briel/Brigels. There was very convenient parking at Curginet lift in Andiast, with easy access to the lift there. The snow was a bit thin, with brown patches in places, which was a pity because the snow that was there was in good condition - just not enough of it.  We skied the runs under Alp Dado a few times, before heading down to take the slowest lift in the entire world from Crest Falla. We had lunch in the surprising good restaurant at Alp Dado before heading to the right hand side of the resort to ski the red runs beside the Miret drag lift, and the variations on Alp Dado again. We finished with the run down to Waltensburg / Curtginet. Overall not a bad resort, and in good snow conditions it would probably be excellent.

View down Lenzerheide valley, from high on ski pistes

Thursday 9th
We headed to Lenzerheide to ski the other side from Arosa. We parked in Churwalden and took the Panoramabahn up - which turned out to be a very good plan, easy parking and quick access to the slopes with no queues. We made our way along the mountain, using the higher up lifts hoping for better snow. The slopes were generally in quite good condition with only a few patches which were easily avoided. The sun was shining and it was a good day for cruising around the mountain. Managed to get to Piz Scalottas for about lunchtime, and had a good fitnessteller in the Acla Grishchuna restaurant just below Scalottas lift. After lunch made our way back, trying out one yellow (marked, but not pisted) run #53, which was fine, but a little heavy. Arrived back at the Churwalden end of the ridge having skied most of the higher-up slopes, and tired but happy. The best snow was on the steeper blacks, higher up- runs #68 from the top of Chumascheals, #62 from the top of Lavos and #72 from the top of Staenzerhorn were the best of the day. According to skidata we managed 53km / 33 miles of cruising, so a fairly good day.

Friday 10th; Rest day, relocated to Hotel Cresta from Chez Jay

Saturday 11th
We started a little slowly start owing to a couple too many beers for Andy, and a slight issue with skis. We're still not 100% sure if someone accidentally took Andy's skis leaving a similar pair or whether it was a half-hearted attempt at ski theft. On balance we reckon the latter, but don't have any proof either way. We did finally manage to get up the slopes, where we met up with Masda & family. Excited by the possibility of good snow and a chance to try the Porsche lift we headed over to Lavadinas via  #35 - great snow off the side and a good cruisey run. The best snow of the holiday was to be found off the side of the #77 (yellow route from the top of Fuorcla da Sagogn. We were going a little slowly because Andy kept falling over, but fortunately had a 13 year old girl babysitting him, and to help him whenever he lost his skis. We met up for lunch in Plaun, very pleasant sat outside in the sun, but very sad to hear that unfortunately little Leo had a bad fall and had to go to hospital - turned out to be a long fracture in her leg - very unlucky, and the end to her season unfortunately. After lunch Andy and I carried on, and did the circuit round the Porsche lift, down the #77 yellow route, then up Sogn Martin and Nagels a could of times to finish down Grauberg. All in all, a good day skiing in good weather.

Sunday 12
Looking for the best conditions we started by heading over to Lavadinas again (the Porsche still not turning)! We skied the Laax side of the mountain until about 11 when Jules arrived to try out the Loupen track at Plaun. We skied once around Crap Masegn  / Fuorcla / Vorab, to arrive down #40 slightly late to meet Jay & Izzy for coffee. We managed another quick blast up and down the yellow #73 below Nagens before stopping for a late lunch at La Vacca. We finished with a utility run down Stretch to round off an excellent week of skiing.

Skiing Flims - February View from half way down Stretch. Distant mountains in sunshine, and tree lined piste

To get in a bit more skiing over the weekend, I took Jay up on his kind offer of a weekend skiing with some of his family and friends.

I arrived by car in early on Saturday morning Flims, and parked at the Schweizerhof (they were very helpful) before heading to the slopes.

I met up with Jay, Harry and Adi and we headed off for a warm-up run down Stretch in great conditions. Suitably enlivened we then carried on skiing Nagens and (bubble) before declining the Glacier and sticking on the lower slopes. We cruised around above Laax until lunch, where we met up with Masda and family at Tegia Larnags for a late lunch of rather excellent kalbsleiber.

Enthusiasm recharged, but ability slightly lacking we headed down to Laax village for another drink before catching the bus back to Flims. Whilst everyone else went tobogganing, yours truly went to check in to the hotel, and then met up at the bar at the bottom of Stretch for a night cap. A fun day was had by all, good weather, good company and good skiing.

With everyone feeling slightly worse for wear on Sunday we had a later than usual start, but went for the normal Stretch warm-up before going for a fairly gentle cruise around above Laax. Lunch was a rather good cervelat at the grill at Plaun with everyone declining a beer except Adi who was keeping the side up. We finished up with a quick blast down black #16 from Nagens to end a good weekend on the slopes.