Monday, 28 February 2011

A day at Les Deux Alpes

Apparently it was pretty busy out there today.
We were too busy enjoying the great snow to notice ...

... both on the piste ...

... and off the piste. "Good snow" is relative to the season - Mark sadly isn't actually up to his waist in powder here.
We loved these red pods, that opened up like an egg rather than having doors. Very retro.

And the shape of these (surprisingly speedy) chairs, too! Look, no feet! Ah, they don't make 'em like they used to.

... and the best bit is, we'll be back up there for more tomorrow. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Back to Le Pylon

We had heard ice climbing conditions were good in La Grave, so we thought we'd head back and check it out. On first glance, we were not inspired - the snow and ice is almost completely gone from any surface that gets sunlight and it really does not look like winter! As we drove up, we saw a large chandelier on a south-facing cliff come crashing down. Hmmm.

Oh ye of little faith! The ice falls on the north sides were actually in better condition than before. Out of the sun it has stayed cool and the ice has grown fatter. But not being too cold, it wasn't too miserable out there either. Perfect!

We had also heard that, as only north-facing routes are in condition, it was likely to be busy ... but today we only had to share Pylon with one other team, who were super friendly and obligingly kept to the left whilst we were on the right. As we had the time, we headed up both sides of the fall ...

Mark leading the right side in one mega-pitch ....
... and Jen taking on the easier second pitch of the left side.
We suppose the bright sunshine isn't all bad news. Once back at the car, we could dry the gear and relax in the sun with a cold drink. Yep, apparently this is winter in the Alps.

Not a yardsale.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Val Thorens

We'd planned ages ago to try to meet up with old mates from Amsterdam in Val Thorens, when they'd be there for a week of skiing and boarding in February - and so we jumped in the van and headed back west.

The Ambers could not have hoped for better snow during their trip! After a month of almost no snow and warm temperatures across the Alps, it bucketed down fresh white stuff ... we couldn't believe what great timing they had. We were super stoked about being able to get out there (and Jen really, really wanted to test her new skis and boots, too).

Arriving in Val Thorens, we realised that we'd been misinformed about the campercar situation - meaning we had to park down the hill at Les Menuires (pronounced "Lez Manures" ...?!). We could easily catch chairs up to Val Thorens each day with a ski ticket combining both resorts, but getting down again in the evenings proved to be not so easy.

The first night we tried to get a taxi, only to find they were both unavailable and really expensive, so settled for Plan B: ski / board back down the hill. There's a pretty straightforward piste running from Val Thorens down to Les Menuires, but when it's midnight, with no moon, you've had a beer (or two) and you're sharing that narrow piste with a snow groomer - it's a little more exciting. The next two nights we sadly left our mates to their apartments, hot showers, social dinners and drinks before the sun had completely set, because ... well, because we're sensible (and a little boring)!

Anyway, we really enjoyed catching up, having a few runs and hanging out during the day with the Ambers crew - and having snow that great, this winter, was just the icing on the cake.

Friday, 18 February 2011


Do not befriend the bartender if you have things to do and places to go the next day! 
(Even if she is a climber!)

You may appreciate the free drinks at the time, but you will not the next morning.

(On another note, we did have a very random but incredibly fun night out at Conrad Sohm's.)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


We never did get a decent shot of the ooom-pah-pah band - or of the pretzel girl in her dirndl!
All those pesky tourists kept getting in the way.
 Good beer though.

(PS The one on the left is Mark's, the one on the right is Jen's ... Rhona had a lemonde, which was decidedly unphotogenic.)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Bavaria - or, more correctly, Franconia

We cracked and headed north. All that sun, so little snow and ice - lets go find some rock!

Well, we found the rock in the Frankenjura, just north of Nuremberg in Bavaria (well, Franconia really). And it was wet and cold, and extremely unappealing. With so much quality rock around there we're sure we could have found something fun (ie dry) to climb, but we're fair weather climbers - heavy mist and grey skies and temperatures only just above zero don't really work for us, and the shop selling the guidebook is only open on Saturdays. Where had the sun gone?!

But hey, we were in the area famous for having the world's highest concentration of breweries. As well as a number medieval towns and cities to wander around.

We started in Bamberg, home to rauchbier - smoked beer - which comes in a variety of styles, all brewed in this city. We liked the Schlenkerla the best - and it tastes even better from the keg at the brewery itself.

Lunch time, Franconia style.

Bamberg's old town hall.

Then we headed to the tourist trap that is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, sampling their sweet pastries called "Snowballs" - a little dry, but not bad at all when covered in chocolate - and walking around their covered city walls. They've got a great museum of jurisprudence and criminality, showcasing medieval punishments, torture implements and, for the lawyers, the legal regime and process.

And lastly, we popped into Nurenberg and were very well received with a guided tour by Katya, including local beers and food too. It was great to catch up with Katya (big thanks for meeting up with us after your holiday on short notice!). And we also  checked out the fabulous German National Museum and the Documentation Centre at the old Nazi rally grounds, and now feel appropriately cultured and learned (but perhaps a little museum'ed-out!).
Katya and Mark
Meat, dumplings, more meat, with gravy. Mmmm!

For now, we're just outside Munich, once again enjoying the hospitality of our friends Rhona and Brett and delaying the decision of "where to next ...?!" for a little longer.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Alpine hiking ... in February?

Great view. Apparently it's still winter.

A lift ticket probably isn't value for money in Kitzbuhl right now. So we decided it would be best to ...

... check out the old town ...
... and some random houses nearby ...
.. and head off on a long walk up and down the hill, in the sun. Great spot for a picnic, eh?

Monday, 7 February 2011

Innsbruck, part 3 - Pretty but Dangerous

Don't let the lack of snow on the slopes lull you into a false sense of security!
It's dangerous out there. Better pop into a cafe for that hot drink ...

Innsbruck, part 2 - Pretty but Underwhelmed

Innsbruck, with its views up to the mountains and colourful old buildings, is a lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon. Mark had been there before, but it was all new to Jen.

There was one disappointment, though. Jen got all excited about the prospect of a Golden Roof, but it really wasn't worth the hype. Could it please be renamed the Golden Verandah? The shiney tiles aren't even over an entire building - just a patio on one! Very underwhelmed.

Innsbruck, part 1 - Pretty but Creepy

The stunning church just outside Innsbruck ...

... has a collection of saints' bones, dressed up in jewels. This is St Catherine.

And these are the skulls of 42 more!

Up close, with headdresses. Creepy.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Skiing! And Snowboarding!

Sunny days and snowy slopes - and a friendly (almost) local to show us around - meant an awesome three days.

Our buddy Marty played the tour guide, and each day he took us to a different resort in his current home region of Voralberg, Austria. We started at Damuls, hit up Lech's neighbour Warth on Thursday and finished up on Friday at Brand. Each place had its charms, but the runs were the best at Warth.

It didn't take long for us to remember the simple tricks on skis (for Jen) and snowboard (for Mark), and soon we were keeping pace with Marty and daring him to show us the black runs. Jen felt more confident than ever and surprised Marty and Mark by actually being willing to go fast, even beating those slowboarders to the bottom of runs (well, sometimes ... ) There were no notable stacks caught on camera, sadly, and only a few suspicious snow marks on clothes.

After midday it was time for a long and hearty lunch of local cuisine, including hot chocolate with cream and germknoedel for dessert ... germknoedel being a massive doughy dumpling, filled with a liquer jam and covered in vanilla sauce and chocolate shavings. Yum.

As the days wore on, the thin snow was taking more and more of a beating and the runs would become increasingly icy and hard. We guess sunshine has its downside, after all. There's no snow in the forecast, either, or even any decent cold temperatures - just more sun! As fun as ice climbing and skiing and snowboarding are, they need good conditions ... will we be back on the rock earlier than expected?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Brand ...

So we're in Switzerland, trip planning in a Swiss version of a greasy spoon (it was spotless), when Marty pops up online. Where to go, what to do and when: these are big questions.

But hey, Marty and his lovely girlfriend Julia live a little over an hour and a half away in Dornbirn, Austria ... and hey presto, a plan was formed!

We arrived for beers and a long catch up last night, and once we'd packed Marty off to work this morning, we headed out to enjoy the Austrian Alps. First stop was shopping for new boots for Jen (desperately overdue!), new sunglasses for Jen (a belated birthday present (Ed: due to indecision!)) and for us both - some wiregate carabiners. We're hoping the wiregates won't freeze up as much as conventional carabiners, if they get wet. We'll see how they go.

Then, mountain time - off to nearby Brandnertal  ...

... which looks a little like this. The photo doesn't do the ice justice - the chandeliers are truly spectacular, hanging down over an overhang in all manner of shapes. And these falls are up to 100 metres long, too - so taller than the image gives them credit for.

We thought they were looking a little thin after the recent (relatively) warm weather but after a glance at our guidebook, we realised that they're always quite thin - that's why most of the lines here are hard! So yes ... we might not be back to climb them any time soon... off for some skiing/snowboarding instead.