Category Archives: Travel

Rapa Nui – An Isolated Island

Rano Raku mine2

I have been fortunate enough to travel around the world. Nowhere was as uniquely beautiful as Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui.

The tiny spec on the world map was finally discovered by the Dutch in 1722.

Named after the day of its discovery, the island may have been spotted as early as 1686, by Captain Davis, an English explorer.

Originally named “Davis” island, this was the land mass the Dutch were seeking. It was later visited briefly by James Cook in 1744. He soon continued on his way, declaring that the island had nothing substantial to offer. He noted that there weren’t any trees or animals and few birds. You can read the fascinating diary of the experience here.

indigenous statue

The indigenous people would have looked something like this.

Some twenty years before, the Dutch had killed 12 islanders for coming too close. Perhaps when Cook visited, the natives thought that appeasing these powerful people would enable survival, so they hoisted a bunch of bananas up to the boat as a peace offering.

Polynesian painting

Those courageous seafarers must have been glad to arrive – Easter Island is one of the most remote locations in the world. Accessible from just Tahiti or Chile, it is a five hour flight. The tiny airport usually operates one flight each day. If you want to go the old-fashioned way, a journey by boat takes a week and only two operate annually.

We flew business class because it was the same price as standard and it was a pleasant experience, with fully extendable seats. Our flight was as cheap as it gets at £400 return, as we went out of season in June when it is cooler and wetter. However, it was still warm, with temperatures between 18-20 degrees celcius. We were lucky enough not to get rain during the day. 

fish

Winter is the best season to visit, as there were only a few small groups of tourists at key sites and it did not seem to get hot enough for there to be any mosquitoes.

fisherman

The fish was lovely and fresh, with a choice of large tuna, reinata and merluza to name a few, along with squid, prawns and other crustaceans.

beach

On the last day we swam in the sea, which was luke warm and very pleasant. The island only has one sandy beach and you can admire a row of “moai” statues as you swim. This area of the Pacific must be one of the least polluted in the world, owing to its isolation.

The best way to see the statues is to cycle. This means you can go at your own pace and avoid any pesky tour buses. Most of the sites close at 4pm. We hired electric bikes from a great shop off the main street for about 17 000 pesos, £20 a day. Don’t bother with the bike shops on the main street, most of them are broken and you get ripped off.

Beach statues

All photos on this page copyright literarylydi

It was this isolation that caused at least three near extinctions of its indigenous population. The Polynesians are believed to have arrived in 700-800 A.D and settled there permanently 100-200 years later. They are believed to have travelled thousands of miles, from the Marquesa Islands.

Those ancient voyagers looked for islands after studying the migration patterns and habits of birds and then navigated using the position of stars. With their large double-hulled wooden canoes, they travelled with basic foodstuffs to help them farm the new land. From 1000-1100 A.D. they also brought sweet potato, perhaps from contact with South America.

painted moai

Copyright literarylydi

Its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui. From the 1400s, the island was so successfully cultivated and well-populated that the tribes started building the famous megaliths with smooth expressionless faces. To this day, no one knows what they symbolise. They have a dramatic and haunting beauty. They tower above you, silently watching over the farmed fields, undulating hills and red rocky cliffs. Built from around 1400 until 1650, they have watched generation after generation flourish and fail.

Rano Raku mine3

Archaeologists found that the islanders all worked together to build and enlarge them, until the tallest statue reached over 20 metres high. They called them moai, which means to exist, and each one is carved with slightly different features. Perhaps they were self portraits of their chiefs. This would explain why only one group of statues face outwards to the sea, the last group to be built. The Rapa Nui tribes had realised that they needed protection from outsiders. The joint effort to build them must have encouraged peace and harmony between the tribes, essential when resources and land were scarce. But the islanders paid a high price for this dedication – they had cut down all their tall trees for monument transportation.

moai facing sea

Popular myth tells a story of self-sabotage, where the people cut down all the trees and then starved, as they had nothing to build or cook with. However, a recent study refutes this. Scientific analysis such as carbon dating showed that the islanders ate a diet rich in fish and that they knew how to sustainably manage their environment, even though the soil was poor. The study’s authors suggest that it was the island’s visitors who were to blame for the lack of trees, as rats could have wiped out the remaining slow-growing palm trees. They had to import them from Tahiti in the 1960s.

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As the islanders could no longer transport their impressive monoliths, they started a new “Bird Man” cult. There is a cave on the island that is faintly painted with bands of colour, honouring their new belief system. They would have competitions to get bird eggs, often laid in precarious places on the cliffs. This shows that they were using initiative to survive.

tribal face

Legend has it that deforestation led to starvation and even resorted to cannibalism in the late 1700s. This myth has also been debunked with evidence that the population used innovative techniques to ensure that they could continue growing crops in the dryer soil.

In 1862 outsiders once again brought death and despair. A ship from Peru took half the island there as slaves, some 1 500 men. Disease was rife, and eventually 100 were allowed to return, after pressure from the English and French. However, smallpox spread during the return voyage, and the 15 survivors spread this disease to the remaining islanders, most of whom died.

Those who survived were then forced to give up their indigenous beliefs and convert to Catholicism, which was completed in 1866. In 1870, a French explorer arrived, Dutroux Bornier. He was detested by the inhabitants and most left with a missionary for a nearby island, Mangareva. It was only after he was killed that some returned.

After these waves of foreign interference, just over 100 of the original islanders remained in 1877.

In 1888 the Rapa Nui King was given a deed to sign, giving the Chilean government control of the island. The document was translated for the indigenous people to mean “protection” and “friendship”. Sensing deceit, the King Atamu Tekena bent to the ground and took a handful of dirt in one hand and a handful of grass in the other. He gave the Chilean representative grass and kept the dirt. The land would always belong to his people.

Almost 80 years passed before the Chilean government recognised the indigenous population as Chilean citizens, following a rebellion. In 2014 they submitted a petition for independence which they continue to pursue. Tensions between Chileans and Polynesians was evident in an eco hotel development on the coast, which had graffiti on its fence and black flags obstructing the view.

Easter-Islands

Polynesian descendants look after the moai statue sites, ensuring that their spiritual past is respected. They now have a flag which was first flown in 2006, a red “Reimiro” ornament that was worn by chiefs and others of high status.

Now the population is back to its original size of around 7,000, almost all concentrated in the small settlement of Hanga Roa.

Sadly, locals appear to be making the myth of self-sabotage a reality. It takes three hours to walk to the other side of the island, yet everyone goes everywhere in battered Nissan pick ups and Jeeps. With these excessive and unnecessary emissions, they are contributing to climate change which could eventually submerge the whole island. It has already resulted in coastal erosion which threatens the existence of the mighty Moai statues.

To this day, outsiders continue to damage the island. Seas of selfie-sticks, star jumps and shouting ruin the quiet reflective impact of the moai and some even risk damaging them in their vain pursuit of the “perfect” picture. 

Hundreds of years ago, Easter Island needed protection from visitors bringing death and disease, leading to the creation of the only set of Moai to face the sea.

Now the island is under threat once more.

 

moai by the sea

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July 16, 2019 · 9:23 pm

The Picturesque Pyrenees

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There is something sublime about walking in the mountains.

Once you get up there, that is.

It was a long, hot ascent to the summit. The summer heat made our clothes stick to us as we stumbled up the winding fir tree forest path. The unforgiving ascent seemed endless.

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At one point, the path disappeared and we were launched into ferns.

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Another path had eroded partly off the mountain, and we had to lean into it to avoid sliding off.

But it was all worth it when we spotted a Griffin vulture soar out of the clouds, low above us. It flew serenely on the thermals, surveying us scrambling about on the peak.

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A brightly coloured patchwork of alpine flowers decorated the ground and the mountains in the distance were blue and green. You felt like all the city stress was slipping away down the slopes as you inhaled the fresh air and became absorbed in sounds of nature.

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One day we had a wild swim. The water was not particularly cold. The lake was encircled by pine trees and reflected the blue sky like a mirror. When we stood on the bottom, little fish came and nibbled at the dead skin on our feet. A complimentary pedicure.

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We walked away from the heat of the valley and up into the Pyrenees over two days, each route lasting around 7 hours. We walked slowly on GR tracks – French for big walk, taking plenty of photographs of the breathtaking scenery. We were staying near the picturesque French village of Seix, where we saw an impressive firework and kayak flare display for their festival.

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When we got down, hot, sticky and weary, we enjoyed tasty French food, full of flavour. Even their tinned beans were perfectly edible.

Our Air B’n’B host had friends round one night. They shared pineapple-infused rum with us from La Reunion, an island that is a French colony, and invited us to go on a traditional morning walk up a mountain with them. They were meeting the Spanish at 9am at the summit border. The French were bringing cheese and the Spanish were bringing wine!

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September 4, 2018 · 2:57 am

Kos, Pserimos and Bodrum

It is five years since I went to Greece and Turkey and I have been enjoying the photos and memories recently.

We had a lovely girls holiday. apart from the night when I half carried, half dragged my friend to the hotel. We went when it was cheap and the holiday season had wound down, so there were no taxis to be found.

I stopped at the third shot of absinthe and told her to. She stopped after five. I danced around the room, giddy.

She was fine until we left the hotel to party in the centre of Kos.

She gradually got more intoxicated. By the time we arrived 20 minutes later, she was falling asleep.

The bar staff were worried and I didn’t want her to pass out, so I woke her up after I’d enjoyed my cocktail and we set off.

She said she wanted to sit on a wall and stay there and I reasoned with her. After a while she let me help her. It was a long walk back. She threw up the next afternoon.

We always say I’m never drinking again but how often is that true? The last time I was sick from alcohol was as a student. I liked to test how much I could drink. I could stomach 8-10 shots. I was usually sick after 10. I didn’t like the lack of control, so it didn’t happen often.

One time I got escorted home by some chivalrous students. They didn’t realise how long the walk was but they were men of their word. It’s dangerous getting drunk as a woman unless you have friends that are sober enough to look after you. Students think that getting drunk is a game but it can have lasting consequences.

These days I hardly drink at all. I’ve never liked alcohol unless it is a quality spirit or doesn’t taste of it. I used to make the odd pina colada. I used to have cocktail parties until a friend told my parents how amazing they were. They have been around every birthday since.

Anyway, back to Kos, Pserimos and Bodrum. Popular tourist destinations. There are castles at the ports of Kos and Bodrum and there is a lot of history between the two countries. We didn’t absorb much of that as we didn’t have time for the audio guide. However, the internet informs me that the Byzantines ruled after the Greeks until their empire crumbled. Istanbul fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 followed by Greece, as that was part of the same Byzantine kingdom. The sultans ruled Greece for 400 years, until the Greek War of Independence lasting from 1822-1831.

 

Pserimos

Bodrum

Kos

Bodrum

balalaika

All the world’s a stage

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September 10, 2017 · 6:35 pm

Housemate Heaven

Moving out of my parents’ house was the best decision I ever made.

I have now settled in to my new abode. The rent is reasonable at £375 a month. For that I pink-new-home-cards-simple-new-house-classic-ideas-wonderful-sample-animal-love-spread-doorget the run of the whole house, next day service on any repairs, a TV with two channels, all bills included and the perfect housemate.

Helen is my age, a lovely, bubbly, tidy, respectful and relaxed tenant with shoulder-length dark brown hair and blue eyes. She works at a local hospital organising heart operations, but she aspires to work in PR.

She should really be a counsellor, she is so good at listening. Her brother is a psychiatrist so it must run in the family. She will patiently listen to any drivel I spout and look like she is interested. We both like rugby, drum and bass (minus illicit substances) and watching crap on TV (First Dates). That was until my boyfriend “fixed” it. We lost Channel 4 and 5 and now we just have BBC 1 and 2.

Repairs are done very quickly. The landlord’s mum has provided a brand new toaster the day after the old one blew the electrics. I thought I would need to replace the fuse but thankfully it was as easy as switching it back on (thanks Google and the flashlight on my phone). She also does all the washing up and the dishwasher whenever she pops round (once every couple of weeks).  What more could you want?

Leaking-Washing-Machine

Credit: Chic On A Shoestring

Well there is one thing, a washing machine that you can use on any setting. Currently it only works on 40 degrees, delicate cycle and a quick spin. But I am being fussy. The household appliances are a strange combination of 80’s retro (literally from that decade if not older) and brand new, with the “replace it when it’s broken” philosophy. The dishwasher is safe enough but put the washing machine on the wrong setting and you get water all over the floor when you open it. Without a mop it took about an hour to sponge it all up…

But it is a sanctuary of peace and positivity here. No nagging from my mother (which was constant and actually caused headaches), just freedom. I can do no wrong in Helen’s eyes except when I half finish chores (a bad habit).

I have yet to use the complimentary garden herbs – rosemary and lemon thyme. I cooked a meal for Helen the first Friday. I got a discounted pork shoulder joint (only £3.50) and roasted it for an hour with white wine and potatoes. It was delicious if I may say so myself.

The landlord is about my age, chatty and excitable with dark brown curly hair and bright eyes. She is a primary school teacher who lives in Bristol. Her parents help her manage the house they helped her buy (worth about £250,000 with a mortgage of just over £500 a month). They hoped she would stay in in the city but she went about four hours away to live with a boyfriend. That did not work out and she ended up staying there because she enjoyed the school she was teaching in.

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Credit: Cardiff Caerdidi Tours courtesy of TripAdvisor.

I spent some quality time with her this weekend. She is also interested in rugby because her father was in a local team. Unfortunately rugby is a risky sport and he broke his ankle, shattering the bones in his leg. He never played again but kept it in his life by being the Chairman of the club and the ticketing association. We watched the Cardiff Blues lose narrowly to Munster (Ireland). I also went round the castle in Cardiff (Wales) and the National Museum. Apparently there isn’t much else to do in Cardiff.

In other news I failed my automatic driving test for the second time. I failed the first one in February and the second one two days ago. The first time was because I had not had enough practice at parallel parking on a hill and was so shaken up after doing it correctly that I tried to get closer to the kerb. I forgot to put the car back into forward gear and then turned the wheel the wrong way, reversing out into the road without looking. I also got three minors (for going 40 in a 60 on undulating hills, for not being far enough into the middle of the road when turning right and for not looking ahead through the window before setting off).

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Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The second time I was nearly back at the test centre (at that stage I had passed) when I lost concentration and thought it would only be a minor if I followed a van round a parked car. The man in the car opposite was livid, gesticulating wildly. Of course it was a major – I should have waited. I got 7 minors including speeding (30 instead of 20), steering (not passing the wheel through my hands correctly) and going through an amber traffic light instead of stopping. If you are preparing for the test please click on this link for some advice.

As for my accommodation, it will probably be sold in a year or so but for now I am more than happy with it.

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Driving, Life of Lydia, Travel, Uncategorized

How To Avoid Mosquitoes This Summer

images (1)Fed up of feeling like a piece of meat on your holidays? Want to stick to blood donation for people?

Here is a bite-sized guide to mozzie magnets and the precautions you can take to get them to buzz off.

What are mozzies attracted to?

Carbon Dioxide

We can’t help attracting mosquitoes as they hone in on the carbon dioxide plumes we exhale. So we have to take steps to defend ourselves.

Please do not bother with citronella though, research have found it is less effective than DEET – the active incredient in most bug repellant products – protecting for merely 3 hours or less.

Hot Skin

Common areas include the forehead, wrists, elbows and neck. You can protect your head and neck with a buff, a versatile scarf that can be worn in a variety of ways.

According to research published in 2000 in medical journal the Lancet, pregnant women are twice as likely to be bitten due to being hotter and exhaling more carbon dioxide.

Dark clothing

Some mosquitoes are visual hunters that search people out from their outline against the horizon. No need to break out the camouflage from that army surplus store – there is a range of bug repellant clothing.

Scented perfumes, colognes and lotions

Unless the perfume is bug-repellant deodorant.

Cholesterol

A reason to exercise before that tropical holiday.

Lactic acid

A good excuse not to exercise once abroad.

Movement

Unless you are a statue impersonator you won’t have much luck with this, so cover up. You may feel like strutting in your Speedoes/bronzing in your bikini but you won’t look so good covered in bites.

Type “O” blood

A 2004 study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found mosquitoes landed on people with type O blood nearly twice as often as those with type A. O well, you will just have to follow the above advice.

Avoid going out at dawn or dusk as this is when mosquitoes are particularly active.

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My First “Airbnb” Experience

Prodigy 1

For my birthday I was going to see Prodigy in London with a friend. I was delighted that my cousin had decided to join us.

It was the weekend before the event so there were hardly any places left in the bed and breakfast (bnb) houses we were looking at. Only the expensive or low-rated options were left and the nearest hotel was 5 miles away.

A “B ‘n B” breakthrough

“What can we do?” I asked my cousin “this place only has a single room left! and this one is a bit too expensive isn’t it.”

My cousin would know best as she was an experienced traveller. On a break in between her Masters degree she had gone to Spain spontaneously on her own. She is a student and I am saving for a big holiday (of course I will blog about it) so we are both skint. We had already shelled out £50 for the gig ticket.

“Well…” she replied “when I was in Madrid I stayed in a really nice air bnb place. It was really cheap and overlooking the main plaza! It would have been really expensive to stay at a hotel in that location.”

“What is air bnb?” I asked. I vaguely recollected an advert on it.

“Is it that one where you sleep on people’s sofas? cos I’m not doing that!”

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I had spent one night on a sofa and hadn’t slept a wink as I tried to find a way to get my long legs spread out without having the arm of the sofa digging in. There wasn’t enough width to curl up. It was a nightmare and there was no chance of it being a dream. I had emerged from that student house looking like I’d spent the night in a hedge, and that probably would have been more comfortable.

My cultured cousin laughed. “No it’s not that one! Though I think there is one like that. It’s called couch-surfing isn’t it? This is similar but you get a proper bed.”

“A proper bed? isn’t that the same as a proper bed and breakfast then?”

“It’s like that but it’s where someone rents out their spare room. You get to meet lots of different people doing it and the ones I’ve met have all been lovely. You don’t always get breakfast but they’re usually in good locations.”

I was intrigued. The other choices were pretty limited so I thought we should give it a try.

You just needed an email address and password to set up an account and it was free. You could search by country as well as by city.

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The places were advertised with a picture of the bedroom with the Google map location on the right. Perfect. We looked and most of the good places were taken but there was one that stood out.

London Luxury

The photograph that I liked featured a beautiful white “Victorian” bathroom with a vintage bath (a new bath in an old style, not a tin one). The house looked modern and spacious for London. Not only that but it was a 10 minute walk from the venue. There was a paragraph or two about the owner, a smiling middle-aged lady who had travelled around Ecuador and liked the theatre. There were good reviews and it wasn’t too expensive.

The house was close to the station and my cousin was already there.

As I walked up to the stained-glass front door I felt a bit nervous. It seemed odd to walk in to a stranger’s house and stay there like one of their friends or family. But my anxiety subsided when our host opened the door and greeted me, grinning from ear to ear.

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She was a warm, friendly lady with a healthy glow and a slight tan. She served us tea and sat with us in their airy conservatory with a view onto a verdant garden. There was a little shed at the end and a trellis with flowering plants.

My cousin looked relaxed and had enjoyed a pleasant chat. I had not expected such peace and quiet. But it was a privileged residential area and of course, only parts of (mostly inner) London are chaotic, dirty and noisy.

I felt that I needed a shower on arrival to the house, as I had been on the Tube and became conscious of the grimy soot sticking to me. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. That and the gig atmosphere turned the bathwater grey the next day.

Double delight

We were amused that we were sharing a double bed. We had dark wooden drawers and a wardrobe to match, with a fluffy turquoise carpet and curtains tied back. I laid down some ground rules – no farting in bed and no trespassing over the middle line. My cousin broke both rules by the next morning.

We got glittered-up for the rave and headed out. We clip-clopped in our heels through the drizzle along rows of tall neat Victorian houses, shivering. Pretty soon we felt rather lost and decided that we would turn back after ten minutes.

“Did you see the pictures in the bathroom?” my cousin asked.

“Yes, interesting weren’t they!” I replied. There had been pictures of the couple in skimpy 1930s-style carbaret outfits with feathers and pearls.

“Do you think they’re swingers?” my cousin giggled.

“No it’s just fancy dress.”

“Yes but there was more than one of them like that.” We laughed.

Fortunately after a 20 minute totter we found the pub our host had directed us too. But as it was 9pm they had closed for food so we went to the takeaway opposite. It took ten minutes but the kofta kebab was well worth it. As we were late we had to eat waiting for a taxi, sheltering under a tree from the relentless rain.

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The Gig – Prodigy the-prodigy

I enjoyed the band, especially the classics that reminded me of student days. Thousands filled the hall with a high ceiling and the lighting was great but unfortunately the sound at the gig was focussed at the front and there were no speakers further back. The sound system was clearly not built or configured for the electronic music either. One of the band did make an effort to remedy this by coming near us to sing (or rather shout, it is that kind of music) on a mini stage in the middle, dreadlocks swinging. Cheers erupted around us as people surged forward. Eyes bulged and hands shot up to follow the beat.

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The hyperactive crowd fully compensated for the muffled performance when he went back, as they thrashed around with reckless abandon. Beer flew everywhere and drenched us. The air was thick with the smell of that and foul body odours. Every so often I had to move as I would end up in a cloud of it and I decided that I’d grown out of grunge.

Pint pouring

When my cousin had a pint poured down her she lost it, turning round and shouting at the miscreant. He apologised and moved away. She angrily said to the man behind him “I hope you’re not going to pour that down me too!”. This started a conversation which went very well and she ended up on the bearded bloke’s shoulders waving her arms around.

We rocked out until the early hours, leaving as the orange streetlight sky started to pale. It was about 4 when we finally went to sleep after a hushed chinwag.

Healthy host

Four hours later I was woken by the sound of the front door closing as our healthy host ran to the gym. As you do on a Saturday morning. I was impressed but seriously sleepy and dozed off until an hour before our checkout time. It was a quiet area and we were in a little guest room down our own hallway with our own bathroom at the other end.

After a bath I felt rejuvenated (and much cleaner). We had a nice chat with our host, who was back from her early morning workout, and her husband. They were a good-looking, kind and knowledgeable pair. I felt guilty when I asked her if I had woken her up and she said she had heard the door shut when we came in. She assured me that it was fine and we were very quiet. She said she was a light sleeper.

We left in search of the nearest pub breakfast. As we stumbled along I decided that although I would not be going to a Prodigy gig again, I would definitely be staying with airbnb for my next trip…

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Life of Lydia, Travel

My First Ski Holiday

After crashing into a fence in training, I was careful in The Alps. We went to a place called Tignes near Val D’Isere. We flew into Geneva airport and got a taxi from there, which was more convenient than landing in France due to timings.

There were six of us, two of us being beginners who were technically intermediate, having done the day course. But we didn’t feel at that level. We stopped at Geneva airport where the prices made us wince. I paid about £5 for some Burger King chips. It was very clean, with adverts for watches, investments and diamonds. The people there were smartly dressed and coiffured. The average salary is 6160 Swiss Francs per month (£4319), with only 3.5% unemployment but it has been argued that living costs in Switzerland – one of the richest countries in the world – average 4000 Swiss Francs per month.

The drive was long and we dozed as day became night and the hills became mountains which grew until they were snow-capped and touched the sky.

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We finally arrived at our “Bonjour bonjour” chalet 1550m up in the Alps. It was in a little chalet village and did not look like much from the outside. We had a hard time finding it as it was not clearly marked. I was jealous of one nearby with a ground floor swimming pool.

But it was lovely inside, with soft carpets a wooden communal dining area, a homely glow and young, enthusiastic and welcoming chalet staff.

They had kept dinner back for us and so we had a late meal which was delicious, including a creamy courgette soup (with cream, thyme and coriander) and a salted caramel pie, all cooked in the kitchen next door by a gourmet chef.

I kept a diary of my ski learning and experiences.

Day 1

On the first day I was too tired to write in it, flopping down after lessons on the green (beginner) slope. The instructor found out whether I was suitable for the intermediate class by taking me to the top of a small slope which looked incredibly steep as a newcomer. I am not good with heights but I was determined to work with it. I lost it though and shrieked and told him he was not to let go of my hands. He did and skied backwards as I rocked clumsily down in the biggest snowplough I could manage (your skis are in a triangle shape with the narrow bit at the back or a backwards pizza slice). I spent most of the day getting to grips with the fear enough to learn and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow after another wonderful meal.

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Day 2

We started our lesson with the sun peeping over the peak. Our instructor was called Christophe, a calm patient teacher who couldn’t stop grinning at my Franglais (English with a bit of French). He was observing at this stage mostly so I spoke French to get more tips, as he didn’t always understand our English. It was a lot about getting balance with your feet and leaning forward, knees bent, turning with your legs rather than the upper body. Christophe had us circling ski poles around us as we went down to remember to focus our weight on our feet and move with our legs. As he said, “it’s all in ze ‘ips”. What follows is from my diary:

“Today we did more work on the green slope with parallel and snowplough turns. I was told to relax the upper body and turn from the hips. I did a blue run and chairlift for the first time.”

blue blue 3The slope starts where the first dot is on the left.

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Chairlifts and steep hills

The chairlift was a bit scary but I soon got used to it. It swept you off your feet so you had to bend your knees ready and watch it. It felt quite exposed. Also after spending the first day on the nursery slope the blue one looked awfully steep and it was quite intimmidating heading towards the bottom in order to turn. At some point you get used to it and launch yourself down it, knowing that the worst that could happen is probably that you’ll slide to a stop.

Back to my diary:

“In the morning I had a bruised leg from the awful boots (Head) the day before. It hurt a lot and I had to take unofficial breaks. But by lunch they were fine. I got a bit of friction burn on my left foot. I got new boots from the hire company yesterday night and they were lovely and padded, very comfortable. I think the make was Dalbello, an Italian company specialising in ski equipment. They retail at around £200.”

My boyfriend had brought his own boots so he was ok. It’s mostly a problem for newcomers to the sport. Apparently you get used to the pain.

“I also got a new hat as the other one was too big. This one is a good fit. I love that my skis match my slope onesie.

For lunch I had a lovely pizza with cream in, squares of prosciutto-style beef and rocket on top. The food here is fantastic and they serve American size portions. I had it with a piña colada cocktail for the pain around my ankles, the boots squeezing the sore muscles from before. It was cheaper than a vodka and lemonade and much more tasty, although cocktails here are nothing compared to back home. Needless to say I felt nothing in the afternoon.

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my massive pizza and cocktail and Andrew

I couldn’t go back to the chalet on a blue run as I forgot my lift pass. Then we tried to go from half-way down via a bus. But when I got my skis on and headed down the hill I lost my courage and started snowploughing really slowly. I got picked up by ‘securité du piste’ as it was the end of the day, the light was fading and he wanted to close the piste. He pointed at me and said “béginneur, béginneur”. “Non non!” I insisted “je suis intermédiate!”. He was having none of it and wouldn’t go until I got on the back of his snowmobile. I stomped over in a huff and we were off, whizzing down narrow mountain tracks. This was actually quite fun so I didn’t mind in the end.

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11073571_10101900839855469_4445226531970279845_nI also bought Voltaren (we call it Voltarel) gel and paracetamol. I would recommend it for skiing as it works quickly to tackle pain and inflammation and can relieve it at least half the day. Be careful not to overdo it though, it is possible to overdose with it, as Andrew reminded me when I was putting it on every hour. Andrew got his boots changed too as a bit of his snapped off. I had no blisters or falls today. I had one fall yesterday trying to parallel turn. I keep doing a snowplough with my weaker foot. The chalet has a hot tub which we are looking forward to using.

Last night we went to Knights – a lovely local pub. I felt sorry for the empty one next door. They had table football and a snooker table there unlike Knights but there were just two people and some sorrowful staff.

The mountains are truly beautiful with breathtaking scenery, especially when the sun shines on them and the snow glistens and sparkles. The taxi driver “Renault” said that there had been 11 metres last year but there was only 1.85 this year. Perhaps it is global warming.”

 Day 3

“I am elated after going down the blue run I didn’t manage yesterday. My boyfriend kindly joined me as I am not sure I would have gone by myself. He said he may accompany me a bit every day. It had a 45° slope which was not very wide, so it was easy to pick up speed. Either side of it were flat narrow runs. We passed a nice icicle cave.

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We got back in time for cake at the chalet and this time we managed to use the hot tub before dinner.

For lunch I had a steak sandwich and chips. Lunches here average €15 but this was only €9 so it seemed like a bargain at a “Fast-Food” restaurant. Skiing went much better, mostly because the pain went after lunch following repeated Voltaren applications. My bruised ankle and sprained ankle muscle were agony yesterday and this morning.”

Day 4

“It is sad that tomorrow is our last day of lessons. We have had a great time. Today I went from the top of the mountain to the bottom on a blue run, right down from Le Lac to the chalet at Les Brèvieres (via a chair lift to get to the top). It was the most terrifying experience and the scariest day. Going down to the chalet involved a lot of hills, often one after the other. My boyfriend said more experienced skiers liked them for speed. They whipped past me and my boyfriend went off piste as he got bored but he got chased by a dog near a village and struggled to ski away as it was flat. I screamed most of the way down. I also fell at the bottom but it was a smooth “elegant” fall. I was going fast and lost my balance a little. One ski wobbled and I crashed into a barrier for the first time since doing the intermediate bit of a day course at Castleford. It was a snow wall, so it didn’t hurt. In the lesson we went down our steepest hill yet.

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Terrifying ski lift. This does not quite convey the height.

Day 5

Today involved a lot of hills. Steep hills, the like of which I had never gone down before. It was terrifying but you felt you had achieved something. We had our last taxi drive with Renault. He had nicknamed me “Jambon” as I said I had sore “jambons” instead of “jambes” – legs. We had our last lesson with Christophe. He was great but I needed more intensive instruction. Doing better parallel turns would have prevented pain in my ankle and shins from brake turns, where you dig your skis in on a turn to slow down. I was fully bending my knees to brake turn, meaning that my knee that I had not had leg support on ached with the strain. I was prudent enough to buy knee supports from Boots for the trip which helped avoid this. I think they were about £20 each but definitely worth it. Someone also recommended glucosamine supplements. However my (former) doctor dad says that you don’t absorb vitamins from pills because they need to be combined with minerals and co-factors to be absorbed and these get removed in the synthesising process to make them into tablets.

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Run down to the chalet from the mountain top.

I stopped about four times doing the run from Val Claret to the chalet yesterday. The sight of the slope disappearing in front was too much. You could not see how steep it was on the other side. With Christophe we did our steepest run yet. I had made friends with another learner, Angelica, who was so fearless that she had been moved up from beginners. An instructor told me that 80% of skiing is confidence. Angelica is a singer and her husband Peter works in I.T. She is from Colombia and he is from Belgium and they met in London.

It turns out we are both scared of heights so we help each other out. Peter accompanied me 1601002_10101895959909919_5853577083654662311_ndown from Le Lac yesterday, kindly encouraging and praising me. He is a snowboarder and is so good that he was chatting to Angelica whilst boarding, when we were on a chairlift dangling above a death drop. Angelica has an 18 year old son and a 4 year old daughter. She speaks Spanish, so I have been able to practice that as well as my French.

We had a lovely lunch in Tovière, a gondola ride up from Le Lac (the French call them bubble lifts). Le Lac was where we  had our lessons until yesterday when we moved to a Val D’Isère slope. The torture boots were not as bad today. The first two days were agony. On Wednesday the pain went after lunch. The alcohol that lunchtime helped lower inhibitions meaning I skied better, as you need to be relaxed to have flexible knees which can take bumps in the snow. Just one drink, you do not want to lose your balance.

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Lunch was the best today. Main meals were reasonable for here, at €13-25. It was in a big wooden hut. You picked what you wanted from salads, chocolate mousse, tarts dripping with fresh fruit, mille feuille (a dessert with layers of light pastry and layers of cream/custard filling). I had egg and ham with chips as it was the cheapest option at €12.50, following a heated discussion with my boyfriend regarding my spending binges on drugs and alcohol (see Day 2).

The delight of this was that the chef would ask you what you wanted and cook it on the spot while you waited behind him. Angelica gave me relationship advice over lunch, reminding me to have my own life and to let my boyfriend have his, to let him look at other women and appreciate them with him. She also said one baby was 3kg and her oldest 5kg and that she only had two hour labours and delivered both naturally. Peter said there was a lot of blood. I said I was quite happy to wait 10 years for that as seeing placentas and their delivery on television had put a stop to another episode of broodiness.

The restaurant filled up from 12.30 and the room also filled up with smoke from the chef who was clearly under pressure. It was probably coming out of his ears too. It was nice to get out to the clear crisp mountain air again.

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Then the afternoon was spent dangling over the mountain in a metal frame and hurtling painfully down hills on two pieces of plastic. I felt like I was bungee jumping without a harness or rope on the lifts. It was thrilling though. I stopped halfway down on one slope, started crying and saying I could not do it. I stopped at the top of most hills. The heaped-up powder made for a bumpy ride. All in all a great end to the lessons.

All this week the sun has shone and it has been clear. Tomorrow it will snow 30cm or so and we are going to go swimming if we cannot ski. My boyfriend wants to go down a glacier again, he seems quite excited about that. He has been supportive, inclusive and lovely, it has been so nice. Apart from a few tantrums we have been fine.

Trouble and Tantrums

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Christophe

I had one when after practicing for an hour, I could not parallel turn as one foot snowploughed and then I fell because of it. My boyfriend had skied to the side, sat down and just watched silently as I struggled to stand and fell again. It is very difficult to get up on your skis, you have to bend your legs to one side and try and take the skis off with your hands which requires some force. I got angry and threw down the skis, kicked off my boots and shouted at him to help and not just stare. Andrew, seeing a situation, swooped by to calm things. He has been a good Samaritan with that and lending money when my boyfriend did not give me any for the next day.

Then my boyfriend had a massive sulk because after getting him to retrieve my helmet (I was limping) having struggled to find it with no offer of help, my skis disappeared. I had left them to one side of the tourist centre with my poles when I had gone on a quest to find the helmet.  It had turned out that the company advertised as being on the ground floor (Ecole du Ski) that we wanted were based inside another company’s shop (Skiset). All I had to go on was an arrow 10929953_10101900818802659_7137242760941157693_npointing down agonising narrow winding stairs to a confusing rabbit warren of shops. After seeing that my skis were then gone, I went into the tourist centre and luckily they knew that the police had taken some. I did not know if they were mine. More painful steps followed as I hobbled down. The police looked down their noses at us. They would not show me the skis until I had described the colour. In my panic I spoke Franglais – ‘bleu, blanche et green’ without realising.

They showed me them and did not appear to believe me when I said yes. Then they got me to describe the poles before producing them. I do not know the French for those, so I resorted to mime and English (like a typical 10376722_10101900820414429_7835497072131890154_nEnglish tourist abroad). When I went in saying ‘je cherche pour mes skis et poles’ they did not understand. I had to rephrase ‘J’ai oublié mes skis’ as I could not remember the word for lost (perdu). Lost I certainly was. Luckily they understood my boyfriend’s English. Taped to my skis was someone else’s lift pass that I and the police assumed was mine (I had forgotten where mine was). They pointed to it. It is worth over £100.

My boyfriend was exasperated. He sulked and spoke angrily to me until I cried. I was tired – it is hard to sleep when you have achy shoulders and are hot. We were now late and had no way of getting back other than a €30 taxi which Andrew kindly paid for. It was just down the hill, a mere 10 minute ski down.

On Thursday I then tried to use the out of date lift pass the police gave me to use for a chair lift but could not – mine was on my bedside talbe in the chalet. So my boyfriend had another strop, saying ‘this keeps happening doesn’t it, you should’ve put it somewhere safe like I told you to.’ But since those fiascoes we have been getting along really well. Rose Heart (4)Maybe it helps that he can see how I am working with intense fear to get down the mountain. We understand each other so well. I have never known a boyfriend so well, but then I have never been with anyone else more than two years. We have  a heart duvet and lamps in our room like a honeymoon suite, so I call it the love shack. The boys have gone to the local pub tonight but I am too tired and the cocktails there are even more awful than on the slopes, so I am keeping it girly painting my nails. Tomorrow we will have more fun at 2600 metres in Tovière…

Day 6

“This morning I asked the boys whether they had talked about football, Top Gear (as the show is no more due to its presenter punching a producer I should explain that this is a mindless car show) or ladies on their night out (all of which they had before). Apparently the topics were the state of the economy, politics and whether there was a year 0. Well it was a partial Durham University reunion.”

I did not get time to do any more on my diary but I went down an even steeper hill and my first red slope. When I say “went down” I mean on my bottom, front and stepping. I skied a little. I cried and panicked as I started down a hill that seemed to have no end. My boyfriend was exasperated once more as I sat down and slid down in protest but was extremely patient considering it took a long time to get me down. A lady from the chalet stopped to comfort me, saying she was the same at first and telling me it wasn’t that bad. I unclipped my boots, applied a liberal amount of Voltarel, popped a paracetamol and then decided I would just throw myself down and hope for the best as I was getting bored.

I was sorry to leave Tignes but would be happy to return and I will ski again once I can afford to. I have an even more expensive holiday to save for this year…

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