Tag Archives: winter

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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What’s hot – thermals and my blog on its anniversary!

Hello and welcome on a rainy dark cold English winter evening.

First of all I just want to thank you for checking out my blog over the last year. In 2013 I was unhappily unemployed and decided something needed to change. With qualifications and experience but fighting just to get an interview I began blogging and found a virtual family. Thank you to all those who read, commented, and supported me through that tough time and gave me the strength to keep going.

Thinking of ways I could help readers in my situation gave me something to do other than the endless repetitive task of filling out applications mixed in with a YouTube workout or two. I suddenly had an exciting project to do that stimulated my neurons far more than the endless repetition of personal details.

A year on I yet again face an uncertain future. But either way I will have gained more experience to help me stand out.

So what have I learnt during my year of blogging?

Rose Heart (4)1. Love and relationship stories are the most popular. My highest spike in viewings was the story of my first date. There are some highly entertaining dating blogs out there.

2. To accept an award you are expected to write endless drivel about yourself. I have only done this once, although I have appreciated the nominations.

3. The blog world is a real community – there are always friendly people that have been through exactly what you have and can sympathise. I found this especially helpful during times of financial hardship and struggling to get work. Use this support network.

4. It is a great way to help others. My most popular article remains Pros and Cons of Unemployment. I couldn’t find any articles on positives of unemployment. In this dire situation I thought about the British idiom “every cloud has a silver lining” and realised that if I could focus on this I would be able to cope with the situation much better. I began feeling happier, more confident and began interviews by following my own advice (for once). 

5. Blogging is a great tool to test creative projects – sharing photographs, paintings, cartoons and so on.

international-students1_10892518_std_16. I have been surprised at how international it is – my blog has been viewed in an incredible 87 countries and counting.

7. There is such a great variety out there. Just search for the topic you want to read and it’s all free.

And finally –

I have just realised how fantastic these are. Most people know that wearing layers keeps you warmer because they trap heat. The most important layer is the one next to your skin. Then the second one insulates and is also close to the body to minimise air gaps. You can read more about this technique here.

The lower the rating, the warmer it is! By silk I assume this means thick woven fabric…

Everyone raised their eyebrows and told me they were for the elderly and the elderly alone. When I looked on the thermals section of a clothing company the metrics did show that all comments were from the over 50s. But when thinking about saving money why not remember the wisdom of previous generations. Instead of turning up the heating, buy a few undergarments.

It cost me about £12 for the shirt and for the leggings but it’s a one-off purchase. You will get a lot more off your heating bill than that. I’m currently wearing thermal leggings with trousers over the top, thermal and standard long-sleeved shirts and an acrylic jersey. I have worn them all day. I don’t need an expensive wool one with all these layers. I find it itchy anyway.

As you have clothes over them, it doesn’t matter what they look like and you don’t have to admit to wearing them. But actually there are some good looking ones now – my shirt has dark blue and white stripes and being a scoop neck I can wear it under other tops without it showing. The leggings I’m wearing at the moment are more effective at retaining heat. They are mostly acrylic and their snug but comfortable fitting means there are no air gaps.

So go on, stay warm for less this winter.

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Exercise for Less This Winter

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It’s the time of year when you may think about joining a gym or renewing your membership.

I looked at the glossy online photos and was nearly enticed. Then I spoke to friends about it and realised I was looking at it the wrong way. The cheapest decent gym and swimming pool deal I could find nearby was a fixed 12 month one. It would be £47 per month and that would be off-peak. The hours were not specified.

However, if I go to a gym down the road from work it’ll cost £20 without the pool and then I can go swimming once a week elsewhere for a total £36 a month.

Here is a website where you can search for cheaper gyms near you:

http://www.payasugym.com/

One near me is only £17 and this website lets you pay for just one session to test it. It also gives you the lowdown on opening times and facilities in an easy-read format. Bear in mind that 20% of people stop going to the gym after six months. If you think this could be you don’t enter into a 12 month contract.

There are more money-saving tips here.

Think about it. Are there cheaper ways you can exercise? Can you cycle to work and back with night lights and the right clothing? Just make sure the light is designed for the roads and isn’t too bright or has two settings for on/off road. In the long run (or cycle) that will cost you less. Is there a free group you can join? I am sorted with my cycling one.

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This year’s English Spring…

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I opened the back door today to this, the coldest spring since 1962. I saw some great snow photographs in The Metro, which I still enjoy on my way to work. Most seem to be outraged by the relentless wintry onslaught, especially when the calendar says that we should have daffodils not bare branches. Others however are using it as an opportunity to showcase their creations or fashion-sense. It didn’t stop my boyfriend going on a “10.62” km run last night!

I was glad to hear that The Duchess of Cambridge managed to get up to Windermere in the Lake District to spend time with Beaver and Cub Scout groups. Some of the footage for which was shot by my boyfriend’s housemate! He is one of the leaders of a group that attended. Luckily the Duchess went back early by train (Virgin of course), whereas the cameraman had to endure a 6 hour journey home. Although Kate looks down to earth in the photographs, the Telegraph is quick to point out that she is wearing £300 wellies.

The weather is in stark contrast to last March.

Meanwhile in New Zealand my relatives have been enjoying their best summer for years.

This is our fourth snow dump of 2013. I must really love this country to be 037putting up with this

But it gives me the perfect opportunity to make the most of the time indoors with a curry weekend. I intend to cook a korma tonight (ok I admit this one’s with a ready-made jar of sauce) and tomorrow a proper home-made dahl with red lentils and mushrooms. I had an M & S microwave one last night which was fantastic, but nothing beats healthier home-cooked food.

It was certainly better than the lamb tikka bhuna I had when I last went out to an Indian restaurant, which consisted of a couple of pieces in a watery thin sauce. With all the other meat on the menu being chicken it was clear to see that meal quality had been sacrificed in favour of cost-cutting. This could be another case where trusting reviews let my boyfriend and I down, or perhaps I just ordered the wrong dish, his was delicious.

Red Lentils

With heating costs rising it’s even more important to save money, and at around £1 per kilo these are great value. You only need 1/4 cup per person! I 027usually do 250g each time so I have plenty for leftovers and to freeze. Simply wash through like you do with rice and cover with boiling beef stock in water and add a tin or two of chopped tomatoes (one tin is enough for two servings). Boil for 5 mins, then simmer for 15 mins with a teaspoon each of various herbs and spices (I added mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cinammon, garam masala, coriander seeds and frozen coriander. You should also add tumeric or curry powder) and any vegetables you want, I used pretty much everything I had!  Fresh coriander on serving was great too. I’d recommend about 200g of spinach added just before you take it off the heat. If it needs sweetening up add more cinammon.

I chose to slow cook mine for a more intense flavour burst – it really made a difference! Overall it’s a cheap, healthy, high in fibre and filling meal. I have only recently discovered this and felt the need to share. I cooked the above dish from this recipe. If you try it do let me know how it goes.

As for the bizarre weather, there is some debate about whether this is due to climate change or the arrival of another Ice Age…what do you think?

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