Monday, January 30, 2012

Serendipitous #1


Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 Oxford University Press:
serendipity /ˌsɛr(ə)nˈdɪpɪti/ 
nounthe occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
– derivatives
serendipitous adjective,
serendipitously adverb.
– origin 1754: coined by Horace Walpole, suggested by The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale in which the heroes were always making fortunate discoveries.

I missed the tramp who cycled passed wearing a green plastic colander for a helmet. But I did find this.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

End of the 'ski season'?

St. Jacob

Walking to St. Jacob from St. Anton

Spring. St. Jacob 

After a more than a couple sleepless nights spent listening to the howling wind outside, the chimney popping to deliver brown dirt on the hearth, and horizontal rain slapping the single glazing, it was nice to get back to work after New Year and be greeted by the headline: “Is this the best ski season ever?” This, from the Telegraph - the year after my ski season working in St. Anton Austria, which turned out to be a year of mediocre, if very little, snow. Bitter? Me?

Despite getting off to a slow start this season, the storms and 100mph winds affecting England and Scotland at the start of the year were apparently the European Alps’ gain, with some resorts having more snow in just 10 days than the whole of the last season. Indeed, Peter Hardy’s article reported that snow at the top of St. Anton’s Valluga lift was inching towards nearly 600cm with 200cm in the town some 1507m bellow. 

Looking at my friend’s photographs who are back doing another season now, it’s hard to believe that this is the same place they arrived at the beginning of December. According to the Mail, 2011 had been badly affected by the warmest and driest autumn in the Alps for 147 years. Worrying, but completely unsurprising to me who left in April with a tan after sunbathing on our chalet balcony in shorts and t-shirt. Yet, despite the lack of snow I had an amazing ‘ski’ season, and one probably a lot different to those that most seasonaires have. 

Hit with roasting temperatures in early March, a lot of skiers were complaining about the poor snow conditions, yet we still managed to get out everyday and enjoy some good runs after the morning ice had worn off and before the afternoon slush kicked in. If it wasn’t for this then we wouldn’t have hit the snow park as much as we did, literally and figuratively speaking, nailing a three-sixty and witnessing some hilarious stacks on the rails in the process.

By the end of the month there was barely enough snow for the new form of langlaufen that the boys had invented - namely, avoiding gravel patches and scratching the hire skis. Used to exploring off-piste, we swapped our ski-boots for trainers and went wandering in the woods instead. Situated at the end of the resort, the winding 6km route through the Ferwall Valley and just beyond to the perfectly still glacier-blue waters of the Ferwall Lake was my first taste of what spring in the mountains might look like. Breathtakingly serene in a completely different way. We sipped hot chocolates at the inn at the end of the road, hushed and contemplative, usually the end destination of rowdy off-piste skiers who eventually arrive after dropping off the back of Moroikopf. 

Ferwall Lake
Another more humorous adventure was scrambling up the steep wooded hills on the opposing side of St. Anton’s main slopes, much like the mountain goats we had seen from a chair lift a few days before. After traversing for over an hour and making little headway we stumbled across a deer farm and its startled inhabitants - nestled away in the woods above the town. One flinch from us and they scattered, twigs snapping under-hoof. 

Blurry, but definitely a deer
As the grass turned green, crocuses popped up. We pickned again with friends in their garden in St. Jacob, the next village down, with goat guests who actually came trotting over to us, bells-a-jingling, by the end of the season. Free-wheeling down the valley on our bikes, legs stuck out like prongs was a feeling of complete freedom. We dipped our toes into icy mountain streams in a steep rocky gorge and walked across the trunks of fallen trees like a balancing beam.
Cycling down the valley from St. Anton
Bach gorge

The gorge at Bach
Cycling up from Flirsch

Picnicking with the locals
Cleaning our chalet rooms, I often stopped and gazed out of the windows at the opposing mountains above, my eyes always catching a glimpse of a little black square at the top of one of the peaks and a hairpin line of a path, snaking up towards it. Four days before the end of our season came most satisfying escapade - we hiked up to it. I liked to think I was pretty fit but walking up Kaiserjochhaus was hard. I can still feel my calf's burning now. Reaching the top at 2261m dispels all pain and sweat. We explored the Leutkircher Hut, an unmanned refuge for summer walkers with 6 bunk beds perfectly made out in gingham sheets.

Walking up Kaiserjochhaus
Keep walking

Leutkircher Hut

Picnic at 2261m

I wanted to jump under the covers and stay. As we picnicked with Bachensteiner cheese and stared down on the town and the past six months below, the lack of snow really couldn’t have been further from our minds.

All photographs by me and the other Kaluma Ski girls, Sarah Houston and Laura Higgs.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

High Hill Life

Where the common misconception of the Algarve is a mobbed deck-chaired beach, rudely affronted by apartment blocks, I have to admit that my heart sank a little when my parents finally settled on moving to Portugal. 

Leaving the appropriately nick-named Brizzle - an amalgamation of Bristol and its typical weather outlook – a few days before Christmas, the weather is the glaringly obvious reason why my parents decided to up sticks and move. But on touch down and a mere half-hour car journey inland from Faro, up into the hills, lies the real reason.  

Yes the weather’s good, but you feel a million miles away from the neon lights of a major Brits-abroad destination. Sao-bras de Alportel should have coined that Italian phrase ‘Il dolce far niente’; the art of doing nothing. It’s a sleepy Portuguese town with a decidedly anti-Albuferia feel. Replace beer-bellied-Brits with old toothless locals, reclining in plastic garden chairs by the side of the road, spinning yarns over a beer. It’s beautiful in a completely dilapidated kind of way; the plaster cracks in chunks off the façade of lived-in houses, weeds creep in an unruly manner over busy roads, gardens are littered with flowers and rusty bicycle parts.

I was pre-warned that winters in the Algarve can get cool and damp, but the weather during the day stayed warm, even hot at times. I ate my mince pies on a sun lounger outsider. I could hear the farmer next door, his outhouses of propped together corrugated iron, cough, hock, and spit away his day. Trees still burst with lemon and oranges - so many, you couldn't give them all away.

And at night, the temperatures drop. It’s cold enough to light the fires inside. And even when stray dogs bark well into the night. It’s somehow still right.

All photographs by me.