A Travellerspoint blog

Keith McIntosh R.I.P.

Tragic loss of a great snowboarder!

Some of you may remember I took a three day freestyle snowboard course whilst I was in Chamonix some 2/3 months ago. The guy who took the course Keith McIntosh I have just found out died in a massive avalanche at the UK snowboard test in Kaunertal, Austria!! This obviously comes as a massive shock and highlights how dangerous the sport can be! My thoughts go out to his wife and small boy, who I know he thought the world of!
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Posted by machine 20:31 Comments (0)

Fly by visit to Delhi and Nepal Trekking

One of the hardest things I think I will ever do..... A 211 kilometre trek!

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View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

So I boarded my BA flight from Heathrow to New Delhi in the hope that my friend Kelly who works for BA has managed to put a good word in for me and got me upgraded, unfortunately it was not to be this time (Kelmeister, remember must try harder next time!!) In all seriousness the flight was pretty busy and as it happens the seat in the middle of me and some Indian chap was empty so I thought I would at least have a bit of arm room, that was until 5 seconds after the captain turned off the seat belt sign and the guy next to me got out his blanket put it over his head and laid across it with his head almost in my lap for virtually the entire 9 hour journey! This was to be my first lesson about life in India, space is premium and nothing goes to waste!!!

By the time we landed it was 6:00am and I had managed around two hours of sleep! After collecting my luggage I found myself surrounded by people wanting to offer me a taxi ride, obviously at a price!! I had done my homework and knew what bus to take and the amount it should cost, after walking round for 5 minutes I was on a public bus with the other Indian people, not a westerner insight. When I got off the bus, I got my bearings and found the train station where my night train would be departing some 12 hours later! The thought of walking around Delhi with my rucksack in the blistering heat all day did not fill me with glee, so I consulted the trusty Lonely Planet guide and found somewhere for me a have a kip and leave my luggage, on route many people tried to tell me I was going the wrong way or the place I had chosen had now closed and that they knew a better place to stay, this was obviously all lies and I eventually managed to fine it.

After a brief sleep I spent the afternoon walking round Connaught Place to get a feel for Delhi, this is a traffic circle and seven streets that radiate from it, which are divided into blocks. It has various shops, banks, restaurants, hotels on it. If mayhem, animals roaming the streets, junkies on most street corners, beggars, people spitting and generally excreting their bodily waste anywhere and everywhere then Delhi is the place for you. Once again everyone is trying to be your best friend and show you where to go, for example I wanted the legitimate tourist office to get a map and at least half a dozen people tried to get me into their fake offices, in which they would try and sell you overpriced train tickets and excursions. After getting some food from one of the many street sellers, I headed back to my room to pack my bag in readiness for my train that evening.
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As I booked my second class are conditioned sleeping berth (which I think is pretty much the Indian equivalent of our first class) online for £16 I didn't have my seat allocated, therefore I had to negotiate the craziness of the New Delhi train station booking office, endless numbered counters with people queueing. I managed to find a chap who gave me the carriage and berth I should head to, after a short lived panic thinking I had got my time differences wrong and missed the train. I soon found myself stood on the platform where the train was due to depart in around one hours time, trains passed through with people hanging out of the doors, rodents and rubbish littered the lines and I didn't see any other fellow travellers!! I paced the long platform up and down looking for some indication of where I should be standing, asking different people I seemed to get conflicting information, I now felt that I couldn't trust anybody and actually felt quite vulnerable for once in my life! The train came and I thought I saw what was my carriage at the front of the train, this also made sense as the first class carriages in England are usually at the front, though in hind sight I guess this also depends on the direction of travel..... I got to the front of the train just as it was stopping, there were a few police around and many Indian people queuing to get on the train, as soon as the doors opened that was it mayhem, people climbing in though the windows, police hitting people with sticks. I was pretty sure I was in the wrong place, after all I had a reservation! Someone told me I was at the back of the train, so thinking the train might go without me I walked at pace the 500 meters or so to the back of the train where it was far more civilised, found my reserved sleeping berth along with provided pillow and blanket, not what I would certainly call first class, but comfortable nevertheless.

The train set off and I felt much safer, every 10 minutes men came through selling tea and various snacks, there were half a dozen other Indian's around me. Most of them seemed OK and a couple of them asked me where I was from and what I was doing, I was still in Delhi mode and thought that everybody had an sinister motive for asking me questions. One chap actually got out his laptop and started showing me pictures of his family and work colleges, he even gave me a business card and wrote his personal contact details on in case I wanted any advise, he was obviously very proud and a hard worker. To be honest I suspect that many Indian people fall into this category and its only a few devious unscrupulous characters involved in the tourist industry that cause me to be extremely cautious.

The only way to know that you are at your destination is to keep a close eye on where the train stops, I asked the conductor what time we were due in Gorakphur and set my alarm for 8:30am, an hour before I was due to arrive, ate some pretty good food (I just ordered what most other people ordered, see photo, cost about 50p), locked my luggage to my bed and got some sleep. Woke up to find the guy I been speaking to before had been replaced by a large Indian guy snoring! With a couple of hours to go I spent the morning reading and looking out of the window at all the primitive settlements along the way.
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At Gorakphur it was the same old story people trying to get you on their bus at a price they have just made up based on their initial impression of you. I soldiered on and managed to find the local bus to Sunauli where the Nepali boarder is, you may remember me writing about a couple of oddballs that I met on my flight from Manchester and the fact I seem to attract this sort of people... On route to the bus I bumped into a couple of crazy Russian guys (they had just spent 6 months in Goa and sent their wives home and were now ready to trek) who were actually on the the same train as me and were basically in the same boat. We got on the bus and started talking, one spoke pretty good English and the other spoke broken English, they were on their way to Nepal to do some trekking the same as me but did not have any firm plans. We got on well and they decided to join me to Pokhara, where I was then going to plan my trek round the Annapurna circuit.

We arrived at Sunauli after a couple of hours and successfully negotiated the boarder crossing, at the other end Nepal was not that different to India, people trying to offer you 'discounted' journeys to Pokhara. Me and the Russians stayed strong and managed to track down the local bus station and got on the 5:00pm bus, this was classed as the night bus and it was probably a good thing as in the daylight the erratic driving on bad Nepali roads with sheer drops at the side I would have been a nervous wreck by the time we arrived! When we got into Pokhara some 12 hours later, after numerous Daal Bhaat (basically all you can eat rice, lentil soup and curried veg) stops we were ready for a good sleep. As you might imagine when we got off the bus, there was a guest house owner there to offer us a room for what was left of the night, for two pounds each we had a bed! It made sense and in fact turned out to be quite a nice guest house and whilst slightly out of the way turned out to be good value.

We spent the next couple of days in Pokhara, nice chilled place, hired out a boat for a couple of hours and generally got ready to do the Annapurna circuit trek. Nepal is generally quite a cheap place to visit and you can probably stay in a fairly nice guest house and eat reasonably well for around 500 rupees ( >£5) a day, once you get on the treks you probably need about 1200 rupees a day. The people are genuinely nice and are certainly not so aggressive in their sales tactics, though there is certainly still an element of trying to get the most out of tourists.
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So on the 12th April at midday we set off to get the bus to the Annapurna trailhead, Besisahar. Unfortunately all the seats were taken so we were forced onto the roof with a couple of other Nepali people, I would have more photographs of some of the amazing villages and people along the way but I was too busy hanging on for dear life. I don't know whether it was something I had eaten, the terrible driving, jet lag, heat or an amalgamation of all these things, but on the roof I started to feel a bit sick! Luckily other than feeling a bit rubbish I arrived at our destination without incident, we got ourselves a bed at a place that was basically like a ghetto and I tried to sleep it off, if it wasn't for the dogs barking all night and the Mosquitos I might have managed it!
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So the next morning was the start of a 211km trek that would take us to 5416 meters high and take 15 days to complete. I would describe this as one of the exhilarating things I have done and at the same time one of the hardest physically. To date the 'Yorkshireman' an off-road marathon was probably the hardest thing I had physically done, but that only lasted for one day and didn't go from tropical to near arctic weather conditions!!! The scenery was magnificent, people, animals and villages we came across on the way were an eye opener, my backpack was pretty heavy at something like 20kg but some of the porters must have been carrying twice that and the mules maybe four times. Whilst in the bigger cities you get the feeling that people of Nepal are poor, but its only when you get to the villages in the middle of the Himalayas you realise how poor these people are. Many people live in what can only be described as a wooden hut and live solely off the land, in fact around 80% of Nepal live purely off the land and 20% live off tourism and other services.
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The first few days were hard, mainly because I was still not feeling 100% and my expensive walking boots that I thought I had worn in gave me a couple of lovely blisters! It took 9 days to walk the 111km mostly uphill to the highest pass in the world 'Thorung Pass', this included an acclimatisation day at Manang, I also had a great Yak steak and apple pie & custard here. Acclimatisation is very important to make sure that you do not suffer from altitude sickness, people do die from this!! In fact a couple of Israeli's that were doing the circuit at the same time as us got ill and had to take an extra day to make the pass. The higher we got the colder the days and nights got, at the pass it was freezing with snow along the trail and the effects of the high altitude were quite apparent, slight headache and lack of breath. At this altitude there is half the amount of oxygen in the air than you would find at sea level!
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The food along the trek was on the whole pretty good, places like Manang were a real surprise! Back in England I had very high food hygiene standards, maybe from my days working in kitchens or McDonalds...... In Nepal that had to go out of the window and I have had to virtually abandon these high standards, whilst most items you eat off 'look' fairly clean I have witnessed the cleaning process which basically involves giving it a quick rinse in some naturally occurring cold spring, not a bottle of fairy liquid insight!! Here we are in a local restaurant eating noodles, most cooking along the trails is done with wood!!
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It then took us another 6 days to descend the 4416 meters and walk the remaining 100km to the end of the trek, Naya Pul! This included having a rest day in Marpha because we got drunk on the local apple brandy, the first alcohol that I had drunk since the start of the trek!! To our surprise the last two days were probably some of the hardest we had to do, this was basically a full day walking uphill for 17km's to reach the village of Ghorepani at 2870 meters, that's 1670 vertical meters in one day from the village of Tatopani where we had stayed the afternoon before, enjoying the hot springs. On the last day we got up at 4:30am to walk a further 330 vertical meters to watch the sunrise at Poon Hill, this was a walk in the park without our backpacks and was well worth it!
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We thought the last day was going to be a easy 3 hour walk down..... but due to a miss calculation we were only kidding ourselves, instead we had 14km and a drop of nearly 2200 meters to finish with! The last two days were like spending two days on the stepper at the gym, one day climbing up and one day climbing down!! We took our time and even stopped for a nice swim in a waterfall and made the bus back to Pokhara for late afternoon!! I was looking forward to getting back to Nepal's second biggest city and getting in contact with my family and work as I had not spoken to them for over 2 weeks! The trek finished on a high with once again a nice open top bus ride into Pokhara as the sun disappeared behind the Annapurna range, thankfully this time whilst the driving wasn't any better I felt hunky dory!!
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The porters and animals are the backbone of these treks around Nepal, they carry anything from chickens to building materials and usually wear nothing but some beat up sandals, shorts & t-shirt and certainly don't have all the modern comfortable backpacks that most non Nepali people have. The children are happy and are certainly not starving, they may have a very basic schooling if they live in the bigger villages, but more often than not have no formal education. People often give the children a balloon or a pen and by the look on their faces you would think that all their Christmas's had come at once. The adults are also usually fairly happy and are content with what they have, you can see tourism has had a massive impact on just about everyone that lives in proximity of the trekking trails, this can be seen in the many shops selling western food (Cadbury's, Coke etc..) and getting increasingly more expensive the higher and further you get. Mud roads are already starting to be built from the trail heads and as far as I am concerned its totally spoiling the people, their livelihoods and the trek itself! People have said that two years time a road will exist around the entire trek route and therefore what was previously only accessible by foot, sweat, blood and blisters will be taken over by people land rovers, a travesty!!
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Met many good, like minded people along the trek, I can probably count the number of English people I met on one hand, there were many French..... mostly in big groups and quite noisy for some reason!!! Quite a few Israelis and a few more Russian's, plus obviously many other nationalities. Basically I was never expecting the mix of people that I met along the way, guess I am used to going to places where the English are in the majority!! I have learnt a lot about Russia and Israel which when I planned my trip I certainly didn't think I would happen and can only be a good thing, guess it just goes to show you that you can never plan what people you will meet in life!

So the next 4/5 nights I will be spending in Pokhara, mainly resting my battered feet, eating some good food after eating Daal Bhaat & MoMo (parcels of curried vegetables) on the trek and then its off to Katmandu, Nepal's capital city......

Posted by machine 01:59 Archived in Nepal Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Good bye France

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As I write this blog entry I am in Heathrow Airport new terminal 5 building waiting for my connecting flight to New Delhi!! The flight down from Manchester was spent talking to a couple of drunk guys from Sheffield who were off to blow all their savings in Vegas at the casino and on women... They were pleasant enough and were harmless enough, but it does lead me to think 'How do I attract these people?'

So my last few days in Chamonix were good, mainly involved hanging out with friends, going to raves in the forest, making the most of the mountains, eating chicken wings and getting ready for my journey home!

There are many things I will miss about living in Chamonix, mainly;

  • The good friends I made
  • The mobile patisserie van that I went to most mornings and the nice lady that served me! In particular their beef sandwiches, chocolate muffins, almond croissants & cookies
  • Waking up to mountains towering above you each morning
  • Waking up to new snow and getting the first lift up
  • Using the sauna, Jacuzzi and steam room at the Alpina
  • Been in the dark and dingy Cantina night club when it closes at 2:00 and they switch the lights on
  • Walking around the village and seeing familiar faces
  • Good cheeses & cured sausages, especially raclette
  • Not been able to work on my goggle tan, it should also be noted that I kicked Duncan's ass in the goggle tan off, though he may argue that Nicky made him dull it down somewhat by threatening a sex ban!
  • Apres at the Rhododendrons
  • Vin Chaud http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulled_wine

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There are also things that I will not miss;

  • The copious amounts of dog crap around, in fact as the snow thaws the problem looks even worse
  • Skiers..... Sorry I know that's a close to the bone comment
  • Lack of certain foods I love, namely - English Bacon, Fish & Chips
  • Eating ham and cheese baguettes everyday for my lunch
  • How expensive everything was

So the journey home was long, especially after a boozy evening the night before! I did the back route to avoid the tolls again and made it to Brussels in about 14 hours and camped up for the night!! The next day got an earlier ferry than anticipated but still managed to hit quite a bit of the London traffic, now bearing in mind Bertha had about 1200km at this point i was chuffed to be on the right side of the channel when with only 20 miles to go to Aldborne in Whitshire to see my god son and his family Bertha started playing up!! This was some familiar noises and for those of you that have been following my antics, know it cost me £500 last time!! Not taking any chances this time I made the call to the recovery company who towed me to a garage in the village I was going anyway!! Managed to sink a few pints at the Aldborne beer festival that evening and waited till the morning.
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Now to my surprise the garage was able to sort out the problem on the opposite wheel and get me on my way by midday and for only £145. Now I will leave it to you to decided whether the garage in France had my pants down.........

So a long weekend back up in Leeds after travelling a total of 8000km in Bertha!! Time to sort out a few bits and pieces and a Saturday night out with the croggy massive, good time had by all!!
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So just literally off to get on my flight to Delhi, more to follow.......

Posted by machine 07:06 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Road Trips, Extreme Riding & Good Times

My last month in the alps has been action packed!!

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March has been a good month!! It has brought many powder days on the slopes, sunshine, along with plenty of partying, a couple of road trips, good food, free stuff and some good friends to share it all with!!

I had my old school friend Dave out along with his lady friend (Miranda) and Jo and Rich, whilst the week they chose didn't give them the best conditions this did not stop us from having fun fun fun!! Monday night is half priced chicken wings at MBC, which both Dave and Rich were well up for!! A fun night out eating 'cheap' chicken wings, very quickly to the ladies disgust took a much more sinister direction and became a 'how many wings can you eat contest'. It wasn't a pretty contest and at one point Rich could be seen dipping his chicken wings in his beer to cool them down, so he could eat them faster!! We also made him drink the fat soiled beer.... At this point I think the girls found the whole thing physically sickening, but we were past caring and were more concerned with our male ego's! In the end it was a draw at 32 chicken wings each.....
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Another night out with Dave + crew saw a new friend brought to the group Mr Crab!! Mr Crab was 'acquired' from a seafood stall in the centre of Chamonix. All was going well, Mr Crab was keeping us entertained, that was until Rich introduced him to some other lads in the bar, seems they weren't too keen on him and booting him half way across the bar!! Lets just say he made quite a mess and the bar staff were non too happy! See me sporting Mr Crab, before his tragic accident;
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March sees the Boss de Bosses competition in Chamonix this is Europe's biggest inter-resort moguls contest ... a festival of skiing, snowboarding and telemarking that brings together some of the finest mogul skiiers from Europe's top alpine resorts. The event, which started as inter-resort rivalry back in 1990, has now grown into an international competition for the much-coverted trophy. For spectators it's also a fantasic day out which includes not only some fantastic skiing but also parties, piste-side barbeques, top DJs, live bands and sometimes very silly fancy dress!
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For many years now I have wanted to do the famous Valley Blanche and last Sunday me and 4 other did it in glorious sunshine!! The Vallée Blanche is probably the most famous ski run in the world. The only competition comes from classic downhills like the Hahnenkamm or the Lauberhorn, which are fairly pedestrian affairs for recreational skiers. Dropping from the Aiguille du Midi at 3880m to Chamonix at 1100m, the Vallee Blanche is in a different league. The figures speak for themselves: 2780 vertical metres of skiing - that's nearly three vertical kilometers. 9200 vertical feet. One and three-quarter miles. And that's straight down. Follow the slopes and you have the longest run in Europe at 22km (13.7 miles). Plenty of time to admire the spectacular mountain scenery that has been drawing tourists to the region since Mont Blanc was first climbed in 1786 by two French mountaineers, Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard.

The adventure starts before you get your skis on. At the base of the Aiguille du Midi cablecar, you can feel this isn't just a normal ski run. As you mill around doing the normal Chamonix things like looking for a parking space and queuing for lift passes, you can sense it. People are wearing harnesses. The ratio of guides to tourists is off the scale. When did you last see an ice-axe or crampons in Val d'Isère, St Anton or Castleford snow dome? The photos are pretty much self explanatory, the Valley Blanche really does give you a taste for how dangerous snowboarding can be when you get off the beaten track!!
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I have also been through the Mont Blanc tunnel twice in March, both times to visit the resort of Courmayeur in Italy, Courmayeur is included in our Chamonix lift pass so its makes it a cheap day out! For those of you that have read my earlier postings you will know that I have had a couple of bad experiences using the tunnel before, namely the cost of the toll!! Though I did start having cold sweats on seeing the toll booths, things were a little less painless. One time I was on the free bus service and the other time we had done what I should have done in the first place and got a reduced ticket that we can get with our Chamonix season pass, far more easier to swallow at 6 euros each!! Courmayeur is a really nice resort with lots of trees to ride between, a good lift system and the restaurants also serve the best pizza at reasonable prices! Courmayeur can also experience much different weather than the Chamonix side of Mont Blanc, for example it can be cloudy in Chamonix and bright blue skies in Courmeyeur, the wonders of living in the shadow of Europe's biggest mountain!

I have noticed the older I get the more I seem to like to complain, in my youth I would have probably done the very English thing and said 'oh not to worry' if I was unhappy with something, just to avoid the award situation that usually follows!! The older I get the more I thrive on those situations and strive to get what I anticipated. Some people might say I am getting old and grumpy but I like to think of it as getting value for money! So after some new pants and jacket that I bought in Bulgaria started literally falling apart it didn't take me long to write an email to the manufacturers to express my disappointment in their product! My grumbling paid off and they sent me out 300 pounds worth of this seasons gear (the ones I had bought were cheap last seasons sale clobber), here I can be seen sporting the yellow pants and jacket with naked chicks on (maybe not what I would have chosen, but as its free I cannot complain..... can I??) with a couple of friends from Chamonix, Steve & Nicky whist we were waiting for the bus in Courmayeur!
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Some of you may remember that I went to the resort of Verbier for my 30th! As an ambassador of Verbier and its number one fan, I accompanied half a dozen intrigued Chamonians (that's probably a made up word I think) who were well up for a couple of nights in Verbier, so after I had done the Valley Blanche we set off. A car full of friends were already over there and Bertha got another 5 of us over to catch the end of apres! There was only going to be 4 of us staying for a couple of nights! Me and 3 ladies..... Maybe this is me getting old and grumpy again, but I like to get a good 7/8 hours sleep on average.... Maybe this is also me getting old but after we found out the hostel was full the thought of spending the night in Bertha with 3 hot chicks, didn't sound that appealing... I know people will call me a homosexual and tell me that stuff like that is what dreams are made of, but Bertha was designed for 2 adults, couple of small kids and maybe a alsation, max!!! I mean I only have 2 tea mugs for starters. Anyway we made the most of it, got drunk and in the end had an OK nights sleep! Once again on the last day Verbier also provided us with some really nice fresh snow. Here is me and Bertha roomies in the Pub Mont Fort;
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As I now finish this blog entry I only have 3 & half days left in Chamonix before Bertha and I depart back to England!! On the way back I am calling into see my god son Sam and his family in Wiltshire for his second birthday and then I only have a couple of days before I fly out to Delhi! The rest of my time back in England will mainly involve drinking few beers with friends, popping into work, having my Mum's Sunday lunch, eating fish and chips, English breakfasts and getting ready for the next stage of my trip.

I can honestly say that whilst I have enjoyed every minute of my time over here I am ready for a change, the season is starting coming to an end and most of the snow in the village has melted. Some days in the valley feel like the middle of summer, though you wouldn't think I was riding in armpit deep snow only a few days ago! Leading the seasonaires life in a ski resort like Chamonix in a camper van has been life changing and something I will never forget, there has been highs (mostly) and lows but I wouldn't change a thing. I have met some life long friends during my time and have fulfilled a dream! I really will be sad to leave, but I guess it will not be long before I am experiencing something totally different and just as satisfying!

I will leave you with a couple of photos from some of the great days in March;
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Posted by machine 07:29 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Life in a beat up 26 year old camper van in Chamonix

The low down on what living in a old camper van in a ski resort is actually like

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Since my last blog its pretty much been same old, same old!! By day going up on the mountain and by night catching up with friends, saying in and the odd night out! Therefore I thought I would give you an insight into the day to day life of living in a beat up 26 year old VW camper van in the French ski resort of Chamonix!

Most mornings start by me taking my arms out of my decent sleeping bag and pealing the duvet cover back over my head. Which over the night as it gets progressively colder, magically works it way so that is it totally covering my head!! I would keep the heater on over night, but it doesn't like working much after 11pm! The main problem with sleeping virtually outside in the open air is that breathing in air thats somewhere in the region of minus 25 is not usually that pleasant!

If its been snowing and its going to be a powder day I mearly grin and bare the cold and get dressed and get on with making breakfast! If its just a bog standard day then it can take a good 30 minutes for me to find the energy to crawl into the drivers seat in my PJ's and start the engine for 5 minutes which is what is require to get the heating fired up! That said the last few mornings have been quite warm, in comparison to the others, so maybe the 'warmer' spring mornings and days are on the way.....

Breakfast usually consists of a cup of tea, followed by warm Weetabix or porridge & prunes and if I am really lucky a glass of fresh orange! When I first came out I used the cook exactly like I would at home, meaning cook it all in a pan use a couple of spoons and then eat the porridge out of a clean bowl! This very quickly went out of the window as I realised the amount of washing up this created. I now boil some water in a pan for my tea, make the tea and use the same pan to boil the milk for my breakfast. I then also use the same spoon I used to make my pot of tea to both make and eat my breakfast out of the pan I cooked it in! This cuts down my washing up overheads quite considerably and I can honestly say I have not eaten breakfast out of a bowl for months! I guess its an example camper van evolution!

So I have now managed to get dressed as fast of possible to avoid any of my extremities dropping off and force myself into the shower cubicle which also doubles as a place to hang up all my wet gear and give the teeth a brush (Mum I know you will be pleased that I am still keeping up to the high dental hygiene standards that you instilled us as kids!)

On the subject of hygiene here would be an appropriate opportunity to talk about how I actually shower whilst living in a van. I have already mentioned that I have a shower in the van, but to be honest its a real squeeze and the water supply is frozen most of the time, which leaves me with bottled water... This would obviously work out pretty expensive showering in mineral water and with the bottled water is also frozen most of the time too, I can imagine it not been a very enjoyable experience either! When I first came to Chamonix I used the sports centre facilities, whilst it was nice having a swim most days it proved quite expensive at 5 euros a day or 11 euros including the sauna! It didn't take me long to find out that there was a nearby hotel that a friend (all thanks go to Jenny Coffin) was staying at that also had a jaccuzi, sauna, steam room and didn't seem to have anything in place to make sure that you are staying at the hotel! Therefore a big thanks goes out to the 3 star Alpina Hotel http://www.bestmontblanc.com/en/alpina.html that have most days kept me in tip top condition for the past 2 months! The receptionists seem to know my face now and the goggle tan is not doing me any favours, so I suspect my days could be numbered, maybe I will get myself a couple of disguises, might watch a couple of episodes of Boselecta for inspiration! I know if I worked in a hotel and someone went to the effort of dressing up as scary spice just to get into the sauna I would let them in!

Going in the jaccuzi and sauna everyday has meant that all in all my personal hygiene has been pretty good, would be a bit of nightmare were is like a 3 month festival! Though that does bring me onto another topic, washing and ironing! Living in a van obviously means that you don't just have a washing machine to hand, therefore a trip to the laundry is a half day task and has to be planned. This does mean that items do tend to get a little bit of an extra wearing than they would normally do, in particular the underpants and socks, due to them not being in abundance!! Clothing undergo's a sniff test at each use and the decision on there usability is made based on what the item of clothing is and also what activities I have been up to in the said item! It should be noted that luckily France is also now non smoking so that does help in keeping things slightly fresher, Switzerland on the other hand is not. In terms of getting things ironed, I really don't think I will use the word iron in the rest of my travel blogs unless its in the context of waxing my snowboard or trying to explain some kind of metal object I encounter on the rest of my journey.

Back to my day, once I have got myself ready comes the part of clearing the windscreen. This could involved removing copious amounts of snow from the van and 9 times out of 10 scraping the thick ice that has accumulated from the condensation inside the van. Once I get the van going, which is usually not too bad unless it has been extremely cold during the night, I drive to one of the 5 / 6 separate areas of Chamonix. When I first came out I didn't like the fact that Chamonix as a ski resort has 5 / 6 separate skiable areas, but in hindsight I now quite like this as it gives Bertha a run out and to get to three of them I have to pass the bread van. The van is run by a nice lady and its part of a shop in the centre, this patisserie does the best baguettes and almond croissants that I have found in the area (believe me I have tried them all!). Each morning I tend to get one baguette and an almond croissant for later, except on the mornings when they have run out of almond croissant's which is usually a very sad day for Mr Watson! The lady who works there now knows me and almost has my order ready before I have finished my greeting and first sentence of 'Bonjour Je Vou....', my French has actually got slightly better since been out here, but I am far from fluent. If only I had listened in French lessons at school instead is messing around at the back of the class with Ste Whiteley...

Once I pull up and get parked and I jump in the back again and make my sandwich for the day. I have a little fridge which I keep the basics in. When I first got here I used to turn the fridge on all the time, it works on electricity or gas! It didn't take me long to realise that the fridge stayed plenty cold without the use of the gas or electric. Making the sandwich can be quite tricky, main reason is that baguette's make crumbs and crumbs, vans and enclosed spaces don't really go very well! Once the sandwich is made its stuffed into my trouser leg pocket and off I go to get the lift! Just goes to show you that something like making crumbs can be a real pain in the camper, so be warned......

After a day out on the mountain some of your gear can get damp or even on some days soaking wet. That means when I get down first thing is to get the heater going and get all my snowboarding gear hung up in strategic places around the van. I then drive back to my normal parking place which is usually near the sports centre just back from the road slightly, been pretty happy with this spot as its quiet and I have never had any trouble.
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Once I am settled for the night its time to batten up the hatches and try and keep as much of the heat in as possible. This is mainly done by closing the curtains that my super dooper auntie Marge made for me and making sure that a couple of draughts by the main sliding doors are covered with the curtains and an old towel, though to be honest I sometimes think I am flogging a dead horse on this one! Now its a case of seeing how long the heating lasts and nipping to the hotel Alpina or the gym if I am feeling flush!

I eat out a couple of nights a week, namely Monday's are half priced chicken wings at the MBC and I have been known to have a Poco Loco or Midnight Express if the apres ski gets the better of me, these do pretty good burgers and steak and cheese sandwiches respectively! When I eat in the van it tends to be either pasta with a sauce or soup, obviously also using the stringent use of cutlery and pots exercised at breakfast time. I don't seem to eat nowhere near as much meat over here as I did back home, back home virtually every meal I had except perhaps breakfast would have some kind of animal part contained in it. Meat in France is ridiculously expensive and hence is probably the main reason I haven't been eating so much, though I have been making up for it on the bread front by eating nearly a full baguette each day!

I then usually have time to read a book or check my email (intermittent wifi that I can pickup in my parking spot permitting) before the heater cuts out and its time for bed!

Well that about wraps up my day to day itinerary for van life, for those of you that have been reading my previous post entries you will know that the van heater has been a topic of discussion on many of my entries. I now actually feel that Bertha and I are at peace and I am pleased that I was stubborn and pigheaded enough to stick with her....... I might almost go as far to say that I am actually enjoying it.....

Posted by machine 05:03 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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