A Travellerspoint blog

March 2009

Road Trips, Extreme Riding & Good Times

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

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

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

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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