Monday, 31 January 2011

Back to old Blighty ..... Jan 2011

Mark and Mum, chance for a walk on a sunny day 
06 - 16 January 2011

After a busy time in Switzerland it was time to head for London and visit family. We stayed with Marks' Mum (Jackie) and it was great to see her looking and feeling much better after being really quite ill over Christmas. We chatted, ate and drank our way through a few lovely days with her.

However, life as a cruiser is not an idle one and there is always "the list". Items you just can't seem to find in foreign countries, one such item this time was a new laptop computer with an English keyboard (Spanish ones are different) so researching, purchasing and then setting that up kept us entertained for a many an hour.   

We also had a lovely evening get together with Marks brother Greg's family for a belated Christmas celebration. We exchanged a few Christmas goodies and Alison treated us to an excellent Roast Lamb dinner with all the trimmings. Boy do I miss roast lamb.

Belated Christmas with Marks family
The London Boat Show was on and we spent a full day hunting down a new chart-plotter for the cockpit and a satellite telephone. 
After gathering information and becoming very confused we met our friends John and Eva off Destiny for lunch and a very quick catch up.

We picked up a couple of small items during the afternoon, but the satellite phone salesman unknowingly did a great job of talking us out of buying one. However, we finally decided on a Standard Horizons Chart-plotter and after much discussion it was decided we could purchase an American /Caribbean chart for it instead of a Mediterranean one at the Boat Show discounted price, but it would have to come from the US -(what they don't have US charts in England???) so that was ordered and would take 10 days. Yeah right !!
Sparky impatiently waiting for the next throw

We again met up with Destiny, who had sniffed out a free glass of wine at the Turkish Tourist Board stand  where we also bumped into cruiser friends Robin and Marion off Simba who we first met in Turkey.  We also had the pleasure of meeting Rod Heikell who needs no introduction to all our cruising mates but for those of you who don't know, he has written many of the excellent Cruising Guides to the Mediterranean.  We left the show after dark and caught various trains home, it had been a very long day.

Our time in England was drawing to a close. We had a sad farewell with Marks family and caught the train down to rural Surrey to stay with my cousin Neil, his wife Barbara, and their adorable dog Sparky for our last two nights.  Evening drinks in a local country pub were complete with a wood fire blazing, dogs running round, clientele wandering in with wellies on - you sure knew you were in the country.  
Helping out with Barbara's horses

Our one day with them was spent enjoying a leisurely brunch while reading the weekend papers, (I should add here that Barbara had already been up at dawn to feed her horses, while we blissfully slept).  This was later followed by a big walk in a nearby common, the trees stark and bare but beautiful in midwinter.  Sparky happily ran backwards and forwards for miles, hardly stopping for a breath as Mark tirelessly threw a stick for him.

Next stop was the horses paddock where Barbara and I donned wellies, cleaned the paddock out and fed the horses while the boys watched and supervised. Another home cooked excellent meal complemented by fine wine was a fitting end to our stay in the UK. Posted by Picasa

More fun in the snow ..... Jan 2011

Back on skis, but these are Cross Country
- this is hard!!
03 - 06 January 2011

Having ended our great 6 days skiing in the Swiss Alps we caught the train from Le Chable via Martigny to Lausanne. Our friends Helen and David collected us from the station and took us back to their lovely apartment overlooking Lake Geneva. The weather was clear so we took the opportunity to stretch our legs without skis on and went for a long walk along the lake front followed by relaxing drink in Lausannes' old quarter.

Next day dawned clear and those mountains beckoned again.  Helen and David are an active sporty couple. Last time we visited them they took us on an 18 kilometre hike over a mountain on the Swiss border, down to a great cafe in Italy for a big pasta lunch and then we hiked back again.  We weren't to be disappointed this time.  We had downhill skiing mastered so were receptive to their idea of trying cross country skiing....  Seemed like a good idea at the time....!! 
This is easier,
 uphill mountain hiking with snow shoes on

Mark thought he would shine as it is very physical, requiring more upper body strength but we both found it very difficult, and the only reason there are not photos of me with my nose in the snow is that I had the camera!!!  Staying in the cross country "tracks" was hard enough, but slowing down when going down the slight declines was almost impossible and required a very different technique. I can confirm that it was a very hard landing and getting up again unassisted was a huge challenge.

Still, the fresh mountain air was great yet again, we enjoyed a tasty late lunch as the snow storm clouds started to gather, we had tried cross country skiing - and hadn't broken anything!!  Helen and David cooked us an excellent dinner , then we collapsed in a heap and had an early night.  Another clear day dawned and more mountain activities were planned.  This time "snow shoeing" was on the agenda.  Snow shoes basically resemble tennis rackets (without handle!) that have crampons on the underside and you strap them to your your own hiking boots and away you go.
Picturesque village of Gruyére,
 complete with Chateau

We had an excellent hike around a nearby ski area, again the vista in this entire area was just stunning.  The snow shoes are easy to wear and work really well, they make both climbing and descending in snow and ice really quite easy.  We had a fun day out and didn't even fall over once!!

Late afternoon we headed for the beautiful hilltop hamlet of Gruyére, well known for the cheese of the same name produced in this region.  It was a lovely village, I expect it would be overflowing with tourists during summer, but on this mid winters late afternoon we almost had it to ourselves.  We wandered through the village and up to the Chateau, sitting proudly on the highest point with a 360o view of the entire surrounding valley.  The Gruyére Chateau had closed for the day, as had the Giger Museum, housing art and sculptures from HR Giger.  HR Giger also won an award for designing the set for the movie "Alien", this was possibly the first sci-fi thriller movie I ever saw, and it terrified me so much all those years ago, it was also my last.
The very funky Giger Cafe at Gruyére

Although the museum was closed the "Giger Cafe" was still open, and it was definitely time for refreshments.  It seems the interior of the cafe has been designed to resemble the inside of a whale.   The photos just don't do it justice, you feel like you have been swallowed by Moby Dick, totally surrounded by rows of bones, then at one end, two walls decorated by sculptors of scary looking babies, it's all very bizarre but certainly a tourist attraction and a great talking point.

We finished the day with a very cheesy fondue dinner in a small village en route back to Lausanne.  David and Helen had lived up to their reputation of providing us once again with an action packed few days which we enjoyed very much.  Next day was misty and cold, we had had the very best of the weather and enjoyed all of what Switzerland had to offer.  It was time to move on, we caught the train to Geneva Airport and checked in for our Easyjet flight - we were heading for London.Posted by Picasa

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Happy New Year in Verbier ..... Jan 2011

New Year Celebrations in Verbier 2011,
complete with champagne on "snow"!!
31 December 2010 - 03 January 2011

After another full days skiing in Bruson, including a somewhat adventurous route back via neighbours gardens and over small (thankfully) walls right to the door of our chalet we were exhausted, this skiing is hard work!!  But it was New Years Eve and Rebecca, our wonderful Swiss host, had offered to drive us to Verbier for the festivities.  Verbier is "one of those places to do New Year", and with a local chaperoning us...,  well it was an offer we could not refuse.  Daniel had an active civic role in overseeing the big evening and was "on duty", so was unable to join us.  Rebecca once again invited us to their lovely home and produced another wondeful pre New Years Eve antipasta before we headed up to Verbier for an excellent leisurely dinner (best eye fillet steak outside New Zealand and excellent local wine) and then onward to the Place Centrale, Verbier's main square as midnight approached.  There were thousands of people milling around in this small area, and it was absolutely freezing but it's an annual event not to be missed. 

Enjoying the slopes of Verbier

What we didn't know was that Daniel had organized an absolute prime outdoor viewing platform for us on the balcony of the tourist office overlooking the square. It felt like our own private members box, and as the clock chimed  midnight, thousands of bottles of champagne were shook up, and sprayed over the crowd, it was by far the driest place to be!!  Alastair and Vivienne had kindly brought champagne with them. No need for a chilly bin here, we planted the bottle in the snow and ice on the balcony and within minutes it was chilled nicely !!.   but instead of wasting it on the crowd, we were much more sensible and drank it.

It was certainly an experience, the scene was one of utter bedlam. The Place Centrale was seething with party goers, partly stripped bodies trying to climb the lamb-posts, firecrackers exploding, fireworks raining down, dry ice pumped out, music blasting, bottles breaking in the streets as the contents were drunk, but amazingly little violence - it was incredible and an excellent night out, another event crossed of "the bucket list".  Huge thanks to Rebecca and Daniel, and the hospitality of the Tourist Office who made it all possible, What a night and one to remember!!
That's Verbier down there,
 and we are going to ski all the way down!

We were in bed by a respectable 2.30am so decided on New Years Day to ski Verbier, utilizing a half day pass that starts at 11.30am.  We caught the bus down to Le Chable then the cable car all the way up to Attelas at 2727m, wow this was very spectacular.  Snow white mountain peaks as far as the eye could see, multi coloured ants whizzing down in almost every direction, a wonderful spectacle.   

The 4 of us skied together for a while on the wide open blue runs then Al and Vivienne whizzed off to explore further afield - never to be seen again!!  They both took rather nasty falls - on a blue run!! - and sadly both of them injured their legs, not too seriously but enough to end their skiing, only consolation was that it was towards the end of the day and we only had one day left.  Meanwhile Mark had come on in leaps and bounds, and was footing it with the locals with happily no falls.  We got a little more confident and discovered a long "red run" that wasn't too steep, connecting with another "blue" and provided about 30 minutes of skiing before another lift which was great.  Towards the end of the day we discovered a "red" that was way too steep, and churned up with lumpy little moguls, but we couldn't go back up and had a hellish time getting down, the only saving grace for our confidence was that there were about 50 others on the slope, struggling with us. 
Just beautiful every day, what a great week
Our last skiing day dawned once again with picture postcard weather. Al and Vivienne were pretty immobile so stayed at the chalet and rested. We went for the late start half day pass again and had an excellent afternoon exploring all the runs we could find that looked "do-able". We were both rather cautious, not wanting to end up like our friends on our last day so just stuck with the "blues" and friendly looking "reds". We did get more adventurous at the end of the day and found the downhill run all the way back to Verbier. It took us about 1 1/2 hours and was a great way to end our skiing holiday, although it had a little kick to it at the end, the last 50 metres was a very steep run, very narrow and icing over, just a little reminder that the mountain is always in charge, we gave it the respect it deserved and escaped intact!!!

We said our goodbyes to Alastair and Vivienne the following morning, both hobbling around with their backpacks on, needing to make 4 train connections as they headed for Germany before returning to their boat Largo Star in Finike, Turkey.  Then we said a big thankyou and farewell to our Swiss hosts Rebecca and Daniel. They had extended such warm hospitality toward us and made our stay so comfortable and memorable.  Then it was off down the valley to the train station - next stop Lausanne.Posted by PicasaPosted by Picasa

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Ending the year in the Snowy Swiss Alps .....Dec 2010

Snowy times in Switzerland 2010,
 warmer times in the Andaman Islands 2008
28 December 2010 - 31 December 2010

The last time we saw our kiwi cruising friends Alastair and Vivienne off Largo Star was January 2008.  We cruised up the Thai coast and out to the Surins Islands, where we had a great Christmas together then onto the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.  We spent an excellent month together, cruising and exploring this remote Indian island group then at the end of January we sadly parted ways.

Balvenie  headed west to Sri Lanka and on to the Med, and Largo Star  returned to Asia for a couple more years.  Finally this year they came up the Red Sea and into the Med,  but they have just arrived in the Eastern Med and we are ready to leave the Western Med!!  We decided the only way to catch up was on land, so the plan was hatched to meet for a skiing holiday.  They have Swiss ex-cruiser friends, Daniel and Rebecca, with some chalets in Bruson, near Verbier, so accommodation was organised, flights were booked, Balvenie was closed up and off we went.
Day 1 in Bruson - lets go skiing!!!!

Rendezvous point was Geneva airport and our Easyjet flight from Alicante arrived on time, unfortunately their Easyjet flight from Gatwick did not.  Still we got to see all on offer in the arrivals area of Geneva - not much, and tried in vain to adjust ourselves to Swiss prices after the very economical Spanish equivalents!!  Late afternoon they finally touched down and the big reunion took place, 3 years on and they didn't look any different - Al's comment that he had never seen us with so many clothes on brought a chuckle to us all, the Andamans would have been in the 30's and wearing swimwear was too hot!, now Geneva was boasting a warm 1c and we were wearing layer upon layer!

We started our Swiss journey with a train along the shores of Lake Geneva to Martigny in the Valais region. Here we changed and caught the St Bernard Express Train up the valley to Le Chable, a village nestled in the head of the valley, sitting below fashionable, somewhat exclusive Verbier on one side and tiny quaint Bruson on the other.  
Time out for apres-skiing
 As we had arrived later than planned Daniel was kind enough to collect us from the train and take us the final 3 km's to one of their delightful wooden chalets at Chez Philippin where we dispatched with our luggage.  We were then invited to join them at their home where Rebecca had whipped up a traditional Swiss Fondue which we enjoyed with them and their delightful teenage daughters, Gaelle and Manon. 

Next day was spent enjoying a big walk in the snowy surrounds, followed by a walk downhill back to Le Chable where we had a late lunch, stocked up on some groceries and Swiss wine then hired the all important skis, boots and poles. Skis have certainly shrunk since last time we were on the slopes which can't be a bad thing but unfortunately boots are still a huge challenge to get on and walk in, still we weren't here to walk in them - we were here to ski!!!

Winter wonderland in Bruson - spot Santa Claus!
Next morning dawned crisp and clear, the scene from our balcony was just picture postcard perfect, mountains towering in the background, tree lined slopes heavy with snow, authentic Swiss wooden chalets with peaked roofs all with snow glistening in the morning sun, I'm sure we could even hear a distant cow bell just to complete the picture. We love the mountains, if you are going to be in a cold climate then the mountains are the place to be.

Not that we were cold, already dressed in so many layers and then a 10 minute uphill walk sure warmed things up! (wearing those dreaded clumsy ski boots and carrying ungainly skis and poles which we never did quite master of way of holding).  We bought our ski-lift passes then eek, not one of those chairlifts that we have to ski off at the top - oh well here we go!!!!  Legs, skis, poles and arms tangled together were the order of the day as we skied (fell) off the chair at the top, but I suspect we weren't the first or last of the day meeting with this fate.  Not to be deterred we pulled ourselves back together and our skis apart and hit the slopes.  Unfortunately Mark hit the slopes more than his fair share.
Bruson and surrounds, Verbier across the valley
 We had never skied together and he had said he had been skiing before but was just a beginner.  Being as great a sportsman he is, very fit, great co-ordination, balance etc etc (as opposed to I, who can honestly say I have none of those attributes) I actually thought that his definition of being a beginner was that he wasn't quite at "black run" level, but he really was a beginner, - I suspect his previous mountain holidays had been more about the "apres skiing", whereby I could almost call myself an intermediate. 

At last a sport I was better at than him, I can't describe how good that felt!!!!!  (I expect he will remove all this when he does his routine editing!!!!)  Now Alastair and Vivienne, well they were very good and went off exploring all the hard runs, I did a couple of long runs down with Vivienne and Rebecca which sure pushed me to my limit while Mark improved all the time on the limited "blue runs".   We skied Bruson 2 days but needed to find more "blues" and a few tame "reds" to try next, but it was New Years Eve, we had a very big night planned and the possibility of sleeping instead of skiing New Years Day was in the back of our mind!!    Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Christmas in Cartagena ..... Dec 2010

Christmas 2010 in Cartagena
15 - 28 December 2010

When we arrived back from our week long Spanish excursion we were delighted to see another New Zealand yacht in port.   Although New Zealand is a strong sailing nation there is only a small percentage of us that have stepped out and decided to circumnavigate, therefore when we see another kiwi flagged yacht it's like seeing a little piece of home.

Werner and Lucia off Kleiner Bar with their children Nina and Lucas were passing by late in the season.  They had come all the way through from Asia this season and were continuing on to Brazil, their original home.  So many miles to pack into a season but with Nina nearing high school age they were on a tight timetable to "get around" and back to New Zealand to resume a "normal" family life!!

It was great to have a family in port, especially for Christmas, livened us oldies up to see them enjoying themselves, keeping a watchful eye on Santa's red sack hoisted high up the mast!

Skipper with watchful eyes on his prawns

The build up to Christmas had various activities going on in Cartagena.  While all of Northern Europe was suffering one of its worst pre -christmas arctic blasts with record snowfalls Cartagena was going ahead with outdoor activities.  (plenty of those arctic blasts made it this far south!!!)

The Mid Winter harbour swim took place on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon with about 30 crazy contestants, rather them than me.  Then there were two consecutive evenings with outdoor concerts, they would have been wonderful in summer but with the temperature at a steady 6c with wind chill dropping it further I am amazed the beautifully attired "black tie" orchestra didn't all suffer from hypothermia.

The local Belen "large outdoor (of course!!) nativity scenes" were actually very good, all set up in one of the plazas it must have taken days and days to piece all the settings together.  Some even had real tiny vegetable plants in the gardens.  It was an enjoyable stroll around it, the photos just didn't do it justice but we have the memories.

Lucia, Werner and  Mark at the Nativity 'Belen'

Christmas day dawned somewhat gloomy but it perked up in time for a late bar-b-que, a somewhat foreign idea for our small   European live-aboard community but they all partook in tapas and drinks as we soaked up the weak winter sun.
Kleiner Bar got a good weather window on Boxing Day and sadly we said our farewells.  They enjoyed a light downwind sail through to Gibraltar and onto the Canary Islands - and warmth at last!

We were happy to have a quiet Christmas as we had big plans for New Year.  We closed up Balvenie for the second time in a month on the 27th and caught the bus to Alicante.  It's 100 km's north along the coast and we took the slow local bus, over 3 hours via all the coastal so called "resorts".  What an absolute eye opener.  Thousands upon thousands of homes built mainly as holiday/second homes for Northern Europeans, all the way up the coast.  Many areas in a state of decline, weeds coming up through the roads, houses crumbling, hundreds of for sale signs - thousands of peoples dreams shattered as they struggle to maintain or sell these properties.  The recession has hit this area very very hard.
Christmas Tree in Alicante

To arrive in the old quarter of Alicante was a delight, beautiful old buildings, constructed solidly, pleasing to the eye and with thought given to the layout and environs.  Open plazas, age old trees, a palm tree lined boulevard along the foreshore.  Rather lovely really.  We found a great small hotel whose name we have forgotten.  I did the unthinkable for me a book-lover, I tore the Alicante page out of the Lonely Planet to take with us, and have now lost it.  But if you have the Lonely Planet it was the one with the small original Dali in reception and the hotel was beautiful, and we had a four poster bed!  Winter rate at just €45 was a great deal.  We also found a great tapas bar - details written on same lost piece of Lonely Planet - all tapas had toothpicks or skewers in them, keep eating and drinking and they just add up the skewers up at the end, great service, cheap and fun and was on the main road inland just past Burger King, opposite a square with a  beautiful huge old tree.

Next morning we were up early - it was still dark!!!! - walked a block and caught the airport bus.  Our Easyjet flight left on time and by 1pm we were in Geneva, Switzerland ........ It had been 20 years since either of us had been on the piste and we were heading for the Alpine slopes and a weeks skiing.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

In Loving Memory of Val Whitehead from Silver Heels II

Happier times in Thailand, November 2007 

We have been cruising now for 7 1/2 years and one of the best things about this life is the people we meet.  One such couple are Val and Graham.

We had heard of Val and Graham onboard the Australian yacht Silver Heels II during our first year out from New Zealand.  Cruiser friends were talking of sailing to the Louisiades, we confessed we hadn't heard of it so they gave us a DVD to watch. It had been filmed by a couple on a recent cruise to the area..  It was a great sampler of what was on offer in this Papua New Guinean archipelago, and it convinced us to go.  It had been produced by Val and Graham on Silver Heels II. They had done an excellent job .

In 2007 we finally met Silver Heels II. We were on the same dock at Rebak Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia during the Southwest monsoon season and we got to know them well.  Val had dreams of sailing to the Med, Graham ... well he wasn't quite so sure (we think he just didn't want to give up his daily table tennis tournaments, which he always won!!)   We left together at the end of the monsoon season and sailed north to Thailand, stopping in some lovely spots enroute - enjoying shacky bars and cheap restaurants in bays with soft white sand, but definitely not enjoying surf on the beach and keeping dry for dinner while trying to land the dinghy!!!! 

Another great night out for Marks 50th in Phuket 2007
We set sail for the Med in 2007 leaving Silver Heels II and many other cruising friends behind. However, Val's wish came true the following year as they followed in our wake.  Silver Heels II  has spent the last two European summers in Turkey, Greece and the Black Sea, taking their time, stopping to taste the olives, sip the wine and enjoy life.  Val has done a great web site which we followed closely to keep tabs on them, always interested to see where they were.  December 2010 passed with no updates despite Val writing to say she finally had good internet access. We just assumed they were busy doing  cruisers stuff. 

So it was a terrible shock to learn before Christmas that Val had spent days fighting for her life after suffering a brain aneurysm at anchor in a remote spot on the Turkish coast.  After Graham got her to Marmaris Hospital, she was then transferred to Izmir Hospital and was operated on.  After days in intensive care and finally regaining consciousness she tragically suffered complications and died on 16 December 2010.   

Val had a passion for life, she had lived in remote, interesting places and stepped out there to experience all she could.  Her life sailing and travelling with Graham had taken her places that those of us on boats are so lucky to access, and she loved it.   The following snippet is copied from their website and sums up well Val's philosophy.   

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, 'WOW! What A RIDE!!' ... Author Unknown

Val has been buried in Izmir, Turkey. Her two daughters, who flew to Turkey, have returned to Australia. Graham has just arrived with Silver Heels II in Marmaris as he continues to come to terms with life without his soulmate. Our thoughts are with them all, especially our friend Graham.  
Rest peacefully Val, you will be sadly missed.
Posted by Picasa