Sunday, February 18, 2007

Back to the Nederlands

Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
That was a very short week. I got back late Tuesday. Work all day and night weds. I had to; I had a concert to go to on Thursday. Priorities and all.

The concert was the Decemberists. A recent softer rock band out of Portland. A buddy from work mentioned he had bought tickets. “I have heard of them!” was my basic thought, sure I will go. The open band was a bit odd. Lavender Dying or similar. A girl dressed more or less as a fairy, dancing more or less like a fairy. She did have a good voice but she seemed like she should have been in a B fantasy flick.

The Decemberists were quite good. The lead singer had a good, witty, stage presence. A lot of songs about historical American wars, revolutionary and civil. Go figure.

Friday night I caught an evening flight to Rotterdam. For the second time in a week, they didn’t take my ticket on the way to the airport, w00t, trip gets cheaper. After an easy 40 minute flight (which I passed out on, I am very tired at this point), I landed in the Netherlands. Breezed through customs and caught a bus to the central train station.

Stupid ticket machine wouldn’t take any form of payment I could give it so I didn’t manage to get a ticket. My train was in 2 minutes. I tried the ticket line but there were 6 people in front of me. I ran to platform 9 but missed the train by no more than 10 seconds. Slummin. Ah well, that was the express but there is a local that leaves in 20 minutes. The last train that goes to the Haag. I headed back towards the ticket counters but there were a bunch of guard types closing down the entrance. I wasn’t sure I would be able to get back in if I left to get a ticket. OK, no ticket, have to catch the last train. I guess I can always play the ignorant American if it comes down to it.

It turned out not to be necessary, there was no conductor or anything to bother me. According to my man on the ground in the Haag (Lat), I was supposed to get off at Spoor. Unfortunately, none of the stops were called Spoor. Turns out that is another name for Den Haag HS. At least the train conductor said it over the loudspeaker. I got off and was heartened to find Lat after an easy couple of blocks walk.

We hit the hostel to drop my stuff. Small room, small bathroom but clean and safe. Not the ritz by any means but not bad for a family traveling on a budget. They were very strict about quiet times and such. I had to give them a license in order to get a key that would let me in after 10pm and we had to renew it daily.

We headed out and walked to the central area in about 10 minutes. Stopped at a little Turkish? Lebanese? Place for dinner as most everything else was closed. Den Haag closes early I guess, after dinner we couldn’t find anywhere open.

Slept in a bit the next morn and didn’t really get moving until early afternoon. What to do, what to do? We were split between the Escher museum and the beach. Swayed to the beach by the testimony of some local that Lat met, “It is everything the Dutch love about Holland”. How can we miss that? Also, the tram to that takes us past the Peace Palace and other land marks. Since it was raining, this seemed to be the best way to see Den Haag sights and not get pneumonia.

The beach was like a slightly modern version of the boardwalks on the Jersey shore. They did a very nice job of having a nice, clean, wide open beach area right next to the tourist boardwalk, with its restaurants and entertainment. Near each other but still separated by the railing, each was done well.

We wandered around the beach for a bit and got some grub. Not much to say about Dutch food actually. Lots of fried tubes of indeterminate edible substances. Most of the ones I have tried are pretty good but they don’t exactly seem healthy.

Hit a couple bars and what not in the evening, nothing too notable. Every now and then I would still get a hit of New York City similarity. Or I guess it was the Dutch roots of NY that caught my attention. This town does close early though, come 1:30 everything was closed.

Woke the next morn and decided to just head back and spend the day in Rotterdam. A really easy, 20 minutes train ride from the Haag gets us to Rotterdam and a short cab gets us to Lat’s hotel. We dropped our stuff and headed out towards the EuroMast. In the summer you can rappel from this thing but that was closed for now. It is still a destination and it was close so we headed that way.

The walk to the Euromast took us through a nice little park, very idealic place. The Euromast was on the other end of the park and we went up top. It reminded me a bit of the space needle in Seattle, especially as it was pretty grey and overcast. We had a small meal with a great view in the restaurant. We tried to wander around and find a place I had found last time I was in Rotterdam (with the good pool tables) but my memory was a bit shot and we went exactly the wrong way. It started to rain too so we kind of just ducked in the first pub we saw.

I doubt I will really get the chance to live out there but Rotterdam may be the only burb I could consider living in. A burb in that Amsterdam is the main attraction but it is also easy and close by train that living in Rotterdam could offer enough to do day to day. When you want something more, you can always just hop a train to Amsterdam. Never thought I could consider living in a burb, but these ones are different.

Before we knew it, it was time for my flight so I headed over and caught an easy flight back to London and got ready for a really busy week.

Off Piste in the Alps

Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
Trying to leave at 3:30pm on Friday turned out to be a bit harder than I had thought. Still on the phone as I walked to the train station and again on the phone on the train, I eventually got things more or less finished.

After some luggage concerns (the bags can only be 15k on ryan air. That’s like 30lbs) we eventually got checked in. In the line for security, I got a message from Lat, a buddy meeting us from the Philippines. After receiving some bad advice from a couple people, including the hotel concierge, he was at the wrong airport in Brussels. With no way to get to the right one in time, he was going to miss his flight. Doh!

The plane was of course late, Ryan air boasts a 85% time rate but according to our anecdotal experience, it is more like 15% on time.

We got into salzberg and rented a car at the airport. A 45 minute drive into Germany and back into Austria got us to Pension Thistle. The pension was really nice. It was newly redone by a nice Scottish couple that took it over that fall. The apt was more or less a 2 bedroom apt. A double bedroom downstairs and a dorm-style, 4 twins in a big bedroom on the second floor. There was also a kitchen, living room, balcony, etc. A nice place. There was a mythical 7 km run from the slopes to our flat but there wasn’t enough snow on it so it was closed. For 30 euro each a night, it was a sweet spot.

Got up the next morning and headed down to salzberg to get Lat. He ended up taking the trains through the night. 2 mistaken connections and 10 trains later, he showed up in Salzberg at 9am or so. I cruised down to pick him up. Problem was, I saw no signs for the train station as I was approaching Salzberg. Airport, bus station north and south, but no train station. Got completely lost in Salzberg and had a impromptu tour of the city. Seems like a nice place. Eventually found the place, but by the time I did, I was lost enough not to know how to get back out either. After a few twists and turns we made it and started back up the mountain. The valley was quite scenic and it was a pleasant drive.

We picked up our ski gear and I was pleased to see it was decent quality. Front loading boots, parabolic skis. I haven’t been on many other mountains in the last few years but I was surprised to see how parabolics have taken over. There wasn’t even a choice.

Another cool thing they had was an RFID ski pass. I guess this is pretty common now, the ski jacket I had borrowed from a workmate had a little arm pocket made more or less for this. Just stick the pass in your clothes on your left side. When you get to the lift, there is a turnstile with a reader that ‘sees’ the card, I assume validates it, and lets you through.

We hit the slopes to meet the boarder crew by about 2:30. The mountain is huge. A road up the middle of the valley connects 3 towns with ski slopes on either side. There are at least 5 or 6 different peaks. 3 of the lifts were closed which left us with only 52 lifts we could explore. 52! The snow was about half of what they average. Lots of snowmaking. Some ice but in general not to bad. It has been a long time but I think the snow was pretty comparable to Taos having a not so great year.

After a couple of hours of skiing, we tried to catch the gondola at a midway stop. I wanted to go back up for a last run. When we got on though, I realized it was going down. I tried to hop off and they wouldn’t let me. I guess I am riding down. Turns out to be a good thing. The boarders had to hike through some grassy slopes at the bottom of the hill.

We went out in the first of the 3 towns, Saalbach. The male/female ratio could use some work here. It was roughly 6:1, men to women. Plus, the crowd seems much older here. Mostly 50s or older I would say.

We broke off from the boarders in search of moguls in the morning. Couldn’t find much but we did find some nice areas.

My biggest pet peeve with the damn snow boarders is that they plow the moguls. Multiple times I saw a wide slope with a couple of smaller moguls in one area of the slope. Invariably, a snow boarder would go over there and since he can’t really do moguls on a board, just slide down the hill sideways and plow them down. Fucker! Use the rest of the slope but don’t ruin that part for the rest of us.

We aren’t in the best of shape so we cut out a bit early. Went out that night to the next town, Hinterglemm. The age on this crowd was better and we found a much better club (the London pub, go figure). Still a bad ratio but it was down to about 3 or 4 men per woman.

I was expecting some Seattle friends, Jeremy and Michele to show up the next day. Thought they were going to be here fairly early so I kept checking my phone all day. Due to another unfortunate series of trains, they didn’t show until 5 or 6.

We found some ‘off piste’ skiing that was definitely the best snow on the mountain. Only a couple people had even been on the run before us so while we didn’t get first tracks, it was definitely fresh tracks. Probably a bit more than a foot of powder covered this run (at the top, there were some grassy patches at the bottom). The powder was a bit heavy but the run was just great. We did it twice, found a couple of jumps, the snow was deep enough for easy landings. Halfway through the second pass though, my body stopped cooperating fully. I would say “turn!” and most of my body would say “cool, we’re turning” but my left leg would say “Fark off, I’m tired” and down I would go. After that one, I cruised down and met up with lat who was at the base in Saalbach.

Ate a bit of food for lunch and hit the wall. I was sooooo tired. Could hardly keep my head up. We headed back to the lodge in the early afternoon to take it easy. I thought I was doing pretty well, conditioning-wise until then but that powder kicked my ass.

Jeremy and Michele finally showed up around 5:30. We went up the mtn and got them set up for night skiing ( I couldn’t stand the thought of getting my skis back on). We headed up some 200 meters straight up the slope to a ski bar. This party was pretty good but I just had no energy for it. Plus they were still playing après-ski which can be fun as a kitschy song now and again but it basically sux if that is all they are playing.

Everybody was pretty beat by this point. I realized this may be the first time I have ever skied more than one day in a row. We gathered for a large meal and then stayed up somewhat late chatting.

Lat and I decided to skip the last day of skiing and instead we went exploring. We found a nice little town with a hardware store to get rope and got some breakfast. Got massages, took the gear back, etc. Just took it easy. The boarders came down the mtn, we packed and hid the road back to salzberg around 6.

Of course it started to snow more or less as we left the mountain but oh well, I think the trip was pretty successful. I highly recommend skiing in the alps.