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May 4th, 2010 @ 10:12 pm

A little while ago, I heard from Briony, saying that she and Leo would be in Strasbourg for the first weekend in May, and asking if we would be around. As it happened, we finished the season in St Anton a week earlier than normal (something to do with a distinct lack of snow combined with everything being closed!) and this meant that we could be there too! The last time we were all together was in St Anton in January (and that was only briefly) so we were extremely excited.

Briony, Kathryn and I on the carousel!

La Petite France on Saturday morning (pre downpour)Ben and I drove from Zurich to Strasbourg, leaving at just after 5pm and arriving just after 8pm (including searching for the hotel car park, which was not as easy as it might initially seem!). This left just enough time to check in a our hotel, Hotel Aux Trois Roses and go to meet Kathryn for a very cheesy meal in La Cloche a Fromage (also known amongst ourselves as ‘the cheese restaurant’!). The food was great, with Ben and Kathryn opting for a Munster Salad and a cheese plate of seven different cheeses (which had to be eaten in a particular order) and myself choosinMaison Kamerzell  - spot the bored chef looking out of the window!g lapineau (rabbit, apparently) followed by sauerkraut. For desert, Kathryn and I had creme brulee (or the small amount we actually still had room for) and Ben had something else which we can’t remember the name of. After this, we went out for a drink at the phonotek, a newish bar. Unfortunately, due to a very busy week and not very much sleep, I was having trouble keeping my eyes open, so we retired to the hotel for the night.

The next morning, Kathryn was on a cleaning mission in her apartment, so Ben and I took advantage of some reasonable weather (ie. not raining) to go and explore the sights of Strasbourg. We ended up doing a fairly big walk, going to La Petite France, to Place de la Republique, down to Place Kleber (past a 1st May demonstration) and back to our hotel past the Briony, Kathryn and I in front of the cathedral.cathedral. We then visited Kathryn and whilst deciding how to spend the afternoon, ended up falling asleep for a little while! Luckily we woke up in time to go and meet Briony and Leo, who were arriving at the station shortly. Whilst waiting for their train, we had a drink and bite to eat in the bar in station. Then we made our way back to Kathryn’s apartment. We spent the rest of the evening having a great time catching up and having dinner (thanks to Kat for the amazing roast chicken and rhubarb crumble!) and some drinks. A lovely way to spend an evening!

The next day, we met at Kathryn’s after breakfast to decide how to spend the day. After some discussion, we opted to spend the day exploring Strasbourg. We went on a carousel ride (for some reason the boys weren’t keen on this, so just us brave girls went on). We also wandered around Le Petite France, explored (and got inspired by) the craziness of some of the colleBen and I in La Petite Francection in the modern art gallery (a traditional favourite place of mine!) and had an assortment of tarte flambee in l’academie de la biere, whilst sheltering from the rain. After that, we walked to the Orangerie, crossing a river full of strange creatures called Coypu on the way. We also saw the European Parliament and played ‘Guess the embassy’. On the way back, we had a quick look at the animals in the zoo (we even saw a one legged stork!) and then once again found shelter from the pouring rain in a nearby bar. We had dinner at Restaurant L’Ami Schutz in La Petite France before dropping everyone back off at Kathryn’s apartment and beginning the long journey back to Zurich. We arrived home just before midnight and went straight to sleep. What a fantastic weekend!  

Drinks at the Art Cafe on the top of the Modern Art Gallery... 
Coypu - weird rodent  creatures... European ParliamentEuropean Parliament

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April 29th, 2010 @ 9:17 pm

Every year at the end of the ski season St Anton hosts what has got to be one of the most insane ski races on the planet – Der Weisse Rausch.  The race is one part of a three part ironman type of challenge – The Arlberg Adler.  Not being much of a runner I don’t bother with the alpine marathon and so far haven’t been bothered to get my bike up to St Anton for the bike race, but the skiing bit I can do.  I’ve competed in the Weisse Rausch three times before which was more than enough up until race day when I decided that, just for the heck of it, I ought to do it one last time.

The official video of the race from St Anton Tourism

The race starts almost as high as you can go in St Anton, the top of Valluga.  The start is quite a sight to  behold as about 200 or 300 skiers all start at the same time in a so called ‘mass start’.  From the top it is aThe route that the race takes very shot schuss down towards a T-bar, but before getting there the racers need to head right and run up the hill to the Valfagehrjoch (just below the top of the Schindlergratbahn).  Once this run has been completed (depending on fitness that could be a couple of minutes or more) the actual race starts as the participants head straight down to the Ulmerhutte, around and then down Happy Valley (Steissbachtal), past the Mooserwirt and finally down to the bottom of Galzig.  Depending on the year, the bottom stretch could have an obstacle course built in just to make things a little harder.  It should probably be pointed out that this all takes place after 17:00 with the snow having been exposed to the hot spring sun all day as well as having been bashed around by all the skiers going up and down the whole day.  Suffice it to say, this race is not for the faint hearted!

The view from the start line View of the start line close to the start of the race

As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t intended to do the race so hadn’t signed up in advance, however it’s  almost always possible to get a start number on the day because so many people don’t end up turning up (especially when volcanic ash prevents air Since I hadn't got round to registering in advance, I had to have someone else's start number - cheers Michael!travel).  So I headed to the Wellness centre and picked up my start number on Saturday afternoon.  The usual nerves started to set in and only got worse as the afternoon went on and we headed up to the start.  I had companionship from Iain who was doing it on a board and Brendan who was skiing it with me.  Brendan had his helmet cam with him so has put together some fantastic first person footage of the race (at least from his perspective) which you can see by clicking this link.  Becky had told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to injure myself during the race so I decided I would make getting down in one piece my objective and not worry about getting down amazingly fast.  Even with this in mind it is a tough race as your legs are destroyed from the run up the hill and the snow is so heavy that it requires significant energy to move them even slightly.  The moguls just add to the fun as you hurtle down the hill, never actually sure that you’re going to be able to make the next turn or land the next jump.  Once down at the bottom there are a huge number of people out supporting and cheering, which is a nice feeling and gives that little burst of energy needed to take off the skis and run across the finish line.

Once you’ve caught your breath again it’s time to celebrate with a nice refreshing beer.  Thankfully Becky had been parked at Base Camp for the duration of the race, so beer was easy to come by.  The results are posted online almost immediately by Datasport.  As expected my time was not great; 18 minutes, but at least I got down in one piece 279th out of 412 competing male skiers.  Race over for another year, I’ll have to seriously think about whether to compete again next year or not….

Video of the race from a different perspective from Skiing Austria
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April 28th, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

So after the warmer climes of Miami we headed back to Europe where it was most definitely still winter.  Due to a scheduling mistake when planning the original trip to the US (I had not realised that 5th April 2010 was Easter Monday and therefore a public holiday) I ended up with a six hour lay-over in Frankfurt before being able to get back to Zurich.  Thankfully Frankfurt’s Welcome Lounge made that wait a great deal easier once I’d had a shower and a full breakfast!

Viiw from the top of Valluga 2

Once I’d finally made it back to Zurich (Becky had arrived earlier that morning) it was straight off up to St Anton.  Becky still had a week left of half term so the intention was for her to continue her skiing while I was at work.  Thankfully the weather was, on the whole, beautiful, so it wasn’t too hard being stuck at work.  Unfortunately Becky was not feeling at her best so didn’t get too much skiing done, but did enjoy the end of her holiday as far as I could tell!

A bit of a change compared to what we were wearing in Miami a couple of days before!

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Expedition Everest looking very mysterious in the early morning mist

The Tree of LifeSaturday morning was another early start as we had Magic Hours to take advantage of in the Animal  Kingdom.  So we headed off bright and early on the Disney bus to the theme park.  Even though the weather was very nice, it was still early in the year so the first few hours of the day were quite chilly, possibly damp and definitely misty.  As with other days, we headed straight for the popular rides first to try to avoid the crowds; this worked particularly well with Expedition Everest which we managed to go on two or three times, never waiting more than a minute or two to get on the ride!

Elephants sighted while on safari! A giraffe sighted while on safari! Various other animals sighted while on safari!

Bats!The Animal Kingdom is more of a safari crossed with a zoo which we took full advantage of by going on the safari a couple of times as well as walking around the various trails they have to take in everything we could.  Unfortunately Becky decided it would be a great idea to get on the Kali River Rapids.  Thankfully we had got fast pass tickets for this one so that we could come back once it was a little warmer.  This was sensible since there was a fair risk of getting a bit wet on the ride.  ‘A bit wet’ turned out to be quite an understatement as (luckily enough) we both managed to get seated in the two seats that got most thoroughly drenched.  A lot of time was needed wondering around in the sun trying to dry ourselves off!

View down one of the waterways throughout the park

For lunch we had noticed they had a Rainforest Cafe in the park which was somewhere we had wanted to eat dinner on Wednesday night in Downtown Disney but had not had a reservation and they were fully booked.  This time we got in quite early to reserve a table and so headed over there at lunch time.  The food was standard fare but plentiful and the decor and atmosphere does really make you feel like you’re eating in the middle of the rainforest (or at least to someone that’s never been there it does).

Gorillas doing what they do best - not muchSomething large and foreign asleep in the cornerTigers - these ones were behind bars thankfully

Pelicans on an island, if you look to the left of the island there are a large number of hippos sleeping underwaterAlligators - as if we hadn't seen enough of them already!Elephant blending in quite well

After another trip on the safari to see if we could see any animals that weren’t around earlier in the morning, we decided to call it a day and head back and enjoy the hotel pool for a little while – something we hadn’t had the opportunity to do so far!  We were going out to visit Ruth and Tom in their new home (Orlando at least, they hadn’t yet found an actual home) later that evening so quite fancied a bit of R&R before heading out.  Orlando turned out to be a lot of fun, we had a great meal of tapas (admittedly not particularly American) and a couple of drinks as we wandered around the centre of Orlando.  After drinks it was time to head back to the hotel, we had a very early start to get back to Miami in time for our flights the next morning.  Off back to Europe and away from the sunshine; at least for a little while.

Us enjoying the sun with our hotel in the background

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April 21st, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

The iconic Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot

After the long day in the Magic Kingdom on Thursday we were quite happy to have a much more relaxed start of the day at Epcot.  The park only opens at 9 and there were no magic hours that day, so we had a bit of a lie in and then headed over to the park.  We had intended to spend the morning going on the various rides and checking out the park, and then probably spending the afternoon back at the hotel enjoying the pool and weather, however that’s not quite how things worked out!

Not an ordinary fountain, this one is upside down!

We started off by going to as many of the popular rides as we could get to before the queues grew ridiculously large.  Unfortunately we missed out on Soarin’ (hang-glider simulator) but managed to get into most of the others.  For those of you who are not familiar with it, Epcot is aimed at the more mature visitors as opposed to Magic Kingdom which is clearly focused on the younger children.  Once we’d exhausted the rides and obtained our fast-pass tickets for those we were going to come back to later, we headed off to have a look at the World Showcase.  The World Showcase is effectively a man-made lake surrounded by buildings grouped into individual countries.  They have tried to pick famous landmarks and architectural styles for the buildings, and each area contains food and drink from the area it is supposed to represent.

View around some of the World Showcase 
Apparently they have British phone boxes in Canada, although not according to our Canadian friends... A large Norwegian Viking museum As we both like to travel, it was great fun being able to walk between all the countries in no time at all, and of course sample all the local fares!  We decided then and there that we would not be returning to the hotel, but would instead have little bits and pieces to eat and drink as we ‘wandered the world’.  We decided to book ourselves into one of the Japanese restaurants (Teppan Edo) for dinner, having found out that the quality and variety of places to eat in Epcot was far superior to the Magic Kingdom.  So for lunch we went for something a bit different and headed to Morocco.

Makes you feel like you're home, the England area of the World Showcase Paris Morocco The Japanese restaurant we had dinner in Germany with their Oktoberfest! Morocco China  Mexico Norway

After visiting Germany for a bit of Oktoberfest beer (that’s three countries I’ve been to Oktoberfest in now), alcoholic slushies from Morocco and some delicious margaritas from Mexico we headed back to the rides to check out those we’d missed earlier.  Once finished there it was back to Japan for dinner which was done properly in teppanyaki style with the chef preparing and cooking the food on the hot plate in front of you (as well as putting on a little show).  After the meal it was time to head back to hotel again – despite not having had such an early start we were both in need of bed so that we’d be ready for the Animal Kingdom the next day!

View around part of the World Showcase

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