Thursday, January 28, 2010

Austria On My Mind

We had a great little backcountry touring session in the hills beside our school this afternoon. Now we're mulling wine, drinking German beer, and listening to German beer songs. We're having an awesome little flashback.

Everyone think: more snow so we get a snowday (err, ski day) tomorrow!
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ski Turkey!!

What? Ski Turkey? Seriously?

Here, in the country of surprises (ahem, Turkey), turns out we can ski too. I mean, we realized the country is becoming known for it's climbing. And we knew there was skiing. But we had no clue about anything more. There is literally close to no information on the Internets about how the Turks do snow. We heard a rumor (seriously, this is how it happens) in December that the resorts were opening right about the time we had vacation. So, we decided to investigate.

We chose to go to Kartalkaya because it is the most popular resort near Ankara. It takes us about 2 and half hours to get there. Tim found information online for a hotel there---the Grand Kartal. Finding close to no information on the website, Tim called. Can we come? Yes. Are the lifts open? Yes. Is there snow? Yes.
And this is what we found. This was a blue-bird day with close to no one on the mountain. It had just snowed and we quickly learned that Turkish skiing is middle-eastern skiing: stay on the piste, no matter what. So we literally skied fresh tracks in the powder ALL DAY.

Is it huge? Certainly not. Is it bigger than where I grew up skiing in NC? For sure. Less crowded too. Are the people in the hotel awesome? Absolutely. We got a fabulous pre-season deal at the hotel. It was $90 a person and included the hotel stay, 2 days of skiing, all meals (huge buffets at each meal), all the booze you can drink, and an afternoon happy hour--all included. I'd say that's a sweet deal.

We went back just this past weekend and took two friends to teach them how to ski, and our friend Carrie met up with us there too. Now we're in high season--it was $175 per person for the same deal. But whatever. That still seems totally reasonable to me. Yes, of course it was more crowded, but there was still no one in the trees or off-piste anywhere. So we still had a great time. And of course it's awesome to teach friends how to ski and watch them have a total blast doing it!

Carrie drops into the trees:

The fabulous hotel dinner after a long day in the snow :-)

Simon: James Bond (according to Khadijah) on skis.

Yours truly:

Tim seasoning the hat he picked up for Johnny Love in Austria:

Had we just come from Colorado, I might be slightly disappointed. But I'm not. I'm coming from Quito, Ecuador: no skiing. For two years, no skiing. I will never do that to myself again. So the skiing nearby is like an answered prayer. I don't care that it's not epic. I don't care that it's not hip. It's skiing. Color me happy.

Next weekend we'll try a new, nearby area, and at some point this winter, we'll fly East to Erzurum, to a resort called Palandoken, where the Swiss have recently begun heli-ski operations and where, we hear, it is all off-the-hizzook. But again, we'll just have to explore.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Very First Ski Vacation

I know--it sounds so bizarre, but like I mentioned before, previous experiences in Colorado don't really count as VACATION. To me, vacation is travel, paying for food, mostly staying indoors, and you know, like, buying a lift ticket. We LIVED in Colorado. So we didn't go on vacation in Colorado....see the difference?

Ah well. So, for Christmas, to make it up to ourselves for surviving (with lots of complaining) two years without skiing, we gave ourselves a European ski VACATION, complete with meals in restaurants, staying inside in an actual bed, and buying lift tickets. Yes, it was expensive. But wow, we had a great time! So much so, we're seriously considering another ski vacation for our spring break.

We picked St. Anton in Austria. Why? Well, it's an easy train ride from Munich and we are able to fly direct to Munich fairly cheaply. And it's really German, isn't it? We figured it'd all be right up our alley and we were not disappointed. There are fascinating cultural differences between the European way of "doing" skiing or a ski resort and the American way. Consider us well-educated now.

Here's one thing the Europeans do, I don't know, maybe not better, but a helluva lot more entertainingly: Apres Ski. I guess St. Anton is known for the revelry that takes place once your ski day has ended. There are a few great bars on the bottom of the mountain--and by on, I mean, you still have about 400 meters left to ski down from these. They close at about 8 pm and it's quite the sight when these places empty out and everyone attempts to ski down. We did one night in the Austrian style and I'll post some videos a little later.

We began in this place with a couple huge beers and lots of German-table-stomping, bad-80s-covering, and stein-crashing:

Then we ended the evening at the Mooserwirt. Known only for it's crazy party and it was certainly going off:

Like I said, for what happened next, I'll just have to post some videos.

A couple of days were not clear, but this is usually what skiing looked like:

And we of course had to take breaks to buy bacon....

The Ice bar--seriously, made of ice. Like the hotels you hear about. It was, um, cold.

Our pretty little chalet. We LOVED this house and the sweet couple who ran the place. If we ever go back, we would immediately book the same spot.

We, um, survived the runs in the pic below. It was big and not well-maintained like the off-piste in-area skiing in the States.

Favorite mountain bar complete with mulled wine.

You may notice that we're skiing with packs. That's because having your avalanche gear with you is necessary unless you plan to ski the one-cat-track-wide piste going down the mountain. The groomed routes are the only things guaranteed to be patrolled and avy controlled. So you must be self sufficient, even in-bounds. This is a huge(!!!!!!) difference between how they do it in the Alps and how they do it in the States. In the States, ski resorts are measured in acreage and you do not need avy gear in-bounds. It's all controlled. In the Alps, if you have no beacon or avy knowledge, you are relegated to the one track winding down the mountain--the piste--which is why the Alps are measured in kilometers or miles of skiing.

Honestly, we have a LOT of shots of the mountains, us skiing, and us drinking German and Austrian beer. I'll make you a web album, Mom! It is every bit as incredible as I expected it to be. I think the Alps must be my archetype for "mountains."

Let me just close by asking that anyone who reads this, please, please, help me put it out there in the universe: I want to work in the Alps. Think, for me please: School in Switzerland. School in Switzerland.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

She Missed Us

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Christmas Eve and New Year's Day in Munich

This year for Christmas break we did something we've never done before: we took a ski vacation. Now you're thinking, but you skied all the time in Colorado. Sure, but that was just what we did. It was just life. This time, it was an adventure to a new part of the world for us.

We were fortunate enough to have a little bit of time in Munich before and after our trip to the mountains, and we got to experience a pretty good feel of the city. Fortunately, too, we had a tour guide. While in Ecuador, Tim volunteered for an overseas vote organization which just happens to be based in Munich and run by two expat women. The woman he worked with the most, but whom he had never met, Marina, offered to meet us Christmas Eve and show us around. She did that and so much more (including finding our hotel) and we were so grateful to have her there the first day. We were really able to maximize our time on the flip-side because of her as well. Thank you, Marina!

We had to smooch under the mistletoe!

My one chore in Munich was to trek over to the Patagonia store so they could repair or replace my down sweater. They replaced it, of course, and we were off to see the city.

Most street vendors in the city work this way--you get a token, pay a little extra up front so you can drink out of glass or ceramic, then you take back the mug and token and get your money back. Deposit system--it's great. Really cuts down on garbage. These were our mugs for "glühwein," my new favorite thing. It's hot, mulled wine and all the restaurants, bars, and what-not have it. It really became a staple for me this vacation.

The only major Christmas market still open on the 24th was the one in the city center. It was still pretty packed with last minute shoppers and tourists. It was all like Christmas overload and I must admit, I loved it.

After a serious walking and underground transit tour, we settled into one of the beer-houses along the pedestrian area. We ate lots of sausage, potato, and pork roast (a recurring theme for this vacation) and had plenty of these:

After our awesome lunch, Marina helped us figure out the train situation, and we were off to the Alps after a fabulous introduction to German culture!

On our way back from Austria, we had one night to spend again in Munich. Now, there's really only one thing open in Munich on New Year's day: beer-houses! So we embarked on a do-it-yourself beer tour.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Quick Trip to Boone and Back

December was quite the month 'o travel for little ole me. Our December began in the middle of a vacation! It was the second Muslim "Bayram." Remember, the first one we went climbing in the Aladag mountains (beautiful!) and it was the "sugar holiday" where everyone fasts for the month of Ramazan or Ramadan or whatever YOUR locals call it and ends with children getting candy from neighbors--much like trick-or-treating but with a prequel of patience and much delayed gratification.

The second Bayram is important for families to spend time together and sacrifice an animal of some sort. Usually the animal is a goat and several families get together on a goat, do the sacrifice, and have a big feast. If you're rich, you can afford to go in with others on a cow. It was for this holiday that we took our first big road trip in the mighty Buda (yes, one "d" as is it's short for Budapest) down to Turkey's climbing Mecca, Antalya, on the Mediterranean coast. It was a great trip, but I'm leaving it to Tim to post about that, because this post is about what happened on the way back.

We were on the road, driving back home, chatting about our trip and getting excited for our ski vacation only 3 weeks away, when we got a phone call from my Mom in the middle-of-nowhere-Turkey (technology is truly amazing). My grandfather had passed away the night before. We weighed our options, I took a short ride on the emotional roller-coaster, and then two days later I was on a plane bound for NC.

I made it Boone the morning of the funeral and even got a day with my brother, saw family and family friends--some of which I had not seen in five years--and generally had a really good time remembering our great patriarch. My grandfather was incredible. He had just turned 99 and had spent the last year and a half in a nursing home. He lived by himself before that and suffered from macular degeneration, meaning, he was for all intents and purposes, legally blind from about age 80. But he just kept going. He was caring, and funny, and actually touched many more people than I realized. His funeral service was full to the brim with people who knew, appreciated, and loved him, and it was beautiful to have him remembered so eloquently by so many who knew him personally.

In a nut-shell, wow am I glad I went back. 24 hours of travel and a hefty plane ticket is nothing when family and close friends are concerned. I'm glad we had the resources to send me there and that we have supportive people around us who come together to make everything work.

I got to spend about five and a half days with my family and visited some friends. One of my best friends had just had a baby on Thanksgiving day, so I got to meet the new addition. And I got to see the Klamborowskis and meet their son for the first time. It was a very satisfying thing to say goodbye to my grandfather with my family and meet some new little people too.

When I got back to Turkey, we had about a week left of school, and two weeks to Austria.....