Limitations

After my brilliant first day’s riding, things went down-hill—and not in the awesome way!  Waking up after the previous day’s efforts, I was exhausted and hurt all over.  Nevertheless, I was determined to make myself go riding.  Lewis drove me up to La Plagne, and I hopped on the lift.  La Plagne was significantly icier and grosser than Les Arcs had been, and I really was too exhausted to be taking on something which requires balance (actually, my abs are still sore from riding on the 2nd—and it’s the freaking 10th as I’m writing this!).  I caught my heel edge and fell about ten minutes in, literally on my first slope of the day, and smacked my head hard.  Lots of skiiers stopped to ask “ça va”, but after taking a minute to hold onto consciousness, I waved them onward.

I now had The Fear, the blight of snowboarders everywhere!  And it was awful.  It makes you ride so badly, making you fall over and hurt yourself more—it becomes self-perpetuating.  I had a hot chocolate and an éclair and checked that my pupils were the same size in the mirror (I’ve had a lot of head injuries), and really just wanted to go home.  But how the hell was I to get there?  The only feasible way was to traverse across to Les Arcs and catch the funiculaire (train thing) down from there, so feeling thoroughly miserable, I started it.  It was not a good time, I was pretty dizzy/shaky and scared.  Sigh.  If I’d just accepted that my body has limitations that even stubbornness can’t countervail, I wouldn’t have been in this situation!

In the end I got to Les Arcs—at least to one side of it—and asked a lifty where the free shuttle bus left from.  No dice: they didn’t run in the middle of the day!  Feeling just awful, I trundled through the town (Peisey-Vallandry) until I aspied an information office.  Surely they’d know a way down?  But alas, still nothing until at least 4pm or so: hours in the future.  I could, not, even.  I sat down glumly, looking at a map to try and figure if I could get somewhere easier.  Then I went ‘screw this’, and with a spirit of determination, went back up to the info guy.

“Is it illegal to hitch-hike in France?” I asked, to his expression of surprise.

“Illegal?  Why would it be illegal?  Actually it is very good here.”

Clearly it was hitching time, and ten minutes later I managed to get a ride with an English chap, the whole way back to Wicklund’s house.

The next morning I woke up feeling thoroughly ill, and having to clutch onto the sides of my bed, even lying down.  Dizziness level = extreme.  Hmmm, maybe I gave myself more of a head injury than I thought??  In the end I had to spend the day horizontal, so I used it to look for accommodation in Brussels.

The next day was more of the same, with me feeling better but still wobbly.  The guys went riding, but I decided that wouldn’t be a very sensible choice, so I went for a few hours’ wander through the town and spent the rest of the time horizontal again.  Woot!  Knows how to holiday?  /sarcasm.  That night I finally cooked dinner: the boys had been feeding me the entire time.  What legends, right?  Put me up, drive me around, give me food—they even made me a vegetarian option every night specially.  LEGENDS!!!

The next day would be my final opportunity to go riding before heading off to Brussels, and I was determined to do so.  It’s a rule I have: if I seriously injure myself on a trip, then I have to go riding again before I leave, so that that wasn’t the last thing that happened.  So I hitched up to Tignes for a half-day ticket (still too woozy for a full day, not to mention still aching—still!), and I hired a helmet.  Eugh.  To be honest, it was a mountain of ice, and it was *not* a good time as far as snowboarding goes.  Between my exhaustion, wooziness, and trepidation, I was riding like a punter’s girlfriend.  It was shit.  Seriously, the return from the top of the hill was red run only (Europe: green, blue, red, black—so this was only an intermediate run.  Dammit, I used to warm up on the blacks!), and I was miserable the entire time.  I took it slowly, but I was seriously doubting I’d make it.  If there had been another way down, I probably would have taken it.  Instead, I rode however many kilometres down and just resented it.  And railed internally over why I did this sport.  Eugh.  But I made it, which I guess is the point.

After ‘riding’, I went to Loop Bar to visit Sid.  Sid is a guy I met when I was living in a hostel in Northern Beaches Sydney for a couple of months.  I overheard the following conversation between him and a girl:

Her: “Where are you from?”

Sid: “Ireland.”

Her: “Oh really?  I’ve got a little Irish in me.”

Sid: “Would you like a little more?”

While she was horrified, I started laughing and went over to speak with him.  We could be friends haha!  In the end it turned out he was going to be in Tassie when I was there, so I gave him my number and said I’d show him around.  I ended up spending a day with him, his brother and their friend: I picked them up in Devonport then took them hiking at Cradle Mountain, and fed them a chocolate cake I baked.  It was pretty fun!

Anyway due to the chocolate cake, the friend wanted a recipe so had my email address.  I can’t remember why, but he popped into my head a couple of years ago, so I asked him for Sid and his bro’s facebooks, and I’ve been in touch with them again since.  So yes!  We caught up.

Of course, by now it was getting dark and there was no way back to Bourg St-Maurice.  I caught a shuttle as far as I could down, then tried to hitch.  No dice, and there really wasn’t anywhere good for cars to stop.  So still in all of my gear I tramped across an epic big dam, about as far as I could safely go (there weren’t footpaths).  I then spent another ~half hour standing in a pile of snow, my thumb out, and now pitch black.  One guy stopped, but he was going the wrong way.  I wasn’t quite sure if it was going to work, but had the feeling everything was going to be okay.  Finally, I picked up my phone and started texting Wicklund to see if he’d drive up and pick me up (around half an hour each way), when a big-ass truck pulled out of a nearby yard and started toward me.  Tell you what, I’m pretty sure my smile when they stopped lit up the night: I was pretty happy!  The guy, like my lift earlier that day, only spoke French.  So I told him I was happy and that I loved him.  Haha.  Face-palm.

That was pretty much it, really: that night it was just Wicklund and I, as Lewis, Tom and Tom’s bro were up at Les Arcs that evening.  So we chilled and ate, and then a solid night’s sleep before the next day, when I would head to my new home country.

Les Arcs

Yesterday was one of the best days’ snowboarding of my life!  In fact, it gets right up there into the ‘best days’ categories, full stop.

After a thoroughly reasonable amount of sleep and some vegemite (naturally), Wicklund drove Ros and I to the funiculaire, which we took up to Les Arcs, Paridiski.  I was a bit nervous to be honest—I hadn’t been properly riding since Italy in 2012!  The one half-day I spent messing about at Perisher Australia doesn’t really count.  Also I broke my arm, so boo.  I wasn’t sure if my body would still remember what to do, or if I’d end up breaking yet more bones/gaining yet more injuries again.

Happily, Ros was also happy to have a very chilled day.  She didn’t even mind my being a pain-in-the-ass snowboarder, having to strap my bindings on at the top of every slope (she’s a skiier).  So we spent the day cruising around, mainly on the beginner runs but having a lovely time.  And lo and behold, while I’m rusty, I can still ride!  Result.  Haha though I didn’t really feel like pushing myself and taking on the steeper slopes.  Maybe today, when I’m off to La Plagne.

After a solid five or so hours’ riding/skiing, it was starting to get dark and visibility was quickly dropping.  We decided to head for Arc 1800, which just so happened to have a pool and spa.  Wicklund had mentioned it while we were on our way to the funiculaire, and happily we went back to the house to grab bikinis.  I must say, the final ride down to 1800 was deadly: I was having to stop around every 400 metres to rest my legs and sit facing uphill for a bit.  So much burn!

Nevertheless, we got there and had a snack (yes to brownies!) before trooping on over to Mille 8, the aquatic centre.  Haha we made quite a few fails tbh: it was only once through the gates that we could purchase towels from the vending machine, and we didn’t have enough coins.  We ended up combining our funds, managing to buy a towel the size of a man’s handkerchief to share.  We then didn’t have enough coins for lockers, so just hoped nobody would steal our stuff!

The pool itself was lovely, with many trips to the saunas and hammams, followed by swims and walks around the pool, and of course a significant amount of time getting massaged by the jets.  Very talented jets, I must say: they managed to undo my bikini top (quick save!).  Haha there was one guy sitting opposite one set of jets, looking creepy as hell and just waiting for our tops to fall off.  There were also people outside in the snow taking photos of us inside, which was super weird.  It was still lovely though, and we went on a little water slide!  Hahaha and one of the French lifeguards absolutely threw himself at me, which was hysterical.

After a couple of hours it was time to go, and we caught the bus and funiculaire back down, at which point Wicklund picked us up and took us home again.  Legend, right?  And not only that, but he cooked us all an epic dinner (again), while I pretty much showered then wrapped myself in a doona.  It was honestly such an amazing day: and now, time to ride 😉

https://twitter.com/Bl4ckSheepWorld

Lowenbrau

I realise I have nine overdue New Zealand posts (which are forlornly awaiting photos), but something a little strange just happened to me, and so I am buzz-blogging for the first time since Piter.

I’ve just been out at the Lowenbrau with my housemate Crystal for a friend’s birthday.  It was this strange experience of having several different phases of my life all crashing together in a thoroughly unwholesome way.  There were snow people, from the friends to the drunken mistake; there was a girl who’s spent time in Mexico and another who broke out with some Norwegian; and then there was the bar itself.

Lowenbrau—”where it’s always fucking Oktoberfest” (possibly not the actual slogan)—takes its Germanic branding really, really seriously.  Everything’s all steins and prost, and the bar staff are all kitted out in fairly uncomfortable-looking uniforms and speaking the Deutsch (it should be noted that the cute German guy behind the bar was probably the highlight of the night).  All the same though, kitsch as it is, it did remind me of being back in Europe, and where I’ll soon be.

Then we have Mexico-girl, seasoned traveller, an obvious and long-standing part of my life.

Lastly, we have snow people, and oh god, am I glad that’s not my life anymore.  I’m so intensely grateful (to what?  to whom??  I’m atheist if not anti-religious, so I’m going to go with grateful to universe ju-ju, good fortune and ambition).  Snow life is full of so many toxic people, who only feel better for putting others down; who mistake ‘drunk’ for interesting; who value gratification over connection.  I am not interested in getting drunk every night, I am not interested in casual sex, and I don’t give a damn what people think of it.  It drives me crazy that I ever subjected myself to that life, that bro culture—there were good parts, yes (knowing hundreds of people on a night out; snowboarding snowboarding snowboarding), but man.  It teaches you that people are things.  It teaches you that money is for alcohol and partying and that a forgotten night out is more important than anything else you could be doing with your life.  It’s this big toxic morass which I want no part of.

Because the thing is, I’m having a damn good time.  I’m not just a snow person, I value others; I’m not just a traveller, I seek connection and am an accomplished professional; I’m not European (but am also not not).  And I don’t need to define myself in one of these categories, because I’m too busy getting on with just being myself.  I had a guy at a party a few months back objecting to the fact I am both ‘nice’ and consummately (he he) dirty.  “You can’t be both!” he cried, “you have to pick one!”  Well, I’m sweet and I’m filthy, I’m an adventurer and a professional, I’m responsible and a terrible influence.  (I’m not going to break into a certain Meredith Brooks song though, don’t worry ;).)  I’m so glad I know who I am and what I want, and I’m not trapped by cliques and lifestyles anymore.

Anyway, bedtime—it’s a school night!

Also, check out my interview by Sorin Suciu, author of the awesomely hilarious and geeky ‘the Scriptlings’.  The interview ranges from fairy-tales to pc games to Doctor Who, and you can find it on his webpage here: www.sorinsuciu.com/interview-laura-may

The Rila Experienca

(22/10/13)

My fantastic hostel in Sofia recommended that I go on a day-trip out to a monastery at nearby Rila.  Actually, the guy suggesting it said that there’s a sacred cave out there, and by passing through it you’ll be cleansed of your sins.  He said that I seemed like I needed a bit of cleansing.  There may have been winking.

In the end, there were five of us heading out, necessitating two taxis.  It was myself, three French guys and one miniature German girl.  Ramona and I went in one taxi, with the three guys in the other.  Luckily, our driver spoke Russian as well as Bulgarian, which Ramona and I could each speak to some extent.  So I had a couple of hours of Russian practice each way, huzzah.

We got out to the monastery, and as it turns out, one of the French guys was some kind of ex-religious scholar, and told us all about the things we were seeing.  Which were a bit messed up, to be fair: the monastery was Orthodox (I think?  It was very different to Russian and Greek Orthodox churches), but covered with paintings which would terrify even the most devout Catholic.  Think scenes of torture and degradation.  Charming!

Once we’d had a good look around, we went for a bit of a walk up a nearby road to see if we could get a good view, while the guys threw snowballs at one another.  And then, spontaneously and with no prior discussion, we all climbed a steep hill and went for a hike in the snow.  It was well past my knee, and on Ramona it was waist-high!  Plus we were all wearing jeans and slip-on shoes.  Seriously though—great life choice, it was so much fun!  Though sadly, my jeans didn’t survive the adventure: I fell through some snow into a tree, got my foot hooked under a branch, the rest of me slid down a hill, and I ended up not only trapped but with my jeans ripped the whole way up.  When Xavier came down to assist me, he spent at least two minutes laughing at me and my arse in the snow before he could bring himself to help.

On the walk, we encountered a wild dog and her adorable cubs, an abandoned shack, and apparently a new kind of monkey: the French guys climbed up some very unsafe-looking trees to take a photo of the monastery.  Haha I think the shot from ground level was just fine!

Being as we were not on anything remotely resembling a track, we had some difficulties getting back to ground level.  The others all got to jump off a high wall into a snowdrift, but because of my back I couldn’t 🙁  So instead I found somewhere to climb.

That night back in Sofia, it all got a little crazy.  We were drinking in the hostel, then I ended up with the French guys (and five more of their friends) at a nearby bar.  Wait, when I said it got a little ‘crazy’, I probably should have said ‘hazy’: memories are understandably indistinct!  I recall that at the bar, asking for rakia (the local spirit), the bartender asked me whether I wanted a ‘little’ or ‘big’ one.  Challenge accepted!  So there was lots of that.  I remember the French guy I was talking to (whose name I, again in typically good form, never bothered to ask) learned I was travelling by myself and was shocked.  He asked me whether I was scared to be in a bar with eight guys whom I didn’t know, and I asked him whether I had something to be scared of?  People were forever asking me that question on my Bloc Trip—’aren’t you scared?’—I mean, how does one respond to that?

Next it was off to some bar the guys had heard of in the student district.  I presume we caught a taxi.  We must have.  Wait, by squinting a bit I can just about remember—I think I had to give directions to the driver in Russian, because he only spoke Russian/Bulgarian, and the guys only spoke French/English/some German.  Whoa, it’s all coming back to me now.

Anyway, we got to the club and it was all a bit crazy.  The music was Western music from circa 2000 (Linkin Park, whaaaat), and it was the same price for one bottle of vodka as three.  So we had three bottles of Absolut on the table, and only two litres of juice (which I’d insisted on).  Every time I turned away to talk to someone, the French guy I’d been talking to earlier in the night would pour extra vodka into my drink (I have deadly peripheral vision), and when I turned back around I’d pour more juice in.  Didn’t think through ratios too well though did I, and sometime after completely forgetting English (I have this theory that after dealing with only French and Russian all day, then copious quantities of alcohol, my brain threw its hands up in the air and went ‘fuck this shit’), became crying drunk (probably not the French guy’s plan?!) and sent myself home.  God, the poor taxi driver: I was completely incoherent.  He gave me tissues though.  Man I’d hate to be a taxi driver.

So that was Rila-day.  Epic.

 

A place of many names

(18/10/13)

A couple of trains and a bus or so after leaving Mannheim, I arrived in Selva val Gardena, aka Wolkenstein.  It’s in an area of northern Italy which used to be part of Germany (?), but was reapportioned following WW2 (another ??).  As such, residents speak Italian, German, and a weird local dialect which is a mix of both and more.  It’s a beautiful little ski town at the foot of the Dolomites, but unfortunately it was cold enough that my SD card froze and I have no photos.  Yes, that’s literally froze: I think at one point riding, with wind chill, it was something like -40.  It was great, I had the slopes to myself!  I should also mention that, much like this introduction, the order’s a bit all over the place: too much snow and too much awesomeness in too short a space of time means that I’m not totally sure what happened when.

http://goo.gl/pcaS5H
http://goo.gl/pcaS5H

So why Selva?  My friend Wicklund was doing the season there and so I had a place to stay = yay (plus I wanted to catch up, of course—I’m not actually an arsehole).  And oh my god was it amazing: aggghhhhhhh (imagine my face melting as I’m remembering how good it was).  It’s a place I definitely want to go riding again, despite the problems I had with skiers (I was one of the only snowboarders on the mountain, and skiers literally walked up to me in lines and pushed me over.  They really hate snowboarders… where is the love?  I swing both ways!)

Wicklund met me at the bus stop and we headed back to his for some drinks, and I met some more of the crew, who were all snowily great.  At some point though, the travel caught up to me and I fell asleep on my designated couch.  Hours later, I woke up to find that I didn’t have the couch to myself: and while granted, I don’t like sleeping alone, I infinitely prefer that to sharing with random dudes.  I’m also not very polite at whatever o’clock in the morning, and I kicked him out.  Poor guy had to walk home in the middle of the night in -18 or something ridiculous.  (Maybe I’m an arsehole after all!)

After some minor money-exchange dramas the next morning, I bought my ski pass and went to go and hire a board.  I was travelling with my outer-gear and my own boots as usual, but my baby just doesn’t fit in my baggage allowance.  The guys set me up with a Burton Feelgood, which I eyed dubiously, but took anyway.  I then gondala’d up to the top, at which point I realised that there was a screw or two missing from my bindings (which definitely weren’t dropped by me as I readjusting my base-plates..), and I had to head back down again.  Which I did.  Newly screwed, I headed back up the gondala and took the board out for its first spin.  And yuck.  It was so squiggly and short and gross.  I also just don’t get what the fuss is about Burton boards, I prefer the ski brand boards (I ride a K2, and my favourite hires have been Saloman and Rossignol).  So I returned to the ski hire place in town again, walked in, and said that we really needed to do better.  I may or may not have said that I needed something longer and harder… but really!  I was talking about the snowboard!

Third time lucky—this time, I set the board up while still in the shop, and when I got back to the top (I put way too many hours into that gondala), it was lovely.  Perfect stance, and a nice firm board, too: I like it steep and fast, and I don’t feel comfortable doing that on softer, wiggly boards.  Ohhhh it was so gooood.

I had my usual random conversations with strangers over the next few days, of course.  There were a few guys who wanted to go riding with me but couldn’t keep up; one Austrian dude who claimed to have gotten sick of snowboarding after becoming some kind of European champion, and now rides a monoski LOL; and my personal favourite, a bunch of Russians.  I was next to them on a lift, realised what language they were speaking, and butted in.  “You’re Russian?” I asked.  They sure were.  “I speak a little!” I announced, and with no further ado, they handed me a bottle of whisky.  Sounds about right!

http://goo.gl/ohNP2B
http://goo.gl/ohNP2B

Oh my god, you actually have to go riding this area if you’re into snow-sports at all: even though I didn’t have particularly awesome snow, I was more than delighted to have something like 1500km of trails to play with.  On my second day riding, I got to warm up on a 15 minute black run.  Fifteen minutes!!  In Aus or NZ, black runs are over in 90 seconds, 2 minutes tops.  Ohhhhhh (more face-melting).

The next day I decided to attempt the Sella Ronda for the first time, a 40km trail that circumnavigates the Dolomites.  Turns out, I did it the lame, non-steep way, but it wasn’t so bad.  Before heading off, I remember I was sitting in a café looking out at the falling snow and having breakfast spaghetti (that’s a thing.. right?), when I was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that I’m probably the luckiest girl in the whole world, and started crying in the café.  It wasn’t awkward at all.  Also that day (I think), I had my big dog adventure, which I’ve already included in another post (actually an email I sent back to my colleagues in Aus).

Some time around then, we went for a night out in Selva.  Drinking.  So much drinking.  After pre-drinking following an epic chalet meal, we went to a couple of different bars (I could totally be mooshing a few nights together here), making it to some kind of salsa class at 11pm in a packed, sticky bar.  Needless to say, everyone was wasted, and I’m not sure how much salsa anyone really managed.  I do distinctly remember being somehow cut off from the group I was with by some Italian guys, and backing away from them until I literally had my back against the wall (where the ‘wall’ in this case is a big stone column).  They’re kind of aggressive.  I also remember terrifying amounts of jäger (much like with the barkeep at my concert in Germany, I ended up inverted alcohol/mixer quantities, having around 1/3 can of red bull and nearly half a bottle of jäger in my cup).  I couldn’t get through it, funnily enough, and passed it off to poor Rex, who just about died.  Finally, I somehow managed to cut myself quite badly on the plastic cup, and asked the bartender for a band-aid.  By the time I was sorted out, I turned around to find out that everybody I was with had left.  I sent a rather enjoyably irritated text ranting at Wicklund, then trekked off into the snow and figured my way back home.  Using wind direction.  Like all good drunken sailors.

On my final proper day of riding, I did the Sella Ronda again, but in the reverse direction.  It was much better: steeper, faster, longer, superb.  I was trying for the girl speed-record, but got lost for quite a while in the middle, and made the rookie (safety) errors of both paying attention to signs, and unstrapping when I was supposed to.  Next time!  Because there will be a next time.

On Friday night we went to go and see the local team play ice hockey against their nearby rivals.  It was my first ice hockey game (loved it), and also my first mulled wine experience (ditto).  It’s nothing on the Russian ice hockey experience of course, but on the upside, there was ample entertainment to be found in the opposing team’s supporters’ enthusiasm and rage; not to mention one of the player’s surnames:

Италия (2 of 3) Италия (1 of 3)

After a quick ride the next morning, I headed off to Prague to start my CELTA.  I, awesomely, managed to get off in Prague at the wrong stop (the penultimate, rather than final, stop).  I got on the next train to the city, and had my first functional Russian conversation, explaining the situation to the lovely train conductor.  She let me get on with no ticket :).  I was then greeted (‘gret’ should be a word.  So should ‘sprunt’ for sprinted and ‘meese’ for the plural of moose) by a taxi driver sent by the school, and we talked in broken Russian the whole way to where I was staying.  I was also somewhat flabbergasted to hear what was recognisably ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ on the radio, but all in Czech!

I just have to stress one more time how much I loved my time in Selva, and give a massive shout-out to Wicklund, Rex, and Kim in particular.  Thanks so much for your unbelievable awesomeness and hospitality!!!  😀