Friday 23rd January 2009

Day 1 – Saturday 10th January You would think that I would be asleep, three to four hours before I head off on holiday but I was actually updating this blog, believe it or not. I had to get a last pre-trip entry posted even though it does not actually account for much. I slept for a few hours and had originally intended to leave at 3.30am. I actually left at 4:01am precisely and still recall the time on the dashboard on my car. At 4:34am I called Pav while on the M4 motorway, he thought I was outside his house in Reading. I had picked up Paul from Slough and we were just coming up to the Bracknell junction (10 or A329(M) for you keen drivers! Instead of going directly to Pav’s I stopped at the BP garage and inflated my tyres (due to the additional load). I then raced the car around back into town and pulled outside Pav’s house. Geoff’s brand new Seat Ibiza was already parked outside and ahead of me. I think this is the point to note that I think it was foolish for the guys with the three door hatchbacks to drive to the airport. Particularly when we have t_dogg and Pav with a Ford Focus and Rover 200 respectively. Oh well, never mind. Somehow we managed to get the luggage into my car. Although it took a little moving around as I was carrying the additional passenger of Paul this year. One less member of our party this year, down to seven meant one less car, you do that math. We headed out onto the motorway just before 5am, we had an hour to get to Gatwick and made excellent time on the motorway. Pulling up outside APH car park just before 6am. We were on schedule but perhaps for the only moment on this holiday but obviously I did not know it at the time. Geoff beat me by about ten minutes as he took the Bracknell, down to M3 route rather than M4 direct onto M25 before M23 route like myself. I went to sort out the car while the guys loaded the coach, well they gave our luggage to the coach driver who loaded the hold. Pav came up to me, “Yours the blue suitcase mate?” “Yes”, I replied. “Well, your carriage awaits…”. I rushed to my car, and put the key on the driver seat and then headed onto the bus. There was a major sense of déjà vu. We had to wait on the bus for a few minutes while other holiday makers came on board but eventually we headed off to the airport. However this time, we were disembarking at the North Terminal. As we grabbed a trolley and headed upstairs, we lost Pav. He had taken the lift while we had taken the stairs. We were directed outside to a queue. It was long. Pav was about two lengths ahead of us. The reality of having to wait in line came as a bit of a shock. Particularly as last year, we had gone through to check-in with only a few people at the other desks. This time around, the place was packed and I do mean packed. The queue outside, continued inside, right before we were shown to a check-in desk for our flight. TOM4561. We checked in separately, so first six of us, then Ben as he had booked his flight separately (he was the plus one, I was supposed to fill!) Once we had checked in all our baggage we headed through to security, there was a shorter queue here and the process was quite straight forward. We were ‘airside‘, Em wanted a drink and we walked around most of the concourse to find a place to get a cup of tea. Everywhere had long queues, so in the end the group opted to get a snack from Costa. I just could not be bothered to queue anymore, so headed off to the departure gate 112. A good fifteen minute walk away. Emily was slightly annoyed that I would abandon the group so early into the holiday (after a mere two hours). I was feeling anxious for some reason and am never really settled until we are up in the air and on the way. I had no idea how the day was going to plan out and even if I had, there was nothing I could do about it, even as a superhero. While I waited for the others, I did feel it strange we were kept waiting for so long before we were allow to board the flight. My seat was 27D (an aisle seat) next to Geoff and Foxy (who had the lucky window seat). We were the last group of people to get on, due to Foxy’s insistence to sit around in the lounge area by the gate and look out the window, “boys”. The departure time for our flight was 8:40am, please take note of that. There will be a test later. Firstly there was a two hour delay, due to a lack of deicer. Yes, I did just type “deicer”. There was a lack of available deicer trucks at Gatwick, so we had to wait for our wings to be cleared before we could take off. This was not a major issue for me, I could live with it. However by the time we were up in the air, it was 10.30am, we were on our way. Or so we thought Forty five minutes into our flight we were informed by the captain that the landing gear could not be retracted so had to turn around and head back to Gatwick. Although he did state we could continue the flight to Chambéry, it was not recommended due to the amount of fuel it uses. So we landed sometime around midday and ended up on the tarmac at Gatwick. There was no indication of how long the wait would last. The captain did try and keep us informed but I suspect he was told only minutes before relaying information back. Firstly the aircraft was checked by engineers and then a part found and brought back to the plane. However it could not be fitted and the plane would not be serviceable for the next twenty four hours. I condense in a few sentences the events of several hours. We were given our breakfast soon after landing, which was very strange. The vegetarian meal had the meat substitutes and the meat option was actually meat free. Now, how does that work? Our party were coming to the end of their patience, particulary Em. Geoff and t_dogg headed to the front of the plane to the open door to get some hair. I was quite happy to just sit in my seat and listen to my Zen. I was annoyed but tried my best to not let the situation get the better of me and all that time I thought how wonderful it will be write this all down on the electronic page. It was just before 3pm when a member of the crew came and spoke to people individually. We were told that we were going to get taken to a holding area while a new plane was arranged. It could be next door, it could be in Manchester or Glasgow. We would then be boarded back onto the plane, no change or reprinting of boarding cards, along with all our luggage and on our way. However there was information given about our destination airport. Apparently after 4.30pm it closes off one runway and reduces capacity greatly due to night fall. We had to make sure we got onto that flight. Plus, our pilots were on shift until 8pm, after that we were going nowhere fast. It took a while for the coaches to collect us to arrive at our plane. Perhaps they were stuck. While in the holding area, I called home and to the shock of my Mum and sister, they found me still in England, when I should have been on the slopes. There was a wait of thirty minutes but it felt less than that because we could roam around free and not be kept like cattle on an aircraft. The new plane just outside the window was being prepared, we were going to be on our way before night fell on Gatwick. I was able to sneak into the window seat (27F) on the new plane, but got permission from t_dogg before hand. As we took off for the second time in the day, albeit only six hours later, my Dad was calling me on my mobile. I had to hang up and switch off my mobile. He was most likely concerned if I had got to Tignes. Not quite but we were finally on our way. We landed at 18:50 (CET) only a mere seven hours later than we planned. We bagged a transfer via Crystal Ski slash Thomspon Airways and then waited to collect our luggage. This was a small airport with the baggage carrossel just a few metres away from the main entrance and exit. We got our kit and then headed out to the cold car park looking for our coach to Tignes. It took us a while to find and in fact we had to ask a few people. The staff were great, particularly a guy with long blonde hair (do not recall his name) who raced around and found our coach for us. We then arranged to be dropped off in our village. Chris was the new rep looking after us. It was his first week with Crystal Ski. While we were waiting I called home to let my sister Julie know I had arrived safe and sound. We then boarded the coach, the first people on and waited for the rest of the passengers from subsequent flights to board. We ended up waiting over an hour for the Boswell family to board. They did not arrive and we left around 9.30pm. Almost three hours since we had touched down, but I was just glad to be on my way. It was a two hour transfer, so I plugged in my Zen and slowly fell asleep in my seat. I had been sitting next to Pav but he moved to sit next to Emily, so I took the window seat. It was a long and dangerous drive. The coach driving was throwing the vehicle around the corners of the mountain roads. Believe me, I preferred to just close my eyes and not look out the front windscreen as the coach hit insane speeds travelling in the pitch black. Obviously the driver (who looked a lot like Doctor Eggman) had the experience to handle the big long vehicle along these dangerous roads. I was quite glad to get off the coach just after midnight when we arrived in Les Brieveres. We had a little tour first though, the driver taking us right down to the end of the village, with a view of the flood light gondola. We quickly turned around and were dropped off in the centre of town. We thanked Chris for all he had done and headed to find our chalet. This was the start of yet another new mini adventure. Pav had printed off the driving directions to the chalet from the website. We strolled up the main road in the village hunting for the local nightspots mentioned in the directions. We actually were heading out of the village, but we then spotted Hotel Genope and realised we were turned back on ourselves. Pav and Emily headed down the small road down to some chalets and it was then we realised we were in the right place but just not there yet. The area behind the chalets had some garages but we had to walk further down to th eed of the road to find our chalet, La Brizzole. We waited for the owner, an elderly French lady that spoke no English. She was rather annoyed to be woken up at midnight but we had called the owner (her husband) regularly on our landing and given an accurate ETA when on the coach. However, he was not getting some Zs while the rest of us were waiting in the bitter cold night to get into our accommodation. Pav tried to explain (by making childish airplane movements with his hand) that our flight had been delayed. The only word from the French woman we could understand was “Fin” as she drew a line in the air with her hands, much like a conductor would kill his orchestra. Eventually she left and disappeared into the opposite chalet and we decided to unpack and get some food. I was hungry. I do not think any of the others had eaten anything either. We headed to Vincent’s Bar (a Dutch bar but frequented mainly by English tourists). It was time for a snack before we crashed out. Yes a complete day (and then some) had been wasted on getting here but we were determined to look on the good side. We had made it to Tignes, we had got to our chalet and we had got ourselves a free transfer from the airport. Not a bad day, just tiring and mildly annoying. Particularly when I generally have no problems with my journeys be they for business or pleasure. While at the bar, the barmaid, Sophie, from Norwich told us some of the places to go in terms of food and drink. It was nice to be given some local advice. After the food we headed back to the chalet, I was shattered, as were my friends. I recall falling asleep at 2am. Tomorrow our holiday could finally begin, I was gutted that I had not got onto the slopes on the first day, but it had been the day of travel, now rest. Tomorrow the true esscence of the holiday could be born. Day 2 – Sunday 11th January It was rather a major act of wishful thinking to set my alarm for 7:25am (my Nokia E65 which for the record I never use as an alarm clock back at home). I was in a very deep sleep but remember picking up the mobile from the floor at 7:43am to switch it off. Everyone else was already awake by the time I got out of bed, Ben was in the shower. I had corn flakes for breakfast for first time in years. Well it was not proper official Kelloggs Corn Flakes but some cheap French Grand Jury homebrand. It did not taste that great but it was food and I was hungry. I had some toast too, even though Emily offered me yoghurt. I turned it down when in reality I should not of. I did not know how long I would be spending up on the slopes. After getting ready, puting on my ski gear, we headed up to the rental shop, which was directly opposite Vincent’s. Most of the holiday makers were either out on the slopes or heading out already. The group in the chalet opposite us, headed out at 9.30am. The Intersport was a lot more primitive than in Kitzbuhel but you have to compare like for like. That particular winter sports rental establishment was opposite the bottom of the world famous down hill race. Here I was in the smallest village of the resort. After Foxy, Geoff and Ben got their gear, I was next to try on some boots and then get my skis and poles. We made use of our fifteen percent discount sent by our accommodation agent, based no less than the Netherlands. I took the option of insurance, plus was surprised that my credit card scanned with a changed name of Mr. Andre Tegala. Will it change to Andres if I go to Espana? Once we had our gear we headed back to the chalet to change and then headed out to the piste. It was this time I bumped into the chalet owner and he directed me to the shortcut to the slopes. I explained (in English) that we were meeting friends opposite Vincents and hence going in the opposite direction. Before I continue, I need to explain my camera situation. The original plan had been for me to take my sister’s camera, as I did last year. However, when I text her on Thursday afternoon, Natalie explained she was out at the weekend and taking the camera with her. I did not really want to take my bulky camera out onto the slopes, so on Friday (yes the day before my holiday was due to start) I went on an impulse crusade to get a cheap compact camera. Pav recommended the CyberShotU from Sony but I eventually went for the Casio Exilim. I had wanted the Fuji but it did not take SD memory. It was a big fat mistake because the camera did not charge when I bought it home, even after six hours, so I returned it for a refund. However, instead I took the family Kodak camera. An extremely basic and plastic 3.2 megapixel piece of junk, however it would mean photographs from my holiday, something I could just not do without. However, my batteries were dead, so I had to go to the convenience store and buy four AA Grand Jury branded batteries. To my surprise I did not think they would last the week but they did! So, here is one of my first photographs from the holiday, when it should have been at least the twenty third.

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Sorry about the bright yellow date stamps but I just am not that familiar with the device and it goes without saying I will not be using it again. We were waiting while Ben went to book his private ski lesson and Pav went back to the chalet to get his gloves (or was it camera?). Ben’s lesson was booked for 2pm and we headed to the main gondola and bought our passes. I got the pass for the whole area (Espace Killy – named after the former Olympic Champion, or so I’m informed.) We then headed up the gondola to the ski area. I was looking forward to getting onto the snow and my confidence was quite high. It was picture postcard material all the way up to the top and when we got off and everyone got their kit on we headed down the slopes. Ben was struggling and it soon appeared it was going to take some time to get down. If at all.

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One of my few crashes on holiday came as I was trying to circle around part of the red run, I lost my balance, one ski went up in the air, closely followed by another. It was quite dramatic and must have looked great but Pav did not get the picture in time. I got back on my feet (or do I mean skis) and then headed straight for the edge and Paul. He was looking worried as I got closer and closer but eventually came to an impressive stop and turn just in time. The view was magnificent but I was glad to be heading off the red onto the blue.

Who Is It?

There is heated debate, as to whether the person on the deck in this photograph is Ben or myself. I think it might be Ben but I could be wrong. You will need to click on the above image and view the full resolution (1024×368) image to get a better look and even then you might still be none the wiser. Back to the actual action on the piste, the rest of the gang (i.e. all the boarders, took the red run down, meanwhile Geoff led, with myself and Ben following behind. It was very much a case of throwing Ben onto the mountain far too early and he could not cope. We made slow progress down the adjoining blue run. We made it down to the end of the road and a steep turning to the left and it was here that took Ben a little time to make his way around. Geoff and myself tried to coach him. I should have left it all down to Geoff, he was the experienced skier, I was just trying to give some encouragement. There was no way I was going to just leave the guy in a heap, even though I did not know him that well. This was our second meeting, since the Eurovision house party back in May. We made our way down to the next bit and Geoff took the lead and I followed Ben, my confidence was very high and I felt I could take on any run over the whole resort. It was slow progress down the piste but we had a problem. Ben’s lesson was at 2pm and we were cutting it fine. After the step u-turn we headed down a relatively low incline. We got there and I did enjoy the humps on the way to the straight before we got around the corner, a clearing after the trees. Then it was another sharp turn and a steep run down to the chairlift (which looked like it was closed, we would find out later due to the day of the week!). Ben was really struggling now. Geoff tried his best to help and improve his stance but I am not sure it helped. I headed down to the bottom of the run and waited. A few minutes later, Ben had taken off his skis and was walking down the run off to the side (technically off piste). Geoff came down and explained Ben had hurt his ankle and was going to get a taxi back to the chalet. I was an eager beaver and just wanted to ski all the way back down but I had to show solidatry with my fallen comrade. For I was that fallen comrade last year. We walked back up to the village of Les Boisses. We were looking for a taxi and headed towards the direction of a bar and bumped into an English girl, Jess. (This would not be the first time such a scenario would occur for me). It was then the suggestion of catching a chairlift down came to mind but there was no way of walking up to the lift we could see plus there was doubt that Ben would make it. So he headed into the bar and got the taxi driver. We headed down to the parked Ford Transit Minibus and loaded our gear in. The driver asked why we did not ski down. Our friend had hurt his foot we explained in English. He understood. (He reminded me of a younger Lt. Columbo). We were dropped off by Vincents and Ben headed back to the gondola to try and re-arrange his lesson, while Geoff and I headed back to the gondola! I said goodbye to Jess and wished each other a happy and injury free holiday. We met up with the others by the main gondola and headed back up to the top. Ben cancelled his lesson and headed back to the chalet. We headed up back the main gondola and then took the chairlift up to the top of a red run. The chairlift (Marais) seemed to go on forever but gave some fantastic views of the mountain range. It must have been about 2:20pm local time and I had long three hours ahead of me. I just did not know it yet.

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As it was only the first day and we only had a few hours to go before the lifts closed, we decided to stay local and just ski and board down to Les Brieveres. I lost everyone, including Geoff at the top of one of the runs which splits in two. On the left a red run, on the right, a blue run which I took down. It was hard work and it was getting late. My mission was to get to the gondola before it closed at 4.15pm. As I got to the top of the run, I could see it was open but by the time I made it down (took me well over an hour) it was closed. There was no option, I had to go down. My confidence had gone after a few stumbles and the heavy incline was just too much for me, plus remember, my technique is very basic. Actually that is another subject I want to talk about. Towards the end of my lessons last year, I remember a woman in my group discussing her lessons, with a different tutor. “You are not actually skiing” was the phrase that stuck in my mind. She was explaining that although she was able to get down the mountain she was not actually skiing. Snowplough turn, traversing across (but not quite in parallel). Just as Emily would say to me a few days later, when attempting the snowplough turn, as you have zero grip and move so fast downhill before you come out of the turn and then traverse across again. This was my technique for the holiday. Perhaps with hindsight I should have given myself a two hour private lesson to hone my technique and master the parallel turns. Miss Poole’s verdict was that once I could do that I could take on my red run. Even though I did attempt to practice on the green zone in Le Lac, there was just not the time or commitment from myself. However, I promise not to give up and more on that in the final day. So let me put you into my shoes (or rather ski boots). I am stuck high up on a mountain. My friends are nowhere to be see and most likely heading towards the chalet if they are not already there and the main gondola, my get out of jail card if you will had closed. I had no option, I had to ski all the way down. Once I got to the main gondola (Sache) and was skiing past it, I felt a little better, for I had completed part of this run only three hours or so earlier. I made it down but it was slow progress and the sun was setting behind the Alps. I made it down to Les Boisses but it must have taken me around thirty minutes if not a bit longer. Here I had a choice, I could get the taxi with Columbo down back to Les Brievieres or just ski down all the way by myself. The thought sat a while in my mind, eventually the ski option one and I did not like the thought of shelling out €20 for a journey. I made it down to the beginning of the blue run and was surprised at how busy the piste still once. These were the experienced skiers and snowboarders, the extreme guys and girls coming back after some epic runs over in Le Lac, Val Claret and beyond. I on the other hand was nervous but keen to get down to the bottom. It must have been around 4.50pm by now and speed was of the esscence. It was getting dark, I had to get back to the chalet. I did not have a phone with me and did not know where the others were and Pav had text me. However, although I had perhaps lost all the arrogant confidence I had at the beginning of the day, I felt assured in my ability to get down to the village. I did and at 5.20pm, I opened the door to the hall way. Almost at the same time Foxy opened the door the other side and gave a loud, “Hey!”. Emily had just put her coat on to go and raise the alarm. with my safe arrival there was no need. My ears should have been burning as they had spent most of the last hour wondering on my location and well being. The evening was spent in, although Ben & t_chien (t_dawg translated to French) did pop over to Vincents to watch Man United versus Chelsea. We popped to the shop and then came back to prepare dinner. Or rather Em and Pav did the hard work preparing a delicious lasagne and apple crumble desert. Foxy, AKA t_chien, check up entertained while we waited. Firstly he did some over analysis of various songs including Papa Can You Here Me? by N-Dubz and played a few songs from the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge album, mainly the Dizzie Rascal version of That’s Not My Name. “They call me blud, they call me rude boy”. It did have me in stitches but it was the analysis from my friend. He really had listened to this songs in detail and knew the lyrics backwards. It was almost like a re-run from May 2007 when we went down to the South West Coast. Back then the artists under the microscope were Lady Sov and Bill Bailey. After dinner it was time for the first game of Uno. We had played the game back in Kitzbuhel as we had found a pack of cards in the bar at our hotel. We got a good few games going but Paul lost closely followed by Ben in the next game. The forfeit which was decided by the group was for the loser to face the firing squad. The snow ball firing squad that is. The winner had three shots, the rest of us two each. Foxy was so keen that he went out before the end of the game to build some snowballs. The best moment in the game, was when I was out and there was a quick fire moment of +2 cards. First from Geoff, then Em, then Paul. So I thought Foxy would have to pick up six but he came out with a +2 card himself, to give Ben the awful task of picking up eight! It was no wonder he lost that round. Felt very strange it was Sunday evening, the village was quiet and we were heading out tomorrow for a full day skiing in the morning. We all wanted an early night. I feel asleep around midnight, almost on the dot. We had started to watch Dragon Rouge on French TV but given up.

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