Things my beloved has lost: hire car keys

You may be wondering why I’m bringing this up over the holiday season but in the early 90s we were once again spending Christmas and New Year in Seefeld, Austria. This time, instead of driving from the UK, we’d flown to Munich and hired a car, a VW golf. After an overnight stay, we’d driven to the hotel on 23 December to discover the whole area was devoid of snow, although it was happily forecast for the coming days.

On Christmas Eve my beloved and I drove down from our hotel into the nearby Leutasch Valley. We parked the car next to a telegraph pole and went for a very long walk which included pit stops for coffee and lunch. As my beloved locked the car door, I suggested he put the key in the zippered pocket of his jacket. As we set off, there was a decided nip in the air and the sky looked ready to drop plenty of the white stuff. We walked almost the length of the valley, a great area for cross-country skiing, before finally stopping for lunch in one of the many restaurants dotted around the area.

We had set off for our walk after a plentiful breakfast at the hotel but the brisk exercise had given us an appetite and we’d lingered in the warmth of the restaurant before turning around and walking back to where we’d parked the car. By the time we reached the car, snowflakes had started to swirl and settle on the ground and the light was beginning to fade.

As we reached the car, my beloved asked me for the car key. Normally I would have taken the key and put it in my handbag but I’d not taken one with me. I’d shoved just enough cash in my zippered pocket for refreshments and lunch. I often find that when I’m out with my beloved I’m something of a packhorse as he happily expects me to carry everything he wants to take with him while refusing to carry a bag or backpack himself. My way round this is to carry the bare necessities – cash, lip balm and a hankerchief – in my pocket.

I reminded my beloved that he’d put the key in the zippered pocket of his jacket. Problem was the pocket was no longer zippered and no longer contained the car key. I have no idea when or why he’d unzipped the pocket but it was decidedly empty. We checked all his other pockets but none of them yielded any keys! I’ll leave you to imagine my reaction……………

There was no point in retracing our steps as the grass was now blanketed with snow and the restaurant where we’d eaten lunch most probably closed. There was nothing else for it. We walked into the main area of Leutasch and got a taxi back to the hotel.

Of course, we most probably wouldn’t have used the hire car over the Xmas period particularly now that it had snowed heavily. Our main method of transport would be our cross-country skis. After Boxing Day I contacted the hire company and explained our dilemma. I confess it was difficult to keep a straight face as I talked them through the problem and I’m pretty sure I heard a few sniggers at the other end of the line. No doubt our tale of minor woe would fuel a fair amount of amusement in the VW offices. They promised to organise a replacement key as soon as possible.

A few days before we were due to fly back home, a rendez-vous was arranged where we’d left the car, which by now was completely covered in snow. Luckily we’d been able to pinpoint it using the telegraph pole although we now had to dig it out. Fortunately, the hotel had lent us a couple of shovels though I had to explain why we needed them. Cue more smirks!

It took us quite some time to clear the car of snow but we’d just about finished when the replacement key arrived with a mechanic from the VW garage in Innsbruck. Unsurprisingly, the locks were frozen but he helped us to defrost them with anti-freeze and just like that we were mobile again!


Postcard from Seefeld: back where we first started

I first learnt to ski when I visited my French pen-friend who lived in Grenoble. The whole family were excellent skiers and, after they taught me how to do a snow plough, I just tagged along. Never having skied before, I didn’t have any kit. Fortunately, the girl next door was the same size as me and kindly lent me some. I was conscious that unlike them I wasn’t swooshing down the pistes but nor was I making a fool of myself. I took to skiing like a duck to water probably because I was a reasonably proficient ice and roller skater.

Fast forward 15 years or so and I found myself heading to Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a work colleague, a keen skier, for a week-end’s alpine skiing while we were auditing our Frankfurt office. I generally shied away from spending week-ends away with colleagues, the working day and evening for three weeks being more than enough. But as there were just the two of us on this audit, I kind of felt obliged. Unfortunately my colleague was a danger to himself and everyone else on the piste so I wasn’t keen to be seen with him. However, on the way to the resort, inspiration struck and I elected to go cross-country skiing. It was love at first sight and on my return home, told my beloved we had to give it a go.

Our first cross-country skiing holiday was in Seefeld, Austria, in 1986, chosen because of its reputation as a cross-country skiing resort. We spent two weeks in an apartment not far from the cross-country ski tracks following a course of instruction. I rapidly progressed, my proficiency as a snow plougher par excellence standing me in good stead, plus I’m pretty fearless. My beloved’s lack of hip flexibility – yes, even before his recent leg break – rather hindered his progress, but we were soon up and running using the classic technique. It would be some time before we progressed to skating.

We enjoyed a number of winter holidays in Seefeld, including one with my parents, refining our technique and skills. In 1990, my beloved decided we were ready to take part in the Engadine Marathon, a well-known winter sporting event in Switzerland. We spent the week before the main event taking part in some intensive training, which included a trial-run mid-week where I got lost – a tale for another time. On the Sunday we both successfully completed the marathon which was the first of our six participations, though the only one where we used the classic technique. That’s right, the following year we rapidly progressed to skating which, once you’ve mastered the technique, is an altogether easier and swifter proposition.

Aside from trips to the Engadine and to visit friends in Zell am See, we’ve spent many more happy holidays cross-country skiing in Seefeld and the surrounding area most notably a couple of years ago when we stayed in a hotel chosen by my beloved – big mistake! This time we chose to return to an apartment where we’d previously spent a week during a rather wet summer back in 2009, a rather more agreeable proposition in the town itself.

Over the years, we’ve skied all of the area’s cross-country ski trails many times, walked and ridden our bikes all over the area. We know it like the backs of our hands and while the resort has grown, it’s not lost its essential charms – at least not for us. It’s almost three years since we were last here and we’ve enjoyed spotting what’s changed and seeing how it has evolved.

The resort now boasts many estate agents. Back in the mid-80s properties for sale were advertised in a small display outside of the only newsagent, now the town sports many, including a very large branch of Engel & Voelkers, a decidedly upmarket estate agent. It also sports my other ritzy resort bell weather, a shop selling Il Gufo – a wickedly expensive brand of children’s wear.

This year’s Christmas vacation will be very different from last year’s but I’m not expecting it to be any less enjoyable!

Postcard from Garda

We kicked off our trip to Austria, itself a bit of a gander down memory lane, with an even bigger one. The summer after my beloved and I got married, we went to Lake Garda for our summer vacation. Funds were limited. I recall going into the travel agent  – remember this would have been 1978 – and asking where could we go for a week for £85.00 that wasn’t Spain? My parents were in the process of buying a holiday villa in Spain so we knew that plenty of holidays in southern Spain would be in the offing. Hence my comment to the agent who suggested Lake Garda – sold!

We stayed in a small family run hotel on the shores of the north-eastern part of the lake in Malcesine. I had looked forward to practising my Italian but, because my beloved looked like everyone’s idea of a typical German – tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed and speaks the lingo fluently – we spent the entire vacation talking German. Aside from plenty of walks and boat trips around the lake, my beloved impressed the hell out of the other lake-side sun worshippers, mostly Germans, by swimming across the lake and back (It’s a long thin lake at the northern end).

Our drive to Austria exceeded my beloved’s new daily limit so we needed to stop somewhere on route. Initially, he suggested Brescia but I prefer not to leave a car full of stuff in an urban environment and I know parking’s difficult in the centre of Brescia, which we last visited for the 2013 Giro d’Italia.  Verona’s not too far from the lake but we’d spent a long week-end there more recently. So that left Lake Garda.

Of course, December is not necessarily the best time to visit the Italian Lakes but, on the plus side, it was free from the summer hordes and the weather was bright and sunny. My beloved chose the hotel, which I carefully vetted, and we decided to stay two nights so that we could explore more of the southern shores of the lake.

After arriving early on Saturday afternoon, we walked around the lake. Not Lake Garda, but the small lake next to the hotel which is surrounded by vineyards. We then relaxed in the hotel’s spa before supping some pre-dinner Aperol Spritzes, as good in winter as they are in summer. We ate in the hotel restaurant overlooking the lake. I can always find something to eat on Italian menus.

A good night’s sleep was followed by a hearty breakfast and then we drove into Sirmione for a stroll around its shoreline and pretty Old Town. The wind off the lake was bitterly cold but we’d wrapped up well though, once we spotted the outdoor thermal baths I would have been happy to fling everything off and sink beneath the steaming water. Unfortunately our swimming stuff was back at the hotel.

My disappointment was soothed by another Aperol Spritz – well it is nearly Xmas – in the sunshine where we were dive bombed by cheeky sparrows hoping for crumbs from our plate of nibbles. Then it was time for lunch at a small Osteria I’d clocked while walking around where I ate quite possibly the best tomato sauce ever and my beloved’s lasagna smelt divine.

We then drove back to the old fortified town of Peschiera which was celebrating with a small Christmas market. We just wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere and watching the sun go down over the lake. Time to head back to the hotel for a warm up in the spa and dinner.

Before we left on Monday morning, I purchased some of the local wine which includes two of my favourite red wines for winter, Amarone and Recioto. As we headed to Austria the snow became thicker and thicker. We’ve previously spent a number of Xmas holidays in the area but this was definitely the best pre-Xmas snow ever – a good omen.

12 days of Christmas: Day 12

It’s only appropriate that this picture was taken during our current winter vacation in Seefeld, Austria. This sums up everything I adore about cross-country skiing: blue sky, new snow, crisp empty tracks, at one with nature – bliss!

It just remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year with plenty of happiness, good health and every success for 2018.

12 days of Christmas: Day 11

It’s perhaps inevitable that after another fabulous vacation in Australia so many of the photographs are from our last trip there. My two younger sisters are dedicated sun-worshippers and couldn’t get over the number of photographs of totally empty beaches I posted on Facebook, such as this one on the Mornington Peninsula. But many of the beaches are dangerous, I’m not talking sharks but riptides which could easily sweep you out to sea. However, I just loved those miles of empty sandy beaches bordered by greenery and pounded by the waves.  I think they look wild and remote. Perfect for a spot of chilling, but nothing more.

12 days of Christmas: day 10

My two sisters complain that I never take photographs of people and it’s true. Mine are typically of places. This is a rare photograph featuring my beloved. It was taken back in April while he was recovering from his broken leg. As you can see, he’s still on crutches and standing in front of one of our favourite locations on the Cote d’Azur for brunch. It’s a fabulous hotel on Cap Ferrat, wonderfully managed by the Four Seasons Group. We love going for brunch in early autumn and late spring when it’s warm enough to sit on the terrace and drink in the magnificent views. I’m a big fan of buffets because although there’s plenty I can’t eat, there’s lots that I can. This one has a particularly good seafood buffet where I can fill my boots with oysters and prawns.

12 days of Christmas: day 9

This quintessentially Provencal scene is the fountain in Uzes’ main square. The beautiful, mellow, honey-coloured stone, the trees providing essential shade from the summer sun, with the restaurant parasols providing further protection, all paint a charming scene. We stayed in Uzes to watch the start of the Vuelta a Espana in Nimes, not far away. It was our first visit to the area and we were charmed by its sense of languor, old-world charm and fabulous wines. I want to go back, if only to visit its Haribo factory. Gummy Bears anyone?

12 days of Christmas: day 8

After watching Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France in wet and windy Duesseldorf, we spent a couple of nights in Maastricht in a hotel overlooking the Meuse river. We know the town well having spent a fair amount of time here watching the 2012 UCI Road World Championships, Amstel Gold Races plus visiting clients nearby. It has a lovely old town but inevitably one’s eye is drawn to the bustling river which bisects the town, separating old from new. I took this photo from our hotel bedroom.

12 days of Christmas: day 7

This year’s Giro d’Italia, its 100th edition,  started in Sardinia, a place we’d never managed to visit. We spent just over a week on the island driving from Alghero in the north-west down the eastern coast via Olbia – not far from the Costa Smerelda – and Tortona before flying back from Cagliari. It’s a beautiful island, not unlike Corsica, largely unspoilt and very reasonably priced, Costa Smerelda aside! After my beloved broke his leg, I feared we’d have to cancel the trip but fortunately (for him) it went ahead. This is a picture of the north-west coastline near where we stopped for a sea food lunch before attending one of the team press conferences.

12 days of Christmas: day 6

This picture was taken in early September in Valencia and features two of the Calatrava designed buildings at the City of Arts and Sciences. The one on the left is L’Hemispheric, an IMAX cinema, planetarium and laserium, while the one to the right, El Paulau de les Arts Reina Sophia, is an opera house and centre of performing arts. The buildings form part of the 12 wonders of Spain and respectively were the first and last of a cluster of buildings to be built in Valencia on the former riverbed of the Turia. The buildings look like something you might see in a Star Wars movie but the architect was in fact inspired by the massive skeletons of dinosaurs. Either way, I love that the buildings are reflected in the surrounding ornamental pool.

My beloved had raved about Valencia ever since he’d seen the America’s Cup there with a former boss who was a keen sailor. I was keen to visit and while the City of Arts and Sciences is magnificent, as are its miles of sandy beach, Valencia is a bit of a curate’s egg – good in parts. I’d go back there  but only to watch the MotoGP season ending race in November or maybe  football match at the Mestalla.