Smoke On The Water

Day 312 (16th of January 2017) – Paris, France

Another swell morning in the city of love. It’s not bad looking into the centre of your apartment complex and seeing this.

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Annie and Dad went for an early walk around the district. With pictures like this, we quickly reorganised our plans so that we would be able to spend the first half of the day exploring what was on our doorstep.

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We tracked down a corner café for our morning coffee. Our people-watching was probably getting creepy by this point. While sitting there, we discussed some of our best memories in Paris during trips past. It quickly became evident that Centre Pompidou ranked highly on all of our lists, and so we made a snap decision to book tickets and go there this morning.

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Just opposite the Centre Georges Pompidou on Rue Brisemiche was the iconic wall of graffiti, casting its intense gaze down over the courtyard.

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Inside the centre itself, we climbed its famed exterior escalators to the top floor.

Its from here that one of my other favourite viewpoints over Paris can be found.

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The Centre Pompidou showcases the largest collection of modern art in all of Europe, all housed inside what has to be one of the most radical architectural statements in the continent.

When we visited, the Pompidou was displaying two special exhibitions: René Magritte and Cy Twombly.

René Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist known for a number of witty and thought-provoking images, the most famous being “The Treachery of Images”.

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Magritte sums up the philosophy behind this work pretty well in his own comments:

“The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!”

Often depicting ordinary objects in an unusual context, Magritte’s work is known for challenging observers’ preconditioned perceptions of reality. Here were a few of my favourites.

And how’s this for wit.

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And this one which, before writing this blog, I had looked at in Dad’s camera roll and thought was just a bad photo. It just clicked though – which is closer to a pipe, the painting of the pipe? Or the picture of the painting of the pipe? Or are they both completely unrelated to the pipe itself?

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Twombly was particularly… hard to grasp. Visual art has never spoken to me in the same way that music does, but I find that I can greatly appreciate certain types of art (especially contemporary photography). But this? Nah, not this. To me, this genuinely looked like the work of a two year old. And to think of the money that he was paid for this…

Besides the two special exhibitions, there were a number of other sections I enjoyed.

I found the Soviet-era art particularly fascinating.

Following the Centre Pompidou, we walked to the lunch spot which we’d found during our morning walk. Of course, we were dragged into a dog clothing store along the way.

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We chose this specific lunch spot because it offered a dish called “Andouillette”.

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Andouillette is a French sausage and the favourite dish of Dad and his brother, John. More specifically, it is a tripe sausage, made up of the intestines and other guts of the animal. As such, it has a very inconsistent texture. But more noticeable is the smell – it fills the room with its gamey odour as soon as the skin is pierced. I loved it, especially with mashed potato and Dijon mustard.

img_1445And with that bad-boy sitting in our stomachs, we were off again.

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This time, we were heading to Canal Saint-Martin. Emerging from below ground near place République, the canal’s towpaths take you past locks, bridges and ordinary Parisian neighbourhoods.

The area started off very… grimy. But, as we walked south alongside the river, things brightened up.

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In fact, it was the perfect photo backdrop.

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We dipped in and out of the multicoloured shops. Annie even found something for her room.

Bianca tried to orchestrate a Parisian Abbey Road remake, but it didn’t really go to plan.

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The rest of the graffiti-lined streets surrounding Canal Saint-Martin were limited, but they nevertheless warranted a good stroll.

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Despite initially planning to scrap our visit to Montmartre, we figured that with the help of Uber we’d have time. So, before we knew it, we had been scooped out of the canal streets and brought to the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.

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Begun in 1875 in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War and the chaos of the Paris Commune, Sacré-Cœur is a symbol of the former struggle between the conservative Catholic old guard and the secular, republican radicals. It was finally consecrated in 1919, standing in utter contrast to the bohemian lifestyle that surrounds it.

This viewpoint is one of my other preferred views over the city of Paris. I have vivid memories of sitting here on my own French exchange, watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle in its nightly light show. I also remember one of my best mates, Paul, getting violently ill on one of the benches here. I had to team up with another good mate of mine, Sam, and take him home alone in a taxi. It’s amazing the things that they let you do on these exchanges!

We wandered down the hilly cobblestone streets of Montmartre, pleasantly surprised at how much the city of Paris had cleaned up the area. In visits past, this has been pickpocketing central, but not tonight (or maybe the pickpockets were just much more discreet…).

At the bottom of the hill we saw the famous Moulin Rouge. For 110 years tourists have flocked here to see the showgirls perform the famous French cancan.

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Dad often tells a story of when he brought Mum here to watch the work of art, only for her to leave shocked and angry.

We relocated dinner to a location more convenient for us in Le Marais. It was here that I had the highlight food of my French trip, specifically the bone marrow in this dish.

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I pride myself in not being a fussy eater. I think that being open to new and obscure foods is essential, not only in travel but in living an exciting and open-minded life. I no doubt derive that notion from my parents. But, if there’s one thing I dislike, it’s bone marrow. Can’t stand the stuff. The texture, maybe.

But this dish was something different.

That’s when food is best – when something you previously disliked convinces you that it is worth appreciating, and suddenly you fall in love with it.

On the way back to the AirBnB, we dropped into a local jazz club to hopefully get a taste of some of that April in Paris by Charlie Parker-type stuff. But it was to no avail. Not only was the jazz club a different style to what we had expected, but there was very little room left. We would have to leave that for our next destination and Europe’s capital of jazz, Montreux.

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Day 313 (17th of January 2017) – Montreux, Switzerland

The family’s brief sojourn in France had come to an end in no time. At midday we had organised for a train to take us to Montreux in Switzerland. Being avid skiers, the aim of this trip was for the family to visit a resort in Switzerland. But with a little more time up our sleeves, we chose to visit Montreux on the recommendation of a travel agent for a destination other than a ski resort which is worth a winter visit.

Some of us went for a walk in the morning to buy some French pastries for breakfast, but we were rushed to come back and finish packing when the AirBnB host turned up surprisingly early. I had discussed with her upon check-in that we would be checking out at 11am as specified on their AirBnB advertisement. Without Bianca’s superior French to aide me, I attempted to explain this to her to no success. Instead, the host continued barging into the house and cleaning up our bedrooms while they were still in use. It was a very awkward situation over all, and one which made for a rushed and unpleasant departure. To make things worse, the neighbours on the floor below had spent many hours of the night knocking a broomstick against the roof in an attempt to silence the naturally audible footsteps of a six-person family, so a few of us hadn’t slept very well.

In the chaos, we managed to board our train on time but without half of Dad’s wardrobe which he forgot in the rush. It was a bother, and I began trying to convince the host to mail it to us in Switzerland if we paid the cost.

The good news was that we were treated very well on the train. Floor-to-ceiling windows and meal service were among the benefits of an upgrade in class – the sort of travel which Aimee and I had lacked during our independent adventure.

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On the way to Montreux, the ground became white again. It was a welcome return to earlier in the winter.

In the 19th century, writers, artists and musicians flocked to this pleasing lakeside resort. The town’s main drawcards are the peaceful walks along a lakeshore blessed with 19th-century hotels, a mild climate and a famous jazz festival. So steeped in music history Montreux is that it’s actually referenced in the first lines of “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple.

“We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline.”

In this gorgeous city we were staying in an even more gorgeous hotel – Fairmont Le Montreux Palace. It was overly luxurious. I’d go so far as staying that it’s the best hotel I’ve had the privilege of staying in – I really owe the ‘rents for letting me stay in this one.

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This 1906 hotel was considered modern for its time with heating, electricity and private bathrooms with hot and cold running water. It quickly became the hot location for Venetian Nights, fancy-dress balls and concerts. As the world descended into war twice in the 1900’s, the Montreux Palace was used a palace for Allied soldiers on both occasions. It has since returned to its former glory as a hotel.

The rooms were spacious, the hallways were wide, and it seemed like the mahogany ballrooms continued into infinity. But best of all, this hotel had pole position on Lake Léman. What a sight for sore eyes.

Much of the beauty of Montreux was in its relatively small size. It’s a relief to travel to a place which doesn’t have a list of must-see tourist attractions longer than the Bible itself. Montreux is marketed almost purely on its serenity, and that’s what we were here to experience. We lazed around on our balconies all afternoon. I occupied myself by taking a walk around the town and organising everyone’s SIM cards for the duration of their time in Switzerland. I also booked a Chinese restaurant just behind the hotel. While not the most fitting start to our Swiss trip, it was a much needed return to the motherland of food.

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Day 314 (18th of January 2017) – Montreux, Switzerland

I arose early for one of the few tutoring sessions I had organised this week. Never was it easier to wake up – the beating sun made the cool, crisp air a bearable temperature. The windows of the lounge framed the French mountains across the lake, making the perfect location for a morning’s work.

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With breakfast being on the pricier side at this hotel, the family were already roaming around town trying to find food by the time I’d finished tutoring. When Aimee and I messaged them to link up, they replied saying that they were at McDonalds. Chinese and Maccas – our first two meals in Switzerland. Not bad.

The walk along the lake to the local McDonalds was at least filled with pleasant views.

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Along the way we also saw the Freddie Mercury statue. Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen, was one of Montreux’s most notable residents.

We walked back past the hotel on our way to the big walk we had planned on doing. The route went all the way from Montreux to Vevey, passing through the Swiss town of La Tour-de-Peilz along the way.

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The walk would take just over 40 minutes, bringing us past authentic Swiss towns and lakeside villas. Aimee opted out of the walk after having pulled her achilles the day prior, but the rest of us continued onwards.

It wasn’t only the natural formations which were picturesque, but the animals too.

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We even found a castle along the way.

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Vevey, the final leg of the walk, was by far the most interesting section.

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Vevey is a town 20,000, but don’t let that trick you into thinking it’s insignificant. It’s where milk chocolate was invented, and it’s now the location of Nestlé’s global headquarters. Vevey was also the location of Charlie Chaplin’s final family home. 

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We got a few witty photos with the fork sculpture, including Mum attempting to hold it.

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Whoops, not that one.

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What the fork.

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The fact that this Charlie Chaplin statue is the top rated “thing to do” in Vevey on Tripadvisor is testament to the fact that this town is more about its atmospheric location than its historical sites.

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Our stop at Vevey also produced what became one of my favourite photos of the trip – the three siblings back together.

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Mum eyed down her entry for the family photo competition, and with her brains and my shutter skills, we captured it.

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While sitting with a cold drink and enjoying the sun, a well trained dog began approaching Dad and I, nudging us to throw it some snow. We did, over and over, watching it leap into the air and bite our snowballs into a mist.

I secured one of my possible entries for the family photo comp.

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The town of Vevey itself seemed more lively than Montreux, but it lost that signature tranquil aura. It still made for an excellent walk, but its ghost-town feel made you think that it would be much more alive in summer.

We caught a bus back to the hotel, meeting Aimee after her day spent reading. I don’t know how she became glued to her novel with this view staring her in the face. What a place to read. Photo credits to Aimee.

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While there was still some light, Aimee and I went out into the town to search for some food. My lunch was a tomato and buffalo mozzarella panini as well as a caramel desert.

The balcony made the perfect setting for a few old-fashioned staged photos.

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Tonight’s meal was in the hotel jazz club, eating as we listened to the jazz singer scat in the background.

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Montreux has a history rooted in jazz. As such, there was no better place to experience such an enjoyable dinner.

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Day 315 (19th of January 2017) – Zermatt, Switzerland

A 10am train to our next destination, Zermatt, left us with just enough time to go searching around the town of Montreux for some breakfast. Of course, I didn’t do that. I chose to sleep-in instead, initially going hungry until submitting to overpriced train station food to fill me up.

The ride to Zermatt was easily the most scenic of my whole year’s travel. It beat out the Berlin to Prague train, which really blew Aimee and I away. The mountains and gorges through which we passed only seemed greater through the massive windows of the train, making you feel like you were in a real-life movie.

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Frozen waterfalls were scattered up the cliff faces. They made it look as if the water had simply stopped flowing mid-air.

Either side of us, rivers flowed into dams.

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And amongst all of this, people lived peacefully in small villages overshadowed by the tremendous mountains surrounding them.

At last, after the almost three hour journey time, we were in Zermatt.

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Zermatt is a town in southwestern Switzerland which sits at an elevation of 1,620 m, putting it in prime position for access to some of Switzerland’s highest peaks. Naturally, Zermatt has become best known for its skiing. In fact, it markets itself on being a resort which offers skiing 365 days per year, made possible by the Matterhorn glacier.

In that initial picture, you’d be able to spot that very famous Matterhorn. The Matterhorn is actually what made Zermatt famous in the first place. The 4,478 m high peak has in many ways become the emblem of the Swiss Alps. This iconic peak was first summited by Edward Whymper in only 1865, making it one of the last alpine mountains to be conquered. In the initial expedition, only three out of the seven initial climbers returned. It is estimated that over 500 alpinists have died on the Matterhorn since the first climb in 1865, making it one of the deadliest peaks in the world.

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But exploring that mountain was for another time. Today was all about orientating ourselves with the village and hiring all of our ski gear.

Our chalet was hidden amongst this cluster.

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We caught a miniature taxi up to the property. Combustion engine cars aren’t allowed in this village, only smaller battery-powered ones.

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We were all gobsmacked by the sheer size of the villa. It’s not often you get to stay somewhere so spacious at a ski resort like this.

The highlight was the view. Sitting on the balcony, you could gaze at the Matterhorn right through the sunset.

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Dad was quick to put the first post up on Facebook. At prime time, of course.

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After being introduced to the property and the town by the villa company representative, we all took a stroll to Flexrent to get our gear for the coming week. On the way, we saw just how Zermatt gets its reputation for being one of the most beautiful resorts in the world.

Hiring our skis, boots and helmets was a cinch. Aimee, only having skied once before in her youth, seemed to have no problems working herself into the notoriously rigid ski boots.

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After hiring everything, we moved on to the town centre to go grocery shopping. The buildings on the main street gave way to a spectacular background, all to the slow trot of horses and carts.

At the grocery store we bought a trolley-full of everything we thought we’d need. Our rough plan was to eat out on the mountain for lunch, but to eat in most nights for dinner (except tonight…). 

We also browsed some winter sports stores, and even got to try out some battery-heated gloves and socks.

Between home and dinner, Annie’s brains and my shutter skills produced what would be one of her top picks for the photo competition.

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Dinner was at Schaeferstube, a traditional Swiss Alps restaurant in the heart of the town.

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It all seemed very authentic, with details right down to the traditional Swiss cowbells hanging around the room.

Look at Aimee’s face as she realises the price of the meals. I think we were all equally shocked. That’s Switzerland for you!

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Dad, Aimee and I ordered a lamb fondue, hoping that it would be the pot of melted cheese that you always hear about with some lamb on the side. It turned out that it was much more of a hotpot. The dish was served as a plate of high quality raw lamb which you then skewered and cooked yourself in a communal broth. It wasn’t what we were expecting, but there was no regrets in our order.

Most of us made sure to get an early night with all of our ski lessons beginning at 9am tomorrow. The talk over dinner made me very excited to return to the slopes. Skiing, as will become evident in this blog post, is definitely one of my greatest joys in life.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get an early night. I caved in to a tutoring student and did a session from midnight until 1am. I’m glad I did, though. It means I can spent a little more cash while in this expensive country.

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Day 316 (20th of January 2017) – Zermatt, Switzerland

It’s not often that I’m excited to wake up before 7am. But today was one of those days. It was our first day of skiing. Organised for us were half-day lessons – an instructor for Aimee (who’s a beginner skier), and an instructor for the rest of us (who have a bit more experience up our sleeves).

The skiing mountain at Zermatt is divided into four areas: Sunnegga, Gornergrat, Klein Matterhorn and Schwarzsee.

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It was at the first area, Sunnegga, that we were meeting for our first lesson.

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This is the most accessible part of the mountain from our part of Zermatt, and it also happens to cater for beginners. It was the perfect ease back into skiing, especially since our last holiday was at Val d’Isère over two years ago.

Our instructor’s name was Max. He’s a 23 year old Brit from just north of London, and he’s been skiing his whole life. As a young boy his family moved to Tignes, the resort connected to Val d’Isère, and ever since he has been an avid skier. These days, he lives year round in Zermatt with his little brother. Zermatt, he says, is one of the few resorts in the world where ski coaches can make a decent enough income to make savings, and as such he can see a long-term career in it.

After linking up with Max, Mum, Dad, B, Annie and I all followed him down some red runs. The grading system in Switzerland is a bit different. Over here, blue is beginner, red is intermediate and black is advanced. We were all surprised by how quickly everything came back to us. I would go so far as saying that by 20 minutes into the skiing, I felt like I was back to where I left off (or maybe I was just getting far too confident…).

We skied past the Matterhorn towards a cable car which brought us to well above 3,000 metres in elevation.

As we gradually built up our confidence, we reached more difficult-to-access areas. We even passed a helicopter taking off and dodging through the scattered peaks of the Alps. It looked like it was from Air Zermatt, which is the subject of a Red Bull documentary series called “The Horn” (would highly recommend).

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By the end of the first lesson we were already back onto some of the more basic black runs of the mountain. It was good to know that there was very few skills that we had to re-learn, and instead we could focus on extending ourselves from where we left off.

At midday, we were dropped off at Chez Vrony, one of Zermatt’s array of world-famous mountain restaurants. Dad will be the first to tell you that this is one of his favourite parts of skiing – a good lunch on the slopes. I couldn’t help but agree. Whereas as some resorts’ lunch consists of a quick meat pie on the mountain, a lot of these European destinations place a tremendous emphasis on good food and service regardless of the altitude.

Meanwhile, Aimee had also wrapped up her first lesson with her instructor, Martin. She spent the day at “Wolli Park”, the beginners area of Sunnegga. It was here that she was introduced to the skiing concepts of leaning forward, putting weight on the downhill ski and braking with a “snow plow”. By all accounts she went superbly. Aim’s perception of skiing is a little warped by a tough day of learning as a young child, but today served well to remedy that and make her discovery that phenomenal experience of “gliding” which she enjoys so much in ice skating.

With her skills still being basic, though, it was difficult to find a place to meet for lunch which she could access. Luckily, Chez Vrony had a walking trail towards it. Aimee got her first experience of a long, tiring walk in ski boots on the way down. We found her waiting at the restaurant by the time we got there. It was to my absolute delight that there was a very wide smile on her face.

“I loved skiing!” was the first thing she said to me.

Thank God. That’s a compulsory for me.

We all sat down for a well-earned lunch. Dad and I ordered the fondue we had hoped for last night. This time we ordered correctly – it was the famous dish of melted cheese and white wine with bread.

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Following lunch, we all split up. Annie came with me to join Aimee in practicing at Wolli Park. The others stayed at the restaurant for a bit longer until Mum and B continued to ski together for the rest of the day.

At Wolli Park, Annie and I followed Aimee up the famed “magic carpet” and followed her as she curved her way down the gentle slope. It was evident that Aimee was a fast learner – I don’t think I was this confident so early on. Mum and Dad certainly weren’t…

We must have skied down that slope at least a dozen times before returning to the village for the day.

Back in the village we were able to appreciate the glorious weather even more. Aimee was the first to remark that she hadn’t realised how much she’d missed the sun before seeing it again. She was absolutely right. There’s something very rejuvenating about a bit of sunlight.

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Back at the apartment, I fell asleep as soon as my body hit the couch. I woke up a couple of hours later to the sound of Twilight. Bianca had the family glued to this ridiculous movie. I wasn’t an exception either, it seemed.

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Bianca had also prepared everyone an excellent ravioli dish. She did it on the condition that each child cooks at least one night in the week. I gave her a hollow nod, stressing as I realised that I literally did not know how to cook. I’ll have to see how I can get out of that one…

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Day 317 (21st of January 2017) – Zermatt, Switzerland

It was day two of skiing. After another Coco Pops breakfast we were back up on the slopes bright and early for the first run of the day. Unfortunately, Zermatt isn’t so much of a “ski-in ski-out” resort. Instead, the village is some distance below a lot of the main ski areas. As a result, you have to catch a funicular or gondola up each morning. The resort is very well designed, though, meaning that this isn’t much of a hassle at all. The place where we store our skis is just across from the main funicular too, meaning that we don’t have to lug around lots of gear all the time.

Aimee met Martin almost as soon as we arrived at the top, and they headed off for their lesson. The rest of us waited a little longer until Max arrived and skied off with us. Today, we were heading to the Gornergrat side of the mountain so that we could move on to some more exciting slopes for our ability. It was on our way to this area that we caught a cable car up to Hohtälli, a point at elevation 3,286m on the mountain which offers a breathtaking panorama over the surrounding Alps.

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From here, with our eyes still glued to the skyline, we took off skiing.

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Today it was all about regaining our “carving” technique, that meaning the skill of edging your skis into the snow so as to reduce friction and increase speed on turns. It is a sexy way to ski if you get it right, and so we all tried for hours to perfect our carves and make them as extreme as possible.

Just like yesterday, we organised that our lesson would end at a restaurant on the mountain. After skiing past a bar with pumping music yesterday, we figured that it might be worth a visit. And so it was. We met Aimee at Adler Bar. Best of all, though, she was able to ski there this time. Already! On day two, Aimee was hitting blue runs like a pro. Couldn’t learn much faster than that.

At lunch, Dad and I ordered their signature chicken dish and began to understand where the restaurant got its reputation from. There’s nothing quite like eating wonderful meals like this while looking at the Matterhorn in the distance. The one downside, though, is how bright the sun gets. Mum and Dad forbade me from wearing my goggles at lunch again like I did yesterday, and so today I was forced to wear Dad’s bogan speed dealers. Please excuse them.

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Following lunch, everyone once again split up to do their respective things. Aimee’s ability isn’t quite in line with the others yet, so it’s best that I ski with her until she’s up to speed at which point she can start joining everyone else.

Aimee and I skied down from Adler Bar to a chairlift which brought us back to the Sunnegga base. Since Aimee isn’t yet able to do red runs, we caught the funicular back to town. From here, we were able to catch a train to the top of Gornergrat where there’s a haven of blue runs.

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The train up took half-an-hour and was certainly longer than the funicular alternative,  but it was a far more enjoyable form of transport. It provided some of the most spectacular viewpoints over the town of Zermatt, and it allowed you to access spots which you couldn’t get to on foot.

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We both agreed that going to Gornergat after lunch time was a very good choice. Since today was the first time that Aimee had ever been on a blue run, she craved some space away from the crowds and speeding expert skiers spooking her. Gornergrat provided just that environment. Take a look at this video. This is day two of skiing!

By the time we finished the long blue run down, we were ushered off the slopes by the ski patrol. They were closing the piste.

We caught the train back just as the light started to fade. It had been an exhausting full day of skiing. We had certainly used our mountain passes to their fullest potential.

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After Aimee and I had made it back to town, we headed to the supermarket to pick up some more mince for the family’s dinner. While in the town centre, we also took the opportunity to extend Aimee’s half-day lessons for another three days, meaning that she would be taking lessons for six out of the seven total days of skiing. You can imagine being in Aimee’s position and how it would be initially disappointing finding out that you would be off in your own group lessons all day while your boyfriend and his family all have fun skiing together. In the end, though, it was Aimee who chose to extend her lessons. She was getting so much out of them and quickly growing used the routine of skiing with her coach in the morning and with me in the afternoon. It really had worked out perfectly.

While in the town centre I also investigated paragliding. I’ve always wanted to try out an extreme sport like this, but outside of bungee jumping I’ve never seen the opportunity. After witnessing a few people hop off the cliffs at Zermatt and glide down to the village, I decided that I wanted to do the same. After finding out the $300 price tag for a 15 minute ride, though, I opted out and decided to delay my paragliding adventure until returning to Australia.

Back at the villa, I fell into the same trap again of falling asleep as soon as my body touched the couch. I was woken up only for a dinner of tacos prepared by Mum before I fell back into a deep sleep. There’s very few things which are as tiring as a big day of skiing. It’s good to know, though, that you’ve used up all of your energy. It’s a great way to keep active.

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Day 318 (22nd of January 2017) – Zermatt, Switzerland

Today was the last lesson with Max, Mum, Dad, B, Annie and I. From tomorrow, Max would continue coaching us but only in smaller groups (the kids or the adults). It would be a better split of ability and we would learn much more. As a result, Max was much more of a “tour guide” today than an “instructor”. On Dad’s request, the class was organised so that we would spend the day whole day with him in Italy.

The beauty of skiing in Zermatt is that you can ski straight into the Italian resort of Breuil-Cervinia. I hadn’t anticipated being able to enter another country on this gap year, but it seemed that I had one destination left to visit.

We started at a different point in the town of Zermatt and caught a 25 minute gondola all the way up and over the mountain. From here, we continued the journey on another cable car. This cable car brought us over the tallest cable car pylon in Europe. Looking down gave you a real feeling of vertigo and a realisation of just how high up you were.

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It was around here that you could see the border between Switzerland and Italy, in some places taking the form of a cliff and in others a simple painted line. There was no passports needed here! Here I am standing in both countries.

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The slopes over in the northwestern Italian resort of Cervinia are considerably wider than those in Zermatt. Their grading system seems a bit different too, with their blues being considerably more cruisy. It’s a very enjoyable day’s skiing though – it’s much more free and you’re not bound to a specific line.

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The actual town of Cervinia sat perched just below what was an unrecognisable Matterhorn from this side. The town itself was nowhere near as attractive as Zermatt, largely due to its more dreary-looking apartment blocks and hordes of parked cars at the base of the slope.

One of the other highlights of Italy was of course the food. Who doesn’t love Italian cuisine. Especially Italian cuisine IN ITALY.

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Dad shouted Max the day’s lunch and we all sat together over a bottle of red and plates of everything from spaghetti to osso bucco.

At the end of a meal we were served a complimentary portion of grappa, a type of Italian brandy. It was toxic to say the least, and it made for a tough transition back into skiing during the afternoon.

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Over on the Italian side, Mum and Dad sat out for part of the lesson while Bianca, Annie and I continued on with Max. Together, we hit the steepest black slope I’ve ever come across in my life. The slope approached 45°, and as such you felt like you were teetering on the edge of dropping vertically. We raced down it, carving at every corner and praying that one little slip wouldn’t send us tumbling down the slope. We completed the run twice, both times celebrating at the bottom with some extreme carving. In one challenge, Max tried to get us to bend so low into each turn that our bums grazed the snow as we wrapped around. It’s fair to say that it caused practically every stack of the day.

One of the benefits about skiing in Cervinia is that if you catch the right combination of lifts back up to the Matterhorn Glacier, you are able to ski right back into Zermatt Village.

The long red run which brought us back to the village became very narrow and icy at points, causing Dad to fall on his knee (which he’s injured on a past skiing trip), but luckily it was without consequence. As it always does, my nose also started bleeding during the run. I left a nice trail of blood all the way down.

Near the end of the run we passed “Hennu Stall”, the “Folie Douce” equivalent of Zermatt. Mum, Dad, John and Lara have great (borderline regrettable) memories of partying at Folie Douce in Val d’Isère, a bar renowned for the high frequency of 40-somethings dancing on tables in their ski boots. This bar seemed to be alive too, although people weren’t quite on the tables yet. Maybe later…

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We had to catch a short bus back to our area of the village. When disembarking, a horde of skiers tried to board before we had a chance to get off. It felt like I was back in China as I nudged my way through everyone in an attempt to be let off and not forced onto the bus. Everyone quickly stepped backwards except for one ski coach who gave me a big shove back into the bus and walked straight through me. It was entertaining if anything… I really do hope he got his favourite seat on the bus.

By the time we made it back to our villa in Zermatt, it was dark. Aimee had spent the second half of the day on her own. She was kind enough to go to the grocery store in an attempt to bake us something for when we arrived back. After realising that the accommodation didn’t have the right tools for the job, she did a massive clean for us instead. Aimee spent much of the afternoon doing a puzzle which she’d found in one of the drawers. Being a photographer, she also captured some of the more extraordinary photos I’ve seen on the whole gap year.

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Having had such a big day, we all settled for mince on toast for dinner. I stayed up a little later this evening blogging. At one point, Aimee and I were both sitting in bed on our laptops watching NCIS journalling. I sat there with an Espresso, mimicking an Italian accent and feigning authenticity. She jokingly lifted her hand to cover my mouth, and I knocked my coffee into her. Suddenly, we were looking at a set of sheets which had turned brown. We spent the next half an hour desperately blotching the spots out of the sheets hoping that we wouldn’t be charged for it. We ought not to have stressed too much, though. It turns out that washing detergent and soaking sheets overnight works a charm.

What a fantastic start to the week’s skiing.

Until next time,
Xavier.

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