Posts in category travel - page 3

Adventures in Jackson, Wyoming (part 1)

Once a year I head out with a bunch of friends for a week of winter sports. This year my snowboarding buddies and I (a skier) decided to skip the unfriendly European slopes and flip over the Atlantic to Jackson, Wyoming in USA for a whole 10 days of slope mastery.

Getting there

As always our first flight landed us at Gatwick. One overnight stay led us into flight 2 to Atlanta, Georgia via Delta Airlines. The flight was a whopping 9.5 hours but luckily quiet and under booked. If they hadn’t smashed the handle on my new luggage I might have given Delta a full 5 stars.

Things got exciting at US customs when the customs officer said “Come on little buddy” to a friend ahead of me. At that point all sense went out the window and was replaced by uncontrollable giggles and a bout of amnesia as to what exactly I’d come to do in the USA. Thankfully I’d already written out all the details on the Visa waiver form and despite a few stern looks and harsh words was let in. I guess terrorists and illegal immigrants don’t break out in a laughter attack at customs checkpoints.

Tired and dazed we boarded another 4 hour flight to Salt Lake City and then a quick 1 hour to Jackson itself where we finally met our Inghams rep Nicki – imagine a Scot with an American accent…

Man down

During our first day my friend James had a nasty fall off his snowboard that left him with a very painful wrist. As the day went on we found out it was dislocated and fractured and he was soon hospitalised.

As the week went on he’d go through three operations, have a metal plate put in his wrist and require a skin graft which would leave a massive red square of bare flesh on his leg.

To make matters worse he wouldn’t be able to join us on the return journey home and one of us would need to stay out a little longer to bring him home once the doctors think he’s ready.

Travel insurance is of course invaluable when this happens but phoning them up and making them sign forms when drugged up on morphine leaves a lot to be desired.


A German Christmas

This year I broke with my life-long tradition and spent Christmas not at my parents house with my family but with my girlfriend and her family in Germany.

The flight there was uneventful but dull thanks to Aurigny’s one-flight-per-day to Stansted at mid-day. This means 5 hours + of milling around. Thankfully Stansted isn’t quite as bad as I recalled and there are a few book and game shops to browse around in and I managed to keep my shopping down to a mere 3 books… Shame I already had 3 in my backpack.

After the introductions and a good nights sleep I put on my best “oh please” face and Clarissa drove us to Media Markt to see if they had Xbox 360’s in. Unsurprisingly they didn’t so we headed into Nuremberg to check out the shops and experience the Christmas market.

Having spent hours exploring the streets and stores of Nuremberg on a previous trip I stopped by EB Games in the mall and quickly acquired one of the two 360 core’s they had in stock as well as a wireless controller, Project Gotham 3 and Need for Speed Most Wanted. The box weighed the same as a small child but alas was not equipped with legs and so we dropped it back off at the car before my knuckles reached the floor.

The Christmas market was very atmospheric and the white lights the Germans favor over the English disco-fever multi-colour bonanza felt less tacky and helped keep the descending chill of sunset at bay for a few minutes longer. We ate hot waffles and caramelized nuts whilst wandering around the multitude of stands before my feet eventually protested to further activities and we headed wearily back to the car.

Back at home we played a bit of 360 (I’ll post more on this in a future post) where I found that while the console and PGR3 will auto-switch to the language my NFS Most Wanted was decidedly German only and Clarissa had to help me every stretch as my German currently consists of telling people my stomach is empty or that I have hiccups.

We met the morning with tragic news… Clarissa’s parents had set-up the Christmas tree in the lounge where the only TV in the house and my 360 were. This meant after weeks of waiting to get one I would now have to wait 2 days before I could get back into the lounge to play it!

We had Christmas shopping to do and some friends to visit and between those two events I sunk into The Time Traveller’s Wife (a very good read so far and a similar core to something I had in mind a while back). Clarissa’s father had taken the plunge and installed a WiFi ADSL connection so I kept up with emails and repeatedly checked for my assignment score.

On the 23rd we had a mini-grill/fondue night with friends where we ate lots and played some games. Unfortunately my German is still minimal despite evening lessons and Clarissa’s help and her friends were only occasionally speaking English so the night went by with a rather detached feeling.

The 24th here in the UK is Christmas Eve, generally people rush around getting the final gifts they need for people before retiring for a few drinks with friends or family before a big meal and gift exchange on the 25th. In Germany the gifts and big meal happen on the 24th.

Clarissa’s parents cooked a fabulous dinner which we ate with her sister and brother-in-law and we all exchanged gifts. We even got her brother-in-law and father to have a quick go on PGR and NFS respectively with… well, mixed results.

Boxing day was a quiet affair but we took in some snow and a meal at a Chinese restaurant before packing as much as we could into our suitcases, grabbing 3 hours sleep and setting off at 4am for our flight back which involved an even longer sit at Stansted, falling asleep in departures, a nice sandwich at Pret and some woman throwing her coffee over my 360’s box.

Sony fans.


British Airways and the art of delivering bad news

Breaking bad news to clients is always tricky but a bit of intelligence might be able to soften the blow. A few days ago British Airways sent me an email to let me know that the Gatwick-Munich route I use (indeed their only route I’ve used lately) is to be axed from the start of the 2006 summer season.

While this is incredibly annoying at least I know about it. In the next paragraph they try to soften the blow by letting me know that there are going to be additional flights from Heathrow. intelligence fails them however because I don’t have access to Heathrow and their database already knows this.

The result isn’t a softened blow but rather a reminder on how Channel Islanders are Heathrow-less since BA purchased Guernsey’s slots at Heathrow airport from KLM subsidiary Air UK back in 1998 for a reported £14.5m. Our government fought the loss of a vital route – and lost.

The fact I could get to Gatwick at all is no thanks to BA either. They purchased regional operator Cityflyer and their Guernsey-Gatwick route back in 1988 too.

Fresh from the Heathrow wound our government raised valid concerns with the appropriate regulatory group that they believed BA would sell off the Guernsey-Gatwick slots or use them for non-Guernsey routes. Cityflyer assured us that would not be the case and the deal went ahead.

BA did of course suspended this route a few years later claiming the aircraft needed to be retired. I don’t know what happened to the slots but I can only guess.

Is it any wonder that our government decided to purchase one of the two airlines that services Guernsey to make sure it carries on? Personally I would rather have seen the government purchase slots at the essential airports and sub-lease them to the airlines, perhaps with a little subsidy but hey I’m not a politician.

I’m trying to be a traveller.


Höchstadt, now and then

I’m just back from another trip to Germany, this time by way of Gatwick and on to Munich by redeeming some BA miles that had accumulated.

I thought about writing another little travelogue but then it wouldn’t make much sense as my previous trip to Höchstadt is still undocumented – I left readers wandering around the outskirts of Paris. So here’s the short version…

End of travelogue, July

Parc Asterix was so overcrowded we filled in a complaint form and left. Queues were about 2-3 hours long for anything at all. We returned on the Monday knowing the French kids would be back at school and it was much better, the water rides proving to be very refreshing in the hot July sun and queues that only lasted about 15 minutes. A month or so ago I got an apology letter from the Parc and a free single-entry pass for the 2005-2006 season… for one. :(

We abandoned my car at Charles de Gaulle and flew into Nuremberg where Clarissa’s parents had arranged a very nice hotel who’s name I have since forgotten so there goes the plug. Any hotel that does a complimentary beer is a good one in my books and it made a change from the faceless Ibis that we’d hit a couple of times. I got to try some German food including currywurst – a giant sausage in a spicy tomato sauce – and the Numberger which consists of a bun containing a variable number of small grilled sausages. Yum.

We met Clarissa’s friends, played pool and saw some great sights and because the hotel was only available for a few nights, moved my things to Clarissa’s parents lovely house where we I stayed for the remainder of the trip. Their garden is a little like a jungle and vines scale one of the walls right up to the roof top… All German houses seem to have these outside window shutters, presumably to stop stray branches etc flying through them and to help keep in the warmth.

The green fields and endless forests make me miss living somewhere that has them. Guernsey is fine if you like beaches, sailing, working in a bank or want to grow old but has precious little else to offer. One review said it was more continental than England, relaxed with good food, while still retaining the familiarity. I think he was trying to give the island a compliment but to me this came out as “less relaxed than Europe and still retaining the parts of England you wanted to leave behind.”

We shopped in Erlangen where I picked up possibly the only pair of sunglasses to ever fit the shape of my face for a bargain €9 only to loose them two weeks later at my sisters wedding. In Nuremberg we found “British Empire” and I was able to stock up on a few cans of Irn-Bru and Cherry Coke. My Marmite supply was not in need of replenishment – Clarissa and her family had been avoiding it since I took the lid off.

We picked up a small bonsai tree and named her Emma. I had a Serissa at home called Toby, which was not doing too well when I left him. He passed away while I was on holiday despite frequent watering by my sister. Despite the claims these are indoor plants Emma immediately had problems which were immediately (well, 2 days) solved by leaving her outside in the shade.

The flight back to Paris was without incident, as was the drive back to Saint Malo. My friends father had let out all his holiday homes and so I was settled for another basic-but-has-hot-water Ibis. I should probably have joined their rewards scheme but I didn’t want to encourage myself to stay there any more often than I have already.

Last week

And so, some three months later I returned to Höchstadt. It had been a while since I had seen Clarissa – since my sisters wedding at the end of July in fact. Being a member of BA’s Exec Club is a good idea, it’s free and lets you check-in on-line and cut the time you need to sit around at the airport by half… which lets you cut it closer to other flights. It was a bit tight on the way out but what’s life without a little excitement.

The forest canopies were showing the signs of autumn, the odd yellowed and rusted tree among the darker greens. The vines along her home had turned into a fine gradient of yellows and reds. I’ve yet to check my camera, but perhaps it will do them justice. Emma was doing fine too and I had purchased another bonsai back in Guernsey, named Toby2 in memory of the first. He is doing much better, a different species and sitting upon a humidity tray :)

We relaxed, we drove, we visited Nuremberg again and this time I managed to get some orientation of the town while wearing the skin off the heels of my feet. I examined a large church and wondered how a large town can have three McDonalds and no computer shops bar a tiny EB Games hidden away in a mall.

We visited an exhibition in Höchstadt, ate good food and generally had a great time. It’s a wonderful thing to have a girlfriend who can not only drive, but drive well :) Clarissa’s parents were very welcoming again, her father baked us some nice German bread and drove us through a wonderful valley with a river and some amazing rock formations left by rivers that departed eons ago.

I visited Clarissa at her work again, where giant pictures of her hung up above her section and made her look like a school teacher. We did a little shopping and I picked up a rather nice new jacket, a smart blue tie and a much needed pair of ski boots. Yep, that’s right, nine ski trips and I’m still using rental equipment much to the bemusement of my snowboarding colleagues. We’re booked into Jackson for January and I’ll buy some ski’s out there once I’ve tried a few pairs.

There is so much more I could, should or will write.