A Beautiful Final Day of Skiing at Saint Anton am Arlberg

2CE44C82-2C0D-430F-B540-CA227B65EB99Our final day of skiing today and waking up is a struggle after a late night. Physically I’m feeling okay but my brother says his muscles are hurting. I thought he might say he can’t do today but fair play he actually gets ready for another hard day of skiing ahead. I’m actually feeling more energetic today.

189473C4-B832-41BF-93D8-AE4C034CC5D4Even though I had eaten a three course dinner last night, I wake up feeling ravenous. I’m definitely losing weight. I can feel my midriff is a lot slimmer and my trousers are much looser. This was only after 2 days, can you imagine if we stayed for a week!
1EA829CE-6349-4A24-92A3-B650F2D6DADDThe slopes were really busy on the weekend as locals came skiing as well. Hopefully, today is a bit quieter so the snows stays in better shape by the afternoon.
D1DAE647-4492-4C54-A6FD-D151FCEBD171I really liked yesterday’s runs we did on this other mountain and wanted to do them all again, so that’s what we plan to do.
026433D9-F45F-4D3A-A4E8-2DAE51066941It’s definitely much quieter today, a Monday. After a couple of hours we make it back to the town where we had lunch yesterday. The food wasn’t great at this place so we found somewhere around the corner and had spaghetti bolognese again. Food here was much better.
31F52D8A-6AE5-4DF0-A387-2CA9543BCCC5My brother says he’s so tired he’ll do one more run then have a break and then head back to the town. I do one more final run with him and direct him to the turning he needs to take to get back down.
6C4399AF-9417-4B1B-B197-1E1772B2E123Somehow he has ended up missing the turn and carrying on to another ski lift – one that doesn’t take him back to where he wants. Instead he has to do the same run all again before he can make a second attempt at taking the correct turning.
5801553D-7BCD-4784-B02D-69B385BF232EI completed the run again expecting to see him at the ski lift but I called him and he explained what had happened. We agreed to just meet each other back at the town. He said he would meet me in the town at 3.30pm.
F465A096-A2CE-4888-8315-70909EB09AC2As I make my way back it becomes clear he’s going to meet me much later than that time! I’m skiing much quicker than him, as he keeps pausing for breaks. I take numerous lifts and ski straight back without stopping. I reach the town at around 3.30pm. I know there is no way he is going to be waiting for me!
D0C786A2-CFAF-474B-96B4-3F49F94570FCHe finally made it back to the town at 5.30pm. The lifts finished at 4pm. It took him 4 hours to get back just before it got dark! He was able to laugh about it fortunately – the person who was tired and wanted to get back early took an extra 2 hours to get back.
B2DF9E99-423E-4FE5-9E43-B75020D4E68FI offered him some sunscreen before I left him but he didn’t want any. Big mistake! His face is red except where his goggles covered his eyes. Everyone at work will at least know where he has been for the weekend.
398558A1-A4F4-4CD9-B91F-D7DDC556BDCDSaint Anton am Arlberg is THE place to book your next skiing holiday for 2020. I hope to be back next year for a lookalikes ski holiday! This place is incredible!!!

A New Day, A New Mountain

92D9AC4F-0A2F-4F3E-9CC6-A7CFC4033325We try to wake up around 7.30am so we can get to the ski lifts as they open at 8.30am. At least we won’t have to waste time at the hire shop like yesterday. My brother is complaining of aching legs. He normally sits at a desk all day and is not used to the physical day we had yesterday. I feel fine but I’ll be amazed if he can manage 3 full consecutive days because it’s hard work even for someone as fit as I am.

7D4451F6-DBB3-4FFF-89B5-9C0D7453B201Our host told us the other mountain is better in the morning so we take him up on his advice. Conditions are perfect again. Blue sky and no wind so even though it’s apparently -1 it feels much warmer than that in the strong sunshine. Sunscreen at the ready again today!
0BF74C55-DD5D-4023-ADDF-BDB1B3ED6E6ESome of the runs you see from a distance look spectacular, quite precarious. I convince my brother we should try them. We spend our time taking many ski lifts and crossing miles across these mountains – this place is simply vast! It’s simply perfect if you like long runs like me.
8041ED25-5026-4E98-AC70-F3363C8C3D3DEvery so often I have to stop to take photos. The scenery is incredible. You have to see it with your own eyes ones day! You really must! We haven’t seen any crashes between skiers or anyone needing medical treatment. Everyone here is a competent skier and therefore I think it’s safer here with these skiers because everyone can get out of the way quickly when needed.
25AD660E-B9AD-421D-90BB-BBD1EEFC20DCWe hit probably my favourite slope so far. A fantastic blue run that takes 20 minutes to descend, culminating in a terrific final descent that looks incredibe when viewed from the next ski lift. There is a cafe half way down we stop for a break. It’s great you can pull off and take a break here. 
7253EC38-4F96-46EB-ACD4-290F92B454C9After many more ski lifts and many more miles travelled we arrive at an amazing red run with the steepest and longest slope you can imagine. Today the snow is definitely much better over here. This red run continues all the way down the valley into the next town where we stop for lunch.
FDAED3BA-856C-4470-97A5-85C4A3F4F2FBAfter lunch we decide to get the ski lift back up the mountain and begin to make our way back. It is going to still take us a couple of hours just to get back from here! We arrive back in the town at around 4pm.
2262ACA6-8C22-4D08-966E-34D2565DF6DDAfter a rest at our hotel we get ready for dinner at another traditional Austrian restaurant in town. We both go for a three course dinner here, we are that hungry after a full day of skiing. I had goulash with local tirolean style pasta.

One final job remains to do before bed and that is to watch myself on Austrian TV! I couldn’t believe the first time I ever visit Austria and I’m on TV here on ORF 2. They followed us at work recently with artist Alison Jackson in London. I don’t get to bed until 1am. I’m going to struggle to wake up early in the morning I think!

The Skiing begins!!

6B83B798-95D2-42CF-A92D-B96B134AE709After breakfast we walk down the hill and immediately arrive at the Intersport ski hire shop. It’s Saturday morning so it’s particularly busy here plus my brother has decided to buy a pair of skis rather than hire. It’s the end of the season so they have some good discounts. We’re here longer than we thought and don’t buy our ski passes until around 9.30 am. For a 3 day pass it costs €158 each.

7A73F833-117A-467E-A0DE-CE5BEAF04301We make our first trip up the ski lift from the heart of the town. On this lift there is a warning sign not to push on the sides. It is just clear plastic and there are no security bars!! It takes a good 10 minutes to reach the top.
DF8D76E6-7D95-462E-A7D8-9DF71E0A9224I religiously put on sunscreen every hour to avoid getting a red face for my lookalike work! That would not be a good look!
C2618D22-9C24-4303-88A4-C55C341FE0D0I had read before coming that this is not the place to come if you are not a competent skier. Apparently you should assume that blue runs here are really a typical red and reds here are a typical black run. We don’t ever see a green run here. My brother had only been skiing 3 times previously but had been skiing in Chamonix with work colleagues last month so hoped he would be okay with the runs.
952FC69E-9436-49C4-A3E0-7D7D3B65326BThe weather is beautiful but the snow is not great. It’s a little bit icy and they haven’t had fresh snow recently. Our first run is a red, which remember is really a black. We took on one of the most difficult runs first so everything didn’t seem too bad then.
46C4B02C-176D-42A4-A63B-C54424B42938There are cafes dotted about at a few locations to have a break. Prices for food and drink are quite expensive here – 2 lemonade was almost €10. It’s mostly British and American tourists skiing here. We stopped for lunch and had spaghetti bolognese.
3B91B7CF-8A48-4246-BCC3-26C91705D020There must be at least 1,000 people skiing and the snow is really getting churned up in places in the afternoon. Very lumpy and bumpy at times and then hitting banks of deeper snow.
69D4136D-D04B-484E-B534-D50702E23BC9The views here are breathtaking! It’s the most amazing place for a skiing holiday. I’m so pleased I chose this place. We’ve spent all day skiing on this one mountain and didn’t manage to do every run. This resort is so vast, it’s incredible. The runs can go for miles!
2E093281-770C-4207-8B5B-F40E21E4156DWe are able to leave our some of our ski equipment in lockers at the Intersport shop and take the rest with us back to our hotel in a taxi. After having a rest and getting showered we head back into the town to get some dinner. We are both ridiculously hungry after a long day on the mountain. It’s amazing how many calories you can burn skiing. We get the mixed grill in another restaurant before heading back to the hotel for some much needed sleep before another full day of skiing ahead of us tomorrow – I can’t wait!1ADAFAB7-E8BE-46D9-9425-096774111EB3

Skiing at Austria’s largest Ski Resort, Saint Anton am Arlberg

48DBBEAD-E71C-428B-A462-414FFF5D0391When I first won the EasyJet Best Harry and Meghan lookalikes competition, the first destination on my wishlist was a skiing holiday! I have been skiing for just the last 10 years and absolutely love it. To be amongst the pretty snow covered mountain nature and traveling at quite some speed at times is an absolute thrill. I had 2 skiing lessons and that was it. I’m very athletic and sporty plus have great balance so I picked it up straight away.

32D238C6-471F-4B36-B8AB-1B0EFCF2BC87I have done my skiing always in France and Switzerland but always wanted to head to Austria next. I was looking to go somewhere in Austria that we didn’t have to travel hours by a ski transfer coach from the airport. I wanted somewhere easy and practical to get to from the airport. After some research, I discovered Saint Anton am Arlberg. Not only is this Austria’s largest ski resort but the town has its own train station.

71AED043-E85B-4219-B604-E30F4BCB6D08I asked EasyJet to make the next booking to Innsbruck. The approach to the airport is spectacular. Innsbruck is surrounded by the snow covered mountains and it is a very memorable place to land. Get bus route F from the airport to city centre. The bus terminates at the train station. Here you need to buy a ticket to Saint Anton am Arlberg, costing around 16 euros one way. It’s a direct train and it goes all the way to Zürich.

BD32E922-2599-4CD1-B461-843017B4B11COur train was very busy but it was Friday afternoon, so we had to stand for most of the way. It’s a beautiful journey, incredible scenery. It takes about 1 hour 10 minutes to get to Saint Anton am Arlberg. We get a taxi outside the station. Our hotel is very close by to the station but it’s quite hilly. We are staying at Pension Susanne. The breakfast seating area has great panoramic views. I can highly recommend staying here, the hosts are very friendly and welcoming.

1E9A6ECC-9E2E-44F7-B8EA-FA32E25E6507The walk to the town centre is easy enough as it’s all down hill and is less than 10 minutes. We get some food at a Mexican restaurant Bobo’s Bar in the main street. Not so easy to find as its downstairs but the bar is packed with skiers and snowboarders. The food portions are huge! Not just here but everywhere is the same.

Tomorrow we’re looking forward to a full day of skiing ahead of us. The weather should be perfect for skiing the whole time we’re here. We can’t wait!!

9FC4B9DD-88FF-4520-B1EA-D320F1C3C698

Traditional Toboggan Ride from Monte

B5039E3F-68CC-461F-BEE3-BA66FAC84DCFIt’s our final full day in Madeira and there is so much yet to do. First we take a look at the city’s indoor markets. Avoid the Mercado dos Lavradores. We were really shocked to see these stall holders scamming tourists. A very pushy sale woman insisted we taste the many varieties of passion fruit. If you google this market you’ll find other people giving exactly the same opinions. Apparently, according to other reviews, these passion fruit samples have had sugar added to make them taste extra sweet. We laughed when she wanted 30 euros for 2 fruits! You have been warned!

Next to do is to take the cable car up to the Botanic Garden. An impressive engineering feat and spectacular views again. There is a cafe next to the gardens and here you can get your fix of pastel de nata 🙂 The gardens are very beautifully maintained with lots of exotic specimens and are definitely worth a visit.

No trip to Madeira can be complete without taking a toboggan ride down the hills. Quite a big logistics operation to load the wicker toboggans onto a van at the bottom and drive them all back up to Monte. These rides have been in use since the 1850s and are very popular with tourists.

I have seen these on TV travel shows before but never heard anyone mention the smell of smoldering wood as the wooden runners slide on the tarmac at speed. Two men wearing traditional white clothing including a straw hat guide the toboggans down hill and around bends. They sometimes push off with their feet from buildings if they get too close to colliding. 

It is 2km long and a man actually stops traffic at a crossroads to safely continue. Even though it is February it is still around 26 degrees here and it’s clearly hard work for the men in this heat. The ride is a thrill and unforgettable so be sure not to miss out on this experience!

879583B6-0762-49AE-B9A2-C60B24193B30Taking off the next morning to return home was an experience. The plane taxied right to the very edge of the runway as you can see in the photo below! The pilot made use of every metre of the runway for take-off, that’s for sure!5A018624-92B7-43F8-8781-2D2B13F80830

Visiting the tallest skywalk in Europe

E070FB0F-33C0-48A3-991A-CC4606E18735Sunday morning in Funchal and it’s going to be another hot day. After breakfast we catch a local bus into the centre. Funchal and Madeira are so hilly that walking anywhere isn’t much fun. This is not a place to visit if you find it difficult to walk stairs!

 

We want to get the cable car up the mountain to visit the Botanic Gardens and the famous toboggan ride. The queue is so unbelievably long and it’s so hot we decide to do something else today.

10E0E79A-68A4-4D9C-9722-94374FAC509FTwo cruise ships are in port today. I am hearing British, German, Dutch, French and American accents in Funchal. As it’s Sunday, a lot of attractions are closed unfortunately. We grab some lunch on a rooftop restaurant with nice views of the cable cars coming and going.

FC93DFA6-C8C2-4E47-A34A-DCEC67D7AE8EI’m looking forward to eating a Portuguese speciality, the custard tart, pastel de nata. I first sampled these last summer working at a party as a Prince Harry lookalike in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, China. The Portuguese version differs from the English custard tart in that they use a very crisp, flaky pastry rather. They are delicious and I’m sure it won’t be the last one I eat on this trip 🙂

1D564482-48FD-415E-AF3A-34B7C9E7B076We pay for a bus tour up to the sea cliffs of Cabo Girão. The views on this bus tour are spectacular. You get to see the island’s banana plantations that produce the famous Madeira bananas. These are quite a lot smaller than your average supermarket banana but sweeter. They can no longer sell their bananas into the EU because of their size!

589C10E4-D24F-47D5-B266-625A5CF33FA6The buses in Madeira are all Volvo built that look extremely strong and heavy. They certainly need good engines to be able to climb these mountainous roads. The bus ride itself is an experience as the driver negotiates the windy, steep roads!

 

The bus stops at the top of Cabo Girão. It is noticeably cooler up here now compared to being in Funchal. The sea cliffs here are some of the largest in the world – standing at 580 metres above sea level. Here you can visit the highest skywalk in Europe – not suitable for vertigo sufferers.

D218202E-2E08-432B-82A3-3F718D29A5F4There is no entrance fee and you can walk over the glass panels with a huge drop beneath you. A couple of the glass panels have some cracks in even just to make everyone a little more nervous. Truly spectacular views – not to be missed under any circumstances!!!

B74B831B-691A-48C6-93C3-06F62FB298EEWe get the next bus back to the centre and go back to the hotel to eat dinner there. Tomorrow is going to be a little hectic if we can manage to see everything we want to.

 

Winter Sunshine in Madeira for Flight 9

597F4E5E-175B-4706-9533-A5010A23908FTrip number 9 in February is to the Portuguese island of Madeira with my brother. By coincidence, Harry and Meghan are flying out of London today and heading to a similar part of the world, Morocco. Madeira is situated about 500 miles off the Moroccan coast. Leaving London Gatwick on this beautiful February day and hoping the weather will be just as good when we land in the capital of Madeira, Funchal.

92B08FB3-92C2-4127-9C95-BDC34395F37AThe flying time to Madeira from London is about 3 hours 45 minutes. One of the longer flights I have taken with EasyJet, as I try to fly to the furthest reaches of Europe. Madeira airport is named after the island’s most famous native – Portuguese footballer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo – The Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport.

I had been forewarned by friends that landing and taking off at Madeira Airport would be an experience. ‘They switch off the engines to land!’, I was warned. I researched a little more while waiting in j. All pilots require specialist training before being allowed to land at Madeira Airport because it has a very short runway. A plane overran the runway in 1977 killing 131 people on board.

A929607B-AEE2-477E-9264-E7F1C61545ABFlights at Gatwick this morning have been delayed due to fog. When we eventually board our flight the Captain tells us that had our flight departed on time we would have had to divert to Lisbon because of high winds in Madeira, making it impossible to land. Instead, we should now be able to land as planned because the winds were forecast to die down by the time we would land. Strong cross winds at Madeira Airport can frequently cause flights to be diverted to Lisbon or even Tenerife.

The landing was uneventful and we got a taxi to our hotel in Funchal, Hotel Panoramico. The taxi cost around 40 euros. Our taxi driver was busy giving us advice of what to see and do for our visit. There are many impressive bridges and tunnels on our journey of this mountainous island. We got a taxi into the town to get some dinner. We are able to eat outside without any additional heating. The night time temperature here is much more mild than last month in Spain. I sampled a local dish of beef in Madeira wine sauce – very nice! The island has its own brewery Coral and they make a very nice beer. We are treated to a performance by a school music group singing traditional Portuguese songs.

Everywhere is serving the traditional a lcoholic drink, Poncha. Made using a distilled alcohol from sugar cane. Honey, sugar and orange/lemon juice are added along with whichever fruit juice you decide. A strong drink, not my thing. We ended the night at the Casino de Madeira which also has a night club and rooftop bar with great views of the nearby cruise ships in the harbour.E88DFC76-B756-418F-BAF6-B9D647F4F941

A memorable visit to the Royal Palace

Saturday is another beautiful sunny, warm day in Seville. It’s very easy to find real freshly made churrros for breakfast in Seville rather than the factory-made ones commonly found elsewhere in Spain. A good place for your ‘chocolate con churros’ fix is a cafe right by the La Setas de Sevilla (Metropol Parasol). Don’t forget to order your fresh orange juice as well, especially in winter for the vitamin C boost.

Today I am going to go skating again alongside the Guadalquivir River. It’s perfect here for skating. The surface is perfect for skating for 2.5km. There is a small stretch of cobbled pathway next to the Torre del Oro but they have constructed a smooth tarmac path for cyclists (and skaters!). 

CB4D5339-792E-4C2C-B337-5D4F056CE81BThere are not a huge number of cyclists or skaters today but lots of people are sitting on the grass bank enjoying 22 degrees and strong sunshine drinking their local beer, CruzCampo. I skate as far as the Alamillo Bridge, a rather striking cantilever bridge built in 1992.

After my skating I get a drink at a nice beach-style bar on the riverside in the centre of town. As my Airbnb is just a 10 minute walk from here I can drop my skates back to free my hands. The place I absolutely want to see again on such a sunny day is the Plaza de España and Parque de Maria Louisa. At the Plaza de España you can even watch some Flamenco.

In the evening I meet up with Ana who I met yesterday. She is with her sister and friends at El Parque de los Principes ( Park of the Princes). Although the days are warm here, evenings and mornings are chilly. I am still in my shorts and T-shirt from skating and we are sat outside but luckily the cafe has electric heating seen just about everywhere in the city here now. 

Ana tells me to take a river cruise tomorrow and says I must get to the Real Alcazar no later than 9am to avoid the huge daily queues for entry. I get up earlier on the Sunday and get some breakfast before joining the queue just after 9am. There are only maybe 20 people in front of me. The attraction opens at 9.30am. Free to local residents but to everyone else entry is 11€. If you can’t get here for 9am then you really need to book your tickets online to skip the queue. The queue is made slower by having to go through airport style security.

The Real Alcazar of Seville is a Royal palace and one of the official residences of the Spanish royal family. Game of Thrones viewers may recognize some parts of the palace as the series filmed many times in these grounds. If you look at google maps you’ll see just how large these grounds are – the gardens occupy around 60,000m2!

43819D8D-8242-4EAF-B202-17CCA30E830AAs with the rest of Seville, the architecture of the buildings and gardens has a strong Arabic influence. You should allow at least 3 hours to see everything here. I was amazed how long it took to see everything but you can’t underestimate the scale of this palace. Luckily, it’s perfect weather again today and I make the most of it grabbing as many photos as I can in the beautiful gardens for my social media accounts. I buy some more decorative Seville-style glazed tiles for my commemorative artwork in the future.

The boat cruise was good fun and I went to a tapas bar to get some food. I got 3 dishes – a tortilla, battered cod and croquettes. Gelato for desert and another walk around the Parque de Maria Louisa.

It’s Monday and I get the train back to Malaga in the afternoon around 1pm. We have to get off the train again to do a repeat coach journey. Apparently, heavy rain has damaged a section of the track and this is the reason for the change. I am at a different Airbnb tonight. Much smaller than the last one in Malaga but I’m only here for one night so it’ll be fine.

E345F993-1926-40E8-8015-AA97E8175FAFThe weather forecast for London is for snow tonight! Things couldn’t be more contrasting her at Malaga Airport! South-west Spain is extremely popular with British and other Northern Europeans during the winter. It’s a great place to escape the long winter. I seem to have had great luck with the weather with the timing of my visit. The previous week was not so good and next week won’t be as good either. I definitely have enjoyed my stay here and next month’s EasyJet trip will be somewhere even more exotic!

Start of a long weekend in Seville

75808CD0-751D-429C-8BBD-504DD6CBEE71Its Friday morning and I’m leaving my Airbnb in Malaga with my luggage to spend a long weekend in Seville. I need to head to Malaga-Maria Zambrano train station again for my train. I just missed the high speed train so I have to take a regular train. This journey takes less than 2 hours by the high speed AVANT train but an extra hour roughly by regular RENFE train. The ticket cost of the regular train for a single journey is 25€.

D8FD5628-9DDA-41A0-BFEC-0789073B94F8The landscape on this journey is very beautiful rolling countryside with seemingly endless commercial olive tree plantations and a pretty colour of earth. The view is very rural and a typically Spanish look. A memorable sight is when the train goes through some tunnels and there is an amazing view in some kind of canyon with a fast flowing river. Here there are some cliff bridges with people walking on them. 

8A666D99-6689-4B69-B6D2-0ACCB0DECAD8An announcement is made on the train in Spanish only. From what I could understand it seems the train will stop at the next station and we all have to make a change to continue our journey. Sure enough, as we reach Osuna station, the whole train begins to empty. We have to all get onto a coach. I thought we would continue the rest of the journey entirely by coach but we drove around 45 minutes to another station further down the line and got on another train. 

1849EB59-F6B6-4FFC-8C0D-BEABAE67B05BAmazingly, our train arrived at Seville’s Santa Justa train station just 5 minutes later than scheduled around 1pm. The weather again today is brilliant – a fantastic blue sky and very mild. Definitely need sunglasses today! My Airbnb for the weekend is in the Triana district. I walk from the station all the way there, about 25 minutes. It’s very easy for me to find and just a 2 minute walk from Seville’s Guadalquivir River.

56D99BDF-8FB7-42F0-97B9-69462352885FAfter checking into my room I want to get some lunch straight away, I’m so hungry! I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast and it’s now about 2pm. I send a message to my friend Inma to say I have arrived in Seville and let me know what time she can see me later. She replies back to come and see her now. She is with friends in the Feria district. I don’t know this area well from last time but luckily she sends me her location in WhatsApp that I can navigate easily on my phone with GPS.

D34787BE-2604-4D13-95A5-5C9E93D2AD85A couple of her friends present will marry next Saturday. Everyone is meeting to celebrate their upcoming wedding. The groom-to-be explains to me he is wearing a traditional hat that signifies to everyone he is getting married next week. We get some more drinks and tapas at a second bar around the corner. The food is always good in Seville, wherever you eat. I taste a nice meat tapas dish which is served in between a flat round bread – it’s very good.

B8946E65-6AE3-41C5-8EEF-6EE29ABDA9D2We move a little further to another bar. In Seville, everybody drinks outside the bars in the street. The bars themselves are very small and can only accommodate a small number of people. The climate here means everyone wants to be outside anyway. Inma introduces me to some more friends who are here now. They are French students from Avignon studying in Seville for a number of months. When I tell them I can speak French, the conversation moves completely to French for the next hour or so. One topic of conversation they keen to talk about was Brexit. It was a slightly strange experience to be discussing Brexit, in French, in Spain!!C5E63141-3EBD-49D1-BF2F-AA3786B8CE0CAttachment.png

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