Saturday, December 31, 2011

Half a chicken later

After reading good things about the restaurant Chez Ma Cousine, I thought I'd better hit it up for dinner, and I'm glad I did. I ordered the standard 1/2 chicken with potato and salad, and was delivered a platter of chicken and potato and a sizeable bowl of salad in about 2mins - awesome! The spicy sauce provided lived up to its name too. Wicked feed, and with a local beer it was great value too.

To walk off my meal I wandered through the shopping district on the south side of the river on the way back to the hostel and scoped out some chocolate shops and watches. I don't think I'm going to find a snowboard in this town in my price range (come to think of it I haven't seen a snowboard store yet, many ski shops though), haven't even seen a skate shop. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places (highly likely).

Art and Saint Pierre Cathedral‎

Bacon Flavoured Chocolate?

Many Options

Today I awoke to a wet day, so I've been walking around town with brief forays into shelter to dry off. First stop is the Red Cross headquarters (ICRC) which I somehow missed yesterday, followed by the Saint Pierre Cathedral in old town. The ICRC was closed with a whole bunch of construction occurring in the front area. Saint Pierre Cathedral is quite spectacular, the current building dating back to the 16th century, which has burnt down and been rebuilt several times owing to its mix of styles. On the way back into town I spied out the Flower Clock, a tribute to Geneva's watchmaking history and a site which has been in place since 1955 - fun(?) fact it apparently has the longest seconds hand in the world. Followed this visit by lunch at a Indian restaurant near the hostel, which was so so.

ICRC (CICR - Red Cross) HQ

Streets in Old Town

St Pierre Cathedral

St Pierre Cathedral - Inside

Flower Clock

Plan for this evening is to consume some local beer.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Geneva time!

My first real day in Geneva (after a moderately bad nights sleep - still adjusting to the snoreathon hostel stylez!) involved a visit to the United Nations site, the nearby Musée Ariana (porcelain, glass and pottery - was insightful, yet hard to get into), and the Musée d'Histoire des Sciences (which had a large amount of historic scientific instrumentation produced by some science greats such as Alessandro Volta (voltaic pile), and many instruments used for maritime navigation and timekeeping). There are also some cool interactive science exhibits outside the museum which demonstrate atmospheric pressure, measurement, and the transmission/concentration of sound. Lunch followed, then a run around town to get my bearings (without getting lost in the process), and the visit to Starbucks (in which I am currently indulging). If you are running in Geneva note, the riverside track along the southern bank along the river near the Pont Butin bridge is super narrow and probably impassable with recent rain (thankfully I made it without going for a swim).

The United Nations Building

I wasn't quite sure what language was spoken here, but it appears that it is predominantly French, or a Swiss variation. I haven't spoken any French since grade 2, so very rusty, but hoping to pick up a few things here.

I'm staying at the HI Hostel in Geneva, which is spartan but adequate. It lacks any sort of character, as you are thrown into access control land, with your card required to open your room door, locker, and the bathroom, in addition to gaining access to upstairs. Theft might be a problem at this place, and having to pull out a card everytime you want to do something somewhat reinforces the vibe. You get a decent continental breakfast included though, which is great given how expensive it can be eating out in Geneva. Only bummer is that there is no guest kitchen at the hostel, so options for self cooking are limited. That said there are heaps of places to eat around town, and a wide variety of tastes are catered for. Theres a huge number of kebab shops and a McDonalds too, if all else fails.

A McDonalds cheeseburger in Geneva costs approx $2.80 AUD, a kebab around $12, cafe meal anywhere from $14 upwards, the starbucks latte in front of me $7. Today I 'dined' at the Migros cafe, which is situated as part of the Migros supermarket in the 'Les Cygnes' shopping mall near Conarvin train station. You can make your own selection from the buffet and pay by weight (around 29CHF/100g). There's a selection of hot meals, salads, and deserts.

Plan is to view town by night and grab a feed and a beer. Tomorrow I'm going to get all cultural in the old part of town, and visit some more museums.

Musée d'Histoire des Sciences

One of the outdoor exhibits - this one demonstrates atmospheric pressure and the effect of imbalances

View of Geneva CBD from the North (Jet d'Eau fountain in the distance)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Airports and onto Geneva

The journey continues... silly me booked my outward flight to Geneva from London City Airport (LCY) (not knowing where the airport is located or how I would get there from Leicester). One coach, two underground trains, and a light rail trip later and I arrived at the terminal.

LCY is a pretty cool airport (if you could consider airports to be regarded as such), with one of the most well equipped waiting areas I've been in. You can also purchase some of the 'worlds finest wines' by the glass here, at around 300-400 GBP per glass. I passed on this occasion but may indulge when fortunes have been made. Heaps of charging outlets and fast free wi-fi provides an internet fix, supplemented by a number of caffeine dispensing outlets.

London City Airport - Departures Lounge

I wrote most of this post from Heathrow airport though, as the thing about LCY is that the planes which can access this airport are small, and the flight I was booked on happened to be overbooked, and everyone has ski gear (with additional weight), so the plane was too heavy to take off with all on board (without running the risk of colliding with the O2 centre, or other downtown structures).

My former steed

Swiss were taking volunteers to take a different flight. Since I was in no rush I transferred to one leaving from Heathrow which arrived several hours later (but with 250 EUR to compensate, and a couple of airport snacks was not a bad compromise, Swiss thanks for taking up my bar tab :) ). The taxi driver also made it across town in less than an hour, which was a pretty amazing feat during peakhour.

There is no comp wifi access in Heathrow though... bummer, so this post reaches you from Geneva! After 2 swiss cheese sandwiches (the swiss cheese does taste better in Switzerland), and landing in heavy fog, I've ventured to the hostel under the cover of darkness and am setting a direction for the morning (I should really do some planning before I get into a new city). Will update you when I have some interesting stuff, rather than airports and cheese sandwiches. I've just learnt that CERN is closed until Jan 5th :(

Monday, December 19, 2011

I'm in London still

So i've seen most of the sights of London by now (kinda - if you can count Hammersmith fire station pub, Sloane Square, Chelsea, South Kensington, Westminster, the river Thames, Battersea Power Station and numerous bars near Clapham Junction). Managed to avoid the usual tourist spots apart from running past the Big Ben and through some Christmas markets which have been assembled around Embankment, and narrowly missed taking out sudden pausers and direction changers encountered in my path (seems kind of worse this time of year when situational awareness takes a second priority to a cup of mulled wine or some quality cheese). I've been to London a few times now so would prefer a reception at the palace with the higher ups rather than viewing the place from the street (but my chances of achieving that are as slim as the cigarettes smoked by those 'stylish' cats in Chelsea).

Sloane Square by Night

London is a cool place in the winter, not only in temperature but also in vibe. Its also amazingly flat, so if your looking for a place to do some mountain running, there are probably better places to go. This does however favor cycling, and there are a number of points through the city where you can pick up a 'rental bicycle' to head where you please (the first time I've seen this kind of thing, great idea for inner city dwellers who do not have a car, and encourages more people to get into cycling!). Exploring on foot provides a good perspective and allows you to get a feel for the city and its people.

Albert Bridge, West London

Following last nights pub crawl, which involved two pubs (oops - we stayed too long in the first one, its really hard to get 12 or so people to all finish a drink around the same time too) and a club unknown to me, I returned to my friends house to cook up a 3am feed (somehow I had forgotten to eat dinner - must have been the Guinness) and retire to bed. Today I dusted off the cobwebs with another foray along the river and back (without getting lost in Battersea park this time), and met with a colleague for a pub lunch prior to boarding the national express bus back to Leicester, caffeinated beverage in hand.

London its been fun, see you soon.

Battersea Power Station

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Battersea and Borough Market Adventures

I arrived into Battersea last night a bit later than expected after confronting Thursday night London traffic (and I thought Sydney traffic was BAD.. hmm) and met up with Anthony who has been living here the last 6 months. We decended on a local bar for some thai food and Guinness. After probably the spiciest Pad Kee Mao I've had in a long time, we moved on to another cool bar called The Secret Garden for an ale (it was ok, I mainly ordered it because it was called DOOM ale, and my Doom levels were low at the time). Finished the night with some nachos (yeah we were hungry) and more beer, and a fairly civil turn in at 1am.

Today I wanted to run early but London had other plans, and the idea of running in rain/sleet along the river in the wind did not seem that appealing, so I postponed until the afternoon and hit Borough Markets instead for a feed.

The evening became a traditional Christmas drinks (houseparty) where I met some cool people, then learnt how far it is from Clapham Common to Battersea. All in all a good day in London, hopefully more running tomorrow!

Borough Markets, Central London

Borough Markets, Central London

Monday, December 12, 2011

The first leg - Leicester

So after 22 hours of plane awesomeness I am now in Leicester in the UK. Its been an easy transition given the amount of wet weather hammering Sydney lately, just a little cooler. 10 hours of sleep and a 2:30am phone call later and I began my first day comprising determining breakfast, and visiting the relatives (and heaps of tea, man I love the UK).

Its been good but uneventful for the most part so far. Plan is to be suburban for the next few days and sort out some home materiel acquisitions, then skip down to London for a bit.

Here's a shot from Dubai airport at 4am - that place is huge...!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Aussie pow demolished by rain ¬_¬

Was down at Hotham for the ADF Interservice Snowsports competition for a second week, and with an awesome Wednesday afternoon of POW POW goodness, unfortunately it rained overnight so the morning of riding knee deep didn't eventuate. I've been back in Sydney over a week now, so gotten over it :) You can see the before and after photos below. Bit of a case of take it whilst you can it in Australia. New Zealand has been doing rather well however - check out this graph showing the snowpack for a number of NZ resorts.

Shot from the road just outside of the Arlberg (Wed PM)

Morning view following the storm (Fri AM)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Last Day in Niseko

And so all good things must come to an end, and with that the snowboarding leg of this journey. Its been a great 12 days, with variable conditions all the way through (sunshine, blizzard etc). We didn't get any fresh snow the last few days, but its snowing heavily tonight (if only we had a few more days!).
Snowing in Main Street
Gyu Bar aka "The Fridge"
Australia Day was fun. The day was spent at Moiwa with a combination of drills in the morning and gate training in the afternoon, all to the soundtrack of the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown, which was streaming live across the resort PA system (thanks Tracey for arranging it and Shinya Akio for agreeing, best mountain staff ever). The afternoon we returned to the lodge for drinks and a bbq, and found a few fun jibs which were built that afternoon out the front.

Since it hasn't snowed today me and Kyle rode the Hanazono park. The halfpipe also opened up recently, so it was cool to see some awesome riders tearing it up. There was also a rail jam in town tonight.
Rail Jam in Vale Carpark
Up tomorrow morning at 3:30am for the bus to the airport.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Back to Grand Hirafu

It hasn't snowed much the last few days, so we've been hanging out around the parks for most of the day. Yesterday morning we did hike the summit though and got some decent photos due to intermittent sunshine, followed by some fresh lines from the peak.
Hiking to the Summit
Its snowing again on and off, hopefully another pow day tomorrow for Australia Day :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Loaf Lounge in Kutchan

Tonight we headed into Kutchan for dinner and a few drinks. The bus dropped us fairly close to an isakaya where we loaded up on cheap Japanese food. A few beers, snow crab pizza and a number of gyoza later and it was on to the Loaf Lounge, a local bar which serves beer and munchies, and has a table tennis table, large bowl and a half pipe, with a number of skateboards available to use. This is a great place to kick back after a big day. Beer and skateboarding don't mix though.
Table Tennis
This guy had a broken back but still skating?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fun Times in Moiwa

We've spent the last two days riding Moiwa in some fairly special conditions. Moiwa is a small resort approx 20mins drive from Niseko Grand Hirafu, and comprises a double chair and a high speed hooded quad chair. Despite the limited number of lifts, the area accessible is good, and we were able to find fresh lines through to last lifts. 
Moiwa Ski Area (from base)
Its been about -10 deg C each day, and snowing on and off. We've had about 20cm each night, so its been perfect for some powder riding in the trees.
Yesterday morning we hit some new areas with our guide. Hiring a guide for the day is a good idea if your new to a mountain and in a group (as they can be expensive), especially if theres been plenty of fresh, as they know all the best places, can lead you to the best exits from areas, and advise where not to go (i.e. too far down into the valley where you need to hike out). We then had gate drills in the afternoon, which was useful but cold, with a lot of sitting around on the snow and riding the double chair during the activity.

We could have done with a guide this afternoon, as me and Kyle went a bit low (almost to the river), and had to hike out through thigh deep powder for 20mins. Lucky for us (unlucky for others) someone else had done the same thing, and when we came across their broken track it was much easier going around through the valley and into the carpark.
They also have an awesome dog working for the ski patrol. Rest day tomorrow, so heading for Kutchan tonight to check out Loaf Lounge.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Grand Hirafu Pow Pow

Spent the last few days riding in Niseko. Conditions have been excellent, with light snow up until this afternoon, and about 20cm fresh each night. This afternoon I saw the first sun since arriving in Hokkaido, and we were able to take a few awesome pictures of Mt Yotei and the surroundings.
Mt Yotei in Background
Tommorrow on to Moiwa for some drills and hopefully some powder riding!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hokkaido AcTiON!

The trip from Chitose to Niseko was fun. I ended up catching the JR rail service, with two changes (Sapporo and Otaru). Didn't have a ticket for half the journey but was able to sort it out when I arrived at Kutchan railway station. From Kutchan it was an easy 20min bus up to Grand Hirafu welcome center, and used the internet there to find the phone number of the lodge so they could come and find me.

Waiting for the train
Chitose JR Station
The snows been falling fairly constant since I've been here, with randomly interspersed moments of what some would call 'puke-age'. It hasn't dumped as such, but the two days so far have been spent riding shin to knee deep powder through the trees, with plenty of top ups from the accumulation on the trees and the sky. Its getting easier to get around town too, as many of the roads were dead ends due to snow build up, and the local crews have been working hard to improve access. Last night involved a trip down to the Kutchan supermarket for supplies for the week. I've purchased some pork (I think?), chicken, and other supplies to make a few fresh meals. Its fun trying to interpret the labels on packaging. Imported spirits are cheaper than beer which is odd. Someone said it was due to tax on beer being higher. You can also get powdered green tea here, which I'm going to try and hunt down when back in Sydney.
Outside the Lodge
Looking up the Road (lights in distance for night skiing)
All up a fun few days so far in Niseko!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chitose (I missed the bus)

Tokyo's Haneda Airport domestic terminal two is great. They have an outdoor observation deck which stretches along the top roof section of the building, and is integrated with some restaurants and cafes. The area is darkened at night, and the roof area covered with hundreds of taxiway lights which change slowly over time.

Observation Deck, Haneda Airport Domestic Terminal 2
Haneda Airport, with Tokyo Skyline in Distance
I arrived into New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido around 2230, and hoped to meet up with the group staying at the lodge who were arriving around the same time but no such luck. It was at this point I realised I probably should have booked tickets on one of the buses to Niseko. Reminded me of this classic song from the early 90's. 

The airport closes at 2300, and as I sat down to find a hostel on the internet, the lady from the information counter came over to advise me that I couldn't stay in the airport past this time, and the last JR train was leaving very soon. She literally ran with me to the JR station. I got the train through, and am spending my first Hokkaido night in Chitose Hyper Hotel. There's a fair bit of snow around on the streets here in town, so it looks like it might be epic up on the mountains.
Outside Chitose JR Station

Shibuya and Harajuku

Shibuya is an intense area lit by electronic signs advertising the latest in music and fashion. There are a number of department stores in this area catering to the populaces diverse tastes. 109 store (female) and 109-2 store (male) are two large department stores which draw a number of the Tokyo's younger crowd. The area is also famous for Shibuya crossing, an intersection of 4 roads, which is arguably the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world. Each time the little green man illuminates, people flood the street and somehow manage to make it across without any collisions (no rushing or shoving due to the considerate nature of everyone here).
Shibuya Crossing
To the East of Shibuya is Harajuku, an area famous for the funky youth who dress up in the latest goth/lolita/punk/visual kei/decora/cosplay character and walk the streets. It is also home to Takeshita which sells a multitude of fashion items and buzzes with activity on the weekends. Its a great place to pick up some clothing, and with trends in Tokyo changing so quickly, you can usually bag a bargain. Keep an eye out for the 390 Yen stores too, which have clothing, accessories and trinkets for the price of a cheap takeaway meal.
Takeshita St, Harajuku
Tonight I'm off to Hokkaido for some snowboarding fun!