Friday thought #87 Beautiful views and some bonus powder!

Lots of searching and a tiny smattering of new snow high up resulted in a wonderful few days of skiing this week. Fresh powder straight off the lift and bright sunshine is a difficult combination to beat; throw in a spectacular cloud inversion and a distinct lack of people and there is no reason to wipe that smile off your face!

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Friday thought #86 Snowy hikes and powder hunting

It has not been a great winter in Austria so far. The massive amount of sunshine has been delightful and absolutely welcome, but as an unfortunate consequence the snow pack is pretty thin, and anything decent off piste has been tricky to find.

Nevertheless we have tried our damn hardest to seek out the powder. It has taken some hunting, some hiking and a lot of trial and error, but considering we’ve only really had 2 major snowfalls all winter, I think we’ve done pretty well!

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Friday thought #85 Cloud inversions

The weather in the European Alps is never boring. It’s never just sunny, or simply raining, it’s always varied and interesting and often provides you with something you’ve never seen before; an incredible rainbow stretching across an entire valley, or a cloud formation so unusual that it appears the mountain peak is wearing a fleecy hat.

Every now and again you look out the window at a seemingly dreary day and find it difficult  to muster the enthusiasm to get out skiing. But when you’re sitting on the chairlift, rising up through the thick cloud, and suddenly you burst through into a perfect sky, complete with blue sky and sunshine, you grin and quietly thank Mother Nature for the wonder that is a cloud inversion…

Friday thought #84 WW1 battlegrounds – Flanders and the Somme

A slight variation on my usual posts, but nevertheless, a place that I have recently visited and something which I would like to share.

Whether or not history is something that interests you, I believe that there are certain things which should never be forgotten and we should always be reminded of, no matter how long ago they happened or how distant those memories start to become. The World Wars are two such things, and on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, 2016 became the year I finally got the chance to visit some of the WW1 battlegrounds in Northern France, something which I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember.

I won’t go into too much detail, as everyone’s experience and interest is different, and I don’t think photographs will ever do justice to the places themselves, but I will share some of them all the same and hope that you can get a feel for these incredible sites. If you ever get the chance to visit, please do, it is an experience like no other.

The countrysides of Northern France and Belgium are quite literally full of history. You need only drive 5 minutes before coming across a memorial, a graveyard or simply a vast expanse where bloody battles were fought. The Battle of the Somme lasted for just over 4 months and with over 1 million men killed or wounded, it is known as one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

We visited as many of these sites as we could in 2 days and only wished we had been able to stay another week. The memories of the soldiers who gave their lives have been beautifully preserved and the War Graves Commission have done an incredible job in ensuring that the name of every single soldier who died is carefully engraved and remembered, even those who were never found.

The standout place for us, and the place that will stay in my memory forever are the preserved trenches in the Beaumont Hamel memorial park. The site has been preserved by the Canadian Government to commemorate all the Newfoundlanders who fought in the First World War, and must be seen to be believed. The original trenches are still there, complete with the remains of the barbed wire fences where the soldiers went over the top. Visitors pass the British front line and walk across no-mans-land to reach the trenches where the German front line stood exactly 100 years ago. Perhaps for some this means nothing, or perhaps as part of a noisy guided tour group in August, some of the atmosphere is lost, but on a freezing new year’s eve we found ourselves to be the only visitors walking through this eerie landscape, and looking across no-mans-land in the perfect silence brought tears to our eyes imagining what had happened here.

60,000 men died on the first day of the Somme, some just teenagers. I hope that people will always visit the Somme, as what happened here should never be forgotten.

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Thiepval Memorial, where the names of over 72,000 soldiers are engraved, soldiers with no known grave who were never found
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The Menin Gate memorial in Ypres, France. This impressive structure holds the names of over 60,000 men who fought in the First World War, and every night come rain or shine, the Last Post is played here as a tribute to those who died.
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Vimy Ridge, a Canadian national memorial with over 11,000 names carved on it
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Lochnagar Crater – the mine hole created by the blast which signalled the start of the battle of the Somme
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Looking out through the mist at the cemetery behind the Thiepval memorial
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One of the many beautiful cemeteries which dominate the landscape
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The reconstructed trenches at Vimy Ridge, exactly where the original trenches lay

 

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The Tyne Cot Cemetery, no words can describe this…
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Hundreds and hundreds of tributes to soldiers who gave their lives, some engraved with names, some simply dedicated to ‘A Soldier of the Great War’
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The British front line at Beaumont Hamel, complete with the long rusted remains of the barbed wire fences
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The German front line, a terrifyingly short distance from the allied lines

Friday thought #83 Early season skiing – making the most of what little snow we have!

So I hear that North America is getting a huge amount of snow at the minute, however sadly this is not the case here in Europe. Winter teased us back in November and as ever the snow canons were blasting 24 hours a day, a few meagre pistes were opened and skiers hit the slopes in their droves. But since then we have had literally no precipitation, just bright blue skies, sunshine and well below freezing temperatures. So I can’t complain, this weather is gorgeous, and we have been determined to make the most of what we’ve got.

Those in charge of the ski areas have done a superb job of getting resorts open, and the cold temperatures have helped the manufactured snow stick brilliantly, so with zero off-piste or back-country touring potential, why not make the most of the magnificent sunshine and the spectacular ‘half Autumn half Winter’ scenery and hit the pistes?!

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Very respectable coverage considering we’ve had no snow!
Not a bad lunchtime view...
Not a bad lunchtime view…
A 14km track leading from Austria across the border to Switzerland. I love popping over the border for lunch!
A 14km track leading from Austria to Switzerland. I love popping over the border for lunch!
Yeah lower down the snow really does run out! Although there's something really fun about skiing along next to grass...
Yeah lower down the snow really does run out! Although there’s something really fun about skiing along next to grass…
When you get tired of the pistes, why not have a go on the airbag?
When you get tired of the pistes, why not have a go on the airbag?
Ah lovely...
Ah lovely…

Friday thought #82 Ski time!

Yes it’s here, I clung on to autumn for as long as I could, but I have finally given in and embraced winter! Although at this time of year the nights are closing in, the temperature plummets, and the sun retreats into hibernation, the wonderful thing about a place like Innsbruck is that with winter comes SNOW! Last weekend we dusted off the skis and had a fun blast round the busy pistes followed by a superb (and considerably quieter!) ski tour.

A great star to the winter and exciting to be back on the skis. Watch this space…

Stunning views above the clouds
Stunning views above the clouds
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The snow was surprisingly good!
Peaceful touring
Peaceful touring
Atmospheric snowy peaks as far as the eye can see
Atmospheric snowy peaks as far as the eye can see

Friday thought #81 Who said November was miserable?

Me! Traditionally I have always associated November with grim, rainy, grey weather (growing up in England didn’t help!) The sun has gone into hibernation, the rain arrives, it’s cold. But this November in the alps has proved me wrong. With a few exceptions (!) we have had perfect cold, crisp sunny days, and the beautiful autumn leaves have really held their colour. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed still being able to run on the forest trails around Innsbruck, and couldn’t resist taking my camera out this week to capture nature at its best.

The snow is creeping closer, and skiing is not far away, but for now I want to hold on to autumn for as long as possible.

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