A winter wonderland and a bit of southern European hospitality

One of the things I wanted to do as part of my time off from work was to improve my skiing. I’ve always been a bit jealous of my friends who have spent a ski season at a resort, and so while I had the time I decided to do it. My first stop was St Anton am Arlberg in Austria, where I stayed for 4 weeks in a small but comfortable apartment right in the middle of the main village. St Anton is famous for its off piste skiing and its wild apres ski (the Mooserwirt and Krazy Kangaroo were the scene of several big nights out). It is linked by bus to several other ski resorts, the main ones being Lech (a favorite for the British Royals and other people with too much money) and Zurs. Although more expensive than other Austrian resorts, it is still quite a bit cheaper than resorts in France and Switzerland. I was lucky enough to have a hug dump of snow as soon as I arrived, with periodic new snow falls. Before I got there the Alps were having one of their worst snow seasons ever, so I was very lucky with the timing. I was joined by a few mates over the four weeks (Danny, Guy, Donald, Steve and Phil) and bumped into a friend from Denmark, Thomas, who was there for his birthday, which was great. To get the most out of the stay I did some private lessons to improve my on-piste technique, as well as to start learning some off piste skills. The guy I used (Georg) was really good and is highly recommended (see below for details).  Here are some photos I took in the 4 weeks:

My first meal on the slopes - a delicious Kaserspaztl
My first meal on the slopes – a delicious Kaserspaztl
We had big storm just after I arrived - this is the main street in town
We had big storm just after I arrived – this is the main street in town
Once the sun came out, the views were stunning
Once the sun came out, the views were stunning
Me, Guy and Danny ready for a big day on the slopes!
Me, Guy and Danny ready for a big day on the slopes!
More beautiful views...
More beautiful views…
And some more...
And some more…
Jagertee with Thomas at the Mooserwirt!
Jagertee with Thomas at the Mooserwirt!
A tray of booze carried by the waiter in Mooserwirt (that's 21 pints of beer plus loads of shooters and jaegerbombs)
A tray of booze carried by the waiter in Mooserwirt (that’s 21 pints of beer plus loads of shooters and jaegerbombs)
Looking down into the valley
Looking down into the valley
Apres Ski in Lech - not nearly as exciting as St Anton, but quite a nice view
Apres Ski in Lech – not nearly as exciting as St Anton, but quite a nice view
Another big night at the Mooserwirt, this time with Donald and Steve
Another big night at the Mooserwirt, this time with Donald and Steve
The inside of the Mooserwirt
The inside of the Mooserwirt
Steve looking dapper in his ski gear
Steve looking dapper in his ski gear
The view from the Rendl ski area
The view from the Rendl ski area
Donald and Phil enjoy a pink drink
Donald and Phil enjoy a pink drink
One of the views in Zurs
One of the views in Zurs
Phil doing his best to fit in with the jetset crowd at Zurs
Phil doing his best to fit in with the jetset crowd at Zurs
Lunch with a view
Lunch with a view

Before heading to the next ski resort, Tignes, in France, I took a week break to give my legs a bit of a rest and to see a bit more of Europe. My first stop was Marbella in southern Spain to visit my friends Warren and Eddie for three nights. They really looked after me, driving me all over the country to see the various sights, and making sure I ate and drank very well. One the first day we headed to Gibraltar, where we walked around the main street and I headed up the rock to see the amazing views and the Barbary apes (Europe’s only primates other than humans). After Gibraltar we headed to the small town of Ronda in time for sunset. Ronda is perched on the edge of a high cliff and has a deep gorge running through the town which is crossed by an old stone bridge. The views are really spectacular and completely unexpected – really worth the drive out. After enjoying the views we wandered through the town, and came across a small parade of locals led by someone pushing a simple homemade straw man in a wheelbarrow and someone playing the drums. We followed them until they got to the main square, where everyone stood in a circle around the straw man while one guy set it a alight. Once he finally got it alight (it took a while), everyone cheered, some people sang some short songs and a few people went up to through what looked like small flowers into the fire. All very strange. We think is had something to do with the end of carnival, but who knows.

Me just outside the border of Gibraltar, with the Rock in the background
Me just outside the border of Gibraltar, with the Rock in the background
The view from the top of the Rock, looking out towards the coast of Africa in the distance
The view from the top of the Rock, looking out towards the coast of Africa in the distance
The slightly lower peak of the Rock
The slightly lower peak of the Rock
The higher peak of the Rock
The higher peak of the Rock
A Barbary ape that I cunningly surprised as he hopped up onto the wall
A Barbary ape that I cunningly surprised as he hopped up onto the wall
The amazing cliffs at Ronda
The amazing cliffs at Ronda
Looking down the valley from the old stone bridge at Ronda
Looking down the valley from the old stone bridge at Ronda
Looking back at the town and all the houses perched on the edge of the chasm
Looking back at the town and all the houses perched on the edge of the chasm
More views of Ronda
More views of Ronda
The weird procession we saw in Ronda
The weird procession we saw in Ronda
The stone bridge at Ronda at night
The stone bridge at Ronda at night

The next day we headed to the Alhambra in Granada, a beautiful city at the foot of the snow covered Sierra Nevada mountains. Alhambra is consisted one of the wonders of the modern world and is a fort and palace complex on a hill overlooking the city that was built by the Moors in the 15th century. The highlight is the Royal complex, where every surface is covered with intricate plaster carving, mosaics or carved wood. It reminded me a lot of the Moghul palaces that we saw in Rajasthan in India, and it is definitely a must-see if you are in the area. Pre-booking is essential, as entrance to the palace is an add-on to the ticket to see the rest of the fort, and you are required to enter the palace at a specific time. The rest of the fort is also nice, with great views over the city, but the palace is the real highlight. After the Alhambra we had some food and wandered around the city a bit before heading back to Marbella for a walk along the beachfront, some drinks on the beach and a stroll through the old part of town, before heading home for a delicious home cooked meal from Eddie and far too many drinks.

Some of the plaster work in the palace complex
Some of the plaster work in the palace complex
Warren looking cool in front of the door to one of the palace rooms
Warren looking cool in front of the door to one of the palace rooms
I wasn't kidding when I said there was intricate plaster work everyhere
I wasn’t kidding when I said there was intricate plaster work everyhere
The courtyard with the famous lion fountain (still haven't worked out why it is famous)
The courtyard with the famous lion fountain (still haven’t worked out why it is famous)
The amazing ceiling on one of the palace rooms
The amazing ceiling on one of the palace rooms
Another cool ceiling
Another cool ceiling
View from the palace over Granada
View from the palace over Granada
A beautiful entrance arch
A beautiful entrance arch
View over Granada from the fort
View over Granada from the fort
Warren and Eddie outside the Granada cathedral where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are buried
Warren and Eddie outside the Granada cathedral where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are buried
Something you see in Spanish supermarkets - masses of cured ham haunches!
Something you see in Spanish supermarkets – masses of cured ham haunches!

The next day I had a fairly hungover flight to Lisbon, my stop for the next 3 days. I didn’t really know too much about Lisbon, but I’d heard that it was a nice place for a quick stop, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It is quite a small city and you can get around to most of the main attractions by foot, although you need to be prepared for a lot of hills. It seems like Portugal hasn’t has same growth in tourism as neighboring Spain, and also didn’t benefit as much from the economic boom in the 2000’s, and so has a very different feel from other European cities I’ve been to. The historical central area feels more like a real city where people live and work, as opposed to an area that has been fixed up and made pretty to appeal to tourists, and so feels a lot more authentic and slightly edgy. I stayed at a nice hostel conveniently located close to the main sights, and which runs several tours to give you a different experience of the city. I did the really good walking tour, which took around 4 hours, and covered everything from the varied history of the city (such as the devastating earthquake of 1755 and the 1974 carnation revolution), a few of the main tourist sites, some really good street art, some ginjinha (a cherry liqueur that is locals regularly have shots of), delicious pastries, great views and a trip through the old part of the city. The other tours include a nighttime trip to try out local foods and music, and a night out at a Fado bar (the Lisbon version of the blues), but unfortunately these were happening after I left Lisbon. I also spent a day at Belem to try out the famous Pasteis de Nata from  (delicious custard tarts found all over Lisbon, all of them attempted copies of the ones from Pasteis de Belem) and to see the sights there. I also headed across the river to see the Christ statue and the cool views from the cliff it is situated on. The final night was spent at the hostel where you could have a delicious home cooked meal, which ended up turning into an extended drinking session until early in the morning. After a bit of a lie-in to recover from the previous nights excesses, I caught an afternoon flight to Lyon, where I spent a night before catching an early train and bus to Tignes in France, where I will be based for the next 5 weeks.

A typical street in Lisbon, complete with washing hanging from the balconies
A typical street in Lisbon, complete with washing hanging from the balconies
One of the famous funiculars in Lisbon (I'm told every tourist takes this photo so didn't want to be left out)
One of the famous funiculars in Lisbon (I’m told every tourist takes this photo so didn’t want to be left out)
One of the famous ginjinha shops (apparently it is better than the very famous one across the road)
One of the famous ginjinha shops (apparently it is better than the very famous one across the road)
One of the little passageways designated for street art
One of the little passageways designated for street art
Some of the street art is really amazing
Some of the street art is really amazing – this one celebrates Fado
On our walking tour we visited a parking garage which had given each floor to a different street artist to decorate - really cool
On our walking tour we visited a parking garage which had given each floor to a different street artist to decorate – really cool
Another piece of street art in the parking garage
Another piece of street art in the parking garage
Looking out over Lisbon's old Muslim quarter - the only part to survive the 1755 earthquake and tsunami
Looking out over Lisbon’s old Muslim quarter – the only part to survive the 1755 earthquake and tsunami
The famous Pateis de Belem!
The famous Pateis de Belem!
The monument to Portugese explorers in Belem
The monument to Portugese explorers in Belem
The Belem tower
The Belem tower
A tasty meal of chorizos (except for the one made almost entirely out of fat - I didn't like that one)
A tasty meal of chorizos (except for the one made almost entirely out of fat – I didn’t like that one)
The cliffs opposite Lisbon, near the stature of Christ
The cliffs opposite Lisbon, near the stature of Christ
The statue of Christ - pretty much an exact copy of the one in Buenos Aires
The statue of Christ – pretty much an exact copy of the one in Rio
The bridge across the river in Lisbon - pretty much an exact copy of the Golden Gate bridge.
The bridge across the river in Lisbon – pretty much an exact copy of the Golden Gate bridge.

Links:

St Anton Apartment: http://www.st-antonamarlberg.co.uk/new_page.html

St Anton instructor: Georg from Learn 2 Ski http://www.learn2ski.eu/en/

Oasis Hostel Lisbon: http://www.oasislisboa.com/lisbon-hostel

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