Family ski holiday in Austria: Ups & Downs

It has been our tradition to go skiing with my family for 5y now. Last year we were in Kirchberg (see here the blog on my winter ascent) and this year not far away from Wildschoenau. The chalet wasn’t as luxurious (no wifi, not very clean etc), but on the flip side there were other houses in our village ‘almdorf’ allowing Alex to meet new friends such as Linus from Aschaffenburg and the snow-white family dog Lillyfe. With the kids busy, we enjoyed talking to the parents Tanja & Rene – perfect. 

Message to Almdorf Wildschoenau: Hey guys … the wifi & heating (to dry clothes!?!) need fixing. Ahh yes, and take a look under the beds. Needs some cleaning too. And a toaster per house would be great too. Otherwise, we enjoyed our stay. 

Weather wise we were not very fortunate. after a full week of sunshine in 2017, we only had one really brilliant day though generally good snow conditions and beautiful white coated forests everywhere around us.

Ski arena Wildschoenau: the ski area couldn’t quite compare to kirchberg/kitzbuehel. In particular it lacks good blue runs for the parents we felt. Also apres ski was pretty muted, as the area is mainly frequented by families that don’t go much more crazy than a few drinks at the end of the day.

wildsch.jpg

Project igloo – well, an open air one anyway: alex loves playing in the snow. With plenty of snow around he suggested we build an igloo. Well, we tried but just didn’t have the skills to fit a roof. Still, great effort and fun building it together. The ferraro rocher that alex has hidden somewhere inside is still there – bon appetit to whoever finds it!

Progress report – Mum taking second place in her first race: Alex went to ski school as usual. He is still struggling with  parallel skiing at times, but fearless and enjoying every moment. Mum also went on a course again in her second year and ski’s really well by now. Her efforts were awarded with a stunning 2nd place finish (out of 9) in Thursdays slalom race. We had bets running where she’d come out. Frances was spot on while we others all expected a worse outcome (Bodo #4, Ronny #6, Alex #8). The ceremony happened at Hotel Harfenwirt and rounded off our evening out. Fun. 

Carneval @ home: this years winter holiday coincided with the carneval week. We had brought costumes and celebrated in the chalet. Alex went as dragon, sister as indian, dad as captain, mum as something and i as some hula hula girl from Hawaii (though with a strong ladyboy touch judging by the pictures / feedback … well, i am just back from Thailand after all). Alex’ friend linus and his parents joined us for the evening. to our surprise, all of us being really tired from sport & fresh air all day, we chatted to almost 10pm and laughed a lot. Great evening. 

German  carneval & its origins – see here for a really good source

I guess a good way of understnading the origins are to look into the three typical terms for carneval – carneval itself, fastnacht & fasching (depending on the region). Historically it was a celebration ahead of a ‘fasting’ period beginning ash Wednesday and lasting about 6w to Easter Sunday.

The word Fasching dates back to the 13th century and is derived from the Germanic word vaschanc or vaschang, in modern German: Fastenschank = the last serving of alcoholic beverages before Lent. In olden times the 40-day Lenten period of fasting was strictly observed. People refrained from drinking alcohol or eating meat, milk products and eggs. The English word “fast” (to refrain from eating) is related to German fasten.

Karneval, on the other hand, is a newer, much more recent (17th century), Latin-based word borrowed from French and Italian. The true origin of the word is uncertain, but it probably comes from Latin carne levare (“away with meat”) > carnelevale > Karneval or Carnival. In earlier times, the German word was even written with a C rather than today’s K-spelling. (Some German carnival associations still use the Carneval spelling in their names.)

The third common term for carnival in German, Fastnacht, refers to the Swabian-Alemannic carnival, which differs in some ways from Fasching and Karneval, and is found in Baden-Württemberg, Franconia (northern Bavaria), Hesse and much of Switzerland. Although this word looks like it comes from the German for the “eve of Lent,” in fact it is based on the Old German word fasen (“to be foolish, silly, wild”). Thus the word, sometimes spelled Fasnacht (without the t) actually means something like “night of being wild and foolish.” You can learn more about Fastnacht below.

Slap in the face (with a hammer): Not all was fun for me last week. I had to deal with some surprisingly rude treatment from someone who I value very much and thought vice versa. How wrong I was. I skip the myriad of details here. Such things happen in life – both on the giving & receiving end – and one gets over it.  But then it always hurts when someone essentially slaps you in the face unexpectedly and with brute force. Especially if it is someone that you helped a great deal in life. Sometimes these things are interpersonal, cultural, to protect the other person, influenced by third parties, out of fear, because of difficult family situations, due to lack of maturity or sometimes because it’s just hard to speak the truth … god only knows (but he kept it to himself for now). Cut. Next take. Get ready to shoot. Sound rolling. Camera rolling. Action!

It’s funny how sometimes the people you’d take a bullet for are the ones behind the trigger.

Finishing off in Munich – as usual: It’s never good to finish on a bad note after a challenging week. Nor should I. Good news is that there are so many good people in life, first and foremost my sister. As we have done in so many years, once again we enjoyed a good time in Munich. Alex had right a go at the Schweinehaxe in the Hofbraeuhaus … impressive how much he liked to nibble on this big piece of pork. German after all.

Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile & who love you no matter what.

Advertisements

Two days in Pai & goodbye in Chiang Mai

The way to Pai turned into a race, as I felt like riding and only made a few stops. The scooter I had was going fine though sometimes lacked a little power in the hills. When you go to Pai from Chiang Mai (c120km) you are looking at some serious serpentine action. In total 762 turns. Really good fun though dangerous for the inexperienced rider. At least the roads are pretty decent.

I arrived in the dark, checked in (Chill Lom house … recommended) and went on to the market. Pai has a wonderful walking street with some of the best food I had during my time in Thailand. There are many westerners, but the chilled kind and hence with good vibes. Also the food is a bit adopted to the visitors unlike anywhere else I had been (like Burrito, falafel, garlic bread etc), but a welcome change from Pad Thai and chicken curry. Really enjoyable. I had bacon & cheese toasty, fresh strawberries and avocado, delicious chicken BBQ and fried potato (similar to what I ate in Koh Phangan). A face massage for dessert (at least no questions about happy ending though 1h face massage is excessive!). I decided to stay two nights, which was certainly one of the easier decisions in my life.

Hanging out in Pai: Daytime activities are plentiful in Pai though I couldn’t do more temples. Instead, I headed for the Pie canyon to do some hiking (advanced stuff and in places very steep & dangerous) and the Pie hinterland (a bridge built through rice fields that is pretty scenic). On my way back into Pie i stopped at a cafe (‘coffee in love‘) where they offer you egg chair type seating and chatted away with Laetitia from Switzerland. Nice to chat … time went by so quickly …

Naturally, I found myself at the night market again for dinner and met Viking from Iceland (now that’s a first down here). We got on well instantly and spent the best part of the night together. He has been here for a few month already and trains muay thai in Pai. He loves it totally and will stay for a long time he says (funded by renting his Reykjavik apartment). We visited some bars a bit outside the centre (sunset & paradise) though didn’t quite find what we were looking for. At midnight, Pai shuts down and only Don’t Cry bar (right across the bridge towards the east of Pie) is still opened. Many people headed that way while we went back into town where I met another Saxon fellow though arguably pretty wasted already (he had some serious problems locating his scooter). Time for bed.

Chiang Mai: I wasn’t too much in a rush in the morning to get back to Chiang Mai, but the scooter was due back by 5pm. The ride was swift and I made it in about two hours (120km … not bad) taking in the scenery a last time. In Chiang Mai I did the last two temples i could stomach (see here for a more complete list of the vast amount of temples you can see here) before taking an enjoyable stroll through the 3D illusions venue ‘art in paradise’ …. unusual, fun, recommended (there are other outlets such as in Bangkok etc). For the evening it was reunion time with Gav (who made his way here after Koh Tao) and Valentine (who I met in Khao SokKhao Sok). And of course, it wouldn’t be a hostel if there weren’t new people … like Kaya (Holland) and Charles (England). It would be fair to say that we turned the night into day (Yellow bar and Spicy club) at the expense of a timely departure on my side next morning. But no regrets … great last night. Thanks guys!

Bye, bye Thailand … and khob khun krap for everything! 

ขอขอบคุณ

Northern Thailand: Doi Tung, Doi Salong & Chiang Rai

It was sheer fun to ride across the hilly North of Thailand after I left the Golden Triangle. Really wished I had allocated a bit more time up here than just this one week. Before Thailand I hadn’t been riding a scooter since I criss-crossed Zansibar after climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro more than 10y ago. The windy roads, scenic views and picturesque temples are really fun (though I have hit my limits when it comes to temples … same stuff that you get with churches when you travel Italy or Spain). I was also lucky with the weather, as it didn’t rain once.

Doi Tung: It was really more the way there that I enjoyed. The temple was average and, unfortunately, I was too late to visit the Doi Tung royal villa and its gardens. Accommodation options turned out pretty lights in the hills (well going by booking.com) and so I headed to Mae Chan for the evening with its night market (where I am still not sure if I had mat balls in my beef soup or bull testicles for dinner). Similar to Chiang Saen, i was one of the very few tourists in town and enjoyed a few beers with live music to round off a great day out.

Doi Salong: Doi Salong was only an hours ride away. Scenery galore again. However, first I needed to make my Skype appointment with Daria for my weekly Russian session. This grammar stuff still bugs me. But such is life. We actually spent a fair bit talking English as I reported my insights from the ‘hall of opium’. Highlight in this pretty mountain village are the hill top temples, of which I saw a few. Great views included!

Chiang Rai: By nightfall I was already in Chiang Rai. Very laid back place I have to say. I was pretty hungry and made my way to the night market. In this region it was popular to make your own soup. You order a base soup (normal or spicy) and vegetable as well meat/seafood ingredients. Put all into the pot and wait 5min while watching some Thai dancing on the stage. Great atmosphere here and alto there were significantly more tourists than the last few days, it was nowhere the commercial, beach tourist type atmosphere of South Thailand. People were friendly.

On my way home i watched some Thaiboxing with locals in a hotel lobby before I spent a good part of the evening talking to Kristina and Stefan in a pretty awesome reggae bar. Kristina moved to Chiang Rai from Berlin, studies Thai and aims to work here as English teacher. Stefan from Dortmund used to work in IT and now travels already for 11 month. He isn’t tired just yet. Awesome evening. 

The next morning I dedicated to so e sightseeing. Chiang Rai offers three main attractions other than its tranquility and the night market – a white temple, a blue temple and a black house. 

  • Black House: The latter is the 50y+ work of local artist Thawan Duchanee. He is a painter and sculpturer that created this folk park (some 40 houses, loads of collected items like animal bones, skins etc) to preserve history and as a source of inspiration for his own work.  
  • White temple (Wat Rong Khun): Again, created by an artist (Chalermchai Kositpipat) who mostly funded it with his own money. At 40m THB (about 1m EUR in todays terms) a good effort though still work in progress with wikipedia saying that it might not be finished before 2070!
  • Blue temple: Created by locals and also still being constructed. Similar to white temple, a welcome difference to the typical temple appearance. 

Well, must be off. 300km+ to Pai are waiting.

Golden Triangle: How opium shaped world history

The golden triangle is only a few km away from Chiang Saen and close by is the highly interesting museum ‘hall of opium’ where I learned so much about the opium trade, its impact on geopolitical history and how London was #1 dealer! Did you know the German company Bayer gave Heroin its name? I didn’t. Ahh yes … I was also pleased to find a decent pizza place (Mekong Pizza) that offers thin & crisp pepperoni pizza (some 300THB, but worth it) – a welcome break from padthai!

What is the Golden Triangle? There are many golden triangles in the world, usually where three countries intersect as is the case here (Thailand, Laos, Myanmar). The golden triangle here where the Mekong and Ruak rivers confluence, however, became famous due to its significance for global opium production and trade. Whike no longer the top producer (Afghanisthan takes the top spot by some margin), it remains the second largest opiate growing area (>100,000ha) globally and a source of opiate/heroin supply for China & SE Asia.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The hall of opium – great museum! The hall of opium is part of a wider effort of the Mae Fah Luang foundation to foster social development, social entrepreneurship and education. Having been initiated by her Royal Highness the Princess Mother it stands under the patronage of the Royal family. I have to admit that I learned a great deal. I won’t go into all the details, but a few interesting facts:

  • UK was #1 opium dealer: It was mainly the UK that led the global trade in opium in the 18th & 19th century growing it in India and exporting it to China. The British East India company was the key player in the trade (taken from the Portuguese). Opium sales finally balanced the chronic trade imbalance created by western demand for Chinese produce such as silk, porcellain and tea (rather than paying with silver/gold). Eventually opium related taxes/revenues contributed vast amounts to government budgets (10%ish for global powers, 20-25% for Asian countries like Thailand).
  • Singapore & Hong Kong born out of opium while imperial China fell: Modern Singapore was founded 1819 by the British. The development of Singapore is closely related to the evolution of the opium trade as a key trading post for the UK in Asia. Likewise, Hong Kong was secured for the British after the Chinese lost the first opium war. As so often in history, this large pot of money is worth fighting for, but I leave these facts to wikipedia. Fact is, China had a huge drug problem. By 1838 an estimated 4-12m (of 360m) inhabitants were addicted and imports huge. Eventually, the Qing dynasty and with it 2,000 years of dynasticn rule collapsed as a result of opium trade and the subsequent wars, which forced opium imports & adverse trade deals on this large country. The century of humiuliation for China (as it is still taught in Chinese schools today) had begun.

Opium_imports_into_China_1650-1880_EN.svg

  • Heroin … a non addicitve replacement for morphine? Heroin (then still called diamorphine) was dicovered by the British chemist C.R. Alder Wright in 1874. However, it was the German pharma company Bayer that suggested Heroin could be used as a non-addictive substitute for morphine (morphine addiction was widespread then including famous people like US president Benjamin Franklin). Heroin was actually up to 2,5x more potent than morphine and was named “heroin,” based on the German heroisch, which means “heroic, strong”. It was available over the counter for many years.

Phayao & Chiang Saen: Temples, freedom and a Thai style night out

I left the temple about 9am, Ajahn & his friend left me pretty inspired. Next stop Phayao … some 200km away. It was still a bit chilly (well, it is winter after all … also in Thailand), but the scenery made up for it. I was on some sort of highway and the road was actually really decent. Much better than what I’d come across on Koh Phangan. 

img_2148-1

There was an abundance of possible stops on the way including many temples, waterfalls or simply nice views of the often hilly and always green Thai country side. The kilometres were just flying past me and the little 125ccm beast was using up the petrol pretty quickly. The tank is small (c4l) and I had to get petrol 4x on my 380km tour today. But that basically meant 4x 100THB … so EUR11 all in. Not too bad. 

Once in Phayao i was one of only a handful of tourists. The first thing that you’ll find is the lake. The largest in Northern Thailand. I stopped to take a picture of the double dragons (Kwan Phayao) and returned later for lunch and a peep at the island not too far off the shore line with the sunken temple (though I skipped having myself rowed over). My research suggested one temple in the city to visit (Wat Khomkam), which had the largest Buddha statue I’d set yet. Pretty impressive. 

Afterwards, I visited Wat Analayo located some 10km outside Phayao city. Its a nice climb up the stairs decorated as large the dragon tails. Up on the hill are temples galore! And more huge statues. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Best temple yet. And some nice villages to pass through on the way back to Phayao. Loving the freedom on the bike. Every bit of it.

After lunch I felt like using the time on the bike a little more and listened to Spanish podcasts … advanced level and hence not easy, but I got the gist of it. In theory i wanted to stop at Phu Sang national park on my way to Chiang Saen though the late time meant I skipped it and head straight for the town close to the golden triangle. As the sun set, I kept on stopping to take in the scenery. Amazing. Rice fields, mountains, clouds, the sun … you name it. Freedom again. The most important thing in my life was abundant here!

Eventually I made it to Chiang Saen following the mighty Mekong river for the last kilometers with Laos situated on the other side. Check in to the hotel was quick and off I went to downtown. I figured the 6am start, begging with the monks & 380km ride deserved at least one beers and helped myself at the first 7Eleven I came across. Then dinner at the market (pork noodle soup … delicious) and I felt already much more energised.

The Mekong River

The Mekong is one of the items on my bucket list. I would love to paddle it all the way from its source on the Tibetan plateau all the 4,350km to its delta in Vietnam. Its the 12th longest river in the world and fascinates me. But this has to wait.Different to other rivers I intend to paddle (like the Yukon), this one is considered one of the wildest in the world, has rapids and waterfalls and is not so straightforward to navigate. Depending on dry and wet season, the river can actually change flow direction in the golden triangle area.

nekong

On the way in to Chiang Saen I had spotted two bars, a bit outside the centre, and decided to have a look after dinner. It was Friday after all. Both had life music (either Thai or english cover) and not one tourist (at the market I saw maybe 7-8 foreigners). After some time listening to an amazing singer in the first bar, I moved over and got in touch with a few locals though with little english skills. We could talk football at least as my chelsea shirt gave me away. Turned out to be a fun night and also the first time i really felt to hang out with locals. Thanks to DJ Em Harry for giving me a lift home.