This is the place where we stayed, in St Christoph. It’s a chalet hotel, so it’s not a chalet, and it’s not a hotel. But to me it was more like a hotel than a chalet.
There were about 150 Brits staying there, and a couple of Americans. Most folk were in their fifties or sixties. Fat Mac reckons that it’s mainly Hooray Henries who go skiing, but as usual he’s thinking about what it was like in the sivinties. Nowadays, it’s mostly either young ravers or oldies. The ravers stay in places like St Anton, get rat-arsed in the evenings at places like the Krazy Kanguruh and BaseCamp, sleep it off the next day and get on the piste by the pm. The oldies, on the other hand, get up early and have fresh pistes often to themselves. Oldies enjoy places such as the Sporthotel because you can ski in/ski out, and it’s a lot quieter, though having said that, the free wine on offer did raise the noise level somewhat in the evenings.
Most of the people staying at the Sporthotel were professionals of one kind or another, and many had retired. Amongst others, we met three retired doctors, an NHS manager, and a retired teacher. In most cases, the couples both had, or had had, professional level jobs. They were nearly all very good skiers, much better than us, and seemed to go on at least one skiing holiday each year. They were all physically fit – none were obese – in fact, skiing keeps you very fit, and you also have to be fit to ski well. I read the other day that by 2020, 40% of Scottish people will be obese, so I don’t think many of those folk will ski much.
Virtually all of the staff in the chalet hotel were from Britain. It seems that in the UK there are numerous Polish, Portuguese and other foreign nationals who work in the hotels, whilst the Brits go abroad for employment in such services. No doubt they enjoy the skiing on their days off.
Some thought had gone into the dining arrangements. There were various groups who sat at their own tables for most of the week. Then there were a few couples who wanted to sit by themselves. The rest of us were invited to sit in rows of tables seating 10 people. At the entrance to the dining room, you were directed to a specific table, which sometimes varied. Lindsey and I spent our meals either on tables 5 or 6. This meant that our neighbours varied a bit, but that somewhere on each table, each evening, were some people we’d sat beside on previous evenings. This was a good arrangement.
The tables filled up depending on who arrived in the dining room after the aperitif in the large bar area. So, if you were first to your table, you had your choice of seat. If you were last, you sat in the vacant slots. Not every couple was male/female.
The setup worked well. Imagine if the seating arrangements were fixed, and you had to sit at the same seat, every evening, for example at the end of a row of five double tables, and you’d pulled the short straw and every evening the only neighbour you could talk to was Fat Mac. Well – by the second evening you’d want to go home. Imagine having to listen to talk, every night for two hours, about how the UK needs a Stalin figure who would make sure that hard-working people like yourself, who had maybe been in employment for thirty to thirty-five years or more, should be lined up and shot, and their assets given to the bone-idle! And imagine looking over to your only neighbour during the third course, and, what with the free wine and all, what you’d see would be Fat Mac drooling into his creme brûlée! Imagine the horrors. Thank goodness Fat Mac doesn’t ski!
That sort of thing couldn’t happen at the Sporthotel because, as I said, the seating arrangements varied. If you sat in the middle of the table one evening, you could talk to couples on either side of you. But, in fact, your neighbours on either side would spend much of their time talking to the people at the table ends, otherwise those people would only have themselves to talk to. Everyone was in a great mood each evening, as they’d all had a fantastic day on the snow – apart from the woman who was taken out by a boarder on the first day, and suffered a broken leg.
There was only one ski snob – a chap who “didn’t do ski buses”. Mind you, the ski buses, unlike the post buses, were extremely crowded, so maybe he had a point.
The only Hooray Henries we saw were actually Henriettas. They had a table at the Hospiz Alm, the top place at St Christoph. They were drinking expensive wine, and had a row of empties beside their table. We checked out the prices, and figured out that they’d run up an afternoon tab of £500. Nixon, Kennedy, and various royals had eaten at the Hospiz Alm. We could tell this from the photos near the entrance.
The Hospiz Alm has a great way (a slide) of getting to the toilets downstairs when you have boots on.
I didn’t take many photos of the food in and around St Christoph, in the Arlberg region, but here are a few.
At the end of the meal we were given a lift down to the bottom of the mountain in a snow groomer with a cage on the front.
Things didn’t look particularly good for our skiing holiday in St Christoph, Austria.
The weather forecast wasn’t great for the week that we’d booked, and when we arrived at our chalet hotel it was very misty. Skiing is a bit like having a bipolar experience. The first morning you put on layer after layer of clothing – thick socks, thermal top and bottom, T-shirt, warm top, salopettes, jacket, scarf, gloves, etc, and by the time you’ve struggled into your boots, climbed the stairs clutching your skis and poles, put on your helmet and goggles, connected your boots to the skis and walked over to the first tow, you feel so exhausted and clumpy that you can’t imagine actually doing much else for the rest of the day.
Then you get to the top of the first T-bar, look over and see some blue sky coming in, and it’s whoosh downhill for the best fun you can have with clothes on for the rest of the day.
There’s currently a number of new construction developments in Portobello.
Just along the main road towards Abercorn Terrace, a building is being renovated. They seem to be keeping the shell, and building round it.
Over the roundabout as you enter Portobello, on Inchview Terrace, the Landrover salesroom has been demolished. I think that they are going to build a care home on the plot. Here’s a proposal.
In the book Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom which I read a couple of weeks ago, the author, Andrew Duff, mentioned a couple of articles about Sikkim which appeared in the 1963 edition of National Geographic. Without much hope of there being a copy in the local library, I asked anyway, and was told that the Edinburgh Central Library would have a copy.
So I went there – the first time for several years – and asked at the reference desk. The librarian was actually wearing a National Geographic sweatshirt, which I took to be a very good sign, and I could see that the most recent issues of National Geographic were on a shelf behind the desk, so things looked promising. But the librarian could not find the 1960s issues anywhere, and explained that they’d been doing some moving around of stock. She suggested I try at the National Library, across the road.
The National Library has changed quite a bit since I last went there to research some reference books I was writing reviews of, for Reference Reviews. It now has a bright and busy entrance area, with a cafe, interesting books on sale, three TV screens and various types of tables at which to sit. I had to register, get my photo taken (one of the worst photos ever, as I was peering at the camera at the time), and get a membership card. They don’t allow bags or outdoor jackets (or pens) in the Reading Room, so I used the available lockers, and then went upstairs. The chap on the main entrance had been really helpful, and the librarian upstairs was extremely helpful and filled out a request card for the National Geographic. The librarian on the counter said that she’d fax the request to the Causewayside Building, that vans delivered material from there each hour, and that my request should be available in the Reading Room by 3.30 pm.
This gave me the chance to sample the cafe downstairs, where I had a coffee and a caramel shortbread. The caramel shortbread was awesome! It was quite the best of its type that I’ve ever tasted, and it only cost £1.50. Unfortunately, the National Geographic 1963 volume hadn’t appeared by 3.30 pm and I had to wait until 4.30 for the next delivery.
I then spent a most enjoyable hour flicking through the 1963 issues and reading both articles about Sikkim in depth. Old National Geographics can really give you a feeling for things as they were, in those days. Kennedy was still alive, and featured in a couple of items. The articles on Sikkim referred to ‘the Reds’ as having invaded Tibet, and that the Chinese were, at the time, massing on the border between Tibet and Sikkim. The second Sikkim article was about the wedding of Prince Palden Gyurmed Namgyal to Hope Cooke. In 1963 there were less than 200,000 people living in Sikkim, and the only tarred road stopped at Gangtok. There were photos of various lamas in the articles.
Later on, I found a film about Sikkim, made in 1971, on YouTube. According to Wikipedia, this film was banned by the government of India, when Sikkim merged with India in 1975. The film is worth watching.
As I mentioned the other day, since I finished Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom, I’ve been reading In Search of Shambhala, by Elaine Brook. This is about her travels, mostly in Nepal but she starts the first trip in Sikkim. The mysterious Hidden Valleys in the Himalayas that she mentions several times are, more or less, valleys of the mind. In the final chapters of her book she explains how she went on a six-week meditation retreat. She quickly suffers from an internal Ma̋ra – her mind cannot settle for a while.
Fat Mac is currently in a similar situation, being on an extended detox retreat in preparation for our forthcoming trip to Rumtek, and he is also suffering the ma̋ra. He’d probably really enjoy Elaine Brook’s book, as it features various lamas, Rinpoches, dakinis, bliss, meditation caves and so on. It has a Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. On page 174, Brook writes about meeting the head of the Serchans on a trek to Lo. The Serchan, on hearing that Brook came from England, asked her if she knows ‘David’. She is about to dismiss this question as naive when she realises that he means David Snellgrove, the author of Himalayan Pilgrimage, who had been in the same area some years before.
By a strange coincidence, Snellgrove’s book was on my bedside cabinet. Some time ago I looked out all my unread books on the Himalaya. So, after I’ve finished In Search of Shambhala I’ll start Himalayan Pilgrimage.
In May 2012 I was blessed by a monk at Ganden Sumtseling Gompa, which I found to be a spiritual experience. That whole trip, especially the unplanned visit to the Dhondrupling Gompa, and the lunch in the Tibetan house, was wonderful. I can only hope that the trip to Sikkim will be something similar. However, I have my doubts whether Fat Mac will manage to negotiate the various web sites and get a visa for India.
Another coincidence – as a result of booking the Sikkim trip through Exodus, today a copy of the latest issue of National Geographic arrived in the post.