Snowshoeing in Italy / France: Final Prep

On the downhill run for our Transalpine Snowshoe Week, with Exodus.

Insurance

… purchased – LV= again. Premier annual multi-trips policy, Worldwide excluding North and Central America, Caribbean and Bahamas. Premier level covers trekking up to 6000m (in anticipation of Tsum and Manaslu in November).

Update: Winter Sports cover added. LV= doesn’t list snowshoeing as one of the activities that requires Winter Sports cover, but it turns out that it is. Thanks to Steffi for the tip!

Travel jabs

… checked – I had a whole lot redone in advance of my 2016 Nepal trek (in line with TravelHealthPro’s recommendations for Nepal) so I am all up to date with Hep A, Typhoid, Hep B, Diphtheria–Tetanus-Polio and Rabies. Next top up jab will be Typhoid in August 2019. Not that I’ll need any of these for Italy/France!

Euros

… from Thomas Exchange Global / BestForeignExchange.com on Wormwood St.

Weather forecasts

…. monitored / monitoring – looking chilly thanks to the Polar Vortex! I’m borrowing Hazel’s superior down jacket and taking my Icebreaker thermals and wool fleece lined mittens.

Click though to the Long term forecast and scroll down to the 4-hour daily views on YR and you’ll see that the temperatures are forecast to be even lower during the day (-17C, -18C, -19C ….)

Looking chilly in Thures
YR weather forecast for Thures
Looking chilly in Cervières
YR weather forecast for Cervières

Additional details

…. obtained from Exodus / France Outdoors, their local partner operating the trip:

1. Luggage transport / access

We got clarification on when / where we’d have access to our luggage, and confirmation that we wouldn’t be expect to carry our main bags to the Mautino hut.

Day 1 + Day 2: the group will stay in the same gite in Fontana del Thures, so you will have access to your main luggage.
Day 3 (Monday): a taxi will take everyone’s luggage in the morning to Cervières. So you won’t have access to your main luggage for 2 nights – you’ll just have what you take in in your backpack. Luggage cannot be left behind in the Mautino hut.
Day 4: Luggage cannot be left behind in Mautino hut.
Day 5 + 6 + 7: the group will be reunited with their main luggage in Cervières.

So you can leave your main luggage with what you don’t want/don’t need to carry for the Mautino hut on Monday morning to be transported to Cervières.

2. Lunch on transfer days

For most of the trip meals are provided. The gaps are lunch on the days we arrive and leave, when we’re on the transfer from / to Turin airport, and dinner on the way home too. Here’s what got back from Exodus:

Our local partner confirmed that on arrival there usually is a stop to buy some food on the way to the gite. On departure day, the transfer is planned around 2pm, so the group can eat at the gite or at another Auberge in the village. Additionally you could also buy a picnic at the gite to take away – there are no supermarkets there.

Steffi’s bringing Cardigan bread and cheese, and I’ve got a small pot of chutney to contribute to a picnic lunch on Saturday.

I have to say, our main contact at Exodus has been great at finding out these additional details for us, and very good at replying to our random questions.

Packing

….is about to commence!

Packing....
Packing…. is about to commence

Online Check-In

…. and we’re checked in for the flight to Turin too. Boarding passes printed.

Yr.No’s Wonderful Weather Forecasts

Having  umm-ed and ahh-ed over adding this into my Manaslu & Tsum: Update blogpost, I decided that Yr’s Wonderful Weather Forecasts merit a blogpost all of their own.

Yr – Yr.no – has been my go to website for trek and trip weather for a while now. It describes itself as “a joint service by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation”.

I am absolutely amazed by Yr’s coverage – I’ve found dedicated forecasts for all these places on our November trek to Tsum and then on around the Manaslu Circuit:

Initial section into Tsum and back

Arughat
Lapubesi
Dobhan
Philim
Lokpa
Chumling
Chumchet
Chhule
Ripche (Ripchet)

Manaslu Circuit on from Tsum

Prok
Hinanggaun (Hinang / Hinang Gaun)
Lho
Samagaun (Samagaon / Sama Gaon)
Samdo
Chamje / Chyamche (back on the Annapurna Circuit)
Syange

As well as the less surprising…

Pokhara
Kathmandu

and the more unexpected

West Nepal
Manaslu (8156 m) – “Other” as in “Mountain”, prompting me to look for…
Himalchuli (7893 m)
Ngadi Chuli (7871 m)

It’s not just the geographical coverage that impresses, the graphics, features and functionality do too.

Now that I’ve added these locations as “My Places”, I can see a super summary forecast for the next 3 days, and click throughs to the hour by hour and long range forecasts, all on one page:

Yr.No screenshot - My Places - Manaslu & Tsum
Yr.No screenshot – My Places – Manaslu & Tsum

As well as three flavours of forecast – showing summary icon and hover over narrative eg “partly cloudy”, temperature (including “feels like”), precipitation and wind speed & direction – and sunrise and sunset times, the Overview page has a map plus, at the bottom, latitude and longitude (degrees and decimal) and altitude, and a link through to Google Maps. And information about the place name including how it’s represented in other languages. AND a link to free weather forecast data (Javascript- or XML-forecasts):

Yr.No screenshot - Weather Forecast for Chumchet, Nepal
Yr.No screenshot – Weather Forecast for Chumchet, Nepal

Just to underline how amazing this all is, that screenshot is the Overview weather forecast for Chumchet, West (Nepal), which I visited during my Tsum Valley Trek in April 2015.

This is Chumchet:

Chumchet
Chumchet – Tsum Valley Trek – April 2015

Here it is on Google Maps:

And for completeness, here’s what you get when you click through to some of the other data sets  Yr has to offer for Chumchet:

Hour by hour weather forecast for Chumchet – includes a Meteogram:

Yr.No screenshot - Hourly forecast for Chumchet, Nepal
Yr.No screenshot – Hourly forecast for Chumchet, Nepal

Detailed hourly weather forecast for Chumchet – adds in pressure, humidity, dew point and cloud cover:

Yr.No screenshot - Detailed hourly forecast for Chumchet, Nepal
Yr.No screenshot – Detailed hourly forecast for Chumchet, Nepal

Long term weather forecast for Chumchet – gives you a summary and detailed forecast for the next 9-10 days:

Yr.No screenshot - Long term forecast for Chumchet, Nepal
Yr.No screenshot – Long term forecast for Chumchet, Nepal

Why look anywhere else?

Back from Berlin

We had a Christmas full of food, drink and good company in Berlin, staying with friends of Phil’s.

After an early start, we landed in Berlin early afternoon on 23 December and made our way on the bus and S-bahn to Michael and Katja’s where we reintroduced ourselves to Franzi and Polly, the cats. A leisurely afternoon of tea and chat, G&Ts and dinner once Michalle arrived.

Christmas Eve featured Christmas tree decoration and indulging hot chocolate and cakes at Grosz Kaffeehaus and cocktails in the Hotel Steinplatz bar, in a deserted Berlin.

Merry Christmas from Berlin!
Merry Christmas from Berlin!

On Christmas Day, Michael did Christmas Dinner, Katja did cocktails. Both excellent. Presents after a late breakfast. Handel on CD and log fire DVD on the TV.

Christmas Day with Michael and Katja
Christmas Dinner

Boxing Day was super lazy, although Phil and I did venture out for a stroll to Weißer See and back. We also got a text from BA telling us that our return flight had been cancelled and that we were now booked on an earlier one.

A leisurely morning with M, K & M on 27 December, then the S-bahn and bus back to Tegel airport. Fab views of London on the flight back to LHR, then home for mince pies, curry and presents!

Everest Trek Get Together No 11

The latest in our bi-annual Pembrokeshire-get-togethers-with-a-walk.

Friday

The usual Paddington rendezvous with Hazel and Charles then out on an earlier than usual GWR train service to Newport where Dave was waiting for us. Two hours later, we drew up outside Mayhem. G&T in the new summer house (aka Winterfell) segued into refills with curry dinner. Uh oh.

No onward journey to the caravan – spare beds were available and the Saturday walk was on the southern section of the coast path – made for a boozy evening and a late night, finished off with a slice of Charles’ home made and aptly-named Decadent Chocolate and Banana Pie (as seen on David Rocco’s Dolce India).

Saturday

…. dawned grey and wet, as the tail ends of Hurricanes Lee and Maria made their way across the UK. Still, “it’s never to wet to walk”, so Dave drove us over to Freshwater East and the start of a new section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path: Freshwater East Beach to Manorbier (and back).

Pembroke Coast Path, towards Manorbier
Pembroke Coast Path, towards Manorbier

The rain eased off for our outward walk … returning just as the church came into sight. So we dripped into the Beach Break Tea Rooms (and Gift Shop).

Restored by an excellent round of Welsh Caul / Haddock Chowder / Baked Potato followed by cups of tea / coffee / hot chocolate, we headed back out again under still cloudy skies – but thankfully the rain held off for the whole of our walk back to Freshwater East and its magnificent beach. Windy though.

Back at Freshwater East Beach
Back at Freshwater East Beach

The Freshwater East cafe / bar didn’t appeal, but The Cake Shop on Pembroke’s Main Street proved an excellent alternative. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a vast array of home made cakes and biscuits (their Facebook photos don’t lie!) …. extremely hard to choose what to have! After a lot of deliberating, (Christmas Fruit) Cake won out (and the rain resumed).

Back at Minwear Wood I had a nap while the others chatted over a glass or two of Prosecco. Then dinner – super tasty roast veg and ginger soup made by Steffi accompanied by Cardigan Bakery bread and a selection of Caws Cenarth Cheeses.

Early to bed. Despite the nap.

Sunday

No rain … well, not until we’d breakfasted and started to think about a stroll in the woods.

Plan B (really, Plan A!) was put into action: A tour round the Aisles of Aldi. On the shopping list for this visitation, this week’s special offer electric log stove to go into the Not-Just-Summer House (Steffi) and wine (everyone else). Some Christmas treats also made it into my basket; it’s never the wrong time of year for Christmas Cake and / or Stollen in my book.

The rain had clearly settled in for the day so once back at base we lent our selves to putting the stove together and helping Maurice and Charles prepare our Mexican lunch extravaganza. With a small glass of wine to set the mood and to help tidy up the left over nachos….

A leisurely lunch, lingering until 2.30pm before setting off on the journey home. “Dave’s Taxi” to Newport, GWR to Paddington and then negotiating the weekend engineering works on the tube.

Home by 8pm.

Japan: We’re back!

Japan was great – and I’d heartily recommend Inside Japan Tours. Lots of emails / calls / info before we went (Not too much! But more than I’ve ever got from other operators), and a very capable, and likeable, tour leader who spoke Japanese and knew the itinerary inside out plus plenty of varied places for eating, shopping and seeing.

The trip was non-stop which meant we saw and did lots. We had a really good group – 16 of us in all, with a mixture of solo travellers (generally in their 20s) and ‘grown ups with their kids’ (like me and Rosa), from the UK, the US and Italy. Everyone got on together, mixing at meals, on the train journeys and out and about on the tour.

Our HyperJapan Group (photo by Andrew Purin)
Our HyperJapan Group (photo by Andrew P)

It wasn’t expensive at all if you’re used to London prices (I didn’t spend anything like the £50/day budget suggested), and trains / tube are no more complicated / intimidating than London’s system. All signage is in English as well as Japanese. Their equivalent of the oyster card works in all their big cities – everywhere we went to. The Shinkansen bullet train is as speedy and efficient as people say (but not really that different from getting a train up the East Coast Main Line….).

It was HOT, and humid – around 30C every day, until our last full day when it got a bit cooler and rained a bit (still shorts and T-shirt weather though). And it rained more on the day we left – sad to see us go 🙂

In our two weeks, we really only scratched the surface of what Japan has to offer.

Tokyo was buzzing – lots of shops and sights to see, all easy to get to on the tube and the train. We did lots of sight seeing at the start of the trip – from the teen hotspot of Harajuku to the Meiji Shrine right next door, the Tsukiji Fish Market, the Shibuya Scramble Crossing (without the 1 million people per hour!), the electronics and anime emporia of Akihabara, Ikebukuro and Ueno – where we also pottered around the Park and Tokyo National Museum.

I made it to Asakusa and Sensō-ji, the 7th century Buddhist temple there, and across the river to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and Yokoamicho Park which has memorials to the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 and the air raids of World War II. Back in Ikebukuro, our base at the start of the trip, we went up to the top of the Sunshine 60 skyscraper for fantastic nighttime views out over Toyko, followed by a successful late night shop in one of the 100 yen shops – everything and anything, for 70p!

Twilight Tokyo from the Sunshine 60 Observatory, Ikebukuro
Twilight Tokyo from the Sunshine 60 Observatory, Ikebukuro

Hakone was a complete contrast – home to hot springs and Mt Fuji (who kept herself hidden in the clouds), and the Hakone Open-Air Museum which is a sculpture park set amidst the trees and hills of the national park. Nice and cool up at 500m, and the park was lovely place to walk around – and half way round there’s a stone channel fed by a hot spring where you can sit and ‘cool’ you weary feet. Smashing! The guest house we stayed at had its own private indoor and outdoor onsen, hot spring baths. Think of a smaller version of the baths at Bath, without the Roman / Georgian grandeur and you’re pretty much there.

"Symphonic Sculpture" by Gabriel Loire, Hakone Open-Air Museum
“Symphonic Sculpture” by Gabriel Loire, Hakone Open-Air Museum

In Kyoto, even with 2 days, we only saw 4 of their temples/palaces and the old area where the geisha live and work, which is just a few small streets really, set around a small river. Lots of Japanese tourists there too – many of them dressed up in traditional outfits, which made for lots and lots of photos….

Japanese tourists in kimono, Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto
Japanese tourists in kimono, Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto

Hiroshima was a complete contrast to the busyness of Tokyo and Osaka. We spent most of the day on Miyajima Island, with its high, tree-covered hills at the centre and temples scattered around the slopes and stretching out into the bay. Beautiful.

Me and Rosa, Miyajima Island, Itsukushima Shrine
Me and Rosa, Miyajima Island, Itsukushima Shrine

In the afternoon, back in Hiroshima, we went to the Peace Memorial Hall, and then through the Peace Memorial Park to the Peace Memorial Dome and the Children’s Peace Monument. All very moving, and peaceful.

To lift the sombre mood, Charlea – our tour leader – took us for okonomiyaki for dinner. Okonomiyaki are pancakes cooked on a hot plate and in Hiroshima we had them made right in front of us, with all 17 of us squeezed into a tiny Okonomiyaki place. We filled it up, and we filled up! We had okonomiyaki in a few other places – the concept is the same, but the fillings vary. And they’re always yummy.

Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima-style
Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima-style

In Osaka we stayed in Namba, aka ‘party-town’, which has a very holiday feel with the ‘street of eats’, lantern-lit riverside walkways, covered food markets and lots of airconditioned arcades where you could shop and stroll and shelter from the sun. Osaka also offered karaoke and a Samurai stage sword fighting workshop too, where we got to dress up as samurai, ninjas, princesses and soldiers. I loved it! And in my ‘room’ in our ‘capsule hotel’ I felt like I was on a mission to Mars!

My 'room' at the Capsule Hotel Asahi Plaza Shinsaibashi, Osaka
My ‘room’ at the Capsule Hotel Asahi Plaza Shinsaibashi, Osaka

Back in Tokyo at the end of the tour, we had a super morning at the Studio Ghibli (animation studio) Museum, and time to shop before our final evening as a group when we went to the amazing Robot Restaurant Show – think a high energy carnival parade inside a relatively small dark room, with seats on either side of a central aisle. Then add giant robots, some carrying people dressed as mermaids or forest animals, or drumming on big kettle drums or playing guitar (like the best air guitarist ever) and with other people dressed up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or neon light strip sporting creatures, all performing a series of short plays. Some of which came with fireworks! Really, really fun. Followed by dinner at a izakaya (Japan’s equivalent of a tavern), it was the perfect end to a great trip.

Izakaya Dinner, Tokyo
Izakaya Dinner, Tokyo

And I do want to return to Japan – next time to the mountains, in the winter time, for some trekking….