Trip to Bettmeralp, Valais, Switzerland

A few years ago now, Jude and I had promised ourselves that one day we would go skiing in Bettmeralp, or rather the AletschArena, as the lift system also links in with the Riederalp and Fiescheralp ski areas.  So, with some free time last week and the weather set fair, we did just that.

After several weeks of sunshine, we were pleasantly surprised at the depth and quality of the snow and the huge width of some of the ski pistes.  We were also very taken by a very picturesque Victorian style building, which turned out to be called Villa Cassel. (See pic 6).

Further research revealed that it was built for the German-English banker, Sir Ernest Cassell, who used it as a summer residence until the First World War.  Cassell had an interesting life.  He was born in Cologne and, at the age of 17, arrived penniless in the UK. However, he went on to become one of the richest men in Britain and was a good friend of King Edward VII, Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and Winston Churchill.  He bred race horses and had a famous art collection.

The Villa itself could only be reached on foot or by mule.  But, when the inhabitants of the town said they were going to make a better road to his property, he answered: “If you do, I’m not coming here anymore.”

After the War, the Villa was used as a hotel, but was sold in 1970 and is now run as a nature conservation centre by Pro Natura, the oldest environmental organisation in Switzerland, who take care of about 700 nature reserves of various sizes throughout Switzerland.  I’m sure Ernest would have approved.

 

Malta – Various

Below some more photos taken during my recent trip to Malta, which didn’t quite fit into the other 3 categories already posted.  This includes a trip to the north east coast and the National Aquarium at Bugibba, which also had a few reptiles.   (At least they kept still while being photographed!)

Last but by no means least, as mentioned in my first post, there’s a picture of me presenting a copy of my dad’s book “Bobbing Along”, to the FWA (Fondazzioni Wirt Artna) at their offices in Notre Dame Gate.  It contains a whole chapter on his time in Malta and will be added to their archives.

Valletta and the 3 Cities, Malta

As mentioned in my post yesterday, “The Gut” or Strait Street in Valletta was a place my dad occasionally frequented just after the War.  The street is aptly named, as it’s very narrow and it was famous for having many bars.   Despite his best efforts, my dad never did manage to have a drink in each one, going from one end to the other.  So, during my visit, I had to investigate it further.

I can report that most of the bars are now long gone.   I think only 2 remain and I was tempted to “have one for my dad” in Tico Tico’s, but 10:30 in the morning is a little early even for me!   The street is now a mix of posh offices (mainly solicitors as the Law Courts are down there too) and derelict, dusty, locked up doorways.  But, walking down it even now, you can sense what an atmosphere there must have been with hundreds, if not thousands, of sailors coming ashore.  George Cini’s book, Strada Stretta, has interviews with the people who lived and worked there in it’s heyday and is well worth a read, if you have an interest in this historic island.

I’d also read that the “3 Cities” of Senglea (aka Isla), Birgu (Vittoriosa) and Bormla (Cospicua) were well worth a look and so I popped over the Grand Harbour on one of the ferries.  The sandstone coloured streets of Vittoriosa were delightful and extremely quiet at this time of the year.

Mdina, Malta

My apologies for not publishing a ‘real’ post for a while but, like many bloggers it seems, I’ve been busy doing nothing in particular.

Anyway a few months ago now, my wife organised a trip to Iceland with her friend Kate, so I had a look for something to do while she was away.  Naturally I wanted to find some warmer weather and I looked at the AIMS marathon calendar for some inspiration.  To my delight I discovered that the Malta Challenge Marathon was on at the same time.  It consists of 3 races over 3 days, covering a 10 miler, a 5k then a Half marathon.   So I entered, arranged all my travel and set about getting fit.  My training was going really well (even running while I was away in Finland and Mykonos) and I’d managed to get up to 20k in a respectable 1h 50 mins, so I figured I was ready…  That is until my final training run, the Saturday before I left, and my left calf seized up yet again!  (Insert a suitable curse or emoji here).

Thankfully I had another reason to go… My father spent some time in Malta after the War, as a Signalman on a minesweeper and he had mentioned enjoying some time ashore down a street which he called “The Gut”, but is actually called Strait Street in English.   So when my wife and I went to Malta / Gozo a few years ago, we searched for a copy of a book by George Cini, called Strait Street.  We couldn’t find an English copy anywhere, so I got in touch with George and managed to get hold of a copy to give to my dad.   During my email exchanges with George, I mentioned my dad’s book and he suggested I present a copy of it, personally, to the Fondazzioni Wirt Artna (FWA), which is an organisation dedicated to preserving the history of the island.  And so that was also arranged…

So, like London buses, you don’t hear anything from me for a while and now a few posts of my, sometimes very wet, time in Malta & Gozo, beginning with the Mdina…

 

Stockholm

Jude and I have just returned from 2 weeks away, visiting Stockholm and 3 different parts of Finland.  We flew to and from Stockholm partly because Easyjet didn’t fly from Geneva to Helsinki, but mainly because Jude was looking forward to sailing between the 6,700 islands which constitute the Åland islands that lie between Sweden and Finland.  (No, I didn’t know about them either until we organised this trip).

Anyhow, below is a summary of our time in Stockholm where we meandered the streets, visited the Skansen Park area in Djurgarden (which has a replica village from the late 1800’s and a small zoo) and visited the National Museum.

Before going we’d read that it was very difficult to spend actual cash in Stockholm.  So we didn’t take any and easily got by with just a pre-loaded Debit card.  (I still don’t know what a Swedish Krona note or coin looks like).  Be aware though that Stockholm is quite an expensive place to visit, though the above two attractions are both free.

Below, in a slight departure from my usual posts, I’ve included three separate photo galleries – the first is of the City then Skansen and thirdly the National Museum.

Skansen:

National Museum, Stockholm:

Bisse de Savièse – Torrent Neuf, Valais, Switzerland

I promised USAthroughoureyes that I would try to find a new dimension to my walks and so today we have something unusual – a flat(ish) walk in Switzerland.  I have mentioned and posted pictures of ‘Bisses’ before.  They are irrigation channels and there are quite a number dotted about the canton of Valais.  But I think this one must be the most famous, due to the precipitous nature of the path, or at least the original path.  Today, four suspension bridges help the inquisitive walker along the route, but you can still see how the bisse and path were originally built.

All of the images below were taken with my mobile phone (as I went off without my camera) and I just managed to catch the ‘thing’ in the last picture (which was a first sighting for me), before my battery ran out.  I spotted it while looking to take a photo of some butterflies, but it makes a change… 😊  I also saw what may have been 3 Jersey Tiger moths (another first) but, by then, I had no battery left… 😌

Midsummer Festival, Evolène, Switzerland

Every year, on the 15th August, our village is host to one of the most traditional and colourful festivals.  Every other year, it is supplemented by the inclusion of the musicians and dancers from the Célébrations Interculturelles de la Montagne à Evolène (CIME), which takes place in the few days leading up to this and concludes with a final Gala evening performance.

The main event starts with a procession of vintage cars.  This is followed by people dressed in traditional costumes, demonstrating local dancing, music and crafts.  This year it was interspersed with performers from Russia, Armenia, Ecuador, Italy and Montenegro.

As you can see from the photos below (the best ones of which were taken by my wife Jude, as marked), everyone had a fabulous time.   And if you ever wondered where this utopia is that I live, but couldn’t be bothered to look it up, I’ve added a map at the end. 😊

 

Circular walk from Byland Abbey, N. Yorkshire, England

I’ve recently returned from a trip to the UK, where I met up with some of my old friends to play golf and go for a couple of walks.  I’ll skip quickly passed the golf and show you a few photos of a walk I did with Ian, Martin and his wife Jan, who had recently bought a camera very similar to mine.  So we took it in turns to snap away at anything and everything and a few of the photos below are courtesy of Jan (as watermarked).

The day was noted for a rather cloudy start, which thankfully improved, and a Collie dog which adopted us in the car park and followed us, or rather, we followed it, for most of the way, around the walk.  We left it in the good care of 2 ladies who were doing the same walk and knew it lived near the Abbey.

For more information on Byland Abbey, please read here, but it was founded in 1135.

(Long Distance) Running update (Part 4)

I’m impressed by all runners, but especially by those who can motivate others to go out running.  This was the case yesterday when I read RunColbyRun’s post about simply getting out there, whatever the weather, humidity or however you feel – we all make excuses don’t we?  So it was with that in mind that I got of my butt (as she would say) and ran 6k (3.7 miles) today.  Thanks Colby, I just have to keep it going now!

Since I have no pictures of me running today, this also gives me an opportunity to catch up on part 4 of my Long Distance running series…  (I also thought you might be amused by the pics below from 1999 and 2000).

After reaching my goal of a sub-3 in 1994, I didn’t run another marathon until 1999, (then aged 45), when I ran what was being termed the ‘inaugural’ Edinburgh Marathon, which went from the old Scottish capital of Dunfermline to the current, Edinburgh.  It was a linear route, so runners had to catch a bus, at some ungodly hour, like 6am, to get to the start.  I recall sitting next to a chap (aged over 60, which seemed old to me at the time) who was about to run his 200th marathon or something. (He’d only started running 10 or 12 years earlier so I’ve no idea where he must have found them all to run).   Anyway I told him I was aiming for a sub-3 and I could see he didn’t rate my chances.  He planned an ‘easy’ 3h 40m…

The race itself was memorable for starting next to and then running nearby 2 ladies who were chatting non-stop within ear-shot for at least 10 or 12 miles.  It was then I realised that they were running well within themselves and setting a good pace, so I tagged along… At about the 18 mile mark I struck up a conversation and both were aiming for sub-3.   We ran along together until about the 22 mile mark, when we reached a drinks station and one headed off in front and the other lagged behind.  So I was torn between chasing the one in front or waiting for the one behind.  In the event, I did neither and did my own thing, expecting the 2nd to catch up.   I finished in 2h 58m 40s, about 3 minutes behind the first of my companions and the 2nd came in just after me, also under 3 hours.  So the moral of this tale is, run well within yourself (you should be able to talk) for at least the first half of a marathon and possibly even up to 18 or 19 miles, as that’s when the race really starts.

A year later, I set off with my good mate, Pete, to run the Prague marathon.  Before the race, we did the usual tourist thing and, I have to say that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities that I’ve ever visited, even if the marathon (in 2000 at least) was an out and back course along a dual carriageway!   The weekend was also memorable for a visit to a Hall of Mirrors (you have to see it to understand), where Pete and I were in stitches, with tears in our eyes, just looking at our reflections.  🤣🤣  Little things…

As for the race, at the turnaround point I saw Pete on his way back, not that far ahead but, as he’s a better runner than me, I didn’t really expect to catch him.  Towards the finish, I knew I had another sub-3 in the bag, despite a guy ushering us along to run faster to get to the finish line.  And sure enough, Pete was there waiting to greet me as I finished in exactly the same time as Edinburgh, 2h 58m 40s.  Consistent or what?  (This remains my best ever age-related time performance).  Pete tells me that he came 151st in 2h 55m 12s and I was 206th.  We were fit in those days!  (Though Pete is still running around 21 minutes for a 5k Park Run!)

Pete and me, Prague Marathon May 2000