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.

 

Walk to Lac d’Arbey and Les Haudères, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After the excesses of the festive season (i.e. too much 🍰&🍺) I was keen to get out for some much needed exercise.  Many of my usual walking routes are knee deep in snow, but I thought the track up to Lac d’Arbey and then across and down to Les Haudères would be well trampled down by now.  And, apart from one or two ‘softer’ patches, so it proved…

 

Walk from Euseigne to Sion, Valais, Switzerland

While the upper part of the Val d’Hérens is covered in snow, the lower part of the valley is completely clear.  So, with the sun shining brightly, I decided to take my camera for a walk down the path from Euseigne to Sion.  Although it’s a walk I’ve done and posted before, I was certain I’d find something new or unusual to photograph and I wasn’t disappointed.

The early morning frost made for some interesting images and one of the wooden bridges had been dislodged due to a landslide last year, making it unusable.  However, I have no idea why there was a sweeping brush propped up next to the small shrine.  (See pic 24).

Fun in the snow

Firstly let me wish you all a very happy, healthy and peaceful new year.

My brother, Steve, has been visiting us this past week with his wife, Beverley, and their two sons, Gabriel and Sebastien.  Last Friday didn’t get off to a good start with snow falling all morning, but it did mean the boys could get to build a rather large (6ft/2m tall) snowman in the afternoon.  I say ‘boys’, but as you can see from the first few pictures, it was mainly Steve who built it, while Seb and Gabe did what brothers do – throw snowballs at each other.

From then on though it has been blue skies all the way and we’ve been out walking, cross-country skiing and downhill skiing.

With the sun shining brightly, as each day went by, the snowman started to tilt more and more.  Picture 29 below was taken on new year’s day (looking a bit how I felt!) and, even today, it’s still defying gravity by leaning at around 45 degrees.

Thyon Ridge Snowshoe Walk

I mentioned earlier in the week that the weather was set to improve and for the past 3 days we’ve had glorious sunshine.  The mountains are looking wonderful with their white tops against the blue skies so, in an attempt to capture as many as possible for you, today I went for a walk along the Thyon Ridge.   At least this time I remembered to take my showshoes. 😊

The Thyon ski resort isn’t fully open yet, but most of the pistes have been prepared.  There were also quite a lot of people ski touring up to Mont Carré (@2,468m or 8,097ft). 

 

Riverside walk in the snow

I think there’s something uniquely satisfying about the deep sounding ‘creak’ or crunch that you get when walking on fresh snow.  I’m not sure if it’s just the sound, or the knowledge that you are the first person to walk on that particular spot for a while, or the fact that you have some grip and are less likely to slip, or maybe it’s all three.  Anyway, our car had to visit the garage to have its winter tyres put on, so I went for a walk up and down the river (Borgne).  As you will see from the images below, it was a little misty, at least to start with, but I think that adds to the atmosphere.  To add to at least my interest, there were a lot of fresh animal tracks around, but no animals to be seen unfortunately.

We have a few days of sunshine forecast, so I hope to bring you some brighter pictures later this week.  😀

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.

Aiguilles Rouges hut walk from Arolla, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

This weekend we had the pleasure of welcoming four of my friends and former work colleagues.  Three of them are very fit, keen walkers, so yesterday I took them on one of my favourite walks, from Arolla to the Aiguilles Rouges mountain hut, returning via the lower path from Lac Bleu.  Julia meanwhile relaxed at the chalet reading her book in the glorious sunshine.

 

Cabane de la Tsa Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Last weekend, my daughter Sarah and her husband Karl came to stay for a few days.  They have done many of the walks in our valley already, but they had never been up to the Cabane de la Tsa.  Although closed at this time of the year, the mountain hut sits at 2,607m (8.553ft) and provides a nice circular walk from Arolla.

Southern Finland

The remainder of our holiday was spent on the Finnish mainland.  After catching the ferry back from Brändö, we drove up the west coast via the beautiful, UNESCO World Heritage town of Rauma and then on to Yyteri beach, which is one of the longest sandy beaches in Scandinavia at around 6km.  From there we turned east to our base for the next 4 nights, which was a self-catering wooden lodge, or chalet, next to Lake Vesijako.

We returned to spend 2 more nights in the delightful city of Turku, which is the oldest town in Finland, with stops en route at the towns of Lammi and Hämeenlinna

Some other things I learnt during this trip (which you might also like to know):

  • As well as having thousands of islands, there are 100’s if not also thousands of lakes in Finland as well (and the Finns take great advantage of these by having weekend lodges close by).
  • There are a huge number and variety of mushrooms and toadstools in the woods. (During one walk, I met a man and his wife foraging.  They had collected at least one big bucket load of one particular type).
  • The woods are not all conifers as I imagined they might be.  There appears to be an equal number of deciduous trees as well.
  • The people are extremely welcoming and friendly.
  • The Finnish language seems to specialise in very long words, which often include double A’s, E’s, I’s, K’s, M’s, N’s or U’s.  The longest word I encountered, which I don’t think is exceptional, was 25 letters long.
  • I don’t know the significance, but many (most?) street or track names end in ‘antie’, ‘entie’, ‘ontie’ or ‘untie’.
  • The peak summer holiday season is from mid-June to mid-August and, before and after that period, you may find some things are not running or closed.  (Though the ferries appear to run all year round – when it’s not completely iced over of course!)
  • In the depths of winter, when conditions allow, it’s possible to drive over the ice to some islands. (No doubt special tyres and a brave or trusting nature are required for this).
  • Last, but by no means least, the beer in Finland (and Stockholm) is pretty good.  They certainly know how to make a tasty IPA. 😊 Cheers! 🍻