Category Archives: Posts from Base Camp

Posts from Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Carrying the Olympic Flame!

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

The 2018 Winter Olympics are now underway. This has reminded me of one of my greatest travel experiences ever: carrying the Olympic flame through the town of Morrisburg, as part of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics torch relay.

The Olympic Bus dropped me off at my designated stop…

It was a tremendous honour to be selected as a torchbearer for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I wasn’t at all bothered that I was assigned to run a segment in Morrisburg, located about 140 km east of my hometown of Kingston, Ontario. This would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…I would have travelled anywhere to make it happen!

It takes a lot of support vehicles to accompany the Olympic flame!

There were four of us carrying the flame through Morrisburg on that gray overcast day in December of 2009.  They told us to savour the moment and not run too quickly.  I settled on a slow jog…I wanted to RUN with the flame, but I also wanted the moment to last.

Exchanging high fives with some of the Olympic Cheerleaders, as the flame nears

It all happened so fast.  Before I knew it, the Olympic flame was approaching.  With a roaring crowd, the flame was passed to me and I high-fived the previous runner.  If you’ve ever doubted the inspirational power of a noisy crowd, try running with the Olympic flame.  There is no effort required:  you just float!

Receiving the Olympic flame in Morrisburg!

I tried to slow my pace, but it was very difficult.  I remember waving at everybody and having a giant grin on my face for the few minutes that I had the flame.

And I’m off!

It was over so quickly.  I didn’t do any special training for the run (just my usual hockey and curling) but it turned out to be totally unnecessary.  The adrenaline jolt was immense and I could have run forever.  I high-fived the next torchbearer after passing on the flame  and my grin remained in place for days afterwards.

Heading down Ottawa Street in Morrisburg

That night, the last stop of the Olympic relay was in Kingston and I attended the associated festivities in the market square.  As I wore my baggy and desperately unfashionable torchbearer uniform, I became a temporary celebrity and appeared in what felt like thousands of pictures with complete strangers.  I met a 1956 Olympian but also many others who were thrilled just to say hello to somebody who had briefly carried the flame.

Me and my bodyguards!

While I slept reasonably well the night before, I couldn’t sleep at all after running with the flame.  In fact, I don’t think I slept more than three hours per night for about the next week.  Yes, it was that much of a buzz!

I’m clearly on a bit of a high after my run!

This proved that you don’t need to travel far to have an unforgettable experience.  And “experience” is the key word:  travel is so much better when you are “doing” rather than just “seeing”.  Even though it is only 90 minutes away, I can honestly say that Morrisburg will always be one of my favourite travel destinations!

Next stop: Switzerland!

[Many thanks to my wife and my former colleagues at Empire Life, who took the photos in today’s post]

La Victoire!

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

My last post discussed the strategy involved in finding good airfares during the very expensive summer season.   I hadn’t bought our tickets yet but was on “high alert” for short-lived deals.   Much to my surprise, our tickets to an unexpected destination have now been bought!  Here’s the story…

The harbour in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Although we have an almost endless list of potential destinations,  our preferred destination was Lithuania.  Lithuania is a slightly-off-the-radar destination in Eastern Europe that nonetheless appeared to be very rewarding.  However, one drawback of an off-the-beaten-path destination is the lack of competition between airlines.  By the time of my last post, I had already decided that the only reasonable airfares would be to nearby Warsaw (Poland), or Riga (Latvia).

The steep backstreets of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

The airfares to Vilnius (Lithuania) were generally well in excess of C$1,500.00 unless we wanted to take a very indirect route.  However, even the airfares to Warsaw were not dipping much below C$1,300.00.     We then expanded our search to places like Berlin (Germany) and Stockholm (Sweden), which would then be combined with a overnight ferry to either Latvia or Lithuania.  These prices were a bit lower but there still was nothing under C$1,000.00.

Entrance to the Citadel: Halifax, Nova Scotia

And then, just when things were appearing bleak, my strategy of subscribing to various travel mailing lists paid huge dividends.  I was notified that WestJet was introducing a new summer service from Canada to Paris.  They were offering special promotional fares for a very limited time.  We had to make a quick decision…and when the prices are that low for a summer flight to Europe, the decision is easy.  We managed to get return tickets from Montreal to Paris for less than $600 each (inclusive of fees and taxes)!  This is ridiculously low for the first half of July.

A small summer cottage in Chester, Nova Scotia

I know what you’re thinking:  Paris is not anywhere near Lithuania.  But there were a few ways to justify this.  Firstly, if we still wanted to see Lithuania, an internal European flight from Paris to Vilnius or Riga would be relatively affordable.  Secondly, we both previously have expressed interest in seeing parts of France that are close to Paris:  my wife has always wanted to see Normandy, while I have always wanted to see Brittany.  Finally, although I had visited Paris as a 10-year-old, neither one of us had been to Paris as adults (other than changing flights in Paris).

Unplanned photo in Pugwash, Nova Scotia

The more we researched northern France, the more attractive it became.  So while our summer itinerary is not yet completely settled, I suspect that this will indeed turn out to be a tour of France’s northern coast.  And, as Paris can get crowded in the summer, we have already booked our hotel there for the last few days of our trip.

The beach at Pugwash, Nova Scotia

While Lithuania looks like it is on the back burner for now, we are still thrilled about this unexpected twist.  In fact, given how much we learned about Lithuania (and Namibia, our original destination), it’s like we are getting three trips for the price of one.   That’s one of the reasons why I’m describing this unexpected turn of events as “La victoire“!  And we’ll still make it to Lithuania and Namibia in the future.

To further commemorate the near-randomness of our summer trip, I’ve included some photos from our 2009 summer trip to Nova Scotia.

The Science of Summer Airfares

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

I thought that I would be announcing our summer destination in today’s post. However, I still have not booked the flights…and until those flights are booked, it would be premature to say anything. The big reveal of our “off-the-beaten-path” destination will have to wait!

Penguin at the New England Aquarium (Boston, Massachusetts)

Finding a good deal on intercontinental summer flights is an extremely challenging task.  It’s high season and the airlines aren’t crazy:  prices are significantly higher and any special deals are extremely short-lived.

Elizabeth Cary Agassiz House, at Radcliffe College (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

For a long time, the accepted wisdom was that the best deals could be had at the last minute.  However, as technology has improved, airlines have become much better at filling flights and extracting maximum revenue from passengers.  Simply put, any seats still empty at the last minute will probably be priced very high because there will always be someone desperate enough to buy them.

A happy penguin couple at the New England Aquarium

Alas, booking far ahead of time is not effective either:  prices are usually very high because anybody booking 6-12 months ahead of time is obviously committed to the destination and the time of year.   The trick is to find the “sweet spot”, when airlines identify relatively undersold dates and destinations…and briefly reduce prices enough so that those flights get closer to full and much higher prices can be charged for the remaining seats.

The Massachusetts State House in Boston – we went on a tour here

There are some OK deals out there now.  However, they are not for our preferred destination.  They also tend to be for flights with sleepy arrival/departure times, longer layovers, older cabins, and less comfortable seats.   This is our fallback position, as these deals tend to be available for longer periods of time.

Many creatures are motivated by food (New England Aquarium in Boston)

Sometime in the next few weeks, about 5 months prior to departure, there will probably be a good deal for a good itinerary with a good airline.  The window of opportunity will be very small and we will have to take advantage of it immediately.  While one could say it’s a lot of pressure, it’s also very exciting.  Some people like finding a good deal at flea markets…I like finding a good deal on travel.  Keeping our travel costs down enables us to travel as much as we do.

Underwater at the New England Aquarium (Boston, Massachusetts)

Of course, I don’t have any pictures of “the science of airfares”.  Instead, I’ve decided to include some pictures of our 2011 trip to Boston, Massachusetts:  something completely random, to reflect the fact that we still don’t know exactly where we will end up this summer.

You can’t have too many pictures of penguins!

Stay tuned, to see if we conquered the science of airfares!

Travel Flashback: Skiing in Scuol, Switzerland

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

As the countdown continues for my upcoming Swiss ski trip, I have found some more interesting materials in the archives.  This time, the pictures are from my visits to the remote Swiss town of Scuol in the winters of 2004 and 2006.

The narrow streets of downtown Scuol (2004)

There is something to be said for letting one’s destination be a bit of a mystery.  I didn’t know anything about Scuol (pronounced “Shkwoal”) when I arrived there in March of 2004 for a Swiss Abroad ski camp.  It’s certainly not a place that I would ever have selected on my own:  the ski area does not have an international reputation.

Taking a break on the slopes of Motta Naluns (Scuol, 2004)

But what a pleasant surprise!  Instead of being an international resort where English was commonplace, Scuol was located deep in the Rumantsch-speaking region of Switzerland’s Graubünden canton.  With its narrow streets, unusual architecture, and highly distinctive regional cuisine, it was unlike any other winter resort I had previously visited.  And it was literally at the “end of the line”:  the train could go no further.

Traditional ways in the village of Sent (2006)

As you can see from the photos, the lack of international visitors is no reflection on the skiing:  one of the pistes (the “Traumpiste”, or “Dream Slope”) continued for more than 10 km from the top of the resort to the nearby village of Sent.  The ski area’s vertical drop was in excess of 5000 feet.    And yet, we rarely encountered any other skiers:  everybody you see pictured on the slopes is part of the ski camp.

Getting ready for another long piste at the top of the resort (Scuol, 2006)

I enjoyed Scuol so much that I returned to the region with my wife in the summer of 2006 and celebrated the Swiss National Day in the village of Sent.  I hope to write about our summer visit in a future post.

I’m enjoying the slopes high above the treeline (Scuol, 2006)

It is always a pleasure to discover a place like Scuol that has avoided mass international recognition.  This is what we’re hoping for in the summer of 2018.   We usually plan these summer trips well in advance and, several months ago, thought that we had found a great destination in southern Africa.  We even bought a guidebook and had blocked off the provisional dates off in our calendar.  As far as we were concerned, it was just a question of booking the flights when the airfares hit the “sweet spot”.

Near our hostel in the old part of Scuol (2004)

However, travel does not take place in a bubble.  Due to a number of external factors, including the political uncertainty in nearby Zimbabwe, we reluctantly decided to put this destination on hold.   The timing just wasn’t right.

Ready for some skicross shenanigans (Scuol, 2006)

As a result, the search for our summer destination is once again underway.  Looking at the pictures of Scuol, my desire to go somewhere off the beaten path was affirmed:  not only are such places fun, but they are also highly advisable during the summer when prices and crowds are onerous in high-profile destinations.   I’m watching the airfares closely and will pounce on the next opportunity.   Stay tuned for the details!

Swiss Ski Camps

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

Although I have been to Switzerland a total of 20 times, I have not been there since starting this blog in early 2014.  My only Swiss posts have been travel flashbacks to earlier trips.  Happily, that is going to change in early 2018, as I will be returning to Switzerland for an extended ski safari.

Some of my friends having lunch outdoors, at the 1992-1993 Swiss Abroad ski camp in Splügen, Switzerland

Switzerland is an expensive destination and simple economics dictated that I ski elsewhere for the past several winters.  However, I have found a way to make this work and will be skiing in both Wengen and Lenk this winter.

Me, halfway down the “Black Rock” piste above Wengen, Switzerland in 2002

Why Wengen?  You may have heard of it as a stop on the World Cup ski circuit:  the famous Lauberhorn piste is a real test of both daring and endurance.  However, I chose Wengen this year because of the great experiences I had in the Grindelwald-Wengen-Murren region (a.k.a. “Jungfrau Ski Region”)  between 1999 and 2011 with the ski camps for the Swiss Abroad.

Having lunch outside in the sun: the “Tipi” at Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland (March 12, 1999)

The Organization for the Swiss Abroad (“Auslandschweizer-Organisation”, or “ASO” for short) organizes ski camps every year for Swiss citizens who are living abroad.  I attended many of these camps and met lots of people who continue to be great friends.  In fact, my current ski posse arose from the ASO camps.  Some of us have been skiing together for 20 years!

Skiing by torch light down to Grindelwald (March 13, 2000)

The ASO camps feature a LOT of skiing, in addition to other sports and cultural activities.  It’s a great way to connect with one’s Swiss roots…and become a much better skier.  The camps tend to move around each year:   I attended camps in resorts such as Splügen, Scuol, Arosa, and Grächen.  However, I attended at least five such camps in Grindelwald and Wengen.

Me, in front of the Jungfrau (March 9, 1999)

This winter, I will have the opportunity to take up-to-date photos of the riotous scenery around Wengen.  I will also be playing the role of guide:  with all that experience, it will be a pleasure to show one of my Canadian friends some of the many highlights of these iconic mountains.

Part of my group, preparing to ski down the James Bond 007 piste from the Schilthorn to Mürren (March 11, 1999)

And the highlights are many.  There is the brilliant chocolate cake at Wengernalp.  There is the black-rated “007” ski run from the top of the Schilthorn (and its rotating restaurant), made famous by James Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.  The black-rated pistes called “Oh God” and “Black Rock” that lead down from Eigergletscher also offer unforgettable challenges…partly because the scenery is so distracting!  Above Grindelwald, you can watch an Alpine Ibex watching you from an impossibly high and inaccessible peak.

Avalanche! The Wetterhorn, above Grindelwald, on March 13, 2000

It goes on and on.  There is the astonishing 2km sheer vertical rock face of the Eiger, which rises to a height of 3,967m:  I can think of no more intimidating mountain in the world.   To me, it is even more impressive than the adjacent Jungfrau, which rises even higher to 4,168m (13,675 feet).  There is the car-free village of Wengen, perched on top of a cliff that plunges down 500 metres to the valley below.  There is the “Tipi” at Kleine Scheidegg, where I have eaten many a sun-dappled picnic lunch outdoors…but where I am determined to have one of the freshly cooked pizzas and sausages.

About to ski down “Oh God”: March 15, 2000 (Wengen, Switzerland)
Pausing halfway down the “Oh God” piste, above Wengen (March 15, 2000)

I am really looking forward to revisiting some of these past highlights, as well as discovering new ones.  To accompany today’s post, I’ve unearthed some archival photos of my Swiss Abroad ski camp experiences from 1992 to 2002.

Looking for Ibex, high above Grindelwald in the “First” ski area (2002)

Stay tuned for more on Swiss skiing…and on my evolving plans for the rest of 2018!

Protests and Disruptions

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

It’s now been three years since I visited Peru and journeyed to the famous abandoned city of Machu Picchu.  In order to do this, our group had to take a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.  This all went very smoothly and I couldn’t imagine anybody having difficulty with it.  This week, however, thousands of tourists were stranded because the rail line to Aguas Calientes was shut down.

In the middle of Machu Picchu, Peru (July 2, 2014)

Two major protests coalesced in the Cusco area: one was about the cancellation of a promised airport in the region, while the other was by 20,000 teachers seeking higher wages.  As a result, the railway operator elected to close down for two days.  This reminded me of my own overseas encounter with local unrest:  a rotating local bus driver strike in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, that prevented us from skiing at an outlying ski area for a day.   There was nothing we could do about that:  it was far too small to be covered by the international news media and we were not reading the morning Italian papers.  In any case, we still had a nice day of skiing at the local area and simply took the bus the following day.

Machu Picchu, Peru (July 2, 2014)

However, there are cases where you can do your due diligence.  Just prior to leaving for Bosnia & Herzegovina, I read about some protests in Sarajevo that seemed to be getting a little out of hand.  As I was traveling independently, my only “fixed” plan was my hotel.  I e-mailed my hotel and immediately received a response:   these were anti-corruption protests at a local government building and it would not affect anything in the “tourist” areas of the city.

A rainy but very safe day in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina (April 23, 2014)

While I suppose that the hotel had a vested interest in ensuring my visit, I also felt better confirming the situation.  I figured that, having received their reassurance, the hotel might be more inclined to help me out if things did turn out ugly and I was exposed to a dangerous situation.   As it turned out, everything calmed down and I completely forgot about the protests when I was there.  I also found the hotels in both Sarajevo and Mostar to be very accommodating and concerned about their customers.

The old post office in Carleton Place, Ontario (June 2017)

Returning to the present:  I’ve been quiet about this summer’s travel plans.  There is a reason for this:  we decided to change our initial road trip destination because it was becoming too popular!  After reading one too many stories about the extreme tourist deluge hitting Cape Breton Island this summer, we decided to bail out.  For various reasons, including Canada’s 150th birthday, many Canadians are choosing to vacation in their own country this summer…and Cape Breton seems to be especially trendy.

A true Irish Stew in Carleton Place, Ontario

We are still going to do a road trip:  it just won’t be as far as Cape Breton.  It will focus on a unique part of our country and one that we haven’t visited enough during the warmer months.   In the meantime, I’m including a couple of pictures from Carleton Place, Ontario.  We stopped there recently on our way to Ottawa and enjoyed a seemingly authentic Irish lunch.  You never know what you will find, once you venture off the beaten path!

Searching This Site

(Kingston, Ontario)

I recently took a look at the blog and realized that I have over 260 posts already!  It’s now far too large for anybody to browse through in one sitting.  That also makes it hard to search: how do you know where I’ve been?

While there is a search function on this site, that only helps if you know what you’re looking for (and if I’ve referred to it). If you’re just curious and don’t have a particular destination in mind, one option is clicking on one of the archived months and hoping it leads you to something interesting.  Or you could do a search on a non-specific word: try a word like “beverage” for an interesting cross-section of results.

I’ve decided to use this post to make browsing a little easier. Here is a list, loosely organized by “Africa and Latin America”, “North America”, and “Europe”, of some of the places I’ve visited since starting this blog in 2014.  In each case, the link is to the first post on that particular destination…you can browse forward from there.  I’ve also included some of the more interesting “Travel Flashbacks” for trips prior to 2014:  those are marked with an asterisk (*).

Happy exploring!

Africa and Latin America

Costa Rica (Arenal, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio)

Peru (Cusco, Moray, Machu Picchu, Urubamba)

Chile (Santiago, Lake District, Volcan Osorno)

Argentina (Puerto Frias, Bariloche, Buenos Aires)

Morocco (Marrakesh*, Volubilis*, Oukaïmeden*)

North America

United States (Chicago, Washington, D.C.)

St. Pierre & Miquelon

Canada (Pouch Cove (NL), Baie-St-Paul (QC)* Ottawa 2014, Ottawa 2015, Ottawa 2016, Toronto 2015, Toronto 2016, Elgin County (ON), Goderich (ON), Regina, East-Central Alberta*, Whistler (B.C.), Yellowknife (NWT)*, Iqaluit (Nunavut)*,)

Europe

Iceland (Akureyri*, Lake Mývatn*, Grímsey*)

Ireland (CashelInis Mór, Westport, Dublin)

Northern Ireland (Portrush)

England (Liverpool*, Cambridge, London)

France (Reims)

Luxembourg (Vianden)

Netherlands (Delft, Rotterdam, Groningen, Schiermonnikoog, Haarlem, Amsterdam, Edam)

Denmark (Copenhagen, Hillerød)

Norway (Oslo*, Bergen*, Balestrand*)

Sweden (Uppsala*, Stockholm*, Malmö)

Finland (Helsinki*)

Estonia (Haapsalu*, Tallinn*)

Czech Republic (Prague)

Poland (Auschwitz)

Slovakia (Bratislava)

Hungary (Budapest)

Switzerland (Andermatt*, Zermatt*, St. Moritz*)

Italy (Varenna/Milan*, Rome, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Venice, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Sestriere, Orvieto, Padova, Madonna di Campiglio, Bologna, Verona*)

Austria (Vienna)

Croatia (Dubrovnik, Split)

Bosnia & Herzegovina (Sarajevo, Mostar, Trebinje)

Montenegro (Kotor, Durmitor National Park)

Today’s cover photo is one of my favourites – it’s a mountain restaurant high above Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy.  The food was cafeteria-style and not very inspiring, but what a great location!

Finally. I’m looking into an interesting new direction for this blog – stay tuned for the details!

Books and Travel Guides

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

As I’ve been reading a lot of books lately, I decided to make today’s post about travel guides and “books about other places”.

Some very popular travel guides perpetuate the myth that travel is only for the very wealthy.  When listing accommodations, these guides generally give only 5-star hotels and throw in the occasional 4-star hotel as a “budget” option.  They are often the same luxury brands we have at home (and generally avoid because of their exorbitant prices) and offer exactly the same experience that you would get in your home country.    This naturally leads to the question:  why bother traveling, if you could have the same experience at home?

A small Nova Scotian fishing village, just east of Peggy’s Cove

For such travel guides, I generally find that the cost of one night’s accommodation corresponds to what I will actually spend on a week (or more) of accommodation…with no increased risk or discomfort.   One travel writer (more about him later) says that the more you spend, the more of a wall you build between yourself and what you traveled so far to see.

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

So…which travel guide do I recommend?  I prefer guides that have few (or no) recommendations for hotels and restaurants.  Such businesses can change very quickly and the information is often very outdated by the time you read it.  Instead, I like guides that focus on objectively describing what a place is like and form some kind of opinion on local experiences.

The famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove…sadly, being renovated during our visit

When I first encountered the Rick Steves series of European travel guides, I was quite skeptical.  His books and travels shows (broadcast on PBS) assume that the reader is American.  His appearance does not fit the stereotype of an advocate for smart budget travel.  And yet, when you read his guides closely, he actually makes a lot of sense.  He is the writer mentioned above who pointed out the inverse relationship between spending and experiencing.

Lobster Traps at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

I think Steves is strongest in describing travel in Italy, as he clearly has a passion for that country.  However, if you are traveling to any European country for the first time, you could do worse than read a Rick Steves guide.  I do disagree with him about the pace of travel.  As he assumes an American audience, he also assumes (unfortunately) that the audience has very little in the way of vacation time.  If you follow his sample itineraries, you could find yourself suffering travel burnout very quickly.

Swissair Memorial at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

However, you shouldn’t restrict yourself to travel guides.  I recently read John Hooper’s “The Italians” to gain a little more insight into Italy and Italians, as we will soon be in Italy again.  I also read Helen Russell’s “The Year of Living Danishly” just before visiting Denmark:  it was written by a U.K. resident who moved to rural Denmark after her husband got a job with Lego!  That, in turn, led me to “The Nordic Theory of Everything” by Anu Partanen (originally from Finland but moved to New York after marrying an American).  While it is definitely not a travel book, it is an interesting read because it challenges some long-held assumptions about the Nordic countries.  All of these reflective books provide insight that you rarely find in travel guides.

Another view of the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse (still being renovated, 30 minutes later)

The pictures in today’s post are all from our 2009 visit to Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia.   Coming up next:  arrival in Italy!

Not a Travel Flashback on Skiing in Val Gardena, Italy (2013)

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

In my last post, I said that I would dig up some photos from a 2013 ski trip to the village of Selva (in the famous Val Gardena of northern Italy) and write a “Travel Flashback” post on it.  I found the photos, but have decided against a traditional “Travel Flashback” post.

Chapel in the snow, on the Sella Ronda route

I have to admit that I did write a flashback post about Val Gardena.  Alas, I wasn’t very happy with the post.  It has now been 4 years since visiting Val Gardena and there have been other ski trips to northern Italy in the interim.  Ski trips are the ultimate in “experiential travel”:  you’re not just observing, you’re interacting with the dramatic mountains.  However, it’s hard to effectively convey that interaction in writing many years later, especially without any significant notes.   It also would have been much different if I had not been skiing in Italy since then, as there would not have been any conflicting memories from 2014 and 2016.

Blue skies high above Val Gardena

Importantly, this was also one of my last trips before deciding to launch this blog.  Over time, I have developed strategies for blog entries that don’t require me to spend precious vacation hours in front of a computer.  I can now create the framework for a blog post in a few minutes, if necessary, and fill in the details later.  Back in 2013, however, I didn’t have those strategies.

Everything is bigger in the Dolomites

The only real travel revelation during that trip?  This was the first time I had stayed for an entire week in a “half-board” (breakfast and dinner included in the cost of the room)  arrangement and I was worried that the food would become tiresome after a couple of days.   Not at all!  The food was great at the Hotel Europa and we enjoyed getting to know the restaurant staff during the course of the week.

Our hotel in Selva (Val Gardena) – right across the street from the gondola station!

And what about the skiing?  While not as challenging as the larger ski areas in Switzerland, I remember this much:  there was an epic dump of snow on the third day that left us with outstanding conditions for the rest of the week.  I don’t have any good photographs from that day but there is a brief video from that morning (you can link to it directly here).  The powder was even deeper in the afternoon and it was difficult to leave the slopes at the end of the day.

Looking up from the lower slopes of Val Gardena

Despite not being able to create a satisfying “travel flashback” post about it, I still look back very fondly on Val Gardena.   There’s something to be said for living in the moment and not spending too much of your trip thinking about blog entries.

Skiing in the dramatic Dolomites never gets old!

If you want to know more about skiing in the Val Gardena region, you can start by checking out the posts from my 2014 trip to nearby Cortina d’Ampezzo (here, here and here).

Returning to the present:  our trip to Madonna di Campiglio is rapidly approaching.  The next blog entry may well be from Italy!

This Year’s Travel Plan

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

2016 ended up being a busy year for travel, with three major trips (Italy, Chile/Argentina, and Denmark/Sweden) and a number of shorter trips within Ontario.  So…what’s in the cards for 2017?

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that another ski trip is coming up soon.  Last year, I spent some time in the Cinque Terre region of Italy before skiing for a week in the “Via Lattea” ski region surrounding Sestriere.

On piste madness! (Unheard-of mid-afternoon deep powder on an open piste at Sestriere, 2016)

This year, I will be skiing at a completely different resort in the Alps:  Madonna di Campiglio, in the beautiful Dolomite mountains.  This is the 4th time I will be skiing in Italy since 2013.  Why Italy again?  There are quite a few reasons for this.

Our lunch venue above the resort of Sansicario (Sestriere, 2016)

An important factor is the cost.  The other major alpine skiing countries of France, Austria and Switzerland are simply more expensive than Italy:  the lift tickets, the food, the hotels and even the ground transportation are presently all cheaper in Italy.   Switzerland suffers additionally from a very unfavourable exchange rate.  There are also many airports in northern Italy and the airfares to those airports are generally less expensive too. As a bonus, the on-slope food in the other major Dolomite resorts (Cortina d’Ampezzo, Val Gardena) was among the best I have ever had.  It may be cheaper, but it’s not because of a lack of quality!

Our ski group passing through the rocks at Pomedes (Cortina d’Ampezzo, 2014)

Another factor is that skiing in Italy is easily combined with something completely different.  This year, we will be spending a week in Italy before hitting the slopes.  There are many things to see and do in northern Italy that have nothing to do with mountains and skiing.  In addition to last year’s visit to the Cinque Terre region, I’ve previously acclimatized to Europe in places like Venice, Verona and Varenna.

Shocked and awed at Forcella Staunies (Cortina d’Ampezzo, 2014)

I have to create at least a little bit of suspense about the trip, so I’m not going to name the two main towns we plan to visit before arriving in Madonna di Campiglio.  However, I will say that our flight to Italy arrives in Rome (we’re returning from Bologna)…so that gives us a lot of options for our first week.  Regions such as Tuscany and Umbria are obviously very strong contenders!

Mountain restaurant at Son Forca (Cortina d’Ampezzo, 2014)

As for the rest of 2017, I have not made any definitive plans yet.  However, it might be time for a road trip and I really haven’t spent any time in the U.S.A. since my trip to Washington D.C. in April of 2014.

The main thing, however, is that I don’t want to overplan and commit to anything too far in advance.  One of the best parts about visiting Denmark last November was the immediacy:  I didn’t research it for months or years beforehand.  It just emerged out of an unexpected brief gap in my schedule and a frequent flyer plan point redemption offer. I still have a significant number of points in another frequent flyer program that may result in a similar opportunity in 2017.

The horses who “lifted” us to Armentarola (Cortina d’Ampezzo 2014)

The ski photos in today’s post are some of my favourite ones from Cortina d’Ampezzo (2014) and Sestriere (2016).  I will see if I can locate some Val Gardena photos for a “Travel Flashback” post on that resort before leaving for Italy.