SmugWatch Needs You!

I’ve recently been reading a lot of travel blogs recently to get some tips on extended round-the-world travel.  I would ask all my blog readers (yes, all half dozen of you) to please alert me immediately if I do any of the following:

1.  imply how original and free-spirited I am to have foregone the trappings of career / domesticity / the property ladder (unlike the mindless drones who aren’t travelling);

2.  imply how brave I am that I can manage without many belongings or cash (unlike those who aren’t travelling, clinging to their John Lewis catalogues);

3.  imply how noble I am that I can manage without lots of clothes or make up (unlike the shallow narcissists who aren’t travelling);

4.  use the word journey in anything but a strictly literal sense;

5.  use the phrase “personal growth” to mean anything other than the result of having eaten too many bowls of noodles;

6. use the words nomad, free spirit or explorer in relation to myself; or

7. generally be smug or imply that I am having far more profound experiences than the narrow-minded stay-at-homes could imagine in their wildest dreams.

Constant vigilance, OK?  Otherwise it’ll be:

“What did you do on your year off?”

“I became an arsehole.”

Book 82 of 100

Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake.  The language was amazing, the characters vivid (and brilliant Dickensian names – Professor Flannelcat, Irma Prunesquallor) and the plot (or at least the second half) was exciting.  But I’m left with no real desire to read the other two books in the trilogy and I can’t put my finger on why.  Maybe its the lack of a sympathetic central character.  Maybe its the fantasy genre.

Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

I’m watching this programme on Channel 4.  We’re being invited to laugh at the OTT wedding dresses, but to me they don’t look that much different to normal wedding dresses.

Gypsy wedding dress

A normal wedding dress

I mean, I can see that the gypsy wedding dress is made of cheaper material and is up a few notches from the normal version, but they’re not a million miles apart, are they?  I don’t know why people think one is completely unremarkable and the other is something to scoff at.  They both look pretty ridiculous to me.

Wedding mania

Lapland

I just got back from my holiday in Lapland in celebration of my friend Mel’s 30th birthday.  It was a skiing-light holiday.  We were all beginners and weren’t sure whether we’d enjoy it so we had skiing lessons in the morning, but other activities in the afternoon.

We arrived into Kittila airport on Sunday evening and headed over to our hotel in the Yllas resort, where Mel’s friend Fiona was waiting for us, having flown separately from Bristol.  We picked up our special thermal suits that we’d need for the week and we were looking good.

The next morning we had our first skiing lesson with Ville and we mastered the snowplough on the nursery slopes.  It was a feeble -6.  We’ve had that in London!  We can handle that.  Because the resort is only busy around Christmas with people visiting Father Christmas, the slopes are really empty and we constitute the entire ski class.

We had activities scheduled for every afternoon, apart from the Monday.  So we decided that Monday afternoon’s activity would be a nap.  I think I might be a bad influence on Mel and Fiona.

The next day was more skiing, and it was a bit colder and windy so not too many photos as it was too cold to de-glove.  In the afternoon we had a skimobile trip.

Before:

After:

As you can see, the snowmobiling trip did not go exactly to plan.  I was on the back of Fiona’s mobile and Mel was on her own.  On the stretch home we went round a corner and slowed down to let the rest of the group catch up.  Except they didn’t.  Mel had managed to crash her snowmobile, but thankfully she was catapulted over the front before the snowmobile crashed into a tree.  There wasn’t a scratch on her but the same could not be said for the snowmobile, so unfortunately Mel ended the day 500 euros poorer, but we were just pleased that she was in one piece.

The next day we left the nursery slopes and progressed to some blue runs.  The ski instructor asked if we were practising between lessons and we confessed that we weren’t.  He nodded, as if that explained things.

That afternoon we went to visit the reindeers. A theme was developing, in that everywhere we went we were offered hot berry juice and cinnamon biscuits.  Om nom nom.  We got to feed the reindeer, and as you can see they eat lichen, not carrots.

and then have a little ride in a sleigh.

The people at the snowmobiling place felt a bit sorry for us so offered us a free night-time snowmobile trip to go looking for the Northern lights.  None of us was allowed anywhere near the driver’s seat though, so I was on the pillion and Mel and Fiona were dragged behind in a sled.  No northern lights, but a fun trip through the snowy forests and yet more hot berry juice and biscuits.

On Thursday morning, our ski instructor got us to do some exercises to improve our balance so we were skiing on one leg, skiing backwards etc.  Very entertaining for the other people around the nursery slopes.

In the afternoon, we went to a husky farm where we got to meet the dogs.

Then we had a ride in the sleigh.  Mel and I both had a go a mushing (although disappointingly we didn’t actually get to shout “Mush!” – I guess we could have done anyway, but I was worried that it would make the dogs accelerate from “tourist speed” to “full speed”).

It was absolutely fantastic.  The dogs are mental and can’t wait to be let out to run.  Afterwards, over yet more berry juice, the trainer told us all about husky racing and showed us a 2 week old puppy.  We weren’t allowed a cuddle it, as if the pup smelled too much like human then the mum might reject it, but it was so cute, all white like a little polar bear cub, that I literally had to sit on my hands to stop me from stroking it.  Sorry, no pictures either but it’s a bit of a tease to describe something really cute with no pics, so it looked a bit like this.  We all agreed that husky mushing was the most fun thing we’d done so far.

Back at the hotel, Fiona and I had got an early night, but Mel woke us up at about 11 to say that the Northern lights were out.  After unsuccessfully trekking into the middle of the forest to see them, we could now see them from our bedroom window.  It started with a general band of green, that then started to move about and change colour.

On Friday it was our last skiing lesson and as you can see, we had now mastered the kiddy slalom!

The good thing about the slopes being so quiet is that there was nobody around to watch us so we were not embarrassed at all to be doing stuff like this.  Also, when I fell off the ski lift or went up a slope that was too steep for me and had to come down on my bum, then there was nobody to witness my humiliation.  Friday was the best day in terms of visibility, so we took the gondola lift up to the top.

We had all booked massages for Friday afternoon, so we had a relaxing time being pummelled by an abrupt and burly Finnish man.  We had heard that the Northern lights were likely to be out again, so at about 10pm we went to a little hut slightly away from the lights of the the resort, started a fire and waited to see what we could see.  I was happy enough tending to my fire, but after 45 minutes we were getting a bit cold and also being harrassed by Zamboni drivers, we were about to give up, when we saw a strange green glow on the horizon.  After a few minutes of not being quite sure whether it was anything at all, it got brighter and started moving again.  It’s not really an easy thing to photograph, so you’ll just have to take my word for it though.

Saturday was a full day’s trip to the Ice Hotel in Sweden.  The weather in our resort had been relatively mild, only getting down as low as -18, but here it was -32.  Inside the hotel it was a balmy -8 and although it was fun to look round, I would not in a million years spend 3000 Krona to spend the night there.  The rooms are amazing though, all decorated differently.

We also got lunch in the Ice Hotel restaurant, which has the world’s least appetising artwork on the walls.

On Saturday evening, we saw the Northern lights from our bedrom  window again.  I think we were very lucky, as our ski instructor had told us that the lights happen “less frequently than we lead the tourists to believe”.  So although we didn’t get to see really bright spectacular ones, we could at least say we saw them.

Sunday was our day for going home, but we had time for a bit of skiing in the morning and a bit of swimming in the afternoon, before flying home in the kind of snow storm that we would never dream of travelling in at home.