Skiing (or not)

We were up this morning at about 8am to get ready for skiing. It was a beautiful clear day and again relatively warm at about 5 degrees C.  After breakfast we left for the ski school which is at a place called Bodmi which is about 10 minutes away from chalet by car. Most of the roads are now clear of snow as it has just melted away as it is quite warm but there is still plenty of snow to ski on at Bodmi.

Helen skiingWe started skiing at 9:30am. Helen and I had one instructor and Stephen & Michael another. We knew we would be at different levels. The boys had a young Swiss guy (19 years old) and Helen and I had a Japanese lady (Sally). By the time we managed to get a ski on and start practicing on one ski the boys already had both on and were practicing on a gentle slope. After about an hour of sweating and basically achieving nothing and mainly in pain (from my ski boots pressing on my ankles) and from a sharp pain down my left leg from trying to do ski stops, I came to the conclusion that (a) there is no point in incurring pain for the next 3 days and (b) that I was not enjoying it and woStephen skiinguld unlikely enjoy it given my current state (and age). I had planned to ski for 3 days and Helen had said she wouldn’t at all. About a day before we left Helen decided to give it another go. And besides a brief moment today when she was a little nervous about the icy snow, she hasn’t looked back and has carried on skiing. Not what I expected and a 180 degree turnaround for the two of us – Helen skiing, me not!

Michael skiingI watched and took photos the rest of the morning. I enjoyed that a lot more even though I could not get rid of my ski boots until my Dad came back at 11:30am to fetch us.  The boys progressed quickly to the magic carpet (a small ski lift that you stand on that drags you up the mountain) and then onto the main slope at Bodmi which requires you to use a pommel lift to get back to the top. They had gone up and down that slope 10 times by 12pm when we stopped skiing for the day (though I stopped at 10:30 in case you missed that). Helen had progressed to the magic carpet by that stage and even did it once without the ski instructor. She has now decided to continue skiing tomorrow again (yes even though it’s Xmas they are going skiing). The boys will do another day at Bodmi with the instructor and then he reckons they will be ready for the main slopes.

After lunch today we went shopping for more food and some boots for Stephen (B&S – tell Lara – I am sure she will be relieved). We did all that at one store called Landi. Landi has everything from food through to car parts. Hard to explain what kind of store they are. It is about the size of a convenience store yet has something of everything. The biggest section is probably the alcohol section. We even found this bottle beerof local beer. Notice the type ‘Speziel Hell’. We reckon either made especially for people drinking on Xmas day or it is so strong that when you drink it you feel like you’re in your own special hell.  I am sure you can come up with some other ideas in that regard …

landi viewOn the way back we stopped to take a quick photo (the one on the left here). That is the typical sort of view that is around here at the moment. Loads of snow and the typical Swiss chalet in the distance. Unfortunately while we stopped my older and disrespectful son took it to get some snow and then misled my only darling daughter to put the snow down my back. That sort of disrespect will have to be repaid in the next day or so. It certainly won’t be forgotten.

The activity of the morning and shopping exhausted us and so we snuck in a quick sleep before our traditional Xmas eve supper of Schnitzel and chips (gave that especially for you Josie). It is now 10pm and it is 4 degrees outside. Michael was testing the temperature by sitting on the balcony of the chalet. He lasted for about 5 minutes. Stephen and my Dad are having another technical discussion about coxial cables, white balance, iPads and various other technological items of common interest to them. Hopefully they both get it out of their systems soon!

Merry Xmas eve!

Skiing Trip

Last night we left for a quick 7-day skiing trip.  We flew on Qatar via Doha.  My in-laws asked why we would fly via Doha given all the air miles I have and the answer is quite simple.  I could not get any bookings at this time of the year on air miles and so we went with the cheapest flight option which was Qatar (at roughly 50% of the price of the other options).  There is no easy way to get to Switzerland even if you want to go as direct as possible.  We flew on Qatar from CT (unfortunately it does stop in Johannesburg on the way) to Doha and then connected from Doha to Zurich.

The flight from CT to Doha was ridiculously good.  Helen said she reckons it was the best flight she had ever taken.  If I exclude First Class on Cathay Pacific I reckon she may be right. The service was very good and the cabin was incredibly spacious as well.  Qatar have been rated as number 1 airline both in 2011 & 2012 and I can see why. The wine list was also the best I ever seen on a plane (and this from an Arabic airline!).  They served us a snack (which Helen reckon was dinner actually) from CT to Jhb.  Helen went straight to sleep after we took off from Jhb and the rest of us watched a movie and had dinner. Helen probably had a better idea because the flight time to Doha from Jhb is only 7 hours 30 minutes and so you really do need to get the maximum amount of sleep.

We arrived in Doha at 7am and the mid-winter early morning temperature was 24 degrees. Our transfer time was only 1 hour 30 minutes and that gave us just enough time to have some breakfast and for Chloe to insult all Arabs by wearing shorts and Stephen wearing a Crossword t-shirt emblazoned with Jesus Christ, the Cross etc. They were probably keen to see the back of us and so we were soon back onto a bus to take us to the plane. That was probably the most tedious thing we did. The bus trip from the terminal to plane took 15 minutes. The airport design is crazy that they park the planes on the one side of the airfield and the terminal buildings are on the other. You basically have to drive around the runway and that takes forever.

The flight from Doha to Zurich took about 7 hours and we took forever to takeoff so we left 30 minutes late and arrived 30 minutes late.  Helen managed to sleep the majority of the flight. The rest of us watched a movie, had breakfast and then had an indulgence. You may ask what an indulgence is.  I would normally call it lunch but on Qatar they call it indulgence. Obviously Arabs consider a 3rd meal a day as an indulgence.  While service on the flight was again very good unfortunately the plane and seats were not as good but it did not deter us from watching TV and still getting some sleep.

We got through Zurich airport very quickly and easily and our luggage came off almost immediately as well. Made a change from the last time we did this because we lost a piece last time for 3 days. Qatar got it right this time. We then had to take a train from Zurich airport to Grindelwald (or more accurately we had to take 3 trains). Unfortunately we missed the 2:13pm train by 1 minute and so we had to wait for the 2:40pm train to Bern, switch at Bern onto the train to Interlaken Ost and then at Interlaken Ost change to Grindelwald.  The scenery is beautiful and typical Swiss. And the sunset while we were on route. The lack of snow was surprising (especially given we are coming to ski).   However, as we got more into the mountain area and as we rose the snow thickened and it is clear that at Grindelwald (even though it was dark when we got here) there is plenty of snow around.

My Dad met us at the station and collected the luggage and we went straight from the station to get ski boots for tomorrow. That is a process in itself. There is no way to get skiing quickly.  My Dad came back and fetched us even though it just a short walk up to the chalet.  It also isn’t very cold here at the moment. It was 5 degrees C this evening at 6pm. (When we arrived in Zurich it was around 10 degrees.)  We settled into the chalet (and yes it is a genuine Swiss chalet – I will take a photo when it is light so you can see) and then the boys and my Dad went to go and pick up the ski’s and boots which had to be adjusted for us.

Having left home at 4:30pm yesterday we sat down to dinner at 7pm in the chalet more than 24 hours later. Quite a travel to get here but really there are no shortcuts unfortunately. It is 9pm now and I am exhausted. Stephen is getting a physics/science/electronics lecture from my Dad. Helen is in bed with her iPad and I am heading there as soon as I push save to this blog. Only difference is that I am going straight to sleep. Hopefully I will have more energy tomorrow am for the first of the skiing!

Until tomorrow …

Island Adventure – Back Home

After 28 hours of traveling we finally arrived home this morning. We left the hotel at 8pm Bahamian time and our flight left at 10:30pm. The check in process was chaotic.  It was like checking in at a small regional airport – I was going to say like Bloemfontein but that would be unfair on Bloemfontein. All the conference attendees on the flight (there were at least 20 of us) arrived at the same time and that was just too many people at once for the 4 check in people. The check in process also seemed to take an age. What transpired was that the flight was overbooked and so they could not allocate a whole lot of people seats. Fortunately I had managed to check in online already so Helen and I had seats but there were a whole lot of grumpy people.  Some of the conference attendees who had confirmed business class seats ended up traveling in Premier economy or economy.

We could use the business class lounge which was a small cubbyhole with old furniture and a pretty empty fridge. By the time we left it was empty. They told us that the flight actually departs from terminal B (we were in terminal A for the check in) and that they would come and call us to take a bus across to Terminal B when they were ready to board. About 40 minutes before our due departure time one of the lounge people wandered out to see what was going on only to come back in and say that they had just announced that the last transfer bus was now leaving. So much for telling us! I reckon it was their tactic to make a few more seats available. If we never got on the bus they could give our seats to someone else!  We all hurried out and made it onto the last bus.

Helen and I both went to sleep immediately the flight took off and we got in about 5-6 hours before they woke us up for breakfast before we landed. We landed at 11:30am UK time (6:30am Bahamian time) and then had to kill 6 hours at Heathrow airport before our flight to CT. Fortunately we could use the lounge and so we could have a shower, get something to eat and access the internet.  What more could you want when you have 6 hours to kill? Of course, we both did some duty free shopping as well. The flight home was uneventful and bumpy. Helen slept well, I didn’t. She  is asleep now, I am not. Might be something to do with the fact that I collapsed this afternoon because I could not keep my eyes open any longer. So to add to the long journey and our poor impression of the Bahamas, I reckon I am jetlagged. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will do it.

Until December … skiing in Switzerland!

Island Adventure (Day ‘who really cares’)

I had my last meeting this morning which was from 8am until lunch time. While I was doing that Helen did what she has done all week – go and lie in the sun.  She objected to my blog yesterday when I said she has just been lying at the pool.  So I am going to correct that.  She has either been at the pool or on the strip of beach for the whole week.

The rest of today has just been spent loafing around and for me catching up on emails. It started raining at about 11am this morning so that forced Helen inside. She spent most of the rest of the day sitting in the lobby and reading (and I guess watching the passing parade). We fortunately were able to get an extension on our hotel room until 8pm (when our shuttle for the airport leaves).

So what are our thoughts about Bahamas (yes I said Bahamas not Bermuda or Barbados or any other Caribbean islands which is what everybody keeps calling them). I can’t see us rushing back any time soon. Mauritius is closer, nicer and cheaper. Here are my random thoughts:

1. The temperature never changes – it has been 70 something every day and night and it is humid
2. The wind never changes – it is always blowing and it is definitely more than a gentle breeze
3. Island time is a reality – everything here happens at the pace of slow, tomorrow is nog-a-dag as we would say in SA (@Josie get someone to translate for you)
4. It is ridiculously expensive (even the Americans said so) – I paid R20 for a small chocolate today, no meal has cost us less than R550 and that generally has been for just a main course and a drink
5. Drinks are even more expensive than the food but are generally better than food (Helen has tried most cocktails so she should know; I tried both local beers)
6. The food is pretty average – don’t come to the Bahamas for cuisine
7. Did I mention how expensive it was?
8. The people are generally quite friendly – but then why wouldn’t they be 50% of the island’s income comes from tourism
9. 5 days is more than enough time to become an expert on Bahamas – in fact 2 days did it for me
10. They love their music – it is always blaring out from somewhere
11. It is a real mix of culture. Probably more American than anything (and that is probably influenced by the cruise ships which come in every day – yesterday there were 6 of them in the harbour). But definitely also English (they drive on the left even though many of the cars are American left hand drive); Cuban (lots of cigars on offer) and Caribbean (music and people).

So if you haven’t gotten the message yet, we wouldn’t recommend you come to the Bahamas.  It sounds much better than it is in reality. If you want to spend lots of money go somewhere else rather.

Island Adventure Day 6 (I think)

It feels like we have been here forever. And there is seriously not a lot to do unless you like lying next to the pool. I can’t see that I will be rushing back to the Bahamas any time soon.  Helen (who actually has been lying next to the pool most of the time – see video on Facebook), hasn’t even managed to get much of a tan.  Even the sun doesn’t seem to work here. Most people have this idea of idyllic island when they think Bahamas. I will think of wind swept, very flat and nothing to do island.

Today I had a breakfast meeting which was very productive.  What I have come to realize is that the meetings outside the official programme are the best ones and what I am really coming to these events for.  I then didn’t have another meeting until lunchtime so I headed back up to the room to find a website that was streaming the rugby (SA vs Scotland). After that I headed down for a lunch time meeting and then another meeting after that followed by another unofficial meeting (which was again productive). All this time Helen didn’t leave the hotel premises and was either at the pool or on the balcony. She was probably trying out more of those drinks she keeps having.  I have lost count of how many different varieties she has tried but I know she has had Long Island Ice Tea (no tea in it); Bahama Mama and many others.  I have just stuck to the local brew (tastes better than the water). Alcohol is ridiculously expensive here and even a beer will cost around R70 with the cheapest wine (Brian T type wine) costing around R250 a bottle.

This evening was going to be a romantic dinner with just Helen but that quickly morphed into 7 of us going out together. While having the meeting this evening it turned out that the President of IAA (International Actuarial Association) – who is a South African – was going out for dinner by himself so I invited him along and then the Australians gate crashed and so we ended up with 7 people. We went to Fish Fry again and tried out another restaurant called Twin Brothers (surf & turf). Unfortunately they only have tables of 4 (more like booths) so we had to split up. We sat with the Australian couple and it was a really easy evening as they talked very freely. Being Saturday evening the whole area was pumping by the time we left. Clearly the place to go on a Saturday evening as all the locals were there.

Talking about talking freely … I didn’t tell you about the women we met last night at dinner (I was too tired to blog her yesterday). After our dinner had been rain interrupted we ended up with other people at our table. We had an American couple join us.  He hardly said anything. She spoke non-stop. Seriously, non-stop. And the very first thing she told me was that they had been to CT and she flew First Class. It was like name dropping but more like class dropping. She then went on to tell us about the multiple houses they owned, where they had been in the world, which hotels they had stayed at etc etc.  All at the top of her voice (@Lynne – Jeff would have loved her as an ambassador for America).  She did make a fatal error though. At one point she offered us the use of their holiday house. She clearly thought we would never take that up. But what she fails to understand is that if you make Paul an offer of the use of a holiday house for free he will definitely take it up. He never misses an opportunity like that. We speculated whether she was drunk or always like that and we settled on always like that. How her husband ever gets a chance to say anything is questionable. The table of 8 people and only she was talking for 80% of the time.

I am now typing this blog while listening to Karaoke being blared out from the pavilion below us. I have heard some songs been absolutely hacked to death. Helen was wetting herself with laughter at some of the singing. I definitely could have done better.  In fact, Bryan (M this time) would even do better. In fact pretty much anyone would do better.  I am hoping they are going to stop soon otherwise I am not going to be able to fall asleep with that whining in the background.

Sorry there were no photos.  I need to get some of them off Helen’s camera (will do so tomorrow). And just to make up for the limited work on Thursday I get to work again tomorrow morning with another meeting (soooo looking forward to that).

Until tomorrow …

Island Adventure Day 5

This was a full work day for me and work isn’t really a fair description.  It is more like a full day of torture for me. I had a meeting starting at 8:30 and going through to 12:30. Then a lunch meeting from 12:30 to 2:00pm.  And then another meeting from 2pm until 5pm and then dinner from 7pm.  If you think it is glamorous traveling to the Bahamas then just compensate that with today.

Meanwhile Helen and Tina went off and partied on Paradise Island where the Atlantis Hotel (Sol Kerzner’s creation) is based.  Helen described it as Canal Walk on a Caribbean Island. They took a local bus into town (costs $1.25) and then a ferry from town across to Paradise Island ($4). No idea what they did except shopping (because I can see the effects) and eat ice cream (because I saw a photo of Tina at Ben & Jerry’s).  All the while I was been tortured in a day of meetings. The first meeting is where I am actually a member of the committee.  It is chaired by an South African and generally runs quite efficiently. I get to sit around the table because I am a member of the committee. If you aren’t a member you have to sit around the outside. I prefer sitting there because you can do emails / play games without anyone seeing. Being at the table you can’t get away with that.

The lunchtime meeting was productive (they always tend to be) and then the afternoon meeting was just incredibly boring. They really need to give lessons to people on how to chair a meeting. What took the chair lady at least 30 minutes to do I would have completed in 5 minutes with exactly the same result. Seriously. And that frustrates me no end. That and the fact that they really didn’t do much at all. In fact they discussed the terms of reference of the committee for at least 20 minutes to start with! At tea time I did the “duck and run” and did some work for the rest of the afternoon (it was already 4pm).

This evening was the gala dinner and it was to be held around the pool. I say ‘was’ because at about 6:45pm it started raining and by 6:50pm it was raining hard. So much for all the tables laid out. There clearly was no contingency plan as at about 7:30pm the rain abated and they quickly dried off the chairs and out we went for dinner. We had just eaten our starter when it started to rain lightly and then about 60 seconds later it started raining really hard. We didn’t even have our main course yet. We grab a table under a large gazebo and then headed back into the rain to get some food. It was still raining hard so it was grab whatever food we could and head back. Given I had to pay $150 for Helen to attend the dinner it really was not a value for money dinner.  The wind had also really picked up and I felt like I was sitting in CT looking into the teeth of a south easter.  The after effects on Helen can be seen in the pic (used with her permission). Her hair was straight when we went down to dinner.

We left dinner at 9pm though I can still clearly hear the band going full blast at the moment. I am so worn out from the day of meetings that I need to go to sleep or I will fall asleep on the keyboard. If you want to get a sights and sounds of Bahamas then go onto either my of Helen’s Facebook page and you will find a video clip from the hotel balcony.

Until tomorrow …

Island Adventure Day 4

The problem with writing a blog while on a business trip is that everyone thinks you are having a holiday when you are actually working. Today was one such day.  We woke up at about 6am and so it seems the jet lag is beaten. I had no formal meetings today but both Paul and I decided to spend the morning working anyway. The ladies went and did the sunbathing thing as it was a lovely blue sky day.  The hotel is a lot busier now that more actuaries have arrived.  Helen spent the morning playing spot the actuary (much to her own delight). While the ladies sunbathed Paul and I spent some time (rare time given how seldom we see each other these days) discussing business issues.

We decided to at least get out for lunch and headed into the town center for lunch. Paul had previously seen a Greek restaurant and so we ended up there. Strange eating Greek food in Bahamas but then again you can pretty much eat any food in the Bahamas – it is a really mixed culture. After lunch we went to the supermarket to buy some Hagendaus ice cream because Paul can’t travel overseas without eat Hagendaus ice cream.

The real reason for going into town was because I had heard about the ‘Queens Staircase’ and was told it was a must see site in Nassau. There are 66 steps though originally there were 67 (one has eroded). They were built at the end of a tunnel from the governor’s manor to that point to assist in fleeing an invasion. As it turned out no one ever invaded the island and so none of was ever used (except for tourists today). We also ambled around the fort at the top which is the highest point on the island and so therefore you get great views all around of the island.  We completed the trip but walking back into town and finding a taxi to get back to our hotel.

Taxi’s in Nassau are very much like SA taxis. Beaten up, minivans. The difference is that you can have a whole one to yourself versus having 4 people per row as we do in SA.  I spent the afternoon working and Helen caught a few more rays by the poolside. We had dinner arranged with the other South Africans and we have just gotten back now (10pm). A nice relaxed dinner at a restaurant called Van Bruegels (owned by a Dutchman). The food was quite good. The wine ridiculous expensive (I could buy a case for the same price in SA). Some people tried conch (remembered pronounced ‘conk’) for the first time. And a number of people (including Helen and I) had Mahi Mahi for our main course.

It was a chilled day but then we have come to realize that everything is quite chilled here.  Nothing much happens and so you just got along with the pace of the place and that would be a pace of slow to very slow. There is never any rush. There is plenty of time in the day. Tomorrow is another day and the sun will shine and rise & set. Tomorrow is also a day that I am fully occupied the whole day.  I am fearing the effect on my wallet.