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Sochi

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Remember, I finished the last blog entry with the news of continuing the snowboarding season in a very unexpected place? Here it is, welcome to…Sochi!

We haven’t skied outside Alps in many years, I actually only have been to the Pyrenees and USA-Canadian mountains besides the alpine experience. So, going to Sochi’s Olympic facilities was quite thrilling! But not only did the mountains excite me, but the city itself.

For those who don’t know me since childhood: I spent a big deal of it in Sochi because my grandparents live there, so sending the kids away to the sea for the hot months was an annual practice. I could take friends and cousins with me, my grandparents loved everyone around and it was always such a blast! At some point, as the summers started getting hotter, grandma and grandpa would go to the north to escape the heat, and we would get an apartment for ourselves, yay! Still being underaged and not being able to travel abroad alone, this was luck of a lifetime! My real adult parties started on Plotforma of Sochi. Nostalgic I get!

I had not visited Sochi in almost 7 years, though! So I did not see how it had changed after the Olympic Committee decision to run the Winter 2014 Games there. I was expecting something spectacular, of course. Considering that in my childhood Krasnaya Polyana was just a field of donkeys’ poop with 2 old funiculars where you had to lock yourself to an iron chair with a chain that would end up hanging on the level of your knees. The facilities turned out to be even nicer than I expected. Everything is modern and good-looking. It surprised me, though, that even on the days with crowds of people the lifts were still running at their lowest capacity level. That caused very long lines, of course. I guess this typical Russian “protocol above common sense” did not pass Sochi by, either. Some areas like the Southern Slope definitely lack 2-3 additional lifts to eliminate Disneyland-in-China-like lines. But there is night skiing which is absolutely a cool thing not that common for Europe! In general, everything is open until late, which is normal practice in Russia, but unusual after Alps where even apres-ski bars often close down before dinner.

The service, despite desperate attempts to be on the highest level, also suffers quite often. We stayed at Rosa Springs Hotel, which obviously lacks simple vertical management. Too much staff on the same operational level causes pure chaos. They would smile at your as bright as the sun, but no requests can ever be met – only following the protocol, again. The hotel itself is also just too big. Taking it 15 minutes of walking in a bathrobe to get to the swimming pool as a bit annoying. Especially if you learn at the end of the journey that the spa area is closed out of the blue. It was not that bad, don’t take me wrong. I just really prefer small cozy family hotels of Tyrol.

The food is decent taking into consideration Russian sanctions against edible foods. The restaurants “Груша” (“Pear”) up on Rosa Khutor where we stayed and “Шале” (“Chalet”) down in the village were quite good, with few remarks from my foodie self.  We celebrated Ksusha’s Birthday at Harat’s Pub and it was a total blast! Such good life music and vibe! I haven’t danced this crazily since St. Petersburg’s Dumskaya street, if you know what I mean 😉

The best thing was the weather! +15 in the sun? – yes, please! Too warm to ski? No! On the peaks it stayed cold enough, and the snow getting soft and wet closer to the bottom wasn’t annoying at all as it is so heavy that it doesn’t get lumped into mogul-like bumps. Snowboarding was very pleasant, so was our time there in general, because we were a big fun crowd with a lot of champagne and good mood!

 

I couldn’t wait to see the city of Sochi. On a nice Monday afternoon we drove down. The new roads are awesome! No traffic jams which used to be so typical in my childhood, all modern junctions, we made it there like on a rocket! My grandparents live away from the touristic center now, in a very quiet beautiful area close to the beach. So much had been built in Sochi, it’s unbelievable! And I don’t mean just the new skyscraper hotels; the suburbs are full of unfinished condos. I can tell that the construction fever swept over the area big deal. A lot of companies obviously went bankrupt and countless projects remain abandoned, wondering what their destiny is going to be. Th city changed its face completely. We even took a small city bus instead of waiting for a driver to look around a bit. Some areas remain untouched, but all downtown is framed in modern grandiose constructions now.

Me and Ksusha stayed in town for the evening to walk along the famous promenade which I must have walked more than thousand times in my life and grab dinner. The promenade looks the same, I wonder if the same camel Yasha still sits there in summer. Everything is, of course, quiet during the winter time, but there were still a lot of people having a slow romantic walk glazing at the sea. I liked it even more than the crazy summer with a lot of noise and fuss. Market tents where I used to buy every single bracelet made out of shells when was a kid are now replaced with less authentic, all in the same style, townhouses, on the ground level of which are still same souvenirs being sold. but it looks more classy and harmonious than those random tents were. I loved the tents, though! The main entertainment for little me when in Sochi with grandparents or aunt was to take a walk to the promenade and persuade them to buy me something useless but urgently desired.

When I go to the city where I don’t know a place for dinner, I always check on Instagram, 2018 is so straightforward. Sochi doesn’t have a city foodguide account which came as a big surprise to me. If I moved there, I would develop one myself right away! So if you are from Sochi and you know food, please create a guide asap, it’s gonna get famous at one point anyways 😉 I picked 3 places to chose from: Marinad, Old Boys “Pirs” (why the hell are there no normal websites?! this needs to be fixed by the local food society, too) and Syndicate. The first two seemed proper just for the warm season, so we went to the Steak House “Syndicate”. A bit Russian-style-wanna-be-posh in my opinion, but good! Quite a decent wine selection incl. per glass, which is not very common for expensive restaurants in Russia; indeed good meat with a fine understanding of what I mean under “I want this raw, please”; nice service and a cool design, too! I just remember from my childhood that the selection of where to eat was either an outdoor grill place with karaoke and drunk tourists after which you smell like a kebab more than a kebab does, or an awfully decorated with all glittery restaurant so expensive that it would be ridiculous to go there even for a coffee, which always left those empty or rarely hosting drunk crowds of some nouveau riches. It was good to see that the city developed quite well gastronomically. I read good reviews on quite a few places, and just walking on the streets it seemed that the resort managed to attract some gastronomes with good taste. My overall impression of the new Sochi was very positive.

 

If I lived in Russia, I would probably love to live in Sochi. Hope to come back in another 7 years at least!

Meanwhile, Vienna is still cold; looks like this year we will have a proper long winter which didn’t happen the past 5 years since I’m here. My snowboarding season is far from being over, and next week I will already ride on in a new area. To be continued! 🏂


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Lech am Arlberg

Снимок экрана 2018-01-24 в 21.26.37Season’18 has officially been opened!

Those who know me are aware that I am a passionate snowboarder. Paradoxically, that didn’t make me any more passionate about winter – I still extremely dislike the cold and I am a Grinch. But the Alps make me happy. Because it’s usually sunny here. It’s not exactly the low temperatures that annoy me but rather high humidity and lack of light in winter. The mountains are dry, clean and sunny – and even more amazing when you can observe them on a relatively high speed that the snowboard gives me. Under the hashtag #snowboarding there are some of my alpine stories, but the history of my relationship with mountains goes back 15 years.

This year we started out adventures at a new spot where had never been before – Lech. We know Austrian Alps the best I assume but there are always new slopes to check. I liked the snowboarding possibilities in Lech: there are relatively wrong connected routes to neighboring valleys, the lifts build up a comfy chain without many horizontal crossings. Apres-ski choice is just awesome! But there are not many young people since this resort is quite expensive. Be ready to pay starting with 35 Euros for a bottle of simple wine at a regular cafe (in comparison, at Bad Hofgastein you’d pay 14 for it). If you want to have more younger people and party around – chose St. Anton which is next to Lech. We went there couple times and enjoyed the food, shopping and the choice of entertainment. But the slopes must be more crowded there, whereas Lech was very easy-going with no queues even on the weekends of the high season. 

I can’t tell much about gastronomy of the town. We had dinners in our hotel and found out that was a better alternative after had tried few places in town. The two Italian restaurants (Olympia and Don Enzo) were ok, but they are still Austrian Italian restaurants, if you know what I mean. It’s not the dinner you would eat anywhere in Italy, honestly. The traditional Stube Handl Tyrol was nice – affordable real Austrian food, if you are a fan you gonna be satisfied. Still, nothing special in town. However, there are better restaurants in Oberlech! Hotel Sonnenburg has very delicious tartar, for example. 

Verdict: a good compromise between a fun town and good quality slopes, shift towards the slopes. Better for families and people with income above average than for the students. Was a very warm and cozy vacation for us because we stayed in a nice family hotel and went as an entire family ourselves.

…the season is to be continued in a few days! In the most unexpected from me place 😉


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Cortina d’Ampezzo

Juhuuuu the skiing season to be continued! Several years ago we started with a tradition of going in the mountains more than once, and me getting into the university with quite flexible schedule possibilities helped that move a lot. This year our next spot was old famous Cortina d’Ampezzo, where the 1956 Olympics were held.

The town is absolutely stunning. Something different from all those similar alpine villages. Maybe because it is not in Tyrol we are used to see in winter. It actually even reminded me of Courmayeur, maybe because both Aosta and Friuli Venezia Giulia were independent regions at some point and managed to develop their own micro cultures differing from the typical Italian ambient.

I want to warn you about the facilities, though. As the resort is very old, the lifts are not modern either. For the skiers it should be no problem but as a snowboarder I sometimes was finding it quite challenging to get off the lift as it doesn’t slow down at the unloading point. There are some newer areas further away though, you just have to get there having struggled trough 1-2 old-fashioned funiculars. Don’t let it ruin your experience and just look around once on the peak – you will forget everything!

There are two separated zones in Cortina itself and the famous Cinque Torri 16km away. All three slopes networks are worth trying out! The Cinque Torri area is a place where events described in “All Quiet on the Western Front” are described and one can still see what’s left from Austrian and Italian troops’ tunnels and mines. It’s a breathtaking beautiful, too. Hard to imagine there were terrifying bomb explosions sounds there once.

Back to my beloved topic, food. Cortina differs from typical Italy here as well. Sometimes it’s a bit confusing and finding just regular al dente pasta is not that straightforward. But there are good places, definitely! I’d point out 5 Torri (simple and delicious), Stella Polare (marked by Michelin Guide, so a bit more elegant), pizzeria Porto Rotondo, Ra Stua, Beppe Sello is also said to be outstanding but we didn’t make it there – so try and leave me a feedback, if you ever find yourself there 😉 If you are ready to wait a bit longer but to get the best seafood you can find there – reserve a table at il Vizietto!

If you want to leave the mountains for a bad weather day and have a roadtrip around Veneto – you can of course go to Venice, but that would take you around 2,5 hrs. There are some small places closer to Cortina too, though! We tried Belluno – nothing new for Italy experts, but definitely very authentic for the new country visitors. Look for  restaurant (it seemed to be the only restaurant there at all, and it’s good).

The last two weeks of this winter sports season were sunny, very warm (what I love about snowboarding in March so much – plus 8 on the slopes feels just right) and just right for me to get distracted from Viennese life, spend some time with family, friends, good food and wines. Now let the spring come and see you again next year in the Alps!Processed with VSCO with g3 preset


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Ischgl

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Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a blast!

I spent my winter break together with my family at a wonderful location in the Austrian mountains – Ischgl. We had already been there before but that time serious injury made us cancel our plans. So we though why not come back this year?

Ischgl is indeed an amazing place that I would highly recommend to skiers and snowboarders because, first of all, it’s quite easy to reach from airports of Munchen or Innsbruck or by train from anywhere in Austria/Northern Italy/Bavaria and, second, the resort suits for any level of skiing. That’s quite a rare combination. Most of the trips to the Alps we end up spending 4h in taxi to get there or pray on black slopes. Ischgl is really comfortable in any sense and also offers a lot of activities apart from skiing.

So, the season is opened!

Every morning we would go up on to the highest point, have a look at the beauty and then cross Swiss boarder to go down to Samnaun and have a route there. Come back to the Austrian side in the afternoon when the sun is there, have lunch and snowboard more and more. And, of course, the saint tradition of après-ski!

The places that I highly recommend for après-ski aroun Ischgl would be Pardorama restaurant  with literally the best view one can find; also suits for non-skiers as the location is reachable with cable car A2. Alpenhaus is a great one for the ones who prefer to take their skis off and have a drink right away on the mountain. Idalp is fine if you book lounge on top in advance. We started celebrating New Year’s eve at Mountain VIP Club which offers really high class cuisine – but make sure to make a reservation really in advance!

If you prefer to have your final ride back to town and have an après-ski drink there – then Fire&Ice (don’t go in, stay outside, they will soon be dancing there!) and the bars around it suit perfectly. There are also a few as you go down red route number 1. Plangger Delikatessen is a must-visit for a drink and some snacks/oysters outside or at the bar upstairs as well as for purchasing some rare alcohol, salami, cheeses, spices, oils and chocolates. Last time we lived on the other side of the city tunnel and I remember one hell of a party there every evening as well. Ischgl is very cool for young audience – you won’t be bored after having taken your boots off 😉

What else I love about my family other than we all share passion for mountains – another passion that is a very important part of any experience for us. And that would be food.

Austria is not as exciting with food choice on winter resorts like France and Italy. Sometimes you can find yourself in the village where there are only sausages and schnitzels available for dinner. But Ischgl is great there, too. Restaurants choice is impressive. From all the places we have eaten at I definitely stand up for La Candela (we ate there 5 times which we never do!!!) – it’s cheap and delicious, but they don’t take reservations, so make sure to come before 7 if you don’t want to wait in a long line; La Nona is another good Italian one which is very special for us now as my sister’s fiancé proposed to her there ❤ ❤ ❤ ; for Christmas dinner we booked Sunnalm and it was so good that we made a reservation there 2 times more; Bära-Falla I find a good choice for lunch as they have good pizzas and röstis, everything there is fast and you can come in wearing skiing boots; Trofana was our choice for New Year’s Eve, the dishes on the fixed menu weren’t as creative as at Sunnalm, but they offer amazing Thai food and the best tartars at the restaurant downstairs (be ready for long waiting times, though). There are definitely many more remarkable places for meat-lovers and, in general, for those who love to eat well, but I mentioned the ones that left a trace in my heart stomach.

To conclude with, Ischgl must be beautiful during any time of the year. There wasn’t that much snow as we just arrived – and the slopes with grass and small lakes in between them were nevertheless gorgeous, so bicycle riders should also consider the spot!

Vacation is now over, I have been working like crazy and taking semester exams at the same time since I came from my trip (which was one hell of an achievement at the end). But let my next post be devoted to what I am up to now. And now I’d just thank my family again for being such amazing travel partners.

Happy New Year! Follow us to 2017 and let it rock!Processed with VSCO with a5 preset


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Madonna di Campiglio

IMG_7286Being on my way from gorgeous Hong Kong, I am trying my best to conquer the childish excitement and I-still-dont-believe-I-have-experienced-that to catch up with my trips.

Today (or tonight, hard to say while switching between 7 time zones) I am also remembering a totally different but nevertheless incredible place in my favorite country of Italy. Madonna do Campiglio. A beautiful landscape hidden among the Dolomites. My fourth and final spot for snowboarding this winter season.
Getting there is not as easy as to previous Bad Hofgastein but also not as expensive as was to Courmayeur or Crans Montana. There is a choice between airports of Milano, Verona or Bolzano, then a transfer has to be pre-arranged as there is no railway. Buses go from Trento, so I made a train connection there from Vienna and then switched to the bus. Wasn’t that bad; remembering getting to Zermatt still gives me chills, for example. And I also got to see classical dull and full of students and other drunk people city of Trento.
March associates with spring already in my head. So, obviously, I arrived wearing sneakers and ripped jeans. Parents met me and immediately made fun as there was real winter around. Hell yes! Spring doesn’t dare to touch those regions until the most desperate skiers and snowboarders officially claim they are done with the season. Loads of powder! Not only on the slopes as was in my previous trips this year when the town itself was dry. Oh no! Here snow was everywhere! From every porch and sidewalk to my naked knees. On my way back I got stuck for a whole day because the buses couldn’t make it through and I skipped my train and lost a connection. That’s what I call winter vacation!
The town itself is adorable. Typical Italian, cute and light. People greeting each other; smelly prosciutto and cheese laying outside small shops with local specialities; aperitifs starting from the very morning. Like.
The slopes area is huuuuge! I think this was the second biggest resorts chain after neighboring Sella Ronda! I thought of Madonna as of a small town and don’t even expect to be able to snowboard in so many directions with so many impressive views changing. I was lucky, parents had a;ready explored everything by the time I arrived, so I just followed them and indeed enjoyed the real pure perfect snowboarding to its fullest to later enjoy local food and wines. A very very nice short break and the best way to complete the winter sports season.
Having analyzed the four spots I tried this year, I come to the conclusion as follows:
If you want a party, if you are bunch of friends, if limoncello is just as valuable for you as sports; you want constant music around, bunch of hot instructors and constant movement; if you are experienced enough to ride quite difficult slopes and to be hungover constantly – Courmayeur is for you!
If you are a couple/family, you want to enjoy the mountain views while laying in hot springs listening to the perfect silence around; if you want dinner that lasts 3 hours and makes you feel like an aristocrat – chose the Gastein Valley.
Wanna spend a lot of money and be surrounded by posh events, well-dressed people; wanna drink champagne from a crystal glass in the morning and have a real Swiss Alps experience like one of those they promote in movies – then Crans Montana is just right.
If you are just about skiing/snowboarding and that’s the main point why you spend vacation in the Alps at all; well-prepared interesting slopes are more important than party/hot springs/luxury surroundings/whatever else – then you will love Madonna di Campiglio!
I again wanna express how glad I am we have had such a rich vivid experience this season. Thanks to my family and everyone who joined us! Looking forward to the next winter!

 


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Bad Hofgastein

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flashbacks to the beginning of February and an incredible season’15-16 follow

Good morning! It must be yet night or even previous day in your part of the world though. But I am writing from incredible Hong Kong.

So many impressions I have already received after first day here. Wanna share asap! But there are still three more notes missing from other trips. So it’s my luck that jet lag woke me up so early and I can try to catch up a little bit before going for my breakfast dim sums 😉

The valley of Gastein in Austrian Tyrol was the first place I visited in Austria. We loved it so much that came back again several years later; I switched from skis to snowboard that year. So I can thank Bad Hofgastein not only for introducing me to the Austrian culture but as well for supporting my beginnings in another winter sport that I mostly picked up from instructors there and still enjoy so much.

Who could have thought back then that I would be coming here again as a long-term inhabitant of Austria myself. It’s amazing how time flies and how unexpected our lives are. The owners of the hotel recognized me when we were checking-in and melted when found out I speak German now. We went to the same hotel as two times before, absolutely gorgeous Klammer’s Kärnten. Coming back as a grown-up to the place which I remember from 14 years old felt cool though.

This time I was without our huge squad of skiers that all hotels we have ever stayed at remember for another couple years. It was just me and Ksenia who finally got introduced to the alpine culture. Endless slopes, nets of funiculars, hot chocolate or Aperol Spritzer sitting in the chair catching some sun; people dancing in skiing boots, hot springs and marvelous views. I can imagine how impressed she was! Seeing this for the first time in life wouldn’t leave indifferent even someone who had traveled the world. And I was happy to be her guide.

Bad Hofgastein is one of small towns of the Gastein Valley. We find it the most attractive because of our favorite hotel, but the neighboring villages like Dorfgastein or Sportgastein (slopes only for professionals, be careful when booking!) are no less cozy. If you want more party – chose the town of Bad Gastein. As a beginner Ksenia was sent by skibus to the area of  Angertal, I caught up with her by having snowboarded through the mountain pass from Bad Hofgastein side of the mountain which I then repeated every morning – a decent exercise to start a day with! So she was successfully learning skiing while I was like crazy exploring whole Schlossalm area with no map and brain to later catch up with her in a mountain bar and share impressions. Mountain peaks with strong wind and no people, unexpected black slopes popping up on the way, fear and then pride for having accomplished the descent and grabbing a deserved drink at the bottom – how much I love all that, ahh! I found Angertal quite satisfactory for beginners in comparison with more complicated slopes of Courmayeur where we took my sister earlier this season. So, if you are yet a beginner, be very careful while choosing the area and pay attention to the heights: if it’s less than 1800m then you are risking to observe all the blue slopes at the bottom being covered with grass.

Another good thing about Gastein valley is it’s accessibility. Very few spots can be reached without having to pay 500euros for a taxi. Here you can get by train, from Vienna there is even a straight connection, takes about 4h. So whole trip for us was very easily organized and comfortable. We came back to Vienna with the best impressions, definitely willing to continue exploring the Alps together another season.


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Crans Montana

6iv7qdlj3dmGood morning! This is how it looks like in the Swiss Alps. Sweet, right?

I will be honest. I am not a fan of Switzerland at all. This approach when you have to pay for an additional egg in the morning and when no one would be nice for you for free puts pressure on me. But let’s not discuss that here not to ruin the atmosphere of nice alpine days. Just look at this. Once you are there you don’t really care anymore how much you will pay for all that. You just can’t take your eyes off it.

As the year began, so did continue our journey as well. We moved from wonderful Courmayeur of Italy that will be in my heart forever to the next spot – Crans Montana of Switzerland. It’s different. More ehh.. mature? Niminy-piminy. If Courmayeur was all about drunk bearded snowboarders opening bars’ doors for us with one hand while pouring us genepy with another, here it was all about evening dresses, good manners, interesting talks with important people, practicing official Italian in attempts to understand French, trying rare wines and just being on top of the world. I am not saying I don’t like it. I am just still a kid who certainly enjoys bearded snowboarders more. But feeling like a lady somewhere where most of the Earth’s population doesn’t reach is an interesting experience, too. Plus I feel how much I had grown up during the past year every time I find myself at such kind of supper table. This all is very useful and interesting.

Now switching to the main point why I was there – the slopes. They were amazing this time. If Coutmayeur suffered from the lack of snow until the very last day of our stay, Crans sur Sierre was crazy. I hardy had ever seen that much snow! It was a snowboarder’s heaven indeed. The skiers weren’t in such a good situation as the slopes were all one huge never ending fresh free-ride. But I was absolutely enjoying every lump, jump and soft landing. Sunny weather suddenly becoming the worst visibility ever – what can be more fun than adventures like that? Amazing, totally amazing. I would love to thank discreet and a bit boring town of Crans for the amazing snowboarding at least!

So far it all came out even: good party and average snow conditions in Courmayeur vs. plain town but perfect powder in Crans Montana.

To sum up, I leave a pic gallery here as well (you can click on each photo, this is not a collage).

I also wanna leave some pics of the evening atmosphere of alpine towns. This bright village in the darkness, loud spot in the mountain serenity – you hardly feel like that anywhere else. Explore the mountains. Love the mountains. They will give you a lot back.