Category Archives: Making Memories

Travel & Good Times, Making Memories Together

Can’t Stop The Holiday Spam! – My Sunday Photo

Sorry, I know, more holiday spam! But New England is so beautiful, especially with the sun out and the snow gleaming.

A Covered Bridge over a Snowy River in Littleton NH
A Covered Bridge over a Snowy River in Littleton NH

Look at the icicles on the building to the left! We spent a lot of time spotting spectacular icicles!

Littleton is the Hometown of the authour of Pollyanna
Littleton is the Hometown of the author of Pollyanna

We love the town of Littleton, New Hampshire. It is the hometown of Eleanor H Porter, the author of Pollyanna. They have a statue of Pollyanna outside the library in town, and this year the lovely addition of the yellow Pollyanna flags on the lampposts. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Pollyanna, so this is particularly endearing to me!

Photalife

Dad’s Musings Before The Big Ski Trip

Here’s what I thought before we took a ski trip with a difference. We’re back now, but I’m not letting on how it went just yet. I want you to read this first!!
It’s almost half term, the big trip to the USA beckons, and still not a bag packed. One of these years we’ll be organised, everything will be ready a week or two in advance and all we’ll have to worry about before the big push is how early in the day is too early for an alcoholic imbibement to get into the holiday spirit!

Bags packed and ready to go on a special ski trip!
Bags packed and ready to go!

This year we’re taking a break from the Alps and heading for New England and some Dad and lads skiing Stateside, as well as some well-earned r&r for Mum as she recovers from some serious back trouble. We’re not quite sure how this is going to pan out to be completely honest.

We’ve been utterly spoilt for the past few seasons, having holidayed with specialist family companies. They really are superb at what they do, for instance we holidayed with Esprit last year in Austria, and they made the whole week an absolute pleasure. The boys were looked after from just after breakfast, right through ’til late, and had great fun with various activities and clubs based around their ski lessons. The biggest lesson being, if they’re having fun, you’ll have fun too.

Toby’s ski lessons finished for the day

This year is different. There are no kids clubs planned, the boys will be with one or both of us 24/7. I think it will be OK as they’re older now and much more accomplished and ‘into’ their skiing. We’ll see. The biggest worry that I have is the journey. The boys do have a tendency (like most boys of a certain age) to be silly when in each other’s company, so how to keep them occupied? These days it is electronic gadgetry that we rely on, but it’s good for the brain (and the eyes) to have some additional armaments, including a good book, actual games (rather than virtual ones), and something artistic to keep them occupied.

Giving them an item that they’re personally responsible for is a good idea too. For instance, there’s no way Mum will be able to transport anything apart from herself (and even that is a worry!). So I’m planning on them each being responsible for a luggage item. Carrying some documents is another, although I will make sure we have duplicates, just in case…

The kids will have some responsibility for their luggage
The kids will have some responsibility for their luggage

So, with some apprehension, I’m looking forward to this year’s ski trip. It will be different, but it will be great to ski for the first time with the boys. We’ll keep you posted. I’m pretty sure though that we’ll be back with a specialist family company next season!
Now, back to packing for this ski trip.

Packing for the ski trip
Packing for the ski trip

Goodness me, those salopettes have really shrunk quite badly since last year…

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We're planning and packing for our big ski trip to the USA. Read about it here.
Planning our ski trip

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New Hampshire in the Sunshine- My Sunday Photo

We’ve just spent the most amazing week in New England. We love this part of the world, we were even married here.

The main reason for the trip was to ski, but we’ve done some sight seeing too. There have been some snowy days, but isn’t it lovely when the sky turns bright blue in contrast to the crisp white snow?

Old railway bridge over Connecticut River
Old railway bridge over Connecticut River
 Covered Bridge between Vermont and New Hampshire over the frozen Connecticut River
Covered Bridge between Vermont and New Hampshire over the frozen Connecticut River
Photalife

 

Books Galore – My Sunday Photo

We’ve been having a massive book clear-out, and have a post coming soon about it!

In the meantime, we’ve shared some images on social media from a fantastic place we discovered a couple of weeks ago, Barter Books in Alnwick. It is inside an old railway station, and has toy trains going around on tracks above the book shelves, plus vintage seating, open fires, and a waiting room with tea and coffee.

We were there again on Friday, and will definitely be regular visitors now! We’ve even traded in some books of our own.

A section of Barter Books, my new favourite place!
A section of Barter Books, my new favourite place!
Hugo by one of the cosy fires, with his new books, at Barter Books in Alnwick
Hugo by one of the cosy fires, with his new books.

Wouldn’t you want to be a regular visitor to a bookshop this great?

Photalife

 

Reception At Balmoral – My Sunday Photo

Our Sunday Photo this week is a throwback one – to memories of our wedding reception at Balmoral Castle. If you saw our Burns Night post this week, you would have seen that we held our wedding reception on the 250th Anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth. What a very special day to have a Burns Night supper, and at a very special venue. OK, it was just in the Piper’s Hall, but our guests got a tour of the castle, and we got to take some photos on the lawn too!

Our wedding reception, Burns Night at Balmoral Castle, Scotland
Our wedding reception, Burns Night at Balmoral Castle, Scotland

We had our actual wedding in New England in the Fall. ‘Back home’ we lived close to Balmoral at the time,  so to have a big party for all our friends and family when we returned was just amazing. Hope you enjoy sharing our memories!

A kiss at the castle, Balmoral, Scotland on Burns Night
A kiss at the castle, Balmoral, Scotland on Burns Night
Photalife

 

Burns Night – How and Why We Celebrate It

A Family Makes Burns Night Supper

January 25th 2017 is the 258th anniversary of The Bard’s birth and the 103rd anniversary of my Dad’s birth. Also the 8th anniversary of our wedding reception at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the land of our children’s birth, and my home for approx. 25 years of my life. Yes, our wedding reception was a Burns Night supper, in the Piper’s Hall at Balmoral Castle, on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robbie Burns. Very special indeed.

Raising a glass to my Dad on Burns Night
Raising a glass to my Dad on Burns Night
Our wedding reception, Burns Night at Balmoral Castle, Scotland
Our wedding reception, Burns Night at Balmoral Castle, Scotland

Just in case anybody was wondering why an Englishman was interested in celebrating Burns Night!

A kiss at the castle, Balmoral, Scotland on Burns Night
A kiss at the castle, Balmoral, Scotland on Burns Night

So, here we are, exiled 100 miles south of the Border, contemplating our meal on Wednesday night. How do you celebrate Burns night when the attendees total 2 adults and 2 primary school kids? The meal itself is simple enough. There’s tatties (mashed), neeps (champit), and of course, that most revered of Scottish delicacies (not including deep fried mars bars…), the Haggis*. Although the kids haven’t quite developed a taste for haggis yet, so we have sausages on standby for them! So that’s bangers and mash then!

*Rough translations – Tatties = potatoes. Neeps = turnips (or swede). Haggis =  a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach[1] though now often in an artificial casing instead. According to the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique: “Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour“.[2]

*Wikipedia also tells us: the dish came to be considered traditionally Scottish, even the national dish,[6] as a result of Scots poet Robert Burns‘ poem Address to a Haggis of 1787.

Burns Night gone posh - fancy Haggis, neeps & tatties by Paul
Burns Night gone posh – fancy Haggis, neeps & tatties by Paul

Traditionally, the rest of the evening for a Burns supper would consist of whisky, poetry recitals, whisky, songs, whisky, toasts, whisky, funny stories and anecdotes, and more whisky. Followed by even more whisky…

Things are slightly more sober in the Family Makes house. Yes, I dress in full Highland Regalia (and refuse to confirm or deny whether I dress as a true Scot would)! These days we also manage to quell the cries from our children of “It’s a skirt! Daddy’s in a skirt!”. And I also ‘Address the Haggis’ and say the Selkirk Grace before the meal.

Cal also insists on a traditional Scottish dessert, as she is the dessert queen! It’s usually a raspberry cranachan (served in her vintage Mailing bowls!)

A traditional Scottish dessert, raspberry cranachan for Burns Night supper
A traditional Scottish dessert, raspberry cranachan, for Burns Night supper

The music is provided by Eddi Reader. She recorded a fantastic live album based on the works of Robbie Burns. Her rendition of ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’ was the song that greeted Carol as she walked into our wedding ceremony.  And of course we have a dram or two. Well, it would be rude not to, would it not?

“0, my luve is like a red, red rose,
that’s newly sprung in June.
0, my heart is like a melody,
that’s sweetly played in tune.
As fair thou art, my bonnie lass,
so deep in luve am I,
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
till all the seas gang dry.”

Wherever you are, Happy Burns Night (Nicht), and I’ll leave Robbie with the final word…

“May Freedom, Harmony, and Love, unite you in the grand Design,
Beneath th’ Omniscient Eye above, the glorious Architect Divine,
That you may keep th’ unerring line, still rising by the plummet’s law,
Till Order bright completely shine, shall be my pray’r when far awa.”

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Burns Night - see how and why we celebrate it
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When Is The Best Time To Ski?

At long last, winter seems to have arrived. Even here at the coast we had a covering of snow. The ducks have had fun skating on the pond, leaving the poor heron to gaze longingly at the fish who were swimming about in safety under the ice. So, while a few cms of slush brought the usual headlines screaming ‘New Ice Age is Upon Us’ from the tabloids, the rest of Europe and North America carried on as usual through proper winter weather of blizzards and bone chilling cold. Quite a change from a couple of weeks ago when there were tales of doom and gloom coming from the snow-starved ski resorts in the Alps.

Alpe d'Huez, France
Alpe d’Huez, France

Which got me to thinking, when exactly IS the best time to arrange a ski trip to the mountains in winter?

Many of us, of course, are limited to travel during school holidays, when prices are at their highest. In practice, this means Christmas, New Year, February half-term or Easter. Of these dates, Christmas and Easter tend to have lower prices than the other holiday times.  I guess the reason is partly weather related, since early season snow can be very hit and miss (this year being a prime example), and if Easter is later in April (again, like this year), the risk is that rising temperatures, long days and stronger sun will melt the snow. Another reason may be that some folk are reticent to put skiing before being at home with their family at Christmas.

When not encumbered by fixed holiday dates, most people would choose to ski when there is the best chance of the perfect mix of good snow and good weather. In this regard, February is a good bet. You’ve heard of February fill dyke? Well, that same tradition means that February is often the snowiest month in the Northern Hemisphere since the atmosphere is at its coldest at this time. Also, the days are significantly longer and the sun is getting a little bit more bite than in December and January, so it certainly feels warmer when it makes an appearance. March too can be a great month, especially if you choose a higher resort, say 1600m+, preferably with access to altitudes of 2500m or more.

Those are general  rules of thumb,

but the weather will do what the weather will do. I skied in Italy at Christmas 3 years ago, and the runs were closed for 3 days due to avalanche risk following a 2-metre snowfall. Twenty years ago I remember skiing in February at over 3000 metres on what can only be described as a vertical frozen waterfall, so poor was the alpine snow!

Sometimes you can ski on ice like a frozen waterfall!
Almost a frozen waterfall!

These days I can be reasonably flexible with which school holiday week to go away, so will leave it until the last minute to see what the weather is like. I also like to try and bag a bargain! If you hold your nerve, you can often get an outstanding deal. The Christmas deal I referred to above in Italy was a full board deal for our family of four. I reckon it was almost as cheap as what we’d have spent had we stayed at home!

So, in a nutshell, aim for mid-season. If you have no kids, avoid school holidays at all costs, the queues can be horrific! If you’re planning on going early or late season, aim high, preferably in a resort with access to a glacier.

Choose a resort with access to a glacier to guarantee the chance of skiing
Glacier skiing

Alternatively, try a wild-card destination. The Rockies of North America are snow-sure all season long, as is Scandinavia. Both can be very cold, but my experience of Scandinavia is that -30 there is nowhere near as terrible as it sounds. New England is also a destination to consider. A relatively short hop across the pond to Boston, followed by a couple of hours drive, and you’re there in the mountains. There are literally dozens of ski stations to choose from. We are heading there this year, so watch out for our recommendations.

Planning your trip is half the fun, so what are you waiting for? The snow is finally here. See you in the mountains folks…

Paul's Apres Ski
Paul’s Apres Ski

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Read about the best times to ski, and how to choose the best places for skiing to maximise your ski opportunities
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Top 10 Ski Resorts For Beginners – Our Recommendations

Well, that’s Christmas and New Year done and dusted. Thoughts now move on to our next adventure as we start to get ready for our annual skiing trip. This year we’re returning to the other side of the pond, we’re off to New England. We got a great deal with Virgin holidays, despite the fact we’re going over the peak half-term week. The kids are no longer beginners, they are getting quite adventurous now, and I thought it was about time they spent some time on the slopes with dad. Somewhere not too difficult, but somewhere that non-skiing mum won’t be too bored either. Cal’s had a bit of a tough year, with continuing health issues, so a nice hotel with leisure facilities, adjacent to tax-free shopping, and with flights from our local airport, is just what the doctor ordered!

Collecting icicles in Austria
Collecting icicles in Austria

All of which got me reminiscing about the very first time I went skiing, back in 1978. A group of us had been away on holidays for the past couple of summers, and started musing about where to go the following year. In a moment of youthful impertinence, I suggested that perhaps we should do a winter trip instead and try skiing. After all, we used to go ice skating every weekend at Altrincham ice rink, so if you can ice skate, you can ski, right? To my amazement, everyone thought it was a great idea, and left me to make the arrangements.

And so, in the middle of a freezing January, we arrived at our rented bungalow in Aviemore, following a nightmare 24 hour journey through snow and freezing fog. I won’t bore you with every detail of our first time ‘on the slopes,’ but it wasn’t exactly what we were expecting. The road to the ski runs was closed due to bad weather (Aviemore is about 10 miles from Cairngorm, no ski-in, ski-out luxury here…), so we took our first tentative turns on the dry slope, and I still have the scars to prove it! The mountain was shut most of the week, so the only snow we got to ski on was the dusting on top of the dry slope. It was rubbish. Little wonder that of the 6 beginners that made the trip, only 1 actually persisted with skiing in later life.

Of course, we’re all wiser with hindsight, so where would I have planned to go for a beginners’ ski trip nowadays? Well, with apologies to the Scottish Tourist Board, it wouldn’t be Scotland (unless you live close to the slopes, which is a different matter). Europe has literally hundreds of ski resorts to choose from, so how to choose one for complete beginners?

A few suggestions follow, but they all have similar criteria for inclusion.

  • They need to have ‘nursery slopes’ (runs to learn on) close to your accommodation – there’s nothing more dispiriting than long walks or packed bus trips from hotels to the slopes, and back again.
  • They need an extensive range of easy slopes for when you progress on to the mountain itself.
  • A good ski school that can communicate in English is a must (especially for children).
  • There needs to be plenty of non-skiing activities, just in case you decide skiing isn’t your bag.
  • And finally, there should be decent apres-ski. After all, skiing is not just about the skiing. Ask any skier!

    Paul's Apres Ski
    Paul’s Apres Ski

So here’s my list, it’s not exhaustive, they’re in country order rather than order of preference, and I’ve not been to all of them myself, but they would certainly be on my short list if I had to start all over again…

  1. Arinsal, Andorra.

Small, pretty resort in the Pyrenees, with wide open easy pistes into the village, and a good English speaking ski school. It doesn’t attract the speed freaks or tipsy revellers that neighbouring Pas de la Casa does. Great for a first ski holiday on a budget.

Wide sweeping ski slopes in Andorra
Wide sweeping ski slopes in Andorra
  1. Obergurgl, Austria.

Nursery slopes next to hotels. Good apres ski. Uncrowded slopes through the week. English speaking ski school. We went there last year, and our kids really came on well. Toby could hardly stand upright on his skis at the start of the week, but was managing blues and reds by the end. Hugo was doing blacks, and actually wore the (Irish) ski instructor out to tears on the last day!

Obergurgl, Austria Ski Resort, great for beginners
Obergurgl, Austria Ski Resort
  1. Alpbach, Austria.

One of the prettiest resorts anywhere. Traditional Tyrolean charm, lots of nice walks and good hotels with leisure facilities for non-skiers. Easy tree-lined runs for beginners. Short transfers from the airport.

It’s always worth looking at the resort’s webcams. Alpbach’s are fantastic!

  1. Les Arcs, France.

Arc 1800 is probably best for beginners, as the slopes adjacent to the accommodations are all easy and ski-in, ski-out. Les Arcs is well known for its excellent, progressive ski school, and whilst the resorts (as in much of France) are purpose-built and a bit lacking in charm, the apres ski and facilities are excellent. If you want a bit more charm (at higher cost), try Arc 1950.

Les Arcs, France ski resort
Les Arcs, France ski resort

5. Alpe d’Huez, France.

Huge beginners areas adjacent to the resort, excellent ski school. It is high and snow sure, and the town itself is quite large with plenty to see and do apart from skiing.

Alpe d'Huez, France
Alpe d’Huez, France
  1. Bardonecchia, Italy.

This is a good sized town, not purpose built, and has an authentic lived-in feel to it. The best ski accommodation is just outside the town in Campo Smith, next to the lifts. There are plenty of nursery areas, and tree lined green and blue runs for when you’re ready to take to the mountain proper. The food, both on and off the mountain, is as you would expect in Italy, fantastic, and plentiful. Don’t forget a grappa or bombardino at the end of the day!

  1. Passo Tonale, Italy.

High and snow sure, with runs radiating out from the long village. Most of the runs into the village are easy,  wide and sunny. Quite a large village, and much of the apres ski tends to be hotel based, although there are plenty of bars dotted about.

Italian Skiing for beginners
Italian Skiing
  1. Saas-Fee, Switzerland.

High and snow sure, surrounded by a spectacular amphitheatre of 4000 metre peaks and glaciers. The town itself is car free, you get to the lifts by small electric powered buses, or even a novelty train. The beginners runs are extensive, and once you’ve progressed to the mountain, there are long wide blue runs to bring you back to the village. Great apres ski, and plenty of non-skiing activities to keep you entertained, including a long toboggan run, a glacier that you can have a tour through, and the world’s highest revolving restaurant with spectacular 360 degree views!

Saas-Fee as the sun comes up
Saas-Fee as the sun comes up
  1. Norway (most resorts, but especially Hemsedal, Geilo, Beitostolen, Trysil etc.).

A bit of a wild card this, but many Scandinavian resorts are particularly good for families first time skiing. Don’t worry too much about the lack of daylight in these northern climes, they are experts in floodlighting the runs. Night skiing is brilliant, you can see every lump and bump in the snow. A ski lift up a silent mountainside with the moon overhead is magical. The ski schools are fantastic and they all probably speak better English than you do! The only downside is the price of booze, but if you take your full allowance of duty-free (Norway isn’t in the EU), it shouldn’t be too bad.

Skiing for beginners in Trysil, Norway
Trysil, Norway
  1. Lapland.

Again, a bit of a wild card, but if you want to take the kids to see Santa, or want to see the Northern Lights, then why not combine it with a first time ski trip? Out of season (i.e. after Christmas), the costs come right down. Like Norway, the daylight is limited – but see above about floodlit slopes. It can be very cold (but a dry cold, -30C here doesn’t feel nearly as bad as it sounds…). The runs are mostly gentle, English is widely spoken, and the accommodation is top notch. Plenty of snow related non-ski adventures await, like snowmobiling, dog sledding, or ice fishing. Again, booze is a bit more expensive, but not prohibitively so.

Northern Lights in Lapland
Northern Lights in Lapland

Remember, I haven’t been to all of these places, so please do plenty of your own research. Good luck, and welcome to a lifetime of skiing fun!

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Top 10 Ski Resorts for Beginners - Our Recommendations
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