Tag Archives: travel

Ylläs Ski Holiday 2007

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

This is the entry about our trip to Ylläs, pronounced oo-las (as in hoot), in Finland, where we went to learn to ski. Phew, this one took a while! I haven’t counted the hours but it adds up to many. Mainly down to fiddling with GPS data and photos! More hours if I count the individual day logs I’ve scrapped, and the first attempt at a write-up that got far too long and detailed. This one is a merging of the two and a lot shorter (would you believe!). I’ve also scrapped my plans to individually write-up the places where we dined in Äkäslompolo in favour of, very brief, coverage in this entry.

Ylläs Fell

Why Ylläs?

I prefer to try “something different” when possible, I also prefer to be where crowds aren’t. From what I read about Ylläs it would be both different and quiet, and reportedly rather good for skiing newbies! I discovered Ylläs thanks to a lastminute.com x search for cheap ski holidays, x which showed up this deal with Inghams at 50% off. (On lastminute.com x search for “Finland” as searches for “Ylläs” or “Yllas” get no results, but Ylläs is the first “Finland” result. Go figure.) After looking around on the ‘net I found a mostly positive reports on Ylläs/Inghams experiences, a reassuring start. Here’s some links from my bookmarks:

I Dislike Christmas

My overall impression from the reviews was that it was a small and very family-friendly sort of place. The family part and the very strong dose of “Christmas” involved were a little worrying, I dislike both both Christmas and children. But given the great price I decided to bite the bullet and go for it.

“Ylläs” is, in fact, the name of the overall area and also the fell (“a ridge or chain of mountains”) where the skiing is. The towns around the skiing business are Äkäslompolo and Ylläsjarvi (both also seem to be the names of the lakes next to the towns.) One for each side of the fell, one for each ski resort. We went to Äkäs (“lompolo” usually dropped), and the older ski-resort: Ylläs-Ski. On the other side of the fell the Iso-Ylläs resort can be found.

The £$€¥s

For two of us the basic price ended up being about £900, with (roughly, from memory) 550 for the actual holiday and 350 for the week-long ski school. This included return flights (Gatwick/Kittilä), bus connection, seven nights in the Äkäshotelli “hotel rooms”, plus buffet dinner and breakfast every day. The ski school, for two people, included 5 days of lessons as part of a class (less than 10 people in our class with at least two instructors), ski and boot hire, a lift pass for the entire week (covering both resorts) and free ski-bus use (between town and the ski centre, and between the ski centres on either side of the fell).

To get by day-to-day about 20€ would do two people, covering lunch and coffee. That’s utter basics though! We had a couple of proper restaurant dinners 50€ per head, and two pizzas with beers cost just over 30€ (for both of us). Note that beer is pretty expensive at the hotels and ski centres, at around 5€ for 500ml of the local brew, and as much as 7.50€ for a 600ml bottle of good Czech beer. The local beer, Lappin Kulta, isn’t bad but it very light flavoured.

If you go down to the supermarket in Äkäs you can buy the same beers for around a third of the hotel price. Might be worth stocking up if you need your beer!

In the end we spent about 350€ extra on lunches, drinks, and restaurants. We spent a bunch more on souvenir and gift items too though, they can be pretty expensive.

In this I’m ignoring the prices of all the things on offer that we didn’t do, of which there are legion! Reindeer and husky safaris, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snow-mobiling, northern lights safaris, “visit Santa’s grotto”, etc. We went on this trip to learn to ski and were entirely focused on that.


Ice cream on ice!
Eskimo Kat!

The preparation was mostly a matter of buying clothes. Neither of us had anything suitable for snow! We visited Ellis Brigham in London… and when it worked out that just the basics for both of us would hit near £1000 I decided to see if there were cheaper options. In the end we got most of our stuff at the budget clothes store TK Maxx (one in Watford, it’s like K-Mart/Target back in Oz I think) and the sports “warehouse” (seriously huge) Decathalon in London.

The full list of stuff includes: top and bottom thermal base layers, two fleeces each, plenty of socks, ski gloves, beanies, scarves, ski jackets, ski trousers, and ski masks. We also grabbed a more suitable (small) backpack, a new torch (LED), and some new hiking boots (good ones from Ellis-Brigham). All in all we spent about £600 on everything — a bit better than £1000 on just the thermals/fleeces/outers. Even then, after spending that much on ski gear we bloody well better go skiing again, regularly!

In our preparations two resources were most useful:

The “fruitbandit” page provides a lot of information and links on to further useful resources.


Our holiday package was with a company called Inghams. We didn’t interact with them much since we weren’t involved in the activities, and I booked online via a different company (often good discounts available on Inghams packages through third-party resellers.) The flights (chartered) and connections all ran smoothly, and there were always representatives around to help people out (and take more money booking extras of course). No complaints about them, our holiday worked out as-advertised and without issues. That’s all I have to say about that.

The Hotel: Äkäshotelli

View From Our Room

This is, they say, the oldest hotel in the area. But not very old at only 30-something years! They have a large central building (right) where the bar, nightclub, and restaurant are located. Next to this are the “hotel rooms”, then about a 2 minute walk away are the “suites” (self contained flats really). Also, scattered around the area, were the “log cabins”.

Our hotel room was simple and fine, considering that all we wanted to do with it was sleep! In hindsight it may have been nice to have gone for a “log cabin”, and I’d recommend that as a preferred option. But note that you’ll have to trek through the snow to get to the main hotel building and the buses. The main complaint about the “hotel rooms” was the noise, after a day of skiing we just wanted to sleep at 23:00 — but there were kids screaming around the corridors until midnight, not to mention loud Poms. I, uncharitably, took to calling the building the “peasant barn”.

Our package included buffet breakfast and dinner provided by the hotel. There was a clear effort, I think, to make the Poms feel at home. While we were there they also had a bus load of Japanese tourists and provided for them boiled rice and even nori! Personally I’d prefer more “local” foods. That said, the quality of the buffet food was actually pretty good, especially the bread.

Eating in Äkäslompolo

Äkäshotelli Buffet


I covered this briefly in the Äkäshotelli section above. I’ll add a few extra brief notes here. For the budget-concious you’d do pretty well just sticking to the buffet. Most memorable dishes include: “game” pie (like a shepherd’s pie in construction), smoked reindeer soup, baked Arctic trout, and a vast variety of pickled herring! And remember, if any culinary adventurousness is not your kettle of fish, that these are just single dishes in a fairly extensive buffet. This buffet always included some dull food for the occasional dull Pom. (Note: I’m applying stereotypes with extreme prejudice, don’t be offended Poms.) There was a definite effort to keep the runtlings happy too, with a dedicated buffet containing things like French fries and sausages (which I saw older Poms digging in to regularly).

I must mention the bread, it was good bread! Damn fresh, warm, and crusty. One loaf type was a good old wholemeal, the other seemed to be the same but contained some berries. Luckily I’m happy to throw “no refined carbohydrates” out the window on holidays, so I enjoyed plenty of this bread for both breakfast and dinner. For the dullards they also provided sliced white bread.

Desserts were on offer, they were fairly unexciting and I don’t remember the details.

Our final night was a Lappish food extravaganza! The hotel pulled out all the local staples and filled the boat (literally!) We enjoyed bloating quantities of pickled herring (three flavours!), lightly salted salmon, and game patê. The selection wasn’t as good as we’d had on a-la-carte menus, so you’ll get a better gourmet experience by going down that road, but if you leave it just to the Lappish food finalé of the Inghams package holiday you’ll do pretty well. However, I don’t know if this is a usual Inghams thing or just for the Christmas season. After this dinner a Santa showed up and the runtlings started to sing, so we left in a hurry.

Cost-wise this is going to be as good as it gets for someone on an Inghams package at this hotel, so long as you’re on half-board. To people who don’t have it included the buffet is 20€ per adult and 10€ for runtlings, which is probably OK I guess.

Äkäshotelli Restaurant (map)

Rating: Enjoyable and Interesting. We went for traditional Lappish foods, their Lappish taster plate (Lappilankku) is not to be missed. The plate included: whitefish roe, marinated wile mushrooms, small Lappish vendaces (like fresh-salted whitebait), corriander flavoured slightly salted salmon (divine!), smoked reindeer liver, potato chips (Lappish? No idea.), and compote of cranberry and onion.

The reindeer steak fillet fried in thyme butter was pretty good, but I think the steak Kat had at Poro was better. Kat especially liked the lightly salted “Ice Ocean salmon” which was almost sashimi, this was the centrepiece of her entrée. Kat’s main course was roasted Arctic Char with pesto-hollandaise and oven baked beetroot, a solid and rich seafood dish. We’re glad to note that Arctic Char has a “least concern” conservation status.

Since we were on half-board at the hotel we got 10€ per head towards the bill for dining a-la-carte instead of buffet. In the end, including a couple of glasses of wine, we paid about 90€ for this meal. (Unfortunately I’ve lost the receipt so I don’t have the details!)

Poro Restaurant (map)

Entrée @ Poro

The word “poro” means reindeer, and true to name there was plenty of reindeer on the menu. My entrée of smoked reindeer and morel soup was rich, creamy, and very enjoyable. I followed this with fried reindeer liver served with baked vegetables, the reindeer was much like calf’s liver and only a little stronger in flavour — overall this dish was good but not exciting.

Kat’s main course was a rare reindeer fillet steak served on roast Lappish root vegetables. The based was actually much the same as for my liver main. The reindeer steak was absolutely superb, the star of the show! Bloody, juicy, and tender. Kat started her meal with some salt-salmon and salmon roe on little discs of bread. Kat likes pretty much anything fishy and was happily satisfied by this dish.

We pushed our usual limits and had dessert even! Mine was an apple pie, which was fine and the only thing of particular note about it was the “spruce tip syrup”. This syrup had an unusual, and surprisingly pleasant, flavour. Kat’s dessert was cheese! Lappish “bread cheese” to be precise, warmed up and served with ice-cream and stewed cloudberries. Unusual! Certainly worth trying, the cheese is very mild in flavour so works well as part of a sweet dessert.

The décor of Poro Restaurant is of particular of note, reindeer horn, feltwork, and sharp wooden stakes (expecting a vampire attack?) all over the place. Additionally, the restaurant is attached to “Santa’s Gift Shop” where a “Santa” can be found some afternoons. (It is outside here where photographic evidence of me giving his wooden likeness a good dose of GBH was obtained.) If timed appropriately it could be a good visit with something for both the runtlings as well as breeders.

Our meal (for two) at Poro cost us 86€ and we left about a 15% tip. (My position with tips these days it “it’s too bloody hard”. So, restaurants with no service fee get a ~15% tip (if deserved) and ones with one get no extra tip. If I pay by card then if a no-service-fee restaurant gives me a card-reader with the “enter tip” screen showing they get no tip (bloody bad manners in my mind), otherwise I try to leave a cash tip. Sadly, “service fee” restaurants get their tip 100% of the time and otherwise I only tip if the service is pretty good. Then again, is getting the set “discretionary service fee” “tip” really getting any tip at all? The whole system is broken! </rant>) The 86€ includes a couple of 500ml glasses of Lapin Kulta III (pretty dull but not bad) beer at 5€ each.

Pizzeria Eväskori (map)

Eväskori Pizza!

Pizza! In Finland! Finnish pizza?! This place is to be found at the junction of the road that runs up to and around the Ylläs Fell, past Äkäshotelli, and the main road (route 940). On the inside this pizza joint is quite a sight, every wall is covered in memorabilia from ancient ski equipment to pizza plates of the world (even the ceiling a bit.)

Eväskori’s menu is rather extensive, with everything from “usuals” (think Hawaiian) to bear! Continuing on our Lappish Food Extravaganza we chose their “Ylläs Special” and “Päkäpizza” pizzas. What’s on earth are they you may ask. Well, the former apparently included karhu, savuporo, sipuli, and smentana! (That’s: bear, smoked reindeer, onion, crème fraîche.) The latter includes: savulammas, sipuli, Lapin leipäjuusto ja tomaati. (That’s: smoked lamb, onion, “bread cheese” and tomato.)

I’m glad to say that I know, now, that the Brown Bears in Finland have a conservation status of “least concern”, something I worried about at the time and ever since. Then again, if it was a concern you probably wouldn’t find it on a pizza. And honestly, minced bear on a pizza? Could have been anything. What’s our overall assessment of the pizza though? Surprisingly good! Far above trashy PizzaHut/Domino’s/PerfectPizza standards, this was a pretty decent, if very large, thin-crust pizza.

The pizzas tasted good, were not overloaded with topping, and had a good crunch around the edges. In fact they were better than half the local Italian restaurants manage. As befits the topping the flavour was pretty meaty and certainly smoky. The simplicity of them certainly precludes “gourmet”, but gourmet pizza is for try-hard pansies. A decent pizza place in Finland, believe it or not!

Our two pizzas cost us 32.40€, including 11.40€ for two Lapin Kulta III beers and an espresso. (A good espresso too, better than the English Italian-restaurant average.) The bear and reindeer pizza was 11€ and the lamb one was 10€.

Ylläspirtti (map)

Ylläs-Ski Ski Centre
Ylläspirtti @ Ylläs-Ski

The options were very limited at the Ylläs-Ski slopes, however there was a lot of new construction going on so that may change sometime soon. The ski-center (Ylläspirtti) on the Ylläs-Ski side of the fell has basics: burgers, chips, hot dogs, panini, doughnuts, etc. Plus coffee machines, filter coffee, hot chocolate (machines) and the like. No espresso, if you were wondering.

I lived on filter coffee from the urn, since the magic espresso-type machine spat out coffee that tasted like it was made from dried reindeer poop. Price examples: A filter coffee was 1.80€, a hot chocolate was 2.20€, and a croissant was 2.50€.

The Ski School & Skiing

Yvan licks snow

Skiing! It’s the whole reason we went on this trip. I’d read that it was a very good place for beginners and families, and we were certainly beginners! I’ve “seen the snow” a few of times before this trip, that was always in cities and in small volumes. Once in the distant past (1988), my family drove through The Snowies, and that was when I saw snow for the first time ever. After that I didn’t see snow again for 15 years! Skiing? I’d never even been near a ski resort! So, we travelled to Finland in the hope of learning this absurd art of “controlled falling.”

The Ylläs fell has two ski resorts. The oldest, Ylläs-Ski, is on the north side and the newer Iso-Ylläs directly opposite it on the south. We didn’t really know any details like this before going as we simply grabbed a package deal and hoped it’d work out. Our skiing experience was all on the Ylläs-Ski side, closest to the Äkäslompolo village.

As for the conditions and time of year, I’m no expert. There was snow, but it seemed rather icy and chunky at times. Some slopes were a bit like ice-gravel in places. Also, only about a quarter of the slopes were open — but this wasn’t a problem at all for us newbies (the single red and black runs in front of the ski-centre were open most of the week). This needs to be taken in climatic context though, were were in Ylläs in early December, when the season was just starting! If I take a peek at the Yllas.fi site now, three weeks later, twice as many of the lifts on the fell are operating. By later this month I assume it’ll all be in full swing. The wisdom from the locals is that March is the best time to go skiing there, the snow isn’t as good as Jan/Feb they say but the length of the days is much better (there’s actual sunlight).

The school started first thing in the morning on Monday, we got to the ski centre at 09:30 and had boots and skis fitted. Our group of about 10 newbies had four instructors on this first day. This was not an encouraging day for me! After learning not to fall over right after standing up and to “snow plough” (brake) on the baby-baby slope we went to the proper nursery slope.

Ski School
Day 1
Day 5
(Map Link)

If you look at the map above (see this map if you don’t support iframes and thus can’t see a map above) you can see my first day, as tracked by GPS, in red. The joke worth noting is the point where the red line pops away to the left, far from all the other lines, and lands on a road… that’s what I did! Shot straight off the side of the slope, hit a mound of snow, “got air” (with all the grace of camel on ice), and landed front-first on the road (ice). Next note that on the right the red line jumps out in several smaller spikes. I was still shooting off the slope for the rest of the lesson, but had learnt that the soft snow on the right was better to land on than the hard road on the left! This lesson was further reinforced by the fact that there were cars, buses, and snow-ploughs regularly speeding up and down the road and the instructor told me I’d get run over if I did that again. (Ah, teaching through fear, my favourite pedagogical methodology.) The other important lesson is to hit the ground as soon as you’re out of control, better then hitting it when you’re going twice as fast into bugger-knows-what.

On this first day I think I fell over at least twice as often as the next worst student! At the end of the day the lead instructor, Olä, asked if I was there for the 3 day or 5 day course. Me: “5 days, I think I need it”, Olä: “Yes… you do.” I wasn’t sure in the end if he thought it was a good thing I’d be there for the 5 days or if he’d prefer me to be off his slopes sooner rather than later!

What made all the difference in the end is that after the lesson that day we stayed on the slopes until they closed at 17:00. I was almost average the next day! Then every day we did the same, took our lesson in the morning then spent the rest of the day at it. I was happilly skiing backwards by the end of the week! (Not at high velocity though.)

Ski School — Slope 12
(Map Link)
Montage: Yvan Skis

Our last lesson for the week was on Saturday, after a Friday “rest day” (we spent it skiing anyway.) By this stage we’d lost four people (to frustration I think), reducing the class to about 7. Then during the last lesson one guy quit in the middle of the slope! Picked up his skis and walked to the bottom. Must have been a tough moment for him. This lesson we finished by heading to the top of the longest open “blue run”, slope 12, about 1.2km from end to end. You can see this slope on the map above as the long, really wiggly blue line. (Note: There isn’t really a road running through the middle of the slope.) Initially we just went half way up, shown where the blue line bisects the gap between the lift and the slope. Then, after the final defection, the 6 of us who remained did the full run a couple of times. To have come to this point from barely being able to stand up 6 days previously seemed astounding. So there you go, even in just one week enough dedication can get even the most astoundingly unco people (me) going on skis.

Summit Aerial

After the lesson I dragged Kat from the top of slope 12 all the way across the top of the fell to the top of the Iso-Ylläs slopes and thus the very top of the fell. Well not dragged literally, though Kat would probably have been happier if I had. As far as I was concerned the trip could not be completed without getting to the summit! (A mere 718 metres above sea-level.) Let me tell you, hiking uphill (not steep) in skis is a damn good workout. At the steepest point we did shed the skis though, there’s a point where skis become slower than just walking. You need pretty good leg muscles to get any uphill speed at all, luckily Kat and I both have pretty good strength:weight ratios.

The view was beautiful, there’s some photos here but they don’t do it justice. The most stunning thing is how flat everything is, you’re sitting on top of this isolated little “fell” in middle of a flat plain of snow covered spaces and coniferous forest . In the distance you can see some other fells, including a couple with the runway-like lighting of ski slopes (one is Pallas). There is also a more wimpy way to get to the summit, catch the bus around to Iso-Ylläs and go up on the ski-lift. When we got up there we had a look around and had a beer at the refreshment shack nearby. Then we slid our way back down to our side of the fell and spent the rest of the day on the slopes.

Lift machinery

In summary: the week was an excellent learning experience. The instructors did their job well and were very patient putting up with a bunch of unco first-timers. The slopes were pretty forgiving and there was a great range from “barely sloped” to “pretty scary”. That said, what was “pretty scary” for me it probably “pretty lame” for an experienced skier. There was only one “black run” slope at Ylläs-Ski and I’m not rating that as I never looked down it from the top even.

It’s also worth noting, I guess, that they did a great job with the runtlings. The little buggers mostly got on their skiis and were zooming around like bats-outta-hell by the end of the first day. Ah, the joy of having a low centre of gravity and no fear. (Kinda like Kat actually.) Ylläs-Ski also has a crèche, so the breeders could dump their runtlings for later retrieval.


So, that’s it. I don’t think I have much more to add actually. We had a great time in Finland and the trip was 200% worthwhile. I can’t say I particularly loved the saturation of families with children, but, as much as runtlings annoy me, fashion-obsessed social wannabes piss me off much more. Major bonuses were interesting food, guaranteed snow, great ski instructors, and no crowds.

Phew, this has been the most time consuming and long-winded entry ever… Well done if you made it this far, I nearly didn’t. If you’re thinking of going to Ylläs or another Lapland destination I hope I was of some help.

Here’s a link to our full Ylläs Ski Holiday photo album.

Panorama: From the top of Ylläs fell

Appendix A: Maps

Thanks to my carrying around of some geek bling, namely a GPS unit, I was able to map several of our walks, bus routes, and skiing days. I’ve compiled some of the cleaner routes and the way-points into a KML file, this can be viewed in both Google Earth and Google Maps. The main use has been for the embedded maps in this entry. If you like you can view the map in it’s entirety or just download the KML file.

The KML file could be converted into various formats to be uploaded to GPS devices too. I highly recommend the gpsbabel tool if you’re thinking of doing something like that. I wrote about the process of Crafting KML from Garmin GPS Data previously.

The coolest map section from our trip was that of the ski slopes. I individually mapped the ski lifts we used and also mapped each slope, carefully skiing from edge to edge to get wiggly lines. The slopes, minus the messy lesson tracks, are shown in the map below. The wiggly lines are downhill slopes, and the straighter ones cross-country. Green is “very easy” and blue is “easy”, we didn’t do any “medium” or “hard” tracks. The straight dark grey lines are ski lifts. The cross-country line at lowest on the map is from the top of the Ylläs-Ski slopes across to the Ylläs summit (marked with the arrow.)

Some Ylläs-Ski Slopes and trail to summit
(Map Link)

Alas, Google Maps “iframes” make my XHTML-strict validation fail 🙁

Appendix B: Photos

Yvan and Kat

Many of photos taken, thus many of photos culled, but still so many left! Google’s Picasa tool is what I use for adjusting photos these days. I wanted to do some stitched panoramas too. Luckily for me I found a critter that did a far better job than I could!

The critter is hugin, while slow (forgivable thanks to to great job it does) and with a clunky UI (we’ll let that pass), it did an amazing job of joining up photos. For two sets of three I didn’t have to interfere at all, entirely automatic! For the third set of three I pointed out some correlated features and it did the rest beautifully. The last panaroma shown in the entry is one of the stitched ones. It’s important to know the “crop factor” of your camera, I found a page explaining sensor sizes that was very useful (skim down to “Addendum: The crop factor:”.)

Ylläs Ski Trip – Day 2 & 3

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

[[ Full write-up of our holiday now available: Ylläs Ski Holiday 2007. ]]

Day 2

More skiing, we’ve been handed over to a new chief instructor — it seems Ola’s job is to scare the first-timers. We start out on the same slope as the previous day. After tackling a longer and curvier one the day before it seemed rather casual! Maybe sticking to the slopes for the extra hours paid off. It’s also a beautifully clear and windless day, making things easier still. No falling off! The slopes are actually kind of icy today, it’s been a few days with no fresh snow and the snow machine snow, I gather, just isn’t quite the same. The instructors hope for fresh snow overnight (though to us the skies still look completely clear at 17:00).

We cover some new tricks. One is lifting the uphill ski, since it is more stable to keep your weight on the downhill one. The second is skiing (very carefully) backwards. The main lesson I need to learn is: lean forward! No! Forward!! shplaff See, if you lean back you fall!

The last thing we do for the lesson is move to a new slope, one right in front of the ski-hut. This is much steeper and is an easy grade rather than the very easy we’ve been dealing with so far. I’m out of control and sliding all over the place, the main problem being that my turns end up being spins and then I’m going backwards down the slope. Despite this I don’t actually fall over at any point during this morning’s lesson.

That changes after the lesson though, I take on the steep slope several more times and fall over like it’s going out of fashion! My favourite move being turning too tightly, going backwards, then falling forwards.

Since we’re back at the hotel so early we decide to head out for a walk, though it is rather cold (-7) and twilight is getting well into night. We walk first about 2km to the Poro (Reindeer) restaurant to make a reservation for Wednesday, we’re told that it is quiet and there’s no need to bother. It was a good walk anyway and we pop into a couple of local-craft/gift shops along the way. We hold back from picking up goodies to send home since we’re not familiar enough with Australian quarantine regulations to pick stuff that can be sent there, all we know is that most things not made of plastic need to be irradiated or fumigated. Next leg of the walk is to the ATM/Supermarket where we discover that there are actually more than two Finnish beers (which is what you’d believe if you thought what the Hotel stocked was any indicator!).

Day 3

Ski ski ski! A good day for skiing, but still no fresh snow. I’m doing much better now, though still far less controlled than Kat. The most important thing in today’s lesson was the part where they took away our ski poles. We were to ski down the slope and on turning reach forward to touch the side of the boot on the outside of the turn. This really highlighted correct weight distribution for turning, turning is much easier now!

We left early today so Kat’s sore shins could have a rest. Though we took a few extra runs after the lesson to take some photos, it was another very clear day — and we’re hoping they’ll get less clear, which isn’t so good for photos.

Our plan was to head to Poro for dinner at 16:00, and that we did. Rudolf tasted gooooood. The walk to the restaurant and back was pretty chilly though, the hotel thermometer said it was -21 Celsius outside! Then we just generally relaxed a bit before having second dinner at 19:00 (grabbing some small bits and pieces from the included buffet so we wouldn’t have to go 14 hours without eating). Then we did some postcards before going for a walk down onto the lake, just a little, although earlier we’d seen a reindeer out in the middle of it and there was clearly a cross-country ski track going right out onto it too. We were hoping to see some Northern Lights, but it was a no-show despite the clear starry sky (damn, probably no new snow gain). Apparently we missed a Northern Light display the previous night.

Ylläs Ski Trip – Day 1

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

[[ Full write-up of our holiday now available: Ylläs Ski Holiday 2007. ]]

[A few minutes of /net access today, but it is unusably slow! Tried accessing email, couldn’t.]

The previous day is all rather dull really, on Saturday we caught the train from Watford to Gatwick (A direct train! I’d never have thought there was such a thing if it wasn’t for the fact that the Metro Line was being “maintained” yet-again). We overnighted in the Gatwick “Best Western” hotel, I wouldn’t generally recommend the place but just fine if you’re only after somewhere to sleep for about 70 quid (plus 10 quid worth of “courtesy” coach fares by the end of it too). Our plane left at midday on Sunday, we probably wouldn’t have had a problem getting to it from Ricky on the same day but who needs the hassle of early morning rushes when a cheap hotel can keep everything at a leisurely pace? (Alternatively there’s always the crazy-backpacker “sleep in the Airport” trick, stuff that.)

We flew from Gatwick to Kitalia (3 hours), then took a bus from Kitalia to Akaslompolo (1 hour). In short order we were sorted out with a room, meal vouchers (didn’t expect dinner to be included, even mass-feed buffet), and lift passes. This is all arranged by a company called Inghams, since we’re doing this trip with the transport, hotel, and skiing as a package — seems the simplest way, arranging holidays is so time-consuming (I’ve put together some pretty complicated ones). There’s a lot of “families” here, which means piles of middle aged poms with the precious disgusting little offspring. I haven’t felt much of an urge to eradicate any yet, thankfully they’re mostly here to see reindeer (I’m here to eat them), huskies (can you eat them?), and, of course, some fat paedophile in a red suit (spit roast?). We chose to avoid all these “outings” and other “safaris” (which all cost quite a bit, though not much compared to skiing) to focus on learning to ski, the actual purpose of this trip for us.

There seem to be very few “young people” in the group, as far as I saw there’s just one other couple about our age and a couple of girls around 20. I guess most not-yet-breds have a preference for the trendier ski haunts, the “apres ski” here is renowned for being quiet (plus it is really early in the season).
So, Monday, which I think of as “Day 1”. Up at 07:30, buffet breakfast at Akashotelli — bread (good bread here), hard-boiled eggs (eggs are eggs), and salami (cold meats are the norm when it comes to breakfast in European hotels) with a cup of filter-coffee for me. Bus to slopes, there at 20 to 10, quickly fitted for boots and skis. Have a filter-coffee. Lesson starts at 10, it’s only just daylight. We’re in a group of about 10, all “first timers” (but I have a suspicion at least a couple of people were just along for a refresher and the cheap combined lift-pass and ski-hire deal you get out of taking the “absolute beginner” lessons). We had four instructors, the lead instructor, called Ola, is 6-foot-something and probably 300 pounds.

Ski! I’m a slow learner, inhibited by my own extreme lack of co-ordination. First we learn to “snow plough”, meaning to slide down-slope pigeon-toed so that the ski tips are close together in front of you (don’t cross the skis!) and far apart behind you. The further apart behind you they are the slower you go, unless you’re me and it doesn’t seem to make any difference. I soon learn to shoot off the right side of the slope rather than the left, since there’s a road on the left and, after launching over a heap of snow, landing on rough ice is unpleasant. The instructor tells me that if I go on the road I’ll get ploughed. A valuable lesson, since shooting off the slope seems to be my favourite trick… it’s nice and soft on the right. I want to blame momentum, but the lead instructor (skiing backward half the time) puts the lie to that cop-out.

Next we learn about steering, though I suspect that the true purpose of the lesson is to make people realise that the ski poles are not for downhill use and you don’t need them. You hold your poles out in front of you with straight arms and “steer like a handlebar”. The idea here is that you turn your upper body and “the skis follow”, this doesn’t work so well for me. I’m told I turn too much of my body (from the knees) or not enough (just pointing my arms in the desired direction, futile, I crash into the soft snow to the left of the slope again.)

We’ve been up and down the slope a couple of times now. The ski-lift, which I think is known as a drag-lift, is something I manage without much trouble. Except for the first time, I let go too early on the final steep ascent then wonder why the end of the lift is suddenly getting further away. Ho ho! I dub this lift the “wang lift”, Kat prefers to just cackle and pretend she’s on a broomstick.

Our final trick for the day is “turn by putting weight on the leg opposite to the direction you want to go”, i.e. to ski left you press down on your right ski. This is, we’re told, “just like roller-blading”. A reassuring thought for me since I own a pair of roller-blades and Kat takes me out on them occasionally for a painful session of falling on my butt (and hands, knees, side, back, …). I have a little more success with this, though still manage to shoot off the slope half way down.

That’s our 1.5 hours for the day. We head back to the ski hut and they take our names. I’m asked if I’m on for the 3 day or the 5 day course. “The 5 day one, I think I need it!” Laughs, then in a serious tone, accent resonant to some Russian villain from a Bond film: “Yes, I agree.” I’m left feeling unsure as to whether he thinks it is good that I’ll be there for the full 5 days or he’s wishing he’d be rid of me sooner.

All in all I was probably the least able of the lot. Others fell over, shot off the slope, or came off the drag-lift. But none fell as hard as I, or shot off as fast, or as many times. My main problem, I think, is that I’m always concious of people in front of me, always worried there’s someone behind me, and just freak out if someone is next to me. My thought is “oh shit, I’m going to hit them, then they’ll break!”, next thing I shoot off the slope.

After a coffee and some water we head out to the slops again, sans instructors. I’m determined to, at least, be as bad as the next worst person in the group by tomorrow. Kat and I spend a couple more hours out there and I think I made a lot of progress, that final “weight on the opposite ski” trick was a major leap forward for me, I “got it” much better and by then I was also “snow ploughing” to a stop with more control (i.e. actually stopping). I still shot off the side from time to time though. It was starting to look kind of dark by now, yes, twilight setting in at 13:30. We popped back to the ski-hut and had something greasy for lunch (not really gourmet here), had some more coffee, some water, then headed back to the “very easy” slopes.

It was getting on to the properly dark side by now but everything is well lit by huge food-lights so this wasn’t much of a problem (the lifts close just before 17:00 at the moment). We tried out the next “very easy” slope over this time, “slope 3”. It was longer, narrower, and curved. But I managed to ski down it about 5 times and only fell over once (not counting the time I fell over at the top because my poles had got tied together going up the lift and provided a moments distraction after I set myself sliding down the initial steep slope, a moment is all it takes.

On the way back we went down the easiest slope one more time and I effected my fastest right-side-exit yet — knocking my mask off and face-planting right into the snow. Bloody cold. We headed back to the ski-hut to see the 16:00 bus leaving… so had to hang around and have a beer while waiting for the 17:00. Back to the Hotel, left my beanie on the bus (so much for Kat and I having matching beanies, gimp), change, eat, stuff — all feeling a bit of a zombie. Somehow it’s nearly 21:30, huh? Yawn

Finland! Finland!

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

From Saturday 8th through to Sunday 16th we’ll be “offline”. We’re off to northern Finland for a week. I’m not sure what to expect for mobile coverage and I’ll be deliberately avoiding email/web.

We’re going to be in Ylläs, comfortably above the Arctic Circle, where I’ll seek to take a chunk out of Rudolf (Rudolf the red-fleshed reindeer; Has a very jui-cy steak; And if you ev-er ate it; You would even say it flows. Flows? There must be something better than that. Hrm, with blooood.)

Ylläs Webcam
Ylläs Webcam

Bastia, Corsica (France)

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Basita has a much more relaxing and interesting feel to it than Nice, though I didn’t think much of Nice in general. Too much city, too much fashion, too smelly. Corsica I’ll do again. Prior to Nice, Provence was great with the Verdon Gorge being a particular highlight. It’s not the best region for wine if you’re into full bodied reds though, it’s really rosé country, there are a few decent reds around though (maybe more on that later). The lowlight of the trip was on the last day with the hire car… I went over what I guess was a pot-hole and managed to get two flats simultaneously! The Europecar mechanic, called out on a Bastille public holiday Saturday, was, luckily, highly amused.

In a couple of hours we board our ferry to Livorno, a four hour crossing, from Livorno we head to our hotel in Pisa (train, 15 minutes in theory). Just one night there before a very early train to Rome. A bit of a whirlwind pass through Bastia and Pisa really.

The weather is a pleasant ~30 degrees, a little humid at times, clear and sunny all the way.

Contrary to popular belief rather few people in shops/etc in France (outside of Nice) seem to speak English. But we get by OK, Yaël with her 6 years of French doing much better than me with my 3 years of not really liking French class! That said, most young people in bars and cafés do speak English well (in one case with a rather stuffy pommie accent). Ah, the eternal shame of the monolingual… maybe Kat and I can get focused on that Italian!

The bank blocked my CC yesterday, a red-flag for fraud. Joy. But I’m happy that these systems are in place. Just remember to travel with more than one card 🙂

Back to the UK on Saturday, we can spend Sunday sorting (discarding) our 1000+ photos, then back to whatever work is up to on Monday. The Lumix DMC-LX2 has been serving me well, certainly glad I got the 4GB card. Even with that we we just had to move a whole bunch of photos to a 2GB USB stick I had the foresight to bring with me. I expect Rome to be photo-heavy, Yaël with every Roman sight available.

Fly Away Home

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

My commitments (work, work, and some work) will finally permit me to head back to Australia for a little while. A week each in WA and Sydney — so Kat and I can spread our time evenly with our respective families. Our itinerary is:

  May 27th: LHR to PER: Arriving Mon 28th 14:10
  Jun 03rd: PER to SYD: Arriving Sun 03rd 16:00
  Jun 10th: SYD to LHR:  Leaving Sun 10th 16:40

I’m proposing a call-to-drinks on Monday the 4th of June, being a “school night” it’ll be an early one. If you can come along I’m sure it’d be great to see you, whoever you are 🙂 I don’t know where it’ll be yet, but I’m thinking The Australian up in The Rocks is a good choice (but I might make it closer to Sensory for after-work convenience — or somewhere quieter just to keep it relaxed).

But wait, there’s more. I think a more lively call-to-drinks needs to be set up for Friday the 8th as well! Again, it’d be great to see anyone there who can make it. This will probably be at the James Squire Brewhouse at Darling Harbour.

I’ll also be going to the Little Creatures place (noticing a theme?) in Freo during my WA week, but I expect that’s a little out of the way for most people I know!

There’s much to celebrate: being in Australia for one (though we missed the damn summer), catching up with everyone we haven’t seen for a year, Kat and I starting out on the route to becoming Poms (we have company-independent residency visas now), Kathlene getting a job within a month of getting a visa!, not to mention various great events in the lives of our friends “back home”.

I’ve heard from a reliable source that there might be “something happening” on the 9th as well.

Aside from these tentative plans I’ll be in Sydney for that whole week (albeit based in the far and distant land of Kellyville) and on leave for most of it. Lunches (ah, Ten Buck Alley), coffees (ah, Toby’s) and the like are all open.