Friday, February 26, 2010

Thaw

Never would this Australian have thought she would be saying it, but warm weather is rubbish. Apparently, spring is on the way prematurely. Birds are singing, streams are flowing again, icicles are melting and everywhere the cheerful "drip drip" of an impending melt-down can be heard.





Birthday Ski

The Celebrations started last night. We had birthday cake at our friends Zdenek and Iva's house (cake that I had helped to bake!) and of course, we had to watch the Winter Olympics as the Czechs had two chances for a medal. After the Czechs won bronze in the mens 4 x 10km team relay, Zdenek was so patriotic and overjoyed he immediately pulled out the 20year old slivovice and poured us all a healthy measure. Then, as Martina Sablikova won gold in the women's 5000m speed skating, the apartment erupted. "She didn't even train on a proper ice track, she trained on a frozen lake" I was told.


Today, a birthday ski was in order, and as the weather was spectacular, we crossed the border to Poland. Although the warm weather has made the snow wet and difficult to ski through, it was still a beautiful day to be outside.






The skiing has also improved immensely, although I put much of that down to my new "disco pants."


video video

Sunday, February 21, 2010

II Běh Bez Hranic - Race Report

The 2nd Běh Bez Hranic (skiing without border) Cross-Country skiing race started at the biathlon stadium in Harrachov. After a week of being sick and of no skiing I didn't want to jeopardize the safety of the other entrants as it was quite likely that I would fall over at least once! Nevertheless, my friend Iva and I decided to ski to the finish, at a small cottage outside Szklarska Poreba (Poland), following at least some of the race trails so that we could give some support to the competitors.

We waited nervously at the first checkpoint to see the first racers. Luckily we had some tea to keep us warm!


It didn't take long for the first racers to appear, and it was great to see Jan coming in at 3rd place!



We skied along the old train tracks that run into Poland, Certova Hora (Devil's Mountain) sometimes making an appearance out of the heavy clouds. Here, you can see the big downhill ski slope running down the mountain's side.


Arriving at the finish of the race!


The presentations were held in a small cottage outside of Szklarska Poreba. Inside, sweaty Poles and Czechs had soup, tea and cake while waiting for the other competitors. I had one celebratory piece of blueberry cake, and when I told the owners "they don't make cake like this in Australia where I come from," I was treated like a queen and given a souvenir mug and postcard from the cottage! Here we also rendezvoused with Jan - he had beaten us to the finish and managed to place 2nd.


Returning back to Harrachov was uphill...



And as we came close to the border with the Czech Republic again, heavy snow started to fall, making visibility almost impossible, but made skiing so beautiful as the fresh powdery snow gave great conditions for long steady skating! Lovely!




Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The weekend the Germans came to visit

Julian and Sabine arrived on Friday night after an arduous journey that involved an unexpected "detour" through the back suburbs of Prague in the dark. Not a good place to be after 7 hours of driving. They pushed on, steeled with German bread - the good stuff - and arrived at Chata Preciosa just as the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony was kicking off in Vancouver.

I had a strict itinerary organised for them that did not allow for much free time or rest. Of course, no visit to Harrachov would be complete without a visit to Novosad a Syn Pivovar (the local brewery attached to the glass factory). After 2 half litres of Frantisek and a plate of the house speciality (pan-toasted bread, garlic and onion, and housemade beer-cheese), Julian and Sabine had discovered that the Czech way of life truly is very good for the soul!


We didn't hesitate to return to Chata Preciosa to enjoy some of the wine Julian and Sabine had brought with them from their parent's boutique winery in the Gau-Weinheim region of Germany (West of Frankfurt).


And of course, support for the Czechs competing in the Winter Olympics is all part of the evening's cultural program (here the women's biathlon is screening, much to Julian's delight).



Day 2 dawned and we decided we were ready for some sport and action! Bring on the downhill slopes. Actually, more like: bring on the slight decline in elevation that the 3 year olds use for learning! Nevertheless, we were excited!


Getting fitted for boots.


They make it look easy! (See our beginner's slope behind)


Evening called for another excursion into the depths of Harrachov to find good beer and food. This time a cosy Hospoda (pub) call Drevenka was our destination. The beer tasted excellent after a day on the skis, the fire was warm, the waiter's jovial delight at my broken Czech entertaining and the food...well...let's just say my plate wasn't to be seen under the monstrous snitzel I was served.


Day 3 started with a trip to Poland for some XC Skiing...


and ended with a cultural exchange of music, indigenous instruments and the delights of German cooking (bring on the cream, butter and cheese).




Delicious meal Germans! Come back soon!


Last reflections on Julian and Sabine's visit bring me to Julian's purchase of a rather suspicious looking "schnapps glass" made by hand at the local Glass Factory. A vessel for drinking alcohol for a man with refined tastes, or something else entirely?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Expedition to Szklarska Poreba, Poland


We crossed the border into Poland to visit the nearest town, Szklarska Poreba. We came looking for culture. Instead, we found a grey, dirty town with a "Museum of Minerals." Enough said. We made one tour of the town, dodging old ladies vending hand-knitted (grey) socks and mittens, and trying desperately not to sprain an ankle on the unshoveled pavement.




Local artists have tried to add a touch of colour to the town (below).




A visit to the Information centre confirmed our worst fears - Szklarska Poreba - Nic Moc.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Krakonosova Snidane

Overcast, grey day. Medium wind. Fine snow falling. The first 10km was a steady climb to the mountain ridge. From the top Harrachov was hidden, so it felt like I was in the middle of a white wilderness. The trail was completely deserted, and only occasionally would a lone skier cross my path, buff pulled over the face to keep the cold off nose and ears.

The last 5km was a steep descent, and all there was to do was crouch down low and let the momentum take me. By the time I reached the bottom I was frozen, as my clothes had been wet from the exertion of the uphill. My fingers started to feel like someone was stabbing knives under my nails, and it only subsided after returning to the lodge, about 20 minutes later. Lesson learnt: Stop thinking like an Australian and next time take the thicker gloves!






Skiing Progress Report

video

After 2 weeks of hard training and diligently practicing the exercises set for me by my teachers, here is the verdict:

Arms:
Arms are too straight, need to bend more.

Legs:
More bend at the knees, more working of the legs, longer skating ("The skating technique is like dancing the waltz: You need to count 1-2-3, 1-2-3)

Falling:
Reduced by 80%

Fear factor downhill:
Fearless, often to her detriment!

Overall:
Most improved student, but stability and balance needs more work (See video above!)


Harrachov

Harrachov is a small town on the Mumlava River, in the North of The Czech Republic, about 4km from the border with Poland. It is the Krkonoše National Park, so is surrounded on all sides by mountains perfect for Cross-country Skiing, hiking, mountain biking and trail runnning. The largest mountain, Čertova Hora (Devil's Mountain), is an ever-present shadow over the town at 1021m. It has an impressive Ski jump running down its side. It is called “Mammoth," and was built in 1980, allowing the town to host the ski jump world championships twice.

Now, in the middle of winter, the town is buzzing with tourists from around the Czech, from Germany and Poland (and Australia), and the town has a festive village atmosphere.



One of the typical Vietnamese markets is in the background. Here you can buy anything you could imagine needing as an unsuspecting tourist unaccustomed to a cold climate (Notice the sign in the telephone box: "LEARN ENGLISH").

Today the weather cleared, the temperature dropped to -10 degrees and the town was sparkling from fresh snow that had fallen during the night, making for a beautiful morning.





I am staying in a cottage called "Chata Preciosa" located at the edge of town. It is owned by Preciosa, a glass company, and many of the guests tend to come from the factories. There is room for 50 people, and they can enjoy the comforts of a hearty Czech breakfast every morning (Cheese and salami, special Czech bread called Chleba, Czech breadrolls called Houska, cornflakes and tea/coffee), a warm, cosy lounge room with an open fireplace, and a games room (with Eurosport and BBC News available on the TV!).



Next door to our chata is Hotel Sklars, an impressive building full of German tourists that is also home to a “Wellness Centre” that we get to use for free! After a day of running and skiing, when the muscles are aching and the legs are bruised (from many falls), nothing heals the body and ego better than a Sauna, Steam room and Spa session!