Archive for the 'vacation' Category


A cross-border ski-doo trip to hospital

Skiing Ischgl Samnaun Ian with patrollerIt took a good half-hour for the ski patrol to arrive by ski-doo after we first sent word we’d need them.   As we were waiting we heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter approaching, and I groaned – no, please, not a helicopter ride!

The patrollers hopped off the machine and got to work pumping up an inflatable brace after assessing my situation.  By tapping on the bottom of my foot and seeing I wasn’t writhing in agony, they were sure there was no bone breakage, but were very careful nevertheless in sliding me in, because every little movement of the leg hurt.

Many people had stopped while we were waiting to ask if they should send word, and we thanked them all kindly, but now that help had arrived, everyone just whizzed past.  Unfortunately, the patrollers still needed help to hoist me into the sled once they got me on the inflatable stretcher, but they couldn’t get anyone to stop.  So the little  red-haired girl got a grip on one end as the two of them took up the other, and in one lunge I was plunked down and then strapped in for the ride to the clinic.

This was all happening one sunny afternoon at 2,700 metres in Ischgl, Austria, but we were staying over the border in Samnaun, Switzerland.  Ischgl and Samnaun were two separate areas until an expansion joined them up in 1987, so now you can get a lift ticket that covers both.

Ischgl Samnaun map

The ride to the Ischgl clinic was a bit of fun, actually.  I now know what it feels like to have everyone stop, stare, and tell themselves: thank hell it’s not me.

At the clinic they had me walk around a bit, which I actually managed with the brace, but they told me I’d be in a hospital for a few days, offering to fly me by helicopter down the valley in Austria.

“Uhhhh… that might be a bit too much trouble,” I stammered out, not only unsure whether my insurance would cover a helicopter air ambulance at two bucks per blade rotation – low estimate! – but what about the red-haired girl?  How would she make her way back to where we were staying in Switzerland?  They might be joined at the mountaintop, but to reach Samnaun village from Ischgl village you first have to head down to the junction of two valleys and then go up the other.  It’s a long way, and it was late in the day.

“OK,” they said, “what we can do is tell the Samnaun patrol we have a victim to pass over to them.  You’ll both be taken by ski-doo up to the border and from there the Swiss will take you down to the clinic in Samnaun.”

This time I was the one in the rear passenger seat of the ski-doo and the red-haired girl riding shotgun as we revved our way back up to the pass to the Samnaun side.

A patroller was waiting on his ski-doo at the border, and before we knew it we were on our way down the other side to the top of the aerial tramway, where a man was waiting with a wheelchair.  The patroller parked the machine and helped us squeeze in with all our gear among the other passengers for the tram-ride down, where at the bottom an ambulance was waiting for the short ride to the clinic in Samnaun.  At every link in the chain there was someone waiting to take over.

In the Samnaun clinic they definitely diagnosed the ripped quadriceps tendon, and set me up for an ambulance ride down the valley a little less than an hour away in Scuol, Switzerland.

Cash or credit card, sir?  I do hope to get some of it back….


Marty Ian Scuol hospital Switzerland balconyIf my first-ever serious ski injury had to happen somewhere, I was pretty lucky to land up in hospital in Scuol.   From the moment of injury to the operating table barely more than six hours had elapsed, a crucial point as I’ve since learned.  The earlier this injury is worked on, the better the chances of a full recovery.

I’m going to write the hospital staff a card today to thank them for everything they did.  Perhaps they figure they were just doing their jobs, but I was so impressed.  From the first wheel through the door to good-bye six days later, the care was excellent.  The doctors were clearly professional and at the same time approachable and friendly, I was given my choice of anaesthesia by the director of the hospital himself, the morphine as I emerged from the epidural was offered and gladly taken, the nurses were often asking how I was, what they could do for me, and somehow also knew when it was time to leave me to just rest.

And to help me get through my last full day, a good friend who’d read of my plight on Facebook and who was planning a trip to Nice from Munich via Switzerland offered to drop by for a visit.  He arrived on the morning of the best weather we’d had since the day of the injury, brilliant warm sunshine bearing down on the balcony.   We had a chat and got some sun, and when the physiotherapist came along to give me another introductory course in competitive stair-climbing with crutches, he bade farewell.

Marty, you are the greatest.


Gran Canaria biking slideshow

It’s been stormy the past couple of days, so the rental mountain bike has been sitting safely underground.  It’s been given a thorough trail test in near-perfect weather over the first 8 days of my two weeks here, so any thoughts of it suddenly splitting in half and sending me tumbling over some of the cliffs I’ve been pedaling along have been cleared aside.  Thankfully, not every bike you get to ride is a piece of crap.  As a little update from home, the store is replacing the frame and wife K has a loaner in the meantime.

The best day was this past Friday, getting out on the road before 7am to arrive at the island’s peak just shy of the 2000-metre level at around 3pm.  Along the way I got a bit lost and so had to head downhill several hundred meters to get on the right road again, so the actual vertical climb was quite a bit more than the 2 kilometers.  I also misjudged the amount of time it would take to let gravity pull the bike back to sea level, returning at 7:30pm long after sundown.  A blinking light back and front was a good precaution along with some warm clothing, because even though it can be close to 30 degrees down on the beaches, up near the top the temperatures plunge and the winds are high.

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My favourite trail from last year is even better.  At least it was last week.  All along the way up I was expecting to be passed by the usual convoy of jeeps laden with the package-tourist daytripper set, tongues clucking and heads wagging as they breeze past imagining the difficulties some people put themselves through.  But two hours up the hill there wasn’t even a single car on the road going either up or down.  The reason became clear after rounding a corner to face a rock slide blocking the road as it runs along a cliff.  I suppose word had already spread and the tourists were on another route somewhere, leaving the whole trail and surrounding countryside all to myself.

I keep hearing the word “dangerous” whenever people find out I’ve been mountain biking alone in the volcanic wilds.  Maybe they’re right, but I don’t know if it’s any worse than lolling around on the beach in the pounding sun for hours at a time amid thousands of others all doing the same thing day after day.  Some of them look seriously in need of hospitalisation.


The Queen was right about my home town

I couldn’t agree more:


Wet Coast summer gallery

You might find some blue in these photos, but for the past week it’s been wet-wet-wet here on the left coast of Canada.  Not that we’re complaining.  There’s plenty to get up to when you’ve got relatives and old friends to catch up with,  new museums to visit, and a border to cross.  In a first for the little red-haired girl, we crossed the Canada-US border at Blaine, Washington on the way to an overnight in Seattle.  Whoa!  If you’re not travelling on a Canadian passport, be prepared for a lonnnng wait in a brand-new building that, no ma’am, does not have a public toilet.

But that’s another story.  For now, a few of the things we’ve been up to:

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An open letter to British Airways

Dear Mr. Airways,

Thank you very much for supplying an airplane with enough fuel to get us from Hamburg to Vancouver and back via your splendid new launchpads at Terminal 5, Heathrow.

I know you have financial difficulties at the moment, but we really hope you will put the small fortune we paid to good use in fixing up your shabby planes, or perhaps leasing a few new ones?

I ask this because before we board, some of us really enjoy the sight of a bird that looks like it can actually fly, instead of some ancient 747 whose tail section looks like a marauding band of vandals attacked it with chains before setting it on fire.

British Airways 747-400 Vancouver London banged-up tail

I would also at this time like to thank you for the excellent care British Airways gave our five pieces of luggage as they sat at Heathrow for one full day on our return journey.   Instead of having to lug home from the airport 115 kg worth of new clothes, cycling gear, off-the-shelf pharmaceuticals, six litres of maple syrup, chocolate chips and other stuff either laughably expensive or impossible to find in Germany, your delivery service saw fit to deliver our bags not only to our front door, but through the walk-in closet to the centre of our bedroom carpet.   Will you please offer this service on a regular basis?  It made journey’s end a most pleasant experience indeed.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, would you please better publicise the many improvements in our flying experience offered at your award-winning website,

I ask this only because when we arrived at Hamburg airport to check in, we were informed that, contrary to our wishes to sit together, the entire 747 from London to Vancouver had a grand total of six seats available, all in the middle section, and spaced a good 10 rows apart.

Your employee in charge with getting us all through the automated check-in machines informed us in a somewhat snide tone that BA now offers passengers the opportunity to check in online 24 hours before departure.  Ostrich that I am, this had never occured to me.  Only through the assistance of an actual human being behind the counter were we able to at least sit two of us together.  I was left to squeeze in the middle row between a flatulent Amazon and an obvious candidate for  stomach stapling surgery.

For the return journey ex Vancouver I acquired the assistance of my IT-expert brother, whose GPS gadget is synced with Coordinated Universal Time down to the last millisecond.  At precisely .01 seconds past 2035 the day before departure I hit send to check in.  We received three seats together at the very back of the plane.   Too bad for those who logged in .02 seconds late.   What do you say to your customers who have no net access?  They do exist, you know.     Now I know why people wish for the good-old days when all it took to get a decent seat was arrive at the airport a reasonable time before departure, smile a lot, and if necessary, budge the queue.

Yours most sincerely,

Ian in Hamburg


Another long winter weekend in London

Third year in a row for a quick, fun mid-winter trip to London. Two years ago I met up with Trish, who’d flown in from Los Angeles, last year the three of us flew Ryanair to stay with an old friend from our Hong Kong days, and now we’re at it again.

We’d need three parallel lives to take in all we’d like to do.


More photos next week, though probably not so much blue.🙂


La Gomera public webcam birthday greeting

I’m sure a public webcam birthday greeting has been done before, but we thought it was a lot of fun anyway:


That tiny couple you see waving at lower-right are old friends of K. Over the Christmas break they ditched our winter cold on the barren flatlands for two weeks of golden afternoons on La Gomera in the Canary Islands.

At a get-together a few weeks back, they took me aside and told me their plan: starting at 1700 German time on K’s birthday, they’d be frantically waving in front of this webcam.

So as nonchalantly as I could on the big day – already full of best wishes of the normal kind from friends and family – I called K over to the laptop, clicked on the link and… voilà!

There they were.

Nice touch, T&T! You really made her day.🙂

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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