Friday Photo: Autumn

Tomorrow marks the first day of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere – it is the Autumn Equinox – that special time of year when the seasons are actually equal all over the world and we have an equal amount of night and day. It’s a beautiful  moment in the year.   I love the Autumn. The food at this time of year is at its most glorious, the trees put on their show of colour, there are bonfires, woodland walks, mugs of spiced chai tea. I can’t wait to go tramping through the Chilterns as the leaves blaze with colour, spend time with friends in cosy cafes, a pot of tea between us, wrap up warm for Bonfire Night. So I hope you enjoy this autumnal photo, taken in woodland high in the French Alps.  You now have the right to snuggle beneath a blanket with a mug of cocoa and some soup cooking on the stove. Happy Autumn!...

Mountains: A Photo Essay

Mountains have the power to awe and inspire like no other landscape on earth. They remind us of our own insignificance in the world, they are a challenge to take on and they have an aesthetic, timeless pefection which leaves us weak at the knees. I spent much of last year living at high-altitude, waking up to views of the mountains, climbing them and even skiing down them. Now, living in a part of England which is as flat as a pancake, I miss the challenge and the beauty of mountains; I miss the way they make my soul sing.   First there was France – a brief sojourn in the glorious Alps…   After living for a while at the foot of the Pyrenees.   My more recent ‘home abroad’ was Ancash in Peru, where the Cordilleras Blancas kept me in their thrall day after day. You can’t go far in Peru before you reach one mountain range or another – Mountains define the country’s history and its present culture – and provide some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet.   From the sparkling villages on the mountains around Cuzco…   …and the soaring peaks of the Sacred Valley…   …to the volcanoes of Arequipa.   Some mountains quite literally overshadow the lives and cultures of entire communities, like Cerro de Potosi in the Bolivian highlands. It is the kind of thing Spanish conquistadores dreamed of: a mountain full of silver. In those bygone colonial years, Potosi became synonymous with wealth, but today miners still work there, extracting silver for very little in return. Potosi, one...

Ski Holidays

It’s hard to believe that December is practically upon us and that Ski Season is once again well and truly here! So the cold, dark evenings and miserable weather makes Summer seem like a very long way off, but it only takes the jangly Ski Sunday music to make my heart leap with excitement at the thought of snow-covered mountains, ridiculously warm and inviting villages and, of course, winter sports. There’s nothing to brighten up a dark and dreary afternoon like booking a ski holiday. The thought of a snowy escape to some charming Alpine village or a thrilling Rocky Mountain resort will keep you going through the dull winter days. I like to imagine myself swishing expertly down the mountainside, my skis creating a puff of powdery snow as I come to a perfect stop. However, going by my first skiing experience at the start of this year, the reality will be somewhat different. My initial efforts were more Bridget Jones than Lindsey Vonn, but my clumsy attempts  on the nursery slopes got me irrevocably hooked. Never having gone as a child, I kind of assumed it would be too tricky a skill to pick up as an adult, but with encouragement, some friendly tuition and bloody-minded determination, I did it. Not particularly elegantly, but I skied nonetheless. But what I love almost more than the skiing itself is the magical atmosphere of a ski resort. Contrary to my preconceptions, they are not all ultra-glamrous, ultra-expensive places suitable only for the rich and famous, but even the smallest, most unpretentious villages seem to have been sprinkled with stardust....

From Switzerland to Italy by Boat

What would you imagine a Travel Belles trip in Italy to be like? In my last, weary days in South America, I was having hallucinations about relaxed excursions on an Italian lake, basking under the last of Europe’s summer sun, wearing something a little more chic than my ruined jeans, which were at the point of falling apart. A few days later, my dreams were coming true. From our beautiful Belles’ residence in the northern town of Vogogna, Margo, Krista, Kathy, Kate and I had taken a train across the border to Switzerland. The sun was warm – Europe was in the midst of an Indian summer – and I was even wearing a skirt, having retired my poor, battered jeans. We began with a stroll around the little town of Santa Maria Maggiore. The Swiss-Italian-style houses – complete with painted shutters and window-boxes bursting with geraniums – were everything I could have hoped for, and it was a luxury to be in the company of other keen photographers, who were equally snap-happy and not telling me to get a move on as I took yet another shot of a leaf, or a man on his bike, or a nice arch. It was from the considerably bigger, but equally whimsical, town of Locarno that we got our first sight of the Swiss side of Lake Maggiore. I have always loved boats and the feeling of being on the water, so even seeing the distant sailboats gave me a quiet thrill. After quelling the grumbles of my stomach with a caprese salad and a caramel gelato, it was time for...

Learning to Ski

It was eerily quiet and still. The chairlift had shuddered to a halt and I was suspended high above the pure white slopes and dark forest. My skis stuck out beneath me, pulling down on my feet. I took a deep breath and tried to steady my nerves. Just a few minutes ago, I had been on the nursery slopes with the five-year-olds, trying to learn how to manouevre on these ridiculous things while avoiding a Bridget Jones-style moment. Some of my friends had already gone on ahead, while others were very happy to spend longer on the baby routes. So here I was, by myself, on a stationary chairlift, halfway up a mountainside in the middle of the Alps. I had a total of about 3 hours of skiing practice under my belt and brief tuition from my kind and long-suffering host. For some crazy reason, I had decided to try a proper run. After what seemed like an eternity, but which was in reality a couple of minutes, the chairlift jolted back to life and we continued our ascent. Just as the panic began to really overwhelm me, the chairlift pushed me off. I just about had the presence of mind to get out of the way of the following skiers and avoid the oncoming pros before I found space to catch my breath and steel myself for what I was about to do. Then, with rather shaky legs, I rounded the corner and pushed off down the first slope. And promptly fell over. Getting up with skis on has to be one of the hardest things...
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