Monday, 11 June 2012

Fifteen Venues Later

It's 10th June 2012, and I'm sitting in yet another airport.  The final destination has been visited, and another Olympic venue to add to my list.  St Moritz was everything that I expected, and more; the perfect place to finish my travels.

To say that the weather is temperamental is an understatement.  In the space of eight days I saw rain, snow, wind, cloud, and sunshine.  The snow I guess was the biggest surprise, but it wasn't a great deal - two inches is easily melted by lunchtime, and for once my 'owl' personality played to my strength!  This morning I had not choice though, and I was out in the snow for my final run at altitude for a while.  The beauty of running in the snow at that time of the morning is that the only footsteps are yours - there's a certain sense of pride in knowing that you're up, out and at it while everyone else is sleeping.  The downside of course is that, despite being alone, if feels like you're in the middle of a giant snowball fight - the trees periodically lightening their branches of their load.

Already in the past two years I have been at or inside the Olympic stadiums of Mexico City, Moscow, Barcelona, Melbourne and London.  While Winter Olympic cities don't have a stadium in the same sense as the Summer Games do, they do usually still have a central arena of some description.  St Moritz, home to the Games in 1928 and 1948, has a building which overlooks the old ice rink (now a driving range), just beside the world's longest natural bob run.  The stadium building looks the same on the outside as it did all those years ago, but has since been converted into residential apartments inside.

St Moritz is very much the home of winter sports.  It has held the world bobsleigh and skeleton championships a record 21 times and in 1904, the world’s longest, and last remaining natural bob run was opened.  It was chosen as the venue for the 1948 Games because of Switzerland's neutrality during the war, and because the facilities used for the 1928 Games gave them the head start they needed with only 18 months lead-in time. 

St. Moritz isn't just about snow though, and is ideally set up for training is almost any sport.  For athletes like me who love a bit of variety, and prefer off-road routes, it's like heaven on earth.  I did 14 runs while I was there, and no two of them were the same.  In fact if I had stayed another week, I would still be discovering new routes.  And the best bit - the trails started just 10 metres outside of my apartment.  For a runner, you can't ask for much more than that.  Well you could ask for a track close by I suppose.  Well what do you know, that was less than half a mile away.

Apart from the running, there hasn't been much to report.  I celebrated a birthday - well I spent all my pocket money on a small pastry, enjoyed it with a cup of tea, and acknowledged the passing of another year.  I've been pretty organised for me.  The flights have been booked since Christmas, the accommodation sorted 3 weeks ago, and the transport from Zurich to St Moritz researched well in advance. Incident wise it's been pretty plane sailing - no missed trains or flights, no last minute hick-ups,  no clumsy accidents.  Ok, that's a lie.  But I was doing well until yesterday when I was on an escalator.  Absorbed in getting photos of the fine artwork displayed I managed to forget that I would reach the top at some stage.  The escalator delivered me to my destination, I was standing still, back facing the wrong way, and almost fell over right in front of a group of people.  Luckily I do the embarrassed look very well (years of practice I suppose), so they didn't need to say anything.  I walked away with nothing hurt but my pride, and they got a smile out of it.  Everyone's a winner!

 Anyway, I mentioned something about not missing a flight - better go catch this one back to London.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Off to St Moritz

Yesterday I left work at 3:00pm in an sort of excited haste.  Not only was it nice to leave the office early for a change, but I was excited to be commencing my final journey for this project, and I didn't want to miss that flight. Not that I'm glad that the traveling is ending - in fact I'm already planning a follow-up tour to promote the book - but it's more the sense of satisfaction that comes with reaching the final straight; that boost that you get from completing something, especially since there seemed to be little chance of me completing the journeys while still owning the clothes on my back.  At 6:10pm yesterday evening I was on my way to Zurich.

This trip is sentimental in more way that one.  It marks the final trip of the most exhilarating journey of my life but, just over a decade ago, my last visit to Zurich was the start of another very significant period in my life - my PhD years.  During the week I was trying to recall that visit, but could remember little of it.  In fact, I couldn't even remember what time of year it was.  As the plane touched down on the tarmac at Zurich International Airport the memories started flooding back.  It was not long after the September 11 terrorist attacks and security was tight.  I was in the middle of a long-distance relationship.  I had nearly missed the flight, which, despite what my family might have to say, was the only time I had seconds to spare before check-in officially closed.  The flight was delayed some 2 hours.  I was confused by all the signs in the airport - I had mistakenly thought that French was the main language in this part of the world.  Everything was expensive.  There were lots of churches.  It was very pretty.  It was a crisp Autumn day.  I only had 24 hours in the place.  It was my first tip outside the EU, and only my second time to continental Europe.  I took lots of photos with my little film camera.  I bought a lot of chocolate.  A lot has changed since.  Nothing has changed at all.  Zurich is still expensive and I'm still taking lots of photos.

Like then, I had little time to spend in Zurich this time round, and this morning I left for St Moritz by train.  Not long after leaving the station the beautiful Lake Zurich appears on our left.  As the train makes it's way away from the city I see the picture postcard Switzerland that seems so familiar: rugged mountain tops, green meadows reaching right to the forests; grazing cows precariously hanging on to the steep slopes, steep-roofed log houses set into the hills.  The rivers and lakes are a beautiful turquoise; the clearest I've ever seen.  The houses seem to have no boundary fences; the Alps provide all the garden they need; the fields and forests their playground.  The train makes it's way along the valley floor, passed all this beauty, until we Chur.  There I change trains, from the fast moving inter-city one, to one that is build more for climbing and twisting and winding.  This train is built for sightseeing, and not for speed.  At that's ok, because I have all the time in the world.

The Albula and Bernia lines of the Rhaetian Railway form only the third railway in the world to receive World Heritage status.  As it travels between Thusis to Tirano it winds through the mountains, gaining and loosing altitude through the dramatic countriside utilizing a series of clever spiral tunnels.  Between Bergun and Preda the line gains 400 metres in altitude inside a horizontal distance of 5 kilometres.  As the train croses over and back the valley and does 360 spirals through the mountains, you sometimes think that you're about to had back home.

At every corner there is breath-taking beauty, meadows full of flowers, snowcapped mountain peaks, trees, trails, waterfalls, rivers.  And then we arrive in St Moritz.  And I can't wait to explore!