Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hochgurgl: Last gasp ski weekend

The name is a little funny but that’s what it is; Hochgurgl. Sitting at the top of the highest paved road in the Alps, Hochgurgl at 2150 meters is all about skiing. While we’ve had a super mild winter in Munich, with only 1-2 days of snow, Hochgurgl is high enough for folks to ski through the end of May. And we recently did just that. As our usual ski places have no snow, we drove further into Austria in search of snow and ending up, a bit by chance, making a weekend out of it at Hochgurgl.
Skiing has been one of the real pluses about our time in Germany. Phil has gotten the kids out of skiing almost every weekend in the winter. While there are still problems with gear, these problems are decreasing. The kids are mostly able to manage their skis and stuff themselves though Adam’s “off-piste” accidents still require a helping hand. Sometimes more than one helping hand is needed. In Hochgurgl when Royce lost a ski in limited visibility, numerous people stopped to help her.
We typically ski just over the German border in Austria (about one hour from our house). And just past our regular place is the Brenner Pass, a tall alpine pass that we must first drive down on the way there and then back up on the way home. Always a bit nerve wrecking in our car but (knock on wood), while we’ve had problems with that car on the flats, old Blueberry (as the kids named our car) has never failed us on Brenner’s Pass. The only problem this time was our car navigation system telling us that the road was closed the whole down Brenner’s Pass, despite the road free and open.
We drove into the area known as Otztal, Tyrol, Austria, through a snowless forty mile long valley, with the northern end being Austrian and the southern end being Italian. All this brought home the lesson the twins were studying at school about the Oetzi Iceman, found in 1991 from 3300 B.C. The kids told us how the Iceman was found on the border and Austria and Italy argued over who go him. Italy won but our hotel in Hochgurgl had some photos of the find. Adam and Royce recognized the people in the photos, told us their names and what was going on. We might even be motivated to go find the actual Iceman mummy in Bolzano next.
We stayed (with no prior booking- a first for us) at a nice hotel. The in-room sauna was a hit with the kids after a cold day of skiing. Overnight it started to snow and never stopped. That part of Austria got 50 centimeters of snow in one day. And the kids skied through it. And the car made it down the hill, through the valley and back over Brenner’s Pass. We thought we saw signs for chains. As we tried to figure the signs out in multiple languages, we quickly realized we didn’t have chains and no stores were open on Sunday anyway. Best just to proceed with caution. That was us; proceeding with caution into a new part of the world, with no hotel reservations, no suitcases, three kids and lots and lots of skis.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Olympic dreams

Swimming enthusiasm reached a fever pitch this spring when Tori traveled to London and competed in the 2012 Olympic Pool! We recently traveled to London for the ISST Swimming Championship, an end of season meet for fourteen international schools. With teams coming from as far away as Cairo, the atmosphere of the meet was electric with pool side drums and cheers and lots of fantastic swims.
The logistics of this meet were a bit crazed. Our team flew into London, were met by a small bus and then taken out to one of the international schools hosting the meet. From there our swimmers broke into groups of two and went off to house with local families. The kids do this at every sporting event. At first it seemed odd to me but folks here really believe this cultural exchange is integral to the international school experience. After housing many kids at our home, I am starting to agree. I still don’t like sending Tori to an unknown family’s house before a meet and having no control over food or bed time but she loves it. She tells us about their lives and compares it to our own. Of course, commutes in London are much longer than ours in Munich, and we all came home swearing to never complain about our time in the car again. So the swimmers travelled from their host family to the school each morning, early. From the school, the kids took a two hour bus with us coaches to the Olympic Pool. And at the end of each day, we did it all again.
 It was a long way to go for sure but ultimately worth it. Don’t forget this is the pool where Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps did their thing just two years ago. For the event, we bought a new suit; a fast skin suit, Tori’s first ever. She definitely looked like the real deal on the blocks. She swam fast too, setting a school record in the breast stroke. It was a great way to end a successful season. Tori’s enormous smile as she exited the pool was fantastic, something I will always remember. Maybe more so than the swim itself, which I was too nervous to watch in its entirety!
While the meet went on, British bronze medalist Tom Daley arrived at the pool and practiced his dives in the diving well, just behind the competition pool we were using.  As he practiced, a large group of swimmers went over to watch him. Staff then roped off a large section of the deck to give Daley some privacy. The way the pool was roped off meant that our swimmers had to check in at the clerk of course and then walk all the way around the fifty meter pool to the staging area for their races. Without the ropes, the walk would have been 1 minute. With the ropes, the walk was 5 minutes. We feel our swimmers are elite, making the time qualifications for this meet, and they are. But then there are the many levels of elite between our kids and the Olympic diver.  Needless to say, our kids walked the extra bit.