Thursday, 20 August 2015

Stubai: packing list 2015

This year's list bears an uncanny similarity to last year's list. Except: there are three of us going, so add rope and harness for glacier travel, and since I have those a few slings for tokens like gear on the Zuckerhutl even though I know I won't need them, but they;re only 400 g in total.

So, what can we see? Don't say "nothing, its all black". I'm sorry about that.

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In the rucksac, three ice axes (two walking, one climbing) one for eachof us, and three ski poles (between D and me; J has his own). Peeking out, my thin "waterproof".

New this year, some food, probably too much, never mind we can just eat it: two each of mixed nuts, dried apricots, mixed raisins, about 200 g each; a pack of shortbread; and eight Mars bars.

To the left, my gaiters, two pairs of crampons: mine from last year, D's new aluminium pair, to be shared with J according to conditions, my nice 50m blue half-rope, two harnesses (J to bring his), a towel.

To the right, my green "waterproof" trousers mostly for warmth, BAS fleece hat, spare bin liner, water bottle, phone, toilet paper part-roll, phone, head torch, watch charger cable, D's penknife, lip salve, spare glasses and glacier glasses, sun cream, soap, USB plug, foreign adapter, silk liner, various black tee-shirts (not too many), underpants times two, one pair tracksters and one pair long johns, bag of misc like compass and whistle, maps, red diary, Alpeinvereinsfuhrer, Kindle, gloves: Dachstein, fleece, thin; neck warmers times two and "silk" balaclava.

Add money-tickets-passport-EHIC-boarding passes and we're about there. No SLR this year, I'm being very brave.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A day in the lakes with Daniel

We went up to Annie's for a few days, just prior to Daniel, Jamie and I heading off to the Stubai, and it seemed a good idea to test his - and my - fitness, and to have fun. So Scafell was a good choice, in why case why not try something on Central Buttress? I've been thereabouts many years ago in the company of Jim Lind (and Wiz aka Liz Pasteur), and one other I forget, sorry, actually I'm sure Miriam was there too. Maybe it was the four of us.

Anyway, here's the GPS trace (up only, because my watch ran out; but we retraced our steps nearly so down would be dull. My previous trace from 2010 shows a possible circuit of Scafell Pike). The only minor route notes are (a) if you're really only interested in the climbing, start from Wasdale, its much quicker; (b) if you really want to start from Seathwaite, make sure you get there early enough to park close to the farm; (c) if, having gone that way, you don't want to actually climb Scafell Pike you can save yourself 40 m by cutting off the summit, but you'll need to not just follow the path; (d) pay attention in a couple of places to where you leave the path; the OS map is your friend.

D and I walked up in mostly companionable silence; we talked a little, but not nearly as much as the people we overtook. We stopped very briefly a couple of times. We're about the same speed; D, untethered by me, would be a little faster. From the top of Scafell Pike we got our first views of the crag.

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The book says you descend by doing -blah- and then abseiling off something. I was a touch vague about that and intending to wing it; next time I go there I think I'd chose any easy short climb to familiarise myself with the rock, and the desent route, so I didn't have to worry about it. That's an excellent motto for all crags on your first time I think. In retrospect.

And here's from closer in, though its not desperately useful as the slabs face the other way so all you can see from this is their edges, if you see what I mean.

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I now find myself somewhat confused about exactly where we got to. You see from the first pic how the eroded path along the ridge meets the rock. Then you follow it down (at first steeply on yucky fine scree) to the obvious path along the base of the crag. From there, getting up to the base of the climb is non-obvious. We (we? Don't blame D for any of this; *I*) chose to just scramble up the rock-n-grass; when we descended, it was clear that a better way was following the rough grass ledge ("Lord's rake") to the right (facing in) which is much easier and doesn't need roping.

This is a better view of the climb itself.

We did the first, easy, 4b pitch fine. There's a small but perfectly adequate stance. Even at this point the gear isn't super, so I flung the rope over a nearby boulder which (I was pleased to see) has a large loop of rope over it for convenient abseil if you wimp out of the second pitch.

Starting up the second, 4c pitch, I began to wonder exactly why I thought I was capable of VS 4c at this point in my career, beyond a vague memory that Wales (and Lakes? Not sure) grades tend to be easier than Peaks. Suffice to say that didn't prove adequate. Moving upwards was working OK but the absence of gear, or of  gear I was sure I trusted, was proving worrying. Take more quick-draws, and make sure your wires are in order. At some point - probably about half way up the second pitch, with no clear end in sight and a slight steepening in prospect - I decided that wimping out was a good idea, and abbed off a nut I've never really liked but which was pretty firmly in place for a direct downwards pull. And then - after a slight farce straightening out the ropes - we abbed off the in-place tat (D first, off our gear, me second, off the tat, having verified it was OK). The rock and the line, though, were gorgeous; I'd love to have another go when I'm better.

And so back; it got a leetle bit long towards the end; a gentle rain cooled us without really wetting us.



Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Peloponnese, 2015

peloponnese_2015 Last year we went to the Peloponnese, and enjoyed it. So this year we went again. With some differences; Daniel was elsewhere; and this year we felt less obligation to go and see things, and were happier to relax. My public blog has some very minor notes on the economic crisis, which I won't repeat here.

 Instead, this will be a "photo essay", which is to say, I won't bother write many words. The map shows last years stops in red, and new ones this year in purple.

This year we started with three days, extended to four, in Gialova (West coast, between Chora and Pylos) which is where we ended up last year. Then to Mythras for two days; then a day apiece in Gythio and Stoupa.

Gialova


We stayed at "Zoe". We spent a lot of time between the cafe and the beach, reading and playing cards (mostly "hearts" and some "gops").

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Or watching Navarino Bay or Sphacteria.

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Or swimming in the sea or the pool.

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You get the point, I'm sure. We didn't do much.

Methoni


However, we did visit Methoni, which has an enormous Venetian / Turkish castle.

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Walking towards the "Bourtzi".

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The Bourtzi itself.

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I told you it was Venetian.

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Castle from Bourtzi.

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Old main square.

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Across the Taygetus


From Gialova we drove back to Kalamata (ignoring the comedy diversion to ancient Messene, which failed) and over the Taygetus to Mystras.

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There aren't many cafes en route. Grab one where you can. Note remains of force-driven water wheel.

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We found a nice green glade.

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In Tripi, Miranda was delighted to get a chip omelette.

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Mystras

Mystras is a Byzantine / Venetian / Ottoman ruined city overlooking the plain of Sparti. The ancient Spartans left little behind but a legend, so overlooking it is the best thing to do.

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Mystras is a large site, spread over several levels. We started at the top; achronistically, here's looking up. Wider view.

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Looking down from the upper (castle) to the middle (palaces).

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Somewhere in the middle with Miranda...

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Out into the misty hills.

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They still take their religion seriously. Most of the restored buildings are churches, which I think somewhat biases the appearance of the site.

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The eye in the pyramid wings. There are lots of murals, but mostly faded. If you like murals, take care to research beforehand where the ones you should look at are.

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View from the plain. I was trying to not take too many pix, honest.

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Gythio


From Mystras we drove down into Sparti, but didn't stop. There are a small number of antient objects nearby, but poorly signed.

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Through the olive groves...

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To the tholos tomb. You could argue this wasn't so exciting, but the setting made it.

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And so on to Gythio. Whose website helpfully says There are not realy mentionable ancient objects to be studied in Gythio... So, every visitor is free to enjoy just greek present life. Stereotypical boat pic.

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They had some lovely flowers. Name?

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In fact we were 4 km out from Gythio, along the beach strip. The grass was unreal, though actually real grass.

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Stoupa


From Gythio over the hills; skirting the south end of the Taygetos.

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Suddenly there was an enormous Ottoman castle. Don't stay in the car, its cooler up top in the breeze.

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Then Aeropoli. We spent most of the day in this taverna. Fried feta with honey and sesame was Miranda's favourite of the holiday; mine was aubergine; M's, perhaps, Greek salad.

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Aeropoli is pretty in the old bit:

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There was an exhibition of pictures. We bought one:

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Also a stairwell that might have been art. But probably wasn't. And a very stern goddess of victory. And the church probably had a Gabriel like ours on its lintel. You can buy old houses.

Then to Stoupa. Our appartment was unexciting but fine for a night. One last game of "hearts" overlooking the beach.

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Next day: the road back to Kalamata:

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Boring travel notes


If you're booking hotels or appartments on the fly, you're probably using booking.com or somesuch, and you'll discover that they're all along the coast, apart from a few at places like Mystras. There are none at ancient Messene. Which is  shame. I wish I knew of one there. What I'm trying to say is, if you want to stay in the interior, you'll need to plan it a bit and/or work harder.

In the summer, its hot. Really. If you think that getting somewhere at 10 will still leave you the cool of the morning, you're wrong. Even 8 am is likely to be really quite warm. The sea takes the edge off, of course, as does a breeze.

Mystras: we stayed at Mazaraki guesthouse: good views overlooking the plain of Sparti and over to the fortifications of Mystras. Mystras itself is a multi-level site; you get a choice of upper or lower gate. There's a fair vertical gain between the two which you do not want to do in the heat of the noonday sun. Or, likely, at all. We did upper one evening and lower the next morning.

Booking.com: note that the ratings given (e.g. "Exceptional, 9.5" for the Mazaraki) don't compare to star ratings for hotels; in my opinion, they're inflated.

The coastal road, Gythios to Stoupa, is slow. If you've going to Kalamata, the maps would rather send you via Tripolis :-).









Sunday, 19 July 2015

Sabriel / Lirael / Abhorsen

More fine fantasy trash, from Garth Nix. Miranda brought them back, on a school friends recommendation, and now I've read all three, quite quickly. Though there is also a fourth.

Another world, with magic, in communication with one without magic, only this time instead of the usual world-flipping whatever, they're just separated by a wall, and so the expected fun ensues.

Its "young adult" and you can see that in the characters, young people growing up and unsure of their place in the world, gradually growing in confidence. And this is part of the charm; if I wanted to read adult books, I would.

Weasel abroad

Daniel is off into the world, to Ladakh. Who knows how he will fare. Here he is, hair cut, a confident young man against a quince tree.


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Monday, 6 July 2015

More bad beekeeping - swarm collection

Just a record of events.

Andy Nicol called me last Sunday to say that there was a swarm at his allotments, on a friends. So I went to see, and indeed there was.

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See? Not the words largest, but conveniently close to the ground. And in a raspberry patch, more crowded than this makes it appear. So I got out my nice wooden box and pulled then in.

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That was the bees on several canes, plus a couple of handfuls scooped off the ground. We left the rest to walk in while Andy showed me around, all on a lovely sunny afternoon. I put them in the back of the car -only a few escaped - and offered them to Nikola. We went to look at her hives - she was somewhat unsure about one - but it definitely had bees on it so I kept them for myself.

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Here they are on top of the "original" (slope-top) hive, and I'm using the old "sheet of newspaper" trick. This hive has, I think, swarmed a bit too much this year, because despite coming through the winter much better than the "other" (flat-top) hive, its now looking rather sparse. So this may be a useful top-up.

On Monday night I realised I'd forgotten there was a queen excluder in. And so my two queens had no means to meet, maybe. Anyway, I took it out.

Here's the general hive environs, looking down the garden towards the stream.
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Saturday, 27 June 2015

Miranda: not doing grade 6 piano

Today is the day Miranda would have done her grade 6 piano exam. But she didn't (leaving me entirely free; I choose to go rowing, then cafe, then work, then Waterstones). Last weekend, last Saturday, Miriam came out while I was gardening to ask me to Have a Word with our daughter, a delightfully Victorian experience. And the Word to be had was about piano.

It turned out that Miranda had decided, somewhat tearfully, that she really didn't want to do the exam. She didn't enjoy playing, it wasn't fun, she didn't want to spend the next week practicing for an exam she didn't care about, even if we would then be "happy" for her to drop the piano afterwards.

I'm a bit sad: I knew she had to be pushed to practice, but though she enjoyed playing: she had got to the stage where she could be listened to with some pleasure when playing pieces she knew: some of the Harry Potter themes for example, which I thought - still think - she actually liked.

I asked, was she sad, was she reluctant, because she thought that even with a good week's practice she still couldn't pass? No, its wasn't that, it was - we kept coming back to this - that she just didn't care, she didn't enjoy it, she didn't see any point.

I tried to push my own view - that having got this close, it would be silly not to just get through the exam. It is certainly what I would think about any endeavour. But she was not to be persuaded. And I began to wonder if she might not be right. What virtue would there be in a certificate that she would not value? She will keep doing clarinet, which she does enjoy - particularly playing in the wind band - but that wasn't any argument for piano. Perhaps she is avoiding the "sunk costs fallacy".

She was quite tearful through all of this. I'm not sure why: either because she knew she was displeasing us, or because she was torn herself. I must ask her.