Multilingualism Day at the European Parliament – 30 September, 2017

Yesterday was international Translators and Interpreters Day and lined up with that, the European Parliament ran a Multilingualism Day at the Parliament buildings in Brussels. In particular, I think, it was targeted at would be interpreters and translators and featured some specialist talks; some briefing talks in the debating chamber, and some games and try it out stuff. The interpreting service had temporary interpreting booths set up with a bunch of recorded speeches for anyone to try.

Because of issues between Luxembourg and Brussels, I wound up arriving later than I would liked so I missed a bit of a talk about life long education for interpreters, and also because I decided to do what they called a Hemicycle briefing tour, I missed the tips and tricks talk. I sort of regret that because I’m sure there were some great war stories.

One of the things which struck me about the population of visitors which I saw is that it was heartening to see the range of ages of people who were interested in knowing more about the language careers, particularly the interpreting. You could see this watching people having a go at interpreting – there was a broad range of ages stepping into the booths to voice their versions of Plastic Waste or The Beetle in French.

I’ve been in the Brussels Hemicycle a couple of times now between the Open Day in May and this. It’s quite a stunning room – my eyes are always drawn to the interpreting boxes, and English in number 2 and Gaeilge in Number 23. We had a terrific speaker who didn’t just talk at us about the Parliament but also engaged us in debate about the present and future of Europe, and the contexts which sometimes get forgotten and how they feed into the choice of representatives sent by the different countries. I’d strongly advise anyone who hasn’t seen either it, or the hemicycle in Strasbourg to grab opportunities when they present themselves. May is usually good for both and the plenary sessions should be accessible as well I think. It was heartening to see young British people attending, even now when it seems as though the EU may not be a part of their country’s future. It seems to me they still hope.

The one interpreting talk I did get to was interesting in terms of listening to the questions people ask. The young Dutch interpreter who gave the talk admitted that it took him about 4 years to get any newly acquired language operational for interpreting and that yes, learning for interpreting caused different learning strategies with a focus on passive understanding more so than active writing, for example. You could understand that too. I kind of wished things like this existed when I was a recent graduate – I would have killed to sit in those rooms wishing and dreaming.

As for the interpreting itself, I was slightly disappointed not to get to sit in one of the hemicycle booths to look out on the room but I had a go at the plastic waste speech which didn’t go too badly. I can’t complain.

On a vaguely related note, uncomfortable and all as they are, I’d really like to know how to get my hands on headphones similar to the ones the Parliament has. Yes they are flat, yes they are plastic and sure they are fairly austere compared to my nice puffy on earphones that look like they date from the 1970s but the sound is crystal clear from them.

Anyway, I think outreach events like this are great – I loved both this and the SCIC Europe conference thing in the Berlaymont in May – and I really do think any one with an interest in working for the institutions, particularly as an interpreter or translator, should try to get to them when they turn up. Finding out about them – well the best thing to do is follow both the European Commission and Parliament Interpreters on Facebook.

 

Wandering through pages

I’m not entirely sure how but this popped up on my twitter feed this morning:

Alex Stubb wrote a piece for Finnair’s inflight magazine on the question of reading and the fact that he seemed to be doing less of it. I must confess I was a bit envious of his 4000 books. I cleared out a good lot last year when I was moving house, much to my sadness. What he said about the place of reading in his life resonated. I have been thinking about this on several fronts myself lately. I’ve recognised that I read far less than I did in the past. This despite the convenience of a Kindle which currently has a queue of about 200 books to read. The fact that I have not been reading much has not necessarily meant that I have stopped actually buying books.

So far this year, I have finished reading 12 books. This is about 8 more than usual lately and this is mostly because I decided to make a concerted effort to read more. I just haven’t formalised it in a 1+1+1 plan like Mr Stubb has. But I am inclined to follow his lead, or at least give it a shot. I’m not able to do 1 hour of exercise every day on the grounds that in theory, most weeks I go swimming 3 to 4 times and that’s a minimum 2 hour cut out of my day. I also feel that twitter absorbs a good deal of my time but not necessarily productively. So in addition to reviewing and rebuilding my reading habit, I’m also looking at chopping the number of accounts I follow on twitter.

Two things led to the loss of reading from my life. I felt the loss of Terry Pratchett enormously. Additionally, I used to read a significant amount of children’s fiction and with Harry Potter, I seem to have tapped out of that lately. Most of what I have been reading of late has been non-fiction. I’ve just finished Motherfóclóir which is the better of the two books focused on using the Irish language which I read this year. I also finished Silk Road by Peter Frankopan which is a book I had been travelling with for some time. More frivolously I have started reading Calvin and Hobbes again. But I have also drawn heavily on the field of science and genetics for escape.

I have a massive reading queue, and it is hard to know what to start with. I have some frivolous German stuff, and a classic of travel writing by Heinrich Boll lined up. In a way, I feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of books both on my kindle and on my Amazon wishlist and I wonder if that perhaps, contributes to the paralysis I sometimes now feel about reading. Like I have a lot of books to get through.

Mostly recently acquired are the memoirs of a US interpreter which I expect to be relatively easy to read, and apart from that, I have been journeying with Empire of the Word by Nicholas Ostler for some time. I think it is sometimes more difficult to make progress through very in-depth, long books on kindles. We lack the visual evidence of progress; the movement of the bookmark through the pages. I regret that and somehow, I need to be practical as well.

What I lack at the moment is a way into fiction. The last piece of fiction that I read that truly took my life by the scruff of the neck and pulled me out of reality – and it was a re-read – was Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I have another of his other books to hand but I have somehow not found a route into them.  In a way, I think for years I was sated by the escapism guaranteed by a visit to the Discworld but I don’t think Terry Pratchett would appreciate the idea that he had spoilt me for other books.

I need to get involved in a little exploration. Just as soon as I’ve read a few more of these books I have lined up for the last 5 to 10 years.

 

 

 

Sennelier, on the quays in Paris

Not too far from the Louvre is an art supply shop I have been angling to get to for years and yesterday, I managed it.

The shop is called Sennelier and it looks like time has not really changed it in a century or more. I got there yesterday and I fell in love.

I wanted to go there because I paint mostly with Sennelier paints, and also, I just wanted to see it. Absolutely everyone who has been there has said it is exceptional.

It is.

I finally found some Strathmore 400 books in there, and some of the new Canson Heritage water paper. Upstairs, they had a section pretty much dedicated to drawing pens and brushes. I did serious damage there and could have done more if I hadn’t exerted a little discipline over it.

It is unquestionably the best art shop I have ever been in. I will be going back when I next need stuff.

Shopping for swimming gear

Back in 1996, so 21 years ago, I decided to start swimming (again) and needed swimming gear because I actually had none. It must be the only time in my life that I had none but such is life. I was living in Paris at the time, and for some reason I took myself into the sports section of Samaritaine, one of the big Parisian department stores; less expensive than Printemps and Lafayette, but in a beautiful building which time had forgotten. They had a huge sports section.

I tried on a bunch of swimsuits that day and eventually bought a Speedo suit which was sort of holographic. I loved it. There’s probably a cutting from it in one of my journals from when I eventually realised it was just falling apart. Even now, it’s probably still my favourite swim suit that I’ve ever owned. It was basically navy with blue shiny bits arranged in squares. They brought out a coloured version of it afterwards which you can actually see on the Sports Illustrated site. I never got around to buying it which I sort of regret.

It was the start of a very long commercial relationship which basically amounted to me giving Speedo money almost every time I needed a swimsuit. In fact, until yesterday, the only time I didn’t buy a Speedo swimsuit was when I made a last minute decision to learn to surf and didn’t have a swimsuit with me. I wound up buying a Zoggs one that day. I think I only actually used it for that surfing lesson which seems a bit extreme.

I’ve had lots of Speedo swimsuits over the years, too many to list. But I put on weight and buying swimsuits got harder and harder. I can look back in nostalgia on that gorgeous turquoise one that I really was reluctant to let go, for example, and it won’t change anything. The last 5 years have been difficult. On one front, my weight and thus size has been inconstant. The size translations seemed to have moved around. More than once I bought a swimsuit that turned out to be a size too small despite it being a size bigger than the one I was looking to replace.

The whole buying of swimsuits became more stressful than buying pairs of jeans. I hated doing it because very often, my size just wasn’t available, it bore no relationship to their translation based on normal dress sizes. And it was a job that I was going to have to do again because I lost my swimsuit while I was on holidays last week. Now, I own at the time 4 other swimsuits all of which had failed to fit me at some point in the last year. It transpired I had lost enough weight to fit into the next one down so that’s now in service. I hate it, however. It isn’t that it’s uncomfortable because it isn’t. I loathe it because it’s black with a radio activecoloured peach piping. I imagine some people in the world might like the style; I’m not one of them. It only has two advantages in my view: a) the breast stuff wasn’t “ooh we should do cup sizes for swimsuits but are too lazy” and it fitted. I think the only reason I even bought it was in theory, on the occasion, it was the only suit in the shop which was my size. And it turned out not to be.

Any searching I did through Speedo’s available options for people who are not Olympic swimmers, you are looking at black. Their pregnancy ones are black. It’s like they want you to just vanish, and not aspire to having pretty stuff. I found it irritating. But escaping was hard.

One of the primary reasons I have stuck with Speedo over the years is I wanted swimsuits made by people who understood people who went swimming as opposed to people who wanted to sunbathe. But after reviewing what they had in their “Sculpture” range this summer/autumn, I gritted my teeth and went and had a look at what Arena and Maru had on offer. Arena’s range this year both for their training set and their “we know you’re not a size 0 flat chest” range was significantly more attractive, even their plain branded ones. And they had a dedicated shop in Paris, in Bercy.

I went to that shop yesterday, and spoke to a shop assistant who eventually sold me two Arena swimsuits. One of them is absolutely beautiful, and I love it. It will probably be my main swimsuit for the next couple of months. The other one is a bit plainer and I like it far more than the plainish black Speedo I’ve been wearing for the last two weeks. I hope to be down another size when they need to be replaced.

There are two swimsuits the next size down in my swimming drawer which are not black and which I do like, so I don’t expect to have to revisit the swimsuit thing for another year at least. But the truth is, my loyalty to Speedo for swimsuits is gone. Arena’s suits this year are just so much nicer. I still don’t get their nose clips or their goggles, so Speedo will continue to get money of me for those.

Generation Emigration and the Irish Abroad

I’m not entirely sure when but at some stage during the last recession, the Irish Times started running a regular feature called Generation Emigration.

I was living in Ireland at the time, as I did for all of that recession, and I was mildly annoyed with them. Firstly, this was hardly the first generation to have emigrated in mass numbers and the previous lot were less than 10 years previous. I emigrated in 1994. A lot of people I know did. And secondly, emigration can either be mourned, but you’ll be more successful if you see it as an opportunity and an adventure rather than a complete imposition.

I’ve no doubt the Irish Times did this because it paid them to do so but having read a bunch of the pieces, I found it all mildly depressing, and perhaps that was the angle they were aiming for. They’ve since renamed the section The Irish Abroad which I suppose is a little less depressing.

I don’t know that it was the label Generation Emigration that made it depression. It’s just I read enough pieces talking about people missing home that even though I was in Ireland, I was starting to climb the walls, and then when you got the pieces about people who had decided to Come Home it was really depressing.

I did all this. I did the emigrating in 1994, and I did the Coming Home in 1999. One of the things I knew then and still know now is that having lived elsewhere changes you and there will always be things that you miss. Certainly, Lidl and Aldi alleviated a lot of those things over time and eventually Tesco started stocking couscous as well. But nowhere in Dublin did hot chocolate like they do in Italy and only in that small village in Germany where I was working for a year could you get that really nice Mohnkuche. The years after coming home from Brussels were spent desperately missing street waffles. And I couldn’t get a decent haircut for love nor money.

The biggest problem when I emigrated the first time was tea. You couldn’t get that very easily at all or at least, you were stuck with Liptons Yellow Label which is the equivalent of hell for the discerning tea drinker; that is to say, someone for whom Barrys is the top level of tea. But there wasn’t much else. When I got back though, there were lots of things. Stroopwaffel (Lidl helps now and again), Parma Ham (took a few years but everyone eventually caught up), Butter with salt crystals (take a bow, and quite a bit of money, Marks and Spencer). Your horizons broaden and then, when you go back, they narrow again a little. I read a lot of pieces from people coming home that just made no sense to me because they focused very much on how everything was going to be perfect in Ireland this time. There never seemed to be any consideration given to the idea that in fact, being away changes people and well, with it, comes a little bit of longing. Of homesickness for a bunch of different homes.

Emigration now is different. I emigrated again last November. When I left the first time, I wrote lots of letters. Now, we have email, Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook. Phone calls don’t cost a fortune any more either. Ryanair makes a lot of journeys a lot easier and a great deal less expensive. Aer Lingus have seriously upped their range of routes. It’s all, in practical terms, far easier than it used to be.

It’s just, for some reason, I read a lot of pieces in the Irish Times that suggested emigration was really hard, and coming back was a lot easier. For me, it really was the inverse. Leaving wasn’t so hard. IN a way, it was an adventure. Coming back left little pieces of me in Finland, France, Germany and Belgium. Maybe not so much in London. And yet, I knew this would be the way it was. I sometimes wonder if the current returning ex generation emigration are set up to face this.

Of pencils and pens

In a mad fit of tidying today, I have sorted out *some* of my mechanical pencils, *some* of my ball points and *some* of my fountain pens. They are now neat and tidy in things which Veritas sell as embroidery thread holders but which are gloriously well useful for storing pencils and things.  On the other hand, I haven’t found them as useful for storing embroidery thread. Strange that.

I have quite  a lot and even that bout of tidying didn’t deal with all of any of them given that there are pencils and pens committed to other special use pencil cases and the like.

I’d like to know why I am addicted to buying them. The problem of it being School Rentrée here in Lux has lead to an enormous selection of “yerra it’s only a tenner” on the fountain pen front. But I can’t account for the fact that I have loads of Uni Shalaku pencils, not to mention all the pencils that are Pilots, Pentels, Faber Castells and Caran d’Aches. I have really no idea why I think I need them. And yet there’s something about mechanical pencils, even the cheap plastic Stabilo ones that cost like, 2 euro, that speaks of luxury.

I think it has something to do with pencils costing 10p when I was at school. But there are so many different mechanical pencils too. I own a bunch of 0.5s and a bunch of 0.7s, and a limited few 0.3s. It’s the unending range – I mean, I just looked at the Uni Kuru Toga range on Cultpens and I want them all. Actually I’d like a couple of their 0.3s.

The fountain pens are somewhat more controlled – the overwhelming majority of them are Lamy Safaris in a vast array of colours, with some specials. Most of my pens, I love. Unlike a lot of people, I write daily. I was a developer for more than ten years, and I still work in IT although not as a dev any more (for which I am grateful as I’d had enough of development). But I keep a handwritten workbook, a handwritten planner and at home, I keep two journals and occasionally still write letters. And of course, I draw.

Today, I tidied most of the mech pencils and all of the fountain pens that are not CdA or Lamy. I like to think that this will have an interesting impact on my choice of writing interest on any given day – I can find stuff more easily.

 

WIP – Aeropostale and other needlework concerns

I used to go to the city of Lyon quite a bit some years ago. I don’t like to count but certainly ten years ago I was going there often. Once, I found a needlework store in the 2nd Arrondissement and I wandered in, and came out later with less money, clutching 2 tapestry canvases which I carefully tended back to Dublin and kept stored in a poster roll for about 10 years, It wasn’t intentional but a career as a kitesurfing photographer distracted me for a while as did a nightmare of a project involving embroidery silk that took about 5 years of my life. I then did a couple of lighthouses, and finally, reached a point where I had no works in progress and had to choose between 2 or 3 different options for Next Big Project.

So I chose this one.

Aeropostale still in progress

For me at the time, it was an unusual project to have bought seeing as it:

  1. wasn’t a lighthouse
  2. wasn’t set in Brittany
  3. had a human being in it.

Pretty much every other major canvas I had bought by choice featured a lighthouse, the sea, or Brittany, or occasionally all three. I picked up this one because at the time, I had a liking for Antoine de St Exupery, and he had been a pilot for the Aeropostale service, and had written a book called Vol de Nuit. As a nice piece of symmetry, the airport in Lyon is called St Exupery. He’s obviously best known for writing and illustrating The Little Prince. He disappeared over the Med during WWII.

I’m not certain when I started this but it’s probably 2 or 3 years ago. It got brought with me when I moved house but it occasionally finds itself deprioritised in favour of twitter. So it’s not going as fast as I had hoped. But I have days like today when I get a notable bit done and there’s some progress since I last photographed it in July.

I’ve also joined the needlepoint group on Facebook which has provided added motivation on one front. It has also been educational on a few other fronts. I’ve generally done needlepoint alone for the last 12 years.

I started doing tapestry in 2005. I did a postgrad between 2003 and 2005 and when I finally got out of that, I wanted to do something different, something more tangible. So I went to craft shops and I signed up for crochet lessons in the evening school at the comprehensive in Ballymun. The classes were given by a great lady whose name I don’t remember but I do remember hoping that when I was her age – ca 90 – I’d have the same get up and go. Anyway, the crochet and the tapestry stuck but I didn’t know anyone else at all in the world who did tapestry. It was like my secret hobby. There are upsides to that (no one tells you what to do) and downsides (supplies are thin on the ground as is gadget news and access to blogs). For years, the only websites I could find selling tapestry canvases were in Australia until I found a site in France.

Anyway, via the FB group, I’ve come across the fact that other people do lots of different stitches. I do have half cross and that’s all I ever have done. They have deep and meaningful discussions about thread selection – I chose the DMC 4 ply as recommended by Royal Paris or whoever printed the canvas. The American stitchers are big into handpainted canvases. I haven’t seen these much in Europe at all but the ones in America are eye wateringly (and understandably) expensive. I couldn’t afford that hobby in the US, I think.

But they’ve also brought me into contact with the modern world and tools. Tools which are actually manufactured here in Europe.

Specifically, they introduced me to magnets.

Tools

This photograph includes a brand new Prym scissors. I’ve already written extensively on scissors here, so we will skip over the scissors. The other two items are magnetic.

I have lived my life surrounded by fridge magnets and yet it never occurred to me to use them to corral needles while I was doing needlework. The oval thing there is magnetic. I think I bought that in a craft shop in Brussels the week before last – it’s probably way bigger than you’d think but it’s somewhere to keep the active and spare needles while you’re stitching as opposed to having them stuck somewhere awkward in the canvas.

The other thing is called a needle twister. It’s the simplest idea going. There’s a magnet in the bottom which attracts the needles, and the white bit twists so that the inside of the thing is pushed up exactly like you would be twisting out a lipstick. It is the handiest way to keep needles under control and so far, I haven’t lost any. As I typically lose full backs of needles at a go, this is quite great. I bought that in a craft shop here in Luxembourg. As a gadget, it scores top marks. Now I’m just looking to get a few in other colours, probably on websites that have canvases that I never knew I wanted but now I have to have…but that’s the nature of every hobby I’ve ever had. Gadgets proliferate.

Holliers in the mountains

I discovered rather too late that the school holidays in Luxembourg ended two weeks’ later than every other country in Europe which means that those two weeks where I had time off work, chosen because “shur all the schools will be gone back” were extortionately expensive to get to Spain with. Plus, bad and all as it was to get to  Spain, it was profoundly bankrupting to actually get home.

So I had to go somewhere cheaper instead and I chose Switzerland. The irony is not lost on me here.

The easiest way to go to where I wanted to go in Switzerland is usually fly into Geneva, have lunch with a friend and get a train and a couple of buses. However, that was too expensive because only Luxair flew into Geneva, and only Swiss flew into Zurich which left not-terribly-obvious option three, fly into Milan with either Ryanair, EasyJet or Luxair. In the end, I flew into Bergamo with Ryanair.

 

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You can see the mountains there. In fact, since we flew over them, you could probably have seen them from the aircraft. I had an aisle seat and could see nothing.

I had to overnight in Milan with a really early morning train on a Sunday morning so I picked somewhere near Milano Centrale. Milano Centrale is a great building.

It’s massive.

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It screams delusions of grandeur and when you realise Mussolini had an interest you kind of understand why. It’s a stunning building.

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with lots of halls and massive high ceilings.

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and art.

I could spend a day in Milano Centrale and probably go bankrupt in the shops there.

Growing up in Ireland, the train network is kind of limited to Ireland, and doesn’t seem terribly exotic.

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Continental train stations on the other hand…Mine was the EC 32 at 8:23, destination Geneva.

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It was a Swiss train. It takes a fascinating and stunning route into the mountains via Lake Maggiore.

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…and then the landscape starts getting a bit pointier.

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and pointier.

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The last stop before the border with Switzerland is a place called Dommodossola. This is a good warning to switch off your data roaming because in Switzerland, there is no Roam Like Home and even the phone calls come in at 1.72 a minute.

We don’t do snow capped mountains in Ireland much, never mind in summer.

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Switzerland does.

I was staying in the Valais.

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The mountains are full of character.

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I got off the train in Sion and had an early lunch.

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Surprisingly, there were a couple of shops open, including a bakery. This was unexpected since it was Sunday.

From Sion, I had to get two buses to Ovronnaz. The next change was in Leytron.

This is vineyard country.

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So lots of vines on practically vertical terraces.

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Leytron was kind of quiet.

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But it was Sunday morning.

And the land was a bit pointier than I am used to.

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Despite McGillycuddy Reeks being a formative part of my life

I got on the second bus.

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That’s Leytron as we started winding up our way an eternal number of hairpin bends. I don’t know that we would send buses up there if it were Ireland to be frank Some of the turns were nervewracking and we frequently met enthusiastic traffic coming at us. I’ve only been more scared in a bus once and that was in Fuerteventura.

I was staying in Ovronnaz.

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Ovronnaz is at around 1200m, and it’s well known for thermal baths and skiing. During the summer it also gets a bunch of hikers. I didn’t actually take any pictures of the baths but what follows are pictures of mountains, quite a few of them.

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I think this one was the view from my apartment.

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and we were below the snowline.

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The place is stunning when the sun comes out.

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So I decided to take the skilift up to 2000m. This was still below the snowline.

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Apparently you can walk to the top of that. I didn’t.

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Yay. Snow caps.

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We don’t get a whole lot of snow in Ireland or indeed in Luxembourg so I find this joy inducing. Although I draw the line at doing those hairpins in a bus in the snow.

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This is the chairlift posts looking down. I didn’t want to take my camera out while I was hanging in midair so that’s really all you’ll get of that.

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But I loved it up there.

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Sunset one evening.

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Weather not so great another day:

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Sunset another day.

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View from my balcony.

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View from the front of the hotel.

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It rained the last night I was there.

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This was how it looked at 7.20 in the morning as I started the 12 hour journey home. The trip down the hairpins was sufficiently dizzying that I took no photos and I only had 60 seconds in Leytron to make the bus back to Sion.

The train from Sion to Milan was packed. This is what the luggage area looked like half an hour out from Milan

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Would I do this again? Yes, despite a few stupid mishaps (I lost a full swim kit including swimsuit, goggles and nose clip on day one) but I’d like to be a bit hill walking fitter. There is no actually horizontal piece of ground up there – you’re either walking up a very steep hill or down a very steep hill. During the snow season, there are buses moving people from hotels to skilifts and the countryside is dotted with skilift lines which leads me to think there’s a good few more than the one I got up to 2000m, Jorasse. Switzerland is not terribly cheap and the exchange rate is really not in the EU’s favour at the moment (but it was more than offset by the cost of flying to Spain). Ovronnaz is a hassle to get to from outside Switzerland but the buses worked out okay. The food was generally good. Plus, if you’re European, seeing the Alps really should be on your bucket list. You can also do it in winter (duh) and I did the Glacier Express in 2016.