Our Hong Kong Highlights are not a tourist list of things to see rather what we discovered, walking the streets, during our brief visit to Hong Kong in October, that stuck in our hearts and minds.
Armed with a map, we picked up at the train station, we set out each day with the plan only to discover a new area of the city of Hong Kong. Each day as we hoped, we were amazed at the colours, culture and fantastic food we discovered.
Here are our Hong Kong highlights which were overlaid, everyday and everywhere by two things; the vibrant colours and juxtaposition of eastern and western cultures.
CITY OF LIGHTS & COLOUR
An obvious highlight; the Hong Kong skyline, famed for its brightly lit skyscrapers. The nightly ‘light show’ spectacular from either side of the harbour and quite stunning from the Star Ferry.
We were more amazed also by the colours and lights in every street…
There must be almost as many neon lights as people in Hong Kong!
EAST MEETS WEST
The juxtaposition of eastern and western cultures is constantly highlighted, and for us sometimes uncomfortable, in Hong Kong; smart-dressed city types relax in the many western style bars, seemingly oblivious to the (more often than not) Chinese making everything work in the background.
Contemporary stores selling fine goods sit along side traditional Chinese stores and workshops.
High above the bustling streets, hidden away roof top bars offer breath-taking prices to match their views
whilst below in the narrow streets and alleys make-shift street cafes serve fantastic, simple local food to eastern and western people alike.
An amazing array of ingredient in even the simplest dishes…
Though the peace and tranquility is spoilt in some by camera clicking, indiscreet tourists others remain serene and sacred places the Taoist and Buddhist temples remain one of our Hong Kong highlights.
In most temples we came across I only stood close to the entrance and watched the people perform their ceremonies for a few minutes. If the temples were empty, and it felt appropriate, I took pictures.
In the smaller, less tourist visited temples the deep red of the messages to the gods, the aroma of the constantly burning incense coils particularly highlight the contrast of east and west in Hong Kong.
Even surrounded by ancient eastern culture and religion the modern, western influenced city and its skyscrapers were never far away.
APPRECIATION OF STYLE & NATURE
The of our most surprising Hong Kong highlights for us was the evident appreciation and application of style.
These two perfectly, almost eerily, coordinated girls caught my eye on Hong Kong harbour. Their use of colour perhaps not as vibrant as others but such simple, understated and elegant style made a real impression.
Even the modern shopping malls revealed an appreciation of style. These ‘retail temples’ were worth visiting to see the emphasis given to style and use of natural materials. Even the ladies rooms were spectacular!
Thankfully nature still rules in many places throughout Hong Kong and is appreciated sometimes simply for the shade it provides
and, in such a fast developing and fast moving city like Hong Kong, it’s fascinating to see nature appreciated and interwoven with a special attention to detail and effortless style.
Not for the experience of the Peak Tram which, though a wonderful site making its way slowly up the hill, we avoided and walked up to the Peak from the city instead.
Rather again for nature and the dominance of it so close to the city. On the path up to and around the peak it was wonderful and unsettling at the same time to see how quickly nature takes back over after people have cut their path and laid their mark.
Finishing just in time for winter season we had a busy year; enjoying time with friends old and new to enjoy winter season in the French Alps. Getting just a little better at snowboarding, learning to ski again. Here’s our winter season captured in pictures
We were also busy during this first year living in the French Alps managing our holiday rental business in the UK and building up to the sale of the business in May and June.
In July, back to home in Montriond in time for the bikers to arrive in force. 10,000 Harley riders, two BMW riders (us!) and one Triumph rider (my dad!). We made the most of the Harley Days Festival with two ride outs on Harleys, a night at the Blues Brothers concert and a quiet evening BBQ at Lac du Montriond. All in all a great Harley Days Morzine 2017
In August the mediterranean sea and sunshine were calling us but so were the peaks around our home in the French Alps so in August we completed our quest of walking the four peaks that we can see and that inspire the artwork in our home; Roc D’Enfer, Nyon, Ressachaux and Nantau and a few other wonderful alpine walks with friends too. Walking in portes du soleil.
So that is the whistle stop summary of our year in the french alps, from August to August.
Of course we didn’t sit still in September, we’re still busy and I’m busy writing so stay tuned….
The annual Harley Days came to Morzine 14-17th July. Apparently 10,000 Harley motorbikes and 30,000 visitors were in Morzine over the weekend, I can only say there were a LOT of Harley motorbikes and a LOT of Harley riders.
I can confirm there were two BMW HP2 riders (me and Adam)
and one Triumph rider in town too, my Dad, who is already planning how to get his Triumph Thunderbird down to Morzine for Harley Days 2018.
Harley generously organised one hour experience tours on any of the Harley bikes. The three of us thought this was an experienced not to be missed; riding a Harley and riding with my dad!
Here we are having a breather (me with my helmet off and my dad in the BMW jacket) after riding the windy road up from Morzine to Avoriaz.
On the day of the Harley parade Adam and I rode up to Avoriaz to join the thousands of bikers there and there were still thousands in Morzine too!
On Saturday we had lunch at Col du Joux Verte restaurant (always a great plat du jour there) and a perfect spectator spot for the Harley Days parade too which set off from Avoriaz and wound down to Morzine town centre.
On Sunday we wound down from the Harley Days festival with a strangely peaceful BBQ at Lac du Montriond. With so many people in the area we were amazed we were the only people at the lake on such a beautiful evening.
After the excitement of the Harley Days festival we had the motorbiking bug again and had some great ride outs through over the Col du Joux Plane
trying to focus on the winding mountain roads ahead and not the amazing views.
The start of some great riding over the rest of the summer. We’re already looking forward to next spring for more riding and the Harley Days festival next year.
A motorhome holiday in Italy was Adam’s parents holiday they would most like to experience as part of their 60th wedding anniversary celebrations. We have visited Italy many times in our VW camper van so relished the idea of returning and sharing some of our favourite places in Italy with them.
So off we went with a vague plan for a motorhome holiday in Italy.
After picking up the motorhome (from Hertz in Lyon) and filling it with all of our plates, bedding, provisions and our two man tent for us to sleep in we set off south for a day in Provence.
A wander into the nearest town to search for local wine and a morning coffee brought us to a beautiful tranquil squareand made us linger a little longer than planned as the beautiful light, colours and stylish, Provence locals distracted and intrigued our group of people watchers. Wine rack stocked with Provence Rosé next stop Italy.
We drove via Piemonte and one of favourite places for motorhome stops in Italy, a basic campsite in an olive grove just outside of the lovely hill town of Olivetta San Michele (which has a fabulous food shop with home made savoury pastries!)
Finally the motorhome holiday in Italy started fully. Along the coast though and into Tuscany for a few days of amazing home-made pasta and of course some lovely Chianti wines.
During our stay in Chianti, on a walk to the local town of Marcialla we found a fantastic delicatessen selling wines produced on the surrounding hills. You could buy the wine to take home or, for the same price, chilled to enjoy on their terrace with a view. We couldn’t resist!
On this motorhome holiday in Italy, as always, we had so many amazing food experiences, too many to mention here. One in particular was in Umbria; a wonderful foodie find with the local food shop in Civatella del Lago.
During our ten days in Italy we managed to get as far south as one of our favourite places, Paestum, and treated Adam’s parents to Mozzeralla direct from the buffala farm and a beer by the Greek ruins
We were half way through holiday time and so time to head north and towards home.
Herculaneum was far too busy and hot for us to wander around this time unfortunately but it was fascinating to stay above and see the ancient and modern cities together.
Stopping at Solfatara campsite just outside of Naples was a steamy and smelly as always
and a little more challenging getting in to and out of the campsite in our motorhome versus our VW campervan
One final stop in Italy, parking the motorhome down a tiny street in Courmayeur and finding a great local restaurant (one we hadn’t found on any of our ski trips in winter), a great find with amazing views.
Ten days was not really enough in Italy in the motorhome but we managed to share some of our favourite places and find a few new ones that we will be sure to revisit on our next motorhome holiday.
Having negotiated the sale of our holiday property business that we launched together and ran for seven years we approached the emotional and fraught time when contracts would be exchanged, the point of no return. At this stage too we would be able to tell our team the news that the sale of our business meant that we would no longer be involved but their jobs were secure as they become part of a larger organisation.
Knowing this would be a complicated time for us, our team and our buyers we wanted to be there ‘on the ground’ during the sales completion process.
In May we therefore did what most people would do, well ok maybe not many people but some people at least, which is set of our in self-converted VW camper van with the plan to camp in the UK wherever we needed to for as long as we needed to.
First the most surprising and potentially embarrassing thing happened. Do I even want to put it in writing? …we joined the Caravan club! To much amusement of my caravan owning family and now fellow club members. It was my northern roots taking hold when I found we would save our membership fee after staying just three nights, I couldn’t resist the bargain.
The first week did not go as we hoped. Our plan was to exchange contracts on the day we arrived in the UK and be able to tell the team immediately. Unfortunately after we had set up camp in Moreton-in-Marsh campsite, close to the office so that we could go talk to the team the following day, we found there was more data and more double checking to be done by the buyers.
At this stage we had to maintain full confidentiality and therefore work away from our team. So we connected to the painfully slow campsite wifi and pulled together business data and checked the sales contract sitting in a field in the Cotswolds…
We were deflated and emotionally exhausted knowing we had to be completely professional and detached but it felt alien and deceitful not able to tell our team.
We were pulled in two directions working with our enthusiastic team on creative ideas to continue to grow the business and the harsh reality that actually all we really needed to do was maintain the ‘numbers’.
I admit sometimes I just gave up and abandoned my desk for a comfier spot on the grass to put things in a different perspective…and the environment was a little distracting and not perhaps encouraging of the strictest work ethic…
Finally ready for exchange, we were asked to print and sign the 40 page contract.
We were stumped for a moment but then set off to the nearest shopping centre, bought a printer-scanner and signed, scanned and emailed the contract from the office/van in the car park.
Finally we could involve the team and work each day, openly, in the office as we prepared for the completion of the sale. We were first in the shower blocks each morning and possibly looked a little out of place in office wear rather than shorts and t-shirts as the rest of the campers.
We always made sure we had lots of coffee and a hearty breakfast to set us up for the challenges of the day ahead and continued to grow the business as well as crunch the numbers.
It was an exhausting time so when we needed a break we escaped the ‘board room’ for some fresh air and relaxation…
On a couple of weekends, admittedly feeling a little fenced in by our little field we escaped to Birmingham for some much needed curry and concrete.
During the week, back to the Moreton-in-Marsh field to be close to the team, dressing in our van for the office each day. Many evenings, drained, we arrived back after most of our campsite neighbours had retired in doors but still with the long summer evenings still had time to relax and enjoy some wonderful evening walks.
and stunning early summer sunsets.
We camped until all was complete in mid June and after a celebration with the new owners of our business in Bideford, we set off home.
One last stop in the camper van, at an aire on the French motorway. We know how to live the life!
We were both very quiet, processing all that we had learned and experiences not just over the past seven weeks but seven years. I felt so proud of what we had accomplished but felt empty too as our involvement with Sheepskin slowly disappeared into sunset…
On the drive south we found we were both feeling the same and agreed we should force ourselves to celebrate, take time to reflect and recognise all we and our team had achieved. So picked up some Champagne on our way through Champagne and did just that when we got home.After our reflections we agreed; if we were to ever do the same again, we would do the same again!SaveSave
As soon as the snow disappears, normally early May, we are out walking in Portes du Soleil. Walking in Portes du Soleil mountains from Morzine and Montriond has easy access and is very rewarding with amazing views across Haute Savoie region from many of the peaks.In spring and summer the valleys and peaks are transformed by nature. Verdant and welcoming from the valley floor to the rocky peaks where miraculously mountain flowers appear everywhereand crocuses force their way through the fading patches of snow.During May and June, the wonderfully peaceful ‘inter-season’ Adam and I enjoy a variety of walks from our home in Portes du Soleil. Some walking out to conquer particular peaks and others simply a nice circuit along the rolling hills of the lower slopes.
Everywhere is well sign posted so, as long as you have an idea of where you want to head to, it’s easy to walk in Portes du Soleil without a map.We have now completed/conquered the four main peaks that dominate the skyline from Morzine & Montriond; Pointe de Nantaux, Ressachaux, Pointe de Nyon and Roc D’Enfer.
Pointe de Nantaux was particularly daunting and rewarding at the same time and took us two attempts to conquer since the first time the summit was still very much covered with snow but in August 2017 we made it to the top with our friend David.The sign at the bottom ‘KMV’ (kilometre vertical) gives it away that this is not the easiest of walks and this is by no means the roughest or steepest part.
In short the KMV is 1000m of ascent in 2000m of distance covered and then you have another 200m or so of climb and around 500m distance to reach the summit.
The arrow shows the top of the KMV (where I took the photo below), you may just make out the path directly below and the summit you see to the right is not the true summit….
The peace and tranquility, that we had all to ourselves (even on a bank holiday), at the summit was spellbinding.Walking the descent was harder on the legs though easier on the lungs and the scenery, with views across Portes du Soleil, absolutely breathtaking. Oh to be the shepherd who gets to stay here!Everywhere reminders of the power of nature.
Pointe de Ressachaux is another must conquer peak when walking in Portes du Soleil. We set off reasonably early suspecting it was a 5-6 hour walk to the summit and back. It was Sunday so, after several cups of coffee, 10.30am wasn’t a bad achievement!As we huffed and puffed up and up through the forest we were embarrassed and just a little demotivated to be cheerily greeted by a group of pot-bellied, grey haired ‘ramblers’ striding down towards us at 11.30am.
In my halting French I asked were they returning from the summit already? ‘Bien sûr! Bonne Montée!’ they replied as they disappeared down through the forest.
A few corners later some very kind, and fit, person had made a welcome bench from a fallen tree…We envied the French group, probably enjoying a menu du jour very soon but the tasty cheese baguettes in our rucksacks for lunch at the summit spurred us on. and hat a picnic spot it is.
Pointe de Nyon, our favourite peak in winter for easy to reach, fun, off-piste on powder days and actually a deceivingly difficult walk in summer.
We have walked from our home in Montriond, through town and up to the plateau du Nyon via the Cascade de Nyon which makes it about 5 hours to the top and back.On a clear day, as our next walk to the summit of Nyon, you can clearly see Mont Blanc from here…To make it shorter we’ve driven up to the plateau and walked from there which makes it a little more relaxing and leaves time for lunch at Chez Nannon.
You can even get the chair lift to just below the summit so that you can reach the amazing views
Roc D’Enfer lives up to its name Rock of Hell.
We walked from home which made the total circuit about 30km and around 7 hours. On the way to the base of Roc D’Enfer you have spectacular views, even Mont Blanc in the distance.When you pass the sign that basically says ‘ this way if you’re sensible and want an easy walk back to Les Gets or this way Danger of death’ you know you will have to keep your wits about you.
A steep, scramble over rocks takes you up to a narrow path along the long ridge which follows the crest where sometime it can be quite tricky to see where the path is.For several kilometres the narrow path picks it way up and down the ridgesuntil finally emerging into a mountain meadow and the long track back to Col D’Encrenaz and home with Roc D’Enfer looming large behind you.
Walking in Portes du Soleil is not all about ‘up’, high peaks and tough climbs.
We’ve had great days wandering in the valley and found virtually flat walks with friends and family by the river and around Morzine town using the suspension foot-bridge to avoid ups and downs.The advantage of staying close to town is that there are always plenty of places for refreshments in the sunshine…and if you do fancy exploring and walking a little higher in Portes du Soleil you can always take the lift up.
My favourite, relaxing rather than challenging, walking in Portes du Soleil has got to be around Lac du Montriond. A flat walk with spectacular views in every direction and a bar at either end!
Similarly Lac du Mines D’Or is a short drive, up, along Vallee de la Manche and rewards you with amazing views, a short walk and the Chalet Freterolle just a little further up for a spot of local lunch…
Having managed the renovation of several houses in the UK we were now looking forward to and prepared for some French building and renovation lessons too.
Three months into our renovation of an old French barn in the Portes du Soleil and our weeks have already been filled with, emotional and financial ups and downs, and many lessons in French building.
French building lesson 1 – trust the local systems
With our planning permission, to transform the barn into a chalet, approved prior to our taking ownership in December the first French building lesson was an easy and enjoyable one, though the ‘Compromis de Vente’ certainly tested our French language skills.
The building team were ready to go in January, come rain, shine and hopefully (with our snowboards at the ready) lots of snow! The old barn is on the ‘grid’ but had not been lived in for several years; a few pipes draped from the walls where the long gone sink, toilet and bath had sat, bare wires poked from the ceilings and lifeless sockets hung from the walls.
So experience tells us that our first job was to ensure there would be water and electric or we would risk mutiny without the facility for cups of tea and coffee and power for tools too of course.
Our planning approval dossier from the Montriond Marie included a form for us to request the water to be reconnected as well as information required to have electricity switched back on.
Water reconnection form completed and French cheque written (there is another lesson!) we visited the Montriond Mairie mid December with the hope of having water switched on before January and enjoyed our most surprising French lesson so far. Bernadette made a phone call whilst we waited and a few minutes later said that ‘the water would be switched on but not until around 3pm that afternoon, was that ok?’ Amazing not just ok!
French building lesson 2 – have courage Since the water had been so easy we asked advice on how we might have the electricity switched on, the answer was not so encouraging ‘it is not so easy, I am not sure exactly how you do it I only know that you need courage and time’.
A few days and several phone calls later we did find the right person to speak to at ERDF and they booked an engineer to visit just a few days later. He looked rather perplexed as he got out of his van clearly expecting to see a habitable dwelling not a tumble down building but still within twenty minutes he had re-established power to the house and reset the meter. We have light! and under floor heating too which seemed a little bizarre when insulation material exposed through holes in the wood clad walls was moss!
French building lessons 3 – let the building show you the way
The builders started the renovation first by emptying out all of the dusty old wood, taking down the wobbly looking hay loft and stripping out the interior to its basic frame.
For the first few weeks each morning our visits to site were rewarded with more of the stunning original framework of the barn and the majority in good condition. We and the whole team were like excited children in a sweet shop and we all quickly agreed that our current layout would hide or remove too much of the wonderful materials and craftsmanship that was now apparent.
The demolition and clearing work continued as we scratched our heads, shuffled walls, beds and bathrooms within the restrictions of the revealed structure finally to confirm a new chalet interior layout that preserves and exposes as much as the framework as possible and allows great views of the mountains from the main rooms.
French building lesson 4 – prioritise local life
The next French building lesson followed quickly; we needed a new water pipe into the house and the only way in was into the kitchen underneath what would be the garage back to the mains connection at our boundary edge not a big deal at all however since the gentleman booked with his digger to do the work also operates one the local snow ploughs each fresh fall of snow, though eagerly anticipated and welcomed by the majority including us, meant a frustrating delay as Jerome had to prioritise ensuring roads to Morzine and Montriond were clear of snow. A nice lesson on French local life and priorities.
On a rainy day we were all smiles as Jerome and his digger made fast progress. That afternoon the digger was still going, deeper & towards the road, and all faces and bodies looked tired. With a quickly sought permission from the mairie, the road was cordoned off and the digger pierced the tarmac, finally finding the connection point to the main pipe in the centre of the road.
Leaning on the safety rails across our unplanned trench next to grass verges churned by cars forced around and off the roadway not the ideal time of place to meet our nearest neighbours but that are friendly and understanding and we think have already forgiven the disruption.
Lessons in French bureaucracy and diplomacy that the team took in their stride.
French building lesson 5 – go with the flow but be persistent and follow your heart
The last, for now, and the hardest, the funniest and most eye-opening so far…
Though it feels alien we are hoping each snow fall is the last of the season as unless the roofer has a dry spell in which to open and re-close the lid of the building the work inside will grind to a halt.
In a few glorious, sunny days several tons of slate are removed from the roof to reveal very old, grey roof boards; beautiful warm brown underneath where they will be exposed but dappled with rot above and treacherously thin. The roofer estimates new tiles were laid around 60-70 years ago but were laid on top of already damp boards.
Debate ensues as to how much of the beautiful, original roof boards can be saved but the roofer must build a roof that complies with the rules, will cope with the possible burden of 40tons of snow and with a 10year guarantee therefore unfortunately the final decision is driven by him.
Our hearts sink the following morning; the roof is stripped bare of all but a few planks and the site deserted. We search the messy pile of discarded timber in the vain hope of finding salvageable bits of wood but the roofing team have carefully put aside the few planks that are not too ravaged by time and damp to be used again.
We gaze up unbelieving at the blue sky through what remains of the roof structure, a sad but stunning sight all at once. We fight back tears and anger, take a deep breathe and go to find the team and a solution.
Over coffee we review the options to replace the 250m2 of roof boards, all additions to the budget; new pine – no way!; old wood maybe but at 65€ per metre square too much; new ‘dead-standing’ wood, being the direct translation from French, but even the character of the knots and fissures cannot obscure the pale shine of new pine. We leave with the only agreement that we need to figure out how to replace our rotten old wood with good, reclaimed, old wood.
The hillsides in the French alps are scattered with seemingly forgotten old wooden buildings and piles of old wood, put aside for a future use and not for sale it seems but the local grape-vine suggested there may be ‘vieux bois’ for sale at a few wood yards. Adam and I headed down the mountain with, Simon, one of the building team along for expert advise and French translation as needed in search of 250m2 (~6m3) of reclaimed timber but specifically in lengths of 3-4m long and a consistent thickness between 21-27mm, ideally tongue and groove too.
The first broccante was fascinating with rows of old gondola cabins alongside an array of ancient doors but distinctly lacking old wood.
We pressed our noses against the tall metal fence of the next wood yard trying to see if the piles of wood we saw were worth trying to contact the owner and gain access. We had decided it wasn’t worth it and turned away when a car pulled up and an old gentleman curled himself slowly out. He greeted us with hand-shakes for everyone, as is customary, and his round, smiling face, framed with swept back grey hair above and a hastily tied cravat below, told us he was very pleased to see us. We politely explained what we needed and he was sure he had what we were looking for. He led us through grass corridors lined with higgledy-piggledy piles of all shapes and sizes of old wood that beautifully framed the snow topped mountains in the distance.
Our first conclusion had been correct and the old gentleman didn’t have anything that we could use for the roof but he was insistent he could provide what we needed and very persistent. Not enough? he would find more. Not brushed or processed enough? not a problem he had a friend that could do that. Too thin for the roof? his own roof was made with wood like this. Simon bravely left his mobile number and promised to call him if we didn’t find anything better.
The next wood yard was our last hope and as soon as we drove into the yard we could see that here we could find what we wanted. We found a few pallets of old wood that were the right specification and the owner, Frank, announced that we should agree a deal with a Grappa.
From an old wooden cabinet in the corner of his homely kitchen emerged a perfectly clear bottle. After pouring 4 shots glasses he put the bottle on the rough wooden table to reveal a snake floating in the liquor! What snake is that? asked Simon. Just an ordinary one was the answer. OK then, Santé! we all chinked glasses, drank down the amazingly quaffable liquid and returned our glasses to the table with our thanks. Price now agreed, Simon explained we would call Frank to confirm if we could take the wood once we had spoken to the roofer.
‘That’s fine, now try this one’ said Frank this time a yellow tinge and a pungent floral aroma to the liquid poured from a large round bottle into the 4 glasses despite our protests that one of us had to drive and we all had planned to work that afternoon. He explained he made 1 litre from 40kg of the root of a mountain plant, I could imagine an evening around this table enjoying this gentle medicinal taste and aroma but too potent for another on a Monday afternoon.
Before we put our glasses on the table Frank pulled the stopper on a third bottle whose aroma reminded us all of local Caribbean bars, ‘this one I make from a plant my kids grow’ Frank winked and with a straight face looked to Adam and said ‘you will be fine to drive but promise me to pull over if you see Giraffes crossing!’ With laughs, smiles and hand-shakes we parted.
A few days later we waited in the sunshine with a couple of guys from the team eagerly awaiting Frank with the two piles of reclaimed boards. As soon as we saw his trailer driving up the lane we knew that what was strapped to his trailer was not the wood we had identified and shook on over ‘Grappa’ and what was there would not be suitable.
After quite a lengthy debate between the builders, the roofer and Frank who every few minutes left the discussion and started to unload the wood. Each time our protests stopped him but looking more frustrated each time. Finally Frank quietly re-strapped his trailer, interrupted the ongoing discussion to shake hands with each of us and drove slowly away down the narrow lane pausing briefly to catapult a stone at the windscreen of the roofers’ van and then disappeared around the corner.
We were all astonished and flabbergasted. I am not entirely sure what this particular French building lesson taught us but it certainly was an experience!
and the search for old wood, ‘vieux bois’, and a solution to finish our roof continued.