It’s been a crazy two weeks on planet Sunshine, involving jet setting between multiple countries and experiencing all sorts of weather and food. The Craziness began with a week with in Austria. It was the third year in a row I headed out for a week teaching 9th graders how to ski. The February weather in Turin had been persistently grey and disappointing and so, as I boarded a train on Saturday morning, my biggest hope was that I might find some sun.
The train sped through the Italian countryside, along the flat river basin through the rain and cloud. It was not until we had passed Milan and were well on the way to Verona that the sky cleared. The countryside turned more mountainous as we turned north and the mid morning temperatures reached 21 degrees. I suffered silently in my winter gear and hoped that the higher altitude of the mountains would bring the temperature down again. Through tunnels and hills, the train made its way further north, further approaching my final goal: Maria Alm. This small town on the steinernem Meer (Stone Sea) is a beautiful area, this year without much snow in the valley. It was only at higher altitudes, where ski resorts carefully maintenance it, that the snow was thick. Helpfully, though, the weather had some surprises in store for us, and after two days of skiing on old snow and battling piles of slush, we were granted fresh new snow.
Each of the ski teachers had groups of eight to ten students, most of whom had never stood on skis before. Like last year (link) we started with the basics. I was thrilled, though, that unlike last year I did not have to explain to the students which shoe belonged on which foot, and only occasionally had to remind them that the ski trousers should not stuffed inside the boots, as they will otherwise cause painful bruises. The kids were on time and eager, and within the first day, all but one of my students were successful at making at least one turn, most could make two or three in succession. While I still had problems convincing them to come to a full stop, I was pleased that they had stopped shooting off down the hill like miniature rockets.
Progress was fast on the subsequent days as well. Although some of them still lack “style”, they are all capable and generally display an enormous amount of control over the sticks on their feet, able to turn and stop whenever they want. I found myself extremely proud, not only because of their fast progress, but also because this time, as opposed to last year, I worked with a relatively homogenous group through the entire week. This allowed me to pay a lot more attention to each student individually, to learn their style and coach them personally, even though we were in a group.
It was also a successful trip because of the relaxed atmosphere and delightful group. Everyone bar one teacher had been on the trip before, and we had a general idea of how it was meant to go. From placing the Nutella right in front of the most addicted teacher every morning, to knowing what order the evening entertainment is organised in, this practice helped everything run smoothly. When decisions had to be made we found that it was easy to find agreement, that we were all willing to express our opinions, while we also still deferred to the experience of more senior team members.
It was all over too soon, and although I must have skied several hundred kilometres, I found that my return journey was spent thinking longingly of the next planned mountain trip. Yes, yes I know. Nothing unusual there. What was unusual was that my return trip was about as long as the time I had at home before I left again. This was partially because the overnight train was not so fast, and partially because I was off to Canada the day after my return.
Although officially a work trip, we took advantage of the flight and spent two days team building and conquering jet lag with the colleagues in Toronto. It was a delight to be back in a city which had many similarities of those I think of when I remember my childhood. Tall sky scrapers dwarfed solitary looking brick houses, scattered in a semi logical pattern across the cityscape. Streets long and straight, wide and open. In my mind, these kinds of cities invoke space, brag of vast open landscapes. While they feel cluttered, they never feel cramped. You do not have to pass through narrow alleys or dodge motorbikes and scooters nipping through side streets. It might not be traditionally beautiful, but it was, somehow, deeply familiar.
We had no clear plan for Toronto, so we started off with a trip up the CN tower, to stare far into the distance on all sides. I was most impressed that the elevator went at a speed of 22 km per hour, and least impressed by the tiny bit of glass flooring on the lower level viewing deck. After this we spent most of the sunny day walking, taking in the sights, stopping briefly in Chinatown, at new and old city hall, and later at the beautiful St. Laurence Market. I took too many photos of sports venues I would not have the time to go into, and spent too much time and money in shopping malls. We enjoyed the pool we found in the basement of the apartment complex we were staying in, and had early nights adjusting to the new time zone. Before we left we also made sure to have Tim Hortons and Starbucks coffee, ate in a classic diner (man I miss salads with cool combinations and unusual vinegrettes) and simply relaxed for the crazy week ahead.
We flew on to Quebec City. The rest of the week was spent, as predicted, pretty much exclusively in one hotel, running between three rooms and the pool, to relax for half an hour each day. I found one hour in the early morning light to explore Quebec, and once again loved having the frozen, quiet city virtually to myself. It was mystical, being in a place so sunny and cold, for the firs time since Russia. The air tasted clean and crisp, and I didn’t even mind my legs slowly turning numb until it became painful to move too quickly. These days passed in a blur, and it was a shock to the system when we disembarked from the plane in Italy to a blazing 20 degree day. It was 40 degrees warmer on my walk that day than the day previously. No wonder I promptly caught a cold I’m now trying to get rid of, before the next few crazy weeks begin…