Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sledgehammer - the soft version

For Saturday we have planned a day on the ski-slopes and/or on the sledge-track on the Semmering, a mountain 70km from Vienna. Unfortunately the flu-epidemic hit the Bella Familia and thus instead of a group of 25 people it was only Max & Bruno as well as Maria, Mirko & Valentin who met with us on Saturday to drive south. While it was relatively nice in Vienna with sunshine and only a few clouds the Semmering was all cloudy and due to a strong foehn wind the temperatures were as high as 10 degrees when we arrived. As a result the snow was quite wet and slushy, but therefore soft and any crashes did not hurt much.

We started off on the beginner's sledge-hill in order to get used to the conditions and give Valentin and Max a chance to also do some sledge runs and it we all enjoyed the short runs a lot. Valentin, though getting snow-spray in his face upon each attempt to slow down, was all smiling and laughing. After an extensive lunch break –
sledge-racing makes everyone very hungry – the sun came out and the joy increased even more. Once Evi & Christoph as well as Manu, Robert & Moritz arrived early afternoon we wanted to go for the long sledge track down the Zauberberg, but we were warned that due to the high temperatures the track is extremely wet and it was not recommended to go for it. Slightly disappointed we returned to the beginner's hill and did a few races there before having a refreshments and returning back home late afternoon.

Anyone available to pull me?

The fun factor was high (see the pics and videos), the little ones enjoyed it a lot and if we listen more carefully to the weather forecast us adults might also be challenged on the 3km long tobogganing track next time. We will be back - ideally with the larger group of people once the flu is over.

Kerstin & Markus

Friday, February 6, 2009

The end of an era

In 1 month and 23 days the engines will be restarted and finally we will have the Formula 1 back! Last year’s title race has been one of the most exciting in the recent history not only due to the floodlit night race in Singapore but also as it was a really tight one from the very first race and was decided only in the last corner of the race in Interlagos. Most of you might remember that Lewis Hamilton crowned himself to the youngest Formula One World Drivers' Champion ever while Brazilian Felipe Massa broke out in tears when crossing the finishing line in his home country as winner, but learning that Hamilton gained the vital point by overtaking Timo Glock in the very last corner of this crazy race with rain.

As always there have been several changes in the
regulatory environment (tyres, aerodynamics, etc.) and also many personnel changes within the teams in the off-season, but two amendments are ground-breaking. First of all the global economic crisis hit Bernie Ecclestone’s circus and resulted in Honda withdrawing from the Formula 1. The Japanese carmaker has been a cornerstone of the Formula 1 since the 1960s and has won many world championships before withdrawing in late 1992 just to return into the competition in 2000. During the past 8 seasons no more world championship could be won and cost pressure paired with the economic crisis forced Honda to withdraw from the most prestigious motor-racing competition.

Jochen Rindt, Jacky Stewart, Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna etc - he knew them all!

For Austrians though the end of an era has arrived as Heinz Prueller, THE voice of Formula 1 in Austrian public television, ORF, will not act as commentator of the races anymore. Unfortunately the contract with the 67 year-old legend has not been prolonged and thus one of his young colleagues will take over. Prueller has been part of the Formula 1 circus since 1965, knows all racers ever since personally and has presented each race with his heart blood. Given the huge knowledge and experience and the huge amount of information he had to deliver he missed though every now and then crashes, overtaking manoeuvres or pit stops and only realised it a few laps later, but still his commentating was entertaining. We do hope that Heinz will remain part of ORF's TV broadcast of the Formula 1 one way or the other and wish him farewell and his successor Ernst Hausleitner good luck for the challenge.

Kerstin & Markus

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We learn something new every day

Tuesday we have taken a day off and we used the opportunity to spend the afternoon again in the zoo in Schoenbrunn. A bit more than a year ago Austria was completely crazy about the giant panda baby Fu-Long which has been conceived and born in a natural way in the vienna zoo. There was a real frenzy about the little fluffy animal and one had to queue for up to two hours to be able to watch him for a few minutes (if lucky). Nowadays he is not only much more active and visible but also significantly bigger than last year and we watched him for 15 minutes playing with a plastic ball, eating bamboo or exploring the environment indoors.

Afterwards we visited one of the most beautiful whilst most stinking animals: the giraffes. One can smell them from hundreds of metres, yet we love to take a look at them every time we come to the zoo. The height of these animals, paired with the graceful motions makes them one of our favourites. After a short pit-stop at the
lemurs and white handed gibbons – two kinds of animals that are hyper-active and very funny to watch – we followed the feeding of the African elephants and learned that an elephant is pregnant for 22 months and a young elephant weighs up to 100kg and has a shoulder height of ca 90cm. Is that the reason for the many wrinkles elephants have?

So beautiful and yet so stinky!

While the young Siberian tigers were fast asleep after their feeding the seals were spectacular as always during their feeding – jumping for fish out of as well as into the water, grunting to get attraction from the caretaker as well as kisses and hugs for him are parts of their show. Check out the pictures of this action-laden late-lunch.

Even though the zoo has many attractions already it is constantly improving and expanding. There are permanent construction works going on and soon new parts will be finished. The most recent addition is an area with sweet-water fish which one can/could find in our region:
pikes, zander, trouts, wels catfish, huchen or a 1m long beluga. If you wonder about the latter - even this fish famous for its caviar used to be found in the Danube prior to the construction of the backwater regulations.

We concluded the afternoon with some hot chocolate in the
Kaiserpavillon (emperor’s pavillon) before making our way home again. Having refreshed our one year pass – for 29 EUR one can go to the zoo 365 days per year compared to 12 EUR for a one day admission – we will definitely be back soon again searching for new parts in the zoo.

Kerstin & Markus

Monday, February 2, 2009

Plenty of fresh air and sunshine

Having come back home on Sunday afternoon Markus stayed there only shortly as after a one day road show to Frankfurt on Monday he got into his car on Wednesday afternoon to drive in even more wintry conditions than the week before to Bregenz and on Thursday morning on to Lech, where his team hosted the EMEA Investor and Ski Seminar. 15 investors followed the invitation to the 10th edition of this event at which investors have the opportunity to meet with company representatives and analysts in both formal meetings as well as informal discussions on the slopes of the Arlberg region.

The weather conditions could not have been better, as from Monday until Wednesday the region got some fresh snow - though less than the east and south of Austria. The clouds disappeared and gave way for blue ski and sunshine on Thursday and temperatures dropped to -19 degrees during the nights which provided the perfect environment for hard slopes and preserved also the snow off-piste.

As close to perfect as possible

The sportive highlights this year have been the heli-skiing on Friday. A group of 14 skiers + Harry and Michael, two guides from the Alpincenter ,was brought up to find an untouched set of slopes in front of them allowing them to put the first marks into the powder snow - the ultimate satisfaction for every skier! The number of crashes was rather limited and no-one suffered any injuries, but we have had a few good laughs about crashes, lost skis and humble falls – both the pictures as well as videos provide evidence for that. The flipside of the off-piste heli-skiing is the 30 minute walk out of the valley with skies on which demands all energy reserves and is followed by a quite fast race on a narrow path through the woods.

Wind and noise at the beginning - untouched slopes in the end

Due to the rather small group relative to the past years and less demand we broke a tradition and cancelled the toboggan race (which Markus finished first in 5 out of 6 editions but was always disqualified by his boss for dubious reasons) and we instead organized a timed parallel ski race with knock-out stages. After two easy victories Markus was drawn against the favourite, his former colleague Florian who timed the fastest run in his first run (35:94), in the quarterfinal. The race was very tight and Florian was ahead after a mistake in the middle part, but he showed nerves himself and a flawless lower part of the course gained Markus the victory in this head-to-head with his fastest time of the day (36:22). This victory paved the way for winning the competition. Doubts about a possible disqualification emerged after winning the last run against Markus’s boss Fritz, but after all the victory was undisputed. We guess, we will do the toboggan race next year again.

While the nights were rather quiet with dinner and
fondue on Thursday and Friday night in Hotel Kristberg, owned and run by former Ski World Champion and Olympic Gold medallist Egon Zimmermann we had a big bash on Saturday night in Restaurant Alter Goldener Berg where the local trio “Handgestrickt” – consisting of Erwin, Ernesto and Ricardo - provided the musical background and we sang along soulfully from the very beginning. The poor couples who have booked a romantic dinner in the room next door have definitely not got the peace they were hoping for but rather lots of noise, laughter, singing and dancing. Some of them even joined us in the end and no-one was upset. The singing even continued in the last cable car that we just managed to get to come down to the village again and our voices were pretty sore.

After easy and slow skiing on Sunday morning with low temperatures of -13 degrees and heavy wind as well as clouds in the sky the departure was made more easy as we have been spoiled with perfect weather the days before. The drive home was unproblematic as traffic towards Vienna was virtually non-existing thanks to the school holidays that have started on Saturday.

Kerstin & Markus