Tag Archives: adventure

Bratislava, Slovakia

13 Aug

After arriving safely in Vienna, Austria, I took the bus to Bratislava. The journey is only about an hour and I arrived at my final destination at around 8 in the evening. My hotel was a short walk from the bus station which I was happy about. I wasn’t happy 5 minutes later when the heavens opened and a huge storm hit. The rain was coming down sideways. I had to take cover under a tree until it eased off a bit.

The hotel was lovely and in a really quiet part of town. I was especially pleased to see that I had paid online a lot less (almost half price) of what I would have paid for the room if I had gone directly to the hotel. This isn’t always the case when you book through a third party but this time it worked in my favour.

On Saturday I went out early because I wanted to go on a Free Walking Tour. This one was a tour of the Old Town and the Castle. The tour was well-attended and the tour guide was a local. It was a very interesting and a good way to see the city for the first time.

I was surprised that there was no entrance fee to get into the castle. When I was in Prague I had to pay an entrance fee to get to the castle and when we were in Edinburgh it was about 25 pounds each for entrance to the castle and so we decided not to do it. I think that Bratislava might be missing a trick here.

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The view from the castle was impressive. It was possible to see not only the whole of the city but also neighbouring Hungary and Austria. This is a strange concept for someone who grew up on an island to get their head around. It was interesting to learn about the history of Slovakia and how it used to be a very important place during the time of Royal Hungary. It was the place where Kings and Queens received their coronations.

I was surprised to hear that nicest parts of the city were pulled down during the communist era as more importance was placed on the beauty of Prague, Czech Republic which was then unified with Slovakia. Bratislava was thought of as more of the industrial part of the country so some horrible buildings were erected and some beautiful ones destroyed.

I find it fascinating that countries that are so near to us were ruled by communism for so long and during our lifetime. I have never been able to get my head around why people subscribed to it as an ideology when it is so clear that not all people are the same. The guide explained that there are a lot of older people who say that life was better under communist rule. I can understand that going from full employment, not having to pay for health and education and not needing to save from retirement would have its plus sides. I can imagine how these people feel with no savings to fall back on and not being able to make a living after communism fell.

In the afternoon there was a Communism Tour which I was interested in going on but in the end I decided not to do it. I think 2.5 hours about communism would be a bit too much. Instead I went on another free tour which talked more about the history of the city, the politics and the future of the country. It was good to be able to learn something about a place that I had not been to before and knew so little about.

On the whole the city was really charming and beautiful so I can’t imagine how nice it used to be. By the afternoon the city was full with tourists and hen and stag dos, which is not so nice. Luckily, by then I had seen the city in its best light.

One of the best things about Slovakia has to be the food. I was recommended to try the traditional Slovak potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese. I was a bit sceptical and the dish didn’t look so appetising but it tasted really good. They also had a creamy garlic soup which comes in a hollowed out bread cob. You eat the soup and then you eat the bowl. This was also delicious and it saved on the washing up! Saving the planet: one garlic soup at a time!

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On Sunday it was time to pack up and make my way back to Vienna on the bus, after wandering around the city for one last time in the morning.

I had to wait until 4pm to get into the apartment that I had booked. I wandered around the city centre for a while but it wasn’t so comfortable with my backpack. There were so many tourists though. It was hard to look at anything without getting in the way of someone photo. I have plenty of time to explore so I wasn’t so bothered. I will go back when there are less people.

I made it to the apartment. It is quite a way from the centre but it is quiet but well connected to the centre. The apartment is a studio and has cooking and washing facilities so it means I can save a bit of money on food and eating.

Sunday was perhaps not the best day to arrive. Like Switzerland, there are no shops open in Austria on a Sunday. I was desparate to find some milk somewhere because I hadn’t had a brew in ages. I walked to a train station that is about 15 minutes away. I finally found the “supermarket”. It was a tiny little thing in the corner of the station and it was so busy that there was a guard at the entrance to the shop limiting the number of people who were in there at one time! I got my milk and got the hell out as soon as I could. It was like living in the Communist era again!

Back home and with my tea, I am gearing myself up for going back to school tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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On the Road again

11 Aug

Today I set off to improve my German for two weeks with a holiday/German lessons in Vienna. I have never been to Vienna before but people have told me it is a great place so I am looking forward to it.

Of course, for a normal person two weeks away in one country would be more than enough. I am not normal. I fly to Vienna and then I take a bus to spend two nights in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital. The bus only cost 5 Euros and it takes an hour so I thought it was a good opportunity to explore another country, especially as the German course does not start until Monday.

I don’t know a lot about Slovakia but I am looking forward to trying the food and exploring!

If you have been reading my blog for some time you will know that in January I went to an extremely cold Munich for a week to learn German. Although my intentions were good, it didn’t work out as I had planned. The school did not have a group who were the same level as me so I was forced to change from group lessons to individual lessons. This wasn’t the aim of my week there because I would happily chat with the teacher for 1.5 hours and then I was in the city alone. The idea was to meet fellow students in the school and be able to go for coffee and so on with people and be able to practice my German with people.

The school in Vienna seems a lot more rigid and, although they haven’t 100% confirmed it, I get the strong impression that they have the level that I am currently studying. What is a bit strange and is concerning me a little is that they haven’t accepted my B2 certificate as an indication of my level, even though I only took the exam last month. They have made me take a test which lasted more than an hour long to put me in the correct group and when I arrive on Monday I need to have an oral test to doubly confirm what group I should go in.

Although it is thorough and I am confident that they know what they are doing, I am a bit nervous that I do not yet know when my lessons will be. How well or badly you do depends on whether your lessons take place in the morning or in the afternoon. I just want to do enough that I can have the lessons in the morning because that is so much better and it is when I can focus the most. A lesson in the afternoon means that there is much more of a temptation to laze in bed in the morning and then my productivity will suffer.

As I have learnt from last time, I have also packed some exercises, vocab lists etc so if I am not placed in the right group I at least have some additional work to do.

I am sure that the rest of the time will be filled with sightseeing and more local food sampling!

My boyfriend is also coming for a week to spend some time with me. In my post from yesterday I mentioned that we will be running a half marathon at the start of October. He will be about an hour or more faster than me! By chance he has found a 10k run to take part in while we are in Vienna. So the training really will be getting a kick start them. I would complain but in the evening we will be going to a restaurant to eat a huge schnitzel. So in the end it will be worth it.

As I did last time with my German learning experience, I will be taking my laptop and blogging all the way. Check back soon to see how I am getting on.

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Trying to keep dry for a week!

28 Jul

For the second week or my mum’s visit, we weren’t so lucky with the weather. It has been unsettled for the past week but that is the downside to having glorious sunshine for so long. Sooner or later it has to break.

For a few days we have done little more than relax at home and pop outside when the weather looks like it will hold for a while. But we have been able to get out and about for a few day trips to cities nearby.

On Tuesday we headed out to Bern for the day. This was one of my mum’s favourite places when she came to visit last year. It is also one of mine, mainly because I always go to see the bears. The bear is the symbol for Bern and, in fact, Bern means bear. The bears are housed along the side of the Aare River. The conditions that they live in now are much better than in the past. We have been lucky that the last two times we have been the bears have been quite active. I have also been there at times when they just sit there and do nothing which is not so interesting. But you don’t have to pay to see them so I guess you don’t end up feeling disappointed if they are not in the mood for entertaining the crowds. After a wander around the old town and a hot chocolate in a nice café, it was time to get the train home.

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On Wednesday we went to Rapperswil, which is situated on the lake of Zürich but is actually in Canton St. Gallen. I used to regularly visit Rapperswil before I moved to Switzerland. This is where we used to stay if we came over for work because it was relatively cheap for the company to pay for and nearer to the office. It has been a while since I have been there though, so it was like discovering a new place. There is a small castle in Rapperswil which we walked around and on the side of the castle grounds is a small deer park. The deer are relatively tame and don’t seem interested in all of the attention that they get from locals and tourists alike.

On the negative side, a lot of the shops in Rapperswil were on summer holiday. This is a Swiss tradition that I haven’t got my head around yet. A lot of shops in tourist areas take off two or more weeks during the summer when more tourists are likely to visit. It seems a little counter-intuitive to me. As a result, it was a bit like walking round a ghost town. There is only so much that can be said for going window shopping.

Yesterday we ignored the weather forecast and headed to the Rheinfalls in Schaffhausen. I have visited once before and I had forgotten what a lovely quaint town it is. The architecture is different to other parts of Switzerland, certainly different to Zürich. After getting off the train, we walked the 3km to the falls. The Rheinfalls are the largest waterfalls in Europe and are close to the German border. Even though they are the largest in Europe, they are not even a fraction of the size of the waterfalls in Niagara. It is a relaxing walk from the station to in front of the falls and we managed it in about an hour.

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After a stop for coffee and some cake, we walked the same way back to the town of Schaffhausen. I was recommend to go to Murnot, which is a circular fortification from where you have a fantastic view of the surrounding area. It was pretty hard going. The steps up are steep and feel like they will never end. Once we got to the fortification, my mum had had enough. I carried on up the struture to get a look at the view. It was hard work but worth it. My mum was impressed with the picture of the view but not so much that she regretting not continuing up the structure!

After a wander round the charming town and buying a few more things from shops, we stopped for a beer in a local restaurant before we made our way back to the station and back home.

All too soon, two weeks are over and we will be heading to the airport this afternoon. It has been an interesting two weeks. We have both seen and done things that we haven’t done before. I have also enjoyed not working full time and having time to appreicate a bit more of Switzerland which is sometimes difficult when you are focused on work the whole time.

I am also flying to the UK tonight. But I am heading to London and, not Manchester, for a long weekend to, no doubt, see and do some things that I have done before.

Exploring Switzerland

23 Jul

Some of my expat friends complain when family members or friends come to stay with them in Switzerland because it means that they have to entertain them and find suitable things to do with them.

I have no such problem. When people come and visit it means that I can explore Switzerland more and go to back to places that I like and would like to visit again.

As my mother has been visiting for the past week, I have been back to some of my favourite places and have seen some parts of Switzerland that I have not been to before. Earlier this week we went to Konstanz in Germany and Luzern. The trip to Konstanz was an out-and-out shopping trip. Lots of people who live in Switzerland take a trip over the border to shop and it is a lot cheaper than in Switzerland. Last time my mum was here, we also took a day trip to Konstanz. We took the train because there was a cheap fare available. I have found out that going with another person means that you can carry twice as much back. The weather was lovely and we did manage to snap up a few bargains. My fridge is the fullest it has been for a long time and I managed to buy a new pair of Nike trainers for less than 70 Euros.

We also enjoyed lovely weather in Luzern, while we wondered around the Old Town and had a look in some of the shops. There is a beautiful lake in the centre of the city but unfortunately we didn’t have time to take a boat trip on the lake. Hopefully, we can take a trip there next time.

We also took the Bernina Express. This was a first for me and was something that I was looking forward to even since I booked the trip. The Bernina Express is a train/bus journey starting in Chur which travels through the mountains and across the border into Tirano in Italy. From there, there is a bus which travels from Tirano through Italy, along the coast of Lake Como and to Lugano, in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland.

On Thursday we got up really early to travel from Zürich to get to Chur in time to make the Bernina Express at 08.32. The train was comfortable and had the advantage of having panoramic windows so that you can see the whole of the mountains from your seat. The scenery was spectacular: green fields, glaciers, farm houses, gushing rivers. The weather was a little bit overcast, as you can see from the pictures, but I think that this just added to the mysterious nature of the mountains.

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I guess one of the disadvantages of public travel is other passengers. We were unfortunate to be sitting next to a woman who loved the sound of her own voice and had to comment on everything for four and a half hours. It takes that Hollywood shine off the majestic landscape with someone saying “Oh isn’t it lovely?” in a really strong South African accent. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site so lovely doesn’t even cover it.

We arrived in Tirano and found our hotel. The town was lovely. The architecture is so different from Switzerland and the atmosphere and mentality is slightly different as well, which is strange considering how close we were to Switzerland. It was quickly apparent that there was not a lot to do in the town and we had walked from end to end within about 20 minutes. 24 hours was definitely too long to stay in the town, especially when there was only one restaurant that was open in the evening. It was as if the town only existed at midday when the majority of the tourists were arriving for a few hours and then leaving on trains to get to somewhere else.

Nevertheless, it was a relaxing time, walking around the town and soaking in the atmosphere. We can also say that we ate the worse lasanga of our lives in the evening. And, yes, this was Italy. Luckily there was a nice bar that we found (I think the only bar that we had seen the whole time we were there) and we could enjoy some nice beers and snacks.

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The next day we took the bus from Tirano, across Italy to Lugano, Switzerland. I was a little bit disappointed by this leg of the trip because of the iterinary. I imagined that we would stop at Lake Como as we drove through Italy so that we could at least take a phtoto but we stopped before the start of the lake to have a coffee and use the toilet and then carried on straight through. Because we were on the right hand side of the coach, we didn’t get to appreciate the view of the lake (which was on the left hand side).

We arrived in Lugano in the early evening and took the train to the hotel that we were staying in. Because of the remoteness of the hotel, we then had to take a taxi to get up to the hotel. I hadn’t realised until a few days before we were due to travel that there were only 2 buses up to the hotel each day. So if you missed them, it was taxi time! It was a bit of a pain but the views of the Lake Lugano were stunning. Overall, I wasn’t so impressed with the hotel and I am still debating about whether to write a formal complaint about our stay. I am not sure what it will achieve which is why I am hesitating but as some of the service was not as I expected, I think that I will be writing in the next day or so. If it falls on deaf ears, so be it.

The next day we took the bus back down the mountain. To the delight of my mum, the bus had an unusual horn which is specific to Switzerland. You can hear it yourself here. The sound of the horn was definitely needed as the bus made it’s way down the mountain side.

We spent the morning and the early afternoon exploring Lugano. The lake is spectaular and lots of people were enjoying the excellent weather by hiring boats and pedalos. The town itself is not very big but it was nice to get lost in the many intertwining cobbled streets and sitting out in the sunshine to get some Vitamin D.

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We arrived back in Zürich in the early evening. Just in time to enjoy dinner on the balcony before a huge storm, with epic thunder and lightning, hit. So much for the good weather lasting…

The Road to Hell…

14 Jun

They say that the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions and if this is true, then I definitely have more than one foot on the cobbled stones. You see it was never my intention to have an extended pause from writing my blog when I got back from holiday. But it happened. It was an accident, an unintentional slip after I had tried so hard to continuing to blog while I was in Asia.

Sometimes when circumstances are difficult we manage to solider on regardless, like when I persevered blogging, without a laptop, but using an app on my iPhone which was made even more infuriating by my fat fingers mis-typing every second word. When things are infinitely easier, we tend to slip up.

I arrived back in Switzerland after my adventure (on reflection, it definitely was an adventure) and was straight back into work mode. It saddens me how easy it was to slip back into the work routine. Get up. Work. German lessons or hockey training (depending on what day it is). Home. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Within a few days and back into the frustration of daily work trivialities, it is easy to forget how big the world is, how many possibilities there are out there and how amazing my experiences on the other side of the world were.

So in the last six weeks that is what I have been up to. It’s nothing very exciting but it is what it is. One of the things that I am terrible about doing, when I get back from holiday, is sorting and organising my photos. I take thousands and thousands of photos. A lot of the time, I take pictures of things that are not even that interesting but I was determined this time to sort them properly and make a picture book so have to look back on. The actual organising of photos took at least 3 days (I did say I take a lot) and in the end I got bored so there are some that are not yet sorted properly.

Making and editing the actual book was like reliving the whole holiday: things I have seen, things I have eaten, things I refused to eat (they have some quirky things that are classed as food in Asia). It already brought back some great memories and as they say a picture paints a thousand words.

I did head to less humid climates in May – Manchester. It was a trip I had planned in October last year with a friend. The reason was the 25th Anniversary Take That tour. Unfortunately, due to circumstances that were all too tragic and well documented. The concert didn’t take place. It made me realise that we are living in a time when violence and terror is now on our doorsteps, whereas just a few years ago was confined to places that we can’t spell or would never ourselves visit.

Nevertheless, I flew back to Manchester because it was time to see friends and family: People who I am separated by distance on a regular basis. Time at home can sometimes be extremely time pressured but it also gives some unexpected surprises, like bumping into my godmother at the supermarket.

The next month will continue to be high paced as a trip to Edinburgh is planned and I have my German exam looming on the horizon at the beginning of July. For those of you who know me this is good enough reason to give me a wide berth until the afternoon of 8th July. Before exam stress levels =off the scale.

Until the panic sets in, I am happy  sit on the balcony, watching the sunset over my little garden while updating my blog. This feeling may not last long. I will enjoy it while it lasts.

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Last few nights before home

1 May

After the Farewell dinner and drinks, I did not get up early on Thursday morning. I got up and transferred to my next hotel in the city, which happened to be the one where I had stayed for the first two nights in Bangkok. I hadn’t planned anything specifically for today because I knew after being on the road for so long I wanted to have time to relax and just do whatever I wanted. Also, from experience, the Farewell drinks on these sorts of trips never finish before midnight so I had already taken that into account.

I spend the day trying to stay cool and doing some shopping. One thing about the shopping centres in Thailand is that they are well air-conditioned and huge. The main shopping centre near to my hotel was Terminal 21 and each floor has a theme. The London themed floor even had a double decker bus parked on it!

The next day was an early start as I had booked to go on a trip to see the Bridge Over the River Kwai. This was a film that my dad had made us watch countless times when we were growing up so it one sense I felt obliged to go and see it. To get there we got into some motorised boats and were given life jackets that would have been useless in an emergency. The scenery en route was lovely and the river itself seemed relatively clean.


If I am brutally honest I was a bit disappointed. For some reason, I had it in my head that it would be a lot bigger than it actually was. The bridge was original but was reconstructed after the allied bombing shattered the bridge.

After the viewing of the bridge, we went to the museum which told the history of the Thailand-Burma railway and what the conditions were like for the POWs who were forced to build the bridge. Again, this was an eye-opener and part of history that I never learnt about in school. Something else to go on the history reading list when I get back home. The facility is also continuing research into the POWs who were detained and forced to build the railway and, if you have a relative who was a POW, you can receive all the details that you have about them for the cost of the print out.

There was also a cemetery to visit where more than 6,000 of the POWs who died are buried. The cemetery is impeccably maintained and even while we were there there were 6 gardeners tending to the lawns and flowers.

We drove for about 40 minutes and then took the Thailand State Railway from Nam Tok to Tha Kilen. The scenery was stunning along the way as we crossed over the Tham Kra Sae Bridge. It was interesting to travel through the countryside and see a bit how local people live. The carriage was nice but even in our “expensive” carriage for tourists who pay slightly more than the locals for nicer seats, it wasn’t so comfortable. The seats were wooden and across the train tracks you could feel every bump and divert along the way.


We transferred back to our hotels. This took longer than expected, partly because it was Friday evening. The Bnagkok traffic really is crazy. It seems that there are more rules in Thailand than in Cambodia or Vietnam but the vast quality of vehicles is mind blowing. It takes so long to get anywhere. The problem is that the public transport, like trains and metros, are not part of the infrastructure in certain parts of the city but as there is no alternative people have to sit in the traffic.

The next and penultimate day I had a bike tour of Old Town Bangkok. It seems crazy to be cycling round in Bangkok in the heat but this was why I had booked onto the morning tour. Luckily, the weather had cooled down a bit and it was a bit cloudy. It was still hot as we were cycling though. The tour was not quite what I expected but in a good way. We cycled along through back streets and residential streets. It reminded me a little bit of the opening credited of Naked Gun. I was disappointed that I didn’t have a Go-Pro because I am sure that it would be interesting to play it back and see the whole tour again. We did get some strange looks when we were cycling around.

I asked our guide why more of the locals didn’t cycle around the city. She explained that Thai people are a bit lazy and that it was dangerous! But not so dangerous that tourists can’t go around the city. I had already checked that the company had comprehensive insurance(!)

On the tour, we saw the hotel where Hangover 2 was filmed, tasted Roti – a sweetened version of the Indian dish, which is served with condensed milk and sugar and bananas, cycled through Chinatown and visited Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese temples. What I didn’t realise is that 60% of Thailand’s population is descended from Chinese and you can see this in the influences on food, religion and in the faces of the people (That sounds a bit racist but that is not how it is intended).

At the Buddhist temple, which was a temple dedicated to friendship and partners, the guide gave us a lotus flower and showed us how to fold it. I can’t remember if I mentioned but on the night Tuk-Tuk tour I previously did, they showed us how to fold the lotus flower but this was a different technique. Being the smart arse that I am I did two different folds on my flowers. We actually went into the temple and left the lotus flowers as an offering to Buddha. I’m not really sure how I felt about this as I’m not a Buddhist but I thought it was a nice touch anyway.

The last stop was to feed turtles at another temple. There were so any turtles it was unbelievable and the greedy things would come straight up to you and eat the lettuce leaves out of your hands. Some of them were big bullies and would literally push the other smaller turtles out of the way. All’s fair in true love and war.

All in all the tour was great: it exceeded my expectations and was a great last thing for me to do in Bangkok. In the afternoon, I wandered around some shopping centres and had a manicure and pedicure which I never do at home and was unbelievably cheap in comparison with what we pay here.

The next morning it was time to pack my bag and head to the airport. At the airport I had a Thai massage. It was more expensive that you could get for it in town but I had Bhat to use up! Thai massage is fully clothed and involves the therapist pressing on pressure points. I was seriously concerned I was being assaulted. It felt so awful and really hurt while she was going it. She was slapping me about and kneeing me in the back while pulling my arms until they cracked. I was convinced that I would have bruises all over me the next day. When she was finished it did actually feel ok and I felt a lot better. The price we pay for relaxation!

I arrived home in Switzerland to a lovely 18 degrees which was great because a few days earlier I had heard it had been snowing and I only had sandals to wear home. My trip had been a lot more than I had expected but I was sure that a night in my own bed was going to be like a dream come true…

Battambang and onwards to Bangkok

28 Apr

We left Siem Reap behind and headed to Battambang, a 3 hour drive away. Battambang is a very quiet town and not aimed at tourists in the same way that Siem Reap. It was a shame that we would only be spending a night here.

The weather was a bit stormy and I decided to have a swim before it started raining. I was faced with a green pool (just like the diving pool in the Rio Olympics!). It turns out that it was green because it was saltwater and not that there was anything wrong with it in anyway.


A short time later we went to take the Bamboo train. The bamboo train is a very basic trainlome which is was originally used to transport goods to the surrounding areas and for local who don’t have access to cars. Nowadays it is more of a tourist attraction. 

The strange thing is that there is only one track. If two carts are coming in the opposite direction, one of the carts has to be taken on the track so that the other one can pass. There are rules determining which cart needs to make way for the other one. Apparently, if there are multiple carts then these take priority. Then the number of people, how heavy the carts is etc etc. It sounds complicated but it is probably a lot easier than building a separate track for the other direction. 


After this we went to a see a bat cave. I was really excited about going into a cave but it turned out that we were going inside anywhere. There was a opening in the mountain side where the bats flew out of. There were hundreds of thousands of them swarming out of the cave and disappearing into the distance to find some insects for dinner. We then took 4x4s up the mountain to take in view. In the distance we could still see the swarms of bats making their way into the evening.

We later went to have a home dinner. The wife of one of the Tuk-Tuk drivers cooked for us at their home. He told us he married her after knowing her for only one month and I could see why. It was hands down the best food I’d eaten in Cambodia!

The next morning (after the best breakfast buffet of the whole trip!) we made our way back to Bangkok where the trip would end. It was a long drive and we had to navigate the border crossing and immigration procedure. This was hands down the most bizarre border crossing I have ever experienced – and Botswana was pretty special. We left the bus, put our bags in a wooden cart and left The Kingdom of Cambodia. While we were lining up to clear the Thai border our bags were being scanned and processed somewhere. There were people who were doing this by themselves without a guide but it wasn’t straight forward about what to do and where to go so I was glad we had the guide to help us. 

It was still a long way until we reached Bangkok and it seems that the evening traffic in Bangkok is far worse than the M25. It was time for the farewell dinner and some drinks on Khao San Road. Our guide had a habit of finding the best bars and tonight was no exception. The street was definitely lively and a bit crazy. I actually did something a bit crazy myself – I ate a scorpion! Ok it wasn’t the whole thing just a few of the legs and it didn’t really taste of anything. 


It was sad to say goodbye to the group but it was worth the memories! Just a few more days on my own and then it’s time to head home, where I believe it’s been snowing…