Abetone Ski Resort

Sunday, February 22, 2009 

Abetone is literally within sight of our apartment in Tuscany. While it is not more than 15km away as the crow flies, it is a 52km drive that takes a bit more than an hour because it goes through a lot of small towns and up into the mountains (much longer in inclement weather).

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We did not try the Mutlipass (a la 5th element) but we did ski all the trails lifts in Val de Luce, which is a US equivalent resort with condos and rental shops and big parking lots and easy lift access about 10km and 20 min further away from us than the first lift that access the greater Abetone ski area.

It is about half the size in terms of lifts and capacity of Megeve, and not nearly as extensively developed. Where Megeve has lots of gondola and acceleration lifts, Abetone is dominated by treadmill acceleration lifts. It is gorgeous, wide-open terrain.

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We visited after a long season of heavy snows, but late enough that warm days had made a hard cover and thus skiing on piste was barely distinguishable from off-piste, in fact the piste had more scraped powder.

But the open, forgiving terrain invites exploration and there certainly is plenty of it. While we only spent a half day there (vs. three days in Megeve) we found our own favorite geography and never had to share it with anyone else. The user small compared to Megeve, and infitesimal compared to US resorts: we never had to wait in a lift line and once we cleared the debark we were free of any other skiers even when the schools were operating.

I’m not sure I’d make Abetone an international destination, but as a convenient, local resort, it is far superior to Tahoe on anything but the best days, and only an hour away. If I was in Borgo A.M., I’d make the trip after every fresh snowfall.

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Posted at 16:01:22 UTC

Category: GeopostphotoplacesPositivereviews

More on the UAL PODS

Sunday, February 22, 2009 

I haven’t tried the iPod interconnect yet, but I will; I need to put some video on the iPod first. I’m not sure why they decided to use a proprietary cable. That was kind of stupid, there’s a USB port in the pod. The proprietary cable takes analog video and audio, but how hard would it to be to build a local decoder for MP3/MP4 content into the pod? Or just build a dock like the table radios at modern Holiday Inn’s that have an iPod dock built in.

The TV system is pretty good. It has a lot of content on it, but the TV shows they have are limited by source (NBC) and while The Office is pretty good, they only have two episodes. Air Canada has a lot more content and a wider variety of sources.

One of the best things Air Canada does is sponsor Canadian film makers and then showcase their work on the in-flight system. UAL should do this too, though internationally. If I was in charge of the UAL in-flight system, I’d offer an annual prize for films: the rules being if you submit, it may be shown on UAL flights as long as UAL wants, maybe $20k for first, $10k for second, $5k for third… for $35k they’d have some entertaining content. Almost every little twiddle on the Air Canada student collection beats anything by NBC.

Another problem, and this drives me nuts everywhere, is that now that there are about 2 standard aspect ratios (4:3 and 16:9) nothing is ever shown in the right one. Everything I see is squished one way or the other. The UAL system does not letterbox, so WTF? Why not blackbar the source? Is it that hard? It’s all transcoded anyway, do the black bars at transcode – they don’t take any space up in the compressed output and it would always play right. No squished faces. It really took away from my enjoyment of the cinematic experience that should have been Max Payne.

I find the lack of temporary storage space in the pods a bit irritating. It sort of sucks to have to put everything in the overhead, especially on takeoff, and then wait until the seatbelt sign is off to get it back, especially as the in-flight system can’t be enabled until a safe altitude is reached as it apparently “interferes” with the nav system. Just like iPods do… of course if the RF leakage from an iPod interfered with the nav system, what on earth are planes doing flying into urban areas with their multi-kilowatt radio and tv transmitters littering the landscape and god forbid airports with the radar sweeping around so that cell phones get knocked off their towers.

But the lie flat seats are very comfortable. This is the first long flight I’ve been on where I got to enjoy them. I was on a 767 from ORD that had the new pods and they were cool, but 4 hours is hardly time to experiment with the new features. Now they’re in 747s and I gather the 777s will be the last to be converted.

Which reminds me, I listened to the wonderful News Quiz podcast on the way and the following were two wonderful gems of many from the recent show:

“You know how the temperature is adjusted for windchill? Surveys should be adjusted for stupidity: surveys say that 1 in 3 Britons think the world was created in the last 10,000 years, but adjusted for stupidity, nobody does.”

“Instructions for sperm donors: on arrival ask for Mr. Hancock.”

Posted at 16:00:31 UTC

Category: planesPositivereviews

Pugeot 207

Sunday, February 22, 2009 

I rented a pugeot 207 in Lyon and drove it over 2,500km through France, Italy, and Switzerland, through blizzards and over single track mountain roads in the alps and dolomites alone and filled to exploding with passengers and luggage. It never failed and from the day I picked it up to up to the day I wistfully dropped it off; I never had even the slightest problem.

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The 207 is a fast, sporty car that handles alpine roads with finesse and aplomb. I never squeaked a tire or upset it in the slightest despite making good time on roads mostly frequented by 3 wheelers and 4WD Pandas, but making far better time.

The car was quiet, had a loud, clear stereo, and a very comfortable cabin. Luggage space was compact (inevitably) but adequate and fortuitously sized to carry two large roll-aboard duffel bags. It was not sufficient for four passengers and luggage, but managed three.

It had good manners on snow and ice, even when other vehicles spun out and slid across the road, the 207 managed to pull through and when it couldn’t it was light enough to push. It was admirable on the unpaved roads in the mountains of Tuscany, though the sporting suspension limited ground clearance and thus the available roads to explore.

The configuration I rented had the lesser stereo option which did not include a line-in input. This is a major shortcoming on any modern car, but particularly manifest where radio stations come and go and offer limited selection. There is still value in traveling with an assortment of CDs – at least it could decode MP3 off redbook disks, if not accept an accessory input.

The 207 gets good mileage but has excellent pickup. On the long trek through some of the geographically undifferentiated north of Italy around Parma, the car just naturally drifted toward 200 kph. It was always comfortable at the more standard 130, climbing or descending or though 15km tunnels like Mont Blanc or the one in Switzerland between Italy and Basil.

All in all a very nice upgrade from the Panda I reserved (though Fiat Pandas have their charm too).

Posted at 16:00:25 UTC

Category: GeopostphotoPositiverental carsreviews