Il neige

It’s snowing (no, not in reference to the recent European cold snap that is killing hundreds of people. No, not that snow. Not just yet.)

Last meal: Pizza (our addiction to easy food is getting bad)

Drink of choice: Viognier.

Song in my head: 

My, how long it has been. And alas, I fear I am fast becoming nostalgic. Nonetheless, the weblog must go on!

SO: arrived in Grenoble where we were picked up from the bus station by our new host, Antoine! He was lovely and welcoming, made sweet mistakes in English, a self-proclaimed skiing and sailing enthusiast, and effortlessly French chic (it makes you sick, doesn’t it?). He drove us in his tiny car (rather Mr Bean-esque with two lanky boys and a mannishly-heighted girl, together with two rather large backpacks) to his nice suburban sharehouse, where we learnt that we were to be taking HIS room whilst he took his step-brother Alexi’s room whilst he was out ice-climbing or snow-shoeing or other ridiculous yet impressive hobby that these people seem to enjoy. Met the other housemates: Mathieu (went on exchange to Brisbane), Benjamin (played foosball [aka babyfoot {I know, what the hell?}] with us) (p.s. wow, triple bracketing – I’ve never experienced that before!) and Tibo (didn’t speak much English, so some warped conversations were had).

In the afternoon, Justin and I headed off to see the sight of Grenoble, literally, from the Bastille – a semi-fortress thing built into pretty much a cliff face, with a view over the city. The ~30 minute climb up there was essentially a steep bush walk (nature, Jus, nature!) which was rather lovely and muddy so it was slow going (yeah, THAT’s why we were slow). ‘Twas funny to see the psycho runners who evidently make it their duty to stress you out with your own unfitness (one ran past us twice – down, up, down!) but the view was superb. We relished in the many arrow slits, and pretend ambushes were had. The sun was setting during our descent which was quite nice. But oh golly, it’s chilly there!

That evening, we were made raclette for dinner, a traditional French alpine dinner of melted cheese drizzled over potatoes and hams and other assorted meats/legumes. Needless to say, my mouth almost fell off in excitement. Around the dinner table, we were also told of the secrecy of Chartreuse (only the monks in a specific monastery in the Chartreuse mountains make it, and of these, only ONE PERSON [IN THE ENTIRE WORLD!] knows the whole recipe, and four others each have 1/4 of the recipe!), after which we obviously shared ours around and partook in elegant shots from special Chartreuse shot glasses. Very authentic.

The next morning (well, I say morning but by the time we got going, late-morning would be a generous term) we scoffed our breakfast (predominantly bread and chocolate milk!) and then I ran off to the local Carrefour to do a quick shop for absolute goodies because, very soon after these purchases, we were due to catch a bus up to Les Deux Alpes to ski! Omgomgomg.

After a bit of confusion, we eventually got onto a bus. Halfway through the journey (yes, there was already snow in patches at this point), it pulled into a bus station where half the people got off and began to unload their stuff into another bus. Didn’t realise until our bus was about to leave that the OTHER bus was going to Les Deux Alpes, and this one to Alpe d’Huez. Luckily the bus driver was a canny chap and cottoned onto the fact that we’re idiots. The second half was incredible. Steep valleys, road tunnels, snow-capped peaks, villages perched onto the sides/edges of mountains, and even a frozen lake dam!

By the time we arrived in actual Les Deux Alpes, it was dark and we alighted the bus straight onto crunchy snow! Justin almost wet himself. Our trudge to the family-owned hotel was rather exciting (though obviously we have our priorities so we scouted out the nearest bakery, but actual cars were buried by the thick snow cover!) where our chalet-esque room had a balcony which was covered in snow! We immediately put our drinks in to cool. Dropped off our crap, then headed out again to attempt to hire some ski stuff, since we were entirely ill-prepared. After enquiring at a few places, figured out that one can’t actually hire skiing clothing in France, only the skis, boots and sticks (oops, STOCKS, sorry Justin), which we promptly did. Pondered what we were actually going to WEAR on the slopes over dinner. Typical alpine/swiss-type restaurant, with an open-fire ~3m away, red checkered décor and multilingual staff. Bit of a mixup and we accidentally ordered an entrée of spaghetti, then Jus had his first steak tartin of the trip! Wasn’t too bad actually.

In the morning we were up nice and early to absolutely gorge on the hotel breakfast (yes, we had to pay extra for it, but we figured we’d feel better about spending €8 each there than in a bakery [if there wasn’t a choice, we obviously would have had no hesitation]), then we headed out to buy ski passes, pants, googles (for me) and sunscreen (50+! Again, for me). Ended up starting on the slops at around 11. It was beautiful weather: fine and sunny, but the snow was still ideal. We started on bloody easy slopes, so that I could try to (re?)learn skiing (6 years since your first and only try is a LONG time!). Almost needless to say, there were a few tears and a few tanties. Sorry Jus. Lunch back at the hotel at around 2 with a pep talk.

After lunch, we headed for the REAL (read: green) slopes! No more of this MiloKids nonsense for me, thank you very much! I am now highly skilled in the Snow Ploughing technique, and my control of speed and direction is quite satisfactory. One of the pistes took us on an awesome run through the village – skiing next to cabins, tunnels under roads, all whilst still on the piste! Brilliant! It was there that I had a particularly amazing crash where both my skis came off and I landed in a rather compromising pose, but two French snowboarders kindly returned my skis (Jus eyed them rather suspiciously, no doubt because my ski pants are highly flattering). Many a-scroggin was enjoyed on the ski lifts (yay I remembered its name!) which we caught seemingly to the top of the mountain, but it was still a green run! Though it took at least half an hour or even 45 minutes to reach the bottom, so not TOO green, right?

Right at the end of our single skiing day, it was really icy on the snow on the way back, so it was lovely to finish the day with my arse in the air not even able to stand, let alone step into skis. I crawled about 20m to real snow, meanwhile a snowboarder nearby had similar problems. Good to know I’m not the only unco. It was pretty dark when we took off our skis, around 5, but then I realised I still had my sun-reducing goggles on, and it actually wasn’t that dark, just dusk! Suffice it to say that I have never experienced such pain in both quads and hammies (lol!) from my fear and consequent constant leg tension during the day. And it was so good to sit in the stinky holds room of the hotel and take off those boots – walking had never felt so bizarre!

Dinner was at a “cheese cabin” (well, that’s what we called it), where I had a tartiflette (essentially baked cheese, with some ham and potatoes) and we sat near probably 25 skiing instructors, 90% of which ordered raclette (the other 10% had tartiflette!): them skiiers have good taste. On the way home, Jus and I had a snowfight, then wound down with some Cola and GinFizz (unmixed) which had been cooled by the snow on our balcony.

To wake up the next morning, we both plunged our faces into the bare snow. You should try it some time – our lives were changed forever, it was that good. It was sad, however, to say goodbye to the slopes: we wished we could have booked another day. But the bus ride back to Grenoble was fantastic again, heightened by the bus driver’s irrational non-fear of driving like a maniac down THE ALPS. And there was a REALLY cute puppy who got on the bus and we were contemplating stealing: beforehand he just kept jumping around and being generally way too cute. Headed back to Antoine’s again in Grenoble, but we didn’t really do much for the rest of the day, aside from share stories (it was embarrassing – they were all essentially born with skis on!) and eat homemade lasagne.

We rose late AGAIN this morning to catch the train to Annecy, which was a really pleasant trip – lots of little streams and wonderful countryside. Upon arriving, we scoped out the bike rental service and Jus found/fell in love with a shop that sold, among other things (eg. model paint-it-yourself replicas, leisure-related electrickery, GUNS), remote controlled cars. We got to our hostel where, according to a poster on the reception counter, Justin Bieber has stayed! Our room was warm and simple, and the bed had really weird beams which kept falling out (I really thought we’d been holding back on the pastries)! That evening we had dinner at a lurid restaurant called The Blue Capsicum, with an horrific sense of interior decorating, but rather nice food!

The next day, we just took it slow and walked around Vieux Annecy and the incredible lake. Highlights included: the many ducks on the clear clear water of the canals, terrible coffee, the old prison building at the beginning of the canal, and a peculiar swan on the lake who seemed to take a fancy to me. All round a fairly lazy but lovely day, with a smuggled-in pizza for dinner.

On the following day, we promptly found new accommodation at a hotel right on the main canal, since the hostel wasn’t the greatest and we were due to leave anyway. Dropped our backs, then we were off to hire rental bikes for a ride around part of the lake. One could tell how ecstatic Justin was at this venture, and the scenery was absolutely sublime! There were mountains, there was lake, and there was even a bit of sun!

It got a little cold after a while, so we came back to Annecy itself and had a late lunch. In the late afternoon, we went for a short ride along the lake path in the other direction, but we had to return the bikes by 5 so we didn’t get very far at all. On the way back from dropping them off, we inevitably stopped in at the remote-control car/gun shop, and Jus inevitably bought a remote-control car (he’d been eyeing them off all trip, who can blame him for finally giving in?). It’s blue and named Petit Michel. Possibly the love of his life. Before it got too dark, we took him for a spin in a large park next to the lake (I pretended I was his carer, to avoid too many awkward looks).

Next morning, we were off to Lyon! Arrived to find a UNICEF dancing demonstration in the main square in front of the Hotel de Ville, heralding our arrival, which was a surprise but not unpleasant! We’d organised an apartment for this time, which was a nice change from the previous few days. It was absolutely tiny, but it looked straight out over the tower of Fourvière and it had an incredible sound system, so we started pumping the beatz almost immediately. We ended up staying four nights in Lyon, and I’m not really sure what we did. It’s a beautiful city just to stroll/hire a bike in, and I think that’s what we generally did. I vaguely remember a few bike shops (Jus bought two pairs of socks) and crossing the Saône to get to the Old Town. We did try to get a reservation at one of the Michelin-starred restaurants in Lyon, but they were booked out until MARCH so we ended up buying possibly the worst takeaway indian ever, going to a bistro which surprisingly had some of the best food and wine of the trip (a caramelised tender duck fillet [my choice], and Lyonnais saucisson [Jus’] and a white wine called viognier), and the following night to a Lyonnais bouchon called Chez Georges, which was very homey and delicious (I got a bit carried away with my dessert of a BOWL of prunes. Maybe I shouldn’t write that in my blog…) I was very good with my runs/JOGGING (well, Justin was very good at encouraging me to go, I was a bit of a crankfart, to be frank) around the Croix-Rousse, which were freaking freezing but were satisfying and I was nice and warm by the end.

After Lyon was Besançon, the birthplace of Victor Hugo! We arrived in darkness and walked to our hotel in the main part of town (the fountain of the bend in the river surrounding this part of town was spraying us in the strong winds!) and which featured a rather ill-mannered receptionist (he was quite short with us for having backpacks and asked us to remove them because the lobby was such a small area; and insisted that I didn’t need to pay when I offered on arrival, but then insisted that I did pay when I was heading out, about 24 hours before departure! Just a bit off.) This city seemed small and reasonably uninviting for tourists. We went for runs both nights though, and ended up buying pizza on both nights :s On the only full day we had there, we focussed on doing a load of washing, tried to see the astrological clock in the church (closed in Jan) and just walked around a bit. The day we left, however, was full of excitement! With our packs, we went to get a morning coffee, and ended up steering ourselves into a little hole-in-the-wall café. Little did we realise until we walked in what an unearthly experience it would be! We knew when we’d closed the door behind us, and obviously it was too late to do anything about it, and it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Nothing can quite describe the smell: perhaps a combination of dust, stale cigarette, nailpolish, and just old. There was an elderly woman behind the bar, talking to a younger woman, perhaps mid-50s, who was drinking an espresso. We ordered our espressos, and sat down the back, in a collection of chairs and tables that looked like they hadn’t been used for 30 years. The dust collection and outdated newspaper pictures of assorted dogs and horses contributed immensely to the atmosphere. I don’t think we need to mention the taste of the coffee: suffice it to say, we had to wash our mouths out with another coffee afterwards at the bar next door.

We walked up to the citadel overlooking Besançon for a bit of a geez, and found out that they have zoos and museums up there! (I know, zoos? In this part of the world? Who’d have guessed?) It was very weird to walk past baboons and ostriches on our way in! And when we left our bags, we were told that we weren’t allowed to shoot the animals with the crossbow we trying to sneak in. Darnit. We headed first (and in the end, only) to the World War II Resistance museum (Justin’s choice actually!) and my goodness, the French really know how to do their Holocaust museums. It was absolutely harrowing. By halfway through, Jus and I were emotionally exhausted and had to rush through the second half. We ended up having to leave to catch our train, with far lower spirits than upon entering.

Next chapter: Dijon + …

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2 thoughts on “Il neige

  1. Han says:

    Im struggling to get past the fact that you followed a sentence about going overboard on prunes with a comment about how good you had been with your runs!!!! 🙂 🙂 ohhhh hahaha of course your runs have been good with a whole bowl of prunes!!!

  2. dAd says:

    Ooooh, Thibaud.

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