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Published: August 8th 2007
On top of the French Alps
Honestly, how is it that I ACTUALLY got to snowboard in the French Alps? Amazing!
Wow. I just finished four of the most fun days of my life living waaaay above my general social class and income bracket thanks to the intense generosity of friends from highschool and their subsequent, equally kind, connections. I'm talking, of course, of my time in the ski resort village of Meribel. Not sure what Meribel is? Let me give you an intro: it's in the center of 3, interconnected, skiable valleys containing the biggest area of skiiable terrian in the world, it boasts 190 lifts, has FOUR Club Meds, was home to the alpine events of the 1992 Winter Olypics, and is currently home to Lindsay, Vicky, and Helen who are 2003 grads of Mount Doug Sr. Secondary in Victoria and amazing hostesses!
I really don't know where to start, so I guess I'll start at the beginning. This will just have to be a brief overview of events with minimal annecdotes, unfortunately, because so much happened and time is marching on. It was a good time, though, let me tell you!
So, as Derek and I boarded a train from Geneva bound for Moutiers, the town at the base of the mountain, we still had not
Picnic in the Alps
Great cheese, good friends, tasty bread, some sparkling wine, and the best backdrop you could ever ask for. Oh, and it was sunny and hot, too! Clockwise from left: Phoebe, Derek, Lindsay, Mo, and Vicky
heard recently from Lindsay, our friend from Victoria who was working on the mountain, and had really no idea what the next step was. We thought we would just go and see what would happen. I had Phoebe's cell number, who was also heading to Meribel that day, so I figured if worst came to worst I could always call her (somehow) and desperately ask for help. The train ride wasn't the best. For over an hour of it we were on a tiny, ancient little train that was packed to the brim with people and luggage. Derek and I managed to find seats, but we travelled the whole way with our packs on our lap. It really wasn't thaaat bad. It was nice to give my trusty pack the TLC it had been deserving recently, anwyas. When we arrived at our destination we got of the train and started searching for Lindsay. We didn't find her, but we did see Phoebe! After much screaming and embracing we discovered that Phoebe had been on the same train as us, and she, too, was just as much in the dark about what was happening as we were. It was a gorgeous
Me and Helen on the Gondola
I didn't want to take off my goggles for fear my glasses would fog up when I put them back on (my stupid contacts are dead I've been forced to wear glasses in Europe)
spring day, so we just took our packs and coats off, sat on the steps of the train station in the sun, chatted, and waited for something to happen. After about 20minutes we were rewarded with the arrival of Lindsay and two cooks from her restaurant. Yeah!!! Unfortunately, there were now 6 of us, 3 huge bags, and a seriously tiny 5 seater car with no trunk. Through some warping of the fabric of spacetime we managed to actually fit everyone and everything into the vehicle and make it safely up the mountain to Lindsay's apartment. She was fortunate to live in a great, central location on the hill but her place was pretty tiny. In addition to me, Derek, and Phoebe another friend of ours, Mo, who is currently working in Normandy, was also coming to visit. PLUS Lindsay already has a roomate who also works at the restaurant with her, so there were 6 of us staying in the room in total (7 on nights when Lindsay's boyfriend stayed over). Meh. No problem! We actually all slept very comfortably because Lindsay was a busy bee before our arrival and managed to secure enough mattress and blankets to cover
Seriously, Does it GET any better?
After taking a gondola to the top of the highest peak, where we actually had a view of Mont Blanc, we discovered some gloriously comfortable lounge chairs and took a minute to work on our tan before attempting the descent. Normally these are reserved for people buying crazy expensive drinks, but we got there just as they were closing so weren't obligated to buy anything.
the entire floor and keep us toasty warm. That wasn't all she acquired.
Upon arrival, we discovered that she'd managed to borrow almost everything we needed for all of us to go skiing/snowboarding! There were a couple missing items, but after a day or so we had everything we needed for all of us. This includes boots, skiis/snowboards, poles, ski pants, goggles, gloves, thick socks--EVERYTHING for all four of us guests. Amazing!
Noooo I just had a major loss of typing info. Grrrrr. Sometimes when I'm typing fast I hit a strange combo of keys and it results in the browser going back a page and me losing a lot. From now on I'm going to type in gmail, which autosaves, and just cut and paste over to travelblog.
That night, after Lindsay finished waitressing at midnight, we went to the bar called Les Enfants Terrible to say "hi" to some other high school friends who we hadn't known were working there before we arrived. I didn't really know Vicky and Helen in high school because they were in French immersion (a wise choice, obviously!) but Phoebe and Derek knew them both well. They were really
Yes, we are now tanned
The first few days of our visit were gloriously sunny and warm. We were able to sit in the village in t-shirts and easily get a tan from the intense sun bouncing off the snow covered runs around us. The drinks were expensive, but we didn't care. We were living life to the fullest in Meribel!
happy to see us, so we promised we'd meet up again the next day. Right then we had to go to their rival bar because it was karaoke night, and we were quite stoked. Sadly, though, we weren't quite fast enough to get moving and karaoke was already over when we arrived. Sniff. Oh well, the clubs were open till 4am so after a couple shots of toffee vodka (seriously good, by the way) we walked to the English bar, called something stupid like Dick's Tea Bar. Once in the line, Lindsay informed us that we might have to pay a cover charge of about 12 Euros, at which point I nearly fell over. Luckily, though, as I was trying to figure out a nice way of saying there's no way I would pay that much to get into a club that night, amazing hookup #1 occurred. Lindsay knew both the bouncer and the ticket girl, and we all got in for free. Yes! Dancing was fun, but after an hour they started playing nothing buy lame techno, so we took off for home. They sure love their techno over here...
The walk home was long and awful. Thirty
We didn't just play hard, we partied hard, too. Here we are in a club (which Lindsay got us in to for free). That's Lindsay (plus goggle tan) in the front left.
minutes up a mountain--not fun and we weren't looking forward to it. After dragging our feet quite a ways, however, a taxi van pulled over and starting talking to Lindsay in French. Apparently she just kept saying "how much is this going to cost" but the driver knew her (or at least thought he did--Lindsay didn't recognize him) and said, "For you? Nothing!" Soo we got a speedy ride the rest of the way. I don't know if we would have made it, otherwise. Once back, I vaulted myself into my little bunk/shelf that would be my bed for the weekend using a combination of brute strength, gymnastics, and the windowsill, and fell asleep in minutes.
While we slept in, poor Lindsay had to get up and go to her morning job, which is housekeeping for a chalet. We were JUST getting up when she came back from her morning shift with a new matress in tow for Mo, who would be arriving that night. We decided to wait until the next day to go skiing and instead took the free bus into town to have a drink in the bright, warm sun. It was such a beautiful, spring,
Ewwww, go away weird French Men
While trying to have a fun night at the bar where Helen and Vicky work, our group attracted rather unwanted attention from drunk French guys (I don't think my bunny ears helped, either).
ski hill day. We really were just fine in a shirt with no coat. As we sat in the ski village, looking up at the runs and the snow covered peaks around us with fancy drinks in our hands, we really couldn't believe that we were actually in the French Alps. It was amazing. Also, while we were in town, Lindsay used some more of her sway to convice a poor friend who was pounced upon on the street to go pick up Mo from the train station that night. Mo was pretty close to not having a ride at all since everyone there works at night, but it all worked out in the end.
Lindsay had to work at 4pm as usual, so we met Mo and got him settled in. Then we went to Les Enfants to meet Helen and Vicky who were off early that night so they could hang out with us. More sweet hookups ensued, as we had all our drinks free that night since Helen is kind of the manager of the place. I forget the name of the stuff I was drinking, but it was like sparkling wine with black current syrup
Are we having fun yet?
Me, Derek, and Lindsay wait for the town bus
in it. Very tasty and seemed very french. We had some more toffee vodka shots, too. Although we were having a great time just catching up with everyone, we couldn't avoid the attention of this large group of crazy, drunk, older French guys who remembered Vicky from the place she worked last year on the mountain. They wouldn't leave us alone, and while they were pretty funny at times, they were also rather gross, too. Lets just say that some pictures from that night are censored and will NOT be appearing on travelblog. Shudder. I don't think the bunny ears I was wearing, which Phoebe brought me from Maastricht because I'd left them there after carnival, were helping avoid attention, either. Oh well. No harm done.
The night was really fun, but it wasn't over yet. After Lindsay met us when finished work we took a taxi to the English club again. Our friends knew the taxi driver, so the ride was free (again!). Thennnn they knew the bouncer and the ticket people at the club, so not only did we not have to pay but we didn't have to wait in line and we got stamps on our
The French Feast
I literally was trembling in a cold sweat in bed the night after eating this feast at the high class restaurant where Lindsay works, but at the time it was ohhhh so good. We had fondue, pierre chaud (a hot rock which we cooked our own meat on), fancy pizza, two gormet salads, and assorted other fancy side dishes to compliment it all. Delicious, and probably the most expensive meal I've ever eaten.
hands for cheap drinks, too! Unfortunately, however, the place was way over crowded and the DJ was terrible, so we only stayed for a couple songs then left. Good thing we hadn't paid. We took a taxi to go to the French club (we were soooo screwed over on this ride and it most definitely was not free. Grr). The French club was a hundred times better and so cool! It was very chic and lounge-like, as opposed to the dingy cave feel of the English one, and the music they played was awesome. I was continually being singled out due to my rabbit ears, so at this point they came off. We had a lot of fun dancing till closing, then took a taxi home (which screwed us over again and we were way overcharged. Plus we nearly died cause the driver took corners at insane speeds). We REALLY had no trouble going to sleep that night.
The next day the fun really began. After having a coffee at a nice outdoor table in the sun downtown, we got suited up and ready to go out for our first ski/snowboarding experience in the Alps! We were SO excited!
What you get for $3000 Euros per month
To say rent on the mountain is expensive is an understatement. Lindsay's apartment, shared with a roomate, is rented by her employer for $4500CAN per month!!! And yet the kitchen area is so small I had to make dinner one pot at a time, store the cooling pasta in the bathroom, and plate it in the tiny hallway. Six people in here? No problem!
It was really amazing. At first I was really bad and seemed to not be able to remember how to snowboard, I think it was becuase my front foot was really angled on the board I was using, but eventually I got the hang of it again and had a great time. I didn't actually get that many runs in because we were just doing a half day and I was trying to teach Mo to snowboard a bit and Derek was a very beginner skiier, but it was still fun. Plus there was an awesome big air contest going on which we watched a little bit of. At 4pm Phoebe and I left Mo and Derek on the beginner runs to do some harder stuff on our own, and that was when the true joy of snowsports came back to us. We were still just in awe about where we were. Incredible.
That night Vicky met us at Lindsay's apartment and, after changing out of our very very wet clothes (although we all had gear, none of our borrowed stuff actually seemed to be waterproof and it was verrry wet up there due to the warm spring conditions) we tried to figure out what to do. We wanted to go to Lindsay's restaurant for dinner, even though it was CRAZY expensive for us, so Vicky made the call to get us a reservation. We were told it was a no-go, however, even when we told the lady we were Lindsay's friends from Canada. After making a less cool plan B, though, we got a call from Lindsay saying that there had been a cancellation and we could come at 9:30!
We couldn't handle the clutter of the 6-people-in-one-tiny-apartment apartment, so we went to Vicky's apartment to hang out in until supper time. Incidently it also has six people which regularly live in it, but at least it has a living room area which we could sit in and everyone else was at work. I really enjoyed the time we spent that evening chatting and catching up on what all of our mutual friends had been up to lately. Vicky, Helen, and Lindsay have actually been living in France for the past 2 years, so a lot has changed that they needed to be filled in on. Everyone except Vicky and I seemed completely dead from the exertion on the slopes that day, but some wine and lounging seemed to give everyone a second wind. We were late (as usual) for our reservation but we got a table anyway. After MUCH agonzing over what to get, we finally decided. Since we had made friends with the cooks when they drove us from the train station earlier we were able to cheat a little bit and order single things to be shared amongst all of us, which you're not really supposed to do. For example, we only ordered one order of fondue but we all got HUGE quantities of everything and forks for all of us. We also ordered one pierre chaud, a hot rock that you grill things on, but the cooks looooaded up our plate with raw meat so heavily that we couldn't even finish it all. Other delicacies ordered included an amazing pizza, salad with fois gras, and another salad with a bunch of huge seafood items (I did not partake in that one...) Plus, each item came with a huge assortment of rich side dishes. We were the last table to there and ate for well over 2 hours, and still we could not finish all the food before us. I must say I did not feel well after that over consumption, even after taking food breaks during the gorging, but it was still incredible. I never, never have fancy well prepared food, so it was a huge treat and worth every penny of the rather large (for us) bill.
Needless to say, there was no clubbing for us after that feast but it was still hard to wake up the next morning. Mo, Lindsay, and I did manage to get out on the slopes by 10:30, however, and after fixing Mo's ski boot Lindsay took us up to the top of one of the mountains via a really long gondola ride. Ohhhh it was so beautiful up there, and it was really fun coming down. It was HOT that day, though, and as I went down the zipper on my coat got lower and lower... until I did a harsh bail and filled my coat, shirt, and pants with slushy snow. Mmmmm nice. I'd actually fashioned myself a diaper layer out of a plastic bag that morning in an attempt to keep my pants dry, but it was to no avail.
Around 1pm we met Vicky, Phoebe, and Derek for a picnic lunch. We went down a beginner run to some benches, where we laid out a very french feast of baguette, cheese, meat, taco chips and salsa (not so french) and champagne and consumed our little delicacies amide the breathtaking scenery that surrounded us. Yes, we were seriously living the good life. After that, we left Derek on the easy runs, Lindsay went to work, Vicky to rest, and Helen took the rest of us up to the tip of the highest peak to give us a glorious view of the next valley, Chamoins (or something....). The view from the top was INCREDIBLE and we could actually see Mont Blanc. We also found the most comfortable lounge chairs ever created by man, and sat in them for a bit. Then we spent the rest of the day playing on a variety of runs, guided by Helen. It was really great.
That night we were supposed to meet up again with Helen, but we got kind of tired and lazy and spent the evening watching 8 Mile and listening to a huge variety of amazing 90's music from Phoebe's iPod. Basically, we made our own karaoke. Phoebe's voice was actually sore the next day from all the singing. When Lindsay got home from work she was exhausted (understandably! She works so hard!) so we all just went to sleep.
Despite the intent of an early start for Monday, our last day, it didn't happen. By the time we got up it was lunch time, so we went in to town and had yet another huge French meal. This one took us 3 hours and included a dessert course of chocolate fondue. You have no idea how fat I am right now. Then Lindsay left us for the last time to go to work, and we casually sauntered off to figure out which trains we needed to take and how we were going to get to the train station. Turned out that we couldn't afford to be casual about it! After paying for the most expensive internet we've used yet on the trip, we discovered that there was only one train left out of Moutiers and Phoebe HAD to be on it or there was no way for her to get to Grenoble in time for her 7am flight. Mo was taking an overnight train at 10pm, and Derek and I didn't know what we were going to do. Phoebe's train left in only 90 minutes, so in a mad panic we rushed back to the apartment and shoved our stuff into our sacs as fast as possible. We wanted to clean and leave nice notes for Lindsay and stuff, but there was just no time. We needed a taxi, but we didn't have a cell phone so we just started staggering down the panic in a stressed, confused daze in search of a pay phone. In was in this drugged state that Vicky found us and pulled us into Les Enfants. "Vicky! Thank Goodness!" I sputtered. "Please... help us!" So, Vicky, being the amazing person she is, called our taxi, negotiated the rate, and even gave us some spiced vin chaud (hot mulled wine) to calm us down. I should mention that this day the beautiful, sunny weather of the past few days had disappeared and was replaced with a raging snowstorm. As a result, the going down the mountain was verrry slow. Our taxi driver (another friend of Vicky's) was very good, though, and got us there just in time. Phoebe bought her ticket and set off to Grenoble, and Derek and I managed to get on Mo's train to come back with him to Juno Beach in Normandy, which is where we are now! It was stressful, but it all worked out in the end.
It was such an amazing time, where I lived life to possibly the fullest extent I ever have. Thank you SO much to Lindsay, Vicky, and Helen for all they did for us. The Juno Beach center here in Normandy is great, too, and Mo is really being a nice host as well, but it's quite late so I think I'll publish this and try to write about Juno Beach tomorrow before Derek and I go to Paris.
Au revoir! (P.S. My French has improved SO much in the past week!)
*****For the most amazing photos you've ever seen, check out this: http://www.travelblog.org/Australasia/New-Zealand/South-Island/blog-25186.html *****
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