Sunday, December 29, 2013

Le Tania Day 5 - Rescued By Ski Patrol

I'm kicking myself for not conserving enough energy to blog in the last days of the trip. (As I'm typing this, our bus back to Lyon is gridlocked in traffic.) 

On Boxing Day we got our Christmas wish. I woke up and our balcony covered in fluffy snow. It snowed lots overnight. Finally!

All the pine trees and mountains were dusted white. The picnic bench on our balcony was buried in snow. And it was still snowing, my first this season. 

Even Vari, our chalet host was taking pictures of the new snow and low hanging clouds from our balcony.

A magical view!

The downside was that it was freezing and windy at the top of the mountains. Visibility was poor and after our class, we took a few newbies in our group to Meribel. My favorite run, Blvd Del La Loze was closed due to avalanches so we took an alternate route, just as scenic had it not been for the fog. 

The powder was heavy so it was easy to stay in control. The moguls are fun too. We had great runs in Meribel. There was some moments where the world was so scenic I could cry. There were tree lined runs which were all white. Meribel's gingerbread houses had "frosting" on the roofs.

We headed back to La Tania when some of us were tired and wanted to take lifts down the slopes. But when we got to the top of the mountain, the chair lifts were closed and the conditions were terrible. There were strong winds that whipped snow in our faces and fog so thick we could only see 1m away. 

We followed the run markers one by one and found a steep run which was carved in ice by the wind. I actually avoided this run on a clear day. It was daunting for the experienced skier let alone the newbies. We held steadfast against the wind, procrastinating the inevitable-we had to go down.

I watched other skiers go downs and if they could do it, so could we. I skied down the ice and thankfully 15 meters below was powder. I looked up to see one of our newbies temporarily paralysed with panic at the top. 

It took a few tumbles but thankfully we all made it down. I was skiing in near blindness because my googles frosted over. Another newbie nearly blacked out due to motion sickness from skiing in a whiteout. 

At 4pm I wanted to ski back to La Tania but the others wanted to take a bus from Courchevel. I left them and took the last chairlift towards home. As I was by myself it was freaky when it suddenly stopped. Surely they wont close the lift with me still on it? I gulped as it was getting dark and very very cold.

Luckily the lift started but that was just the beginning of my problems. When I got off, it was dark as night and the winds pushed me around in my skis. 

After staring helplessly at a sign post which didn't have the run I had in mind, I scanned the area for people and when I couldn't see anyone, I forced myself to put on a brave face. 

It was like being blindfolded and blown in all directions. I tried to track my way to the adjoining red run to get home but as I inadvertently slid down a slope, I realised I was drifting back towards Courchevel. 

It was a long and foggy retreat back to Courchevel and I actually wondered how I was going to dig a shelter in case I got stranded.

Then I heard someone say: "hello, hello." 

I turned around and thank The Lord it was'nt a trick of my imagination. There was a ski patrol person asking me where I was going. He said I should go back to Courchevel to take a bus. I already missed the turn off to La Tania and the conditions are unsafe, especially for a lone skier.

I hesitated. I don't know why I was unappreciative of the circumstances but said: "I'm not a beginner and don't want to take the bus. I'd rather ski home." 

The ski patrol guy offered to walk me back to the turn off I intended to take. I backed out and then he had a conversation on his Walkie talkie in French. He told me to wait in the nearby resturant (which I couldn't see before) and another ski patroller who would take me back to La Tania. 

He accompanied me in and it was like a mirage from where I was ten minutes earlier. It was a opulent safety zone, warm and cosy with staff quietly clearing the restaurant for the day. Completely oblivious to the conditions outside. 

The other ski patroller took me back to the top of La Tania gondola on his ski mobile. It was a fun ride. Such lovely French gentlemen they were, carrying my skis and giving me plenty of assurance with their beautiful French accents. I now have a even bigger soft spot for now. I was most appreciative of their chivalry.

I still had to ski down Folyeres to get back to La Tania but it was safe and protected by trees. It was a wonderful experience, skiing when there was no one else (knowing that ski patrol was not far behind).

So on that day, I thanked my lucky stars that ski patrol had found me or otherwise I might not be telling you this story!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

La Tania Days 3 and 4 - My First White Christmas

At least three people complained about sore tummies the next morning. My insomia as it seems was due to a stomach bug.

I carried on feeling a bit light headed for my class. Keff, my ski instructor checked to make sure I was feeling ok and Fabienne mocked running away from me when I told her that I was sick. 

I keep seeing these trees with red things. They are so pretty in the snow.

After our class Amy and I took a few newbies to Courchevel for a few green runs. It was expected to snow in the evening and the skies were grey so I took an early mark from skiing. 

In the evening there were fireworks in Le Tania and I watched from our balcony. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner prepared by our hosts. They served duck confit and it was divine!

I did'nt sleep well again. Our chalet was invaded by a drunk guy (who we know) from another chalet and I woke to him sitting on my bed trying to get me up. I told him to p*** off and he went to bother the other rooms. 

It did'nt snow overnight so there was no new cover for Christmas morning. I scratched my skis on the red run into Le Tania. Amy didn't make it to class because that same drunk guy was snoring loudly in their room and she needed to catch up on sleep. This meant that I was the only girl in the class and every now and then Keff would make sure I was ok as I was the runt of the pack. He even said: (insert French accent) "ah Emma are you're so little." 

The conditions had deteriorated and there was low visability at the top of Courchevel. It was raining in Le Tania, making the snow sluggish for turns. 

The past days skiing has taken a toll on my knees and I had to make it a half day. I stumbled home and filled the tub straight away. 

I took nap as Christmas songs were being played in the kitchen by the chalet hosts and went for a walk to Le Tania shops. When I could'nt find food I liked, I returned home where Vari (one of our chalet hosts) made me a Camembert baguette. 

Christmas dinner was lovely. We had a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings and a flaming Christmas pudding for dessert. 

After our sumptuous dinner, we went to one of the other chalets (of 20 people) for a mass Kris Kringle in our Christmas jumpers and onesies.

Kris Kringle gifts entailed of mini speakers, earphones, nerf guns, a very large bottle of personal lubricant, books (one which I stole) and scarves to name a few. There were forty odd of us and most received gifts they actually wanted. It was a good night until there was a nerf gun skirmish which resulted in a blood nose by an innocent bystander. Lucky there was a doctor among us.

We returned back to our chalet promptly after, feeling relieved to be staying in the lovely (and slightly more civilised) Chalet Mongellaz.

Le Tania Day 2 - Serious Insomia

I was late to my class again and had to take the nearby red run. It was just a sprinkling of snow in some areas and icy but I made it to the class without too much hassle. Win!

This time it was more advanced as we went out to Courchevel. The early morning snow was marvelous and I glided down snow so powdery and fluffy like a feather down duvet. There were not many people at that time of day so we got a few great blue runs in. 

My friend Amy was in the class and we stuck by each other after lunch time as we skied to Meribel and back to Courchevel. The views were spectacular and the skiing conditions were nicer than La Tania. I didn't want to risk taking the last lifts or getting stranded in another resort so I called it a day just after 3pm. The sun disappears behind the mountains quickly and combined with fatigue, I was tempting fate by pushing too hard.

I took the goldola back down to Le Tania to avoid an ice trail to the resort. Then it was a laborious slog back up that red run near the chalet on foot. Towards the end, a group of people had taken a shortcut downwards to the chalets and one kind gentleman carried my skis while I caught my breath. That was having seen this panting girl, barely maintaining her balance carrying skis and poles up a steep hill.

It was another exhausted return to the chalet. Having skipped lunch again (snacking on fruit and nuts) I ate 2 slices of coffee cake which our host baked in the morning. 

That night I went to the pub, The Telemark with the others but for me, it was to use the free wifi. Sadly to was blocked with too many users and my chalet mates had too many pre dinner drinks. It was the loudest and most rambunctious dinner so far. 

We had raclette which didn't agree with my lactose intolerance. Every meal had dairy and I'm starting to think that my lactase tablets are no longer effective. 

I disappeared to my room to get an early night sleep but just laid in bed with my stomach turning all night. I couldn't sleep and had the sniffles :( Finally when the chalet was silent, I came out to the living room to blog in this moment's peace. All that can be heard is the stream running outside our chalet, and me blowing my nose every 5 minutes.

La Tania Day 1 - Skiing Solo In Courchevel

Its the first day of my week long ski trip in the French Alps. Because we arrived late the night before, I only got my ski gear after my lesson started.

I was put in another intermediate class with a French lady instructor, Fabienne. She had a gravelly voice and could have been mistaken for male chain smoker. She smoked on the tow bars during our lesson and said "ouis, allez and Bon" a lot. She had an endearing personality and was a very good teacher. 

It was my first time in skis for two years and I'll always remember Fabienne shouting in a heavy French accent: "Emma, don't look at your skis, look at me!" Which I did and then almost by the click of the fingers, my skiing stabilised immensely. 

I could'nt wait to hit the other slopes afterwards. Since I was split from our group already, I spent the entire day skiing alone and it was'nt a bad thing. I was skiing blue and red runs, mostly with ease and there was no fear factor. The conditions were good although a few of the red runs got a bit hairy at the end of the day. The worst were in the shade and are so steep, they looks like cliffs to the depths of the earth. (Lovely view of mountains in the background though!)

I almost got stranded because the lifts were closed and lucky I followed a group of people who were heading back to La Tania. They even stopped to wait for me as I was slower, much to the realisation that my abilities were not as good as I thought.

When I finally burst through the front door of the chalet, I was bathed in sweat and there was only one thing on my mind. A hot bath. When I crept into the almost burning water, there were some wall shaking groans of comfort which I sure the whole chalet could hear. In my usual fashion, I doused myself with ice cold water and felt renewed afterwards.

We put our Kris Kringle presents under the tree.

The big dinner table in our Christmas jumpers.

Our spacious yet cosy chalet.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cologne and Dusseldorf Christmas Markets 2013

Grant and I had an easy weekend in Germany. We flew to Cologne for the Christmas markets and came back from Dusseldorf as the cities are only 20 mins away by train. 

It was my first early morning flight from Gatwick and I realised I should be flying from there more often. The airport is calm and going through security was a breeze. I even managed to get a whole row of seats to myself on the plane!

After we landed and took a train to the city of Cologne, we climbed up the cathedral near the station. The weather wasn't so great but at least it didn't rain. The climb, unlike the one I did in Florence's duomo cathedral was challenging because people were coming up and down the stairs and there was a slippery/scary bit near the top. 

After the climb we went straight into the adjoining christmas market. The first one was big and the food stalls are amazing. There was plenty of hot apple cider, apple liquor (which I nearly got drunk on one shot glass!) and mulled wine as well. It was lovely being in a real christmas market where the food was fresh and traditionally made. We discovered Kartoffelpuffer, fluffy deep friend potato pancakes. Like hash browns but way better! 

This was at the second Christmas market nearby. Not only was there plenty of wurst, there were also long grilled meat sticks. They were super tasty. Ours was pork but they also had beef.

The meat stick is deceptively short at times. 

We didn't get to Dusseldorf until nearly 9pm. For dinner, our hotel recommended a traditional German restaurant, which was also a brewhouse called Schumacher. On a late Saturday night, the place was packed. The atmosphere was buzzing. Once seated, a man shows up with a tray of beers. He simply asks: "Beers?" We say yes and he plonks two on our table and marks our coasters as a tally of how many we've had. Now this is real Germany! 

We ordered Schweinshaxe, roasted pork knuckle. Mine was served with mash and Grant's with red sauerkraut and dumpling. The meals were huge and comforting. It's the type of food to drink beer with. I could'nt even finish mine.

The next morning we explored Dusseldorf. The city is different to Cologne because it looks relatively new. There is still a lot of construction. I liked it because it's metropolitan and cultured. There were a lot of Japanese restaurants I wanted to try too. 

We hit up more Christmas markets and ate those delightful potato pancakes.

Yet another Christmas market. How quaint are these wooden toy soldiers?

We walked along the Rhine river and stopped by at Cafe Kasbah which was Moroccan. We sat in the upstairs mezzanine, on poufs sipping fresh mint tea. As I watched the sunshine streaming indoors, (something I rarely see nowadays),  I was thinking how much I liked this city. Not too busy and has all that one needs. I can imagine living here!