To the mountains!

Ski culture is strong in France. From anywhere in the country, the French Alps or Pyrenees aren’t too far away. A lot of the French people I have talked to have been skiing since they could walk. Some families take a whole week or two to go to the mountains in February. The way the school system is set up almost encourages it. Public schools are in session for about 6 weeks and then there are 2 weeks of vacation, then 6 weeks of school, 2 weeks vacay, and so on. In the end, it evens out because the kids have school until the 5th of July. This is very strange for me because we didn’t have huge breaks in the middle of school in MN. At most it was two weeks for Christmas, two days for Thanksgiving, Easter Monday, random teacher work days, and unpredictable snow days. My school didn’t even get the week-long ‘spring break’ that some other schools did. As a teacher the long French school breaks are a bit alarming; I hope desperately that my kids aren’t going to lose everything over those two weeks!

We don’t have this culture of skiing in Minnesota. I learned how to ski (kind of) on ‘Mount’ Kato. Mount is a bit of a stretch. Real mountains are just too far away from us for skiing to be a big deal, like it is for people in Colorado and other mountain states.

Cyril and I had the opportunity to take part in this cultural phenomenon. A few Saturdays ago, we caught a BlaBlaCar ride share to take us to the alps. (BlaBlaCar is an awesome website that sets up ride shares in Europe.) We left at 4 am to avoid traffic on the six hour ride. Most people go from Saturday to Saturday and the traffic on the highway from Paris is horrendous. Even with leaving that early, the traffic built up just behind us.

We made it to Megeve without a worry and met up with his Aunt Dominique and Uncle Benjamin. They had graciously offered to host us for the week.

The town of Megeve is beautiful, but has changed a lot with the skiing tourism. Dominique has been going to there to ski her whole life and has seen the transformation. Megeve has more luxury clothes boutiques and art galleries than is natural for a town of 4,000. One day when we walked through the village, she pointed to a luxury macaroon chain shop that came from Paris.’That used to be a cheese shop that sold local cheeses.‘ She pointed to a few high fashion clothes stores, ‘And those shops used to be a really nice local book store.‘ It is difficult for people who are actually from Megeve to afford to live there year round. That is gentrification for you:/ Skiing towns are also reputed to be very expensive places in general, whether it be to rent an apartment or order a hot chocolate at a cafe. Honestly, coming from Paris, the prices seemed normal.

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Central square of Megeve
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Sketch of one of the little bridges in Megeve, one rainy morning

The first day we went skiing it was so clear that it seemed like I could reach out and touch Mont Blanc even though it was 10 miles away. The tallest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc is saddled right on the border of France and Italy. The weather was just perfect. Sunny and not a cloud in the sky and warm, almost too warm at times (11 C/ 50F!). By the end of the day the slopes were a bit beaten up and the snow very heavy and wet.

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Mont Blanc, just can’t get enough of it!

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This is my third year of skiing on real mountains but I was admittedly a little nervous before the first descent. Skiing looks easy, but ski boots are so clumsy and heavy and restrictive, and skis are so long and slippery and somehow the synergy of these two things is supposed to transform the wearer into something fast and graceful?

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Well, graceful isn’t a word I would use to describe myself, skis or no skis. But I can do red slopes with minimal wipe out and hang ok with people like Cyril who have skied their whole lives. However, there was one red slope that was my kryptonite. It felt steeper than other reds, and I wiped out three times in a row. After my second fall, Cyril turned on the camera, just in case. You can follow this link to see my humiliation. In my defense, it is much steeper than it looks on the film!

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We skied for another day, but the snow was melting too fast, so we took a break the next two days and explored the village. One rainy afternoon we went ice skating, but it seemed like everyone else in Megeve had the same idea. That was the most crowded ice skating session I have ever been to. It was more entertaining than usual because it became a game to try to skate through the crowds of slow beginners that blocked the way at every turn. (I am not a good skater, but I am still Minnesotan.) Cyril and I also had a fun time watching a select few little kids that were disasters on skates. They were so cute! There was one little boy wearing a red body suit and a helmet (thank God) who didn’t actually skate. His form could be more accurately described as running… on his toe picks. His whole body leaned forward at an alarming 30 degree angle. He had the most terrific wipe outs but he always got up right away, brushed himself off, and set off running again on his toe picks towards another inevitable fall.

Another day we all went to the border to see the largest glacier in France. To keep this post from becoming a veritable book, I made a separate post for this day. Click here for my glacier adventure!

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‘La mer de glace’ glacier

In Mevege it started to snow again on Thursday so we jumped at the opportunity to get back to the slopes. The snow was a delight to ski on, but the big, soft flakes were not so soft and lovely when speeding down the slope. The world was one big wall of white punctuated by blurry, colorful objects: other skiers and poles marking the edge of the slopes. The bright side was that the lines for the ski lifts were non-existent. We took it easy and stopped early to have a drink at La Folie Douce (Sweet Craziness), a fun bar at the top of one of the slopes. On sunny, busy days at the ski resort, this place is hoppin’. Check it out with this link:) They have an outside bar and dance area, with a live DJ, singers, and dancers. The dancers all have super cool styles, the kind of fun, inclusive dancing that makes one want to join in even when wearing clunky skiing boots.

Our last day of skiing was perfect. The snow was fresh and the weather was clear. Now I understand why skiing is so much better with clear, sunny weather. I have skied before when it was foggy, cloudy, or slightly rainy and I always thought that my skiing buddies complained too much about it. But now I realize that the best part about skiing is when one looks up from the slopes and sees the mountains towering above. They have an amazing energy!

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There is absolutely nothing better than the fatigue after a long day of skiing and knowing that you have the right to do nothing and eat everything afterwards.

Two of the nights we ate raclette, a popular Swiss/French melted cheese meal. It is so amazing and delicious that I think I am going to dedicate a whole blog post to it later. Just a warning for anyone who visits me in France-raclette is the first meal I will treat you to and your life will never be the same again.

In between the raclette meals, Cyril and I went out to a restaurant to eat a traditional Savoyard cheese fondue. A cheese revelation, but my heart still belongs to raclette.

Mmmmm, Fondue! Image courtesy of http://www.cerisesurlegateau.fr/une-fondue-savoyarde-aux-trois-fromages/

Another interesting food encounter: on the slopes one day we stopped at a restaurant that served a ‘sandwich americain’. It turned out to be hamburger patties, onions, tomatoes, and FRENCH FRIES all smothered in a sauce of one’s choosing and stuffed into a baguette bun. I am not sure how to interpret the name of this sandwich. Is it a compliment or an insult that this creative, delicious, fatty, outrageous sandwich is named after my county?

Cyril and I caught a night train back to Paris on Friday night. We had bunk beds reserved in the sleeping cars. With the rocking of the train I dreamt that I was skiing all night during the ride back into Paris.

Night train, image courtesy of http://www.asie360.com

 

 

 

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Happy New Year Everybody!

 

French people love the New Year. They wish family, friends, and strangers a Happy New Year at least three weeks into January. They also say and write things like, ‘Good health to you and your family‘, ‘I wish you prosperity and success in all of your endeavors.‘ It sounds formal and strange in English, but natural in French.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to draw and paint more. It would be a shame for me to not take advantage of being in such a beautiful city full of life and art! I started the year off right with a sketch of The Kiss by Auguste Rodin. Cyril and I visited the newly renovated Musée de Rodin on Sunday, a little jewel of a museum to check out if you ever visit Paris. (Another one of my New Year’s resolutions is to explore more Paris art museums.)

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As sketch of the sculpture The Kiss by Rodin

January in France means two things: la galette de rois and les soldes.

La galette de rois, aka King’s cake, is a heavenly, sweet, flaky pastry traditionally made for the Epiphany, which falls on January 12th. French people love it, and eat it as desert throughout the whole month January.  This time of year, the bakery display cases are packed with the pastry and its traditional beverage, sparkling cider. If the galette de rois wasn’t so darn delicious I would get sick of it.

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Our local bakery sporting the galette de rois and sparkling cider

Hidden inside each galette de rois is a little figurine. Whoever finds the figurine in their slice is the ‘King’ for the day and gets to wear a paper crown. In addition, the person who finds the figurine has to buy the next galette, but Cyril’s family only jokes about that part. To make sure that the galette slices are distributed randomly, sometimes the youngest person will go under the table and name the recipient of each slice as indicated by the server.

Cyril is so lucky! He has found the little figurine in his slice all four times we have eaten the galette de rois so far, be it with friends and family or just us two.

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Cyril pitied me and gave me the crown and figurine (the yellow thing on my slice of galette)

Another very French January tradition is les soldes. Les soldes literally means the sales in English. In France, retail sales are regulated by the government. Most stores can only have sales twice a year, during specific periods in winter and summer. During this time, the last season’s stock goes on sale, and after each week, the prices are slashed more and more on remaining merchandise. The winter sales started on January 6th and will go for six weeks. Some people take the day off of work with their friends for the first day of the sales to snatch up the deals, because the clothes and sales items fly off the shelves. Many people buy most of their clothes during the sales. Normal people also tend to splurge during this time to buy designer items on sale. (Parisians love haute fashion, even if they can’t afford it.)

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Les Galeries Lafayette, a famous french department store, is all ready for the sales.

Of course, when in Rome do as the Romans; I used a gift card I received from Cyril’s mother to buy a pair of shoes. Thanks Danielle!

 

Bonne année a tous!

À la prochaine:)