Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Too sad to write

Grandma, Judith, Cassie and Jackie

Lovely morning with Cassie and Judith and Grandma (not sure we were ever told her name!) in the park, though no photos of me demonstrating the gymnastic equipment as B was in charge of Grandma in her chair which he took very seriously! 

“Would we like to come for fish pie tomorrow?” would we ever? Our fish intake has gone down since we’ve been high up in the mountains! B went out for a ski, on his own, as I had been awake for hours in the night, and the forecast was pretty rubbish, luckily for him although it poured down here, he was ok! Lovely evening, yummy fish pie and B’s coffee and walnut cake, and the usual look of amazement on peoples faces when you tell them that B is granddad to a 15 year old, and that he can teach ballroom and latin dancing, not that the two are linked, but the surprise about both is always high!

Art in the park
Descending the mogully black
Sunday was the last day the resort was open so we had to go out, and to be honest it was fairly grim, rain or snow depending on altitude, and cloud! BUT to go down 'James' Folly' a steep mogully black, with a good layer of fresh powder on the top was lovely, fortunately the lumps underneath were soft as if they'd been hard and icy it would have been an entirely different ball game. Really didn’t expect to be making fresh tracks in fresh snow! Did it twice, as the 'interesting’ bit was clear, but then skied into a damp cloud, sticky snow, to get to the lift! 

Looking down the mogully black towards the cloud that we had to ski into
Last ski photo
Weather then seemed to worsen - iceblasting the face, so that was it. Except that B needed 6 more runs, to get him up to the 1500 after his trip out without me on Tuesday, and I'm SO not bothered, but he went round a little loop twice while I went and sat in the car! His grand total …….. 1504 runs!

Met up with Carole and her ski-instructor husband, Andy, (for the first time) yesterday morning for coffee, which was very pleasant, though Morzine was like a ghost town, we didn’t expect it to be so quiet there! We got thrown out of the only place we’d found open about lunchtime but we’d had a chat, and I’d handed back my keys! Really is nearly time, so some packing done today, just the ‘tricky’ stuff left for tomorrow and then getting it all in the car!

Morzine town square without the snow and people. The grass slope was the 'red' run back to the resort and just to it's left is the Pleney lift. Centre, behind the building, is another chairlift going up through the trees. Just to the right of the building the luge track can be seen snaking down the hillside and, far right, the big television screen plays to no-one
Our window view, trees with new green shoots, but a bit of snow still at the top
I’ve loved it here, I can’t think of any other exercise I’d get up and want to do day after day, though perhaps not for as much of the day as B! The atmosphere up here is great and we just feel we are beginning to settle in – skiing with Carole, meeting Cassie and Si for skiing, dinner and via ferrata.. and now we’ve got to go. We have loved the change in the view from our window, the birds that come to visit for the bread and fat balls (blue tits, great tits, jay, nuthatch, magpie, robin, black redstart) and the foxes and pine marten I’ve seen in the night on the windowsill or the balcony railing. Not to mention Whitey and Calico the most regular feline visitors, along with at least half a dozen others. May traditionally is when everyone goes away, having worked hard all winter, before the mountain bikers come in for the summer, so we are just joining the mass exodus, we have primed Carole that we may be back summer ’15 and want the place till this time in 2016, she seemed a bit surprised!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

French Alps turn to Spring

This is one of the button lifts in St Jean, now 'out of place'

It’s a funny thing, here we are in the last week of our ski season, but going skiing now seems oddly out of place and no longer features on our daily ‘must do’. It makes us realise what a ‘bubble’ the ski season is, an absolutely frenetic time from just before Christmas to probably about 3 weeks ago and now everything has gone back to normal, with the crowds gone and people getting on with their lives. Building work has recommenced, tree felling has started, people are cutting their lawns and gardening, just what you’d expect in any town and village anywhere (well, maybe not the tree felling!) 

The same lift and the 'marooned' entrance gate. Not long ago we skied up to this and slid on the snow up the slope
Believe it or not, we have skied down this road!
A relatively small portion of a year, maybe 3.5 months, where all that investment in ski lifts, ski staff, ski hire shops, chalets and chalet staff, plus all the infrastructure of transfer coaches to bring all those people to and from resorts, shops and staff, is focussed, and very soon it will all be in dis-use. It seems quite unbelievable that all that investment can actually pay for itself over such a short period of the year. How can all the chalet owners and ski instructors survive, as there are only a limited number of summer jobs. True the area is used for mountain biking in the summer and the melting snow has revealed the mountain bike tracks, which look pretty breathtaking, but will there be enough to provide sufficient employment for all those people? We can see why the ski instructors are so protective of their jobs and come down hard on any non-qualified people attempting to show other people how to ski. Quite apart from the safety aspect, it really is taking the ‘bread from their tables’ as it’s their main or only source of income for the year. We hear that many become builders in the summer, but how much work would they find?

Our timid 'whitey' cat asleep on the chair on our balcony. Only once has she set foot inside and then only briefly
A bit of fresh snow makes for a good day out
The final weeks of the season have seen a huge increase in the email traffic of the ‘Vallee-Expats’ local email list we’re on. As people close down their chalets for the season, seemingly many of them permanently, the stuff ‘for sale’ has increased dramatically. If we had a property out here we could have completely furnished it with really good second hand stuff for a song. Absolutely everything is being sold from mini buses to ex-rental skis, beds, wardrobes, cookers, fridges, everything, even antique wooden skis and poles used as decorations on walls. You want it, it’s available, usually at a bargain price providing you collect today, tomorrow they’ll be gone, probably back to the UK or the local tip. We picked up a couple of 1000 piece jigsaws left by the bins the other day that someone just couldn’t bring themselves to throw inside. We brought them home and Jackies already done one and is well on the way to completing the other! While consuming Easter Eggs brought out to us by Roger, amazingly they arrived in one piece, and even more amazingly we actually looked at them on the TV until Easter Sunday.

Jackie on a lift on her own behind me. She wasn't quick enough through the barrier and had to take the one behind. The view back is into the Avoriaz valley. That's a reservoir appearing through the snow, we had no idea it was there!
A view of our apartment block. Ours is the bottom right, by the grass slope
As the snow melts the scenery changes to reveal green meadows and jagged majestic mountains. A slope covered with snow that looked very inviting for a bit of off piste skiing, now looks daunting with broken jagged rock, maybe a tree stump or perhaps a stream and somewhere you just wouldn’t go. It’s amazing how a thick cover of snow can smooth out all those jagged bits and completely alter the landscape. But the bright white of snow gives way to turquoise blue lakes with amazing reflections of the surrounding mountains, green mountainsides with impressive rock faces that become more lush green as the new season’s growth starts and purple, white and yellow spring flowers poke their heads above ground. It’s a transforming landscape and fascinating to watch!

The building here is the chalet that we've looked at across our valley all season. We finally walked to it and, this view is back to our resort. On the hill on the right you can see a channel through the trees which is where the telecabin goes up (you might just be able to see the cables going from the left, above the grassy slope and on up through the trees. That grassy slope used to be our local piste back to the resort
This is a picture of the 'chalet across the valley' during a snowy time
There is still skiing to be had, but it’s now pretty limited as many lifts have stopped running and the area now closed down to only a small resort. There’s very little off-piste skiing now and the pistes, which have stood up to the spring sunshine remarkably well, are good only for the first three or four hours of the day, before the heat of the sun softens the snow, making it quite slushy and sticky, except where it’s in the shade where it can be still icy and slippery. On a shallow angled slope we head for the shady part in order to slide easily, because as soon as we get into the sun we slow down and often have to ‘pole’ to keep going. On steeper slopes it can be just hard work as the snow collects under the skis as we turn and the skis can cut deep into the soft snow. In the mornings when it’s still fairly hard it’s good fast skiing, but it quickly changes, sometimes within five minutes between good to being ‘it’s time to go home’!

Todays walk, by the river in spring sunshine
This week a cold front has moved in, but below freezing temperatures are pretty rare now, even at the top (2400m) of the resort, so precipitation generally falls as rain, limiting outdoor activities somewhat. Generally the mornings are clear with clouds building as the day wears on, so we have got out skiing or walking, early on, but climbing has not really been on our agenda as we’re ‘fair weather’ climbers. However, we did get some snow above about 1400m a few days ago and it really improved the skiing, only between 30mm and 70mm fell, which disappeared in no time, but it was good while it lasted. As it happens, this Sunday (27th April) is the last day of skiing here, when the whole resort closes and, at the moment, the weather forecast is for the temperature to drop and as much as 10-12cm of fresh snow to fall. Typical! Great snow and no lifts running! The resort at Chamonix will still be open for a few days longer and we have two free day passes to visit there, so if the snow really does fall, we might have to drive over there to try them out. It’s just over an hours drive from here, so will only be worth it if the weather’s good and the snow really has fallen. We’ll see…

our resort from 'across the valley'
We’ve been on a few nice local walks, called in to see our friend Cassie today, who has her husbands mother and grandmother staying (Si is away working, but did come home briefly for Easter to see them), so we’ve arranged to go for a walk over a park in Morzine tomorrow, so it’s ‘normal’ things for us at the moment, which is quite nice. Short lived though, as one week today we’ll have packed the car up to the gunnels and will be heading out of here for Jackie’s dads house on the Costa Blanca in Spain. Summer rock climbing here we come!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

St Jean d’Aulps activities with Pauline, Jackie’s mum


A walk with a view!
Brian said let’s go for this nice walk – I’ve wanted to do it for a bit.  OK we said and off we went and we went up…and up..and up..and no let up..and up.  It was a nice walk, lots of spring flowers and great views and model villages below, but even B agreed that it was a lot of up.

Walking through Evian
Yesterday we went to Evian.  We looked and looked but we couldn’t find any roller skating babies.  We found a lot that was good, picturesque fountains, the lake, old town, grand town but no babies.  The sun shone, people got sun burnt and fought to eat in the sun, then moaned that their bald heads were hot (not that that refers to anyone we know).  The waiter couldn’t cope with the rush and got really stressed but we wore him down till we were practically best buddies kissing each other on both cheeks.

Evening jig-saw and wine relaxation!
I’ve had a lovely week but now I’m going to let Brian write the rest because he’s so much better at it.  But he won’t do it for a bit because he’s deep in the Pacific War of WW11.  We’ve to be up early in the morning to catch my flight – oh joy.  Goodnight.

This is France, but all these cars are British registered!
It’s Wednesday morning now and Pauline is en route home on her Easy Jet flight back to Birmingham. It never ceases to amaze us how quickly a week can pass, but we’ve done quite a lot in that time.

We were back from collecting her from the airport last Wednesday in time for tea and cake (my lemon drizzle cake that had sunk slightly in the middle, but still tasted OK – how do I stop the sinking? Thoroughly mixed the butter, at room temperature and sugar, gradually added the beaten eggs and carefully folded in the self raising flour. Add more baking powder? Cook for a little less time?).

Lake Montriond with Roc d'Enfer
Thursday we went skiing, while Pauline went for a walk round Lake Montriond and Ardent waterfall, still with a covering of snow, but the lake ice is melting now, bringing out the fishermen and allowing the birds to stand on the remaining islands of ice and peer into the water, presumably looking for a passing fish. After skiing (yes, it’s still fairly good on piste skiing, although we went to the same ‘best run in the resort’ to blast down a great ‘red’ run on hard packed snow – fabulous!) we met up with Pauline and had a drink at a lakeside bar with great views over the lake to the Roc d’Enfer (Rock of the devil – see the horns on top!).

Pauline finishing the lake circuit
Jackie lining up at the slalom start

Here she comes past me a few seconds later....
And there she goes no more than 5 seconds later!

Jackie at Lake Montriond with Roc d'Enfer beyond

Jackie and Pauline enjoy a coffee by the lake
Cassie came round for dinner which was lovely, glad she could come before her next guests arrive, though she didn’t get a full night off as we had a raclette, so she still had to cook her own dinner!
Friday was the day we did our black Via Ferrata (see earlier entry) and left Pauline at Si and Cassies to teach Cassie beading, which apparently was very successful and has given Cassie a new hobby while Si is away.

The river walk in Seytroux

Saturday we all went for a very pleasant walk in the next valley to us, through a village called Seytroux. It’s a snowless valley, except for the high surrounding snow-capped mountains, with a pleasant river walk and through little hamlets of typical French houses, all backed by amazing mountain views, spring flowers and cats that even Jackie couldn’t tempt over for strokes.

Jackie finds a den in the woods
The village of Seytroux with Elephant rock in the distance

This was as close as we could get to cats
Cow-slips in the meadows

Pauline and Jackie on the 'promenade' in Evian
Sunday we went skiing again, this time for a bit longer and including some remaining off piste (which was surprisingly good) and some steep black mogul runs which gave us good exercise and was also good snow and quite enjoyable. Pauline stayed in St Jean d’Aulps and went for a walk round the village and part way up the back road that used to be the return ski run on the Roc d’Enfer circuit.

One of many wood sculptures in Evian
Monday was our day out in Evian, which is  a great little town, steeped in history, right on the banks of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), beautifully kept and just coming into bloom with spring flowers in well tended beds. We did the ‘historic tour’, after getting a leaflet (in English) from Tourist Information, which included a visit to the Evian water source, where locals queue to fill up their water bottles free. Lunch at the outdoor restaurant mentioned by Pauline we asked for ‘tap water’ to accompany our meal and other drinks as the menu quoted €4.50 for a bottle of Evian water and we guessed the ‘tap water’ would be Evian water anyway, but for free!

Tulips, fountains and Lake Geneva
Locals queue to fill their bottles at the Evian water source

The famous casino in Evian
Lunch stop in Evian, picture taken by our friendly waiter

Waterfront at Evian
Our quiet forest walk interrupted by a tractor
Tuesday we went climbing after doing tick removal on Lynx, one of Cassie’s cats, he looks and is the size of a lynx, but not so fierce! while Pauline gave Cassie a final beading lesson.The three of us then went up to the village of Biot and did a forest walk round the ‘Haute Thex’ which, although fairly steep (I closed my ears so I couldn’t hear the complaints!), opened up at the top to give fabulous views below of the whole of the deep glaciated valley. 

At the top of our walk, 1100m asl
Down below on the right was the side valley of Seytroux (where we did our walk the other day), on the left Elephant Rock (on which the climbing and Via Ferrata are), in front the village of St Jean d’Aulps and the road winding up to our ski resort, further ahead we could see Morzine village and the white mountains of Morzine and Avoriaz and, best of all, in the distance was the massive bulk of Mont Blanc towering over everything, and all this below a clear blue sky. 
And the view they are looking at - Mont Blanc!
What a fabulous view and a great day and I hope I convinced Pauline the up-hill effort was worth the views we got! If that didn’t convince her then I’m sure the promise of a home-made ‘Vin Chaud’, a millionaire square (shortbread topped with caramel and dark chocolate made by ‘yours truly’) and lashings of red wine back at our apartment was enough to ease the journey back downhill!

A 'good to be alive' view! Elephant rock on left, St Jean d'Aulps centre, the mountains of Morzine and Avoriaz centre distance and Mont Blanc just peeking out over the top in distance right
Spring flowers in the meadows
So, here we are, she’s gone (probably landed back in the UK in the time it’s taken me to write this) and we’re into our final two weeks here. Our local ski resort has closed, so it’s very quiet here now, the rest of the Portes du Soleil ski resort closes on 27th (11 days away) and we leave here on 30th April, next stop Altea on the Costa Blanca in Spain to stay with Jackies dad, Richard and Elizabeth. Just time for a few more days skiing (snow is forecast for this weekend, hopefully enough to improve the snow for the final week) and then 2 ½ weeks of summer rock climbing in Spain, before driving back to the UK for Steph (my niece) and Sam’s wedding on 24th May. The year is flying by, but we don’t want it to! We’re enjoying it so much here we think we may come back again in 2015, it’s fabulous! Winter skiing, ski touring, summer rock climbing, mountaineering and road and mountain biking – what more could anyone want! Did we tell you about the wine? €1.72 buys a bottle of very pleasant red wine, recommended to us by Si and Cassie. It’s ‘Le Pas du Templier’ and comes (as all French wine still seems to) with a cork – no screw top here! See: http://www.onthegrapevine.biz/2014/01/whopping-wines-of-2013.html