Monday, January 30, 2006

Terri's Big Ski Adventure - Part 3

This is the final installment, I promise... but I should warn you it's a long one!
[Part 2 is here.]
[Part 1 is here.]

Wednesday morning 18th Jan:

I awoke this morning to the gentle sound of heavy artillery fire just outside our chalet. I believe the first words out of my mouth as I sat bolt upright in bed were, "Holy Crap!!"

We had a lot of snow last night. The showers that started yesterday continued overnight and today you can't tell the make and model of parked cars because they're half-buried. No blue sky today - we can't see the other side of the valley through the falling snow.

Oh, you're wondering about the artillery fire?
Well apparently they use some sort of canon to explode bombs at certain spots on the mountains to shake up the loose snow in order to cause controlled avalanches so they don't have to worry about big unexpected ones burying their clientele later. [This is hearsay, don't know how accurate this info is, but it makes sense.] I just wish there was a quieter way of doing this. Mind you, it makes a great alarm clock if you want to wake up at 7am thinking you're in the middle of a war zone.

Wednesday afternoon:
Two breakthroughs!!

First, I was persuaded to strap up my knee, get back on skis and attempt the nursery slopes again, with Hubby at my side. The first run was truly terrifying - only the last vestiges of my pride and stubbornness got me down. But I made it, albeit slowly, and then I went down again. And again. And again. Sans drama :-)
It was hard going though, so I chose to rest awhile and Hubby went off to the bigger slope which he enjoyed so much yesterday. Eventually I got tired of resting, so I pulled myself towards myself and tackled my little slope again - this time alone.
It was nice and quiet - just me and a ski instructor with his ten 5-year-old students. [Unlike me, the little brats were fearless - pfft!] But by the end of a few more solo runs I was actually skiing more than stopping. Go Terri!!!

After lunch I went down again with Hubby, lost control near the bottom and landed in a heap, but I was OK apart from pulling a muscle in my arm in my attempts to get up, whereupon I decided it was enough for one day. Well at least now I know my right arm can't support my full body weight. Ya live 'n learn, eh?

Breakthrough #2 is totally unrelated.
My trusty old hiking boots split open across the sole (explaining all the wet squelching I experienced during my walk yesterday) so Hubby has not only consented to me purchasing a new pair of boots for myself, but he's coming with me too. Shopping, yay!!

Wednesday night:
Am pissed as coot. Been playing 'coinage' with 3 Dutch guys in the Yeti Bar. Came back to chalet for supper. Got snow boots this afternoon :-) Too pissed to limp home so... step - ow - step - ow... Yep, knee not so good. Someone is singing "Liewe Heksie"* downstairs. Suspect it's gonna be a long night..!

*For non-South Africans, this is the theme song from a children's program on TV from about 20 years ago. You kind of had to be there ;-)

Thursday afternoon:
I am sipping hot chocolate on top of the world!

This morning I woke up to blue skies & sunshine. No bombs - it stopped snowing last night. The snow is melting into rivulets running down the steep roads, but believe me, there's still plenty around; drifts are piled as high as my head in some places, next to the road, all fluffy and white and clean. It's hard to believe this place gets green in summer. I put my skis on this morning & made a very poor attempt at the nursery slope to warm up, but I ran over 3 people coming off the travellator. They had got off it and then just stopped, and with all the ice I could neither stop nor turn to avoid them. I think I am officially the world's worst skier. After a few choice words were exchanged I lost my sense of humor so swapped my ski's for my camera and am now much happier :-)

I wasn't allowed on the ski lift with my friends because I didn't have skis on, but I was able to take another one and have found myself at a pub at the very top of the mountains. The view is breathtaking, the hot chocolate divine and the company (me), quite pleasant.
It's warm today - I am wearing my ski suit but no gloves... at least while I'm not in the shade at which point it seems the temperature suddenly plummets to sub-zero. Maybe the sun feels so warm because we're so much closer to it here at the top of the world.
Jagged mountains give way to steep, smooth slopes and pine trees. Mountainsides are criss-crossed with fresh ski tracks. It is so isolated and unspoilt here that it is easy to forget that reality continues somewhere in the world. The only sounds that break the icy silence are the muted conversations, mostly in French, of my fellow diners, and the low hum of the ski lift. Although the thud of club music too is echoing over from somewhere. It seems really out of place here.

Friday afternoon:
Woo Hoo, I can ski!!!
I am officially no longer the worst skier in the world!

[Whoa! A minute ago I was sitting on our balcony in blazing sunshine, then in about 20 seconds flat the sun sank below the rim of the mountain opposite and suddenly it's freezing here - I'm going inside!]

OK back to the important stuff.
I can ski!!!
Hubby persuaded me to get my very own Ski Instructor today. Jean-Luc, the gorgeous 6ft blonde Frenchman was busy [OK, he's a figment of my imagination ;-)] so instead I spent an hour on the slopes with a very experienced, English-speaking (sort-of) woman instructor. Instructress? Whatever.
Under her patient tutelage I learnt not only to ski forwards, but also to stop and to turn, which it turns out are the really important bits.
I actually had fun this time, and tomorrow she is taking me off the nursery slopes.
Right now, though, I am just tired. We went out to supper last night at the local pizzeria for a farewell dinner for C and W (our broken collarbone victim), who left today courtesy of their insurance company.

Lunch today was Tartiflette, an addictive potato dish, enjoyed with the whole group at the Restaurant On Top Of The World which I discovered yesterday. It was another stunning clear day and really warm in the sun. Hubby and I came back down on the ski lifts while the others opted to ski & snowboard down. I'm not quite that brave yet!

Saturday evening:
We're on the bus again, picking up more passengers in the neighbouring resort of St Jean d'Arves.
Goodbye beautiful Alps, snow-covered slopes and icy clean air!

Last night we attempted to finish all the beer we bought in St Malo a week ago, resulting in headaches and frayed nerves all round this morning while we were trying to finish packing and clean the chalet by the deadline of 10am. Check-out was a nightmare. It was one of the rare occasions that Hubby lost his temper, in a row with a snotty receptionist about a broken keyring. He won. There are not many people in the world who will win an argument with my husband in full wrath.
That sorted, we stowed our luggage in a room above the reception area since our bus was only coming to fetch us late in the afternoon. [This was against their policy, but they made an exception, no doubt wanting to avoid another tongue-lashing by my beloved.]
Outside it was chaos, with busloads of people checking out to leave and yet yet others just arriving; French, Dutch, German and the occasional English tourist. J and I opted to take the navette into the village, carrying the bags containing spare boots and bunches of other stuff, while the rest of the clan skied / snowboarded down.
Bad choice.
Turns out the navette doesn't run on Saturdays because it's 'changeover day', when the new batch of visitors arrive to replace those leaving. So we trudged down the hill, stopping to rest our weary arms every ten minutes or so. We arrived at our usual spot - the restaurant with the wooden deck on the nursery slopes - just in time to meet up with the others for lunch. They had already staked claim on a good spot and were relaxing in the warm sunshine.

And then it was time for my second ski lesson.
I warmed up with a couple of runs on the nursery slope so I felt confident, and then my instructor took me to a ski lift that would take us up to the easiest of the 'green' runs. ( There are different 'levels' of slopes, green being the easiest, then blue, red and finally black.)

On the way to the ski lift, I got away from myself... and the instructor... and suddenly found myself barrelling along at a stupidly rapid rate of knots, and all I could hear over the whistling of the air past my ears and the screaming panic in my head, was her voice echoing behind me, "Lean forwaaard...!"
So I did.
And I picked up even more speed.
And I thought "OmigodI'mGoingToDie!".
And then I realised that in leaning forward I had actually regained a little control and was eventually able to slow down and bring myself to a halt without falling over, by heading to the slight embankment along the side of the slope.
And yes, there was a bit of exhileration mixed in with the panic and shakes that followed.

And then we got to the lift and I was pulled up, up, up.
And then... I had to come down again.
On skis.
Um, ja, well, that didn't quite work out as planned... or rather, as hoped.
It was steep. Very steep. And very slippery. And really, really scary.

This is where I am supposed to say that I overcame my fear and conquered the mountain, but I don't like to lie. The truth is I fell over - only once, thank goodness - and my instructor ended up having to literally hold my hand all the way down. I wouldn't let go of her out of sheer terror. At the steepest part she was actually skiing backwards while holding both my hands. The string of 7-year-olds that came whizzing past without a care in the world did nothing for my self-esteem, I gotta tellya.

Can you all say "wuss"???!
My ski instructor actually admitted I was the worst student she'd ever had.

After what seemed like an eternity the lesson was over and the skiing was done. When I thanked my instructor for her patience, she replied, "It's my job," and then skied off without a backward glance. [Probably a good thing since in my experience glancing backwards while skiing forwards can only end in disaster.]

I returned my rented equipment and trundled back to the restaurant for a final thirst-quencher. The waiter - who we had tipped reasonably well all week because he deserved it - said thank you to us for being so nice, and brought us a round of free drinks: a local liqueur made from herbs, called Genepe. I have to wonder how come Hubby and I always seem to be on the receiving end of local drinks on the house when we travel - or does this happen to everyone? It was quite strong, but tasty - exactly what I needed after my ordeal!

We then started the long trek up the hill to find our luggage and meet the bus. Y'know, I've often said that in life, timing is everything. Halfway up we turned around to see our bus coming up the road behind us. Our charming driver recognised us and gave us a lift to the top - Yay!!! It probably would've been quicker to walk in the end because as we rounded one of the tight bends we met another coach coming the other way. The streets of Saint Sorlins d'Arves are barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other, never mind great big coaches, so it took a great deal of maneouvering and muttering about woman drivers before we finally made it to the top. But we did, and we didn't have to walk (or in my case, hobble).

And now we're on the long, twisty journey back down the cliff-hugging slopes in the dark. A pitch black sky is studded with twinkling stars; ice particles on the snow sparkle like diamonds, bringing the stark landscape to life as if millions of tiny fairies are dancing on the white drifts.

Sunday morning:
After a good night's sleep on the bus [Handy Hint: Always choose the bottom bunk - they're closer to the heaters!], we stopped in Caen for breakfast around 7am. It was still dark, very cold and quite misty. The streets were almost empty. Since the first one was a haze of cigarette smoke, and most of our party are non-smokers, we opted to find an alternative to the first (and most obvious) choice of brasseries near the bus station. Instead, we went into the second place that we found open. We should have read the glowing red sign on the window of the place we went into, but we were all still half asleep. It said "After Brasserie". Our wickedly strong coffee that had probably been brewing all night, and not-so-fresh croissants were served by a beautifully coiffed lady-boy. The four men at a table in the far corner, past the pinball machine, were drinking beer. OK it was 7:30 in the morning but I reasoned they had probably just finished working a night shift. Or something. The two men at the counter were a little more obviously just finishing a night out and made a sweet (?!) and loving couple. D and Hubby, the only two men in our little party, were decidedly uncomfortable. I used the unisex bathroom but when I heard two men come in behind me, talking in muted tones, and then I heard their zippers go, stagefright set in and I decided it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. I flushed twice and cleared my throat a lot so I could be sure they heard me before I exited the cubicle and fled as un-obviously as I could.

Later that morning, in a small town in Normandy:
We just said goodbye to our bus driver. He's been swapped out for a woman. "Desolet" - his words ;-)
He was great. He barely spoke a word of English but he looked after us like his own children, got us safely from Normandy to the Alps and back, made our beds, found us coffee and food and made us laugh. Thank goodness it's not far to go now because the woman who is driving now is playing a CD of panpipe music so loud that it's drowning out the Matchbox 20 on my MP3 player. And it's ABBA!

Well, it's over, it's done.
I had some good bits, and some not so good bits.
The pristine Alpine dreamland is now a mere memory of snow, sun, beauty, laughter and for some of us, terror.
Will I go again? Definitely!
But next time I'll get an instructor for myself right from the start.
And you know what? Even if I am the worst skier on the planet and I never do it again, I would still go because simply being surrounded by those majestic peaks and clean white slopes, sparkling icicles and bright blue skies, is worth the trip.


anne said...

See, this is my area of the world. Not so high up, but still. And you took beautiful pictures of it, I'm glad.
You're right about the "heavy artillery" thing - it can also be (but that would be for farming people) "anti-hail rockets".
And Genepi is so good! Next time you go, try Chartreuse (verte). ;)

Jeff said...

Terri- I have really enjoyed reading about your Big Ski Adventure and the pictures, as usual, are magnificent! I'm glad you had nice trip. :)

BUDDESS said...

Eish!!! Just so beautiful. I can't find the correct words for it. Amazing, dreamy, comes to mind. The strongest feeling this post gave me, was that I simply have to see this for myself!! Your pics are fantastic!!! As for the skiing - at least you tried very hard!!! Next time ask for Jean Luc!!!

Terri said...

Anne - it seems every time I go to France I fall a little more in love with it. Thanks for the correct spelling of Genepi, I couldn't remember so I googled it and that's what I came up with. Chartreuse eh? I'll write it down and give it a try next time.
I don't know why you'd ever want to leave France ;-)

Jeff - glad you enjoyed my rambling and stuff... I guess now I'll just have to go somewhere else soon so I can get more to tell you guys about. Tough life, eh?!

Buddess - I get the distinct feeling you need to Travel!! Get your ass over here!

Terri said...

PS.. Buddess... Next time we go skiing it will probably be in the USA so it'll be Brad, not Jean-Luc... but u-huh, I will ;-)

banquo said...

(Yawn) (Stretch) Aaahhh, a good read! Sounds like you really had a wonderful time. And dont worry, I think that I would definitely be classed as the worst skiier in the world too, I can just see myself rolling down a slope instead of skiing - and knocking down more than a few other skiiers in the process.

The pictures - as usual are lovely!!

And just for you: "Hulle noem my Liewe Heksie, maar Lafienja is my naam. Eks die slimste Heksie wat daar is en ek was al op die maan"

"Haai sies, julle lag vir my."

ChittyChittyBangBang! said...

They certainly cannot call you a wuss... you are "braver" than most ppl I know. I thoroughly enjoyed your ski adventure. Thanks for sharing.
The pics are amazing and I am a little envious (in a good way.

DelBoy said...

Well done cuz. If you want to go back, then you must have overcome your fear!

And I'd just like to correct Banquo. It's actually "Ek's die slimste heksie wat ek ken en..."

beadinggalinMS said...

Terri-wow amazing trip and pics.

English-speaking (sort-of) woman instructor. was she sort of english speaking or sort of woman?? LOL :)

really really enjoyed reading about your trip.

Terri is no wuss!! Terri is brave :)

Bosbefok said...

Banquo and Delboy - you lot watch too much TV !! :-) I must say Terri
doesnt ever give herself enough credit .... She did really well on the learner slope, and the first green she was talking about was more mineshaft than ski slope :-)
She was as graceful as a swan......
till it all went tits up - then it was just hysterical :-)

Terri said...

banquo - I find it mildly disturbing that so many people actually remember the words to that song ;-)

Chitty - Aw thanks, Dude! Glad u enjoyed my adventure - that's my contribution to your "living vicariously through me", as someone called it not so long ago... for this month, anyway.

Del - this is starting to sound exactly like the conversation we had that night in the Chalet about the whole Heksie thing, LOL!

Beadinggal - Um, yeah, sort-of English-speaking. (Mostly, LOL!) So it's official then - I'm not a wuss... Yay!!!

Bosbefok - I spend a week and a half explaining it all to these people and you sum it all up in the last line of your comment ;-)
Thanx m'luv, I had a great time! xxx

kyknoord said...

Oh wow. Any holiday that features 'controlled explosions' that aren't food related has to be a winner.

banquo said...

Ok, sorry I got the words wrong. It was almost 100 years ago that I watched the silly little witch. (oops, giving away my age here) - blush....

Terri said...

Kyknoord - Yep. Next stop: Baghdad.

banquo - almost 100 years ago? Does that mean you've a special birthday coming up..?