Ma aventure française has been full of “double take” moments. Moments when I seem to stop what I am doing, step outside of myself for a minute and wonder how I possibly came to be where I am.
These moments occur without warning and in the strangest of circumstances. Walking through the streets of Bonneville, baguette in hand, watching the old men gossip on benches in the town square, I double take. Spending New Year’s Eve in an Irish pub in Barcelona with Australians and French, I double take. Eating confit du canard on the foot-path terrace of a Parisian restaurant, I double take. Running alone through Bonneville late at night during the first snow fall with my face to the heavens, I double take. Drinking vin chaud at 9p.m in a restaurant in the Austrian alps, preparing myself to go whizzing down the slopes, I double take.
These moments often occur in a heart beat, sometimes during the most mundane of situations, but they are the moments that make this experience so special.
So when I spend an entire weekend marveling at everything I am doing, everything I see, everything I eat, I know it is going to be a weekend I remember.
Our weekend began at 4.30 on Saturday morning, eating the first of many muesli bars and walking through the dark to the ski club bus. Four hours and a coffee croissant break later we arrived in a tiny village at the base of the mountain in the Alpe d’Huez resort.
We followed a little muddy path, across a rickety bridge, skis over our shoulders, to the chair lift at the bottom of the village. On the slopes the weather was worse than we expected: rain, snow, -6 degrees and the thickest fog I have ever seen. Or failed to see: we had no idea of the enormity of Alpe d’Huez or of the stunning views that were beyond the cloud cover. We skied for most of the day, taking whatever pistes we seemed to stumble upon and hoping that no major obstacles were more than 10 metres in front.
Saturday evening we bonded with the gentlemen of the ski club as we watched the rugby: England vs. Ireland and Wales vs. France. Rugby conversation led to the All Blacks which led to our loss against France at the last World Cup. I felt like a fraud as I tried to defend them, realising I could more successfully contribute to a conversation rating their good looks rather than their game scores.
We wined and dined on raclette and côte du rhône with boiled potatoes, salad and a charcuterie platter. It was the perfect meal to end a day skiing: rustic, homely and so very french. In a wooden chalet in a remote mountain village in France scraping creamy, golden raclette off the heated round and with crème brûlée for dessert this was definitely a double take moment. Though, more than one person commented after the meal how much raclette “les anglaises” had eaten.
Later that evening we played Foosball and partook in a rum tasting… When I was poured a tasting glass of ginger rum I decided to call it a night.
Sunday morning we woke to clean, clear skies and once on the slopes I could not believe what we had been missing out on. The views were simply spectacular. Sunday was most probably my last day skiing for a very long time and it was not a wasted day. The snow was better and I went higher and faster than I have ever skied before. 3330 metres higher to be exact. And the only way down from such heights is a black run, the highest slope grade in Europe. What a way to finish my first season skiing.
We piled back on the bus Sunday evening, aching and tired and desperately wanting to be out of ski clothes. Less than an hour into our journey we stopped for une petite pause. Pulled from the back of the bus came 2 huge brown paper bags of baguettes, platters of charcuterie, whole rounds of reblochon, comte et tomme, red and white vin de savoie, genepi liqueur and, eventually, out came the rum… Food just seems to appear here in France. I feel I will not be judged for planning my daily schedule around meal times or finishing breakfast and immediately thinking what I can make for lunch. Maybe I am more of a francophile than I realise…
A crazy, unbelievable, wonderful weekend! We left Alpe d’Huez with goggle tan marks and sore stomach muscles from laughing. With only a few weekends left in this part of the world I am so glad I got to spend one of them at Alpe d’Huez.