Monday, March 21, 2011

That Time I Pretended to be a Real Snow Bunny

Just a little over a week ago, I returned home triumphant after a vastly improved second week of vacation. As you might remember, the first half (Lourdes) wasn't one of the finer points of my time abroad. This time however, I had company and good weather! Oh and the Alps!

After a few days of downtime in Beziers, I hopped on a train at 5:30 am and chuga chuga choo chooed my way to Sayoie (the region of the Alps I was in). Sam's family has a little efficiency apt in a small resort village there. After a very curvy drive up the mountainside in a shuttle van, I made it to the apt and a nap. Very important those are! The view from the small balcony was magnificent. Clear blue skies, bright sun, and snow capped mountains. Just breathe that fresh fresh air!

The next day, we explored some of the nearby resort villages, walked along the ski trail, traversed differences in elevation - as much as 200 meters, and stopped for a crepe and hot cocoa in view of Mount Blanc. Not bad eh?

Friday was our big hiking day, and since lots of snow at the lower altitudes had since melted, the trails were mostly clear, albeit a bit muddy. We went down the mountain a bit in one of the people lifts that Sam called the yogurt pots. Then, we walked along the road a bit before finding a trail to the 'Site Nordique,' the area for dog sledding, and cross country skiers. The view of the mountains from there was really spectacular. From there, we found a sign advertising a 45 minutes trail walk from where we were back to the apt. We were a bit dubious looking at the ascent that loomed before us, but we bravely set out. The trail was a bit steep of course (this is the Alps after all!) but it was surprisingly dry and reminded me of childhood hikes with the fam. We got back to the apt a bit sweaty, but otherwise feeling fit and refreshed.

Saturday was the big day. I finally let Sam strap me into the ski boots and heel-toe it over to the lift.
Step 1: Get on the chair lift. check
Step 2: Make it up the hill. Would have been check, but the lift broke down while we were 2/3s of the way up. So we dangled in the air for several minutes.
Step 3: Get off the chair lift. Fail. Someone slipped and fell.

After that, I was embarrassed and disgruntled, and soon after had a minor hissy fit (Sam's words), so we took a break and warmed up with hot cocoa. I put my big girl panties back on after that and took a few runs down the bunny hill. About an hour later when I finally had the hang of it, we tried out the long (still flatish) trail through the woods. It was lovely! and I didn't fall again! When we got back my calf muscles were aching from the stiff boots and the snow plowing, so I relaxed in a nice bubble bath. Hmmmm, life is rough.

The next day we had to head back to southern France, but now my interest in the Alps is sparked! But maybe I'll stick to hiking.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lourdes, oh lordy

I'm writing this entry from an incredibly overpriced internet cafe in Lourdes, France. I'm technically on vacation, but 2 1/2 days in Lourdes hasn't been very vacation-y. I don't want to be too much of a complainer, but let's just say this has been less than ideal.

Why Lourdes? you might ask. I understand your surprise since I often tell people that I'm recovering from Catholicism. Well, although I'm not here to partake as a pilgrim of faith, I do still find the idea of pilgrimage site fairly fascinating. The city is in the foothills of the Pyrenees and thus offers some fantastic views and hiking opportunities (or so I read). I'm also here to get some Lourdes holy water to bring back to my aunt Mary. A few clicks and typing later, and I had my train tickets and a two night stay in a cheap hotel booked. Off I went!

The views are spectacular, when you can see them. Unfortunately, the weather has been downright crummy since my arrival. It's been rainy and grey and chilly. I could handle that just fine, if it wasn't all so foggy. I bought a ticket package at the tourist office for the fortress castle/museum as well as for the trolley ride up a mountside for the best views of the city and Pyrenees for miles around. To add to the debacle, I realized only this morning that the trolley opens March 26th. It being March 2nd doesn't bode well for those plans. I wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway, but I pretty much paid 13 euros for a cold, viewless tour throught the Chateau Fort and museum. Go me. I suppose I could try to go back to the office and say that I wasn't aware the mount view was closed until late March when I bought the tickets, but I'm sure they would say that they told me that, and no refunds blah blah, as well as the fact that I've been trying to avoid the stupid tourist label. So I guess I'll just be stupid silently.....and instead hang out in the mediatheque and internet cafe until it's an acceptable time to go for dinner. I'd go back to my hotel room, but it's freezing and heated by a little electric thing that barely churns out warm air when turned up to the max. Luckily, I'm a veteran in cold room affairs. At least they're really nice there, and on the bright side I had a really lovely meal last night at a charming little couscouserrie.

Yesterday I checked out all the religious sites and felt like a intruder among the small throngs of international and devout worshippers. Lourdes is second after Paris for the most hotels per square foot in all of France. It's also probably first for religious souvenir and junk shops per square foot. It seems like there are ceramic figurines of Mary and made in China rosary beads on every corner. I stopped into a few of them on my wanderings and yes, I couldn't help myself. As well as the holy water, I will be bringing my Lady of Lourdes shot glass with me back to the U.S.

Oh Holy Mother keep and protect my blasphemous drunk soul. amen.