Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another trip brought to you by the sale of a 2000 Subaru Outback named Gretel...

Long before I knew that I would be quitting my job and becoming an unemployed loser for a few months, I had booked a ski trip to Val d'Isere, France. (Just to note, there should be an accent over the first 'e' going up to the left but I don't know how to make one of my computer!) A friend from my English school, Nicola, had worked there for two seasons before becoming a teacher and I was so excited to meet someone who skied and wanted to take a ski trip!
Our trip was almost the ski holiday that "wasn't" as the airport in London had been closed the day before we went and apparently the planes were scattered all over Europe because of weather. Our flight was delayed by six hours, but we finally made it out! The whole plane, because it was a chartered flight from a tour operator, was full of people going to various locations around the French Alps. Our plane landed in Grenoble and then a bus picked us up for the three hour drive to Val d'Isere. By the time we got there it was well after 2 am and we were completely exhausted.
We stayed at a chalet (basically a small hotel that has a kitchen/dining/living room where all the guests eat together) and had 8 other people in the chalet. Everyone was English as it was an English company called Skiworld with whom we traveled. The rest of the chalet guests were really nice and that was actually my favorite part of the whole trip- the fact that we had breakfast and dinner with everyone together, family style, and everyone would hang out for a few hours after dinner, drinking wine and chatting. Our chalet had the two of us, a family with two kids who were 18 and 21 (the parents were both teachers so we had a lot of interesting educational discussions), two divorced middle-aged guys, and another young English guy from Switzerland who decided to go skiing while his American wife went home to Texas (good choice, I say!).
The skiing was different than what I am used to as the whole mountain is the above the tree line. So, if it is cloudy, the light is very very flat and I felt like I was starting to understand what a blind skier must feel like since I could barely see my own feet for most of the trip. We did have two days where it was only partly cloudly and I took as many pictures as I could those days! Unfortunately, my ski legs weren't ready for big mountains and I was a wimpy loser for the first two days and only skied 1/2 - 3/4 days. Not to sound like a brat (I think it will be unavoidable sounding like one with my next statement...but...) I have never had to ski for 6 whole days in a row. When you live in Colorado, you don't often go for a full week and when I lived in Winter Park, even if I went six days in a row (I didn't usually because I had to work!) I only went for a few hours at a time because I would have had to work in the afternoon! Alas, it was still fun because a shitty day skiing is still a good day!
The views on the semi-clear days were absolutely amazing! The lifts were much longer than in Colorado as were the majority of the ski runs! I imagine that on a clear day, with good snow, it would just be an "EPIC" day!

It was hard to believe that I was in France. First of all, I was with all English people and it seemed that the majority of people skiing there were also English. I will say that we never stood in a line, not even once, and if anything, that was the most amazing part. But, I am sure that if we had had to stand in line, I would have ended up at the back of the line and not known how I got at the end. When I lived in Nice, we called it the "classic European boxout" as we would be waiting for the bus at the front of the line and then suddenly be at the end of the line and not have a clue how we got there. The lift lines are not organized the way they are in Colorado and it is pretty much just a full-on sly squeeze-in (European boxout) to the front of the line. English people are good queuers too (a trait I enjoy because it makes waiting less stressful when people calmly wait in lines to go into places!) so good thing I had an experienced France skier with me or I might still be waiting for someone to yell "FRONT ROW!" at me like at home!

Val d'Isere is right next to a town/resort called Tignes. The resorts are connected and our tickets worked for both. There were some gondolas that held over 50 people! That scared me! And, some chairlifts were about 10 people wide. When they were that wide, there was a "magic carpet" to stand on to get everyone in the correct spot after the little gates at the front of the lines opened. For 10 people, I think that was a pretty good idea but it was a really weird sensation to stand on a magic carpet next to a bunch of people.

This is a huge rock formation called "the eye of the needle" and I realize that in this picture it just looks like a rock with a blob of snow on it...but now you can see that the sky and the snow were exactly the same color and when there weren't any rocks around to provide contour, it was literally impossible to tell where land ended and sky began!
Most of the town of Val d'Isere has been built up in the last 60 or so years as the ski industry has grown. However, there were a few really old buildings and this church is said to be from about 400 years ago. It was all stone and was really beautiful all lit up. "Lucky" for us, they rang the bells every hour on the hour so you always knew what time it was. One morning, I think they were giving us a church-bell snooze button as they rang them 8 times at 8:00, 8:02, 8:04, and 8:06. How nice!

Everywhere around town there were snow sculptures for Christmas and this one was in front of the church, fittingly. I also saw Santa, a St. Bernard, and children playing carved as snow sculptures. And, in real life, not made of snow, I saw a Swiss Mountain Dog and was really excited to see one in its "natural habitat (almost...we were only a few miles from Switzerland)" since my cousin in Colorado breeds them! I love that they were bred for 1) pulling milk carts from farm to farm and 2) babysitting children. I love the idea of a dog babysitting...really safe!

Our chalet had a traditional English Christmas dinner complete with Christmas pudding that was soaked in brandy and lit on fire! Really, it just tastes like a really rich and sugary raisin cake (not totally unlike an American fruitcake but won't break your teeth and doesn't have candied fruit in it...so I guess the fact that it is some sort of dough with some sort of dried fruit in it is actually where the similarities end!). The food in our chalet was amazing and a 22-ish year old English girl was our "Chalet Host" who lived off site but arrived every morning at 7 to prepare our breakfast. Don't worry, there were ALWAYS baked beans as a breakfast option which I have really come to like after living in England for 4 months. There was also amazing French bread and NUTELLA!!!! (Pretty much the most amazing thing ever invented ever in the world, ever.)
We exchanged Secret Santa gifts in our chalet and I got a Mister book in French called "Mr. Snow or Monsieur Neige." It is really cute and that made it feel a bit more Christmas-y that we all had something to open after Christmas dinner.
This was our chalet and you could walk out the back door, put on your skis, and go right to the lifts. That part of it was amazing! It was a great week!

These pictures were taken as we drove away from Val d'Isere...the first sight of the sun in about 5 days! I guess that just means that I'll have to go back and hope for bluebird, sunny days! I will also have to maybe do some actual exercise leading up to my next trip as well as I about had to amputate my quads every day after skiing. I also think I am going to invest in some sort of boot heaters...but for everyone who has had to live through my ski boot saga for the last two seasons...I think I will actually get to keep all my nails after this trip which is a MIRACLE! My toes are still numb from being so cold, but I do have 10 of them, so what's a little numbness! Ha.

So now, I am preparing to leave for Dol-de-Bretagne, France a week from tomorrow (January 5th!). I have purchased my train ticket and will have to take the following number of trains:
1) Chesham to London
2) London to Paris (Gare du Nord)
3) Gare du Nord to Gare du Montparnasse in Paris
4) Paris to Rennes
5) Rennes to Dol-de-Bretagne

This will take me about 9 hours (not too bad, really when you consider I will be crossing the English Channel and a portion of western France) and then the family with whom I'll be staying for the next two months will pick me up at the Dol-de-Bretagne station. I will return to London on January 20th to attend a job fair for international schools...fingers crossed that I get a job for next year somewhere really cool (like London, par example!) and I can work at an IB school!

So, hope everyone had a great Christmas. It was hard to be gone and I am really missing everyone at home right now as I think about all those fun Christmas break activities (like Scrabble and wine drinking) that I am missing with those I love! Natalie and I were wishing we could have "flue powder" like in Harry Potter where you just jump into the fireplace and appear somewhere else! That would have made this whole thing so much easier. Sometimes I wish I could just pop home for the weekend, but it is just too far! Oh well, visitors visitors visitors, I say! My next are my parents in April, then Nicole, then (HOPEFULLY) Gordon, and then Nat! Can't wait!!

Lots of LOVE!!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

En Français s'il vous plait...

Well, I have figured out my next adventure. After my job prospects here in the Chesham area didn't really seem to be panning out in a way that I was okay with, I found a program called Geovisions where I will live with a family and teach them English in exchange for free room and board for a few months. The exact timeframe is still yet to be determined, but I'm thinking about 2-3 months is what it'll end up being.

So, I am going to France for 2-3 months and for at least the first two months, I will be living in a town called Dol-de-Bretagne in northern France. It is a tiny village, with a giant cathedral and is only about 8 miles from a larger town called Saint Malo, which I have heard is somewhat of a chi-chi (how does one spell this word...chic-chic? she-she?...not sure, but you get the point!) vacation spot on the English Channel. I have never been to this part of France and I am really excited to see it- it looks GORGEOUS in the pictures!

Most people reading this blog probably know that I minored in French and lived in Nice for six months during college. I started taking French in a before-school program when I was in first grade and have always been somewhat of a Francophile- mostly thanks to some AMAZING teachers in middle and high school! I haven't really spoken any French in about 10 years and I have been really down on the fact that I spent so long studying it and then let it go! So, I am extremely happy for this opportunity to brush up on my skills. I have been dating a French teacher here in England and hearing him speak French so well has inspired me to get off my butt and do something about it!

Since I am about to be an unemployed loser in a matter of days, (8.5 days to be exact!) I had to figure out some way to pass my time and I am definitely not ready to just throw in the towel on this experience and come home. Finding this program was awesome as I now won't have to spend a lot of money but will have something cool to do AND most importantly, relearn French!

The family in Dol-de-Bretagne has two boys who are 12 and 9. They all have very limited English but are opening a bed and breakfast and so they want to brush up on their skills so that they can increase the business. England is only about a 5 hour ferry ride across the English Channel from them and I am sure there are many English speaking tourists looking for a stone farmhouse in the country, which apparently they seem to have! They also have two dogs, two cats, and two little ponies! HOW CUTE!!!

I've been reading Harry Potter et l'école des sorciers (Harry Potter 1) in French for the last few weeks to work on brushing up on my skills as well as tormenting Mike by asking him one million questions about how to say things and grammar questions.

This week at school was one of my worst yet from the kid perspective. My head of department has basically stopped helping me with any sort of discipline issues as I am leaving so soon and so this week I was called a stupid b**ch twice and told to F off several times. Makes me feel awesome. Obviously, this is not how all schools are, but there are some issues for sure at CPCC. I am happy to not have to deal with them anymore.

On the real job front, I have been accepted to an international school job fair in London at the end of January for jobs during 2011-2012 school year. There will be about 180 different international schools from all over the world. I'd like to get a job in one of the 5 in London but we'll see. Mama needs a new pair of shoes.

So, once again, my whole life is up in the air, but at least I have something cool to do for a few months! And, before I actually move to France, I am going skiing in the French Alps with my friend Nicola for a week over Christmas! YAY!