Posts Tagged ‘walking’

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Snow

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Easter crept up on me this year – perhaps it was the lack of dried-fruit-filled-dough-balls, although I think I had enough of the Dutch fried version of these over New Years. Tom and I spent our Easter weekend (it was clearly stated as a ‘weekend’ in France and definitely not a holiday) with our friends Louise and Marcelo in the Alps. We stayed in Louise’s aunt’s cottage in a tiny village called Boudin. I felt like we had said farewell to civilisation and had run away to join a hippie cult in the middle of the French mountains. Boudin consisted of less than 15 wooden chalets that were inaccessible by road. You had to park your car in the car park at the base of the village and walk up.

Boudin

Boudin

It took us approximately eight hours to drive to Boudin from Paris – this was largely due to some bad advice from the GPS, and then a few misguided decisions as we worked out the best way to get to the mountains. By the time we arrived, it was dark, it was raining, the clouds were settling low and we had to drive up a one-lane, twisty road with some particularly useless windscreen wipers. Oh, did I mention the lightning?

Fear not, we made it and were all overwhelmingly happy to get our things into the house and sit down to some food and some good wine. The next day as the sun came up, the rooster started crowing outside my bedroom window and I finally dared to peak outside, I realised why an eight hour drive is really ok. WOW. WHAT A VIEW.

Boudin

Good morning, mountains.

Perhaps it is the Australian in me and my complete foreignness to all things mountainous, but geez those lumps of land are just spectacular! Particularly when coated in white snow. I think I have only stayed in one other place in the world that had such an inspirational view – Crete and our view of Plakias bay. I could have sat and stared at the mountains all day, watching the clouds roll through, the passages of rain and then light snow. Beautiful.

Boudin mountains

Fluffy.

Saturday we had a quiet day as the weather wasn’t great and we were all feeling very lazy. We bought a truck load of local produce – cheese (Beaufort is one of the towns nearby), fromage blanc, blueberry coulis, saucisson, and blueberry tarts. Then we essentially just ate all day. For dinner we made cheese fondu with locally produced cheeses. It is fantastic – you can go to the local fromagerie, buy the fondu cheese and they will lend you a fondu pot, the sticks to hold the bread and the little heating element to keep the cheese warm. All you have to do is bring it back the next day. Now that’s small town trust. I like it.

Fondu

They eat this every day in the mountains

On Sunday we celebrated Easter by walking up a snow covered hill. The idea sounded great – we would hire ‘raquettes’ (or giant tennis rackets that you attach to your feet), take the chair lift to the top of the first part of a mountain and then walk up to a restaurant where we would eat good food in the sunshine while surrounded by snow. Louise was the only person who a. was French and had been to the mountains before and b. had skis so she left the two Australians and one Brazilian in the middle of a field of snow, lost, lonely and cold. Not really, there were very obvious ski-routes to follow but still. So cold.

Raquettes

These shoes are made for snow walking

So we started walking and immediately discovered that walking with tennis rackets attached to your feet is really quite tricky. You turn into a transformer and your feet suddenly weigh a lot more than you ever thought they could. We set off completely unsure about what direction we were supposed to be going but eventually figured that as long as we were heading uphill we were probably on the right track.

Mountain edge

I think I'll avoid walking over that hill

The second thing I learnt is that despite it being cold, snowy and probably some sort of minus-temperature, if you are wearing lots of layers of clothing and are trudging up a hill with tennis rackets on your feet then you get very, very sweaty very, very quickly. I was soon stripping off my beanie, scarf and gloves and turning bright red and complaining a lot. I wasn’t the only one. It was really hard! Walking uphill in snow is worse than running 30km and I almost threw my walking sticks down into the snow in frustration. But the food! We were walking towards food! Onwards we went, meeting up with Louise once as she glided past on her skis, the wind in her hair, a smile on her face. She, of course, felt dreadful but everyone just laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation and how much we really wanted to get to the restaurant. Louise informed us we were almost half way. Great.

Raquette

Up we go

Two hours later we arrived at the restaurant, removed as many clothes as possible while attempting to remain decent and flopped into our chairs demanding water, water, water. My tshirt was saturated and I’m fairly certain the table behind me left due to my stench. But after a slice of beaufort cheese tart, a huge plate of chips (yes, delicious, salty, deep-fried chips… something I usually avoid but at this moment they were the best things ever), and salad followed by a Nutella crêpe, I was happy. And ready to walk back down the hill.

Beaufort tart

Tarte au Beaufort

Nutella crepe

Nutella-full

The walk back was AMAZING. I have to admit that the walk up the hill was completely worth it once I started going back down. There is something so wonderful about standing still on a snow covered mountain and listening to the silence. It is one of the most beautiful sounds on the earth.

Snow on pine tree

Snowy

The snow was such a pure white and everything looked like a movie. The three raquetteers were in much jollier moods walking back to the chair lift and we stopped at a patch of gloriously white, soft snow, threw ourselves back onto it and made snow angels. My first snow angel! It was heavenly to lie in the snow! It is so soft and luxurious – sure, I got a bit wet, but I was already drenched so who cares?

Snow angel

Don't I look angelic?

It was hard to drive back to Paris the next day as the sun was shining in the mountains and it would have been a great day to sit on the chalet balcony in the sunshine and read a book. Unfortunately work and responsibilities called and we repacked the car and drove another seven hours to get home. This time we had the joy of Parisian traffic jams as everyone returned home from their Easter holidays. Next time we’re all taking an extra day off work.

Portugal, I Love You

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

You know you’ve enjoyed a country when your stomach is screaming with pain from eating too much food and drinking too much wine. Maybe it was the fried, salted peppers, or maybe I just over indulged but my stomach is currently on holidays from my excessive Portuguese eating habits. It is glad to be back in the country where while everything is full of butter, it doesn’t drip down your chin as you bite into your food.

Jess and toast

Butter chin!

We returned to Paris at lunch time on Sunday after a week away in Portugal. Sunny, warm Portugal. It was Tom’s birthday present – I bought him tickets and accommodation for four days in Lisbon and three days in Porto. The main reason for this present was because Portugal is a country I have wanted to visit and I had started to miss the beach beyond belief. Really, it was a present for me, but Tom didn’t seem to mind.

Lisbon was a fascinating city and I don’t think I have ever walked through a city that has worked my calf muscles as much. I thought there were hills in Lyon – that was NOTHING compared to the mountainous terrain of Lisbon. You can be walking along a street and decide to turn right, only to discover that to get to the next parallel street you have to go up an almost vertical incline. To add to your woes, you have to deal with cobblestone footpaths that are made up of super slippery tiles, so you have to grip on with your toe, feet and leg muscles to avoid going backwards.

Lisbon hills

Danger hill alert!

Of course, you then get to the top of the hill, walk along a nice flat area for awhile, only to discover that you now have to go back down the slope without slipping over and falling on your butt. It was hilarious watching slow and cautious tourists being over taken at rapid speed by locals, often elderly women with walking sticks. I was once over taken by an old lady carrying a carpet over her shoulder. I wanted to bow, kiss her feet and compliment her on her walking abilities and hope that one day I could walk as well as she could.

Portuguese lady

Look at that skill!

The good thing about hills is that you often have a nice view from the top of them. There were LOTS of nice views in Lisbon and these vistas, terraces, or look outs were really well used. There was almost always a little kiosk cafe where you could sit and have a drink, a historical monument or an over priced tourist venture.

Lisbon

Beautiful Lisbon.

On our first day in Lisbon we were the stupid tourists who paid to go up a lift that used to be run on steam (if it still was run on steam I would have enjoyed it more. Instead it was just an ordinary lift with wires and electricity and stuff) for a 5-10 second ride in order to get ‘a view’ over Lisbon. If we had waited and walked around for a bit longer, we may have realised that if we had walked up the hill NEXT to the lift, we could have had the same view for free. But hey, what’s the point of being a tourist if you don’t get ripped off? Plus it was Portuguese prices which means we could have gone up and down the lift four times before it cost anything near the price of going up the Eiffel Tower.

Lisbon elevator

The Elevator of Santa Justa

It was interesting being in a European city where there are few buildings dating back past the mid 18th century. A massive earthquake in 1755 destroyed most of the city so it was interesting to then visit Porto which has some much older buildings and feels like a much older city. There is a feeling of hardship in Portugal – it is one of the EU countries currently struggling with its economy and it is quite obvious from the living standards in the cities and it the country towns we passed when on the train. People make do with less and have done so for centuries but global economies are making it harder for this to be possible. However, while people’s homes appear run down and falling apart, it was also interesting to see that houses with city or water views that had once belonged to generations of family members were being transformed into fancy hotels and tourist restaurants. This really annoys me. The fact that large numbers of delightful cities are transformed into Disneylands just to maintain economies and to satisfy rich tourists is horrifying. While I am one of those tourists, I don’t want to see a city taken over by souvenir shops and tourist menus. I go to a city to see its history, discover how people live there, and eat local food. This is becoming much harder to achieve.

Lisbon restaurants

Tourism is taking over

Anyway, potentially contradicting my previous statement, we spent one afternoon in Porto doing what the tourists do – visiting port cellars and sampling the local produce. Much like going wine tasting in the Swan Valley or Margaret River, there were hoards of tourists wandering from cellar to cellar, demanding free samples and feeling hard done by if they had to pay for something. We joined in and visited four port cellars and sampled approximately 10 different ports. That’s a lot for one afternoon.

Port

The first three ports

In two of the cellars we were able to join tours that took us into the caves where the port is stored and provided us with a bit of information about how the port is produced. You can see a highlight of these tours in a movie on my Flickr site, where a particularly amusing girl provided us with a very interesting tour of the Croft cellar. The main reason it was interesting was the way in which she spoke English – it was just delightful. Plus the fact that she appeared strict and like a scary teacher at first, and then started dropping really sarcastic jokes throughout her speech just made it a tour to remember.

Basically, the key thing I learnt from my four cellar visits, ten ports and two tours, was that I like Tawny Ports because they are oakier due to being aged in smaller oak barrels than Ruby Ports. See? I was listening. And if you have a vintage port, drink it within 2-3 days of opening. And all Port grapes are grown in the Douro region in Portugal. SO THERE YOU GO.

Portugal was fantastic. I will write some more later but right now I have to go and buy a baguette for lunch. Tough, I know. I do have to venture outside into grey and windy Paris where it is fairly cold. That’s not sunny Portugal!