Archive | January, 2013

The Elephant In The Blog: Le Ski France part 3

27 Jan

einr

 

I feel we should start by getting things out in the open as I know there’s something you’re all thinking. Yes, this was the scene at the most recent BBS emergency board meeting. We were addressing the issue of why it has been somewhere between 19 and 21 days since the last post here.

The reasons are not relevant, nor interesting. But to whet your imagination I’m going to let you choose the one you think is most likely.

None of this really excuses my absence though. Especially considering I’ve since found out that a male flying ant has been born, mated (while in flight), and died in roughly the same amount of time since my last post. Don’t I feel like the underachiever.

Anyway, you’ll probably learn a little more about my absence in the coming weeks. In the meantime however, I am committed to providing you with light-hearted mind fodder on a slightly more regular basis.

This will start with a quick wrap of the ski France tour that happened too long ago but which I’m sure you need closure on. I’ve already mentioned the food was very impressive, and the hostel style accommodation was quite comfortable. On top of that, you got to get up everyday and head out to this:2012-12-26 11.47.22

And this:2012-12-24 16.19.12

The organisation of equipment and lessons was all handled by UCPA (the place we were staying, if you’ve forgotten). I think they may have done it a few times before, because the smoothness of the whole operation was very impressive. All equipment was fitted and issued upon check-in, and lessons were arranged according to skill and experience. 2012-12-24 10.26.39

I was in the intermediate group, taken by Mark (above right, wondering if “intermediate” means something different in Australian). Ordinarily I would’ve been pretty confident (almost cocky) because of my considerable three weeks previous experience on the slopes. However that confidence was taken out, along with my legs and a lift operator, in New Zealand last year as I tried to get on a chair lift. The fact I had been assuring my friends there was nothing to worry about only adds to their fond memories.

In any case, my friend and I braved the intermediate lessons. These promptly turned in to a snowball fight interspersed with some snowboarding, which surprisingly caused very little frustration from Mark (to his credit). When we did get to the snowboarding, we were able to improve our skills quite a bit. By all accounts, those who took the beginner lessons had a lot of fun too.  I must also credit Mark with his exceptional ability to conduct lessons in two languages.

Sadly, what seemed like a few days was actually a week, and it was time to leave. Our white Christmas had come, gone, and been enjoyed by all (not least because of my turkey hat, see earlier post). Snow sports certainly seem to be one of those things you either really enjoy or really don’t, but luckily if you’re a good sport you can still have fun if its not for you. Mad props certainly need to go to UCPA for their tidy operation, and some less mad props should go to Travel Talk for booking it (otherwise we never would have found it).

If you don’t mind, the sun is out now for the first time in about a month. So I’m going to leave it there. If you don’t hear from me in the next three weeks, I’ve been arrested by the ghost of a volcano for being a spy.

 

Safe travels, thanks for reading. J

 

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My Real Merry Cheesemas: Read Earlier Posts If You Don’t Get It!

7 Jan

Like the “excess baggage” from this years festive indulgence, I’m still here. And I’m not going anywhere. At least not until I dust off my grossly inappropriate workout wear and lay off le pain o chocolat.

The only way this could be more inappropriate is if they were wearing bum bags.

The only way this could be more inappropriate is if they were wearing bum bags.

This simile is starting to run a bit thin, so I’m going to get on with the next part of my ski France series. This actually has something to do with my “excess baggage” as most of it came from the mountains of food that was included in the price of the tour! Though I haven’t really helped my case since then either, as yesterday we went on a two-hour round trip purely for one of these:

If you're not sure what this is, it is the world's BEST sausage roll and you should go back and read my earlier work.

If you’re not sure what this is, it is the world’s BEST sausage roll and you should go back and read my earlier work.

Anyway, it was my full intention to get one or two photos of the food on offer at UCPA meal times. However every time the meal room doors were thrown open, such was the stampede for the grub that I had to sacrifice journalistic integrity to ensure I had a good crack at the buffet. Not that there was ever a shortage of food, but a primitive pack mentality seemed to take over every time.

As I said last time, our Travel Talk tour included three meals every day, leaving all your spending money for drinks and novelty fridge magnets. But since I didn’t get any photos you’ll have to make do with my descriptions.

All food was served buffet style, but I was generally impressed with the quality from cooks who had to provide for a few hundred people. There was always a soup with accompanying croutons for those who wanted to waste room on “non-delicious fillers”, but I generally chose to go straight for the mains. They included hearty options such as meatballs, various types of fish, continental sausages, cold meat platters, roast lamb, roast duck, beef casserole, and probably others that I couldn’t fit in.

There was also a salad bar on hand for people pretending to be healthy while smothering their lettuce leaf with Caesar sauce and cheese. One night also included fondue-style cheese, which I was VERY excited about. Then we realised it was only meant as a sauce to be put on top of your broccoli (or some such nonsense). This was nothing a few soup bowls couldn’t fix though, and I spent a very enjoyable and delicious dinner time dipping bread (and whatever else I could find) in to liquid cheese.

The bread is also worth mentioning. Some places you go to eat, the bread is just a disappointing ornament better suited to propping up your wobbly side table than eating. In France though, they take bread seriously, and we should all take a lesson from them. Every meal was accompanied by fresh white or sour dough baguettes, which you cut yourself as chunky as you want. As far as I’m concerned every restaurant, cafe, service station and bus stop should now have a “bread station” with fresh baguettes.

Finally on to dessert. I’m not a dessert person to be honest. If I had to have a two-course meal, it would be entree and main. Or bread with liquid cheese and entree. The dessert offerings were also quite impressive though. Always available was a variety of cheeses, fruit and tubs of yogurt, plus a freezer with packaged or scoop ice-creams to help yourself to. There were also various other desserts available throughout the week, including cheesecakes, sponge cakes, bread pudding, chocolate mousse and brownies. These were a little more hit and miss for me, but maybe that’s because of my “foodism” in favour of savoury things.

So that’s quick wrap of the food on our Travel Talk ski France. There was honestly no need to buy any extra food for the entire week (we didn’t strictly “need” to buy extra chocolate eclairs, but such is the “who cares, we’re on holiday” mentality). Stay tuned for a wrap of all things cold, white and embarrassing next time.

I also feel I should apologise for the abundance of words with few visuals to break up the text. Here is a late attempt to make up for it.

His giant dune buggy is just out of shot

His giant dune buggy is just out of shot.

 

Safe travels, thanks for reading. J

 

Getting French As: Le Ski France part 1

1 Jan

I know the concept of opposite seasons is a difficult one to grasp, but the number of people that just can’t fathom the fact that we from down under are used to hot Christmases is a little worrying. Then again, I find it hard to fathom that people think they can actually catch the cheese.

Anyway, the relevance of what I’m trying to say comes with the fact that a “white”, or even cold Christmas is something of a novelty to people of Australia and many other countries. It doesn’t matter how high you turn the air conditioner while watching Miracle on 34th Street, you just can’t get the real experience.

With this in mind, and the fact that Mr G. Warming has made a white Christmas a novelty for Londoners these days, we set about getting guaranteed snow for this year’s festive season. Naturally, the answer was  a ski resort in the French Alps. It began as any holiday should with an early morning cab ride to the airport, which would’ve been less stressful had the cabs actually shown up and not forced us to make frantic phone calls to ensure we made it on time. My stress was somewhat alleviated by the comic relief of a friend, who was heard to remark “have we got Kevin?”

Just in case you didn't get it.

Just in case you didn’t get it.

Our early morning Monarch Airlines flight went relatively smoothly considering the time of year, the half empty flight even allowing us to stretch out and catch up on some shut-eye. After a short wait at Grenoble, soon we were on a coach piloted by Pierre Shumacher, who did not drive as though the lives of forty other people were of much concern. The scenery did get steadily more amazing, although the motion of the bus meant that the photos I took are not even up to my low, low standards.

Sooner than we probably should have, we arrived at Les Deux Alpes (The Two Alps) and found that speaking French is actually quite easy. You see, despite the french being so protective of their tongue, you really only need to put “le” in front of everything. For example: “le airport”, “le coffee”, “le holy shit this bus is going to fall down the mountain”. Sadly none of the people we were traveling with found this as amusing as my friend and I, and it was put to bed fairly early on.

Our ski France holiday was booked through Travel Talk, and for the 439 pounds that we paid, I was skeptical of what to expect. The price included six nights hostel accommodation, all ski hire, lift passes, three meals a day AND four three-hour lessons on the slopes. Le bargain! Sorry I’ll stop now.

Despite the fact that we had booked through Travel Talk, there was little to suggest they were involved in anything but the booking process. This wasn’t a bad thing, as the process at UCPA was exceptionally smooth without any extra help. UCPA is not a hotel or travel company, rather its a sports association that exists to provide great ski experiences while keeping the cost as low as possible.

This is done in a number of ways, including guests taking on small responsibilities like wiping down their dining table and basic cleaning of their room before they check out. So this isn’t a ski holiday for people like this, but it’s pretty cheap considering the price of skiing in many other places.

Upon check-in we were issued with our room numbers and lift passes, then invited to get fitted out for our equipment straight away. To be honest when I woke that morning at 3:15am I wasn’t thinking by mid-afternoon I’d be cutting some “gnarly” lines through the powder of the French Alps. To be honest again, that’s not what happened. To describe my efforts on a snowboard as “gnarly” would violate my commitment to truth and quality, but we did hit the slopes and the view ain’t too bad up there.

2012-12-24 11.14.23

After naturally having our confidence obliterated by people half our size and age (and somehow, probably with more money), we retired to UCPA where we found many of our trip mates had started testing out the local beverage dispensaries. It was also time for dinner, but I’ll devote a more appropriate chunk of the next post to the food.

That’ll have to do for now. I must also say happy new year to everyone who inexplicably keeps me from having an excuse to stop this blog by actually reading it. I’m very grateful to all of you. And to show this in true BBS style, here is an “arty” camera phone picture of some sky explosions which occurred last night when we trekked in to central London to experience the annual festival of public urination. The explosions were pretty cool too.

2013-01-01 00.01.51

 

Thanks for reading, safe travels in 2013. J