Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Who would think that for such a small country, France would have such big mountains?!?

So one week ago I finished school for the February vacation (2 weeks long) and you know what that means: SKI! AUX PYRÉNÉES! POUR UNE SEMAINE! And yeah, it was awesome. 

We left Mûrs-Erigné Saturday morning at around 5:30 AM and joined up with the family Boucher at their house. OK let me explain: the Bouchers are like neighbors except that they live further away but we go to their house for dinner and they come here; they're very close friends of the family. Every year they go on ski with the Ligot's and they rent a chalet together at Saint-Lary. This year we rented a really cool house in a smaller community about 5 minutes from St. Lary. St. Lary is in the middle of a valley surrounded by the Pyrénées on all sides. It's not a very big village but it's packed with snow shops because it's more or less just a ski village- or at least that's what it's famous for. So Saturday morning we spent most of the day in the car with pit stops for gas, baguettes and lunch.  

We stopped at a park for lunch and I got my first view of the Pyrénées. 


Sometime in the afternoon we got to St. Lary and spent a fair amount of time lugging all our luggage up the two or three little streets it takes to get to our chalet. Because the stairs were so covered in ice, we had to hand all our stuff in through the window. But the view from the garden, holy crap, it was to kill for! The first day we got there, we were lucky to have crystal-clear skies and sun- what a change from Mûrs, where for the last couple of weeks it was alternately raining/extremely cold/cloudy and dark. 

The view from down the street. Pas mal, non?

So that Saturday evening we did a little tour of "downtown" St. Lary and got our ski gear from a rental store, along with the 50000000 other people who decided to do the same. We also got our "forfaits" or as you might call them, ski tickets. Here in France they do it a little differently from good ol' Shawnee Peak. Here you have a credit card type ticket that you just leave in your pocket the whole day and walk by a scanner to get onto a lift. It's so much easier, I don't know why they do the hanging slips of paper tickets at home... Anyway, we sure didn't waste any time getting to the mountain and Sunday morning we kicked off our first day of ski. Above you've got your's truly with my all my gear for the day. Oh yeah, that's another thing: in France everyone brings a backpack because when you go out to ski you won't get off the mountain for the whole day. So I got my first experience skiing with a backpack which I thought would be horrible but it's not that bad. Me, I'm used to going to the top of the mountain in under 10 minutes, skiing down to the bottom in under 5 and going back to my "chalet" in under 3. Here you leave St. Lary in a télécabine which takes 8 people at once up to the base of the ski area. From there you can take different lifts to different areas. There were more than 7 or 8 different sommets that you could go to et une centaine des pistes- comme en Amérique il y avais les verts, bleus, rouges et noirs, croissant en difficulté. 

No it's not the start of a race course, it was a flag with an accompanying sign warning about avalanches. But who cares about avalanches when you've got scenery like that?

Unfortunately, out of a possible 6 days of ski, we missed two because snow/fog that had descended into the valley. The first day it was more snow, as you can see above. It snowed like crazy and for everyone there (people who are accustomed to Anger weather) it was insane. For me, a Mainer, it was normal. We tried to ski but honestly coud not see more than 2 meters ahead of us and gave up after the first run. 

However, those two days of brouillard were made up for by other days where we had blue skies and sun. This one above is from the top of a trail looking straight over the mountains. 

This one is from the house looking across the valley: St. Lary is on the bottom left out of the picture and straight ahead are the slopes. 

In town there was a fountain but it was a little cold to see any real water running. But this actually defies reality because it was a hell of a lot warmer there than at Mûrs. Anyway, town was nice with tons of little sausage and cheese shops (typical) and your average souvenir shops with all sorts of stupid things. I also saw the first North Face shop I've seen in Europe, as well as Columbia. 

One week later, Saturday morning we were up and out again, on the road by midday. But we didn't go straight home. We went to Biarritz, right on the coast in the bottom left corner of France and it was... different. I'll put it this way: in the morning we were seeing mountains and snow and skis; 4 hours later we were walking on a sand beach in a mildly tropic setting with warm sun and short sleeves. It was weird... and the funniest thing was there were tons of people in the water trying to surf the minuscule waves. 

There were tons of rock formations and something called the Rock of the Virgin which is a natural monument dedicated to (I think...) the sailors who died at sea (maybe not, I think that's what someone told me but I forget). In any case, it was beautiful and strange to stare out on the Atlantic after a week straight of les Pyrénées. Oh yeah, we went down there to drop Aurélien off with the grandparents. They have an appartement there that we might stay at during the April vacation for a week.

On a totally different note, last night I made dinner for the family and it was pizza. Now those of you who know me, or just Portlanders, will know exactly what that is above. If you're someone else, allow me to explain: the famous mashed-potatoe, bacon, scallions (who were replaced by parsley) pizza of Otto pizza. I had to do a tribute at some point or another. Tonight, for Mardi Gras, Guillaume and I made crèpes for the family, who has extended now because the heating system at the cousin's house broken so they're here for now. 

So that was the start of my February vacation, pretty awesome I think. Now I have this week to go to a friend's party, probably hit town with some friends later and work, of course. The day I get back, Monday, I'm passing the Bac Blanc Oral in Français. I have study 15 texts we've gone over in class, plus many more documents complimentaires, plus all the lessons and lectures we've taken from the prof and Monday morning, at 8:35 they're going to assign me 1 out of the 15 texts. Me, I have to prepare a commentaire in a half hour and then present it orally to a judge. So yeah, I'm so totally screwed it's not even funny, but it should be pretty hilarious when I try to explain Pascal's love of God and critique of man or the complexity of César from le trilogie Marseillaise or Médée eternal anger and vengeance in Corneille's eternal representation of the sorceress. Or something like that. So we'll see how that turns out, should be interesting. Well I'll see you all later, I'm going to go figure out how to download X-Men in French for later tonight. 
À plus le monde! 

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