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Travelogue France 2006 Ski Trip
We started in the bar in Terminal E at Logan, next to our gate, because the plane was late. A glass of wine and a beer and we were ready for the flight. Since it was New year's Eve, we expected Champagne on the plane and we got it, only to learn later that Air France serves Champagne on every flight in every class, 10 million bottles a year.
The pilot came on the intercom at some point and told us it was midnight (in Boston? in Paris?) and we kissed and went back to sleep. Breakfast came early as always and was good except for the coffee which was terrible. Quite a surprise. then we are preparing for a landing.
A Day in Paris
Sunday January 1
The french cell phone that we had borrowed from Jill and George found its network and they immediately text messaged us the information that we needed to recharge it. We would have to find a tabac when we got a moment.
We were planning to take the Air France line 4 bus to Gare de Lyon, but the information woman told Dawn that it wasn't running. We took the RER instead and transferred to the Metro line 10 to Jussieu. Today it was free to celebrate New Year's Day. From Terminal 2 this is probably the best way to go because you can walk to the train and the bus might involve a shuttle. We pulled our one rolling suitcase up the hill to the Hotel Residence Monge, where we had arranged to leave it for the day. We would return to stay at this hotel in ten days, but for now were just getting rid of our suitcase. Next was a stop at the BNP Paribas bank machine up the street near Place Monge. I had researched the location of this bank's ATM's because they have a reciprocal arrangement with our bank and allowed each other's customers fee-less use of the machines.
After getting the cash, we headed for Gare d'Austerlitz to pick up our train tickets where we found out that foreign credit cards wouldn't work in the kiosks. We got in line and bought them at the counter. From there we headed for Centre Pompidou. Although it was free to get into, we paid 10 Euros to see the Dada Exhibit. Actually Dawn got a two Euro discount for teaching in an art school back in the United States.
The Dada exhibit was immense. One could have easily spent a semester working one's way through the exhibition. Lots of writings were presented, lots of film and sound pieces. Odd group. They didn't last long but you can see their influence.
It is rather surprising that a faculty ID at an American art college reduces my entry fee in almost all French museums...but never in the USA, so far as I know. The Dada show was great.
The work is all over the map. Their manifesto claims that Dada is less about a particular style or aesthetic and more about breaking whatever "art rules" there were at the time while blatantly snubbing their noses at critics and academic analysis. Of course, they wrote a ton about their ideas and theories, so it's not as if they were anti-intellectual.
I especially enjoyed some early films by Hans Richter in which he choreographed objects and people from everyday life; a dark corridor filled with overlapping sound pieces by Schwitters, Duchamp, and Satie (whom I never thought of as "dada); some portraits of Apollinaire by Picabia; "masks" by Junco, and the turning machines by Duchamp and Man Ray. Of course, my feet were killing me because I was wearing a "comfortable" pair of new boots which turned out not to be so comfortable before break-in period. Can't believe I didn't learn my lesson from our last trip to Paris when I was wearing another pair of allegedly comfortable, new shoes...with the same result!
We also saw a show there called "Big Bang," which organized many of the museum's permanently owned works by categories invented by the staff, such as "transparency," "random," "violent procedures," "regression," "sacrilege," "voyeurism"...to name a few! It was a valiant concept, one that my department at school would admire, but it was not altogether a successful show, in my opinionated opinion. Perhaps I felt that way because the categories seemed sometimes artificial, or there was just too much work shown. Also, had I lived in Paris, I would have devoted two separate visits to what we saw that day, one visit per exhibition. It was interesting to see that the video-art in several categories attracted a lot of viewer attention. Just confirms my belief that time-based art and movement are compelling media!
Dawn waited in the bathroom line as I waited in the coatroom line which took about the same 15 minutes and then we were out looking for a place to eat. We walked around a bit and ended up across the street from the Hotel de Ville at the brasserie on the corner. We sat outside under the awning, with the plastic walls down and the gas heaters going. This is our first time in Paris in the winter and it is fun to see how the Parisians don't really change their style very much. We watch the skating across the street, eat a light dinner and are slowly pulled back into the world that is Paris.
We walk to the metro and head back to the Hotel Monge for our suitcase and drag it down to the train station. We have time, once we are there, to buy a recharging card at the tabac there at the station. We had asked our waiter at the restaurant for the first bit of crucial information which was how to pronounce Bouygues, the name of the phone service (Bweeg). Everyone says just dial the number and follow instructions. Sleep deprived Dawn had difficulty with the speed of the French that the machine was speaking and the technical difficulties, but did manage to accomplish the task.
There was a crowd waiting to get on the train. Every ticket had to be checked on the platform before one could get aboard. We noticed that some people seemed to be getting on the last car without being checked, so Dawn enquired and found that it was our sleeping car and the conductor welcomed us aboard.
Small, did I say small? We are traveling with two back packs and one suitcase. By taking something out of the outside pocket we managed to get the suitcase under the seat. We figured out how the ladder worked and by the time the train pulled out at 10 PM we were organized. After a trip down the hall to la toilette, we were ready for bed.
I slept. Dawn had some difficulty. We woke up in Valence in the middle of the night as our car was being switched to another train and then we woke up again around 8 AM as the morning light appeared to reveal the Alps as we progressed up the valley toward Briancon. We got dressed, one person at a time. Going out into the corridor we chatted with an Englishman who was on holiday getting off at Puy St. Vincent, the stop before ours, for a week of skiing.
Checking Out Briancon
Monday January 2
By 8:40 we were off the train in a cold clear Alpine morning looking for breakfast. We had to kill a little time because the car was reserved for 9:30 AM. We will return it in a week and I wanted some breathing room so we wouldn't have get up too early.
The Hotel across the street was serving breakfast with good coffee and a handsome guy behind the counter. He gave us sort off strange directions to the car rental place which made for a long haul with the bag, but we found the place and without too much difficulty were now starting our Alpine adventure.
Errands: first to the tourist center at the top of the town for up to date cross country ski maps of the many areas in the region and then back down to the middle of town to another ATM since we would be paying Les Airelles in cash for our first two days of lodging. We are going to be here a week to cross country ski. We have reservations at two different places in the Valley of the Claree, about 20 minutes northwest of Briancon for the beginning and end of our trip, but we need to find a place for two nights in between. People thought we were crazy, but we like to move around when we travel, to meet a lot of people and see different places. Also, we will be doing demi-pension, eating breakfast and dinner at the inns, I was worried about eating one person's cooking for a week. For us, the first time in an area is always a "mission exploratoire".
We were off for Terre Rouge a bed and breakfast/hostel that we had communicated with by email. They had said that they would be full the upcoming weekend but would probably have room during the week. We climbed our way out of Briancon through many switchbacks through the outskirts of the town until we headed straight south into a narrow valley with no houses. A couple of minutes later the town appeared and we took the turn. It is just a collection of houses, built close together. We parked when we couldn't get any further up the narrow road because of the snow on the surface. We walked up to the B&B and walked in. There was a note that they would be back around 4 PM. We sort of liked it but it is hard to tell without any people. Also, the Col d'Izoard was a potential ski destination while we were in this area and we were still pretty far from there.
So we headed to Laus which is a community of Cervieres. When we get there we find L'Arpelin, a small hotel at the end of the plowed road. Again a community of 8 or so houses. We talk to la patronne and she assures us that they will have rooms in the middle of the week. We tell her we will call.
I like the place. A small bar, a small dining rooms, a table of people sitting around and talking. Also, if we stay here we will ski from our door with no getting in the car.
With a wave good-bye we turn the car around and head for Nevache. It takes about 45 minutes to get through Briancon and into the Vallee of the Claree. It is a beautiful place. The river is our companion as we drive up the valley toward our ski rental place. We pass Les Airelles but we stop at Auberge de la Claree for lunch.
After lunch, we dropped in on Chalet d'en Ho, where we have reservations for the weekend (or so we thought) and chat with them a bit before heading to Nevasport where we plan to rent skis. The place is hopping when we get there, and after remembering what our European shoes sizes were we got our skis, stuck them in the car and went for a walk. Although we got the skis that afternoon the rental period didn't start until the next day. This way we could ski right away without having to drive to the shop (or so we thought).
The hike we took was on the trail that went up into the Haute (high) Valley of the Claree. It was on the road that was closed for the winter. We shared it with other hikers and snow shoers and skiers. It was a pleasant amble out into the country in the late afternoon. We stopped next to a road side chapel as the road leveled off. We just stood for awhile. I think we were marveling at the fact that we were finally here in the Alps.
It is my opinion that you really aren't anywhere when you are in a car and if you see something through a car window maybe you haven't really "seen" it and to be more extreme, maybe you are "there" or "here" until you just stop moving. So we stood. The planning was over, traveling was over, the eating and the renting was over. All that came before was over and we just stood. It was a pretty place and we just enjoyed it.
And the dog did too. We picked up a dog in the village by accident and he just came along with us. In fact, When we stopped at the chapel he went on ahead and sat in the road waiting for us to continue. But we were heading back and I whistled for him, of course in French, otherwise he wouldn't have come. when we got back to the village he disappeared.
We were now at the top of the valley and Rosier, the community of our Chambre d'Hote, was about half way down the valley but only about 10 miles. Soon, we were there and found their parking area and dragged our bag over the snow into their side door so we could avoid the icy walkway at the front. We were welcomed warmly and shown to our room upstairs. Dinner would be at 7:30, about two hours way.
It was a big room with a queen sized bed for us and a bunk bed ... well for our stuff. We unpacked, took showers to wash off two days of road grime and just relaxed. We also tried to reorganize for the days to come.
Tuesday January 3
We got up fairly early, had breakfast and drove up to the ski school to buy our week's passes to cross country ski anywhere in the Department, which is like buying a ski pass for New England. We got maps and after talking to the young man, decided to ski from there to the Col d'Echelle. A route on an unplowed road that goes up into a high valley leading to Italy. We picked up some lunch supplies at the local convenience and were ready to go when I discovered in the chaos of yesterday's renting the skis I had gotten skis of two different sizes. So we did have to return to the shop the next morning to make a quick exchange, and before too long we were skiing along under a bright blue sky.
This photo of Vallee de la Claree is courtesy of Tripadvisor
This was to be the best weather we would see all week. We warmed up skiing along the road for a short distance and then removed our skis to cross the road to begin our climb of the Col d'Echelle. It was the first of many unplowed roads we would ski on during the week. It headed up a hill on a sideways direction at seemingly the perfect angle for our skis. Soon we took a left past a French Resistance memorial and after a few switchbacks we were up into the valley. A Panorama of high peaks and blue skies and snow covered meadow bisected by the cross country trail down the center of the high Valley. A couple coming up behind us obligingly took our picture at the entrance to the col . After some skiing along the rolling trail we found a place for to sit down for lunch. Out came the sausage and fruit that we brought along. Even though we were in the sun, the clothes we had shed for the climb were soon back on our bodies. After lunch, we rolled on to the end of the col and found ourselves looking down on the Italian city of Bardonachecia (sp?) and the snowing venue for the upcoming Olympics. The closeness of Italy easily explained the equal mixture of Italians and French that we were meeting along the way. Although we might guess at the nationality of the skiers approaching us by their outfits, it was just safer to say "Bonjour" and "Buon Giono" and let them guess as well who we were.
We were beginning to realize that it is very different to get "off the beaten track" when travelling. We have become satisfied with just getting away from our fellow North Americans and to travel with the locals or near locals. We will see or hear very few Americans on the trip and many Frenchmen will be surprised to find out where we come from.
The way back is a delight. The rolling course of the track in the col is followed by a wonderful downhill run back to the valley. We take another way back, getting a little lost and end up walking back to our car through houses and past the Chateau d'en Ho.
After stowing our stuff we headed back to the "Lombardy", a bar pizzeria for an apres ski drink. I had a vin chaud, (mulled wine) and Dawn had a __________________. As we were getting ready to pay, we noticed a bottle of Genepi on the counter, a liqueur we ha never heard of. She explained that it was locally made from a native wildflower and wouldn't let us out without giving us a taste of it. It was the first of many tastes of Genepi we would have and they all would be different.
Although it was now a little late and the sun was getting low, I decided to make a dash to take a look at "La Grave". I calculated that it might an hour to the place and that we might have just enough daylight. We didn't make it all the way but got to the top of the Col de Lauteret.
What a place! What contrast to the Vallee de la Claree, which was a sun filled land populated with 15th century churches and villages. Here was a desolate desert of wind swept snow, mountainsides of thousands of feet of snow fields divided by a their black line that was the road that we were traveling on. A road kept open in winter only by the heroic effort of a squadron of men in their highway snowplows. In the fast falling twilight, a lavender colored inverted cone that promised a cold death to the unlucky or unwary traveler.
Well, at least it felt that way. At the very top, before the road headed down into the next valley stood a hotel with its incandescent lights beating against the darkness and cheering us up as we did our U-turn in its parking lot. The vast precipice of the Mejie glacier would have to wait for another trip.
We headed back through the outskirts of Briancon to our Inn for a shower and dinner of well earned Boeuf Bourgion with a fruit dish awash with Genepi.
Wednesday January 3, 2006
Another beautiful day. We start skiing after the sun has hit the trails, about 10 am. We have packed our bags and paid up because when we return from skiing we will head to le Laus for two days there. This is a valley run. We are heading for the Inn where we had lunch the first day. It is not continuous, as we have to remove our skis to cross the river and walk up a small road to get through the town of Val de Pres.