Gratitude Friday: Sunny Saturdays

Last weekend, we actually split up to experience some of our bucket list items remaining.

Gabe skied with Finnish friend A at Les Contamines, France for the day.  With my feet still not up to par for skiing, I opted for a scenic train to Rochers-de-Naye.

The guys enjoyed the day at Les Contamines, with sunny skies and great slopes.

Views at Les Contamines

Views at Les Contamines

I also enjoyed my day on the train at at Rochers-de-Naye.   One of the things that I love about living here is how much people take advantage of beautiful days.   I talked about this mentality in my “Profiter” post, but here are just a few examples of what I saw at the main station on the way out to my day trip:

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Skiers and hikers of all ages, ready to board the train

The reason I selected Rochers-de-Naye is because of its 2000m position at the far end of Lake Geneva.  I heard the views were magnificent and you could see almost the entire lake from the summit.  Having confirmed sunny skies, I set off on the two hour journey.

I quickly learned that sunny skies at Rochers-de-Naye and sunny skies over Lake Geneva were two different things:

Evidence of the permacloud

Evidence of the permacloud.  Lake Geneva is below the layer.

Nonetheless, I thought the ambience was pretty neat with the mysterious cover.   Despite my ill preparations of not wearing snow shoes (oops), I had fun seeing the mountains.

Gorgeous views @ Rochers-de-Naye

Gorgeous views @ Rochers-de-Naye

I didn’t happen to notice anything peculiar about the above scene.  However, when I was showing my French teacher, she commented….”ah, Mount Cervin”.   If you look at the pointed mountain in the distance of the photo, that is the infamous Matterhorn.  Wish the view was this clear when we were in Zermatt!

Also of note, the summit hosts 7 Mongolian yourts, which each sleep 8 people.   The ski slopes are only steps from the little huts, so you can easily ski from your doorstep in the winter, or hike in the summer.

Yourt with blue door

Yourt with blue door

Yourt with red door

Yourt with red door

After about 2 hours, I got a little break in the clouds to envision what the view would look like on a clear day.

Lake Geneva starting to show

The blue of Lake Geneva starting to show

We are both grateful for the beautiful weekend to experience some of our final must-do’s!

Related posts:

The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People: A New Year, Another Mountain, And A Gnome

Schwingen in Switzerland: It Wasn’t Premeditated, Our Hike Up Rochers-de-Naye

The Swiss Watch Blog: Gratitude Friday – Ski School

Skiing Portes du Soleil

While I didn’t ski, didn’t want to deprive our readers of the skiing experience in Portes du Soleil, so I have harassed  asked our fellow holiday-goers to help add some flavor with their photos & stories.

Our Hotel Tremplin provided two lifts with direct access to Morzine / Les Gets.   These two villages are a part of an overall area is called Portes du Soleil which includes 12 resorts with 8 in France and 4 in Switzerland.  There are over 209 lifts in Portes du Soleil, allowing complete exploration of this region of 650km of slopes.

Image courtesy of avorinet.com

Image courtesy of avorinet.com

Having a central hotel was nice so everyone could break and re-group.   Plus, it was nice for them not to have to walk far to hop on a lift or rent/return skis.

Ready to go after a lunch break at Le Tremplin

First day….ready to go again after a lunch break at Le Tremplin

There was a hotel above ours, at the top of the Pleney lift.   I sat there on the terrace one day soaking in the sun, as the lift didn’t require you to be a skier to take it because of the hotel guests also needing access.

The positive to this hotel is that you could really ski directly into it.  However, the cable car stopped at a certain time which would limit your Morzine nightlife access.

The views at the top of Pleney, the furthest I could go on foot

The views at the top of Pleney, the furthest I could go on cable car + foot without being a skier

The area at Pleney was also where the ski school was headquartered.  Out of the five skiers in our group, four ended up taking lessons of differing levels to improve their skills.    This is a really good practice for skiers of all levels, to brush up and learn more.  By taking them early in the vacation, they could apply the learning.

Morzine offers lessons in English, either private or shared.  Everyone found them helpful, indicating about 2-3 things that they learned that really helped their technique the rest of the week.

Gabe at Pleney

Meeting Gabe for lunch at Pleney before his lesson

The group preferred exploring the top of the mountain, where they said it was less crowded and the views were magnificent.  Later in the week when there was rain in the village, it became more and more important to ski the top where the altitude resulted in snow vs. rain.

Slopes at Morzine, captured by Gabe

Slopes at Morzine, captured by Gabe

Riding the lift

Riding the lift, captured by J

Gorgeous snow image by B

Gorgeous snow image by B

 

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J, conquering the mountain

Image of M courtesy of B

M gazing out onto the slopes.  Image courtesy of B

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Gabe, M & B, ready to descend from the top.  Image courtesy of J. 

Time for a beer!  Image courtesy of B.

Time for a beer! Image taken by M.

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B enjoying his beer, taken by M

Each day the group came back exhausted but happy.  They were very content with the ski area and had a wonderful time.

Gratitude Friday: Christmas in the French Alps

We spent Christmas in Morzine, France, just a short hour’s drive from Geneva.   We were fortunate that some of Gabe’s colleagues and partners/spouses were also interested in spending a joyeux Noël skiing, so worked together to select a place and it ended up being the French Alps.

The village of Morzine, France

The village of Morzine, France

We couldn’t find a chalet for the group on short notice, but the hotel, Le Tremplin, ended up being a fabulous location:

Hotel Tremplin

Hotel Tremplin

The slopes literally run into the hotel, making it really convenient for the skiers

The slopes literally run into the hotel, with two different lifts, making it really convenient for the skiers

Image & vantage point courtesy of B

Image & vantage point courtesy of B

The hotel also had several restaurants attached and a cool patio.  While service wasn’t hot (they were still ironing out some beginning-of-the-season kinks), the heaters at least were.

Hanging out on Le Tremplin's patio

The guys with their beer

The ladies with our wine

The ladies with our wine

Le Tremplin's patio was nice for après ski action, with a band and a lively crowd

Le Tremplin’s patio was nice for après ski action, with a band and a lively crowd

Our room had a village view so it was neat to wake up to the sun rising and setting on the town:

Morning in Morzine

Morzine in the morning

Morzine at night

Morzine at night

The skiers had a good time, enjoying a nice variety of slopes accessible from the town.  While I wasn’t skiing due to an injury, I still was able to get access on foot to witness some of the beauty.

At the top of the Pleney telecabin lift

At the top of the Pleney telecabin lift, I saw some nice panorama

Gabe and friends skiing.  Photo courtesy of J.

Gabe and friends skiing. Photo courtesy of J.

One of the members of our group even organized a gift exchange so all shared in that on Christmas Eve night.  It was fun to open something!

Having fun at the gift exchange

Having fun at the gift exchange

We had phenomenal food, in the Haute Savoie style.   We enjoyed the hearty meals, although I wish I could have been skiing to burn them off!!

Rack of meat from L'Etale

Rack of whisky meat from L’Etale

 

Grilling food at L'Etale, an traditional alpine meal

Grilling food at L’Etale, an traditional alpine meal

We also had a nice traditional meal for Christmas Eve at a local restaurant, La Grange.   It was nice to have the treat of turkey which is uncommon here.

Thanksgiving dinner, image courtesy of B.

Thanksgiving dinner, image courtesy of B.

Our French turkey dinner

Our French turkey dinner

The cheese plate that came after dinner

The cheese plate that came between dessert and dinner

While we missed being with our family this Christmas, we are grateful for all God’s blessings, especially this special experience of seeing this beautiful area of the world.

Colmar’s Marchés de Noël

Colmar is a picturesque town in the Alsace region of France known for its lovely Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets.     I have wanted to check out the town for quite some time, regardless of the season, but it never worked out.   Now with a departure date ticking down, I knew this Christmas would be my last chance.     I’d set up two potential dates to go.  The first one called for rain/snow and temperatures of 33.  It wasn’t very appealing to have a temperature hanging at the freezing mark but not committing to freezing ( and thus snow which is better than rain), so Plan B became the fall-back.

I awoke last Thursday (Plan B) to another forecast of rain and 33 degree temps.   But a little freezing rain wasn’t going to stop me this time, especially with it being the last chance!   I took off, connecting in 3 towns, for a trip of about 3 hrs & 45 minutes through Northern Switzerland and into Eastern France.

I had about five minutes of no rain where I captured a few photos.

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Then, the rain showers came…and continued.  It even started snewing, which is my word for the wet thick fat snow / rain combo.   While I love snowing, I don’t love snewing.  It doesn’t stick, but just makes everything wet.  It was interesting to balance the umbrella and take photos!

 

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I ended up staying a few hours to visit all five of the markets in Colmar, and coming home very soggy.  However, I am happy to have gotten my fill of Alsace Christmas beauty, as evidenced in these snapshots.

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If you are ever in Alsace, I have heard from friends that the wine road is really cool.    My PT recommended biking it in the summer.  S & S loved exploring it as well as some of the other quaint Alsace towns.  While I didn’t have it in me this trip, I’ll provide a few related posts to this area below:

Related posts:

Living in Geneva:  Deck the Halls

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Too Much Can Get You Alsauced, Alsace’s Wine Route (Route du Vin) 

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Colorful Colmar

Schwingen in Switzerland: Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World?

Schwingen in Switzerland:  The Malgre Nous, Forced To Fight Against Their Country of Birth During WWII.

Lyon’s Fête des Lumières

We recently attended the annual Fête des Luminères, or Festival of Lights, which honors Mother Mary every year on the eighth day of December.  Four million people attend each year!

This festival originates back to 1643, when Lyon was hit by the plague.    The townspeople said that if Lyon would be spared, they’d pay tribute to Mary.  The tradition of honoring Mary happens every year since on December 8.

It was beautiful – they had over 65 light installations, ranging from light shows projected onto the old buildings, to independent light sculptures, to a moving parade.   The video at the end of the post does it more justice than the photographs.  Due to the crowds, it wasn’t possible to use a tripod.



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And here is the video – it is long – but shows the variety and technical genius of those behind this event:


It’s pretty grand…..Torino

Torino was our “bonus” stop on the way back from the trip to the Piedmont a few weeks ago.    Torino, or Turin in English, is actually in the heart of the Piedmont region of Italy.

Our pre-reading in the car taught us that Torino was the capital for the Dukes of Savoy, so it owes its French architecture and grand squares to this portion of its history.   However, the books referenced modern-day Torino as industrial and in need of revitalization.  With that gleaming recommendation, we decided to do a ‘drive by’ and see how it was before committing to parking.

First impressions driving into Torino

Our books told us public transportation was excellent in Torino, and we saw lots of evidence of it driving in

We were intrigued, so decided to park.    After we found a spot, we noticed lots of runners.  As it turned out, the Torino Marathon was that day.

Joining hands at the finish.

Marathon set up against the beautiful architecture

We walked around a bit, taking in the lovely streets and squares as well as the liveliness that the marathon was creating with large crowds and loud music.

Palazzo Madama, now an art museum

Covered walkways along Via Roma

Piazza San Carlo and the twin churches, with remnants of the marathon on the piazza. 

Palazza Real, a Savoy residence. Another UNESCO site. Woot woot.

The Duomo, where the Shroud of Turin is kept. This has recently been challenged with the advent of carbon dating.  Our friends told us that now the challenge is challenged.   Who knows. 

Inside of the Duomo where the Shroud of Turin rests.

Ruins of the Roman Theatre

Porta Palatina, Roman structure from 1st Century AD

Farewell glance at Torino’s symbol, Mole Antonelliana, as we departed

Our summary – if you are near Torino (within an hour), make it a stop – it has a lot to offer in terms of history and architecture.   Otherwise, probably not an Italy destination.

Two Fools at the International Truffle Fair

The idea to go to Piedmont actually got hatched on our way back from Cinque Terre.   I was reading our guidebook to learn more about Italy and came across the “Festivals and Events” page.    I mentioned to Gabe that the Alba International White Truffle Festival was listed as mid-November.    Since the Piedmont is only a 3 to 3 1/2 hour drive from our flat in Geneva, we decided that we’d check into it.    And, as it turned out, the last weekend of the fair was our only free weekend in November.   Perfect.  Booked.   Why not?

Let’s back up and say while we like truffled foods, we are not connoisseurs.   We have some friends from Singapore who we’d call connoisseurs of truffles, but not us.    I can probably safely say the amount of truffled dishes I have had in my life have been less than five.   The only time I’d ever seen a truffle was at our anniversary dinner at Le Sesflo in Geneva where they shaved it into my risotto.  The rest of the time, it has been truffle-infused or with truffle oil.     I can probably say the same for my husband.

Planning the trip to Piedmont, I looked into trying to go on a truffle hunt, with an actual dog (Italy banned the use of truffle hunting pigs a few years ago due to the animals damaging the special truffle producing turf).    After researching, I soon found this excursion wasn’t in our budget.  Far from it. Like obscene. And you don’t even get to keep the truffle.

Since we can’t afford a truffle hunt, this image is courtesy of theguardian.co.uk

We decided that attending the Alba International White Truffle Fair would be enough of an experience.

Streets of Alba at the entrance to the Truffle Fair

Not knowing anything, we were a bit overwhelmed.  There were truffles everywhere. The farmers were proudly standing with their selection, most in glass cases.

Line up of truffle hunters

White truffle display.  Yes, the big one is 252 euros.  A today’s exchange rate, this is 325 dollars.  Takers?

I liked this guy. He kept polishing his truffles on display. We bought some truffled dry pasta and truffle oil from them to savor at a later date.

This is as close as we got to a truffle dog

As we were intimidated, we wondered around looking at other foods of the Piedmont, continuing to take it all in.   The vendors were very kind offering samples but my Italian is very weak so I felt bad at not being able to communicate.  Just a polite nod and smile.

I’ll point out that this wasn’t a very touristy event.  We didn’t see a single other person who was a) there for fun or b) speaking English.  They were all there to buy.

Cheeses……

Mushrooms….

In the end, we actually ended up buying a little white truffle.   It was a splurge but we are pretty sure we won’t be going back to the White Truffle Fair any other time in our lives.

This is how much truffle we can afford.

We sliced it up so that we could put in on buttered gnocchi pasta.