The Apéro or Après-Ski….Two Alternatives to What We Know As Happy Hour

When we lived in The States, we frequently had “Happy Hour”.   Whether it was with colleagues or friends, it was common to get together after work, enjoy a drink and catch up.  In the US, it is also common for bars and establishments to have Happy Hour Specials such as dollar beers or half priced glasses of wine, etc.

In France, they have a similar tradition, however usually without the discount.  We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing them before but while in Morzine for Christmas, we feel like we’ve really gotten a lot of practice!

The first is “L’Apero”, or The Apero.    L’Apero is the French bridge between your normal busy day and the start of the evening.   Enjoying an ‘aperitif’ before dinner is classified as a gesture of health or well-being, to start your appetite.   The typical aperitif consists of :  champagnes, martinis, vermouths, sherries, or a light or sweet white wines, as well as small snacks like olives, chips or nuts.  A fruit juice is also an alternative to the alcoholic beverages.

Having Champagne for an aperitif

Having Champagne for an aperitif

In ski towns, the apero has a fun spin in terms of the “Après Ski”.   Literally translated, it means ‘after the ski’.  Crowds gather at the most popular bars to start the night.    Here the drink selections are more broad, including beers and mixed drinks.

The Après Ski buzz

The Après Ski buzz

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends, including a special birthday celebration

Finally, after dinner, it is common in France and other European countries to be served a digestif.   Many times this is included with the meal, and is intended to help your food settle.   In Greece, it is raki or ouza.  In Italy, many times it is limoncello.  Here in France, we had homemade apple and pear liquor as well as a hot rum digestif.

While I have heard of “the night cap”, an alcoholic beverage consumed before going to bed, in the US, I typically know it as a sleep aid vs. a digestive aid.

It sure is hard to do this research, but we are happy to do it for the benefit of the blog!  Happy New Years Eve, everyone!!

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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

 

Image 1

J, conquering the mountain

Image of M courtesy of B

M gazing out onto the slopes.  Image courtesy of B

Image 2

IMG-20121224-00052

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.

The Christmas I Visited The French Trauma Clinic

I’ll spare you the details, but my feet have been having some growing pains getting used to winter boots from their new post-surgery shape & size.   I’d seen the podologue for it, but it seemed not to get any better.

We arrived to Morzine for Christmas holiday on Saturday and through the night had a hard time sleeping with the pain.  The next morning, Sunday, I realized we were in France and the pharmacy might be open on a Sunday, unlike Switzerland.  I visited but they couldn’t give me an antibiotic or anything to help (it’s common in Switzerland that pharmacists can prescribe meds) but advised there was a trauma doctor nearby I could visit who had Sunday hours.

I found the office and sat down and waited my turn two hours for the doctor, hearing the screams of those getting their shoulders readjusted into sockets and cuts cleaned up & stitched from the ski slopes.  Yikes!!

After meeting with the doctor, he frowned at my feet and said, “mumble…mumble….petit operation”.    The receptionist took me downstairs to the basement ‘operating room’, made a bath for my feet to sterilize them, started arranging a variety of instruments and indicated it would be “cinq ou dix minutes pour le docteur” (5 – 10 minutes).   It was over an hour wait.  Guess some more skiers had come in.  My comfort and peace of mind did not build during that hour.

They gave me anesthesia and so didn’t feel much as he removed the nails and a lot of the skin surrounding them which had grown very infected and bandaged me up.  But they said no skiing in the near future, at least until they could see me again at my check up Tuesday.  Which happened to be Christmas morning.   I thought it was incredible they put me in that day, but the lady indicated that they had to work on Christmas because the skiers still got hurt, so it didn’t bother them any to see me as well.

They wrote me many prescriptions to fill after the operation.   I tried to fill them immediately while still hopped up on the anesthesia but the pharmacy closes for a daily lunch break for two hours so hobbled back later in the day.

When I filled it, I was given painkillers, antibiotics, and a variety of bandages.   You don’t have to wait…French pharmacy techs fill immediately vs.  saying come back in 20 minutes.  I like this about France and Switzerland.  The bizarre thing was that she said my prescription called for a fresh bottle of anesthesia, but she couldn’t dispense it to me because I didn’t have a fridge in my hotel.  She said I’d have to come back and get it right before my follow up appointment.     I was a little confused why I would need more anesthesia anyhow, but with the language barrier, I just figured I’d go with it.

Hanging out the day of

Hanging out the day of petit operation

I brought all my supplies back to my Christmas morning appointment, including the fresh bottle of anesthesia I’d just picked up.  The nurse used my supplies to fix me up, then took the anesthesia and kept it as well as some of my bandages.   It was then that I remembered something N mentioned when she was pregnant…she always had to go to the pharmacy before her routine shots and bring the medicine to the doctor.    This French doctor’s office was kind enough to “lend” me the anesthesia and bandages after my petit operation, but I had to reimburse them for it instead of them charging me like the US would.

After my follow up appointment, with my bag of stuff

After my follow up appointment, with my bag of stuff.  It’s BYOB (bring your own bandages) here.

I ended up with a third appointment on our last day, for the final check up, where she ended up giving me a bottle of iodine, after I said I didn’t have one, and knowing we were leaving town.

All in all, it cost 150 euros cash for my little petite operation and 30 euros for all my meds and supplies.  Unbelievably cheap.  Just grateful for the French doctor and the fact that my French is more up to par to handle these situations better!

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.

Happily Waltzing Around Vienna

Vienna is among the most beautiful cities I’ve seen. The Habsburgs, valuing the finer things in life, really created a magnificent environment in their capital.

I arrived earlier than Gabe in the weekend and did a self guided city walk.  Perhaps it should’ve been called a waltz because I was floating around with glee. Seeing the panorama of baroque architecture and elegant gardens near Volksgarten nearly brought me to tears.   Sure it might be accentuated by nostalgic feelings during our remaining last weeks in Europe, but truly, it was just that pretty.  No wonder the entire city is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Here are a few of the amazing places in Vienna we saw:

Habsburg Palace

Habsburg Palace

Lawn around Habsburg Palace with so many other elegant buildings surrounding

Lawn around Habsburg Palace with so many other elegant buildings surrounding

Lovely architecture

Lovely architecture in the Museum area

Museum area

Burgtheater

The Parliament

The Parliament

Trying to stay warm at Schloss Belvedere

Trying to stay warm at Schloss Belvedere

Stephensdom

Stephensdom

Schloss Schönbrunn

Schloss Schönbrunn

Grounds of Schloss Schönbrunn

Grounds of Schloss Schönbrunn

Lovely sculptured fountain

Lovely sculptured fountain

Manicured gardens

Manicured gardens

Panorama near Schloss Schönbrunn

Panorama near Schloss Schönbrunn

Icy pond and gorgeous skies

Icy pond and gorgeous skies

Viennese Café Culture & other Austrian Culinary Delights

The Viennese are very caffeinated due to the proliferation of fantastic cafés in their city. Inviting, dark, and sometimes smoky, they keep you wondering the history that’s taken place within their walls.
Ambience at Café

Ambience at Café Braunerhof

We had the benefit of relaxing at Café Braunerhof while a violinist & pianist played classical music for a den full of Viennese patrons.  Decorated with rich fabrics, antique mirrors and dark woods, these cafés feel like you are sitting in your grandmas living room.  Buy a cup of coffee and you are welcome to make yourself at home. Racks of the day’s newspapers are yours to enjoy.

Most of these cafés serve delishous desserts and pastries.  We grabbed a few at Café sacher, trying the famous sachertorte and an apfelstudel.

The sachertorte was invented in Vienna

The sachertorte was invented in Vienna

Apfelstrudel is another Viennese delicacy

Apfelstrudel is another Viennese delicacy

In addition to the cafés, pastries dominated the hotel breakfast buffet with overflowing baskets providing endless possibilities of sugar intake. And at the Christmas markets, the confections were also plentiful and tantalized the crowds.
Lovely stand at the Rathaus market

Lovely stand at the Rathaus market

Lovely pastries

Lovely pastries

Waffle drenched in raspberries & vanilla sauce.

Waffle drenched in raspberries & vanilla sauce. Yes that is a trash can.  It was crowded and I had no place to stand!

And don't forget the pretzels!

And don’t forget the pretzels!

Mmmmm

Mmmmm

Beyond the sweets, breads, and java, Vienna still has much more to contribute in the culinary scene. We loved the soups….broths coming stuffed with goodies….crepe soup, pancake soup, and a beef noodle veggie soup were among those we tried.
Pancake or crepe soup

Pancake or crepe soup

And of course, we had to have wiener schnitzel, a popular Austrian dish of pounded & breaded veal or pork which is then deep fried.   We had veal and pork, both fried. We also tried a pan sauteed version with a sauce and rice. Our favorites were the veal options found at Fromme Helene, but we also liked the pork schnitzel at Café Rathaus.
Wienerschnitzel

Wiener schnitzel

Sauteed schnitzel

Sauteed veal schnitzel

The Austrian fair food kept us full and warm as well.  Over the course of the weekend, we had rosti (a potato dish), bratwurst & mustard, goulash, and two types of nockerl (like little gnocchi).
Holy nockerl, this stuff was good.

Holy nockerl, this stuff was good.

Goulash in a bread bowl

Goulash in a bread bowl

Austria is also know for its white wine.   In the local dialect, the word for Vienna is Wien and Wine is Wein.  We had fun at this place having lots of Wiener Wein.

WienO

WienO

We also partook in the festival hot wine….

Gabe is a fan of the hot wine

Gabe is a fan of the hot wine. He was also excited to keep the boot mug….you pay a 2 euro or 2.50 euro deposit on your first drink for the cup.  We didn’t return ours.

 

Vienna is a city of the finer things: classical music, balls, culture, and the arts. But it is also a very satisfying food town as well. Perhaps it’s best enjoyed in the winter when it has a fantastic warming effect and the extra pounds dont show as clearly!!

 

Wiener Christkindlmarkts

Vienna tops the best destinations in the world for Christmas, so we knew we wanted to see it our last holiday season in Europe.

During the month of December, the city is filled with small Christmas villages, selling everything from ornaments & gifts to Austrian-style fair food & hot toddies.  Lights fill the trees and booths, providing a holiday glow all around. Smells of spices and delicious foods permeate the chilly air, inviting you to try everything.

Ornaments for sale

Ornaments for sale

Yummy gingerbread

Yummy gingerbread

These markets are called Wiener Christkindlmarkts or Weihnachtsdörfers.  To help with the translation, in Austria, Wien is the name for Vienna.  So anything Wiener is Viennese.
We visited four Viennese (or Wiener) markets during a mid-December weekend in Vienna:
Rathaus Christkindlmarkt 
Rathaus, or town hall, market

Rathaus, or town hall, market

The town hall surrounded by stalls

The town hall surrounded by stalls

Happy Christmas-market goers

Happy Christmas-market goers

View at daytime

View at daytime of the Rahthaus (town hall)

And view at night

And view at night

The market was glowing, even with the rain

The market was glowing and full of people, even with the rain

Schloss Belvedere 

Markets surrounding the palace

Markets surrounding the palace

Schloss Schönbrunn
Schloss

Schloss Schönbrunn’s tree & market

Weihnachtsdörfer @ Museumquartier
Adorable stalls

Adorable stalls

More authentic artisans

More authentic artisans were found at this one…

We got recommendations for Karlsplatz and Spittelberg but didnt have enough time.
One can’t help but feel full of Christmas cheer after spending a few days in this lovely Christmas capital.
Related post:

Living in Geneva:  Deck the Halls