Literally at the border of France and Italy, I found myself gliding down the side of a mountain, going faster, faster, putain, how do I stop??? Ok, it was never really that bad, although I did have some bad crashes (and a nasty bruise to prove it) during my week of skiing at Pra-Loup. However, my vacation in the Alps starts in Marseilles.
Last Friday, I boarded a train at la Gare St. Roche in Montpellier headed to Montpellier to meet up with Susie, a French student my family hosted a couple years ago. After just under 2 hours, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw her waiting for me at the end of the platform. I dropped off my suitcase at her apartment not far from the train station and she and her friend Arthur showed me around the city.
First stop, the Vieux Porte. At mid-day there there aren’t many people, that that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the water juxtaposed against the old city. We returned the next day during a marchée de poissons to board a boat for Château d’If, but more about that later.
One of the first things you notice about Marseilles is that it is a city built on a big hill. At the top is Notre Dame de la Garde, a cathedral dedicated to the fishermen of the city. Because we are all young, fit, people, Susie, Arthur, and I walked all the way to the top. 20 minutes and a little bit of sweat later, we reached the top. Don’t worry Mom, Susie says when you come, we’ll take the tram. The view from the top is magnifique!
Marseilles was founded as a port town, and the interior of the cathedral reflects it. Families of sailors have bought plaques thanking Our Lady of the Garde for their safe return.
Lighting a candle is supposed to be good luck for travelers.
That night, Susie, Arthur and I went to dinner at L’Art Des Mets in the Cours Julien district. Over dinner, I learned a somewhat more colorful vocabulary as well as discovered that Arthur is a fellow How I Met Your Mother fan. According to Arthur, during their 2 years of preparation for business school, there is no time to have fun so right now, Ted, Robin, Barney, Marshall, and Lilly are his best friends.
Here’s dinner. Regardez et salivez.
After dinner, I had to try one of the specialty drinks of Marseilles: le Pastis. This anise flavored beverage is the most consumed aperitif in France. While I feel more cultured now that I’ve tasted it, it’s definitely not something I would order again.
The next day we went to a Jacques Héroud exhibit, a surrealist artist at Musée Cantini. Some of my favorite pieces were the Corps Exquis. In these pieces those where multiple artists collaborate to create one piece but the paper is folded so that nobody knows what anybody else did. This technique makes for some really interesting end products.
Although this day was somewhat gloomier than the the day before, Susie was kind enough to take me to Château d’If (or according to the English translations “Castle of If”). After the Fish Market at the Vieux Port and lunch, we boarded a Navette aptly named the Edmond Dantès for the prison. For me Château d’If is the setting for one of the most epic pieces of literature ever written. It is here in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo that the hero, Edmond Dantès transforms from the simple fisherman’s son to the vengeful, dark Count of Monte Cristo with the help of an incarcerated priest. However, Susie and Arthur both had to ask, “what is the story of Edmond Dantès?” At first I thought they were just pulling my leg because I really, really wanted to go to Château d’If…but they weren’t. In school, students read Dumas, but for Susie and Arthur, it was the Three Musketeers. I suppose this would be like a South Carolinian asking what the story of William Legrand from Poe’s the Gold Bug is. For most people my age, if we didn’t read it in school, classic literature is often forgotten. In any case, this fortress, whose most well known prisoner was never there (because he isn’t real), is still ripe with history from political prisoners of centuries past.
After a wandering around the fortress and seeing the cells, some of which contained information mostly about Dumas’ novel, Susie and I headed back to the port to enjoy a navette while waiting for the navette. Les navettes and les macarons are a specialty of Marseilles. The Navette gets its name from its boat like form and the fact that they can be and were kept for months on ships without going bad. The Macarons here are not like the colorful, fruit-flavored macarons I have come to love in Montpellier. Instead, they are just almond flavored but just as delicious. On the way back, the ship captain invited us up to drive the boat. We didn’t, but we pretended that we did.
Back at Susie’s apartment, we quickly packed then got in her Citroën and drove three hours to the border of France and Italy in the alpine town of Pra-Loup. It was already dark when we started our ascent up winding mountain path. It’s narrow roads like this one why I’m thankful that I don’t have to drive. Even though I couldn’t see, I was able to avoid being mal au coeur (nauseous) spriraling to the pra-loup. There, her family has a vacation apartment. It’s a little cramped, but at one point, we got six people to fit here (Susie, her parents Fred and Nadine, her brother Charles, her boyfriend Guillame, and me).
The first day was a little rough. After two hours of learning chase-neige (pizza) et ski parallel (french fry), that is to say after two hours of primarily falling I had had enough so I was returned to the apartment with the family. One thing I will say though, Holly, Tom, if you’re reading this, thank you. I’m pretty sure all the years I did judo helped me not only maintain my balance relatively easily, but also made sure I didn’t break anything falling.
Between Sunday and Monday, I’m not really sure what happened but somehow skiing was a lot easier. I went up the mountain a little but further to a piste verte called Belière. Fred kept telling me to “maîtriser la vitesse” (control my speed), but I was at least confident that I could turn to avoid hitting anything. One of the hardest things of learning how to ski is getting up after falling. Nobody teaches you how to do that until it’s too late.
One of the frustrating things about the way skiing is taught is that once you learn chasse-neige, you have to un learn it. Where as in the beginning, chasse-neige was used to stop, now I had to learn to derapage and to use the edge of my skis to stop.
That night, Susie’s brother, Charles, and her boyfriend, Guillaume, arrived. It was a little crowded, but we made it work.
Guillaume decided to learn le surf (snowboard) for the first time today. It was nice to have another debutante with me so I wouldn’t be the only person to fall. We stayed on the green slopes but that didn’t prevent us from falling. Nadine has a pommade that is really good at relieving muscle pain. After my 4th day skiing, I was glad to have it.
Luckily this was my only injury sustained from the trip (taken after I returned to Montpellier). It was a little more pronounced the day after I got it.
At night, we celebrated Fred’s birthday with crêpes salée et sucré. A little bit of ham+mushroms+crêpes = delicieux! For dessert, jam or nutella on crêpes are to die for. I only had three crêpes sucré, I could have had more, but I didn’t want to be a cochon.
Today was the first day I ventured away from my pistes vertes. I joined Susie and her family at Peguieou, 2479 m. Although it was terrifying at first, once I stopped falling every 20 m, skiing was really fun. However, for most of the day, after I gained the confidence to pick up some speed, a ridge, rock, or other rough spot to bring me back to earth…literally.
more skiing! At night all the ski instructors get together and carry torches down one of the slopes. It’s kind of a bizarre sight to watch from a distance. All you see are little lights snaking their way down through the darkness. Afterward there are fireworks. Who doesn’t love fire and fireworks?
Saturday was the only day I felt really confident at the beginning of the day in my skiing. I had already made it down the entire 1000 meters or so without falling. However, the second time down was not so fortunate. I tried to pick up speed to keep up with Susie and her family. We coming down the last slope before the ski lift when I, I suppose the most descriptive way to say it is, I rather quickly disappeared into the half pipe next to the piste. My ski came off, snow flew up, it was quite dramatic. I gave Nadine a bit of a fright but it was all OK. At the bottom of the slope, right before the ski lift, it’s usually a pretty easy path. I’m not really sure what happened but as I tried to turn, skis spread and I found myself in the snow again. In line for the ski lift, I said to Susie, “OK, Je suis tombée deux fois dans la même piste, maintenant, j’ai fini de tomber” (I fell twice on the same slope. I’m done falling now). To that Nadine goes, “Jamais deux sans trois” (never two without three/bad things happen in threes). Sure enough, on another semi flat trail between slopes, I hit the snow. After that, Nadine said, “We don’t have a saying for four times.” She was right, after the third fall, I didn’t fall for the rest of the day.
Saturday night, we called my mom to talk about her upcoming vacation in France. It’s way more efficient for me to talk to Susie’s family in French and since my mom doesn’t speak French, I ended up translating. During this process, I realized that some times I would start in English and finish my sentences in French. When I use the languages right next to each other, my brain just doesn’t know what to do.
For those of you who didn’t see, here’s a video from Wednesday and Friday.
Sunday was a day to relax. Charles took the snowboard out onto the slopes again but I was glad to just vege on the couch.
To kind of give you an idea of Pra-Loup, here’s a map. As you can see, I did a little bit of all the difficulties of slopes. Now that I know I can handle myself on skis, this is definitely something I would look forward to doing again.
Anyone who is bilingual is familiar with the phenomenon where one has difficulty switching back to the language they are not using. I’m not saying I’m bilingual, but writing this blog in English is getting more and more difficult (not that writing it in French would be easier). Often I find the French term coming to mind first then have to search for the English equivalent and even then I feel that I am unable to adequately express what I mean. That being said, I’m putting in this disclaimer if my English is starting to be a little awkward.