Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Final - I love you Maman!

Vacation has been over for a while now and I can't believe it. This might have been the best vacation yet. It was combined with great family time and new adventures. Thank you Mom for joining me. I had so much fun and can't wait for the next trip!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chamonix Part 2

Dislaimer: I KNOW I'm super late with this and I'm very very sorry, especially to Mom. I don't know what happened and am really sorry. Here goes though and enjoy! :-)

My two final days in Chamonix were just as exhausting. After skiing two days, I decided to do all the touristy stuff I keep seeing signs for. The Aguille du Midi and Mer de Glace were two I kept seeing signs for. I also kept seeing signs to go visit St. Bernards which I really wanted to do, but they were closed in the winter. I tried to go to the Aguille du Midi, but the weather was lousy and there was zero visibility, so I decided to go to Mer de Glace instead per the ticket lady’s recommendation.

I really didn’t know what it was but I didn’t know it involved a train up the mountain, so that worked for me. I got up front and off we went. You board a really old train that goes about 2 miles an hour and literally go up through windy rails up the mountain. 30 minutes later, you find yourself amoung the massive peaks and I see a gondala that is supposed to take us down to see this Mer de Glace, which trainslates to Sea of Ice. I finally read the pamphlet and essentially this is a glacier that has settle in the mountain. It’s really breathtaking. We take the gondala down, which is when I realize I’m pretty scared of gondolas, and then turns out we have 350 stairs to go down to get into the glacier. That means we also need to go up the 350 stairs once we’re done with an altitude of 10,000 feet. Once down there, I’ll admit it was a little cheesy.They put some neon lights and had some terrible ice sculptures, but it was still pretty cool to know that we were inside a glacier in the middle of the Alps. The entire tour takes about 5 minutes and then you have to walk back up the 350 stairs. Here we go! Thankfully, they are in clumps, so its easy to stop. I ended up taking so many pictures as an excuse to stop.Unfortunately, I don’t have the best camera, so the pictures don’t do it justice, but it was simply amazing.

There’s a restaurant at the base that had a pretty rich history, so I went and had lunch there. I got the special which was a piece of quiche, polenta, green salad, and home made country pate.Delicious. The polenta especially. Afterwards I walked around a little more and headed back on the last train back to the hotel. Stopped to get some vin chaud, which I’m now addicted to and listened to a band plan in my hotel bar. This one was much better than the leather clad band I saw before, thank goodness.

The next day was my last day in Chamonix and today I had to go to the Aguile du Midi. It’s basically a Gondala that takes you all the way to the top of the Mont Blanc up 15,000 feet.There was still no visibility, but this is the second most visited attraction in France after the Eiffel Tower, so I have to do it. This is when I realize that I’m terrified of Gondalas. I’m not typically scared of much, but my heart was definitely beating hard and my hands could not have held on to the handlebars any tighter. We get up to what I thought was the top, but no. To get all the way to the top, you have to take a second gondala. No point in going back now. I had paid close to $50 to do this, so off I went. This time, we couldn’t even see where we were going there was so much snow and fog. TERRIFIED. We get up there and I can’t breathe and my heart is beating so hard. The combination of the fear and the altitude did not help. Once up there, I couldn’t see anything because of the fog/snow storm, so sat in the café to get my breath back. I didn’t really want to get back in the gondala, but was ready to get back down.

Overall, it was fascinating and now that I’m off the thing am really glad I did it. The minimal views I did get were amazing. But that was it. No more gondolas.

Then I realized I didn’t have a hotel for Friday night in Geneva, so needed to find wireless somewhere. I was told a couple places that had free wireless, so checked those out. Two of them were closed, the next one turned off their internet between 12-3 for lunchtime (what?!) and the last one was McDonalds. I did not want to go to McDonalds, but I needed Internet, so in I went. As part of the menu, you can add a beer! Ok, fine. I’m sold. So, I get my chicken sandwich and beer and go set up to get Internet. Shocker, it doesn’t work. I finally go back to the hotel and they have a computer I can use for $.50 a minute. Fine. I get my hotel, check email, get my bags and head over to the bus station to go back to Geneva. The bur ride was as smooth as before, but dark. I even was able to fall asleep a bit. It was still snowing in Geneva and it was freezing.

My adventure ends tomorrow and I’m very sad. They are still saying that there are strikes at the airport with the luggage carriers, but I don’t’ really care at this point. I’m still in my vacation glow, so nothing can get me down!

Stairs to glacier

Gondola to glacier

Me in Alps

Delicious Lunch

Inside the glacier

Hikers on the glacier
More glacier pictures

Rediculous gondola to Aguille du Midi

View from gondola - TERRIFYING

Again, view from gondola above the clouds

Friday, January 8, 2010

OK Barbara when is our next adventure?
Voila, I have been back to Houston for 4 days now. I can not believe that 5 days ago I was in Geneva eating my weight of cheese ( well a lot less than my weight but it seemed like it at the moment!!!!) Barbara told you all about the cheese steak! With it we had a little white wine home made and that was very good too.!!!
The morning after, we headed up to the airport for my flight back to Houston. I was a little antsy to go through the security. But I guess they were not after my "andouillette" Dennis likes so much and every thing went fine. I saw more soldiers with guns at the Paris train station than in the airport at Washington DC. The security was a little more serious than usual but I did not mind. I want them to be serious!!! My flight was fine. I even ate what ever they served me! I had a little girl sitting by me who was very cute and polite. She could speak French and English and reminded me of Barbara at the same age. I told her and she seemed happy and her mother too!
Voila, now I am reading Barbara's blog. I wish I could have been with her in Chamonix. She seemed to have had a wonderful time.
I can not believe 2 weeks has gone by. I just want to thank my lovely daughter and my family for a wonderful time. I also had fun writing down my story. I hope you had fun reading it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chamonix Part 1

I’ve been in Chamonix now for 2 days. The bus trip was smooth and beautiful. It was still snowing, so made it even prettier. Once we arrived in Chamonix, I had no idea where to go. I followed the signs for downtown since I knew my hotel was somewhere there. It’s adorable. Quintessential small mountain town. Somehow found my hotel and the room was massive. Big bed, view of Mont Blanc and the cute street and huge bathroom. No internet in the room and no elevator, but for $120 a night, its perfect. I went to the tourist center to find out what I could do and she suggested I go to Savoy to go skiing, as that was the best beginner run. And apparently I could walk there. The hotel has a ski rental store downstairs, so got my skis. $40 for 2 days. So cheap! I followed the map to get to Savoy. After walking about half a mile, I realized I made a wrong turn, so turned around. Then ended up passing the street I needed to turn on. One hour later, I find the mountain. There are no signs. No massive lines. Just a little house that says, “Cashier” and that’s how you are supposed to know it’s a ski run. So, I’ve been walking about an hour with my skis, ski boots, poles and backpack and turns out it’s literally directly behind my hotel. Of course. And to make it better, they don’t have lockers to store anything. So, I had to go back to my hotel, still carrying all my equipment, to drop off my backpack and walk back to the mountain. The rate to ski was 13 euros (around $16) for half a day. Tahoe could learn from this town!

Skiing was beautiful. Blue skies everywhere and I didn’t fall, which is good considering my knee is still huge and black from falling in Geneva…… They don’t have ski lifts though with chairs. Instead, they have these disks that you sit on that drag you up the mountain. I felt pretty silly, but at least you don’t have to worry about falling on top of the person next to you when you exit the lift.

After my 4 hours were up, I headed back to the hotel and decided to walk around the town. Apres Ski is a huge thing here. Every bar/hotel has some kind of après ski special and they are all packed. Everyone is in their ski outfits huddled around drinking Vin Chaud (heated wine) or hot chocolates. I found a cute little pub that was run by some Australians, so talked to them for a while. I was starving, so was trying to head back to the hotel, but kept walking by bars that looked way too fun to not stop in. I stopped into a bar with a live band. They were French, but doing covers of Nine Inch Nails and Stevie Wonder. At one point, the lead singer dressed in all leather, started line dancing to NIN. Everyone loved it and I was trying hard not to laugh. I left and at this point, was ready for bed. I had some salami and crackers and yogurt at the hotel, so did that for dinner and passed out. As silly as it sounds, I bought a Swiss Army Knife in Geneva, so was excited to finally use it with the salami. Those suckers are sharp. I ended up slicing my thumb with it also. Not too bad, but definitely took a while to stop it from bleeding.


Day 2 of skiing was intense. Again, I was told to go to another mountain that was perfect for beginners like me and that was walkable. Yes, it’s walkable, but carrying around everything was intense. The mountain was much better than Savoy. Much more difficult and a couple more lifts I could handle. I was hoping to get a lesson, but the office computer was broken, so they couldn’t fit me in. This is small town ski business. If a computer doesn’t work, then there is no backup. The lady packed up to go home. Fascinating. I ended up just skiing on my own which was just fine. I was doing great. Skied a couple hours. Got some lunch. Went back and skied some more. Felt great! Just as I was getting the nerve to try the harder run, BAM, I fell. Flat on my stomach. This always happens. I start feeling very confident, my body doesn’t agree and gives me a reality check on my skiing ability. No idea why I like it so much as I’m really not that good.

After 5 hours of straight skiing, I called it a day and headed back to the hotel. I’m absolutely beat. I’m trying to get the courage to go out, but my room is just so cozy and every muscle in my body hurts. I forgot how much exercise skiing actually is!

Church in town center

Mont Blanc

My hotel

Funny ski lifts

Part of town center

Funny ski lift

Geneva Solo

I took Mom to the airport this morning really early expecting insane crowds. We got there 3 hours early and even United wasn’t open yet. The airport was normal. The only abnormal thing was a group of workers striking around the airport. Apparently they are the luggage handlers, so who knows if mom will actually get her luggage. I waved her off at the security lines which were shorter than normal and headed back to the hotel. We woke up to a great surprise. It had snowed all night and everything was white! It was beautiful! Mom finally got some snow!

I was staying in a different hotel for tonight, so packed up all my stuff and headed over to my hotel about 5 minutes away. It’s such a better hotel and I even have a balcony over looking the church square. It’s beautiful with all the snow! We’ll see how I sleep tonight!

On the agenda today:

Go buy some ski goggles as it’s snowing heavily in Chamonix, so I’ll need them.

Go buy my bus ticket for Chamonix.

Go buy some snow boots.

I finally fell after slipping all through town. I don’t understand as I see people with high heels on walking around like normal, but of course I fall in the middle of the busy sidewalk and an old man has to help me. The cheapest ones I have found so far are Moon boots which might be the ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen, but if they keep my feet warm and keep me from falling, fine.And to think I had a pair on from Target the day I left!!! I should have listened to Jenny!!!

I had a crepe at the Globus café which was delicious and then went and got a cup of hot chocolate at the Mortel tea room. I’m going to have an easy night tonight to get ready for my next adventure in the Alps. Just read that Elin was there over the holidays, so if it’s good enough for her, it must be good enough for me!

After having my delicious hot chocolate, I headed over to a final shoe store and to get my bus ticket to go to Chamonix in the morning. I’m on the bridge and bam, I fall again. I hate my boots. This one wasn’t as dramatic as I only feel on one knee and was able to get myself up, but it probably hurt worse since all my weight went on my left knee. I could feel it throbbing, so at this point, I’m buying the first pair I can find. And there they were. Thick black soles, silver/beige shiny weatherproof material, fur trim and fur pom pom! They only had 2 pairs left and one was in my size. Two other ladies were eyeing them and kept asking me if I was taking them, so I figured they were good boots. I put them on and didn’t feel ridiculous at all, although I know I looked it. But here, everyone has outrageous boots like this. The more fur or outrageous they are, the better and its definitely a competition. Everyone looks at each other’s snowshoes. It’s amazing.

I walked out of the store and instantly felt like a local. Hilarity.

I had to get up early the next day to catch the bus to Chamonix, so I went back to the hotel room and watched TV. The old episodes of 90210 were on and listening to Donna and Kelly talk in French was perfect. Skipped dinner and crashed. Tomorrow was a big day!

Snowy town square

View from my hotel balcony

The boots!!!

Geneva with Mom

Mom and I planned to have a couple days in Geneva to check out the city a little more, so finally left Ormoy. The train incident from the 23rd of December is still being fixed, so we can’t take the original short route we wanted. It’s getting colder and colder in Ormoy and by the time we have to take the train back to Paris to catch the Geneva train, there is ice everywhere. We can’t open the car doors as they are iced over, so Dany boils a pot of water and pours it over the car. It’s 6am.

We finally get to Monparnasse and now need to take a metro to take us to Gare de Lyon. There are way too many train stations in France. We have our huge suitcases and walking from station to station is exhausting. I know I’m going to be sore. But again, all we’ve done is eat, so at least this is some kind of exercise. I thought I knew a shortcut, but alas, it ended up taking longer and going up more stairs. Oops!

We ended up sitting across from each other on the 3 hour train ride with a table in between us so we could eat our last baguette sandwich together. It was actually a really nice train ride back to Geneva.

We get in around 3, check into our hotel and start walking around. The hotel was OK. Would not recommend it, but was just fine for us. The breakfast was included which was actually decent and it was directly across from the train station, which is helpful. The first day we walked around and saw the fountain, walked up the very steep stairs of the St. Pierre’s Cathedral, and walked along the Rhone River through the English Garden at night. The city is lit beautifully for the holidays. You can tell this city has money to spend! We walked into the Genome Museum on the Isle de Rousseau, named after the famous philosopher, which completely creeped me out. Thank goodness it was free. It was a small dome that explained the genome theory with dressed up dummies and really weird music. Mom loved it. I kept thinking of Hugh. He would have loved this also. (Hi Hugh!) We were searching for a great fondue, but every restaurant I had recommendations for, were all closed for the holidays until January 11. The Europeans know how to do it right. We finally found one near the train station near our hotel and it was delicious. Our bellies were warm and full which was a good thing considering it was getting colder and colder outside. I believe it was 19 degrees. We were beat and went to the hotel and passed out.

The next day we got up early, had breakfast and went directly to the United Nations buildling. Of course we get there, and they are closed until January 11. I guess the nations aren’t united over the holidays. We still took our obligatory pictures in front of the flags and closed gate and then walked up the hill to the Red Cross Museum. On our way, we came across the Ariana Museum which was free, so we walked in. It was all glass and ceramics from around the world. The building itself was really pretty, both inside and out, but I don’t care much for ceramics.

I didn’t know this, but The Red Cross was founded by a rich Swiss man after he saw how poorly soldiers were being taken care of back in 1859. He founded the organization to help all soldiers as a neutral entity. It was one of the best museums I had ever been to, and I’m not a big museum person. Definitely recommend going if you are ever here. Very touching and great stories and photographs throughout.

Then we went to the Russian Orthodox Church which I thought was just a monument like all the other cathedrals we see. Geneva used to be a huge Russian vacation spot, so you see a lot of Russian influences throughout. This Church was in the middle of a residential area and was gorgeous. We walked in and this was no monument. This was a working church with people praying inside. It was gorgeous, just not what I was expecting at all. We then walked up the street and followed signs to “Old Town” which we had been to last night, which is when we realized that Geneva is a TINY town. We were next to the city center the whole time. We were now experts. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Four Seasons Hotel for a glass of wine which cost $25 a glass (ouch), but it was delicious! As all Four Seasons, it was beautiful and only $800 a night. Mom packed up her suitcase sicne she was leaving the next day and then we walked to our final restaurant for some Raclette, a traditional Swiss dish with cheese and potatoes. The restaurant was great. Probably a tourist attraction, but we were tourists afterall. They didn’t have the traditional Raclette we wanted, so the waiter suggested we get the Croute en Fromage and a Steak au Fromage. We purposely didn’t eat all day so we would be ready for our final dinner. Thank goodness. The Croute en Fromage was a huge piece of country French bread grilled with a huge piece of Swiss cheese and ham grilled in a skillet then topped with a fried egg and served with pickles. My steak au Fromage was just that. A huge chunk of cheese, probably about 8 inches, grilled like a piece of steak served with potatoes, pickles and bread. It was unreal. I never thought I would ever a piece of cheese like that. And honestly probably won’t considering I didn’t sleep a wink that night. My belly was WAY too full.

We walked back to the hotel to try to walk some of it off and crashed for the night. Our final meal was epic, to say the least.

Mom leaves in the morning and its going to be lonely now! It was a great trip and can’t wait for the next one!

Weird Genome Museum

Outside United Nations

Geneva at Night in English Garden

Russian Orthodox Church

Inside Red Cross Museum

Outside Redcross Museum

On top of St. Pierre's Cathedral

Mom's Rediculous Dish

Geneva's famous fountain

Inside St. Pierre's Cathedral

Mom with Fondue

Outside United Nations

Walking up the steep Cathedral stairs

My rediculous Cheese Steak