To the rescue

parapent.CR2

‘The parapent has crashed through the window?’ Noel’s French is usually very good, but the hotel receptionist couldn’t understand his exclamations as he pointed to the window across the yard where, to her relief, there was no-one dangling from the balcony. But there was a problem.

I’d been reclining on my day bed after further adventures in Chamonix, every hotel room should have  a spare bed next to the picture window. I may have shut my eyes, there could have been snoring, but the storm woke me, they are always spectacular in the mountains and well worth watching. The old gentleman in the apartment opposite had the same idea as he watched from his balcony.

As I turned to inform Noel that there was thunder in the air, a statement of the blindingly obvious, I heard a crash from across the yard and saw the gentleman had fallen backwards into his room. He was sprawled on the floor, conscious, but unable to get up, I could see into his apartment and there was a walking frame and a stick, neither within reach. He was clearly alone.

Noel dashed down to our hotel reception where his French failed him, but the urgency and pointing, along with me calling from the window because I could see what they couldn’t, soon brought help. While the manager tried to find the apartment keys, Noel had a go at scaling the wall to the first floor balcony. His sandals weren’t as good as his rock shoes and I was just about to throw them down to him when another guest came to the rescue.

It can only have been ten minutes or so, but it must have been an age for the gentleman on the floor, helpless and alone. The hotel manager, who knows him and keeps apartment keys just in case, helped him to his bed and contacted his daughter. All is well, we checked. Thank goodness for day beds. Thank goodness for Noel.

Pantra mantra chanter

More than one thousand metres above sea level, higher than anywhere in England and the air’s a bit thicker. Well, that’s my excuse for sounding like Thomas the Tank Engine as I make my way up a slope that has no right to be that steep. And did I mention it’s warm? Boy is it warm, 35C, thank goodness for the shade.

Noel’s doing his usual thing of running ahead, then running back to round me up, making sure I’m still physically moving, though at times I feel I’m going backwards. Boy is this hard. And to think, I’m doing this voluntarily.

“Are you OK?”, he asks as I huff and puff. “You sound like you’re struggling to breathe.” Not as such, I tell him, it’s just my way of getting up the hill, my mantra, or rather my pantra, as I pant out the words. ‘Up the hill, up the hill, not much further, not much further, coffee and cake, coffee and cake’. It definitely works for me, though anyone within earshot thinks I’m dying.

We’ve driven to Chamonix, in the French Alps,  with a fine selection of running shoes and climbing gear. Well, why go on holiday to rest when there are so many mountains to run/walk/climb or, when we’re exhausted, just look at as we drink our coffee and eat our cake?

Not a tame mountain

Storm warning!
Storm warning!

We’re 2,400m above sea level, our heads are in the clouds, our feet are hitting the high mountain trails. The summer air is thick with the scent of honeysuckle, my fillings are singing and my hair is standing on end.That can only mean one thing, there’s a storm a-coming.

One minute it’s bright and sunny and the clouds are white and fluffy. The next, the clouds have turned an angry shade of grey and, if I’m not mistaken, look rather peeved. I definitely wouldn’t want to mess with them. In the distance there’s a sinister rumble, and it’s not just Noel’s stomach.

A white curtain is being drawn across the valley, everything in its wake is very shiny and very wet. I want to stop and watch, the live weather show is an amazing spectacle, and it’s free! But hanging around isn’t wise, the mountain isn’t tame.

We head for low ground, the storm following, poking us with flashes of lightening and cracks of thunder. Do you know how much thunder echoes around a valley? A lot, bloody hell a lot. Do you know how much water a cloud can empty in just five minutes? Enough to fill a rucksack left open, that’s how much. Thank goodness these storms never last for long. Thank goodness for Gore Tex and Smart Wool and glory be for the safety of the valley with its many coffee and cake establishments where we can laugh and pretend we weren’t really scared.

An economist took our photo

Running in Chamonix, before it started cracking the flags.
Running in Chamonix, before it started cracking the flags. The photo our economist took is here

It’s early Sunday morning in the shadow of Le Mont Blanc and we want to get our run in before it starts cracking the flags here in Chamonix. They don’t have a direct French translation for that Yorkshireism, but the papers are full of stories about La Canicule – the heatwave.

Meeting up with our mate Helen, we head upriver, knowing that the return will be downhill. At an altitude of 1000m, it’s good to start steady. The shadows are long and lazy, perfect for a photostop, especially as Europe’s highest mountain looms obligingly behind us.

As we faff around, an affable chap appears and offers take our photo. He didn’t look like the kind to sprint off with our phones – and if he did, I was pretty certain Noel could rugby tackle him to the ground while I screamed blue murder in my best vernacular French. I’ve been reading a book on French slang and have learned a number of new words, which I won’t repeat here. Suffice to say, variations on the word for ‘willy’ appear many times.

Our photographer’s accent is American, so I ask him where he is from before launching into full journalist mode. It turns out he’s an economist from Washington DC, and I suspect a highly respected one at that as he’s just just spent a year with the OECD, in Paris. They are kind of like the Thunderbirds of the economics world, with international rescue of currencies everywhere, as well as fighting The Hood.

The obvious question to ask is about the Grexit, the potential exit of Greece from the Euro and possibly the EU. A discussion follows, he is clearly very clever. No, he says, Greece should stay, it wasn’t their fault in the first place. Not only that, the Germans should stop being so damned efficient so the other countries can get a look-in with their imports and we’ll all be better off. I wonder how that will work out, I ask him.

We thank him and head back downhill where we are greeted by Helen’s five-year-old who is massively impressed that we have run up Le Mont Blanc – and so quickly too. We don’t correct her, everyone should have a bit of fantasy in their lives. Reality, particularly economics, can be just too serious.

Eat in Chamonix – this is the view!

I'm heading for the Biggest Chamonix Bore of All Time award by writing about my favourite place again. But, hey, it's my blog!

There's a zillion places to eat in Cham, but I have to warn you, there's a strong cheese theme. The first time you go, you'll savour the traditional fondue (liquid cheese mixed with wine), raclette (cheese melted right before your eyes with the help of a one-bar electric fire) and tartiflette (cheese with potatoes). So there's a lot of cheese then. And it's good. But you do need a bit of variety, but probably not pizza.

So for something a bit different. Some good places to eat and drink.

Chamonix Micro Brasserie for good beer, non-cheese-based food and, ahead of the clamp-down, smoke-free. Yaaaaay! Live music can be a plus….

www.mbchx.com

Creperie Gentiane, Rue du Lyret – tucked away on the backstreet down from the casino, tasty crepes, some cheese influence, but can be avoided. Good value, lovely setting, overlooking the Arve good value and friendly service.

Munchie, 87 Rue des Moulins for a more up-market night out. Eclectic menu influence by Japanese cuisine. Hardly any cheese in sight. www.munchie.eu

Grand Central Cafe and Juice Bar – boasts the best coffee in Chamonix, and I'm in no position to disagree. Snacks and fresh-made smoothies, home-made muffins and cakes. Very friendly service.  A virtual cheese-free zone. Well worth a visit.

The photo was taken from the town centre, it shows Plan, Blaitere Grepon and Charmoz. Wish you were there? I do!

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Les anglais à l’étranger


The Vox cinema, Chamonix
Originally uploaded by StripeyAnne.

We're currently skiing in Chamonix, yes, indeed skiing. There is snow and ice, but we are hitting those pistes! Chamonix is the home of Alpinism, but all that mountaineering for the sake of it would was invented by the Brits. The French had hiked up and down in search of crystals for many years before that. But the way some Brits behave, you'd think they`d invented Chamonix itself. Notice I say they and not we. There are many opportunities to witness this – most of them in crowded telepheriques where sentences usually end with …… "and I was so drunk " followed by "and I was very sick." with the rest of the sentence peppered with expletives.

Actually, I pretend I'm French and join the other shrugging French when we hear this.

I did display Brit behaviour in a restaurant the other day, though. We had very poor service and I felt justified in ranting, though it was polite (ish ) and it was in French. Noel said he was very impressed with the increase in fluency as the rant reached its crescendo. But I did stop short of calling anyone's mother a hamster (couldn’t remember the French for hamster). We didn't get anywhere, and I left vowing never to return, ever though we quite like it there. The response was shrugged shoulders.

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It was my birthday………


Rainbow over Chamonix
Originally uploaded by StripeyAnne.

……..and I went to Italy. Not too much of a push, really, as we were already in France – and a quick dash through the Tunnel de Mont Blanc and we were in the Land of the Great Coffee.

The celebrations had got off to a great start the previous evening with the entertainment at the Chamonix Micro Brewery – always worth a visit after a day's gnarling on the slopes. The live act was a conglomerate of country and western, rock and roll and California banter. Through the alcoholic haze, it kind of worked. The homage to the Beatles was the highlight, with All You Need Is Glove and the EP version of Hey Dude. Noel said it was impossible to do a bad version of All Along The Watchtower, but I wasn't so sure……. But the guys were having fun, enjoying their beer – and so were we.

If there is a difference between the French and the Italians, other than their coffee, it's the approach to organisation and bureaucracy. Yes, yes, I'm a Brit and a fine one to talk…… Anyway, from the magnificently signed and blisteringly efficient Chamonix slopes, we stumbled into Courmayeur. The bus dropped a gaggle of hapless skiers at the station and left it for us to find out way to the slopes. There was a parting of the ways as some opted to wait for the shuttle bus and we, along with a couple of up-beat Aussies in Europe for three weeks of skiing and other diversions, headed off on the five-minute walk to the lift. Of course, we were passed by the bus en route, but we all got on the same life – and we got to see the shops. Bonus for me, but not so much for Noel. But it WAS my birthday.

Catching up with the Aussies and exchanging a few pleasantries on how we'd been stuffed at the Ashes, and it really wasn't a colony any more, one of them tipped his hat and announced,

"Well, as my old dad, says, we're not here to f#@k spiders"

And off they went.

I liked the sound of his old dad.

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