Celebrations and Skiing

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Read Xmas 2010 Paris

 Pralognon La Vanoise

Saturday 1 Jan 2011

I am looking out the window of our room towards steep mountains. Marzipan evergreens are topped by sugar coated bare peaks on which snow is gently falling. This is the Vanois section of the French Alps and we are in the small skiing village of Pralognan La Vanoise for a week of skiing.

The train for Pralognan left from Gare de Lyon just after noon on Boxing Day. Despite numerous calls to the British Airways offices, each one involving waits of up to one hour, Ray’s bag had not arrived. The good news was that we had packed all the ski clothes in one bag and that one had made it to Paris. The fear was that if we didn’t manage to receive delivery of the bag soon, the bag would be returned to Canada. That meant Ray would have none of his summer weight clothes for the rest of the trip and we both were missing our malaria pills. Ray was glad his undies were the quick dry variety. I said that washing them out every night for the next three months might create holes where there were none before. Ray claimed that would only give more ventilation in the tropics of Africa. We were informed that the bag had made it to Paris and was due for delivery “sometime between 10 AM and 2 PM on the 26th. We didn’t get the bag before leaving for the train and we never received notification that delivery had been attempted.

The four hour train ride was a diversion. The train was full of families, including friends of Erica and Andrew’s, Beatrice and Eric, with their two daughters. The youngest, Heloise, was a special friend of Atticus and had invited him several times to stay at her grandmother’s house in Brittany. One woman complained loudly to Beatrice that her girls were too noisy (they weren’t). Beatrice asked the woman if she had children. She said yes, but they were travelling by car with the grandparents while she and her husband were expecting a relaxing train ride. Boy, was she in the wrong car!

Our stop was Moutiers, a few stops past Albertville, the site of the 1992 Winter Olympics. The closer we got to our stop, the more it looked like ski country with alpine villages and craggy peaks on each side of the tracks. At Moutiers we took a taxi van the rest of the way to Pralognan in the Vanois National Park. The Curling events were held in Pralognan in 1992. The road hugged the side of steep mountains framing a series of narrow valleys. Part way up we had to wait while a snow plow cleared a section of the road. Several cars were having trouble starting up again but our van had good snow tires and passed all the slower vehicles. Even so it was almost 6 PM before we reached our hotel, Vacanciel, La Grande Cordée. It is quite a large hotel with four floors of rooms. Erica had booked rooms next to each other on the 2nd floor. We checked in and immediately went to the ski rental shop where we had all booked skis, boots and helmets for the week. By that time it was time to greet two other families that were friends of Erica and Andrew and to go in for our buffet supper. All three meals are included in our ski week, which is proving to be a great convenience. There are additional advantages, kids’ movies while the parents enjoy free vin chaud before dinner. There is also a play school for the younger children every afternoon. Both Atticus and Roman went the first afternoon while we skied. The children played games and went tobogganing outside.

Our two grandchildren, Atticus and Roman, are in ski lessons each morning and Andrew has taken up snow shoeing. Erica, Ray and I are then free to explore the slopes. This is a family oriented resort so most of the slopes are intermediate but that suits us. It has been three years since we last skied and that was a week in Banff where we attended our niece Susan Demmings wedding to Yvan Nguyen. It didn’t take us long to acclimatize to the slopes. France had unseasonably cold weather this December and lots of snow so the conditions are ideal. The second day we took Atticus skiing for the afternoon. The first day he was relegated to the rope tow but we took him on the chair lift. That was much more exciting for him. We were all giving him instructions the first run down but he asked that we not talk as much his next run. It worked and he got better and better.

Andrew found his first day of snow shoeing rather pedestrian. It was an included activity at the hotel and a crowd of people turned up. At least they sorted out the real beginners. Andrew persisted and signed up again the second afternoon. That time the outing was listed as “blue”. They had a much better, but challenging climb into the hills where the guide pointed out the local mountain goats and told them all about the area. He had a wonderful time and is all set to try even more difficult trails this week.

We finally sorted out the delivery of Ray’s lost baggage. Ray managed to get through to British Airways and changed the drop off location to the Wilson’s apartment. The bag reached the Wilson apartment at midnight on the 27th. We owe them big time. We can now go to Africa as planned. British Airways would really gain Brownie Points if we got upgraded to first class for our return trip in March, but I am not counting on it. We did get somewhat spoiled on our flight from Ottawa to London.

Happy New Year 2011!

Three celebrations in three days, how lucky can we be? First came a Birthday, then an anniversary and then New Year’s Eve. It was a busy end to our ski week.

Wednesday, the 29th, Erica, Ray and I took Atticus out for 2 runs after lunch. Atticus is doing well. His instructor the day before wanted to demote him but after our three runs with him yesterday he stayed in the class that goes up the chairs rather than the little rope tow. Atticus would have loved a third run but agreed to stop so that he could go skating.

Wednesday was also Heloise’s 5th birthday. Skating and swimming were arranged for all the children in our group, starting at 3 PM. The town hosted the curling events for the 1992 Olympics and has a good sports complex with a skating rink and a pool with a slide as a result. We all rented skates. The only choice was figure skates with picks but once the boys were assured that they were not girl’s skates nobody objected. This was the first time on skates for the boys and they loved it. Andrew rented a special push chair for Roman, which was a good move. Roman found it hard to keep his balance at first, but loved being pushed hard in the chair. Eventually he got the idea of pushing it himself. Atticus quickly learned the basics of moving on skates and even learned how to pick himself up after he fell, which was often. Atticus was having so much fun that it took a bit of persuading to get him to stop skating and move on to the pool. I decided I had enough after the skating but the swimming was a big hit with the children, especially the slide which Atticus went down continually.

There was a special surprise for Heloise’s birthday. Her grandparents, who had delayed coming because of flu that went through the family, arrived that day. That meant we had 12 adults in the group and 9 children aged almost 4 (Roman) to 13, in the group, 7 boys and 2 girls. The highlight of the dinner was a Birthday Cake and presents for Heloise. We all sang Happy Birthday in both French & English and Heloise blew out the candles twice. Then she opened her numerous presents. Is it ever any different?

On Thursday afternoon we took Atticus up three lifts to the very top of the hill to try a “blue” run rather than his usual “green” runs. The Monitrice (Atticus’s ski teacher) told Erica to make sure Atticus was following her rather than trying to go first, as he usually does, on a new slope. He did follow her well, even on a more difficult and steeper slope that the one taken during his lessons. From the bottom of the top lift we went straight to the bottom. He loved the section where he could tuck and go faster. We had to repeat that part several more times.

Dec 30th was our 45th Anniversary. It is hard to believe. I have been married more than twice as long as I was single. We celebrated with Ray’s siblings last April in Hilton Head and tonight we celebrated at dinner in the hotel. It was a Savoise dinner tonight. That meant several different types of sausages as part of the appetizer and cheese fondue. The fondue was very appropriate as our honeymoon was a Laurentian Ski Zone ski trip to Europe where we had the best fondue meal ever in Zurich. Erica had told the others it was our anniversary and they all bought bottles of wine from Savoy for us to enjoy. The wine was light and pleasant, not unlike the wines that were included with our dinners. The staff appeared at dessert time with two blueberry tarts, part of the dessert buffet, with candles on them, and sang Happy Anniversary, in French of course, to us. We had to get up and kiss for photos.

The Play School children, one of whom was Roman, had been preparing all day for a special show. At 20:45 we all trooped down to the “Salle de Spectacle” in the basement for a shortened version of the Lion King. There was a good crowd of parents and siblings, with the smaller ones on the floor in front of the stage. Roman, as the Simba, the baby lion, was a hit. The whole group lip-synched and danced to several songs. In the last scene Roman introduced us to his new “wife” Nala, played by Heloise. Roman and Heloise appeared arm in arm and Roman kept giving her cow eyes. We all cheered and snapped photos.

What is New Year’s Eve without a celebration! The hotel provided a special dinner to mark the occasion. We all donned our best duds and found our places at the tables Dinner was served at the tables in several courses instead of a buffet and was of a higher quality than usual. The regular buffets were generous but not gourmet. This meal and the wines were a cut above the norm. The children were given an abbreviated menu and allowed to disappear at will to play games. Some of the staff provided entertainment between courses with various dances which everyone enjoyed watching. Close to midnight we got the children to bed and in turns, stayed up to see the New Year in. There was dancing in the lounge and a few fireworks to mark the occasion. We managed to last until midnight but not much later. It had been a big day for everyone.

Atticus had missed skiing on Friday as he fell victim to the flu. After being sick overnight, he slept all afternoon but managed to enjoy the New Year’s activities. Luckily the rest of us have avoided the dreaded flu so far. Saturday, our last day in Pralognan, Atticus was ready to ski with Erica, Ray and me. We managed three runs in the morning before we had to return to the hotel, pack up, have lunch and take a taxi to the train back to Paris.

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