Sunday, January 31, 2010

french breakfast

Morning eating has always struck me as a bit strange, necessary and enjoyable but a bit strange.  

For the rest of the day we pick and choose and discuss our eating requirements, having vastly different things from meal to meal as our moods take us.  Big dinners with numerous courses, light lunches,  snacks, just a little bite - ‘coz I’m not really hungry right now, afternoon tea with sandwiches and sausage rolls and slices of cake, an endless choice of salads in the summer because it’s hot, numerous soups and stews to warm us through in the winter.  Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Greek, its all there to choose from.

And then there is breakfast.  For most of my life I have had a bowl of cereal, rarely varying the type, with cold milk and a little sugar.  Maybe swapping to porridge in the winter.  Toast, one with marmite one with marmalade and a cup of tea, two if there is time.  Then occasionally at the weekend a late start with a Full English but that is definitely an exception to the rule.  It’s a tried and tested routine, easy and well rehearsed and how I see most English people starting their day.  The thought of having loads of different things or the choice of other sorts of food does not seem to appeal or even register in our thought processes that often.

There is amusement here, at times, especially with breakfast observations.  To start with it is more continental, bread, jam, cheese etc, and definitely coffee rather than tea.  There is an industrial sized coffee percolator and a hot water urn, a selection of teas and infusions, hot chocolate powder and hot milk. Plates, bowls and cups are put out for self service. Tables laid out with the obligatory paper place mat, cutlery jam, butter, sugar and cheese.  We offer cereal, Cocoa Pops seem to be favourite, and Porridge for those that want to try it.  Oats are regarded as donkey food here and there is much discussion as to this strange English, or I guess more correctly, Scottish breakfast dish.  A good source of energy, it fills you up and keeps you warm.  Just a small bowlful with a little sugar will keep you going until lunchtime. 

Guests help themselves and coffee, tea and chocolate which they put into the  bowls so that there is plenty of room to dunk bread and jam.  

Serve themselves cereal, with hot milk, in cups and then only drink the resultant brown milk, leaving the cereal to be thrown away.  

Porridge is consumed in a similar fashion, the best combination we have seen is with plenty of chocolate powder stirred in.  Tried it and it had the consistency of concrete after a few seconds. 

Full cups of coffee will be left when tables are abruptly abandoned for no particular reason, along with slightly nibbled pieces of fruit, half yoghurts, prepared baguettes with butter and jam.  Do people just forget what they have started? or does their food become momentarily invisible in the rush to go skiing?  We puzzle these things but may never know.  The spread of bread crumbs, jam and other detritus is also impressive for the amount of time people pend at their tables each morning.

It is interesting to observe how other nationalities take their breakfast, what the procedures and norms are and how we cling to our own morning routine as closely as we do.  I guess it is part of the comfort of emerging into the start of a new day.

Oh, and a new one this morning, bread with drinking chocolate powder sprinkled on it, real thick, like a layer of snow.  MMmmmmm

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ski days

The last line of my previous entry paints the wrong picture of live here at Chalet Lou Rider.  Now that the snow has improved, skiing has become a major part of most days that we have few guests.  Usually getting any tasks done during the morning and having a very early lunch to be out on the hill by noon.

Joe and I have almost reached a routine on how we start our time on the snow.  Choosing two chair lifts rather than the cabins gets us higher up the mountain at a much faster speed, delivering us nearly to the top of the resort.  A slight downside to this is the time spent outside, in the shade, before we have had chance to get moving and warm, the short walk from the chalet is hardly enough for that and on cold days the windchill can be quite impressive.  It is, however, always worthwhile and the views from the top are breathtaking, especially on clear sunny days.

Our start is probably all wrong, but the chosen route is a magnificently steep red run that drops off the side of the peak for several hundred feet before levelling off onto a beautifully undulating, almost sedate, blue run that takes us right into the hub of the resort.  That first drop, fresh off the lift, is enough to get the heart pumping and a bit of warmth into the muscles, a reminder of the exhilaration yet to come and a great start to the excitement ahead, we then glide, with minimal effort, down the gentler slopes, gathering speed for the flatter stretches to save poling or lolloping along like a seal ( in the case of snowboarders) and fitting in some decent turns when the incline allows.

Straight to the main lift, a swift, modern, 6 man chair that takes us to the top of the first ever run we found.  It  has become an old favourite because we know it so well.  Every day the conditions are slightly different, the light may change, the time of night that the slope was groomed and the texture of the snow.  We come here to  learn and practice new skills.  There are good small jumps to be had down the sides of the piste, areas of powder to check out and when there are not many other folk about, plenty of space for attempting 360’s and backwards skiing, it is all good fun. We always have a run or two here for a bit of fun, before heading off elsewhere on the mountain as the mood takes us.  

Sometimes I head off alone to experience more challenging runs, although Joes boarding skills are improving dramatically and he is keen to do more and more.  I hope too, with the lessons they have recently had, that Liis and Marcos will catch up enough to join us on our expeditions.  They do have one more skill to master before the mountain is truly theirs to explore and that  the skill of riding “Button Lifts” on a snowboard!!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

quiet times

overnight snow on the terrace
looking east, down the valley

West, up the valley from the dining room window

It struck me yesterday on the lifts and again this morning that I haven’t written for ages.  It feels like weeks and weeks, but is only 10 days.  I can’t recall precisely what I have been doing all the time, there have been some incredibly busy days here when the chalet has been full of guests and others when nothing of note has happened all day.

There is a quietness that descends here at times,  when there is no traffic and no wind, no people about and clattering of ski boots on the road, no chattering of voices or work being done and everything is still.  The valley seems to be suspended in a sort of trance.  Nothing changes in the landscape, the snow on the trees, the empty car park, the hills in the distance stay motionless for hours on end, longer sometimes, for whole days.  The immediate view is in the shade, so not even the shadows of the sun move to break the stillness of the day.  

On clear days there are wonderful views, snowcapped peaks beyond the brasserie next door, rising up out of the shade into glorious, dazzling sunshine, a hint of activity, just a hint, on the mountainside if one studies the tiny line of the lifts, the movement is just about visible and the odd, miniscule dot of a skier, partially obscured, heading down some slope or other.  

In the other direction, a very different view but similarly still and unchanging. An empty carpark, Le Sapiniere, the neighbouring hotel, clinging to the mountainside next to the winding road, a whole bank of fir trees silent and still, weighed down under the weight of snow, on the opposite side of the valley.  The possibility of an occasional car taking the route up to Pla d’Adet and in the distance, snow covered hills and mountain peaks of the southern Pyrenees.

Nothing of interest happens outside, nothing of note moves, probably the biggest change to the scene would be the contrail from a tiny plane passing high overhead.  

Indoors, all is quiet too, once the chores are done, we read books in front of the fire, maybe watch a movie, there is no television here, play games, Risk is popular at the moment, chat and drink endless cups of tea.  The peace and tranquility is beautiful and when it all becomes a bit much we go SKIING.

(If you have any spare DVD's of films/documentaries/drama series etc that you no longer want, you could send them here for our enjoyment and entertainment, they would be very much appreciated.  Thanks)

Chalet Lou Rider       Espiaube      Saint Lary Soulain       65170      France

Saturday, January 02, 2010

greener and greener

Someone keeps posting comments on the blog ‘Greener and greener’  and ‘Greener by the day’.  It got me thinking of all the possibilities that these comments may mean:

They could be talking about themselves in an environmentally conscious sort of a way.  Being the modern day ‘Tom and Barbara’ in their house in the lakes, fully equipped with glasshouse, orchard, fields and allotment, I imaging compost bins being built, new methods for conserving energy being introduced and endless packets of vegetable seeds being chosen from glossy catalogues for the coming season.  Jars of bottled produce and conserves lined up in the pantry ready for consumption and muddy wellies in the back porch.  I don’t think that they mean this sort of green.

Maybe they can see the hills and mountains here in the Pyrenees.  Each time a comment comes through the ‘fohn’ wind blows and warm air  blasts up the valleys, chasing the snow to higher ground.  The picturesque landscape turns from Christmas card white to green and a dull dirty grey, drifts of melting snow cling to the sides of the road like grubby shammy leathers and the trickles of mountain streams turn, for a short while, to tumbling torrents, as the thin layer of snow is banished yet again to further up the mountains.  The peaks stay white and frosty but the zero isotherm rises and falls around us here at 1550 meters.  One day the air is filled with the clatter of ski boots on the tarmac with people heading up to the ski station, cars climbing the hill to jostle for parking places in the huge car park opposite, then as the green reappears, the sounds diminish and the guests mill around the chalet, disheartened by the effects of the warmer weather and the lack of decent snow to play on.  Fortunately there have been very few days where there has been no skiing at all and the ‘fohn’ wind soon dissipates allowing the weather that we want and need to return to the valleys.  Or this sort of green.

Perhaps it is another sort of green, maybe green with envy.  It is a possibility.  With both of them enjoying a good bit of skiing.  There is no need, there is a solution.  (You know that you want to do this.)  Check out a cheap flight to Toulouse, Pau or Lourdes, a short train ride to Lannemezan and a bus up to the resort.  Simples.  There are plenty of rooms available midweek through January and anytime in March and early April at the moment.  February is going to be crazy here, french half terms and busy busy busy, so the slopes will be full too and best avoided. Two ski hire shops within a short walk of Chalet Lou Rider and you can even buy a day lift pass at the bar, avoiding the queues in the morning, the mountains are waiting for you.