Friday, February 26, 2010

what a week

What a week.  I got back from skiing with some guests on Sunday afternoon at about 4.30 to be greeted by a flustered Hawys in the hallway.  The chalet was double booked to the tune of seven and we, that is the helpX crew, were being evicted from our rooms.  

Clare had delayed the guests by telling them that the rooms had not been changed yet, which gave the five of us about an hour to pack all of our things, thoroughly clean the rooms and remake the beds.  

I packed my belongings in record time, everything thrown back into bags, tipped from drawers and hastily moved out, then got on with helping with the change over.

We cleaned and mopped and polished like crazy things, remade beds, fluffed up the duvets and pillows in their new covers and showed the guests to their new rooms.

Upstairs, in the tiny flat, Clare moved furniture and organised emergency, temporary, accommodation for us.  Thankfully she had recently purchased two small single beds to replace an old double upstairs and we had not gotten round to swapping them yet.  She had one and nominated me the other, Hawys and Joe, who are now getting on very well indeed, had Clares usual bed, a double, and Marcos and Liis drew the short straw and got to use the sofa beds in  the Billiard Room.  There is no door from the Billiard Room to the main public area, so it just meant that they could not go to bed until the last guest had retired and were up in good time for breakfast every morning.  I don’t think that they have ever been awake for so long each day since I got here.  They did sneak the odd nap during the day, normally on my bed.

A full house plus the seven extra for the busiest time of the season.  It was going to be a fun week. The local french holidays are in full swing and the mountain has been packed every day.  People popping in for lunch and apres ski drinks in the afternoons, it has been non stop in the chalet since then.  It is now Friday afternoon and I haven’t been on the slopes all week.  The atmosphere in the chalet has been great and all the guests appear to be having a great time and we are frequently complimented on how helpful and friendly every one is.  Great to be part of such a good team.

I guess this has been catch up time for those weeks earlier in the season when the Chalet was quiet and we got away with some very light duties.  We have all worked hard and got everything done, I have spent many extra hours cutting and frying chips for lunches and assisting in the kitchen, churning out never ending plates of nutella crepes and ice creams for lunchtime desserts and through the afternoon to feed countless hungry skiers before they head  off down the mountain on their way home.  Staying up to all hours of the night behind the bar, dispensing vin chaud, aperitifs, beers and digestives, wines by the bottle or carafe through dinner and sorting out anything else that the guests require.  Beer, we have one draught beer and I am used to serving it straight or with lemonade as a shandy, occasionally a larger top, or with blackcurrant.  Here they drink it with any of the syrops that are on offer.  Strawberry lager.  Peach lager.  Lemon lager and the wierdest of all, mint lager, they call it a parakeet, for obvious reasons (bright green).

I have had great fun being slightly out of my depth this week, improving my french language, hospitality skills, commercial kitchen skills and generally being immensely busy.  So much so that I have hardly noticed my bed is in a different place, in a corridor and my belongings are still where they were put a week ago.  I have delved far enough to find clean clothes and my ipod, but I have no idea where the headphones are, so it is rather useless until I get to unpack again, at the end of the weekend.

Monday, February 22, 2010

shift work 3

Six till ten.  Often the quicker of the evening shifts.  Finish helping with dinner prep then laying  up the tables for dinner.  When there are few guests, we all eat at the same time as the guests and the two on duty fit in serving and clearing away at the same time.  It makes us pace the courses and we can keep an eye on which tables need extras, a top up of water or bread, more wine or when they have finished and plates need clearing.  During busier times the two on duty eat before service so that we can keep up with serving and clearing away and feeding the dish washer as we go. It gets things finished earlier and is much more efficient as there isn’t a huge pile of dry dishes to contend with later in the evening.

The second evening shift starts at seven thirty, when dinner is served and continues till the bar closes and guests have gone to bed.

Duties are split between serving and washing up.  All the guests are seated on one or two long tables together and the three courses are served in large bowls and dishes.  Each person then gets to help themselves to as much or little as they require, less wasteful and far far easier than plating everything up in the kitchen. Unless special dietry requirements are requested beforehand there is no choice, just plenty of good wholesome homemade food with the active skier in mind.  I can mention the menu selection later on if I get requests!!!!

Once the three courses have been and gone, orders are taken for coffee, tea or infusions, the french love their herbal teas and like to select a tea bag and dunk it in their own cup of hot water. Stories of tea being made with water from the hot tap or by pouring hot milk on tea bags are plentiful from horrified english folk.  These drinks are individually prepared using one of those wonderful expresso type machines that sits behind the bar hissing and straining under the pressure of hot water contained within its self, waiting patiently to prepare coffee, hot water, or using on tap steam, hot milk or vin chaud at a moments notice.  the sort that requires the used coffee grounds to be noisily banged out into an open drawer under the counter and sends out clouds of hot steam if you inadvertently press the wrong button.  Marvelously efficient when thirty assorted hot beverages need to be served at the same time.  Just remember the right sized cup and corresponding saucer, with mini tea spoon, one sachet of sugar and a miniature home made amaretti biscuit, before they go to the table, and who ordered what and where.

Dinner service and tidying is usually easily finished by ten, leaving the last person on shift to continue serving drinks and tidying empties away into the night.  Thankfully most guests are tired from a day on the slopes and head off to bed quite early, there are times though, that a particularly enthusiastic group come to stay and party on into the night, playing card games, chatting and consuming large quantities of alcohol, they are the fun nights to have, conversations in broken english and french, brought on by an alcoholic confidence and an excitement of being somewhere new.  

We had one group in that drank us out of beer and a couple of spirits over two nights and were still the first ones up in the morning and spent the whole day out on the slopes.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Saint Lary Soulan 2400

some of my favourite pictures of the mountains so far this trip

A patch of sunshine on the top of the "terrenere", probably the best black run in the resort

above the cloud filled landscape in the sunshine
Chalet Lou Rider is in the wooded valley in the centre of the view

do I need to comment on this one?

looking down to the chalet from "Balcon du Lita"
it's just above the "B" in "Balcon"

with a probable -15 deg. to start with, the wind chill can
make an amazing impact on enjoyment.

shift work 2

Two till six, so far the most challenging so far, it will be great when the mountain gets busier and people start needing afternoon refreshments, but at the moment, it is quiet. Finishing up lunch service and tidying the restaurant for ‘apres ski’ drinks, checking that no help is needed in the kitchen for evening prep, bringing in logs for the open fire and then being available to serve from the bar, take orders for snacks and generally keeping the public areas clean and tidy.  Got to remember to see people arriving on the terrace, as they sit down and expect to be served quite promptly, it’s not like the UK where everyone goes to the bar for service.  More snow clearing if required and then at the moment it is just a case of finding things to do, all the windows have been cleaned, there are plenty, cleaning behind the bar, another sweep and mop may be needed.  The easy shift so far, but I can imagine things changing when the mountain is packed with holiday makers during the school holidays, just a couple of days to go now.  It’ll also get busier once the weather warms a bit and the sun is higher over the mountains.  We have only just started getting sun on the chalet at midday after nearly three months of constantly being shaded by the mountains on the other side of the valley.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

shift work 1

We have divided the day into five shifts.  Clare, the owner does the early morning shift now, It covers breakfasts and lasts from 7am till 10am, I used to like this shift as it got me up early and was over before most of the day had even started.  A good time to wake up slowly with a cup of tea and watch the sun rise, that was back in January when the sun had a good lay in and there were few guests.  Things have been changed now so that the whole day is covered.

Our shifts, that is the helpX crew, start at 10am and continue through until the last guest has gone to bed, it is luck of the draw as to how many people check out and rooms need changing or how late people want to stay up drinking and playing games by the fire but we do tend to help each other out when it is particularly busy.

One person does each shift and we rotate every three days so that no one is stuck doing the same for too long.  There is always an opportunity to get out on the slopes to ski or kick back and relax depending on how the mood takes us.

Ten till two is the busiest and most demanding, breakfast things to be cleared, the floor of the dining room and bar to be swept and mopped, promotional signs to be put out by the side of the road, parasols on the terrace tables and deck chairs once the sun starts shining, snow to be cleared, rubbish put our from the kitchen and deliveries received.  That is before heading upstairs to give the occupied rooms a quick once over, mainly the bathrooms get a wipe down and polish and the floors a quick mop.  Thorough cleaning happens on changeover day which can happen on any day of the week, sometimes almost daily if there are short stayers,  that’s anything up to 28 beds to change, 6 bathrooms to clean and polish, we aren’t posh enough here to make beds or do much else whilst rooms are occupied.  Two further public facilities to clean, just off the bar, before mopping the stairs so that it is all dry before any chance of guests returning early for lunch.

Tables need to be set in preparation for lunch, along with the fire which is lit when it is cold, or left till later on warmer sunny days.  Kitchen laundry goes through the machine whenever there is a load but thankfully all the bed linen is collected by a professional service provider and returned all clean and folded.  Just as well when we sometimes have a complete guest change every couple of days. 

No, not finished yet, the ten till two shift covers help with lunches too, any prep that Hawys, the chef, requires, all the washing up that she generates through the morning and then into lunch service.  Up to fifty covers inside, not that we have had more than twenty so far, and another four pub tables out on the terrace that will seat up to eight each.  It’s going to be fun when the big holidays start.  The shift finishes with the last of the lunches, or is passed to the next person, depending on how many people we get in off the street or piste.

Friday, February 05, 2010

lou rider in the snow

snow pile that has been cleared from the terrace in the last few days

Lou Rider with the mountains behind

Chester, the shyest dog in the world, until he gets to know you!!

giant icicles over the terrace 
check out one nights' snowfall on the tables

putting up the new sign

hotel sapiniere under its new blanket of snow

the new sign, courtesy of Joe and me