Adventures in the French Alps

As we flew from Vienna to Lyon, France, I stared out the window at the mountains below us. I could see the ski runs, and I started to get very excited. I was about to return to the French alps for the first time since winter 2005.

We took the train from Lyon to Valence. From Valence we took another slow, winding train that made its way through the Alps. I spent a large part of the train trip speaking with a sweet older lady from Bretagne. She was going to be spending the winter months in Gap, where Provence meets the Southern Alps. She told me all about her life in Bretagne and about her friends in the mountain village. I absolutely loved talking with her and hearing her life story. She was genuinely interested in my story as well, so I got the chance to practise speaking. When she got off at her stop, she gave me a kiss on both cheeks and told me how happy she was to have chatted with me. It made me feel so warm and fuzzy inside. It reminded me how much I love people in France, how friendly people are (really!), how much I enjoy speaking French and how the loveliest travel moments are often the ones you hadn’t planned.

Our hotel in Briançon was conveniently located only a short walk from the train station. The first thing we did, of course, was eat a fabulous raclette at the hotel restaurant. A raclette consists of melted cheese served with charcuterie and potato, with a side of delicious bread. I was in French mountain food heaven. I knew Dad would love it too, since it was all his favourite things in one carb-heavy, perfect-for-ski-weather meal.

The next morning we woke up bright and early for a fun-filled day on the slopes. We walked from our hotel to the Prorel cable car, which was right in the middle of the town. We found a nice rental shop right underneath the cable car, and they let us leave our rented equipment with them overnight. If you are ever looking to go skiing in France and you don’t want the hassle of having to deal with buses, shuttles and rental cars, then Briançon is the place for you!

The cable car dropped us off at the Serre Chevalier resort, a gigantic ski area with 250 km of runs. As a bonus, since we were at the resort in the middle of week and not during school winter holidays, we hardly waited in any lines.

I spent two full days exploring the mountains and getting in as many runs as possible. I mostly stuck to beginner and intermediate runs. I made only one teeny judgment error. I decided that it was time for an adventure, so I took a random cat track. Unfortunately, that particular track turned out to be more of a skating rink than a ski run. After slipping and sliding (and admittedly screaming a bit) down the mountain, I wound up in an unfamiliar village. Luckily, my ski pass covered the cable cars in different areas, including the village I accidentally visited. I stuck to the top half of the resort after that little misadventure!

Dad and I started the first day skiing together, but we separated after a few runs. I had a ski-ski-ski-eat-ski-ski-ski plan for each day on the mountain. Dad’s schedule looked more like ski-beer-ski-eat-ski-beer-ski-relax at the hotel. We did end up meeting for scrumptious lunches at the lodge. Boy do they know how to do food at French ski lodges! I know that’s to be expected, but still…wow.

We spent our last day in Briançon exploring the old city, which was a short hike uphill from our hotel. Briançon is famous for being the highest city in France. The Vauban fortified the city in the 17th century to defend it from the Austrians, and remnants of the walls still exist today. Dad and I wandered through all the narrow streets, and stopped at a crêperie for a delicious lunch. We wanted to explore the wooded paths just outside the city, but they were covered in ice. I should have brought my trusty crampons! I would love to come back to the region one day in the summer to check out the hiking trails (and eat!)

Musings

– The roles were reversed for Dad and me in the France portion of this trip. In Czech Republic, he was my (extremely!) helpful translator. In France, I had to translate for him whenever we encountered people who couldn’t speak English. Things occasionally got a bit awkward. For instance, we went into a restaurant one evening, and I greeted the servers in French. They responded to me, then said something to Dad. His back happened to be turned, so he didn’t react at all. I immediately explained that he didn’t speak any French and thus didn’t realize that they were talking to him. Thankfully, the servers didn’t seem offended.

– On that note, oral translation is super exhausting. I was completely worn out at the end of each day in France, and not just from skiing. I also think that language immersion experiences in general are mentally draining. When I was living in France as a high school student, I would fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. What a cure for insomnia!

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