Sunday, 31 August 2008

Home

Ah well, that's us finished for another year.

We did eventually see the sun at Le Touquet - on the morning of our departure. I had to take a few snaps of it, but poor old Alice wasn't able to play on the beach since we had to travel. Despite staying relatively close to Calais for a couple of days, we were due to sail back from Le Havre, so we drove south once again for a last night in our favourite hotel in Rouen (the Mercure), where we visit two or three times a year in any case. So we left Le Touquet mid morning (packing all the things into the car was a work of art!) and arrived in Rouen in time for lunch.

Normally, we just wing it with the car, but this time, with the bikes and all, I booked ahead to leave it in the hotel's underground garage. A wise move since it was nice and secure and was only a lift-ride from our room. Lunch at Flunch, which we all like (again, it is a shame somewhere like this doesn't exist in the UK), followed by an afternoon at leisure. I think all the travelling (and the rediscovered summer heat!) had got to Alice, since she ducked out and stayed in the hotel watching TV and playing on her mobile, while Jac and I went shopping. Call me a bad parent, but there is something very liberating about leaving kids behind! I just wish it were possible more often.

So there we were in Rouen, and with no spare room in the car we were essentially restricted to window shopping. For me, I restocked on some toiletries. I had intended also to get some Eau de Toilette from Printemps, but was very surprised when the sales assistant, having served the guy in front of me, just walked off and left me standing there. So, I dumped the scent and I too walked off. Not a word to me, very ill-mannered, and I must admit that this has happened to us a couple of times on this holiday. I already mentioned the cafe in Strasbourg, but while we were in the hotel at Le Touquet, I was waiting to speak to the receptionist about something when this old chap sauntered in front of me, and butted in. In that case, I waited until he had finished and then blocked his route. When he was looking disrectly at me I told him (in my best French) that I had been in front of him in the queue, and that he was a very rude man. But it takes a lot of effort and I must admit my French vocabulary is not strong in the area of "polite" insults. But still, I wasn't going to let it spoil the holiday.

Saturday evening in Rouen, and we ended up at a restaurant we've been acouple of times before, called Le Comptoir de la Place, and again we received an excellent meal at a reasonable price. A stroll back to the hotel and an excellent night's sleep. Fun and games, though, this morning, when none of the lights would work. So, we ended up having a shower in the dark and I missed my shave altogether. The original plan was just to spend the morning at leisure in Rouen, then to head somewhere for lunch and to amble along to Le Havre, but the lack of light (plus it was very overcast and in fact was thundering when we left) made us check out soon after breakfast. We tentatively agreen that we'd go to Deauville for lunch, although en route we had an impulse change and instead visited Port Audemer. We had of course passed by many times, but this time we stopped. And this proved a good move, as we found an excellent little restaurant in which to lunch. I had a gallette, my only one of the holiday, and Jacqueline had a meat dish which I'd never seen before. They brought out some raw meat (beef and lamb), and a really hot stone on which to cook it. So, she sat there cooking her own lunch! Smelled lovely, tasted good too according to Jac.

After lunch, cruised up to Le Havre, avoiding the autoroutes, and in fact had time for a last half hour on the beach (albeit the weather was somewhat overcast) before heading for the ferry. We were fortunate and got on really quickly, though the ferry soon filled up and looks absoultely rammed whenever we venture out of the cabin. We've hardly seen Alice since we set sail - she has gone to the kids' zone and when I checked on her was playing happily down there. Jacqueline is dozing on the bed, and I've just been to the shop (where I picked up th eau de toilette I was after, and 5€ cheaper than Printemps. I have a day's grace tomorrow, then its back to the grindstone on Tuesday.

Watch out for some photos when I get around to it.

Friday, 29 August 2008

To the Seaside

From three days' of good weather outside Paris, Wednedsay lunchtime we headed north, this time to the seaside for real at Le Touquet. We stopped here once before, six or seven years ago, as an overnight stop before heading back through the tunnel. This time I decided to have a three-night break. We picked the same hotel, the Novotel, and indeed Jacqueline's birthday present (which she took yesterday) was a pamper day in the Thalassotherapy institute next door. I think she was impressed, although the hotel in general does not seem as nice as it was on our last visit. We went down to the pool on Wednesday evening and the changing rooms were in a disgusting state. Not just dirty, but also looked like they were in disrepair. Paint has been allowed to peel and from te beach, the hotel very much resembles a concrete bunker.

Still, the rooms are quite large and comfortable, and we have a balcony overlooking the beach, so it is good to go to sleep to the sound of the waves. Breakfasts are good and the meal we had on our first evening was passable (though we ate out at the nearby Cote Sud restaurant last night and had a far better dinner).

Alice, of course, loves it. The day we arrived she got to go in the salt water pool, and yesterday she spent about seven hours on the beach, two of which in the sea. She has no feeling for the coldness of the water - I got as far as my calves and was almost frozen! And she loves it. She could happily spend all day, every day, playing on the beach. Jacqueline, of course, had her pamper day yesterday and so I had to look after Alice. But to be honest, apart from the time she was in the sea I was happy to watch her from the room. From there, I could fire up the computer and check out some of the photographs I'd taken (I'd uploaded them but hadn't had time to look at them), and could use the hotel's WiFi to catch up on emails, do a bit of surfing etc. etc. Sad, eh?

In fairness, I did head up to Boulogne yesterday afternoon - I wanted to get my shampoo, shower gel and tea (none of which I can obtain in England, and I'm a fussy bugger!) and took a trip to the Decathlon up there to get a suitcase, of all things. We got a smaller one in Thonon and it was excellent, so I got a larger one today. The plan is to try to pack everything into one bag or another, rather than into the car. Also, our cases are pretty old now, so these will act as replacements. That's my excuse, anyway!

Unfortunately, our luck has run out with the weather. Despite leaving Disneyland in sunshine, we have not seen an ounce of it since arriving on the coast. Nor any blue sky. We've had three days of dull, overcast weather, though thankfully we have been spared any rain. When we look at the weather forecast we can see that we're getting exactly the same weather as we'd be having at home. But still, better to have this dull weather now than to have had it last week (though in fairness the Savoie also looks to be getting good weather this week too!) Still, given the choice of sitting at home with grey skies and sitting on the beach with grey skies, guess where I'd sooner be?

This is our last day now. This afternoon we're going to get the bikes out and cycle into the town centre (the bikes have hardly been used this holiday and have been pretty much a waste of time), I must hit the web again to find a restaurant for this evening, then we must pack ready for one final night in one of our favourite cities, Rouen, on Saturday. Not that we can buy anything however since the car is already bursting!!!

Survivors

Well, we survived Disneyland - just about!

After an event free journey west, we arrived at the Sequoia Lodge around lunchtime. Although we were a little early for the room, it was ready so they let us check in, and essentially it was then just a case of getting our things out of the car, into the room, then heading for the park. As it happens, the secret held. The only suspition Alice had was that she could see we were heading for Paris, yet I'd told her we were going to the sea side. Now, she realised that Paris is nowhere near the sea... But as it happens she didn't suss out exactly where we were until after I'd parked the car, on the way into the hotel, we passed a bus stop with "Disneyland" plastered all over it. But I'd have to say, apart from the initial excitement which was a joy to watch, she was a complete bastard for the rest of the day.

It was very much a case of "I want, I want", and although we were in the park from around one o'clock until gone eight o'clock, there was no let up. As one might expect from mid-August, the place was rammed full of people and even the most trivial ride involved queuing for a while. The "ride" highlight was on some real cars - complete with accelerator and steering wheel - on which Alice took me for a ride. A great idea, basically the further down you push the pedal, the faster you go. Take your foot off the pedal completely, and you stop. The cars were on a kind of monorail so there was a limited amount of movement allowed from the steering wheel. All in all, quite realistic. Alice loved it, despite the 45 minute wait, though as I say she was generally a pain in the ass that day. Lots of walking, then, and not very many rides because of the amount of people. But we got our bearings and also learned that the hotel was actually a lot closer to the park than we originally thought - first time around we'd got the bus, but after that we learned that walking around the lake was just as quick.

Back to the hotel for supper. Alice had been so tiring by then that we'd said that we were going to leave the park the next day - not least she'd told each of us that. we were ruining her holiday. And when I think back to when I was a kid, how a visit to somewhere like this would have been a dream come true. Anyway, by the end of Monday I needed a breakvfrom it all, so at eleven o'clock I went out and took some photographs in the darkness - as one may imagine the place becomes a neon city by night. Had a heart-to-heart with Alice and made her realise that next day, things would have to change. And the scary thing is - they did!

I can hardly remember any bad behaviour for the whole remainder of the visit. And the irony of it is, of course, that Alice herself got a lot more out of it - not just little presents etc., but the fact that Jac and I were happy to take time out to talk to her. I mean, there was still quite a lot of selfishness - she made us go into the Disney Studios just so she could get her face painted, then immediately wanted to go back into the park, despite the fact that I know Jacqueline would have liked to have looked around more. For me, I was a little more realistic and realised that this was really Alice's treat, and it was entirely possible that I might just follow her around for the day. I did try to give Jacqueline some time to do what she wanted to do when I took Alice for a swim in the hotel pool, which was a good break from the park for a couple of hours. But really the park held most of the excitement. The disappointment of not being allowed to go on the Indiana Jones rollercoaster was more than made up for by the thrill of going on the Space Mountain ride (which to me looked every bit as scary) twice!

An excellent day continued with supper at the Rain Forest Cafe - I had been avare that there is one of these near Piccadilly Circus but have never visited - and we had an excellent meal, with cocktails and the works. From there, we had literally twenty minutes back at the hotel room before we went back to the park yet again, this time to see the firework finale. I, of course, was all kitted out with camera, tripod and flask gun, and despite the fact that the place was rammed still I managed to get some excellent shots of the fireworks. I just made sure I had the castle at the right exposure, then left the shutter open for a couple of secnods - and the results were some really spectacular pictures.

Our last day, Wednesday, I needed to get the car packed up and told everyone I wanted to be on the road for lunchtime. We got ourselves sorted and headed over to the park shortly after it had opened, although I think basically we were all too knackered to do much. For me, all I wanted to do was walk along Main Street and look in the shops (I had deliberately told Alice that I wouldn't buy anything until we were just about to leave). In the end, I probably ended up spending a couple of hundred euros on various bits and bobs, presents for grandparents etc.

The verdict? Well, to be honest this kind of place isn't really my scene. But if it were, it isdifficult to imagine anyone doing things better than Disney. In the park in particular, everything was "just so". Shame that there were thousands of other people there. Next time, it might be worth looking at paying extra to get some kind of pass (if they exist, I don't think they do) which allows the queues to be bypassed. The hotel, again, was comfortable enough but the rooms were quite dated. The fact that both days we had to queue for breakfast was a big turn-off and reminded me of a cheap package tour to the Costa del Sol. But, once we were in the restaurant (we had two breakfasts and one evening meal) the food was excellent, even though the buffet format again, is not my style. The hotel was absolutely enormous - six floors with over 100 rooms on each, plus the fact that the rooms contain beds for four made it popular with families - we saw loads of toddlers and pushchairs about the place. Total cost, including two night's bed and breakfast and three days admission to the park (for the three of us) was £561. That sounds like five star prices in probably a two star hotel, although I did learn that a day pass into the park was €30 per adult, so over three days it adds up. Plus, everywhere else we've stayed has charged around €12 per person for breakfast, so that too adds up.

I guess the big question is, "would I do it again?". Well, certainly not in August, I'd pick a quieter time. And certainly not until Alice is of an age where I could safely say to her in the morning "Here's your pass and I'll see you tonight". And I'd maybe look to stay in a different hotel. But all these things aside.........its possible!

Monday, 25 August 2008

No Let Up

Well, since Friday morning we've kept up our somewhat pacey holiday - or maybe it just feels as though its all going too fast?

We started off Friday by basically asking ourselves if there was anything we really wanted to do before we left, and Jacqueline had mentioned a couple of times a gorge we'd passed several times during the week, the Gorge du Pont de Diable just a short way up the Val d'Aulps. Being the intrepid photographer that I am I failed to realise that a gorge might well be quite a dark place, and so left behind the wonderful new flash I'd bought just a month before coming on holiday - it would have been ideal. I haven't looked yet at any of the photos, but I seriously doubt that any are publishable - I didn't take the tripod either so anything that was taken was a case of me dicking around with as many settings as possible to try to get a shot that was both in focus and exposed.

Still, we don't live for photography, do we?

Friday continued with a trip up to Evian, and from there the ferry across the lake to Lausanne. Very grey and showery across the lake, and we arrived in complete ignorance of the place. Consequently we walked up from the port, must have been the best part of half an hour in the rain, until we got to the shopping streets. A spot of lunch at an excellent Salon de The, and even Alice was in fine fettle. A couple of hours walking around the quite pleasant Lausanne - we had sunshine by this point, and it was warm enough for a Slushie later on - and it was time to head back. This time we took the bus (yeah, I know, we walked up the hill and bussed back down it, that's how daft we are!). Across the lake the weather closed in once again and we ended up getting back to the chalet in heavy rain.

Of course, there was more to do once we'd got back because we were leaving the next day. Pack, pack, pack. But everything went well - apart from the hot water cutting out - and I was able just to get up on Saturday and lift the cases into the car. Apart from the enforced cold shower (brrrrr!), very stress free.

Drove north up through Switzerland, again in heavy rain and almost as heavy traffic, and crossed back into France at Basel - we were about to embark on our first visit to Alsace.

Stopped at Colmar in time for a late lunch - it was gone 2 o'clock and I'd promised Alice a MacDonalds, although I have to say the burger I had was pretty awful. Still, mooching around Colmar put us all in a good mood, what a beautiful town. And, of course, Saturday means shopping and so both women of the family were happy. (Alice these days makes bee-lines for places like Sephora.)

After Colmar we had just a short drive to the hotel, which I had just picked out of the Michelin Guide. And what a result! The hotel itself was nothing special, but it was in the beautiful wine village of Riquewihr, truly charming. Even better, when I discovered that the hotel
had no restaurant, and asked the receptionist for her recommendation, we ended up eating at the sumptuous Grappe d'Or, for a truly superb meal. Very memorable.

A good (alcohol-aided) night's sleep and I was up early the next morning at seven, leaving the family fast asleep and exploring Riquewihr in the sunshine armed only with a camera. Being out that early has two advantages: first, the sun isn't up properly yet so there are normally a fair amount of shadows; even moreso there are hardly any bloody people about! I think I got some good shots, though as yet they're still on the card so I'll have to check when I get to upload them.

Back to the hotel for breakfast, then a further exploration "en famille". By now all the (tourist) shops were open, and the place was becoming crowded, but of course I didn't care since I'd already done my snapping. All in all, then, a wonderful day in Colmar and Riquewihr, we have already decided that the area warrants a week's visit at some point.

Further north, up to Strasbourg, on Sunday afternoon. Again, a great time, although Strasbourg is of course a large city, and although the architecture was wonderful it hasn't managed to retain the charm of some of the smaller towns. For example, we sat at a restaurant for about fifteen minutes, waiters bustling all around us, without being offered even a menu! (We walked, but presumably some other tourist would have been along five minutes later to take our place.) When we finally did sit down for a meal, I ended up waiting fifteen minutes between asking for and receiving the bill. I almost walked then too, but of course I would then have been in the wrong. Compare this with the excellent service the night before...

So there we were, yesterday evening, heading west along the A4. We stopped just outside Saint Avold, and again I know very little of the place other than its location as an ideal stopover. This time, however, there will be no exploring, since we want to continue our travel toward Paris, for the biggest surprise for Alice on this holiday - a couple of days at Disneyland Paris. And right now, she hasn't a clue!

Friday, 22 August 2008

Further Adventures

Well, as I alluded to in the previous entry, I was feeling under the weather earlier on in the week and now have, of all things, a stinking cold.

Wednesday, we took a pause to catch our breath. For me, this meant getting up quite early, having a spot of breakfast, then going back to bed! As it was, I didn't get up again until one o'clock and we didn't get out until two! But hey, I'm on holiday! When we finally did get out, we headed over to Geneva. What should have been quite a short journey turned into a marathon, with detour after detour. (In fact, there have been lots of them this week especially down the Val d'Aulps, though presumably the summer is the only practical time to work on the roads. A pain nevertheless.

Anyway, lots of traffic in Geneva, a real pain getting parked, but I did eventually park quite close to the city centre, and we had a nice mooch around the shops. I'd forgotten what an appealing city Geneva is! The last time I was there I just needed to get away, and booked something without looking twice, ending up in a hotel slap bang in the middle of the red-light district. This time, we kept to the shopping routes! Alice found a large toy shop. Not quite Hamleys but good nevertheless. Of course, I had to buy her something...

No trip to Geneva would be complete without checking out the Jet d'Eau, and we ended up having a lovely stroll in the park alongside the lake. Some very good photographs, even moreso since the forecast grey weather actually turned out sunny. Apart from the storm Tuesday evening, we have been really lucky with the weather.

This luck continued again yesterday, with brilliant blue skies once more. One thing I have been following quite closely this week has been the weather, since being up in the mountains it is obviously best to keep the good weather for the outdoor things. From the start of the week, Thursday had been forecast as one of the best day, and I had a full plan for the day. I gee-ed everyone up and we were out of the house for ten o'clock for the short journey across to the next valley. Destination was a télésiege I'd seen on the map named Mossettes, which went up to the 2277m peak, the Pointe des Mossettes, just over the Swiss border. From there, there should be some excellent views on a fine day. And so we headed over that way, along the valley then up, once again, past the Lac de Montriond and the Cascade d'Ardent.

We eventually arrived at a charming Alpine village called Les Lindarets, which had stunning views. Clearly, someone had taken a decision there to generate income by tourism, and the main attraction was a herd of goats roaming the village. Of course, these were a big attraction and the place was rammed full of tourists. Indeed, of about six shops, four must have been souvenir shops (selling, amongst other things, goat food!) and the other two restaurants. But a beautiful setting and great for kids, we had to stop and let Alice feed them. Some good photos.

Still, onward and upward - only another two minutes in this case, to a car park at the foot of the walk to Les Broschaux, the start of the ski lift. Yes, very inconvenient, we had to walk! Still, it had become a beautiful, warm day , and the half-hour walk should have been no problem at all, especially given our stunning surroundings. I'm not sure we'd even got out of the car park before the whining started, "How much is two kilometers?" I wouldn't mind, but from halfway there it was even possible to see Les Brochaux and the ski lift, so that should have spurred her on. As it was, however, she simply gave up. Bad parents that we are, we were damned if she was going to spoil our day, so we gave her the car keys and headed on.

And boy, was it worth it! The ride up to the top was listed as 8 minutes' duration but it felt longer, further and higher! Eventually I sttod on the summit, a singleton by now (Jacqueline gets scared unless she's actually inside a cabin, so sitting on an open seat was just that bit too much! In any case, there was lots to see at Les Brochaux, and a café to keep her occupied.) So there I was at the summit, with mountains in all directions. Mont Blanc was clearly visible in the distance, unbelievable from here that it could be more than 2½km higher than us. Also clearly visible, les Dents du Midi and les Dents Blanches (which weren't very blanches!). (I must have mentioned the GPS gizmo I got for my camera - this even has an electronic compass to show your heading. That would have made identifying the different peaks very straightforward. But unfortunately my camera does not support this, only the current position, so I'm going to have to try to remember the relative positions of the peaks, and look them up when I get home. Even then, the high-detail map I have of the area is the French IGN map, and stops abruptly at the Swiss border. So, I can feel a trip to Stanfords coming on!).

Anyway, I won't talk any more about boring old mountain tops, but will publish some photos and let them speak for themselves.

Back to Les Brochaux, where Jacqueline was waiting for me in the café complete with a cold bottle of Evian (what else?). I stroll back to the car (much shorted when going downhill!) to see the enfant terrible. She'd obviously had the opportunity to calm down a little bit and was in quite a good humour by the time we got back. Best of all, because we'd left so early it was still only about a quarter-to-two. Because we were in the vicinity, we headed over to Avoriaz. By the time we got there we were unfortunately too late for lunch, so ended up having a sandwich from the supermarket while we stopped to take the place in. Avoriaz is basically a custom-built resort and was very quiet (although totally open) in the summer. I'm sure it comes into its own in the winter, but this "manufactured" feel was not for us. We left after barely a couple of hours.

Back down the winding pass into Morzine, it must be said that Avoriaz looks far better when viewed from afar, perched on the cliff-top, than it does close up. Because we'd left there sooner than I thought, I let Jacqueline drive us back to the Lac de Montriond for a crepe and and ice cream. We stopped at the same café as the other day, though of course then it was becoming stormy, and now it was bright sunshine. The lake was full of kayaks, even the odd (brave!) swimmer. During our gouter, we hatched a plan to head down into Thonon for a trip to Decathlon.

Despite its small size, Decathlon kept us occupied for a good hour, and I ended up spending €180 (which makes something like €400 in Decathlons so far, although we visited the Decathlon in Dijon with a stated aim of buying Alice some new clothes. My Fidelity Card will be going into overdrive!) Yesterday, the main spends were some luggage (a replacement for an old and battered bag), some walking shoes for Alice, and some North Face walking trousers for me. The strangest purchase was a present for Alice, who for some reason had decided it would be a good idea to own some goggles, snorkle and flippers! So, having explained that €27 was a lot of money, and that this would probably be her main present of the holiday.... (all to no avail - she wasn't going to budge).

Hopefully she'll make use of them next week at the seaside, though if I remember Le Touquet rightly she'll have a right old hike before she can even get them wet!

Ah well, our last day today, and we're going to head down to the lake and maybe take a boat trip. I'd better get in the shower - taking care not to damage Alice's diving equipment on the way in, if course!!!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Chalk and Cheese

After yesterday's perfect weather today started a little cloudy, but no matter. We'd resolved to have a lazy day and consequently didn't leave the chalet until after 12, heading via the Col du Corbier to Morzine. When choosing a holiday in this area, I was actually prodded toward the Val d'Abondance over the Val d'Aulps, because it was more unspoilt.

Turns out this was perfectly true. Morzine was nice enough, but definitely had a more of a "resort" feeling than our valley. Plus, there was lots of English being spoken, which is generally a bit of a turn-off for me. Anyway, a mooch around the shops and a quick pizza for lunch, and we decided that since we were in the area, we'd press on to Les Gets. Les Gets was far more charming, and by the looks of things far more to do - very geared toward kids, they had some ski lifts open and the facility for kids to climb to the top of a hill and either come down on their bike, or in a go-cart. For her part, Alice wanted to try a bungee jump, where she was harnessed in while standing on the ground, and catapulted some thirty or forty feet into the air. She seemed to enjoy it - she's been on similar things in England but never quite so tall.

By this time I was quite tired - still feeling under the weather - so we commenced the journey home. I took a short detour to the Lac de Montriond and the Cascade d'Ardent (waterfall). We stopped for a quick Orangina, but by now the weather had started to close in and it was getting quite dark.

Indeed, not long after getting into the car the heavens opened, and at one stage we were driving back through cloud. Still, good old Jacqueline took the wheel and got us back safely. So, right now we're in this beautifully warm chalet with thunder and lightning outside, listening to rain pattering onto the roof.

The forecast is for the same weather tomorrow, if so I might not bother getting up!

Mountains!

Well, we've had a busy couple of days.

Sunday, the weather didn't start off too brilliantly, but wasn't too bad. Alice kept on mentioning about going up on a chairlift, so that partially brought about a decision to just head down the valley to Chatel. From there, we headed up the Super Chatel, then the Morclan ski lifts, to the summit (1970m) of le Morclan. The first of these lifts was an actual "télécabine", so Jacqueline felt safe, however the second was simply a chairlift (télésiege), and that proved too much for her, so Jacqueline stopped halfway.

Just after we reached the summit I must admit I myself was left wondering whether this was such a good idea, since we got caught in a shower (which at our altitude came down as hail stones). However, five minutes passed, and so did the shower, and then we were filled with sunshine. So, some wonderful views, not least back along the Val d'Abondance, although the higher peaks around us all had intermittent cloud.

Back down in the valley, we took a wander through Chatel, which was a charming little village, obviously centred on skiing but busy in the summer with tourists nevertheless. Very picturesque.

Still in grey weather, we decided that the rest of our exploring might be safest done by car, and so we headed on into Switzerland, then took the motorway back up to Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). During the journey, the weather improved a lot and by the time we drove into Évian we were in bright sunshine. Took a stroll through Évian (us and a million other tourists), which was a beautiful, almost seaside resort. Took in our first ice creams of the holiday, and a walk along the lakeside. Alice didn't behave very well, which spoilt things a little, but Jacqueline and I just ended up strolling on, leaving Alice to follow at what she considered to be a safe distance.

Out of Évian, the evening weather was still sufficiently bright that I suggested taking the scenic route home, and so we headed for the village of Bernex and saw some wonderful views of the nearby Mont Cesar and the Dent d'Oche, in almost clear blue sky. Even Jacqueline was into this, though Alice decided to wait in the car. Upon arriving back at the car we were about to head back to the chalet when I mentioned to Jacqueline that it was possible to drive on and get an even better view of the Dent d'Oche, and so she suggested doing so. And so a further fifteen minutes along a windy mountain road brought us to le Pré Richard. Clearly this was a ski area, with many (non-operational) lifts, but one of the things that was operational in the summer was the café. So, there we were, at 6:30 on a sunny summer evening, enjoying a beer and staring at the beautiful Dent d'Oche.

The weather was so good in the evening that the omens looked good for the next day, and this was backed up by the weather forecast (I've been paying quite close attention to the forecast to try and pick out the best days for sightseeing, since we're forecast rain for some of the days we are here). So I announced that I wanted to be out of the house early so we could head over to Switzerland for the day.

So there we were on Monday morning, out of the chalet at an unbelievable 10 o'clock, heading over to the resort of Zermatt in perfect sunshine. Although we didn't arrive until lunchtime, all soon agreed that the effort was worth it as we found a beautiful town (much expanded since I was last there, and even now blotted with several large cranes). After a bit of a dodgy lunch (I didn't felt right for the rest of the day afterwards) we headed up more ski lifts, this time to take us to the Schwarzsee for stunning views of the Matterhorn and the surrounding peaks. Words cannot begin to describe the feelings of awe, power and purity up there. Just as well I took so many photographs then! The only downside of being up there was this ignorant waitress bellowing at me in German as I tried to order some drinks in both French and English. But I got there in the end, this helpful woman even pointing out to me what I should have asked for (heissige wasser!).

Back down into the town for a further stroll, back to the station. Because Zermatt is car-less, one can only travel as far as the next town in the valley, Täsch. So, we needed to take the train back to the car park, then on home. Each was was almost a three hour journey, so all in all it was quite a long day - about 11 hours in total, though fortunately Jacqueline drove us back. Atfer we returned, I just about had the energy to upload the day's photographs, then I was all in.

We're still not decided what we'll do today, though one thing is for sure we will take things a little easier.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

About Time

I think I start every holiday blog with the words "Its that time of year again". Well, not today.

We are very late this year by our own standards, something borne mainly from the fact that we thought Alice would be changing schools last year, so we wanted to ensure that we didn't take our holiday during term time.
But still, we're here now. And where is here? Well, we took the ferry from Portsmouth Thursday night, and Friday drove south for five hours for an overnight stop near Beaune (at the charming Chateau de Challanges). Onward on Saturday, cutting south east, past Geneva, and ultimately arriving at a chalet in the charming village of Vacheresse, in the Val d'Abondance. So, we're still in France, just like every other year, but in a part we've never visited before in the Haute Savoie, close to the Swiss border.

I actually booked the chalet back in January, so have had plenty of time to prepare. In all that time, though, I could find precious little written about Vacheresse, and our gite in particular. I mean, with most places nowadays, you get an address and you look it up on Google maps, and within seconds you're sorted. The only thing with Vacheresse is that there are no street names, so all we really knew was that the gite was called "Les Pierre a Julien". In actual fact, I got some directions from the Gites de France people, and further directions from the owners, plus after all that the chalet was quite easy to find, so all told no great hassle. But for someone like me, who loves pouring over maps, it would have been nice to know exactly where we'd be. But still, here we are in the end perched on the mountainside to the north of Vacheresse, with outstanding views over the village. According to the GPS on my phone, we're at 46.3284N, 6.6829E, at an altitude of 1048m. So if anyone on the interweb ever books this chalet, there you go!

Still quite tired after the travelling, but at least we've now had two good night's sleep. As I said, the Chateau de Challenges was absolutely delightful. Very peaceful and tranquil, and only five minutes from both the centre of Beaune and the autoroute. The only downsides were firstly being so close to the autoroute we could hear it from the garden (though not from the room), and the hotel had no restaurant. Although only a few minutes from Beaune, it would have been nice just to eat and crash.

The gite is absolutely wonderful, clearly has been renovated quite recently All wood, so quite creaky! But very comfortable and with the most amazing views across the valley. There are lots of photographs of mountains, which the owner said he took himself. I forgot to ask if he was a professional, though he certainly might have been. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll have some decent photographs of my own, although if the weather so far today is anything to go by...

Note quite sure what to get up to today. As I said, the weather isn't brilliant so far, so we might end up just going down the valley for a drive. But first, its a shower and then breakfast.

Monday, 4 August 2008

A game of two halves...

The weekend just gone represented all the highs and lows of parenthood.

Saturday was Alice's birthday, and despite the initial indications ("Are those all the presents I've got?") she did actually seem quite grateful. Her Grandma once again spent silly amounts of money on her, but the highlight seemed to be the fact that I had bought her a SIM card for the cast-off mobile phone I'd let her have a couple of weeks ago. She has no use whatsoever for a mobile phone, but there you go. Its all about status. (As it happens this particular present came very cheaply, costing only a couple of pounds for the card, and ten pounds credit. Just goes to show you don't need to spend a fortune.)

So, all was going well. We got out early to Waitrose, had a spot of breakfast, chose a birthday cake, the normal Saturday stuff.

The fun came later in the day, when just as we were settling down to slice the cake, I went out into the garden and saw a load of my tools lying there on the lawn, and next to them a hole. My eyes strayed a little further, only to discover the Ping 7 iron which had been removed from the golf bag. Now, you have to remember that this isn't the first time my tools have been taken out of the toolbox and left outside to rust, nor is it the first time that my lawn has been dug up. So to say I was pissed off was an understatement. I went totally ballistic, so much so that (I learned later) Alice ran off and hid up a tree until I'd calmed down. Needless to say, the party was over.

So that was the low point, and to be honest it is my greatest issue with Alice at the moment. We tell her again and again that she cannot just help herself to peoples' things. But not only does she ignore us, she also treats them without any respect. Again and again, and again and again it just seems to bounce off.
Anyway, suffice it to say that after a little gardening therapy (Alice sensibly staying away when I had the hedge trimmer out!) I had calmed down sufficiently to have a proper talk with her and to explain, yet again, that her behaviour was not acceptable.

Believe it or not, the rest of the day passed without incident. I had a real go at the front garden, cutting back loads, but there is still so much more to do. Alice was by now playing with next door's kids, and I enlisted all of them to help clear up the cuttings. I have to say, next door's little girl worked ever so well, I made sure she got lots of praise for it.

So that was that. A turbulent Saturday in preparation for a busy Sunday.

Sunday was all set for Alice's birthday treat, going up to London to see the High School Musical stage show. Every forty-year-old's idea of heaven! After Saturday's performance I was minded to call the whole thing off, but unfortunately Alice had invited a friend to come along, so we couldn't just cancel at the last minute.

I will say at this point that when I meet Alice's friends, I'm generally highly impressed by their behaviour and manners. A couple of years ago we took four of them to Paultons for the day, and it was an absolute pleasure - lovely girls. My only regret is that I wish some of it would rub off on Alice.

Yesterday, however, I was reminded that perhaps my demonic daughter wasn't quite so bad after all.

Yesterday's trip involved a neighbour rather than a school friend, and from relatively early on it became clear that this could well develop into quite a draining day. We had a picnic lunch on the train, but this girl refused any of the sandwiches we'd brought (we'd checked ahead to ensure that we used fillings that she liked) and showed interest only in eating some cheese and onion crisps (which I had to buy specially for her because she didn't like the crisps we'd brought along) and a creme caramel (even this was "too sweet", though I noted that it did get eaten). Also on the train up, she picked up my book (which was actually an extremely interesting collection of autobiographies by former African-American slaves), and told me she'd read it already and it wasn't very good. And that was to be the blueprint for the day. And it soon became clear that everything you'd done, she'd done it more, and better. And all in nine short years! Of course, Jacqueline and I soon picked up on the fact that this girl was no more than an habitual liar, but she had Alice well and truly hooked with her stories about how she'd been in a stretch limo four or five times etc. etc.

Anyway, we arrived in plenty of time so walked up from Waterloo to Piccadilly Circus, then took a somewhat less pleasant tube journey (far too hot!) over to the Hammersmith Apollo for the matinee. As to the show itself, clearly the subject matter wasn't my cup of tea, but every time we go to a west end show I am always impressed by the high standards of production, and this was no exception. And there is certainly a spark with a live performance that you just don't get from DVDs. In this show it was particularly good to see some young actors/dancers for whom this was their first professional gig, doing so well.

Alice was in raptures by the end - she had after all been looking forward to this for a while. Unfortunately her friend summed up her feelings all too clearly - when I asked her if she had enjoyed the performance she didn't even answer me, just shrugged her shoulders. Certainly I will not forget the ingratitude of that shrug. All I can say is that I hope Alice gives a better account of herself when people take her out for a treat.

Back onto home territory, coming central once again to have supper at Bodeans on Poland Street. We never fail to have a good meal there, and last night was no exception although Alice in particular was tiring. As we were eating, the heavens opened and so when we came out it was the perfect excuse to jump into a taxi back to the station. During the taxi journey this girl again managed to come out with something offensive, this time to Jacqueline, and by now of course we had thoroughly had enough of this spoilt little girl.

After a long and tiresome day we finally jumped onto the 8:15pm train to be back in Salisbury for ten o'clock.

Even ten minutes from home, this girl felt the need to call her dad and tell him to go and wait outside her house for her. Cheeky bugger! And, when we got to their house and he wasn't outside, when she finally saw him she said to him, "Lazy Daddy". And of course it should go without saying that although Dad (who in fairness seemed quite a nice guy) thanked us for the day, child said nothing. Truly, this girl was utterly charmless.
Maybe the grass is not always greener after all...