Monday, August 24, 2009

Megève in the French Alps (June 2005)

It only took us two days to figure out that to be French means to eat a light breakfast and walk a lot. We've discovered the reason the French are so slender. A delicious yogurt (why can they make it so tasty in the U.S.?), a bit of baguette with jam and coffee with cream was all we needed. We couldn't find orange juice, or we would have had a bit. We'll look for some as we venture away from Megève.

After breakfast we looked at our maps again and decided that driving to Chamonix would not only be an attractive start to our day but it might lead us to a more populated area. Chamonix is located in the Rhone-Alps region of France and we learned that it became a popular ski area after the 1924 Winter Olympics were held there. It is also located very near to Switzerland and Italy, with visitors from those countries flooding in during ski season. In fact, there's even a tunnel nearby for Italians to easily travel during winter months.

Optimistic, we boarded our compact and set out. The morning was nearly cloudless with warm sunshine. We quickly shed our jackets and settled in on our adventure.

We knew that Chamonix sat beneath the 4810 meter peak of Mont Blanc, but nothing prepared us for that final turn around a mountain, suddenly confronted with full view of Mont Blanc on a clear day. While the picture below shows some haze, the alp had a looming presence, taking us by surprise, since we'd only seen it shrouded in clouds. We knew we'd be in for a treat this day and we were not disappointed.

The Chamonix Valley is narrow and filled with residential and multi-family dwellings as well as hotels, stores and restaurants. Parking was difficult and people were roaming all over the place. The size of the ski resort was incredible and we could immediately realize why our small village was empty. This particular resort kept lifts open all year to accommodate hang gliders, kiters, mountain climbers and hikers. Everything was abuzz with activity. All the restaurants were opened and there was a huge gushing snow-melt waterfall thundering right through the middle of the village through a canal covered here and there by foot bridges. The water was icy pale blue and freezing cold; I could feel the coldness rise over my exposed skin as I stood next to the canal. Also, in the middle of the village, perched upon a large boulder is a bronze statue of two soldiers looking out toward the mountain. There is much to see and appreciate in this lively electrically-charged village.

We found an internet café (Megève had nothing to offer us--a new lesson in checking outWIFI/Internet availability before we exchange) and Doug spent a long time uploading photographs of our trip and posting them to our travel blog. We then had a delicious café espress (this is what the French commonly call espresso) and began our walk around the village. We found the shop owners and restaurant patrons to be talkative and welcoming, many curious about where we came from and always amazed that we traveled so far. It's true, Hawaii is the furthest body of land from any other land mass in the world. You know it, too, when you live here and always have yet another five hours to travel into the middle of the Pacific Ocean following a nice vacation! When we arrive in LA or San Francisco, we often ponder the fact that if we lived in either place we wouldn't have yet another five hour flight over the Pacific before we can rest our heads on our own pillows. Ha!

We observed the fact that the French not only loved dogs, but took excellent care of them, too. The lucky black pup in the photograph below got a short break from walking, a nice drink of water, his paws dipped to soothe them and some love from his owner before he commenced his stroll. We liked that a lot and obviously so did the young pregnant woman who is walking by and smiling at the scene.

Lunch at a sidewalk café was most enjoyable. We ordered a sandwich of jambon (ham) and fromage (cheese) on a freshly baked pillowy soft but slightly crusty artisan baguette that had been generously smeared with sweet unsalted butter. The French really know how to make ham and it doesn't have the familiar rainbow color of preservatives like in the U.S., either. We had what is called Paris ham and it's a delicious lean ham, never too salty. The cheese was a nutty dry cheese that tasted a lot like gruyère. We munched on these tasty morsel while Doug drank a cold beer and I had a glass of vin rouge (it was a nice full-bodied red house wine and only three euros for a half carafé.) We watched the dare devils soaring high above us, dipping and diving in the air currents. They resembled colorful birds. Neither of us are height fans, so for us it was a goose pimply observation. Even though we could have ridden the tram all the way up to the top of Mont Blanc, we decided that we didn't have what it takes to be so brave, instead opting to walk back to the car and explore a bit more before heading back home.

We drove around the countryside a bit and enjoyed the pleasant weather and some of the smaller villages that dotted the Rhone-Alps (also known as the Haute-Savoie). We stopped at a outdoor market as it was starting to pack up for the day and we quickly bought some more fresh pungent cheese (the sharp odor grows on you after a bit and seems more like a perfume than odor) and the most delicious olives, artisan breads and an excellent creamy paté of duck and truffles. That evening we enjoyed our own aperitif time on our small terrace. By the time we finished our bounty of delights we were too full for a meal, so I made a salad instead and we enjoyed a nice Burgundy (a wine very similar to the Pinot Noir of U.S. winemakers). Since burgundy is one of the primo wines of the eastern French wine regions, you might wish to learn a bit about it. I knew that in our future treks I'd most certainly be visiting the artisans who make the paté. I'd never tasted anything so delicious; buttery with a hint of garlic and truffle. Yum!

Before bed we took another village stroll and then called it a night. A rough one. Still couldn't adjust to the limited bed space. I guess I should confess that our American bed is a California King and it can accommodate a small army in comparison to this tiny futon. Ugh!

We were completely energized by an entire day of enjoying a new cultural high and before turning off the lights decided that the next day Annecy, a beautiful lake community in the haute country, would be our destination of choice.

Our third day had turned out to be more of the same: new discoveries and another notch in our love of all things French belt. We were finding the people to be warm and friendly, and marveled at how they all wanted to speak English. They seemed to really like Americans. We really liked the fact that you walk into a shop and greet the owner or clerk and they recognize you in return.

Nice photographs of the French Alps follow. What a beautiful place.

Hazy Day in l'Alpes

Yes! People, Culture, Activity! (Chamonix)

Cultural Note: The French Have a Love Affair With Their Pooches

Chamonix During Summer Months

A French Breakfast Before We're Off to Chamonix

Next post: Annecy

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