Sunday, August 23, 2009

Driving to Megève from Zurich (June 2005)

After leaving the airport, we traveled from Zurich, through Bern, Geneva and toward the French Alps, taking narrow switchback roads with steep drop-offs, a white knuckle drive for sure.

It was summertime (mid-June) in the alps and wild flowers created pallets of pastel color against the light green spring grasses and the sky was crystal blue with large white cottony clouds gently sweeping across the top of the alps. Because our home rests in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we don't see jets soaring high above us; they merely land and take off in close proximity. We were taken by the myriad of jet contrails crisscrossing the sky, leaving patterns of thin white lines that thickened then slowly faded. There's also something about the light in France that one cannot express but which has an effect that soothes one's soul.

Prior to this trip, I had only just begun learning the French language and was at the University of Hawaii 102 level, which means I was in the beginning stages of French grammar (equivalent to a two-year-old learning to speak, or as the French say: je parle comme en enfant). I thought I could at least "get by" until we found one of the exits we were to take was closed for reconstruction, we were lost.

Not knowing what to do, we simply drove on in search of a miracle or a place to stop and use our best sign language to figure out how to get back on track. As luck would have it, we found a police station and saw a couple of handsomely uniformed gendarmes walking side-by-side so we flagged them down (our first hand-signal communication).

Like Julia Child we proudly spat out our bonjours and promptly felt that dreaded locked jaw sensation as we both failed miserably to either muster up sign or some French to communicate the magnitude of our dilemma.

I slowly began to gather my wits as I heard the most beautiful fluent German emanating from the mouth of my beloved husband. I turned to look at him in utter confusion (I don't understand a lick of German). To further baffle my senses, I turned my head quickly to my right where the gentlemen were standing at my window and realized that one of them was responding in equally fluent German! Incredibly we were Americans in France getting directions from Frenchmen in German. And I thought English was the universal language! We were soon on our way on an unmapped winding road, but pointed in the right direction.

Nothing was more spectacular on this trip than coming around a corner and suddenly being face-to-face with the majestic Mont Blanc, which loomed high above the ski village of Chamonix. We determined at that point that during our stay in Megève we would most definitely explore the area. More later.

We arrived late afternoon in Megève and easily found our exchange. It was a charming Swiss-Alpine-motif structure containing small cabin-like dwellings with a tiny (only one at a time, please) bathroom, kitchenette, terrace with a view of the alps and a futon the size of a 3/4 bed. Manageable, but nothing at all in the range of our five-star gold crown exchange on Big Island.

As we unfurled our weary bodies from the compact car (almost all French drive small cars to avoid the high cost of fuel--which was about $5.50 a gallon then), the early summer air swept over us carrying waves of fresh pine and wild flowers with a slight cool crispness at its edge.

After we checked in and lugged all our heavy suitcases up to the third floor, we found our small terrace to be a wonderful place to settle and sip the Bordeaux wine we purchased along the Autoroute. Little did we realize then that we were re-enacting a typical French aperitif hour, only absent the host of friends and family that gather for lively conversation. We enjoyed the excellent French wine along with our first taste of sheep and goat cheeses and artisan breads. The cheese came in dusty little white rounds or wrapped in a dark oily cloth, firm on the outside but creamy, nutty and pungent on the inside and the bread had a sweet aroma with a thin crispy crust and a pillowy soft dense inside. Both taste and texture instantly imprinted in our minds. Our love affair with France intensified.

Stunning View of Chamonix and Mt. Blanc on the way to Megève

Megève Ski Resort Exchange Chalet

Switchback Narrow Winding Road from Geneva to Chamonix and Megève

Next post: More of Megève and other Alpine Villages.

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