Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vive la France

Today's happy thoughts are brought to you by my photos from France, where everything was beautiful and coated in wine and cheese.

The day I landed, two weeks ago now, Ms. Hartz generously picked me up at the Geneva airport and whisked me back to Annecy for a breakfast of crepes with Beth and Goof. We then strolled the Tuesday market for some delicious things for the dinner we planned to cook that night. Primarily cheese.
Hartzy drove us to the top of the mountains that ring Annecy, where we snowshoed our way through a winter wonderland.
Back in town we hit a wine bar for some vin and a snack, then picked up a few things at the Monoprix. Let me tell you something about French grocery stores: they are a yogurt goldmine. Aisles upon aisles of yogurt, and they don't skimp on the packaged pudding either. I got giddy and bought over a dozen lovely pudding cups that put Jello's to SHAME. As an aside, Annecy is drop dead gorgeous.
We made dinner at Hartzy's apartment - a lovely traditional tartiflette, basically potatoes and bacon with melted cheese. I also roasted cabbage, because I have a problem. We did blind tastings of the wines we had picked out at the Monoprix, scoring each one on a spreadsheet because we are nerds. A Bordeaux won. Actually, we won, because then we got to eat all the puddings.
Our first ski adventure was the next day at Les Houches, a mountain that is pronounced completely differently than I would have expected (laze hoosh). French, I give up on you. I spent most of the day being absolutely terrified at how fast I was going, except for on a few kiddie slopes that proved a delight. We ate lunch in a restaurant on the side of the mountain, warming up our snow-frozen bodies with the ever-present vin chaud (hot wine). Given how much glog I have made and ingested over the past few months, I took to vin chaud like a fish to water, or an alcoholic fish to vodka.

For dinner, back in Annecy, we ate all the meats.
The next day Hartz and I went for a run along Lake Annecy, which has a waterslide for summer fun. Given my passionate love of waterslides, I now know I'll be back to visit in the summer.
Beth, Goof and I hopped a bus to Lyon for the afternoon, determined to have dinner at a bouchon, which is apparently a special Lyon restaurant thing that, like a leprechaun in Ireland, is also very hard to track down. Luckily Lyon is absolutely charming, and wandering its streets was no chore at all. It's like a small Paris, but one where everyone is 20 and is discussing what I assume to be esoteric philosophy while drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. My kind of town. Dinner was a stunning steak tartare, which may be my favorite food. I don't know if that makes me highbrow or a caveman. I was apparently too busy being charmed in Lyon to take any pictures. Here's a Google image search in case you're just dying to know what it looks like.

The next day we headed to the Italian side of Mont Blanc for a day of skiing at Courmayeur. Gorgeous gorgeous. And Italian, oh Italian! I can understand Italian! I can almost communicate in Italian! After a few days of humiliating myself with my 10 poorly-pronounced words of French, Italian was a delight. As Hartz proved when we were in Rome last year, you can basically just speak Spanish with a slightly offensive Italian accent and get your point across. Also, we drank beer on the side of a mountain. There was pizza. I was so happy.
There were also some very scary runs at the top of the mountain, which I not only survived but REVELED in. The others did some off piste work, but I stayed firmly on the groomed runs and came upon a bunch of Scots in costume. After calling it a day, we had a wonderful dinner in the town of Courmayeur, where I once again ordered steak tartare. Because I have a cabbage-level addiction to it, apparently.
We spent the night back in France, in Chamonix (I should note that pretty much every time we got in Hartz's car I fell asleep on Beth's lap in the backseat - thanks Bethy!), and in the morning I drove the three crazies to the base of the Aguille, which would whisk them to the top of Mont Blanc for a death-defying off piste descent to the bottom. Then I went back to the hotel, took a long shower, and ate an almond croissant in bed. Score one for lazy!
Later that morning I also ventured up the Aguille, and found myself deposited 15,000 feet atop Mont Blanc, almost at the summit. I was wearing a normal outfit that would be sufficiently warm in town, but was not nearly up to the challenge of the alpine environment. I actually thought I might die, panting from the altitude and cold, surrounded by tourists in all their layers of down, clutching my camera and asking for a vin chaud. Spoiler alert: I didn't die, but I also did not feel my feet for several hours, and I did simultaneously buy all the hot beverages the cafe (a cafe! at 15,000 feet!) had to offer. The view was stunning.
Back in town I treated myself to a nice lunch (onion soup, no steak tartare quite yet), then met up with the crazies when they skied back to civilization. They managed to avoid all possible crevasses, ledges, rocks, trees and avalanches. Phew. They had also built up a big appetite, which I developed in sympathy because I'm a good friend, and so we headed back to Annecy for a nice raclette dinner.

Raclette, my friends, is insane. First you walk into the restaurant and blink in the slightly smoky acrid light. Are your eyes burning because of...cheese? Yes, yes they are. You order, and a half wheel of cheese is rolled up to your table and strapped to a device that melts the top layer steadily, enabling you to tip the wheel and scrape off the melty bits whenever you'd like. It's like the most complicated fondue in the world. You pile the cheesemelt on top of creamy little potatoes and unidentifiable meat products, and then you feel absolutely horrified by your own appetite. Horrified because you ate little but cheese as a meal, and horrified that you only got about two inches into the giant wheel of cheese. Behold: our glory and our shame.
I should note, though, that I also ordered steak tartare. For consistency's sake.

Our last day in Annecy I went for another run, because the others had engaged in extreme death-defying activity the previous day while I had gorged myself and nearly lost my toes while doing so. It was as good as the first run - fresh, clear, beautiful.
We hit the Sunday market for lunchables, and assembled a glorious lunch, complete, of course, with vin chaud.
Hartzy gave us an auto tour of the area around Annecy, including a chateau that was locked up and guarded by the world's biggest shaggy dog. He had clearly been bred to bound through snowdrifts with a beer barrel tied around his neck containing important news from the next chateau over.
We got ourselves chocolate chaud at a mountaintop restaurant that was wallpapered in plaid flannel, which was a very fine thing. We also admired the ramps that in the summer are used by paragliders to hurl themselves into the abyss, which is apparently big business in Annecy. Again: I will be returning in the summertime. In other news, Hartz, in addition to being a stellar host, is a really good photobomber.
Our last France hurrah was a shmancy meal at the only restaurant in town that served dishes based on things other than potatoes and cheese. Foie gras happened. Hartz and I made the questionable decision to flop down for snow angels in our fancyclothes outside, but it was a great photo op, so who cares if we were flashing our lady business at occasional passers by.
At 3 a.m. I was awakened by a thunderclap of nausea, the likes of which I have not felt since the first time I got shnozzled on sake and thought I had somehow been concussed. Fever, aches, all the good stuff. The flu! In the morning, with the help of the others and some homeless dudes from the food kitchen across the street from Hartz's, I dragged my pathetic self through the snow to the car. And then through the airport. And onto the plane. Where, blissfully, I had my own goddamn row and slept pretty much the whole way home.

And that was my week in the Haute-Savoie! I'll tell you what, me and France, we're friends.


danskemor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
danskemor said...

Gen thank you for this lovely description of your "Euro" made me smile and made my day. Love Karen

dethbakin said...

OMG! The Hartz photobombing photos. Still so amazing.

Oh, Steph said...

I just want all the cheese and I want it inside me now.