90th in Oldenburg
This weekend you travelled via Hannover to Oldenburg for Meike's grandmother's 90th birthday. Her whole family piled into town and spent the weekend chatting, eating and doing gardening — as usual: relaxing. With the amount of food on offer, you could consider it was a warm-up for the upcoming holiday seasonal feasting. Nice visit but a bit too short.
Xmas in Berlin
Exactly one week later, you flew into Berlin for Xmas. You had been hinting about giving Meike a chameleon for Xmas – something she was dreading lest it actually be true, even if they are cute. Try your best, your shopping adventures yielded nothing remotely similar to a chameleon, stuffed or otherwise. Bummer.
A few other people were in town at the time so daily dates had been arranged. You bumped into Dani, Sandra and Steffen between doing their rounds past parents' houses. The main topic of conversation was the unusually warm weather and overeating. Stressful times in Berlin...
The Xmas tree was pretty as usual. It remains a huge novelty to burn actual candles on an actual pine tree. Those kind of shenanigans could burn your house down in Australia. When not out visiting people or eating, you waged war on Spain (Civ V). That game is a real free-time burner.
Presents were exchanged and biscuits were eaten (an large volumes). You gave her parents a percentage of a cow for Xmas together (see Cow Day). Meike and her grandmother bought you a Caran d'Ache fountain pen. Fancy!
No Snow in Le Bettex
What to do in Le Bettex — a tiny skiing village in the mountains near Mt. Blonc — when there's no damn snow? Go hiking in the sunny weather perhaps. Complain about lack of said snow, and relax in the chalet reading books and writing post cards sounds nice. Why not try snowboarding on the small strip of prepared piste available, land badly, break your arm, dislocate your wrist and be taken away by helicopter for surgery. By the second day in Le Bettex all of these things happened, but thankfully not all to you. It was a good start to your new years holiday in France.
Saturday morning Christél picked you up in her mini. Together you somehow managed to tetris four pairs of skis, three people and everyone's luggage inside the teeny-tiny car; its sunroof was opened to achieve this feat. Driving from Zürich to Saint Gervais took about six hours. The highlight was letting your iPhone read emojis out aloud — ‘smiling face, dancing lady, smiling pile of poo...’. You learnt what the eye in speech bubble emoji means. You also learnt having skis near the handbrake can be troublesome for hill-starts.
The chalet in Le Bettex was a three-floor house built from thick wood beams, with beds for twelve and located right beside the ski lifts. The view from the second floor looked up towards the glacier-capped Mt. Blanc and down to sunny Saint Gervais. Ideally, you should be able to ski all the way down into Saint Gervais, but there was no snow below the chalet — just some icy roads and some embarrassingly small white heaps made by snow cannons. This would not be a skiing holiday after all.
Day two, you went for a short hike with Meike, Matthieu and Camembert... Crémant... Clément — that last one's probably right (he's neither cheese nor sweet wine). You followed the grassy edge of the piste and looped back along a mountain bike trail. It was nice and sunny, but also surprisingly icy. You slipped, landed on your bum and smashed your finger with the big camera. Bloody painful, but less severe than Stefan's broken bones.
Day three, you went hiking again, this time all the way up Mont Joly (2525 m). The hike up took about four hours, and became really tough near the top: first through snow with a thin icy crust, then up a slippery ascent. The view was worth it. Stefan came back from the holpital that afternoon, drugged up, sleepy and carrying a bundle of paracetamol + caffeine + opium pills. French doctors dont mess around with light dosage it seemed, and even gave him three months off work. They probably understood his job as an engineer to entail manual labour, rather than office work. You suggested he install some accessories on the two screws protruding five centimeters from his arm — a bottle opener or bluetooth device, for example.
Day four you took the Mont Blanc Tramway with Meike and Kirsten up to Col de Voza, walked around for a bit and then sat in the mostly-empty alp hotel and had hot beverages. The sunshine continued beaming down and there was no hint of snowy weather rolling in any time soon. You followed the frozen train tracks further with Kirsten, passing Bellevue up then heading up Mont Lachat.
Day five saw you try to get into a the St. Gervais piscine (swimming pool) with little success. France has some ridiculous rules about swimming atire for public pools: Speedos and swimming caps are mandatory. Their logic against board shorts is that someone may have sat in dog poo out on the street and then jump straight into the pool — something everybody does, of course. The lady in the sports shop explained these were ‘international rules, same as every other country’. Where in the world — apart from perhaps Australia — would anyone come off the street dirty and just jump into a pool? The vending machine selling swimsuits, goggles and swimming caps outside the pool was a novelty unto France. No thank you.
You spent the morning of day six picking up hundreds of tiny, shiny, shitty party-tinsel thingies, which had exploded the night before out from Charles' party tube. You had left the new years celebrations just after midnight; the party seemed to have raged well into the early hours of 2016. Most people remained in bed until late.
After some leftover tartiflette (whole baked cheese wheels on potatoes) for breakfast, you posted some handwritten letters you had written with your Xmas present. It was shocking how quickly your fingers get tired when writing words on paper; the last time you actually hat to write something serious was in University. Your handwriting was terrible but it is the thought that counts... right?
Since there were no practical connections back to Zürich after midday, you went for a hangover-hike with Matthieu instead. He explained it was the best way to cure a heavy head: sweat it out, then nap. This was one of the few occasions you were able to keep up with him.
On the last day in France it started bloody snowing! Screw you, weather! The trip home by car and train was wet and uneventful, although you did get to see the UN headquarters in Geneva for the first time. Overall, while not a skiing holiday, it was a relaxing week in the mountains.