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  • Writer's pictureLillian E.

Fondue and French Alps

Behold: what happens when the trip finally leaves the group chat.



Sometimes you just have to trust everyone else to want it just as much as you do. This post could be an ad for Bumble BFF, but it's not. I downloaded the app in the hopes of meeting other girls that I might not otherwise cross paths with during my limited stay in Paris, and within the week had 3 new friends, introduced them all to one another over a few card games (see my previous post), and by the end of the night we were whipping out our calendars to block off a weekend ski trip.


Friday was bittersweet. I packed my bag that morning before going to school and then went to my final Basic Cuisine demonstration where we watched Chef Guillaume prepare veal paupiettes. He even finished a little early so he could spend the last few minutes of class going over some exam procedures and reminding us "you guys should be incroyablement fier de vous. You have accomplished in 10 weeks what it takes some chefs 2-3 years to do." Whether or not this is true, we were very proud of ourselves. Oui chef!


Taadaa! We took a group photo to commemorate the rapidly ending semester.



Then I changed out of my uniform with the speed of Clark Kent and sprinted out to catch my metro home and pick up my bag. Good thing I packed in the morning because I barely had enough time to scoop up my duffel and head back out the door en route to Gare de Lyon (train station).


We all congregated in an upstairs Starbucks, me coming from school, the other girls coming in from work or home, and waited for our train platform to be announced. Everybody brought contributions to a train-picnic dinner (mini sandwiches, lemonade, nuts, tomatoes, vegetables, chips, chocolate, etc) and we settled into our seats as the train pulled out of Paris. Three and a half hours later, in the dark, we disembarked in Annecy and were met by my friend's dad who came to drive us back to their home!


From my experience going to Bordeaux, I've decided I love trains- especially in France because I don't take them very often in the States). It feels like you step into a box, and a few hours later you emerge in a completely new place. My friends laugh at me when I say that because "yes, Lillian, that's generally how transportation is supposed to work." Maybe I just need to get out more.


Anyway, despite it being almost midnight, we were welcomed home with open arms and a huge selection of tea to help us settle in. We met both cats and divided ourselves into the available bedrooms, and passed out until morning.


This was the view we were greeted with when we woke up. Not in Paris anymore!



I also very much loved this plant. When we arrived the night before, it was "sleeping" with its red leaves tightly tucked in, but with the sunshine it opened back up like a weird three-winged butterfly. Google says it's a purple oxalis.



We got an early start and drove up the mountain in search of some snow.



Found the snow!



These mountains are so much bigger than the ones in the United States.



Although skiing in the Alps was on my bucket list, I did not come to France prepared. Luckily the family I was staying with had all the necessary bits and I was able to patch an outfit together.


I may not have been the most stylin' on the slopes (or pistes if you're speaking French) in my firefighter-red pants or brown puffy coat, but my friends definitely didn't lose track of me in the crowd.





The wind was pretty strong and they closed down a few lifts later in the afternoon for safety reasons, but otherwise the weather held out and we had the clearest views for miles.


I discovered a new thing: eggs! Not the kind we were making in school. Apparently ski gondolas, which I'd only ever heard of and never seen, are informally called "eggs" because they look like... you guessed it. They fit more people and take you higher up the mountain for efficiency, then you can either ski down from the halfway point or take a regular chairlift to the tippy top.


There was a lookout post at the very top of the mountain that I braved despite the strong winds. They'd installed a panoramic map at the very end of the catwalk so you could identify the surrounding mountains and towns in the landscape. I honestly felt like I'd been dropped in the middle of a Lord of the Rings movie.






Halfway through the day we stopped for a snack of fries and hot chocolate, clutching our ketchup packets for dear life lest the wind snatch them away. Once we'd gone through the ketchup and mayonnaise, I reached for a mustard packet thinking nothing of it- big mistake. The French laugh at us for our yellow hot dog mustard. This stuff had my eyes and nose streaming and immediately cured me of any lingering cold/ sinus issues I had picked up in the Paris metro. I thought I could be brave, but in fact I was utterly incapable of holding my own against this small packet of French moutarde.




Back to the slopes! We preferred to keep to the easier trails. I think the Alps are steeper than the trails I've encountered in America- but maybe it was just this particular mountain.




After a hugely successful day sliding of down the mountain, we decided we'd had enough. It was only going to get darker and the wind was picking up, which meant some of the lifts had to close for safety reasons anyway. We dragged our skis back to the car and planned our next move: dinner first? Or home to shower, then dinner? Obviously showers prevailed, but we stopped in a secret cheese shop on the way back to pick up some necessities.


Ok maybe it's not-so-secret, especially if you saw the line out the door, but my friend assured us that it's where all the locals come to get their cheese. It's made nearby and sold co-op style in this unassuming building off the side of a mountain road. I walked away with some Tomme de Savoie, Abondance, Reblochon (the specialty), and a small tin of caramels.




Laden down with dairy products (they say never go food shopping when you're hungry), we finished the ride home taking turns playing music we could collectively sing along to (One Direction and Taylor Swift are always a safe bet).


By the time dinner rolled around, we were absolutely famished. My friend's parents joined us and we all drove into old Annecy to scout out a raclette restaurant with availability for 6 people. We found success at Chez Mamie Lise, and as we waited for them to set up our table, we took an exploratory tour of the surrounding streets.




Dinner was a whole event! Half the table split a fondue, half the table split a raclette.




By the end of my semester, I will have seen a whole number of different variations on how to melt raclette. This one was by far the most archaic-looking. Our waiter said there's just a giant tub in the back of the kitchen where they submerge the whole thing and scrub it clean. Somebody who will not be named (I promise it wasn't me, I ate fondue that night) might've gotten a little curious and poured their water on the fire at the end of the meal to rapidly extinguish the coals, which had the rest of us waving our napkins around trying to clear the steam and looking around to make sure the servers hadn't noticed.


Full of cheese and happy, we drove through the dark back to bed and I know I was asleep before my head ever hit the pillow.


The next morning we went off on a non-snow adventure! The best part about visiting Annecy in early March was that there was snow at the top of the mountains, but green grass at the bottom. My friend took us on a driving tour of the lake (did you know it's self-cleaning? Apparently they have to sometimes add bacteria and plants to the water to help balance out the ecosystem so it doesn't get too clean. Don't take my word on that, I'm just passing on what I was told. Go google it.)


Also my friends and I discovered we all conjure different images of generic "cows" when we think of the animal. For example, as an American, I think of black and white cows while my French friend would picture brown and white. I guess I'm not surprised. We learned in school that different cows are native to different regions/ countries (like black angus cows in Scotland for example).



She drove us all the way up a mountain to this restaurant with a view, just so we could see the view. We did not stop in the restaurant, but instead made far-off plans to return in the summertime when it's sunny and warm.





Then we headed back down the mountain to continue our circuit of the lake.



Stopping at a small park to get an up-close look at the water from a dock with a lone fisherman. We got him to take our photo using my disposable camera, so that photo won't be available until I get those developed. We also met the world's dirtiest (but happiest) little dog, who immediately rolled over for muddy belly rubs.




Just in time for lunch, we made it back to Annecy and stopped long enough to grab a sandwich made fresh in front of us. It was simple, just ham and cheese, but the cheese was scraped directly off a melting block of reblochon onto fresh baguette, and we couldn't have asked for better fare as we walked around the old streets.






I also learned that every year, Annecy is host to a famous animation film festival so I'll add that to my professional bucket list. Also pictured below is our dinner restaurant that I forgot to take a photo of the night before.




Having made a couple detours along our route to pick up thank-you gifts for our hosts, we barely made it back to the house in time to grab our pre-packed bags and dash off to the train station. My friend's dad was generous enough to drop us back off at the end of a vibrant rainbow, thanks to all the rain we'd had earlier.



And we spent the next three hours buried deep in card games and road-trip snacks all the way back to Paris!



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