Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nathan's 16th! Font Romeu Ski Resort - 2-19-11

The Above map shows you where we were -- (A) is Olette, France; (B) is Font Romeu; (C) is Les Angles and (D) is Puigcerda, Spain

Our little home away from home, away from HOME
In the tiny town of Olette, France

Walk around Olette before heading out for the day

See Princess Emma - wayyyyy up in the window?

Old convent - abandoned in 1973-literally!  Everyone
stood up and left - coffee cups and prayer books still
on the table - the inside, according to Hugo, is GORGEOUS!

View from our window-see the snow-capped mountains?

View from the Deck of the lodge at Font Romeu

Taking a break

The bros - having a great time!

All of the skiers - for today anyway

Taken by Andrew and Nathan from the TOP of the mountain



Nathan at the top - what a great place to celebrate 16!

Andrew at the top - Lovin it all!

The main skiers of the day - taking a break


Nathan coming down the slopes
This pix was taken from the lodge deck with my new camera
I was amazed that I could get him so well!

Adam made it down too!

That's Nathan, in line by the sign with a blue hood on

Adam (left) and Nathan (next to Adam) heading back up
for more fun!

Nathan throwing snow at his mother after taking down the
snowboarder with the help of Adam - in the background

Emma and a crepe - lovin the relaxation on the deck

Emma decided to become a photographer, grabbed my camera
and started snapping - I cracked up when she said "work it girl
work it!"

Even the skis get a rest-and, as always, Adam snuck in the pix
Can you find him?

Holding up the skis

On the way back down the mountain after a great day!

See the story about this below!  This is St. Thomas De Bains
When we asked Nathan what he would like to do for his 16th birthday, I was little nervous about his response.  In the states, he would be getting his license and we might have given him the gift of Insurance but here, I didn't know what we would do.  Would he be at a loss as to what to ask for and therefore be disappointed that his big 16 was a flop??  Well, without hesitation, Nathan replied "I'd like to go skiing"! Uhhhhhh - O.K. - We have the Pyrenees and the Alps around here someplace but he has only skied on the mountains in Ohio (ha ha).  Soon thereafter, I asked our landlords for ski location ideas and Andrew talked with his wonderful boss Veronique, co-worker Jean Claude and others at the INRA lab.  Between all of the suggestions, we settled on a general area and proceeded to make some calls to hotels that popped up on Trip Advisor and other various sites. Andrew began the phone calls to these places with our favorite line: "Parlez vous anglais??" to which the first three replied "non" so, in true Andrew fashion, he continued by saying "does anyone there Parlez vous anglais??" !!  I cracked up - laughing so hard that tears were streaming down my face!  Finally, the best French speaker in the family decided to give it a try - Nathan called the fourth hotel and asked "Parlez vous anglais?" and was answered with "yes! I speak very good English - I'm from London"! So the phone was handed to me and Andrew and I chatted with Janet of Hotel De La Fontaine, in Olette, France for a little while, gathering information about pricing, ski locations, temperatures, snow accumulation - we ultimately booked our stay for Friday Feb. 18 and Saturday, Feb. 19.

On Friday Feb. 18 we packed up the Peugeot with our luggage, snow attire, chains for the tires upon a suggestion from Mr. and Mrs. Boisson, and hit the road with sandwiches, a baguette and other essential dinner picnic food items packed up so we didn't have to stop, try to order food, and spend a lot of money for not a lot of food!  We arrived in Olette at approximately 8:00 pm Friday evening where Janet and Hugo were waiting for us. 

Hotel De La Fontaine is a lovely B&B and is adjoined by a building from 1628 that they call a "barn" where Hugo does woodworking, making a lot of the wooden furniture that is in the guest rooms.  The barn is amazingly tall on the inside, is the home to two families of bats, has reinforcement beams that came from old ships, used to house large and small animals and includes a very old stone wine cellar!  Actually, Hugo told us that people used to live in the wine cellar back in the day!  Janet also uses a portion as a greenhouse to keep her geraniums and other plants alive throughout the winter so she can plop them back into the window boxes in the spring without having to purchase new ones every year. Actually, I'm ahead of myself with this description - we didn't get the barn tour until 2/20 when we were checking out.

We were shown to our rooms - very cozy, warm and included their own bathrooms! The kids had a room and Andrew and I had a room - there are NO hotels in Europe that will accomodate 5 people in one room as far as I know! Hugo told Andrew where to park the car - turn right up the street and then back into the driveway - past the stone wall :)  - Of course, Andrew maneuvered it perfectly! 

After unpacking, getting settled and waitng for Janet and Hugo to eat their supper, we joined them in the living room area to get some suggestions about what to do.  Janet, who reminded me a lot of a british version of my Aunt Barbara Heiman, had mapped out several options for Emma and me to do since I didn't think Emma wanted to ski, however, in the middle of our chat, Emma decided that she might like to try so we got all of our options anyway and headed to bed.  In the morning we were heading to Font Romeu - not as difficult as nearby Les Angles but still more challenging than what Nathan and Adam are used to.

We were up by 6:30/7:00 and sitting down for breakfast at 7:30/7:45am. Our breakfast consisted of fresh bread and croissants from the boulangerie (bakery) across the square, squares of butter, homemade apricot jam, yogurt, clementines, orange juice, hot chocolate with freshly steamed warm milk and freshly brewed Espresso (for me!).  We enjoyed our petite dejeuner in the cozy dining room and then headed back up to our rooms to pack up the snow gear.  The plan??  To drive about 30 minutes to Mont Louis, rent some boots, skis and poles and then head north to Font Romeu for the day.

Andrew - Very good, skiing may not be his passion, but he is
a natural athlete and does it very well
Beth - Went twice in college to fulfill the phys ed requirement
probably took some lessons but that was 20+ years ago?
Nathan - Has been a member of the NCMS and Hoover Ski club for the past
2 or 3 years and loves it
Emma - Was a member of the NCMS ski club for one year - she had fun :)
Adam - Went to Boston Mills with Andrew and Nathan once last year and did well.

The trip was amazing, terrifying and beautiful!  We wound up and down went around hairpin curves and tested the 13 year old axels of our '98 Peugeot the best that we could! We ultimately made it to Mont Louis enjoying all of the gorgeous mountains that seemed to be straight out of postcards, posters, famous paintings, books, movies etc...  We found the ski rental place and with the help of Nathan and our Charades skills, were able to secure boots, skis and poles for all 5 of us from the very nice, young store manager who wore a cute woolen hat with tassels on the sides and did not speak any English (we are getting used to this!).  We also purchased a hat for Emma since her's is cute but NOT warm!  We packed everything in the car with great skill - from the back we could see - 10 boots, then above the layer of boots - skis, Emma's head, skis, Adam's head, skis, Nathan's head, skis and a pair of skis were squeezed in with the boots too! Lots of gear, plenty of snow and another 20 min. ride to Font Romeu - we were ready! 

We made it to the right place, parked the car, put on our boots, left shoes in the car, grabbed our skis and poles and wobbled to the ticket booth where Andrew was somehow able to purchase lift tickets for all of us - I don't know what happened exactly, I guess he had a little problem in translation but in the end, got the tickets which turned out to be plastic cards that we were told to put in a pocket on our left side - later we discovered that the scanners at the lifts were able to pick up a signal or somehow knew our card was there and allowed access to the lifts.

We hobbled up the steps and into the area where the lifts began, we could see the lodge and figured we had made it!

The five of us looked around like a family of lost kitties that was just placed in a basket with a bunch of grown dogs-wide eyes, wondering what we were supposed to do next.  There were several lifts, 6-8 slopes within sight and a lot of other skiers and snowboarders who knew what they were doing. Andrew took the lead by going to the ski ecole (ski school) to ask where to begin.  I followed after a few minutes and entered the building to hear a lot of laughter as three people tried to explain, in french, what we should do!  Using charades once again - a lady held her hand flat while showing us the trail map and said "green", lifted her wrist slightly to indicate a steeper incline and said "blue" then higher still and said "red" and then straight up and down and said very gruffly "BLACK"!  She then pointed and explained the lifts - Ahhhhh - we seemed to get it somewhat :)  We headed out and were ready to begin!

Andy and Nathan took off.  Emma, Adam and I stood there and knew that we should start with "green" but wondered if it was really over there by the big ducky where all of the toddlers were.  We didn't care about pride at this point, just wondered where to go!  Sure enough, we headed to the big ducky, got in line for the moving carpet - Adam went first and did great, Emma was next and was fine, I was last and almost fell off of the carpet.  When I steadied myself and made it "all the way to the top", coming down wasn't so bad - we all made it and then Adam went again.

The next stop for us was the next "hardest" trail (I doubt if we hit blue, this was probably just another level of green).  Adam went up - this time using a long pole with a disc on the end that one is supposed to grab, put between their legs and allow this contraption to pull them up the hill - once again, Adam did it with ease and came down the hill just fine, even stopped well! So Emma and I decided to give it a try while Adam begged to go on to the next trail which was about twice the size of this one and right next to us.  I said "if you're comfortable, go ahead" so off he went.  Emma and I got in line, behind about five 7 year olds and were ready to grab the pole.  Emma did a great job, very graceful - me - not so much - I grabbed the pole, was pulled to the top and wasn't sure how to let go without the pole whipping out from my legs and snapping back to hit me in the face - I took a shot, let it go and stumbled, almost falling over while yelling "Emma" as if she could save me from myself!  Emma looked back and laughed at me, we both got to a good spot at the "top" and waited to settle ourselves down and watched for Adam above us.  Soon, we saw him, coming slowly....and then fall on purpose.  When we realized that he couldn't get his ski back on and that he was getting frustrated about the situation, we looked at each other and realized that there was nothing we could do - there was NO WAY that we were crawling up "there".  In the end I yelled "take your other ski off and walk down to us!" which he did.  He took another five minutes to get his ski on and calm down from his frustration and flew down the rest of the hill.  Emma and I???? Watched as the five 7 year olds came back up and went back down, we also watched a snowboard teacher explain how do go down this hill to two girls on snowboards, they did great!  Emma and I waited for a clear path since nobody decided to explain to US how to turn and avoid a collision with another human on skis.  After about 20 minutes of this we went for it!  And did fine - no collisions, no screaming "look out!" - we were proud, and ready to hit the lodge deck with our books and sit in the sunshine!  Just then Andrew and Nathan came flying up next to us and skidded to a stop and said "hey!".  They look very happy as if they were having fun, not fearing for their lives and of the lives around them.

Adam was ready to join the "real skiers" so off the three of them went - to hit the blue and red trails.  Emma and I found a comfy seat on the deck and waited for them to return for lunch.  The rest of the day was great - we enjoyed a nice lunch, Emma and I relaxed, I savored a wonderful coffee on the deck, beneath the sunshine and snowy mountains while Emma chomped down a crepe -we read our books, I took a lot of pictures of the guys flying down the trails and of Emma relaxing on the deck.  Emma grabbed my fancy camera and did a photo shoot of me - I didn't know she was going to to it, I thought she would take a pix and be done but she kept snapping - it was pretty funny and I was cracking up! Unfortunately, at some point, Andrew lost his new camera, that he bought for himself for this trip, whether it fell out of his pocket on the ski lift or when he was flying down the mountainside, we will never know - he checked "lost and found" several times and left our phone number, but it's gone.  The guys were amazing skiers - I was impressed with them all - they all were flying down those trails!

At the end of the day we packed all of the gear up and headed down the mountain back to our buddy at the ski rental place and promptly turned in the boots, poles and skis that Emma and I used -- or whatever, and kept all of the guys gear.  I think that Andrew felt a little sorry for us so insisted on trying to find St. Thomas De Bains - which are natural sulfer springs in the mountains and very popular with the French.  The pamphlet looked heavenly.  We followed the signs and were lead to a one lane, very curvy road which went off of our main road and began climbing another part of the mountain -- oh, oops, did I say one lane??? Yes, it was, however, cars did come from the other direction - hummmmmm - now what??? We found that along the way there were little inlets (I don't know if that's the right word) which served as "get out of the way" points, one of the cars either drove into the inlet or backed into an inlet to allow the other to pass - I thought the other windy road was bad! huh! I was glad that I wasn't driving!  Amazingly we made it to the "spa" where there were no parking places - it was full! Nathan and I hopped out of the car, armed with the French/English dictionary, to go scope out the scene while Andrew tried to turn the car around.  Upon walking up the stairs we could smell the sulfur and hear the water - the setting was beautiful and perfect.  When we were able to see the "pools" and the people in them, however, we realized that the sentence in the pamphlet that said: "no loose shorts or boxers on men" didn't mean that they were required to wear true swimming suits - but spandex speedos!  I looked at Nathan after this realization and the expression on his face was priceless - I said "what do you think?" to which he replied "maybe we shouldn't do this" :) - That's kind of what I figured, and also KNOW that Andrew and Adam would completely agree so, we nixed the idea, headed to the car, and made our way back down the very winding "one lane" road.

We made it back to our lovely B&B, asked Janet where we should have dinner and were referred to a nice little restaurant in Ville France - a walled city about 10 min. away.  We enjoyed a wonderful Catalan dinner (the Catalans are another group of people who live on the Spanish/French border - they have their own language and their own culture).  Our waiter spoke a little English and we were able to figure out what some of the menu items were with his help and the help of the nice Indian fellow (native Indian - not "India" indian) at the next table and placed our order - the food was fantastic!!  We loved everything!  After the bill was delivered, the waiter brought us a bottle of Manzana Verde - Green Apple Liquer and two cordial glasses.  When he figured out that it was Nathan's 16th birthday, he brought a glass for him also - I loved the drink - it tasted like a shot of Apple Schapps but not as sickly sweet.  Nathan enjoyed it too and Emma and Adam liked spelling the jolly rancher scent of the liquer.

We headed back to the B&B, the kids giggled for awhile, so much that I had to hush them a little bit, but it was nice to hear them laughing together rather than arguing! We all slept very well under our down comfortors and dreamt about the next day.

1 comment:

  1. ----The five of us looked around like a family of lost kitties that was just placed in a basket with a bunch of grown dogs-wide eyes, wondering what we were supposed to do next. ----

    That's my favorite line. Beth, you are becoming a fantastic writer too!