Posts about travel

Christmas in Europe - Christmas & Skiing!

Finally, the Alps!

We celebrated Christmas with a delicious dinner prepared by Melissa's mom.

All told, we spent nine days in Courchevel skiing. Well, intending to ski at least. Pretty much everybody was sick at some point or other.

We'd come back from skiing to various folks passed out in the chalet.

I took Thomas skiing a few times, and we put him in lessons as well. He ended up having fever for a few days, so missed out on most his lessons :(

Despite the fatigue and various interbreeding viruses, the skiing was fantastic. Remember that rain we had driving on the way up from Geneva? That meant lots of fresh powder just for us! The scenery was beautiful!

The chalet was quite nice too. Poor Martin was cooped up in there most of the time though :(

At the end of the world!

Nat, Jeremy, Mel, Pam and I decided to ski all the way to the edge of the 3-valleys one day.

Near the bottom left of the map is a place called "Courchevel 1300 Le Praz." That's where we were staying. If you wake up early, and ski really fast, you can make it all the way to the far right hand side of the map and back in one day. We made it up to the top of the lift called "Bouchet" lift, which is 3230m above sea level! The picture above is going up the "Peyron" lift, and is looking onto the slope behind the "Cime Caron". Click through to the full sized image and you can see a bowl full of moguls near the top. That was a lot of fun to come down!

Cime Caron

The "Cime Caron" lift itself is quite impressive. It's this bus-sized lift that carries about 50 people at once up the hill.

We didn't quite make it back to the chalet before all the lifts closed though :( We got as far as Meribel, and then had to take a few buses to get back to Le Praz.

We didn't suffer from a lack of eating here either. One night we went out with Natalia and Jeremy and ordered a dish called Raclette. You get served a giant half wheel of cheese under a heating element, along with some meats, pickles, bread and boiled potatoes. The cheese melts and gets all bubbly and crispy, which you then scrape off and eat with all the other goodies!

All in all, Courcheval was amazing, and I'd go back in a second!

Christmas in Europe - Fontainebleau to Courchevel

After the graduation we had planned on spending the rest of our Christmas holidays in Courchevel to enjoy some skiing in the Alps!

For some reason instead of driving from Fontainebleau to Courchevel (a relatively easy, but long 6 hour drive), we had booked flights to Geneva via Zurich. Pick up the rental vans in Geneva, a quick 2 hour drive to Courchevel, and we're there! Easy, right? What could possibly go wrong?

The same cab driver who picked us up from Charles de Gaul the week before met us at 6 in the morning outside our hotel in the same van he had driven before...except now we had two more people (Nat & Jeremy) plus luggage. Seven adults plus driver and two kids with luggage in an 8 seater van is...a tight squeeze! The kids ended up on our laps, and everybody had luggage piled on top of them. It was a relief to get to the airport and be able to move again!

Remember that vicious snowstorm that crippled the Frankfurt airport? Yeah, most of Europe was still getting snow and airports were struggling to cope and our flight from Paris to Zurich was a bit late taking off as a result. When we arrived in Zurich we were informated that our flight to Geneva had been cancelled, and all the of the other flights that day were full. The very helpful Swiss Air agent offered to put us on a train to Geneva instead. No problem, we said, let's just get our luggage first. It's about 1pm at this point.

And so began the Great Waiting.

We were instructed to head on down to the luggage pickup area and await our luggage at a special carousel reserved just for suckers redirected luggage.

An hour or so later with none of our luggage in sight (but plenty of other folks' luggage stacked up along the walls...not a good sign!), further inquiries to the luggage folks lead us to believe that maybe our luggage got sent to Geneva without us. No wait, it's still here. Oh, now we don't know where it is at all...it must be lost along with the tens of thousands of other pieces we haven't dealt with in the back.

The good side to all this is that the two boys were having a blast. No, really.

Something I never realized before was that the luggage claim area is mostly deserted. The time between when flights arrive offers two young boys a giant playground all to themselves: all kinds of interesting things to climb on and lots of room to run around and throw toys.

At around 5pm we finally give up and decide to take the train to Geneva. I think the boys were kind of sad when we finally left! However, their mood quickly improved with the discovery of a playground on the train!.

Three hours later, we're in Geneva, at the airport, and our luggage is waiting for us! We wonder how long it's been there...probably all day :P

Picking up the rental vans was relatively painless, and the drive to Courchevel uneventful. It was pouring rain for much of the drive though, which didn't bode well for skiing. And at this point the frantic pace of the past few days really caught up with us, several of us were sick now with colds or fever.

Christmas in Europe - Touring Paris and Fonty

We had a few days between arriving at Natalia's graduation, so we spent some time touring around Fontainebleau and Paris. The train into Paris is pretty short, about 40 minutes. Between the commuter trains and the Paris metro, Thomas was in seventh heaven!

Where are we going again?

Thomas has been excited to see the Eiffel tower for a long time now, and the real thing didn't disappoint! It was raining a little bit our first day in Paris (the 19th), but that didn't deter plenty of folks from coming out to see the tower as well!

Eiffel Tower in the Rain

There was a bit of a line up to the elevator to get to the top of the tower, so it was pretty dark by the time we got up. Thomas loved running around, looking at all the city lights, and especially being blown around by the high winds buffeting the tower that night! Martin enjoyed it too, most especially undergoing an emergency diaper change at the top!

On top of the tower Ahhh, dry clothes!Eiffel Tower at night

The next day (the 20th) we started out the day by taking a short walk from the hotel to the Château de Fontainebleau

One neat piece on display is a plate painted with Niagara Falls around the 1830's. The Falls look much shorter in the painting than they do now. I wonder if that's what they really looked like back then?

Plate of Niagara Falls

The boys weren't very interested in the interior of the Château, but did like running around the grounds!

Later that afternoon we boarded the train headed for Paris again. We discovered shortly after the train left the station that we'd left one of our backpacks at the train station. Desperate, we called Natalia, who was still in Fonty, to see if she could get in touch with the station staff to see if they could hold the back for us. Natalia called back to say there was no way to get in touch with the station staff directly, and that we'd have to check lost & found (wherever that was!) the next day. Little did we know...

... Natalia had already found our backpack at the station, and had taken it for some joyriding! We were reunited with our poor backpack at Notre Dame.

We finished the evening with a great dinner at Le Relais de l'Entrecôte.

Dessert

The following day we spent relaxing at the Jardin du Luxembourg,

followed by a quick visit to the Eiffel Tower in the fog,

then finished the evening at a restaurant called L'enfance de Lard in Paris, which in Melissa's opinion was the culinary highlight of the trip! She ordered a delicious steak tartare. Thomas devoured his grandfather's ceviche-style fish appetizer because we told him it was sashimi :) The food here really was delicious! The owners let Thomas grab as many candies as he wanted from their giant candy dish afterwards.

I think all French desserts have to be lit on fire at some point.

Christmas in Europe - Toronto to Fontainebleau

Waiting for our plane This past Christmas, Melissa and I went to France along with our two boys and Melissa's family to attend the graduation of Melissa's sister from INSEAD. And since we were going to be in Europe for Christmas anyway, we all decided to head to the Alps for some skiing after the graduation. It was quite the adventure!

We left from Toronto in the evening of December 17th. First stop: Frankfurt! The boys did really well (slept most of the way!) on the long flight to Frankfurt.

Clouds!

When we arrived in Frankfurt, we noticed the hallways were packed with empty cots. Only later we realized that this was because hundreds of flights were being cancelled due to snow, and that thousands of people were going to be stranded in Frankfurt. Thank God our flight to Paris wasn't cancelled, and only left a bit late. We did suffer our first casualty in Frankfurt however: Lufthansa lost Pam's luggage in Frankfurt and it didn't make it to Paris with us. As I write this, she still doesn't have it back. We waited a long time in Paris' Charles de Gaul airport waiting for Pam's luggage to arrive. After a few hours we finally gave up, and met up with our very patient cab driver to take us to Fontainebleau...

...zzzzzz...

We woke up to the charming sight of Fontainebleau with snow gently falling.

Snowfall in Fontainebleau

After a quick dinner at a local crêperie, we promptly passed out en-masse in the hotel.

Finally arrived!