Monthly Archives: December 2010

Chatel France – 1 week in – French Family Vadeboncoeur adventure

So we have been here 1 week.  We are having a great time.  My French is coming along, (my Spanish is not getting better though) I get more comfortable with French every day (although not with Spanish).  I really think that if I lived here for 6 months, I would be able to speak it (French that is, not Spanish).  I can get along in restaurants, read signs, ask for directions, talk in a store etc…  Hanna has way more knowledge of grammar and writing than I, but my walking around French is not so bad.  Too bad, that just about the time I will be getting comfortable with it all, I will be going home.  Oh well, we really are having a grand time.

We have learned alot along the way, and learned that we still do not know alot more.

Skiing – Merely a suggestion

a little different, yet the same

mountains are big though

Ok.  Gravity is gravity, whichever side of the planet you are on.  I realize that.  But, things are different skiing here.  The altitude is lower than in Colorado or Utah.  I know that there are also lower places to ski in the US, but that is where I usually ski.  Lower altitude does make the snow feel different.  A little heavier and wetter.  That also might be because of the warmer temperatures we were having as well.

But, one thing that is definitely different is the etiquette on the hill.  People do not act the same in the lift lines, nor do they look at the hill the same.  They step on your skis, and cut in front of you much more than in North America.  Some of the differences stem from the US being all about trying to protect you from yourself.  (We truly are not capable of watching out for ourselves) For example, if there was a cliff area at Snowbird, there would be huge signs and maybe even a gate to get through to keep you from accidentally going there.  In France, there will just be a sign that says crevice or cliff.  No gate, no rope nothing.  Skier beware.  I guess if you buy the pass, you should expect to take on the risk.  I kinda like that.

There is also not a ski patroller in sight.  Again, in the US there are always patrollers around to keep the peace on the trail, make sure people are not doing stupid things, not ducking under ropes etc…  Basically, keeping people safe from themselves.

Another thing is closed trail signs are merely suggestions.  There will be a closed trail sign at the top of the trail, but there will be multiple tracks just going around the sign with a stream of people just blitzing by it.  Merely a suggestion.

Driving – You have to know where you are going.

At least you drive on the right side of the road

Views can be spectacular

Has anyone ever told you about how narrow the roads are?  It is pretty amazing.  Sometimes there is just no way that 2 cars can fit down the road.  2 days before, we drove down to Geneva to pick up Hanna from the airport.  They lost her luggage, we are still waiting for that – but that is another story.  The road down is narrow and twisty and even has a couple of tunnels that you must pass through that are not wide enough for a truck and a car.  In fact, you have to enter the tunnel and cannot really see around the other side of it and hope that you are in there alone.  (One more example of – your doing something so you are accepting the risk).

Traffic goes fast also.  Most of the time too fast for the conditions.  Navigating is also very different from the US.  In the US, you navigate by what road you are on.  Roads have clear names and are posted in plain sight.  You know that you take highway 5 to highway 19 and go east, for example.  In Europe, you can never see the road name.  No one cares what the road name is.  You navigate by what town you are going to next.  So, when you come to an intersection or a roundabout, you have to know what town you are going to next.  Not just your final destination.

We have already messed that up.  On the way back up from Geneva, we did not pay attention and left the roundabout on the wrong direction and drove up the mountain in the wrong direction about 20k, up a twisty snow covered road.  We are all just a bit worried about Liz driving with this navigation, but I think she will get it.  Ugh…  You have to know where you are going.

Shopping – There are rules after all

You can buy many sizes of Nutella

There is only one small grocery store on the main street in town, and then a larger grocery store down on the lower road in town.  The small store on the main street, is so small that there is a line outside, because they only let 10 people inside at a time.  there are only 3 rows inside.  It is seriously small.

The other store in town is the InterMarche down on the lower street.  It is smaller than the smallest Sentry I have ever seen at home.  On a busy night, they get completely cleaned out.  The parking log holds about 25 cars.  They never plow the parking lot, so cars are parked every which way.

You can buy some very interesting things.  There are foods you cannot identify.  Some good, some not as good.

This is a vegetable, somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower.

There are crazy translations on packages.  It is not as bad as being in Asia, but there are still some interesting translations.

Who doesn't need some extra... I think it is pizza crust.

All of the stores seem to have their carts out front of the store.  That is the same as the US, but the difference is in the US you just take a cart.  In France, you have to rent the carts.  You can use just about any coin, but you can also get a plastic coin from the counter and that allows you to get a cart.  So actually you can get around the renting, if you know the rules.  You have to know the rules.

Sidewalks – nowhere to run.

I do not think that you have to clean your sidewalks here.  I suspect that is just a French thing.  I bet over in Switzerland or Germany, things are much more orderly – and you must clean your sidewalk.  They just let the snow pile up, then pack it down by walking on them.  It makes for a sidewalk that is sometimes nearly impossible to walk on.

Early morning on a snow morning. Not going to be a good day to walk on the sidewalk.

Not going to be good walking this way either.

The sidewalks are nearly impossible to walk on.  Liz has been looking for a place to run.  But, there really is nowhere to run.

France is a long way from the Madison Wi.- 7 hours time difference to be exact.

Even when you are a long way from home, things can be much the same.  A tree, a few gifts under the tree, some lights, some decorations and holiday music playing on the computer.  It’s Christmas, wherever you are.

It's Christmas!

There is something interesting about the time difference to the USA.  You cannot get any sleep over here.  People are always trying to call you.  They call all the way into the night.  7 hours time difference is noticeable.

There is no Starbucks in Chatel France

There is no Starbucks or McDonald’s or Qdoba or Barnes and Noble or just about anything that you would note as something you have seen anywhere else.  It is interesting, because until you live in a place like that, you just do not realize how much you rely on the familiarity of that stuff.  I consider myself someone who seeks out the LOCAL place, but it turns out that I am not.  Maybe you just cannot help but get addicted to the places that you become comfortable with.

I drive along in the USA, stopping at Starbucks and eating at Qdoba.  You just become comfortable with all of that.  I find that pretty interesting.

They like church bells in France.

They ring them alot.  In between the avalanche cannon being fired in the morning, there is a crescendo of church bells going off.  They go off for a long time.

You can look French.

You can get beat up when skiing

That is all for now.  More will come, as week 2 is all about skiing – with one quick excursion for a work day up to Copenhagen.

cheers.

out

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Day one in Chatel – France that is

Our first full 24 hours is complete.  We are truly the French family Vadeboncoeur now.  Ali arrives tomorrow, Hanna in a couple of days.  I suppose that is when we truly are French family Vadeboncoeur.  Oh, the heck with them, we are here therefore we are here.  Or something along those lines.

So we flew yesterday.  All day.  It was a long day.  We flew to Detroit, then to Atlanta, then to Zurich, then picked up our car and drove from Zurich to Chatel France.  Did I say that it was a long day?

The route was what it was.  Sometimes traveling is good, sometimes it just doesn’t work with you.   Yesterday was a middling trip.  I have had better, I have definitely had worse.  Atlanta is Delta’s hub, but I have not flown out of there on an international flight before.  Normally, Delta out of Detroit is good to Europe.  The planes are all updated, they have individual TV monitors so that you can choose and watch your own movie.  Delta out of Atlanta is like being on the way back machine.  The planes are old, the seats suck, there is no power at the seats, no individual monitor etc…  You are stuck watching some stupid Julia Roberts movie – ugh…

So we arrived at Zurich, and our car was there and ready to go – thank you Salva.  Salva is the finance person at our Zurich office, and he arranged a car from the office that was extra for us to use for the weeks while we are here.  He rocks.

Eating a sandwich at a roadside place, on our way to Chatel.

We did the white knuckle drive from Zurich in about 4 hours.  It was snow and ice covered and definitely knew we were not in the US based on the road clearing.  Up over the Morgin pass and down to Chatel.

Out on the balcony. Our apartment in Chatel.

We found our place, got unloaded and moved in and then off to the grocery store.  Took us a while to find it, you would think that a town of a few thousand people that the grocery store would not be that hard to find – you would think.  We did finally find it.  And then the differences really started to show.  This was the BIG store in town.  I guess I will see what the small store is like, but this was tiny.  By the time we left there were so many people there after skiing that they were pretty much emptied out.  I have not seen a store that cleaned out before.  There were a bunch of things different about it.

– You have to get a cart outside.  They do not bring the carts in.  And, to get a cart, you have to put money in to “rent” the cart.  Wow.  Obviously, in the US you just grab a cart, use it and then leave it when you are done.

– Nothing is laid out like you would think it would be in the store.  The peanut butter is not by the jam.  The crackers are not by the cookies etc…

– They do not provide bags for your groceries.  If you did not bring your own bags, then you must buy a bag.

The list goes on.

The view from our place. Not bad.

We went to dinner, had a nice pizza – although it is France and as Lloyd says – good pizza is about 2 hours away in Italy.  We also had a nice local wine.  We are planning to be drinking wine while we are here.  Every night.

Slept with the help of Teppy’s little red pills – all the way to 7am.  That is like an eternity for me.  Lloyd was texting already at 8:30 – “let’s go skiing!”  We did not make it early, but he came around at about 10, and out on the hill we went.

Wow, is all I can say.  I thought that it was not going to be great – but it surely was.  It rivaled something like Snowbird.  And, we only just scratched the surface.  There is a ton of skiing here.  Had lunch at a nice little place up on the mountain.  Some soup and a good bread – back out on the hill.

 

I forget how much I like skiing, till I am doing it. Damn.

 

 

At the end, Liz and I went into a bar at the base and ordered up a couple of beers.  Liz had a Stella Artois.  She labeled it “husband beater” beer.  That is funny, the English call it “wife beater”.  That is a reversal, for sure – homeboy.

 

Liz over the top of the "Husband Beater"

I am scared.

 

 

The really funny part is what she discovered in the bathroom.  You see, the French do not think the same about bathrooms that Americans do.  Americans always separate the mens toilet from the women’s toilet.  In France, sometimes the toilet is the same room for both men and women.  Just the stalls are separate for the opposite sex.  Some stalls are marked mens, some women’s.  It is pretty co-mingled.  Liz went into the toilet in that bar at the bottom of the beer, and found that the mens urinal was just out in the open.  She bolted around the corner only to find a French guy taking a whiz. I wish I could have been there to see the look on her face then.

We just finished another bottle of wine (one per day), and our first dinner at the apartment.  Liz is getting cleaned up and we are heading out to the little bar on the corner.  Living it up.

 

You can even cook with that stuff.

 

 

Another one coming.

Joe

French family Vadeboncoeur

Tomorrow, we are starting an adventure. A pretty big adventure. If you follow along, you know that my job takes me all over the place. Sometimes to great places (Tour de France, Italy to do a bike ride, etc…), sometimes that job takes me places that are not as great (a dealer meeting in Japan, a factory in China, etc…). I travel a lot.

Fortunately, my wife loves to travel also. She rides her bike and generally only comes on the glory trips (Paris to watch the end of the TDF, Germany to a bike show etc…), to her all traveling is a pretty good deal. She doesn’t really see the bad trips, so thinks that my job is ALWAYS good trips. What is the big deal?

Because my kids have always been around traveling, they got the travel bug early in life. they have been more places than people there age should have been. My oldest daughter is currently living in Spain. They call all my trips, vacations.

Because of all of that, we decided to spend the next 1.5 months in Europe. Wow, that is a long trip. I have not really gone on a trip that long. There is the issue of leaving someone to watch the house, the mail stopped, paying bills in advance, setting up someone to shovel after a snow storm. All that is pretty manageable though. You kinda figure that all out.

The hard part I did not anticipate is, the packing. What do you take for 5 weeks?

OMG, the luggage!

Follow along here, and I will write about the adventure as much as I can. I will take photos along the way, and post those also.

Cheers.

On soup slurping and other Asian observations

One of the that always amazes me, is how people are the same around the world. I mean think about it, they have families they have jobs, they live in communities that kinda band together, they pick up dog poop (unless your my nephew, who throws it over the fence to the neighbors yard) etc… But as much they are the same, it is amazing how they can be so different.

This week I was in Asia. If you are a regular reader of my blog site, I would imagine you think it is dribble (if you do not, you have something wrong with you).  Most people can think of way better things to do with their time than tune in to see what stupidity I have come up with now.  Regardless, you may recall a blog entry a year or so ago that featured a whacky whacky plane flight. If not, you might want to give it another read here.  That flight was one of my all time favorite experiences traveling.  I should/could probably write a book about that one.  This week I am making note of a couple of other things that I have observed in Asia.

The first one is that Asians either seem to be in a huge hurry, or obscenely slow moving. I do not know exactly why that is, doesn’t seem that there is an in between with them.  If you think this is already a stupid blog entry, now would be the time to move on and eat some chocolate or guzzle a beer or go back to the American Idol.

There are a few things that make you say, wow.

On the slow side, they do not walk on moving sidewalks. You know the ones that have the recorded voice that says “walk on the left, stand on the right”!  In the US, you seldom see someone standing on the walkway. Occasionally you do, but usually it looks like they are doing that for a reason. (handicapped, date night, lost, foreign, eating a Cinnabon etc…). In Asia, more than half of the people get on the walkway and just stand there. They are clearly not in a hurry, or it is just not fashionable to put out any extra effort. Exercise is so bourgeois.

The other example of moving really slow is at an Asian Starbucks. Come on people, you have been to a Starbucks before, there is one on every corner. Order your coffee and get out of the way. And the people behind the counter, jeez, sample your own stuff would ya? Suck down some caffeine and get after it. In the US or a European Starbucks, they want your money, you caffeinated and out of there.

There are examples on the other end of the spectrum also. For example, if you are not just standing on the moving walkway, you are probably running next to the walkway in a funny small step run, hands down stiff armed like you are trying to be inconspicuous that you are moving quickly (Exercise is so bourgeois, you know). It makes me chuckle every time I see it.

Oh, and by the way, do not get in between an older tiny Asian woman and her luggage on the conveyor belt. It is a push your way to the front sport at the airport luggage conveyor. It is also common to push in line. Because if you do not push, there is a risk that they will close the door or something before you get in.

But, the funniest/most awkward thing about being in Asia is the soup slurping. I mean, we are talking serious out loud announce to everyone in the place “I, the funny little old Asian guy with the straight cut mop style hairdo, am having soup”!

Soup with noodles is really a good thing for slurping. If you at home are wondering how it is really done, start by getting your face down really low to the bowl. You should feel the steam and your glasses should fog up. Put the end of a noodle in your mouth, slurp it so that when it is in your mouth you get a really loud sound. If you did not splatter the guy next to you with juices from the soup, your not doing it right. Then suck some of the juice in, loud. Remember, it is supposed to be heard by everyone in the place. It is best to clear your throat, or burp really loud at this point.  Look up, and see if you think everyone heard, do it again, only make it count this time.

“I, Joe Vadeboncoeur, am having soup!”

Airplane food really sucks.

I know this surprises many of you, but airplane food really is crappy. Everyone reading this has had better food than on an airplane. Some of you have had worse food, many of you have not.

I mean, how hard is it? Some soup, a salad, decent bread. At breakfast, some granola and fruit. It really shouldn’t be that hard. Don’t get fancy. Fancy just disappoints.

And damn, if I am asleep – don’t wake me up to give me that crap. Do you think that I actually bought this airplane ticket for the food?

And what is up with the stupid linens put under your tray when up in business class? Is that supposed to make the crummy food feel more special? Please, put down a table cloth to give me some over steamed eggs.

First up against the wall when the revolution comes.