Is This the End of Being a Lifelong Vagabond?
18 January 2016 | Mri Grout
Due to being fired for standing up for our legal rights, Rob and I found ourselves back in England a lot sooner than we had
wished. We had not visited Annecy during the Venetian festival, tested the new ski equipment in Miege,
climbed a proper via ferrata, hiked up Mount Blanc, flown across the Alps, and most importantly, we had
not gotten me a French residency card.
Due to Rob being from England and England wanting to split from the EU and the EU being the only thing
stopping Rob and I from spending six to twelve months apart, on different continents, well...some would say it was a very important thing this residency card.
Even more important than say my strong desire to be a lifelong vagabond.
Yep. Love can suck that way. Travelling is so much easier going solo - or at least, not tied to one partner
who doesn't hail from the same country you do. Like, so SO much easier - cannot emphasize that 'so'
Regardless we were married and you know, that whole love thing, and so with a defeated sigh I followed
him back to England. And though I had really wanted to go to Bulgaria, Spain, or some other cheap to live,
sunshine country, as we crossed the English channel I could not help but feel like I had come home. I had
always been in love with England - the romanticized tales of knights and lords and peasants and rain. The
rolling hills and powerful ruins. The clouded skies that were we anywhere else I would them find
depressing. But not here. Never here.
Some sheep resting at cross below Skiddaw
So though our lifelong vagabond lifestyle must come to an end (for now and the five years following), I
cannot help but anticipate our new adventure. I am to get Irish citizenship - or try to if another unforeseen
circumstance does not pop up. I am to get my TEFL qualification, really focus on my writing for once, and
try to pick up web design. Rob is to get his diving, mountaineering, sailing, and whatever other
qualification that is of use while on the road. And then, without fear of separation, we shall travel the
world. Again. (:
It's Not the Height I'm Afraid of, It's the Fall
27 December 2015 | Mri Grout
Since we already bought two harnesses and a pretty blue rope to retrieve the
riser I left in a tree last weekend (we managed to get it back by the way...or rather, Rob did), we decided we might as
well use them for their actual purpose. No, not climbing - we'd need more gear for that, but a via ferrata.
For those that don't know what that is, it's basically a rough terrain hike with a rope you clip on to so
when/if you fall, you don't die too badly.
After struggling through French websites to find one nearby, I finally located one in Beaufort - a mere 45
minutes from our current home. We got in the car, ignored Google maps saying the road might be closed
due to winter conditions (there isn't any snow here at the moment), drove for forty minutes, ignored the
'roads closed ahead' signs (in the hope we were turning off before them), and then finally took notice of a
barricade that said 'closed' in four different languages... In all fairness, it was only blocking half the road so
it definitely could've been passable, but I wasn't taking any chances and made Rob turn the car around.
The guy in front of us just went around it.
So anyway, after another frustrating Google search this time with a barely there phone signal, I managed
to find another via ferrata in Ugine, a town relatively close to Albertville. Hoping this one wasn't also closed, we drove the
forty minutes up a fairly windy, extremely skinny road that should NOT have been two ways. Luckily,
however, the road was fairly deserted and within a few more minutes we were at the top completely awed
over by the incredulous view.
We drove the last kilometre or so to the start of our via ferrata, completely ignored the 'closed' sign, got a
bit worried about the 'missing cable' part but eventually ignored that too, and headed up the mountain.
There wasn't a trail that we could see, let alone the red markers we were supposed to follow, and we
didn't really know where this via ferrata was supposed to be. All we knew was it was up ONE of these
mountains... Figuring if we walked up it we'd eventually find it, we trekked on and guess what? That actually worked!
Within thirty minutes of walking up some very steep terrain, we came across a marker. Not the right
coloured marker, but what the hell: yellow, red, who can tell the difference?
Many, many water breaks later and we find out that it actually doesn't make a difference as this trail
passes close enough to the red trail for us to hop on over. And so we do. A few more water breaks later
and we're at the start of the via ferrata. And hey, look at that, the cable the sign was saying wasn't there
actually wasn't there. Huh. Well crap; now what?
Refusing to walk down so close to the top, we decide to see how passable the via ferrata is without the
ferrata part. Around the first corner, I kid you not, we find the cable...neatly coiled up against the rock...
Now to be fair, this is my first via ferrata so I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that's not how you're
supposed to use the cable. Before I can even ask Rob about this, however, he points another twenty feet
away to a cable actually attached to the rock like a slack railing.
We clip in, climb up, stare in awe at the even more amazing views,
try not to imagine dying via face smashing (maybe that's just me
though...), get maybe 100m from the top, meet a French guy who
warns us of upcoming difficulty (UPCOMING!?), ignore said
warnings, make it another ten feet, and then I refuse to go any
further because the snow is slippery and the slope is steep. In my
defence, you see that picture there? That's the EASY part. And
those rocks are sharp. And loose. And I'm really clumsy. And for
some unknown reason the cable was missing (again) on that bit.
And...and...okay, so I might be a tad bit afraid of death via falling
down a mountain, but...I almost made it?
Oh shut up and just enjoy the pictures. :P
And I Thought Last Weekend Was Painful...
20 December 2015 | Mri Grout
We drove into Annecy again today with the sole purpose of doing our first fly down in the Alps. The
weather looked even more amazing than it normally did: bright blue skies with only a few streaks of
clouds, a strong sun, and less haze in the air for clearer views.
As we drove closer, however, we quickly realized something was wrong as there weren't any pilots in the
air. Mind you, this is a Sunday. In Annecy - one of the top flying places in the world and ALWAYS home to
pilots flying some place or another. But yet there wasn't a single - oh no wait, there one was. And
another. Still, there wasn't the 10-20 pilots crowding the landing area like normal, so Rob got out for a
chat to figure out if there was anything we should be aware of. There wasn't; site was still good to fly. The
other pilots had just chosen a different site and so up we hitched.
Having no idea of where we were actually going, we were very lucky to get the ride we did. Clyde (an
Englishmen also doing a season in the Alps) detoured out of his way to take us to what he thought was
take-off. He had flown tandem before a while ago as his company's boss was an instructor (you won't find
one that doesn't have a second job). We had seen a sign saying 'parapente' (French for paraglider) and
were feeling good about being in the right place despite none of us really knowing. We got out of the car,
walked around the café and the gardens of people's houses, and then decided we were actually in the
wrong place and the actual site was back down the mountain a bit. So down we drove...until we got some
phone signal and realized nope, it was actually back where we originally were and so once again up we
Rob and I hiked the small, but steep walk up to Annecy's paragliding launch and
patiently waited for the wind to be just right. As we waited
we debated about where landing (and our car) was, decided
it was just around the bend, and pulled out or wings.
Despite not having flown in months, my launch was
relatively smooth and as soon as I wiggled back into my seat
my nerves disappeared. The air was the smoothest I had
ever flown in and just perfect for ending my flying
hiatus...until Rob yelled out, "We're not going to make the landing field; pick a new one!"
So jeah, it turns out the landing field we decided was just around the corner was actually two kilometres.
And we only realized this after we pissed away all of our height so we couldn't easily make it. Great first
fly, right? Just wait, it gets even better.
Given that we were now above a community of houses the only landing options were people's gardens and
a caravan park. None of them were very big and they were all completely surrounded by something or
another like trees and houses and power lines and roads. You get the drift.
Anyway, Rob spirals down so he can land before me and check the conditions. He comes in a lot closer to
the top of the trees than I would have liked, but even so he barely managed to land in the field. So here I
am thinking, well shit. I'm just going to have to kick a few tree tops. Unfortunately I didn't manage to do
that. I say unfortunately because if I had that means I would have been low enough to make the field and
not need to do another S turn to lose height. And thus I would not have had to make a tight turn in a
narrow field, fucked it up, and then crashed into a tree.
I was completely fine as I had almost, almost cleared it but my
wing tip caught a branch and swung me back into it - so not a
scratch on me as my body never hit the tree. I hung there in my
harness maybe ten feet off the ground hoping the tree held so I
wouldn't fall. It didn't and I managed to unclip and drop into
Rob's arms (I know so romantic! Just as expensive as romance
can be too!)
After Rob made sure I wasn't hurt, he climbed the first tree (I got
it stuck in two) to try to untangle it from the branches while I
went to find someone with a saw. The silver lining is I learned
how to say "Pouvez-vous m'aider. Parapente en arbre." (Can
you help me? Paraglider in tree.) Their reply was to burst out
laughing and call whoever else was in the house to come and
see/laugh with them. In all fairness though, half of them did try
to be helpful, especially these two girls. One of them even ended
up on Rob's shoulders at one point, but alas it was all to no avail. In the end we had to cut over fifteen
lines...I don't even want to say how much it's going to cost as it's way too painful. Force me to walk up
another mountain in the snow any day. Crashing into trees is SO not fun, especially when you finally
realize your expensive, fairly new wing is not coming down all in one piece and that your lovely husband
climbs a tree, the branch he's standing on snaps, he barely manages to catch himself twenty feet off the
ground, and is now more hurt than you are: the person who crashed into the tree. Like, seriously?
A Painfully Gorgeous View
12 December 2015 | Mri Grout
After a night and a morning spent debating which mountain to walk up (there's too many to choose from!
Everything's written in French! ARGGHHHH!), I finally just picked a spot on the map, zoomed in to find
Chaine de la Aravis (/chaine-de-la-aravis.html), and said, "Here we go; now get in the bloody car"...and then
had to be nagged out of bed because I still wasn't dressed yet. What can I say? Saturday's my lie-in
morning. Sunday's my tiger...haha, that joke never gets old.
Anyway, after about an hour's drive we arrived at a place called Cordon, got lost for only a few minutes
due to the instructions not being very helpful (and not just because we Google translated it from French,
but because they were like: turn left at the hotel...which hotel!? Not that we saw one anyway...), and then
eventually drove up what looked like either someone's driveway or a ranger's track, but turned out to be
neither. In fact, it was the correct road, surprisingly enough.
We got out of the car, went up an actual driveway, stopped a Frenchwoman to mime for help, got told very
nicely to turn around, and then we were finally off on our three hour adventure up our very first Alp
mountain. And it was such a beautiful morning too; what could possibly go wrong?
Well as turns out I, at least, didn't have to wait long for that answer. Despite having walked up some
equally steep slopes while carrying a much bigger and heavier rucksack before this, my medical problems
started acting up after about ten minutes into the hike. Following my fifth time stopping in just as many
minutes, Rob offered that we should just turn around because if I was this bad now there was no way I'd
finish the hike. Sweet, but no thanks; I'm too bloody stubborn for that. And yes, one of these days my
hardheadedness is going to kill me, but today was not that day...I hoped.
Eventually, however, we crossed over into the snowline and got our first view free of blocking trees. And
though I was in a fair bit of pain at this time and cursing my stupid idea to wear trousers, the mountains
were way too gorgeous for me to wish I'd turned around ages ago. Knowing the top was just there, I raced
up the mountain (though you probably wouldn't know it just by watching...) and was immediately
reminded just how cold snow was when it melted - a bootfull does not a happy person make.
The breathtaking views at the top of one of the lookouts called Croix des la Tête Noire , however...I just can't
even begin to show you how remarkably beautiful it was even with all the photos.
Some sheep resting at cross below Skiddaw
After an hour's rest/captivation, we decided to head over to the other lookout which was only about
thirty-minutes away before heading down. During this time, I found out three things. 1. Walking in snow
is freakin' hard. Like ridiculously hard - even when walking in someone else's footsteps. We had gone off
path for only a short distance to try to get better shots and though it was worth it, NEVER AGAIN! Or at
least, not until I see another possibly beautiful angle... 2. We found 'evidence' of big foot! Or I guess the
Yeti? Whatever, they're the same thing and we found its footprints! And 3. Snow does not make nice
Some sheep resting at cross below Skiddaw
Despite my excitement and the want to keep going, I was now dead on my feet with the slight fear that I
wouldn't get down the mountain if there was much more of this. Due to the snow-trekking, on top of my
medical problems and heat exhaustion, I was just plain ol' exhausted. Also, since I was now starting to get
dizzy due to the lack of available food, I was beginning to think that we'd probably been at this a lot longer
than we'd thought - but then, I'm normally hungry so maybe that isn't the most liable way to tell the
time...but still, surely we were close enough to the end to turn around and go home.
I called Rob over to see what he wanted to do and surprise, surprise he wanted to keep going. Normally I
would bugger on through all the pain for him (and my own stubbornness...), but it was getting really bad
and I knew there was no way he could carry me down this mountain if I collapsed as I've done before.
Nevertheless I looked at the map with him and since we were half-way through the loop it didn't really
matter if we turned around or went forward. So we went forward...up another bloody snow-covered
In all fairness though, the views were totally worth all of the pain and hardship via the inability to easily
control my muscles and limbs, the uncontrollable flailing and constant falling in the snow due to said
inability, very cold arms and hands due to said falling over as I couldn't put on a jacket due to my back
burning up/medical problems make that a big no-no, dizziness, dehydration, general soreness, and a bunch
of other crap I'm not going to get into. Because who really cares about all of that when in the end I'd
walked up and then down a freakin' ALP! (Mostly) On my own! With beyond awesome views! What! A! Day!
Tea's Ready So I Can't Be Asked Thinking Up A Title
6 December 2015 | Mri Grout
Despite already knowing I hate skiing, I eventually let Rob talk me into going with him. After all, he
pointed out, we hadn't exactly been celebrating his birthday these last couple of years as we'd always
been busy building one van or another - it's like he completely forgot about that surprise birthday cake I
arranged for him last year. Unfortunately, I'd also forgotten all about that and only remembered it AFTER
I agreed to go.
Dammit.After searching for the best deal because I really didn't want to spend much money on something I wasn't
going to enjoy - oh and because Rob has a twitchy knee we wanted to be sure about first (obviously that
more than the me thing...obviously), I found a very good price: free. There just happened to be a ski
exhibition on called Ski Force Winter Tour that was letting people try on different skis, complete with a
free ski pass for the day. How perfect was that!? Rob could find out what skis he'd want to get and I got a
'get out of jail free' card because the event required you to have your own ski boots and I didn't have any.
Or sort of. Turns out, Rob will ski all day, which means five hours of me just sitting around waiting. Yay...
At least the views were nice. (:
Rob had a seemingly fantastic time and though he was a bit slow on his first run (though still much better
than I could do even in my imagination), he very quickly picked up speed and skill - which only solidified my
belief that skiing was not for me. The last time I went, six hours later and I was still stuck on the freakin'
nursery slope and had a giant snow burn all across my back because I didn't wear a jacket (in my defence, it
Some sheep resting at cross below Skiddaw
Though...now one of my roommates is saying there's another free event on next weekend. Can I really
stay in the Alps over winter and not ski at least once?
Furnishing Our New Home
5 December 2015 | Mri Grout
Despite multiple reassurances that there would be
everything we'd need at the apartment and if not, the
company would supply it, the only furniture in our
room for a week was the bed. To be fair, it is a fairly
comfortable and quite big bed. However, it surprisingly
does not make a very good cupboard for our clothes,
laptops, towels, and other household items. I say
surprisingly because our last two beds (in the camper-
vans) were very adequate cupboards so logic would
deem that this one should be too, but alas it doesn't
seem to be the case. Any thoughts on why not? I'm
However, instead of hmmming and awwwing over the
reason why, I decided to just accept it and then do
something about it. What was that you might ask?
Well, we had some blue boxes lying around, but oh no I
didn't want to use those even if they were good and
tough. Then Rob offered to build one out of free, thick but cardboard. Now I've seen him build some damn good
stuff so I was tempted, but not completely. No, instead,
I went and bought one. And if that's not crazy enough, I
threw in a bedside table and new bedroom TV too!
Oh man, how I've changed in these last four years. I seriously can't even contemplate travelling like I used
to; damn you Rob. lols. (: Love you.
Anyway, I didn't go completely crazy and buy new stuff; I still stuck to the op shops I love so much (they
call them consignment shops here). The first one we went to was called Bazaar Sans Frontières and despite finding a great review (three stories!) they didn't have
any furniture cheap enough for us to just throw away after five months. Though if you're planning on
moving near Annecy, France and want some solid furniture this is the place. They did, however, have some
very cheap oven dishes that we grabbed and some ski equipment that we didn't despite Rob's inspection
and longing looks (I wanted to make sure his knee didn't give way first).
Still without any furniture, we headed to a place called Troc. It's not completely
a consignment shop as it's a mixture of both old and new stuff and so prices range from way-too-
expensive-for-us to just-right. And it was here that we picked up a very nice cupboard for €19 that had
both shelves and drawers (Rob likes the latter; I prefer the former) and a sturdy beside table for a
whopping €12 - both made of solid wood. They also had a much sought offer quiche dish about a foot in
diameter that we were very pleased about. :D I love me some quiche.
Happy with our finds, we headed to the counter where I struggled
to ask the check-out guy for help. In the end I just pointed to
somewhere behind me and then to my small muscles; he got the
hint quite quickly and in no time, him and a co-worker were
carrying out our new cupboard...only for us to get to the car and remember just how small it was...
After a lot of struggling, me cracking the back of the bedside table
(oops), and fair bit of the French guys laughing at us (and then
helping), we eventually got them both in the car and then up the
three flights of stairs to our new home where they look fantastic if
I say so myself. (:
Travel Tip #4
What was your favourite part of our 2016 Alps adventure?