French alps

2016 Alps

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' enough.

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.

sheep resting at the monument below Skiddaw

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.

Alps around Ugine, France

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

panarama of the Alps from Ugine's via ferrata
start of Ugine's via ferratagoofing around at Ugine's via ferrataheading up Ugine's via ferrata

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 drove.

paragliding launch area in AnnecyRob 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.

paraglider crashed into a treeI 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.

sheep resting at the monument below Skiddaw

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 toilet paper.

sheep resting at the monument below Skiddaw

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 mountain.

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. Score!

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 was hot).

skiing at Le Grand Barnard in the Alps

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?

Dammit.

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 completely baffled.

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. (:

What was your favourite part of our 2016 Alps adventure?