Monday, 27 January 2014

Les Rousses, le départ

In the morning, Nicolas very kindly dropped me over at La Cure in plenty of time for the train. Unfortunately, the SBB website's claim that even small stations have a ticket machine proved false, and I was forced to splash out and spend some precious roaming data to buy a ticket on my phone (admittedly an elegant system for locals); how much the 500kb costs me will be revealed in time, I guess. The train down was at least as pleasant as the trip up had been, and I was at Geneva Airport in plenty of time.
"Even the smallest stations in Switzerland have ticket machines." Yeah, right...

Perhaps it was that by this point I was very ready to get home, but Geneva would be among the worst airports I've been in, with at least twice as many people as it was capable of handling, and almost no seats for any of them. I ate my sandwich sitting on the ground outside a pharmacy, surrounded by loud-mouthed English ski tourists reminding me of all my prejudices against the accents of that country.

Nonetheless, eventually, three airports later, and having spent a much reduced (by time zone changes) Australia day most in an 777-300 and in Singapore Airport, at 2am on a Monday morning, and having ridden cars, trains, planes and taxis all around the world, I did eventually get home to bed.

Les Rousses, day 5

Day 5 was my big day. Knowing full well it was my last, I was resolved to ski as much as I could. Dawn broke with a good 15-20cm of fresh snow over everything, with the locals of Les Rousses out with their spades shovelling their driveways. At the route du Lac, where I was waiting for a bus, a woman in a Yaris was trying in vain to move her car from an icy patch; during 20 minutes or so she spun her wheels literally and figuratively as locals stopped to try and help. Eventually, as my bus arrived, she succeeded in rolling back down the hill and heading off in the opposite direction.

The bus dropped me at Bois d'Amont, and at the tourism office a lady assured me it was a good 2-3km walk up to Porte des Combettes, the start of the nordic pistes. I set off, but had hardly gone 100m when 2 frenchmen in a car stopped to ask me directions to the same place. I mumbled an approximation of what the lady had told me, and they offered me a lift. It was more like a kilometre, but steep, so I was glad of the lift.

After a brief uphill to the actual hut, I had a nice little chat to the lady checking passes, and she assured me that all the liasons across to Les Rousses were open today, and that the dameuse (trailmaking machine) had been through that morning for the first time this week. From Les Combettes I headed northish along first La Pierre Levée, then around Le Grand Remblai to the Porte Risoux-Bellefontaine, through a communal forest along fairly flat and pleasant tracks.
Looking out across a clearing along La Pierre Levée

Hutch at Risoux-Bellefontaine
The overnight snow made the tracks soft and not particularly fast, which suited me perfectly, and the sunshine made for some spectacular contrasts between the sunlight and the shadows of the evergreens.

Trees in light and shade along Le Grand Remblai
The sunshine was also having the effect of making some of the trees shake off parts of their white coats as the snow lodged on them melted and shifted. The falling snow through the sunshine made for a very impressive sight.
Another clearing along Le Grand Remblai
Back at Les Combettes for lunch, the ticket lady was again very welcoming, and we talked about the Loppet, and she offered me tea and water. Eventually I headed out again, up the Pierre Levée, and across and down to the southernmost liaison across to the Crêt Des Sauges. On arriving at the Chalet Rose intersection, I had my first crash of the day, coming down the hill at speed into a soft snow drift at the centre of the intersection.
Le Chalet Rose

Frazzled but happy after a crash at the Chalet Rose
From the Chalet Rose I headed west across to the corner of the Sauges loop, just 1.5km from the Porte de la Combe du Vert near Les Rousses. I was feeling tired, having covered somewhere around 30km already by my reckoning (the GPS later disagreed somewhat), but I was determined to make the most of my last day, at the very willing price of exhaustion and certain soreness, so I pushed myself hard around a loop of the Crêt Des Sauges, including a very controlled and dignified (if I do say so myself) descent of a hill that would have featured a half dozen crashes at the start of the week. I clocked myself at about 1hr10min for the 8.4km loop (which, despite being quite up-and-down, should keep any skiing ego I might have had in check).
Long shadows around Le Crêt des Sauges
From there I took a gentle downhill towards La Combe du Vert, and a turn-off to the liason back to Les Rousses. This trail very quickly became quite hairy, with no traces and being quite up and down with sharp turns. I crashed a couple of times, and was relieved when eventually the trail gave way to a racquette trail of a few hundred metres down to the road. By this point I was very much feeling my injuries: a very sore right achilles, left tibialis anterior, very sore feet, and a nasty case of chafing. The 2km walk remaining did not appeal, but while walking I noticed a dameuse crafting a trail just beside me, so I jumped onto that - skiing being less difficult than walking at this point - which shortened my journey by a precious few hundred metres. Nonetheless, the kilometre walk after that was a very painful affair, and I was very glad of a hot shower back at the room. I figured I had covered at least 40km for the day, although I was disappointed to see that the GPS claimed 35km.

In the evening I barged in a little early, and had to amuse myself reading Karenina on my phone until the staff had done with their dinner. The wait was worth it though; the trout I had, accompanied by a decent viognier and followed by tarte a l'orange, was well and truly the best meal I had all week, and I treated myself to a p'tit calva afterwards.

For the rest of the trip:

Les Rousses, Day 4

Today I really got into my skiing. I headed out a little later than intended, but earlier than previously, to La Darbella.

I headed north this time, into the forêt de la Sambine. Initially I started along the Bois de Ban trail, which had been marked as open at the hut, but I encountered a "chemin fermé" sign, so headed instead up the Fer à cheval trail, which had been marked as closed at the hut, but seemed both open and groomed. The trail was very pleasant, again closed in by pines and other trees covered by a fresh fall of snow.
Le forêt de la Sambine
The trees earlier in the week had been a mix of skeletal white and green pines lightly shrouded in white, but today the skeletons had more meat on their bones, and the evergreens were well and truly cloaked in white.

Between Le Bois de Ban and Les Arobiers
The snow was falling on and off, at times quite heavy, and the visibility was reasonably low, down to 40m or so at times, but I was very happy.

Very pleasant skiing along Les Arobiers
Difficult to avoid accidental selfies while wearing ski gloves!
Trees in white coats!
At Prémanon I turned and followed the Bois de Ban along through the Sambine until it met Les Arobiers, which continued, again through very pretty country alternating between pine forest and some grazing land. Through these I descended down to Lamoura, where I had my lunch.

I headed out again from Lamoura intending to follow Les Arobiers/Le Boulu along the north side of the lake. The trail was very rough and without rails. Eventually I passed a group of schoolchildren on racquettes, and I was convinced that I'd missed the trail and ended up on a découverte section, and eventually off-piste following a group of uniformed people - army or firemen - plugging away through fairly fresh (i.e. soft and difficult snow. At some point the "trail" ended just above a road, and I walked down and along the road to La Serra, only a few hundred metres away. At La Serra I rejoined the south side of Le Boulu which I'd taken the previous day, and made my way back to La Darbella along a fairly flat section which had been closed earlier in the week.

I figured by the end that I'd done about 25km, but I suspect the GPS will show it as more like 20. Nonetheless, I was satisfied that I'd had a proper full day's worth of skiing.

Back at the golf course, I had a dinner of escalope jurassien (i.e. chicken and prosciutto bathed in cheese and cream), and a quite decent red, followed by tarte au poire et amandes. Very satisfying!

For the rest of the trip:

Les Rousses, Day 3

My third day in the mountains was a little compromised, in that I suspended my rules of no work to have a teleconference about a grant proposal. It meant that I was tied up until a little after 11, and the vagaries of the Ski Bus meant that I wasn't able to get up to the pistes until around 2.

My intention was to try Le Boulu, a 12km loop in the valley between La Serra and Lamoura. I started at the eastern end, and worked my way along the southern side. It was a very flat track, slightly descending and going past some small downhill stations. The sun was shining, which was pleasant above ground, but was having a detrimental effect on the snow, which was showing brown spots in places.

As I turned around the western end of the loop, the track tunnelled through some trees alongside a creek - very pretty - then up past some farmhouses towards Lamoura, where the snow gave out and I was forced to hoof it for a few hundred metres into Lamoura. I decided to skip the remaining 5km or so in favour of catching the 4:30pm bus rather than being forced onto the later one, a decision I was glad of as I walked back through Les Rousses in the rapidly cooling evening.
Looking out from Lamoura in later afternoon
For dinner I popped into the golf club upstairs and had a fondue (nice cheese, but kind of boring as a meal), accompanied by another average Chardonnay, and followed by some blueberry pie. There was a group there arriving after a raquette (snowshoe) outing as part of an office retreat of some kind, and one girl among them was in a very bad way physically, being force-fed sugar and made to lie down before an ambulance was eventually called (although, I learnt later, not used).

For the rest of the trip:

Les Rousses, Day 2

My second day was better in pretty much every way. I was satisfied to find that the breakfast provided by my hosts was not excessive (a relief coming from Germany), but still afforded me a half baguette left over for my lunch. This I complemented by a trip to the supermarket to pick up some of my old french favourites - comté, saucisson sec and caramel au beurre salé - as well as some apples and trail mix. This meant I didn't get up to Darbella until after midday, but having bought enough to last me for a week's worth of lunches, I figured it was worthwhile.

The skiing began in much the same fashion as the previous day, which is to say well. Philosophically I was in better shape, using the small downhill sections as a way to practice some of the downhill techniques which had let me down the day before. At the turn of La Dolarde, though, on a whim I figured I'd try to extend myself, and headed uphill along Les Logettes, a steeper and (at 7.5km) longer trail.
Les Logettes

Once again I felt pretty good going uphill. At the top I passed on the Chalet de la Frasse, and carried on towards the downhill half of the trail. I was very slow, but managed to keep myself in control basically the whole way down what was a very pretty twisting trail entunneled (which my spellchecker assures me isn't a word, but which will be one day) by trees laden with the evening's snowfall. By the time I arrived back at Le Carrefour de la Dolarde, I was feeling very proud of myself, not only in having crashed less than the day before, but in my discipline in maintaining control over what was a fairly difficult descent.
Working hard on Les Logettes
Back at the chalet I had a well earned and very enjoyable lunch (better by far than the previous day's pain au raisin and baguette) of my new purchases, then with one eye on the clock, I headed out for a quick run of La Dolarde before the bus left. This I managed without any real falls (I will forgive myself a small slip at one point). Even returning on the bus I felt a better vibe from the driver (having yesterday waited at the wrong stop and been chastised somewhat).
Looking out past the Golf du Rochat, where I stayed
After getting home and showering, I headed uphill in the dying light into town with a vague idea of seeking food. Of course, the dying light being 5:30pm, this was folly, and I was reduced to walking around town and buying postcards, finally popping into one of the few bars for a beer while I awaited a reasonable hour to dine. The town really didn't have the kind of atmosphere I'd expected of a ski town. There were few people in the few bars - very different from the buzz I'd anticipated.

Eventually I gave in and presented myself at the locally precocious hour of 7pm at a restaurant I'd reconnoitred a couple of times earlier. Under the principle of being on holidays and having earned the right to spoil myself, I helped myself to a tartiflette (it had been too long!), a half bottle of chardonnay (very average) and a tarte tatin, before bumbling back downhill shivering and lit by my headtorch, to the comfortable warmth of my room.

At 8:30pm, it was hardly a night out, but all told, there wasn't a significant aspect of day 2 that wasn't entirely superior to day 1.

For the rest of the trip:

Les Rousses, Day 1

I had developed a very positive anticipation for the railway trip up to Les Rousses. Arriving at Nyon early, I transferred to a very small train in its own little station beside the main gare. My scheduled train wasn't for another half hour, but there was one there, and given that the station served only one line, I figured no harm could come of taking an earlier service. In the end, it terminated in St-Cergue, a couple of stops shy of my intended destination of La Cure, but I was able to wait a half hour for the next train, and I comforted myself that it was as well to wait in a small town as in a big one. As it happened, I struck up a conversation with an English fellow heading to La Givrine for some skiing lessons. As for the trip itself, it was very pleasant, through countryside and very small towns coming out of Nyon, and a few factory stops, then climbing above the snow line into small resort towns higher up towards St Cergue and La Cure.
La Cure Station
Eventually arriving at La Cure, after a quick phone call I was met by Nicolas, from the golf course where I was staying. Having settled in quickly, I walked the 20 minutes or so up into the town and was quickly able to familiarise myself with the bus services, purchase a ski pass for the 5 days, and arrange the rental of some skis. I headed back down to my room for a quick costume change then, with the number of aller-retours beginning to mount, headed back up and out by bus via Les Jouvencelles to La Darbella, by about 2pm.

Setting out surrounded by schoolchildren, I was a little intimidated by their comparative expertise, and my rust. I was fairly terrified of my first short downhill, but managed to negotiate it staying in the tracks. Making my way around the shortest loop - La Dolarde - I actually felt pretty good. I was starting to recall the rhythms I'd learnt in New Zealand all those years ago, and was making good progress up hill.
Looking down La Dolarde
I turned, and the first descent - though longer than I'd anticipated - went OK, with only once instance of sitting down mid-piste when things got a little hairy. At the second, longer descent, I had a little crash near the top, then waited while a horde of 5 year-old made their way down switching from one set of tracks to the other and back. My intention was strictly to get to the bottom without completely wiping out. I was unsuccessful - I think the count was 3 fairly silly looking disasters, with muscles getting distinctly sore.
Shaken but not deterred on Day 1
I crept home feeling fairly dejected at my clear lack of ability going downhill. Worst of all, I'd felt a fair bit of the grabbing in my right calf which had plagued my running in recent months, and I was pretty worried that it would hamper the rest of my week.

Back at the golf course, with a quite reasonable spray of snow falling (we had about an inch), and faced with the decision of going back into town (for the third time) to seek dinner (the golf course restaurant being closed until Wednesday), I fell into my worst travel habits, and buttered my remaining half bagette and had a miserly dinner of bread with honey and a cup of tea, over a couple of chapters of Anna Karenina. I'm good at looking after myself at home; the same cannot be said when I travel. The additional difficulty of not knowing where anything is has a tendency to see me skip meals from time to time.

Aachen to Dusseldort to Heathrow to Geneva

The trip from Aachen to Geneva was largely uneventful. I was conscious that I'd probably made a mistake by flying rather than taking trains, but I was happy to just live with it. I had a couple of hours at Heathrow, during which I principally amused myself by grinning about Australia having beaten England in another ODI.

Geneva, on this trip, struck me as a distinctly dirty city. This was an odd impression to take away, since it wasn't one I'd had on my previous visit 10 years ago, nor did it fit with my general stereotype of Switzerland, of order and organisation. Admittedly, my hotel was near the main railway station - never a good location in a European city, but I felt neither impressed nor even particularly safe walking around the streets looking (without great satisfaction) for a decent restaurant.

For the rest of the trip:


The dust is deep on this blog, but on my recent work/holiday trip to Aachen and the Jura, respectively, I felt compelled to write, and did. So, here follow, in episodes correspondingly loosely to days, those accounts.

View from hotel room in Aachen

The first week of my trip bears little discussion, really. Most days consisted of catching a cab around daybreak from the hotel out to the university, where we worked through the day writing and talking about the book, with lunches at the uni cafeteria. We generally broke between 7 and 8 for dinner in town somewhere. For the most part the days were uneventful and the dinners nothing to write home about (although one of the restaurants was apparently the birthplace of Reuters).
The Dom in Aachen

The change in Aachen on the Saturday was quite remarkable. Throughout the week, the streets in the evenings and particularly in the mornings had seemed almost deserted, but come Saturday the town was filled with people.

The back of the Aachen town hall
It was a lovely sunny day, and I'm not sure from whence they'd come (visiting from out of town or just emerging from the suburbs), but the town was buzzing with people from all walks. I had a couple of nice walks around town, past the town hall and cathedral, both bristling with a half dozen different architectural styles all mashed together over the centuries.

The front of the Aachen town hall