And then there was one…!!!

And then there was only one left standing!

Well it’s not food poisoning! During the night Marie lost her battle to the nasty gastro virus that’s apparently making its presence felt in Arabba. “Novo-virus?” we’re not sure.

So now, there’s only “Iron-Guts Graeme” left to command the ship. And thank goodness..only in absolute desperation could Hubert or I manage to drive the 2.5 hours to the airport and we needed to leave this morning at 9:30am to get H&M on their flight.

I managed to keep down a bowl of porridge but nothing for the Frenchies aside from Immodium and an unpronounceable drug that stops nausea. Marie is looking particularly green and given her predilection to car sickness she’s absolutely dreading the drive back down to the airport with all the twisty mountain roads.

Between moans and groans we did all manage to have a laugh about our predicament. Certainly it was not in the “script” for the weekend.  And Gra & I do feel very sorry for H&M.  It’s OK for us.  I just crawl back into bed for the rest of the day and the next if I need to.  They have to work.  Tomorrow morning, Marie is lecturing at university, with tennis final in the evening and Hubert has to catch the 5:30 am TGV to Paris!    Fingers crossed they beat this nasty bug quickly.

While we were in the midst of our ailment comparisons, our doorbell rang.   This has only happened once way back in December, and while immersed in our enthusiastic gastroenterology descriptions, we didn’t recognise the sound of our doorbell buzzer.  We thought that it was our neighbours and failed to answer the door.  To our surprise when we finally did open our door some time later to head out, we found a beautiful home-made cake on our doorstep.

Our lovely home-made torta from Gabi
Our lovely home-made torta from Gabi

Gabi our landlady had dropped it off for us.  We couldn’t believe it!   Fortunately with Marie translating we found out that Gabi’s daughter, Elisa who owns our apartment had made it for us.  We’re still not quite sure why, but I think that finally after weeks of being super cheerful, every time we meet Gabi & Carlo, we may finally have broken through their reserve.    In addition to Marie’s heartfelt Italian thanks on our behalf this morning, I also used google translate to pen a personal email to Gabi & Elisa expressing our thanks. I am sincerely hoping that google translate hasn’t said anything wrong.    I remember 15 years ago when google translate was in its infancy, using it to do a German translation of our lodge room features.  We had heated mirrors in all the bathrooms, or “mist-free” as we described them in English.   I thought I had better just double check the translations and duly sent off the transcript to my good friend Anett, our German native, who advised me in fits of laughter that we were advertising that our bathrooms all had “s_ _t” [excrement] free mirrors.  Google translate is a literal fellow and “mist” in German means dung! Hardly something you’d boast about in a bathroom.      I can only hope that 15 years down the track, google translate has been continually improving its Italian or there’s no telling what I’ve just written to our landlords…stay tuned.

But then the dreaded car journey.  We had packed a bucket, tissues, water, plastic bag and toilet paper. A bon-voyage cocktail of immodium & paracetamol last thing and we think we’ve covered every contingency.   Driving on our mountain roads or an autostrada, means that you can’t always stop immediately and pull off.  And so began the journey.  Pretty much zero conversation for poor Graeme, as all of us fell into a stomach cramping sleep.

No conversation on road to airport
No conversation on road to airport

And finally we arrived at the airport for the last photo.  You’ll notice a nice soft focus to the shot….I chose the “beauty face” setting on the camera to help us all feel a bit better.

Finally the mountain roads are over!
Finally the mountain roads are over!

Nothing much to report about the drive home.  We will be doing this same drive again on Friday when we go to Venice for a couple of days and then again on 10 Feb when we take our friend Richard back to the Airport.

Unfortunately, Liz, Richard’s wife is unable to come.  They are trying to sell their house in Araches and they have a keen buyer from England who can only come to see their house on the week that they’d booked to visit us.   Brexit is making things very tricky for UK ex-pats in France.  Fingers crossed they will make their sale and move on with their next projects …of which they have many!  But Richard is still coming which is great.

Back in Arabba, a quick re-stock and then an early night to try and throw this nasty bug and with a certain trepidation that ol’ “Iron-guts” might finally succumb.

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Records tumble, tummies rumble..

We have an ambitious plan today, but H&M are serious skiers.  And they are fast….!  H was a ski racer in his youth and he only knows two speeds – flat out and stop.  M is also deceptively fast, probably due to skiing with H all these years.   But Marie makes high speed skiing look so effortless.  I should know…I’m inevitably bringing up the rear.   My brain disconnects from my limbs after 30km/hr….mainly due to the pure terror pumping into my blood stream.

Of course it was a beautiful sunny day…is there any other kind in the Dolomiti?  We were first over to the Marmolada glacier to luxuriate in an un-crowded run down.  Here’s the clip…please turn to slow motion to see Hubert as he flies past at warp speed.  And he’s on tele’s!

Then back over to Arabba for our regular coffee stop.  Good news, my lovely man (whose name I will ensure I get next time), was back in attendance and making us his usual high standard of coffee.

Coffee time.. Marie relaxing!
Coffee time.. Marie relaxing!

Next on to the Sellaronda.  It was quite busy.  We forget how busy the Sellaronda can be. We generally avoid these areas now.    Having said that, the longest we waited in a lift queue was about 5 minutes and that was just because they were fixing something with one of the chairs.

Lunch was at one of our favourite places:  Baita Gherdeccia.  Fantastic service and delicious food.

Back out on to the slopes again after lunch to complete our route around the mountain, ending our day watching the sunset over a bombadino at our newest little discovery at Campalongo.

A fantastic day, with great friends and a new record for us!   I did mention we were skiing with the champs!

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And then to the evening.  We decided to just stay in for tonight, pending a try-out of a new restaurant in town tomorrow evening before H&M leave us on Sunday.   We have been gifted with a special Lyonaise saucisson.   It’s called an “oh Jesus” because…well…it’s so big. We think that’s what it’s called because sometimes we lose H’s humour in translation.  But suffice to say we gave it a nudge with some cheese, gherkins, olives and chips washed down with some good Italian wine.  Followed by my home-made curry.  [There is a reason why I’m describing this food intake in detail, which will become apparent in a moment.]

And finally, of course another little tipple of hazelnut grappa before heading to bed with suitably weary leg muscles.   Alas around mid-night I awoke to some strange noises coming from my stomach and a certainty that unless I made it to the bathroom very quickly, all was about to go horribly wrong.

 

 

 

Bienvenue, benvenuto, kia ora Hubert & Marie

Before we move on to today, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent grappa tasting at Market Marilena yesterday evening.

We have been regular customers of Market Marilena since we arrived in Arabba in December.  They have been very friendly to us and nothing is a problem. They even found some old sleeping mats which we’ve been using for yoga.  The young fellow, Bob who works there has been to Australia and speaks very good English and Marilena, who owns the store, well…she gives it her best shot!

And give us her best shot she certainly did last evening.  We have been wary of grappa to say the least.   The stuff is actually rocket fuel disguised as an “aperitif”  But tonight, Marilena introduced us to the beginner level.  Only 28% proof, this is “grappa for children” she explained.   Perfect…just the place for us to start!   But we also knew Marilena was joking as Miriam from Bar Peter had previously explained to us that they only give children watered down wine and prosecco – not grappa.    Good to know?    But in sampling  Marilena’s many & varied thimbles of grappa, we’ve been seduced by the hazelnut flavoured locally made product.   There’s no way that we’d have bought a bottle for ourselves but we have some guests utilising our couch over the next few weeks so we should be able to do the bottle justice.  I mean to say..it’s always important to have a digestive after a heavy evening meal.

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And so this morning, we had a few jobs to do before heading to Venezia’s Marco Polo Aeroport to pick up Hubert & Marie.   Most importantly we had to pick up some telemark skis for Hubert.   Unfortunately, the only place within reasonable driving distance to hire a pair of telemark skis is the infamous Renato’s in La Villa where we bought our boots.  Needless to say we were a little nervous about how all this would go as his service on Graeme’s boot fitting was a little below par to say the least.  But this morning.  All smiles.  Renato greeted us like long lost old friends!   Go figure?   We wanted to hire at least 180cm skis for H, but he only had 174cm in the rental stock.  “No problemo”, he says and walks to the new ski rack and plucks a brand new pair of 185cm Trab skis from the rack and says he’ll have them mounted with telemark bindings by this evening.   We were shaking our heads at this one.   We hurriedly pulled out google translate in both german and english to make sure he was not trying to sell us a new pair of skis as we only wanted a 2 day rental.    Yes.  He was happy just to rent.    “Grazie mille, Renato!  Bravo!”   Hubert will be very pleased.

Then onto Venezia…well only to the airport.  No problems getting there, just a lot of twisting mountain road, followed by an autostrada. And much excitement when we picked up H&M from the arrivals.   We turned on the “blah, blah machine” as H likes to refer to it and chatted all the way back to Arabba.    Except for one stop.  Poor Marie suffers from car sickness so we stopped to put her in the front seat about half way up the mountain.  We knew the car-sickness was reaching a peak level when Marie’s conversation began to lag and her colour started to become a distinctive shade of green.  Fortunately, we arrived in Arabba just in time.  We stayed in town and organised M’s ski gear here, while the boys travelled on over the hill to pick up H’s new rental skis.

We were greeted like old friends that evening at Bar Peter as we introduced H to their fabulous “honey & walnut” beef fillet.  M too, was in heaven.  She loves potato gnocchi and informed us that she intended to eat her body weight while here….she’s only small!

First night together!
First night together!

And of course we had to end our evening with a little thimble of our newly acquired hazelnut grappa before hitting the hay for a VERY BIG day tomorrow.

Sunday lunch & hat revenge

We slept in this morning. We needed to. While we were unconscious, our intestines and livers were working well into the early hours of this morning.

And then … we awoke to the aroma of a delicious Pot-au-feu being prepared by Chef Hubert, from ingredients specially sourced yesterday and also at crack of dawn this morning at the markets. The man has serious stamina!!

At a more civilized hour, Marie and I were sent out to find the perfect cheeses for “dessert”. We let Graeme come along, so long as he stayed a few paces behind.  But first Marie showed us another special historical feature of Lyon. To quickly access the silk manufacturing area on the top of the hill at Croix-Rosse, and also to ensure that the valuable silk fabrics were not damaged by rain in transit down to the rivers, a network of covered passageways “Les Traboules” through buildings and streets was constructed.

Second stop was to show us the “Sunday Craft Markets” along the banks of the Saone River. Now when I say craft markets….I’m not talking amateur homemade stuff like crocheted doilies or embroidered tea-towels. All the stalls were showing true artisan goods or paintings. I know we are in France, but the quality of the artwork was absolutely top class. I asked Marie about this and she explained that not just “anyone” is allowed to sell at this market. There is a governing committee and every stall holder has to commit to being there every weekend.

Along the way, I spied a very nice hat stall…..after all I believe, I’m entitled to even up the headwear numbers a little. Actually Graeme says that I am obsessing about packing limits and in particular his hat numbers….”Build a bridge, Andy …and get over it”.  “OK, darling”…so I wore my new hat on the bridge over the Saone!

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Homeward bound, we stopped at H&M’s special cheese shop. What you need to understand is that H&M have a number of different suppliers for their meat, vegetables, bread, small goods…wine etc, etc – you get the idea. And then within each category at least 3 gradings of supplier from “everyday”, “something a little special” and “finally VIP special”. Us Antipodeans really just don’t “get” the importance of food. Anyway, Marie queued in that special chaotic french way, ie., there is no queue but even though there’s 20 people in the shop or the queue is so long it’s out in the street, everyone knows whose turn it is.

While waiting for Marie at the fromagerie, I was distracted by an amazing chocolate shop across the road. This was a “VIP Chocolatier” according to Marie. I thought I’d been transported to “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory”, there was a waterfall of chocolate literally running down the wall. It would be rude not to have purchased something!!

The Chocolate Waterfall
The chocolate waterfall!

Back up the 102 steps for family lunch. H&M, Cammi, Diane and Lionel. In addition to the Pot-au-feu, Hubert had also prepared another Lyonnaise speciality …broiled bone marrow. Now for the uninitiated, eating this is like “mainlining cholesterol”. Hubert had originally wanted to serve us this speciality “baked” but the bones need to be cut longitudinally not cross-sectioned….and his special butcher had run out of this particular cut on Saturday….I mean to say….there must have been a “run” on them that morning….ah those “crazy Lyonnaise”!

Lunch was delicious. But for us, it was made even more special when we could converse freely with Diane & Cammi in English. They have come a long way with their language skills in eight years. I hope that one day we can host them in NZ. Although Diane mentioned that she didn’t like airplane flights, having “freaked out” on the flight to New York a few years ago. Hopefully she can overcome this. Cammi might be interested? She is going to Madagascar in July with her school.  She is a very independent young lady.

But the “show was stolen” by Lionel. Lionel doesn’t really like the French cheese. While they eat dairy products in Burundi, its more a yoghurt style curdled milk product or a very mild flavoured cheese. He really dislikes the strong flavours and smells of French cheese. As we tucked into the cheese course, Marie mentioned that there was a restaurant in Lyon that only serves cheese, for entree, main course & dessert. Lionel interjected….”and you pay money for this?”. Gra & I just cracked up laughing. No chance that Lionel is not following the conversation.

The Teste Femme
The gorgeous women of the Teste family
Sunday lunch
The famous “Wilma” timer shot. Only Oxley’s will understand this!!

Finally the indestructible Hubert collapsed to sleep on the couch along with the rest of us! Waking early evening, H&M booked their flights to visit us in Arabba in January. We will be able to celebrate the dual mid-century birthdays almost half way between both Marie & my dates. Perfect.

Sunday afternoon lazing
Sunday afternoon lazing

As we prepare to leave Milan, Gra & I reflected on our impressions of Lyon. Lyon is not a “tourist city” in the usual terms. Certainly there is tourism here, but it’s very specific and without seeing the numbers I suspect largely domestic as formerly Wanaka was vs. Queenstown. Because you always tend to use a reference to compare things – for us, it was very much like Melbourne vs. Sydney. Like Paris, Sydney has the icons – Sydney harbour bridge and opera house. Melbourne on the other hand, like Lyon, is about the restaurants, cafes, arts & theatre & sport. Graeme : “If I had to live in a French city, I think I could live in Lyon”. I’d probably agree….as long as I could afford a private parking space…”pushing a little” everyday would do my head in.

What an absolute treat. H&M have gone out of their way to proudly show us their city, include us in their family and feed us within an inch of our lives. We look forward to skiing the legs off them when they come to Arabba in January.  Unfortunately, they have a head start with their daily “stair-master” routine to their apartment.

A Lyon gastronomic marathon!

Today was a serious gastronomic tour of Lyon with Hubert.  Apparently, yesterday was just dipping our “toe-in-the-water”.

First stop this morning –  the local wine specialist “Le Cavieste” to pick up some wine. Hubert explained to us that the shop owner personally knows the vineyards and winemakers of all the wine that he sells.    Hubert helped us pick out a special bottle of wine for Georgie, Rick & Liz who we are staying with next.

And where to store our newly purchase wine?   In your own “cave” (cellar), of course.  Hubert’s cave is really spooky.  Literally a dungeon right in the bowels of his 5 storey apartment building.  But extremely effective, it keeps wine at a constant temperature all year round, despite Lyon’s wide temperature variations between winter & summer.

Faux Pas #2 from Andy.  “How come it’s not wet down here?”  Hubert looked at me strangely and then it dawned on me that we were on the top of the hill above Lyon.   “Duh and the water would come from where???”

Next stop for the morning was the food hall of Paul Bocuse – “Les Halles Paul Bocuse”.   He is is widely regarded as the premier chef of France.   His restaurant in Lyon is consistently a 3 Michelin star and he has franchised his name throughout the world. He even had a restaurant in our old home town, Melbourne, for a time.

The Les Halles is a covered market show-casing France’s best produce.  This is the place where you will find frog’s legs, foie-gras, snails, oysters, every type of cheese imaginable and the best of smallgoods, seafood and meats.   Absolutely and totally mind-blowing.

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It was really crowded even at 11am and Hubert wanted us to have lunch here.   He suggested that we eat early in case we missed out on a table and he took us at our word that we eat “anything”and grabbed a table at his favourite “Oyster Bar”.    Here, we not only ate 2 different types of oysters, but also another shell fish and tiny prawns.   Washed down by a cheeky little “chardy” we were not inclined to do much more than watch the crowds surge by us.

This afternoon was about male bonding.   A trip to A Vieux Campeur, which is an outdoor store on steroids.   Every type of boot, ski, crampon, ice-axe….their catalogue which they give out free is over 1100 pages….it’s like a telephone book.  Graeme is in catalogue heaven.

He has also found a fabulous english speaking boot fitter, Quintin, who knew exactly  what was wrong with Gra’s telemark boots.  Using his oven to mould the boots, Quintin achieved a miraculous result and although he spent 45 minutes with Graeme, there was no charge.  What a delightful fellow… we couldn’t go back with a bottle of wine, but we put a great review on the store website specifically mentioning Quintin…so hopefully some good karma will go his way.

Then on to buy some underpants for Graeme.   At this point I retired to the apartment to digest my oysters.   But you maybe wondering why Gra was buying underpants?   Good question?  Despite the plethora of hats & gloves, he forgot to bring enough undies.   “Why don’t you just cut some leg holes in a couple of your hats and wear them on your bottom”.   The men looked blankly at me.

Actually there’s a whole paragraph about “le Underpants Excursion”…but I’m still debating whether to include it in this post.   I will see if the draft gets the Graeme “veto” or not. …Standby.

I was relieved when the “oestrogen cavalry” arrived later that evening with Marie returned from Paris.   Next off to dinner at their local restaurant “Plato”.   We were making jokes about needing a taxi, when the restaurant was literally about 20m horizontally from their apartment building.  Vertically it was a total of 208 steps (up & down).

One word!  Yum, yum…well ok 2 words.

For main course I had a Lyonnaise speciality called a Quenelle which a subtly flavoured fish mousse dish.  [Hard to explain – best to look at the link].  And for dessert, Graeme had to have Creme Brulee. Here’s the video especially for our good friends Lea, Steph and Di.    The reference to the “old friend Marie” was because I’d just discovered that she is about 20 days older than me and we will be both celebrating the half century milestone when they next visit us in Arabba.   We were both also making jokes about a plastic surgery holiday in Thailand….but decided that we’d prefer to go skiing.

We “rolled home” and attacked the Teste stairwell with gusto.  Actually to counteract all the food we’d eaten today, we’d need to go up and down at least a dozen times.  No wonder H&M are surprisingly fit.

And guess what? ….we’ve got Sunday lunch with the family tomorrow with Hubert cooking is famous “Pot-au-feu”.   [“One more wafer-thin crisp Mr Creosote?”….. the Monty Python fans will understand this reference. ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Burundi winter experience

Lyon by Night – Part II   – OK so this is really Part 2 of Friday 9 December, 2016.  There really was too much to include in one post…so I’ve split it over 2 parts.

We had just returned from a day tour “par excellence” with H&M and we were preparing to to see Lyon by night and the Fetes des Lumieres.

Here’s some photo’s and a little clip of the highlights from this spectacular light show to give you an idea what it’s all about.

By our standards, the crowds were huge – probably 1 million people over the 3 nights of the Fetes.  But H&M thought the numbers were a little down on 2014.  In 2015, the festival was cancelled due to the bombings in Paris.  Certainly the security for this event was intense.  Previously the light shows were spread throughout the city & suburbs.  This year they were condensed into the city centre.   No vehicles were allowed to be left parked in this area, the underground rail was shut down and everyone needed to commute between the installations by foot.  The crowd, of course, was perfectly behaved.  It was all about families marvelling at the amazing sound and light shows being displayed on public buildings all around the city.

Now…on to our “Burundi Winter Experience.”  The story of Lionel, H&M’s boarder from Burundi.

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Lionel deserves a whole chapter to himself!   A delightful young man of 20, who is adjusting to a new life in France after winning a scholarship to study here.  A very bright young man, he is also a linguist. In addition to his own native language, Lionel speaks, Rwandian, French & English fluently.   Such is his mastery of the English language, he easily understands our Antipodean sense of humour….maybe Burundi people like the same jokes?…. or as Graeme is quick to point out…. maybe he is just being polite?
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What a wonderful opportunity H&M are giving Lionel by including him in their family. There’s no doubt he is appreciating every single minute and grasping every opportunity with both hands!   I won’t go into detail, but if you care to learn a little more about the troubled times in Burundi at the moment and you have some understanding of the Rwanadan situation you will understand that as a Tutsi, Lionel and his family have an uncertain future in Hutu controlled Burundi. Lionel doesn’t even have a passport as Tutsi’s are not recognised by the Hutu government.  He has refugee papers which allow him to travel to France, but he cannot use them to get back into Burundi.   A more precarious existence is hard to imagine for us.    The best news for Lionel is that he now has H&M helping him.

Well almost good news…. H&M are housing, feeding and giving Lionel good advice for living…except how to dress for cold weather!!!     When you have lived all your life in Burundi, where the coldest temperature you’ve ever experienced is 18°C, adjusting to snow and freezing winter weather is a challenge.    Lionel was recently surprised that “flip flops” weren’t the best choice for footwear in the snow when he visited the Teste mountain house in November.

And this evening, Lionel was just wearing a light cotton top, scarf & hat with a quilted jacket over the top.  In contrast, Graeme & I had on our snow boots, long underwear, about 5 layers of tops including puffa jackets and hats and we were still cold.  It was a damp 3°C with a light breeze.   It was absolutely freezing.    I spoke to Lionel before we went out – “You are going to die of cold out there, Lionel…you need more clothing”.   He insisted that he would be fine.  But sure enough about an hour into the display I swear he was turning blue with cold.    Even we were feeling the chill and didn’t stay long into the evening to see all the shows.   I thought we were going to lose our little African to hypothermia on the way home, but fortunately, H&M live at the top of the hill above the city centre and the climb got the blood circulating again.  Poor Lionel has a nasty cough which seems to be getting worse…especially after last night.   I’m not sure how he’s going to get on in February when the temperatures get even colder.

 

Tomorrow, we are touring more of Lyon’s gastronomic delights and getting the ingredients for tomorrow’s family Sunday lunch.   Hubert is the chef.    Marie has a meeting in Paris and will be taking the TGV (fast train) and then returning in the evening to join us at a local restaurant for dinner.    Cammi has school & then playing volleyball in the afternoon.  Diane & Leonard are studying.   It’s all go in the Teste household.