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Well, we are home.

We got home yesterday actually. We were supposed to drive from Dijon and stay the night at St Quentin, then trundle home at a leisurely pace today but I was a bit speedy on the Autoroute and we arrived at our planned destination at 1:30 pm. DH and I looked at each other, neither  of us fancied another night in a cheap hotel and having to unpack, then pack the car again the next morning.

We ascertained we could change our Eurotunnel booking, the threatened strike had not come to pass, we had until 7pm to cancel the hotel and the kids wanted to get home too so we went for it. It only took an extra 4 hours driving and we were home by 6:30. Bliss. read more

From Switzerland, to France… via Italy.

I guess it’s a mark of how much confidence we have in our satnav.

‘Miss Polly’ built into the car and is usually pretty trustworthy. She’s not led us into a lake or instructed us to do a U-turn on the M25 in the 6 years we’ve had the car.

So yesterday when we had to drive from Saas Fee to Belle Plagne, we loaded the car up, merely glanced at the suggested route last just under 4 hours, and blithely drove off down the mountain.

DH had used Googlemaps to print out a back up map and both versions of our route were in agreement until we reached Chamonix. Then Miss Polly instructed us to bear left and it was only then we realised that the traffic we were caught up in was actually queuing for the Mont Blanc tunnel.

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Sh*t Happens.

I had it all planned.

The kids were booked into childcare today and DH was off doing some adventure trail involving ladders and rope bridges. My knee would never forgive me for that sort of carry on, so I had a blissful day of solo geocaching planned.

We don’t take geocaching terribly seriously; we’d never make a special trip to find a cache. But if we are going somewhere anyhow then we usually check to see if there is anything  interesting nearby. Caches in the Alps sometimes involve trails heading into the middle of nowhere, but there are a fair number hidden close to lift stations or local villages and over the last week I’d noted a few that wouldn’t take too much effort. read more

Quizzes and Lakes.

One of the unique parts of Esprit holidays is the evening meal.

The kids eat first at ‘high tea’, then go to Coco Club in the evening while the adults eat. There are a couple of meat options to choose from and a veggie option as well, and you end up with a nicely presented, extremely edible 3 course meal served up to a bunch of very hungry people. It’s usually a winning combination and is helped by our chef this week proving himself to be extremely competent.

The slightly ‘odd’ aspect is that you share your table with a number of your fellow guests each night.  If you are quite social then the dinner lottery can make things quite interesting; if you prefer to keep to yourself, I can imagine that sitting next to someone like myself is a bit of a nightmare. read more

The Gallery: Black And White.

If you’ve been reading my blog regularly over the last few days, you’ll know we are in Saas Fee in Switzerland atm.

Today DH and I took a couple of cable cars followed by the world’s highest funicular railway to the north face of the Allalinhorn, almost 3500m above sea level.

Up there the sun was blazing but there is still enough snow for people to ski and snow board. It’s not for beginners as the international ski teams that stalk the slopes have no tolerance for snow bunnies, so we simply sat in the conveniently situated ‘World’s Highest Revolving  Restaurant’ and watched the world go by while we drank the World’s most expensive hot chocolate.

I thought the views lent themselves nicely to Black and White.

We are on a Family Alpine Adventure with Esprit. This is our third holiday with them and the chances are we will be  back again next year.

If you want to see what we get up tomorrow, I’ll be updating around the same time of day.

To see what other people made of this week’s theme, check out The Gallery.

 

No Childcare And A Hangover.

It seemed like a good idea at the time to stay up drinking until 11pm last night.

It wasn’t until the kids started stirring sometime after 7 this morning that I realised that what, at the time had seemed like an innocent spot of holiday socialising, had in fact been a Very Bad Idea.

On Esprit Alpine Adventures Tuesday is the staff day off. We get breakfast served but that’s it. No packed lunch, no scrumptious 3 course dinner, no free wine, no child care during the day and no cocoa club at night. We are well and truly on our own. read more

I Walked Up A Mountain.

Today has been the first full day of childcare on holiday.

The smaller two are ‘Minis’ and they played tennis this morning, then went on a walk around the village. The older ‘Maxis’ took the cable cars  and reticulated railway right to the top of the mountain, where people ski in the summer. They visited the ice caves, then had a hot chocolate in the revolving restaurant perched on a snowy ledge.

I am hoping they will sleep well because both DH and I will both need an uninterrupted night tonight.

DH had put his name down to go on an escorted adventure trail today.  Unfortunately it had rained overnight. It was considered that the metal steps and rope bridges that were included in the ‘adventure’ would be too slippery for people to use safely, so the walk was off.

This theoretically left DH with a spare day, but a number of the guests wanted to go off along the Saas Fee Trail in a group and he wanted to join in. I’d rather walk by myself or with my family than a group of strangers, so I decided I would spend the day by myself.

I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but after a look at the weather forecast (Rain)  and a look out the window (Light Rain), I decided to take a look at the path up to a small peak called Hannig 550m above the village. I didn’t want to commit to walking right to the top, but there was a small restaurant about 2/3rds of the way up and I thought I might walk up to it for a start.

It was a nice walk in the light rain, and I reached the Alpenblitz with only a slight issue with my walking poles. I’d left my old ones at home so had to buy new ones in Saas Fee. I have an unpredictable knee so really need poles when I’m walking up or down hills for any length of time.

I couldn’t get my new poles to the length I needed them, and spent most of the first half of the walk fiddling with them and getting frustrated when they collapsed on me. Finally, I sorted something out so I could at least use the blasted things and so  felt the need to stop at the restaurant for a celebratory coffee.

As I drank, I considered my options. Go back down the way I’d come or continue up to the restaurant at the top, where I could catch the bubble lift down to Saas Fee. The sign said it was only 50 minutes to the top and I felt quite capable of that sort of effort, so off I went.

As soon as I left the shelter of the cafe, the promised rain turned up. Being the well prepared hill walker I am, I had my wet weather gear to hand and chucked it on as I slogged up the slope. The clouds closed in and for a while all I could see was the trail, but 20 minutes later they had passed, and as I climbed a style and came around the corner, I could see my ultimate destination looming not too far above me.

The summit seemed  quite close but that last 40 minutes were a killer. The combination of altitude (over 2000m) and steep slope made me feel quite ill at one point. I used my frequent stops to take photos of the scenery but during the last 100m I couldn’t have cared less about the panoramic views spread below me.

There was an older couple following me who seemed to be suffering in the same way, and from the snatches of conversation I could hear, I knew they were English, so when I rounded the final bend and saw the restaurant sitting at the same level as me, I waved to them and pointed to it, giving them the thumbs up.

They immediately got up off the ground and dragged themselves up the home stretch, then collapsed on the bench next to me. We chatted a bit and compared notes on all the Swiss, German and French toddlers who had overtaken us on the way up.

So that was my adventure today. A three-hour walk up a big hill in the rain. I know it’s not everyone’s idea of a desirable holiday activity, but I enjoyed pretty much every moment of it.

Apart from the bit where I didn’t know whether to throw up or pass out. And the view was so worth it.

 

 

 

 

Welcome Wanders And Parental Pride.

It’s early evening in the Swiss Alps and sunlight is streaming into our room and onto our bed. DH is curled up in the foetal position and tells me he’s asleep.
The children are spread out between an assortment of electronic equipment; at least they are not arguing.
Today has been Welcome Brief day in Saas Fee. After an enjoyable breakfast, the families staying here for this week gathered for information and a guded tour of the resort.
There is a wider variety here than we’ve seen before during our previous Esprit Family Summer Adventures. Usually the other families come from the South/South West of England  and DD1 has often been the oldest. This week we have a family from Dubai with a Kiwi mother, and there are a couple of 11 year olds and even a 13 year old. The other two Esprit centres, Alpe d’Huez and Belle Plagne run activity programs especially for teenagers. At Saas Fee, older children tend to take part in activity days with their parents.
Many people have driven from the UK, like us and others have flown to surrounding towns and come up the mountain by bus or hire car. A few have come by train and bus, something DH and I have discussed doing if there is a next time. We feel that now everyone can carry or drag their own luggage, that this would be a viable option for our family.
After our walk around this little chocolate-box Swiss town, we had the chance to sign the children into childcare and go on an extended walk around the foothills. Our 3 youngest wanted to go to the playground with their friends. DD1 wanted to do the walk, so I sent her and DH around and stayed behind in case DS decided he wanted to come home.
When we all met up again an hour later, it was lunchtime. We sat outside and watched the clouds pour down into the valley and retreated inside when it started to spit. That’s the thing about being in the mountains, the weather is kind of unpredictable.
A lot of families were going on the ‘tree walk’ this afternoon, but our big two will do that in childcare on Friday. We went and bought some walking poles to replace the perfectly good ones I left behind, and then purchased lift passes for the week for all of us. With the lift passes , we got a number of free Rodelbobahn tickets. This is like a luge but on a rail, not a concrete track and up until now DD’s 1 and 2 had only ridden down this with their father.
Today was going to be the day they would both go it alone. DD2 was keen and didn’t seem in the least scared, but DD1 had tied herself into knots over the prospect. I really wanted her to do it, because I knew she could and would be disappointed in herself if she didn’t. Especially if her younger sister had taken the plunge.
We had some tears, and some stropping but once DD2 had cheekily sailed past where we were standing. I was pretty sure DD1 would give it a go.
And she did.
 She wasn’t entirely happy but I’m very proud of her, and she now says she would do it again.
The kids are eating dinner now, tucking in to spaghetti and meatballs and we grown ups have pork belly and chocolate mousse to look forward to later on, but for me nothing will taste as good as my earlier dose of Mother’s Pride.
( The non- alcoholic version, of course.)                

Saas Fee At Last.

We made it. We are safely settled into our room in Hotel Annahof, in Saas Fee.

DS didn’t kick me in the head and wake me up until 8am this morning, so I officially got a lie in, although I didn’t score any brownie points with DH when I sent DS across the corridor to knock on the others’ door. I thought I’d heard DD3 screaming but no, they were all still asleep!

We got on the road around 10 am and stopped for brunch at our favourite motorway stop on the north-east side of the lake, just out of Lausanne. There was new play equipment installed since last year but only three swings, which always causes problems when you have 4 children.

From there it was only a short 2 hour trip along a valley, across various rivers, then finally we started the slow ascent up the Saas Valley. It’s always a thrilling drive with rocky cliffs on one side and sheer drops on the other. And there is always the added excitement of not knowing when a post bus is going to come rocketing around the corner towards you.

Saas Fee is a carless village, so you have to park your vehicle in the underground car park, unload all your stuff, and call an electric taxi to take you to your hotel. These ‘electros’ speed silently through the streets trying to run down any tourist unlucky enough to stray into their path. We learnt early on during our first year that you need to look out for them at all times, as they have right of way.

We have been to Annahof twice before, and were thrilled to see a familiar face from our first time here. It always helps if someone is familiar with the kids. We also have the same room, which is a good size for the 6 of us and has this view from our bed.

We had a couple of hours to kill before kids’ tea at 5:30 and spent them unpacking and sorting out what we’d left in the car by mistake.

At high tea, we got to met the childcare staff and some of the other parents. The summer staff at Esprit are always young, English-speaking, qualified and enthusiastic and are largely the reason we come back again and again. We had some worries about DS going into the ‘minis’ group and wondered if he’d be better off in nursery, but there is no nursery group this week so that solves that. The kids scoffed bangers and mash, something they won’t touch at home, and had sticky toffee pudding  and ice cream for dessert.

Then it was back to the room to shower the children and get them into some fresh clothes, because it’s not yet bedtime for them. Instead they go to a wonderful thing called ‘Cocoa Club’ which runs from 7:30-10pm, while the adults scoff dinner. If any of the kids are too tired to stay up, then they go to sleep in the room, or watch DVDs while there is a staff member in the corridor by the stairs, listening for any noise. It’s perfectly safe as there are only Esprit guests staying in the hotel, and they disable the lifts when baby listening begins.

The main downside is there is no wifi in the bedrooms, so I have to nip downstairs and post this from the bar. I better get a move on, it’s almost  dinner time. And it’s fish and chips and apple crumble on the menu. Yum.