Crowd Surfing in Val D’Isere

Val D’Isere, is a chic resort filled with glamorous cafes, high end retailers and fashionable skiers donning the finest ski and apres wear. Passing ladies with neat straightened hair covered by fur hats and pearl earrings was a regular occurrence, whilst I rolled past with my ancient salopettes from 10 years ago, unruly hair and walking with an attractive limp whilst I carried my snowboard. I felt a bit of a joke throughout my time in Val D’Isere, a spare part, compared to these smooth and stylish ladies that sashayed their way around the resort, frolicking in the snow and smoking with espressos in the sunshine.

The Highest Point

I visited this popular ski resort with my boyfriend and eight of his male mates. All eight of them were lovely and were dedicated to catching as much time on the slopes as possible. Returning to a mountain holiday after roughly ten years, I felt as if a beginner all over again. I had forgotten how stunning the snow-capped Alps bursting through tufts of cloud looks, how marvellous crevices that fall onto a mountain with blankets of snow dusted over look, how incredible the petite wooden buildings from nearby resorts resemble a Lindt advert, and how terrifyingly high some drops off sides of the mountain are- and how painful that would be.

Stunning View Over The Town

Luckily three of our group were also beginners and it being their first time on real snow, were bursting with excitement and enthusiasm. I held a superior attitude, (I had actually done it before ya’know- and I can ski…) until I realised how much I had forgotten. The first day for all of us was a haze of total wipe outs and bruised bums. Luckily, not every day was like this. Soon I began to get used to interacting with the board, adjusting to my unusual footing (I am goofy, which means I board with my right foot forward but most people who are right handed board with their left) and becoming accustom to bumps and bruises. I found myself taking slopes much slower and with more caution then I had previously done as a child, even struggling over flat bits because I would continuously brake. Was it the sheer drops that I could see on either side of me that did that? Was my first melody of falls acting as a warning for what could come? Or snowboarding with a group of boys, did I not feel that comfortable with speed as they did? What happened to the reckless adventure loving me? Or was I being sensible and approaching the slopes with caution?

Our Snowboards

I am not really sure what held me back, what made me board safer than the others. But I do think it’s due to the fact that on the first day, one of the three beginner boarders fell so hard he broke his helmet and nearly concussed himself. Returning to our chalet, I heard of other accidents on the slopes; of broken ribs, broken backs and dislocated shoulders. I think knowing that it can cause you so much pain- did make me halter a little. Whilst for example sky diving?  A piece of cake in my eyes, you are strapped in to someone who does all the work for you! Skiing and snowboarding is a very dangerous sport, however after reaching the end of the week and mastering tight turns on a blue, I hope on my next visit I will be more confident- and less cocky.

Val D'Isere

Val D’Isere isn’t the best place for beginner snowboarders and skiers, with just a few greens and quite steep ones at that, it isn’t as carefree as boarding in Vermont. However, the incredible array of blues, reds and black runs that network all through Val D’Isere and through to the neighbouring resort of Tignes, make this destination a playground to those that know how to ski and board with expert ease. There is a large variety of runs which means very few visitors will get bored during their holiday here, as there is so much land you could cover. As well as the vast mountain space, Val D’Isere is known for its achievable snow powder conditions late into the season which makes it a fantastic destination.

Chillin on the slopes

Val D’Isere as a resort feels like a collision of worlds. Val D’Isere, once known for its prestigious reputation of royalty and celebrities, is exemplified in its boutique shops that sell luxurious lounge wear, restaurants and cafes that are overly priced with plush interior, and Apres bar’s on the slopes that are funkily decorated with loud reclining sofas or bars that advertise themselves as “Champagne Showers”. But a new wave of tourists has begun to visit, bringing a new attitude and world to the resort. British tourists have always visited this resort, famous for middle aged couples to holiday together, ski in the day and munch on canapes late into the night. But an influx of young, large British groups- predominately male, have started to come to this resort, bringing with them buckets of testosterone and obnoxious boozy behaviour. This classy resort is changing and fast.

Jagerbombs on the Slopes

It’s always had a slightly party reputation, but now it’s upped a gear. Filled with young university groups who are happy to strip on table tops and pour beer over one another is not what you would think Val D’Isere could ever be like, but it has. You may think I am being hypocritical, coming with a large group of males myself, but in fact we turned out to be more of a serious snow group rather than devilish drinkers. Some of us (only about four of us, including myself) dabbled in both, but we only went out surprisingly twice throughout our trip. And rather chanting at our dinner table acting boisterous in our chalet as did the other group of males, we urged each other to try the snails and even one of our group members cleaned the whole chalet at one point!

Champagne Showers

Apres Bars in Val D’Isere are known for their atmosphere and scenic vantage points, the Champagne Bar and Cocorico are the most visited. Whilst the Champagne Bar shuts at 4:30pm, most drinkers head straight onto Cocorico to listen to live music and dance on table tops (and crowd surf which I finally was able to do and was so excited about doing so)! Clubs and bars that are open late in the evening remind me of Fresher’s nights at Uni, with grim toilets, dank floors and dark spaces- advertising cheap drink deals and “hot barmaids” like Morris Bar or Saloon, to me they all looked the same. Dixies is the only exception, the sole club that resembles an actual club, but as you can imagine entry prices and queues soar high. My favourite bar was actually The Underground, so check that out when visiting.

Lunching on the PisteOrganising our whole trip via Ski World (the second time ever to book a holiday via a travel company), our transfers, accommodation and delicious chalet food (as well as unlimited wine at dinner) was all well arranged. I couldn’t recommend this company even more, the staff members were attentive and the lodging was comfortable and like most of Val D’Isere, posh. Having most of our meals at the chalet, the only restaurant I did get a chance to eat at was La Sana, right on the main slope, which provides a vast scope of choice in cuisine.

When booking a holiday here, remember the two sides of Val D’Isere and if it suits your holiday plans.

Wine shopping in Calais

As I write this blog post about a short but sweet trip to Calais roughly seven years ago, thousands of refugees are living in camps after escaping persecution, corruption and violence. The recent change in circumstances has- no doubt- altered Calais. I am hoping that many refugees begin to form a home in Calais, getting comfortable and creating businesses, outside of the refugee camps, rather than wishing and waiting for the opportunity to arise to move on elsewhere.

However, as I narrate my experience of Calais and what it was like a few years ago, please do keep in mind that Calais has been altered, and spare a thought for those that are living in poverty, hunger, and hardship.

Over 15 million people visit Calais every year, many as a way of entry into France, speedily moving on to warmer areas of the country, whilst some Brits visit for a boozy shopping spree. Because of France’s lower taxes on alcohol and tobacco, many Brits simply pop over to Calais to stack their cars with enough booze to last 365 days. Calais is filled with vast supermarkets such as Carrefour, where rows and rows of 2 euro bottles of wine line the shelves, waiting for the thirsty Brits to take home across the channel. I find it a little sad that many Brits in fact do this, not visiting any other areas in France or taking advantage of their car being abroad by doing a wonderful road trip in a country filled with fascinating landscapes, delicious food and stunning art. You can imagine my disappointment when I found out that was why we were here.

Advertised as a “fun day trip to Calais” I expected to be given a tour of the city; to see the historical Town Hall, with its magnificent traditional architecture and Rodin’s famous statue outside of it: Les Bourgeois de Calais (I am a fan of Rodin’s work, especially after visiting the art museum in Paris). Or taking a stroll around Parc Saint-Pierre, with it’s well kept gardens that will relax any visitor, or visit the Citadelle and Fort Nieulay, to embrace Calais history- as I was with my history teacher. Even heading to Musee Memoire, the war museum, to see how Calais was affected by WWII and explore artefacts from the war in a completely different environment, gaining more insight of how WWII affected Europe, rather just than the UK. Or at least visit the Musee des Beaux-Arts, (Museum of Modern Art) because you know, France is notoriously known for how incredible their art is and this museum houses some masterpieces you just can’t find anywhere else.

But no, we had all been duped into paying for a trip where our teachers offloaded us onto the town, then onto Carrefour, so they could join the masses of budget Brits that flock to Calais to get discounted drinks, rather than a spot of culture. I was mortified. With little time in the town, we tried to make the most of it. Some of us taking a stroll along the beach and climbing to the very top of the Lighthouse for panoramic views of Calais. Some of us headed to Courgain Maritime and the fish market, where we saw creaky fishing boats bob on the sea, whilst women serenaded us in French with offers for her pungent fresh fish. Some of us took the time to dine on lobster and crab in plush resturants whilst sipping on local wine. And some of us went to a French bakery and ate warm home made baguette sandwiches and pain au chocolat pastries given to us by a grinning shop owner.

So for anyone who is heading to Calais, or even through it, be different to everyone else and please take the time to at least stop by at the seaside town- it has more than meets the eye.

 

 

 

Peeing in Paris

Paris. Whenever someone says they’re jetting off to Paris images of lovers, candlelight and the Eiffel Tower fill my head. Recently I went for the third time. Previously when visiting I hit all the main tourist destinations and soaked up all the city had to offer, continuously attending art galleries and museums, dining on delicious crispy pastries and indulgent dark chocolate, creamy cheese whilst sipping on a perfectly chilled Chardonnay. Not this time. This time, I came to visit an old friend and soak up a side of Paris I hadn’t seen before, Paris after dark.

Notre Dame

But first for all those who havn’t been to Paris before I want to recommend some must see attractions.

1. The Notre Dame is an obvious must see. One of the most famous cathedrals in the world, it always has massive lines, so to get into the actual building, I would go early in the morning to avoid disappointment.
2. The Louvre. Once again a well know destination. However, when I went in the past seeing the extortionate prices and two hour waits to queue we decided to skip it and enjoyed the sunshine in the nearby gardens. Make sure you go early to see the highly anticipated Mona Lisa, otherwise don’t bother.
3. Musee d’Orsay and Musee Rodin. Both beautiful art galleries with completely different styles of art. Orsay will take a few hours to walk around so make sure you plan enough time around your schedule. Rodin is a sculpture park where we spent many hours having a giggle at naughty statues (as 14 year olds do).
4. Arc De Triomphe. Although situated in what seems to be the middle of nowhere on a roundabout, tourists must see this wonderous attraction filled with intricate marble carvings.
5. Vintage shopping in Paris is phenomenal. Walking the streets there are numerous hipster shops hidden around street corners which have artsy decor such as windows covered by newspapers for example, but inside there are boutique items such as pony skinned handbags and sunglasses that would suit Elton John. Make sure you check out Rue Oberkampf for a wander and an ice cream.
6. Like I always say, the best way to explore a city is to get lost in it. So do so. But keep a metro map on you, it is easy to find your way back to your lodging by the metro.

Paris

On this trip we started our weekend with dinner at Roger la Grenouille in the old quarter as I desperately wanted to try frogs legs (as someone who prides herself in the crazy food she’s eaten- no way was I going to turn down frogs legs). We ordered a large portion of frogs legs in a creamy sauce which came with rice and bread (we were both students at the time plus the white wine we drank was the same price- more money for wine is a necessity.) It was beautiful. Using your hands and munching on a frogs leg like it’s a KFC wing is how you are supposed to eat this delicacy. If you are wanting to try frogs legs, I couldn’t recommend to go anywhere else but here.

Painting in Montmatre

Whilst mis amis had work the next day, I returned to my favourite tourist destination in Paris: the Sacre Coeur at Montmatre. Getting off the tube station and being bombarded by school groups and Japanese tourists I quickly assumed the air of a local. Although you may say this is obnoxious and arrogant (who is she kidding?) you will see the benefits. Queuing behind a rather large American woman for a drink she said to the lady: “Can I have a bottle of water please?” The server gets a warm bottle of water. The lady: “Is there no cold ones?” The server: “Finis”. The lady leaves. I then step up (remembering what my French GCSE teacher told me “Vicky you have a great accent but you are just making up words”) I proceeded to try my hardest. “Bonjour. Un l’eau sil vous plait. Merci beaucoup”. And Voila! I received a cold bottle of water with a smile. So tourists: try to learn at least hello or thank you in the local language, it does show that you are trying.

Climbing a billion steps you get to the top of Sacre Coeur where you have a breath-taking view of Paris, each street is lined in perfect geometry and as the horizon pans out in front of you, all you see are: rooftops of pastel coloured houses, posh apartments, glitzy shops, luxurious hotels and top end bars. After you’ve rested, walk up past the Sacre Coeur to Montmatre, a quaint village on top of the hill where you can sit and eat local Tarte Tatin and have your picture painted. It is a picturesque setting, very ‘French’ one would say, with small cafes donned with red block paint and wicker chairs, where local paintings hang on every blank area of wall and friendly cats purr for attention. Although the streets are crowded with eager tourists, wandering the area and away from the main centre, you still feel an artistic and authentic charm to the place, a buzz you can’t quite put your finger on.

Picnics in Paris

That evening I returned to another attraction that all must see. The Eiffel Tower. Ignoring the long lines (I went on my first trip to Paris) myself, my friend and a group of her friends proceeded to have a picnic late into the night, embracing the Eiffel Tower in a tru Parisian fashion. Watching the sunset behind the Eiffel Tower whilst drinking a nice bottle of rose and eating an amazing selection of cheeses, I was in bliss. I recommend other tourists to do the same as it really is a fantastic sight. Although be warned! There are very little toilets about. So when nature called, my friends took me to the nearest bush and said that it was fine to use a bush. I held back, wanting to make sure that they were not going to get arrested, which they didn’t. They came out the bush. It was my turn. I went in, started “letting loose” and only to look up and see a man watching me to his excitement, pulling some faces that will stay with me for life. I cried out in shock and my friend proceeded to hide me out of sight. I protested and screamed at him as he lay now on the floor in ecstasy. My friends turned around and said “That’s normal in Paris.” I replied, “Nowhere is that normal.” Since then, I always buy a drink to use a rest room.

Another fantastic evening can be spent heading to Moulin Rouge, the birthplace of the Can Can dance, thigh high stockings and bright red lipstick. Combining seduction with entertainment, the Moulin Rouge is the most anticipated event within Paris, and still is to this day. As tickets are quite pricey, and that I have a friend who dances at a similar show at the event La Nouvelle Eve, we went to her show. It was an incredible experience to sit in a dimly lit auditorium with champagne and being dazzled by the continuous whirl and blur of glitzy costumes, manic dance moves and bright smiles.