Switzerland Part VII

Finally I reach the skiing. We were very excited and a little nervous to go skiing in the Alps. I honestly don't know where in the Alps we went other than it was south of where we were. A navigator I am not.

The drive up the mountains was amazing. This was wine country, and the slopes of the hills were crawling with vines. Every square foot. Driving the winding roads up the mountain didn't improve our nerves as the roads are narrow and people don't really slow down on the curves. You practically find religion (I found several) when you see a semi or bus coming at you. Raphael was an excellent driver (he still is I imagine) and got us to the parking lot in safety.

The particular resort we visited is called Tele Villars Gryon. Whatever I imagined the Swiss Alps to encompass, this place surpassed it. The place is huge. There is a fairly long mini-gondola to get you up to the first lift, which is in itself and interesting experience. If you are afraid of heights, I don't recommend it.

A note on my attitude towards the day. I hadn't skied in four or five years. Despite the long hiatus, I have skied quite a bit in my life and so I was sure the old skills would kick in after a couple of runs. I was confronted with two immediate problems, one physical, the other more a blow to my ego. Physical first.

The Swiss don't have any idea what a bunny slope is. I could have used a bunny slope to get my legs back under me and practice some turns. They don't have a slope that's less than 50 degrees. Confronted with such an incline right away was slightly intimidating. But I got over it; how bad could it be?

The other problem you ask? Europeans are irritating. I don't mean they swear at your or flick lewd gestures in your direction or generally sniff in disdain at your inferior skiing skills. No, they show off. Worst of all, it's unintentional. Raphael, Rene, and Fabienne looked like they came out of the womb with skiis on. Some examples. While I got off the lift and desperately tried not to run over a group of 6 year olds preparing for their first run (and looking a lot more natural than I was), Raphael slid over to an embankment (overlooking an extremely steep drop) and alighted upon it so gently I wanted to push him off just for spite. No one should have that kind of balance. Rene would ski backwards and do circles in place just to make sure we were doing okay. Nevermind that I could barely point myself downhill correctly without becoming a human snowball. The last straw was Elin, a friend of Beth's family from Sweden who came down with her husband to ski with us. She slid by me on the first slope sans poles talking on a cell phone........and she's SIX MONTHS PREGNANT! I ask you, is that necessary? You could have put a chimp on skiis and we would have looked about the same.

All jesting aside, we had a great time. As the terror wore off our skills came back to us and we were able to enjoy a number of different slopes. Alas, my body failed me after about half a day. I had borrowed boots from Raphael's brother and they were just different enough to cause severe pain over time. Still, the Swiss have constructed many little restuarants next to the slopes, so I could enjoy a beverage and watch for spectacular crashes (much like a NASCAR race).

After a full day of skiing we drove back to the Sonney's house for a traditional Swiss fondue. Of course, gruyere is the only cheese to use. This was a special event because of Elin and her husband Peo, as well as Virginia's boyfriend Stephon and Damien's girlfriend Elise (from Belgium). I can't tell you what an experience it is to have dinner at a table where English, French, German, Dutch, and Swedish are all being spoken. When such a diverse group of people can find common ground and laugh together, it is a wonderful thing. I'll remember that evening for the rest of my life.

Some highlights. As usual, Rene kept the wine flowing like the Mississippi. We sampled several different regions, all delicious. At one point, Peo inquired as to what the schnapps situation might be. Rene was out of his chair and into the cellar before you could say 'Bonjour!" He returned with two bottles. It turns out that Rene's father used to distill his own shnapps. Rene presented us with a bottle of pear schnapps from 1959 and a bottle of apple from 1985. Had it not been for all of the wine, I wouldn't have attempted either. As it was, my thinking was impaired. I won't lie to you; neither went down well. My face nearly inverted, my stomach shriveled, and I'm fairly certain I lost five years of my life. Peo asked for more.

We finished the evening with a chocolate bunny. It was a holdout from Easter Sunday. Three feet tall (or maybe that's the shnapps talking), we couldn't dispatch it in a regular way. Raphael, Damien, and Stephon decided that a simultaneous head butt was the only way to break it open. Fortunately, they all aimed for a different spot. We then passed around chunks of chocolate and enjoyed some coffee before heading off to bed. All in all, an amazing day.

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