The Mountains

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On the afternoon of January the 1st, we packed up the van and left for the mountains. The 1 1/2 drive brought us from the southern coast of France to Valberg, a quaint ski village in the lower Alps. As we twisted and turned our way up the mountains, I sat in the back seat between two car seats and two little boys, tense and clutching a towel Fede instructed me to throw in front of the boys should either start to really feel the effects of the motion (if you know what I mean). Thankfully we made it up with no problems.

We arrived in Valberg and unpacked, before heading to a restaurant the family frequents every time they go to the mountains (I’ll get back to this because it’s amazing). We ate super quickly and ran over to the other side of town to watch the New Year fireworks.

Monday morning we woke up, got our skis, and went over to “les pistes” (the ski runs — is there a real English word for that? My English skiing vocab is sub-par). Fede and Jeff took the boys up to ski and I took Mila sledding.

On Monday afternoon, I went skiing in the mountains for the first time. To be honest, I was really nervous. I haven’t skied in years, and when I did ski more often it was on hills in the suburbs of Minneapolis. I was told that skiing on mountains would be really different, and it certainly was. Where I went skiing back home, I could easily make it down the runs (blue and green) with a couple turns and a snowplow stop. In the mountains, if you don’t know how to parallel ski and make lots of big turns the whole way down, you’ll be cruising down the mountain at full speed, and stopping will be difficult to say the least. So my first hour of skiing was pretty terrifying, as the former method of skiing was the only way I knew. But I survived, remarkably without a fall.

Tuesday I went skiing with Fede and the boys (kids). I explained my “I don’t actually know how to go slow if I want to” issue, and Fede (who’s been skiing since she was little and used to ski competitively) attempted to teach me how to parallel ski. She was seriously so helpful, and by the end of that afternoon I already felt way more in control. By Saturday, I could go as fast or slow as I wanted to, and making “S”es all the way down the hill was pretty easy. And I only fell once all week! All in all, skiing in the mountains is pretty darn amazing, and I hope to get the chance to do it again sometime soon.

The week was filled with skiing, sledding, and playing in the snow, along with cartoons, puzzles, and eating (of course). I was with the family 24/7, in a one-bedroom apartment in the middle of town. The girls slept on bunk beds in the bedroom and the boys on pull-out couches in the living room. Close quarters, lots of activity, and a lack of sound sleep meant that by the end of the week we were all exhausted, crabby, and ready to go home.

So back to the restaurant. It’s called “L’Italiano” and is right across the street from the apartment. There’s a little square dining room, with seating for about 50 (though that would be remarkably difficult). It’s a real Italian restaurant, with Italian staff and an Italian menu and the most amazing Italian chef. His specialty? He rolls out a metal cart into the middle of the dining room, upon which sits this huge bowl (I’m talking like cauldron) of cheese. He pours in some alcohol and lights it on fire. As the cheese melts, he cooks the pasta over the flame, standing in the middle of the dining room, chatting with customers in his booming Italian voice. During our three visits, I saw him take photos with the family that ordered the dish, take a selfie with a family, and race into the kitchen to get another customer a chef’s hat for a photo with the flaming cheese cauldron. Eventually he pours the pasta into the cheese and mixes it around until the pasta is good and cheesy, before spooning a (more than) healthy portion onto a plate. Whew that’s a lot of cheese. If you’re unaware, I don’t like 99% of cheese, but I can certainly enjoy this super exciting way to cook. He’s also amazing with kids, giving fist bumps and high fives, and handing out suckers/lollipops when they finish their meals [actually young ladies can have them too – he gave me two the first day — but don’t tell the kids]. The chef (named Ree-no — spelling unknown) wanders around the dining room when he’s not cooking, calling the ladies “mon amour,” “belle,” “bella,” and joking with the men. He gives kisses plentifully and flattering compliments often. I was “the most beautiful” one night, and “his love” on my birthday. In America it would be the strangest thing to go to a restaurant where the chef acts like this, but L’Italiano is another experience, full of laughs, love, and really good Italian food. On the evening of my birthday we visited this restaurant for the third time during our week-long stay in Valberg, to “celebrate my birthday” (a surprise until Matt told me about it that morning). Everything was normal until after we finished our meal. The lights dimmed, and a loud upbeat song started to play. Eventually I realized it was a version of the French “Happy Birthday.” Everybody started singing (except two kids who were covering their ears — apparently because it was too loud) and the Italian hostess placed a gorgeous chocolate mousse-y, sponge-cakey, roasted-peanuty, wafer-surrounded entire Italian cake in front of me, complete with lit candles. It was beautiful and delicious and at least for those two minutes I felt like it was really my birthday. (The majority of the day — really not good, but we’ll stick to this sweet moment here).

I have so much more to say but I have another crazy day ahead tomorrow. So stay tuned for the next blog post – coming soon I promise!

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