Friday thought #20 Snow plastered mountains

Following the lack of snow in the Alps, the last week has seen its fair share of rain, but as dreary as that is to look at out of your window, rain in the valley means snow in the mountains (yippee!) Earlier this week saw a few days of miserable, grey rain, but when the clouds finally lifted they revealed the majestic Aiguille de Midi as it is very rarely seen; the towering sides too sheer to hold snow except in the event of a heavy snowfall combined with very strong winds. I am truly pleased to have captured it in its brief moment of pure white, a very special view, and out of my living room window too!

Not a view many people get to see...
Not a view many people get to see…
Truly stunning
Truly stunning

Friday thought #19 Happy New Year and the arrival of Winter!

So it’s been a slow start to Winter in the European Alps by anyone’s standards, a meagre amount of snow in November to get us all excited about skiing, followed by weeks of mild, sunny weather causing what little snow there was to gradually disappear and meaning panic for anyone working in the tourist industry. Most of the Chamonix ski areas were set to open early December yet barely managed to scrape a few slopes open for the Christmas week. We left here before Christmas desperately hoping for some of the white stuff on our return… And thank goodness, we did arrive back to Winter, rather than an even more extended Autumn! The Valley is now thankfully covered in white, although snow cover on the pistes is still the worst I’ve ever seen it for this time of year. There’s an awful amount of grass poking out of the pistes and the artificial snow canons are in full flow, plus it’s well below freezing every day so it’s all about layering up appropriately before leaving the house! But the mountains look beautiful, the sunsets are stunning and it’s always good to be back on the snow, regardless of of how good (or poor!) the skiing is.

Happy New Year!

Pink mountains
Pink mountains
Winter is finally here!
Winter is finally here!
Beautiful snowy walks
Beautiful snowy walks

Friday thought #16 Giving blood – UK vs France

I’m not sure what giving blood involves in other countries; I can only compare the differences I’ve experienced between giving blood in the UK and in France. I’m sure most people are aware of what giving blood involves; in a nutshell: filling in a form confirming that you are not currently unwell, a pin prick blood test from your finger and a chat with a nice volunteer doctor, finishing up with lying on a gurney whilst blood gently flows out of your arm and in to a plastic bag! It’s a wonderful organisation, run by incredibly hard working doctors and nurses who travel around the country collecting blood to be given to patients in desperate need of a blood transfusion.

I’ve been giving blood for many years and would encourage others to support this as often as possible, but this is not a post telling people to give blood, it’s far less high-brow and virtuous. I simply feel the need to let the world know just how wonderful the after-blood-giving food is when donating in France… This is truly something the French do well and should be applauded for.

To put this in to perspective, after having lost a pint of blood you may understandably be feeling slightly weak, perhaps a little dizzy, and are advised to sit down and have something to eat and drink to ensure you are fully well before leaving the venue. In the UK you are directed to a small seating area and offered a packet of biscuits and a cup of sugary tea. Everyone sits around politely whilst they munch their sugary snacks, then quietly sidles out the door.

In France, this is a different story. When the needle has been successfully removed from your arm, you are pointed in the direction of what can only be described as a banqueting table. You are seated at an individual place with cutlery, a wine glass, a water glass and a napkin, very like a slightly makeshift restaurant! Then a helpful volunteer will appear as if from nowhere to place a plate in front of you, laden with treats. At my most recent donation the table contained the following:

White, red or rosé wine

A variety of juices

A selection of cheeses, cold meats, patés, olives, a basket of fresh bread, and a platter of sliced apples and tomatoes.

Main course over, dessert consisted of a smorgasbord of home baked cakes and tarts, from which you could choose. The first time I came across this I was stunned and asked the gentleman next to me if this was normal. “Bien sur” was the reply as he looked at me in surprise and quizzically asked what happened in my country. This was not a sugary snack to check you were ok, this was dinner.

Thank you France, you certainly know how to reward your blood donors! What better incentive to do something good than a delicious big feed at the end?! How does it work in other countries? I’d love to know!

Cup of tea and a digestive? Can't complain...
Cup of tea and a digestive? Can’t complain can we?…
Quite the evening meal! Totally worth the blood loss!
Quite the evening meal! Totally worth the blood loss!

Friday thought #7 What do you miss from ‘home’

No matter how many years you spend living abroad, whether it’s simply just over the border or a 24 hour plane ride away, we all miss certain things about the place where we grew up, aside from the obvious family and friends. Of course you get used to where you live, the ways of life, the local customs and foods, and learn to really enjoy things you had perhaps never experienced before.

Spending so many years in France, some of these things for me have been delicious tartiflette, an abundance of local mountain cheeses, fresh baguettes, wonderful bakeries and a rare rump steak to name but a few! Before coming to France I’m not sure I’d ever eaten a steak before, and the thought of eating meat that looked a little pink would have horrified me, but now I’ll literally close my eyes to savour every bite of that bloody steak that’s almost still mooing!

You would think after spending your entire twenties away from the country you grew up in, you would just become accustomed to what’s available where you live and slowly forget what you used to do. But for me this has never been the case. Maybe it’s a British thing, but despite actively choosing not to live there, we Brits seem to cling on to all things British with a fierce patriotism, excitedly cramming suitcases and cars full of things we can ‘only buy over there’!

I don’t think it’s a case of the UK having ‘better stuff’ than France, I think it is simply that you never lose your roots. I know the high street shops of Britain like the back of my hand, whatever I need I know where to go to get it. It’s simply easier to wait until you next visit England to buy yourself some new jeans or a pair of winter boots, because rather than spending hours trawling a bunch of shops you’re not familiar with, you could have what you want in 10 minutes from your local childhood high street because you grew up with it and you know it.

I have the wonderful luxury of living somewhere I love, yet being only a short plane ride away from where I grew up so in just a few hours I can be across 2 borders and safely landed in the UK. I frequently take advantage of this wonderfully convenient service and I spent last weekend catching up with some fabulous university friends. Now during a fleeting visit across the water it would be frankly wasteful to not cram a few British treats in to my hand luggage whilst there, which I duly did, and which got me thinking about the strange things I miss from my homeland.

This time the lucky items that made it back were: crumpets, Dairy Milk caramel, Double Decker chocolate bars, multipacks of fudge bars, a block of cheddar cheese and the Saturday Times newspaper. On a journey which allows for more luggage space the following items will also regularly be found: Marmite, British bacon, digestive biscuits and the essential jars of peanut butter.

Ever since childhood I’ve always been a huge fan of peanut butter (something which the french sadly just don’t seem interested in…) Why I miss the other random assortment is anyone’s guess, although the fact that you simply can’t buy most of these things over here surely must play a part…! As they say, absence does make the heart grow fonder! One thing’s for sure, if I ever move further away I’m going to have to send a mighty big container on ahead of me, and it’ll be filled with peanut butter!

Crumpets - the strange things we miss...!!
Crumpets – the strange things we miss…!!