Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Are you sitting down?
Because this is a looooong one!

My cold, cold feet
Ok … so our holiday started off with a big bag of despair, as all the flights into and out of London were being cancelled. But in true South African spirit we continued to pack our bags, waiting in anticipation for SKY NEWS to announce that the snowfall was clearing up and everything would soon go back to normal. Yes: Christmas would be saved!
“It’ll never happen to us” we said.
“It’ll be gone by then” we said.
“They’ll clear all the runways” we said.
But it did happen to us, it wasn’t gone by then, and they didn’t clear any of the runways. Things only got worse.

Screw it, we thought, let’s go to the airport anyway, catch our flight to JHB and throw our toys until they put us on a plane that will get us to where we want to go.

Sitting at DBN airport, waiting to take our delayed flight to JHB, we started to drink away our sorrows. But it didn’t last long because … thank heavens for the fee-arn-say and his incessant addiction to technology – with the BA, QATAR, HEATHROW, and GATWICK App’s on his apple iTouch, and a cousin in the travel industry, he managed to get us off our cancelled flights, fully refunded, and onto a midnight flight to Doha on QATAR airlines. So now we drink because we’re happy!

A never-ending wine supply

Off we go on a delayed flight to JHB, then 6 hours onto DOHA, where we have 4 minutes to get through the airport to check in with our connecting flight to Gatwick. We’re second from the front - almost there - when the little old lady before us hands in her ticket, only to be told: “Sorry Mam, this flight is full, you can’t get on it, please go stand in that queue over there."
I handed the man with the grin my ticket and prayed like crazy. Beep Beep, “Thank you mam, you may proceed.” I was so relieved I could have kissed Bin Ladin! 
After 7 hours we land in Gatwick, and the entire plane cheers and applauds the pilot who managed to land us safely on an icy runway.

Now remember we were originally booked to fly out on Wednesday the 22nd but because the Kings Of Leon were playing on Tuesday the 21st we cleverly moved our flights forward to the 20th, bought the very expensive concert tickets and were set …. Or so we thought!

Franks new watch

Finally, and safely in the United Kingdom we say goodbye to mom and dad-in-law who head off to Reading to spend the day with their friends and we mission off on the tubes and trams and buses, as fast as we can, to get to our mate's house to shower, shave and what-not before hot stepping it to the much-anticipated, much-revolved-around, Kings Of Leon concert. After 2 hours of additional traveling, we get off at the right tube stop, and we walk for about 4 kms through the winding roads and alleyways to try and locate his house. “It’s the one on the corner, double story, with a  little white fence and postbox” he tells us. But every house is on the corner, is double story, and has a postbox with a white fence! So now we're lost - and walking round in squares. Eventually we find it thanks to Frank, who arrived from Germany that morning and is waiting on the curb for us with a stiff drink in his hand. We say our hellos, get inside, take off the layers of coats, etc, and prepare ourselves for a big night out.

“So”, I say to Mike, “Is the POA to shower and then meet the Londoners at the concert”

“Er” Mike says. “About that … you might want to sit down”

Turns out some silly* little** fire on some silly* little** tour bus was enough reason to cancel the entire concert! And so … our holiday began!

(* is key for a really bad swear word)
(** is key for an even worse swear word)

The bird is the Kings Of Leon. We are the statue.

With our spirits still high (more shock and disbelief and oh-well-c’est-la-vie, than high) we hit the town regardless, had a super time in London that evening, then wake early and spend the next 12 hours (I kid you not) strolling the popular streets looking for wedding dresses, jeans, snow boots and other tid bits. It was exhausting, but isn’t that what London is all about? 

Trafalgar Square - from a short persons angle

London's version of Christmas decorations 

The Norwegian-imported Christmas Tree

A piece of South Africa in central London

Now because our connecting flight to France was also cancelled in the mess, we spent the evening munching on square pizzas and googling alternative modes of transport,  eventually settling on a ferry from Dover to Calais. We decided we would cross the bridge of how to go further, when we got there.
(note: South Africans make the BESt pizzas BY FAR!)

And so began the early start of 3:30am in a taxi off to Dover, where we were meeting the in-laws who were also traveling by cab from Reading. When they arrived, with minutes to spare before boarding … we discover that the cab driver had taken ill and dad-in-law had ended up driving them to the ferry station, in the cab! Again ... I kid you not.

We board the ferry, I spend the entire trip in the bathroom getting sick, we dock, wait 2 hours for a shuttle to the train station. We managed to get the last 5 tickets on the last train into Paris. Costing us a small fortune in the process. All the while, extremely nervous because when we arrive in Paris we know 2 things:

1) We need to get from Gare du Nord (where we will arrive) to Gare de Lyon which is half an hour away. Cab will be the only option as 5 people with 5 big bags and rucksacks navigating the French tubes is not a pretty sight.

2) When we get to Gare du Lyon, we have no plan. Our connecting train tickets were for the first trains that morning, which we missed thanks to the snowball effect (excuse the pun) of the initial cancelled London flight. And all the trains are fully booked for the next 3 days.

So, into two cabs, we hoover it to Gare de Lyon, then jump – illegally - onto the next train heading for Lyon. We shove our bags into the baggage hold, and stand around the bar area like lost farts hoping to blend into a French perfume factory. The TGV (the train we were on) has designated seats for its passengers, so we had to stand for the 3 and a half hour journey. What’s more is that our worst nightmare came true – in the form of not 1 but 2 French conductors strolling down the isle asking to see everyone’s tickets. We all pretend to read our books, mom-in-law even had her book upside down at one stage she was so nervous. We needed to look inconspicuous and not scared beyond belief that we might get turfed off at the next available station. Our plan of action was to only speak Afrikaans to each other and if we were approached by a conductor we would simply act dumb, and I would try and speak in very broken French: something about “pas de flights” and “BA ma dit que cette train est bon pour nous” – which if you know any French, you’ll know is VERY broken French. J

Anyways … so along comes this conductor and he heads straight for dad-in-law, who waves him away with his hand!!!! Eventually the conductor wins and dad-in-law hands over his ticket and continues to “read”. What felt like hours passed, and to our shock, horror and total relief the conductor hands back the ticket with a simple “Merci” and moves on to the rest of us. At which stage the bright shining light bulb above the fee-arn-say's head begins to flicker as he feebly admits: “agh I read this on the back of the ticket but I didn’t know what it meant”. On the back page of our tickets in big red, ENGLISH type it clearly states that the tickets are completely redeemable for up to 24hrs from the time they are booked! So we drank some more!!!!

The house wine at 3600 metres

We got to Lyon, caught another TGV to Grenoble (about 2 hours) and were greeted at the station by a very happy bunch of people - Marc’s two uncles and 3 of the 9 cousins. Into 4 different cars we head off out of Grenoble for 25 minutes to the quaintest most gorgeous little village in the world. It’s called: Saint Martin de la Cluze. And it’s where we would be living for the next week. We arrived late at night so didn’t get to see much of the place but what we could see was magical. We headed for our accommodation, a refurbished, totally authentic castle from the 1500 Century, and I have the photos to prove it. Then off to our French host's house (the fee-arn-say's uncle and French aunt) for a big reunion dinner.

It was the first time the fee-arn-say and his young German cousins had ever met. They’re all really young, but they latched onto the 2 boys like crazy the whole holiday – was very cute, and added on another year or two to the age he wants to have kids.

French food is weird, they’re not very into their meat so we were really treated like Kings on Christmas when we got to try out Wild Boar and Fois Gras (Duck Liver). Hmmm. 
Their salads consist of lettuce leaves and a balsamic dressing - that's it. Salt is a no-no on the dinner table, as is bread on your plate – it must lie next to your plate on the table. Cheese and lettuce comes after mains, and red wine is on tap. Delicious red wine. Vegetables are always pciked fresh from the back garden, desert is always chocolaty and rich and makes you want to go for a 15 km run just after looking at it. You must always buy two baguettes from the shop, one to eat on the way home and one for the table. The café is strong, cappuccinos come with a big dollop of whipped cream on the top, no milk. And mayonnaise with “French” fries is a staple diet. AS is Tartiflette (potato bake with rich cheese) Raclette (wood melted cheese scraped onto small boiled potatoes and a selection of hams and pickled onions and gherkins) and the crisps come in one flavour: original, which if you ask me, is very unoriginal!

Lasagne and salad from a Grenoble restaurant

Fresh pumpkin soup, served INSIDE a pumpkin

La baguette - obviously

Creme Caramel Butternut Soup - Insanely delicious

Death by chocolate fruit ice cream cake thingy magigy

with nuts

the best salad in the Northern Hempisphere: warm goats cheese and pear with artichokes and cured meat. Note the Raceltte potatoes on the side. Raclette MUST be accompanied with a bottle of white wine - it's a law in France (!!!)

When we woke up for our first morning in France, it was bucketing down with snow! Absolutely beautiful! Not even the photos that we took could ever do it justice.
We spent the next few days visiting all the different ski resorts, and shops and villages and town centres, and every night a big dinner at the main house.

Our snow-frosted cars in the morning

The Frozen Pond the EVERYONE reversed into

Outside the Castle Doors

There really is just too much to tell.

Basically we stayed in a castle, we skied on Christmas day and two special friends who were with us in the 2nd week at Les Deux Alpes Ski Resort got engaged. We ate Tartiflette and raclette, and tobogganed down a hillside at midnight. We went 3600 metres up – so cold that the pain in your feet eventually goes away and your sniffles turn to icicles. We ate 3462390845 baguettes, tasted Munster: officially the smelliest cheese in the world. We drove 220 kms on the autobahn, ate Macodnalds for breakfast on New Years Day, rode in more buses, cabs and trains than humanly possible and spent far too much money on red wine and evian water.

Morning Dew

The 1500th Century Stairwell

The 1500th Century stairwell - from upside down 

A 1500th Century Door in the Castle

Our 1500th Century Kitchenette

The 1500th Century Servants Quarters

Our morning coffee maker

Christmas Decoration in a quaint little Mountain Hut

Raclette Cheese on the fire

Flight patterns and Mountain Peaks

An iced up walk way

Icy, scary, beautiful Glaciers

The view from 3600 metres up

The Snow Boarding Maniac Fee-Arn-Say

Standing on the edge of La Grave - 3600 metres up

The cloud cover over Les Deux Alpes

The Boots that Frank wore
It’s always so wonderful going away on holiday, even when the travel demons try and ruin it for you. Our trip back was no less eventful. On day 1 when the fee-arn-say managed to get our flights to London refunded, they just so happened to refund the entire package, including our return flights. So we arrive at Heathrow, more than ready to come home only to be told we’re not on any plane. Thanks to the young guy behind the counter, and thank goodness we tried to cut our 8 hour wait at Heathrow short by getting on an earlier flight … because he managed to get us on a flight which would normally have cost us 3000 pounds. Never mind that the flight he got us onto was delayed by 2 and a half hours, which meant we had to sprint for our connecting flight in JHB, only to JUST make it and then sit on THAT plane for an hour and a half because there was a problem with the fuel tank(????!!!!!)

And the cherry on the top would be the bags not arriving in Durban because the problem with the fuel tank was that they put too much of it in and subsequently had to take my bags off, and some other 40 bags. But luckily (for them) they offered to have them dropped off at our house.

Les Deux Alpes by night
And now I’m back at work, and all I can think of is baguettes dipped in red wine and snow filled espresso mugs!




  1. i just want to mention that i THOROUGHLY enjoyed reading that! and i have to say that i very evilly smiled at the fact that the kings didn't happen- only so that my jealously can now wither away... thank goodness they're coming to see us right here at home! oh... and stuns photies!

  2. Absolutely awesome read my friend - the words and the pics... *sigh* you are a natural creative genius!! x