Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Chamonix, France

Bon soir (y’all)! Hey, you know I just worked out today that “bonjour” is essentially the same as “g’day” en Australie.  And "buongiorno" in Italian for that matter,

Well all good things must come to an end, and so must our “vacances” en Europe – which, you’ll note, wind up in France. My favourite.

Our last stay was at the beautiful Chamonix, a ski and mountain climbing adventure town at the bottom of the Mont Blanc massif (the range of mountains with Mont Blanc in it). Saucissons abound, as does garlic, and cheap and fine red wine.

Unlike Mürren, which attracted loads of Americans, Indians and Chinese, Chamonix seems to pull a lot more Australians and English tourists; there’s a Knight Frank real estate office here, as well as a Billabong and Quicksilver store. I wonder why? (*I was to find out later, these are glamour brands in France!  Who knew???).  But it is still “very French”, with lots of stores selling saucissons, goats cheeses, wine, etc., and it’s a town in the style of Queenstown in New Zealand; a holiday adventure get away.

Some notes from my diary of interest:

Hôtel l’Heliotrope

(At this point in my diary…) You find me propped up in bed, under a white doonah under the sloping roof of an attic room. Our hotel, the Hôtel l’Heliotrope, is very modern (so modern infact, there are pencil marks on the plank flooring of our balcony); it’s an art hotel built as a kind of chalet with wooden facing; our room with a small timber balcony, but then all modern materials inside (read concrete, panels with spray concrete, tiles, etc), a simple grey-ish colour scheme, with fake wood floors on concrete, grey timber laminate cupboards, photographs of flowers and nature in white frames, a large screen television on the opposite wall, a sloping roof with padding on a beam to stop you hurting your head if you bump it.

This is a hotel spa, and in the basement they have a day spa, which primarily consists of a small swimming pool, hot tub, dry steam room, wet steam room, and an ice room where you can rub yourself with ice chips and stand in the cold after cooking yourself (the best bit, I found to my surprise), as well as an ice water plunge pool and free magazines and tea.

Our room looks out onto the launch for a gondola cable car to the Aiguille du Midi (one of the peaks of the Mount Blanc Massif), and the town is based around the mountain Mt Blanc; there are dirty glaciers on the slopes nearby and little ski jumps at the end of the road.

We visited these ski jumps, trekking up a forest slope to see them up close, climbing a pine floored slope and nearly dying several times by tumbling down le slope.

Bike Hire Disasters (Mount Climbs, Electrocution, and a Punch in the Balls from my bike... which I broke the frame of...)

We went to a local bakery where all the backpackers and adventurers get their packed lunches, as do the old ladies talking of Floriads, and then hired bikes. 50€ for the two if we brought them back after lunch (3pm); and we took off on spungy cross country bikes to see le Tremplin Olympic just out of town. Getting slightly lost, we rode up Le Mont, a ride on which I had to get off and push the bike, breaking a heavy sweat and having puffing altitude heart attacks, pausing on the way. We’d missed an early turn off, and rolled back down the hill, turning left, and finding the old jump, this one with the landing actually used as a carpark. Very odd. My wife wanted a closer look, and I lead the way; walking up to what appeared to be a zig zag path on the side of the jump. It looked like it was protected by string, and I put my hand on it… only to get a belting shock from what turned out to be an electric fence.

I was assured, on receiving the electric shock, getting a dead arm and not expiring, that my ticker must be in OK order.

Jane struggled up the slope of the jump, pulling herself along the fence, me following distantly, then hopping the fence further up until I realised the chimes we’d heard early sur le Mont were cattle with cow bells, the zig zag path made by said cattle, and a rather menacing cow/bull with horns on the hill above me looking down as though from a diving board. I retreated (naturalment), being “Mr Safety first”, then got hay fever from all the grasses and bites from insects, while my better half got intimidated out of the climb by the same cow bodyguard watching “at point”.

Next, climbing on the bike to ride back, the seat snapped under me, hitting me in the balls, a local walking his friendly shaggy dog offering the tools at his house if we needed them for a repair (tres gentile).

So, there you have it; an unnecessary hill climb that nearly killed me, an electric shock, a threat from a horned beast, and then the bike punching me in the nuts. Needless to say, my wife was full of sympathy, offering to buy me lunch. We rode back down the other side of the river, my seat jammed down the hole, coming across a charming lake. I could see how Knight Frank would find this part of the world appealing. I returned the bike, a technician telling me the frame was broken and I was liable for raising the seat too high, to which I reposted:

“But I adjusted the seat in front of your man and it was all ok.”

“I will have to ask the boss. Have another bike and come back later.”

This put me off my beam and at some disadvantage, as Cary Grant might say.

We rode to the forest on the far side of town after a quick bike change, seeing a flea market on the way where SWMNBN wanted to buy an accordion and a long handled copper pot (both very practical for our flight home), while I went to the most unfriendly bar in France (full of locals), drank a cold beer on a hot day, went to the WC (that’s what they call them here, les toilettes, the “v.c.”… because they don’t say “double v”, but are using the English “watercloset” abbreviation (bizarre)).

A delicious lunch was had a short time later, where I ordered the menu of the bistrot; a double ham/bacon salad, followed by a whole trout with almonds, rice and vegetables followed by a tira misu (and tell me that you love me), with beer, rosé, and coffee with a pastis (Ricard).

Needless to say, I returned to the bike shop feeling “relaxed” about the whole thing; they were talking about “les Australiens” in the workshop when we arrived, eventually waiving any additional punative bill.

La Langue

Turning yeah into “w-oui” is trés simplement. I’m getting better at my French but learning, inevitably, that no matter how good I might become, I’ll always be immediately recognizable as a non-local and have those with the wherewithal just speaking Anglaise to me to demonstrate their knowing the fact of my foreignness (at which point I let them know I’m Australian to avoid any English confusion).

Et ce comme si, et ce comme ca.

Et voila.

Before I leave, here’s a salad dressing I came across in Chamonix that was used at nearly every restraurant, which I’d never made before, but have now included in my staples. Use it to dress a simple leaf salad (i.e. a crunchy leaf, such as cos hearts, mixed with softer leaves, like a butter lettuce, etc). No other trimmings required, and it means left over salad doesn’t get that vinaigrette burn when you reach into the fridge for leftovers the next day.

Salad Cream Dressing
(a la Stephanie Alexander, merci)

  • 3 tbs virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs cream
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Stephanie prefers to crush the garlic with a knife and then rub the bowl you are going to make the salad in with the garlic, before throwing in the other ingredients and whisking them together with a fork, before adding washed leaves and then tossing the leaves by hand to coat off the leaves.

Personally, I prefer to mince the garlic, and shake all the ingredients in a jar, and then apply sparingly over the salad leaves in a kind of “lots of little daubs” in the manner of restaurants I visited around Chamonix. Trés bon.