The first thing I would like to say is that America doesn't celebrate Carnival. And we should. Because it might be my new favorite holiday ever. We get to celebrate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) which represents the beginning of spring (which we all appreciate) and then it's about a week long party. My dream is to go to Brazil for carnival, because that one is infamous, but the one I experienced here was awesome as well!
Last Friday, my family and I left Dinant to go to Uzes in France. It's normally about a 8.5-9 hour drive (if you follow the speed limit) but my host dad got us there in about 7. So that was fun. My host family has a house in an adorable little village named Blauzac, which in the winter has about 900 inhabitants but in the summer it rises to about 3000. Belgians know how to vacation. Normally they leave the first week of July for summer break (generally France, sometimes Africa), and don't return until late August. They just moved into this house about 3 weeks ago, and I think I've fallen in love. It's the prettiest house in the whole world, and since my family owns an art gallery they've stocked it full of art. There are 7 bathrooms, 6 bedrooms, an office, an indoor kitchen and an outdoor kitchen, a pool, a fountain, a vineyard, and a guest house. The WiFi box is on one side of the house, and it's so huge that we have no signal on the other side. It's ridiculous, but wonderful. I've decided to stay until mid-July just so I can come here again in the summer and relax before returning to real life in the States. But I digress. Anyways, we went to the amazing house in the South of France for one night before heading to the Pyrenees for skiing.
From Blauzac to the Pyrenees is about a 3 hour drive (with my host dad driving, maybe 5 for normal people). We drove right next to the Mediterranean Sea for maybe 45 minutes and then headed up into the mountains. Paradise is where you can see snow and sea at the same time. We got to their condo in this resort called "Les Angles" at about noon and we hit the slopes by 1:30. Skiing here is a little different than skiing back home. The difficulty of the slopes at home goes from Green to Blue to Black to Double Black. Here, it's Green, Blue, Red, Black. The resort was fairly small compared to Steamboat but it was considerably bigger than Snowy Range. They only had 2 double blacks but they weren't open because of lack of snow. The snow wasn't bad but it hadn't snowed in a while so by the end of the week it was fairly icy. Also, in the states, a lot of people wear helmets. I would say more than 70%. Here, only about 10% wear them, and they are all little kids. There were no mogul runs here, but quite a few steep ones. There is one black called "the wall" and there is a chairlift right next to it. Every single time I used that chair lift we saw someone fall at the top of the run and slide all the way to the bottom. There was literally nothing they could have done, it was that steep and slippery. I went down it with my host sisters boyfriend and there were three people that had fallen within 25 feet of each other and two of them had to call ski patrol and ride down in a sled because they were injured. Getting injured isn't funny but watching people slide about 75 feet is fairly comical. We decided the ski resort should try and put a camera to film the slope, they would get hilarious videos.
Another big difference is that they use poma lifts A LOT here. More than chair lifts. And most people prefer them over chairlifts, which I think means that they are crazy. For example, with chairlifts, you get to sit down, rest your feet, you get a pretty view, you can relax and rearrange your gear, get on the phone, whatever you want to do. If it stops, you sit comfortably and wait for it to start again. People can ski under your lift without a problem. With Poma Lifts, you have about a 3 second window to grab a pole and shove it between your legs before it whips you forward so hard and fast you have a heart attack and get bruises on your thighs. You can risk taking your hands off the pole, but the second you hit a bump, you're screwed. You have to stand up the whole time, and can't even really lean on the pole because then you fall over. Rearranging gear becomes a ninja exercise because you have to hold the pole, your poles, and then if you need to take your gloves off, you hold those too and have about two fingers available to fix whatever you need too. You get the thrilling experience of seeing skiiers and boarders flying towards you and refusing to slow down because your Poma trail just happens to cross their cat track. If it stops (which it does, often), it's probably because some little kid couldn't figure out the system and got all tangled up in the trail. So you get to stand helplessly and wait for the kiddies to get their act together. Some really demented workers decided on one lift it would be hilarious to make a jump as soon as you took off with the Poma. So you grab the pole, shove it between your legs, take off and warp speed and then hit this giant bump that scares you to death and almost throws you off the pole. You're almost reorganized after that terrifying experience when you hit another jump and the same thing happens all over again. And the demented workers can't stop laughing. Anyways, as you can see, I'm not a big fan of Poma Lifts.
One more difference in skiing back home and skiing here is that in Europe, I can drink. I never understood my parents desire to go to the bar instead of the hot tub after a day of skiing, but now I get it. Hot wine feels as good as a hot tub. We can also drink beer and wine at lunch, and then go skiing. It's a very entertaining process, if not slightly dangerous. We ended up skiing for six days, and it was exhausting. Spain is about a 30 minute drive from where we were, and they are on vacation as well as France, so the place was completely packed. Now I'm back in Blauzac until Sunday, and it is SO WARM here!! I can hear the birds every morning when I wake up (something that doesn't happen in Belgium) and the sun is shining without clouds (again, NEVER happens in Belgium) and I'm very happy :) It's not warm enough to go swimming yet (I know, how sad), but it is warm enough to tan in lawn chairs by the pool!!! Which, incidentally, is where I am writing this. I'll put up pictures soon :)
I've been here 6 and a half months, and time is flying by. My boss from last summer and the summer before that is coming to Belgium in two weeks, so I'll get to see him and then I'm going to Amsterdam with my sister! I CANNOT WAIT. Six weeks from now is my trip to Spain for two weeks, and then it's basically summer time. What a good life I live :)