December 1st 2018 marked the last day of our van life journey. It was a sad day as we caught a flight out of Amsterdam, saying goodbye and leaving our beloved Rover (our VW T4 Westfalia) in storage as he awaits his next owners. On the contrary it was also an exciting day full of anticipation and the unknown as we embarked on our next adventure, living life in the snow. We touched down at Geneva Airport, Switzerland mid morning and had some time to kill before getting our connecting shuttle bus to Chamonix, in the French Alps. Naturally we passed the hours people watching and ordered croissants and espressos as an ode to our new French lifestyle.
We arrived in Chamonix mid afternoon, picked up the keys to our cosy apartment and quickly began unpacking and settling in. Thankfully the online photographs of the apartment held true to it’s real life self and we couldn’t have been more happy with it. It’s situated on the ground floor, smack bang in the centre of town and boasts a backyard which is much more than your standard seasonal accommodation. To others our one bedroom studio apartment may seem small but not to us. Compared to the van, our new living set up was like walking in to a superior penthouse suite. After six months of travelling in the van we now had a new appreciation on the smaller everyday modern conveniences like heating, standing height and a bathroom – our new life seemed luxurious. The apartment came fully furnished and including a small television. We rarely ever watched television and decided we weren’t about to start now. After living in the van we have realised that our needs are basic and we wish to continue to live in a simplistic and minimalist way, finding enjoyment living without all the clutter of modern life. We immediately stowed the television away in the cupboard and let the art piece it was covering take prime position on our lounge room mantle piece. It is a beautiful piece of art, a fine line drawing of a voluptuous woman. Tres chic!
We spent the first month settling in, meeting new friends, exploring the town and securing a job for the season. We are working casually in house keeping, cleaning rented holiday apartments and expensive chalets. Thankfully I have overcome my phobia of kitchen dishcloths from younger years. Although I will never forget my older brother chasing me around the house and tormenting me by throwing a dirty dishcloth in my face! (But seriously, how many germs are on those things!? Hello, E. coli and Salmonella.) It’s the first sort of revenue we’ve had in over six months and although the pay isn’t wonderful (particularly given how ridiculously expensive everything is here), the job has plenty of perks.
We manage our own properties and have plenty of flexibility with working hours which allows us to get up on the mountain nearly every day, or second day. Our property listings are scattered throughout town so it’s been good to get a lay out of the land and gain insight into French lodgings and the local property market. We also get to keep any of the food, alcohol or household items left behind by the guests that check out. There’s limited social interaction with people which is a stark contrast to my prior job, so for now I’m enjoying the change and long periods of silence. The team consists of people from all over (England, Spain, Czech Republic) but everyone is young, welcoming and nice. Although I’ve only been working for a short period I’ve learnt the following:
- Not everybody shares the same OCD tendencies as Blake and I. In fact, most humans are really gross, particularly what they do behind closed doors.
- Women shed A LOT of hair. Or long haired brunettes do.
- Lots of people cut their fingernails/toenails whilst on vacation. Fine, if you dispose of them in the bin like a normal person but not when you leave them on the kitchen bench or clog up the drain which then becomes my problem (YUCK).
- The majority of men appear to have significant difficulty with successfully urinating in the toilet bowl. If men are “so good at sports” then why don’t they display the coordination and precision to execute this everyday task.
- Humans struggle to use a microwave. Or lots of people on vacation decide to use microwaves for their science experiments. They must be conducting first hand research on who can make the largest voluminous food eruption. Kind of sounds fun. But not for the cleaner (me). Do it at home, not on holiday.
- The most common food/household items left behind are: butter, olive oil, eggs, toilet paper, cheese and beer. However we’ve also scored more costly items such as pistachios, avocados, French wine & gourmet chocolates (ok, these were actually leftover from the guests welcome pack but we’ll keep that between us!).
Unfortunately, as I sit here and reflect it appears I’ve learnt more about cleaning in the last month than I have about the French language. Prior to moving here I had great plans for weekly French lessons and independent learning. I imagined my days sitting in cafes, sipping espressos and mixing with the locals, which would vastly improve my language skills. At night I would read, write and pour myself a glass of French wine whilst learning to cook new meals. Only the latter holds true and this is far from the reality of my life. However I have mastered the basics and am confidently able to engage with shop keepers all in the native tongue. I do this on a daily basis when I buy my fresh baguette from the boulangerie across the road. In fact, there are two boulangeries across the road from our apartment and I’ve become a known regular at both so that’s good enough for me!
Chamonix, the town itself is beautiful and the alps act as a stunning backdrop. There’s beauty everywhere from the snow capped trees and infamous glaciers to the wooden chalets and Christmas lights that decorate the main streets of town. Chamonix is one of the oldest ski resorts in France and when compared to other snow towns it’s relatively large. Unlike a ski in ski out town you generally have to catch a bus from the centre of town to one of the various surrounding mountains (Brevent, Flegere, Grand Montets, Les Houches, Balme Vallorcine). Once at the foot of the mountains you hop straight on a cable car which whisks you up to the top – from here it’s truly another world to explore! Chamonix is renowned for its steep pistes and challenging slopes making it popular with skiers (skiing is much more common than snowboarding here) and mountain enthusiasts from all over the world. Many people flock to the “extreme capital of the world” to partake in climbing, off piste skiing, paragliding and wing suiting. Personally I’m happy with my snowboard and the groomers for now!
I’m absolutely loving snowboarding and have fortunately picked it up quickly considering the last time I hopped on a board was over five years ago. I completely understand the addiction of mountain life. I also now understand that the “Jackson Hole” sticker on my board (bought off a friend) refers to a place rather than a person! One afternoon when we were in the gondola coming down the mountain after a day of snowboarding we got talking to an American girl. She saw the sticker on my board and enthusiastically shouted “Oh, I love Jackson Hole!” to which I replied “Oh, this is my friends old board so it’s not actually my sticker”. We changed direction of the conversation but continued to happily chat away for the rest of the journey.
When we stepped out of the gondola and bid farewell I turned to Blake and immediately asked “Who’s Jackson Hole?”. He burst out laughing and kindly informed me that it was a place not a professional snowboarder as I had assumed! Good to know. My snowboard knowledge is improving rapidly! Haha. We returned home feeling tired but stoked from another great day on the mountain and cracked open a backyard beer to kick start apres. The novelty of leaving beers outside in the snow still hasn’t worn off. They are always perfectly chilled and ready for consumption. Maybe this is the reason our intake has increased?
The month of December seemed to whiz past in a flash so I’m wishfully hoping that the next few months are slower paced and savoured. We’ve planned a trip to Paris, have Copenhagen and Malmo on our radar and family and friends booked in to stay with us from Australia so there’s plenty to look forward to but for now as I sit perched near the heater in my underwear, staring at the snow fall outside whilst enjoying a cup of tea I feel completely content. Until the next post,