We started and ended our week this past week spending time with Marco's copains de l'universite - Brazilian, Greek and Indian.
Monday night was another hosted evening, wherein two Brazilian guys, one Greek woman and one man from India made food for the entire class to share. It was interesting to see how well yellow curry chicken, Brazilian pork, rice and beans, and Greek salad plus Greek style bruschetta all go together. Also a few well placed caprihanas and a shot of ouzo might have been on the menu. Very tasty and worked well. It was also nice to have a social evening out, for both the girls and for us - though they are the only kids there, they are spoiled.
The rest of the week passed mostly uneventfully but with great anticipation as we'd booked to drive to Andorra for the weekend, with above said Brazilians, Greek and Indian companions, to try our hand at skiing in the Pyrenees. We were also excited about adding another country to our travel list, even if we'd only discovered Andorra's existence this past summer.
We got ourselves off at a decent time to pick up the rental on Saturday morning - weather was looking good - our companions had already departed - all was ticking.
Heading south east, we were ready for some mountain skiing. As we approached Andorra, the light rain was turning to slushy sleet and the roads were becoming more serious. Maybe we should have rented something more substantial than a Ford Fiesta? No matter, we're Canadians, we can drive in winter conditions.
As we began our ascent on the winding roads which would take us into Andorra, the driving became more difficult and all the fellow highway travellers began pulling over to put chains on their tires. A new concept to us however we pushed on. As we got to the last village in France before heading up more hairpin roads to Andorra, the plows began arriving and one driver pointed to my tires, indicating I wouldn't be able to get further without chains. We made a valiant attempt and as we spun starting up the hill, we took his advice and turned back to join the line at the last garage as they made a steady business.
Marco and I have now put chains on tires - rather, Marco has put chains on tires while I read the instructions. Made all the difference. Until we had to stop for the car in front of us and the restart caused a break in one of set of chains. Growing a bit frustrated, we pushed on with one chain on the passenger side tire, causing all passing cars to give us a honk, thinking we were attempting the climb with no chains.
As we got within kilometers of the border, the climb became even more hairpin and the winds began creating snow squalls and zero visibility in some spots. This drive was becoming much less charming.
Texts back and forth with our earlier departing international crew confirmed that they had arrived at the first ski resort and were not up for more such driving. So we all landed in Pas de la Casa for our first afternoon.
We determined to wait out the clouds and wind over lunch while re-arranging ski rentals to the local shop (we had planned to go on to Soldeu, on the other side of the mountains and another 10 kms further). Our pause brought a break in the clouds and sunshine but no halt in the winds. No matter. We were there to instruct our Brazilian/Greek/Indian entourage in the fine art of skiing and they were still game. Ski on.
They were all troopers as the wind was not pleasant and the beginner hill at Pas de la Casa was frankly terrible - tow rope up which is diffcult for most and barely an incline on the way down.
We all prevailed. To the point where one Brazilian protege was catching on quickly so Marco sent the girls and I up the first small chair lift to try out one run.
It was the windiest run I've ever made, with ice pellets boaring into our faces as the wind careened off the slopes above. The Brazilian was a brave, good sport - Geneva pushed on - I thought I would lose Elena. It truly looked at one point as if we might be trekking Everest - honestly a bit concerning. With El in tears, I grabbed her and hauled us both down the hill - thankfully on a short run.
This wrapped up our first day as the first time skiers all felt they'd had their fill - though were grateful to have tried and had us there to help them. A quick snow ball fight and some snow angels and the gang was off back to Toulouse while we found our way further on to Soldeu for the night.
As we drove through the mountain tunnel and arrived on the other side, the angels began to sing and the skies opened.... we'd found our true place. Where Pas de la Casa was a busy tourist destination for shopping as much as skiing (I've described as Buffalo meets Aspen as there are low taxes so many come for the shopping), Soldeu is a proper ski destination with amazing resort facilities, hundreds of runs, many high speed chairs and a gondola to take you to the top.
We enjoyed our night in a quaint hillside stone and timber hotel - typical for the region - and were up for an early breakfast then down to the gondola. Again, I marvelled at the impressive facilities, multitude of chairs and runs, and all for about the same price as we pay to ski a day in Ontario.
It was truly a lovely day - weather, skiing and otherwise - and a very memorable first mountain ski for our girls. We skied hard with the girls working it - real and heavy mountain snow is a distant memory for us and a newfound challenge for the girls. By the afternoon, we'd skiied ourselves out and packed up for the drive home. Enough said as the girls already were plotted "for the next time..." on the drive back. Hope so.
Best to you as we head into a new month (what??!!)
A la prochaine,
p.s. I might have volunteered us to host next month's "country food" night with Marco's class - may be the last before the end of courses. Looking for votes on what represents Canada in food (that's not too difficult to prepare and serve to 30 or so). Merci!