Sunday, November 30, 2008

Snowboarding in the Alps

It's that time of year again--cold in the air, leaves on the ground, and snow in the mountains. Lyon is about 160 kilometers (100 miles for you yanks) from the Alps, and just a little bit further to the nearest ski resorts. In fact there are like 15 ski resorts within a couple hours drive from Lyon, and probably more than 30 within 4 hours.

The picture above is from the top of Val Thorens, this week's feature destination.

I don't have a car. Driving in Europe scares me, so I'm not sure if I ever will. And if I did, I'm not sure I would want to take my chances getting up windy, snow-covered mountain roads. Luckily most people in Lyon are in the same boat I am, so we have good options for travel to the mountains. Bus was convienent, cheap, and way too early. I was joined by two friends from work at the bus stop at 5:30 in the morning for the 2.5 hour ride to the resort, but other than that the ride was good.

Val Thorens is a huge resort. The snow cover wasn't great, so we were restricted to just a few runs, but being the first day of the season, the snow was fresh and untouched. The sun was shining, the weather was right around 32 degrees farenheit, and I was getting my thing on.

My first day in the Alps was awesome (That's me in the picture above doing something cool).

At least it started out awesome. The first two hours were amazing. The views are big, for lack of a better word, and the snow was okay and there was hardly anyone there.

Then the wind came. At first it wasn't too bad. The main run was serviced by a teleferic (gondola), so we didn't have to deal with the usual cold, windy lift ride up. The mountain had lots of valleys to atleast get some riding out of the wind, so we kept riding and took a break for lunch around 1 pm.

Ski resort food is usually two things--bad and expensive. The food here was doubly expensive, but it was really good. I had Tartiflette, a potato and cheese casserole thing, that was awesome. And a diet coke to make up for the 5,000 calories and all the carbs that dish had.

After lunch, the hurricane came in. I got blown off the piste by a huge gust of wind, and the wind quickly turned all the runs to hard ice. The wind was so strong that the bus driver couldn't even open the door to the bus, we had to use the back door which was protected from the wind. So the day ended a little earlier than I would have liked, but the good beginning made up for it.

For more pictures of Val Thorens, see here. All the good photos were taken by Cedric. Thanks Cedric.

Oh, and George starts her intensive French lessons tomorrow. Wish her luck.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Baby Cow's Head

Doesn't that look Yummy?

For George's second day in France, she and I went out with some friends for some traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. Typical French meals, ingredients-wise, are not all that different from American meals--a main meat, some potatoes, and some other common mixed veggies--the difference is generally in the sauces and the preperation. My coworker had a nice sausage caserole, his wife had a flank of lamb with potatoes and mixed veggies, and I had some duck with potatoes and ratatouille. None of these dishes would cause the average American any hesitation when ordering. (You guys know I am not a meat eater, so duck was quite a stretch for me).

Some french food, however, is quite "odd" by American standards. Frog legs seem pretty exotic, escargo (snails) is quite bizzarre, and organs (livers, kidneys, etc.) are more common here than in most parts of the US.

So George, being from Hong Kong where they eat just about anything, and things like Chicken's Feet are a local favorite, decided to try something new and exciting. And by new and exciting, of course, I mean crazy and weird. Tête de veau, probably the most exotic item on the menu, translates to english as Veal Head. Like her favorite dim sum mentioned above, Chicken's Feet, I am not quite sure what meat Veal Head consists of, but it was slightly translucent with the consistency of jello. Our friends felt bad for letting George order it, but the waitress was quite impressed and gave George 2 thumbs up when she cleaned her plate.

George, by the way, says it was good, so next time you guys see Tête de Veau on the menu you have my recommendation (and Chicken's Feet are quite good too). And that picture above is not the actual picture of what she ate. I didn't have my camera with me, so I had to fall back to google image search, and that was all I got. George's dish looked something like that, but somehow prettier (it was a fancy restaurant!).

After dinner we returned to our friends' house for some dessert and tea. I'm not much for chocolate or candy or cake or other typical desserts, but I LOVE me some fruit filled pastries. Lyon is a pretty good place to feed your pastry sweat tooth, and I struggle every time we pass a bakery to not pick up a few. Mmmmmm.... Buttery Calories.

Well, I am off to Berlin for a few days for work, so hopefully my next blog will contain pictures of me passed out over some sour kraut with one of those gigantic german beer mugs in my hand (Unfortunately my knowledge of Germany comes entirely from the movie Beerfest).

Auf Wiedersehen

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The morning handshake ritual

In the US, you tend to only shake someone's hand the first couple times you meet them, or maybe if you haven't seen them in a while, but the people you see everyday rarely warrant more than a “good morning” and a maybe slight nod of the head when you arrive at the office.

Not so in France. The morning handshake ritual, as my American compatriot Kain calls it, marks the beginning of every work day here. It doesn't matter if it is your first day, or your 1,000th day, after you take your coat off and drop your lunch off at your desk in the morning, you walk around the entire office and say bonjour, salut, ça va, good morning or something, and you shake hands.
So every morning when I get to work I shake hands with 35 other people. At first it was kinda weird, but now I quite like it. I am not the kind of person that seeks out affection, or needs emotional reinforcement on a daily basis, but starting your day off with 3 dozen smiling, friendly handshakes certainly helps get the day off to a good start. I think people in America should start their work day off by shaking everyone's hand.

With female coworkers, or close friends, you can opt for the kiss on each cheek thing instead of the handshake, but for now I am sticking with the handshake. Once I have been there for a while, I might try to throw a fist bump or something in for variety, but I'm not sure how that will work out.
Oh, and when you leave the office you say bye to people. At least to the people that sit close enough to you to see you leave.

Today's picture is my horrible attempt at creating a panorama of the view from our balcony out of a few separate images.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Explorin' my hood

I slept until 2 pm on Saturday and it was AWESOME! I have been so jetlagged since I got here, I don't think I have slept more than 4 or 5 hours per night, and it was catching up with me. Saturday put a big dent in my sleep debt.

Sunday, however, I was up again before 7 (which is better than 4 or 5, which is when I had been waking up). The sun was shining, and my tummy was rumbling, so I decided Sunday would be a good day for an early breakfast and a stroll around town. I've been here before, almost exactly a year ago actually, but it is a totally different feeling to walk around a strange/exotic town and know that you live here--you are not just a tourist (Although I am totally still the stupid foreigner).

My hotel is just east of Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon), which, as its name implies, is the center of the original city of Lyon before it exploded into the sprawling urban area it is today. Lyon is old! Up the hil from the old lyon, is an ampitheatre built by the Romans before Jesus Christ was even born--and it is still used today. Old Lyon is not quite as old as that, but the architecture, plazas, fountains, etc. are quite old and quite beautiful. The picture above is one of my favorite fountains in Lyon. It is huge, and sits in the middle of a plaza surrounded by awesome buildings.

I could have taken an awesome picture at pretty much every corner of Vieux Lyon, and pretty much did, but I will not bog you down with my 200 photos of buidling and plazas, but some of them can be found here if you want to see more.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I can see my work from here

See that big pencilly shaped building on the left. I don't work there, I work about 5 blocks right of it. My temporary lodgings are half-way between the pencil and work, so everything is pretty close.

Today was the first day of work. Work's cool. Arkane has the top two floors of a 9 story building with a large deck on the top floor. On a clear day they say you can see the Alps, but today was not a clear day, so I'll have to get back to you on that one.

My day was about 75% English and 25% Français, and slightly less than 25% of me having no idea what was going on. Body language is universal though--A well placed shrug or nod and everything is golden.

If I understood correctly, Tuesday is a holiday. The French don't like to break up their work week (or more importantly, miss an opportunity for a long weekend), so instead of working that odd Mondy in the middle, they will faire la pont (make a bridge) and just go ahead and take Monday off too--paid of course. Its been a hard one day of work already, so I'm looking forward to my long weekend too. I'll get the good camera out and get some better pictures for future blogs.

à plus tard