Whole lotta nothing

Chamonix Valley seen from the south

In honesty, just a post so people know I’m still here! Not a lot has happened outside of the working environment since my last post (over a week – sorry) and there’s yet to be any snow in Chamonix. It did try yesterday, but we only managed some sleety rain for a few hours before it gave in.

From what I gather, Tignes has a small amount and La Rosiere has around 10cm lying on the pavements. Courchevel 1850 has quite a substantial amount, but that’s to be expected at such an altitude. You also pay for it there as it’s one of the priciest resorts.

Head chef training has just finished and today/tomorrow all the management trainees will be arriving here to start abusing the PCs I’ve been setting up. The big pain is going to be in around a week when I have to uproot every training machine and lug them over to Tignes for the remainder of training, then distribute them to the various resort staff.

It has been great to catch up with more people I remember from last season as they appear in little groups. I believe we’ve got quite a high percentage of returning staff amongst the workforce this season so we must be doing something right!

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Update from the Alps

It’s been a few days since the last post as I’ve barely stopped working since I arrived back in Chamonix. Maya drove me to Geneva Airport on Monday morning. From there, I was picked up by Peter who I worked with last year. Along with my new boss, two new handymen and a couple more staff from last season we made our way to Albertville. There we separated out into various cars and drove these to Chamonix – airport pickup and vehicle delivery in one swoop! Last year the staff vehicles were Toyota Yaris‘s, this year they’re little Renault Clios. I preferred the Yaris, I think. They definitely had better stereos!

Once in Chamonix I don’t think I even got to drop my bags in my room until almost dinner time. Everyone had little jobs to do, and I can understand why I got a hug from Dave when he saw me. He no longer has to deal with the IT issues now that I’ve arrived! My “to do” list grows longer each day, and there’s always another little something that pops up when someone sees me.

I’m room-sharing with Robin, the head rep for Chamonix and a great guy. He’s usually only around at the weekends right now, as he’s busy helping to outfit all the other resorts. Mind, I don’t see much of the flat anyway as I’m either working or socialising with the other folk here.

The two handymen have been great company all week – Gareth’s about ten years my junior and from London, Steve’s about twenty years my senior and Welsh by birth but living in Birmingham somewhere. We’ve enjoyed the football and beer in Bar’d Up; munched the delicious criss-cross fries in the MBC while supping delicious premises-brewed beers; been fed incredibly well by Luke in the Sapiniere; and gotten hammered around town last night.

So, yes, same as last year. A great, hard-working crew and beer that’s far too expensive. The latter’s about the only bad thing. Prices here are the same as last year, but the Euro’s edged up against the pound so catching happy hour (or going to the supermarket) is the only way to drink affordably.

Posts may be a little thin on the ground as I won’t get a chance to do anything touristy during my 6-week stint. However, there’s always something happenings. And I can always just go on about how stunning the mountain view is. No pictures, I’m afraid. My camera’s off for repair back home.

Oh, and no – there’s no snow here as yet although there was a deluge about two weeks ago from what I’ve been told.

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Going… going… back home

Dishwasher, open and loaded with dishesMy last morning in Chamonix was… eventful. Actually, one of the busiest working mornings I’ve had in a while. I was late into the office as I had to hand back the apartment to the people we’d rented it from. They were expecting Sophie, who handles the contracts, but had to deal with me instead. I was up till silly o’ clock tidying the place and my reward was a handful of snide remarks and comments about getting cleaners in at our expense to tidy it.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I know so many nice French people, this is the kind of attitude that would put me right off them. The floor was a mess, sure – but the vacuum I’d been provided with was less sucky than an asthmatic granny after a 10-mile run. I’d forgotten to wash a handful of spoons. I somehow think that claiming this warrants a €20 cleaning bill is a little out of perspective given there’s a dishwasher in the apartment and I’ve left behind half a tub of cleaning crystals for it.

Frankly, I expect them to do the job themselves and then bill the company. The stories I’ve heard about some of the people we lease from does make one jump to the conclusion that they’re all out to rip you off.

Anyway, I made it to the office in good time and had the last of my luggage with me. As I said, I used every trick I knew of to get all my luggage packed. This included tying my trainers and my boarding goggles to the carry-handle of my day-bag as they wouldn’t fit in my rucksack. Technically one piece of luggage and I got away with it, so I’m not complaining.

Nat kindly drove myself and one of the Chris’s to Geneva Airport. Chris had a 3-hour wait as we had to get there in time for my flight, but there wasn’t enough time to do two separate airport runs. My apologies for that.

The auto check-in involved some detective work as I didn’t have my booking reference to hand. Or the postcode of the British office, which was an alternative detail asked for. I did have the name of the person who booked the ticket… but it wasn’t their name used on the actual booking. I eventually sussed it as being the initial of the first word of our company name, and the second word in full – like “S Removals” as the booker on behalf of “Smith’s Removals”.

Luggage tagged, I handed my rucksack in (“Be careful of the weight next time” as it tipped the scales a whopping 1.6kg over the limit) and wandered through the boarding pass check and security in search of duty free for my mum. Only I didn’t find any. Aside from some small refreshment areas, all the shops in Geneva Airport are actually before the area where they check your boarding pass. Which is weird. I can only assume that if you buy something then they check your ticket at the till to see if you’re leaving the country. Seems a little weird, given that you could buy a budget ticket and a vast amount of duty free to outweigh the cost. Regardless, certainly if you’re heading for any of the “B” gates, there are no duty free shops past security so be aware.

My flight had a 40 minute delay in taking off, but arrived in Edinburgh earlier than that airport was claiming – an hour earlier, in fact.  I think they were advertising the times based on those in Switzerland, that is one hour ahead. Either way, my dad was expecting a long wait and had barely arrived at the arrivals area when I walked out.

It was nice to have some proper British grub for a change. Stew, spuds, carrots… A cup of tea and some cake afterwards. Two bouncy dogs going mad at my feet and a ton of mail to sort out.

Yup. Back home.

Now to sort out some couch surfing and flights for the Baltics…

A Swiss day out

MartignyWell, we hit the weekend again and once more we were forecast good weather for most of it. This time, I decided to make some plans and had originally hoped to visit Turin, or even go further afield to Berne, Zurich and Liechtenstein. However, most of my European friends were busy so I decided instead to just hop over the border to Martigny. A short visit, but a chance to pick up some decent bargain-priced chocolate.

I don’t have a company vehicle and I’d originally intended to hitch elsewhere for the weekend. However, the director told me to just borrow one of the vehicles. So I did. And I had a very nice, gently, careful drive through the hills on Saturday afternoon. Now, those who know me also know that “gently” and “careful” are not words that go together with my driving. However, when the vehicle you’re driving is a new-model Toyota Hilux HX2… in bright red… right hand drive, in a left hand drive country… and belongs to the man who owns the company you work for sometimes exceptions can be made.

So off I set around midday. Window rolled down, nice high view, surprisingly easily adapting to the gear stick being on what’s now my “wrong” side, and with Brian Johnson screaming at me that he’s a “Heatseeker” and “don’t need no life preserver”. Very loudly indeed. Nice stereos in those Hilux’s.

It’s only about an hour to Martigny from Chamonix if you drive at a moderate speed. It’s also gorgeous. I stopped at a few places to take photos, including off the windy road above Martigny as I could see the town stretching out in the distance beneath me. The mountains in the area are fantastic and still snow-capped, and there are definitely some lovely hiking trails in the area if such takes your fancy.

Fort above MartignySwapping from France to Switzerland doesn’t even involve stopping as long as you have one of the mandatory Swiss vignettes in your window. It’s the Swiss road taxation system. Even if you’re only there for 15 minutes, you have to have one. Mind, at 40 Swiss Francs a year (approximately £20), it’s a fraction of the UK road tax fee.

On I drove, meandering up and down the windy roads. No bad traffic in the way, no camper vans or ageing Sunday drivers. It’s days like that when everything just seems all right in the world (even though we all know it isn’t – the incidents in Burma / Myanmar are weighing very heavily on my mind). All I needed was a very attractive driving companion with a good taste in music and loose morals and I’d have been on cloud nine. Ah well, if we had everything then we’d strive for nothing.

As I approached Martigny, I spotted one of the large road signs telling me that part of my planned day out would have to be cancelled. The Col de Grande St-Bernard was still shut, I assume due to weather reasons, so heading that way would only take me through the tunnel into Italy. A pity as I only spent a paltry few minutes up there the last time I passed through and I’d have liked to have seen more. Another time!

Wooden bridge in MartignyInstead, I located a Migros and spent a bit of cash on some groceries and chocolate. All cheaper than back in Chamonix, and definitely better quality. Frankly, the fruit and veg in Super-U can be a bit hit and miss quality-wise. It was nice to get tomatoes and peppers that didn’t look more wrinkly than a 90 year-old who’s been sunbathing too long. As for the chocolate… even Migros’ bargain basement cheap and tatty stuff is superior to the pricier own-brand muck sold in France. And it’s cheap.

I’d already made sandwiches for the trip, so I drove around a bit to find a nice place to park up. On the edge of town is a small fort perched on a hill. Below it, an old wooden bridge (closed for refurbishment) crosses a beautiful clean river. And right next to it, under some carefully-arranged trees was a nice empty bench. Lunch break.

A view back into FranceHaving driven round a lot of it, Martigny isn’t a startlingly beautiful town as such. From above it actually looks a bit like a Spanish resort town. A lot of the buildings are fairly modern and regularly laid out. It doesn’t have much character. However, there are a couple of small parts stuck on the edges (such as the road leading to the fort) which appear older and stand out when you see them.

And then there’s the scenery. You walk out of Migros into the car park and facing you is a mountainside completely covered with bright green trees. It stretched both directions as far as you can see. Look over your shoulder and there are grey mountains topped with snow. Lower down on their foothills, grapes are being grown although it’s early in the season so they look a little bare right now.

Oh, and being Switzerland it’s very clean!

After my lunch, I packed up and drove back the way I came. At the border I was stopped by one of the French guards and told that my front numberplate was damaged. News to me – when I collected the van it had been parked nose-first towards the hotel wall. It later transpired that “we” already knew about this and a replacement plate is in the van. Somewhere. Thing is, virtually every French speed camera catches you from the front, so they’re bound to be picky about front license plates.

Rock and treeI also made a couple of pit-stops to take more pictures. The weather continued to be glorious until I returned to Chamonix in the early evening. I do wish I’d had a vehicle to hand more often over the season – and more time off to make use of it. The whole area around here is tremendous for jaunting around and taking days out or weekends away. Having to work here has been a joy, but also slightly frustrating in the knowledge that so many other wonderful places were right on my doorstep – but unreachable at the time.

Ah well. All the more encouragement to come back another time, perhaps as a full time tourist!

And away they go

We’re pretty much staffless now. The only people kicking around are us office staff and the hotel managers, all of whom head home on Monday. The chalet staff, chefs, kitchen workers, child carers, ski guides and everyone else have all made their way back to the UK. Oh, one exception – James, the assistant manager at the hotel here in Chamonix won’t fly home till Monday as his ankle is now held together with bolts. Last run of the season. Whoops.

There are still a few incidents to report relating to the mad bunch of people who’ve been here all season. And a few words of warning. Way back at the start of the season I had a post where I mentioned how quickly we were shedding staff, even during training. Rules are strict and they have to be. As the season goes on, people drop out. They get sacked. They do stupid things. They get stressed out. Believe me, I can’t blame them.

Working for a season somewhere like this is not as easy as you might think. It’s damn hard work. Blowing your chance to try by videoing yourself doing something rather rude in company uniform and posting it on YouTube is not a good idea. Yeah, that happened back in November. Three members of staff found themselves contractless and making their own ways home when YouTube (I believe) got in touch as the video was flagged and removed rather quickly.

Another hint. If you’re going to hold a bonfire on your last night, then that’s great. A barbecue and some beer is a wonderful way to say goodbye to your mates. However, it’s kind of impolite to burn your uniform as part of the celebration because we’ll want to use it next season. Oh, and don’t lose your camcorder with the footage on, especially somewhere that one of the area managers might find it after you’ve left. And thus find out what happened to 30-odd sets of uniform.

Think that’s bad? Top one of the lot – don’t burn your uniform jacket with your passport still in the pocket. That made for an interesting phone call from the airport.

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