Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The alps

Captions will follow someday, but now it's bedtime.
Escargot.  There were millions of the things all over.  I don't know how they could stand the cold.  Aurore said it was their breeding season, and forbidden to collect them right now.
Mirin and Rose on the top of La Dole mountain.  It was cold.
Beautiful little fairy pool in the snow melt creek
Rose heading up to the top of La Dole.  We were walking on the rocks beside the snow melt.
Clothilde and I finally caught up with the big kids.
Jean-Francois the snow man.  There wasn't much snow, obviously, but my Florida kids were desperate.
Three local cheeses in Premanon
The beautiful milking cows in Premanon that make milk for Comte cheese.
Clothilde playing near my cousin's house in the Alps
Some lovely girls ruminating on the fragrant pasture.  They all had bells and it sounded beautiful.
An interesting wildflower.

The drive to Premanon was pretty normal at first, but after dark we started getting up into the alps and it was really white-knuckle driving. The GPS kept trying to send us the "short" way, over the mountains on cow paths. We finally got there and fell into bed, except there wasn't room for Marc and he had to follow Fred into Les Rousses to an apartment they had there. He could barely keep up with Fred's little sports car. It was a small miracle that he was able to find his way back to the house the next morning.

Tuesday we woke up after Aurore and everyone had gone to work or school and went into Les Rousses and had fondue at a fromagerie that made Comte cheese. This time the menu confusion meant we had twice as much food as we needed, but we could at least take the charcuterie with us. We went down the road to a couple different lakes, and into Switzerland. We made sure to have our passports all ready at the border, but it was deserted, so we went on. We walked along the lake a bit while Mirin tried to make a reed boat to float across and climb the cliff on the other side. We left before he could depart and went grocery shopping on the way home. The co-op biologique was a bit of a disappointment, but we restocked on diapers. It was like Mother Earth grocery on a bad day, but the check out line was quicker. The Intermarche was much better. Everything is more expensive except the cheese. Forty dollars at Dorn's is about 12 euros, and the selection is much bigger. We also found some soft purple shoes for Clo for only 6 euros, so she's back in action.

Back at Aurore's everyone was home so the kids played. The language barrier just seems to make them play louder and crazier. Aurore gets raw milk from some friends of hers with a farm down the road that you can see from her house. We went to pick it up for her while she finished dinner. Rosie stayed to play with Flore, and Titouan  came to play with Mirin and give us directions to the farm. He's five and only speaks French, so it took some finding. We would approach a place to turn and Angie would ask if we had to turn. There would be a flood of French that crescendoed as we got closer to the turn. Then we would turn and the crescendo would either end with a quiet "no no no" if we got out right or a squeaky "oui" if we got it right. After trying almost all the turns on the way there we made it and met Fred, Aurore's husband there. They were just finishing up milking and Aurore's milk came straight out of the huge bulk tank /chiller. As they finished milking we got a tour of the farm. They milk what we would call red Holstein cows, but they have a special name for them we couldn't catch. All of their milk from their hundred cows goes to make the Comte cheese. That breed of cow has been raised in the area for the past 900 years to make the cheese. To produce milk for the Comte cheese they have to abide by really strict standards. They get less than a kilo of grain and they can't have any silage, only hay because it changes the taste of the milk. The Comte is only made when the cows are on their summer pasture so the milk is as sweet as possible. They also have to rotate the pastures, but not very frequently, only a couple times a week. All of the farms in the area use electric fences, and you could tell that about a quarter of them rotationally graze. It wasn't until today that we saw any barbed wire. Anyway, we finished the farm tour and went back to dinner.

Dinner was vegetable soup with cooked sausages, and then bread and cheese. Aurore had bought the three main cheeses that are made in the region, the Comte, a lighter, younger cheese with a line of ash in the middle, and a blue style cheese that was more grey than blue but really good. It didn't have the same sweet tang of a blue cheese but had more of a brie funk to it. After dinner we took the kids on a walk along the cow paths while Flore and Titouan got ready for bed. After about forty five minutes we went in and put everyone to bed, and Marc went off to the apartment.

I almost forgot, but Tuesday evening with Aurore we went on a walk through the forest around her house and picked nettles and wild spinach for soup. We played a game where the kids pair up and one of them close their eyes. The other leads them to a tree and with their eyes still closed they have to feel around the tree and it's immediate surroundings. Then they are led back to where they started and can open their eyes. They then have to find the tree that they were led to. On the way back there was a old man scything some grass for his rabbits. Aurore said he was a little crazy and always thought that the neighbors were trying to poison his rabbits and chickens. The first picture is his pile of grass and wooden wheelbarrow.

Today we woke up earlier and had a quick breakfast. As we were finishing it started to snow. Mirin and Rose must have set a record for the most excitement about snow in May for the alps. After it stopped we drove a little way to the base of La Dôle. Mirin, despite his whining about the stairs in Nice has been excited to run up things as long as there's snow or a castle at the top. Aurore teaches at the mountaineering school nearby and pointed us in the right direction and gave us a topo map. We parked and asked a local the way to the trailhead. He took a long skeptical look at our shoes and pointed us up the alp. Mirin and Rose ran most of the way up, Angie and I took turns with carrying Clo. Marc brought up the rear with the camera. We made up it past the snow line, although there wasn't much snow. It did snow on us a bit, and we made a tiny snow man. There were also some snow balls whizzing about. The clouds started closing in, so we headed down. Our legs were like jello by the time we got back to the car, and we went back to Aurore's for lunch. Flore and Titouan were waiting for us and once the kids had eaten more cheese and whined for more bread with butter and jam they all went outside and ran up and down the road on bikes and scooters and climbed the rocks by the neighbors house. Hopefully they'll sleep on the way to Ste-Marie-aux-Mines tomorrow. Angie took a long nap while I was writing and Clo played almost quietly. In a moment we'll have cake for Flore's seventh birthday. The other new is that Titouan lost a tooth recently and a little mouse (the French version of the tooth fairy) brought him a candle powered boat. We have been attempting to sail it in the sink with very limited success. It's cake time now, so until tomorrow


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