Finding Freedom in the French Alps

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What does a “normal” day in France look like for us? We rise with the sun at 7:00 am and pour a fresh cup of coffee (cold brew for Jordan). I put my glasses on and turn on my dual-screen monitors; the workday has officially begun. The morning flies by quickly as I catch up on emails and mark off tasks. I stop to shift the curtain placement in my east-facing office occasionally to reduce the glare on my computer screens. 

At noon, we stop to take a walk along the Saone river. As we leave the apartment with our masks on, Jordan asks, “Which way do you want to go today, up or down?” We choose a direction and set off. On a good day, the wind will be calm, and the cloud will block the sun from our eyes. We can’t wear sunglasses as they instantly fog up while wearing a mask. Our pace is brisk as we keep an eye out for the three cygnets we have watched grow up on the river since they were born last June. Typically, I have bread in my pocket for them, just in case.

After our walk, we stop at the boulangerie around the corner to grab a sandwich. Jordan prefers the ham, cheese, and butter sandwich, while I like the chicken with tomato. My favorite thing about the sandwich is coming home and pouring Frank’s Red Hot buffalo sauce on it. It is the best thing! 

After lunch, my afternoon is filled with meetings as my US colleagues join online. With a blink of an eye, it’s already curfew at 6:00 pm. Outside of lunch, there is little opportunity during the week to get out. We spend our evenings binge-watching various TV shows and movies on Netflix. But the weekends are ours, for now.

girl in ski hat drinking beer in meribel france
A weekend in Meribel, where we had a small taste of freedom. We could stand on the sidewalk and drink a beer without a mask.

When the second lockdown started in October, we thought it would be like the first. We expected eight weeks of restrictions and then for the country (and Europe) to reopen like it did in the Summer. Jordan and I planned to visit Finland in February to stay in one of those cool glass-ceiling igloos. How amazing would it be to see the northern lights while visiting for Valentine’s Day? Surely things would be better by February. 

“March 2021 is just like March 2020, except now there is toilet paper.”

Well, February quickly arrived and left, and we are no better than we were in October. The French government has enforced a weekend lockdown for three regions, and at least twenty more (including where Lyon is) is considered “high-risk.” Every day the news reports that weekend confinement is inevitable; it’s just a matter of time. There are constant threats to close Lyon’s open spaces, like the river’s banks or the large park. Fun fact: France has conducted more post-curfew checks than they have distributed vaccines. 

With meticulous planning, we can leave Lyon. And we tried to leave most weekends in February to escape to the French Alps. After our day trip snowshoeing, we knew we needed to get back to the mountains and fast. But the logistics are tricky. We have to factor in arriving there before the curfew starts at 6:00 pm or deciding to leave early in the morning. Many restaurants are closed, even for takeaway, so we have to shop ahead and plan to cook for our meals. 

Hotels are deserted and closed. The only options to stay for the weekend are renting an overpriced and uncomfortable AirBnB or owning a mountain cabin to escape to. Fortunately for us, we have amazing friends who invited us to stay for a weekend at their place in Villard-Reymond, a tiny mountain town.

Our friends, Taryn and Adrien, are around our age. They are a French-American couple and moved to France only a couple of months before we did from Greenville, SC. Adrien and Jordan worked together in the US but didn’t hang out outside of the office. We met up with them for the first time last Summer and instantly clicked! We are so thankful to have them as friends as we navigate this new experience together.

Before we left, we planned out our meals, choosing French classics like crepes, fondue, French onion soup, and croziflette. Croziflette is a traditional French casserole filled with pasta (crozets) and cheese. With our bags packed and groceries purchases, the four of us piled into our Volkswagen golf and set off at 6:00 am for Villard-Reymond. There was barely enough for us to fit in the car after getting our bags inside!

It was an early morning, and I was glad Jordan was driving. We were making great time in the car until we started going up the mountain. I get car-sick when sitting in the front seat, but this time I was sitting in the back. With the window rolled down and my head hanging out like a dog, we continued. One thing was for sure; I was not going to get back in the car until it was time to leave! As we made it to the top, we drove past a litter of little fluff ball puppies. They were five week old huskies and we were able to meet them throughout the weekend.

It was a warm weekend, but there was still plenty of snow on the ground in the mountains. Adrien walked outside the cabin with his binoculars to try and spot chamois, a goat-antelope animal native to the area. There were at least seven of them grazing on the nearby hill. He handed me the binoculars so that I could see them myself. All I could see without them were tiny black dots on a mountain!

After breakfast, we geared up on Saturday to go snowshoeing on a bluebird day. We set off right behind the cabin for an easy hike to the peak of a nearby mountain, Pregentil, at 1938 meters. 

A few weeks earlier, a storm carried sand from the Sahara desert into Lyon and the surrounding Alps. On that day, the sky was orange and apocalyptic. Today, all that the storm left was a line of orange dust packed between various snowstorms.  It turns out the sand was also radioactive, but that’s another story. 

It was a steady climb to the top until the very last push of the hike. We slowly zigged and zagged to the top. Out of breath, we made it to the peak! The view was breathtaking. We felt like we were on top of the world as we took in 360-degree views of the French Alps. After relaxing for a snack, it was time to head down. 

Going down the mountain was much tricker than going up. Our friend Adrien had the idea to go fast and ran straight down the steep decline. He was at the bottom of this section of the trail within seconds! The rest of us weren’t as courageous as him. The powder was deep, and it made it tough for our snowshoes to get a good grip. We were slipping, sliding, and falling all over the place! Finally, we were on more level ground and continued on the trail back to the cabin. 

We spent the afternoon enjoying the sun outside and stayed up late in the evening playing games. The next morning, our friends asked us if we were up for another hike. We could see where the endpoint of the trail was, but we were sore! Jordan and I decided to hang back and enjoy the views while our friends went for a quick hike. 

On Sunday afternoon, it was time to go sledding! I think the last time I was on a sled was when I was a kid in Georgia. We had a sloping yard which was perfect for the rare snow. If we opened the gate, we could sled from our front yard right into the back! I was a little nervous as I saw the hill that we were going to go down. It was steep and was utilized by locals as a small ski-hill in a non-COVID year. 

There were two sleds and four of us, so we took turns hiking up the hill. The boys went first and kept walking higher and higher up. How high were they going to go? After Jordan made it to the top, he positioned himself on the sled and got the breaks ready. Jordan only went a few feet before his sled got stuck in the snow. He repositioned himself and flew down the mountain. News flash: they didn’t do anything! He admitted maybe it was a little too steep, so I found a different part of the hill to go up. We took about three turns each before we called it a day. 

And just like that, the weekend was over. Back to work when the sun rises.

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4 thoughts on “Finding Freedom in the French Alps

  1. So glad you are able to find some enjoyment at a difficult time. Masks while walking outside? Crazy!

    1. Yes, masks are required at all times unless exercising (biking/running). We will be fined around $150 the first time if we leave our apartment without a mask, and the second offense is over $1000.

  2. Wow, masks are serious business in France. Here is SC they are inside only and not even then in some cases. But outside we are definitely free from requirements. Golf courses and lakes and parks are all really busy as are neighborhood walkers and runners.

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