28 October 2017
[“vacances” is the French word for “vacation”]
Saturday near noon I joined Héloïse, Maman and Papa in the car and off we went. We were on our way to Gérardmer to visit Papa’s aunt. The drive took about an hour, with the last ten minutes climbing altitude until we finally arrived in front of the house, painted white and completed with an azure colored roof. Not long after we parked the car the door opened and a petit woman appeared to greet us. She introduced herself as René, all the while beaming with an ambiance of hospitality. We were at an altitude of 700 meters and it was pretty chilly, so we quickly entered the household, instantly engulfed in warmth. But we didn’t stay for long though – Papa proposed to go for “a walk in the forest” (that is EXACTLY what he said…) so we put on our coats and piled back into the car. Héloïse stayed behind because she wasn’t on vacation and she had work from school to do.
I wondered why “a walk in the forest” needed a 20 minute car ride on a wiggly route right on the edge of the steep mountain. I read on the little screen of Papa’s car that the temperature was dropping – meaning we were gaining more and more height. Soon the windows started to fog (due to temperature differences on the two sides of the glass) and the car screen beeped once again – 2 degrees Celsius. By then we were already at such a high altitude that apparently there was no forest, just some short grass and a few thin and twisted branches here and there.
When we got out of the car, it was freezing cold. Apart from the icy pricks on my face, the continuous wind made it worse. I wasn’t wearing enough so I had to borrow one of Papa’s sweaters, but I was still chilled to the bones.
Turns out “a walk in the forest” was actually a walk through the Vosges, a mountainous region. For me, it was more like a stumble. We were at altitude 1400+ and the wind was so strong that I had to be very careful to keep my balance and stop myself from falling over the ledge. We hiked around the U-shaped trail, picked our way through a few piles of large stones, and was met by a breathtaking view of the valley right in front of our eyes. Far down below we could also see a part of the Lake Gérardmer. Suddenly the cold did’t bother me anymore. Appreciating a landscape like this felt more important. I quickly pulled my phone out of my pocket and numbly pressed the camera button as my fingers were practically frozen.
With our faces buried in our scarves we headed back towards the parking lot. The walk back didn’t seem that long but it was harder for we were required to walk uphill. I took every step praying my feet were firmly set on the ground. Finally, the parking came in sight through the heavy fog and we scurried towards the car, thankful to be seated on the heated cushions.
Papa drove back down the mountain. We did not return immediately to René’s house though. There was another important place to visit – one we had already seen when we were high up in the mountains, the Lake Gérardmer. I kind of dreaded getting out of the car again, but when I did, I was not met by the intense coldness like back in the Vosges. We ambled around the large perimeter of the lake until we came to the end of a bridge beside an activities center, then turned to go back the way we came. The waters were not exactly calm, as there was still some wind that whipped up little waves and creating rippled reflections of the Vosges nearby. Bunches of ducks paddled around while riding the waves, which reminded me of tidal pools at water parks.
That night, René cooked us all a wonderful dinner – rice with Mexican chili beef and red beans completed with entrées and assorted cheese. The meal lasted until almost midnight as the discussions were very long. Finally, we all went to bed with a tired mind and body.