One day, a few months ago, I woke up with a trip proposal, yes, a trip proposal. What an exciting way of waking up, am I right?
My Belgian friends had planned to go on a ski trip to the French Alps and they wanted me to go with them. And I thought: “I won’t be the one to let them down”. So when the date arrived and I could finally stop counting down the days I took a plane and flew to Belgium to reunite with my people.
And the wait was well worth it -> Les Deux Alpes with Eendrachstraat
The girls had planned to drive from Gent to the Alps, so instead of meeting them directly in the mountains I decided to go earlier and spend a day in town and leave with them the following morning. Because who isn’t always thrilled by an 8 hour road trip? And what a great decision it was. It had been four years since the last time I visited Gent and being back was definitely worth it. For those who are a bit out of track, let me quickly update the story for a better understanding.
In 2010 I lived in Gent for a year, it was the city I was assigned for my Erasmus – an university exchange program. I lived in what I consider the best house in the entire city and with the best people in the entire city. The house belonged –actually it still does- to Eline, and it was shared among five people. Carol or Steamie (as the friends call her) was another in the crew. Alex, the most handsome and witty guy in town didn’t live in the apartment, but spent 80% of his time in it or at least with us. I’ve always considered these people to be a Belgian version of me, and after a few months they became the closest thing to my siblings. Since then, we have been rocking adventures together. Some of which have taken place in Vietnam, Cambodia, and certainly in Spain.
Once I landed in Brussels airport Eline came to pick me up. After we hugged – her hugs are one of the best ones you can get- we drove to Gent. The sun was shining – absolutely lucky here since I had left Spain with snow and freezing temperatures- I was immensely happy and we used the hour of traffic jam to catch up.
I arrived ‘home’ and a bunch of feelings came over me. Yet, nostalgia defeated when I went upstairs and checked on my old room. Alex had taken it, so at least I know it is in good hands, or that’s what I wanted to believe.
Had I known how nice it felt to be back and how much I needed it, I’d have planned a few extra days there. After Eline and I dropped off my luggage we went to the shop to get all the supplies we’d need for our trip. Once the errand was successfully completed we went back home, grabbed some beers and headed for a walk to the center. We sat by Graslei, enjoying the beers and the great atmosphere the town was boasting.
Some beers and random acquaintances later, dinner time caught up to us and hungry enough to make us run to Amadeus, where I had asked Eline to book a table for us in order to indulge in some heavenly ribs I had been dreaming about since the last time I was in Gent. We walked through the cobblestone streets which lead to the restaurant, which although tiny from the outside, was actually spacious picturesque restaurant which no matter what the day was, there were never tables to be booked.
Six girls sat at a table caring nothing else but the food on their plates and how to enjoy it in the best way possible. We got our hands and faces dirty downing all the awesomely good meat combined with the equally awesomely well baked potatoes, which are served along with the ribs. There is no limit to eating, this place serve Ribs a volunté. And they are the best at it.
We managed to stand up and leave the restaurant with dirty but happy faces. It was just how I remembered, just how I expected. As we left, one of the bartenders stopped to tell me that they still remembered me from the previous times. What an honor! I’m not surprised since I was probably the student who most invested her money in their services. A few beers and cocktails later with Alex showing me the latest café addition to their list, we headed back home.
On Saturday, a few hours later than what we had planned and a few tortillas ready to be eaten, we got in the extremely packed car and hit the road. Ahead of us were awaiting seven long hours of driving through Belgium and France before we reached our destination. Only half hour later my heart stopped when I realized I had forgotten all my cheese in the fridge in Gent. For a while I felt miserable, this has happened to me before and God knows how miserable I can get dealing with a situation like this. I even tried to violently turn around and go back home to rescue the cheese. It was a 30€ bag of Spanish cheese and cecina which I sure was hoping to enjoy in our Alps lodge’s balcony contemplating the snow. Oh well, at least Alex would enjoy it and make sure there was nothing left for the girls when they got back.
Some hours of road and songs later we got closer to our destination. Me, driving, surprised, intrigued, dare I say, about what the last kilometers would bring us since I was already surrounded by enormous imposing mountains without a single snowflake. I ventured to say out loud that a lot would have to change the following minutes if we were expecting to ski the next days. Suddenly it started raining, the deeper we got into the mountain range the lower the temperature dropped, the water drops became snowflakes and the little light left disappeared to allow the darkness to cover the entire sky. Suddenly my body shrunk and together with mine, my friends’. Eline did her classic ‘war cry and hands rub’ -it’s something she does when she is excited, no matter if it is because she likes the food in her plate or she may be about to die. Up the mountain we drove, meandering the hill wishing for the damn town to appear soon. Holding tightly the steering wheel, with the fear of falling down the slope at any moment and feeling Steamer’s and Emmy’s breath on my neck. We finally made it to the top and reached the town though struggling with the snow in our tires under a staggering blizzard. After the girls miraculously accomplished the impossible – AKA putting the snow chains to the wheels- we finally arrived to the apartment safe and sound.
The place was great just for the four of us, It was well equipped with a tiny kitchen, living room and a big balcony, and a bathroom which was actually smartly separated from the toilet. It was a great deal, with a great location for a great week. The downstairs apartment had access to a ski slope which continued through some of the houses of the town, many of which had a porch just a meter away from the slope. And that is class. In that wooden lodge I spent with the girls a few sticky and stinky days, putting on and off our ski gear and cooking some delicious food from here and there. Because, believe it or not, we already are some fine ladies who call the shots and we sure know how to cook. I delighted them with my lemongrass chickpea curry, Steamer dared to make 15kg of spaghetti Bolognese which would feed us along the week, Eline of course brought her potato salad in to the food game, and Emmy simply ate.
The first day, though feeling a bit rusty, I managed to face the mountains. We navigated the station leaded by Eline’s instructions. She was the one in charge of the map and the one in charge of satisfying us with the itinerary chosen – which was open to suggestions. Steamer would simply listen and follow, it had been proved that her orientation was a bit of a mess and if we followed her we would probably have ended up living a situation similar to the quite dramatic story of ‘Alive’, but without a plane.
After hitting some slopes and a good amount of kip curry sandwiches we headed to Panobar –Steamer’s favorite panoramic bar in the station. We had been told that at the end of the day this was the place to be. A dj played music to a crowd of skiers who warm up for the next phase. It was funtastic. Pretty decent music and a very peculiar and appealing atmosphere took over the place. Then my good friends added their peculiar ‘thing’ to the whole story. Steamer had a crush on Steffano, a super cute Italian instructor of/from the station. In fairness, the tanned faces of the guys hanging out there was the sexiest thing ever.
Also, I was pretty happy just to discover what a trip like that meant. What the word ‘après-ski’ actually meant. All my previous ski trips had been with my parents, and believe me, I had a totally wrong concept all of what ‘après-ski’ was. There was a new different world out there and I totally had been ignoring it, until now. After a few drinks and being sure we would not slide down the mountain, we got on the egg which took us to the base. What a fantastic idea! The story continued in The Umbrella – Rihanna would had been delighted with this one- where the crowd from upstairs came down to have a few more, half jumping with their ski boots (I swear, avoid it if you can) and making ski pals. And with time enough for Steamer to manage the whole Steffano situation in a not very subtle way.
The stories of each of those nights stay there. What happened in the Alps, stays in the Alps, as they say. But it was all fun and laughs and love. There was a night we stayed in too, that one was fun. We met our apartment neighbor, who finally came seduced by Steamer’s music, AKA Frida Mind. Although, all I can remember is that none of the conversations made any sense, however somehow we made them look nice. Despite the mess, the guy liked us so he even said he was gonna break up with his boyfriend so he could be with us. I am not sure what kind of polygamous dude he was expecting to be. Anyways, cute.
That was also the night that Eline and I bitterly failed our dinner scheme. We had planned to make a fondue one night, so Eline decided to be the one in charge. The fact that we decided to do it on the cheap and don’t go too crazy with it, probably affected the final result. Also the chef decided to add some white wine to the disaster. So we sat at the table, pretended satisfaction with the look of the dish and tried digging our forks into the solid cheese dough in the bottom of the pot.
We shared some more good moments for the journal and made it count. I had to go back to Spain on Wednesday, while the girls were staying a few more days. So I made sure that the previous night I would go out late enough so the next morning I’d miss my flight. Familiar? Well, that didn’t happen, but it was close. Very close.
Eline made sure she would assure some more fun for the night. We met some ski pals and went to those bars that were stuffed with those sexy tanned ski instructors. Steffano wasn’t there, unfortunately. Later we decided we were pushing it too much and decided to call it a night. After hitchhiking and be the lucky ones with two Spanish guys who drove us home, we ran to our beds to finally get some sleep. Eline had to drop me off at the station to take the bus at 8am arriving in Lyon airport at 10am where my plane would leave at 11 am. Well, I woke up to the sound of Steamer telling me the -well recorded in my mind- sentence “Natalia, you overslept again”. Yes we did. It was past 8am and we were at the top of a damn high mountain. I rushed and put everything inside my bags, making sure I was including all the girls’ iPhone chargers – well done me!. We got in the car speeding down the mountain what we could. Splitting the driving turns, both exhausted, we made it to the airport with time enough for the boarding. I good bye-hugged Eline and headed inside covering my face with all the bags I was carrying. Cause man, I was not looking good.
Suffice it to say, when you take a plane at least you need to bring your ID card with you if you are travelling around Europe. So imagine, my face got even worse when I realized my IDcard was gone when the customs guy asked for it. Somehow the –forever loved- guard allowed me to go through the control by showing my driving license and catch my flight. Phew. What a time to be alive and to close another wonderful trip.