This post has been a long time coming but I’m discovering quite how time-consuming it is living in the mountains in winter. And winter has certainly arrived – we have nearly a metre of snow in our garden, it’s currently about -13°c outside, and our driveway is covered in ice. I think I must have been singing “Let it Snow” just a little bit too loudly; someone up above appears to have heard me…
So, yes, winter is here! Woo hoo! It has snowed so much in the last two weeks (up where we are at least); when planning to move here we really couldn’t have hoped for anything better. The snow is beautiful: muddy, ugly fields have been magically transformed into lakes of white – with waves of snow lapping wooden fences and droplets of ice sparkling in the sunlight. When we wake up, the first thing we see is snow-covered mountains (unless we happen to be stuck in a snow cloud. Again) – they seem proud to have finally grown up and become “real” mountains, like their big, high-altitude brothers.
The crisp crunch underfoot as I walk to the village is a sound I’ve been dreaming of for so long – this is why we’ve uprooted our family and moved to the middle of nowhere, I remember now! The look on Alpine Boy’s face as he throws himself into metre-high snow piles; or as he crawls into the snow-house his Papa and uncle have lovingly crafted for him (well, for themselves, really…); or as he slides down a slope on his skis for the first time ever, that look says it all. This is a good place to be. A really good place.
We have to be careful what we wish for though – such scenes of perfection come at a price… For example, our driveway is on a slope, and on several occasions over the past two weeks it has snowed over 40cm in one night. We go to bed with a nice clear driveway and wake up completely snowed in. It takes us two hours to clear the drive to get the car out. Two hours. I’ve already mentioned that it takes me three hours to get ready in the summer. Add two hours’ drive-clearing to that and it’s really not worth going out (though, annoyingly, I still have to clear the drive!). And I certainly don’t make appointments for the mornings any more.
I’ve found muscles I didn’t know existed, and am becoming an expert snow-digger. We have to do it every day, and in fact I sometimes get to the top of the drive, huffing and puffing with muscles aching, only to turn around to admire my handiwork and see the snow already settling at the bottom. If Sisyphus had lived in the Alps, no doubt he would have been clearing Zeus’ snowy driveway, not messing around with boulders on hills. Luckily at the moment I can share the chore with my brother who is staying with us for a month or so but, when I’m on my own again in January, snow-clearing will be entirely my domain. Great. The other problem is that I can only really dig when Alpine Girl is napping. This is tragic: nap-time is my second favourite part of the day (my favourite is gin o’clock), and it feels such a waste to spend it scraping snow off a frozen drive. Maybe I can encourage Alpine Girl to double the length of her naps to four hours instead of two…
Other “challenges” of our first Alpine winter include:
- having to pry open the frozen doors and to defrost the inside of the car before we can go anywhere;
- learning to walk on icy paths without ending up on my backside (so far, failed. We went for a walk by the lake today and I fell over twice on the ice. I was holding Alpine Boy’s hand and had Alpine Girl in the backpack. Alpine Boy and I came off worse – I have yet more throbbing bruises all over my knees and bum, and Alpine Boy has a smashed-up nose and scratched cheek. Alpine Girl stayed fast asleep in the backpack, despite her mum lying on the floor and her brother screaming blue murder. She didn’t feel a thing. Wow.);
- having to blow-dry my hair everyday so I don’t get icicles on my head;
- lighting the fire with frozen fingers when we come inside from a snowball fight (without setting fire to myself, the sofa, or the cat);
- learning to put snow chains on (we have put snow tyres on our little car, but to put them on our 4×4 would cost over 1000 euros and, frankly, we’re too tight);
- learning to drive on icy roads;
- learning to drive on snowy roads;
- learning to drive in a snowstorm;
- learning to drive on tiny, icy, snowy mountain roads in a snowstorm when there are crazy Alpine drivers flashing their lights and trying to overtake me because I’m going too slowly, ie less than 100km per hour).
The list goes on.
But I still think it’s worth it. So far, anyway (I’ll get back to you in a month or so when I’m sick of the sight of all this white stuff and I just want to leave the house without wearing 12 layers of clothing). My friend was saying yesterday that you have to listen to the ‘old people’ in the mountain villages – they are the ones who know what kind of winter it’s going to be. They successfully predicted last year’s bitterly cold one (hey, maybe they just Googled it, who knows). Anyway, she informs me that this year the old people are predicting…. lots and lots of snow! Hurrah! (Better stock up on arnica cream – I predict more bruises before the winter is out…)