The kids have been begging for a ski trip for years; pretty much ever since we moved to Amsterdam and they learned from friends of the existence of ski trips. California girl that I am, skiing has never been much on my radar. I had a brief stint as a snowboarder in college because my roommate was obsessed, but as a highly anxious person, I generally have enough adrenaline in my life without purposely creating more by sliding at breakneck speed down a snowy mountainside.
However, I’ve noticed that parenthood is all about jumping heedlessly into things you’re totally unqualified and madly unprepared for. Also, the Netherlands has a special school holiday for this in mid-February. It’s officially called the Voorjaarsvakantie, but they also call it the Krokusvakantie, because what could be more Dutch than marking a date according to which flower is blooming. In the more Catholic south of the Netherlands, they call it Carnavalsvakantie and celebrate it by dressing up and partying. For families who love skiing, Voorjaarsvakantie is the perfect time to hit the slopes. In another country. Because while the Netherlands is possessed of many virtues, mountains are not among them.
I suppose the proper way to do this would be to book a week at an all-inclusive ski resort somewhere in the Alps–Switzerland or perhaps Austria. But we weren’t sure we really wanted to ski for an entire week. In fact, I was very sure I didn’t. We like renting AirBnBs instead of hotels whenever possible, so we can shop with the locals, cook our own food, experience interesting domestic quirks in different places, and generally have more space to make ourselves at home. And AirBnBs outside of big cities generally require cars, as we have experienced on many occasions, most notably last May in Italy with the fiasco of the forgotten driver’s license.
So we went hunting for charming, nicely priced AirBnBs close to ski resorts that were a reasonable driving distance from Amsterdam–reasonable to us now being 7-8 hours, even though we used to think nothing of getting the kids up at 4 a.m. and driving for 12 hours back when we lived in the vastness that is the west coast of the U.S. There aren’t a lot of places that fit those criteria, but Alsace does, so Alsace it was. The drive goes through Belgium and Luxembourg, and Tony and I had a semi-serious discussion afterwards about whether we have ruined our kids by taking them so many places, since they seemed completely unmoved by the fact that we drove through four countries in one day. Literally unmoved; they did not move their eyes from their screens during the entire drive.
At the end of our pleasant little road trip (there is something about road-tripping that makes these Americans really feel at home), we landed in this adorable little French house.
I had really wished to take a sunny vacation rather than a snowy one, since by the tail-end of the grey, wet Amsterdam winter I am more than ready for some sunshine. I was outvoted, but I got the last laugh. Almost every day here has been unseasonably sunny and warm. There’s a little voice at the back of my head worrying about climate change, but it made for such a delightful vacation.
Our AirBnB is in a narrow valley between steep, wooded slopes. Lyra and I went hiking one morning and found this gorgeous waterfall. I felt like I’d walked into summer.
My birthday often falls felicitously during the Voorjaarsvakantie, which is even nicer than it falling on President’s Day back in the U.S. Tony took me out to a birthday lunch at a cosy, atmospheric little restaurant the next town down the valley, and the food was exquisite. As in, I forgot how nice it is to be in a place where pretty much any random restaurant you pop into turns out to have the best food you’ve ever tasted. (Ahem, Netherlands.) France is a lot like Italy in that way and in other ways, and we are missing Italy again this trip.
We did eventually get around to skiing, once everyone had decompressed in our cute little holiday home for a few days. The kids basically took to the slopes like they’d been born there, and soon left me behind on the bunny slope with Tony, whose confession that he was more of a snowboarder and had actually only been skiing once did not inspire much confidence from me in him as an instructor.
I confess there was a fair amount of crying, falling, and bum-sliding on my part, but I eventually got down the basics. By the end of two days skiing I no longer felt the same degree of terror looking down from the top of a slope, although I still think the whole concept of downhill skiing is a bit mad.
In between daring feats of athletic skill we took sunny walks and ate all manner of French foods. Our AirBnB came equipped with no fewer than three fondue sets, so we figured that was a mandatory endeavour. At university Tony and I used to host 70s parties complete with shearling vests, psychedelic polyester, lava lamps, and fondue (the hot oil kind; fondue bourguignonne if we are being French about it). We eventually discontinued them because our tiny cinderblock student apartment would smell like cooking oil for weeks afterwards. For some reason we never thought of just making cheese fondue instead.
Since we are currently staying in the place from which all good cheese comes, we figured it was high time for some cheese fondue of our own. I’ve eaten it at restaurants, but never made it at home. In case you didn’t know (like I didn’t), the way to make cheese fondue is simply to water down a nice melty cheese (or two or three) with white wine and warm it up. That’s it, voilà! Cheese fondue. I was feeling all guilty and non-French as I was cutting up yesterday’s stale bread in cubes to dip in it, when I discovered thanks to Google that stale bread is actually de rigueur for cheese fondue because it doesn’t fall apart while dipping. I am chic without even trying.
Unfortunately, when the kids had originally heard me say fondue a few days before, their minds had of course gone straight to chocolate. They were rather underwhelmed at the prospect of my cheese fondue. So I made fondue again that very night, this time of the dessert variety. It’s just as easy; you water down chocolate (milk, dark, or whatever) with cream and warm it up. We had it with pears and bananas and little French cookies in the shape of (and called) cigarettes, and it was divine. Maybe we really should make room in our tiny Amsterdam kitchen for a little fondue pot. Or maybe we should just have fondue again next time we’re on holiday in France.