Half Board and Silent Hotels A Good Combo
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IMG_4443_copyIf you enjoy being away from the crowd and love fine dining, booking a night in the Hostellerie de L’Ardève is a win/win situation. Perched at 1350 meters, adjacent to Ovronnaz and Les Mayens de Chamoson, this hotel offers a stunning view overlooking the Rhone Valley and the Alps. The annex to the hotel, le Chalet de Kalbermatten, was built at the beginning of the 20th century and is IMG_4453_copyprotected as a historical landmark.

In 1968, several hoteliers, who believed noise is a social intrusion undermining our health and happiness, created the Relais de Silence. Hotels listed in this guide are often difficult to find, they are hidden in the countryside, by the sea, along the banks of a river, on an island, at the edge of a mountainside or along a side street in a busy city. They are known for their peace and quiet. Located in a natural environment, in comfortable buildings with unique character, Silent Hotels must offer a warm welcome stressing quality of life and gastronomy. Each is reflective of the unique style of the country where it is located.

It is usually a gamble, but to reserve a room with demi pension (half-board), a fixed rate that includes breakfast and the evening meal, is a better deal. Our hotel, a 3 star, also known for its gastronomy, was a good bet. We were not disappointed.

Friday we were served a Russian salad followed by sea bream in lemon sauce with mini potatoes and zucchini au gratin. Desert, an apricot cauflirori, an egg flan with a scoop of rhubard/honey ice cream was served on plates of ardoise, which looked like the old chalk slate we wrote on in grade school. On our walk the next day we found unfinished pieces of slate chipped off the mountain side.IMG_4433_copy

Saturday night, our starter was the traditional “assiette valaisane”, which is a plate of artistically arranged cold cuts – salami, dried beef, cured ham served with pinky sized pickles and baby white onions. The main course was chicken in cream sauce accompanied with risotto and scalped zucchini.

Dessert, a vanilla ice cream soufflé, was the house specialty. The Frenchman charmed the waitress into trading the menu fare for a wild blueberry tart. Why does your husband’s dessert always looks better than your own? Souffléd ice cream – not for me. It was tough and chewy, but Gerald’s tart was exquisite.

We were in the Leytron and Chamoson wine territory, so naturally a glass of Humagne Blanc or Johannisberg Grand Cru, local favorites, were recommended. Every spare inch of soil on the mountain ranges, southern flank was filled with vineyards.IMG_4480_copy

I am not sure what it is about that mountain air the wets your appetite, but, no matter how much you devoured the night before, the next morning you are hungry again.

IMG_4441_copyIn Europe breakfast is often included and in mountains it is usually copious. On a self-serve sideboard an enticing display of cereals, fresh fruits, paper thin slices of salami and ham, and thick chunks of cheese of local cheese as well as a choice of bakery fresh breads and croissants and homemade preserves awaited. All to be savored with piping hot coffee or tea.IMG_4442_copy

Over breakfast, from the brasserie we had a panoramic view of the mountains enticing us to go hiking, if only to work up our appetite for the next gourmet meal.

Family That Boats Together Floats Together
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IMG_3747_copyBack in the good old days when my grandparents ran Ney-A-Ti Boys Camp in the 50s and early 60s, the only way a boat would propel forward was by our own manpower. The camp was sold, but luckily they had the foresight to build a cabin on the property for generations to enjoy. We kept camp hand me downs -a rowboat and an Old Town wooden canoe – tied to the dock. But over the decades the McKinzie family grew and each new member added another boat to the mix.

In his first visit to America, ze Frenchman fell in love with water skiing and twenty years later purchased our first used motorboat, so he could to share his passion with his kids, nieces and nephew. The boat that never started on the first try became the bane of our existence.Image 14_copy

Born and raised by the sea in Normandy, Gerald also loved sailing. His little Butterfly was traded in for bigger 445 sailboat and finally the Hobby 16 catamaran. No one other than Nathalie, and my brother-in-law Cliff, a veteran of the US Coast Guard, has a clue how to maneuver it so it only sails 3 weeks a year. But oh boy, ze Frenchman is the talk of the town when locals see his tail hanging in the wind, his sail soaring like a giant yellow bird.

My brother-in-law, Dick, an avid outdoors man, living in the fitness capital of the country, bought a kayak and got us into that sport. Then Cliff added a couple mini kayaks for his grand kids to tool around in.

In 2014, a pedal boat was a parting retirement gift from my sister’s Yorkville High School teacher friends. Darn it all if we didn’t throw our backs out carrying it down the hill to the water for its first launch.

Poor Grandpa used to love to putz around the garage when the cabin was invaded with noisy grand kids. But he lost his garage. It turned into a dry dock boat storage: 4 kayaks, 2 canoes, (no one can part with the Old Town, which hangs from the rafters) a pedal boat, a rowboat and the new used Glastron GT185 motorboat.

But what goes round comes round back to “man”powered watercraft. Rumors have it that Dick bought a used stand up paddle board, the latest sport.

lakes pics-2The inflated tractor tire was the all time favorite floating device. The finest activity of summer was standing on the inner tube while balancing by holding arms and seeing who would be the first to teeter off into the icy water.

One thing led to another, as our family grew, so did our state of the art dock. We kept adding sections to accommodate our toys. At this rate, our dock will soon be called the McKinzie Bridge linking one side of the lake to the other.

From our earliest memories of rowing the boat with Grandma, to taking children for a maiden voyage in the tippy canoe, to balancing a kayak with Kizzie (family dog) aboard, to watching kids learn to ski, our memories of floating and boating on beautiful Summit Lake bind us together.

 

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Every summer we travel thousands of miles just to float together.

Happy Father’s Day – Thanks for the Swimming Lesson
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IMG_1690_copyMy dad taught me to drive a car, shoot hoops, catch frogs, paddle a canoe, and swim laps. When I was just a hyperactive little kid, he tired of shooing me off the “dangerous” dock. Finally, he reasoned it would safer to teach me to swim than to keep track of my free spirited meanderings near the lake and in the woods.

He held my hand as I stepped off the sandy beach into the icy lake. Together we walked out over my head. While my dad’s strong arms held me afloat, I put my face in the water and blew bubbles. He taught me the crawl stroke, flutter kick and to cup my hands. “Reach forward, pull back.” He helped me master the trickiest part – how to breathe without swallowing half the lake.

Though I never had a near drowning experience, swimming saved my life. After a bad bike IMG_2175_copycrash and later a debilitating car accident, I became trapped in a body that no longer worked quite right. My hoop dreams disintegrated. My aspirations of skiing down mountainsides and running marathons dissolved. I hung up my high tops, tennis racket, baseball glove; I set aside my football, basketball, volleyball.

I was condemned to the pool where the buoyancy of the water kept me from further injuring my spine and joints. Early on, I became a has-been athlete plagued with bad feet, bad knees and a broken back. The scars of my past calamities never really left me; the sharp twinges and shooting, throbbing, stabbing aches remained. But magically, weightless in water, I became pain free.

To an athlete being confined to a pool seemed like a death sentence. Yet, after every misfortune, I retreated to the healing waters. Gradually, it seemed like my savior; swimming became my solace, my meditation, my prayer.

As a child I learned to swim at my grandparents Camp Ney-A-Ti on Summit Lake. In my teens, I swam through summers at the old Emerald Hill pool. In adulthood, when pregnant – and ordered to bed rest for 3 months to prevent premature births – I begged the doctor to let me swim. In a Parisian pool, I bonded with my unborn child, gliding in sync alongside the baby kicking inside me.swimming at SL

Over the years, I even saved a few lives as a lifeguard. And I once dragged the semi conscious high school quarterback from the pump room when he became asphyxiated from the chlorine. But the real hero of my swimming story was my dad. He taught me to believe that no matter how rough the seas or how high the waters, I would never sink.

With each stroke of my arm and kick of my leg, I repeated the mantra he ingrained, “Never give up.”

Dad thought he was showing me the frog kick, freestyle, and breaststroke, but really he was teaching me how to survive.

IMG_0999_copyAs a child, my dad let go, so I could take my first strokes solo. IMG_1693_copyNow as an adult I swim in bliss from one side of the lake to the other. Dad, like a lifeguard, sits on the dock, observing each stroke as if he could save me should a boat comes crashing into my path, or a leg cramp pull me under.

We have come full circle. We both know there is no way that my 83-year-old father could rescue me especially when I am swimming 150 feet from shore at the far end of the lake. But I feel safer, just knowing he is there, watching over me with his benevolent eyes.

Strolling the Trouville-Deauville Boardwalk
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IMG_3313Strolling down the boardwalk in Trouville on the beach in Normandy is like stepping back in time. On June 6, 1944 the Normandy beaches were ravaged during the famous D-Day Landing, yet fortunately for my French family, pockets of the coastline were spared from the bombings. La Promenade des Planches, built in 1876 of an exotic wood that resists heat and cold, endures another kind of beating. The faded, grey boardwalk has withstood the tantrums of the skies, tempest of the sea, and the trampling feet of millions of tourists.

From the boardwalk, on your left, the ocean calls. White foaming waves wash onto a beach DSCN1474_copywhere children build sandcastles and fly kites while young adults shoot across the sand on colorful char sails. Children and adults alike kick footballs into faded nets, dive after volleyballs in the sand and smack tennis balls on the red clay courts. Proud owners of the beach houses lean against the white huts trimmed in blue and bake in the afternoon sun like gingerbread in an oven.

Queues form in front of the ice cream, crepes and waffle stands. Tables from the outdoor cafés spill onto the walkway. Gold, magenta, and turquoise kites dance across the skies. The steady rhythm of the waves crashes against the horizon, where only the bravest souls dare to wade in the frigid water. The beach is a beehive of activity.

DSCN1441_copyIf you look to the right, it’s as if time stood still. Imposing half-gabled, eighteenth century mansions line the seafront, casting shadows, looming as if guarding the coast from another invasion. My dream is to be able to walk through one, to creep up the spiral staircases and peek into the alcoves and corner niches.

The juxtaposition of past and present creates a stunning contrast. I cringe when tourists pull out iPhones. Why would anyone want to connect in artificial cyberspace, when the reality of the beach offers a feast for one’s senses?

DSCN1471_copyBenches beckon beach goers to sit for a spell, to people-watch and admire the ocean. I used to identify the passersby nationality by their fashion choices. Svelte Parisian women wore tight fitting designer skirts and even skinnier stilettos. The British donned bonnets and cardigans with sturdy footwear. Americans sported baseball caps and tennis shoes.

Now that the old-fashioned, canvas Converse high top has made a comeback worldwide, national identity is harder to decipher. Styles of dress have blended, at least with the younger generations.IMG_0340_copy

A stroll down the walkway fills me with a sense of timelessness. Long after I am gone, the next generations will continue to promenade on the boardwalk of Trouville-Deauville.

Chez Mamie -To Grandma’s House We Go
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DSCN1477_copyEven though I knew the 7 hour drive from Geneva to Trouville would be arduous, I am glad I went. Our bittersweet trip down memory lane was made all the more meaningful because our daughter was along.

Mamie answered the doorbell at midnight wringing her hands with worry that it took us so long. We fell into the lumpy old beds and slept, the sleep of the dead. The next morning, we threw open the shutters of our attic nest for a bird’s eye view of the cloud-covered sky, casting melancholy shadows over the spindly old village. Trouville was built where the Touques River meets the English Channel.

Mamie lived in the gangly, 18th century fisherman’s flat chiseled on the side of the cliff that DSCN1453_copyopened onto the Quais Fernand Moureaux. Her front door – three stories up – was on the rue des Ecores on the street above. Underneath her house was a clothing boutique, Blanc de Nil, which sold only white clothes.

Baby yellow rose buds and purple pansies grew in flower pots behind the wrought iron balcony railing where Mamie and Papie stood in their robes waving goodbye as we began the long trek to Switzerland with wind burned faces and stuffed bellies. On that very same balcony our children and their cousins searched for eggs falling from the skies when the Easter bells rang on their way to Rome. In France the Easter bells delivered chocolates instead of the Easter bunny.

DSCN1449_copyOn sunny days, we opened the French doors and let the warmth seep into the small sitting room/dining room. An oak table with folding leaves expands for family was squeezed into that 12” by 14” space. A love seat and matching chair faced the TV screen. An antique Normand armoire, storing Mamie’s wine glasses and wedding china dating back 64 years, was tucked against one wall. Every spare inch of wall space was covered with photographs of her 3 children and her 5 grandchildren.

The focal point of any French home was the dinner table, where families shared meals over a lively repartee of word play, heated debates, biting sarcasm, and endless discussions about food: what we ate yesterday, what we are eating today and what will eat tomorrow.

DSCN1476_copyIn Normandy where the land meets the sea, dining was of the finest quality in France. On the wharf, fishermen sell mackerel, sole and bar – caught the night before.

At the open market, the locals offer free-range chicken, as well as lamb and veal that romped on lush green pastures only days before. Tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, artichokes, asparagus – all locally grown – looked as if they sprouted out of the ocean blue tablecloth.

Mamie, a woman who never served a sandwich in her life, will ask, “What would you like for lunch?”

Lunch meant dinner in the old-fashioned sense – a five-course meal with a starter, main course, cheese platter, dessert and coffee with chocolates that she had hidden for special occasions. Then she would set out thimble sized glasses and poured “just a taste” of her homemade plum liquor. As soon as one meal over, Mamie started preparing for the next DSCN1482_copyone, scurrying around the village filling her wicker basket with fresh supplies from the butchers, the bakers and the creamery.

Like Trouville, Mamie lived in rhythm with the tides and seasons. She served tart apples and blackberries in the fall, fresh scallops and oysters in the winter, succulent strawberries and melons in the spring and lush peaches and cherries in the summer. Once again Mamie filled our stomachs with local specialties and our hearts with happy memories making us always feel welcome back home in Normandy.