Night Birthday Celebration in the Swiss Jura Mountains

One snowy February night, members of my department gathered at the Jura mountain pass Col de Givrine (1320 meters) connecting Switzerland and France for a “midnight balade” to celebrate one colleagues 50th and another’s 40th birthday.

In French, balade means an excursion for distraction to relax and get fresh air. One of the benefits of living in Europe is that people slow down from equally frantic lives and take time out to recharge their batteries with fun and exercise.

An eclectic group of British ladies, 3 Frenchmen, two Americans, a woman from Marseilles, a Canadian, a Swiss, and a gregarious Scotsman gathered together on a snow bank, bundled in parkas, snow pants, and snowshoes. Designated scouts wore helmets with flashlights to guide us on the trail under inky black skies.

Due to my health issues I rarely go outdoors to play, but they insisted that the dark conditions were ideal for me, so I wouldn’t have to wear my sun-blocking, movie star shades. My friends swore it was a short, flat walk; it ended up being a one-hour steady climb uphill. But I couldn’t turn back without getting lost.

I used ski poles for balance; if I veered off the path, I sunk up to my knees in snow. My Frenchman moaned the whole way because his knee hurt; I was too short-winded to moan. When I thought I couldn’t take another step, one of the birthday girls announced, “Time for the aperitif.” She pulled a bottle from her packback and stuck it the in the snow. She dug out cup holders in the snow bank and filled cups with the white wine creating an open-air mini bar. When the stragglers caught up, we toasted to the birthday girls in a clearing surrounded by white, velvet-covered evergreen.

birthday toast in the Jura mountains

birthday toast in the Jura mountains

We forged ahead around the next bend to the “restaurant,” La Vermeilley, technically, a reconverted herders shed. We parked our snowshoes on the snow-covered picnic tables at the entryway. Inside red and white tablecloths covered wooden tables lined with benches. A finger-thawing fire crackled from the fireplace. A waiter set plates of viande des grison (dried beef) and bowls of pickles on the table. Then the owner brought out steaming fondue pots filled with the special 3-cheese blend mixed with wine. We dipped chunks of thick, white, country bread into the pot and ate with gusto.

birthday girls

birthday girls

Several of my colleagues, former rugby players, chanted, engaging the participation of the other half a dozen tables filled with hearty, physically fit men and women. When we got up to leave, my head of department, a fun loving Scotsman, started singing a rendition of Patricia, the best stripper in town, so I pseudo danced tossing off my mittens and scarf to the applause of the merrymaking partiers. The ambiance all evening was exceptional with strangers joining in our shouting, “Hip, hip hurrah!”

The hike back down the mountains was equally enchanting. Snow-covered pines loomed in the foreground, while  stars twinkled overhead. I felt as if I were in another world. I stumbled down the path, savoring nature’s austere elegance. Then my Frenchman drove us back down the mountain. When we arrived home, I peeled off 5 layers of clothes and collapsed into bed. I woke up early the next morning, cloaked in warm memories and smelling of barn animals and cheese.

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Posted in humor, inspiration, relationships, social view, sport.

41 Comments

  1. Wow. What a great Birthday Celebration. I loved this story and know you slept like a babe in a blanket. Happy upcoming Birthday shoutout to you as well:)

  2. Wow. What a great Birthday Celebration. I loved this story and know you slept like a babe in a blanket. Happy upcoming Birthday shoutout to you as well:)

  3. Pat–sounds like it was a beautiful time! Just got a pair of snowshoes and hope to snowshoe around the lake and maybe out to the island this week. We have to dodge the snow mobile crowds (wish they could enjoy the quiet beauty of the northwoods!).

    • Oh Sue, be sure to let me know how snowshoeing is Up North. I keep thinking we should invest in a couple pair of snowshoes for the lake. Good luck dodging the snow mobiles. In Switzerland, snow mobiles are NOT ALLOWED. They can only be used by professionals on rescue missions!

  4. What a memorable birthday celebration these ladies had, Pat! Not every employee today is blessed with such a congenial group of colleagues. It looks and sounds like a really special event. By my calculations, it wasn’t quite a mile in distance, but oh, my, braving all that snow was something else!

    • Yes, it was so much fun. Now my colleagues in the English department are planning a similar event, so I may get to snowshoe again on another trail to a different eatery.

  5. What a great re-cap of a memorable event. I felt I was right there with you enjoying dipping the crusty bread into the cheese mix.
    Europeans are able to make something as basic as an evening walk, and simple meal, into something so delightfully special!
    Pat, what a wonderfully enchanted life you are living, doing things most of us Americans only dream of.

  6. What a great re-cap of a memorable event. I felt I was right there with you enjoying dipping the crusty bread into the cheese mix.
    Europeans are able to make something as basic as an evening walk, and simple meal, into something so delightfully special!
    Pat, what a wonderfully enchanted life you are living, doing things most of us Americans only dream of.

  7. Such a wonderful tale, Pat! I have been toying with the idea of getting some snowshoes, as it seems like a great workout–unless you stop and have fondue along the way, of course :). But then that would mean I am planning for more snow here in Cambridge, and I think we’ve had enough for one winter. Maybe next year!Please regale us with more stories again soon.

  8. Such a wonderful tale, Pat! I have been toying with the idea of getting some snowshoes, as it seems like a great workout–unless you stop and have fondue along the way, of course :). But then that would mean I am planning for more snow here in Cambridge, and I think we’ve had enough for one winter. Maybe next year!Please regale us with more stories again soon.

  9. Now that’s a great and memorable birthday celebration. I impressed you did fall into a bath tub to warm up afterwards.

    • Oh Sandra, I would have but it was already so late and I had to be up early for work. I didn’t realize how strong I smelt until the next morning. ha

  10. Pat, as usual your writing is so crisp and engaging that I feel in the scene with you. What a delightful, memorable evening of celebration! If I ever visit Switzerland, I know I will feel I have been there before through your wonderful stories 🙂

  11. Pat, as usual your writing is so crisp and engaging that I feel in the scene with you. What a delightful, memorable evening of celebration! If I ever visit Switzerland, I know I will feel I have been there before through your wonderful stories 🙂

  12. How fun is that? As always, you told it so well I could envision it all. Fondue. Yummy!

    So I have to ask–when that crowd is together, what language do you speak…for the most part?

    • Good question Judy. It depends on who I am talking to. With the group in the photo, I speak a lot of franglais…a grammatically & linguistically incorrect, wonderful mix of French and English.

  13. How fun is that? As always, you told it so well I could envision it all. Fondue. Yummy!

    So I have to ask–when that crowd is together, what language do you speak…for the most part?

  14. It’s the very “doing” this that makes it a treasured memory. It’s too easy to stay in and sit in front of the computer in a cozy home….same old thing, same old thing. Sometimes it takes uncomfortable stumbles, snow down the neck and gasping for breath to feel vibrant and alive again. What a privilege to be part of this balade! ( I thought you were going to be singing!) I think waking up smelling of smoke is the best part! Your imagery and pictures make me envy your trek! Love, and happy birthday to YOU!

    • You are so right,Amy. It is the doing that makes the memory and this was a huge undertaking for me to go out on a Thursday night when I had school the next morning, but the adventure did make me feel vibrant and privileged. I am going to do it again in a couple weeks with my English department.
      Thanks for remembering my birthday…how could you forget when I drilled it into your head back at ISU..ha ha…miss you!

  15. It’s the very “doing” this that makes it a treasured memory. It’s too easy to stay in and sit in front of the computer in a cozy home….same old thing, same old thing. Sometimes it takes uncomfortable stumbles, snow down the neck and gasping for breath to feel vibrant and alive again. What a privilege to be part of this balade! ( I thought you were going to be singing!) I think waking up smelling of smoke is the best part! Your imagery and pictures make me envy your trek! Love, and happy birthday to YOU!

    • You are so right,Amy. It is the doing that makes the memory and this was a huge undertaking for me to go out on a Thursday night when I had school the next morning, but the adventure did make me feel vibrant and privileged. I am going to do it again in a couple weeks with my English department.
      Thanks for remembering my birthday…how could you forget when I drilled it into your head back at ISU..ha ha…miss you!

  16. Happy Belated Birthday, Pat! What was the date? I’ll have to put it in my calendar to remember for the next one. I was the baby of the class and turned 55 in October. Did you turn 56?
    I loved the cow bells in the eatery! It reminds me of a little place we went to at the top of a ski resort in Nesselwang in Bavaria. Of course, throughout our travels, we looked for “cows with bells”! We loved the Alps, but saw them from the car. We didn’t do any hiking! P.S. just read your book and LOVED it! I’ll be sharing it with my Sterling book club!

  17. When I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are
    added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I
    recieve four emails with the exact same comment.

    There has to be a means you are able to remove me from that service?
    Many thanks!

  18. When I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are
    added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I
    recieve four emails with the exact same comment.

    There has to be a means you are able to remove me from that service?
    Many thanks!

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