A fog has settled in the Meribel valley, and small flakes of snow hint of winter. Downstairs a little girl and her daddy just caught the ski bus up to Meribel center. She’s wearing her helmet with her favorite cover, the one with stuffed bone ends sticking out both sides. She calls herself “bonehead” through giggles when she wears it.I’m waiting for her sister to finish her morning routine, we’ll explore more today, sans skis. We’ve walked around the ski area at Meribel and La Chaudanne. They have done a nice job of keeping the ski village feel with the new development, using natural wood and a chalet feel. It is chocked full of ski shops and places to eat and drink or buy things to eat and drink back in your ski rental. Just down the hill in Musillon there are a handful of cool old buildings.
Further down the valley is Les Allues, at its center is a cluster of ancient buildings of stone and aged wood and narrow streets; rough hewn history you can touch and feel. A church stands gazing at another village on the far side of the valley, holding fast to the canyon wall.
So began our day, little did I know that it would not be the relaxing ramble through the streets of Moutiers I had in my mind. Moutiers is the larger town at the base of the three valleys where the train station provides a connecting point between the resort area and the rest of France. It has a lovely pedestrian shopping area, with many more services and products than are available up in Meribel.
On my visit to the area two years ago, we had a rental car. Today, on this trip, we are limiting the car rentals to times when we must have one, a necessity rather than a convenience. Today was a lesson in inconvenience.
In the center of the Meribel valley is an aerial gondola that runs from the top of the ski area down to Brides les Bains at the bottom. Hannah and I had a wonderful plan to ride to the bottom and find a taxi or bus to take us the few more kilometers into Moutiers.
We arrived in the early afternoon, not aware that the town of Brides les Bains closed its doors midday for a couple of hours. There were scarcely any people, let alone taxis. The tourist office, all of the shops, and the post office were all closed. The next bus scheduled to Moutiers was in an hour. We’d not eaten, so after wandering for a bit I asked an older couple on the street in my lame French if there was a restaurant open anywhere close by.
After lunch, I asked the waiter to call us a cab. The driver was a fabulous beyond-middle-aged woman with her almost white hair in a little ponytail on top of her head, the remainder held up with a comb. She drove like mad, the way only a cab driver in their own element or a stock car racer can, and delivered us to downtown Moutiers.
I had two business items to take care of in town. I needed a new sim card for my French cell phone from my last trip, and I needed to exchange some dollars into Euros. Then we’d shop. The phone store was in the same spot where I picked up the phone last trip just down from the old church, the first on the list was simple. The people at the cell phone store told me there was a bank that could exchange my dollars at a bank next to the old church at the end of the pedestrian street.
Neither bank next to the church could. We did not have an account, and could not exchange dollars at either. I was starting to regret spending most of my euro cash at lunch in Brides les Bains. I did not have enough cash left for taxi fare back to the gondola.
The woman in the tourism office told us any bank would do this for us, and sent us to another a couple of streets away when I told her the two next to the church could not. The one she sent us to couldn’t, either, nor could the one across the street.
The teller at one of the banks who turned us away said the post office could exchange money, so we headed there. With relief at seeing a little British flag that usually denotes the person at that window speaks English, I asked about both the postcard stamps we needed for the stack the girls had written the night before and exchanging my dollars. She seemed both confused as to why I thought she should speak English and what I wanted. None of the three people at the windows in the Post office with little British flags over their heads spoke a word of English.
So limping by with my broken French from the travel CDs I’d listened to for months in my car and the help of a woman in line behind me, we ascertained that nobody in town exchanged dollars, that the bus from the train station was our best bet for getting back to our vacation rental cheaply, and that Hannah still had enough euro cash in her pocket to get us back home. I guess the lesson here is to go ahead and share the worry with the child rather than try to protect her from it, she may have the answer.
By this time, Hannah and I were both cold and tired, and lovely as Moutiers is, opted not to spend any more time wandering through the fog and drizzle. We hired a cab at the train station driven by a polite, if far less enjoyable, cab driver back to the base of the gondola in Brides les Bains. Happily, we slid into our aerial lift and were swept back toward our old stone house amongst the ancient barns and fog.