Thursday, 13 August 2009

Of Becoming A Chalet Girl

Today is the day! My friend and I have a taxi coming to collect us at 4pm to take us to Oxford railway station, where we'll meet another friend, and travel on together to London. Then it's a skip along the tube line to St Pancras International to catch the Eurostar, and the holiday will really begin! We change trains at Paris, and then settle onto our transport for the rest of the journey - a sleeper train down through France to St-Gervais-les-Bains. I have never been on a sleeper train before so am wildly excited. We arrive tomorrow morning, just after nine, when we'll jump onto a cable car and make our way up into the mountains towards our final destination: Le Chalet des Anglais:

The chalet is part owned by three Oxford colleges - New College, University College, and Balliol. Every summer each of them takes two groups of students - a mixture of undergrads and graduates (a couple of Fellows go too) - for breaks of about ten days. This year, I'm going on the first of the New College trips. I have always thought the chalet trips sounded romantic, like an old-fashioned reading party from days of yore. And yet, I've never braved one of them before. Partly because of the rather basic conditions - there is no electricity, and what is described as an 'ingenious' shower arrangement in the pre-trip notes ... although I think that's probably all rather fun once you get used to it, and I'm hoping to dredge up some memories from the many camping trips I went on as a child to remind myself that Getting Back To Nature can actually be great fun. At least here I'll have a proper bed, and hopefully the chalet won't get blown down in the night, as happened on one particularly memorable campsite... But the main reason I've never dared venture into the Alps before is because I Have Vertigo. And I'm going to spend ten days on a mountain. Hmm. When I say I have vertigo, I mean it - I can't sit anywhere but the stalls at the theatre, I cling onto people for dear life and shut my eyes if I have to cross a bridge over the Thames, and I regularly freak out at unexpected drops and stairwells. I'm fine if I'm behind glass (I was able to go up almost to the top of the Rockefeller Center on a recent trip to New York, as long as I stayed behind the massive picture windows and didn't actually venture out onto the roof), so the cable car doesn't faze me, but afterwards... Therefore, I am more than a little nervous about the idea of being up a mountain for over a week. But I have been assured by people who know me, know my vertigo, and know the chalet, that I Will Be Fine, that the slopes around the chalet are actually very gentle and wooded, and as long as I don't trot off along particular walks with a precipice at the end of them, All Will Be Well. Hmm, we'll see! I'm hoping perhaps it will at least offer a kind of immersion therapy, and who knows, perhaps I'll come back a changed woman, singing the praises of alpine life. Or a gibbering wreck.

We go for ten days, and there'll be about twelve of us there. A couple of people I know very well, some just to say hello to, and the rest not at all, so it should be an interesting experience. Hopefully I won't end the ten days with a deep desire to throw them all (or myself) off the side of the mountain - at least I have all my lovely new books to read if I need to escape for a while! There are also going to be several alumni staying at a hotel a short distance away (a hotel! At least I can run away there if the need for creature comforts becomes too much to bear!), as this year is the 100th anniversary of the chalet itself, and several old members have been invited to join the party. I'm looking forward to meeting them, and to hearing how things have changed (or not) in the past decades. Apparently one of these guests is a great bibliophile, and has an amazingly extensive collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century rare books, some of which he is (brave man) going to bring with him. The undergraduate tutor who taught me for the Early Modern period is also going to be one of the party, and is going to bring some of his collection too - so it looks like I won't get too many withdrawal symptoms from dusty old books while I'm away, although I can see myself becoming absolutely green with envy as they show off their treasures! 

I spent the morning packing my borrowed rucksack, which now seems to weigh as much as a small car. Luckily the walk from the cable car to the chalet is, I am told, a very gentle fifteen minute downhill stroll ... I am hoping this is not one of those fifteen minute strolls that turns out to be an hour's hard hike... Still, despite the thought of this, and of having to wear The Boots for ten days solid, I am actually now getting really tremendously excited about the whole affair. New College has the reputation for being the most relaxed and fun-loving of the three college trips (well, of course!) - probably due to the fact that they order in vast quantities of wine at the beginning of the stay... While I am away I shall also be turning 23 - it will certainly be a birthday like I've never experienced before. I wonder if I'll get a cake?

Obviously I won't have internet access while I am away, so the blog will resume normal service once I'm back - hopefully with some suitably frivolous alpine frolics to share. In the meantime, despite my nerves about my forthcoming adventure, I will leave you - as Sir W sweetly put it in his 1600 essay 'Of Affection' - with

'a pacient farewell, without disturbance or feare.'

Au revoir!


Mary said...

I am looking forward to following your adventure through your blog. Hope it is a grand journey!

Carl V. said...

That sounds like a real and true adventure, I hope that is exactly what you have!

verity said...

That sounds so much fun - I hope you have a lovely time, get lots of reading done, and survive without a shower (rather you than me!).

Merenia said...

Oh good, only another day or two until you come back and entertain us with more frivolities and a touch of Renaissance literature.

Sophie said...

Thank you for the good wishes, everyone! It was indeed a wonderful adventure in the best possible sense, and I hope you all enjoy reading about it over the next few days!