Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans Chapter 2

Switzerland Versus France

For one year, after we arrived in Switzerland and got the lay of the land, we searched for the perfect “dream” spot for the chalet just for fun.  Last year, we got serious.  Now, those of you in North America who might think an Alp is an Alp is an Alp,  no, no, no, messieurs et mesdames.  The Alps stretch from Slovenia to Italy into Austria, back into Italy, then into Switzerland and France.  Every valley has its’ own personality.  Some valleys are so isolated that only locals go there and tourists are either “verboten” or “interdit” according to whether you are in the German-speaking Alps or the French-speaking Alps or whatever the word is in Italian.  Last year, we limited our choices to the French-speaking Alps because my German sucks and Mr. Big’s German is completely made-up. 
How do I know he is making stuff up?  (Aside from the fact that he quotes the Saturday Night Live phrase “gleeben, gleiben, glauben, globen” like he thinks he wrote it?)  Because I had one semester of German in college. That is the extent of my German.  He thinks German is easier than French, (it is), and he thinks his fake German accent is better than his fake French accent, (it is), so he tries to talk German.  Really, if all y’all could just follow Mr. Big around Europe for one or two days, you would have cocktail party stories for a decade.  He’s hilarious.  For example, in a FRENCH-SPEAKING restaurant, he will just yell out a random “bitte!” to the waitperson.  Sometimes, he says things in Spanish.  Just randomly!  Ask, Charming Daughter how funny it is to travel around with her dad. 
She and I, when we go into a restaurant, sometimes, just out of sheer entertainment value, let  Mr. Big go first.  He always wants us to go ahead of him and “pave the way”, but, no.  It is soooo much funnier to let him go barreling on in and then watch and see what he does.  Usually, he comes to a SCREECHING halt when he realizes that neither she nor I is ahead of him and glances around frantically for us.  We, evil creatures that we are, just let him flounder.  When he sees that he is completely on his own, he will ask in some amalgamation of French-Spanish-German-English, if there is a table available for three.  It sounds something like, “um, jah, bitte, table pour trey”?  Jeez, we are mean.  We don’t do that to him very often.  Just every now and then when we need something to update our Facebook status.

Anyway, we decided on the French-speaking Alps for the chalet purchase just for ease-of-language value, which limited us to the southern part of Switzerland or France.  Well.  Let me see.  A miniscule house, by American standards, in the Swiss Alps costs the equivalent of 3 million American dollars.  The same doll-house-sized house in the French Alps costs much less than 1 million American dollars.  Guess where we picked?
Riiiiiight.  OK.  For those of you reading this who think we are the Rockefellers, you need to think again.  We are regular people who have chosen not to die with one stinkin’ penny to leave to our children.  They can make their own durned money.  (At this point I need to explain that I have many, many Mormon relatives, my own mother included, who read this blog and they do not swear.  Ever.  So I try to tone down  my heathen language.  Feel  free to insert your own dirty words wherever you see fit.) 

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  Money.  Oh, my God.  It was so unbelievable during our house hunt.  I would send an email to various and sundry realtors and they would send me back pictures and so forth of their offerings at, get this, 33 MILLION Swiss franc.  Thirty-three million Swiss franc.  That’s around 38 million US dollars.  For a house in Zermatt, or a house in Gstaad.  It was a joke.  Excuse me, monsieur, but you have me confused with a real Swiss person.  No.  I am American.  How much does the OUTHOUSE cost at your vast estate, because I can probably fix it up real nice.  Add a few geraniums and a gnome in the yard and I am good to go.
In all fairness, we did give Switzerland a good, hard look.  Probably, a dozen houses or so.  The problem was, we need a righteous amount of space in order to accommodate our growing family.  Like 5 bedrooms.  There is nothing in Switzerland available of that size for under a million dollars, no matter what its’ state of disrepair.  We looked at two former hotels that had enough rooms, but they required a complete “gut and redo” and both of them were over a million, even before the renovation.
With my experience with service people and estimates in Switzerland, I knew that we would be in well over our heads before even one bathroom or bedroom was finished.  Hence, France.  Vive la France, here we come!

Just over the border from Switzerland, in the French Alps, there is a ski area called the “Portes du Soleil” which means Gateway to the Sun.  This huge ski station encompasses 8 or 9 villages in both Switzerland and France.  The biggest, i.e. most famous town in the circuit is Avioraz.  Within this circuit of ski resorts is a valley in France called the Vallee d’Abondance, or  The Valley of Abondance.  How precious is that?
Within this one valley, there are three villages:  Chatel, La Chapelle d’Abondance and Abondance, itself.  Period.  That’s it.  At one end of the valley is the Swiss border near the town of Morgins and at the other end is the main road which leads to Thonon-les-bains and Lac Leman.    At this point, I’m sure some of you are confused.  Here’s how it goes, geographically:
    •     There is a lake called Lac Leman.  In English, this lake is known as Lake Geneva.  It is shaped like a giant croissant.
    •    Picture the outside curve of the croissant as Switzerland.  Picture the inside curve of the croissant as France.  There are two big cities on the outside curve:  Geneva and Lausanne.  There are two big cities on the inside curve:  Thonon-les-bains and Evian.  You’ve all heard of Evian.  They were the first ones to capitalize on bottled water.

    •    Just inside the French curve are the Alps.  We are in the first valley on the right-hand side of the INNER curve.  Google map it.  Look up Chatel.
Once we had the general area pinned down, Mr. Big got himself busy finding a realtor who spoke English.  Lo and behold, Chatel is chock-a-block with English speakers!  Who knew?!  When Mr. Big found “Sam”, our English-speaking realtor, he was over the moon.  He was, as they say, ON BOARD.  Now, which chalet to buy?

First, let me explain, when I say “chalet”, I mean any mountain house.  It doesn’t matter if the house is a tiny shack, it is still a “chalet”.  Like the word “cabin” in English.  It can be a little piece of shit, er, crap, but it is still a cabin.  Or, conversely, it can be a bleepin’ mansion in Aspen, but it is still a mountain “cabin”.  See?

Now, and in the blogs ahead, when you hear me speak of the chalet, you need to picture a “petit chalet” and not a massive, Aspen-like cabin with a 5-car garage, a Gaggenau kitchen, a Jacuzzi, etc.  You need to picture your Uncle Al’s fishing cabin in the Ozarks, okay?
Much to our delight, “Sam” finds us Chalet Ruisselet.    And, now, you have to wait for the next blog to find out what in the heck a ruisselet is.

1 comment:

  1. nice post. i'm also in switzerland living with my husband and still struggling to learn the language. time flies fast for you. it's nice to see you have your own place. living here is very expensive it worries me sometimes. :)