Snow in August | Aiguille du Midi, the Alps, France

mont_blanc_rangeGoing up to Aiguille du Midi was a both pretty intense and quite insane.

cable_carTogether with a hoard of probably around 60 other people, we packed ourselves into the cable car, the Téléphérique, which climbed the almost vertical ascent from Chamonix to the summit in about 20 minutes – this is pretty mind blowing, considering that the altitude gain it made in that time was over 2,800 meters (Chamonix is at 1,035 m and the peak of the summit is 3,842 m). In that time, as I tried not to think about the fact that we were suspended on a rope in mid-air, we basically went from a pretty lush mountain and green mountainscape, through bare and wind-swept slopes, then onto glaciers and finally to the level of the snowy peaks. It felt as though we were taking off in an airplane.

Once we reached the top, slightly weak in the knees, we stepped out of the cable car and onto the packed snow.snow

We went out to various terraces and viewing platforms and watches mountaineers come back from their expeditions and climb over the railings, while some of the tourists shivered in their sandals and I felt smug at having had the foresight to wear closed shoes and a few layers of clothes, despite the fact that it was August.

dizzyIt was cold, windy, almost blindingly bright, dizzying and a little hard to breathe.

stairsBut very much worth it to see Mont Blanc from close-up, at what seemed to be about eye-level (though technically it was another, almost 1,000 meters higher) – it felt somehow like cheating, like it shouldn’t be so easy to see it without having climbed it.

mont_blanc_heightIncidentally, the date we went up there was just a couple of days after the date of the first ascent of Mont Blanc, in 1786!


Woohoo for (virtual & archival) snow

snow_collageThe option to get some virtual snow here on wordpress (woohoo!) coincides perfectly with Sofia’s first real snowfall this winter (double woohoo!!!).

I love the novelty and purity of every winter’s first snow, and the silence it brings with it for the hours and sometimes even days after it sticks to the ground and accumulates. There really is something magical about it (kind of like seeing the sea for the first time each year)… until it gets cleared and/or turns into brown slush…

This time, though, I’m not in Sofia to witness all that. I’m now in Montpellier and it hardly ever – if at all – snows here (during all of last winter, it only snowed once, for less then an hour and the lace-like snow that stuck to the ground disappeared in even less time than that), which – apart from days like today, is actually good news, as the novelty of new snow wears off pretty quickly, making space for months of unappealing cold and annoying trudging through slush.

The photos above are from the archives, which you can go and check out if you’re not able to enjoy real snow today: one is a post about snow and marriage; the second is from when snow covered the ground on the leap day of February 29 this year, which is when miracles are said to happen; and the third is from the artificial snow in a mall in Dubai.

Happy first snow to everyone, whether it is virtual or real!

Mayon**: Snow | “Somewhere in the Pyrénées”, France

Marion, standing in the snow with Adeline and Emeric, sent me a little “clin d’oeil” (wink!) from “quelque part dans les Pyrénées”

**This is part of a week-long series of photographs sent in by friends standing on, over or above exciting places and grounds around the world**

The winter of my [dis]content | Kuwait and Sofia, Bulgaria

In the span of 24 hours, I went from this:

To this:

And, yes, there is something more disturbing about those two pictures than my unfortunate choice in footwear in the second one (to my defence, it was a lapse in judgement caused by the rush with which I ran out, to buy some bare necessities after coming home to a fridge whose only content was a half-full milk carton with milk that had gone very, very bad in the two months I wasn’t here): What’s more unfortunate, in case you’re missing the point, is that I went from +25 °C to – 5 °C. So, please stop staring at my ugly boots.

The 30-degree difference in temperature didn’t make my coming back to Sofia any easier or less sad than it already is. Besides the standard drop in spirits that usually accompanies coming back from a long trip, I miss the sun and the sea, I miss my mom and my dog, I miss my old high-school friends and the new exciting and cool people I met, I miss dancing every other day, eating good food, the constant feeling of ease and leisure I had there. Not necessarily in that order.

It’s not all bad news, however. On the flip side, there are reasons I’m happy to be back and things I’ve been looking forward to: I get to see the rest of my family; I start working; I’m home, hanging stuff on the walls and watering the plants that miraculously survived my long absence and neglect; it’s been great catching up with friends whom I’m very excited to see and who seem genuinely happy to have me back. Also, I’ve missed being able to have a glass (or two) of good wine, perhaps more than I’d like to admit.

Snow in the desert | Dubai, United Arab Emirates

That, on the other side of the glass, is actual snow. Inside an actual shopping mall. In Dubai, where the average temperature in January (the coldest month of the year!) is about 20 °C. Just one of this place’s mind-blowing extravagances, which seem to know no limit.

Even though skiing isn’t really my thing, I was tempted to rent some skis and go inside for a little slide down the slopes and a ride on the ski lift, just to say I have. But after I thought about it for a second, I realized how little (read: not at all) I miss winter. So, I stepped outside and had an ice-cold lemonade instead. My only regret was that I didn’t wear flip-flops today.

On snow and marriage | Sofia, Bulgaria

I have to admit that this year, in addition to waiting for the first snow with anticipation for all the usual reasons, I could hardly wait for it so I could take a picture standing in it.

For me, the time before the first snow falls and covers the ground each year is one of a child-like, giddy anticipation. Once it finally does – after a few false alarms caused by snowflakes that melt as soon as they touch the ground, a certain kind of serene calm sets in.

The hours, and sometimes days, after the first heavy snowfall are always magical (unless you happen to be traveling, all transport is grounded and you end up being stuck at airports for Christmas, in which case they are just plain annoying). Up in the mountains, snow makes nature seem even more glorious, almost otherworldly. In cities, it covers the noise, grime and frenzy and somehow renews them, making them appear pure and calm. One of my favorite things to experience is New York in the hours after a snowstorm, which has managed to do the impossible – making the unceasing, loud, crazy city go quiet, even if just for a moment.

A while back, I happened upon a New York Times article reflecting on the marriage of a couple whose wedding the newspaper had reported on years earlier. The article made parallels between snowfall and love. It likened the marriage of the couple in question to “a good snowfall,” as “for one thing, it makes hanging out at home more fun.” It also pointed out that, “while marriages and snowfalls can be terrifying, they are both just made up of small things that accumulate.”

The calloused cynical part of me is of course tempted to take that parallel further, to the time when the magic and pureness of snow get ruined by physical reality, which turns into a not-so-magical, wet, dirty, gray-brown slush. Transfer that to marriage and it’s not too difficult to imagine the time after the novelty, excitement and butterflies wear off and get replaced by dirty dishes, unpaid bills, annoying habits and screaming children. But then, in the spirit of love, optimism and all that, I would hope that – just like we brave the slush every year, so that we can get to the blossoming spring, the lazy summer and the beautiful autumn, and then back to giddily waiting for snow to fall, good marriages plow through the not-so-pleasant in order to get to the good times ahead.

Uhm…. anyways…. I have managed to reach unsuspected levels of optimism and cheesiness, even for myself. Now, if you’ll excuse me while I go outside and crush a snowman right in front of the children who lovingly made it.  While I’m at it, I might as well tell them Santa doesn’t exist.