Lagorn Thailand, Salut la France

Les Arcs, French AlpsCourtesy of Air China a smooth passage from Bangkok to one of the southernmost points of Euroland; Rome. Smiling Thai faces, eager to please, replaced by disdainful, seen-it-all-before looks from the waiters at Frescobaldi's in Terminal B. Not that I particularly wanted to splash out on a European airport-priced meal, but with four hours to waste before the connecting flight to Marseille, after exploring the terminal from end to end, I was left with little choice.

I had a wallet full of Thai baht which left the Romans in the cheaper food and drink outlets singularly unimpressed. None took credit cards. The Travelex exchange bureau wanted close to 60 baht for a single euro, which was daylight robbery; and compounded their financial mugging of innocent tourists by charging 9.5% commission on all transactions. For some obscure reason the single cash machine in the terminal only spoke Italian and German. Once I'd decided which language I was marginally less bad at, it insisted on asking me for a two digit PIN code. I swore at it multilingually (back in Europe for barely an hour, and my Thailand-accumulated patience and tolerance was already dissipating). So if I wanted to eat or drink, I had the choice between raiding the duty free and consuming my purchases before getting on the plane, or Frescobaldi's (the only restaurant to take credit cards). After a long look at the champagnes on sale in the duty free, I settled on the latter.

Three wafer-thin transparent slices of admittedly tasty Parma ham, green salad, two glasses of delicious wine. But the total cost of the meal would have fed a Thai family of four for a fortnight. Welcome to Europe.

The trip back to Marseille was with an ancient-looking turbo-prop machine belonging to Air Corsica, chartered by Air France, themselves chartered by the virtually bankrupt Alitalia. Given the price of my economy ticket, makes you wonder how much is left over to actually maintain the aircraft. The hour-long trip was at an altitude where you could almost make out the expressions on the upturned faces on vessels we overflew. At least we were doing our bit to help slow down global warming.

The only climate change apparent to me in Marseille was the one involved in leaving Bangkok with temperatures in the mid-30 degrees C. at 3 am, followed by temperatures close to zero in the watery afternoon sun of Provence. I've hardly stopped shivering since. But acclimatisation is a gradual process, both to the weather and to European stress levels. Horns blasting, grumpy sneezing Christmas shoppers, rude kids, my first impressions over the few days since arrival. So much for the festive spirit. Time to escape to the snow-clad slopes of the Alps for a day or two...

(Click on any photo for the full resolution pics)

Superb conditions this early in the season, skiing down to Villaroger at just 1100 metres

In the Les Arcs domain, just above the Mont Blanc forest, close to the Deux Tetes

A skier and boarder making the most of the great snow off piste

Looking down the cloud-filled Tarentaise Valley from the Aiguille Rouge, Les Arcs

Les Arcs Ski Club children taking the Mont Blanc chairlift above the forest

Not lens flare... ice crystals suspended in the air, in the late afternoon sun, giving this unusual visual effect

But all of this comes at a price, one which is threatening the future of the Alpine resorts along with climate change. 47 euros for a lift pass for a single day, alpine restaurants charging a small fortune for some very average cuisine, a pastime for the middle class tourist that is fast becoming the domain of a shrinking, privileged elite. No wonder the stress levels are high, as the effects of the recession begin to bite. Some of those accustomed to certain luxuries in the West are having to reevaluate their lifestyles, and it's a bitter pill to swallow. The contrast with so many in Thailand who have little in the first place, and therefore have next to nothing to lose, couldn't be greater. I miss those genuine, generous smiles...

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1 comment:

Hoo Don said...

Bring some skis back over with you, excellent for swatting mosquitoes. Have a good Christmas day. Nice to see you back on the blog.