Toulon sur Arroux, deep in French countryside, Sept. 18
A few days in the life of a French doctor extraordinaire
I am writing this from an apartment above medical office Maison Medicale in Toulon sur Arroux deep in French countryside. It’s nasty, cold and raining, but a good time for writing.
My daughter Emma substitutes at this two-doctor general practice on regular basis. She also works as an emergency doctor on race tracks.
That’s how we found ourselves in Morzine at the elevation of 7,200 feet in French Alps on my third day in France.
French Alps are approximately a three-hour drive from base camp Dijon. Cluses is a gateway town to the Alps where the 10 kilometer long climb on narrow roads starts. From here the roads fork out into different resorts hugging the majestic Mount Blanc draped year-round with snow, and as the French say eternal ice.
The road carved its way around cliffs with bubbling streams below, as the tree line eventually disappeared below us. We finally reached Alpine Morzine, a skiing resort that boasts activities all year including the 65th annual Mont Blanc Morzine race. The mountain road rally featured cars from Porsches, Czech Skoda’s, and French Peugeots to supped-up Renault Clio.
The major street in downtown Morzine was blocked off for the race cars and for the start ramp. Emma picked up her race gear at the Skoda sports center and hooked up with the support medical crew including longtime racetrack doctor Daniell. We lodged at the Petite Cheval Blanc (Little White Horse) hotel pitched high in the hills.
I noticed at the reception a sign stating that the resort staff speaks English and Italian. The off-season rate for a night including breakfast was 59 Euros.
As I tried to communicate with the Savoyard owners, I realized the sign greatly exaggerated the language capabilities.
We had the rest of the afternoon for us to explore this splendid resort with some mountain chalets covered in clouds. We walked alongside a crystal-clear stream that feeds the water bottles of Evian, a nearby resort.
The typical Alpine resort square was home to the town hall aka mairie and a church with its steeple blending into the mountains.
An adjacent street lined with boutiques, gift shops, restaurants and bars led into uptown Morzine by the ski lifts. A night at the four-star hotel by the ski lifts averages 1,000 Euros per suite. We marveled at the view below from a terrace café. The French are fond of their coffee at any given time of the day or night. The price can range from basic 1.50 euro to a fancy 4.50 euro depending where you get it.
We spent the evening dining with the race support crew at the Skoda sports center. Daniell happily showed us to the table. As in any race event, the support crew was more jovial than the race crew that did not dine with us to our disappointment.
On our way to Morzine, not knowing what to expect, we were making fun of the racetrack meal.
“We’re going to have pizza and drink lots of coke,” I said. “We’re going to eat inside a gym.”
“Not just a regular pizza, but a real European pizza with tuna and hard-boiled eggs,” laughed my daughter.
Well, I’ve learnt not to underestimate the French in regards to food. Even though the dinner was in a large sports hall, the meal was like in a first class restaurant. The full course included pate and Mediterranean salad, beef, congliatti pasta and vegetables, tons of French hard cheese and carafes of red and rose wine.
After dinner, we walked past the car tents, in the evening mountain mist. The next day Emma worked the rally with jaws-of-life paramedics without any incident.
“It was kind of boring, just standing there,” she said.
But, she got the first seat view of the racers and their cars. She wanted me to look for French version of Dale Earnhardt Jr. that is the handsome and rugged Sebastian Loeb, champion of Rallies of France. However, he was not in Morzine this time. So, I went to further explore the town around the lifts and the finish line watching the Clios inch in as the last.
I forgot about the French rule of the thumb: all stores close between noon and 2 p.m. Lunch is only served between noon and 2 p.m. unless you’re in a major tourist destination, and if you’re looking for a chain restaurant.
I decided to wait for the stores to re-open in the local press/tabac/café shop. When the waitress showed me two sizes of coffee cups, I picked the larger. Well, I ended up with the same amount of coffee only in a bigger cup.
Go figure French ingenuity.
To be continued with…..Into Spain, from sunrise to sunset
Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova