Tartiflettery will get you nowhere Marketing

It’s December, and that means Christmas markets. Having been fairly unimpressed with the local one in Kingston upon Thames last weekend, Helen and I decided to head over to Europe and see if we could find a better one. OK so that’s plainly nonsense; we booked this trip to Annecy, in France, months ago. Way before we knew the whole of France would be on strike this weekend. Uh...

But anyway, first things first. I’d booked us a cab well in advance to come get us at 0730 on Friday morning. We were alerted to the driver’s arrival at 0715 or so, which turned out to not be true at all. He was parked on a different road. I sent him a message, he moved a little bit but not towards us. Eventually I called him and explained how to reach our road. When a driver’s job is to get passengers from A to B, I’m always a bit unnerved by their inability to find the A.

The car journey started with a couple of questions: were we OK with the temperature, and the volume of the radio? We answered yes to both, and then I spent the next half an hour in a massively wide ranging conversation. Man, this guy could talk. He even told us that his wife tells him off for talking too much. He wanted to discuss Brexit and politics and football and the Bible, often using painfully stretched analogies, continuing to the end even when I’d cut him off by reaching the point early.

Still, we reached terminal 5 in fairly good time, managing not to crash despite his propensity for straddling lanes. A quick vape for Helen and then we strolled up to the First Wing, with all its exclusivity and stuff, to join a long queue. There are too damn many gold card holders flying at this time of day. Bah. To make matters worse, one of Helen’s trays was selected for secondary screening. This doesn’t normally add too much time, but we were unlucky enough to be behind a guy who had done absolutely fuck all with his liquids, and he had loads distributed throughout two suitcases. How can you be a frequent flyer and not know the liquids rules? How can you be so ignorant of all the TAKE YOUR LIQUIDS OUT AND PUT THEM IN A CLEAR BAG signs before you even reach this bit? Grr. Grr!

Thankfully the lounge wasn’t as busy as the queues had made me fear. No seats by the food, but plenty of space by the champagne as usual. We tag teamed our assaults on the buffet and I entered my happy place: big fat fry-up and a little bit o’the bubbly.

The music was louder than usual, but also better: jazzy versions of hymns, some John Martyn, etc.

The huge strike in France was causing a bit of consternation. Our flight was to Geneva, which tends to require flying directly across a country which was to have greatly diminished air traffic control capability. A couple of flights had been cancelled, and the BA app was showing that we’d be arriving over half an hour late.

This was a bit of a problem, since we were booked on a coach from central Geneva only 70 minutes after the original landing time, and we needed to be there 15 minutes in advance so that’s 55 ... take out the 35 delay and that gave us, uh, 20 minutes to get off the plane, through immigration and customs, onto a train, into the city and find the bus garage.

With that obviously a non-starter, I cancelled the coach and booked on a slightly later one, but also noticed there was a service leaving the airport a bit earlier - albeit for a fair bit more money. Ah well.

The flight came up as on gate A1, in the same building as the lounge but the furthest gate from where we were sitting. With some worries about having our bags taken off us at the gate and put in the hold, we got there early in the hope that being part of fancy priority group 1 boarding we’d not suffer that fate. Indeed, we were able to keep our bags.

Our chosen seats had been unceremoniously modified by BA overnight, because they’d increased business class by 9 rows so we were in the curtain envying row 10 now, in seats E and F. 10D arrived and spent most of the time on the ground on phone calls, right up until we were steaming along the runway about to take off – this after she’d been told off during the safety demonstration, which she was talking over. I mean Jesus Christ what the fuck.

The plane was bloody sweltering, which sent both Helen and I to sleep for a bit. I was awake by the time we took off, a good half an hour after we’d sat down. Browsing through the M&S onboard food menu I was pretty impressed to see that they now sell pie – with a discount for buying with a beer!

Having had such an enormous breakfast neither of us wanted food; I had a beer, Helen a blackberry gin. 10D saw me paying with something BA branded and wondered whether I’d just spent Avios or cash. It were cash, but you can spend Avios. This led to her spending a good 5 minutes digging through her bag to find her account number so she could buy a cheese sandwich and some giant chocolate buttons, some of which she offered us toward the end of the flight.

The first office announced that we’d be landing at about 1345, in the end only 15 minutes late. We could probably have made the 1510 after all, damn it. Anyway, there were nice views out of both sides of the plane - on the left they had Mont Blanc, on the right we had a variety of stuff.

Like this chain of villages and stuff along the river in a valley.

And mountains with less snow on them than you might expect.

And this big lake with some much more impressive mountains on t’other side.

On the ground we messed about with the coach booking yet again. There’s a 1445 from the airport to Annecy, and having been to this airport before we knew it was pretty efficient and compact. The walk is pretty long to reach immigration and then get through customs, but nothing is slow about the process. Outside the coach stops are well signposted, and we’ve plenty of time to kill.

When our coach turns up, he makes an absolute pigs ear of reversing into his space, taking 3 attempts and needing assistance from the driver of one of the other parked coaches, which he nearly hit first time. But once he’s parked, we dump our suitcases in the hold and board. There’s a handful of people in front of us, one of whom nicks one of the seats we’d reserved so we have to politely kick him out.

Once onboard, I cancel the 1545 booking. The FlixBus app also tells us that this 1445 from the airport is actually the 1510 from Geneva, the same one I’d originally booked 2 months ago and that we’d cancelled from Heathrow. D’oh! Never mind.

The views are quite nice as we pull into Geneva.

There’s a bit of road rage on a short road just before the bus station, with a guy on foot in front of us having a shouting match with our driver. Bleurgh. At the gare routiere we pick up enough other people to make the bus entirely full, and set off directly into another bit of rage as we fail to corner properly and come close to hitting some roadworks.

It’s only meant to be 50 minutes from Geneva to Annecy, but it takes a bit longer because there’s a proper border crossing between Switzerland and France. Cars are streaming through, but we get stopped and 4 border control officers get on. They give everyone the third degree: careful inspection of papers, where you going? Do you have any goods to declare? How long are you staying? The guy behind us is asked if he’s got cannabis in his bag. A few people are taken off the bus and something happens outside with their luggage. I’m not entirely sure everyone was brought back on either. The whole experience felt very strange. Who knew there was such a stringent border regime between Switzerland and France? I certainly didn’t, not when I WALKED BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES near Basel a couple of years ago FFHS.

Back on the road, the scenery became pretty spectacular. We’re surrounded by gorgeous mountains set back beyond lovely countryside, and it’s a beautifully sunny afternoon. The rest of the drive to Annecy is without incident and we’re let off by the SNCF station, completely closed since France has no trains today. There are loads of people around, here and on the streets of the city, as we walk the 6 or 7 minutes down one straight road to reach our hotel. It’s just across a bridge, the view from which is pretty nice.

That’s our hotel on the right.

At check-in we’re delayed by an Italian family, but soon enough are given room 205 (live) and shown how to use the lift. Being an Ibis, this hotel is not remotely luxurious, but we do at least have a small balcony looking back over that river.

I am uncertain where room 200 is.

By now it’s about 5pm, just getting dark. We’re on the edge of the old town and since we came to this place to experience its Christmas market, we go out for a walk to find it. Bring on the mulled vin and tons of fromage.

Near the hotel, there’s a lovely square. In fact, this is the start of an exceedingly lovely old town.

Apparently Annecy has one of France’s shortest rivers. Dunno if this is part of it, or one of the canals. There are both and I’m not sure how to visually differentiate. But what’s most important is that it’s a wonderful place to wander around.

En route we’re looking at restaurants, since neither of us have eaten since 9am back in the lounge. There are plenty, and they are all shut.

Aha, there’s the bridge to the market.

Many of the market stalls are selling vin chaud, both blanc et rouge varieties. Many are selling cheese. Those that aren’t selling consumables are the opposite of most Christmas market stalls I’ve ever seen: they’re selling good quality, classy goods rather than outrageous tat. Helen gets particularly excited by the one selling terrariums.

Around the way is the town hall, which is having a big animation projected against it, complete with soundtrack. It’s pretty impressive.

We haven’t stopped to buy anything yet. Helen is very much in favour of sitting down indoors in a restaurant, and I’m saying we should exploit the good weather to get complete bearings of the whole old town – including the other half of the market which is half a mile away. So we walk, and see loads of other nice buildings and stuff.

Also many more restaurants, all of which are shut. Slowly, through a mixture of observation and Google, we discover that restaurants around here don’t open until 7pm. There are a handful that do restauration non-stop, but they all look shit. The good ones take a big break in the afternoons.

That’s fine if you’re already immersed in the culture and had a big lunch, or indeed lunch of any kind, but we’re on the verge of getting hangry.

The other half of the market is called the “Alpine Village”, and is on a town square rather than lining the banks of the water. There’s a big ice rink set up, and fewer goods stalls, more drinking and eating. But it’s too crowded and selling the same stuff as the other one – so we go back to the first one, making a beeline for the tartiflette-selling stall.

This part of France doesn’t do English very much, so we have to interact entirely in the local language. The horror! But it’s fine. Deux tartiflette s’il vous plait, et un coupe champagne et un biere noël. Paying is more difficult, because the bloke who serves us – including up-selling my tartiflette to include sausage – buggers off somewhere, and I’m left to (a) explain to the other woman everything we’ve been served (b) request the beer that he forgot. Grande, oui.

The food is of course fucking delicious. How could it not be? It’s a big stodgy pile of stodgy cheese with stodgy potato and onion and stuff, and the upsold sausage is magnificent. We eat it standing around a fondue table with bits cut out to hold wine glasses. It has been reserved for 8pm. External reservable fondue tables with wine glass holders might be my favourite thing about the city so far.

Having finally eaten, and seen all that the market has to offer, we decide to go back to the hotel. There’s no need to stay out late tonight, we’ve two full days in the city. We are interested in finding a supermarket though, to get a couple of drinks for the room and also stock up on a few sundries we’d failed to pack. As we walk, my eyes are drawn to the shop that sells knives, whisky flasks, shaving brushes, and a Darth Vader head.

The first supermarket we go in is the most hipster supermarket I’ve ever seen. In it there are craft beers, and I cannot resist buying the most ludicrous bottle on the shelf.

Gluten-free quinoa beer. Good lord. Spoiler alert – it’s disgusting.

Even though there were many other decent looking beers available, and the prices very reasonable - 9% ales for €2,60! - I didn’t get any others because I only have a really awful bottle opener. Helen gets a reasonably priced bottle of fizzy wine, but the sundries we want are nowhere to be seen. At the till, the thick-bearded man asks us if we want any bread in a way that implies we’ve forgotten to get any. Uh, no thanks.

One block further up we find a normal supermarket, in which we buy tissues, conditioner, soft drinks, paper cups, and a bottle opener. Sorted. And with that, we go back to the Ibis. The rooms are not great, but it has a decent little bar and in fact we’re the only punters there. I do like having a private pub. The barman is extremely friendly, talks me through the beers available – they have a bunch of craft beer here – and brings our drinks to our table, including some bar snacks.

A Spanish couple turns up and the barman effortlessly switches language. I’m so jealous. He even drops a bit of Italian in. We’re enjoying it here, so have a second drink. My beer is called La Verte, which means The Green. It is green.

I find the taste hard to describe. It’s not not nice, but I can’t exactly say I love it either. It’s made with genepi, some local botanical that’s similar to absinthe but the drink they make from it contains tons of sugar and isn’t as brutal.

Back upstairs we make our way through the fizzy wine, which is in fact the fizziest wine we’ve ever seen. Good job we bought tissues to mop up all the stuff that goes on the floor. It remains fizzy as we pour it into our classy paper cups, and is so light it is barely discernible on the tongue. Still better than that fucking horrible quinoa shit, which is the last thing I drink before falling asleep.

Created By
Darren Foreman