First impressions

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I drove past it once, twice before the photos in my mind and the reality before me merged. There it was, the stairway tucked just below the level of the road. I parked the car, turned off the ignition with relief and sent up a quick prayer for safe arrival. We’d done it! And 1.5 hours earlier than I’d predicted.

It was also 1.5 hours earlier than I’d informed my hosts, and they were still readying the chalet for our arrival. We exchanged apologies between expressions of delight at finally meeting.

Our host ushered us into our new home: sunny, charming, homey and a koughloff on the table. We were truly in Alsace. I’d expected a tiny chocolate box of a chalet, but instead, I discovered a small cottage fit for a little family. Separate kitchen equipped with everything needed for a long stay, combined living and dining with a view right out over the valley. Then a curved stairway upstairs to a delightful find – a landing area with a wooden chest full of toys. The children rejoiced. I did too as I wandered into my bedroom and took in the view: a village clinging to the side of a hill, graced with a church spire and behind it, the “grand ballon” mountain with its dusting of snow. The children’s bedroom was gorgeous too. Tucked under the eaves with a large ceiling window and children’s pictures on the walls. We were home.

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I felt the full warmth of an Alsace welcome as our enthusiastic host shared a little of her native region with us. Seeing us begin to droop, she solicitously asked whether we had had lunch. I’d forgotten my plan to buy something at the airport, and explained I intended to go back down into the valley to buy supplies.

“No, but you’ve only just arrived. Do the children like pasta? I’ll bring some. And then you can write a list and I’ll send someone down to do the shopping for you later.”

I was beginning to feel truly blessed. And then Delphine lost it.

She collapsed into the inevitable tantrum that I’d just been holding off for so long. Our host diplomatically left and I sat with Delphine as she cried out all the tension of 30 hours of change, challenge and sleep deprivation.

Once the tirade had passed, we lunched on koughloff and tea, and then stepped out in the fading autumn sunshine to explore our new home.

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Back along our street, down to a little gully with a shrine to Jesus and Mary, across a grassy path and up to the church where we chatted with a volunteer gardener in the old presbytery garden. Then up to the local school and Mairie, and follow the road around back home.

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I’d taken a gamble that this little hamlet in the hills would be the right place. But I hadn’t been sure. There’d been previous experiences where a perfect-looking place had not turned out to be a home for a happy holiday. But this time, if felt good. Immediately.

I’m trying to keep my expectations in check, but it’s hard not to feel that our time here might be a trip to remember for all the right reasons.

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