Chamonix

July 2, 2016

This morning we awoke to thunder and heavy rain. We heard the other people staying in La Ferme du Bon Papa getting up early and leaving; we were sort of glad we weren’t going with them. But sort of not glad. Instead we had breakfast at 8 am, the usual French breakfast of cereal, fruit, yogurt, and bread and jam but very nicely done. Then we gathered up our bags, said au revoir to our hostess, and headed down to the Tourist Information to use their wi-fi and start redesigning our holiday for the next week and a half.

At 9:20 am the bus arrived, so we hopped on and went down to the train station at Le Fayet, near Saint-Gervais-les-Bains. We could take a train or a bus to Chamonix, but before deciding we had a quick walk around the town. As it turned out the bus left first, so we decided to take that. The journey to Chamonix went by quickly because it was on freeways most of the way. It dropped us off in Chamonix Sud, from which it wasn’t much of a walk to the town centre. Although it did start to rain and we had to dodge from one awning to the next.

Upcoming Tour de France stage in Saint-Gervais

Upcoming Tour de France stage in Saint-Gervais

Because we were homeless we made our way to the Tourist Information centre to find a place to stay for two nights which hopefully wouldn’t be too expensive. Of course it was the weekend so the whole town was solidly booked up, but luckily for us there was a small family hotel, Hotel du Clocher, which was very close by. It took a bit of finding but we did find it, and they did have a room available for two nights. At first the room for €92 a night was only available for one night, and we would have to move to a more expensive room for the second night. But after she juggled some of the other guests we ended up with the cheaper room for both nights.

Hotel du Clocher

Hotel du Clocher

The room was small, but it was ensuite and in the centre of Chamonix, so it was good enough. We settled ourselves in and then went out onto the mall to eat our lunch. But we had left our bag of things not needed for hiking at the gîte in Les Houches, and now we weren’t hiking. So we used our guest card to take the train to Les Houches to retrieve the bag. The gîte was closed when we arrived, so we decided to go to the bakery next door for tea. But it was closed too, so we walked about 20 minutes down the road to Le Prarion where the bakery was open. We had tea and pain au chocolat there and sat for a while.

Chamonix with Glacier des Bossons in background

Chamonix with Glacier des Bossons in background

By the time we retrieved the bag and took the train back to Chamonix it was just about 5 pm. We deposited the bag in our room and did some research about places to eat dinner. Chamonix is a major tourist centre so there was no shortage of choices—there must be 100 restaurants in town, or even more. But Café Valentino looked good; the menu and prices were quite reasonable and it was doing a brisk trade so we sat at one of the outside tables. Rosemary had spaghetti and Paul had a traditional Savoyard dish, tartiflette. It’s sort of a cheesy version of scalloped potatoes and it comes with lardons, which we later found out are bits of fried bacon fat. Quite delicious. The service at the restaurant was very prompt, so we were happy.

Doctor Paccard, first to climb Mont Blanc

Doctor Paccard, first to climb Mont Blanc

Back at our room we did a lot of research, trying to fill in the blanks of our holiday. We now have July 2 and 3 in Chamonix and July 4 and 5 in Courmayeur in Italy—we’ll take the bus there and back. So what next? In the end we decided to stay at Refuge La Flégère. It’s on the TMB so we had cancelled it, but it has a cable car going up to it so once up there we could do light day hiking. So that took care of July 6 and 7, and the other four days we’ll worry about later. We finally went to bed at 11 pm.

July 3, 2016

No need to get up early today, so we relaxed for a while then headed out for breakfast. We found a place nearby with a French breakfast (croissant, half baguette, jams, butter, orange juice, and tea or coffee) for €6.80 each, and we sat in their outside seating area and enjoyed both the views and the breakfast.

Paraglider over Chamonix

Paraglider over Chamonix

It was a warm day with clear blue skies over Mont Blanc, so our plan for today was to go up the Aiguille du Midi. We walked the short distance to the gondola and joined the ticket line. It actually didn’t take more than 15 minutes to buy our tickets, but the wait for our ride up was much longer. We had an hour and a half to wait so we went to the Spar grocery to buy some lunch food and went for a walk around the town before returning to the gondola to wait.

Departure schedule for Aiguille du Midi

Departure schedule for Aiguille du Midi

Finally our time came and we crowded in with the other people who had time slot 41. The first gondola took us up 1,300 metres to the Plan de l’Aiguille, where we transferred to the next gondola which would take us to the top. It was cold in the tunnel there and when we went out onto the viewing platform it was cold and windy. So first of all we sat down in the sun, and out of the wind, to eat our lunch. It was quite amazing to think about the people who built the station, with its tunnels and staircases and elevators.

Aiguille du Midi top station

Aiguille du Midi top station

From the platform we had spectacular views over the local mountains, with hardly a cloud in sight. At first we couldn’t find the Matterhorn on the information signs, but after a while we realized that the French call it “Cervin”. It was really neat to see it.

Matterhorn view

Matterhorn view

Next we headed back inside, where there was a tube leading around the outside of the needle. We could see a lot of people climbing up the glacier towards us; it looked like it must be more technical than just hiking, but they didn’t seem to be roped together. We rode the elevator up to the highest point, at over 3,800 metres above sea level.

View down to Chamonix

View down to Chamonix

Nearby mountains and glacier hikers

Nearby mountains and glacier hikers

The new attraction there is “Step Into the Void”, where you stand in a glass box suspended over a thousand-metre vertical drop. Neither of us felt inclined to do that, especially since (convenient excuse) we would have had to line up for 30 minutes in a biting wind. So we headed back through the gift shop, where we bought a souvenir before taking the gondola back down to the Plan de l’Aiguille.

Gentians at Plan de l’Aiguille

Gentians at Plan de l’Aiguille

On the way up we had noticed some marmots here, the first marmots we’d seen on our trip. So we decided to break our journey here. The marmots were nowhere to be seen by the station, so we went for a short walk down towards the Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille. Whether they were the same ones or not, we did find a couple of marmots in the rocks. We watched them for a while: one was basking on a rock while the other was munching on grasses. Before heading down to Chamonix we bought ice creams and sat on the deck of the small restaurant to eat them while enjoying the fantastic views.

Sun-bathing marmot

Sun-bathing marmot

By the time we got back to Chamonix it was nearly 5 pm and we’d had a good day. We went to yet another restaurant tonight, with a beautiful view of Mont Blanc, and both of us chose the hamburger and chips platter. The meal was huge so no dessert was necessary afterwards. We went back to our room and spent some more frustrating hours trying to find reasonably-priced places to stay. Eventually we gave it up and watched the Euro 2016 soccer game between France and Iceland on TV. Poor Iceland, finally knocked out in the quarter-finals!

Painting on Bureau des Guides

Painting on Bureau des Guides

Next: Courmayeur

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