Friday, May 11, 2012

June 16 - Day 9 - Chamonix, France - Mont Blanc

June 16 - Day 9 - Chamonix, France - Mont Blanc

We woke up early and headed to the train station in Martigny to find out about trains to Chamonix. Luckily there is a small train dedicated to this route, it seemed like a touristy train. Our Swiss Passes covered the fare. We left at 8:42 AM and arrived at 10:15 AM. The ride itself was very scenic. The sky was very blue, mountains and trees were all around.

Chamonix is a small town that seems solely based on tourism. It felt a lot like the towns in Switzerland we had been. It almost felt like a honey moon destination. There were a lot of bed and breakfasts and hotels, including a Best Western. It looks really nice and I was ready for a nice night in a real bed, but that wasn’t to be.

We immediately found out where the campsite was and began our hike across town. We weren’t really sure if we were walking the right way based on the directions we received. It seemed like we were lost, but finally we stumbled upon the campground.

It was extremely nice. It was much different than the campgrounds in Switzerland. It wasn’t very big, but it was very clean. The grass was perfectly manicured. We found the man that ran the campground and he informed us to choose a site and then come back and pay. We picked a spot near the restroom under a big tree with Mont Blanc in the background. It couldn’t have been any nicer.

We got our tent set up pretty quickly. The sun was shinning and it was kind of warm. All we intended to do was take the cable car to the top of the mountain and possibly do another short hike if possible. I was tired so we rested. Rather than lay in the tent I just laid on the grass. It was so soft and comfortable. It was a big change from the rains we experienced in Switzerland.

After a brief nap we decided to head to town and find out about transportation to Italy for the next day. We didn’t want to be in a situation where we would have to stay an extra day and get off schedule or have to back track into Switzerland.

We asked people at the train station, but they were clueless. They said the only train that came in was the one we arrived on and it didn’t go any further. In other words, we’d have to back track. We asked the people at the information center but they were no help either. Our next option was the bus. The bus station was closed though.

Our plan was to get to Aosta, Italy by bus and then continue on to Pisa. It was Saturday so we weren’t sure if the buses would run on Sunday. We had read that in most instances buses don’t run on Sunday, but we were assured that it would be running from Chamonix through a tunnel that passes through Mont Blanc and onto Aosta. I wasn’t so sure based on the previous information I had heard, but we decided to give up on this for now and find out in the morning if there really was a bus.

Our one last hope would be to take cable cars over Mont Blanc into Italy and from there get a bus. It was more expensive and time consuming, but it was an option. It was becoming lunch time and we hadn’t eaten very much in the past week so we decided to find somewhere cheap to eat. That was pretty tough to do. We decided on a sandwich shop called Mojos. It was 5 Euros for a sandwich, but it was very big and very good. The waitress was English and had moved here to improve her French.

It was now almost 3 PM. After giving up on our quest to find transportation we decided to go the cable car to find out about going to see Mont Blanc. The Aiguille du Midi would take us to the observatory on the mountain where we would have good views of the city and surrounding scenery. It cost 37 Euros per person and took about 20 minutes to arrive at the top.

We had originally planned to take a series of cable cars across to Italy, but because we were thinking we were going to have to take that route in the morning we decided we didn’t want to pay for it twice. It was very expensive. We were still considering going part of the journey to Panoramic Point, but by this time it was much cloudier than it had been in the morning and we felt it wasn’t going to be worth the money for limited views.

Even though it was cloudy we decided to go up anyway. We went above the clouds and it was much more clear. Occasionally the clouds would come in and cover the mountain, but a few minutes later and it was clear again. Mont Blanc was absolutely amazing.

The steep jagged peaks and sheer drop offs are exactly like what you see in pictures. A helicopter ride over the Alps of southern France would be awesome! If they offer something like that in the future I would definitely do it.

At the top there was a look out point as well as portions of the mountain that had been blasted out to form a tunnel. The tunnel was basically pitch black with little light coming in from the entrance, but I don’t recall a purpose for it’s existence. The observatory on the other hand was really cool. I was able to get some neat pictures of it. Because it was so high and it was still very snowy in the mountains icicles had formed on its windows.

There were actually two observatories. One of these buildings was resting on the top of a peak like a bird’s nest and the other was higher up and reachable through an elevator inside the mountain.

At the top there is a lookout platform. When we reached this portion I immediately felt light-headed. Possibly brought on by the lack of food in combination with the high altitude. When I went back inside I felt fine, but standing outside would bring it on again. It was also very bright from the sun reflecting off of the snow. I was able to get a few pictures of the mountains and a small group of mountain climbers. Every few minutes I had to go back inside to recover.

We spent about two hours total. It was now about 5 PM. We decided that it was getting late and there wasn’t much else for us to do at the top since the clouds were beginning to return and didn’t clear out like they had before.

When we got down we returned to our campsite. We hung our clothes out for the 4th time, hoping they might finally dry. After this much time soaking wet in our bags they smelled terrible, but I was more concerned about the weight the wet clothes added. It must have been a few pounds at least. While we waited for our clothes to dry I laid back down in the grass for another nap.

Since we didn’t have much food we decided to splurge and go out to dinner. We decided on a small pizzeria called Fanfuille. Every town seems to have tons of Pizzerias and Chamonix was no different. It seems like pizza is everyone’s favorite meal and they order it everywhere. The pizza was ok, but it was really cheap for Europe, 6.50 Euros, so it was fine. After dinner we went to a bakery and bought chocolate meringue. It looked really good and we were wanting something sweet, it was only 1.30 Euros so we decided to get it. It was probably the worst thing I have ever eaten. It basically tasted like Styrofoam. It was similar to eating air. I don’t recommend buying plain meringue ever. I’m sure it was intended to be put on something else as a topping, but we didn’t have anything else. Oh well.

After dinner we walked around town for about two hours in search of something to do. We had heard about a hike you could do and wanted to do that to watch the sunset on the mountains, but we never found it. Instead we walked around looking at the architecture of the buildings and for souvenirs. Most of the shops were closed and we didn’t find anything interesting. It didn’t seem like very many of the people that were out were tourists. June was a great time to visit, but it must not be the high season.

We went back to our campsite for the night, took a few last pictures of the sunset and then took showers. Every 30 seconds the showers would turn off automatically so it was a little frustrating. I eventually just started leaning against the wall and nozzle so it would stay on. It had been a few days since I had a shower so it was worth the trouble. I was finally clean again, but I was running out of clean clothes.

As a whole Chamonix was a very cheap town, at least in comparison to Switzerland. The campground was by far the nicest we had been to, and probably that I have ever been to, and it was still the cheapest. It was about $12 per person. Chamonix and the surrounding area was really nice. It was one of the highlights of my trip and somewhere I have always wanted to return.

"Nexte Halte, Pisa..."

1 comment:

  1. Whew! What a great adventure you had there. You surely enjoyed your hike. Share more!