We’re back! Tomorrow morning we will be leaving Chamonix, so time for another wrap-up email. Let’s start with the trip from Colmar to Chamonix: This trip took us from rolling vineyard hills, through Switzerland, and into the Alps! Katie found an awesome way to break up the long drive. We stopped in Oeshinensee , Kandersteg to play on the alpine slide! We rode a gondola (Katie’s first) up a mountain and hopped on single person toboggans and flew down the metal luge run. The views of the mountains were outstanding, and the wildflowers were in bloom, Sound of Music-style. We again managed to avoid the predicted bad weather. We grabbed lunch in town, ham croissants for Nathan and bread with only kind of stinky cheese for Katie. Sidenote: it’s hard to find non-stinky cheeses around here. It’s like everyone is a masochist or foot fetishist or something.
We have been relying quite successfully on Nathan’s phone for navigation, but we were about to get a surprise. When Google Maps brought us out of Kandersteg to an expensive toll, we thought nothing more of it. Once through the toll, we came upon an orderly queue of stationary cars. The light system above us looked weird, and the funky rail cars Nathan spotted close to the road started to make sense: we were about to drive our car onto a train! It turns out the fastest way through the Alps is usually THROUGH the Alps, and this ancient train system noisily, bumpily, and smellily (sic) hauled us through a pitch-black tunnel for 15 minutes, saving us a lot of time and energy. Plus it was like getting a scary theme park ride thrown in for free!
We emerged to more glorious sights of the Alps, pausing later at a rest stop to stretch our legs and un-stretch our bladders. We found that the simple-looking bathroom facility had a dirt trail that ran up its side. It turned out that the roof was a pavilion, and there was another path leading away from the parking lot up there. It led to a
way cool picnic area built from stone monoliths. There were ottoman-sized stones encircling table-sized stones instead of picnic benches. Low stone walls divided the eating areas in two, with tall stone pillars punctuating them at regular intervals. A grilling area sat in the middle, and a modern metal windmill appeared to draw water to an outdoor sink. It was awesome! Upon closer inspection the bathroom facility had a few more doors than it should have had. We think it was a bomb shelter. Cool!
Nathan enjoyed driving up and over a steep maintain ridge while Katie took in the sights. We arrived in Chamonix in the early evening, had another great dinner out (Morel mushrooms! -Katie) and turned in for the night.
Today we got up early with our sights set on some high-altitude hiking. A quick stop at the tourist information center revealed that the unseasonably cool and wet weather made our preferred trail impassible to hikers. We decided to take the Aiguille du Midi gondola up as high as we could, hoping we would pop up above the cloud cover that prevented us from seeing much of the mountain. The gondola took us up 1.9 MILES onto the Mont Blanc massif, but we were surrounded by thick fog (clouds?) and swirling snow. While we didn’t see the gorgeous alpine vistas we expected, the weather made for an otherworldly setting to explore the mountain outpost at the top.
We stopped halfway down the gondola for hot chocolate and ventured off of the terrace for a bit of exploration. Katie managed to find herself up to her knee in slushy snow. We also saw fully geared-up mountain explorers setting of on the trail we mentioned earlier, prickly with crampons and ice axes and strung together for safety. We waved them off while sipping our ‘chocolat chaude.’
Our next stop was the Mer de Glase glacier which we reached by rack-and-pinion train, a wet and slippery rocky trail, and 430 steps worth of metal gangways. A grotto is cut into the glacier every year, so we explored inside and admired the art and light displays within. Back at the top, we witnessed car-sized boulders falling from the steep valley walls onto the glacier. The noise in the valley was thunderous.
We returned and did some typical tourist shopping and had a quick dinner. On the way from dinner to our hotel, we came across a park and some castle ruins overlooking a pond. We were taken aback, because here were the remains of a castle, just sitting alongside a sidewalk. Locals had peppered the backside with graffiti, but that still did not take away from the beauty. We found a stairwell leading down to a grotto underneath the castle, level with the pond water. After an impromptu photo shoot (I mean, who wouldn’t have?) we made our way back to the Vert and inquired about the ruins. The man at the desk explained that it was actually something from a movie set, but after doing some research we found that not to be the case. In the 1800’s a man moved to Chamonix from Scotland. He missed the views so much that he had fake Scottish ruins constructed. To the French this may mean that this sit is nothing special, but to us Americans, the fake ruins are real ruins at this point!
We got back early enough to take some well-deserved showers (and to craft this extremely long email!). Katie dropped by the front desk to deliver a box of Chapel Hill Toffee to our knowledgeable host. We brought several boxes to use as gifts during our travels.
In the morning we head South to Artignosc-Sur-Verdon, where temperatures will be in the 80s without a drop of precipitation in sight.
To read more about this leg of our trip or to listen to our Podcast episode on it, visit Join Us in France.