The day after we arrived in Chamonix it was forecast to rain – thunderstorms infact. It rained heavily on and off all Thursday and there were low clouds through the whole valley; so we had no chance of seeing the mysterious Mont Blanc that we had circumnavigated by bike but still not yet glimpsed. We had a traditional hot cheesey alpine lunch at a restaurant – starter was a hot cheesy dish, followed by tartiflette (another hot cheesey dish); and dessert was icecream!
We wandered along one of the shopping promenades; browsing at the outdoors shops mainly. I came across a Glacier (icecream shop); and despite having just eaten lunch AND icecream for dessert I just had to try one of these ones as they looked like my favourite italian style gelato.
On Friday the weather was on the improve; just a layer of clouds but no rain. We bought a 2-day ‘multilift pass’ which allowed us unlimited use of 2 big cable cars, a scenic glacier train, and the famous L’Aiguille du Midi – a series of 2 cable cars that takes visitors from Chamonix (1000m altitude) to the top of a rocky protrusion in the Mont Blanc range (3842m).
We started off with Le Montenvers-Mer de Glace railway. It took us up to France’s largest glacier, the Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”). I couldn’t believe it when there was a sign pointing to “Ice Cave” and the path led into a tunnel within the glacier. The glacier is constantly moving (1cm per hour; 90m per year) so each year they bore out new tunnels!!! I wonder what DOC in NZ would have to say if someone suggested drilling out tunnels for tourists in any of our glaciers…. Inside the ice cave they had carved out little rooms with ice furniture. In another room for 6 euro you could get a photo with a real St Bernard dog – it looked rather old and fat and bored though.
We then walked the 3-hour alpine “ramble” to the L’Aiguille du Midi mid-point cable car. This cable car is crazy. It was built in the 1950’s. The cable runs up to (what it looks like from Chamonix) one of the highest rocky prominences in the mountain range. It just seems impossible that they managed to build it. We shared the cable car up with mountain climbers, and tourists wearing socks with jandals. At the top the mountaineers inch themselves out onto the snowy ridge to begin their slow and careful cramponed walk down the snowy valley; while the tourists wander around the wood-and-steel balconies jutting out of the rock-face and take pictures. At the top of the cable car we were well above the clouds, so the view was like from an aeroplane – we could see all the mountain peaks, and the white fluffy clouds below. It was cold up there, and we got puffed so easily just walking up the stairs.
Back in Chamonix we went straight to ‘my’ Glacier (icecream shop) and got a gelato each… I think that was after a compulsory boulangerie stop. It’s near the end of the trip and I am making the most of all the food opportunities before normal life recommences in New Zealand… (When else in your life do you have a Magnum almost everyday and not feel at all guilty?)
I really wanted to go up the L’Aiguille du Midi when there were no clouds; and the forecast for the next day was for a sunny cloudless day. So Saturday morning we got up early to beat the crowds and see the mountain range in the morning light. There were a few clouds – high ones – so the view over the valley and mountain ranges was spectacular. Unfortunately the very top of the L’Aiguille du Midi was enshrouded with cloud so our view from the very top was limited and it was surprisingly windy up there.
Julie said if I wanted to go up the L'Aiguille du Midi a third time she would let me go by myself...
The next cable car we took was across the opposite side of the valley, the Le Brevent cable, giving a wonderful panorama back towards the Mont Blanc range. I had been full of beans the day before, but in the warm sun with a lovely view I just wanted to sit. And eat. I told Julie that eating was a good excuse to not move. She said usually it’s moving that gives an excuse to eat!
In the afternoon there was one cable car I hadn’t been on and I still had my pass to use! I dashed up the La Flegere while Julie had a shower at the campsite. Early on in the trip Julie stopped believing me when I said “I think it’s only about 20km” or “Less than 5km to go” or “It’s all downhill from here” or “we are going to run out of gas really soon”. I guess another thing she won’t believe again is “Lets take a few days off and relax”.
We met up with my work colleague Sally’s sister, Claire, who lives near Chamonix. She has given us some good advice for our route to take to Annecy tomorrow – our last day of cycle touring for this trip! From Annecy we will take the train to Lyon; then fly to London. 24 hours in London and we fly back to New Zealand, arriving on July 2nd.