Saturday Morning – Bye Bye to Chamonix
We had to be out of the apartment and handing the keys back before 10am. It was another quite grey day up above with the promise of it getting rainy later.
Because we’d packed a load of bags into the car on Friday evening we had somewhat fewer bags to hump out with us on Saturday morning. We packed them all up whilst sweeping and tidying and whilst trying to stop the girls from making more mess. And as we left we were actually able to carry everything between the four of us, including a couple more bags of rubbish which I carried up to the car park to dispose of.
And so around to the rental agency building, where we dropped the keys and booklets off. We paid for parking for a hour or so because we’d decided to grab breakfast on the way. There was a nice looking cafe right next door to the agency which was one of the “hipster” variety. OK, I’m stereotyping, but the menu was simple but good, involving a range of proper coffees in reasonable sizes, some pastries, and muesli plus a couple of cooked options. The staff were all young and informal and the seating was mainly cushions around over-sized window sills. The tables all consisted of whole sections of tree cut into flat sheets, with legs added. It was one of the best breakfasts we’d had, and I wish we’d found the cafe earlier in the week. It was relatively cheap (by Chamonix standards) too.
And so to the autoroutes. While we were sitting having breakfast it started raining. It was very heavy rain, not namby-pamby drizzle, but proper stair-rods. We continued to be in and out of really heavy rain nearly until we got to Dijon. It didn’t really slow us down much though, but that was mainly because the “slowing down” was caused by an incident on the motorway around the south side of Geneva which caused a bit of a jam.
Once clear of this we started climbing over the hills towards Bourg-en-Bresse, which went fairly smoothly. From here we started heading northish along the A39. We planned (OK, I’d planned) stops at a number of service stations on the way to allow us to find one single geocache in each of the French departments we were passing through. On the cards for today we had Saône-et-Loire, Jura and Côte-d’Or. The final one was easy though, as it’s the department that Dijon is in. That means we have two stops to make, but very conveniently there are service stations in each along the A39. They were only about 70km apart, but what the wotsits ? We’ve got geocaches to do.
The first stop, which was by now conveniently time for lunch too, was at the excellently named Aire de Service du Poulet de Bresse (or, Service Station of the Bresse Chicken). Apparently, Bresse chickens are one of those appellation contrôlée jobs. The approach to the service station includes a roundabout with a massive chicken sculpture in the middle. Being a Saturday afternoon in the school holidays, it was busy and we struggled to find anywhere to park. Lunch was pretty good and we managed to beat a bit of a rush into the queue. I scooted off around the outside of the building in a rain shower to grab the geocache.
The second stop was at the Aire du Jura. We didn’t want to stop and it was busy again, so Kas dropped me off at a relevant point and then tried to find a parking space. She dropped me off at one end of the site and I had to walk past the entrance to the service station buildings and over into some woods on the other side of some weird exposition building that seemed to be a cube decorated entirely with circles. It was about 500m from where Kas dropped me off before I got to the cache site. It was well into the woods but easy to find and well placed with a good hint. Better get back to the car though. This proved quite tricky, as Kas had only just finished going round in circles in the car park and I didn’t have any phone signal, so I couldn’t phone Kas and ask where she was. I found her after a thankfully short time.
So from here we drove the remaining kilometres into Dijon and had very little trouble finding our hotel. It was quite hard work getting into it, though. This was partly because we couldn’t figure out where to stop or where to park and partly because once we did get the keys and access to the car park we then had to circle the block to get back to it, and it was rather a tight entrance. On the bright side though, we only had a handful of bags to carry upstairs.
Where They Make the Mustard
Kas wanted a bit of a snooze and the girls needed to burn off a bit of energy. By now the weather was improving a bit too, with the clouds starting to break up, so I took the girls for a walk (or run, skip, dance, flit, whatever, in the kids’ case). We did a handful of geocaches as we walked around to.
Dijon has a lovely old city centre with some fine old buildings, and it benefits from being pedestrianised. We walked down a shopping street on our way to the Place de la République. Once there, we discovered the dancing fountains. The girls were still bubbling over with energy and I was in no mood to tell them off about running around, so I kind of let them get on with it. The Place de la République has recently been pedestrianised and they’ve replaced all the tarmac with some smoothly shaped local stone (the subject of an earthcache here), and the square was very clean, so I was very happy to allow the girls to just get on with getting wet. Anyway, the weather was now getting quite warm and sunny, having made a complete mockery of our decision to take jumpers with us.
While I was sitting on a stone bench watching the kids getting soaked I met several sets of geocachers, who were mooching around looking for the geocache stuck underneath it. One group helped me find it. Another turned up and I pointed them to the correct end of the bench. As we were leaving I noticed another group who looked really like they were geocachers, and once we stood up and walked away I waited around for them to reveal themselves. Geocachers they indeed were.
From here we walked up to the Place Darcy and Jardin Darcy, where we did another geocache and then noticed the time. It was time to get back to the hotel and wake Kas up.
Kas was sort of awake when we got back, so it was a relatively quick matter to get ready, although the girls had to put on the clothes they’d planned for the following day because the ones they were wearing were soaking.
Dinner proved a bit of a challenge – mainly because it was one of those evenings where we had some conflicts of opinion on what to eat. Izzy had it in her head that she fancied a burger. A few places did them, but Ami didn’t fancy that and Izzy wouldn’t entertain the idea of anything else. We gawped at a whole series of restaurants down the shopping centre. We even sat down at one restaurant in the Place de la République before deciding to move on because the menu didn’t look right and the service seemed very slow. We eventually settled on about the second place we’d looked – a small pub with a limited selection. They did have burgers, and we all had one (Ami went for a chicken one, so not really a burger at all). The food was fantastic. Kas and me decided to drink wine rather than beer for the first time on the holiday.
Geocaches found during the course of the day were:
- AutoStop A39 – Aire du Jura
- L’aire du Poulet de Bresse
- PALAIS des DUCS de BOURGOGNE
- Le carillon muet
- Place de la Liberation-Les Pierres de Comblanchien
- Place Darcy
Miles and Miles of Tarmac
Sunday morning greeted us with overcast conditions and an early start. How early ? It was still dark when the alarm went off. We wanted out before 7am as we’d estimated we had at least 5 hours of actual driving to do to get to Calais, which meant we’d need at least two stops.
We got out of Dijon pretty quickly and headed up the motorway towards Troyes. At Troyes the Autoroute des Anglais begins. Before we got there though we had a scheduled stop at some services to find a cache in the Aube department. It was trickier than planned because a few of them didn’t have geocaches, and the one that did have both a restaurant and a geocache was a location where the cache appeared to be several hundred metres off down a side road. So we plumped for stopping twice, once at a “no services” stop (Aire du Champignol) to grab the geocache (a quick find) and then again at one that had a restaurant to get some breakfast (Aire du Plessis).
From there we decided to experiment with having Ami ride up front while Kas had a little snooze in the back. So Ami rode up front with me all the way from Troyes past Reims and up to the Aire d’Urvilliers, which took us two hours and was the home of our final geocache. It’s in the Aisne department. We made this a quick stop of twenty minutes only, involving a leg stretch, a wee break and some drinks.
Ami stayed in the front with Kas driving but we vowed to swap around before driving into the ferry port at Calais so Kev was up front for the handing over of documentation. We swapped drivers about 30km short of Calais as we passed through the final toll station. There’s always a pull out just after a French motorway toll booth.
Geocaches found on the drive through France were:
As you enter Calais from the A26 you are greeted by a load of double thickness security fences down the side of the road, and unlike when we arrived this time I noticed why. On the east side of the road you get a reasonably good view of the shameful site of the migrant camp. It is massive. I saw a report on the news this week about motorways being blocked by people smugglers in the night and how it’s all getting a bit wild out there. Drivers are currently advised not to attempt to access the port from the autoroutes between midnight and 6 am.
We obviously arrived in the middle of the day – 13:40 to be precise, and in plenty of time for our 3:30 sailing – so we didn’t see any issues with people on the roads, but the sight of the camp is quite distressing in itself.
As we arrived at the various passport controls we saw a sign identifying that there was a 13:55 sailing that was running on time. I thought it unlikely we’d make that, but the nice woman at the check-in advised that yes, there was space on that boat and we had time to get on it, and she was very happy to put us on that boat without extra cost.
The ferry journey home was a bit more choppy than the one out. Not bad, but choppy. This was mainly caused by the wind, and when we ventured out on deck it was quite entertaining, because the decks were wet, the boat was rocking about a bit, and the wind was howling. Getting up and down the stairs was a challenge.
We ate some pretty mediocre supposedly English food on the ferry so were hoping we could get back home without stopping, other than to change drivers from Kas to me as soon as we could. This was simply because we parked on the ferry next to a metal guard rail that sufficiently close that the driver’s door wouldn’t open fully, and whilst Kas could get in and out though the gap, I couldn’t. So Kas drove 10-15 minutes through Dover and then we stopped in the layby access to Samphire Hoe to swap over. Ami jumped in the front again too.
The drive home was slowed by a queue going into the Dartford Tunnel and then another behind an accident on the M25 but we still made it home before 6pm, calculating that it had taken us almost exactly 12 hours of travelling since we’d left Dijon.
Kas’s Run on Le Brévent
The Col des Montets
Today started off very slowly for me and the kids but very busy for Kas, as ever. She had a long run to do and planned to run up to the mid-station of Le Brévent and then across to La Flégère before coming back again. She set off before breakfast and was aiming for about 4 hours worth. Apparently the run up Le Brévent was more of a walk, and on the way back down she managed to take a fall and go head first into a rock, resulting in a cut above her eye.
While Kas was out me and the girls began some of the process of getting packed up and cleaning the flat. One of the first things to do was to follow the instructions we were given for disposing of rubbish, such as they were. Izzy and me went for a walk to try to find the massive bins. There proved to be a set just up the road in the car park. So then we went back to the apartment to get the rubbish, knowing now that we hadn’t got far to walk with it. Blimey, I really know how to live some days.
By the time she was back it was nearly lunchtime, not that we had much food in the apartment. So we all got cleaned up and dressed whilst farting about deciding what to do.
What we eventually decided to do was to go up to a nature reserve on the Col des Montets. Well, the bit we went to was on the Col des Montets. Most of the reserve is actually “up the top” behind the back of La Flégère, but we didn’t have either the time or the energy to get up there, given that it was after 2 pm when we left the house. Kas was struggling along with a big wad of dressing stuck to her forehead that looked like she was an extra in a war movie.
I’d noticed there was a short looking walk between two car parks and we decided to go for that. It was actually not a shorter walk than it looked. It was what Americans might call an “interpretive trail” of the botanical variety. Every few metres there was a sign identifying what kind of plants we were looking at. The signs were in French, obviously, so we had some fun with the kids figuring out how to pronounce them, and figuring out what they were. Some we could get because we have some familiarity with the Latin names, but this was surprisingly few. For several others we could read the signs but were unable to figure out which plant the sign related to.
There was also one geocache (Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges), which we duly found just before returning to our car, despite the fact that as we were sitting down on the rock it was hidden under a local family decided that this was the best place to stop and have a drink. Oh for falling off a log ! Can’t you see we’re behaving suspiciously here ? Leave us alone, will you.
Back at the car we were a bit unsure what to do next but thought we’d spotted a couple of little pull-offs by the roadside from which we might get a few good photos. At the first one we were able to get some good photos, which was good. When we got back into the car we were having a chat about whether Kas ought to get her head seen to at the hospital because she thought it was continuing to bleed a little bit under the dressing, so we opted for driving back to the apartment so we could have a look at it, and then make our decision from there. It didn’t look as bad as she thought once she’d cleaned it up, so she decided not to go to the hospital. She got told off for that when we got home.
So this left us with little to do in the evening other than pack up most of our stuff and then go out for dinner.
One of the things we did do was to pack up a load of bags with dirty clothes and grab some other items we wouldn’t need again until home (Kas’s running stuff, all the walking boots, and similar) and take them up to the car. This was part of my cunning plan to avoid the debacle we’d had when attempting to carry all the bags in one go between the four of us when we arrived. On that occasion we seemed to have about 8 small bags as well as the four large cases, and we just couldn’t move it all without one of us (mainly me) running shuttles with the big bags. Getting five or six unneeded bags (including two of the big ones) into the car on Friday night was definitely a top plan.
We chose to go to one of the restaurants just around the corner. Kas and me had been eyeing up a raclette all week and this was the night. It was good, all though personally I think we were given a few too many potatoes and not quite enough cruditées and charcuterie. We managed to get enough beer though.
And that was more or less that. I think we had to pack a bit more of the kids’ stuff when we got in. We’d still got a pack of 8 beers in the fridge in the apartmnet but I think we had one each and resolved to take the rest home with us. We didn’t have the capacity, and it was necessary that we were in a fit state to drive the following morning. There was a bit of Olympics in French as ever.
Today was that traditional day in each holiday where we didn’t really do much. The weather was a bit iffy compared to previous days – a bit showery and grey – and we were all a bit pooped after a long day out yesterday.
Kas went out for a short run, then got home and went for a run with Ami, then got home and went for another run with Izzy. Meanwhile I sat in the apartment playing with photos and thinking about how to structure this set of blog posts. I lead such an exciting life.
By the time everyone was back home and cleaned up it was lunchtime. Or, it would have been if we’d had much in, but we didn’t. So we ate a few bits we’d got and then went out for a walk around town.
First of all we went to find the two remaining geocaches in town that I hadn’t yet found. They were easy, especially with four of us looking.
After this we walked up and down the main street looking for souvenirs and Ami bought herself a rather pretty panoramic photo of Mont Blanc.
We also kept passing this fantastic mural, which so far I’d not managed to photograph well, due to absence of daylight. Look at it very closely. The only parts that aren’t painted are the left hand pair of small windows. You can just make out the big glass doors at the bottom. That’s also a painted scene. In particular notice how the artist has painted the size and shape of the balconies to match exactly the real balconies on the front of the building, and how he or she also gives the impression of three dimensions by painting on the shadows.
I think the artist received a number of commissions here, because the outside wall of our apartment also had some similar work, in this case emphasizing that the cinema was inside.
As we were walking back towards our apartment we passed a little sandwich and burger stand on the main street which looked like it had a range of food options to suit us all, so we stopped for a bite. It was very good.
After this, it all went a bit freestyle. Ami had in her mind that she wanted to buy a jacket, but she couldn’t really articulate very well what kind of thing she was looking for, and because Chamonix is more of an outdoor sports kind of place it is fairly underpopulated when it comes to fashion stores. So we tried a bunch of places but Ami wasn’t really that interested. Most of the time I was doing my “bored shopping father” routine of standing outside, taking a few photos and looking at my watch. I’m a bad shopper.
Eventually Ami gave up trying and we walked back to the apartment and spent a chunk of the afternoon playing with our PCs. Later on in the evening Kas shot up to the supermarket with Izzy and grabbed a load of stuff to do pasta for tea, which I duly cooked with Kas’s assistance. And that was kind of all we did, apart from drinking more beer and watching the Olympics in French.
Geocaches found during the course of the day were:
Kas didn’t go for a run on this morning. I’m sure she wanted to, but we’d got other plans, and those plans involved not still being at the apartment at lunchtime, so we got up pleasantly early and headed off out.
“So what are these plans?” I hear you say, “What? What?”
OK then, I’ll tell you.
Chamonix is very close to Italy and it’s also very close to Switzerland, which means it’s one of those very rare places in the world where you can easily find geocaches in three different countries in the same day.
We were out of the house at 9:30 am on this epic quest (OK, not that epic. “Little jaunt” is probably better). It promised to be an interesting day whatever. Interesting also for me to see how noticeable it actually is when you cross between any of those countries. As all of them are members of the Schengen Area then theoretically the border crossings should be barely noticeable.
The first place we stopped was just up the hill before the entrance to the Mont Blanc Tunnel. There’s a big parking area there which allows access to some walks up the side of the mountains and particularly over to the eastern edge of the Bossons Glacier, right across from where we’d been the previous morning. If you’re out geocaching, then obviously the side of a glacier is a great place to go hunting for earthcaches. There were two here and they allowed us to tick off finds in France straight away. You can’t beat a good glacier. Not unless you have a very big stick and possibly some crampons.
To get to the two earthcaches in question we had to make a fairly short looking (300m and 500m or so, according to the GPS) walk along what ought to be a good path. What I didn’t notice was that it was about 200m of climbing as well as 300m and 500m on the flat. It was a bit steep in places. And beyond the first one it was also narrow and a bit precipitous, and because it was “only a short walk” none of us were wearing our walking boots. It was quite pretty though.
You’ll have to excuse the poor quality of photos from this section. When I switched my camera on the first time it said “Memory card not found”, so I thought I’d left it stuck in the side of my PC the previous night. As a result, my photos were taken on my phone, which doesn’t work too well in challenging light.
Of course, when I got back to the car and went straight to the camera bag to extract and insert the spare memory card I keep there, I opened the card slot and noticed there was a card in there. Hmmm ! I’d forgotten that sometimes the camera lies when you switch it back on after having removed and replaced the card. I also noticed that I’d been using the wrong camera case for several months. The one I had with me contained Ami’s spare SD card and didn’t contain my spare battery. Oh well ! At least I can use the proper camera for the rest of the day.
So, back at the car and back at the epic road trip, the next stage was to get through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, the entrance to which was a whole 100m up the road from where we parked. In fact, the place we parked was up the road behind the French customs post and accessing it involved driving past a group of well armed members of Les Rozzers Français.
We had to queue for the tunnel, which I initially assumed might be something to do with security checks for vehicles entering the tunnel, what with the somewhat tense security situation in France, however it turned out that the delay was caused by the amount of time it was taking to fleece the driver of each vehicle. €43.50 ? You’re ‘avin a laugh, surely. But they weren’t.
The tunnel itself is 11.6km long (that’s 7.25 miles if you work in old money) and is pretty much straight once you get inside. It’s only two lanes, so there’s oncoming traffic in the other lane too. It’s remarkably dull to drive through and it gets quite difficult to concentrate after a while because it all looks the same. They helpfully give you guidance on how much separation to leave between vehicles and that helped me a bit as I could focus on how far in front of me the lorry was or wasn’t. The real reason for the delay at the entrance is that they regulate the rate at which vehicles enter the tunnel so that they can avoid there ever being a queue inside it.
When you get to the other side and start driving through Italy, there’s quite literally not much to see. The Autostrada down from the tunnel is mainly composed of other tunnels. Maybe that’s where a lot of the €43.50 goes – on building good roads that allow you to get to the tunnel. After all, a tunnel that bypasses a load of slow winding roads over mountain passes is not much use if you have to drive up a load of slow winding roads to get to it.
Back at an earlier theme, the border was not noticeable at all.
Time was marching on and we’d decided to head down to Aosta to get lunch. On the way into town we filled up with fuel. I had a bit, but not enough to finish off the day, and as we had mountain passes to cross I wasn’t comfortable having to think about how much fuel I’d got. So we stopped at one station on the way into town, but they didn’t take credit cards, so we moved to an Agip station a few hundred metres down the road. They did take credit cards, but they also wanted to serve me, which is a concept I now find totally alien. I just started doing the business and the attendant cottoned on, shrugged her shoulders and went into the kiosk to wait for me to come in and pay. Diesel proved to be the only thing that was more expensive in Italy than in France.
Aosta was a pleasant little town in the centre. Around the outsides, it had the typical arrangement of sprawling suburbs of big individual houses, and then a narrow (ish) band of modern looking apartment blocks. We ended up doing a couple of laps around this area as on the first circuit I was unable to jump my way across three lanes of traffic to get into the car park we wanted. It didn’t help that we didn’t realize it was there, so I wasn’t in the right lane. Second time around we were better prepared.
A couple of hundred metres from where we parked we walked into a pedestrianized street full of restaurants and souvenir shops. Lunchtime then. As it was Italy, we felt obliged to eat pasta or pizza. We stopped at pretty much the first place we found, and it was great. And as the waitress said when we were paying, “it’s not so expensive as France.” She followed that up with “you should come on holiday to Italy next year. The food is better and the mountains are just as good.” From where we were sitting, it was difficult to argue. The main problem for us though, was that none of us really speak any Italian. I guess that could be fixed over the course of a year, but we can get to that later.
After lunch it was time to get back to the grand plan, and to find my first ever geocaches in Italy. There was one a couple of hundred metres away from the restaurant, so I went to grab that while the girls were grabbing an ice cream. We then walked a few hundred metres along the main street to where the Roman settlement of Augusta Prætoria Salassorum is. We did a couple more caches, but we didn’t pay the entrance fee for the Roman site because we were, after all, on a bit of a schedule and it was already about 2 pm in the afternoon, and we still had to get into and then out of Switzerland. We did pay a quick visit into the cathedral though, which was quite good, but arranged back-to-front in comparison to British cathedrals. Mainly, the two big towers were at the eastern end, although the main (and rather grand) entrance was still at the west end. It had the distinct advantage of being cool inside. We could have stayed there all day, except that we also had the options of a nice air-conditioned car and a high mountain pass or two if we wanted to be cooler.
So we left Aosta, but it was nice enough that I’d consider going to the area again, if I had a plan.
From Aosta we drove up to the Great St Bernard Pass on the Swiss border. There’s a couple of good reasons for going that way. It is the closest way to Switzerland from Aosta. It’s the third highest road pass in Switzerland. Finally, and most impressively, various bits of the original Italian Job were filmed here, including the opening sequence with the Lamborghini Miura.
It’s quite a slow but very scenic drive up. Two thirds of the way up you have to remember to not take the tunnel, but to take the road over the top instead. The point where the two roads separate is a long way from the top. The tunnel allows the crossing to stay open all year even though the road up the pass is shut for several months as soon as it starts snowing.
At the top of the pass there’s an earthcache on the Italian side. There was also a patch of snow that the girls found exciting.
As we went back to the car we were sort of wondering which country we were in. It turns out that the photos taken by the lake were taken in Switzerland and all the others were taken in Italy. We figured out where was what because we found a stone marker. So we had to stand and get a photo of us in two countries at once.
From here we drove into Switzerland (all of 10 yards from where we parked), and moved over to the monastery and the home of the big dogs with the barrels of brandy. It wasn’t the home of any cafes or ice creams though, so we didn’t stay long. We grabbed a cache slightly up the hill from the monastery and then started heading our way down the hill. After all, it was past 5 pm and we’d achieved our target of finding geocaches in three different countries.
Before entering Martigny we took the road up the Col de la Forclaz and, because we still needed to feed the kids a second ice cream, we promptly stopped at a cafe on the first hairpin bend and had a quick but expensive coffee and ice cream. There was a geocache nearby. It turned out to be just 70m along the ground but down a near-vertical looking path down through someone’s grapevines. I didn’t fancy it and we did have a couple of other caches on the radar, so we were happy without doing that particular one. The view was quite good, as indeed it was from the next geocache we stopped at.
Anyway, I kind of assumed that the high point of this pass would be the French / Swiss border, but it isn’t. The border is actually some way further on near to Vallorcine and it was the most obvious border of the day, given that there was a sign advising of the revised speed limit, and there was an abandoned looking French customs post.
Geocaches found during the course of the day were:
Halfway up the Aiguille du Midi
Kas started with her traditional morning run. Not a very long one, but it was on the plan.
We got out of the house at around 10:30 and went around to Saint-Gervais-les-Bains in the hope of catching the Mont Blanc Tramway, however when we got there, and got parked up, we discovered that we would have to wait the best part of two hours, until just after 1pm, before we’d be able to get a place. Bleedin’ tourists. Why can’t they all just stay at home.
So we had a communal “bum to that !” and did a quick rethink.
We decided instead to go and try out the Télésiège des Bossons, which takes you up to a chalet and viewing point near the bottom of the Glacier de Bossons, which runs off the Mont Blanc Massif a little to the west of Chamonix town. The chairlift itself is an “old skool” skiing one where the chairs are fixed to the cable permanently, and as a result the overall experience is, shall we say, relaxing rather than speedy. However, on a sunny day in August there are worse things to do than to spend 15 minutes drifting serenely over the alpine meadows and woodlands.
When you get to the top it is a short walk to a couple of viewing platforms that look over the base of the glacier from west to east. I guess when they were built that the glacier was much further down the valley. Right until the early twentieth century, apparently, the glacier used to come right down into the valley. I won’t say it’s a shadow of its former self, because to be honest it still completely dominates the view from Chamonix looking west, especially in the summer when there’s no snow anywhere else around the base. The glacier still comes down well below the treeline, aided by the north-facing aspect of the slope it comes down, but the snout has now receded a few hundred metres back up from the valley floor, and the chairlift now takes you to a point probably a couple of hundred metres below the current snout. It is still close enough for a good view though.
I forgot to mention also that the Bossons area is home to the ski jump hill from the 1924 Winter Olympics, which looks sort of abandoned now, especially given that the public parking for the chairlift is sited at the base of the ski jump’s landing area (below the “K” point).
There is also an abandoned piste running to the east of the chairlift which was used for some events in the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships of 1962. Much of the piste now has small coniferous trees growing in it. It’s obvious where the piste went, because the trees are smaller than those surrounding it, but it couldn’t be used for skiing now.
We had a very pleasant lunch of chips (for the kids) and omelettes (for Kas and myself) at the cafe at the top of the chairlift. We also has some beer. Well, I did, because Kas was driving.
After lunch it was time to move on, so Kas headed off towards the chairlift and I asked if I could walk down a path under the chairlift to grab a couple of geocaches on the way down. One was a bit out of the way down quite a steep but passable path which took me to a point underneath the neighbouring Glacier de Taconnaz. This looped back to a path and then a road which passed through some extremely fine looking houses and on to the top of the ski jump. After this point, I thought I’d just be able to walk down the side of the ski jump to the car park, but sadly it was all roped off and I ended up taking a rather circuitous route to the east through a load of trees and down the road.
We drove back into Chamonix and parked up and then walked straight to the Aiguille du Midi cable car, as we’d decided we’d quite like a look from the mid-station at Plan d’Aiguille. The station was very busy again, which surprised me as I thought it would only really have been busy on weekends like when we went up before. So we queued up and got our tokens for the ride (we already had tickets but had to get an allocated number for the cable car ride. Then we grabbed some drinks and started sitting around for the half hour wait we’d got lined up.
Our half hour came and went and there seemed to be some general Gallic shrugging going on amongst the cable car attendants, after which a load of people started walking away. So I went up to check and they said that they weren’t going to let anyone else go to the top on the basis that a) the top was in cloud so there was nothing to see and b) if they let anyone else go up they wouldn’t be able to get them all back down again before closing time. So they wouldn’t let us go up.
“But I only want to go halfway up” I said. “Yes”, replied they, “but you still need to get down again, along with everyone else. There’s a thousand people up there you know.”
Their advice was to take our tokens back to the pay desk and see what they could do. What they could do turned out to be nothing, because we’d bought a three day pass, and it wasn’t their fault if we couldn’t access our chosen lift on our final day. No refunds, sorry, sod off.
We started wandering off in a grump and trying to decide if there was anywhere else we could go to get some value out of our tickets (there’s plenty, we wish we’d bought a fourth and possibly a fifth day) but at the last second we decided to go and ask again. The attendant who five minutes ago was saying “no” very vehemently seemed to be all sweetness and light again and politely told us we could actually go up, if we wanted, but it would be crap because the top was in cloud. “We don’t want to go to the top” I said. “We only want to go halfway.”
I peered around the side of the building. The top wasn’t in cloud at the time. So I asked for tokens for a cable car ride and she said they weren’t needed any more because there wasn’t a queue now. Errr, maybe that’s because the lift attendants just told everyone they couldn’t use the tickets they just bought, and everyone’s gone home in a grump ? Just saying.
Up at the Plan d’Aiguille, you get treated to a broad area of high alpine terrain with a big cable car station and a small cafe in the middle. Towards the south there is the imposing face of the Aiguille du Midi and the cable car going up to it. To the north there’s the valley and the look over to Le Brévent, where we’d been about 24 hours previously. And over to the west there was a thunderstorm. No, make that three or four of them. Izzy was a bit spooked (because obviously those thunderstorms are going to arrive here before we can leave, and there’ll be lightning, and we’ll all die ) but she calmed down for long enough for us to mooch about, enjoy the views, a bit of far-away lightning and the general coolness, and for me to find the geocache under the cable car station. Not literally under it, but quite close.
The thunderstorms and cloudiness changed the light patterns a little bit after a couple of days of bright sunshine, so I quite like a lot of the photos I took from here. The light looks different and so the colours in the photos look different too.
There was a bit of a queue getting back down and the weather was looking increasingly dodgy, so we crammed like sardines into the cable car back and rushed down. As with the journey up, there was a large number of people who were, shall we say, unlikely to be skiers, and who took great pleasure in screaming and whooping in delight every time the cable car went over a pylon and there was a bit of rocking around. Oh for falling off a log, you’re not at Disneyland !
When we got back we mooched about for a while in the apartment and eventually decided we’d stop in for dinner instead of going out, so Izzy and me scooted up to Super U before closing time to grab some “stuff” – we went for what seems to be our French holiday staple of potato wedges, salads plus whatever looked nice from the butcher’s counter. In this case, what looked nice were some half-spicy beef and lamb sausages and (because Ami probably wouldn’t eat the sausages) some chicken and chorizo kebabs. The guy on the butcher’s counter spoke enough English and I spoke enough French that we conversed reasonably well on the subject of him having sold all the pork sausages earlier, and that the beef and lamb ones were red but not that hot, so the kids would be OK with them. The kids actual feedback was either that they should be hotter or should not be hot at all, because as they stood, they were neither one thing nor the other. Having said that though, none of them survived the meal, so they can’t have been that bad.
When we’d finished all that, the kids were about ready for bed and I was about ready to get my PC out and play with some of my photos for the first time on the holiday, the photos you’ve been looking at on here. There was also some beer involved and, of course, the Olympics in French.