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June 10th 2013
Published: June 25th 2013
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June 10

I have visited Chamonix in February, and surely decided to return there in summer. I told Luda, we have to choose between Chamonix and Nice, which one do you prefer? She answered, let’s go to Chamonix. I replied, you’ll love the place. She did.

It turned out that during our stay only two of the lifts would be working – Montenvers train and Aiguille du Midi lift. Others would start working from June 15, just after our leave. An unpleasant occurrence, but there were fewer people.

Arrived in Genève, we wasted two whole hours in having a coffee and trying to find the baggage storage. The baggage storage within the station was out of service, and we asked an official for help. ‘It is between tracks number 4 and 5’. We were stupid enough to go in the right direction, but stopped several meters short of the baggage lockers. Eventually, I put down my very heavy rucksack and Luda went to find the lockers. She found them, and we deposited our things. Also, we ‘sold’ the five-hundred Euros note at the Western Union exchange office, thankfully, they accepted it – this task was fulfilled by Luda, because I wanted her to practice the language. The five-hundred Euro note is a thing I cannot understand – why do the states print it if many places do not accept it?

While walking on the embankment, Luda saw advertisements of ‘Old Town Tours’ on a small train and decided to take it. I thought that an excellent and reasonable idea, and decided to join after some hesitation. We spent some time in finding the stop of that train, and finally it emerged right before our eyes. We bought tickets and joined a huge group of tourists who already occupied their seats. The tour was interesting (a recorded voice told us about the sights), though I have already seen them before.

During the drive to Chamonix there was much rain and a traffic jam in several places, but we arrived according to schedule. The weather was gloomy, with clouds lying low, but in the morning all that would change. Little can be compared to the panorama of mountains in sunny weather! Our accommodation was Hotel Cretes Blanches (three stars) – an excellent though not the cheapest option; both me and Luda were awestruck from the very threshold – it was a large room, decorated with wood, with a free-of-charge Mont Blanc view from the windows, a TV set, and purest water in the bath. Luda liked the water (of a blue hue) immensely and afterwards remembered the pleasant water many times. Besides, we seemed to be the only guests (or, at least, there were few guests), because silence reigned all over the place. Luda said it was just what she needed after the months of work and noise of Paris hostel.

June 11

We bought a hearty breakfast for ten Euros each and at midday went to Montenvers train to Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), France’s longest glacier on the northern slopes of the Mont Blanc massif. The glacier was much larger a hundred years back, slowly retreating in the course of time, as the placards on the stones near the access staircase show. The staircase is attached to the rock by cement and bolts and might be a source of fright (or excitement).

The small train took us to the altitude of 1913 m, revealing a striking panorama of the glacier and neighbouring mountains. We then took the cabin lift down to the glacier caves – made by man and containing several large objects cut out of ice (a bear, I think). It is an unforgettable experience, though, you have to descend and climb some 300 stairs to reach it. It is cold inside, and water is dropping from the ceiling in places. The multi-coloured lamps add magic to the cave. The ice is of bluish hue, like the water in hotel’s bathroom. I wonder how the authorities manage to maintain the caves, given the constant motion, freezing, and thawing of the glacier. Maybe, they make new ones each season, because ice should be easy to cut. On the slopes of mountains much snow still lay – a product of the fruitful winter: I remember the thick snow banks covering the whole town.

In the evening, we walked along Arve River, Promenade de Fiori, and across a forest. Chamonix valley has a lot of marked trails for hiking, and we had the occasion to ascertain that it’s difficult to get lost because of the guide signs. We met a lot of black snails on the road and a lizard warming on a tree stump.

June 12

This day we took the lift Aiguille du Midi (‘Needle of the Noon’; the word Aiguille – Needle names quite a lot of mountains in French Alps, the simile being undoubted) to Plan d’Aiguille at 2317 m. To tell the truth, this intermediate station would not be of particular interest for two reasons – first, there was a lot of snow and any walks in the area would require the relevant outfit, second, the cable car proceeded higher, to 3842 m, the viewpoint of Aiguille du Midi. However, it was clouded all over, as often happens in mountains, so was part of Mont Blanc. Having carefully discussed it, we decided to save the money and not go there; but I’m sure we’d go if the peak were visible. It turned out later that the money saving was a prudent decision. Luda wanted very much to descend to Chamonix from here, but the amounts of snow certainly prevented it, and our wearing summer training shoes did nothing to facilitate the descent. I rejected the idea at once. We noticed people wearing snowshoes, and Luda is now set on trying that. We planned a lot of things for the next day, like coming back to Aiguille with the equipment and hiking to the lake, or descending, or something else.

I nearly killed my eyes staying there without sunglasses, and Luda’s face had the sunglasses outline sun-burnt on it. The sunrays were pitiless. Luda spotted skiers descending from somewhere and cried enthusiastically, See the skiers! What a feat! Wow, here comes another one! And another… Look, he’s going to descend! I said I could understand her emotions, because Alpine skiing is a … a… Something. As the strong men descended, I saw them carrying rucksacks and alpinist outfit, such as snap hooks, ice axes etc. Imagine skiing fast with the paraphernalia!

In the evening, we made a short walk on the Petit Balcon Sud (little balcony), a sort of narrow level recess in the hill, perfect for pedestrians and mountain bikers. We soon returned to the hotel, because the sun was setting and carrying away the warmth. I forgot to mention that I bought a hiking trail map at Chamonix Tourist Centre.

June 13

Having studied the trail map, we decided to ascend to Planpraz (circa 2000 m high) and, weather and other conditions permitting, Brevent (2525 meters). We set off at about noon, perhaps earlier. The well-marked trail ascended across the forest; it was a perfect environment of calm air, bird singing, worms crawling, paragliders flying high above. During the whole day, we met only three couples of people, all on their ascent.

Luda wanted to have the walking sticks, as other hikers, so I selected two good tree limbs, strong enough to serve the purpose. As for myself, I do not like walking sticks. They impede me.

The snow-capped mountains wood peep from the forest here and there, and were much encouraged at reaching the signpost of Plan des Chablettes at 1545 m. We had a bite; I made the huge mistake of taking orange juice as refreshment drink, not good at quenching thirst. As such, the juice was the tastiest I have tried so far. Evian is better!

After that, we cheerfully proceeded in a wrong direction. There was a dubious crossroads, but the other road was plainly visible under the snow, so I suggested… I thought it wasn’t a road at all. A man and a woman were sitting on stones near the trail. We crossed a dangerous portion of the trail where rock falls were customary. Safe in the forest, we heard a stone crash downwards with a horrifying sound… Soon we acknowledged the wrong choice of route and returned; I asked the man, both persons were still there, for the route to Planpraz. He showed us the same road we saw before, covered with snow. An ‘adventure’ began. I thought it’d be easy to bypass the snow, but the bushes turned out rather thick and the trail was hidden. We ‘climbed’ rather a long distance, then I voted going back because it was no use wasting effort, because who knows what awaited us further on, and mind the descent also! Though, Luda liked our short ‘struggle against nature’. True, we could have forced our way to Planpraz, but the game was not worth the candle. Nevertheless, Luda was absolutely satisfied with our randonnee, as the French say. She said Chamonix was the best place she’s been to.

We’ll return to Chamonix.

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