The BBA V2 traverses Mont Blanc

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August 7th 2013
Published: August 14th 2013
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It takes a lot to make me up from a deep sleep but the mother of all thunderstorms at 5am this morning did just that.Gretchen was already awake and had been watching the sky outside our room almost continually lit up with lightning for a few minutes before it and the overhead thunder disturbed me.

The storm lasted about half an hour and ended with some heavy rain that turned to showers as the thunderstorm drifted away.

We cannot ever recall a thunderstorm quite so severe and we were pleased we were inside what was a pretty secure building.

By the time dawn arrived shortly after the storm had passed by the showers had cleared and when we emerged for breakfast the heat and humidity of the past weeks had gone and the air felt quite cool in comparison.

We had breakfast with a French family with 2 young children from Lille who were visiting family for a week.It seemed a strange place to holiday for a week as apart from visiting with their relatives,taking walks or biking in the forest and hills there didn't seem much else to do.

We had a big decision to take today before we reached our destination in France and that was to pay €42 to drive the 11.6km through the Mont Blanc road tunnel or drive another 2 hours over and around mountains.

While Gretchen is not keen on tunnels for driving through this is the BBA where the A stands for 'adventure' and the B for 'budget'sometimes has to be put to one side to experience a piece of the road trip you can't do anywhere else.So you guessed it,the tunnel won out even before we reached the point of no return close to the tunnel entrance.

The road out of Sala Biellese took us over a mountain pass through a forest which gave panoramic views of the valley below.The road down to the valley floor twisted and turned and we were pleased there wasn't a lot of traffic coming up as the carriageway was fairly narrow.

The R26 passed through a number of small towns, following the river and the toll road,the E25, steadily climbing with the Italian Alps all around us and the French Alps ahead.

The weather front that had given us the early morning thunderstorm had left some low cloud in parts of the valley and from time to time we ran into light showers as well.All this was a bit of a shame because had we driven this road yesterday we would have more spectacular views than the weather afforded us today.

We weren't sure what was going to be available for us to restock our grocery box at Combloux so we were on the look out for a decent size supermarket keeping in mind that many of them close at 1pm or thereabouts for the staff to have their afternoon nap.

The towns in the upper part of the valley were surprisingly bigger than those nearer the Turin end of the road and there were more options of supermarkets to stop at.The one we chose was frantic and then we remembered it was nearly 1pm and they were probably going to close shortly.It was an odd store with shopping on two levels with a novel escalator on which you put your trolley with goods from the lower level and allowed it to ride to the top or street level floor to the more products and check out.The escalator travelled at a fairly slow pace and most people we watched had no trouble getting up the stairs to collect their trolley before it arrived on the escalator.Although there was a 'down' escalator as well it seemed most people collected a trolley at the bottom level to start their shopping as we only saw the 'up' escalator in use.

The approach to the Mont Blanc tunnel is a maze of various roads and there is a large parking area for times when traffic volumes are heavy.A large video screen informed traffic of delays of us to an hour on the French side of the tunel while traffic was flowing with no delay from the Italian side.

The tunnel took 8 years to be built and is a single lane in each direction.Since the disastarous fire in 1999 when 39 people were killed after a truck carrying margarine caught on fire causing traffic to run into it as the driver stopped to try and extinguish the fire,the traffic flow is strictly controlled with the toll gate keeping vehicles 7 sec apart and trucks and cars well spaced.You receive a card with instructions on how to drive and react in the tunnel should something go wrong and a clear notice that the maximum speed is 70kph.There are 'rescue' stations rebated into the wall of the tunnel every 600 metres and at those there are 'rooms'that you can get into should a fire break out.

So it was with some intrepidation that Gretchen drove through the tunnel all the while watching the car behind us so that it kept its distance from us.

As you can tell we safely made it out OK and pulled into the car park on the French side to take in the vistas which included a large and imposing glacier that is very close to the tunnel entrance.As the video screen had advised on the Italian side there was a long queue of cars and trucks waiting their turn to enter to gp through to Italy.In fact the queue was at a standstill for 2km down the mountain road leading up to the tunnel entrance.

We were so amazed at the queue of vehicles that we missed the small memorial to those killed in the 1999 fire which is about 1km from the tunnel entrance.

We had been impressed by the scenery on the Italian side as we drove up the valley but this was surpassed by the views on the French side where the valley was a bit wider giving more expansive views of the mountains that were all around.Like the Italian side the weather wasn't as perfect as we would have wished but you can't control the weather.

Our hotel was about 1km from the small mountain ski town of Combloux and we trekked across farmland on a hiling track to check out what the town had to offer and also to stretch our legs as it had been a fairly long day.

Our room at the hotel was on the second floor up narrow winding stairs and we decided only to bring in what we really needed as trying to get the suitcase up would have been a nightmare.To compensate though was a lovely view from a small terrace over a small valley to the township of Combloux.

All we need tomorrow is for the weather to clear completely and we should have the most wonderful of mountain scenery views we have had since our stay in the Dolomites way back in late April.

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