Thursday, June 14, 2012

Chamonix - The French Alps

OK, so I am a bit behind with my blogs. Since my last blog, I have been a week in Paris and a couple of days in Lyon and now 2 days in Chamonix. I am going to try and catch up and will post a number of blogs over the next couple of days post dated to correspond with the sequence of my itinerary. My apologies if it is confusing that I am posting them in a different sequence than the post date, but I wanted to get the Chamonix blog out first as the views are so spectacular.

Before I get to the photos, let me tell you about my train trip to Chamonix.

I didn't get this leg of the train travel booked in advance as I could not manage to find the route via the eurorail booking site. I relied on the Rick Steve's travel guide that there was a train route from Paris but noted that a couple of changes in trains would be necessary. I thought it would be best to go to the railway station when I got here and let the ticket person figure out my best route.

I was able to book the trip to Chamonix easy enough, they were able to put me through Bellgarde on a route in 1st class with 2 train changes. I was really glad that I bought a 1st class Eurorail pass, as the seats have an electrical outlet to charge my iPad and when the trip is long this is as nice a perk as the comfy seats with extra leg room.

As it turned out, I met an American from Atlanta who was also travelling to Chamonix via the same route, so I was feeling a bit easier about finding connections with the 9 or 10 minutes I had to change trains as there would be two of us looking for the right connecting train. It was also great to have a few English speaking folks to chat with in the train ride.

Getting the next leg of the trip, from Chamonix to Genova, Italy (the English name is Genoa), was much more difficult. Firstly, I booked the trip at the same time as my Chamonix inbound trip and somehow went back to the hotel with tickets to Geveve, Switzerland (or in English Geneva)! I spent a good deal of time researching routes online before I returned the next day to get the correct tickets. After 20 minutes, it seemed that I would need to pay 80€ as all the seats for Eurorail passholders had been booked. When I enquired if there were other options and after much punching in of search options Into his terminal I handed my iPad to the ticket guy to show him the route I found with a route over 6 different trains back through Lyon and then on through Nice. The guy indicated seemed to think that wouldn't work but seemed to find another route, but the connection would require an overnight stay in Annecy. At that point he announced that the International ticket booth didn't really open until 9:00. Since my train to Chamonix left at 8:30 he suggested I get the tickets once I got to my destination.

Later I would discover that I could in fact get to Genoa without an overnight in Annecy but would arrive at 11:30 p.m. after 6 changes of trains and 12 hours of journey! I had to pay 127€ for the ticket as there were no Eurorail seats available.

The trip to Chamonix was very pleasant and reminded me of my trip through the Pyrrenees a few weeks earlier. It was a miserable morning, cold and rainy, but was showing some promise of improvement by the time I arrived and checked into the hotel early in the afternoon. It was great that I had some company to do a short hike in the afternoon and to enjoy some company over a great steak dinner.

When I got up on Thursday the weather had cleared and it had warmed up! Patio weather and perfect for a petite dejeuner (breakfast) outside in the sun.

Chamonix seemed like a very large Banff or Whistler. It is the off season, so it is not very crowded but still a good number of tourists and hikers and mountain climbers wandering around.

I had a bit of disappointment in that the Mer de Glacé glacier is not open yet, apparently it is closed for the winter season and that ends June 16th - the day I leave. Also not open yet is the cable car over the Alps to the Italian side - Helbronner Point. I can't complain though, the views from top after the ride up the Aiguille du Midi cable car on the French side were spectacular and well worth the trip to Chamonix.

We enjoyed watching the para-sailers gliding far above us.

There is lots of shopping. I am doing a lot of window shopping.
You really need to look carefully to spot the end points of the two cable car rides which got me to the top of the two viewing sites. The first cable car leaves Chamonix at 1,035 m and rises to the top of the tree line at an altitude of 2,317 m. Look for what looks like a tiny hydro pole at the top of the green topped mountain in the photo above. After the initial climb to the first view point, called Aiguille du Plan, you get onto a 2nd cable car and ascend to a height of 3,777 m. This climb takes you over the seracs and snout of the Pelerines glacier as well of the hanging glaciers on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi.
The view from the lower viewing station up to the top where the cable car travels.

The view is simply spectacular. The small dots on the lower left of the above photo are climbers making there way up - the hard way.

Looking down at Chamonix and the valley below.


You could actually see skiers coming down from the top of Mont Blanc.

Tunnels joined the various viewing areas. There were lots of terraces to view from and it took a couple of hours to see all.

I couldn't have asked for better weather, but it was quite cold, about -4 c at the top while it was 20 c in the village below.

The above is a zoom taken from the same point as the photo below. Can you spt the climber?

It was interesting to watch the climbers ascend and arrive on the viewing platform via a ladder from the top of the cliff face a few meters below.

Can you see the helicopter lifting the skier up to the "launching point"?

This is the Bossons glacier as seen above.

This is the Bossons glacier as seen on the street in Chamonix below.

Some real post card perfect views!






  1. I think you own the world at the moment, Peggy.

    Once upon a time, I hoped to climb the north face of the Eiger in Switzerland. Now, I think I would be content simply to see it.

    Great photography ....

  2. Thanks Fram for your companionship on my adventure. It is nice to have someone to share these moments with.