JUNE 8

Today was a travel day. We wound down the narrow streets of Annecy in the early morning remembering the streets as they were on market day. Shutters on windows started to open and a lady walked through the ancient arch as part of her day's outing just as women have been doing here for centuries.

We traveled by train, transferring at Martigny -  with our shoes on - and arrived in Chamonix around three in the afternoon.

The 4810 metre summit of Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain, watches over Chamonix. This snow capped wonder dominates the mountainous skyline around valley villages.

Shortly after we got settled into our room with its Mont Blanc view, the clouds tumbled over the mountain range and announced their arrival with a light show of lightening and claps of thunder. This happens often over Chamonix when the weather is particularly hot ... as it had been this day ... and it often disappears as quickly as it came.

JUNE 9

Our host and hostess are terrific people and since the other B&B guests left very early, we were able to enjoy a great conversation with Manu over breakfast. Manu was born in Brazil. When he was eleven he took French lessons in school which led to participating in an exchange program with France.  

He like it very much and looked forward to returning when he was older. 

Manu and his family immigrated to the US where he married Laurance and together they returned to France to make it their home. They now have two beautiful girls and operate their bed and breakfast just above the town of Chamonix.

His opinion of what we should do concurred with what Terry had already mapped out for us.   It would be a full day of sights, smells, touch and even taste.
The first thing we did to get a better appreciation of where we were, was to climb further up the slope from Chamonix and take the lift up the mountain. Chamonix sits at 1035m and the first lift took us to Planpraz at 2000m.

After taking some photos ... 
we climbed on-board another gondola which took us to the 2525m summit of Le Brevent. 

The day was sunny. We had prepared for cold and brought coats, toques and gloves but none were needed. We took pictures as though we had never seen snow capped mountains or snow before. After some fooling around we had some refreshments at the restaurant that overhangs the valley below.

The cable car took us back to Planpranz where we began one of the hikes that had attracted us to Chamonix. At the start, we made an assumption that came to light later on in our trek. Rather than being on the trail we were on a service road which took us on ups and downs rather than the sloping grades the narrow trail took while clinging to the mountain side like a goat path. 
Once we got on the correct path the vistas were beautiful both within the forest and looking out to the valley and the mountains that made up the other ridge, including the impressive Mont Blanc.

Along the way we picked up rocks for our grandchildren, Tavis and Tyler (Tyler is an avid rock collector). The rocks we collected are small and can be easily placed in the pocket but their grandpa found one rock that he couldn't put in his pocket so he climbed it instead ... 
maybe one day they can come to Chamonix and climb it together.

The path sides were dotted with tiny alpine flowers. 

 

About two hours into our trek we reached a ridge that allowed us to see our destination ... still about an hour away and across two rock slides.

On the largest of the slides they have built up vertical rock walls. Similar to building a breakwater to break up and deflect the damage caused by heavy waves, these walls are intended to break up and slow down avalanches. They built a slit within the thick wall of rocks to allow easy passage for those on the trail.

We were greeted at the terminus of the gondola, that would return us to valley floor, by a young Saint Bernard - very fitting.
Back on the valley floor, Terry was prepared to walk back to Chamonix along the river walk, but Sherrie said, "enough walking for the day." And so we waited ... and waited ... and waited for the bus.  Across the street a church steeple echoes the mountain's spires reaching heavenward. 
We had dinner at a sidewalk cafe. Near the end of our meal some people we had met at the top of the mountain that day sat at the next small table and we got into a long conversation as they ate their dinner. Our table had been cleared and our dinners well settled into our tummies by the time the showers warned of the oncoming rain ... again caused by the heat of the day. We said our good-byes and headed up the hill to our B&B. 

As we entered our room, only slightly damp from the weather, Terry announced that we had left the cafe without paying. When the French sit down at a cafe they are considered to have the table for the evening if they wish ... not like the North American way of "hurry up and leave the table we have customers waiting." And unlike the North American "here's your bill" as a suggestion to leave, the French waiters wait for the customer to request "l'addition".

Terry left immediately and headed down the hill as the rain fell a little more earnestly and by the time he was climbing back up the hill he had to take refuge under a tree from the torrents that fell .

 

JUNE 10

Today we ventured up the mountains on the other side of the valley ... but today we did it the easy way ... we went by train. 
This train, especially designed to climb the steep grades, is one of the last rack and pinion trains in France. As we climbed the first part we could see across to the mountains we had both ascended and descended in lifts and walked yesterday.
We were on our way to Mer de Glace at an altitude of 1913 m. Mer de Glace is the biggest glacier in France (the third largest in the Alps) - 11km long with a surface of 40 sq km and 200 meters thick. 
When we arrived at our destination and looked at the glacier it didn't seem that large at all. It actually looked like a gravel rock slide. On second look the little pebbles were actually boulders with people looking like moving dots between them.
This sea of ice, like all glaciers is constantly in change because of accumulation, mostly due to snowfall, and reduction because of melting. It is constantly moving under its own weight causing crevices and pockets of water.

The glacier's speed, although not discernable to the eye, is considerable. In the upper part it moves about 120 meters a year and where we were standing it moves about 90 meters a year which works out to be about one centimeter per hour.

To get a closer look we hiked for about twenty minutes down into the valley (rather than take the cable car). It was a pleasant hike and gave us a better appreciation of how massive this glacier really is.

As we got closer to the glacier surface we could see the blue carpet and boardwalk by the Grotto.
Many years ago tourists would come to walk on the glacier (which now requires the hiring of a licensed guide). In 1946 two brothers-in-law were given permission by the Chamonix authorities to develop the first tunnel into the glacier. Isolated for four months they built a tunnel 50 meters long, two meters wide and about two meters high. The results were modest by today's standards but the effort was much greater. Charles and George's efforts were rewarded. Tourists flocked to see this original accomplishment and were awed by the bluish ice and its natural beauty.

Today we joined the multitude of people still admiring the bluish ice and the accomplishments of those that continue to carry on building grottos in Mer de Glace - of course today with modern equipment it takes much less time to produce bigger and grander grottos. A new one is built each year and the openings to past year's tunnels can be seen "down stream" from this year's.

After going through the long entrance tunnel the grotto opens up to a livingroom with ice chairs, coffee table, fireplace (with clock) and piano. The next room shows a bedroom with a Paul Bunyon sized bed which leads to the kitchen and back to the livingroom.

Rather than hiking back up to the top, we joined others for a cable lift ride.

Back in Chamonix, we compared one of the earliest rack train engines to the one we travel in today.

  

JUNE 11

We took another trek above Chamonix but on a trail lower than the one we hiked on June 9.  This time we walked back to Chamonix (instead of waiting and waiting and waiting for the bus) on a path that runs along side the valley's river.  No journal entries but pictures to share with comments below. 

First part of the hike was up hill and up again and again.  Finally, it flattened out, undulating gently.

We picked wild strawberries ... they were small but their flavour intense.  Terry remembered picking them around Lillooet, but Sherrie had never experienced the exceptional morsels.

At one of the many streams Terry had opportunity to teach Sherrie how to drink like a boy scout.   The water was cold, fresh and sweet.  Delicious. 

Left our Bed & Breakfast

At another stream weaving through an Alpine meadow, we drank our fill again of the tasty, sweet water and filled up our water bottles. 
Near the bottom we crossed another stream that skirted a golf course and flowed into the river.
We looked up to the field (picture lower left) where we had filled our water bottles (note gondola). 
Along the way we passed some settling ponds where they are extracting the chalk from the river's water.  Still plenty continues down stream making it impossible to see below the surface of the fast rushing water. 
Along the side of the river, we stopped and spread out our picnic.  It started to rain and we made a dash to complete our journey.  When we returned to Chamonix, we took cover at an internet cafe and had our pictures transferred to disc.  

 

For dinner we partook of a traditional Chamonix dish having the main ingredients of  potatoes and onions.  Great food for winter workers but a little too heavy for summertime tourists.

 

 

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