Tag Archives: france

Ascent to Aiguille du Midi

I awoke to clouds. Not a good sign. I took a shower and got dressed. Still cloudy. I checked the weather report. Supposedly it was sunny and would be all morning. Hmm.

I got a croissant and some “expresso” (as the menu said) and walked over to the tourist information office, but it was Sunday and they were closed.

Well, okay. My original plan was to go to the top of Aiguille du Midi, then descend to Plan de l’Aiguille and hike to the Mer de Glace glacier, spend some time there and take the train down. Then I decided I didn’t want to do a 2.5-hour hike in my Nike Frees, so I would do the mountain and the glacier separately with a multipass. If the mountain was clouded over, I would just do the glacier.

I walked to the cable car station to find out if it was going to clear up and decide which ticket to buy. I asked the lady at the ticket counter if it was going to clear up. This was obviously a very stupid question as it was clearly sunny right now, as anyone could see by looking at the webcam. Oh. So I asked for a multipass so I could take the train to the glacier. But the glacier is closed, she said. It’s closed? Stupid question #2. It’s closed for the season, as everyone knows. Thus my options all converged on a single point, and I bought a ticket to the summit of Aiguille du Midi.

Which was spectacular. I didn’t see anyone doing ballet on the side of the mountain, but the view was amazing. 12,600 feet is the highest I’ve been on the ground. The best part of Aiguille du Midi is that you actually take an elevator to the summit. I think that mountains like Everest and Kilimanjaro would be much improved by such an approach.

There were views.

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And more views.

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And a clear platform that was smaller than I thought it would be.

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The view from the restroom was just as good, and I could stand in front of the heater.

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I met a Filipino couple and we exchanged picture-taking services. (That’s Mont Blanc behind me.)

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The last platform I visited was up a long flight of stairs. I took the stairs two at a time, like I usually do. This was a bad idea at 12,000 feet. I had to stop about two-thirds of the way up and gasp for a while. When I got to the top, there was…a display on hypoxia. Clearly someone’s idea of a joke.

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While I was recovering, I read about what happens to your body at high altitudes. There was a little gizmo that you could stick your finger in to determine your heart rate and blood oxygen level. I had a little smiley face next to mine, so all was well.

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On the way down in the cable car, the people next to me pointed out a donkey on the side of the mountain below. I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo, but I’m sure it was Al.

For the rest of the day I just walked around Chamonix talking pictures, buying shirts (nice ones), eating, etc. Dinner was tapas and Irish coffee at a British restaurant and bar overlooking the river Arve.

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Tomorrow: Geneva and beyond.

See also: Chamonix and Mont Blanc.

Seborga to Chamonix

We departed Seborga at about 8:00 AM and I dropped off Lobo and Alcalde at the Terminal 1 Kiss & Fly of the Nice airport. There was no kissing, but they were able to fly anyway. Apparently the airport is flexible about these matters.

It took me awhile to get back on the A8, due to the strange and occasionally impossible guidance of the car’s navigational system. I was halfway up the mountain behind Nice before I finally got suspicious. I eventually made it out of the city through the selective veto process that had worked fairly well with Lobo’s GPS.

I managed to find my way back to the Starbucks in Monaco and got a Ristretto Bianco and wrote a post card to my mom. It already had Seborga and Italy stamps on it, but now I was in Monaco, so if I wanted to mail it, I needed a Monaco stamp. I started wandering around Fontvieille (in the opposite direction than we had gone before) and came across the Monaco stamp museum, which sold me a stamp and mailed the card for me.

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I walked around a little, then took off for Chamonix.

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I stopped for gas just outside of Monaco — 77.76 to fill the tank! Pulling out of the gas station, I nearly t-boned a Rolls-Royce. I wonder how understanding they’d be getting hit by an American in a rental car with Swiss plates. Probably not very.

But I made it back to the Grand Corniche and the nav system guided me through Italy for 4+ hours without incident, except for occasionally beeping to tell me that I needed a break. Like I’m going to take orders from a car. I did take one break to get a doppio macchiato and use the restroom at an Italian rest stop, but otherwise I ignored the break notices. Stupid car.

  • Final toll for crossing Italy: 50.10
  • Toll for driving through the 11.6km Tunnel du Mont-Blanc: 44.20.

The nav system became hopelessly confused once I got into Chamonix, and Google Maps wasn’t any better. The car has a British accent and Google Maps has an American accent, but neither one can pronounce French, and some of the streets they guided me to do not seem to exist. I finally gave up and parked, then walked around looking for the hotel. It took me about two minutes to find it that way.

Hôtel Le Chamonix is across from this church.

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The hotel is a creaky old wooden building that has just what I need and nothing more. My room is on the second (i.e., third) floor, but to go up the stairs I have to step over this dog.

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I spent a couple hours wandering around the village (which is bigger than I was expecting), had pizza provençale sans anchois for dinner, located the t-shirt place recommended by Lobo, and returned to encapsulate the day in this blog post.

Côte d’Azur Ramble

We decided to get an early start, and were on the road to Cannes by the crack of 9:00. Lobo failed to find the Cannes Starbucks mug he wanted, due to the fact that they had never existed, and then we wandered around for a half hour or so before finding a cafe/boulangerie to procure croissants and espressoses.

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This was across from a farmer’s market, where Alcalde treated us to fried zucchini flowers, which are a real thing that I’m not making up. He also bought some peppered goat cheese.

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That was the high point of Cannes. Then we drove to Nice. We saw some Brazilian guys with musical instruments discussing something with the local police. They appeared to come to some understanding and walked down the street, occasionally glancing back. When the police were no longer in sight, two of them started playing their instruments. The other two were apparently capoeiristas, and did flips and martial arts moves whenever there was a break in the crowd.

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We walked around and looked at things for a while, then looped around and ate lunch right next to where the capoeira dudes were, but they were gone. We can only hope that they stayed ahead of the gendarmerie.

We had some very good pizza, and we learned that when you say sans anchois, you pronounce the final s in sans, because you gotta do the elision before a vowel.

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Continuing down whatever corniche we were on, we discovered that the GPS that was built into the car was in fact not that hard to turn on after all, thanks to Alcalde’s quick-thinking techno-wizardry. So now we had three navigational systems to choose from. Lobo started to set the car’s GPS, then switched to the radio and immediately found the Village People. Then we started singing pop songs in Inspector Clouseau voice and things sort of went downhill from there, made worse by the goat cheese, which was becoming more aromatic by the minute.

But we made it to Monaco anyway, and eventually found parking and wandered around in an area that wasn’t really the area I was thinking of. Alcalde and I had a little trouble with a recalcitrant escalator, but we eventually outsmarted it. I bought some Gérard de Villiers novels that I can’t actually read, and we headed back to Seborga, windows open in a futile attempt to air out the car.

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Then we picked up some groceries at the market in Seborga and went back and watched Bride of the Monster and Night of the Ghouls. A day well spent.

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See also: Cannes and Seborga Day 5: Cannes, Nice, and Monaco (Again).

French Village Rambling

We sorted out our earlier confusion over the various French villages with their various ruins. Lobo was conflating two of them, I was conflating one of those with one other, and Alcalde was basically indifferent. Al, who was invited to come with us over and over again, was a no-show, and probably doesn’t even know where the Mediterranean is.

Anyway, we started out by going to La Turbie, which was the site of the Roman monument that Lobo remembered not seeing. This time, though, all three of us failed to not see it, as it is quite large and we had paid to get in.

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This is the Tropaeum Alpium, built in 6 BC to celebrate Caesar Augustus’ subjugation of the people of the Alps. Starting about 1000 years later, people started using the ruins as a quarry to build the surrounding village. It was restored as much as possible over the last century or so by painstakingly matching nearby stones, like a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle.

There is also a nice view of the Mediterranean.

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We got lunch in town, where Lobo insisted that we get some cheap sandwiches and sit on a bench overlooking the sea…right next to a nice cafe that had lunch specials.

Next we went to Èze, which is a picturesque twisty medieval village with a castle on top. The town has been conquered repeatedly throughout history, and we had no trouble conquering it today, after we paid six euros to go to the top.

There was a nice view of the Mediterranean.

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We took a somewhat indirect route to Roquebrune castle, due to certain people’s inexpert handling of mapping devices, but we got there eventually, and were thus able to climb another steep medieval place. This castle was built on high ground, as castles generally are, but as there is even higher ground behind it, it was not really all that defensible, and was eventually abandoned.

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It does have a nice view of the Mediterranean, though.

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See also: Ramblin’ Through La Turbie, Eze, Roquebrune and Seborga Day 3: La Turbie, Eze, and Roquebrune.

UPDATE: Al does in fact know where the Mediterranean is. He says: “You go to Alviso, face north, and make a hard right.” This is correct, and I suppose unsurprising given Al’s longstanding obsession with Alviso.

Monégasque Monday

After a leisurely breakfast, we went to Monaco with no clear plan in mind except for Lobo to get a Starbucks mug and then wander around. We parked in a car park (garage) right next to the Starbucks, which I think was the same one I parked in 16 years ago. You basically spiral down into the center of the Earth or until you find a parking space, whichever comes first.

But we found a space, and we got mugs, and we wandered, starting with the yacht harbor.

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We found some signs for the yacht show that had ended a couple of days earlier. They were just throwing them out!

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We saw yachts…

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…and a cathedral…

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…and a tiny police car…

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…and the palace, where we weren’t allowed to take pictures.

We were too early to get into the casino, and Lobo probably wasn’t dressed well enough anyway. And there was supposed to be a tourist information office that would stamp your passport with a Monaco stamp, but it seems to be gone. Still, Monaco is good place to wander around on a sunny day.

We left Monaco at around 4:00 and drove to Èze, which I remembered from the 2000 trip. Lobo had gone there a few years earlier, except that he didn’t actually go up to the castle ruin at the top. His wife and daughter went, but Lobo just sat in the car because he thought that his wife was just going to the restroom, and that his daughter had gone to look for her. He sat there for two hours until they came back and told him all about it. Seriously.

Anyway, he wanted to go, so we drove up there…and then he said he didn’t think that was really the place. Maybe it was La Turbie. So we drove there. La Turbie doesn’t have a castle, but it has a Roman ruin. The park with the ruin was supposed to close at 5:00, but it was 4:20 and it was already closed. I still don’t know if that was the right place.

But it was still a good day, and we drove back to the house and watched Birdemic: Shock and Terror, which made it even better.

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UPDATE: Of the many noteworthy aspects of Birdemic: Shock and Terror, the song “Just Hanging Out” is a standout.

Charles walks in with the beer and his baby says HEY DEAR!
Can you go and talk to Melvin, he’s making out at the pier
So little Susan hears the music then she starts to groovin’
And all the fellas jump up to see, how she is movin’

See also: Monaco and Seborga Mash Day 2 – Monaco.