Vacances Part 7: Chamonix

After Florence we were northbound to France once more.  In the old days the Italian-French border had border stations at mountain-tops on roads that were summit passes. My dad told me a story of how once he was driving from Italy to Austria with a case full of wine in the trunk.  When he got to the border station, the customs officials looked in the trunk, and they saw that all of the corks of the bottles had popped, the wine frozen inside.  What ensued was a merry ski vacation I’m sure.  Anyway, such debacles no longer occur, as the summit roads have been replaced with tunnels that burrow straight through the mighty mountainsides.  Now, this traversal method has its own set of problems.  A few years ago there was a fire inside the tunnel we went through.  In order to prepare you for such a crisis, the Italian government has printed up some nifty pamphlets with graphics that supposedly tell you what to do in case of a fire.  I will be the first to say that the stick figures that dot the page, running every which way, some wearing triangular dresses, some not, some half the size of others, some trapped in what appears to be an 18-wheeler on fire, some brandishing fire extinguishers, some sprinting up stairs, do not provide the neat, easy-to-comprehend-to-speakers-of-any-language set of instructions that the author and distributors of the pamphlet think they do.  The tunnel is long, and I tried to keep my mind off of the millions of pounds of stony weight pressing down on the ceilings and walls by imagining Snow White dwarves mining out the tunnel with their little half-size pickaxes.  We made it through the tunnel, feeling more like we had escaped Italy than that we were regretfully departing it, which is closer to the truth.  By this point it was nearly time to stop for the night.  There was an amusing incident where my parents saw a sign for ‘Hotel de ville’ and said, “Oh great, a hotel!” and I got to smugly inform them that ‘Hotel’ can also mean ‘hall’ in French, and that they were looking to make a reservation for the night at the town hall.  The next day was one for the record books.  We took a cable car up from Chamonix, getting a taste of what is usually exclusively for the eyes and ears of mountaineers and extreme skiers.  Of course we got to share this experience with a Japanese tour group who had never seen snow before.  This was made apparent when they all started freaking out throwing it at each other when we exited the cable car station.  The summit was bitter cold, but the views were absolutely of a different planet.  There was one point on the ride up where the car went over a support pillar and then swung forward, knocking everyone over and making me think that I would never make it to 21, but the puny wire carried us through the blustery wind and snow to the top and back, no harm done.

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Here we are in lovely Chamonix-Mont Blanc!                         Me and my sweet skis. I’m really into plummeting down snowy cliffs now.

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Spectacular Snow                                                             One brave soul making the descent. I’d say he was crazy if I wasn’t so impressed

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Yes, I was as nervous and cold as I look                                                                                  Observer on the observation deck

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Asian tourists frolicking                                                                               Spotted: Cap’n Brown navigating the enthusiastic crowd

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Mont Blanc yet gleams on high: the power is there, The still and solemn power of many sights And many sounds, and much of life and death. In the long glare of day, the snows descend Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there, Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun, Or the sunbeams dart through them.”

– Percy Bysshe Shelley
Mont Blanc