Monday, 22 August 2016

The Old City of Lyon

It's (gently) pouring with rain - cooler today too and we need jumpers. The beautiful Mont Blanc is covered with cloud - not a good sight if you are camping on the upper slopes. Many climbers spend up to three days camped on the Aiguille du Midi, waiting for conditions to be favourable, but they won't be going anywhere today.
We don't farewell my sister and b-in-law and their son - they sneak out of the apartment so quietly for their very early easyJet flight, we are still asleep. 

It's a short walk to the train station from our apartment. Its location borders both old and new Chamonix and although the rooms are small, I have no complaints about it except maybe a tree that blocks an almost perfect view of Mont Blanc. A full train. Somehow we slither into seats together. We stop at St Gervais for a few minutes to change trains, luckily it's the same platform, as our backpacks seem to be heavier. Another 'milk train' stopping all stations, before Annecy appears through the rain. We have almost two hours to kill here and eat our lunch on a platform seat. We find our train about half an hour before it departs but it is already full, this time with boy scouts and girl guides. It must be the end of the French school holidays because there are children everywhere. We climb the stairs to the upper carriage and have wonderful views of fields of maize, and sunflowers whose heads are bowed with the weight of their maturing seeds.
There are no services on board the trains, so I'm glad we brought at least water with us.

Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu is about two kilometres from our hotel, the Mercure Beaux Arts, which is in the centre of the old city. Our taxi driver rushes there, zigzagging between cars and buses, making me cling to the seat edge for support. What a surprise, our privilege room is enormous (for a Mercure hotel) and well worth $160/night (but meals aren't included).

 We spend the evening wandering through the old quarter of Lyon, a mass of tiny streets crammed with restaurants. We choose one at random because it has a French menu (many don't). Named The Winch, it doesn't sound French but the food is beyond delicious - we both have duck with fresh cranberries, followed by real crème brulee. Fixed menu for EUR26pp for three courses. I eat so quickly I forget to take photos.

Morning comes with sunny skies and we go out to find breakfast. There's a fresh fruit and veg market along the Saone river bank, so we munch on brioche and croissant. I drink freshly pressed orange and peach juice. The fruit is so enticing, if only we had more time to eat it!

Early morning walks reveal the best lighting for photography - and the city is quiet

We wander over the river Saone to find an artists' market and buy two paintings. I worry about bringing in wooden frames and select two that need to be framed. They are modern and very French.

At the top of the hill overlooking the old city is the Cathedral de Notre Dame. Mass is being said so we wait respectfully for it to finish. The wait is more than worthwhile. There's a heady mix of incense lingering in the air as the massive doors are swung open at the end of the service.

There's an enormous Roman amphitheatre close by, so we wander down the hill before taking the funicular train back into the old quarter.

Richard finds the statue to the author Antoine St Exupéry, who wrote The Little Prince at the turn of the last century - it's delightfully whimsical

And so farewell to Europe - it has been a wonderful holiday. I am cured of wanting a campervan to travel in (too cramped), realise that remote walking is more enjoyable than touristic, chic locations, and can't wait to take out my walking poles and boots for another walking holiday in England and Europe.


Friday, 19 August 2016

Our last day in Chamonix

The rain has passed overnight and we wake to a clear, sunny sky so loved by the paragliders.

Today we use our free bus/train passes to travel up the Chamonix Valley to Vallorcine. The passes were given to us on the first day, and are used to encourage every one to leave their cars at home or in the car parks rather than clog up the narrow roads to/from Chamonix. As we walk to the bus stop, we pass the patisserie - I make a mental note to call in on our return!


Somehow, the boulangerie isn't as attractive!

The bus is already loaded up with cyclists and their mountain bikes and we slither into a space at the rear adjacent to the bikes. At Le Tour, just beyond Argentiere, a special mountain bike track was built in 2014 and these guys are clearly dressed for the downhill experience - the bikes don't need pedals but they do need very good brakes. The scenery changes as we climb higher, more plateau and meadowland than Chamonix because it hasn't been built on. I can imagine how Chamonix once looked and wish I had visited a long time ago.


When the bus stops, we're only 2.3 kms from Switzerland (Martigny), so it is possible to travel from Italy, through France to Switzerland in a matter of hours by train. There are no cafes in Vallorcine, so we hop on the train back to Argentiere and find an excellent lunch café, Le Grenier. I have a delicious crepe filled with spinach and mushrooms - you only get a picture of the last mouthful because I forget to snap it before I tuck in!

The train departs Argentiere with us on board - it's clean, and definitely on time. Tomorrow we travel for 5 hours by train from Chamonix to Lyon - I expect it will be as good as this local train

We've missed the wildflowers, which are at their best earlier in the summer. But I spot some Flanders poppies, so bright and chirpy

The cornflowers attract some visitors too.

I'm intrigued by a woman sitting plucking stems from these chanterelle mushrooms - they'd be delicious in an omelette

And so back to Chamonix for the last evening - a quick stop to replenish stores in the local supermarket include a very nice Chablis. We have been spoilt for choice in wines. And not to forget the patisserie - after all it is our last night in Chamonix!
And I must add that Richard and I shared this tarte des fruits with my sister and her family, we didn't eat it all!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Le Glacier du Bosson or climb to Buvette de la Cascade du Dard

It's raining - a perfect day for another hike into the mountains. Today we choose a three hour hike to see close up the Glacier du Bosson, which runs almost parallel to the cable car to Mont Blanc. It's wonderful climbing up through the woods.


What a wonderful surprise to walk into a clearing and find the most delightful café Le Buvette de la Cascade du Dard, hidden amongst the trees - Little Red Riding Hood would have been comfortable there!

Lunch is a fondue - made correctly with a white wine sauce and emmental cheese melted in it. Yum.

Once upon a time (late 19th century) the glacier came down to Chamonix. Now it's less than halfway down the mountain and steadily receding.
A little higher up the climb, we come across another café - this one displays an old photo of men from the last century sitting opposite the glacier. Next to them, pinned to the rock, is some debris from a crashed Boeing 707 that crashed in 1966 but only found this year.

The local Alpine Museum in Chamonix is worth a visit - I see skis I used in 1963 and then those used in the mid-70s. How old am I? It's time for a cuppa.

A day trip to Aosta, the sunny side of Mont Blanc

Today seems a good day to take a bus to Aosta. It's sunny and our legs need a rest from the hike to Le Lac Blanc. We pile into a coach to travel through the Mont Blanc tunnel (built between 1957 and 1965) to Courmayeur. Entering the tunnel is strictly regulated and we wait our turn to enter.

Emerging into bright sunshine on the Italian side, I'm disappointed no one wants to check or stamp our passports. I argue with the cleaner in the toilets who refuses to let me in! Gesticulating and talking loudly in English helps and calm is restored.
We buy another ticket to Aosta and hop on the second bus. The road passes interesting villages with extraordinary slate tiled roofs - it is a regional tradition.

We reach Aosta and wander around - it is remarkable for its Roman ruins

The Cathedral beckons after lunch in a bar - delicious cheese and ham baguettes, followed closely by a hazelnut icecream. Australia doesn't know how to make good icecream I've decided.

We return back the same way. This time I'm watching the mountain slopes and notice the steep terraces - some for grape vines but some have fallen into disrepair. I'm not surprised - it really is very steep.