Our extended stay in Milan
had taken up all the time we planned to stay in Chamonix
; our next stop would be Nice
. Since both of us wanted to see Chamonix
we ditched Nice
instead. This turned out to be A Good Idea(tm)
The train only took us so far. When close to the Alps, we had to relocate into a cute milk train which moved along the ridges and overhangings of rock, passing over thousands of feet of nothingness and fog. Soon there was snow, and the treeline faded. I hadn't seen snow in years, so I raced to the window and stuck my noggin out... Someone yelled something in French and I felt the opening of the tunnel pass over the tip of my hairs. Pulling my head back in, I gazed out the window. Mountain goats, sparse trees and virgin rock as far as the eye could reach. This is what heaven would look like, thought I.
Having no reservations to speak of, we walked through town until we found the tourist center. Shamefully, we entered. The hotel was nice, five rooms in the entire building; ours had wooden walls and a balcony facing Mt. Blanc. $35 per person, I love this continent. We head out to explore the city and buy some fermented milk products and fresh bread. Lunch is held in the room, soon it is naptime.
The main 'tourist attraction' is a gondola which passes over Mt. Blanc and into Italy. We get up early to partake in it, getting off at the station on top. Hordes of people shiver in the frigid air, the windchill passes through layers of clothing, sucking out the life force. My numb hands grab some snow and make a ball out of it; Andreea threatens immediate death by strangulation if I project it at her. Oh well. We decide to try walking around, after reading and acknowledging the warnings we pass the tourist-holdings and follow the semi-marked path down the mountain. My hiking boots don't do much good in the snow, after a few steps I slide down the hillside. I realize that sliding down a hill and getting lost in the Alps would be too much for a monday such as this and head back up to the station.
It's only eleven, so we decide to hike down the manageable side. Hell, it took fifteen minutes by gondola, maybe it'd be a two-hour hike, going downhill at that... Hah. The path winds down the hill in a seemingly infinite fashion, past crumbled rocks and fields of rare flowers. It is beautiful, this life untouched... The village lies beneath us, cradled between the two massive mountain chains, stretched, like a river. The massive hike downward took five hours and turned my toes a nice shade of pink from hitting the front of my boots. Still, those were some of the most beautiful hours in my memory. The trees, when reached, were dense - only little light filtered through and created a patchy carpet on the leafs below us.
The town holds many culinary treasures, two of the most outstanding are located on the main road: a cheese and meat shop that carries almost exlusively local produce; the sweets store on the same street holds the best chocolate covered cherries anywhere. Now, I have had chocolate covered cherries before - but these had the darkest and finest of chocolate on the outside... a hard layer that unfolded on one's tongue in rolling swirls. Underneath was the brandy, which had mingled with a bit of the chocolate... the cherry was not excessively sweet, but saturated with the brandy around it. I'm not a candy fanatic, but it is incredible enough for me to write a paragraph about. Go figure. One night we decided to walk lengthwise through the town, leaving Chamonix and entering a small village which was adjacent to the east. Rustic wooden family homes and small cars lined the streets, children played with their dogs, barely acknowledging the fuzzy foreign couple strolling along. After half an hour we found a pond of sorts, where a mother was teaching her ducklings to swim... in the middle of this was an island crowded with a number of aspen trees. Nothing stirred around it, the country road was to our right, the small houses, asleep in the twilight, to the left.
While the city itself seems a bit touristy in places, the areas surrounding it are breathtaking in their quaint beauty.
When you go, be sure to spend at least a day exploring the forests around it - I've been on the Swiss and Italian sides, Chamonix is still the perfect alp town. Don't bother about reservations, we went in June and five respectable hotels had vacancies.