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Swiss Family Johnson – December 28th & 29th Chamonix, and Goodbyes

Our time with the Johnsons flew by and on Monday December 28th it was already their last full day in Switzerland.  Our travels included medieval cities, train rides through the idyllic Swiss countryside, silky Swiss chocolate, and picturesque Alpine lakes, but we had yet to explore the one thing Switzerland is most famous for, mountains.  Throughout the whole trip we were constantly teased by the pistes far off on the horizon, so we decided the last day would be just for exploring the Alps.  As an added bonus, to cross another country off everyone’s list, we traveled just over the border to Chamonix, France in the heart of the Alps where the tallest mountain in Europe, (outside of Russia), Mont Blanc, could be found.

The day began very early for me at 5:30 a.m., because Monday also happened to be our laundry day that only comes around once every 19 days.  I was able to get four loads done before our travels, enough that I hope to avoid doing any laundry in the bathtub before our next laundry day.

As soon as everyone else was up and ready, we all made one last trip to the grocery store around 8 a.m., except for Melissa who was on laundry duty. I bought some pizza’s for dinner, Keith and Sandy bought Swiss army knives for souvenirs, and Janell bought more chocolate.  On our walk to the store we also stopped at the railway office in Renens to buy supplement tickets for Bjorn and Sandy into France.  The rail pass for the Americans covered the trip into France, but the European passes oddly did not.


Around 9:30 a.m. we were off, and our train again rode along Lake Geneva, through Montreux, but then veered into the canton of Valais toward the town of Martigny.  The name Valais comes from the Latin word for valley, and the Rhone river valley (where our train chugged along) is the main inhabitable area of the canton. On either side of us were the mountains rising high, though they were difficult to see through all the fog that had settled on the valley floor.  In Martigny we had just 4 minutes to catch our next train, the Mont Blanc Express, but we made it, no sweat.

The Mont Blanc Express was even more scenic than the previous day’s Golden Pass line.  It went up and up higher and higher into the mountains, giving us great views of the Rhone valley, snow covered peaks, and tottered along breathtakingly steep cliffs toward France. In the French town of Vallorcine we transferred to a French train, which took us the rest of the way to Chamonix.


Chamonix is very scenic and I was struck by how it was still quite dark and muted, even at noon, because the mountains are so high on either side.  Up until this point, the Johnsons had never had the chance to try real Swiss Fondue, so we spent some time lollygagging and looking around for a restaurant that served it for lunch.  We all shared a small pot of fondue, but most of us also ordered the plat du jour, faux filet, which turned out to be a sirloin steak and fries with a blue cheese sauce. It turned out to be an excellent deal, even by US standards,  at 12.50 euros, and was the first steak Melissa and I had since July.

When we had stepped out of the Chamonix train station on arrival, Kyle had spied a gondola going up a mountain and decided that we needed to ride it.  After lunch we walked to it and saw that it would cost 17 euros to ride halfway up the mountain, or 31 euros to ride two lifts and make it all the way to the top peak called Le Brévent.  We choose to ride both, and even convinced Sandy, who is scared of heights, to come along.


The first gondola was much like a ski lift in the US, except for being all enclosed.  It seemed like only four people or so could fit in at a time, and we weren’t terribly high off the ground for the ascent. Below us, however, were dozens of ambitious and exhausted hikers zig-zagging their way up along a trail to the top of the run.  At the end of our ride, we unloaded and walked over to our second lift, a cable car, and may have had a few second thoughts. The cable car that would take us to the top of Le Brévent was the size of a small office, that dangled on slack wires hundreds of feet over rocky cliffs.  We all piled on, and the shorter members of our party couldn’t even see all the way out as they were packed in the middle, away from the windows.

The view on the top was breathtaking, and we were blessed with perfectly clear skies.  We could see Mont Blanc and even all the way to Mont Tendre, the mountain in Switzerland that is near our apartment, 52 miles away.  The top of our peak was covered in snow, but the sun made it feel warmer than in the city below. It was so warm that people were lounging in lawn chairs, and only 1/4 of the ski runs were even open.

After about half an hour of gawking at the views we rode back down the way we came.  In the first cable car down, the operator joked, in French, that it was the first time in his 13 years experience to fit 30 people in the cabin at once… Melissa knew just enough French to be nervous after that! During our ride in the lower gondola, our cars abruptly stopped, and we all immediately figured that Kyle must have touched the walls again.  Fortunately, after only a 30 second – 1 minute wait (long enough to see an unsuspecting hiker below us relieve himself), we started back up and made it to the bottom all in one piece.

At the bottom we saw that if we hurried we could immediately catch the train back home. We made it back around 7 p.m., had pizza for dinner, then continued to chat and visit in between the flurry of packing  for the flights home the next morning.


The last day, Tuesday December 29th, started incredibly early and we all some how managed to pile onto the train bound for Geneva by 6:05 a.m. We spent that last hour chatting, and trying not to think about the rest of the day.  At the airport, everyone got their bags checked and tickets printed, and then we had a round of tearful goodbyes as everyone, except for Melissa and I, headed through airport security.


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