Saturday, April 22, 2017

Tour du Mont Blanc: Les Houches, France

Tour du Mont Blanc – Getting to the Beginning in Les Houches, France – 7/9 & 7/10/16

TMB 2016: Less-Hooch-ez? Lay-Zoosh? How to Make the French Laugh At Your Silly American Accent, Episode 1

Travel itinerary:  Fly from Charlotte to Washington D.C. to Geneva, Switzerland.  Bus to Les Houches.  Walk 105 miles around a mountain. Trains to Paris. Return home flights from Paris to Washington D.C. to Charlotte. 18 days.

Packing, packing, packing.  I have a lot of gear – how much should I take?  Jim needs a lot gear – how much should he buy?  We won’t need tents, sleeping bags or cooking equipment, so going light, right?  Well… And how will we haul it all around on planes, trains, buses, subways and taxis? 

My tried-and-true backpack and Jim’s fancy new one, one small rolling suitcase, one duffel bag, and one string bag to assure we look like tourists.  Endure the requisite uncomfortable, middle seat, overnight flight to Geneva. Little sleep due to anticipation, excitement, nerves.

We arrived in Geneva at 7:40 a.m., quickly retrieved our luggage and began our long wait for our reserved 12:30 p.m. Alpybus to Chamonix Valley (I wanted to make sure we had time for transfer.)  We got our first a cup of coffee (Starbucks) at the food court and sat outside breathing that Swiss air with all the smokers, of which there are many in Europe.  We skipped getting Euros at the airport because the fee was pretty steep (we’ll find an ATM near our hotel). We finagled our way onto an earlier 12-passenger bus (11:00) and were on our way.  We’re in Switzerland!  Cute chalets! Snow-capped mountains!  And it’s hot! 

Alpybus deposited us at an intersection on Les Houches’s main street in the early afternoon. Not a soul stirring. Just a few doors down we found Hotel Slalom, our home for tonight and for the two nights at the completion of our trek (should we survive).  All doors were locked. A peek in the windows revealed a tidy, empty reception-desk-breakfast-room-bar.  

At the restaurant next door we inquired about the hotel’s hours, and the owner said (in that exquisite French accent that makes Americans feel… not French), “I shall call Stacey to tell her that guests have arrived.”  Back to the hotel where Stacey, a British expat, welcomed us and showed us to a lovely second-floor room with a balcony overlooking the street.  She mentioned that tonight is the Euro 2016 final football (soccer) match between France and Portugal and to expect noise all night if France wins. Either we will be too tired to hear it or we will be too wired to sleep.

After a quick freshen-up, Jim and I returned to the restaurant for lunch: the randonneur plate.

[BTW, a randonneur is a long distance endurance cyclist.] Here Jim learned how to say “it is delicious” in French: C'est délicieux. Adorable.

Rue de Bellevue

The corner market

La Ferme des Agapes
Drinking water.  We would see this many times walking through towns and passing by farms.

We found and conquered an ATM, got cash for the first two nights on the trek.  (The majority of accommodations are cash-only; failing to have the correct currency would prove problematic at one stop.) Low on energy, we returned to Hotel Slalom where we enjoyed an eyes-closed inspection of our room, followed by hot showers and a renewed purpose.  Time to pack FOR REAL for this monumental expedition.

All over again:  what to take and what to leave at the hotel?  Weather conditions on the TMB in summer can vary from hot and sunny to freezing rain and high winds - be prepared or be miserable.  I’ve had a starring role in this play many times, yet I still have the same stage fear of not having something I might need (aka want). 

So we packed until we were tired of it and ventured out once again into our adopted home town, this time to the Kitsch Inn for a beer, where we watched some of the football/soccer match on the flat screen with not-too-rowdy locals.  We left before the end and it was a quiet night (France lost).

“Life for two weeks on the mountain tops would show us many things about life during the other fifty weeks down below.” ~Benton McKaye

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