Chamonix: Misadventures on Mont Blanc

When it comes to travel, the old cliché applies: you win some, you lose some. Though I’ve been lucky enough to win quite a lot of them this semester, Chamonix, a resort town in the French Alps, definitely goes in the “lose” category.

It all began with the train ride. First, my friend overslept, so we ended up leaving Geneva later than we had planned. Still, I thought, we can bounce back from this, no issue. However, I had not accounted for two specialties of the French train system: inefficiency and sloppiness. Perhaps it’s just jarring after months of riding clean, punctual Swiss trains, but the French rail experience leaves something to be desired. Our train from Annemasse to St. Gervais was a bit of a nightmare: children were running wild, trash was strewn everywhere (the amount of candy crumbs on the floor was out of control), and we suffered repeated, inexplicable “maintenance” delays.

Then, our train from St. Gervais to Chamonix was – again inexplicably – cancelled. There was a bus waiting to shuttle us up to Chamonix, so things seemed okay, and they mostly were. Our driver was a bit of a loose cannon though: less than two minutes after pulling out of the station, he made a sharp turn and grazed a signpost, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the man tasked with driving us up the mountain. He did, we noted, have the sense to take off his sunglasses before we entered a dark tunnel, so at least there was that. Responsibility!

We finally arrived in Chamonix, eager to fulfill our mission for the day: take the cable car (Europe’s highest) up to the Aiguille du Midi peak on Mont Blanc. We had a less-than-adequate map, and so – of course! – we wandered around town for quite a while in search of the cable car station. I thought the cable car was the big attraction in Chamonix, but the only people we seemed to run into were hordes of skiers, all of whom were utterly bemused as to where this fabled cable car might be. A special shout out to the guy who, when we asked if he spoke English, replied, “No, I’m sorry, I do not.” Okay buddy…but it kind of sounds like you do.

Eventually, we found the one snowboarder in Chamonix who knew what the hell we were talking about and gave us the directions we needed to find the cable car station. And so, after a morning filled with mishaps, our moment had arrived. We walked up to the ticket counter, only to discover:

The cable cars were closed.

Yep. Apparently, it was too windy that day. Apparently, riding a super high cable car in strong winds is not something you want to do. Apparently, it would have been wisest to check the internet that morning to see what the wind conditions were and whether the cable cars were running before we set out for Chamonix.

So…basically, we went to Chamonix and had nothing to show for it. We spent a few more hours in town, wandering around the streets, poking in shops, and having a fairly decent pizza lunch. Needless to say, the day was demoralizing and a major, major bummer. But, at least, the town of Chamonix was gorgeous. We were grasping for a small victory, and the picture-perfect alpine backdrop would have to be it.

And so, having accomplished almost nothing, we concluded our foray to Chamonix. It was a cute little town, but please heed my advice: check on the whole cable car wind situation before you make the trek, alright?

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