I finally had a moment to take Andrew out to snap a few senior photos for the yearbook. He was a pretty good sport while we were there and I even got a few really genuine smiles out of him. It was nice that the park I had chosen was empty. We had the entire place to ourselves, which was awesome. It was a bit windy so I had to keep brushing his hair down but we managed. We had planned on going to the club to do some swimming photos but decided that it was a little cold for that so we wrapped up our session and headed home. On the way home he looked through the camera and had already picked out his favorites. It made me happy that he was happy with the photos. I really had so much fun spending time with Andrew this afternoon. I don't know what I am going to do next year when he is not here.
Emma had a fantastic cross season this year. She improved drastically from last year and was one of the fastest girls on her middle school team right behind Bethany (7th grade) and Lauren (8th grade). All of the courses were 1.5 miles. I wasn't able to be there for her first meet at Elizabeth HS since I was still in Switzerland but Grandma Anne and Grandpa Franz were there. This is the only meet I don't actually have her finish time. Luckily, I was able to be there for all the other meets and I was so impressed every time with how strong she looked. She ended up being ahead of girls that had passed her last year like her friend Mikayla and her Kokopelli teammate Eliza. Madeline loved being able to go and watch Emma run. She would say, "Go Emma Go." It was the cutest thing ever. Emma started her second meet with a time of 11:35 and finished her season with a time of 10:21. Her fastest time was during the 4th meet with a time of 10:12. I can't wait to see how fast she continues to get as she matures and puts in more time into her training.
Meet 1 at Elizabeth HS - Time unknown
Meet 2 at D20 Stadium - 11:35 (4th place for 7th grade girls)
Meet 3 at Palmer Lake - 10:44 (7th place for 7th grade girls)
Meet 4 at Air Academy HS - 10:12 (4th place for 7th grade girls)
Meet 5 at Ute Valley Park - 10:21 (3rd place for 7th grade girls)
Photo Above: Emma, Bethany, Lauren, Eliza
Photo Above: Avery, Ava, Niah, Emma, Mikalya
Photo Above: Mikalya, Niah, Bethany, Emma, Eliza
Photo Above: Emma, Mikayla, Avery, Niah
The leaves in our neighborhood just started to turn colors this last week and so we thought we would head up to our traditional spot at Mueller State Park to see the fall colors. It was kind of a hectic morning but we finally made it to the park around lunchtime. We took our normal route along the Outlook Ridge trail to the Raven Ridge Overlook where we laid out our blanket and had a nice lunch on the rocks overlooking the valley. There were some trees that had already turned colors but most of them were still light green. Even though the colors weren't as dramatic as when we were at this spot last year it was still a beautiful day to be together as a family. Madeline walked the entire trail to the overlook. She was so fast that some of us had to walk quickly to keep up with her. Peter found her the perfect walking stick that she faithfully carried the entire way. The rest of the crew played frisbee along the trail. For lunch we had hoagie sandwiches, grapes, cheese, cookies and Capri suns. Since Madeline was walking this year it was so fun to watch her explore after lunch. She loved to walk up and down the rock formations and through the little grassy sections. The teepee the girls had built last year with the fallen tree branches was surprisingly still standing. We weren't sure if some of it had fallen during the winter but it seemed to be right where we had left it. Madeline had fun sitting inside of the teepee and Abby spent most of her time playing in it. The boys walked down the mountain a bit to where they normally explore and Peter had loads of fun hitting dead branches with an enormously large stick. Andrew spent his time sitting on a big rock overlooking the views. It was a little hotter than normal and so we didn't do the Grouse Mountain Overlook this year. Still, it was fun to spend a few hours out of our day being together.
We were up early and packed for the airport. We set out to explore Zurich. We walked down the main banking street and found the most amazing little souvenir store. Too bad everything was so expensive! You could blow some serious money in a place like that. We then grabbed an Uber and headed to the Lindt factory for some chocolate indulgence. When we stepped out of the car, the air was heavy with the smell of chocolate. Sara was instantly in heaven and freckles started jumping off her arm and heading directly for the chocolate store. It’s hard to explain how wonderful Lindt chocolate is in Switzerland, but they must feed the cows cocaine because it is magical stuff. Magical. After spending unreasonable amounts of money on chocolate, we headed back to old town. We wound our way through back alleys and little shops. We walked along the river. We heard an amazing string quartet and heard the church bells chime one last time. The bells heralded the end of our Swiss adventure. We grabbed an Uber to the airport. We got our passports stamped and indulged ourselves in the Priority Pass lounge. We hopped on our Edelweiss Air flight. There were empty rows in economy plus, and because we had upgraded we each got our own row to ourselves, away from the noisy family and their kids screaming in economy. The service was impeccable. The direct flight was easy. We arrived in Denver and breezed through customs with our global entry cards. Traveling right is the only way to travel. Myisha greeted us at the airport and soon enough we were back in the minivan heading down the highway. We were excited to see our kids. Excited to be back home, but a piece of us will always long to sit in the crisp mountain air, eating chocolate and croissants and talking about nothing in particular while the mountains stand silently above us.
It’s easy to get up in the morning when you know that bread, cheese, jam, fresh juices and other wonderful goodies await you. We were up early because we wanted to be out on the trail and up the mountain early on the train in case we had some good weather. We weren’t prepared for what we saw after breakfast. We finished packing our bags to drop in the lobby, had our day packs ready to go, when we walked out onto our veranda and were completely dumbstruck by the site of the Matterhorn. It was giant and majestic as it towered over Zermatt with a commanding presence. It was hard to believe that the mountain had been there this whole time, shrouded from our vision by the clouds. It was immense. It was regal. It was the perfect finish to our long journey.
We rushed out of the hotel and over to the cog railroad to make our way up to the Gornergratt. The views from the train up the mountain were outstanding. With each turn of the cog the views grew more immense. More peaks. More glaciers. More expansive views! Soon we were above the clouds and the majesty of Zermatt was on full display. Any of the views along our hike were worth the trip, but this place blew them all away. It’s hard to even begin to describe the immensity and the grandeur that surrounded us. To be able to see this on a perfectly clear day was a great blessing. We road the train with a wonderful older couple from Palo Alto. It was fun to see how blown away they were by the views as well. We arrived at the top of the Gornegratt and ran like giddy kids on Christmas morning around the top of the mountain to take pictures and take in the panoramas. We were on top of the world and witnesses to the immensity of God’s creation. Everywhere we looked, we could hardly believe what we were seeing. The Matterhorn was just one majestic peak among the glaciers and precipices that culminate in this part of the Alps. It was awesome.
After spending time taking it all in, we hiked back down the Gornegratt to Riffelsee, where there are 2 lakes that reflect the Matterhorn. Picture time for Sara! Yelling at people to get out of the picture for Sara and getting a picture with a Toblerone in front of the Matterhorn was priceless. After a morning of visual delight, we headed back down the cog to our hotel. We gathered our belongings and headed to the train station. Riding first class is the way to go. We headed down to Visp, and then got on the bullet train to Zurich. It passed through the mountains, by Interlaken, and then to Bern. Soon enough, we had left the Alps, the pastoral side of Switzerland and were in the banking capital of Europe. It’s hard to believe that in 2 hours we were suddenly somewhere so far away.
We walked from the Zurich Central train station along the river to our hotel. The front desk clerk was from Portugal and was amazed that Mike spoke fluent Portuguese. It’s worth noting that everywhere we went, the service in Switzerland was amazing. It blows the service in America out of the water. The hotel overlooked lake Zurich and the old town. Dinner was a traditional Cordon Bleu and ridiculously tasty apple filled crepe with ice cream. How were we going to go back to America and eat normal food again?
Of all the places that you don't want it to be rainy, Zermatt is one of them. Fortunately, this was a down day with no traveling needed, so we enjoyed a nice breakfast (hooray for bread and cheese and fresh juice!). After breakfast we hiked through Zermatt and went shopping. It was fun to spend time in each store and find something unique for each of our children. We hiked through to the top of the town to the chair lift that takes you up to the glacier. There were people going skiing. Zermatt is one of the few places you can ski year round because they ski down the glacier. We ate lunch at a little coffee shop in a back alley and had Lindt hot chocolate and a Brie sandwich. It was pretty decadent. After a day of shopping, we went back to the spa and just sat around in the hot tubs and lounged around in the spa. It was great to have time to just do nothing. Too much of life is spent in doing too much. Sometimes, you have to just take time to do nothing.
After an afternoon of doing nothing, we headed out and had pizza at an Italian brick oven pizza place. Since Italy is just a short cable car away, the Italian food is pretty authentic and pretty good. After dinner, we ate crepes and talked with the guy who worked there who was from Germany, but came to Zermatt to work and to snowboard since you can board all year long. Sounds reasonable to me. We strolled back to the hotel in the rain and enjoyed a great nights sleep.
Gruben! No need to hang around here for long. Breakfast was early in the morning, so we got up, put our bags out, got our hiking stuff on and grabbed some breakfast. As soon as breakfast was over, we headed out and UP! We were one of the first groups out of the hotel and we hiked with speed up the mountain. We hiked up and up, and up some more. We had to go from the valley floor all the way to the Augstbordpass. The start of the hike was through beautiful pine trees that helped distract us from the fact that we were going straight up. We continued up and up through the mist toward the Augstbordpass. We were glad that it wasn’t raining. We came upon a heard of cows that were sneaking in and out of the mist. It was kind of cool to hear the bells and then see a cow pop out of the mist. The trail got steeper and we had to go up over some steep rocks. One of the annoying American couples was gaining on us, and we were determined that they would not pass us and beat us up to the top of the pass, so we huffed it. We hiked as hard and as fast as we could to the top of that pass and we beat them to the top. Suck it young, fit American couple with no kids!
The top of the Augstbordpass was very misty and we headed quickly down the other side into an avalanche of rocks. The hike down was ridiculously hard and crazy. I imagine the views on a clear day are spectacular, but hiking through these impossible rock paths in the mist was somewhat awesome. The trail was really quite amazing. Definitely don't want to fall off the side of this mountain. Eventually, after quite a long hike on the rocks, we made it to a little town up in the mountains. We came into a courtyard area with fountains and a pond. It reminded me of a scene from Legend of Zelda. We looked for treasure chests, but there were none that we found. It was starting to rain and we headed over to the cable car….which was closed. We deciphered the timetable and it seemed that at 1:00 PM it would open back up. Since everything in Europe closes during lunch, this seemed like a safe bet. Some other hikers passed through and were inpatient and started the 1.5-hour steep hike down to St Niklaus. We waited and were rewarded with an easy ride down the mountain to St Niklaus. The guy from Portland was in the cable car with us. It was so great not to have to hike down the steep trail (and it was ridiculously steep). We figured that one of the girls in the group that didn’t wait probably pushed the guy off the mountain during the hike down because he didn’t want to wait. Wrong move for sure. Plus, we got to see the drunken fat French guy running the gondola. He was one drink away from death. Good to know we were in his tender care as we moved down the mountain over impossibly steep cliffs.
In St Niklaus, we looked around the town for a few minutes and then caught the train up to Zermatt. The train ride up to Zermatt is so amazing. The German conductor guy wouldn't accept our transfer tickets, so we had to pay, but it was just so great to be on a train. We arrived in Zermatt and it was rainy. Zermatt is a big tourist town, so it was full of people from all over the world with their luggage and stuff. We were back in civilization. Just a few hours earlier, we were in one of the quietest places on the planet and now we were back in civilization with credit card machines, trinkets, and train schedules. Although it is great to be pampered, there is something wonderful about being alone in the mountains. We hiked over to the Hotel Ginabelle and plopped down onto our luxurious beds. It was definitely nice to be back in comfy beds compared to the Hotel Schwarzhorn.
Dinner was phenomenal and over the top. The Swiss take food seriously, and it was wonderful to have a great meal after hiking in the mist and the rain. Every hike we did on this trip was fairly strenuous. Wonderful food is a great reward for hiking over the steep passes between the valleys.
Breakfast was wonderful and we sat out on the veranda taking in the majestic views we were starting to take for granted. We left the Hotel Bella Tolla and headed up to the Funicular where dozens of hikers were eagerly awaiting the quick trip up the mountain. We were very glad to not have to hike up from St Luc. We hopped off the Funicular and started our ascent to the Cabana Bella Tolla. We decided to take a slightly longer route to the Medipass by going to the lakes and around. The thing that struck us about this part of the trip was that it was almost completely silent. As we got closer to the Medipass, there was absolutely no sound. No birds, no cowbells, no wind, no cars, no people. It was as quiet as any place we had ever been in our whole lives. You could spend all day here just being quiet out in the grandeur of the world. It’s amazing that something so big can be so quiet. The hiking was rather easy and a pleasant change from the immensely steep climbs of prior days. We made it to the Medipass and clouds were moving in so we ate some lunch at the top and then headed down the trail to Gruben. We had made it into the German speaking part of the Swiss Alps. No more pleasant French conversation, just harsh German that neither of us could understand. The hike down into Gruben was fairly steep and we were thinking that Gruben was going to be this horrible place but it turns out that Gruben was quite a delightful town sitting on a little river. At the hotel, we had ice cream sundaes on the veranda looking out to the mountains and the river. It was SO good. We both got our own. The hotel Schwarzhorn where we stayed was more like a hostel, then a proper hotel, but it was great to have a place to stay and the showers were warm. How people do this trip staying in huts is beside me. Hotels are definitely the way to go. The mailbox where we mailed our daily postcard noted that August 31st would be the last day for pick-up this season. Winter is coming!
Dinner was in stark contrast to prior dinners. We were grateful for dinner, but we missed the delicious food of days past. There were lots of hikers here because there were no huts so all the hut hikers and hotel hikers converged into one space here. We quickly determined that Americans are loud and mostly annoying. There was an investment banker from Portland that we said hi to….we would see him randomly for the next 3 days in different places.
A rest day! What a marvelous idea. Breakfast was not in the dining room, but rather in the 2nd floor salon. It was as decadent and over the top as the dinner the night before. All the usual assortment of goodies was found in abundance with the addition of crepes! The best part was the stacks of oranges that you could cut and then juice. There is nothing better than truly fresh orange juice in the morning. Why can’t store bought juice taste like this?!
After breakfast, we headed out into St Luc, grabbed some food for lunch at the Boulangerie, and made our way up to the Funicular. No one puts the fun in funicular like the Swiss! The Funicular takes you straight up the mountain in just a few minutes. It's hard to imagine a train going up something so steep, but it does, and it does it quickly. We hiked up to the Cabana Bella Tolla and took in the ridiculous views. Is beauty of this magnitude even legal? Form there, we came back down and went to the observatory where there was a large nerdy man in a Space Invaders T-shirt who just happened to speak perfect English. We were able to look through some special telescopes directly at the sun and see the corona as well as the solar flares erupting off the sides. We also learned what causes sunspots and could look at the sun through the use of other special telescopes. It was pretty fun to see. A little science can be fun, but not too much. We headed back down the Funnicular and to the hotel and spent the rest of the day in and around the Spa. We spent time lounging around the spa, got massages, and bought some souvenirs in town. In Europe, you have to be careful, because like Japan there are swimsuit parts and naked parts to every spa. Overall, the water pressure, the relaxation, and the food were welcomed changes from spending all day on our feet hiking over steep mountains. Dinner was again a delight of service and cuisine (although the mustard dish was a little much), and it was hard to believe that we had to leave this beautiful place for more hiking. Why can’t life just be like a perfect day at the Hotel Bella Tolla?
The hotel had given us a town venture pass, so after we ate breakfast, we headed up through the village to see if we could take the cable car up the mountain and then down into Zinal. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we hiked back over to the bus stop and took the Post bus over to Zinal to start our adventure. Fortunately, the hotel pass made the bus ride free as well. We headed further up the valley to Zinal which sits on the other side of the ski mountain from Grimetz. Since it was fairly early in the morning, we headed out of Zinal fairly quickly and up, up, up into the forest. The initial ascent was rather steep and we decided that the Swiss just didn’t have time to put in switchbacks, but probably should have at some point done that. The path followed along the path for a marathon that ends in Zinal. That would be one tough race. Once we gained the ridge, however, the remainder of the hike was fairly gentle and flat as we hiked the rim from above Zinal to the Hotel Weisshorn. The views back toward Zinal were ridiculous and it was hard not to stop and keep looking back toward the mountains. We met a family from Belgium on our way around and enjoyed the watefalls, eating chocolate, and the views. After a rather long hike, we made it to the Hotel Weisshorn where we had Fondue.
It turns out, we didn’t know how to eat Fondue, because no sooner had we started to eat, a rather obese French man sitting next to us came over grabbed a piece of bread and taught us how to eat Fondue properly. He mostly used gestures and grunts to teach us, until he discovered that Mike spoke French. At that point, he used words to do the instructing. Just watching his big meaty hands break the bread and dip it in the warm melty cheese was somewhat surreal. We would see him and his wife later hiking down into St. Luc. We will always be grateful for the random man who decided to put his hands all over our food so that we would no longer be stupid Americans eating Fondue incorrectly.
Interestingly, our waiter was from Portugal and Mike got to speak Portuguese with him. We headed out from the Hotel Weishorn with the intent of taking the Funicular down into St Luc, after all, we were pretty hammered from all the hiking. However, it was about 45 minutes to the Funnicular and 45 minutes to just hike down to St Luc, plus, the family from Belgium told us it was a pretty hike, so we headed down. It turns out, that it was a pretty hike and it was a nice way to end a long day of hiking with a leisurely stroll down the mountain. The weather was amazing, and the views wonderful. What a great place to be and a great time to be alive.
We made it into St Luc and hiked past the Funnicular station straight into a Wes Anderson movie at the Hotel Bella Tolla. It is hard to describe a place like this and do it any justice. It is a storied boutique hotel wherein everything is perfectly appointed and prepared so that you can enjoy a quaint and terrific day in the mountains. The staff were prepared for our arrival and knew us by name as we walked into the hotel. Our bags were waiting for us in our rooms with a bag of fresh fruit and a personal note from the host and hostess welcoming us to the hotel. What a great place to spend a couple of days. One thing of note throughout our trip was that the room keys in Switzerland are all attached to giant items. At the hotel Bella Tolla it looked like a peppershaker for Andre the Giant. Where do people put these giant-ass keys?
Once we had gotten ready for dinner, we were greated to a phenomenal meal that was more a celebration of taste and design than anything in recent memory. The décor of the dining room, the service, the presentation of the food were all over the top. The host and hostess came to each table, speaking fluently in several languages making sure the guests were not only well cared for, but felt that their stay was personally important to the hotel. It was a sight to behold and to experience. After dinner, we sat outside under the stars and a furry blanket listening to the piano music drift into the night sky. You could imagine that the stars in the night sky wished they could be so cozy and warm.
We were up early and ready for breakfast. Again, there was wonderful bread, cheese, granola, and fruit to get you ready for a day full of hiking. Heading out of La Sage was spectacular. The skies were bright blue and the mountains stood in brilliant contrast to the clear skies. We hiked steeply up through the farmland above La Sage. With each step, more mountain peaks came into view and it was hard not to stop and constantly be taking photos. We were glad to be in the trees for much of the initial climb because the climbing was tough and we got warm quickly. Soon more glaciers came into view and we arrived at a little collection of chalets on the side of the mountain. The path wound further up the mountain until we came to an amazing lake with waterfalls all around. We only had to hike through a herd of bulls to get there. It was a little intimidating! This part of the trail reminded us of New Zealand! We took advantage of the gorgeous view to stop and eat some cookies and enjoy a little rest. After leaving the lake we climbed steeply from there up to the Col du Tsate which is a pass at 2868 m. We hadn't ascended too far from the lake when we heard a boy scream at his parents because he couldn’t make it. Even in Switzerland, parents torture their children by making them hike in the mountains. We were tempted to yell back, "You can do it," but decided against it. With the lake in view we came across the most beautiful butterfly who joined us for part of the ascent. It landed on Mike's hiking pole and stayed there for quite some time. We loved our little orange buddy.
The views from the top were spectacular. We could see the lakes down below and began to see the Glacier du Moiry around the bend. We were excited to get down to the water! It was a steep hike to get down! As we hiked, more and more of the Moiry glacier came into view. It stood with its immensity at the top of the valley and was truly magnificent to behold. I don’t think we realized how many glaciers there were in the Alps, but they were stunning. The lakes were dotted with little flowers and we were glad to be off the steep part of the mountain. We had just missed the bus that went from the Glacier back down to Grimentz, so we decided to hike along the lake to the dam. The water was a rich copper toned color of blue that it was hard not to just stare at it. Looking back toward the lake with the the glacier in the background, it was hard not to be overhelemd by the grandeur of it all. The hike was quite long and our feet were quite tired. Sara had a close photography encounter with a cow, which was nice because it was hot down in the valley and the sun was beating on us. By the time we made it to the dam, we were spent. The thought of hiking another 2 hours to Grimetz was daunting, so we decided to take the Post bus down….and oh how grateful we were for that bus! Even with its snarky English driver. We took the bus down the impossibly steep terrain into Grimentz.
Grimentz was a pleasant surprise as it is an incredibly beautiful little ski town nestled on the side of the mountain. It was so striking, so fun, so pretty that we spent the rest of the evening just walking around and admiring the quaintness of this little village. Even the souvenir store was charming. We stayed at the Hotel de Moiry and had dinner there. The thing that struck us most was the guy standing by the fire with a block of cheese the size of a Volkswagen with a giant samari sword of a knife sheering melted cheese off the side of the block of cheese onto plates. It looked like liquid heaven. We had another wonderful dinner and walked back through the town getting pictures and admiring the views, the flowers, the neatly stacked woodpiles, and the quaint old cottages. We would spend the next few days here in Anniviers, and it would be well worth it.
A gentle downhill day to start! Or at least that’s what we thought. It turns out there is no gentle grade in Switzerland. It’s either straight up or straight down…nothing gentle about it. We awoke and had breakfast at the hotel (more bread, cheese, granola, and deliciousness!). From there, we headed out along the lake. There were lots of people fishing from the shore, speaking in French, smoking, and generally looking very European. We turned behind the Hotel Alpina and started heading down from Champex to Sembrancher. Our legs were quickly reminded of the many miles of steep downhill we had done just yesterday. The views, however, today were excellent. The clouds had lifted and we could see well the peaks of Valais. It was truly breathtaking. The trail followed mostly grassy fields down the mountain. Along the way, there were many benches that allowed you to sit, relax, and enjoy the amazing views. It was fun walking through little farming communities with their victory gardens, large farms, and quaint chalets. It was so green and so majestic. It was hard to take it all in. This place was truly a beautiful and pastoral part of the earth.
After winding down the mountain ,we made it to Sembancher. It was exactly 11:00 AM when we were supposed to meet our driver, so we hurried through the town square as the church bells rang out the hour to make it to the train station. We didn’t want to be late! Fortunately, we weren’t late….in fact, they had totally forgotten about us, so we sat around for an hour before calling the tour company. Eventually, someone called us back and 3 hours later, they came to pick us up. We got to go back into town and walk around a little more, down to the river, but it was Sunday, so nothing much was open. We did enjoy the vending machines in the train station, especially the pregnancy test called, “Maybe Baby”. Finally, a girl from Nampa, Idaho picked us up and took us back down into the central valley and onto the next valley to La Sage.
Unfortunately, we got to La Sage a little late in the day, so we decided to go for a stroll through the town and down one of the country lanes. La Sage is at the feet of a few peaks and is truly one of the most striking views to be seen on the planet. There are 2 peaks that sit right at the end of the Val d’Herens. They rise above the green farmland and truly blow your mind. It is so big, and so sudden that it is hard to imagine being around something so grand. These peaks sit in a backdrop of other peaks forming a little fiefdom of grand vistas. We took this time to go on a little hike through the farmland and made the bend toward the glacier that feeds the river that comes down through the Valley. We enjoyed the farmland and the little chalets and of course the ridiculous views of the mountains. We made it back to our hotel, Hotel de La Sage, in time for dinner. Dinner was magnificent and was punctuated by a chocolate mousse that we both inhaled so quickly we were sad that it was gone. The dinning room windows faced out over the peaks making the food taste all that much better because the views were so immense. After dinner, we got packed up for the next day and went to sleep.
We woke up early to make sure we had everything packed and ready to go. Our driver was going to meet us at 0800 to take us to the Col de la Forclaz which was our starting point for the hike. When we woke up, the clouds had not yet gathered and we could see form our room Mont Blanc and the peaks that surround Chamonix. Our room sat right on the river and it was amazing to hear the river, see the mountains and feel the brisk morning air. It made us excited to get ready to go on our adventure! We got ready and headed downstairs for breakfast. In America, the standard for breakfast at a hotel is plastic eggs, some cold cereal, yogurt, and maybe a waffle in the waffle maker. In France, the standard is delicious, fresh, amazing food. There was fresh bread, croissants, quiche, cheese, jams and jellies, sausages, granola, fresh squeezed juices, chocolate, pastries, and more bread. They even had extra baggies so that you could pack up your lunch. It was amazing. We then went upstairs and made sure our bags were ready for our driver to pick us up. The front desk folks were helpful as usual and then a young man appeared to take us to our starting point. We loaded into his little car and drove down through Chamonix toward the Swiss border. It was hard not to marvel at the sheer cliffs and steep grades of the mountins…surely we wouldn’t be hiking up anything that steep! It turns out that our driver served a mission in Italy and was from France. His English was impeccable. He was studying Law so that he could be a Police Officer and his wife was studying to be a Nurse. She served her mission in Gilbert, Arizona. The thing that cracked us up was that he talked about how his wife was working for our her parents this summer in their village. Wouldn’t you love to be from a village and work there….what do they do there, milk the cows and sing songs as they guide the sheep out of the mountain? Sounded a lot better than taking the train to work and sitting in a cubicle. We passed by Trient and soon found ourselves at the Col de la Forclaz, the starting point for our hike to the Hotel Du Glacier in Champex Lac. We popped out of the car and took some pictures at the trailhead and then headed down the trail at a brisk pace. We were moving! The trail followed along part of the trail used for the Tour du Mont Blanc and followed along a Bisse or little aqueduct that carries water from the mountains to the little towns that pepper the valley.
Of course, being excited, we didn’t realize that we took the hardway to Champex Lac over the Fenetre d’Arpette instead of the easy way up the valley. This ended up being great, because the views and the scenery were amazing. When we got to the end of the flat trail, we found ourselves at the base of a glacier and a beautiful river running from the glacier. The water has a milky white appearance and the thing that surprised us was just how much water there was and how green everything was. Everywhere you turned you could see waterfalls, lush vegetation and sharp mountain peaks. From the stream, we started to make our way up the mountain. The trail was amazing, hard packed dirt winding up through trees and stones that appeared like they had been borrowed from a Lord of the Rings movie. The weather was overcast and the misty mountains would stick their heads out now and then to remind us that we were small little dots climbing up formidable terrain. After a few miles, we came to a mountain hut that overlooked the glacier and the river. We sat on a bench and ate some chocolate and cheese. Some other hikers were making their way down from the pass and they looked fairly haggard and beleaguered. Undaunted, we continued our climb toward the Fenetre. The path grew steeper and steeper and it seemed like the Swiss didn’t believe much in switchbacks. Further and further into the mist we climbed until we made it to the pass. The views weren’t great due to the mist, but just making it to the top was exhilarating. It even snowed a little at the top. It was a steep climb! We could tell that this trip would be no joke. After a quick lunch, we started down the other side toward Champex Lac. We could see why everyone looked so destroyed coming down the other side….this side was steep and boulder filled! It must have been terrible coming up this way. We continued down until we were back amongst the trees and flowers. We saw a hiker eating huckleberries but didn't’ try any ourselves. We continued down toward our destination and made it into some area with some cows and came across our first Swiss electric fence. It was kind of cool because it was a solar powered battery that was attached to some line that was electrically charged. It looked like it was easy to move around and change depending on where you wanted your cattle to graze.
We continued down (it just seemed to keep going) until we came to a beautiful waterfall. After some pictures, we ambled into the lake town of Champex. It’s a little village / ski resort that sits on a pristine mountain lake. The water was so clear you could see everything in the lake. We found our hotel, with our luggage waiting at the hotel du Glacier. We ate a wonderful dinner filled with salad (watermelon southern salad to be exact), meat, and cheese and then went for a walk along the lake. We came back to our little hotel, talked with the kids, and then fell asleep. It was quite a hike afterall!
Travelling by airplane in the United States has become an exercise in shuttling humans as packed together as possible while nickeling and diming them for every little thing from their luggage, to real food, to reserving a seat. When I was a kid, flying was always a grand event. It’s lost some of the romanticism that used to go along with it. That’s not true in First Class. If people knew what was going on in First Class, there would be a riot. Seats that lay flat, Sax Fifth Avenue blankets, gourmet meals…even ice cream Sundays with hot fudge, strawberries, and caramel! It’s like you’re not even on the same vehicle as the rest of the people suffering in the back. You get off the plane and you feel rested, ready to go. Everyone else looks like they just had a 10-hour colonoscopy. The difference is staggering, but on the rare occasion you get to live it, it’s wonderful. Although we have both flown first class before, we have never sat in seat 1A and 1B…and we probably never will again….but it was really fun to be the first ones off the plane in Geneva.
Speaking of which, Geneva airport looks like it fell out of the 1970s. The 1970s will forever be known as the era where all construction should have been halted. It produced the ugliest buildings on the planet, with the airport in Geneva being one of them. Now the approach into Geneva was beautiful. Flying along the lake, mountains in the distance. But the airport is not much to look at. You deplane and hop on a little bus and then go into the arrivals hall and border control. Soon you are waiting for your luggage and then zipping off to find out that your van doesn’t leave for another 1.5 hours. Fortunately, the Geneva airport has many spots to get bread, chocolate, and other expensive and tasty things. We opted for chocolate (having just had breakfast on the plane). Eventually, it was time for the AlpyBus. We followed the guy out to the bus and then he took roll call….Michelle? Michelle? Eventually, Mike stepped forward and said, “Michael?”. He responded, “In France, you are Michel.” So it was and off we went on the bus to Chamonix with six other lost souls starting their next adventure in the middle of the Alps.
The drive to Chamonix takes you out of Switzerland into France and up the canyon into one of the most beautiful mountain valleys we have ever seen. After dropping everyone off at their hotels, we were deposited next to our hotel, The Grand Hotel Des Alpes. Right in the center of Chamonix’s shopping district, the grand hotel was indeed grand with a wonderful and helpful front desk staff and a view of Mont Blanc not to be beat. Our room looked like if fell out of a Victorian movie set and our balcony overlooked the Arve River. There was no time to waste, however, because the skies were clear and the Aguille du Midi cable car was just 100 yards from our Hotel.
From Chamonix, you ascend at a ridiculous pace and angle on the cable car with swoons of other awe struck tourists from all over the world. Interestingly enough, the Indian tourists were the pushy ones cutting in line and trying to squeeze ahead for some mysterious purpose. In the end, we all made it to the top and all got to see the amazing views of Mont Blanc and the valley below. The entire experience was much more grand than we could have realized. The first cable car takes you only so far, and then you change to a smaller car and then take an elevator to the top. It is ridiculously high and with each ascension you get another ridiculous view of the stunningly beautiful Alps and the overwhelming Mont Blanc. While waiting in line to do “standing in the void” (a glass box hovering over the abyss), Mike ran into some Brazilians and chatted with them for a while. Once the view and selfies and pictures were done, we descended back down into the now gathering clouds to go back to Chamonix. We walked around the town, which was fairly crowded with tourists and touristy shops. We did find a cool shirt for Sara that was for the Tour de Mont Blanc, which is an ultra race that goes all the way around Mont Blanc. The race looked well organized and seemed like something that would be fun to do at some point in your life. As always, its fun to see the butcher shops, pastry shops, and super markets which are so different than what we have and do in America. After walking around and looking in the various shops, it was time for dinner. Mike had made reservations at at little restaurant called Panier de 4 Saisons. It is a cute little restaurant well decorated with the feeling that you are in a well-appointed ski cabin. It was absolutely charming. We ordered the set dinner and quickly dove into the fresh bread. Everything was delicious and immaculate from the salad to the desserts. We both got the duck and it blew us away. You can’t go to France without having a great dinner. If only we knew that our gastronomic vacation was just beginning. From dinner, it was back to the hotel. Having been awake for a long time at this point, we were ready for bed…and ready for the next day’s adventures.