1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcas-
9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!
Alpenglow from Chamonix

Journal From a Journey to France
Part IX: Chamonix (French Alps), Yvoire, Lausanne

Monday, 21 June 1999

We hurriedly pack up our things and clean out the car after breakfast. We bid farewell to Martin and to Vers, and head for Avignon, stopping outside Remoulin for diesel. We turn in the car and walk down the block to the train station. We buy our tickets and, since we have some time, buy drinks in the station bar and use their restroom (avoiding the pay toilets on the platform). We sit close to a TV which, ironically, is showing the Portland Rose Festival auto races. When its time, we move to the track, only to find that most of the trains arriving in Avignon around noon have been delayed 20 min. or so. Soon the delay is 50 min., and we park ourselves on the platform with our lunch, moving after a bit to avoid some rain drops that are beginning to fall. Its a good thing we have some time, though, to discover that the train is divided into two parts, with the front half going to Geneva, and the rear half being split off at Valence for the trip to St. Gervais les Bains.

Being late seems to foul up the schedule even more, so by the time we get to St. Gervais (after switching directions at La Roche sur Foron) we are even later, about 1½ hours behind schedule. Those of us headed for Chamonix inquire about our connection, and are pointed to a bus in the parking lot, as the clouds which have been gathering all day begin to rain upon us. Out come raincoats from packs of the 18 or 20 people standing around the bus in the parking lot. The bus is closed up tight with no sign of a driver. We head for a shop that is closed up, but which has a nice awning.

We have traveled through some impressive mountain scenery and the old town of Grenoble, but it all appears to be limestone hills nice, but nothing spectacular. Certainly not what one would have thought the Alps to look like. The hills around St. Gervais are more promising, though the peaks are shrouded in mist, only occasionally revealing a glimpse of snow. In the distance, one can see the highway elevated on a steeply inclined causeway skirting a cliff.

Eventually, another tour bus wobbles over the gravel parking lot and stops in front of us. We pile our luggage into the compartment and head for the mountains, some 20 km up the road.

After a half-dozen stops along the way, we eventually reach Chamonix. We glimpse alpine peaks through the clouds in the twilight as we find our way to the hotel. I had worried that we might not get the room we had reserved since we were so late. There had been no chance to call ahead, either. Lucky that we had been able to give them a credit card to hold the room! But the very British receptionist is quite gracious when we arrive, You must be the Blisses! and we dump our things in the room before heading out to look for dinner. We wind up in an expensive restaurant, get very mediocre food at high prices (a natural omelet turns out to be just plain eggs), and have to listen to the cash register next to our table.

Tuesday, 22 June 1999Chamonix from the street in front of Hotel 

What a glorious day! The clouds have parted and this really is the French Alps! Jagged, snow capped peaks and glaciers are spread out all around us. We march to breakfast to the strains of Beethovens Emperor Concerto, followed by Ennyas Orinoco, which seems to be the hotel theme song, Sail away, sail away, sail away ...

Stepping out the front door of the hotel onto the narrow street, a huge, jagged peak rises abruptly to our right. A suspended gondola car rises to its heights from near the center of town. This is the Aiguille du Midi, a peak which conceals Mont Blanc from view at this angle.

After walking around town for a bit, MB comments that the tourist industry seems to predominate here, but as far as I can tell, tourism is the only industry. Everywhere one looks are ski lifts, gondolas, and trams. Every shop in town is either a hotel, a restaurant, a souvenir stand, a mountain or ski shop, or geared some other way to the tourist trade. But it is a charming town, and very lively, considering that it is still the off season. And fortunately so, for our room, if available, would have been quite a bit more expensive, otherwise. We decide to stay another night here. I would like to do a bit of a hike today and ride one of the gondolas tomorrow. With some difficulty we bribe Gabriel and convince MB to ride the gondola to the Aiguille do Midi, but if we are to do it, we have to do it today before anyone loses their nerve. So we return to the hotel, arrange for another night, change into warmer clothes, and pack our coats and hats.

We are lucky to be here before the height of the tourist season, as the line for the lift is not too long. We squeeze in with 30 or so others, and the car eases out of the terminus, then begins to zip straight up the hillside, high above the trees. As we near the top of the ridge at 2317 m, the city disappears from view, and the peak appears above us. At the station, we transfer from the first gondola to another one which takes us the rest of the way to the top at 3842 m (12,600 feet) above sea level. It whizzes past rocks and ice. Yesterdays storm has deposited fresh snow everywhere, and ice crystals bloom from every surface.View 
from the Aiguille du Midi

From the second station, we cross a bridge to a tunnel bored in the summit. From within the tunnel, an elevator takes us the last little bit to the observation platform on the peak. The sudden ascent leaves us breathless and a bit giddy, not to mention cold. The thermometer measures -8º here, and we are glad to have brought our sweaters and coats. Even so, we take a quick look around the platform, and head back towards the elevator to the upper station.

As we wait in line for the next gondola, a crowd of elderly, apparently East European tourists pushes around us to get to the head of the line. Some of them are apparently on the verge of passing out, though its not clear whether this is more from the altitude or what they have been drinking (whew!).

At the middle level, away from the ice and snow and wind (as well as the loaded tourists) it is more pleasant to stroll around the alpine terrain and enjoy the incredible view of the valley below. It is good that we did not delay any longer, as the clouds have been gathering again steadily, and we can now get only occasional glimpses of the peaks above us.

By the time we get to the bottom again, it is 4:00 p.m. MB and Gabriel agree that any time they have to do something a bit adventurous, they can recall how frightening the gondola ride was, and consider that nothing else could be nearly that bad. (It is a sentiment reinforced a day or two after our return home, when we hear of a gondola accident in another French town near Grenoble which results in the deaths of all aboard. The fact that it was not a tourist gondola is of little comfort.) After recovering a bit at the hotel, we head our again to find dinner at a little restaurant advertising 100 omelettes. It also has pleasant outdoor tables, allowing us to sit and watch the darkening mountains, as well as the passers by.

Wednesday, 23 June 1999

The weather is clear again today. At the hotel, MB has found a brochure on the Jardin des Cinque Sens (Garden of the Five Senses) in Yvoire, a small French town on Lake Geneva. We head to the train station to see if we can get to their from here. The attendant speaks no English, but patiently figures out the train and bus schedules, consulting a variety of heavy schedule books. He sells us tickets to Annemasse (near Geneva) to connect with a bus that will take us the rest of the way. It appears from the brochure that ferries also connect Yvoire with Geneva and Lausanne, so we will figure out the rest of our itinerary from there.

After a fruitless search for an English guidebook to Switzerland, someone assures us the Switzerland is easy, so we buy lunch provisions and head for the TI to find information on a low-altitude hike from Chamonix. There appear to be many side trails leading to Petit Balcon Sud which, they say, is maintained for cross country skiing. It is, however, straight up the hills on the west side of town from the Le Brevant lift. Once we get up to the trail, though, it is nearly level, and a pleasant walk through the woods. We turn south along the trail, eventually coming out on another side trail back to Chamonix, not far from where we started. But in the meantime, we are afforded stunning panoramas of the valley below, what appears to be the entrance of the Mont Blanc tunnel, and the peaks across the valley. The lower gondola which we rode yesterday is a barely visible spot on the far side, and we never are able to see the gondola on the upper section. The spire at the top observation platform is clearly visible, though, even from the floor of the valley below. Back in Chamonix, we buy ice cream cones, and return to the hotel for a nap and to pay our bill, as we will be leaving early the next morning.

By 6 p.m., were back on the road again, walking up the valley to La Praz, along the Arve River. One part is little more than a long, straight irrigation ditch, but mostly it is a pleasant walk along the river, its banks carefully lined with riprap and shaded by trees. The water, like all glacial streams, is milky green from the rock powder, and rushes between the cobbled banks which contain it. Along the upper part of Chamonix, tennis courts and a variety of recreational facilities line the trail.

The Church at La Praz

At La Praz, we sit and enjoy the view. There arent many restaurants here, and the two or three that are open are not terribly appealing to us, so we head back to Chamonix as a tour bus stops at the square. Out comes a throng of Japanese tourists who set up their cameras on tripods en masse, taking a picture of the distant peaks with the spire of the village church in the foreground. The church is, indeed, a worthy subject. The spare stone walls are topped by a wooden spire evoking both the Alps and Russian Orthodox carpenter gothic.

At Chamonix, we return to the omelette place for a repeat of last nights dinner, though tonight we get to watch the shadows creep up the Aeguille du Midi, and the alpenglow touch the peaks as the moon climbs the sky above (photo at top of page). With the aid of binoculars, we are at last able to make out the cables leading to the top, but of course the gondolas are not running at this hour. As darkness gathers, we head back to the hotel. Tomorrow we must be up at six to pack our bags in a hurry, and catch the 7:37 train back to St. Gervais. From St. Gervais, we will transfer to another train for the ride to Annemasse.

Thursday, 24 June 1999

Were up early, and even Gabriel is ready to go well before 7 a.m., so we stop for coffee at a little bar across the street from the station. This is one of the few places open at this hour, but we have a front-row seat at our sidewalk table to watch the town waking up. Down the street, a workman is taking advantage of the light traffic to paint stripes on the pavement. Several parts of the downtown area are pedestrian priority zones which are closed to all but authorized vehicles. There seem to be quite a few authorized vehicles, however. At this hour, they are mostly shop-owners carrying merchandise to and from their shops. Being accustomed to driving over the low curbs separating the pedestrian zones from the traffic, they seem unwilling to pay any more attention to the cones protecting the wet paint on the streets. The poor workman seems to spend more time arguing with motorists than painting his stripes. The street-sweeper passes in front of the station, and passengers begin to arrive at the station in the crisp air of morning. It will be another pleasant day, but the dew still hangs in the air waiting for the sun to dispel it. What could make ones morning coffee taste any better?

The one-car train arrives pretty much on time from Martigny, and collects a strange assortment of mountain climbers and tourists. The train heads for St. Gervais down steep grades, across deep canyons with the glacier-fed river far below, through small villages and rugged terrain. Sitting with us is a woman from Tucson who is spending five weeks in France. At St. Gervais, we get out and onto the train for Annemasse, rejoining our friend from Tucson, who is heading for a yoga workshop in Montpellier, a college town on the Mediterranean coast, not far from Sete. We exchange travelers stories, including the best and the worst of the toilets we have seen, which we have begun rating with stars. (Gabriel is reluctant to approach any that dont rate at least three stars.) We certainly have noticed a different attitude towards public facilities in France, like the open urinal facing the tracks on a train station at which, thankfully, we did not have to stop.

At Annemasse, it takes quite awhile to find a functional toilet, but with MB and Gabriel defending our luggage in the station, I finally find one in the bar/cafe next to the station. The womens is broken, so I wait at the door for MB, then she orders three glasses of juice (39F) to justify our presence (probably not necessary). It turns out to be apricot juice tastes great, but Gabriel wont touch it, so we split his.

Annemasse, like so many other places, seems to be girding itself for the onslaught of tourists in July and August. Workers are busy planting fresh flowers in front of the station. Relieved and ready to continue on, I wait, seemingly forever, for an agent at the station who can speak English. He gives us directions to the bus depot, which turns out to be just across the street, but is not marked in any way thats obvious to us. Apparently everyone else just knows where the bus station in Annemasse is located!

It is another ordeal at the bus station to find out that the bus for Yvoire leaves at noon (which we already knew), and the attendant seems to imply that we pay the driver. But as the bus finally pulls into position, the driver tells MB that we need to pay inside after all. She does so as we stow our luggage in the luggage compartment. We sit in the front of the bus, enjoying a birds eye view of the narrow streets, the close passes with trucks, and the bus tailgating a motorcyclist, who is very uneasy about this huge bus on his tail. After several stops at small towns, the driver stops in the lane of traffic on the narrow road as he delivers a small package to a mail box, then goes into the boulangerie across the street, coming back to the bus with a baguette, which he stows across the dashboard of the bus.Les Flots 
Bleus - our hotel in Yvoire on the shore of Lake Geneva and Yvoire chateau

At Yvoire, he stops again in the middle of the street, opens the baggage compartment for us, and were on our own in a strange city. By now it is a bit before 1 p.m., and MB learns in a hotel that the TI across the street wont be open until 2 p.m. Actually, the TI is on the same side of the street and just next door, and it opens at 1:30. But we pile our luggage on a bench in front and take turns exploring the city a bit. We find that the Jardin des Cinque Sens is within the walls of this medieval walled village (yet another one!), not far from where we are sitting.

The lady at the TI finds a hotel for us a bit spendy, but as I observe so often, its less than we paid in Seattle, a lot nicer, and in a great location. In this case, it is overlooking the small harbor and Lake Geneva (or Lac Lehman in French), though our room is in the back, and the harbor is only visible from the bathroom window.

After a snack in our room, we head out to explore a bit, leaving the garden for later when it will be a bit cooler (we hope). So we lie on the grass next to the boat moorage, watching the side-wheel ferry boats come and go. Back at the TI, we inquire about making connections with a train across the lake at Nyon in Switzerland. The lady at the counter cannot seem to comprehend the notion that someone would arrive in Yvoire by public transportation, then take the ferry one-way across the lake just to get somewhere else (as opposed to going on a tour). She seems determined to find a way for us to get from Nyon to Geneva by train, then back to Yvoire. At least she seems to have grasped that we want to find a train station in Nyon. At any rate, having tentatively established that we can get a train in Nyon, we leave it at that and continue on.

The whole town, what there is of it, is developed to the max as a tourist town, and the large parking lot just outside the city wall is full. Tourist buses come and go, disgorging throngs of tourists. MB wants to find a restaurant outside the city walls, but we find nothing but suburban-style houses and another parking lot for the tour buses.

After a bit more exploration within the walls, we go to the garden, which is delightful. The caretakers drop their chores to chat with us and point out some of the plants. We loiter there until near the closing time of 7 p.m.Views of Yvoire

MB finds a scarf at one of the stores and we proceed to place for pizza and beer, which is a welcome relief from the scanty menus at high prices in most of the other local restaurants, which are confusingly plentiful here.

It is 8:30 by the time we get back to the hotel, where we find our door has been left ajar! Nothing seems to have been touched, and nothing is missing a puzzle. Perhaps when we left the key on its anchor (which seems to be the norm in France) they thought we were checking out and came to check the room. At any rate, I get out our combo-lock to put on the door tonight.

After MB does and bit of wash, and Gabriel has a bath, its bedtime for the travelers. Tomorrow we will worry about the rest of our itinerary.

Friday, 25 June 1999

Breakfast in the dining room again, but this time with a parrot who isnt quite awake yet. We decide to take the ferry on to Geneva, which would seem to be the best place to make connections. The first ferry to Geneva is at 12:45, so we leave our luggage at the hotel reception, and take a last walk through Yvoire. The city was apparently built around a house dating from the 14th century, although it is not open to the public. Most of the walls are crumbling, though the original plan is fairly clear. As we pass by the garden, the gardener, who is working across the street, greets us again and we stop to chat.

A bit farther on is the other harbor, a smaller area with pleasure craft on the outer jetty, and smaller boats along the shore. On the city side, a couple of guys are sanding the hull of a small wood boat. On the boat ramp, two large swans are defending their two young (goslings?). Little fluffy grey things, awkward on their feet, but already the size of a small duck. The parents hiss threateningly at a local dog, who decides to adopt us temporarily aw we sit on the jetty, then stroll along the waterfront away from the city. The dog is actually less obnoxious than some of the tourists who poke sticks at the swans.

As noon approaches, we head back toward the dock on the other side of town. The little store has not much in the way of fruit, and no chocolate, so we get a package of cookies and go collect our bags.

Our boat, The Italie, is part of a fleet of side-wheel boats that ply the waters of Lake Geneva. We park our things along the front rail and the boat soon leaves for the city of Nyon, across the lake in Switzerland. It is about a 15 min. trip to Nyon, barely enough time to finish our cookies, and from there the ferry continues to Geneva. In the distance, through the haze, we see what appears to be a tall white tower. As we approach Geneva, the tower turns out to be a huge fountain shooting perhaps 80 or 100 feet into the air. We slowly swing into position in the harbor, and the trip turns from pleasantly sunny on the water, to sweltering hot on the streets of Geneva.

MB has had the foresight to ask for directions to the train station from one of the deck hands, so we heft our bags and walk down the busy center of Geneva to the train depot. MB and Gabriel park with our luggage as I set out to get tickets for Vezelay. Passing the customs office with gates for people arriving from France, I realize that we have crossed an international border with no customs check when we got off the boat! In the station, nothing seems to be labeled very clearly, so it is not until the third try that I find the right information desk. There is a crowd waiting for service, and I draw ticket #494. Since they are on #480, I go to retrieve MB and Gabriel, who are getting a bit tired of waiting. We finally get to the information window, and after much shuffling and hunting for schedules, we discover that far from being a transportation hub, Geneva is a virtual dead-end. The best route to Vezelay would leave Geneva at 8:30 the next morning, and get us to Vezelay, by way of Lausanne, after 6 p.m.! It appears that Vezelay will elude us this time, since stopping there would leave us no time in Paris.Approaching Geneva

It appears that all routes lead through Lausanne, so with the help of another tourist equipped with a hefty timetable, we get tickets to Lausanne and decide to see what we can do from there. We have barely enough time to get tickets and board the train for Lausanne, however. Although the service is quite good, the next train would not be for another two hours, so we hustle to get on board.

After a short ride to Lausanne, during which the conductor observes that Gabriels ticket should have been half price, we stumble out of the train station onto the sweltering streets of Lausanne, and across the busy street in front of the station in search of a hotel. We soon discover that Lausanne is a very expensive city, at least near the train station. After a couple of inquiries at four-star hotels, we are referred to another hotel down the hill and across the tracks. For nearly $100, we get an attic room sans bath, toilet, or elevator on the fifth floor. The one window is a pivoting skylight on the sloping roof with a beautiful view of the railroad station platform. And since Lausanne does seem to be a transportation hub, the noise of trains arriving and departing at all hours is plentiful through the night. And without air conditioning against this heat and humidity, closing the window is unthinkable. Even with it open, we get little circulation, and it remains unpleasant all night.

Nevertheless, we are again relieved to be able to stow our luggage. At the hotel desk we collect information about events and sites in Lausanne, which seems to be a very interesting city with an incredible variety of activities and exhibitions. Even though our room is not particularly pleasant, it is strategically located, and another day here to explore could be fun.

Before leaving Yvoire, we had called our hotel in Paris to confirm our reservations, and to see if we could get a room Saturday night, as well. At that time, they had thought it would be possible, but asked us to call again at 6 p.m. to verify that. So we rest until 6 oclock when we make the call. We find that we will have a room in Paris Saturday night, so we decide to get tickets straight through to Paris tomorrow, instead of staying another night in Lausanne.

Saturday is market day in Lausanne, however, so we decide to take the 12:44 TGV, which will arrive in Paris about 4:30 p.m. This time it is fairly easy to get a ticket, though since we are buying our ticket in Switzerland, our discount card is not honored. Thus the return trip to Paris is a lot more expensive than anticipated.

Back up the hill from the train station, we find an ATM on our system to get Swiss Francs, and look for dinner. We wind up back at the train station cafe, eating tortellinis, curried chicken, and beer for dinner. They dont take plastic, so we spend our 70F for dinner.

The Photos: Alpenglow from Chamonix; A street in Chamonix; From the midway stop on the way up the Aiguille du Midi and from the observation platform at the top; Our hotel on the shore of Lac Leman and an outbuilding of the chateau; Three views of Yvoire including the Jardin des Cing Sens; approaching Geneva.

Text and photos copyright 1999 Meredith L. Bliss
1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcas-
9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!