August 10 - Chamonix

Our goal today was to take the Aiguille du Midi gondola to an observation deck overlooking Mont Blanc and the Hellbronner gondola cross the glacier to a mountain top café in Italy, but the monitors at the gondola station showed that huge clouds had rolled over the summit. At close to $65 per person for the trip, we decided it would not be a good idea. Walking back to town we passed many hardy hikers headed to the lift, but most had ice picks indicating their trip was not just for the views.

Chamonix has a lot of activities for all types of weather. Since the sun was shining, we boarded a small cog wheel train for a steep ascent through the forest to Mer de Glace. The view from Mer de Glace is staggering. From the outdoor observation platform and café, an enormous glacial river of ice seems to be running down the mountain, but it is actually receding. The enormity of the glacier was somewhat deceiving. What appeared to be tiny moving dots were actually groups of hikers with ice shoes and picks.

From the station, gondolas take visitors down to an ice cave below. Astonishingly, whereas the gondola may have once ended at the glacier, today you must walk down an additional 300 steps to a steep pathway to the entrance of the ice cave. Along the way, markers show where the glacier had been as little as 20 years ago. The ice inside the cave is a transparent blue. As we wound our way through it, we couldn’t help but stop for a souvenir photo with a Saint Bernard.

Back on the train, we passed many hikers making their way to the valley floor. Huge glacial streams flow down the cliffs, feeding the torrential river below. The valley looks so pretty with wildflowers blooming everywhere. Back in town we strolled about until suddenly the skies opened up into a total down -pour. It might seem as if that would be disappointing, but the mountains covered with mist take on a whole different character. Looking up toward Mont Blanc, a single gondola dangles in place as if waiting for better weather.

Dinner tonight was at La Caleche. This restaurant has been in the same family since 1946. Eating inside is like eating in a museum. Antiques fill ever nook and cranny and include a bobsled , ice skates, and geographical survey map from the 1924 Winter Olympics held in Chamonix.

We started our meal with a warm ham and cheese tart served with a fresh green salad. The roast chicken with sage and herb ravioli which followed were delicious, but when the dessert was served, it was like a piece of art. Layers of crispy meringue surrounded vanilla and strawberry ice cream.

Tonight the rain pours on, but that doesn’t dampen our spirits. Tomorrow we are headed to Italy.


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