France And Euro 2016 – Chamonix

Chamonix

If you’ve been following this blog, this is a continuation to my last travel post ( Link : France And Euro 2016 – Marseille). From Marseille, we headed to Chamonix. A small and beautiful town, near the border of Switzerland. One can opt for either of the two ways to get here:

  1. Take a flight or train to Geneva and hire a cab or a car from Geneva to Chamonix.
  2. Or one could opt for a car from wherever they are to Chamonix. The journey is about 515 kms or a 4 and a half hour drive incase you don’t take a stop in between. Being near the border of Switzerland, the roads are very scenic with snowclad mountains and lush forests.

The taxi ride from Geneva to Chamonix.

We opted for the former, all thanks to the Car Rental agency swiping our card multiple times and causing it to block instantly. Taking the train is slightly complicated cause you need to change trains, and take care of your luggage simultaneously. Also, since we bought tickets at the last hour, it was pretty expensive for us.

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As far as the train changes go, from Marseille we travelled to Lyon, and then changed trains from Lyon to Geneva, followed by a taxi that charged us about €300. The train takes about 5 hours to get you there, however it was the famous TGV that we were in, so that was another small experience added to this EuroTrip. And since we were spending a great deal of money anyway, we decided to spoil ourselves with first class tickets at an additional €25.

About Chamonix, it is something I would describe as a small village, not even a town.But surrounded by mountains, including The Mont Blanc; it manages to attract a great deal of tourists.

Evening and sunrise view of The Mont Blanc from our room.

We checked into “Des Balcons Du Savoy” which is a 4 start hotel at the edge of town, about a 7 minute walk from the centre, which is why it is cheaper than other similar hotels in the area. The hotel was comfortable, and the rooms very spacey. The highlight for us though, were the windows facing the Mont Blanc and the automatic blinds. You’re probably thinking whats so good about automatic blinds, and let me tell you; wanting to open the blinds right after waking up to get a sunrise view, or being able to control them from your bed after a tiring days affairs has its own satisfaction.

img_4700.jpgChecking in, we immediately set out to explore the town. It is a very cute town, with very small structures, not bigger than 2-3 storeys, except some hotels. A town that reminded me of my time in Whistler,Canada. Cafes everywhere, branded shops to shop from, sports stores to buy high-end trekking gear from, and countless restaurants offering a number of cuisines, bakeries and dessert houses. That macaroon tower had me swooning, despite never having tried one back then!

This place is like heaven for people who like outdoor sports especially cycling and trekking thanks to the enormous number of sports stores offering the most premium quality equipments. Things I’ve literally never come across back in Mumbai.

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There’s a small river that flows through the town giving you a DDLJ feeling (Every bollywood fan will get this!). This town also has a small casino, but the tables open only after 08:30. However, it only has roulette, blackjack and slot machines to offer. However it’s fun for newbies, as minimum bet starts at as low as €2.

A very important thing to note for people who do not have a lot of time in Chamonix is to cover the following things, as far as sightseeing goes.

  1. The Gondola for Aiguille Du Midi
  2. Train ride to Mer de Glace

Thanks to a lot of tourists and long queues, it takes almost a day to cover either of those. So its better to start off as early as possible and try to cover The Aiguille Du Midi first, since that is much more beautiful and time consuming.

The first gondola starts at 6:30am and there’s one gondola every 30 or 15 mins depending on the number of tourists. We took a gondola at 7:30 and went up pretty fast. There are a lot of things to do up there.

One of the stations, and a gondola for skiers. However, it was under maintenance when we went.

A few stations at different levels, to look at the Alps, with panoramic views, etc. There are a lot of steps to climb, from one station to another; however, the air above is thin which may get you exhausted pretty quickly. There’s a cafeteria at the top which serves good food. There are ample souvenirs in the gift shop, right outside the cafe. I haven’t come across similar souvenirs anywhere else so if you like something, you should probably buy it. There is also a gift store right outside the gondola station at ground level.

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On one of the stations is a glass cabin that is made, which overlooks the Alps. To get there, you have to take a lift that takes you from 3777m to 3842m. It is crowded above and we had a queue of about 10 minutes, however by the time we were done, the queue extended to over a 30 minute wait. All thanks to our early start to the day.

There is a separate gondola for anyone who wants to get a close look at the Mont Blanc (the one that was under maintenance) but there’s no other way for tourists to get there. There’s a path for all those mountain climbers and snow Trekkers so if that is something you’re interested in, and have experience in, you could get the necessary equipment and do it. It looked pretty fun, and partly dangerous/risky.

From there, we headed to our train ride. The train ride takes you to the Mer de Glace. There are again two ways to go there, first being the train and the second being a trek from Aiguille Du Midi.

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The Aiguille Du Midi gondola is divided into two parts, and the trek starts from the lower, or the first stop. After reaching Mer de Glace, one should take the smaller gondola to go towards the ice caves.

After the gondola, take the stairs to get to the ice caves. This is very tiring as there are a total of 435 stairs(counted specifically and specially) downwards to get to the ice cave and the same upwards to get to the gondola.

The ice caves are beautiful and something I haven’t seen ever before; inside with a lot of lights that are put up, don’t expect too much as the whole journey in the ice caves is about 5-6 minutes, however it’s something rare to see and hence worth it.

Inside The Ice Caves.

After coming back up, we took the train back to Chamonix. The rest of the day was spent in resting as the first half got too tiring and exhausting. In the evening we set out to see the town again. For those who want to shop, all the shops close by 7:30pm so adjust accordingly. The next day, we set out for some trail cycling and exploring.

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You can hire two kinds of bikes:

  1. A motored electrical bike.
  2. A normal geared bike.

I’d recommend the bike since its almost 1/5th the effort, and allows you to enjoy the scenery and not kill yourself, peddling over the hills. The trails are beautiful, going through the woods and across streams and rivers. We found a beautiful spot to take some really beautiful photos.

It was serene, enjoying the blue skies, the quiet with only the sound of the stream. One of the highlights of the trip. So very peaceful.

I hope you like this post. Feel free to like, share and subscribe to this website. I’d also love to hear from you via comments.

Thank you and regards,

The Travellothoner.

France And Euro 2016 – Marseille

Following our stay in Nice, we took a train to Marseille. The route in itself is mesmerising going across tiny beautiful towns and villages and then a long patch where it runs along with the ever beautiful French Beaches.

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It’s about a 4 hour journey. One very important thing which cannot be stressed enough is to know all the public transport timings if you don’t have your own car. Also these train stations/terminals are almost similar to small airport terminals and there are a lot of them, so its better to reach a little early.

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Coming into Marseille we checked into our hostel called Vertigo. The hostel was decent, but so very very convenient since we were at a 2 min walking distance from St. Charles Metro Station for local transport, and about 7 minutes from the main Marseille Station where people come in from other cities and destinations. After checking in, we freshened up and left for The Velodrome, to see the quarters between Portugal Vs Poland.

The Velodrome.

The stadium was nothing like I have ever seen. The architecture a masterpiece, the atmosphere electric, the fans half-drunk and fully vocal (especially the Polish). It was nothing short of glorious! It is easy to argue that even though Portugal won the match, The Polish stole the heart, with their constant cheering and energy. So much so, that a good number of fans were standing all through 90 minutes cause there wasn’t ample space. Something you see rarely in world football, but constantly in a Borussia Dortmund match.

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A Polish Section!

One highlight amongst the match was the monstrous foot stomping and banging of seats during corners, which literally got the whole stadium vibrating. Vibrant enough to be misunderstood for a small quake! This match was ten times more entertaining in terms of the overall atmosphere than the Italy vs Spain match that we watched.

The Segway Tour

An easy way to explore the city is to take a Segway tour through it. Marseille not being a humungous city, we were able to explore a whole lot through the Segway. We preferred walking to the next metro station, since it was just 15 mins away, giving us an opportunity to cover more ground, to a company called 21 Jump that has Segway rental services and city tours.

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It was a 2 hour itinerary, of complete joy and at 40 euros it was money well spent. Not to mention, riding a Segway in itself is too much fun! Most Segway tours that I’ve come across cost north of $100US so this was way more affordable and practical.

We saw a lot of places on the tour and went all the way up to the Notre Dame. This was us doing more touristy things, than traveller things, which if you’re a regular reader of this blog, would know the difference.

5 minutes away from 21 Jump is a big shopping centre, the only one we came across here. Filled with some of the best brands, most of them being super famous, but not being easily available; especially in India. Most of these usually run some or the other kind of discount throughout the year.

After shopping and window shopping to our hearts content, we came back to our temporary abode. Freshened up and left for the fan park for Wales vs Belgium.

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The Notre Dame

Most of these fan parks have their own electric atmosphere and the experience is completely different each time, thanks to the fans and the pace of the match. This one, was right by the Marseille beach, and what a treat it was to watch this sunset. I always tend to lose my thoughts and just marvel at this super beautiful, absolutely free gift of nature. Watching it in the hostel was also an option. Although the TV was what appeared to be from the 90s; the subsequent banter mixed with alcohol is nothing short of a fun night!

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A personal recommendation which I’ve probably mentioned earlier too, is that if you truly want to enjoy the hostel, try not to go in a big group as you tend to be involved amongst yourselves and not mix much and get involved in what’s happening in and around the hostel. Talking to and partying all through the night with strangers is a big upside of staying in a hostel.

Ps. The next time I am not going completely groomed to the T, so that I can actually engage and get a taste of the local salons. We came across a few really fancy ones.

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View from the trek.

On our last day in Marseille, we set out for cliff jumping. As you set foot into the Calanques National Park, there are around 4-5 different routes and spots for one to go cliff jumping. It starts at a 35-40 minute trek which can go as high as 3 hours depending on the spot you decide to jump from.

It’s essential to go well equipped with some food to eat, water, spare clothes, a towel and lots of sunscreen. There are absolutely no shops around to cater anything, except a couple of dudes looking to make a quick buck by selling you soda at thrice the actual cost. Also carry at least two sets of shoes (or buy a pair of diving shoes) cause you’ll find sharp edges and pointy stones in abundance, while scaling your way to the jump spot. In case you’re fine with the no-shoe approach, I can guarantee you a few small cuts, bruises and some bleeding, which only stings more as soon as you jump into the sea for obvious reasons. No biggie! I myself got several cuts while doing it all.

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The route towards the beach.

The trek route was quite unique and the view straight out of a movie; extremely picturesque in itself, going from a hill downwards with some stoned roads and some rough patches, with the magnificent blue sea right along the way. Its a long way, but the experience was worth every calorie burnt, every cut opened and blood lost. Also, you can choose your spot to jump from, ranging from around 10 feet to 50 feet.

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The two cliffs to dive from. A spot on the left side goes as high as 50 feet. There are also small boat parties going on in the boats nearby!

The whole process is super exhausting and if you’re ever in a hurry like we were, its just as torturous. Climbing up the rocks and into the sea, swimming back to the shore only to do it 5 more times is nothing short of painstaking exhaustion. The worst part was the trek upwards which we did not account for, while running around like maniacs. Mr.Sun too did us no favour, shining as bright as ever!

The whole experience goes for about 4-5 hours easily, unless you hurry a lot. The national park is connected by busses or personal cars. And if you opt for the public transport, keep in mind the bus timings since the frequency is not too high. You start off in a metro and then the bus to get here.

The Train and Bus Passes. They can be used in any public transport.

We came back dead tired, had lunch and simply crashed from the exhaustion. Woke up in the evening and set off for the fan zone. The atmosphere again was intense and similar to the last time. Half of our squad took a detour and went for a massage instead.

That was our last day in Marseille, as we set out for Chamonix next. Stay tuned and subscribe for my next post featuring our journey to and in Chamonix. And if you like this piece, feel free to like, share and comment.

Until Next Time,

The Travellothoner.

France And Euro 2016 – Paris

This one has been long overdue. I went to France back in July 2016 for the Euros. A classic example of sports tourism. Given the economics and numbers behind such events, it is not surprising the amount of bids a country is willing to make and the lengths they’re ready to go to, to host them. The numbers will simply blow your minds off!

In general, we began our trip with Paris and also covered Nice, Marseille, Chamonix and then came a full circle back to Paris. We also saw two matches :

  1. Spain Vs. Italy
  2. Poland Vs. Portugal (The Eventual Champions)

Paris

We landed at the Paris De Gaul airport. The airport in itself seems like a huge building with a lot of debris. Barely painted and in a way unfinished or a work in progress. I wasn’t able to conclude if it was under renovation or the idea was to keep it raw. The city itself being known for its beauty, would people really judge it based on its airport? Connected by a network of long escalators, and through immigration, we were in Paris. With the country to explore, some matches to be watched, some adventures to look forward to and the beginning of a memory which would last a lifetime.

Paris was the only city where we lived in a hotel. Although the best and the most cost efficient accommodation is always going to be a hostel (if you’re not travelling with family or want a certain level of privacy or luxury). Ours was a simple 10 minute walk away from The Eiffel.

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Standing in its supremacy, The Eiffel. The tallest structure in the city.

It is very difficult to spot large buildings in this city except certain areas where there are abundant high-rises. Most of the buildings are limited to 5-6 floors, which if noticed is quite evident throughout the city. The colour for each structure is also almost even, without any major contrasts. One will also find cute cafes on every corner of the street and all of them prefer to have more outdoor seating with a view of the city, than indoors.

After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we set out for what was the closest and the most obvious choice :

The Eiffel Tower

There isn’t much to portray in words if I were to give an extensive description of The Eiffel. It is beautiful, it is majestic and it is huge. However personally, I did not find it as extraordinary as I had heard from the people who’ve already seen it. I mean, movies always made it look like The Eiffel was capable of making you feel a certain way, but it didn’t actually. In some ways, it is as impressive to me as say The Macau Tower, which gives you an overall view of a beautiful city.

I don’t mean that as an insult or a knock on this wonder, it has it’s own charm. But you just expect more out of it, after all that you’ve heard and seen in the movies.

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But I have to admit, it is a symbol of love and at the end of the day, you want to visit this place with your partner because you just don’t want to be left out (and also, HOLLYWOOD!!!);

And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to kiss their partner under what Hollywood describes as the biggest, most significant and probably the most beautiful building in the city of love!!

Every romantic on this planet has wanted to live a scene out of those countless movies that capture this structure.

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View from The Eiffel, The Euro ’16 Fan Park.

At The Eiffel, there are 3 viewing galleries at 3 different levels, the third and the topmost level having limited tickets. I’d recommend one take a quick ticket and hurry up to the second level. From there, rush and grab a ticket and get to the third. That usually has a long queue and if you’re one of the unlucky few, the elevators might be under maintenance , which would lead to them shutting down the third level altogether (We were amongst the unlucky ones to have missed it).

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Place du Trocadero, view of the other side from the second level.

Irrespective of that, the view from the second level is breathtaking and it gets quite windy, so you might want to carry a cap or any other precautionary measures if you’re very particular about your photos.

A time lapse from atop The Eiffel

Sacre-Coeur

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From the Eiffel, we headed towards Sacre coeur. It is a church on the hill on almost the other side of Paris. Thanks to being on top of the hill, one can also see a great part of the city from here. There are also various live street musicians playing in the area and the place is always crowded. The place is surrounded with small gardens and lawns and it is also a place for the locals to go and relax after work.

View of Paris from Sacre Coeur

In every city, there’s always two ways to explore. The tourist way or the traveller way. It is very easy to list down some places and sights, see them in a hurry and get it over with. The other way is to actually try to walk around everywhere. Paris and the whole of Europe actually, their beauty lies in its intricate buildings and the streets and the people.

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The Louvre is the most-visited museum in the world, with more than 10 million visitors in 2018. The former royal palace is now the magnificent home of some of the world’s most iconic artworks (ever hear of the Mona Lisa?). Walking through the halls where Louis XIV once strolled (he lived here before moving to Versailles), surrounded by the most famous art on earth, is an overwhelming experience.

A museum since 1793, the Louvre exhibits over 35,000 artworks spread across 75,000 square feet, with a collection that sweeps from antiquity through the mid 19th century. The Louvre complex also includes the Tuileries gardens, which are dotted with sculptures and a lovely spot to take a stroll. A visit to the Louvre could easily fill an entire day (or week!), so preplanning what you’d like to see in advance with the help of the museum’s website is a good idea.

The Louvre is easily one of the top tourist attractions in Paris, and you’ll encounter crowds of all types coming through. Either start your day early in the morning with a timed ticket or go in the evening, when the crowds are typically lighter. The museum offers themed guided tours that can be reserved in advance, if you’d like some help navigating the vast collection.

800px-Paris_July_2011-27aAll the information below these forms of art is in French, so it’s better to know the language or take a machine translator. There are batches for entry to The Louvre every hour, so it’s better if you book tickets online and manage time accordingly.

It has 3 separate sections. After spending a good 5 hours in The Louvre, and hurrying through it, we left for The Arc De Triumph.

Notre-Dame de Paris

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Notre-Dame de Paris also known as Notre-Dame Cathedral or simply Notre-Dame, is a medieval Catholic cathedral of Paris, France. The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and best-known church buildings in France, and in the world.

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Notre-Dame de Paris was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress. A buttress is a structure of stone or brick built against a wall to strengthen or support it. And a flying is a buttress slanting from a separate column, typically forming an arch with the wall it supports. The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses around the choir and nave but after the construction began, the thinner walls grew ever higher and stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. In response, the cathedral’s architects built supports around the outside walls, and later additions continued the pattern.

Champs-Élysées

If you are one of those that thinks too highly of the 5th Avenue in New York, or Orchard Road in Singapore, this one is for you. Its easily one of the most crowded and touristic places in the city. It easily has the best, most branded stores to shop from. Its also the one where Tour De France ends. And connects The Louvre to Arc De Triomphe.

Arc De Triomphe

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The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, standing at the end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly named Place de l’Étoile — the étoile or “star” of the juncture formed by its twelve radiating avenues.

The Arc de Triomphe is accessible by the RER and Métro, with exit at the Charles de Gaulle—Étoile station. Because of heavy traffic on the roundabout of which the Arc is the centre, it is recommended that pedestrians use one of two underpasses located at the Champs Élysées and the Avenue de la Grande Armée. A lift will take visitors almost to the top – to the attic, where there is a small museum which contains large models of the Arc and tells its story from the time of its construction. Another 46 steps remain to climb in order to reach the top, the terrasse, from where one can enjoy a panoramic view of Paris.

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Photo Courtesy : paris-paris-paris.com

Italy Vs. Spain at Stade de France

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More than the match, it is the buildup to the match which was the most exciting. Personally, this was the first time I was going to see a professional football match live in a stadium, and had been waiting for it since months. The atmosphere was simply electric. We saw fans already picking sides and cheering right inside our hostel. The respective nationals out on the streets with their load of banter and cheers and jeers too. Some of them were all hearts and fun, and sometimes you could sense the rising hostility amidst the fans, like a cracker waiting for a spark.

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There weren’t any, or barely a few small ones which were managed by the police anyway. As far as picking the compartment in the trains went, one would have to pick carefully or they could end up with the wrong set of fans. Scary! After getting inside, the match was pretty one sided. The Spanish fans weren’t as vocal so Italy won that battle too! The organisers were courteous enough to provide for the match ticket as a pass for public transport.

Coming back to the hotel, we packed up; looking forward to our 6am flight the following day, to take us to the beautiful and amongst my personal favourites, the city of Nice.

Until next time,

The Travellothoner