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.