Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chamonix Day 2: Scaling the Beast - by, Christopher

The morning of our second and final day in Chamonix was bright, crisp and clear. We each awoke feeling refreshed, revived and merry.

We rambled our way through the bustling town and took turns commenting on the picture-perfect scenes of storybook mountain village life all around us.

We broke our fast at a corner bakery, replete with treats too various to mention.

And after fortifying ourselves thusly, we walked a few blocks further to the end of a quickly-growing line of people.

These people (like ourselves) were waiting in line to purchase a gondola ticket. A ticket which would carry us 11,400 feet into the air.

As the gondola approached I took the opportunity to mark our passage.

We pressed ourselves into the crowded gondola with the eager crowd. In the photos (and in person) the gondola appears to be quite a stout and sturdy conveyance. But it's not so steady when it hits the bumps.

We unknotted and tumbled out into a vast, severe landscape unlike anything I have ever seen before. The mortal falls surrounding us on each side of that fragile outpost were shocking.

I felt a solemn awe, as if I were a gawker in a frozen hall of ancient titans.

No sooner did we step outside on a perilous and frozen balcony than did an exhausted party of three mountaineers drag themselves across a tiny ledge and past us. In fact, I think we spotted more mountaineers than tourists during the first leg of our trip.

Next, we boarded a much smaller 4-person gondola and dangled across a yawning glacial valley into Italy.

This final outpost in the dustbin of the Gods rose higher still. The air took on a thin and hollow quality while the view became richer in proportion.

Tim has made this very same trek twice before, but he seemed just as awed as he must have on his first visit.

Jan and Sarah overcame their mutual discomfort with heights and managed to tread a thin line between fear and wonder.

We walked the length and breadth of the outpost until we were more winded than we could believe. While we rested, we prevailed upon the goodwill of a resident of Kansas City to snap the shot below.

By the time we rode back to the first outpost, heavy clouds had rolled into the vicinity.

We crammed ourselves into another overstuffed gondola and bid adieu to Mont Blanc, the White Lady of France, and the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe. We didn't summit her peak, but we went close enough for our tastes.

We spent our last evening in Chamonix dining at an impeccable brasserie named Le Monchu on beef and bordeaux.

Tomorrow is Tim's birthday (the 29th) and he has cooked up a surprise for us in Interlaken that we can only guess. We've each have a theory. Jan thinks it's a helicopter ride, Sarah thinks it's paragliding and I think it's stomping grapes at a Swiss winery.

We'll be sure to keep you posted on the outcome of the birthday surprise :D

Chamonix Day 1 - by Christopher

We left for Chamonix, France (pronounced shah-mo-nee) at 9AM. We thought we had about a four-and-a-half hour drive ahead of us. At first, we were full of energy and humor. We found the following odd statuary scene nestled among the trees of a roundabout:

Strange sheep statue. Kind of looks like the artist caught it right in the midst of breaking its leg. But as we circled the roundabout we found more to behold:

Exponentially stranger sheep statues. Borderline creepy sheep statues. We snapped our shots and enjoyed a hearty laugh. It seemed that this trip would be a breeze.

But we made quite a few pit stops and then our GPS (which had done nothing but speed our journey along up until then) decided to take us on a scenic country tour. Where we became fully entrenched in a nasty snarl of traffic.

When we finally did make it to a big toll road, we chose the wrong toll line. Twice. We waited in one of them for twenty minutes while the RV two cars ahead gummed up the works.

We were pretty tired when we finally arrived in Chamonix six-and-a-half hours later. But the incredible beauty of the place was rejuvenating:

This is the hotel we would stay in for two nights.

And this is the view from our patio:

We were all so excited to have such an incredible view from our doorstep. Here's another shot of the scene just past the patio:

After Sarah and I took a quick nap, we headed into town to meet the parents (who had gone on ahead). Walking through the town at dusk was like walking through a postcard. Little shops made of dark wood and bustling villagers and tourists were around each turn.

We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant where we found (excitement!) authentic chips and salsa.

I ate tacos and everyone else ate fajitas. The meal was enjoyed with gusto by all.

After that we wandered the town for awhile, until Sarah and I found an ice cream stand that met our needs nicely. Hers was chocolate and mine was creme caramel. After that, the two of us made our way back to the hotel to catch up online where the parents met us later.

By the end of the day, I was grateful to Tim for pushing through the long drive all on his own and for such a gorgeous view at the end of the evening.



(Sorry these posts have to be so short and sweet. We're so far behind!)

Arles is a very cool French city - especially if you're interested in Van Gogh. Vincent Van Gogh came here in 1888 and painted over 300 paintings while living here. The ones you would know are probably Starry Night, Yellow Room and The Night Cafe.

All throughout town you can find easels standing on the spots where he painted his famous paintings. We found a total of 3 I think.

Sight of Night Cafe painting

Sight of L'Espace painting (hospital where Van Gogh went after the ear injury)

Postcards with other Arles paintings

Arles, we also found out, has the worst tourist train in all of Europe. The train left the tourist office, went about 100 yards down the road, then stopped for 25 minutes. We waited for a large group who had a reservation, and when they arrived, we all ended up four to a seat, smushed and stinky.

The train went nowhere special, and none of us were impressed.

We did like the town on foot though and found many things to enjoy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Vaison la Romaine & Roussillon

The next few posts will be confusing as far as a timeline, but I doubt you'll care.

On Tuesday we hit the towns of Vaison la Romaine and Roussillon, France.

The first town, Vaison la Romaine, had one of the most beautiful outdoor markets I've ever seen. Lots of fresh fruit, cheeses, lavender, clothes, pots and pans - we spent about 2 hours wandering through the streets and spending some money.

Roussillon is a gorgeous hill town also in the South of France. We all got a kick out of the signage in this town.

We did both towns in the same day and then went home for a BBQ.

Friday, June 26, 2009

French Fotography

Since we don't have wifi in our country house and I only have a second to write, here's a sampling of pictures from the last few days.

Click here to see the rest of the images.

More to come - next time from Chamonix, France.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

French Stoning- by Christopher

Upon the dawning of the first day in our country house, Tim and I made a sweep of the back 40.

I was quick to discover a long-forgotten and partially-rotted wooden pallet discarded in a nearby copse of bushes.

Tim and I had already begun tossing stones at a large tree branch. But we didn't really have a game on our hands until I found the pallet.

At first, we thought the object of the game was to toss stones and make them land and stay on the pallet.

Ah, but then Tim threw the stone that would change the game forever:

After it left his hand it traced a perfect arc in the air and crashed right through the board with a satisfying CRUNCH. We both got lost in a fit of laughter and immediately knew: the game had changed.

Before we knew it we were caught up in the non-stop action of French Stoning!

That was the pallet before we completely obliterated it with rocks and deadly precision last night. The bits that remain look like an exploded box of dynamite strewn across the yard.

So, you're welcome France.

Tim and I were more than happy to show up and create this exciting new sport for you. French Stoning is just our working name for it. We're sure you'll come up with a more interesting, difficult to pronounce name of your own. French wordsmiths, get to work.

And to answer your question, yes, we are keeping our eyes open for the next unfortunate pallet to cross our path.