The little road trip that wasn’t

Learning from my mistakes, day 2 in Copenhagen found me: power napping in the gardens of a castle, drinking a cider next to a canal and watching the world go by, wandering and wandering through the city streets, and reading my book in the sun.  Okay, I also toured said castle (Rosenborg), which was filled with beautiful furnishings as well as the crowns, jewelry and ornament collection with included some amazing swords and ivory-inlaid guns (which I don’t condone but is amazing to see).  I also did a quick walk-through of Tivoli, which would have been fun with my son but doing rides alone is too odd even for me.  By the time I made it home at close to midnight, I was worn out and kind of glad to have that part of my week behind me.  That said, Copenhagen is a beautiful city and in the end, I’m glad I had my card so that I could easily visit attractions and had unlimited bus, train and metro access.  Paid for itself a couple times over.

And then after a few hours of packing on Wednesday, I hit the road and headed south, excited to be road-tripping in my car – which I adore.  I usually choose to take trains for distance and not put the miles on my car. Plus the train tends to cost less than the gas this little baby likes to burn!  So it’s an unusual event to be driving through 3 countries, top down and getting a sun burn as I go.

As far as road trips go, I was feeling a bit like a cheat calling this one.  Stuttgart – Chamonix hardly qualifies.  Except then I called my father-in-law about 30 minutes after leaving, and decided to detour to the Bodensee and visit him.  So did that, and after a couple of hours chatting and eating some snacks, continued on my merry way, arriving in the Geneva area shortly after 22:00. The drive across Switzerland was SO SLOW.  I went from speeding down the German Autobahn at 240 to trying very hard to keep my speed at a constant 123 (anything more than 3 km over the limit garners a very hefty traffic fine in Switzerland).  This was a very difficult change of pace, given the empty freeway ahead of me, my tired eyes and general readiness to reach my destination.  So the day turned into 2 legs with a stop in between, and total en route time of over 7 hours.  Starting to get close to qualifying.

After spending the night in my husband’s apartment, this morning was busy with re-packing and driving over to France for some grocery shopping.  I need food to stuff in my backpack for the next couple of days, and something to return to late Saturday night (or Sunday, if I end staying here longer).  Then back on the road, the car thermometer showing 38.5 C.  It is HOT.  And I am more thankful than ever at my splurge for the seat air – driving open without it would be unbearable.  Radio blaring, the wind racing through my hair and the engine roaring behind/beneath me, I had to shout and laugh out loud.  Can life get any better?

I crossed the border back into France again, raised the tempo to 137 (the limit’s higher and there’s more buffer given), and roared into the valley leading up to Chamonix.  At which point, I began taking notice of flashing lights and messages.  What does “A coupée” mean?  Literal translation I would say, “is cut.” Hmmmm.

No!  Please not!  I turn on the radio, push the traffic warning button on my navi, and sure enough – the road is blocked for some reason.  So I take the next exit, determined to find an alternate route.  Five km later, I’m sitting in LONG LINE of motionless vehicles.  We inch forward.  The sun beats down. The music on the radio turns to crap.  And, I decide, this now justifies calling my journey a “road trip.”  Half an hour later, I hear to my dismay that the freeway is now open again and they encourage all cars to return to it.  Would be nice, but we are all now stuck on choked side-roads with NOTHING moving and NOWHERE to turn.

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happy that I finally made it

Eventually – a long time later – I am back on the freeway and the last 30km to Chamonix are a breeze.  I easily find my hotel, double park and go inside to check in.  The guy behind the desk is the friendliest person I’ve met in days. We go through the pleasantries, check in, and instructions all in French until I can’t find a word and throw in some English. Without missing a beat, he answers in flawless English, and then returns to French again.  I am thrilled, and on my way to the elevators, he calls after me, “Et bravo pour le francais, madame!” With a smile, I head up to my room and as I enter, it turns into a full-fledged grin. I have a tiny box of a room but in the corner with windows on both sides, a cute furry blanket, nice bathroom,  Mont Blanc out one window and the surging glacial-runoff river out the other.

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Feeling alive and thrilled with with adventure once again, I head into town – and find that we are right in the center!  Again sporting my limited and rusty French capabilities, I shop for new approach shoes, since my previous pair entered a well-deserved retirement in Argentina in February.  I am shocked at how many people throng the streets.  The pedestrian zone resembles a salmon-run on the busiest day of the season, wall-to-wall with people jostling and weaving to move forward.  Maybe most disconcerting is that a lot of these people don’t look like they belong in the mountains.  The tourism in Chamonix is enormous, more than I ever anticipated, and the reason that those of us who really want to go mountaineering end up skimping on much-needed gear and guiding because the prices of hotels and restaurants have sky-rocketed.  But the town is teeming with life, and that’s exciting.

Two ciders, one red wine, a plate of pasta and a briefing with my guide later, I’m now back in my cute little box room and ready to call it an early night.  Tomorrow we have multi-pitch climbing and trad techniques on the roster.  The day after will be more intense technique training.  I’m nervous and excited and wish I had planned a whole week here.  Another travel lesson – be judicious in how to spend my money: quality of experience over quantity (of countries).  Not that I’ll stop tagging them, of course…

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Chamonix is as beautiful in the summer as it is in the winter
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My hotel La Vallée Blanche with Mont Blanc hiding in the clouds beyond
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someone didn’t turn up for a pre-ordered dinner, so the bar manager offered it to me for virtually nothing. It was great, the courtyard pleasant and the evening warm.
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