We caught the train from Lyon Part Dieu Station. It's a bamboozling place with a mesmerising array of alpha-numerical codes outlining not only which platform for our destination, but which part of the platform to stand on. Knowledge of process is assumed. It's difficult at times not being able to understand or speak the language - you miss out on a lot of essential information. Feeling like we had cracked the Da Vinci code, we got on the (right) train for the first in a series of three connections to Chamonix.
The trains here are totally geared to everyone who might enjoy all types of outdoor activity - hooks from on high to hang bicycles, racks for skis and backpacks. Dogs are allowed on the trains - it's great. Dogs are allowed everywhere actually, including restaurants - and people survive! Dogs should be allowed everywhere, in my opinion as they are an essential part of life.
We rattled away through the lush farmlands, fields of wheat, corn and sunflowers, fruit trees with elaborate netting contraptions. Not as many vineyards as I had expected - more farm lands and tiny, picturesque villages with their church spires reaching up from their centres. Rivers and streams became playgrounds for people cooling off in the unusually hot weather.
Just before we got to the end of one of our connections, a train conductor spoke to us, partly in French and partly in English. She used elaborate hand gestures to convey that the train would split in two in the next few minutes and the part we were on would end up in another destination entirely. We sprinted down the platform and into the part of the train that would take us to Chamonix, in the nick of time.
The last leg of the journey and our little red train snaked its way gradually upwards. We caught glimpses of the Alps for the first time, which was so exciting. Water cascaded everywhere - the snow melt.
We pulled into the quaint little Chamonix-Mont Blanc station and strolled down the main street of Chamonix. It has to be one of the prettiest little places I've ever seen. Chalets with window boxes of brightly coloured geraniums and petunias, wide open bright and sunny streets. Surrounding the town are incredible mountains, the summit of snow-covered Mont Blanc is visible. The glacier or Mer de glacé, tumbles down the mountain side. It is exhilarating to be here and take in such wonderful scenery.
We found our hotel, a last minute budget option which turned out to be an old chalet on the edge of town with mind blowing views of the snow capped peaks from our windows. We were very happy.
Chamonix is a joyful place with a youthful energy. Even the injured are happy here. While we had dinner last night, a young man hopped along, piggy backing his girl friend with a broken leg. She smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Another young couple literally skipped past our table, brimming with joie de vive. It seems there are an inordinate amount of broken limbs and knee compression braces here, the consequences of adrenaline sports.
The days are unusually hot with temperatures in the mid 30s. Everyone is out, hiking, cycling, paragliding - I've never seen so many paragliders in one place and I love watching them land. The town has a communal forest used by everyone and it has easy walking paths with shady pines and where wild strawberries grow along the paths. It is just a treat to be here. I would love to see it all in snow - it would really be a winter wonderland.
Chamonix has been a gorgeous place to kick off the next adventure: the walker's Haute Route. We will spend the next 12 days walking through the Alps, staying mainly in huts and occasionally camping. The itinerary for the walk looks challenging as we have never been so high in the mountains before. It looks more civilised than the GR20, though, with wine glass symbols dotted along our guidebook, denoting the many restaurant stops along the way. Where we feel too tired to climb, we will take the cable car option when available. We have purchased the three Swiss maps (at a steep price, but who knows? We may need to depend upon them, particularly alternate bad weather escape routes) to accompany our guidebook, after talking to the woman in the High Mountain Office.
We will pass through some amazing Alpine scenery and will no doubt meet a whole new group of friends and characters along the way. After recovering from the rigours of the GR20, we are looking forward to the next adventure - mainly in Swiss territory.
Day 1 is tomorrow and after a bus to Le Tour, followed by a cable car upwards, we will be ready to cross the Col de Balme, where we will have "a magnificent vision of the Monarch of the Alps (Mont Blanc) shining its great snow dome and sending long glacial tentacles into the valley" - sounds exciting!