Visitor season in full swing

The rack and pinion train at MontenversToday I just waved off Viv from the airport before getting caught in a huge traffic jam on the way back into Chamonix. In fairness, it takes a metre of snowfall for people over here to start driving like snails that have lost their way home. Significantly better than the idiots in the UK who seem to think that 2mm of snow qualifies as a blizzard and an excuse to drive their Chelsea tractor at 5mph. Usually right in front of me.

Anyhoo, Viv was last sighted by myself on Teeside when she put me up for a couple of nights and fed me too much food. Before that, we hooked up in Prague when I convinced her to have a few nights off from the day-to-day stresses of life in the UK. This time it was to be the mountains and (on the last day of her visit anyway) tons and tons of fluffy snow.

We went to the hotel where the staff had very kindly agreed to trial out their dinner service on us on the Tuesday night. Definitely worth the walk up – two bottles of Chardonnay, delicious chicken noodle soup, lamb and veg and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. This followed by a walk down to Bar D’up for a couple of beers and then oblivion as soon as we got in. I’ve not been so tiddly for some time!

Icicles at MontenversThe next day, Viv had already said she wanted to head up to Montenvers and the ice grotto. We walked up to the station, picked up our tickets (€21 each) and clambered aboard the regular train. This is one of France’s few remaining rack and pinion railways. Essentially it has gears on the bottom which mesh with a third “rail” underneath the train to provide plenty of grip as it clambers up the steep slope. It was standing room only (for me anyway) on the ride up which was hard work on the “downhill” leg!

The views from the top are amazing. We were lucky with the weather so we could see a fair distance up and down the valley, and down onto the ice grotto beneath us. Included in the return ticket is entrance to the grotto, the cable car to get to it, a small exhibition of natural crystals and a dinky “fauna museum” (collection of stuffed animals). We took the car down to the grotto area, but Viv left me to walk down the 300 steps to the entrance. She reckoned that wouldn’t be too hard, but getting back up them again afterwards would likely kill her, and I doubt her insurance would cover “death by step”.

I quite liked the grotto and took a video of my walk around it which I’ve posted on YouTube for you. It’s an impressive but strange size. One you enter it’s bigger than you expect… but once you’ve walked round it you realise it’s smaller than you hoped. Little “rooms” have been carved out with ice furniture in them, and coloured lights make it look all pretty. It’s actually carved into the Mer de Glace – the largest glacier in France. 40km2 and 7km in length is a lot of ice.

The grotto is created each year so is never quite the same. Workers called “grottus” re-carve certain parts each morning and ensure the grotto is safe to enter. This is to account for the ice moving constantly. Only 1cm per hour, but that’s still enough to require remodelling on a regular basis.

Inside the ice grotto at MontenversWe were up there for a couple of hours and I convinced Viv to accompany me to Midnight Express (of course) for lunch. Needless to say, the food was great and we nattered and watched some video before taking a walk. We popped by the office to grab a couple more films, then round by the leisure centre as Viv planned to visit the next day while I was at work. I’ve not been on point of principle – men must wear Speedos to use the pool. Ew.

Round the corner from my flat is a bar called La Terrace, and I’ve often heard music coming from there in the evening when I’m heading home. It sounded louder this time, so we investigated to discover that Juggernaut (the rock covers band who play there a lot) were doing a special set on the outside balcony. Pretty daring given the chill wind the necessity of fingers to play guitar. They started off playing to about 12 people, two dogs and a very hyperactive child. After 90 minutes or so, the crowd had swelled to something approaching 200 and most of them were singing the choruses. A great mix of tunes as well – Abba to Iron Maiden, strangely enough.

Back in the flat we watched the very entertaining Mr Brooks before narcolepsy (and wine) took hold. I had work early the next morning anyway.

Thursday was work for me and chill-out for Viv. She never made it to the leisure centre, but had a wander round the shops. Chamonix is great for this. I rustled up a rather tasty chicken curry for dinner and we ploughed through Mr Woodcock and Hitman for entertainment. Then that damn wine got the better of us again and all too soon it was crash-time.

An overhead shot at MontenversThen round to today. Overnight the snow we’d been promised for two weeks finally arrived. In droves. As I type this, it’s been snowing non-stop for at least 14 hours, with apparently no end until Monday. Great for sports (assuming the lifts are open), not so good for driving and transfers… Sunday should be entertaining, though I gather the snow will be lighter then. I feel sorry for the people transferring tomorrow as it seems a lot of roads are closed.

Well, roll on next week. I have two more visitors from Tuesday for a week!

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