Today was stunning. I mean, the highest mountain in Europe. As a mountain lover, what’s not to like. And the cable car station was right in the middle of the beautiful town of Chamonix. Before the day even started I knew it was going to be good. It did not disappoint.
Let’s skip the boring bits of waking up, having breakfast on the balcony, packing our bags, checking and double checking we had taken everything with us. When you go up high in the summer, you need shorts and a t-shirt for the town, fleeces, gloves and scarves for the top and sunglasses for everything in-between. Not to mention, binoculars, cameras, phones and video cameras. And nappies!
I had searched out a car park near the cable car station. It had loads of spaces and was only a few minutes walk. In no time at all we were in the queue for the cable car tickets. It was surprising to see so many people here this early. But it was a sunny day, with only patchy clouds, so if you had been waiting to go up (especially since yesterday was completely clouded over) this was the day to do it.
Now for the price. I’m normally not really flustered by this sort of thing. Cable cars up mountains are an amazing experience, not to mention incredible feats of engineering. The level of safety and maintenance is unthinkable. Then of of course there is the experience of being at the top – glaciers, cafe’s, walkways, museums – all that good stuff. But sometimes you can’t still help feeling ripped off.
For our little family of 4 it cost us over £150. And that was taking advantage of a family / disabled carer reduction.
We got our tickets – quite a good little system really. You get your normal printed out bar code tickets, then you get these large plastic tokens with a car number on. You can then wander about until your car number gets called. Like taking a ticket at the deli counter in Morrisons.
We only had to wait about 15 minutes and we were in the cable car. It’s a bit of hassle with the pram, but we are used to it now and so are the staff. You get the normal looks from other passengers thinking “are they really bringing that in here”, “oh great, I’m going to get hit on the legs by that pram” that sort of thing. Then, within seconds really, you are lifted above the station, above the houses, shops and hotels and the views really begin.
The glacier begins to glisten, the valley sprawls out in front of you. The hustle and bustle of the town scales away and becomes model like. The clouds get closer and take on that candy floss look. The tree line fades away and the place becomes more and more barren. We are actually aiming for Aiguille du Midi – the view point overlooking Mont Blanc.
We reach the first stopping point where we have to get out and board another cable car for the final ascent. It’s already noticeably colder here and a great place to start taking photos. There are no queues here, it’s all timed so you get out of one car and only have to wait a minute or two to the next. There is still that mad frantic scramble though from the whole group trying to get photos in the best places, until we all realise we actually have time to chill out and take it slow.
Now for the next one. Things start to look tiny down on the ground, we can see right to both ends of the valley. The rocks are sharper, the ice and snow looks blue. We can see the top cable car station now and a really clear view of the top of Mont Blanc.
It’s all a bit of a scramble when we get out. This is what everyone is waiting for and all 40 or so people on the cable car are keen to get out, make their way to the view points or exhibits. We are the same. Sometimes you’ve got to remind yourself that you’ve got kids! But hey, where could they go – we are stuck on a mountain top. I’m sure they will be fine 🙂
First impression time – in 3 words. Freezing, vista, exciting.
The cold and wind bites at you. There is a bridge section that joins the cable car station area and the next part of the mountain together. It’s a perfect place for photos but it is exposed to the elements. We work our way through the inside of the mountain and queue up for a elevator that would take us to the highest point of the station and into the exhibit called “Into the Void”. A glass box that you can stand in. Underneath there is a drop of more than 1000 meters.
This is the longest queue of the day and perhaps the most disappointing experience up here. If there was hardly any waiting time and the time you were able to spend in the glass box itself was longer, it would be worth it. But we queued for about 90 minutes and spent less than 90 seconds in the box. I can’t actually remember being in it and unless I had photos to prove it, it would have felt like a dream.
Still, it was included in the price of the ticket and you didn’t have to do it.
We did manage to facetime Mam and Dad from the very highest point. Amazing really. And Marcus wallowed in delight lying on the glass walkway. People were freaking out around him and he was quite happy face to the glass watching the world go on thousands of meters below.
It was all very accessible, they even made a special allowance for a wheelchair bound adult who came up afterwards. And to be fair to the staff, they did everything they could to take your photo, make you feel secure in the box and have fun. I think that we were so conscious of the queue length that when we got our shot in the box, we rushed it. Lesson learned.
Now to make our way to the cafe. Back down the elevator, through the mountain, over the bridge and up above the cable car station. We’ve been in a number of these types of cafes now. They are much the same, however this one appeared to be the worst organised that I’ve ever seen. No clues as to where to order the food, so signs really telling you what the food on offer is. We settled for stuff and were told that was only for kids. Not very obvious or helpful. Still, the chicken pesto hot sandwich that I got was delicious.
Wendy ate half of her cheese thingy, wrapped it up and went and order the same sandwich as me. We shared tables with a older Chinese man. He was quite cute and clearly had the same trouble with us, or had just managed to order the most random combination of food on the menu.
At was at this point that Wendy started to feel rough. We have been up high before on a number of occasions and you can definitely tell that the air is thinner. I remember a specific time that I was carrying Marcus up a mountain and could actually feel myself struggling to get a proper breath, legs feeling heavy and head spinning. She was feeling like that now, dizzy, sick, weary. Most likely it was altitude sickness, or the half bottle of red wine with her sandwich.
Either way, she needed to rest and get her breath. The lady on the other end of the table was feeling the same, so they both spent the next 1o minutes with their foreheads pressed to the table.
We popped out to the observation deck when she pulled round. The visibility was stunning. We caught a glimpse of the Matterhorn in the distance – my favourite mountain. And probably the best view we have had of it – even after visiting it the year before.
Although there is not much to say about what you do on the top of these mountains, times seems to pass by quickly – we must have been up here about 5 hours now. We take our last few photos, drink in the views and feeling for one last time and then head back to the cable car. Good job we did as Wendys sickness kicked in again and she almost passed out waiting for the car. As soon as you start to descend though the feeling goes away and you feel right again.
Within a few minutes we were back on the ground looking up at where we had just been. Yes, you don’t actually get to the top of Mont Blanc and yes we have been higher before today (the cable car station on the Matterhorn is actually higher that this one) but this mountain definitely stands out and is one massive piece of rock. I would recommend it. Even at cost.
Now our attention turned to more earthly things – food and shopping!
Chamonix is a nice little place. I’m not really sure what I was expecting. It’s a typical mountain town – similar to Zermatt with its frescoed buildings, but not as old, and similar to other places to Switzerland but more commercialised. I think it boils down to a few main things – the constant mountain backdrop everywhere you look, tons of walking shops and hotels with balconies on every floor and room.
For the next few hours we wander, buying ice creams, McDonalds, sweets, waffles, nick-nacks and stuff. Eventually, we begin to wander back. There are only a few main streets here, but enough to happily keep you occupied for a while. A good mix of shops and interesting things to see and buy. And a view of mountains at every turn.
Back to the car, back home, games, beer and bed. Tomorrow – Switzerland!!!!