Fondue Savoyarde - beware........
Before you order this much hyped local dish, note what it is exactly:
A bowl of melted cheese, accompanied by dry bread crumbs !!
22 Euro per person at Le Caleche in Chamonix centre.
- no meat
- no vegetables
- no salad
- nothing else.
We sat 5 minutes waiting for the other fondue items to arrive, before realising this was it !!
The sauce is good, but without anything else it is like a nice pepper sauce, but no steak. It quickly becomes boring.......
Order the raclette, is our best advice. It comes with side dishes.
- Food and Dining
Don't remain in dry river beds
When hiking in the mountains, many falls (often they are dry) will cross your walking path. Sometimes these falls can be quite large and covered with rolling stones. Don't remain too long in these areas. There are several dams higher in the mountains. These have automatic valvels, which can open at any time. The hiker risks to get swept away in a sudden avalanche of water. Many warning signs will remind the hiker to be careful.
- Hiking and Walking
The local train is powered with electricity, but instead of having an overhead electrical line, which is the usual way with trains, it has a third rail to supply the power. The “third rail” is a rigid conductor that runs alongside the track (as you can see in my picture) and is very common in underground trains. The Tube in London and the Metro in Paris, for instance, use this system.
The problem is that the railway track of the Chamonix train is not segregated as that of an underground train. On the contrary, there are many level crossings and at the small stations near Chamonix passengers are supposed to cross the rails because there are no subways. In such places there are gaps of several metres in the third rail, so there is no risk of touching it by mistake. No risk if people behave sensibly.
At every level crossing, at the ends of each gap in the third rail, there are signs to warn about this danger. However, it is not difficult for me to figure out drunk people walking along the rail track “for fun”, especially at night when there are no trains. Don’t do it! You would risk your life.
Bad weather on the Aiguille du Midi
Sometimes when clouded in the valley, the sky is clear above the clouds, on the higher peaks.
But...snow in August can also be this: (see photo taken on August 9 2007)
Cable cars go up to the Aiguille du Midi, but you see nothing but snow. No Mont Blanc, no mountains, nothing but a single rock. Still it's an enjoyable trip.
I included a second photo of the same lone rock in the background during sunny weather, so you'd know what is behind the clouds.
- Mountain Climbing
- Adventure Travel
Studying French in Chamonix at INSTED
During my junior year of college, I decided to spend a semester in France skiing and studying French language. I saw that a Swedish program named INSTED ran a language school in the famous ski resort town of Chamonix, and I enrolled for a semester.
My experiences have been mixed. Chamonix is fantastic; it's a great place to ski and live. INSTED, however, turned out to be a shoestring/storefront operation. Although it claims to be associated with a French university, its headquarters are in Sweden and it is run out of a small storefront in Chamonix. On its website, INSTED promises that classes are tailored to the student's ability level and limited to 20 students. During the time I was there, the classes were frequently larger. I liked my professor and the other students, many of whom were Swedish, but the class was too slow for my level. I took high school French and am by no means fluent, but the class was aimed much more at beginners. All the students were divided into two groups and mine was supposed to be more advanced. So the educational part was not so good for me.
INSTED also provides accommodations, apartments for the semester. I chose a shared apartment with a private bedroom. When I got to me apartment, though, I found a shared bedroom with someone already in it. It has turned out fine to share the bedroom but my parents paid over 1000 euros extra for it. When they asked INSTED for a refund, INSTED refused. So I don't know about trusting the program with your money.
I'd definitely recommend spending a semester skiing the Alps, and I'd definitely recommend Chamonix. INSTED, however, didn't keep its promises.
- Study Abroad
Snow on the Summer trails
Depending from the weather conditions during Spring season, there can still be a lot of snow on the high trails. 2006 is the first year we had to hike in the snow. A pair of good boots and hiking poles are recommended!
The temperature is no problem. Warm enough to wear a shirt.
- Hiking and Walking
Mont Blanc green beer could give you the creeps
This is absolutely far out! 5,9 % alcohol artisanal beer made out of glacier water from the Mont Blanc.
The beer is an original recipe with "Genepi" extracts. Genepi is a name of several plants growing in the Alpine meadows.
The beer tastes as it looks: green!
At the other hand... Genepi liquor is a must.
- Beer Tasting
"I Don't Get It!"
I figured out how to drive through all the round'a'bouts, yet when I came to this stoplight I just couldn't figure it out.
"Why is the light red when there is a green arrow to go forward?"
Hopefully you will figure this out before you visit to prevent an accident.
- Mountain Climbing
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Skiing and Boarding
Typical pickpockets, theft of convenience
Like other tourist areas, in high seasons the pickpockets also come to town. Also if you have an expensive mountain bike or skis, be sure to keep an eye on them and lock them up when you can't watch them. Friends have had skis stolen out of their cars (unlocked car) and money taken from purses.
Recommend avoiding using the currency exchanges and cash machines in the open air in town center - pickpockets seem to hang out here 'targeting' their victims (they have a very good view from several spots where they can easily hang out and look like tourists). Then they will follow people they know have just withdrawn money until a chance arises to take it......
Report to the local Gendarmie office. Unfortunately don't expect them to give a toss....once it's gone you very likely won't get it back.
We stayed one week in Chamonix and during that week a girl was raped in the middel of the city and one snowboard was stolen from our balcony on the second floor. Maybe we had bad luck, but a lot of people seem to have a criminal tendency in Chamonix.
Inside voice vs Outside voice
This is a warning to avoid causing your own embarassment and living up to a particular 'stereotype' of rude judgemental tourists. I have overheard too many English-speaking people visiting this town doing something I find really horrible (it makes me cringe whenever I see it).
It is amazing what some people will say out loud when they think that no one they are speaking about understands the language they are speaking. They will say things they would normally keep to themselves (Inside voice) in quite a loud voice to their friends/table mates (Outside voice).
This seems to be done under the (very mistaken) assumption that the people nearby/person they are referring to have no idea what's being said.
Remember that many around you will in fact know at least some English (hello -- it is a very common 2nd language) and could get quite offended at your comments. Funnily enough, this does not add to good international relations!
And those of us who do speak English natively and live here really don't want to hear your ill-informed opinions that otherwise would be kept to yourself.
Imagine saying the same thing about your own countrymen or in your own country where everyone understands you, and decide whether or not the comment is appropriate before you open your gob! ;-)
I imagine this tip applies to travellers of every nationality travelling in any country with a language difference!!! Don't be a boorish tourist...... This sort of thing only makes everyone feel miserable in the end -- so don't add to the stereotypes, whomever you are!! Strive to make the world a less judgemental and happier place to live in!
montenvers - mer de glace
This is a warning only aimed at people who have never been on a mountain: the montenvers station is at 1913 metres above sea-level - which means that in spring and autumn it's cold. In winter it's chilly. In summer it depends on the weather. So do bring some warm clothes, and eventually mittens, a hat and scarf. It may sound obvious, but well... just go there in the fall and enjoy the sight of many asian tourists freezing in shorts: they're more numerous than you could think.
Danger of amazing scenery...
Danger of amazing scenery overload!! We visited Chamonix in the summer as a day trip from Switzerland and the train journey which we started from Vevey - Martigny - Chatelard-Frontiere - Chamonix was one of the most scenic I have ever undertaken. Definitely a time to hang out the train carriages and get snap happy. Unlike Swiss trains the french train was late on the return journey but they did rush us in a taxi to make our swiss connection - great service!