Day Trip to the Top of Europe

Leaving Mont Blanc

The snowy peak of Mont Blanc rises high above the valley floor
beaconing us to visit
To stay or to go?
Italy awaits
Slowly our bus pulls away
The timeless mountain will wait for our return

This is a poem I wrote back in 2009 on my former explorerbear blog. We had come to Chamonix, France with high hopes of visiting the area via a series of cable cars, but the mountain was clouded over for three days.

On the morning of our departure it was a sunny day. We were taking a bus to the Cinque Terre in Italy and actually considered postponing that part of our holiday for a day to visit Mont Blanc, but instead we headed to Italy as planned. Ten years later we are back and today we finally got to make that journey to the top, this time from the Italian side.

Only 30 minutes from our accommodation is Skyway Monte Bianco. Newly opened, it has two mountain stations with cable cars that rotate 360 degrees as they ascend to give everyone a great view. The philosophy of the company is to draw man closer to the mountains and the sky, broadening horizons and overcoming boundaries. We could not have asked for a better day. It was warm with barely a cloud in the bright blue sky.

There was an air of excitement as everyone boarded the gondola with cries of whoa everytime we went over a pylon. Our first stop was called Pavillion. It had an indoor restaurant and boutique, wine cave, and an outdoor botanical garden with all sorts of wildflowers that grow at high altitude in bright purples and yellows. A sign explained how wildflowers are like eyes. A patch of them may look similar but look closer and you will see subtle differences. I loved it. They even had a miniature lake with a boat where kids could use a pulley to pull themselves across.

Feeling ready for our next stop, Punta Helbroner, we got in line for our next 360 degree gondola to take us up high in the mountains when something was not quite right. The door would not shut properly. No one dared get out of line and we waited and waited. Finally after one hour, an announcement was made in Italian to groans from the crowd and cards with numbers were passed out. We had no idea what the card was for. In English it said to enjoy Helbroner for two hours and then head back down to manage your time, yet the gondola to take us there needed repairs. Some people left and the crowd surged forward. Somehow we managed to make it in front ready for the next gondola. Grandpas and Grandmas got separated and after a lot of yelling, the gondola arrived repaired.

Helbroner is over 11,000 feet in altitude. The altitude can make you dizzy. People looked surprised. For a moment I worried I might black out so we decided to have lunch and that helped. For many, Helbroner is the final destination. It has an amazing view of Mont Blanc, the neighboring peaks, and the valley below, but for us there was one final adventure. Aiguille du Midi Mont Blanc is a trip where cable cars for four people travel for 40 minutes from Italy to the Chamonix mountain station in France. They travel in pairs of three and it’s quite unique because they start and stop leaving you dangling high above the icy world, but that was known to us so we weren’t worried.

On our trip to the French side, we traveled with a mother and daughter from the state of Washington. We passed high above hiking couples in the snow who needed to mind their step around icy crevices. We even spotted tents at the base camps. I learned my niece Jessica’s children were hiking Mont Blanc at that moment. How wonderful it is my sister could be in New York and send photos of the two hikers to me. As I scanned the icy peaks, I wondered if some distant hikers could be them. They are very brave. Mont Blanc is covered in ice and snow and is very steep.

The mountain station on the French side was very busy and freezing cold so David and I got back on the gondolas foe a 40 minutes journey back. It was wonderful. We had our own cable car and each rocky peak we passed seemed bolder, steeper and icier than the previous one. Some had hikers on top, and some stood alone.

Tonight we had dinner at an osteria that served local specialties. The menu was small and included fried frogs, steamed roe, and calf’s tongue. I ordered polenta with mushrooms, The osteria was very pretty inside with wooden beams and alpine cow and chicken decorations. The town was a beehive of activity, but we decided the best way to end the day would be to just sit out on our balcony, look up to the lights on the mountains, and reflect on our memorable day.

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