I took a beginner’s class in French at Alliance Francaise du Singapour with the hope of being able to be somewhat conversant in the language one day. I went for 3 classes and skipped 1 out of the 8 scheduled. Bah, some effort I made.
Anyhow, awhile after that – sometime in the summer of ’07, I ended up in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, a ski resort nestled in a valley near the Aiguilles Rouges of the French Prealps, opposite the massif of Mont Blanc.
It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. Picturesque and historical but equipped with modern day amenities, it exudes the unique rapport found in village communities but with comforts provided by technology. Whilst so, it retains that air of aristocracy associated with the rich and privileged in the days of yore.
You can get the tourism authority to send you up-to-date info by requesting for it through this website: http://www.chamonix.com/welcome,0,en.html
There’s a free shuttle around town for residents of the hotels there, but you’d need to identify yourself with a carte of some sort. The hotel I stayed at ran out (?!?!), and I had to pay Euros 1.50 per trip. So I got on this bus when it came, and paid on my way there. As fate would have it, I got on a bus with the same bus driver on my way back several hours later, and he waved me in for free! I didn’t wish to tempt fate, and so I made sure I got on the bus at the same timings the next two days. Free! *grin*
It was also in this wonderful place that I spoke my first words of French because I had to have lunch – and asked for a hot latte and unintentionally, a cold, one foot long ham and cheese baguette. I didn’t how to ask for it to be warmed up, so I left it in the sun for awhile, but it didn’t help much since it was 20 deg C outside.
Unfazed, I sat smack in the middle of the alfresco part of the cafe, facing (I think) Mont Blanc, in the cool mountain air, and enjoyed my first clumsily French-ordered lunch. I had a book with me and lots of time. Happiness is.
Another fun thing I did was to go on the train that runs along the Montenvers funicular railway to see the Mer du Glace (Sea of Ice), the longest glacier in France that is 7km long and 200m deep. This thing actually moves (silly me hadn’t realized then that glaciers travel, I thought they simply melted) though not perceptible to the human eye, and no wonder since it crawls at the rate of 1cm per hour. There’s a touristy cable car ride you can hop on to cross the glacier, but it looked a wee bit worn and it made squeaky noises – I skipped it. For trekkers, this is also the starting point to get up somewhere in the mountains and is the link way across the alps into Italy.
I hopped on to Paris afterwards, and had a whale of a time annoying the coffee and croissant cafes with my tourist-level, mangled French.
[First published: 9 Apr 2011]