Today we left Courmayeur for Lake Geneva….but only made it as far as Chaminox, France,…roughly less than the distance between Queanbeyan and Bungendore!@!  It was such a nice valley, that we couldn’t resist.

One of the best things we’ve done is join online the Touring Club Italia and visited their offices in Torino and Courmayeur.   They have great maps of all italy and neighbouring countries, and great books on finding places to stay with dogs, cats, kids, for camping, for agriturismos, for restaurants, for hotels, for cyclists:

We now own maps of Piemonte, Switzerland, France mountains and the French Riviera.

Courmayeur was a small village on the italian-side of Mont Blanc.  Whilst Chamonix is on the french-side of Mont Blanc.  They are very different, though.

10 differences between Courmayeur and Chamonix:

1.  Language (most people in Chamonix speak french, not a lot of italian, but a bit of english).   Very frustrating though, is that my italian SIM won’t recognise my typing when I’m SMS’ing in english.

2. Cheese smells in the air.  Lots of fondue here.  Saw a couple with a mini rotisserie on their table at lunchtime, melting cheese, which they then slathered onto their bread and steak – YUK.

3. Views – Mont Blanc is right in front of you here in Chamonix, whereas in Courmayeur it is hidden by the “little” mountain in front of it.  The views here are spectacular.

4. Expeditions – in Chamonix, the town is full – full – of people organising, on their way to, or on their way back from an “expedition”.  To say that they are serious hikers is a gross understatement.  So many of them have “the” gear, including ice picks, crampons, snow boots called “ascent accelerators” which they slip their snow boots into.  I’m sure that I have seen them worn by the men in the old Snowy Mountains history photos.

5. Architecture – french chateaux, tin roofs in Chaminox; thick, thick slate in Courmayeur;

6. More americans, english and japanese in Chaminox – none in Courmayeur.   In Courmayeur, mainly french and italian, with some french clearly only there “to be seen” because some of those young french ladies don’t look like they get their nails dirty, especially the ones in the Louboutin heels.

7. Service attitude – the french are so abrupt and rude.  The italians are so polite, even when you are not buying anything from them.  Its amazing.  Today, the owner of a cafe told me that I couldn’t have a coffee at his cafe unless I also ordered food.  What a rude shit head.  Brought back memories of when we arrived in Paris last visit.    Then there was the hotel receptionist here at Hotel Alpine – another rude prick.  Even though he spoke in French, I could tell he was a rude shit.   Michael made me deal with Reception after that early episode.  I guess that I’ll just have to get over this aspect of France….until we get back to Italy.

8.  Chaminox has hikes for beginners.

9. Chaminox is a bigger town, about 13,000 people (whereas, Courmayeur is only about 2,000 people).   Lots more shops here in Chaminox, and lots and lots of hiking/expedition shops.   Serious expedition gear in those shops.  And I can go hang gliding here in Chaminox…if the weather clears in the next few days.

10. Car rally – there’s a car rally going on in the mountains.   New and old porsches are arriving into Chaminox at the end of a race across the mountains.  One of the poor old things, had to come into town on the back of a tow truck.

This was the view from our chalet in Courmayeur:

In Courmayeur this  morning was the start of the local Tour of the Giants, an endurance run through the mountains for one week.  (Leah/Renae – this is a race exactly like Sven would do, and I was thinking of him as the runners took off).   The race was started by the songs of the local choir in traditional dress:

We drove through the Mont Blanc tunnel to come out at Chaminox.  Lots of easy walking tracks and gondolas to get to the top.

Had lunch in the square and watched the hang-gliders drop down the valley, and the cable cars ride to the top of the mountain.    The setting is unbelievably serene and beautiful – and hot.

At the local tourist office, Michael found a train that will take us to the top of one of the local mountains, where we can make a short hike and sit in a restaurant on top of the mountain.   He was pretty quick to slot this into our itinerary when he realised I was serious about signing us up for either the hang-gliding off plan praz, or – even better – the  helicopter ride around Mont Blanc…cause he’s not keen on heights.,0,en.html

And finally for Jo, strange italian words that I heard in Torino:

1.  Tappetto elastico – literally, an elastic rug, but what it means in practice is a trampoline.

2.  Centrafugal – the dryer (I was in the laundry mat and a lady rushed in, and asked me if the “centrifugal” was working.   I thought:  what the hell is that?   It took me and a spanish guy in the laundry mat a while to work out what she meant.