“There is no way that was 10 years ago, mate” I said to my friend Fraser. “It is…….still awesome, right?” he replied.
We were looking at a Facebook memory that had popped up on our timeline. We could see blue skies, we could see snow, we could see our friends, we could see smiles. We were looking at pictures from a previous Winter holiday in Chamonix France.
“We need to get back there man, I miss it massively, in fact I can still smell the cold air” I exclaimed, “Me too dude, me too” agreed Fraser.
We both gave each other a look, and it wasn’t one of surprise, or disbelief, or confusion, or even sadness. It was a look that I have seen many times on the faces of people that are excited about something without even having to explain to me what they are excited about. In this case, I knew there and then that we were going to go back to Chamonix.
That is exactly what we did.
We booked our flights on the 3rd January 2019, just one day after giving each other the metaphorical nod and just a short time after the season of goodwill and cheer…. Christmas. We booked our flights, added the usual expensive option of requiring a board bag for the cargo hold, shopped about for travel insurance and told them that we were going on a winter sports holiday and that came out to be a total of £21 each. Bargain. Travel insurance on these kinds of trips are mandatory for me. Not because I am likely to do anything stupid, but because of Murphy’s law, or as I call it – The F##k factor.
Anything that can go wrong, usually will and does go wrong. You miss your flight, you lose your board bag, with your board, bindings, goggles, techy outerwear, Gucci evening wear etc. All that adds up to an astronomical value if you had to dip into your own pocket and buy it all again. Then you have the best-case scenario of accident, you fall and break something, and then you have to go to the local hospital, break the language barrier and tell the nice doctor and nurse you need your body fixing. But then, much worse than that, you fall and die.
Then as opposed to your lovely mum and dad having to start a crowd funding page in order to repatriate your body due to you being stupid, the insurance you took out with un-limited medical, will make it happen with much less effort.?
The next item on the agenda was digs. Where are we going to crash after a hard days riding and a few beers at night? We reached out to our mutual friend Rebecca. Why Rebecca? Well 10 years earlier on Part 1 of Chamonix we met Rebecca while we were there. We stayed friends all that time, and saw each of us start families, take trips, move jobs, move countries and then settle down. For Rebecca, she settled down in Chamonix, and thus made the whole experience of finding an apartment for our stay this year easy.
A quick group chat, an introduction to Rebecca’s friend Anna and we were staying at her Airbnb right in the middle of Cham. BOOM, job done and super happy.
You might be wondering why we were so excited, about getting back here. The truth…….adventure. Those of you that have been fortunate to go on a winter holiday will know that it’s not like any other kind of holiday. It’s not like the beach holiday, or the city break, or the glamping weekend. The winter holiday to me is the best holiday you can have. Naturally that’s a personal opinion, but it ticks all the boxes.
Chamonix is situated to the North of Mont Blanc, and near the massive peaks of the Aiguille Rouges and more notably the Aiguille du midi. Chamonix is one of the oldest ski resorts in France, and is a winter sports resort town while also being the highest European mountain west of Russia. Mont Blanc attracts mountain climbers, alpinists, skiers, snowboarders, and mountain lovers from all over the world.
Fast forward to the 29th March and we were on our way to the airport. Since we last went to Chamonix, we only needed to take a direct flight from Edinburgh airport, to Geneva. Hop on the Easy bus from Geneva to Chamonix and we were there inside 3 hours. Previously we had to jump on a flight to Heathrow, wait there for a bit before we caught our connecting flight to Switzerland. Thank goodness for direct flights.
I was excited, we were in the airport having the pre-drink, drinks and imagining what it was going to be like. Imagining the blue skies and the soft snow. We got on the flight and we were off. Two hours later we arrived in Geneva, hoped on the bus and arrived in Cham circa 11pm local time. As we walked from the bus depot to our digs, I was smiling like a Cheshire cat, I could smell the burning fires that were common in homes and restaurants for the families and patrons to gather round and keep warm. The cold air had a distinct smell to it and it felt great to be back. We found our apartment, fiddled with the combination lock box for the key, made our way upstairs, let ourselves in and crashed out after a long day.
Today is Saturday, that means we get to snowboard and I quickly got dressed, dug out my snowboard gear, rushed out the door and headed to the Flegere and Brevent area of Chamonix. Once we started walking, we immediately knew we F’d up. In all the excitement and giggles of wanting to get on the mountain, we put on base layers, tees, shirts and tech outer wear in a bid to keep us warm from the cold. We dressed like we would have if we were boarding in Scotland. Needless to say, we were at altitude, it was the beginning of April and there were no clouds in the sky. We were warm! Too late to walk back and strip off, we were doing this.
We needed food first so went to Café Josephine and this was the meeting place to introduce Gail. Before we had left for Chamonix I had put a story up on my Insta asking if anyone wanted to join us in Chamonix. Turns out someone else had a taste for adventure and the white stuff. Gail Muller or some of you may know her as (Appalachian Gail) Sitting having our ham and cheese omelette, black coffee and fresh orange juice, a happy, smiling girl skipped her way to our location. It Was Gail, we said hi, hugged, had a chat and ordered more food. To the outside looking in, it would have looked like we had known each other for years, laughing and chatting about life and current events. Little did they know, we had only met 5 minutes ago.
Breakfast and introductions were complete, we were now best friends and so we jumped in the bubble (gondola) and started our ascent of the mountain. As luck, would have it we were sat next to a couple, chatting away in French and they were applying sun cream. SUN CREAM! Another thing we F’d up. The very kind female asked if we wanted some of her rather expensive Laboratoires Garnier sun cream. Yes, Yes, we do, merci Madame.
Now slightly cooler, and after applying the cream to our visage (that’s French for face you know) we bounced out the bubble, strapped on our boards and went for it. Took a little getting used to, given the fact that I hadn’t ridden in over a year as Scotland’s winters are hit and miss, but it’s like riding a bike, and once my quads knew what was happening, I began to cruise around the hills like a seasoned pro.
I’ve really missed this, I thought to myself and made a conscious effort to enjoy what I was doing, as opposed to blindly heading from gondola to gondola. I am happy, humbled and excited in equal measure. Three months ago, I was looking at pictures of the very place I had been 10 years prior. In fact, I would go as far as to say I was giddy, like a kid embracing his first real Christmas. Looking around I could see Mont Blanc on the opposite side of the valley and the instantly recognizable Aiguille du Midi. The pinnacle style object cutting the cold sky. The sun was warm, even at rest, and then my day dreaming was interrupted by a vibration in my pants. Not my actual underwear, but my snowboard pants. It was Becs, she was here, on the hill and trying to hunt us down.
After meeting and exchanging high fives, coupled with long hugs, we snowboarded for the rest of the day and caught the last gondola back down to the valley floor. Next on the agenda, the real fun of the day, après! Sun still burning and the sunglasses stuck on our heads we gave our stories and woes from the past 10 years, laughed and sank a few beers outside Pointe Isabelle. The reason for Pointe Isabelle was twofold. 1, it was right across the road from our apartment, and 2, it was right across the road from our apartment. Perfect. Hotel Pointe Isabelle is based on the story of one of the top female pioneers in alpinism – Isabella Straton.
Isabella Straton was a well-educated and wealthy young lady who left England during the Victorian era to become a pioneering mountaineer in the unexplored French Alps. She climbed the Aiguille du Midi and the north summit of Aiguille de Blaitière. She made four ascents of Mont Blanc, including the first winter ascent in January 1876. Many years later, Isabella’s grandchildren opened this hotel in Chamonix. As a tribute to their grandmother, they named it Pointe Isabelle after the mountain in the Mont Blanc massif that was climbed by Isabella Straton for the first time in 1875. I’m sure you’ll agree she was bad ass and for this reason alone it was worth drinking here, to sample the fine ales on tap and to sit among history of legends.
Shit, it was 5;45 and we were to be at The Folie Douce for 6pm. A swift superman’esque change required. Ran 20m across the road, got changed, and a splash of aftershave or cologne if we are to be proper French tourists.
The Folie Douce, what to say about this place. Translated loosely it means “Tender Madness” and that is exactly what is was. As soon as you arrive on scene you know it’s going to be awesome. Gliding up the stairs to the sun deck there is a bar awaiting your order with a plethora of beers, spirits and of course the local favourite, aperol spritz. This consists, of prosecco, aperol syrup and orange slices and a small iceberg of ice. To keep it simple, it’s like drinking alcoholic Irn Bru and just what you need to get you in the mood for the evenings frivolities. To give you the scene, the bar is packed with drinks and just behind you, are about 10 fire pits, all lit to keep the patrons warm, while you drink into the night and have the best backdrop ever, of the Mont Blanc and the Aiguille du midi. This is super surreal because it almost seems too good to be true, it’s one of the few places on earth that if you had to see a postcard of it, you would think it’s an artist’s impression of what it should look like. I can assure you, it looks even better than how I am describing it. it’s perfect.
As the night evolved it was time for everyone to head for dinner. This is where the fun increased. Turns out that because Becs and her husband don’t live very far from Folie Douce, they came here on Bikes. However, they were going to walk down to the restaurant and myself and Fraser were going to ride the bikes. Hilarious isn’t even the word. Zipping down the streets of Chamonix, ringing the bikes bell and trying to pop wheelies and bunny hop up the kerbs on touring bikes was so much fun. The kind of fun that you see in movies and read in books and you think to yourself, wow that’s crazy, and yet here we were cruising about and making our way for food.
Dinner, as you can suspect already was fantastic. Great chat, more drinks, epic food and a mellow vibe, surrounded by people that wanted more of the same. We laughed and giggled into the night and headed home for bed to repeat the same on Sunday.
On Sunday, we headed to Becs for dinner, as a bit of a farewell dinner. I was happy with that. As we chatted, reminisced, remembered funny moments from yesterday, the sun started to go down. Slowly, one by one, Fraser, Becs etc., went in to prepare food but I stayed there for a bit longer. I was sat on the garden sofa looking directly up at Mont Blanc and the Aiguille Du Midi. No houses or high rise flats obscuring my view, no roads or traffic sounding their horns as they drive by. No work to do, bills to pay, or cares in the world. I was looking up at some of the finest views I cherish on this earth. There’s lots of debate on what “Home” is, or what its classed as. Home for me, is anywhere I feel comfortable in the company of the people I am with. Home does not need to involve four walls and a roof. Sometimes home is what you feel in your heart and see with your eyes.
Chamonix is a place where risk vs. reward can often lead to the balance being in favour of the grim reaper should your luck run out. Most of us work for other people, either directly or indirectly, and help them make money day after day without question. Then spend most weekends going to the supermarket, ferrying the kids around the various clubs and parties, ordering a take away and sitting down at 9pm to watch an hour of TV if we are lucky. I think it’s important that we take part in adventures. Not to tempt fate, but rather to get the natural high and smile that goes with it.
It’s not arrogant or selfish to want time for yourself, to see and do things that matter to you. I believe it gives you “experience” and lets you round off the sharp edges of your character. It gives genuine memories, laughs, moments, conversations with others, and ultimately lets you put the “living” aspect into the well-known quote – “Life is for living”.
Now that we are home, back at work, back paying the bills and moving forward like we have always done, new adventures are required. However, we have also booked our flights to head back to Chamonix in February 2020.
If you have a special place that you like to visit, then you will know exactly why…….. hope to see you all there.