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Chamonix – Geneva Trip

“I only got excited about this trip when I saw the snowy scenery beneath my window seat.”

Day 1 – 16th December 2017

We booked this one too early, back in March and apart from hotel bookings there wasn’t much we could do. A few more bookings during September but still too early! Unfortunately, when it was just the right time to prepare I had to study for exams… so not much time for planning my first winter excursion abroad and due to that my excitement levels dropped.

The day before departure I was very tired after a morning exam, a few hours of sleep the night before and a million other things to do! But that’s just me procrastinating; again! That night I slept for even fewer hours. I had a morning flight to catch!

A few hours later here we are in Geneva, Switzerland! Waiting in the wrong bus stop for a bus driver that would never come! Luckily two girls came to tell us that they were looking for their bus but found the one we were looking and that our bus was about to depart! Clearly, the airport needs to put some signs! We got in quickly, and now we are on our way to Chamonix, France!

A few facts up to now:

  • We booked everything too early – a spontaneous decision – if it weren’t that misery pre-exam period and the melancholy that I would spend the whole summer in London doing a research project, then we would never have booked the flights!
  • Apparently, that’s when the winter season starts, and not everything will be open when we will be there 🙁 Ski pistes and most cable cars open on the 16th (phew) but a few other attractions (that would be on my list otherwise) open on the 23rd. 🙁
  • We will spend a little bit more than 24 hours in Geneva before returning to London!

12:35 We just passed a loooong tunnel (at least for me), but something tells me that there are more to come! Now, we are moving along the mountains, covered in snow!

12:40 Just crossed the border! We are in France now! 🙂

13:05 First appearance of snow on the road! We’re getting closer! 🙂

13:10 Le paisage est magnifique and we’re not even there yet!

13:45 We are in Chamonix! Excitement levels increase! Now we have to pull our luggage for 850m in the snow to reach our hotel!

14:00 We are here, at Mercure Chamonix Centre Hotel. Read my TripAdvisor review here. I’ll just say here that it simply exceeded my expectations (especially the view from our room)!



Booking.com

15:00 We are ready to start exploring Chamonix! The plan was to walk around and get to know the area (pass from the tourist office, spot places for breakfast/lunch/dinner). Oh, and we need to have super late lunch/super early dinner!

20:30 We are back in the hotel! The story of the day: We were walking until we saw the train station and we said that we should return to the hotel, that was 15 minutes approximately away. Once we arrived there, we decided to see what’s on the other side of the hotel. It was the train station! 😑

View from room - train station
We could see the trains passing from our room, but we thought that they were going to Montevers, we didn’t realise it was the Chamonix train station. Although our room was facing the train rails, the sound of the few trains passing wasn’t noticeable (+ their services finish early at night). iPhone 6s

Highlights of the day:

  • The city centre is packed with many shops for winter clothing and winter sports equipment.
  • There are many restaurants featuring French cuisine and pizza! For me, that combination shows that the place was mostly for tourists, but we couldn’t really avoid them as everything else was too expensive for us.
  • Roads are constantly cleaned.
  • Need to wear worm clothes and waterproof boots/shoes is a must.
  • There was a lovely Christmas market in a small square. It had a few wooden houses selling handmade creations from locals.
  • There is a river passing from Chamonix. I didn’t know that earlier (told you I wasn’t properly prepared for this trip).
L'Avre, Chamonix
That’s the river Arve. It flows through France and Switzerland, before becoming one with the Rhône. It’s main source of water is the glacier Mer de Glace, Sony ILCE-5100

Day 2 – 17th December 2017

The initial plan was to visit Aiguille du Midi today, but the cable car is closed due to weather conditions. It will open tomorrow, but only up to Plan de l’Aiguille. So, we are going to Le Brévent (that was in the plan for the afternoon). The previous night we were thinking if we should get a pass or not! After discussing it with the person at the ticket office, we decided to buy the 2 Day Mont Blanc Unlimited Pass.

Why did you buy the 2 Day Mont Blanc Unlimited Pass?

We wanted to:

  • go to Le Brévent to see the view,
  • go to Mer de Glace.
  • buy a ski pass for the next day for the pistes in Le Brévent,
  • visit the small museums that were open.

If we wanted a four-hour ski pass, then it would be better to buy everything separately, but then what we would do in the afternoon since L’ Aiguille du Midi was be closed? So, we decided, that we would need to take the full day ski pass. In this case, the price was the same that buying the tickets separately, but with the Mont Blanc Unlimited Pass, we wouldn’t need to wait at any other queues. So, we decided to buy the pass.

In the end, the pass was worth it, as we would have spent more money otherwise (but we did a fourth activity to cover that – see day 3).

11:20 We are in the cable car, not many people are in the queue, so we take one for ourselves.

11:25 There are two people skiing below us! They must be skiing ‘Hors Piste’. The slope is very steep!

11:30 Plan Praz is our first viewpoint of the day. There is a cafe restaurant here and many skiers. There are many pistes starting or passing from here.

11:45 We take the cable car that would take us to 2525m. The highest viewpoint of our trip (it would be Aiguille du Midi if it was open). The cable car is only for pedestrians (no skiers allowed).

11:50 A few minutes later we are at -11oC admiring the nearby mountains. There is also a restaurant there open only during lunch time, but it was closed when we were there.

12:10 After many photos we return to 2000 m. From there we take the elevator that takes us a few meters higher, where you can ski to go back to 2000m, or you can take the chairlift to go to the nearby ski area.

12:45 I can’t feel my hands, it’s time to return.

14:00 We are in the Chamonix – Montevers train to take us to Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in France. The route is amazing, from one side we can see the forest dressed in white and from the other side, we can see Chamonix from above.

View from train to Montevers
The view from the Chamonix – Montevers train, iPhone 6s

14:30 The train journey lasted about 25 minutes, and now we are left to wander in the area. On-site, there is a souvenir shop, a cafe, a tiny Museum of Crystals, a panoramic restaurant, a gondola lift, an ice cave and a hotel. Unfortunately, the last four were closed when we arrived, but that in a sense worked to our advantage as it was less crowded and we could take some great photos.

Mer de Glace
View of Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in France, from Montevers, Sony ILCE-5100

15:30 We are waiting to get to the train to return to Chamonix!

16:15 We have time to visit one of the museums. Our options are limited as the Alpine Museum opens next week. There is a Museum of Crystals and an exhibition on Alpinism. When we arrived there, there was an announcement on the door that said that the museum and the exhibition would be closed today and tomorrow. It’s ok. At least we tried!

17:30 We are searching for a place for dinner, while at the same time we are doing some shopping (souvenirs mostly). I want to find a place that would have soup (preferably pumpkin soup and definitely not onion soup) and cheese fondue at affordable prices.

19:00 We just ordered: one pumpkin and chestnut soup and a classic cheese fondue for two!

Day 3 – 18th December 2017

10:00 Here we are! At Les Planards, the easiest ski piste in the area. It has two very easy, one easy and one difficult piste (which will open next week). There is also a cafe-restaurant and an alpine coaster, but you guessed it: both were closed! I just wore my ski boots, and we are ready to start. We rented our ski equipment from a shop there. Having booked what we would need online the night before we got a better price. However, you can rent your equipment from anywhere you like and carry your skis with you.

10:30 Half an hour later and I am still trying to get my boots on my skis. A woman next to us advised me that there shouldn’t be any snow stacked underneath my boots for them fit on the skis.

10:40 Ready!

Ready to ski
Ready to ski, iPhone 6s

11:00 Christos is trying to teach me the basics, i.e. how to ascend and most importantly how to stop…

13:00 After 5 times stopping the ski lift and 4 times falling (1 while trying to put on the skis, 1 while on the ski lift and 2 while trying to get off the ski lift), I decide that I needed a break! The initial plan would be to practise here and then spend the afternoon skiing in Le Brévent. But Le Brévent was on the other side of the city. If we also add the fact that the skis are heavy, my confidence levels are not that high, and I’m already exhausted for doing everything wrong, I return to the hotel while Christos is making his last attempts on the easy piste (up to now we were on one of the very easy pistes).

13:30 I am sitting in the hotel room looking outside the view and thinking how we could do in the afternoon. Final decision: we are going to the Plan de l’Aiguille, the first stop of the cable car for L’Aigulle du Midi. The price of the ticket is already included in our pass (and by doing this activity we cover all the expenses of it).

15:30 We are in the cable car with 4 more people. The operator and 3 skiers/snowboarders.

15:45 The skiers/snowboarders disappeared in the snow to descend the mountain. We are left alone to admire the view. The best part of it: the sky cleared for a few moments, and we could take some fantastic photos.

View of Aigulle du Midi from Plan de l'Aigulle
View of Aigulle du Midi from Plan de l’Aigulle, iPhone 6s

16:15 We are in one of the last cable cars of the day to go back. Christos is speaking French with the operator, and I’m glad that I can understand them! The operator told us that the second cable car is not open because they are testing the new equipment. Also, we learned that during summer there is still snow on the top while the temperatures can reach 12oC.

17:00 We are looking for something to eat, but since, this is our last evening here ☹, we want to shop some last-minute desserts and sweets.

Day 4 – 19th December 2017

10:55 We are running (as usual) to catch the bus.

11:59 We are showing our tickets to the bus driver and go to our seats.

11:00 The bus departs. We didn’t even manage to settle in our seats yet.

11:30 Bye, bye Chamonix! Bye, bye snowy scenery.

12:30 Welcome to Switzerland! Hello Geneva!

13:00 We just checked in to the hotel ibis Genève Centre Lac. Read my TripAdvisor review here. I like our small room, it has everything we need in, plus its modern design makes it look bigger than it is.



Booking.com

14:00 We are looking for a place to have lunch without spending a fortune.

14:15 Found a nice sandwich shop!

15:00 Passed from the tourist office to find out any recommendations and places we can visit in our short stay (my initial plan included walking in one part of the city the first day and another part the second). There we bought the 24hour Geneva pass. It was in a discount since it was January and many attractions were closed for the winter. However, if we took either a bus tour or a train tour we could pay it off immediately. That sounded like a plan for the next day since we could see more this way. Check out this blog post here to read some advice on taking a hop-on hop-off bus tour.

15:30 Next stop of the day was the small Christmas market of Geneva. It was right on the doorstep of the tourist office. Lovely small stalls were selling their goods.

16:00 The other end of the end was at the entrance of the shopping centre next to the train station. We wandered around for some time for some time before heading out to go towards the lake, but before that buying a box of Swiss chocolates is a must!

16:30 We are walking past the lake after passing the Brunswick Monument. The skyline on the other side looks great, and we take some time to admire. We walk up to the Phare de Pâquis in the Bains des Pâquis area, and then we make our way back to the hotel. The sun has just set. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the Jet d’Eau the famous fountain of Lake Geneva. Although they advertise it everywhere, they do not operate it every day. Maybe it’s because of the season. We were able to see it on the first day from the plane during landing and when we were on the bus coming to the city.

Statue of Charles II, Duke of Brunswick
Statue of Charles II, Duke of Brunswick, opposite the Brunswick Monument, Sony ILCE-5100

19:00 After a small stop in our room, we are again looking for a place to eat. And it proved to be even more difficult than noon. There weren’t many options close to our hotel, and we decided to go on the safe side and take a pizza.

Day 5 – 20th December 2017

9:00 Last day today! Upon our return from breakfast, we take our luggage to the reception, and we head off to the old city. We want to visit the St. Pierre Cathedral and a few more museums before leaving in the evening. We also need to take the hop-on hop-off bus since we have the pass.

10:00 First stop of the day is L’Horloge Fleurie. We continue our walk in the Jardin Anglais.

11:15 Then we enter the Old Town and visit the St. Pierre Cathedral. There, we ascend the stair to reach the tower. From the top, we can have some great views of Lake Geneva. Best of all, experiencing the sound of the large bell next to us.

View from St. Pierre Cathedral
View of Geneva from St. Pierre Cathedral, Sony ILCE-5100

12:30 Later, we decide to visit the underground archaeological site that is below the church. The free audio guide explains the history of the ruins.

14:00 We pass by the University of Geneva, and then we walk on the Promenade de la Treille, where we can enjoy views of the city.

15:00 We are in the hop-on hop-off bus tour, and since this is their last service of the day (and we don’t have enough time) we won’t get off at any station.

15:30 This is the first stop of the tour. The driver tells us that he will stop for 5 minutes, so we can get off and take some photos. The same for the second stop, which is Jet d’Eau. This time the fountain is on!

16:00 The tour then continues onto the International District, where we can see many global offices including the buildings of the Red Cross, the World Health Organisation and Le Palais des Nations (the United Nations Geneva office), where we stop to take some photos of the Broken Chair.

17:00 We had to be at the airport 10 minutes ago, but we were a bit late, and the trains to the airport have (severe) delays. We are waiting for the train at 17:04.

17:20 We are still waiting for the 17:04 train. The next train is in 6 minutes.

17:35 No train has arrived yet! The next planned train is in one minute.

17:38 The previous train is suspended and the 17:04 train arrives! What a disorganised city!

17:50 Ten minutes later we are at the airport, and we are running through the shopping centre that is there to get to the departures. Our flight is delayed for 1 hour! Phew! We won’t miss our flight! (There are three flights to Heathrow, and all of them are delayed!)

18:30 We are waiting to an awful queue to pass through security, where people simply say that they are in a hurry and they skip the queue! Nobody seems to care! Geneva airport is by far one the most disorganised airports I’ve been to!

20:30 We are in the plane, flying back to London! What a trip! The mountains were extraordinary! Definitely coming back to The Alps!


P.S. In Geneva, when we checked in at the hotel, we were given a tourist card for free public transport (including the train to the airport). Free public transport was also included in the Geneva pass.


Elina Michaelidou

Elina is a computer science graduate and a traveller enthusiastic. Read everything about her travel experiences here.

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