Saturday, July 2, 2011

Did I mention the tunnels?

Happy Canada Day everyone!

Italy is the land of tunnels. On our way in from Monaco we felt like groundhogs playing “where’s my shadow?” as we popped in and out of tunnels along the Mediterranean coast. Our drive out from Milan to Chamonix was no different.

We found a secret passage to France. I think it is still secret because it is so darn expensive. It cost almost $100 to drive from Milan into
France! Can you imagine the stink in
BC if we tolled the Co
quihalla like that? Mind you, we’d have to have driven the road THROUGH the mounta
in instead of winding it up and over
a treacherous pass. After driving in and out of tunnels for about 30 kilometres, most of which were one to three kilometers long, we came to the grand daddy of them all: the tunnel under Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco, White Mountain). This tunnel is 11 kilometers long! It takes 10 minutes to drive it. They have speed and distance warnings all the way through with cameras flashing periodically to remind you they are watching. As we emerged from the other end the police were there pulling people over. After a few worrisome seconds, they waved us through
. They are serious about that tunnel.

The rest of our time in Chamonix was spent climbing and flying. We flew up chairlifts, large gondolas and personal sized gondolas. We flew down luge runs and hiked across Alpine meadows. We would have swung through the trees as well but the Parcours course was closed. The luge turned out to be more like a roller coaster you can control. You slid down rails and had a hand brake but no helmet. It was definitely fun but hard pressed to compete with the gondolas. The chairlift was exciting because there was no casing around you. The air was surprisingly warm. We rode the chair up and down the top of the mountain. Having never ridden down, it was quite exciting, let me tell you. We decided it must be close to what it feels like to paraglide. It’s very steep and the views a
re spectacular. One of the cool things about the chairlift was that it could carry mountain bikes. You would take your bike to the top and then ride down. Several people were doing just that. Looked fun. We opted for the less fun “hike across the Alpine meadow in the blazing sun for tw
o hours”. Okay, it was still fun but having the adrenaline rush of racing down the mountain with the wind in your face would have been nice too. Again, the views were stupendous.

At the end of the hike we came to a point where a paraglider was preparing to take off. We watched him strap himself in to what looked like a very cozy banana, then fly the parachute like a kite until whoosh, he was up and gone. It looks much more appealing than the old hang gliders. The paragliders were going all day from the
time we came out of our apartment
ntil the time we went home. They could stay up in the air for hours. They looked like huge colourful birds sailing around high in the air.

The drive from France to Switzerland was short. France does not make use of the tunnel so we drove up into the mountains and then down into the valley beyond and voila, we wer
e at Montreux, Lake Geneva. Montreux’s big claim to fame is their Jazz Festival in July. We arrived just in time to watch them set up. Switzerland definitely wins the prize for most expensive. We spent $44 for lunch at McDonald’s. We toured the Castl
e Chillon where the Savoy family staked their claim back in the 1100’s. They built the castle on the lake with the mountain on the other side. Anyone trying to move through the land had to com
e that way so they built a tower and set up a toll. Europeans are big on tolls. Okay, not sure there was a toll but they did control who came and went. Their family crest looks suspiciously like the Swiss flag so they must have had a real impact.

The castle was well preserved and restored and we enjoyed wandering through. Perhaps the family favourite was the latrine, however, where they had posted information about latrines from the middle ages. One particularly endearing quote was “perhaps the most noble and upstanding plant in the forest is the holly because nobody wipes their behind with it”. There are several ways we could run with this but as this is a family blog I’ll just point out that of all the reasons my parents could have chosen the name Holly, this one is my favourite.


m said...

That is FUNNY! Those latrines remind me of the latrines in Turkey . Great pictures...Good shot of Tom, Rhys and Julia...Love Mom