An hour and a half from Geneva is Mont Blanc, the White Mountain, the highest mountain in the Alps and ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence. It rises 4,800 meters, that’s nearly a staggering 16,000 feet above sea level. So don’t make fun of me for getting a l’il ol’ touch of AMS. You know, what we in the know know as altitude mountain sickness. BooYA! Ugh.
Family, friends. Mont Blanc was SPECTACULAR. At the base is a cable car that ascends to a halfway point, by way of some swaying and swinging that makes the passengers gasp and yip in terror/delight. You unload, marvel at the great heights you’ve reached, take a million pictures, and then get on a second cable car to take you up the rest of the way. There you unload once more- among the tourists just there for the photo ops with fancy cameras and the hipstamatic app on their iPhones (us! and a bunch of other folks), are actual skiers, snowboarders and hikers clad in just the fanciest cold weather gear, ready to hit the powder. Apparently there hasn’t been much snow so far this season in Switzerland, but the mountain didn’t look like it was suffering and the skiers certainly didn’t seem disappointed. And as far up as we got, there’s still further to go to reach the summit, and you need for real gear to get up there.
We disembarked for more photo ops and my lord, did we get them. The air was so crystal clear, the sky perfectly blue and cloudless, and the weather was cold and crisp without any breeze at all. Paradise. We climbed steps and steps and more steps to reach higher platforms, turned corners and saw views never in my life did I expect to see. A glider way up there circled us, around and around! The Matterhorn! We saw the real actual Matterhorn! And! In an instant, the staggering beauty gave way to a deep and intimate nausea within me. My legs turned into spaghetti and holy heck, without Josh to literally hold me up, I would have passed out onto my derrier (that’s bum, a la francais. See! I’m learning!) I pride myself on my iron constitution but I’ve learned now that sometimes you get the mountain and sometimes the mountain gets you guys. Sometimes the mountain gets you. Nope. Not really a metaphor. Ahem. The intention was to have lunch at the top of Switzerland, but my gracious travel companions assured me that it wasn’t my lameosity that prompted our return to the base, but a three hour wait to get a table. They were juuuuuuuust being nice to me, weren’t they? Clearly, I travel with a swell bunch. Well, Josh basically carried me down the platforms and stairs, bodily supported me down two cable cars and wouldn’t you know it, once I got to the bottom and ate all the Carbonara that ever there was, well, I felt as right as pluie (that’s rain guys, rain, a la francais… which I just now learned from the internet…).
At the base of the mountain is a gorgeous town, Chamonix (also the site of the first Winter Olympics). It’s exactly what you might imagine a Swiss mountain town to be- though technically, it’s actually in France. Skinny roads lined with beautiful historic buildings that now house bistros, cafes with chocolate chaud and vin chaud and clothing boutiques. Vacationers tromp around in either Uggs or ski boots, toting beautifully dressed children tossing snow balls to and fro and dogs! Dogs everywhere! We perused a few restaurants before settling on a pretty Frenchish bistro, made complete with a fresh seafood stand outside the window to keep us distracted while we waited to eat. Escargot was ordered, and frog legs and roast chicken and Tartiflette (a potato, bacon and cheese casserole) and… all I wanted was a bunch of noodles in me. Pasta tossed with onions, garlic, bacon and parmesan cheese, then topped with a fresh egg yolk and mixed to form a glorious sauce… oh my heavens, it was a revelation and exactly the thing I needed. Sated, our travel team departed the restaurant and found a patisserie for hot chocolate to warm us for our walk back to the car.
I’ve been told that AMS affects people different ways at different times and even if it isn’t true, I want to cling to that possibility. The possibility that I can return and kick that mountain’s derrier. Or at the very least, return for some Carbonara.