Settling in Abroad

Getting to Chamonix

Well, I am a few days into my first week in Chamonix. The weather hasn’t been cooperating, but I’ve already had a myriad of things to do, none of them involving climbing. Getting here went off without a hitch, I met a friend along the way, and I’ve settled in a bit by walking town.  Overall, the bad weather has given me a chance to relax after quitting my job, moving out of my house, and packing for this trip, all of which I did last week.

First, to get to Chamonix I flew direct from Seattle to Frankfurt, then from Frankfurt to Geneva. With the exception of lousy (expected to be so) airplane food, the flight was easy.  The Frankfurt airport was of course super cool and modern. The German obsession with engineering was obvious in every direction I looked.  The aiport was largely made of glass and had what was a very complicated but easy to navigate terminal.  One cool thing: the security bins automatically get pushed back to the front on a set of conveyer wheels, instead of requiring someone to manually push a cart around.  Pretty genius!

When I landed in Geneva at 230pm, the last hurtle was to find a shuttle for Geneva where I was supposed to meet a woman named Nanou to get the keys for my apartment. I immediately met an american guy, my age, named Allen who had just landed on the same flight and was headed to Chamonix as well.  Given our mutual interest (climbing), we naturally got along quite nicely. We hopped a shuttle to Geneva within 15 minutes of landing, got AMAZING burgers in Chamonix at a named Poco Loco, and then met Nanou for the keys to the apartment.  Leveraging my limited French for the first time in years while interacting with her was very fun.  Allen needed a place to stay and ended up crashing on one of the bunks at my place.

Mon petit appartement

Speaking of my apartment, below are some pictures which show the amazing situation I have fallen into.  I’ve got a small kitchen, three beds to share with friends, a balcony overlooking the Mer de Glace, and I am 5 minutes walking from the Midi d’Aiguille tram. This lift is the primary way of getting up to the Mont Blanc massif from the Chamonix area, so it couldn’t be more convenient.

Large sofas and a big screen, what more could one ask for!
Large sofas and a big screen, what more could one ask for!

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View from the apartment balcony. See the large glacier in the background, even in bad weather the view is good.
View from the apartment balcony. See the large glacier in the background, even in bad weather the view is good.

Searching for amenities in town during lousy weather, photos of chamonix

While it snowed in the mountains and rained down in the valley, I spent my time getting acquainted.  I was able to find a few grocery stores, included a small natural food store.  The latter made my week.  I purchased a lift pass for accessing the mountains, a SIM card which I am still trying to figure out how to use, and discovered free WiFi at McDonald’s.  Here is a map showing some of the places I’ll be spending time around town.

Un accident

No Europe trip can be complete without an embarrassing moment to make Americans look bad. I am hoping this moment has already passed for me. During my search for amenities and information in town, I stopped by the Tourism office (Le Bureau de Tourisme). Excited to practice more French, I walked up to the counter, began with “Bonjour,…Je cherche…” before my paper grocery bag ripped and a bottle of olive oil fell to the floor. I crossed my fingers that it hadn’t broken, but then looked down to see the yellow oil spreading in all directions over the tile.   I then stood there for 15 minutes stammering in English and broken French, apologizing for what I had just done. Another +1 for sturdy reusable grocery bags, which I have now procured. Lesson learned.

Planning for my first routes with new partners

Since I came to Chamonix to do some climbing, I figured it was about time to reach out to some of the people I’ve located out here. The set of folks I’ll be climbing with in the next few weeks include those I’ve been introduced to over email, typically friends of friends who live in Chamonix, Geneva, or the surrounding areas. I’ve also met a few folks through the Chamonix Facebook group (“Chamonix Rock Climbers”). My first encounter was last night with a guy named Simon, whom I meant through the latter channel. He and I grabbed a beer to discuss some of the objectives we might tackle together. Being an Englishman, I was shocked to hear that he wanted to climb with nuts and hexes, as he rarely uses cams. I feel like that is going back in time but it will be an opportunity to learn new tricks! Simon and I are planning to tackle a few routes just off the Midi d’Aiguille lift, depending on the snow conditions.   We plan to head up the Midi lift and ski the “Valley Blanche” which is still in decent shape due to the late season snow.   Simon was a great resource for glueing together the disparate sets of information I’ve found in guidebooks, and has a good understanding of what areas would be accessible given the status of the various huts and lifts in the areas. I’ll let you know how our first adventure goes!

2 thoughts on “Settling in Abroad

  1. Sam J

    How bout that airplane food, eh?

    Seriously looks like a great setup Mutz. How long are you in Chamonix for? Was there last summer but Jim and I have a couple ski passes that include Chamonix…

    1. chris

      They might as well not serve it….

      Yea dude, pretty awesome here. Going to be in this area until July 5th or so. Ski passes definitely aren’t cheap, but I bought a 15 day pass. Of course during the time I am here, people are more often using the passes to get to the mont blanc area for climbing than for skiing, but it all works the same.

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