September 30, 2010

The Big Surprise, Part Three

Posted in Trek through Italy at 3:23 PM by goingbeyondzebra

Wednesday and Thursday passed fairly uneventfully. Well, about as uneventfully as having your boyfriend-soon-to-be-fiance coming to surprise you for a week long visit and propose, day can go, which is to say, they were still fairly eventful. We took a trip up the nearby hills to visit the Waldensian Cave Church I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, spent time with OMers, had some authentic Italian pizza, etc. etc.

On Friday however, we did something truly adventurous.

We had been trying to figure out one spectacularly cool thing to do together while we were in Italy. See Venice? Go to an Opera in Verona? Hike through Cinque Terra? There were so many options, and so little time! Finally, we decided. We were going to go on a tour that took us through a series of cable cars from Italy, across the top of Mont Blanc, and ended in Chamonix, France, where we would sight see a bit before taking a bus under Mont Blanc, back to Italy, and finally make our way back to Torre Pellice. Mark’s dream place to visit has always been France, and I had been wanting to do the cable car tour, so we decided to combine our interests into one. Therefore, at 5:30 Friday morning, we loaded into the Harrell’s van and they drove us to Pinerolo to start our journey.

Three trains, three bus rides, and 6-7 hours later we arrived near the border of France where the cable cars began. Travel weary but energized and excited at the prospect before us, we walked up to purchase our tickets. As we talked with the ticket lady, she mentioned that since we had chosen to arrive so late (we laughed at this comment), that we would have to hurry our journey or we would miss the last bus back, which left around 4:30. Somewhat dismayed, we prepared ourselves for this possibility but decided not to let it dampen our time. So we grabbed our tickets, ran inside, and up Up UP we went on the first leg of our trek across the mountains.

For the tour, you take about 5 cable cars and one gondola across the mountains. At each stop where you switch to a new car, there are different things to do, such as gift shops, museums, sight-seeing platforms, and roped off areas to play in the snow/glacier (the latter of which Mark and I didn’t discover until too late unfortunately). The last car takes you back down the mountainside and into Chamonix, France, which has its own series of entertainments. It is an exciting, if a bit nerve-racking, trip.

As Mark and I rose above the clouds and surveyed the rocky terrain, covered in snow and glaciers, we knew we had made the right decision to come. Mark particularly was a bit nervous due to his fear of heights, but even he could marvel at the wonder and beauty that surrounded us. One of the stops enabled us to stand across the French and Italian border, at another we stood beneath a bridge made entirely from snow, and at another we were able to walk to Switzerland to buy a souvenir.

On the last car down, we crowded ourselves in with the masses and weren’t really paying attention, when suddenly, almost in unison, everyone in the car gasped and went “Ooh!”. The cable line lurched into a steep ride downward, causing everyone’s stomach to drop and a few nervous laughs. This happened once more to approximately the same effect, before we landed at our final stop, Chamonix, France.

As we stepped off the car and looked at our watches, Mark and I knew we were in trouble. The last bus was supposed to leave at 4:30, it was now about 4:20 and we had no idea where the bus station was. We ran to the Information Desk, got some directions, and headed to the bus station to see if we could make it. Alas the station was quite far from the cable car stop, and we ended up missing the bus. We were doubly dismayed, since we were unsure if we could use our tickets on a bus the following day, or if they were only good the day we purchased them. So we went up to the lady at the ticket counter and began some form of the following discussion.

Us: “Bonjour, you speak English?” (Mark was much better at French than me, I kept getting it confused with Italian and always ended up saying some muddled phrase in part French, part Italian, and part English, that no one other than myself could really understand).

Bus Lady: Bonjour! Yes!

Us: “Hi, we took the cable cars from Italy, did we miss the bus back”

Bus Lady: “Oh yes it left at 4:30”

Us: “Oh, well, we have these tickets see, and we don’t want to have to pay for new ones, can we use them on a bus tomorrow?”

Bus Lady: (whips out a handy bus chart with included times) Ah I do not know, see I would say yes but the lady tomorrow, she is not always so nice and she may let you but I don’t know. Here are the times tomorrow. Why are you here so late?”

Us: “Well you see, we came from near Torino, Italy, and we left at around 5 but it took us 3 trains and 3 buses to get to the cable cars, which is why we are late.”

Bus Lady: “It took you, what?”

Us: Three trains and three buses”

Bus Lady: (bursts out laughing) Oh my! (at this point she turns to an older man who was sitting behind her and began speaking in French, laughing the whole while. We think we caught the words “three” and “bus” in there somewhere. Apparently our trek there was very entertaining). Ah well, you come back tomorrow and try, okay?

Us: Okay, thank you

At this point we walked away, still hearing her laughter, and wondered what we ought to do next. Thankfully the people at the first Information Desk had given us a colorful, illustrated, map of the town which was fairly accurate. We knew we were stuck here now and would have to find a place to stay, so we headed to the opposite side of town where the tourist office was located to see if they could help us find some rooms for the night. The lady there was very efficient and helpful, quoted us some room prices, and pointed us in the right direction towards the cheapest one.

We never really found the place she told us to go. After wandering up and down the street, where construction on a different hotel was taking place, asking several of the construction workers if they knew where the place was, and coming up fruitless, we landed at a nice little bed and breakfast type hotel. We inquired about some rooms, found they were about the same price as the place we had been looking for, and decided to just go ahead and stay there. It was fairly small, with tiny bathtub/shower combinations that lacked shower curtains, but the ladies who ran it were very nice.

Since we now had a place to rest our heads, Mark and I decided to explore the town and find some food. This was our first time in France after all, and since we now apparently had plenty of time on our hands, we wanted to make the most of it. Mark in particular was ecstatic at finally visiting this country to which he’d always dreamed of going. Restaurants spouting authentic French cuisine ran amok throughout the town, and while these appealed to our stomachs and touristy desires, they did not appeal to our wallets, so we decided upon a little sandwich shop whose prices were more reasonable. Exploration commenced once our stomachs were full, and we discovered a Casino, a Movie Theater, several pubs, quaint little shops selling just about everything you can think of, and even a place where you could sign up to sky dive off the mountain. By the time our explorations were finished, we were both very tired, so we headed back to the hotel for a nap before coming back out to enjoy the wonders of a French movie theater.

Refreshed, we discussed our movie options before choosing the movie Knight and Day that had recently been released, and was one of the few films showing in English with French subtitles. After purchasing our tickets, we noticed that instead of the normal American concession stands, they had little soda, popcorn, and candy machines. Mark and I decided to partake of these novelties and purchased a drink and some popcorn at exorbitant prices.

The movie was entertaining, especially since the characters traveled to some of the same, and many similar, places that we’d been seeing on our journey. Afterwords we realized we were both hungry again, but it was late and many of the restaurants that had been clamoring for our attention earlier were now closed. We searched and asked and searched some more, until someone finally pointed us towards a hamburger stand/hole in the wall down the street. As soon as we saw it, we knew we’d found our salvation. People around our age were lined up, waiting for food, and Mark noted that it smelled delicious. I ordered an American burger with fries, and Mark got a regular cheeseburger. They were HUGE! And I don’t mean huge as in tall, I mean they were about the size of a dinner plate huge. And mine, in true European style, had the fries on the burger (Europeans apparently think Americans eat fries on all of their food, so if you ever order something that has American in the name, it is probably going to have fries on it).

With our stomachs restored to normal capacity, Mark and I went back to our hotel and turned in for the night.

The next morning was fairly uneventful, accept for the fact that we gave in and had breakfast at one of the French-y places, which consisted of baguettes, toast, tea, orange juice, and a shared crepe. The rest of the day was spent in traveling back to Torre Pellice, where we finally made it safe and sound around 9:00 PM, tired, but very pleased with our adventure.

Thus ends Part Three. Be looking for the final part of The Big Surprise, Part Four, coming soon!




  1. mark said,

    love you

  2. Jessica said,

    I love you, too 😉

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