Friday, March 29, 2019

TMB Day 9: Trient to Argentière

Day Nine
July 25, 2018

Starting point: Trient, Switzerland
Ending point: Argentière, France
Distance: 10 miles
Height gain: 3241 feet
High point: Col de Balme (7188 feet)
Lunch: Le Fournil Chamoniard Bakery, in Argentière
Accommodation: Hotel de la Couronne

Happy 3rd Anniversary to us!  We were officially married for three years on this day, and going on this trek has been the best way to celebrate.  So, we spoiled ourselves and booked an actual hotel, had dinner at an actual restaurant, and decided not to rush this stage.  Honestly, this was the least eventful day on the trail because it rained (finally).  We made it surprisingly quickly to the Col de Balme before the rain and got a peek of Mont Blanc, rising directly in front of us into the clouds.  Then, we walked down into civilization, bypassed the village of Le Tour, and strolled into Argentière, a charming village that does not get a lot of traffic and therefore retains a lot of authentic French charm.  It's usually busier in the winter due to skiing, but we weren't complaining about the peace and quiet.  We indulged at the bakery, checked out the little market, hung our laundry in the window of our fourth story room, ate classic French food with an American twist for dinner, and went off to bed!  All in all, a chill day back in France.

This morning, we were two of the last people to head downstairs for breakfast. It was great to avoid the hoards of people and lines, though. We walked right up to the huge bowls of yogurt (hurray, more silky-smooth European yogurt!) and muesli. Our verdict: best cereal, worst coffee. Neither of us could drink the coffee, and I’m the least picky person when it comes to coffee. Good thing we had our own instant coffee packets upstairs - I went back up (and down) all three flights of stairs - believe me, it was worth the trouble.

We grabbed our shoes out of the shoe room, which smelled a lot less offensive this morning since almost everybody else’s shoes were gone.  We checked the weather again, as always, and again, rain was predicted.  The clouds actually did look like rainclouds today, though.  Apparently, it had rained overnight as well.

The walk out of Trient and back to the main trail was quiet, peaceful, and somewhat magical.  It felt nice to be straggling so far behind the rest of the trekkers.  We even bumped into the trio of Ukrainian guys again as we doubled back - apparently they were off to a later start, as well!

We make a quick climb up to the Col de Balme. This is the point where we cross back into France and leave Switzerland behind. According to book statistics, it should have taken us much longer to get to this particular Col, but we reached it so early that we weren’t sure if we were in the right place. Maybe we were whipped into shape by the Fenetre d’Arpette route from the day before, making this climb seem easy in comparison.

It was nice at the top, I stretched up there and we relaxed in the grass, snacking on leftover crackers and apple because the refuge up here does not do lunch, contrary to what the guidebook says. We weren’t really that hungry anyway, though.  We chatted with a guy from Israel, who was actually taking a nap on the hill.  I also used the bathroom at the refuge, which was a super weird experience... there wasn't really a door, so they had to literally move a large piece of wood away from the wall to let me in.  I wonder if this refuge is going to undergo some much-needed renovation...

From this point, Mont Blanc should have been visible, but its dome was shrouded in clouds and the surrounding mountain peaks and even the expansive Vallee de l’Arve were all hidden under a thick layer of haze. The storm that should have come yesterday may be finally here, so we opted out of the higher route even though we had plenty of energy and went downhill into Le Tour. We had been flirting with the weather just a little bit too much over the past few days. Fortunately, we had been winning at this game since the start of the trek, with the Fenetre d’Arpette being the jackpot, so today we decided to play it safe. Plus, it would be nice to get into town early for a change and actually spend some time relaxing before dinner.

Oh, and Wes's trekking pole straps (yes, both!) actually broke!  We doctored them up with our roll of Leukotape.

There was a cablecar available to take us down, but we ignored it. After a pretty dreary downclimb through a bike park tracing old ski runs, we entered Le Tour. I half wished that we had taken the higher, more scenic route, but visibility was so bad. As if on cue, the rain began to pour heavily. We decided to wait it out by having a snack at a restaurant, but then as if on cue again, the free shuttle that drives through the Chamonix Valley pulled up right across the street and we ran over and hopped in.  This shuttle was the most crowded bus ride I’ve ever taken - seemed like most people had the same idea. The ten-minute ride on the bus saved us forty-five minutes of walking alongside the road in the rain to Argentière.

Once in Argentière, we promptly indulged in three pastries at the first bakery we saw and walked around this cute town, feeling happy to be back in France. This bakery, Le Fournil Chamoniard, turned out to be the best one in the area, anyway. We got the iconic Mont Blanc pastry, which is made of meringue, chestnut cream, roasted chestnuts, and a chocolate shell; Alsacien framboises, raspberry paste and honey sandwiched in between two buttery puff pastry layers and topped with almonds; and pissaladiere, thick doughy bread topped with caramelized (almost pureed) onions, black olives, and anchovies (whole, and sometimes also with pissalat, a type of anchovy paste). We knew that we’d be back the next day for our picnic needs!

We checked into our hotel, the Hotel de la Couronne, which was right in the middle of town and very pleasant (they must have upgraded us!). This was a very quiet town, so it was very favorable to be conveniently located where all (meaning, the handful of) the restaurants and markets were.

After showering, there was plenty of daylight left so walked around town and looked at posted restaurant menus, poked into Super U, and found a little organic market, which had lots of healthy products and specialty items. I bought a bar of dark chocolate, Wes picked out some potato chips in a brown bag, and we grabbed a tin of duck pate. We figured that we could come back in the morning if we needed anything else for lunch.

We thought about going to the Super U to throw together a simple and economical dinner, but since it was our 3rd wedding anniversary, we decided to sit down to a proper meal at Le Bistrot Dahu.  The menu that they had posted out front looked pretty good, although I think we chose to eat here because they had a very yummy-sounding burger on the list, and we had seen photos of this burger on Tripadvisor. A burger actually sounded pretty great to both of us today, which must have meant that the American within us had been suppressed for too long. So, for dinner tonight we had the best of both worlds: an assorted platter of French delicacies (consisting of foie gras, speck, and smoked salmon), a round of escargot, a salad with prosciutto and hot goat cheese on honey-glazed crostini, and a big, juicy burger and French fries (ha!) on the side. The huge burger came on a rustic roll, cooked medium, with a generous scrape of raclette cheese and thick pieces of bone-in bacon. It was richly Haute-Savoie and satisfyingly American at the same time.

Of course, we could not say no to ice cream for dessert. We had a scoop of pear sorbet, which was our first sorbet here in Europe. It was so good, with little chunks of pear throughout. We tended to lean towards dairy-based ice creams thus far because of all the happy cows that we’d been seeing. We also had a scoop of Génépi ice cream - we instantly fell in love with the herbal flavor, as well as the pretty name.  Génépi is an alpine plant with little yellow flowers that grows in the French Savoy region, adjacent to the Aosta Valley, from which a very regionally popular liqueur is made. We saw it as an exotic-sounding ice cream flavor on lots of menus, so we figured we had to try it out.

Our hotel had given us the corner room, facing out towards the Mont Blanc range. We had a really amazing view of the glacier and the peaks, but we weren’t sure if we could really see Mont Blanc. Wes tried to take some long exposure photos when the clouds lifted after it got dark, but we couldn’t tell if Mont Blanc was in those photos or not. We figured we’d wait until the early morning, to see if we were lucky enough to get another sunrise view of the Monarch of the Alps.

Today was extremely, extremely chill compared to all of the other days, but we did still cover a lot of miles on foot and we figured that a good rest would be best, since the last day was going to be quite demanding!  It's funny, our bodies must have gotten really accustomed to all of this walking - you'd think that we would be pooped by the ninth day, but we felt like we could keep going for another week.  Sort of sad that it would all end tomorrow.

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