Category Archives: Switzerland

TMB, Days 9-10

Day 9 – Trient to Chamonix: This was our final day of hiking. Before setting off, we hit up the adjacent food mart on the last day it was open for the season and bought lunch for the day. We headed back to France, walking uphill to the Col de Balme (2201m) towards the Chamonix Valley. The lodge up top was said to be run by a really grumpy old French woman. If you spoke in English to her, she apparently wouldn’t respond. I even just googled “Col de Balme grumpy woman” and her photo popped up.

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I remember making this climb and thinking “when will this ever end??” But, the view up top was crazy amazing. Near the top, I heard a passing hiker exclaim, “God, she’s miserable!” I already knew who she was talking about. (Photo credit: Nabeel)

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We walked into the lodge with caution to order 3 hot chocolates and were equipped with a few French words.

Me & Yuko: “Bonjour! Uh, um, chocolat. Trois. S’il vous plaît?”

Guess what? She cracked a smile!!! The hot chocolate that her husband made was probably the shittiest hot chocolate I ever tasted but, her smile made it worthwhile. We brought our mugs outside to drink with the view of Mont Blanc. And, this is when I discovered the continuous shooting mode on my camera.

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These are just 3 of the 100 photos we took and I could definitely make a flip book for the 6 of us who became obsessed with this camera function. This was sooo worth the climb.

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Now, compare this photo to the very first one we took on day 2. WE ARE FAMMMMILY! I GOT ALL MY SISTERS (and brothers) WITH ME!

On the steep way downhill to Le Tour, we had 2 opportunities to catch a ski/chair lift down should our knees fail us. Several people considered it but never committed to it. I wouldn’t take a chair lift down on my own and, on top of that, I made it this far and became determined to finish it on foot. We stopped midway to quickly eat our lunch then made the rest of the way down. My knees and ankles were killing me and I was the last one to finish but, when I made it down, I felt like I could CONQUER THE WORLD! Clare was proud of me for powering it through. No one was prouder than I was.

Down at Le Tour, we had some time before the bus came to take us back to Chamonix so, we grabbed a celebratory drink at Le Passon. By the time everyone got their drink and began cheers-ing, I had almost finished mine within 4-5 gulps. Yea-uhhhhh.

Estimated Hiking Time: 6hr
Approximate Distance Hiked: 14 km
Elevation: Start 1297m; Highest 2201m; Finish 1471m

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We had some time before we met up for our final dinner and several of us were interested in going paragliding. It was EUR 110 for a 30 minute tandem flight. Upon hearing the price, everyone backed out except for me. I mean, when else could I paraglide around the glaciers of Mont Blanc? I met my tandem pilot, Sean, at the entrance to the Chamonix-Aiguille du Midi cable car, and we took the cable car up together to the top. Sean turned out to be a schoolmate or friend of a friend from Clare’s hometown and they actually hadn’t talked to/seen each other in decades. He was a ski junkie who came to Chamonix to cure himself of his ski bug, then ended up loving it so much more that he came here to live. He now lives with his French girlfriend and child, and they are now a paragliding, ski instructing duo. What a life! I need to rethink mine now… (actually, I already have been…).

Sean opened and set up his orange parachute and buckled me into the gear before buckling me into his. When the wind conditions became favorable, I was instructed to walk a few steps back when the wind gathered inside the parachute, then run off the cliff with all my might. It was fantastic.

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I believed I could fly and then was flying like an eagle. Thank you R. Kelly and Seal. The views were so amazing – the glaciers, the other paragliders, the forest and the view of Chamonix. Sean suggested that I grab hold of the steering handles and try doing some turns. With my extremely sweaty hands and beating heart, I tried. For a good minute…or maybe it was just 30 seconds. Then, I insisted that he take it back or else I might bring us to an early death. But, yay I did it! (Inhale. Exhale.) Throughout the ride (or the glide?), Sean took photos of me with his GoPro type camera which I haven’t yet received so, I’ll post when I do get them. (Update: I contacted him and he had already sent them to me a few days after the flight. Either the email address was wrong or, it resided in my spam for over 30 days. Regardless, the photos are forever lost!) In case you want to do this on a visit to Chamonix, make sure to request Sean at Fly Chamonix. Dress warmly and bring gloves. The wind chill makes it pretty cold up there.

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Ta-da! Some were jealous when I got back to the hotel (Hotel Le Chamonix) and said they were trying to look for me up in the sky. After a (none other than) glorious and slightly long but nicely hot shower, I met the others at the bar nearby before we headed to our final celebratory dinner at Le National. This was finally the end :*(

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Clare recommended this dish that involved a hot plate and you cooking your own meat – duck, chicken and beef. Yuko and I split it since it’s meant for 2 people and man, it was so fresh, juicy and delicious! I just looked up reviews for this restaurant and people complained about blandness, rudeness and slowness but, everyone was happy with their food and service speed was completely fine…at least for us. Alex then brought out bottles of sparkling wine that he bought to celebrate.

After the dinner came the after pah tee (actually, the hotel lobby for 6 of us). Clare took us pub-hopping to the expat bars and we went about our merry way. As we were talking about Wasim and how monkey-like he was in his hiking abilities…

Alex: “That man is always wearing a track suit. I mean, you can even hear him swishing in his sleep!”

Hahaha, it’s true.

Day 10 – Depart Chamonix: Yuko and I woke up early (not hungover!) to say goodbye to everyone catching a morning flight. Nabeel, Wasim, Yuko and I were the only ones leftover at noon. We walked around and savored the last moments together. I seriously almost cried after they walked me to the train station. I made it back to Paris and it wasn’t the same.

TMB, Days 7-8

Day 7 – Val Ferret to La Fouly: This was the coldest and windiest day. I put on my Under Armour cold gear, a beanie and wool gloves before we set off down to Arp Nouva and then on a steep climb up across the Grand Col Ferret (2537m). The moon was still out in the morning.

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The one thing that kept me going through the cold winds was the promise of an Italian hot chocolate at Rifugio Elena (2061m), a refuge where we would take a break to thaw out. An Italian hot chocolate is much thicker in consistency, almost like the chocolate you dip Spanish-style churros into but, a little more liquidy that it’s drinkable.

After about 1-2 hours, we finally reached the refuge. HAAAAALLELUJAH! HAAAAALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLEEEEE-LU-JAH! And, guess what? Yup, it was the best damn hot chocolate I ever tasted. My body felt frozen and my nose was a leaky faucet so, the first sip of freshly made hot chocolate felt like a revival. It was also the last chance we could drink an Italian hot chocolate before we headed down to Switzerland. Every last drop was savored to the very maximum.

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The view of the glacier was spectacular. Clare admitted that we were the fastest group of hikers she’s ever led so, even with Nabeel stopping to smell the roses, we were usually ahead of schedule. Whoop. Whoop.

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Before descending into Switzerland and into the hamlet of Ferret (1705m), we stopped for our lunch break. The refuge we stayed at the night before sold lunch so, most of us bought from there out of convenience, meaning we didn’t have much choice. We thought it sounded like a good deal when we heard we were getting 2 ham & cheese sandwiches (or 2 cheese if you were vegetarian) for I think EUR 4-5. But, when they gave us the packed lunches, we saw that it consisted of bread that was slightly larger than your palm and about one slice each of ham and cheese per sandwich.

As we sat here, the wind was at its strongest and our need to keep our frozen fingers inside our pockets trumped our need to address our hunger. We quickly ate whatever we could manage and began to make our way down. There was another group huddled here for lunch who actually opened up a bottle of wine and poured them into cups for each person. I guess that could’ve kept them a little warmer although I think some whiskey or vodka would’ve done a much better job.

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Wasim: “Hey guys! I have another group photo idea! How about 6 of us line up on one side of the path and the other 6 line up on the opposite side, the 2 lines parallel, and we all hold up our hiking poles like this…with one pole touching the pole on the opposite side, creating an arch?”

No one even turned to look at him or even commented or laughed out of sheer courtesy. No one reacted in the least bit. Everyone just kept on walking.

Wasim: “Guys?”

Silence.

We eventually made it to another refuge, La Peule, for a break and since we were now in Switzerland, Clare suggested that we try this soda called Rivella. Apparently, there’s an ingredient in it that none of us would guess but, Clare wouldn’t reveal it until we tried. So, a few of us tried it at the refuge. It tasted kind of like Red Bull..or kind of like Inca Cola in Peru. Not something I’d ever really crave. So, what was this mysterious ingredient? Milk whey. Hm.

Finally, we made it to La Fouly where we were to stay for the night at the Auberge des Glaciers. La Fouly is a very small ski village and at the time we were there, 90% was closed down/vacant. We did our usual pick a bunk, drop off our stuff and run for the shower bit. These showers were great since there was an actual knob (not a button you had to press every few minutes) and the hot water never ran out. However, the 2 showers on the main floor were in the same small bathroom, meaning 2 people had to shower at the same time with a good chance of seeing each other naked or, 1 person showered at a time but at the expense of creating a longer wait time for others. Luckily, the couples and the girls went together. We later found out that there were more showers downstairs.

After the bodily cleansing came the grocery shopping for the next day’s lunch. We hit up the small grocery shop underneath the auberge (the only food mart open in town) and picked our usual spread. Once my eyes laid upon the buckets of Haribo gummy candy, I grabbed a plastic bag, a set of tongs and went to town. Then, one by one, we all lined up at the cash register and paid for our things. All of us had some sort of bread, cheese, meat and bag of junk food.

Yuko and I walked out of the grocery store together, and our hands went into our respective bags and pulled out the gummy candy simultaneously. We looked at each other to talk about something but, as we caught each other eagerly pulling out the candy, we pointed to each other and broke out into laughter. “You, too??” Nothing can stand between us and a bag of Haribo.

With all our duties completed, all we had left to do was drink in the lounge, eat dinner and drink some more. This night, other than me, Yuko and Nabeel, Jackie and David also stayed up. In our drunken stupor we talked about our past and gossiped about the present. Jackie and David told us how they met and finally got together and, although I don’t remember the details, I remember it being one of the cutest stories. When he first pursued her, he had sent over flowers to her house and she responded with something like “Thanks but, I’m not looking for a boyfriend right now. I’m quite happy with where my life is and I’m concentrating on my sports activities.” And, so she did. And, they finally started dating maybe a year or two later. What’s meant to be will be. (Photo credit for the above 2 photos: Nabeel)

Estimated Hiking Time: 8hr
Approximate Distance Hiked: 20 km
Elevation: Start 2025m; Highest 2537m; Finish 1456m

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Day 8 – La Fouly to Trient: In the morning, we actually rode a bus through the Swiss Val Ferret, through small cute towns and the gorgeous countryside, until we reached the lakeside town of Champex. The ride was about 30 glorious minutes. We took a coffee/hot chocolate break before continuing on our hike.

Clare: “If you guys want to pick up some more food or snacks, there’s a boulangerie up the block.”

Nabeel: “Is someone doing laundry here?”
Me: “Um, what are you talking about?”
Nabeel: “Didn’t Clare just say something about laundry?”
Wasim: “I think she said ‘lingerie’?”
Me: “I have no idea what you guys are talking about.”

We walked up the block.

Clare: “So, here’s the boulangerie. Last chance to get something.”
Nabeel & Wasim: “Ohhhh, ‘boulangerie’!”

Yep.

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We took the Bovine Way, an old path that was used to access the cow pastures high above the valley, and passed the Col de la Forclaz (1526m).

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The Bovine Way living up to its name. Moo. Moo. Moo. And, moo. Moo? (Photo credit: Nabeel)

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I loved lunchtime. We stopped at another refuge which was closed for the season but, had picnic tables with an awesome view of the massif and…a cross. When we arrived, a British group of hikers laid out on the tabletops of the other picnic tables, one to each person, and took a nap in the warm sun. The sun felt so, so nice.

We set off after lunch toward Trient (1297m) where we were to stay for the night. We hiked another 2 or so hours before we reached a small town where we stopped for drinks. Some of us thought we already reached Trient and so, the panaché that some of us drank felt extra refreshing. Unfortunately, we were still another hour or two away from our final destination.

Aline and Ellen stopped at a small souvenir shop to browse around. Upon seeing the cashier, they both said “Bonjour!” out of courtesy, albeit with an American accent. The cashier was one of the grumpy kind and insulted both of them for saying the greeting incorrectly. The man did not get any business from us.

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Soon enough, Nabeel wasn’t the only one lagging behind. It was also me, Yuko and Alex. A bull had gone rogue and was running away from the herd with the farmer and his wife running after him. The 4 of us watched with the greatest amusement and I secretly was rooting for the bull. It ran down the hill, then up another, and the farmer/wife were panting with exhaustion. Eventually, the bull realized it had nowhere to go and it slowed down enough for the farmer to catch up to it. You can’t hate him for trying.

We reached Trient (above) and stayed overnight at the Auberge du Mont-Blanc.

Estimated Hiking Time: 8hr
Approximate Distance Hiked: 16 km
Elevation: Start 1466m; Highest 1987m; Finish 1297m

TMB, Day 6

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Day 6 – Courmayeur to Val Ferret: We went into town after breakfast to buy/pack lunch for the day – a bread roll from a bakery, a small block of blue cheese, sausage link, sun-dried tomatoes, a slightly pickled portobello mushroom and peaches. Although I was sad to leave our little luxury, this day of hiking was one of my favorite and no, not just because it entailed flatter paths and was a shorter day but also because it was one of the most scenic and the weather was warm and breezy. Above is a view of Courmayeur as we ascended into the mountains.

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You can see us becoming more of a family. I mean, after bunking together in the same room, hiking together for 8 hours a day and doing everything else together except bathroom activities, how could you not? We continued along below the Mont de la Saxe and the balcony path facing the ridge of the Grandes Jorasses.

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Our view at lunch was unreal. It’s an amazing feeling to sit on the grass, face the mountains and eat local foods made with almost no preservatives or unpronounceable chemicals. I quickly realized that the grass housed a lot more grasshoppers than I was comfortable with (meaning none) but, Yuko, who loved playing with bugs and nature as a little girl, picked one up and placed it on her hand for everyone to see. The grasshopper was unusually calm and probably developed a momentary trust for humankind. Upon closer inspection, it looked like a toy replica and was actually really beautiful.

Before I discovered the continuous shooting function on my camera, we took jumping photos based only on human finger clicking speed…leading to the above failure of a photo. Flo, Yuko and me.

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We stopped for a bit to pick some berries and Clare pointed up to the mountains (above) to point out a small red cabin.

Me: “Where??”
Clare: “I apologize for explaining it this way but…you see those two testicles up there [and the penis]? If you look closely at the left testicle, the small red cabin is perched up there.”

I grabbed her binoculars, found my way to the left testicle and spotted the tiny red cabin. Who makes it up there and actually stays there for a night? Crazy people, that’s who. And maybe a mountain bear.

Alex: “Where is this cabin?”
Me: “You see the two testicles?”
Alex: “Uh-huh, oh yea, I’m looking at the testicles.”

Can you spot it? It’s literally smack (haha) in the center of the photo. If not, let me know and I’ll post a close-up.

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By the end of the day, we made it to our next lodging, the Rifugio Bonatti, overlooking the Italian Val Ferret. This refuge felt the most spacious and modern and because it was very eco-friendly, it limited the amount of hot water per shower per person. Everyone was given only one token which you inserted into a box in your shower stall that generated the hot water. I think the limit was around 10 min or around 12 liters of hot water (although I don’t remember exactly), and once the limit was met, the shower became ice cold. My strategy was:

1. Rinse body, then turn off water
2. Lather up the body wash
3. Rinse off, wet hair, then turn off water
4. Lather up the shampoo
5. Rinse off, then risk conditioning the hair
6. Let the water run until the water temperature started to cool
7. Dry off

Now that you thoroughly know my eco-friendly shower strategy, you can now live in peace as your life’s purpose has just been fulfilled. During my turn-on-turn-off phase, I heard someone shivering and breathing heavily in the next stall as she continued her shower. She should’ve asked me about my shower strategy. (Photo credit: Nabeel)

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Looking back at what we left behind was so satisfying. After we showered, drank and ate dinner, the usuals went to bed early while Nabeel, Yuko, Clare, Jackie, David and I stayed up to watch the moonrise among the stars. The night was really cold and we laid out on the benches of the wooden picnic tables outside the refuge. The moon was beautiful that night and, with our faces toward the night sky, I finally got to see a hint of the Milky Way.

Me: “Ahhh! The Milky Way!!”
Yuko: “You’re such a New Yorker.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Yuko: “I see better views of this all the time in Australia.”

Yea, New York is lacking in some ways but, it’s still my hometown and the center of my heart (along with Madrid). I still am planning to move back abroad someday though.

As we continued to lay out on the benches, I saw a head torch moving in the distance. It was a mountain runner still running the Tor des Géants…in the pitch black darkness. I don’t know how these runners don’t trip over a rock and roll down the hills. We cheered him on as he stopped at our refuge (one of the checkpoints) to log his time and location and then continued on. I haven’t said this since maybe high school but, mad respect.

Luckily, after we got our clothes and gear washed in Courmayeur (I think we paid about EUR 5 each which is really cheap), new bug bites stopped appearing in random places and our existing ones started to slowly heal. Crisis averted!

Estimated Hiking Time: 5-7hr
Approximate Distance Hiked: 14 km – 20 km
Elevation: Start 1240m; Highest 2125m or 2500m (route dependent); Finish 2025m

Spring break 2004

Five cities in four countries, jam-packed in 2 weeks.

Five girls and five guys (in descending luggage size order):
GQRich, Dave, HKJay, Jenn, HyeMi, Stella, Chinjay, Foon, Jess, me

Paris, France

In an attempt to diversify, I will try my best to post pictures that NO ONE ELSE has posted which therefore makes my entry extra special. I think.

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View from the Louvre

Eiffel Tower 15

View from the Eiffel Tower

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Clearly inebriated and stuffing our faces with cotton candy while looking completely unflattering.

And now, a memorable quote –
On the metro: “Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it.”

Portbou, Spain

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We had a brief stop in Portbou en route to Barcelona and were clearly wowed.

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Not posing…

Barcelona

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Port Vell, with beautiful flip-flop weather

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Front and back facades of La Sagrada Família

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At the aquarium, which falsely advertised having seals.

Quotes –
Sitting on the pier, Jenn points to the water: “Hm. Little fish.” ::silence::

In the communal bathroom, taking a shower next to 3 LOSER guys:
“Hey Christine, are you naked now?”
“Have you ever been between two naked guys before? It’s a sandwich!”

Rome, Italy

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Colosseum

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I don’t understand why we did the things we did.

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Roman Forum

Vatican City

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St. Peter’s Basilica

[Sistine Chapel]

I secretly took a picture of the ceiling (which is forbidden)…so I will not post that in case I get reported, and then imprisoned for copyright theft, and then sent to hell, as everyone keeps telling me.

Quotes –
On the train, Chinjay says with such assurance: “It’s ALL about who you know.” ::attempts to snap fingers but fails::

At Il Tunnel, Stella tries to translate the word strawberry into Italian: “Strohberry” HAHAHA.

Jenn (which I didn’t think was funny): “So I’m NOT alone…in this funny world.”

Jenn, AGAIN: “You don’t need to know what I did in the bathroom. All you need to know is that it got clogged.”

Venice

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San Marco

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St. Mark’s Basilica

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A perfect day for the girls

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And the romantic, yet non-romantic gondola ride

Quotes –

Jess, on the gondola: “:::water botttttleee:: :::gaaarrrbage:::”

Jenn: “I have a surprise for you….a pigeon leg!”

Zurich, Switzerland

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I don’t remember any quotes from here…but I DO have a video clip of Peter trying to hit the green balloon at the Eurostar station. HAHAHAHA.

Okay, that is all.