Happy New Year folks! I’m on vacation in France for a couple of weeks, visiting my people. If you are wondering what my homeland looks like in the cold of winter, read on and stay tuned for a few more posts next week. Let’s start with pictures of Chamonix by night. Chamonix is a commune in Narnia the Haute-Savoie département in the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. It was the site of the 1924 Winter Olympics, the first Winter Olympics; we fared poorly, per usual. My stepmother’s family owns a nice chalet in the valley, at the bottom of the French Alps, where we traditionally spend Christmas. Needless to say, I don’t mind waking up with my eyes set on the beautiful Aiguilles Rouges and Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe (15,782 ft.). The commune is very touristic, a popular resort for skiers and mountain enthusiasts alike.
This is the first post in a five-parts series relating my winter trip to France in December 2010. In separate installments I posted photos of Chamonix by day, wondered where the princess was, ambled down the roads of Uzès and Arles, and gave French food some thought.
More photos below. Click on any of the thumbnails to open a larger view, or check the full-screen Flickr slideshow if you have Flash installed. I think the photos look much better large on black, I highly recommend either slideshows, which feature the whole set of 20 photos (13 on this page). Photos from the whole trip can also be found online.
It was nearly 15°F (-10 °C) and very dark outside, on that Christmas night. It had been snowing for two days, creating a fresh blanket of powder about a foot deep. The kids were busy playing in the chalet when I decided to spend a few hours out with my own toy. Time to roam the land. Our house is not in the village itself, but there is charming little path going through the woods, along a river, that provides for a peaceful 15 minutes walk to the center of Chamonix. It took me much more than that of course, I stopped on the way to plant my new tripod and take long exposure photos. By leaving the shutter open a few seconds, one can gather much more light than visible to the human eye without a flash, and create this silky-smooth effect on the water. Not original, but pretty.
A small bridge over the Arve river, above, on my way to the center of Chamonix. The Arve flows for approximately 62 miles through in the département of Haute-Savoie, and for a few miles in Switzerland (nothing we can do about that). It is a left tributary of the Rhône. This is a nice amount of snow, but the valley can handle much more than that. Note that it doesn’t remotely snow that much in the rest of the country. I would say it takes about an inch or two to paralyze Paris. Ski resorts in the Alps are at the ready during the cold season, but the rest of Frenchland seems to be completely unprepared every, damn, winter.
In the background, the bottom of The Aiguille du Dru if I’m not mistaken, a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps. I’ll post a better picture soon, during the day; it’s a spectacular peak. It was first ascended by British alpinists Clinton Thomas Dent and James Walker Hartley, with guides Alexander Burgener and K. Maurer, who climbed it via the south-east face in 1878. This photo is missing a few penguins, if you ask me.
Above, the back of the Horace-Benedict de Saussure monument in Chamonix. Beside him is Jacques Balmat. H-B de S. (1740 – 1799) was a Swiss aristocrat, physicist and Alpine traveler, often considered the founder of alpinism. In 1760 he first visited Chamonix, and offered a reward to the first man to reach the summit of Mont Blanc, as yet unscaled (source: Wikipedia). Nice back, Horace.
Hopefully these two lovebirds above were too busy to notice the tall, scary French dude hiding in the shadow, armed with a long carbon-fiber stick. I followed them for a few minutes, taking shots after shots, until the dog gave me the look. Can’t fool that guy.
Rue des Moulins in Chamonix. Pretty quiet on that late Christmas night. This is taken at very high speed to freeze the shooting stars in motion. I’m waiting for a call from NASA any minute now.
Another shot of the Arve river. Taking pictures in the snow is tricky business because of the amount of lights it reflects. That and the part where you freeze to death. I wasn’t using any flash that night and I don’t think the moon was out. All the available light was gathered for a few seconds from different, artificial sources in the area. The yellowish one was shining from a parking lot behind the trees; you can clearly notice it has a different color temperature than the one in the foreground. Not much you can do to fix that, even by taking pictures in RAW format. In context the human brain isn’t even bothered by the difference, even though you can notice it outdoor. Looking at it in a photograph is a different story.
The Hotel Alpina, in its blue-ish glory. Although accounts of the first visits to Chamonix date back to the mid-18th century, the town is not afraid of adding some pretty tacky buildings to its old architecture. As I mentioned before, it’s a very touristic area.
A massive wooded sculpture on the side of the Hotel Alpina. I’ve yet to find out what it is. If it’s an alien ship, hopefully the hotel is aware of it.
The Atmosphere restaurant in Chamonix. A nice view on the river. This is really something I miss in Albany, NY, restaurants near bodies of water. I do recommend the Sagamore Hotel on Lake George and the Scholz Zwicklbaur Hofbrau in East Berne though. Yum.
On my way back to the chalet, a few hours later. The atmosphere that night really reminded me of The Shining. Redrum!
Restaurant La Potinière, Place Chalmat in the center of Chamonix. If there is a “plaza” in France, you are bound to find a restaurant and tables outside. I’m not sure “potinière”is a word, but it does sound like a small, Canadian pot. Good luck using that one in a sentence.
Thanks for a great year by the way!