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Downtown Paris by day, Montmartre by night.

I’d like to say we were up and at it today, making the most of the beautiful weather, but, non…we slept in. Oh, and Rachael was very keen on checking out the washing machine.

So, a bit slow out of the blocks, but finally after croissants we headed towards the river Seine. We wandered past a flea market then on to Jardin du Palais Royal, a typically structured park lined with elegant trees, brushed stone paths and a lovely central pond with water feature, surrounded by Parisians reading and relaxing.

Rachael does Parisian quite well!

On to the Palais Royal with confusing queues, and a fancy metro entrance,

Past the Louvre, with spectacular dressage posing,

…and ridiculous(ness) from those that should know better!

Past the little Arc de Triomphe thingy, with the quick entry to the Louvre on each side which no one uses…

…past a naked women or two!

…and first port of call, on Cards recommendation, is Musée de l’Orangerie which houses works of art from Monet with his water lilies, thru to Renoir, Picasso, Matisse and others of the impressionist and modern classicism school.

The whole collection, outside the huge Monet’s, was donated to the state by an art dealer and collector, Paul Guillaume and his wife, Jean Walter.

It’s hard to imagine the wealth that has been bequeathed; its an incredible gift to Paris.

The museum is reasonably small, so navigated within an hour or so, and well worth the visit, with some beautiful works of art from some of the leading lights of the late 1800’s to early mid 1900’s.

We strolled down the Seine, and over to the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais opposite. I only post this photo of Winston Churchill in front of the Petit Palais because it took about 10 minutes to take, courtesy of a lovely looking elderly Chinese tourist, who stood in front of Winnie for most of said 10 minutes taking selfies from every conceivable angle. So exhausted was she from her photographic pursuits, that she needed to rest on a park bench close by afterwards, capturing her exhaustion with a few more selfies for the collection!

Here ’tis…

I’d love to tell you the Grand Palais was spectacular, and it is from the outside, but at €35 each to check it out we bailed.

We retraced our footsteps back to our apartment for a regroup before meeting Amanda & Paul for a ‘ lonely guide’ artist tour of Montmartre.

Montmartre is an old bohemian artist colony, high on the hill with Sacré Cœur as it’s needle point, but is mainly taken over now by tourist cafes and gentrification.

Still, the metro still has its old signs, and there is still a charm about the place, especially when our lovely guide, Amanda, directs us to places of interest.

First stop, the love wall, 230 plus ways to say “je t’aime”.

Onwards, and upwards, with some street art…

…and some friendly artist advice!

Up more hills…

…beautiful old cafes,

The oldest, and only existing vineyard in Paris,

Man climbs out of wall!

Oh dear, artist and disciple!

On to the beautiful, ethereal Sacre Cœur…

With magnificent views from the tower…

Then on to dinner on the hill, with the cathedral as our watch keeper!

A great finish to a special day with very special friends to share it with.

On to Paris

Our time in Chamonix has come to an end, a fascinating town filled with shops, cafes, hotels and a bit of ritz. Even a small casino Specks managed, surprisingly, to spend some time in!

One last walk around town while Rachael, Amanda & Leeanne went for a run…

Breakfast, then a quick look at the local market. We took a wide berth from this cheese stall after Lucy informed us that a cocker spaniel had jumped up, licked the rind of the cheese then ran away. Not to be perturbed, the owner simply wiped the rind with a tea towel and continued selling his fromage. What dog????

There it is!!!

Here’s something for Dan, St Bernard owner!

Then we all slowly drifted off to various points of the globe.

Amanda, Paul, Rachael & I are on the same TGV train from Genève to Paris, a fast train which only takes 3 hours to travel the 450kms between the cities. Who would have thought a fast train could work? Food for thought, Australia?

Our train left bang on time with only one problem on this 30 degree day, someone forgot to turn on the aircon! Phew, stuffy and uncomfortable much!

Finally, after about 2 hours, the right switch was flicked and the rest of the trip felt way more relaxed!

Hello Gare de Lyon, and the metro system with its colour coded and numbered lines. Much looking at multiple colours all seemingly blended to one, before we all finally deciphered the maps secret code, bought tickets and headed into the jungle.

We bought 5 day tickets, which we thought was a sensible option until Rachael lost hers while pulling my phone out of her pocket. She realized this as we were stuck on the longest travelator on the metro system. She knew where she’d dropped it but couldn’t get off this infernal walking machine!!

Finally, we’re off it, Rachael dashes back in the forlorn hope of a miracle retrieval, and low and behold…ta-da!!! There’s a few spritz recovered!

Our accommodation is very cool, inside one of Paris’s famous old ‘passages’, enclosed glass roofed arcades. Ours sits on the fourth floor looking down on the glass roof and surrounding apartments.

Dinner was pretty much straight outside the passage, with Paul & Amanda…Paul very happy with his beer!

Its been a long day, more about ‘passages’, our neighborhood (very cool) and more to come!

Chamonix, rest and reflection…and dinner!

We’ll, we’ve finished our circumnavigation of the Mont Blanc massif, the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) and what a wonderful time we have all had, scrambling up hill then back down dale, all the while following that gliding, cat like navigator, Ismael.

As a group we were very well prepared, having trained hard on the massive mountain ranges around the Mornington Peninsula(!), but it was still a tough challenge, abate with a stunning backdrop to gaze at while regaining breath and equilibrium.

Here are a few reflections on the walk, and what may be required to do it in comfort, and fewer blisters!

# You can’t train too much. No one ever failed from training hard, and you won’t have to worry about recovery each day. Also, train as much for going down hill as up. Down hills can be a killer on the knees, quads and hips.

# Wear good comfortable boots. We saw folks wearing sneakers, and when it rains (and it will) sneakers get wet…and when they are wet guess what happens? Blisters. No fun!

# Prépare for all weather conditions. We only had one day of rain, but when it came so did the wind and it got cold. Good wet weather gear, and warm layers will make for much more pleasant dinner conversation.

# Speaking of clothes, I can’t speak highly enough of super-fine merino t-shirts and tops. They don’t smell, ever! And buff’s are great, as a neck warmer, head band or wrist band.

# Poles! Almost everyone carried them, most used them, and those that did agreed they help…and Ismael uses them all the time, so they must be good!!

# Voltarin was the drug of choice! Plus magnesium and/or Endura mixed with water.

# WiFi isn’t great in all places, so just talk to people and forget the phone.

# The track is well signposted, and incredibly clean. Everyone seems to respect the environment and it shows.

# Don’t expect to lose weight on this walk…the food, beer and wine are much too good to ignore.

# Chamonix isn’t the cheapest place in France, so maybe save yourself some grief and buy your gear before you get there. There’s plenty of choice, with a lot of dollars signs attached!

# Bring a camera, it WILL get used A LOT!

# Enjoy, take your time, soak in the beauty, talk to your friends, laugh, eat, drink…have a fabulous time in an incredible environment.

# Thank you No Roads for organising this wonderful walk, from Peter and Irene to all the staff in the office, a very well run machine! Thanks to Ismael for gliding us (I mean…guiding us!) effortlessly, he has a great passion and respect for the alps and it shows. And, of course, thanks to all our walking team. It was an experience of a life time which we loved, and loved doing with you all. You are all great friends and we love you all.

SO…what now for the rest of the day? How about a bit of paragliding?

Tony, Leeanne, Lucy, Gemma, Rachael and I slid off the side of a hill to soar around the side of the alps for 30 minutes or so. Exhilarating!

Lunch, shop, then maybe a drink or two on adjoining balconies.

Then a special treat for Liz, Rachael and I as we had a reunion with one of our trek buddies, Mike, from our last No Roads trip to Nepal last year. It was great to catch up with a ripping fella, and meet his wife Deidre, who then braved dinner with a bunch of Aussies at a fabulous restaurant in Town, Munchies.

If you visit Chamonix, go to Munchies. The best meal of our trip.

Now, on to Paris to continue our fabulous adventure.

Day 10 – Argentiere to Chamonix

(6 hours)

Our last day, and a solid one to complete the TMB, with a climb of about 1100 metres up to Lac Blanc, then down to the chairlift and back to Chamonix.

It was extremely humid, with thunderstorms predicted, making the climb all the more difficult with plenty of breaks to mop the brow!

Once again the views prevailed the pain.

On top of the world, sort of!

The first lake was an oasis of calm, with wonderful reflections.

And a photo opportunity or two…

Then some iron ladders and wooden steps up to the refuge and Lac Blanc.

No more climbing, it’s all downhill from here.

Maddy, the inspiration for this trip, and an inspiration herself, looks very happy to be here.

Tony got a new phone before this trip and has almost blown it up taking photos.

Down we go towards the gondola ride to the valley.

We were lucky, the predicted thunderstorms didn’t eventuate.

After the gondola, a lovely, lazy 20 minute stroll along the river back to Chamonix.

…then, a beer!

And our farewell dinner at The Cap Horn restaurant.

Before a few night caps at The Bar, in the main drag…

With shenanigans from our Tigers supporting crew…

Then time to wrap it up…

Day Nine – Triente – Argentiere

( 6 hours – 18kms)

Once again our group promptly hit breakfast at 7.30 sharp, followed by the 8.30 bus to our starting point of Triente, snuggled down in the valley with ominous mountain ranges surrounding us on three sides.

The weather in the valley was cool but we are expecting hot and humid conditions all day with the threat of thunderstorms and foul weather forecast for tomorrow.

With this in mind there is a real chance that we may have to abandon our walk a day early, so all were very keen and excited to be hitting the track.

Said track went straight up, switchback after switchback, cool breeze turning into a humid swamp, turning a rough enough climb into a sweat box challenge.

Regular short breaks to mop down, before finally reaching the Col de Balme at 2191 metres, and the border between Switzerland and France.

More Aussie border excitement, lots of photos, spectacular views and a lovely cooling breeze.

Maybe a selfie?

A leap of faith…

Finally, a leisurely walk to our outdoor dining room, baguette and brilliant valley/mountain views, with the Mont Blanc Massif on our left.

Probably the second most spectacular lunch spot.

Chamonix is the village at the end of the valley, Argentiere is below us.

The afternoon walk followed through the pine forest, before a short ridge walk to our destination of Angentiere, in the valley above Chamonix.

One glance at the pharmacie in town gave reason for the sweat feast!

No time to waste, there’s a bar directly across the road from our hotel!!

We had a lovely meal at our hotel, with Ismael informing us that the weather forecast for tomorrow wasn’t too bad, and we would be able to complete our epic journey.

Day Eight – Champex-Lac to Col De La Forclaz

(6 hours – 18kms)

Well, Hotel Spendide was just that, comfy beds, lovely meals and stupendous balcony views; we could have stayed for ever…but the trail waits for no man, or woman!

The weather was fine and quite warm as we stroll around the lake, trout safely resting from vigilant fisher persons

Through the forest lanes till encountering the obligatory hill to our beautiful lunch spot looking down on the Rhône Valley.

We haven’t got tired of the luncheon views, that’s for sure.

Another corner, another outrageous vista!

Fuel for winter

Morning tea!

45 minutes digesting baguettes and views, then downhill to our finish point today at Col De La Forclaz, which would normally be our pit stop for the night at the roadside refuge, but our number is too large, so we are being bussed down to the large town of Martigny, which nestles in the heart of the Swiss Rhône Valley.

Martigny if famous for its local wines, the vines of which cling precariously to the side of the steep hills, winding roads breaking up the terraced rows of grape laden vines.

Vintage has just started and the effort to pick must be backbreaking.

Our hotel is right next to the old town where we had a great meal at a Swiss restaurant run by a local who spent time living in the Blue Mountains back home.

Some of us had a quiet night cap at a bar down the road before turning in, tomorrow involves some serious hills!

Day Seven – La Fouly – Champex-Lac

(4 hours – 14kms)

Today is the shortest walk of the tour, only 4 hours, mainly following the valley, with a short sharp 450 metre climb to our hotel next to Champex Lac.

Breakfast in the boarding house dining room, a team photo on the hotel steps and off at precisely 8.19!

We are nothing if not prompt! Ismael has never seen such attention to detail.

All jokes aside, the Hotel was really good, serving up a different experience to what we have experienced to date, and very comfortable and accommodating.

Shrugging off the ghosts of boarding houses passed, we strolled down the valley, setting a leisurely pace as we have become accustomed to the gentle cadence of the days walk, following our gliding guide, Ismael.

Through Swiss villages featuring brillant wooden doors, and wonderful shutters framed with flower boxes flowing with red geraniums.

Probably the highlight was the gnome garden, which from all accounts has being growing year by year.

More pine forest wandering, then up the hill to Champex-Lac, and our wonderful accommodation, Hotel Spendide, with the most brilliant terrace overlooking the stunning valley below us.

Said terrace hosted our lunch, in a location hard to beat, with plenty of beer and rose to toast the venue.

Oh, Gemma really liked the salad!

Our rooms held the same incredible view from balconies perfectly positioned to seduce the senses.

The afternoon was spent wandering the small village which hugged the lake, window shopping the outrageously overpriced goods.

We chatted to a fisherman who was having no luck in his pursuits, which was quite remarkable, as we could see schools of trout just lounging around his line, sunning themselves, and thumbing their fins at his ineptitude!

His rival next door didn’t seem to have any issues, with Specks claiming bragging rights!

More suffering in this abysmal hovel, before being summoned to the dining room for a lovely fresh meal of salad, chicken tagliatelle and crème caramel.

Enough suffering, time to retire to our lovely rooms with ridiculous valley and Mountain View’s.