France

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FRANCE

France is one of the most visited country in the world. It has everything that you could ever want to see on your holidays: a great city like Paris, good beaches, more monuments than any other country, lovely nature, incredible mountain scenery, superb skiing year-round. An area we did not visit but is on our list on the return trip is the province of Champagne located in the northeast of France and is well known for its famous white wine. Champagne is mostly fermented in two bottle sizes, the standard bottle (750 ML), and Magnum (1.5 L). In general, magnums are thought to be of higher quality, as there is less oxygen in the bottle, and the volume to surface area favors the formation of appropriately-sized bubbles. In the afternoon we arrived in Paris, also named the city of light. To many people is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet and has a very romantic atmosphere. The Eifel Tower is the most famous monument in France an immense structure of exposed latticework made of 7000 tons iron. At 300 meters*1 or 320.75m including antenna, *1 heights varies 15cm depending on temperature. Other statistics include: 40 tons of paint, 1652 steps to the top, 2.5 million rivets. But Paris, has a lot more than the Eifel tower The Museums form one of the other main attractions of this beautiful city, the principal being the Louvre Museum, which is one of the best museums in the world. Other famous museums are the Musée d’Orsay, which occupies a former train station, the Musée Marmottan and The Picasso and Rodin museums. Paris is an architect’s dream having very impressive buildings like cathedrals and churches. Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle and the Palais du Louvre are a few examples of the great history and religion of Paris. But not only ancient buildings can be seen here, there also many modern architectural structures such as La Villette, La Grande Arche de la Défense, the Opéra Bastille, the Institute du Monde Arabe and the Bibliothèque Nationale. Paris has the famous Euro Disney, a place where the kids and adults can have fun, this place has everything including cafés, restaurants, parks, golf and much more. And with 14.5 Million people visiting Euro Disney it pays to spend at least 2 days in this fun park. We parked for 20 Euro at the Euro Disney Carpark and decided to stay for a few nights. It worked out to be a good option as we are told the cheapest camp areas cost around 40 euro (56 AUD for 1 night.) This place has everything including cafés, restaurants, parks, golf and much more. 14.5 million people visiting Euro Disney yearly (40000 people per day.) As France is such a popular place you will never be on your own in most parts of the Country and visitor numbers are very high to name a few Fontainebleau Forest and Castle 13 million visitors per year, Notre Dame 12 million visitors (35000 people per day!) Flea Market Saint Ouen 11 Million visitors The Louvre 8.3 million, The Georges Pompidou centre and museum of art 8.3 million visitors, The Eiffel Tower 5.5 million. Many countries do not achieve those figures on a national basis. We decided to leave Paris and head south. Easier said than done, three hours later we were out of the traffic jam and we were on our way again. The stories about Paris traffic are known but we felt quite comfortable in our truck.  After leaving Paris we were looking forward to the country side. We decided to follow inland road. Driving initially through rolling hills and many beautiful villages. The centre of France is in many ways the quietest part of France. But the great treasure of this region is the Loire valley, with many great castles and beautiful towns. In the far distance we saw the French Alps great for skiing in winter and hiking in summer. Albertville, Grenoble and Chamonix have all hosted the Olympic Winter Games. Our campsite had amazing views those you only see at the French postcards. But at night the cold air came coming down the mountain and with campfires not allowed it became heater on and move inside.  Next day we explored Grenoble a city in the South East of France at the foot of the French Alps. Located in the Rhone Alpine Region, Grenoble is the capital of the department of Isere. The proximity of the mountains has led to the city being known as the “Capital of Alps. Grenoble was where the 10th Olympic Winter Games where held in 1968, from here we followed the valley passing through Albertville another host of the Olympic Winter Games, this was in 1992.next town was Chamonix also an ex Winter Olympic Games winner in 1924. No wonder if you look at the area (or up) 3000 to 4800 Meter Mountains everywhere and even at the end of summer plenty of snow. Chamonix’ is a destination popular the world over. In the streets of this high-mountain town you’ll hear languages from every corner of the globe.  It does not matter where you are in the town wherever you are look up and you’ll see ‘it’ there… 4,810 meters (15,781 ft) of rock, snow, ice. The different panoramas are situated along the length and breadth of the valley, in the heart of the Mont-Blanc and Aiguilles Rouges mountain ranges. Chamonix is situated in the north-westerly part of the Alps, just 15 km from the Swiss border via the Col des Motets and 15 km from Italy via the Mont-Blanc tunnel. The natural border, where these three countries converge, lies at 3820 meters on the summit Mont Dolent. The whole valley is dominated by the Mont Blanc chain to the south and the Aiguilles Rouges (red peaks) to the north. The resident population of Chamonix is approximately 10,000 inhabitants. The number of visitors fluctuates enormously during the tourist season, in summer up to 100,000 visitors per day and in winter around 60,000. Like everywhere in Europe festivities and entertainment are everywhere to lure tourist. As we arrived it was the week of the “The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc” A grueling 166 km cross country run covering 166 kilometer and challenges the runner with 9500 meters in altitude changes. The run must be completed in 46 hours. It is one of the most amazing competitions been organized in the world. It crosses three countries: France, Italy and Switzerland. It starts in Chamonix, on the French side of Mont Blanc. The weather had turned bad today (All Lifts were closed) and snow was falling to 2800 meters the difficult weather conditions (night, wind, cold, rain or snow), that needs a very good training, adapted equipment and a real capacity of personal autonomy. The runners will run as high as 2800 meters on quite a few occasions, during the race. Registration to this race is only allowed to competitors who have already had an experience and who can prove it. It is necessary to have acquired at least 5 points by finishing in 2 races. At 6:30 pm in pouring rain and snowing on the mountain 2300 people sharing the same dream carefully prepared over many months. Start the incredible difficult race. I am told more than 1300 volunteers are involved. Overnight they will be crossing 2 mountains, at sunrise they will enter Italy and another 2 mountains, followed by 2 glaciers and the slopes of the Mont Blanc (Europe’s Highest Mountain at 4810 meters) from here they enter Switzerland. By now many participants will have to put up with fatigue, to overcome our fears and anxieties. Many participants, having pushed their limits to the extreme, will choose to break off the race keeping intact their hopes to make it from beginning to end at some later date. The others will climb over another 2 mountains and at last have the familiar mountains of Chamonix in front of them, under the vertical heights of the Drus and with majestic presence of Mont Blanc before them, they will run downhill towards the finishing line in the heart of Chamonix. Chamonix shares the summit of Mont Blanc with its neighboring commune of Courmayeur in Italy. The Mont Blanc, at a height of 4,810 meters, is the third most visited natural site in the world. It is also the highest European mountain west of Russia. Chamonix is famous for its spectacular Cable Car up to the Aiguille du Midi (3842 m). Constructed in 1955, it was then the highest cable car in the world. Together with a cable car system going up to the Pointe Helbronner (3462 m) from Entreves in the Aosta Valley (Italy) it is possible to cross the entire Mont Blanc massive by cable car. Having done this is just unbelievable and at some stages quite scary, especially when the wind picks up and the whole thing start moving? We started in Chamonix with the cable car to the summit, the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi, It the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, from 1,035 m to 3,842 m. There are two sections: from Chamonix to Plan de l’Aiguille at 2,317 m and then directly, without any support pillar, (Talking about sh..ting 7 colours) to the upper station at 3750 meters (the building contains an elevator to the summit at 3840 meters).  The Aiguille summit contains a panoramic viewing platform, a cafe and a gift shop. The Vallee Blanche ski run begins here, and the nearby Cosmiques Refuge is the starting point for one of the routes to the Mont Blanc summit. From the Aiguille another cable car (summer months only), the  Vallee Blance Aerial Tramway,  crosses the Glacier du Geant to Pointe Helbronner (3,462 m) at the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massif. Pointe Helbronner is served with a cable car from La Palud, a village near Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley. All this without a passport. We spend all day on this huge mountain travelling by cable car and train. Being European Born it is sad that we have travelled the world and never looked in our back yard as the sights here are with the Himalayan Mountains some of the best in the world. Best of all, even at 3800 meters we are able to get a drink, a meal and be entertained with music and buskers.  No wonder over 60000 people a day flock to the Chamonix area during the season.

Glaciers

The “roof of Europe”,  The Mont Blanc is not only the world’s third-ranking most visited natural area, it continues to attract millions of visitors and thousands of mountaineers every year. But another reason people visit here are the glaciers in the Chamonix Valley covering a surface area of 125 km2,

The Bossons glacier

As we arrived in the Chamonix valley, our first stop was by the Bossons and Mont-Blanc glacier « largest ice fall in Europe. Due to its steep incline, it is the fastest moving glacier (300m/year) and it also reacts most rapidly to climate change.

The Mer de Glace

The Mer de Glace is one of the world’s most visited natural sites. Since 1908 the Montenvers-Mer de Glace cog railway enables enthusiastic visitors to follow in the footsteps of those illustrious pioneers: Rousseau, Hugo, Nodier, Sand, Goethe, Shelley, Liszt and so many more…  The ice grotto: takes you into the heart of the glacier where you may discover the astounding colour of the ice, beautiful carvings and models in period clothing, witness to bygone mountain life, as if frozen in time. Every year (and for the past 50 years) a new grotto is meticulously sculpted in the ice as the previous work of art is slowly but surely transported down the valley by the glacier.

In all a tremendous week even though when we spend the day at 3840-meter visibility was zero and it was snowing with a temp of -19 degrees.

The Provence is dotted with pleasant small villages. In the South west of France the Dordogne is one of the most quintessential French regions. The valley is so pretty, the towns are so quaint, and the food is so good, that it is hard to believe that the people who live here go somewhere else for their holidays. But the great treasure of this region is the Loire valley, with many great castles and beautiful towns. Chartres with its famous cathedral and Tours rates among the most beautiful French cities. We decided to follow the inland road for the last 50km or so and besides trying to maneuver the truck over 2.5-ton bridges and under 3.2metre arches, we loved the old villages where time stood still. We found ourselves a perfect spot on the Lot River just across from the town of Cahors. Despite arriving late, we still had plenty of daylight time left. It doesn’t get dark until 9pm at this time of year. The Languedoc has its own language and culture. In the south of the Languedoc you find the Pyrenees, a great mountain range separating France from Spain, where you can hike and ski. The towns of Toulouse and Montpellier are nice, and the medieval town of Carcassonne is a top destination.