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We wanted a sneak peak of Geneva. Rachna had been there when she was 11, and with Viraj now at 11, we wanted to get a feel for what it would have been like.
We were staying at Lago d’Orta, a charming little Alpine Lake – not as grand as its siblings a little to the north, but in our opinion, way prettier than those. d’Orta to Geneva seemed to be a scenic 3.5 hour drive. We wanted to head out there mid afternoon, check out Geneva in the evening and the next morning, and drive back th next evening. Nothing too far fetched for a Californian to do over 2 days.
Plus, there was Mont Blanc along the way and none of us had seen that before.
Driving towards France from d’Orta, the surroundings became prettier as we got closer to the border. Rushing turquoise Apline rivers, lush green conifer forests, and the ubiquitous church tower hiding amongst them. Postcard perfect. Imagine how awesome Mont Blanc would look in those surroundings as we skirted along the highest peak in Europe. We drove with immense anticipation. And hit a toll booth.
Turns out, the Europeans have dug tunnels everywhere – including through Mont Blanc. A roughly 14 km tunnel with one lane each way, and strict follow distance rules and admission control. The view from the Italian side was ok. The view as you exited on the French side and looked into your rearview mirror was exceptional. No worries, we would stop and look on our way back.
Geneva was a massive letdown. Expensive and meh.
The next afternoon, we started back from Geneva, driving through a large chuck of France on our way towards Turin. As we approached the Mont Blanc tunnel, Google Maps started showing delays of +3 hours, which slowly started climbing up to +4 hours, and eventually hit +5 when we were hit by a wall of cars trying to merge into that one lane climb up towards the Tunnel.
Google quickly re-routed us. Saving us +4 hours! What a no brainer we thought, as we commented at those stupid people sitting in that long line. There were a few more smart individuals who were trying to do the same thing. Sharp Silicon Valley types, for sure. 15 minutes, a few exits and curved roads later, all of us high IQ Mensans hit a closed road sign.
But boy, are we persistent.
All of us, probably 10 cars by now, tried the reroute that Google offered again. This one looked awesome, saving us +4.5 hours. 15 minutes, few exits and a few steep climbs later, we were all back at the same closed road sign.
It was 7pm by this time, and the delay through the Tunnel had blossome to +6 hours. That would put us in Turin territory at about 3am, not couting stops and the maddening frustration. Rachna had this epiphany, that we should just skip the drive tonight and do it with a fresh head the next morning. Yes, that would mean less time in Turin and forgoing the hotel charges for the night, but boy, we needed sanity.
So we managed to squeeze out of the line, and take the exit to the nearest town – amidst honks and shouts. And that was a lucky break as well, because a few more meters into that snaking line, and there wouldn’t be any exit left to take for the next N hours.
As it turned out, that was one of the best decisions of that trip. We entered Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, one of the prettier villages we have seen. Situated at the foot of Mont Blanc, one could feel the glaciers just tumbling down on the rooftops of this town. Exquisitiely decorated, and painstakingly well kept, this was clearly a tourist destination itself for many, but charming nonetheless.
We parked, got a hotel room with a view of the mountain, and walked around aimlessly around the endearing town squares, cafes, restaurants, looking at the glaciers and Mont Blanc from every angle in every kind of light. Paradise.
The next morning, we got up hurriedly to squeeze out of the Tunnel before the madness started. It still took us +1 hour to crawl through it, but we had excellent memories to accompany us along the way.