#PhotoFlashback: Paragliding at Chamonix

Paraglider above Chamonix

A paraglider soars above Chamonix

Paragliding above Chamonix in front of the Mont Blanc Massif. A pilot soars above the Chamonix Valley, after taking off from Planpraz, where this photo was taken. The Aiguille du Midi towers over the town on the left of the picture.  Mont Blanc is the mountain on the right. The true majesty of Mont Blanc cannot be comprehended, even from up here in the mountains opposite. Move further away to at least as far as Megéve, then the summit can be seen as the tallest in the Mont Blanc Massif.

Chamonix is a popular place for paragliding. It has numerous paragliding schools where you can take a tandem flight. If you get the bug, it is possible to progress to obtaining a solo licence after one week’s continuous  tuition. The photo is from August, but as long as the weather conditions are amenable, then it is possible to fly at all times of the year using the the cable cars and Europe’s highest cable car lift to the Aiguille du Midi to gain access to the take off zones.

I’ve decided to call this series of posts #PhotoFlashbacks as I don’t intend to post a ‘Photo of the Day’ everyday. Furthermore, they are not Postcards from anywhere. Unless of course you are one of those people who buy postcards at a place then forget to send them and end up sending them from home.

Getting there:
Chamonix is served by SNCF and FlixBus.

 Paragliding schools:
Evolution 2
Fly Chamonix
Absolute Chamonix

An overnight(mare) bus trip

Rrrurrr, rrrurrr, rrrrurrr! I can feel the vibrations through my whole body. Opening my eyes, the tailgate of a Renault Scenic fills my field of vision. I close my eyes and wait for the certain collision. I think of a joke I heard a long time ago. “When I die I’d like to go quietly in my sleep, like Grandpa. Not like everyone else in the vehicle. They died screaming”
My body is moved mysteriously to the left. Opening my eyes one more time, I see the Renault Scenic receding on my right and realise I’m not dead.

My plan had been to take the overnight bus from Brussels to Chamonix and get enough sleep to be able to snowboard the next day. The way things were going I’d get no sleep except that of a more permanent variety.

 “There seemed to be only one rule: “Never slow down to below 100 kilometres per hour!”

View from a bus

The events described took place in the dark, when my camera wasn’t to hand.

Our Polish driver weaved in and out of the Paris bound vehicles on the auto-route for the next ten minutes. There seemed to be only one rule: “Never slow down to below 100 kilometres per hour!” I must have been watching too many movies and could no longer separate the big screen from real life. Either way our coach would drive until it was almost touching the vehicle in front, before veering sharply to the left or right depending on where there was a gap large enough to accommodate a 50 seater coach. It didn’t matter whether or not the other traffic was passed on the inside or the offside.

“Meanwhile a number of passengers were pulled aside for interrogation.”

After ten minutes of Paris Auto-route dodgems, the driver actually took the decision to lift his foot from the accelerator and depress the brake pedal. The bus slowed down, left the auto-route and eventually negotiated the spiral ramp to the Paris International bus station.
We were greeted by armed Police and Customs Officers with a sniffer dog. They boarded the bus and checked our passports before instructing us to get off the bus and remove our bags from the cargo area under the bus. Meanwhile a number of passengers were pulled aside for interrogation. I’m not sure if anyone got arrested but the process was protracted. Eventually, we boarded the bus and departed Paris an hour later than the scheduled time.

“I relaxed and went into the very light overnight bus journey state of sleep”

On this leg of the journey the second driver took the wheel. I watched closely to see if he had also been threatened of dire consequences if he touched the brake pedal. My confidence was restored when he demonstrated driving test book driving skills. Perhaps they had defused the device in Paris? I relaxed and went into the very light overnight bus journey state of sleep expecting to be woken by an announcement over the bus PA system to say that we had pulled into a Service Station for a rest stop and that anyone leaving the bus must return within 10 minutes.

“Swiss Border Control gave us a repeat of our experience of the Paris Bus Station, except this time we had to wait outside in the freezing night air.”

Instead, I had a relaxed doze until the Swiss Border. It seems the bus had been delayed so much that the rest stops could not be afforded. Swiss Border Control gave us a repeat of our experience of the Paris Bus Station, except this time we had to wait outside in the freezing night air. Then it was on to Geneva, followed by some more shut eye until I found us climbing the elevated road leading up to the Chamonix valley. I alighted the bus outside Chamonix Train Station at half past eight in the morning as per the timetable. I had managed to arrive having managed enough low quality sleep to go snowboarding.

It wasn’t to be. I could not enter my apartment to get my snowboarding gear, or the keys to the ski locker. The requisite keys had been locked in my apartment! Reminds me of a saying from another film, ‘Forest Gump’; “Shit happens!”

Disclosure: I have travelled on the same service to Chamonix on numerous occasions prior to this, without incident. The most harrowing event being witnessed in a film on the on-board DVD player.

A personal view of European rooftops

This Friday, the theme of the weekly photo sharing event on Twitter is ‘rooftops’. Normally I don’t get the chance to take photos of rooftops, as getting to the top of the nearest man-made structure such as an iron tower in Paris, or a big wheel in London doesn’t really appeal to me. That is not to say that there haven’t been occasions that I have been tempted to get up above the rooftops and others the natural terrain gave me a view of rooftops that appealed to my eye, leading me to to record the view for posterity. When I searched my photo collection I found numerous examples of rooftops. Here are a few of those photos, along with the reason I was looking out over rooftops.

Conwy Starting close to home in North Wales; I captured this while walking around Conwy town walls. I was exploring and trying to see how much of the walls remain open to walkers. As it turns out, most of the walls are accessible. This seagull against a backdrop of Conwy Castle caught my eye.

Next up, is a view over Manchester Museum towards Salford. I was working on a construction site at the time that was using two tower cranes. After spending the first half of my career underground in the coal mines, I know found myself having the need to climb all sorts of temporary scaffolding structures in the course of my inspections and at first was petrified. I found the solution to my fear was to expose myself to more and more work at height in order to desensitise myself. Manchester skylineClimbing tower cranes on a day when an East wind is blowing in from the Pennines, blasting your hands with icy rain, while making the top of the crane sway like the mast of a sailing ship showed me where the term ‘white knuckles’ comes from. The weather the day this was taken was pleasant enough though.

Florence, Italy


Overseas now to Italy for a classic rooftop view in Florence, Tuscany. I do have some of Paris but from Butte Montmartre not the Eiffel tower. Sadly the light and pollution that day meant washed out, photos. At Florence, we were staying at a in a tent with  a real bed on the campsite overlooking the city. The view from the tent was obscured by olive trees but we did get glimpses of the Duomo etc. This is the view on our walk into town.

The next view is from the Torre Guinigi in Lucca, Italy.Lucca, Italy When I saw the tower with trees on top I could hardly believe my eyes. I just had to climb to the top to see how this feat was achieved. This is the view when I got there.

Now off to Germany. Munich was heavily bombed in World War Two. When it was rebuilt after the war the problem of what to do with all of the rubble arose. A simple solution was adopted.View over Munich It was all carted out from the city centre and dumped. The result was a massive man-made hill that is now part of the Olympic Park. This is the view from the top towards the city centre. It also affords some breathtaking views over the Olympic Stadia and the BMW factory and HQ.

The Cesky Krumlov, Czech RepublicCzech Republic has some beautiful roofline vistas. Prague has some excellent vantage points to see the city of spires the castle, and Vitkov Hill are  two of the better ones. But as I can’t fit fifty photos in one post. Instead I’m including a view from UNESCO listed Cesky Krumlow. This one captures some of the beauty of the place, but like all travel you have to visit to truly appreciate it.

Sometimes though you don’t Telc, Czech Republic
need to climb anywhere to see some stunning rooftop scenery. Telc in the Czech Republic is another UNESCO listed town. The topography of the area is very flat but the rooftops are clearly majestic.







Then Paraglider flight, Chamonixsometimes you can’t help but see rooftops, like the time I took a tandem paraglider flight from Planpraz, above Chamonix. I think I’m getting over my fear of heights now.




There View over a wintry Rigais another reason I might be high up in a building overlooking a city. The bar could be there! This is a view from the toilet of the Skyline Bar of the Park Inn Hotel in Riga.




ToSnow at Le Tour, Chamonix finish, I leave you two photos featuring rooftops the way I love to see them; with over a metre of snow stacked up on them. The first photo is of the rooftops of Le Tour at Chamonix from last winter. Incredible!




Then finally one showing Avoriaz in the Portes du Soliel area. The buildings are designed to mirror the mountains that surround the resort.


Living the dream

Five months living in Chamonix, it had to be just that. Getting up, eating fresh croissants from the boulangerie, then all day spent riding some of the best terrain in Europe. Every Saturday, I shopped for fresh organic fruit and vegetables in place Mont Blanc, bought kilos of Tomme de Savoie cheese and found one euro “vin chaud” . Being a member of the public library (mediatheque) was a massive plus. I could borrow not only books, but CD’s and DVD’s and it had free WiFi. At night I would get to know the locals over a glass of beer, occasionally attending their parties.


The flat below me was home to a twenty something baker who worked nights, below that was a Chemist’s Shop. On his days off he’d share drinks with friends and play music. But the apartments were lacking efficient sound deadening. Most weeks between the hours of 2 am and 4 am, I would be wakened by the strangest beats on the planet. I’d drag myself out of bed get semi dressed and make my way to my neighbour’s apartment and practice my French for, “Would you mind turning down the volume?” Sometimes polite, sometimes angry and sometimes adding “I will call the police”, depending on how upset I was. Next day, I’d be too tired to catch the first lifts.

I’d like to say more, positive and negative. What I will say is; “It was living the dream”.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.