Breakfast at Hotel de L'Arve is more substantial than that of most French hotels. There's coffee and juice, of course; camembert (the real stuff -- not a factory-packaged wedge); the usual fiber-free cold cereals; yogurt; fruit cocktail; crusty rolls; croissant; pain au chocolat; nutella; a chestnut spread; a small assortment of pre-packaged jams; and omelettes with some cured meat bits.
We finish breakfast at around 8:30, and go out to find information on (gulp!) paragliding. Yes, Brigid has decided that she really does want to do it. So, we go over to the TI office, only to find that it doesn't open until 9:00 AM. We shop at a couple of Casino grocery stores, trying to locate a lunch sandwich for Brigid, in case she goes to Hellbrunner (Italy) instead of flying. No luck. Then we stop for a lightning round at an Internet vending machine -- just long enough to check email. There's nothing urgent.
Finally, the TI opens, and we get a list of parapente companies. The first two that we visit are closed. The third one is Summits Parapente (a block from our hotel), and we arrive just as an instructor gets there to open the office. We ask if it's possible for Brigid to go flying. I'm dismayed to hear that she can go right away, if she wants! Damn! We pay for our ticket (€98, including cable car ticket), and then the "big boss" shows up. Can't go right now -- the gondola for that side of the valley is not running. She can only go from Plan de L'Aiguille, and only in the afternoon. Eventually, after a few tweaks, we agree on a time -- High Noon at the Summits office. We go back to the hotel, to prepare. Brigid tries to calm her nerves, and manages to catch a power nap. Then we walk over to the Summits office, a minute early. The "big boss" drives us, and a couple of British women who also want rides, over to the landing point. I kiss Brigid goodbye, and wish her luck as they drop me off at the landing site, pick up a few paragliding students, and then drive over to the gondola to Plans de L'Aiguille.
I sit at the landing area, a field situated about one km from the hotel. Nervously, I take a seat on a log, and soak in the view. The sky is nearly cloudless, and there are lots of paragliders in the air -- I count up to seven at one point. Over the course of the next hour and a half, around a dozen paragliders wheel overhead and land. Four of them are tandem flyers. I have no idea when Brigid will launch, what color her chute will be -- nothing. Every time I see a tandem landing, I wave my hat, only to find that it's not Brigid. I continue to sit and nervously munch on my coffee-flavored 76% chocolate bar, and some cookies we bought in Aix en Provence (oddly-shaped, slightly tough butter cookies, flavored with various Provencal herbs -- I've decided I don't care much for them). After landing and folding his chute, the young pilot we had talked to at Summits comes over to chat. He indicates that Brigid will probably be landing soon.
I ask him a bit about the performance specs of these paragliders. Apparently the training gliders get a lift/drag ratio of only around 7, while the competition paragliders can get as high as 10. Pretty much like a run-of-the-mill propeller aircraft, but a lot more maneuverable. This pilot says that he regularly makes flights of around 100 km, and knows of someone who flew as far as 240 km over the course of an 8 hour flight. Wow.
Finally, I see a tandem landing, and the passenger is wearing what looks like Brigid's dark brown coat. It's her! The pilot ("big boss" himself) maneuvers to get in the right position for landing, flares the chute, and two sets of feet start running to create a nice, gentle landing. Yay!
Brigid is ecstatic. She had a ball, and only got slightly airsick during the pre-landing maneuvers. Takeoff consisted of running when told to, and stopping when the earth fell away (at which point her pilot told her to stop). The views during the 20-minute flight were incredible. Along the way, she saw a deer and its fawn, running away from them, downhill. On approach to landing, she saw our hotel (and from our balcony, we can easily watch them landing).
Brig says she has gotten this out of her system, but later on, she said something about "next, bungee jumping!" Just wonderful...
We pack up Brigid's jacket, and stroll back to the hotel. Along the way, we stop at another Casino, picking up some lunch (it's 2:00 PM). We buy a bottle of cidre doux (sweet hard cider), 1/2 lb of polenta (with mushrooms -- very tasty but just a wee bit too salty), a stuffed cabbage roll (very good, but it would have been much better had we gotten to it when it was fresh), a bottle of water, and a few more bars of chocolate (I'm hooked on these Noir, Croquant de Café bars by Poulain!) to bring home.
We savor lunch on our room's balcony, in view of the mountain and the paragliders. The weather is still clear and sunny. The temperature is in the high 60's and there's a gentle breeze. The Arve is rushing by, below us. We munch on our goodies, and soak in the sound and scenery.
Afterwards, we go window-, restaurant- and produce shopping. Along the way, we bump into Sue, Al, Judy, Jerry, Molly and Rob. They're relaxing over cocktails. They apparently went up to the Aiguille du Midi tower, and then hiked down from the Plans to the Mer de Glace, taking the cog train back. They congratulate Brigid on her guts and successful flight.
At the Casino (the store, not the gambling casino in the center of Chamonix), we see Dina, who had been hoping to go to Hellbrunner. Unfortunately, she tells us, the telepherique from Aiguille du Midi to Hellbrunner was closed today. So, she also did the hike from Plans to the Mer de Glace.
On the way back to the hotel, we encounter Kristen and Sarah. They are flabbergasted by the weather. As Tony (the bus driver) had told us earlier, when we bumped into him, this weather is unprecedented. You almost never get to see the Aiguille du Midi needle and all the other peaks, and it's even more rare to have them exposed to sunny skies all day. In fact, as I write this at 7 PM, they are turning golden, and are just starting to be tickled by creeping shadows from the mountains on the west side of the valley, with a few tiny puffs of clouds playing peekaboo among the peaks.
I haven't had any opportunity to hike or take gondolas, but I really don't mind this. I don't particularly crave the high views, though the exercise of a hike might have been beneficial. I'm just overjoyed and relieved to have Brigid back, safe!
We venture out for dinner, hoping to get something without too much meat or cheese. We bump into Les and Susan in town. Susan's first question is whether Brigid flew today. Apparently, she bet Phil (either a glass of wine or €100.00, probably the former) that Brigid wouldn't go. Too bad for Susan!
Les and Susan warn us that the creperie is closed on Mondays. They ate at another place recommended by Rick Steves, called L'Atmosphere.
We decide to try do the same. We both start with French onion soup. The soup was far better than what was served last night. The broth in last night's soup was double or triple strength. It was just too strong and salty. And the tough crouton was covered in overly-baked cheese. It was like trying to eat a hockey puck. Everyone had difficulty cutting into their pucks. L'Atmosphere's soup was perfect. The broth had the right strength, the toast was tender, and the cheese was browned but still soft and stringy. Yum!
Brigid wanted the "Autumn Salad", but it turned out to be the only salad on the menu that the restaurant could not provide. They suggested the "Hunter Salad" instead. Figures. The Autumn Salad was heavy on mushrooms and vegetables. The Hunter Salad was heavy on -- well, what do you think hunters hunt? Broccoli? There was a slice of paté de campagne, several small slices of beefsteak (very nicely done), a piece of head cheese (did I mention that I saw some in the Apt market? "Fromage de Tête". Honest.), a dollop of carmelized onions in a balsamic vinegar reduction (I think), some sauteed chanterelles, and a slice of foie gras paté. Oh, and so they could call it a salad, there was a small serving of greens. (And we tipped that guy? We can't even blame the wine -- we didn't have any!)
I ordered the Atmosphere Salad. This was good, but overpriced. For €15.00, they gave me a decent serving of greens, covered by thin sheets of a very nice lox (cured, smoked salmon). It was accompanied by a large, warm shrimp that was incredibly sweet. The head and tail remained on the shrimp, but the middle part had been shelled. Also on the plate was a small dollop of a crab salad, which was also quite good.
No dessert, thanks. €43.00? We should have gone with a menu, or to some other restaurant! Except for the perfect onion soup, that is.
When we get back to the hotel, our group's two professional aviators (Al and Bill) are having a drink in the bar, and are waiting to hear how Brig did. They high-five her, and we play back her aerial images for them and Phil.
Chamonix is a very popular destination for English-speaking visitors. Therefore, there are two English-language channels on the television: CNN and CNBC. We got sick of CNN, and Brig tuned across various channels until I noticed that one of them was in English, other than CNN and CNBC. It was the movie, "Atlantic City", in English, with French subtitles. When that was over, an interesting documentary comes on. It's a slice of life from a Manhattan welfare admissions office, in B&W. It appears to have been shot somewhere between 1973 and 1975. I find it particularly interesting for two reasons: First, that it would be sufficiently interesting to the French to be broadcast here. Second, my mother worked in a New York City welfare admissions office (albeit in the borough of Queens, not Manhattan) at around that time. It gives me a peek at the kind of work she must have had to do. It's not a pretty picture.
Time to sleep. Bon nuit!