Day 17: Getting To Chamonix-Mont-Blanc By Train Is Not For The Weak

Getting from Lyon to Chamonix by train was no laughing matter, and today’s anxiety attacks proved it.

My excitement about getting up into the Alps was sky high (heh), but to get here required four different trains. Two of the transfers were less than 5 minutes each.

I was nervous as hell about this, and when I get nervous my brain tends to go on the fritz. I was so stressed this morning that I caught myself doing some seriously bonehead things. Think along the lines of not remembering where I was in my routine in the shower, trying to put my bra on over my shirt, pants inside-out, shoes on the wrong feet, etc.

Panic Attacks

Honestly, as I made my way to the train station in Lyon I was in one of those anxious states where I felt like giving up, plopping down cross-legged on the sidewalk, and having a good cry. I didn’t, but that was my mood as I set out for the journey.

Thinking through possible worst-case scenarios helped, though. The worst possible thing that could happen was that I wouldn’t make one of my connections and would have to get on a later train or stay somewhere other than Chamonix tonight.

It could actually have been fun. Part of the adventure of travel, if you will.

As I thought about possible worst-case scenarios, the folks at the little bistro where I was having a croissant and an espresso brought forth some magic. It was quiet when I sat down, but they turned on the music and cranked it up. They chose 90s grunge. Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, mostly.

The universe (or, simply, the employees at the café) somehow knew exactly what I needed in order to remember my inner strength. An image of myself as the teenager I once was sprang to mind. I thought longingly of my Doc Marten boots and some black nail polish and heavy eyeliner.

Suddenly, I knew I was good. I remembered that I’m a badass. I knew I was going to conquer the shit out of this day.

And I did.


Geneva Train Station

What I had not anticipated was the transfer in Geneva being stressful. Of course, upon entering another country one should expect to have to show documents. My time between trains was 40 minutes, though, so I didn’t think there would be an issue.

The stress did not come from the direction I imagined. After getting off the train, getting through the security checkpoint was a breeze. There weren’t any lines and it took no time at all.

Then I entered the Geneva train station.

Imagine the biggest, most confusing airport in the US that you’ve ever seen or heard of (Dallas comes to mind for me), then magnify that by about 10,000.

A symptom of ADHD is feeling over-stimulated when confronted by way too many stimuli at once, and then unable to make sense of one’s surroundings in those situations. When I got to Geneva, the two shorter train transfers were still ahead of me and my anxiety was through the roof. I was unexpectedly confronted by a huge space teeming with masses of humanity seeming to walk aggressively and purposefully in every direction at once.

When I looked at the signage around me I was unable to make sense of any of it. My brain went into shutdown mode.

I needed to get the tickets for my next two train trips (one to Martigny, one to Vallorcine). My heart was beating so intensely and my panic was so acute that my vision was blurred and I had trouble standing.

It didn’t occur to me until far later that I likely would have benefited from giving in to my feelings of panic and allowing myself to honor where I was, emotionally, in that moment. It would have been so easy to sit down on the floor with my back against a wall and pull my knees into my chest, to stop trying to function for a few moments, and just focus on calming down and getting my bearings.

Instead, as I often do, I powered through. I paid no attention to my state and I forged ahead, every muscle in my body clenched tightly, feeling as though relaxing at all would cause me to crumble completely into an endless abyss of insanity from which I would never recover.

Geneva to Martigny

Somehow, I found where I needed to be in order to buy my train tickets, I figured out the “take a number” system (it was NOT easy), I waited, and when it was the appropriate time, I stepped up and I spoke to the person at the counter. There was some confusion about what I needed and where I was going, although I don’t remember the cause now. Ultimately it was done.

But then I needed to find the train to Martigny I was meant to be on, and I had no idea which direction to walk in. The train station felt enormous and complicated and time was running out.

I’ve blocked out the rest. What I remember next is being on the train. I don’t remember the period of time between getting my tickets and taking my seat. If I asked for help or simply figured it out on my own, I’ll never know.

Once on that train from Geneva to Martigny, though, the day started improving dramatically.

Martigny to Vallorcine

The two transfers that were under 5 minutes long were in Martigny and Vallorcine. Both of these train stations were so small that getting from one train to the other was literally less than 5 steps, and there was only one other train one might get on. It was easy as can be. There had been no reason for concern.

Then the views I had been anticipating for weeks began.

The Alps had been visible in the distance on the opposite side of the train from where I sat during the 90-minute journey from Geneva to Martigny, but none of my photos did them justice so I did not bother saving any.

Once I was on my way from Martigny to Vallorcine, the ascent into the Alps began. The train chugged past villages and homesteads of indescribable beauty.

A shot out the window of the train while journeying from Martigny to Vallorcine

It was more of the same from Martigny to Vallorcine, and from Vallorcine to St. Gervais.

The Mont Blanc Express

In St. Gervais, I boarded the Mont Blanc Express to Chamonix.

Top tip: If you love scenic train routes, take the Mont Blanc Express from St. Gervais-le Fayet. It will get you to Chamonix and you will enjoy unforgettable views.

Premium Europe, “Arriving to Chamonix By Car, Train, And Plane

The moment the Mont Blanc Express pulled away from St. Gervais, it was clear I was in for a treat.

Leaving St. Gervais on the Mont Blanc Express

And it only got better from there.

Arriving in Chamonix

The arrival in Chamonix was a relief after the anxiety attacks the day had brought. My walk to the hotel would only take about 5 minutes, and I looked forward to putting down my huge backpack and relaxing.

As was usually the case in my travels, I didn’t have a clear idea of what to expect of this walk to the hotel or the hotel itself. Imagine my surprise when I turned a corner and encountered this view.

“Oh my,” I thought. “This is going to be fun.”

A quick jaunt down the main stretch would take me to the intersection where I was meant to turn right. As I approached the turn I encountered this view…

Is that my hotel? Holy shit… that’s my hotel. (Hotel L’Arve)

Hotel L’Arve is located in an ideal spot and is absolutely adorable, far more so than the larger, more grandiose lodgings I saw straight ahead. Once again, led me true.

The view as I approached the front entrance didn’t disappoint, either

I went to check in and was informed my room had been upgraded. The small, single room I reserved is now a larger suite.

That was it. That sealed it. My day officially turned around by a full 180 degrees.

Quick video showing my first view of the upgraded room

By then, it was well past 6:00 PM. I lay down and relaxed for a bit in order to shed the last bit of stress of the day, then went out for dinner. In a few moments, I will go to bed. I’m exhausted. This journey wore me out and I am certain I will sleep soundly tonight.

This was the view as I lounged in bed before dinner

Tomorrow, at long last, I will experience Aiguille du Midi. The cable car ride to the top and the views from above are the sole reasons I chose to visit Chamonix versus anywhere else I might have gone to experience the French Alps. I cannot wait.

A quick shot snagged while walking back from dinner

It is unbelievable to me to consider that after this, there is only one destination left before I return home: Paris.

Series Navigation<< Day 16: Wishing for Longer in LyonDay 18: L’Aiguille du Midi >>

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