Saturday, August 3, 2019

Surviving the Heatwave

Albertville is best known for hosting the 1992 Winter Olympics, when Kristi Yamaguchi was queen of the ice and the ever-entertaining Italian skier Alberto Tombo hurled himself down the Giant Slalom to cheers of "Tomba la Bomba!" I may or may not have had a little crush on him at the time.

The aire where we stayed for two nights was located right at the walls of the old city, which was perfect for exploring. It was really just a big parking lot, as many of the municipal aires are, but it also had a dump station and fresh water available, all for free, so we had no complaints. We were close to the more posh part of town as well, which made for a nice walk and some window shopping. We were enticed by the smell of roasting chicken, so we bought one. It's about the third or fourth time we have done so and we've been disappointed every time. They are so dry. Bleh! When will we learn?

Our aire in Albertville. See that little blue thing on the right? That’s a “Flot Bleu”. Some are for dumping and fresh water, others have one service but not the other. The grate in the road right in front of it is where we dump the grey water. Just drive over and pull the lever!

On the way down the hill to Albertville.

Albertville was a fun place to walk around and buy dried up chicken.

Before we left Albertville and headed out we made our way to a store called DARTY, which is an appliance store. They carry just about every household appliance you might need, large or small (except Instant Pots, they do not have those). Today we needed a second fan, one that would really help move the air inside Bijou. While Steven made that purchase I went to Lidl next door and stocked up on wine. We love a good two-fer stop!  

Our new favorite appliance store.

Our destination, Plaine Joux, was only 37 miles away, but it was going to take us nearly three hours of fairly intense up and down switchback driving to get there, so we decided to stop halfway and do it over two days in the early mornings when it was cool. Even though the heatwave had not yet arrived, cool mornings were still the best time to handle mountain driving. That turned out to be a perfect plan, as the little mountain village of Combloux where we stayed had some very scenic walking trails. We found a cute café down the hill with an enticing menu so we decided a date night was in order. The trip back uphill to Bijou was a bit of a chore after a steak and a lovely bottle of red, but we made it.  

Amazing views of the mountains from our free overnight stay in Combloux.

Church in Combloux.

Yummy dinner at a café in Combloux.

Dump station, fresh water and gorgeous views. All free. What else do you need?

On the second day we drove to the town of Passy and stopped at our favorite store, the Super U, for last minute items before making the final push up to Plaine Joux. Super U is the closest thing we have to Fred Meyer. I told Steven I was going up and down this mountain one time, so there would be no nipping down the hill for groceries. We were only staying for three days, so we didn't have to carry too much. Haha, famous last words.

Plaine Joux is a ski resort in the French Alps. Many European ski resorts are set up for motorhomers who bring their rigs up in the winter months to ski. I suppose ski resorts in the states might offer the same opportunities, but I wouldn't have driven Scoopy up to one no matter the season. Likewise, I personally wouldn't drive the route up to Plaine Joux in the winter, but there are those that do. 

Parked up in Plaine Joux. We weren’t the only ones trying to avoid the heatwave. It cleared out after a few days.

There are several sections to park, and we chose the area backed up to the forest with a giant mountain looming over us. We had electricity and the water and dump were just a few meters away. Right out our front window was the stunning Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. At 15,777 feet, it is higher than my beloved Mt. Rainer in Washington state, which is 14,411. Mont Blanc is surrounded by 11 other prominent peaks over 4,000 meters that collectively make up the Mont Blanc massif. We've had some pretty gorgeous views out our front windshield over our years of travel, but I'm not sure any of them can beat this one. 

Our lovely spot overlooking Mont Blanc.

Steven contemplates photographing yet another beautiful landscape.

The launch area for the paragliders overlooked the town of Passy below. This was where they would eventually land.

Cloud drama over Mont Blanc.

The scenery was really breathtaking up at Plaine Joux.

Plaine Joux is also very active in the summer months. There are numerous day hikes, back-country hikes, mountain climbing, biking and so on, but the most popular spectator sport is paragliding. The day we arrived folks were jumping off the mountain one after the other, lined up just waiting their turn. The skies were filled with brightly colored gliding contraptions with pilots strapped in and they were a joy to watch. Then came the heatwave and the coveted upward lift so necessary to paragliders disappeared. All they could do was jump and fly down to the village below, which took about 20 minutes. It was a lot of work for not much reward

Setting up and getting ready to fly.

Life can be hard sometimes.

We did some hiking while in Plaine Joux.

We hiked to nearby Lac Verte. 

Just around the valley, though, in Chamonix, hundreds of gliders were cruising the skies. The heatwave had brought with it some unusual and rare conditions that, on one day in particular, allowed nearly 200 paragliders to land on the summit of Mont Blanc, an unprecedented number. Concerned with the fragile conditions at the top, it took the surrounding villages just a couple of days to pass a law making it illegal to land on the summit.

Yes, all that confetti-looking stuff in the sky is actually paragliders sailing over Chamonix. What a sight!

The heatwave turned out to be a monster and I honestly don't know how we would have coped if we had not been in the mountains. It's not like we could just go check in to the nearest hotel, most of them don't have air conditioning either. We decided we couldn't leave Plaine Joux and head down the mountain until it cooled off significantly, so we extended our stay. Even there we had temps in the 90s in the late afternoons. Our saving grace was that the instant the sun went down, temperatures plunged into the 60s and it took a while for them to reach maximum peak during the days. So mostly we had just a few hours to deal with the most intense heat. A couple of days after we arrived we moved over two spaces to snag what we think it the best spot there. We had shade and a private little sitting area outside where we sat in our chairs with our new fan blowing on us. It worked really well and being outside made the hottest part of the day somewhat tolerable. We sure didn't do much though, or at least I didn't. Steven spent a good deal of time over at the launching pad watching the paragliders. 

A paraglider with Passy below.

Click on the link above to see Steven’s video of the paragliders at Plaine Joux.

When the heatwave finally broke we decided we were quite happy at Plaine Joux and signed up for another few days. Then we did that again and again. In the end, we stayed there for three weeks. I was serious when I said we wouldn't be driving off the mountain for groceries, but as it turned out, we didn't need to, thanks to public transportation. We could catch the 9:05 a.m. bus right outside our door, which would drop us off at the Super U where we would shop. Then we'd catch the 12:15 p.m. back home. We did this a few times and once I went by myself to get a cut and color. Easy peasy! We had a pretty wonderful life at Plaine Joux. 

Our solar drying room!

The amenities there were partly why we stayed so long. There were fairly new, super clean showers, a clean up area where we not only washed dishes, but also hand-washed our laundry. We had access to fresh water and the place where we could empty the schlitterbaun was just a few meters away from where we were parked. Note, I use the word "we" in the Royal sense, it was 100% Steven who did the emptying. 

All in all, for us, it was the perfect place to ride out the heatwave and enjoy a great view to boot!

NEXT UP: Repositioning across France