Yesterday, I went up to the tiny Italian border town of Courmayeur. This place was even less "Italian" than Aosta, where I'm staying right now. It was almost exactly as I would imagine Switzerland or Austria to be. Every building had flowerpots hanging off of stained wooden balconies. Unfortunately (fortunately?) there were no yodelers around. People were still speaking Italian for the most part. The mountains engulfing this little town were spectacular.
My plan for the day was to take one of the ski lifts up and do some hiking in the alpine meadows above timberline. Unfortunately, for whatever odd reason, the place proved somewhat difficult to navigate around. I spent 30 minutes trying to locate a couple of trails I had planned to go up, only to give up. I saw a few signs posted, but they only led nowhere! I asked around in my pitiable phrase book Italian, but nobody seemed able (or willing) to help me.
So I changed my plan and decided to go up this ski lift that according to Lonely Planet is open in the summer. There's even supposed to be a swimming pool way up at the top. But it was closed! So I had to save my pocket change and hike for 2 hours underneath a steel cable snaking its way above a clearcut gulley. Finally, I reached the top, only to hear the wonderful sounds of front-end loaders building retaining walls. Another hour of hiking uphill finally put me in the alpine meadows I had sought in the first place.
But it was so worth it! For my efforts I saw spectacular views of Mont Blanc, which lies on the French-Italian border. I could see Courmayeur, the Italian/Swiss village and 2 huge valleys to the North and South of the mountain I was on.
I did find that swimming pool, but it was also closed. Only an empty concrete hole surrounded by middle aged sunbathers frying themselves into prunes. Once I surpassed the ski resort area, it wasn't at all crowded.
Anyways, check in soon, because today I'm going to make my first trip into France and see the town of Chamonix!