Blog 07/13/2022 - MHT's French Adventure 3rd Post Geneva

MHT’s French Adventure – 3rd Post Geneva & Chaminox

By Shayne Jarosz

Shayne Jarosz & Karen Freck are both Retired Teachers with Fairfax County Public Schools. Karen a Special Education Teacher retired last October, specializing in Science & Shayne Jarosz a retired History teacher who retired five years ago. Shayne has worked for Military Historical Tours (MHT) for 15 years or so and has done many trips with MHT traveling extensively through Europe and Asia to explore & teach about the battles that Americans have fought in since WWI.

Shayne was the Tour Leader of the D-Day & Battle of the Bulge Tour that traveled the battlefields from Bastogne to Normandy & ending in Paris. After spending roughly three weeks traveling with the group of 15, it was now time for Karen & Shayne to explore & document France so MHT ‘s future tours can take on additional site recommendations & uncover new interesting spots for our customers to visit. Karen & Shayne are traveling through France on a six-week adventure!


Karen & I departed Dijon after buying a new suitcase to replace the rolling bag that had rolled over its final cobblestones & we headed by train to Geneva. Our train trailed through the mountains of Switzerland & from our seats in the train on the second deck we were treated to some incredible views. The homes started changing from the traditional French Provincial homes that dot the country side to chalet style homes that are better suited for snow & driving winds.

After three trains, we finally arrived in Geneva where we were to meet Peter, Karen’s oldest son. Peter was able to take a week off from work & the plan was to meet in Geneva before taking the bus together up to Chamonix. For two days we explored Geneva, took the city tour, of the UN building, toured the old part of the city of Geneva & the biggest surprise was touring the Old Episcopal Cathedral on top of the hill in Geneva. St. Pierre Cathedral was really an amazing find. We have toured as many cathedrals as possible while in France but this one was different. The Cathedral has a tower pass that allows you to go up into the tower where you are allowed to walk the cat walks and see how the structure was built. You have amazing views as you explore from one tower to the next. When we left the towers as we exited the front doors of the Cathedral, we saw that they had an exhibit on an archeological dig that they had done on the Cathedral. They had removed the whole floor of the Cathedral and had gone back centuries in order to find the original origins of this site. What they found was the grave of one “Chieftain” who upon his death was so respected that they buried him & then built a structure around him to honor his legacy. This led to the eventual Cathedral & the surrounding city of Geneva. What started out as a burial memorial turned into a roman village, larger city and eventually Geneva.


The lake in Geneva is the central feature. Its very easy to get around, the city has three boat taxi’s that cross the lake in different directions and the hotels all provide free passes and not once did anyone ever ask to see the pass. We also took an evening cruise on the lake just to see the beautiful houses that line its banks. My Marine buddy said I had to cross the lake to Montreux & visit the Grand Hotel where the Seventies Rock Band Deep Purple created the iconic song & riff for “Smoke on the Water!”
“We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile, yeah
We didn't have much time now”

We even made our way to the Swiss Army Knife Store where you can have a custom Swiss Army Knife made and engraved. Guess what some of my family are getting for gifts? 
Just a note, while we were in Geneva, we had a heat wave that was traveling through Europe. Geneva’s hotels, at least the one we stayed in doesn’t have air-conditioning. The hotel provided fans but hot is hot. We sweated through two days of extreme heat and finally loaded on the bus for Chamonix.

The bus ride from Geneva to Chamonix was about an hour long, once we left the city of Geneva the mountains started to rise quickly and all at once the Alps appeared. I grew up in Colorado hiking & camping all through the Rocky Mountains but the Alps are unbelievably dramatic, rockier than the Rockies. We wound through the twisting French Alps roads, finally we were delivered at the bus stop in Chamonix which was about a half mile from our Airbnb.

After a quick walk pulling all of our luggage, we climbed the steps unlocked the door to our condo, where we were greeted with an amazing view from the condo’s rooftop deck.  It was nice having an entire space instead of the single room of a hotel. We had three bedrooms & three bathrooms. The washer & dryer was a welcome addition as well. We quickly made a list & we headed off to find a grocery store. In Chamonix, they have a grocery on just about every other corner. The meats & produce were wonderful. I ended up making a nice pork tenderloin with a honey Dijon sauce & a killer artichoke.

Dinner was followed by a nice bottle of wine & then cigars with a nice Calvados! The views of Chamonix are mesmerizing! We sat and stared at the ever-changing Alps panoramas for hours. 

While we were in Chamonix, we tried to do as much  hiking as possible. All of the ski lifts are named after WWII French Resistance Alpinists who fought the German Gebirgsjäger (the light infantry part of the famed Alpenkorps mountain troops (Gebirgstruppe) at the high altitudes in the Alps dividing France from Italy. The elite German mountain troopers wore the Edelweiss Patch of the famed high mountain flower. In the movie “Where Eagles Dare” both Clint Eastwood & Richard Burton wore the same one as 1st Mountain Division's Commander, Generalleutnant Walter von Grabenhofen.

The Battle of Vercors in July and August 1944 was between a rural group of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) [maquis] & the armed forces of Nazi Germany. The maquis used the prominent scenic plateau known as the Massif du Vercors (Vercors Plateau) as a refuge. Initially, the maquis carried out only sabotage & partisan hit & run operations against the Germans. However, after the Normandy Invasion of 6 June 1944, the leadership of an army of about 4,000 maquis declared the Free Republic of Vercors & attempted to create a conventional army to oppose the German occupational forces.

The allies supported the maquis with parachute drops of weapons & sending in agents of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) organization advisors but the uprising was premature. In July 1944, as many as 10,000 German soldiers including the 157th Mountain Division (future 8th Mountain Division) invaded the massif & killed more than 600 of the maquisards & 200 civilians. It was Germany's largest anti-partisan operation in Western Europe. In August 1944, shortly after the battle the area was liberated from German control by the US Army 6th Army Group including Free French Armée B.

One of the first things we did was ride a series of gondolas up & over the Alps stopping along the way to take in the dramatic views, watch the Alpinists climb over the safety railing to go hike along the glacier & grab a bite to eat & a hot chocolate. Riding the gondolas is hair raising. You float through the air up to a sheer rock cliff and start to rise into the clouds while occasionally seeing a group of climbers scaling the sheer rock cliffs.

We eventually broke out over the clouds to jagged mountain peaks as far as the eye could see. In Chamonix, it was a wonderful 80 degrees but up in the mountains above the clouds it was in the 30’s.

We spent a total of five nights in Chamonix, we did at least one hike a day & most days averaged about eight miles worth of walking. We hiked up to Alpine lakes that were as clear as anything I’ve ever seen.

We took the tram up to the Glaciers & went into an ice cave where we were in complete awe as we stood inside of the cold blue caverns & stared at thousand-year-old bubbles that made the glacier shine.


The bus system in Chamonix is easy to figure out. It is also free! We were able to travel from one lift to the other to explore those on the outskirts of our little village. The lifts are pretty much first come, first served except the ones going into Italy. Those gondolas require a reserved ticket & they are packed, that being said make the reservations & spend the money. The glaciers, the mountains & the views are indescribably beautiful.

The choice of restaurants is endless, we enjoyed hamburgers, steak, fondue and pizza, all of it was great & at the end of a long day hiking nothing better than a nice wine to wash it down with.

At the end of our adventure Peter had to get on a bus to go back to Geneva but we stayed one extra night. We washed our last load of laundry took our last hike & had our last glass of wine while soaking in the views of the French Alps! Next stop Lyon!

Shayne Pierre!