We left Milano early Friday morning and stopped first at the Forte di Bard (http://www.fortedibard.it/) and inside the fort we went to the Museo delle Alpi. The museum was one of the most unique (in a weird yet interesting way) museums I've ever seen. But they were very strict about photos being taken inside....and I mean very strict. I tried to sneak a photo with no flash but got caught! They gave us way too much free time at the Forte so after doing all the exploring there was to do and eating lunch we found a chocolate shop with free samples! So, we all indulged in the free samples and bought a few bags of DELICIOUS chocolate for only 1 euro. The view from the top of the Forte was incredible and we did get to ride these Willy Wonka like glass elevators to get there. After that we loaded the bus and went to our hotel, Holiday Inn Express, in Aosta. We went to a semi-nice dinner and explored the cute little town later in the evening.
The next morning/day was by far the greatest experience of the whole weekend. We woke up early and had breakfast (there was cold milk!!! :D) and then headed to Mont Blanc which all the brochures called "The Eighth Wonder of the World." We rode in a few gondolas (aka sky lift like elevator thingys..haha) until we reached Punta Helbronner 3.462m up ( Mont Blanc is 4.807m up). When we reached the height of the clouds we were trapped in the fog for awhile and couldn't see a thing. But the moment we were above the clouds, everyone gasped in unison and we all agreed, "This must be heaven!"
Up on Punta Helbronner we were able to admire a 360 degree panaroma of the peaks from Mont Blanc to the Giant's Tooth. We were lucky to have a very warm sun shining on us as the temperature dropped significantly at that altitude. The platform was on the border of Italy and France so we were in two countries at once! I could never put into words how beautiful it all was so I will just share a few pictures.
After many of my peers had gone down a level to the restaurant for lunch, I stayed just a little longer to take in the sun and the indescribable view. I couldn't help but think of the bible verse "He can move the mountains, my God is mighty to save." So I pulled out my Ipod and played "Mighty to Save" by Hillsong (thanks Chloe :)!) and just tried to take it all in. I tried to imagine God creating these mountains, I pictured the 'mountains' in my life, the 'mountains' to come and prayed for the faith to believe that God would move my 'mountains' and only create beauty from them.
Listen to Mighty to Save: (http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=230833141)
We had lunch at a little mountain restaurant 2.200m up called Rifugio Pavillon. Since lunch was at our expense most of us just got pizza or a panini (aka sandwich). Then, the real adventure began. We had the option to take the gondola's back down the mountain OR we could hike 2 hours down the mountain by foot. Someone...no one seems to remember who at this point told us the hike was "easy." HA! It was def. not an easy hike, but it was also one of the most amazing things I've ever done. There were points in the hike where you had no choice but to sit on your butt and slide while navigating yourself from falling off the side of the cliff. EVERYONE fell at least once but somehow we all made it down alive. My legs are still screaming at me, 3 days later. I never realized how little I work the muscles in my legs for going downhill. About 25 of us hiked down the mountain but everyone at different paces. I ended up in a group of five girls and I would say we had the most fun! We passed the time by singing songs from Sound of Music, Pocohantos and various other nature movies. I somehow ended up in the front of the group and therefore got the nickname "Sam, our fearless leader" since I came to all the obstacles first. However, my solution for everything was just to squat and slide down the dirt trails with my arms in the air and yelling, "Weeeee!!!" My companions didn't always follow my lead in this aspect. We knew we had almost arrived to the bottom when we started to smell the cows and I don't think any of us have ever been happier to take in that usually unpleasant scent.
(See below the "Colors of the Wind" sing-a-long)
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the famous mountain town of Courmayeur. A few of us found a cafe with 12 different kinds of hot chocolate. It was like drinking a melted chocolate bar. We spent our free time there warming up and reminiscing about the adventures in the Alps.
The next day we had a guided tour of Aosta. The tour guide was all excited because we happened to come on a very important day for Aosta. The start of the festival La Desarpa...the walking of the cows. The cows come parading down from the mountain into the town and there is food and music and dancing and all kinds of Italian crazyness. We left Aosta in the late afternoon to visit Castello di Fenis. The Castello di Fenis is a 13th century castle built by the Challant family. This fairytale like castle took almost 100 years to build and is the best presserved castle in the Valle d'Aosta.
Our final stop was at a wine and cheese tasting place famous in Aosta. We didn't actually get to try any wine but we did get to try their famous meats, cheeses, and .....lard. Haha! Then we started the 2 hour drive back to Milano....