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Here's your reminder to drink the Mountain Juice.

I’ve found it a bit more challenging to read the interest of my dates as the cultural norms are not what I’m used to.

Loni James
Loni James
8 min read
Here's your reminder to drink the Mountain Juice.
Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)

A Date in Every Country: A Series
Date #12
Location: Chamonix, France
Nationality: French
Activity: Drinks to Dinner
Time: 4 hours
Will see again? Probably not.
Connected via: Tinder

After “The Swiss-Situation of 2022” I cleared my head by hiking 100 miles around Mount Blanc. Seemed like a good idea at the time. This trek had been a dream of mine for a few years and it was every bit as wonderful and challenging as I thought it would be. I know I’ve received some questions about this so I’ll work on putting together a post on my hiking for you all. Not sure if there are a bunch of hikers following my journey but I have found some new favorite spots that are definitely worth hopping on a plane for.

I had arrived in Chamonix with one full day before my big hike. Chamonix reminded me of the European version of the bougie ski towns of Colorado. All the name brand fancy sport shops and gear stores. Think PataGucci which is what I call it but recently learned from a few people they call it PradaGonia. Gotta love it! The town was busy as it was high season and the cafes and restaurants were filled with people who were anxious to get into the mountains. This town is tucked into a little valley surrounded by the Alps so every direction is a stunning view. The famed Mount Blanc put on a pretty show as she came out from behind the clouds which is a bit unusual for her. I didn’t think I would ever stop staring.

Chamonix and its glorious views. 

While it was my first arrival in France for this world tour, I had lots to do to get ready and decided I would wait to have a French date until after my hike. The hike was beyond incredible and the pictures will never do it justice. I conquered the Alps by hiking through France, Italy, and Switzerland then back to France. Overall I did more elevation gain than Everest! I must confess I was pretty proud of myself for having completed it. Prior to my big trip, I had only ever done one hike solo and here I am solo trekking for 10 days. I was even more thrilled that I hadn’t fallen off an Alp as I feared might be the case lol. Although I must confess that after spending 10 days doing this big ass hike, I was EXHAUSTED. My body needed rest so I took 2 chill days that were much needed. Rest is something that I’m slowly working on during my travels. I usually feel so guilty if I’m in a beautiful new place and decided to stay in for a day or not check something off the never-ending must see list. Giving myself permission to rest can be hard for me -  to just sit at a cafe and people watch or even read a book all day long. I have realized that there will always be something to do, a new place to see but if I don’t give my body rest, it will break down. This just leads to me paying the price later and potentially missing out on something really wonderful because I didn’t listen to my body. Those slow days keep me grounded and keep me going.

Consider this your gentle reminder to rest, to allow yourself permission for slow days. They can be just as rewarding as the action packed ones.

While laying in bed way past 545am (which is when I typically woke up on trekking days) I found myself swiping away, committed to getting a date before I left. This town is filled with travelers, people who came here for some adventure and it was a bit challenging to find someone local but I did it! He is handsome, his profile a mix of playful photos paired with adventurous ones, an ideal combination in my mind. With a brief introduction and newfound knowledge of my impending departure, he quickly invited me out for a drink. We met at a lovely little wine bar and sat at this little metal table out front so we could watch the people go by. The weather in Europe has been so blistering hot that it has caused significant problems in the mountains. More heat means more rockslides, melting glaciers and dangerous conditions. He asked about my trek and I shared some of my favorite moments. He lit up as he talked of his time in the mountains where he mostly does climbing and mountaineering. I learned he moved here from another part of France almost 20 years ago. We had a very interesting discussion regarding the challenge of living in a tourist destination. Living in a beautiful place that is also transient presents some struggles from dating to making friends and finding community. He can climb in some of the most beautiful spots in Europe but many of his friends are only there temporarily.

Our little spot for wine and people watching. 

The conversation flowed easily and we dove into family dynamics. We knowingly jumped headfirst into some topics that aren’t always ideal for dates - politics. I’m not sure if other Americans in this group face this but I get asked about the US political scene….a lot. This post is not to discuss positions or where people stand but I will say that it was fascinating to hear his thoughts and his perceptions. He spoke of how hard it was to discuss politics with his family and I found myself nodding in agreement as I faced the same challenges. I shared some of my own struggles as my views have changed from the way I was raised. We specifically both felt that our generation and the ones coming after are seeking to do things differently and it can be hard to express this to someone from our parent’s generation. From jobs to social programs, relationships, marriage and family our approach now is much different than how we were raised. I thank travel for being a big part of my growth journey, in changing how I view the world and what is possible. Chatting with older generations regarding race and social dynamics including both the need and the ability to change is something that we both have faced.

Time passed quickly and we decided to wrap things up at the wine bar and head to dinner. When I got out my wallet to pay for my wine, he insisted on picking up the tab as he knew the owner and got the “family friend discount”.  He already had a restaurant in mind and checked to make sure that I liked fish and particularly sushi which I do (as you all know lol). We start walking through town as he’s telling me about this restaurant on the river that he loves and I fight back a laugh as I realized it’s where I ate the night before. I had gone out with friends from the trail to celebrate the end of our hike and we had DEMOLISHED a mountain of sushi. I'm talking ate until we couldn't eat anymore but hey we earned it! What are the odds we are going to the exact same restaurant?! I did mention that I’d been there the day before as I feared the server would call me out but I assured him I was happy to go back. They had a great menu and I was excited to try more dishes.

After a nice walk across town, we arrived and were promptly seated at a romantic table by the river. Conversation was still flowing easily but I was doing an internal processing of the events so far. I’ve found it a bit more challenging to read the interest of my dates as the cultural norms are not what I’m used to. While some of the cues may be the same, I’m not as confident in my assessment of their impression of the date. I find that someone breaking the touch barrier, reaching to hold my hand or knee, putting their arm around me etc is an internationally recognized sign of interest. But what if they haven’t touched you? How are you supposed to tell if there’s a romantic vibe? Sometimes it’s the eye contact, sometimes the smiles or even the direct approach of mentioning seeing you again. Then again, I feel like many women have gone on dates where the vibe is not good and yet somehow the guy thinks things went great. You’re sitting there going, “Were we even on the same date?!” So while I have my thoughts, it’s never a guarantee how they are feeling.

In this case, I was not picking up a romantic vibe. Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely enjoying myself. I had lovely company including delightful conversation in a beautiful setting. What’s not to like? While I’m open to romance on these dating adventures I also seek to find gratitude in simply having a nice interaction with a stranger. Someone has chosen to open up and share their story, to give me their time, telling me of their experiences and allowing me to learn about their culture.

These dates, while not always romantic, are still a lovely and wonderful part of my journey and I’m grateful for each and every one.

Dinner was a delicious salmon and I was a proud member of the clean plate club. We split the tab and walked back into town. Over dinner he had learned that I had never tried the local liquor or mountain juice as my trail friend called it. As I was leaving the next day, this was my last chance to give it a go. It’s called Génépi and is a very sweet herbal liquor that’s used as a digestif in the Alpine areas of Europe. We stopped at a local bar to have a taste and I rather enjoyed it. When hiking I typically enjoy a beer (or three) after a long day but don't generally have anything stronger. Clearly I missed out on this one. Note to self - try more mountain juices in the future. Sometimes I'm too responsible for my own good. While planning ahead isn't inherently bad, I need to remember to be present in the moment and not miss what's right in front of me, beverages included. I find it easy to focus on the goal I'm working towards and can forget to have a little fun along the way.

It's my own take on stop and smell the roses - Don't forget to drink the mountain juice.

Maybe I'll get that embroidered on a pillow. Meanwhile, our evening ended when dropped me off at my hostel and I said goodbye before heading up to pack for my journey to Italy the next day. Did I meet a fabulous new friend on the bus when I sat in the wrong seat? Yes I did. Gotta love those serendipitous travel moments.

Teaser:  Picture this: a 90’s heartthrob with floppy hair…oh and did I mention he’s Italian and a musician?!

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Loni James

As I collect and record these stories, I hope they make you laugh, curse and dream of far off places. May they inspire you to cross oceans and meet plenty of interesting people along the way.