A gloden clock. A tower. A small village. Cobbled stoned streets and pathways snake through the ancient buildings, leading to the town square or the cathedral. They all lead to wonderful experiences. We stopped in Auxerre to enjoy a leisurely stroll in the old city as well as to find a place to have lunch. Asking around town, the decision was to go to “Salt and Pepper” which everyone recommended. The bar was upstairs as you walked in and the eating area was down a winding staircase. Not in the basement, but at street level at the back of the restaurant! We had just been seated before the place was invaded by the locals and soon was filled to capacity.
After a delicious lunch, we continued headed south to Mont Blanc. The weather report was mixed. Cloudy with a small chance of light snow. We are driving in the direction of Milano and Mt. Blanc is a huge saving both in time and money. To go through the Mt. Blanc tunnel is 45 Euros one way, but if you return within seven days the return fare is only 10 Euros. As we are getting closer to Macon where we will leave highway A6 and join A40, we pay special attention to the weather forecast.
We have been listening to the Autoroutes radio for any change in weather or if the tunnel is open or closed. During the winter months it is not uncommon that the tunnel closes for a period of time. The reasons can vary from snow plowing the steep grades leading to the tunnel on both sides, in France and Italy and to accidents. The radio reports no closures.
Just to make sure, we stop at one of the many ‘Aire’ or rest stops. Here we talk to a friendly clerk, and inquire about the road conditions. She immediately calls the Mt. Blanc road service and she then informs us that the road is clear and everything is quite normal. Since we are still one and a half to two hours away from the tunnel, she assures us that if it should snow, not to worry because even with as little as a centimeter or two the snow plows will be out in full force. Highway A40 is also the main route to Chamonix and hundreds of motorists descend on the area every weekend and the road must be kept clean.
We drive ahead as planned and everything goes smoothly. The traffic is moving and the road surface is clean. The few snow flakes that are falling do not stay. We pass a couple of snow plows parked along side the road. We presume ready to go into action if the snow starts to accumulate, which it is by now in the fast lane. A little further back, that lane was closed and everybody was asked to use only the right lane. The traffic ahead of us is slowing down and in the distance we see a few red lights. Those few red lights becomes numerous and traffic comes to a standstill. I see in my rearview mirror that the snowplows have moved into the traffic lanes and are now blocking all traffic behind them. It is illegal to pass a snow plow in France. Just then there is a news bulletin on the Autoband radio network. Several kilometers in front of us is a truck that is blocking the roadway. According to the announcer the truck passed a snow plow and jackknifed on the slippery road surface and is now blocking traffic. It is estimated that it will take two hours to clear.
Traffic is not moving, so even if there were an exit up the road a bit it would not have helped. As it happens there are no exits before where the accident is, so now there is nothing to do but wait. Just as well. The traffic in the opposite direction has come to a crawl. We learn from the radio announcer that there has been an accident on the west bound lanes as well.
Nothing to do but wait. Darkness has now engulfed the area and the snow is still falling.
Two hours have gone by. We are now counting snow flakes, but can’t keep up. The fast lane next to us is now a solid white blanket.
The hours are dragging by, the two hour mark to have the accident cleared has passed and we are looking at three hours and we are still at least an hour drive from the Mt. Blanc tunnel.