Travel Letters: Courmayeur, Italy (1870)

DEAR MOTHER, — I have not written since I landed, of which I am a little ashamed, but I have been very busy, and it has been hard to find a place to write in. But here I am, on Sunday afternoon, sitting on the gallery of this queer hotel, in this funny old Italian town, on the south side of the Alps. In front is a tremendous mountain, with a great glacier upon its face, and at the foot an old square tower with a peaked roof, which may have been a fortress, but is now a house full of beggars; and in the street in front there is a crowd of people chattering a vile language which is half Italian and half French. This morning I went to the English service here and heard a pretty good sermon. This afternoon I thought I would rather write to you.

When I wrote to father we were still on the Hammonia. She reached Plymouth on Friday afternoon, the 8th of July, and we landed a few passengers and then sailed to Cherbourg, where we arrived very early Saturday morning, the 9th. I landed about five o’clock, and the steamer went on to Hamburg. From Cherbourg it was a ride of all day by train to Paris, from eight A. M. to Six P. M. The first part of the ride was through a country wholly new to me and very interesting, — Normandy, with its quaint people, towns, and splendid cathedrals ; Bayeux and Caen, and so on. I stayed over Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday in Paris, made some purchases, and enjoyed the life of the wonderful gay city. Then I rode all Tuesday night by rail to Geneva, where I met Cooper, and our Alpine trip began. First we drove to Chamounix and looked Mont Blanc in the face, from the side where I have seen him before. He was good enough to be perfectly clear, and we saw him splendidly.

The next morning we started, and had a hard day’s tramp over the Col de Voza and through two of the great valleys of the Mont Blanc range, with magnificent views all the way, and spent the night way up in the heart of the hills at a mountain chalet, where the cows and sheep had the lower story and we had the upper. It smelt of them a little, and we heard their bells, but the beds were good and we were very tired. The next morning we set out at five o’clock, and walked thirty-three miles over three high passes, across snow and rocks, and finally through the Allée Blanche, the great gorge behind Mont Blanc, with its tremendous dome and its pinnacles and great rocky wall towering over us. It was splendid beyond all description. We reached here at ten o’clock well tired out, and today are resting. From here we go on to Aosta; then across the St. Theodule Pass to Zermatt, and shall spend next Sunday probably at Andermatt on the St. Gotthard Pass.

I have engaged passage home by the Ville de Paris, to sail on the 10th of September from Brest ; the same steamer in which I returned before.

Everywhere there are rumors of wars about the Spanish business, but for three days we have been out of reach of telegraph and cannot know anything of their truth. Please tell father that I bought some bronzes in Paris, and ask him to pay the charges on the box and keep it for me.

I have none of your letters yet, and shall not have any for a week or more ; but do ‘keep writing. I hope that you have been to Niagara. Good-by, love to all.

PHILLIPS.