May 16, 2008
I stepped off the train in Grenoble, took in the mountains in every direction and the warmth of the sun, and I was ready to stay.
“You know how every time you visit Paris, you say you kind of wish you lived there? I’m feeling that way about Grenoble with these mountains!” I said to Elizabeth when she arrived at the station. Then we were off, to actually explore the town so I could further solidify my feeling of being happy to be somewhere smaller and warmer than Paris.
We had to stop periodically for me to take photos, starting at the dandelion fountain (which would be entirely unsuitable for me to have pushed Jenna in). (Grenoble had several lovely fountains though.)
Some form of cement was invented in Grenoble, and in the excitement, all the buildings were plastered with it, erasing original facades and eschewing past architectural standards. Still, the washes of color on the cemented buildings hold their own charm.
We lunched at a creperie, with bowls of cider to wash our crepes down. Then we walked right out of Grenoble to La Tronche, where Elizabeth lives with a host family.
We’d have more time to savor the view later; the three of us almost immediately headed out in search of other views on a hike up to La Bastille, the fortifications above Grenoble.
I’d say we found them. After our descent from the Bastille, we ate a basic but tasty dinner (including a vinaigre de noix in our salad dressing, which Allen and I ran out and bought for use at home). And we may have played some cards. (Did you guess that?)
On Saturday, we walked into town to catch the bus to Le Sappey for more hiking! We ran a few errands - vin de noix (an aperitif made from wine and walnuts, a bottle of which will be crossing international borders with me soon), sunscreen, lunch provisions - and caught the incredibly affordable regional bus in front of the museum. Steps off of the bus in our destination, this was our view.
Unfortunately, I was feeling under the weather (Allen jinxed my good health a few weeks before, resulting in strep and then a sore throat/head cold), and I’m going to use that as the excuse for my very slow walking and my stopping every 20 yards. (I might be being generous with myself.) Fortunately, there were plenty of sights to enjoy during our frequent rests. It’s possible that I even stopped to breath under the ruse of taking a picture.
So we stopped and walked and stopped and picked the path back up.
After we finished our loop above the villages (some of them seemed to be just a cluster of houses), we had an ice cream in Le Sappey. Elizabeth opted for chartreuse ice cream, flavored by a liquor that is named after the mountains we were in. (I’d follow suit the next day, when I realized the ice cream wasn’t as strong as the liquor. I think my fear was legitimate; at Berthillon, the liquor-flavored ice cream is every bit as strong as the liquor in it. Ask Alan and Dave!)
We had hours to spare before we caught the bus back down the mountain, so we wandered a bit before settling down in the lush grass. The bright sun pierced through my poor translucent eyelids; I covered my eyes. We spent a pleasant hour thus, with occasional appreciative glances at the scenery.
The bus came with a minor scare in the form of engine troubles and sticky braking mechanisms. Elizabeth pointed out the distance to La Tronche. We’d walked farther in a day before. But the bus came through, and we rolled into Grenoble just before supper time, which we spent sipping vin de noix and eating gratin dauphinois in Elizabeth’s backyard.
We knew we’d have to leave on Sunday, but that didn’t mean we were going to waste an entire day of sunshine fretting about it. We were in town around noon, and we chose a likely restaurant with outdoor seating. Elizabeth and I availed ourselves of the 17 euro menu, indulging in a kir chataigne as aperitif. (A kir is a very French thing to order, and if you do, you’ll have a nice cool glass of white wine with creme cassis in it. But in this case, we had a chestnut-flavored liquor or syrup, which I found really delicious.) Our menu started with an appetizer of goat cheese and sun dried tomato on a cassis-studded bread with a light salad. We both enjoyed a basic steak of some unmemorable sort. Meanwhile, Allen munched on andouille sausage with thick French fries.
And then there was dessert. When we’d ordered, Elizabeth attempted to order the walnut tart, but they were out. So we both ordered the only other option – the doony avec glace au chocolat et au tiramisu. I’m basically okay with anything including chocolate ice cream and tiramisu, so I didn’t worry too much that I didn’t know what a doony was. When our doonies arrived, I had a good laugh though. (I’m still laughing.) On the plate, sitting atop artful drizzles of chocolate and caramel, was a donut with chocolate frosting, with a small scoop of ice cream nestled in the donut hole. Doony indeed. I only wish I’d taken a picture before biting into that donut with a spoon.
After I ate a donut with utensils, we wandered around town, scoping out the local parks (Jardin des Plantes and others) for a spot to sit. We opted for a shady area with a miniature train circling it. We munched on local strawberries we’d bought at the market that morning.
After a while we decided to walk a bit more, and the heat inspired an ice cream stop. I had chartreuse, and Allen had walnut, both very Grenoble. We made our way to the Italian section of town, across the river, as we licked our ice creams before they melted in the sun.
Elizabeth led us halfway up the climb to the Bastille from town, a cobbled path that afforded more views over the city.
Then Elizabeth remembered the chapel in the Musee Dauphinois, so we ducked inside to take a look. The chapel was closed for a concert, so we wandered through the cloister and found ourselves outside on the terraces.
Once again, the grass became our lounge, and the music from the concert wafted into the tranquil terrace of the former convent. Elizabeth started with the visible evidence of an idea, rustled around in the grass, and came up with a four-leafed clover.
Too soon, someone came around to say the museum was closing, and we slung our bags on our shoulders and marched back down to town. We sat at a cafe with a bar Elizabeth likes and sipped cold drinks in the sun. I took these pictures of Allen and Elizabeth, just living the life of leisure that is French cafe culture.
They looked so cool that I was deluded into thinking Allen should take a picture of me, too, so I could put all three of them together somewhere and be really glad that Elizabeth’s badass side had rubbed off on us.
Obviously, my vision will go unrealized. Still, as we finished our drinks and later as we headed to the train station, I felt an intense satisfaction from our day in the sun and our hikes in the open air of the mountains around Grenoble. What luck would the four-leaf clover bring us that we hadn’t already enjoyed all weekend?