Last Friday I took off on the TGV to spend the weekend with two friends in Grenoble, the capital of the Rhone Alps in the South-East of France. It was my first time in a couple of years on a fast, quiet train and it once again blew my mind. I've starting using airbnb.com since I left America and it is an incredible website to find great places to stay across the world. We were staying with a couple named Jacque and Diane, who turned out to be the best hosts ever. Diane picked us up from the train station in their BMW 318iD wagon, which brought me unbelievable jealousy. Good handling, great gas mileage, stickshift, and room for bikes and skis in a pretty package. Jacques is an accomplished mountaineer, in fact he just summited Everest this summer, and gave us loads of hiking advice. After grocery shopping and telling J + D we'd cook dinner for them, we set off on a great hike one of the massifs (read: big hill) that surrounds Grenoble. Grenoble is a pretty big city, obviously much smaller than Paris, and it is surrounded my mountains of different heights on all sides. Pretty dreamlike.
Our hike took us up to an old fort on the hill, and higher up a war memorial from mountain soldiers from WWI. It was a sunny day, and it felt so good to sweat and get out of breath and see the view of Grenoble. We got back to the apartment and cooked dinner and shared a long meal with lots of wine with Jacques and Diane. Speaking a combination of French and English (Jacques was a great tutor) we shared life stories and found Jacques at my dad were at Cal at the same time, and had similar passions. We got along great with them and they ended up inviting us to go mushroom picking with them in the mountains the next day. There was no way to refuse. Everyone went to bed with stomachs full of great food and wine and hearts full of friendship. In the French Alps, there are about two weeks with a lot of mushrooms, and we made it one of those weeks. It was a great experience, and we were pretty successful. Of course, being from Washington, I didn't let the rain stop us at all, and we had some great exploration. After we drove back into town, J + D dropped us off downtown so we could explore. We started out at the Museum of Grenoble, which was a really good museum. That had an extensive collection of mostly paintings dating between the 14th century and modern times. They had an extensive contemporary collection and I found some works I really liked from artists from Grenoble whom I didn't know before. Georgette Agutte was a woman from Grenoble who painted after the Impressionnistes with an emphasis on vibrant colors, and her paintings were magnificent. I feel in love the l'école dauphinois, a group of painters who painted the Dauphiné landscape, including Jean Achard and Laurent Guétal. Paintings of mountains. What could be better?
When we got back from our day in the city and the museum, Jacques and Diane made us fondue. It is seemingly forbidden to drink water during a fondue meal, so we had a lot of aperitif, then a lot of wine. The fondue was delicious,and our friendship furthered. J + D gave us a lot of life advice, including live simply and ensure that you do that things you love. Afterwords, Jacques told me about his time on Everest and me about my bike trip across Europe. There's a way to be a spray lord when talking about the cool things you do, and there is a way to humbly share adventures. We were able to the the better of the two, the second. There's a respect between people who do interesting things and take life-changing adventures, it is admirable and non-competitive. The next day we took the bus up to Chamrousse, one of the local ski areas, in the snowcapped area that we could see from the apartment, for some altitude. We hiked to Lac Achard (named for the painter) via the top of the ski area. The Alpine landscape was so beautiful. Chamrousse was at about 1700m elevation, and Grenoble 400m. A lot of the drive was in incredibly thick fog, but as we came into Chamrousse, we drove out of the fog. From the hike we could see the thick blanket of fog covering the whole valley, with only the mountains sticking out. Talk about neauture (nature is neat). The hike wound up including some bigger hills than necessary and some accidental scrambling but it was great. I felt back in my element after a lot of city time.
We came back into Grenoble with some time before our return train, and went to a Brasserie, were a drunk man bought us beers and gave us a chance to speak some more French. When you get away from touristy areas, be it in Grenoble or Paris, I've found that everyone wants to talk to Americans. They love hearing about California and why I am here, and I love the chance to practice French and share my stories.
This is getting long, I wil blog again tomorrow about the rest of the week which is wholly unrelated to Grenoble, thus deserves its own post. I'll part with promises of a review of school (this is study abroad), my internship, and Nuit Blanche, as well as a bit more eye candy. I loved Grenoble and could pack up and move there in a second. This trip was also a great reminder of how everything is better when shared with great friends, hospitality and lots of wine.