Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30, 2011: Grenoble - Happy Birthday Sara, Market, Taxes, Haircut, Hike, Pizza

Happy Birthday to Mark's sister, Sara! Sending birthday greetings from France is a bit odd, since we've got a 9-hour time difference - if you start too early it's still the wrong day in Victoria, BC!

We seemed to fit a lot in today: market first thing, then Mark finished and paid his taxes online. Then for the main event: a haircut. Mark has needed one for a few weeks now, so we finally bit the bullet and went. I'd been told by my language exchange French friends that Grenoble has one of the highest proportions of hairdressers in all of France, and once we started paying attention it seemed to be true. So - no shortage of places to go, we just had to pick one that was open, not too busy, and seemed to do a good job. We ended up at a Franco-Italian place near our apartment, where they were able to take Mark right away. No English spoken, but we managed to get through it just fine (although I did get rather distracted by my success in having a French conversation with another of the salon's patrons, rather than paying attention to Mark's efforts to get me to translate his hair instructions).

And we still had time after this to head out on an outdoor adventure! We took the bus to the south of the city, to Eybens, and headed from there up into the wooded hills. It was a beautiful day of sunshine and we walked around for a couple of happy hours.

Then back into the city and out for pizza. I've been wanting to go out for pizza for a while, since Grenoble has a large Italian population and there are tons of pizzerias. We went to La Chandelle, which had good recommendations and pizza combinations we wouldn't commonly see in Canada (mine had arugula, ham, cheese, tomato - not so unusual, but also had artichoke - unusual). We had a bottle of Lambrusco with it, a popular pizza accompaniment of sparkling sweet red wine. Very tasty!

A château in the distance, with dramatic clouds

Hillside with sunny sky and clouds

Hikers heading out across a field

A beetle making his way along the path

Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29, 2011: Grenoble - English Reading, English Wedding, Passage

I had a freelance proofreading job that kept me at home today, which was the perfect secret excuse to stay in not miss watching the Royal Wedding coverage live on television.

So, proofreading morning and afternoon, with an hour-long break at lunch to watch the ceremony itself (since we're an hour behind England here in France, the ceremony took place conveniently just after noon). Then at the end of the day I caught up on re-broadcasting of the surrounding pomp and circumstance. Elegant dress, beautiful effect in the cathedral with all the trees, love that they chose plants and flowers sourced from Great Britain with as many to be replanted as possible. It seemed very modest and admirable in aspiration for a couple destined to lead a life that is far above what is normal for so many.

And at the end of the day I started reading Justin Cronin's "Passage". I might regret this - it's a long book and the reviews all say that it's hard to put down. But surely it will be better than Jean M. Auel's "Land of Painted Caves"...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28, 2011: Grenoble - French, New Cheese

After a morning of French conversation with the Open House group I felt emboldened to strike up a conversation with a new cheese vendor at the l'Estacade market. In fact I launched into telling him that I wanted to try all the cheeses in France without a second thought - it seemed quite natural to say this in French. What a change from when we arrived two months ago, and I dreaded having to say anything more than was minimally necessary! He kindly recommended two cheeses and offered to write down their names on the wrapping paper - perfect, since I always forget what it is I've bought. So today I bought: l'estival and bleu de gex.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 27, 2011: Grenoble - Reading, Photos, Mail

Today I finished reading one French-based book and started another.

I finished "Chocolat", which was a fairly good novel, although the plot and character arcs were improved upon when it was made into a movie. But especially fun for me is remembering the movie character Vianne, played by Juliet Binoche, who looks just like one of the vendors at our local market. Many of the Easter customs and myths that I've been learning about here came up in the book, since it's set in the lead-up to Easter. And I have a greater appreciation for the role of the chocolaterie in the village, now that I've visited several in France.

I started "Paris to the Moon", which is a series of essays by Adam Gopnik on his years spent living in Paris. I've read it before but it's been a long time, and now that I'm in France it resonates more. Plus it's a guide to some things to see and do as I plan my trip to Paris (like the taxidermy store Desrolles!).

Also today: catching up on processing photos (there always seems to be a backlog) and sending mail (which gets easier every time I go).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 26, 2011: Grenoble - English, Travel Planning

Not much to report today. English language exchange with Open House, then travel planning - nailing down all the final details of what mom and I will be doing on our trip.

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25, 2011: Grenoble - Easter Monday; At Last - The Rain

Today was a quiet holiday - whereas in Canada it's Good Friday that's the holiday, here it is Easter Monday. We thought most stores would be closed, but it turned out that Monoprix was open, as were the cafes in the area.

It was sunny and summery most of the day, but at last we had the rain in the afternoon that we'd been waiting for all weekend: loud thunder (does it reverberate more with all the mountains surrounding the city?) rain and hail - all while still shining brightly directly overhead. Very dramatic, and I'm glad we were indoors.

The view across the street from our apartment during the storm - bright light on the building against dark clouds.

Yet another record of the wine we've been drinking

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 24, 2011: St. Pierre en Chartreuse - Peril at Every Turn

Even though they were calling for rain again today, we decided to make a road trip, and got on the TransIsere bus to St Pierre en Chartreuse. There's a museum there about the Chartreuse monks (famous for Chartreuse liquor), and it's in a beautiful part of the mountains.

Who would have thought that a simple trip into the mountains would have peril at every turn? We got the bus after lunch, and rode it to the end of the line. Almost an hour and a half of gorgeous scenery with alarming views of the drop-offs from the switchbacking roads - I am so glad that I am not that bus driver. It was in some ways worse than the roads in Hawaii, because the bus is so large that I often doubted it could stay on the road. But it always did.

When we got to the village the driver explained to us (in French) that we must return to the same spot at 5:40 to catch the bus. There's only the one bus to get back, so we definitely would not want to miss it. In my head I had remembered that the time was 5:50, but that was incorrect, so I'm glad he made sure we knew. Also alarming: there was no visible bus stop signage where we were supposed to meet him - how would a traveler who hadn't come in on the same bus know where to catch it? However, there were TransIsere buses parked in a nearby lot, so presumably we might find him there before it was time to meet at the "stop".

The directions for how to reach the museum by bus said to walk out of the village along a road. It didn't say for how long or what the road would be like, but it turned out that it would be more than half an hour on a road with little to no shoulder, blind turns and one-way bridges. And French drivers. That was also a perilous prospect. We opted to take a hiking path instead, hoping to reach it eventually.

Our walk was very nice initially - lots of sweeping vistas, sunshine, even a bench alongside the path in the middle of nowhere. But then we hit a sign - one that I couldn't translate except for the part about the "danger de mort" (risk of death). We tried a different fork in the path and came across the same sign, but the road was just past it, so we thought we'd sneak by quickly, avoiding whatever the "danger" was. There was a trailer and some building supplies beside it, and as we moved past, there was also a dog - who came running at us barking loudly. We quickly backtracked and were ready to retreat along our path when a friendly man came out and calmed down the dog. He gestured that it was safe to advance, and I managed to communicate that we were walking to the museum.

But in order to do so we had to get back on the road, and we didn't relish that prospect. There was another trail that branched off, with the same "danger de mort" signs. We hung out on the bridge overlooking the river until another hiking couple walked up, read the sign, and kept going along the trail. With that we decided to follow - the trail looked like a logging road, and since it was Easter Sunday it seemed like the safest of days to assume that no work was being done that could result in our deaths. It was a pleasant walk with views across the valley of the museum and monastery.

We turned back at what seemed like the halfway mark, to make sure we'd be early enough to not risk missing our bus. As we got close to the village is started to rain at last, but our umbrellas kept us dry. The trail, however, got very muddy and slippery quickly - I'm glad we were on fairly level ground by then or we would have had tricky footing.

In the end we got back early, with enough time for a drink and a quiche from the bakery, and we found the bus even before it got to the stop, as it was parked nearby waiting (since this was the end of the line). Peril at every turn, but no real danger.

The beautiful countryside around St Pierre

A familiar concept from Hawaii, if a different sign - one-way bridge

An odd grouping of monk, hunter, Mark and dog (this dog did not present any peril)

A fast-running river

Turns out the risk of death is because there is blasting work in progress!

The museum of the Chartreuse monks

Blue skies overhead, until it rained...

An interesting roof - we're not sure if this was the traditional slate, or some kind of modern material made to look like slate - it was so regular

Mark pointed out that the local mountain peaks were all angled to look like shark's fins protruding from the forests

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 23, 2011: Grenoble - Noyarey Up & Down, Wine

Today they were calling for rain, so I was being cautious in our plans for an outing - maybe a garden in the city, with a museum nearby that we could retreat to. But when we got outside it was so beautifully sunny that I changed course, and we headed out to the hills by public transit. I picked a new walk from our Guide de Balades, the handy guide published by the transit network that explains how to get to various walking trails (so marvellous - both that there's so many trails within city limits and that they're publicized so well - the signage on all of the trails is great too - you don't really need to know where you are, just pick a destination and follow the signs).

In the village of Noyarey we headed up. And up and up and up. The trail headed up a ridge without any switchbacks - just a steep grade of loose stones that I dreaded walking down if it started to rain (I'm sure the path would have become a torrent). Even though the trail was a bit mind-numbing in its single-minded ascent the views back down to the city where great, and we were mostly shaded by trees. As we got higher we kept checking the progress of the clouds, and finally decided to turn back when we reached some horses in a pasture. I was happy to get back to the bottom without any rain.

We hopped on the bus, got off at the transfer for the tram, and popped inside the nearby hypermarché for some wine. We thought we were buying expensive wine on special (2 for 18 Euros), but it turned out we got inexpensive wine (2 cases for 18 Euros - and we only picked up 2 bottles). Since wine is so reasonably priced here (you can get it cheaper than orange juice) we've vowed to start buying more expensive varieties - we'll never be able to afford them back in Ontario. But we didn't make much progress on our vow today!

Stone ruin on our way up

A rock wall, filled with fern

Do the cows get tired of standing on a slope all day?

I love the red furniture on this little patio

Having just watched the TV series Rome, I exclaimed - "Look - it's Julius' horse!"

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 22, 2011: Grenoble - Bastille, Aquarelle

Today I walked up to the hills above the Bastille to do some watercolour painting (aquarelle). It's a full hour walk from our door to the top, so when I arrived I rested and ate a baguette sandwich. A friendly dog came over to look at me longingly - her owner came over and apologized, saying she was hoping I would give her something to eat (all of which was in French, and I understood!).

Painting was a bit frustrating. The hillside meadow was beautiful, but it's a very steep grade with no flat bits, so nowhere convenient to set down my water bottle, palette or paper. I managed to balance it all, but was envisioning losing something down the hill, where it would roll endlessly out of my reach. But even just sitting in the meadow, listening to the birds and watching the butterflies was lovely. And unlike in the Jardins du Ville there were no nosy hangers-on or admirers (they'd be hard-pressed to hang out on the steep slope with me!).

Irises in bloom in front of the Bastille walls

A view out onto the city from within the Bastille

Sitting under a tree while eating lunch

My painting spot - you can appreciate how steep it is! 

A butterfly landed near my feet

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21, 2011: Grenoble - French, Keys, Soup, Bank, English

Today was a fairly regular Grenoble day. French conversation in the morning. Then I picked up keys for some apartment-sitting over the next couple of weeks (light work - just two plants to keep alive). I boiled up our chicken carcass to make soup, then I stopped by the bank to get Mark's new bank card. Then it was off to play games with Naola to help her practice English and the day was done.

Although I don't remember for certain there must have been chocolate for desert - we now have a backlog of Valrhona, Bernachon and Bonnat chocolate. Which is a wonderful situation to be in.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20, 2011: Voiron - Chocolates, Market, Lunch, Chocolates, Chartreuse

Today was a trip with the Sweet Home Grenoble group to Voiron. Even though, population-wise, it's a town, Voiron has many large institutions: a beautiful church, famous chocolate shop, one of the largest markets in the region on Wednesdays, and a famous distillery.

We stopped in at Bonnat Chocolatier, which was established in 1884. We planned to shop later in the day - for now we enjoyed a quick look around the shop, the amazing Easter displays, and sat down for a cup of chocolat chaud (so good!).

Then we walked through the market. A friendly vendor offered us free samples of the fried frog's legs (yes, they did taste like chicken) and we chatted with him for a while in English.

We had a leisurely lunch, sitting in a back-yard patio. And after we visited the Chartreuse distillery, where the traditional liqueur, an "elixir of life" made of a complex recipe of mountain herbs developed by monks, is made. We had a tour and then a tasting. It's strong stuff, with something of a medicinal smell (which makes sense for an elixir of life). I suppose it's an acquired taste. I only bought some of the liqueur-filled candies, since I didn't want to commit to a whole bottle.

And then we were back to Bonnat to make our purchases. I got a lovely little tin filled with squares of chocolate made from beans from various suppliers around the world.

And that was it - another beautiful sunny day in France, another historic village, another market, another chocolate shop. And it's still just as satisfying.

Church of St Bruno - an 1800s church, financed by donations from the Carthusian monks. They saved money with some of the exterior decoration by using the "gray gold" (concrete) from Grenoble.

I love the multicoloured roofing tiles and the pattern they make - like dressing your cathedral in argyle.

Guess what this bank logo is? (I'll put the answer at the bottom of this page)

All kinds of fancy chickens for sale at the market

Frog's legs!

Candied fruit (I think the mysterious green ones might be rhubarb - right size and shape although the colour is completely unnatural)

Huge chocolate egg at Bonnat

Chocolate hens lined up for sale

Aging barrels lined up at the Chartreuse Distillery - a truly enormous underground room (the longest liquor cellar in the world!) that was used to host a dinner for the nearby 1968 Grenoble Olympics

 A recreation of a Chartreuse monk checking on the liquor

[The answer to the bank logo is: a squirrel!]

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 19, 2011: Grenoble - Laundry, Painting en Plein Air

The first half of today was laundry - not much to report there, except that I shouldn't have skimped on the dryers - if I'd used both instead of just one I might have saved myself an hour of waiting, and the pants wouldn't have come out dry yet wrinkled.

In the afternoon Dominique and I went painting in the Jardin du Ville. What an odd experience - there were lots of people in the park, and as we sat and worked we attracted quite a bit of attention. One fellow in particular became enamoured of Dominique - he presented her with a packet of drawings and messages, which would have been creepy but I think he was a bit mentally challenged, so it was really just a sweet gesture. One other fellow seemed to be working his way up from complimenting my painting to hitting on me, but since everything he was saying was in French it was a bit lost on me, and my "mercis" seemed to shut him down. Next time a slightly more isolated spot would be an improvement. Also, it would help if I remember to wear my wedding ring!

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18, 2011: Grenoble - French/English, Eating Out, Lecture, Botanical, Eating Out Again

This morning it was French/English coffee chat. I ordered a citronnade (lemonade) because it feels like summer - even more so knowing that it snowed yesterday in Toronto!

I went out for lunch, which again felt like summer - sitting in the sun with short sleeves. Delicious savoury buckwheat crêpe with salad. I'm going to miss the crêpes when we go home - the texture that they're able to achieve here is remarkable - delicate and flexible while still crunchy and bubbly.

In the afternoon it was out to the university with Mark, who was giving a lecture to the biology students. Just after meeting our host Mark mentioned that I've done a number of botanical illustrations. He exclaimed that he had something, popped out to his office, and returned with a lovely portfolio of botanical illustrations that have been done by resident artists at the university's alpine research station. He noted that we might be able to go up there for a visit later in the season, which would be beautiful.

After the lecture we toured around some of the research facilities and then went for dinner at Les Trois Dauphins. I had a very large salad with melted St Marcellin cheese on toasted bread. Then I failed to put much of a dent in the veal liver with potatoes. I did, however, manage to finish my crème brûlée - it was the best I've had yet since arriving in France.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 17, 2011: Grenoble - Marché, Lunch, Chocolates, Dinner

We're happy to be relaxing at home in Grenoble rather than dashing about Lyon, trying to fit in all of the tourism activities.

As per our usual weekend routine we went to the market after breakfast and picked up food for the rest of the day: a lunch of fresh tomato/basil pasta with fresh goat's cheese, arugula and tomato, a dinner of roast potatoes, carrots and chicken on a bed of sauteed spinach and spring onions, and desert of desert strawberries, fresh goat's cheese and salted caramel biscuit crumbs.

And we also broke open our Bernachon chocolates in the afternoon in between watching movies and  napping - delicious.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 16, 2011: Lyon - Soie, Beaux Arts, Clockwork, Amphitheatre, Ren Fair, Bâteau

In one day, with the power of our Lyon City Card (an excellent program available from the tourism office), we saw more than I'd seen in the previous three days put together.

In the morning we went on an hour and a half guided tour of the historic silk district in Croix-Rousse. Croix-Rousse is interesting in itself, as it's built up a very steep hillside, and can be seen from many vantage points along the rivers. Our guide took us through the history of the area, which was outside the old city walls and thus formed the villas and manors of German and Italian families for many hundreds of years. When Lyon became a silk industry powerhouse the area was rebuilt with hundreds of buildings to house the thousands of Jacquard looms - each weaver owned their own loom and lived in the same apartment where they worked - because the looms required 4 vertical metres of space special apartments with high ceilings were required to house them. And because they were built on such a steep grade, staircases that connected from the interior of one building to the next below it became a substitute for city streets - these "traboules" gave easy access down to the river level where the richer silk owners and distributors did business.

Our tour ended with a demonstration of hand silk painting and printing. Because it had been my birthday the day before, Mark suggested I pick out a silk scarf as a gift (and because it's France, it doesn't feel too fancy to wear it). Our cashier was very friendly and happy to chat with us in English about her travels in Toronto - she loves it and looks forward to visiting again. It seems so bizarre for Toronto to be a travel destination for the French, but I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side...

After our tour we were in need of "les toilettes", but didn't feel like springing for lunch at a cafe just to use the facilities - we had baguette sandwiches waiting for us in my bag. But, with our Lyon City Card we had free admission the Musée des Beaux Arts, which was just across the plaza, so we popped in for a quick visit and made a beeline to the washrooms. We used the ones on the third floor (which were roped off, so we had a dodgy moment where security seemed to be tailing us after we snuck in). It was some sort of day of dance and music performances at the museum, so as we breezed through we enjoyed some avant garde jazz, some amazing acoustics, and some graceful acrobatics.

After the museum we sat outside in the sun in front of the amazing 1889 Bartholdi fountain of France, seated on a chariot pulled by the four horses (i.e. rivers) of the country. It's one of the most exciting fountains I've seen - very dynamic in its sculpture and placement. Apparently it was originally made for Bordeaux, but they couldn't afford it so they sold it to Lyon. Score for Lyon!

During Mark's conference they had half a day of touring Lyon with a guide, so there were sights in Vieux Lyon that he now knew more about than I did! One of them was the clock at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. After he told me about this clock from the 1300s, which tells the time, day, year, and has all sorts of figures that change according to the season, etc, I had to see it. I'd visited the archaeological remains beside the cathedral, but because the building itself was covered with construction hoarding I hadn't bothered to go inside. I'm so glad Mark told me about the clock because it was amazing (and the cathedral interior was pretty great too!). Imagine a very large, very elaborate cuckoo clock which has been running for hundreds of years. We decided to return later in the afternoon on the hour so that we could see the clock chime.

So we took the funicular railroad up to the Fourvière (because I thought it was fun enough that Mark shouldn't miss it) and walked around a bit. Then we wandered over to the amphitheatre and had a rest in the shade while watching the people moving about on the steps (probably the very same thing that was being done almost 2000 years ago in the same spot). We got back down at 4:00 just as the clock was about to chim - a huge crowd of people had gathered to watch (I'm glad we'd visited earlier when we could get close to appreciate the intricacy of the clock).

When we'd passed through Vieux Lyon earlier we saw a few people in historic costumes, and wondered what was going on. By this point in the day there was no denying it - we'd stumbled into the middle of a Ren Fair! How bizarre. People everywhere were dressed up, and there were stalls set up outside the cathedral where traditional weaponry and crafts were being demonstrated. We sat on the wall and watched for a while - I'd say the crossbows were the biggest draw.

We finished the day off with a boat tour on the Rhône. It was a peaceful way to end off, watching the sights go by. Peaceful except for the moment when several swimming boys mooned the boat!

After returning to our hotel we made an impulsive decision to return home early. We'd already cancelled our evening's dinner reservations, since we were still sated from dinner the night before. So if we weren't eating out there wasn't much else to keep us there (apart from the market the next morning), and we were longing for home (isn't it nice that Grenoble feels like home by now?). So we packed up, took the Metro over to the train station, and used our flexible train tickets to head home a day early (loving the trains here!).

Our tour started with the view from Croix-Rousse

The staircase in an 1800s silk industry building - weavers lived in the apartments where they worked. Note the door at each level - that's the one bathroom per floor. Reminds me of the tenement tour I took in the Lower East Side in New York City.

The interior staircases of the buildings continue down to the next building, connecting them like secret roads or passageways, all the way from the heights of Croix-Rousse down to the river - these are the famous traboules.

A good representation of the traboules is seen here in this piece of street art.

Courtyard view to the sky. The apartments of the silk-weaving district are all 4 metres high, to accommodate the Jacquard looms.

Our guide pointed out that the tradition in Lyon is for exterior Italian Venetian blinds, rather than shutters, as seen elsewhere in France.

Carved archway celebrating the silk industry in Lyon; note the lion (= Lyon) and the mulberry leaves and silkworms.

Demonstration of hand silk-screening of silk scarves.

Demonstration of hand silk-painting of velvet scarves.

Bartholdi's maquette for Liberty (remember that the statue was a gift from France to the USA?).

A painting by a favourite artist, Edouard Vuillard. The reflections and window views are done so loosely yet so convincingly.

Amazing fountain by Bartholdi. Has to be seen in person for the powerful impact - the horses are just flying out from the centre point.

Hall in the Museum of Fine Arts with a Last Supper at the end.

St. John's Cathedral - beautiful coloured lighting through the windows in the afternoon.

Amazing clock in the cathedral - created in the 1300s, and has been running ever since (at one point it broke down, but the detailed manual by the original creator provided instructions for fixing). Tells the time, day, lunar calendar, year, and every hour multiple figures pop out and do their dances. People in the Middle Ages were super smart...

The clock knows that it's April 16, 2011!

More coloured light on the pillars.

Wisteria, almost in bloom, overhead as we relax up on the Fourvière .

A Renaissance Fair, celebrating something (maybe the charter granting Lyon the right to four annual fairs, some several hundred years ago?)

View from our boat tour on the Rhône

A mural spotted during our boat tour

Another mural