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

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