Friday, May 13, 2011

May 13, 2011: Grenoble - Chartreuse Monastery, St Pierre Fondue, St Hughes Arcabas, Grenoble Petit Train, Bastille Picnic, Lucky/Unlucky

Today Mom and I traveled up into the Alps to visit the Chartreuse Monastery museum with several of my French friends from the Sweet Home Grenoble and Open House groups, so it was a real immersion for her into the local culture.

The Monastery of the Chartreuse monks is not open to the public (it would disrupt their quiet, contemplative lifestyle), but there is a museum about it just down the mountainside, which recreates their way of life in buildings that were originally built for visiting family members and travelers. It has been under some construction recently, and would not have been open to the general public, but Bernard contacted them and arranged for our group to be admitted (yay Bernard!).

While visiting the museum I learned that the famous Shroud of Turin was originally the Shroud of nearby Chambéry. It was only when the Savoie region became part of France at the end of the 1800s that the shroud was transferred to the Italians at nearby Turin.

It is really astounding that the monks were able to make a lives for themselves in such an isolated location, but everywhere that the Chartreuse monks build a monastery, they seek out to remove themselves from the rest of the world. Because this is the Grand Chartreuse, there is an extensive collection of detailed paintings of all the Chartreuse monasteries from around the world, showing their locations and construction details.

Today is Friday the 13th, and I asked if the French considered it an unlucky day - they do not. I, however, may have had a bit of unluckiness - the water bottle in my purse wasn't closed tightly enough, and it tipped over while I had my camera out, and leaked. Luckily my travel papers and passport were in a ziploc bag (more to keep them tidily together than to make them waterproof) and my wallet is leather, so no real harm was done.

For lunch we drove up to the village of St Pierre de Chartreuse for traditional Savoyard specialities - like fondue! Mom and I shared the fondue of cheese with white wine, and it was delicious. It was also challenging. Our friends told us that the game is to establish a penalty every time that someone drops their bread in the fondue, and if we had done so both Mom and I would have been heavily in debt. For desert we all had ice cream made with the famous Chartreuse liqueur - very refreshing, like a mint flavour.

We then traveled to another nearby village, St Hughes, to visit their church. It is famous for being entirely decorated by one artist, Arcabas, in a very personal, modern style over the last few decades. In a land where the decoration in most churches is centuries old it was very refreshing to see something so contemporary.

On our return to Grenoble Mom and I took the Petit Train on a tour through the old Roman centre of the city to the modern outskirts built for the 1968 Olympics. Then I dashed home to prepare our picnic for the evening: quiche (from a local bakery), baguette sandwiches, sparkling cider, chicken couscous (from the Monoprix deli) and local cherries for desert.

Although the weather was threatening a thunderstorm, and there were a few drops as Mark and I walked over to pick up Mom at her hotel, in the end it was funny - a lucky break for Friday the 13th. We took the télépherique to the top, had our meal at a quiet picnic table, and then sat and listened to a musical performance at the Bastille while enjoying the view. Our ride down in the télépherique was  more dramatic than on the way up - you felt the great height more (because of the view? or more swaying motion?) - Mark and I missed out before by only taking it one way to the top.

Although it started out overcast it wasn't long before the view in the Chartreuse was amazing

One of the most interesting monasteries, Pierre Châtel - completely filling an isolated rock outcrop, and currently in private hands, so it can't be visited (the monasteries were seized during the French Revolution, and this one was never returned to the monks).

A model of the Grand Chartreuse monastery

The museum buildings that we could visit - similar architecture to the monastery itself

A detail of the painting seen below - I think it depicts the history of the Order

A book binding device

Simple wooden utensils and metal bowl

Pine furnishings and white robes - the monks were way ahead of IKEA fashion

Mom and I pose with the statue of the monk, the man and the dog

We carefully eat our fondue (thanks Annette for taking the photo!)

The church at St Hughes
One of the many paintings by Arcabas
A rainbow in the sky just as we started up the télépherique
A view from the bubble as night starts to fall

You can see all the neon signs of Pizza Row below

A beautiful moon as sunset nears
The fountain at Place Grenette

The beautiful Jardins du Ville

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