Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I heart Grenoble

I've heard it time and time again: Grenoble is not a pretty city. It's industrial and well...ugly. 

The first time I visited Grenoble was in winter. British guy and I had just finished a week-long skee* trip in Switzerland (*I'm leaving that typo to illustrate how French is ruining my ability to spell).  He skied. I tried. Hard. I probably cried a few times. If you ever go skiing with me, you will see me in one of three positions: 1. On the ground twisted in an awkward position. One of my skis will likely be somewhere up above me on the slope and I will be whimpering something about how I am from San Diego and I think snow is stupid; 2. Snow plow. This is when you position your skis in a V shape and inch slowly and unsteadily down the slope while at least a dozen 3 year-olds zoom past you; 3. In the bar with a beer. My skis safely in the ski rack. 

Bier! Switzerland, 2010

Snow plow. Somewhere in the French alps. 2010

I don't have any pictures of me on the ground in an awkward position. And it's not because British guy isn't amused by taking pictures of me twisted in awkward positions on the ground with my skis and gear strewn about the slope. It's because I usually have the camera. 

Anyway. After spending a few days in Zinal and Hasliberg and dropping my stuff off at my new place in Geneva, we continued onto Grenoble. 

I was excited to see it. I had wanted to visit the French alps for years, and British guy had spoken so warmly of Grenoble that I was convinced it was paradise. 

Except that when we got there it was cold and grey and I was in a lot of pain and eating ibuprofen like candy and I had to go to the emergency room and I didn't know any French and I didn't know how to ski (everyone in Grenoble knows how to speak French AND ski). And I was having to meet so many new people and I don't like strangers. I remember walking into a room full of people and everyone stopped talking and turned to stare at me and I had no idea what I was supposed to do so I just stood there awkwardly (always a solid default option). Turns out I should have gone around and kissed everyone in the room. Going around and kissing everyone in a room has got to be at the top of the "10 most awkward things for Americans abroad" list. My preferred method of entering a room full of people is as follows: [waves] hiiiiii everyone! I'm gonna go get a beer and then we can all stand around awkwardly staring at things in the room and sipping beer!" 

And I was so nervous around British guy. He's cute and British, and I like cute British guys. Except that they make me nervous. And when I'm nervous I transform into the most awkward human being ever. Also it was cold and I'm from California. And I missed my mom. But I'm an independent and competent young woman who handles everything maturely and doesn't wish her mom would send her the stuffed animal she has had since she was six (his name is Kavik. He's a wolf.) 

So Grenoble and I didn't get off to the greatest start. Because of all of the above factors (recap: in pain, no French, can't ski, socially awkward, cold), I thought Grenoble was nice, but I probably wouldn't have recommended the city itself to anyone at that point. 

However, over the next few months I spent many weekends in Grenoble and the surrounding area. I got to know it better, and by the time summer rolled around and I had decided to stay in Grenoble for one month to study French...I was practically in love.

British guy was sailing (check out this project) and I was on my own in Grenoble. Left to my own devices, I began taking long walks. I walked everywhere, I explored every street, took frequent coffee breaks at various cafés and spent many evenings having a picnic dinner in one of the numerous parks around town. I love walking along the river or wandering through town in the evenings. I would often hike up to the Bastille and sit for hours just staring out at the mountains, and I spent a lot of time alone. Which, incidentally, tends to happen a lot. Either because of my tendency to live inside my head or my cute habit of moving to a new country every 6 months. Or my social awkwardness. 

At any rate, I fell completely in love with Grenoble. I've been here almost two months now, and I really don't want to leave. It's such an amazing place. Grenoble is unpretentious and laid-back. The Grenoblois are almost always clad in climbing, cycling or skiing gear and are usually on their way to or back from the mountains. 

And the mountains, oh the mountains. Every direction you look. To the north, the Chartreuse. To the south and west the Vercors, and to the east the Belledonne range. You cannot look anywhere in Grenoble without seeing mountains. Craggy peaks towering in every direction, and it makes me feel safe and inspired. Every morning I ride my bike to class and feel like I could just reach out and touch them, and it makes me want to abandon everything and go spend the rest of my life exploring them. And you could. If you're not into mountains Grenoble probably wouldn't "make your skirt fly up" (in the words of Ree Drummond, thepioneerwoman), but I can't stop walking into things because my eyes are always looking up, trying to drink in as much of the French alps as humanly possible. 

On the way to class. Grenoble, 2010

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