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E-Mailing Through Europe >> French Alps 2001

Les Alpes

Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2001 06:44:19 -0700 (PDT)
From: k p
Subject: Dang, these alps is big

Well, Eva and I said a teary farewell at the Marseilles train station yesterday, as she prepared to board a bus to the airport on her way to Thailand, with a day stop over in London so she and Jill can do some shopping.

I left Marseilles so that I could return to France, and Grenoble does not disappoint.

Off the train, I remembered how much easier it is to drive a car into town to find the tourist info place with one's luggage in the back seat of the car instead of strapped to one's back. A 30-minute walk in 32-degree celcius heat, and I found La Maison de Tourisme. Fortunately, my hotel was a few scenic blocks away.

Hot and sweaty, I checked in to the Hotel de L'Europe, satisfied that if I couldn't speak French as well as a Frenchman, at least I had mastered smelling like one.

From there it was out to explore the town covered in my own eau de ken scent. I tried to rent a bike for the next day, but alors, none of the shops had a bike big enough pour moi, so I have to explore the city sans velo.

Which brings up an interesting thing Eva and I noticed a week ago when watching Le Tour De France not too far from here, by alpine standards at least. These European cyclists are small. With a lower-case "s." I was quite surprised by how short the world's best cyclists are, and now I feel justified in my decision to not became a professional cyclist.

So Grenoble is a beautiful town (Motto: "the flattest city in the Alps." This, I'm not making up.) It's the equal of any of the charming college towns found in a valley of the American rockies: beautiful scenery, close skiing and mountain biking, lots of stylish shops to buy everything from the latest clothes to the latest modern furniture to the latest body piercings. Interestingly, the French use the english "body piercings" in the shop windows.

Even more interesting, one of the cool furniture places had in its window the following list of other cities in which it has shops:

"Paris -- Moscou -- St. Petersbourg -- Geneve -- Beyrout"

If the freelance thing doesn't work out, I may consider opening a furniture store in Beruit. With all the trouble there, I guess there's a good market for
people who need to refurnish after their apartment buildings are bombed.

That night, I fortified myself with a half bottle of wine in one of the cafes and fell asleep in my hot (no ac, no fan, no breeze) hotel room.

This morning I climbed the big mountain just outside of town. It was exhausting to pay 30 francs and load myself into the cable car, but I managed to get to the
top after a scenic ride of about 4 minutes.

At the top is the intact fortification that served for almost 2,000 years as a fort, then a bastille, and now as a tourist attraction with gift shop, 2 restaurants public toilets and lots of graffitti. I bought a one-way ticket so that I could walk down the mountain, which took about an hour on reasonably rocky switchback footpaths. On the way down I stopped and cooled off in Le Dungeon, which was a dank, dark and musty place. I wouldn't have wanted to spend time there as a prisoner, unless perhaps they also kept the city's storage of wine and cheese there too.

On the way down, I wondered why attackers of this city wouldn't simply let the defenders rot in the fort while they sacked the town. It's far enough away that the fort-people couldn't lob things at the sackers. And of course it wouldn't have be worth the effort to scale the mountain and lay seige, especially for the French, who only work from 9-12 and then again from 3-6. By the time the troops scaled the mountain, it would be time to go back down to the town for lunch.

To answer that question, I will go to the Musee de Troupes de Montagne this afternoon and see why armies thought this particular montagne is so important.

Then tomorrow morning I'm off the Geneva.

And now a question, to see if anyone is still reading: Every French town has had a Rue de Charles De Gaulle, a Rue Victor Hugo and a Rue 4 Septembre. Anyone know what happened on the 4th of Septembre?


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