April 6, 2013

Grenoble - Visiting Friends and Discovering a Destination

Some trips are about the destination, others are about friends. Our recent trip to France was for the latter, but along the way we discovered a great place to visit. While my general geography of Europe is good, I am still filling in local details through my travels. During this trip, Jonathan and I visited friends, went to a new country (Switzerland) together for the first time, and became familiar with the region of France that touches the Alps.

A few years ago, a friend of mine moved from New York City to Qatar for a while for work. From there she moved to Grenoble, France. Along the way she got married and has created a new home in this city in eastern France. So, we flew to Geneva, drove down to France to visit her and her new husband, and went skiing in the amazing mountains nearby.

Grenoble is situated about an hour and a half south of Geneva between the Alps and two other mountain ranges - the  Vercors and the Chartreuse. We arrived in the city in time to sit down to lunch and start catching up with our friends. I think one of the best ways to get over jet lag is to go for a walk. So, after lunch and relaxing a bit we headed out to get a tour of our friends' new city.

Grenoble was larger than I expected but old city center where our hosts live is compact and very walkable. Instead of wide boulevards like Paris, the streets are narrow, but clean and bright. There are several small plazas and parks hidden among maze of streets. On a hill above the city there is an old fort, called the Bastille, that once protected this region. Today it is a park that visitors can access by hiking or taking a gondola. But, for our first day, we stayed down on street level. We walked around the old part of the city, passing churches and through the plazas. We stopped to take photos and visit shops. A few hours later we were back at our friends apartment for wine, dinner, and sharing recent stories and news.

To end our first day in this region of France, we went to one of our friend's favorite cafes for another glass of wine. Le Zinc is a cute neighborhood bar with friendly service. After experiencing less than cordial service and the impersonal feeling of Paris, Jonathan was intrepid about returning to France on this trip. However, after seeing the kind manner of people in businesses and cheerful attitude of people on the street in Grenoble he was happy to be experiencing a different side of France.