Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Middle of the Mountains

As the airplane descended, rocky, wintery hills emerged and our game of "who can spot the mountains first" became pointless. We fell silent, in awe of the countryside beneath us that was utterly different from our rolling, patchwork farms of southern England. Lights twinkled and the quaint and quirky city in the middle of the mountains that was Grenoble, welcomed us with its little red roofs and sprawling tram cables and I could almost smell the French bread waiting for me in the boulingeries. But forget the french bread, somebody was waiting for me, and that somebody was one of my oldest, favourite friends Clementine who I hadn't seen in over a year. There was a lot of  hugging and squealing in Grenbole's teeny tiny airport, and we received many strange looks from the large groups of students who had travelled to these parts for the skiing. 

I absolutely love France. At one time, when I didn't really know whether I was here, there or up in the sky. I always dreamed of living here but that was in another chapter of my life, which has long been finished and put away with now. But each time I come back, even in this newer and more exciting chapter, flickers of old sentiments return; I feel warm from nostalgia and the familiar, pastel buildings and tired old shutters fill a space that I forgot existed. I feel a bright, honeyed fondness for this country of narrow, stooping streets and crazy roads and the language fills my head, taking over my dreams until I am sleep talking in French. 
Maybe one day I will live in France for a little while, George really wants to (although he speaks as much french as my shoe). For now, I take pleasure in our fleeting, impulsive visits to see family and friends who are sporadically placed over this enormous land. This time, we have found ourselves in Grenoble, a very small city placed by the Alps, and it sits in a large bowl, surrounded by three mountain ranges. These are called 'La Chartreuse', 'Vercors' and 'Belladonne'. At this moment, I am typing from Clementines kitchen table, gazing out of the large door windows where there is the view of snow capped mountains. We have done little other than eat, talk about food, search for food, walk about the town a little, cook food and eat again. I am elated to eat French bread once more; I covet the moments and always look forward to visiting France for its delicious loaves and pastries. 
The weather has been a bizarre combination of cold, windy, rainy, warm, sunny and icy. They say there is a storm coming tomorrow and that it will snow. We were hoping to go hiking in the Cascades but I think the 'tempetes' as they call them, will put paid to that. Perhaps another day. I really don't mind if it snows, I can wait for my hike. 
We've also spent the evening browsing second hand ski and snowboard gear in the snow sports shop. I am yet to decide whether I prefer trying my hand at snowboarding (Which is hopefully like surfing and long boarding - two things I am relatively okay at) or skiing (requiring maximum dexterity and the control of four separate limbs - over all, feeling a little apprehensive about this). 
George and I cooked Cornish Pasties for everybody and I tried (rather unsuccessfully) to introduce the French to the music of our people (some classic Sea Shanty) which went down like a fart in a church. The pasties were alright though, but there were a few grumbles about the pastry and it turns out gravy simply doesn't exist here - not sure I can live in France after all.  

I suppose this is a different sort of post to my usual, perhaps because the adventure is unfinished. But I really love writing something in a different place, in the middle of the moment so that in the future I can look back at that that and there is this tangible piece of evidence that I was fully experiencing that place at that time rather than looking back at it and reciting fragmented memories. I also like living in this liminal space of 'the journey unfinished'. I'm only two days into my little escape to the mountains and there's all these things that haven't happened yet and that excites me beyond anything; the potential of an adventure. Maybe I'll break my wrists skiing, maybe I'll experience altitude sickness, maybe the tempest will blow away all the snow and flood the bowl that is Grenoble and we'll spend the week snorkelling around the city instead. 
From what I've seen of it so far, Grenoble isn't a tourists city. It's not like Paris, or Quimper or even Lyon but it's relaxed, it's genuine and it's kind of austere. There's this feeling of perpetual winter about the place (although I've been told that in the summer it's stifling hot) and there is the most curious architecture. It is however the home of mountain sports since it's so well placed between three mountain ranges and it even hosted the winter olympics in 1968. It's not far from a bountiful selection of ski stations and resorts and there are beautiful trails and cascades nearby for lovers of the outdoors and extreme sports. The tourism it does receive is largely mountain sport enthusiasts although it is a  large centre for science and research. Sadly, Clementine informs me that it's the 2nd most crime riddled region in France (after Marseille, although the crime is mainly centred in the peripheral boroughs) and it does have its fair share of homelessness. These poor souls have built their homes under bridges from wooden pallets and discarded fencing and there are these bizarre, makeshift shanty houses that break my heart but inspire my curiosity simultaneously. I wonder to myself what horrible conditions they had left behind to find this life preferable and a little more of my light diminishes, like it does every day when I feel utterly helpless to alleviate suffering. 
While we're getting all of the sad stuff out of the way, the world learned that David Bowie died today, as I write this. I really did think that he was invincible, that he was made from some magical substance that never corroded and the world really feels like a darker place without him and his wonderful, creative energy - but that will exist forever in his work and the legacy he has left behind. I just know that next time I watch 'the Labyrinth', one of my most favourite films, it will be with a tinge of melancholy for a man whom I never knew, but whose work always brought joy to my life and that of endless others. Sweet dreams you incredible, magical, starry, muddled and talented bean - I guess you were mortal after all. 

Grenoble is a very peculiar place in that one moment, your strolling down a typical, French rue of wonky shutters and window flowers lined with boulingeries and charcuteries and the next minute, you're in a dystopian metropolis of austere, juxtaposing architecture from the 60's that has towers and has an eerie, once-was-futuristic feel about it. But I like that about this place. You can get about mostly on foot although there are tramways all over the shop and even cable cars that take you up to the ramparts in the hills (although I've been told that these are expensive where as feet are free). 
Most of all, I'm enjoying the drastic change of scenery. I am so lucky to have friends in odd places because I can see the world better this way, I can experience different cultures with fresh eyes but not those of a tourist. I don't think I've ever experienced France from a tourists point of view, perhaps that's why I feel so at home here. I've spent massive parts of my life flitting to-and-frow over the channel and I've become quite accustomed to Pate. 
So here you have it, this quirky little city in the middle of the mountains called Grenoble (Grenn-Obbleh). I write to you, my family, to assure you that I haven't broken any limbs (yet) and sending  you all my love. I write to you, dear other people to say a big hello and share these travels with y'all. I write lastly, to my future self and hope that she looks back at this memory with warmness and joy and that writing this in the very moment I am experiencing it all, has the magic and realness that I hope for.  Most of all I'm crossing my fingers for snow and hoping for that this is one of those rare times when the weather forecast tells the truth :)



  1. Another great blog, enjoy yourselves and dont' 'break a leg'. x Angela

  2. Oh my goodness its so beautiful here. These photos are lovely and that french stick looks yummy! Haha I like this adventure post a lot.


  3. Love these and your outfit is so damn cute! ^_^ glad you're enjoying Grenoble hehehe

  4. Beautiful photos! Sounds like you're having a wonderful time. Grenoble seems lovely! I've spent a lot of time in Paris, but I really want to see more of the rest of France (I briefly went to the South-East once, but that's all I've seen outside of Paris). And ahh, French bread is really wonderful. As much as I love the UK, the bread here is... well, not the best. I hope you'll enjoy the rest of your visit!

    Mimmi xx
    Muted Mornings

  5. Wow that sounds so fabulous, I miss french bread, it's unlike any across the whole world! Sounds like you're having an amazing time, and I'm not sure how long ago you changed the blog around, but it's beautiful and I love it! :) Alice xx


  6. So jealous of this little rendezvous! Looks perfect :)


  7. How have I only just come across your lovely blog?! Your wonderful posts are helping my rediscover my faith in this medium, so thank you <3 Enjoy France!


  8. such a beautiful post as per usual! x

  9. Wooooah... These photos! Magical! I've never heard of Grenoble but it looks amazing!!

    Claire // Technicolour Dreamer

  10. Your photographs look gorgeous. Really beautiful post.


  11. Sounds and looks amazing - you do look sightly French with that dress and red lippy on, it suits you. :)

    I'd love to go France - we're thinking of travelling by Euro star to Marseille and go camping there but I haven't the foggiest in where to start, going abroad scares me, I haven't done it in 15 years!! But I think I shall try this year...

    Have a wonderful time!

  12. What beautiful bright, ebullient photos Sarah. When I went to Pau with an orchestra to perform the St Matthew Passion, we stayed with someone whose daughter lived in Grenoble and I've been curious to see what it is like since then!x


© The Salty Sea Blog. All rights reserved.