Saturday was the 14th (Bastille Day, though I already mentioned that the French don’t call it that), and I went on an excursion to Lyon. There were two things on my list for Lyon: eat some of the famous cuisine, and visit the Institut Lumière, devoted to the creators of motion pictures (in your face, Edison). They did all of their inventing in Lyon, and a lot of their filming, so the city is justifiably proud. I also had plans to meet up with E and C after I got back for some firework watching (feu d’artifice) and for the dance that each city hosts outdoors.
After getting to Lyon, we set up the group rendezvous by the statue of Saint-Exupéry (another of Lyon’s favorite sons) and his most beloved creations, Le Petit Prince. Of course, I took a picture. We saw some of the by now obligatory things you see in France – a gothic cathedral, a pimped-out 19th century cathedral, and some Roman ruins. All were very interesting. Then it was off to lunch (wherever we wanted), and those that wanted to go to the Parc de Tête d’Or would meet up at 2:00. I toyed with the idea of going to the park and hitting the Institut later, but I suspected that wouldn’t work out as well. So, I opted to take my time at lunch and wing it from there. I wandered around, looking at restaurants, checking out the posted menus, trying to find a tasty lunch and a good deal. I had read about a sort of famous restaurant owned by one of Lyon’s top chefs, but since it wasn’t his main restaurant, it was a (relative bargain). However, I had no address. I found a bouchon on a little side street that was hopping (a mix of tourists and locals, which I took to be a good sign), that wasn’t too expensive. I sat down, and after deciding that the traditional Lyonnais cuisine was way too heavy for the (hot) weather (summer has finally come to the Alps), I opted for a salad; actually, a saladier, which was described to me as “more big.” In France, I have found that the French Waiter generally likes me, because I speak French, don’t order Coke with dinner, and I choose well. The waiter was very nice, but my tiny annoyance is that, detecting my accented French, the people in the service industry will answer in English (not assuming nationality, more of a reflection on English’s international standing). I know that they are trying to a) be accommodating and b) practice their English skills, which are considered to be an asset, just like speaking Spanish is a plus in the US (the exception being if you are Hispanic, then you are supposed to never speak Spanish again, apparently). The thing is, good intentions aside, the majority of the time, my French is better than their English, and for example, if the waiter had said, “Les saladiers sont plus grands,” I would have understood. I understand “more big” too, but I speak English all the time at home (and increasingly, unfortunately, here in France as well). But the spirit in which English was offered was a generous spirit (as it usually is), and I understand the impulse, so I can’t take umbrage at it. The tangent was lengthy, but the saladier was indeed, “more big” and delicious too, with locally made blue cheese melted on little toasts with baked apples. Though my love for French cheese is deep and profound, I have had a hankering lately for some Cheddar (or, as Mme W calls it, “sheddaire,” which she discovered traveling in England, but noted sadly, is difficult to find in France – most likely the only cheese that is difficult to find in France. Other than Kraft Singles. Or Velveeta. But those aren’t really cheeses, per se). I found my way to the Cathedral St Jean, which we had seen before, but it had been closed earlier (jour ferié). It was open, and I toured it, and saw the mechanical astronomical clock strike two and do its little dance.
Then, I wandered around for a little less than an hour, finding my way to the metro station which would take me to the Institut (yes, I know that sounds comical). On the way, I saw a hilarious store front – “Discount Mariage” – selling inexpensive bridal apparel. If they started a chain in the States, the name would sink them for sure. I took the metro to the Institut (still funny), and could have spent all day there. I also could have, if I were a millionaire, bought everything in the gift shop. I settled for a t-shirt and two small undisclosed souvenirs – one for my brother, and one for my “turncoat” collaborator KS(-P) – emphasis on the word small, though. I headed back to the meeting place, to see if I could catch up with anyone from the group, but I had missed them. I had a half-baked idea to catch the Silk Museum, but, I couldn’t find it, which I found pretty ironic, considering that I figured out the public transportation system well enough to take the subway to a non-touristed part of town to check out a museum, but couldn’t find a museum in a small area loaded with tourist attractions. It’s just as well, since I lated discovered that the museum was closed, being a national holiday and all. I wandered around, discovering little parks, complete with fountains and statues to various Lyonnais or abstract ideas such as liberty. I also, and this is why I was disappointed I didn’t find any other members of the group, kept getting approached by skeevy/drunk/zealot-y Frenchmen. It’s never the normal ones, is it? So I used one of two strategies: pretending I don’t see them, or pretending I don’t speak French. But you have to be careful, because if you use the wrong technique it eggs them on (i.e. drunks, finding out you’re a foreigner will never let you alone; if you ignore them, zealots will keep trying to get your attention). As I was walking around, I caught sight of the restaurant I had read about in the guidebook. It figures.
All in all, Lyon was a good day, but I was in desperate need of both a meal and a shower when I got back. I rushed to do both, so I could meet E and go watch the fireworks. Alas, I was nearly 10 minutes late, and they had left without me, not knowing my natural state of being 10 minutes late for most things. I thought about trying to catch up with them for the fireworks, but since everyone was going to be out and about, I thought it would be difficult to find them in a crowd. And I didn’t want to wander around, looking desperately for anyone I know. And I wouldn’t go to the fireworks by myself at home, so you can imagine that I would be less likely to in a foreign country. I’m fine with doing stuff by myself in the daytime, but I’m a little less likely to do so at night. I figure it’s common sense.
This is a good example of the downside to being the Only Old Lady. I don’t really want to pretend I’m 19, and I’m not any one’s first choice to do something with, even though the rest of the group doesn’t treat me like I’m a pariah or anything. I’m always on the edge of the group, and while it doesn’t really bother me; it does make doing certain things, like going to a late-evening event problematic.
So, I went back to the apartment and thought about if I really wanted to go out. It turns out I didn’t, not by myself. It isn’t very fun. I thought I might get a little depressed, since it is kind of a big deal to be in France for the 14th, but it turned out I was too tired, and was out like a light by 11:30 (when most of the things hadn’t even started anyway).
Sunday, I woke up, puttered around, did a little laundry. I idly thought that maybe I should get out and do something; I’ve been pretty lax about exploring Grenoble, assuming I had all this time to do so. Now here we are in the final two weeks, and I have a day with no excursions, no real homework. I thought maybe I could go up to the Bastille, the 16th century fort built on a mountain. But I started out pretty lazy. Then I got a little maudlin, thinking about the Ex and if he had started seeing someone new. This, as you can well imagine, was both depressing and pointless. I have discovered that there is only one cure for emotional distress and that is physical distress, so I packed my camera, put on my ankle brace, and headed off to the path to the Bastille.
There is another way up the Bastille that involves a lot less physical exertion. I could ride the téléferique up to the fort. Grenoble is famous for the téléferique. But I find the damn thing horrifying in the extreme. If I can’t stand on a chair to change a light bulb without breaking into a cold sweat, I don’t think getting into a tiny glass bubble suspended from a cable is going to be high on my list of activities. Plus it costs 3.25 Euros, and the exchange rate is dismal these days. So abject terror beat out laziness, and I hoiked my lazy American ass up the mountain (and it is a mountain, a genuine Alp, albeit one of the little ones). At first, it wasn’t so bad, it was shady and woody. Then after some steps that were probably designed by Torquemada, I took a breather. Then I saw there was another flight of stairs. I stopped to look at the scenery.
“That’s not the path up the mountain, you know,” middle aged man says to me.*
“Yes, I know,” and make a show out of taking out my camera, as if to prove to strangers that I am not taking a break because I’m already dead-ass tired.
After a breather, I go up more steep, creepy stairs.
And go up some steep turning paths.
Then there were some more steep, creepy stairs.
There was one point, where I was hiking up with some middle-aged French women. We make it up a long, steep and yes, creepy staircase, only to reach…another long, steep and creepy staircase.
“Oh, I forgot about this one,”* she says to her friend.
“Do you still want to go up?” The friend asks.
“I suppose so, we’ve already come this far. Let’s rest a bit though.”
The three of us climb the stairs and are about to tackle the next flight, when a chubby shirtless man (actually, unless I say otherwise, all people are French) announces to us that the other path is easier.
So we go up the other path, which has fewer steps, but were evidently designed by a giant.
“This is easier?” One woman says to the other.
We eventually parted ways, as there are a couple of different paths up to the fort, all of them requiring exertion. A couple of times, I nearly gave up, as I was pretty high anyway, and took some cool photos. I even saw Mont Blanc. But the lying signs on the pathway kept telling me I was almost there, so I plugged along. And I got to the top. Well, not to the top of the mountain per se, but to my destination. And discovered that the snack shop and the vending machines were charging gougers’ prices, knowing that hikers that had left their bottles of water back at their apartments and were too lazy to go back and get them, would be desperate. Not me, I will risk dehydration to avoid paying 2.50 (in Euros, yet) for a bottle of the cool, refreshing beverage of my choice.
I saw a neat little art exhibit up there. The woman was very nice, and misunderstood that I couldn’t understand her, not because she was speaking French, but because she was very soft-spoken, and the acoustics of the tower were not in her favor. So I let her explain things to me in English (which again, probably not as good as my French), which I understood about as well, since I could barely hear her. But the art was neat.
I could have climbed up further, to the donjon up at the summit, but I said, “Fuck that,” and descended, which was a lot easier.
I was thirsty, and France is more or less closed on Sundays. My choice would have been to go to a grocery store and bought a bottle of something (I was seized by a sudden desire for Diet Coke, aka Coca Cola Light**). But that is not an option on Sundays. I wandered to the centre-ville and happened on the McDonalds (McDo to the French). Normally, my position is “I’m in France, I’m not going to patronize McDonalds,” which I hardly go to at home, anyway. But the idea of a Boisson Frais had overcome me, and I had to obey. So I ordered a medium (since the large would have been the same price as if I had gotten one at the Bastille, and I hate a Pyhrric victory), which I sucked down with a ferocity that surprised me. I ate the ice, too. Then it was back to le ranch, where I sucked down a bottle of water (tap, bien sûr) and a much deserved shower.
I don’t know if I’m going to hike up to the Bastille again, but you can be damn sure I’m not going on the téléferique, I don’t care if it is a symbol of Grenoble. I do think it is typical of me not to have done it when it was chilly, but to wait until it was 31 degrees Celsius. I can’t remember what the exact conversion is, but I know it’s hot.
My goal for the last 12 days (yikes! 12 days left in Grenoble!) is to do something new each day.
*All conversations, with the exception of the art exhibit, which was often bilingual, were in French.
** I can’t be sure, but I believe that Coca-Cola Light and Diet Coke are different formulas. Coca-Cola Light tastes different to me, but I am willing to concede that since I have had only two Coca-Cola Lights since I’ve been in France, maybe the month without any diet cola has rendered my memory inaccurate.
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