Monday, September 2, 2013


Grenoble is surrounded by mountains; you can see three different ranges from the center of the city, and you can see them even better if you take the cable-car ride up to the Bastille fortress over the Isère from the edge of the large park in the old city center. I only had a few hours in Grenoble, and that was first on my to-do list.

According to the tourist information center, the lines can be long as this is a popular destination. You can get a one-way ticket and walk back down (or up if you're so inclined) or you can get a round-trip ticket that gives you two chances to peer through the slightly grimy glass of "Les Bulles" at the river below.

Make sure you pronounce bulles with the correct vowel sound. It's the one that frustrates many would-be French speakers, the "u" that you pronounce as if you're saying the letter "e" at the same time. If you just use the "u" sound you're not saying "bubbles," you're saying "balls," (boules) as in "testicles." I made Sebastien and myself collapse into giggles last summer when I tried to ask him if I could borrow his balls, because I did not specify "boules de pétanque".

If you have the balls for the ascent, you get a marvelous and near 360-degree view of the mountains and the the three valleys that join to form the open space where Grenoble is built. The fort itself dates back to the early 19th century, although people have built fortifications on this spot since the days of the Romans, at least.

The afternoon was hazy-hot, so I didn't get the clear photos I'd hoped for. But the breeze was refreshing, and I spent an hour wandering around the site, peering down at the roofs of the old city, and looking out across the modern sprawl of suburbs and industry.

One intrepid biker with more balls than sense (to me, on this 90-degree day up a 30-degree slope) arrived impressively not at all breathless at the parking lot at the top of the cliff - a road crisscrosses the back of the mountain if you want to arrive by car, or bike or foot, rather than by the cable car.

He got up to the parking lot, made a slow circle while gulping water from a plastic bottle, and then headed back down again. He had lovely legs.

I chose the less-active method of descent and got back into the glass bubble. I decided to skip the museums and instead just wander through town on my way back to the bus stop to meet up with Laetitia after her farmer's market gig in a nearby village.

It's not a very exciting town, Grenoble, at least not on a hot August afternoon. I stopped for a glass of local(-ish) white wine in a shaded courtyard, stumbled through a shopping zone where the streets were all torn up for some reason (sewers, or a new tram, or electrical work or something - maybe they thought I was missing Tours), passed by a large church and a small library, and ended up at the cheese shop I'd hoped to visit, the "Fromagerie des Alpages" run by Bernard Mure-Ravaud, a "Meilleur Ouvrier de France" like Rodolphe Le Meunier. I'd read that he had a very good selection of Alpine cheeses, and was noted for his Epoisses, which he ages for twice as long as anyone else.

I saw a white-mold-covered pressed-curd cheese that looked like the type of cheese that Laetitia was going for, and it was made of raw goat's milk, so I tasted that and then bought a small wedge to take back to her. (For the record: she was not very impressed, but I thought it was rather good.) And I bought a wedge of the Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage because I hadn't had a chance to taste that at the festival a few weeks earlier, and thought it would be a good opportunity to get some nicely-aged tangy cheese. Unfortunately the cheese was not in good shape at all; the rind on the bottom was wet and black with mold, and the paste was sour and sharp and much too strong. We couldn't taste anything but the blue mold, instead of the sweet raw milk the cheese was originally made of. Whether it was just this particular cheese that was not well treated, or whether the shop's reputation for careful aging is just words, I was bitterly disappointed after eating the bitter cheese. It made me wonder whether the Epoisses that was highlighted in the cheese article was over-aged deliberately or just forgotten on some shelf in the back of the store ...

I did like the recipes included on the cash register receipt, however.

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