The next stop on our European ski trip was not for skiing. Instead, we went to visit a friend in Grenoble on our way to skiing in France. Neither of us had been to Grenoble and we were looking forward to exploring someplace new for our roving retirement.
Escape from Italy
Our journey to Grenoble started in the picturesque Italian Dolomite mountains, where we had passed the prior week skiing and taking in the sights. As we descended into the flatlands, we enjoyed a drive through the sunny and bucolic settings of the Italian countryside. What’s not to like?
Once out of the hills, however, trucks filled the roads. Unlike our unfettered crossing of Nevada a few weeks earlier, there seem to be plenty of goods moving across Italy these days. It was quite a contrast from the logistical issues in the US.
The Big Tunnel
Italians seem to *really* like tunneling. We passed through many tunnels on our way to the Dolomites from Nice and the trend continued as we headed to Grenoble. In fact, we thought our route would take us through Mont Blanc Tunnel, which costs 46E and is over 7 miles long.
As it happens, our route took us through a different, longer (8 miles) route via the Frejus Tunnel, for about the same price. We crossed the border deep under the mountain. It was certainly the longest tunnel we have experienced and wasn’t crowded, thankfully, although we did get stuck behind a truck for the duration. For comparison, the Eisenhower Tunnel west of Denver is under 2 miles long. It was the only time we have been given an instruction sheet for driving through a tunnel.
Visiting Friends in Grenoble
A former coworker of mine lives in Grenoble, France. We took him up on a long-standing invitation to visit with him and his charming wife. They hosted us for a wonderful weekend in town. Although they have lived in France for 23 years and Belgium before that, they still identify strongly as Italians, even to the point of being assaulted when celebrating Italy’s defeat of France in the 2006 World Cup.
To express our thanks to our hosts, we brought some speck from northern Italy. Speck is similar to prosciutto, another product of Italy. Unlike prosciutto, speck is smoked before being left to mature, creating a deeper color and more intense flavor profile. Diana and our hosts preferred speck to prosciutto, I was in happy pork heaven either way.
Attending a Concert in Grenoble
My coworker has been to over 850 concerts, so when they said there was a show in town they thought we’d enjoy, we jumped at the chance to go. If I went to one show every week, it would still take 17 years to accumulate that many concerts. Their friend procured front-row seats for us all, making a good show even better.
The headliner was Djazia, an Algerian singer they had first seen at a street festival 20+ years ago. Although I didn’t understand a word of the Arabic lyrics, the melodies and energy were great. We all enjoyed the show.
Visiting an Abbey
Not far from Grenoble is the Chartreuse Abbey, whose monks have made the namesake herbal liqueurs since 1737. The liquor is made according to the instructions set out in a manuscript given to them by François Annibal d’Estrées in 1605. Similar to Coca-cola, only two monks know which and how 130 plants are to be blended to produce the characteristic green or yellow liquids.
It was a pleasant stroll through the grounds to get to the abbey. Since the monks are still observing their vows of silence, visitors are asked to do the same, allowing for all to enjoy the area in peace and quiet. On the way, we stumbled on an ice sculpture competition.
We did spend an evening strolling the old town of Grenoble and seeing where the tech company offices are. We had long heard that Grenoble was a hotbed of technology companies and we wanted to see. It wasn’t exactly like Santa Clara, but many companies do have small offices here.
The old town was nice but very small and lacked the character of other French towns we have visited. But the surrounding mountains and the promise of year-round outdoor activities are the real draws to this place.
What was your favorite concert?