France 2016 - Wednesday, October 05 - Grenoble by way of Annecy

Day 6: Lakeside Annecy and on to Grenoble

(Relaxed Start) In the morning, embark on a breathtaking drive to the lakeside town of Annecy.  Enjoy free time for lunch in the Little Venice area or perhaps take a boat trip.  Then it's off to Grenoble, the ancient capital of the Dauphiné region.  Hotel: Mercure Grenoble President, Grenoble.  Buffet Breakfast, Dinner.


Today was the beginning of a glorified two day’s trip from Chamonix to Nice.  There was no air conditioning in last night’s hotel so we left the door open all night to the small patio and the room was quite cold overnight which we liked.  In the morning I took more pictures of the glacier out my window. 

That never gets old.  This morning I actually slept, from ten last night to seven this morning, so it seems as though I was finally switching over my sleep schedule.

We had one of the better hotel breakfasts on this trip.  They had a fresh crêpe station and the guy clearly didn’t speak a word of English, which I liked. 

Why should he?  This part of the world it’s French, German, Italian, or get the fuck out.  Anyway I had a few crêpes, and posted on Facebook that they had a strong crêpe game here with a picture of the crêpe station, and a drunk Chris (my kitchen manager back home) drunk late at night started commenting on the post how much he wanted crêpes now.  They also had good sausages and individual lemon cakes with sugar baked into the bread on top and lemon filling inside. 

They still had the egg pudding which is a chronic hotel buffet breakfast thing here.  For some reason they had a serious aversion to finishing building showers, and finishing cooking eggs.  Some places they don’t even seem to start cooking the eggs and there is an untouched perfectly flat pan of egg pudding there all morning.  Some people love it?  I guess?  Me I gag when I open the top of the insert and see it.  I always hope for eggs, but all I ever find is egg pudding.  Oh well, they usually have cold hard boiled eggs and I go for that instead.

On the road again there was a lot of mountain driving today, still on the broke dick bus.  We kept running across this stone arch railway line,

whether going right beside it, under it, or seeing it from the other side of the gorge.  I asked Mark how old it was, I knew it couldn’t be ancient but it certainly didn’t look particularly recent.  He told me they were from the late nineteenth century.

This territory reminds me so much of the Rockies but there are significant differences.  For one the forests are much denser, and mostly deciduous as opposed to evergreens, which leave the forested mountainsides with the look of one vast flattened out head of broccoli.

The roadway has a lot of these bridges over land, very cool. 

I remembered that there was this really cool land bridge in France called the Milau Viaduct which is taller than the Eiffel Tower and just about one of the most impressive things humans have ever built, the tallest pier bridge in the world.  I wondered even before the trip if I’d get to see it, but the more familiar I got with the route we were taking and would likely be taking, the move convinced I was that we would be bypassing it entirely, and this made me entirely sad.  I got excited every time I saw a mini version of it thinking that maybe, MAYBE I’d get to see the big one. 

At least today we got to sit in the front of the coach, the only time we could on a regular travel day. 

While on optional excursions seating was a free for all, despite the dirty looks we got from people who didn’t understand this after we sat in the front, seating was formally rotated on travel days and included excursions.  We move two rows of seats clockwise around the bus so everyone gets to sit at the very front at least once.  On a trip which is not full such as this one, once everyone has seated, more favourable empty seats can be moved to if you’re willing to brave the dirty looks.

So people could get a sense for what it was like travelling with Mark, and so I could better remember as well, as we arrived in Annecy I took a full five minute video of Mark describing the place in the coach’s side view mirror. 

He really does remind me of Gustavo Fring, even the way he talks, though I haven’t watched Breaking Bad in quite some time.

We were promised a boat ride around the lake in Annecy, but this never happened.  Apparently by the time we got there they had changed to the winter schedule, and the next one wouldn’t be leaving for a couple hours later, and would then be at least an hour trip.  I was game since I love boat trips, but the group decided instead to have a couple hours in Annecy for lunch and then take off again without the boat ride.

It was chilly out today and all the less hearty were bundled up like they were mounting an arctic expedition.  I was wearing sandals and shorts with a t-shirt and hoodie.  It was cold, but I take cold so much better than heat.  I observe the cold more than I suffer it, so I did just fine.  In the water there were a ton of swans, that was cool.  There were also some odd looking black ducks, though they were definitely ducks.

Joyce and I have the same phone, and we’re learning a lot about how to better use the camera on this trip.  I have shown her how to do the panorama pictures, and the Note 4 does it even better than my Note 2 does.  We also learned that touching a place on the picture just white balances, but if you hold your finger somewhere for half a second, it manually adjusts the brightness and focus.  Once we figured this out we were able to take even better pictures.  The pictures we’re able to take with our phones are just stunning.  Better than what people are able to take on much more expensive cameras.  It’s all about the software.  There’s no optical zoom on our phones, but with a 4K camera, you can zoom in a remarkable amount without losing a lot of quality.

Annecy was really pretty and reminded me a lot of Kelowna, with the obvious exception of the canals and very old buildings and all the way back to medieval stone buildings. 

We were directed into the tourist trap old town, and took a lot of pictures of the canals.  I found my souvenir coins and bottle opener and sticker pretty easily and we continued to wander around.  One of the things we found was a chocolate shop, and up in the corner was a chocolate Kama Sutra, with about six elaborate sexual positions depicted in chocolate.  I said to Joyce I should get it for my sister Rachel.  She found it odd that my first instinct would be to think of getting it for Rachel and not nod nod wink wink to her about it, but my thought was that Rachel would appreciate the humour of it.  It struck me as an item of comedy as opposed to sexual instructions.

We went to an ice cream shop, a gelateria, they sure love their gelato in this part of the world.  In Annecy alone we must have run across five, even in tiny ancient walled cities they’ve got two or three.  I had mint chocolate and caramel, and I realized after I left that it wouldn’t have been any extra charge to get it in a waffle cone as opposed to the waxed little cup I got it in instead.  He asked if I wanted cream and I said sure!  The guy had something which looked like a soft serve ice cream machine, but instead it delivered thick whipped cream, barely sweetened at all.  Why?  Because we are French.

As we ate our ice cream we wandered up a steep back road to the top of the hill where an old… something was located.  Some kind of castle.  Whatever it used to be it was a museum now, and it looked over the rest of the town from above now.

We wandered back down a different way, and then made our way into a more modern (by European standards) downtown in search of a bathroom for Joyce.  We stopped at a little place where they had an appropriate beer on tap, and I ordered two while Joyce disappeared.  When the guy tried to pour the first one it blew up in the glass in a mess of foam.  He apologized and said it would be a couple minutes as he went off to change the keg.  I sat down and perused the papers at the table and observed the two very French guys out the window. 

It was here that I saw the paper which reported that the wing suit guy had died on Mont Blanc a few days ago.

We wandered back to the lake where we were to meet up with the rest of the group, past the City Hall and into the central park which reminded me a lot again of Kelowna’s lake front and City Park. 

What was interesting is they had all different kinds of plants and trees, but they were all labelled and Joyce had a lot of fun taking pictures of them all and seeing what they were.  I was having fun by this point with my new fascination, taking pictures of Joyce taking pictures. 

She hates it, I think its meta.  The best is when you can get a picture from behind with what she’s taking a picture of in the viewfinder.  I also liked to think that when we got home and compiled all the pictures, I’d be able to put together the pictures she was taking with the pictures I took of her taking them.  I amuse myself.

They also had a totem pole, kind of,

a small exhibit on invasive species, a large open field for sports and stuff across a Pont des Amours which we could only look out over due to our time being up, but we really wanted to keep exploring on here.

We quickly realized that we’d wished we’d been directed here from the beginning instead of into the touristy old town.  It was a far more real place where real local people hang out, take their kids, walk their dogs… tourists too of course, but it was very nice.  We saw a sign post showing the way to various places around the world.  One was Los Angeles, and another was… Kimberley? 

I thought it could NOT be the modest and out of the way Kimberley in BC, but try as I might, I could not find another Kimberley in the rest of the world which was more or even as significant as ours, so… really?  There MUST be an interesting story there.  The whole time we were in Annecy I couldn’t get over how ridiculously clean the lake water was. 

Lake Annecy is the second largest lake in France, and the cleanest in Europe.  Apparently fifty years ago it was nasty due to industry and dumping and whatever, but since they have set up a cleaning regime, and now have pumping and cleaning stations all around the lake which perpetually keeps it clean today.  The view of the impressive mountains across the lake was… beautiful.  

As much as this part of the world can sometimes remind you of the Rockies, the Rockies are so much more compressed, and the valleys all so narrow it seems.  These mountains are so much larger and so broad and stark.  You can never really forget that you’re somewhere else.

From Annace we drove on to Grenobles.  On this trip there were too many places where we’d get in for the night, have dinner at the hotel and leave again in the morning.  I feel like on the other trips, even at just stop over places we’d either have a local guide walk us through the downtown, or at least a relatively thorough bus tour through the city. 

Here in Grenobles, like too many other places, we get in on the bus, the tour guide tells us about the place as we make our way to the not centrally located hotel with nothing to do around and no time to transit somewhere interesting, have dinner at the hotel, go to sleep and pack off again in the morning.  And that was my only knowledge of Grenoble.  For example there is apparently a relatively well know bubble cable car which takes you up to an eighteenth century fortress overlooking the valley.  It would have been nice to have the chance to do that, but… limitations of the trip I suppose.

The view from our hotel room in Grenobles

With nothing else to do, Joyce and I took the time between arriving at the hotel and our included hotel dinner to go to a local grocery store which was fairly close by.  Google Maps helped a lot here, and before long I was familiar with the chains like ‘Carre-Four’ and ‘Casino’ and just looked for the nearest one of these.  It was neat to see one of their everyday basic run of the mill around town grocery stores which rarely saw tourists.  I found two 1.5 liter caffeine free Coke Lights, the only caffeine free I’d seen so far, a six pack of 1664, a cold small bottle of regular Coke Light, and three styrophoam cup of noodles.  I realized when I saw them that they can serve as a hot snack in our hotel rooms since they all have kettles for tea and coffee.  I stole a fork from dinner that night for when I need it.  Beer (minus one), one 1.5 litre of caffeine free Coke Light, and three cup of soups are all in my luggage.  Other bottle of coke came with me on the bus today. 

Without having the boat trip in Annecy or any kind of opportunity to see Grenoble, it felt kind of like a wasted day.  I looked up the place on the bus, and Grenoble was apparently occupied by the Italians during the second world war, and being more focused on imperial expansion they had a somewhat lighter touch on all of the genocide stuff.  It was therefore a place people migrated to since it was considered better to live under Italian occupation than Nazi.  Mark also relayed to us some story about an English princess or queen coming there thought something about a dolphin which is why there’s an association with the region and dauphin and why French princes are called Dauphin.  Didn’t pick up enough of that to piece it back together.

I believe it was on the way into Grenoble that Mark made a comment about how the students all wanted to stay in their own home town, made me think of how important roots are to them, and the cultural difference with us being far less tied to the ground we come from.  After all, some people did leave Europe, and some people stayed.  There was a natural divergence there.  Students not only feel they have a right to higher education, they feel they have a right to go to school where they live, and get a job after school where they live and never have to go anywhere else.  In North America we feel lucky and privileged if we get to go far away to go to school.  Interesting to contrast.

As an apology for our continued use of the broke dick bus,  with air vents that don’t work, shitty back of the seat trays, and seat pockets secured by button snaps so loose they fly off if you try to put anything at all in the pockets, we were provided with drinks at the hotel before dinner in apology. 

There’s a Japanese descent guy from Hawaii named Ronald Takamoto (who was with his wife Irene Blincoe) who kept saying he has a thing for ‘candid shots’, which means he’d always putting his camcorder in people’s faces

all trip and handing out song sheets for sing alongs.  I don’t know the words to Waltzing Matilda and only the chorus to Yellow Submarine. 

Kind of annoying but I appreciate that his heart’s in the right place and it’s good to have someone along on the trip with that kind of attitude. 

This night we sat with a couple who are from literally down the street from us in Kelowna, Hugh and Joan Carmichael.  That’s never happened before.  The closest we’ve ever come was a couple from Vancouver.  We also sat with a very nice couple from Australia, Gavin and Maree Powell.  He mentioned AC/DC a couple times, and later in the trip when I looked at his phone he was listening to Black Sabbath, and laughed when he overheard Joyce telling me that everything that ends in Kirk means church and I asked James Kirk?  She, reminds me of my mother, in a good way, just the look of her and what not.

The hotel dinner was quite good.  We started with a green onion infused ravioli stuffed with local cheese in a cream sauce. 

Super good, yummy yummy, for my tummy.  Entrée was roast pork in a goulash kind of sauce, with scalloped potatoes on the side and something Joyce describes as a ratatouille included largely as garnish it seemed.  We were so eager to eat it that neither of us remembered to take a picture.  I’ll have to remember to take a picture of the menus when we have dinners like that as well.  Dessert was a cream pear thing on chocolate sauce, chunks of pear suspended in some kind of thick whipped cream surrounded in pastry crust. 

Joyce claims pastry crust was tiramisu style lady finger stuff.  Either way it was very good, but again just not sweet enough for me.  While I’ve noticed that whipped cream and such is hardly sweetened if at all here, I’ve also really not noticed any fat people here at all either.