Have you ever seen your older sibling in their element? In another culture and another home and another family of friends that they have carved out for themselves? The second day of our trip, I woke up in France and struggled off of the air mattress squeakily. My brother had started to pack up his room, and today was the day he was to say goodbye to the lab and lab mates where he had been working for the past year and a half. We went to the top of the Bastille to look out over the city where he lived. The Lab at the University of Grenoble There was a weekly tradition of bringing croissants to the lab, making strong French coffee and ringing the cow bell in the hall. Everybody had to do it once. It was Aaron’s last day at the lab, and his turn to bring breakfast. So we picked up a ton of butter and chocolate croissants and found ourselves on the University of Grenoble campus. There was a train involved. Aaron, with his thin backpack and colored pants and love of mass transit, looked content. When we got to the campus, it looked different than US colleges. It was not trying so hard to be a college. It was less formal and pushy in terms of architecture. We passed a courtyard of sorts, stuffed full of bikes, and walked through a plainly painted and tiled hallway to a room with a handful of desk stations. I smiled as I saw Dennis; the first face I knew!! The samples were packed up. The croissants were laid out and I leaned against the wall as the small lounge room with an even tinier kitchen filled with Aaron’s colleges and superiors. The croissants were all right – not like the amazingness of pastriness we found in Marseilles. The coffee was dark and bitter and the cup was small and white. I didn’t really need any caffeine kick. I like to just watch and observe sometimes. I did talk with Aaron’s friends and professors – but I wanted to just be the visitor that I was.
A funny moment that you had to be there to get:
“The key…..to the computer??”
We rented out these fun yellow bikes from the Metro station. Super convenient and steady. We rode to another part of campus on the bikes so Aaron could say goodbye to this female scientist he likened to a grandma- warm and kind. She was.
The route was super flat. The paths were curvy. We passed ugly buildings, tall lush grasses and a group of goats munching away. I was wearing fitness capris, wearing a scarf and riding a bike. I felt very French.
But it was the most fun and rejuvenating. The start of many a biking moments on our trip. The Bastille Up to the Bastille! The Bastille is a fortress embedded into steep cliffs surveying the city of Grenoble. It was started in its rudimentary form in the 15th century, but filled out the most extensively by King Louis XVIII to reinforce his military prowess. There was a secret tunnel used to house French troops and carved out defensive caves and zip-lines for modern tourists. The construction came in various phases, and French history is definitely part of the context. Those were dark defensive days.
August 26, 2014 was not dark at all but blindingly bright. We walked across the river, towards the sharp, steep cliffs. The “eggs” traveled past us over the river but we hiked up. The path started in this slanting, shady park with lots of flowers. And then stairs. Many, many stairs. The view at the top was worth it though. The very long, if not the longest, street in France provided a green arrow through the city with its islands of grass. The mountains curved close on either side. The yellow flowers were lit by a fiery sun. Thank you to the Frenchman who was so insistent on adjusting my camera for the center shot below. We enjoyed a picnic at the top. While Aaron advised nearby Dutch people the best way to spend their day, I wandered around in the sunshine.
After our clamber up the hill, we headed back to our home base. We ate dinner and headed out to meet Aaron’s campus pals at a bar. We gathered around three circular tables. Aaron teased me for only having one beer. And Aaron was freaked out by this street performer that walked by. He was in a towering white suit, plastic and robot-like with lines of neon green. He stood behind people and peered over them when they were not looking to scare them, I presume. Ah Europeans.