I decided to go to the Alps. Although I have been in Lyon for just over a month, my life here so far has been steadily horizontal – far from the breathless climbs that pushed through every day in La Paz. Skiing was pretty much out of the question; despite my parents paying for private education for seven years, and going to Cambridge, I’ve so far successfully avoided hurtling down slopes with nothing more than high-tech toothpicks to guide me.
Hiking was also not a good idea. My battered old Nike trainers peel at the prospect of just a five minute stroll to the library, let alone tackling the highest mountain range in Europe. As usual, then, I jumped on the cultural-city-visit bandwagon (or more accurately, a €2,99 Flixbus from Lyon Perrache) to zoom off – ski-free- to the mountain city of Grenoble.
Grenoble lies in the shadow of the Chartreuse, Vercors, and Belledonne mountain ranges, whose vast rock bases rest among metal and concrete suburbs, as the peaks crest into the lace-white clouds above. It is not just a city, but an ever-evolving series of urban projects: from influential Capital of the Dauphiné in the 11th century, planned socialist utopia and Olympic Winter Games host in the 1960s, to the scientific research hub of today, it has also become famous for its glove and hydropower industries : all this while existing side-by-side in the ancient peace of the Alps.
Tired from my sleep-free night (does that make it sound less exhausting?) and bus journey, I wandered straight into the old town. And wandered around in circles, because both the téleéférique to the mountains, and the museum, were closed, and in doing so I had become so hungry as to have lost all ability to make any decisions. Fortunately the Resistance and Deportation Museum opened before I could walk in and out of another boulangerie without buying anything , in a hazy low-blood sugar panic.
As I’d just visited the Musée de La Résistance in Lyon, I had some background on the movement, but was interested to read more about the Alpine history. During World War II the Alps became a central focus for liberation, resistance, and military desertion attempts, due to the borders with Italy and Switzerland. Networks were established to help Jewish refugees out of Nazi-occupied areas into neutral Switzerland, and conscripts trying to avoid fighting for their invaders would seek refuge here in the snow and thin air.
When I managed to reach the mountains in the cable car, I also visited the Museum of the Mountain Guards, which detailed the battles fought between resistance and German troops in unimaginably difficult conditions: passes considered unclimbable became sites of military victory for the soldiers, even against heavily entrenched German soldiers. The intimate knowledge they held of these ranges led to their fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban, in the tough landscapes of the region.
Up above Grenoble I was able to visit the 18th-century Bastille fort, built to defend Grenoble from the Kingdom of Savoy. Manmade caves built into the mountainside allowed soldiers to attack and defend with ease, the mountain transformed into both weapon and fortress for the city below. The grassy patches of land now hang still and silent in the imposing presence of the mountains, and it is hard to imagine the blood once spilled.
Back in the town, I went to the Musée de l’Ancien Évêché, a former bishopric at the centre of Vieux Grenoble which is now devoted to the archaeology of the region. It held an eclectic range of items from Roman pottery, to luxurious 19th century silk gloves , and was quite beautiful in the golden sun of late afternoon.
As I’d managed to see everything I had planned, I waited for my bus in Pan & Ce, a grand old café just out of the city centre, all dark wooden floors and polished glass mirrors: I had an espresso and a walnut tart (made from the local walnuts, which is apparently A Thing), read my book, and generally had a lovely hour.
Away from the Alps and back to Lyon after a very fun day.