Archive for November, 2009

Hosting in Grenoble

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

So I am still pretty much in love with this city. And over the last few weekends, I have been thrilled to be able to share some adventures here with some visitors!

First Seth made the trek here from Switzerland, and we had a wonderful weekend of activities, most of which consisted of either hiking or eating. First we went shopping at the markets, which is always hard because everything looks so good and there is so much choice. Within 5 minutes walk of my house here, there are 4 big markets. After we had bought fresh chestnuts to roast, a whole chicken, homemade yogurt with fresh fruit, and all kinds of other delicacies, Seth seemed to think we would never be able to eat it all. (of course, as usual, we managed!). dscf3587_907×680.jpg
The next day we met up with our friends Kate and Ken, who are here from Vancouver for work for 7 weeks, and took their rental car on an adventure. We tried to find a hike that I had heard about, but seeing as we had sketchy written directions in French and no map, the day did not start out well. After driving for over 2 hours on twisty mountain roads (which was awful considering how much wine we had all drunk the previous evening) we ended up not at a trailhead, but in another big city called Chambery, far away from where we had intended to go. We reassessed the plan while picnicking in the parking lot of a gas station, all feeling quite depressed, but decided despite our raging headaches to have another attempt. After finally buying a map, we located a different hike on the way home, and hiked up to a beautiful lookout. We saw mountain goats and tramped in the snow, and figured that after a shaky start, it ended up being a wonderful day. dscf3589_907×680.jpgdscf3593_907×680.jpgdscf3598_907×680.jpg

The following weekend I joined a weekend hiking trip with the international student’s club at the university. At least, I thought it would be a hiking trip. I should have known…international students always tend to be a bit more serious about partying than studying! We took a crazy road up into the mountains – look closely and you can see the little tunnel where the road goes! – dscf3605_680×907.jpgdscf3604_907×680.jpgdscf3601_907×680.jpg
and ended up at a little refuge in the mountains. We did some hiking, although not as much as I would have liked, because everyone seemed to be intent on returning to the refuge so they could start drinking. Well, I am usually not the life of the party, but I can generally hold my own. Here, I was definitely outclassed. They had brought a huge dinner for everyone and a DJ for after, and I danced until after 3am, which I thought was pretty good for my old age. However, I realized how much of a grandmother I was when I got up at 11am, and some drunk guy stumbled past me mumbling in french about how it was time to go to bed! As much fun as it was to explore some new regions, I don’t think that is really my scene…

Finally, this last weekend my friend Reike, an assistant working in a town a couple of hours away, visited me. We were blessed with warm, summer-like weather, and made the most of it by walking, shopping in the markets, and exploring the town on foot. Yesterday afternoon we were invited over to the apartment of an American friend of mine here, who had for some strange reason decided to take it upon herself to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. She did a wonderful job, and we all ate so much delicious pumpkin pie, pecan pic, stuffing, and mashed potatoes that all I had for dinner last night was popcorn! It was neat to see the reactions of all the french people there, because apart from myself and 3 others, everyone was French and it was their first taste of things like ‘stuffing’ and ‘pumpkin pie’. The pumpkin pie was especially surprising as here in France they make something similar, but it is not sweet at all and is eaten as part of a dinner.
This morning I slept in, and am having a lazy Sunday with coffee and an omelette, resting up before another week begins!

The Gods made them crazy!

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

So I wanted to share a few things that have alternately made me smile and cringe since I’ve been in Switzerland:

First to smile:
For your cold-blooded furry friend!
For the cold blooded dog

Next to cringe, (and maybe cry a little):
I don’t think I need to translate this one…  It’s from a right-wing political party and basically promotes religious and racial profiling in immigration.  These posters are everywhere, from major train stations, to barn doors in the country – where I took this photo.

And finally to laugh again:
Have you ever wondered where your recycling goes?  Well, in Winterthur they have no secrets!
Where the recycling goes

Hey Eiger, I bet you hear this all the time, but you look good in snow.

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

This last weekend I decided it was time to go find the mountains in Switzerland.  I had originally planned on going the weekend before,  but the weather was predicted to be bad so I stayed home and scrubbed the floor and worked on my PhD.  A good time until the weather turned out to be 180 degrees from the forecast and it was one of the best days I have seen since I’ve been here!

Again, as the weekend approached the weather report was not very good.  This time I thought, “Maybe their trains run to the minute, but the Swiss are as good at weather prediction as the Canadians.  I’m going for it!”  Well this time they were right and I was in Grindelwald for the first snow of the season…

die Stadt Gindelwald Grindelwald after the snow.

Grindelwald is a small town in the Swiss Alps that is basically at the base of the Eiger.  It’s no wonder that it is snowing there in mid November and even with the poor weather the views were stunning.  Kind of like an attractive woman in sweat clothes, generally there’s not much to see, but every once in a while…wow!

die Eigernordwand The north wall of the Eiger.  If you look closely you can see the peak in the clouds.  Oh yeah, that’s it…mmmm.

Not wanting to miss out on the fun of being at the Eiger, I was determined to do something.  Since a round trip to the top of Jungfrau (the highest peak in the Alps) cost CHF 170 (!!!!!!) I decided that come hell or 8 cm of snow I was going hiking.  I couldn’t convince any of the other tourists at the hostel to go with me…so I headed out alone.  This isn’t as foolish as it sounds. It is Europe, so pretty much every inch has people and I was headed for the town of Kleine Scheidegg (map), so I could follow the railroad the whole way.  As an experienced adventurer I was sure to go properly prepared, so I strapped on my running shoes, put on my jeans and headed in to the winter.

michMe with a hole in the clouds.

meine Schuhe Four and a half hours of this led to some pretty wet socks.

I got to the town of K.S. about 12:30’30”.  The train back down leaves at 12:30, 1:30, 2:30… Damn their punctuality! I looked into the conductor’s eyes as the train left and walked inside to buy my ticket for the 1:30 train.  I was fairly cold at this point, so I just hid my head and waited for the next train.  Hey, at least I wasn’t walking down!

Cog rail The cog-rail of salvation.

The trip down was really cool.  The track steep, and always that feeling of, “man I hope these engineers knew what they were doing.”  Of course the trip down went smoothly and I found myself back at the train station 3 min before the train back to Interlaken.  This would have been sweet except that my bags were stashed in the ski storage at the hostel (which was now closed for a month for renovations) and the next train wasn’t for an hour.  Had I known that Claire was sailing around France in a free car at this point I would have known just where my luck was being siphoned off to!

Never mind.  I went back to the hostel and collected my bags before heading to the local sports center and into the pool.  I didn’t have a swimsuit, but they had hot showers and that was all I really wanted. The showers turned out to be a room with no door, open to the co-ed change room, so walked to the last stall and just stood in the water, all modesty frozen with my still wet feet.  As my feet thawed, so did my modesty and I retreated to my soggy trousers, but dry socks.  A quick watch check told me I had 40 more minutes, so much to the displeasure of the other patrons I spent 20+ of them standing at the hairdryer with my wet shoes.  Worked like a charm and I had dry feet for my trip home.  And that was sweet.

I wandered back to the train and my trip home was very smooth.  The law of averages was working in my favor and I never waited more than 5 minutes for a connection.

der Zug fahrt The trip from Gridelwald to Interlaken.

I will come back to this area, but next time there will be MORE SNOW, and I will be prepared with plastic footwear, two planks and waterproof clothing :)

Luck of the Irish

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Events over the past few weeks have been truly remarkable. I have had an amazing string of luck, and I am not sure how I managed to get it. I am not even Irish! I wonder if it was those weird gnomes in Winterthur….

After sadly leaving Seth in Winterthur, I went to visit another language assistant, Reika, who is placed in a small town in the mountains near Grenoble. We both enjoy hiking, however, after several hours of searching for a way to get from her village to a trailhead for a hike, we felt quite frustrated. During the winter there is lots of public transport so that people can go skiing, but because we were there in the ‘off-season’, there wasn’t really anything practical. We sadly decided we would have to find less adventurous things to do and started looking for a little path next to the river to walk along. Well even that proved difficult to find, and finally out of frustration we stopped an older woman and asked her if she knew about it. That was the beginning of an amazing new friendship, and by the end of the evening we had taken tea with Odile and her husband, had been invited for dinner, AND been offered their car for the next few days. Yep, that is right. Some random woman just gave us the keys to her car. I am not sure if I would do the same thing in her place, but it was certainly an incredibly trusting and welcoming gesture, and we were able to thoroughly explore the countryside and do some wonderful hiking. We called the car ‘Flocon de neige’ and she served us well!

Next I stopped by Grenoble for a few days before taking of to visit Talia and Steph in Paris, and in the space of 24 hours found a posting for a job and managed to talk them into hiring me. Again with the luck – I was searching for something else online and came across a posting for a snowboard instructor. I called up the number, arranged an interview for that same day, and was offered the job pretty much on the spot when the guy found out I was from Vancouver. Whistler is pretty well known around here, and I think simply the fact that I live within 200 km. of the mountain was all he needed to hear. Of course, he did look at my other experience with kids, but I do think it was mainly the fact that I was Canadian that got me in. Starting after Christmas, I will be taking up less advantaged kids to the slopes on Wednesday afternoons, and I am really happy to be able to do that, both for the extra money and to be able to get outside a bit more.

Well, to complete my week of luckiness, I found a free bike and also found out my friends, Kate and Ken, from Vancouver, are moving 100 metres from my house here in Grenoble for 7 weeks for Ken’s work. We are now living closer together than we were in Vancouver! It will be nice to see some familiar faces around for the next little while.

I ended my holidays with a trip to see Talia and Steph in Paris, where we had a thoroughly girly time going to the Turkish baths, trying on ugly wedding dresses, and making crepes. I am now back to the ‘grind’ (okay, not so much of a grind…) and am looking foward to having Seth come visit Grenoble this weekend!

Claire’s first visit to the ‘thur

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Two weekends ago Claire made her first visit to Winterthur.  She arrived late on Friday night after a 6 hour train ride from Grenoble and I met her at the station with my friend Daniel, who lives downstairs.  We went straight back to my place and I introduced her to the Africana, which I have been slowly molding into something more comfortable than the old brothel it used to be (no joke!).  The land lord was kind enough to drop off an extra mattress, blanket and a mega-sized pillow for her to use while she was here.

The next day I thought I’d give Claire the run down on how to live in Switzerland on a budget.  This is a pricey country, and like all countries they pay their intern’s like temporary immigrant labor (…which I guess I am), and thus I have learned the ways of ‘shopping the deals’ in Winterthur.  Normally this isn’t such a big thing, but with no car and no U-pass (UBC’s budget transit pass for students) we were forced to do the shopping by bike.  And we hit it all – Brokenhaus (this is actually the name of the local Salvation Army-type store!), all the different kinds of budget food stores and the mall.

dscf3554_907×680.jpg Seth and Claire in Winterthur, the home of Falkor (link)

One thing that was a theme for the weekend was looking at rings in jewelry shops…this is something that I have not learned to do on a shoestring.  We looked at every shop in the city and the cheapest, even-okay ring was in the range of $700 each! Feeling the the old ‘thur wasn’t going to do it for us, on Sunday we took our search to Zürich where we managed to find the perfect one – only it cost CHF50,500 (~$50k).  You know what they say, “How else can two year’s salary live forever?”

dscf3565_907×680.jpg Lunch in good Euro fashion – bread, meat, cheese and the water bottle contains wine :)

We also went by the Rhine Falls on Sunday – the largest in Europe – and were sort of disappointed.  For the largest waterfall on the continent we kind of expected more (see photo).

dscf3556_907×680.jpg Seth at Rhine Falls. Sweet! Now let’s kayak it.

On the way back to the train station we had a tour through the local town and found what may be the most fightening place I have ever been.  There were very few people, but plenty of cats (with cleverly constructed ramps for getting in and out of their houses) and a den of gnomes, frolicking in a hot spring or something.  No doubt breeding like rabbits behind the bushes.

dscf3563_680×907.jpg Cat house

dscf3560_907×680.jpg Gnomes relaxing, unaware that we were watching them. Someone must stop them!

Monday I had off, and we spent the time enjoying the company.  Running in the woods, Skyping, etc. I was really glad to have Claire here and to get to show her my town, work place, living quarters and all that good stuff.  I look forward to having her back, with more local knowledge and more activities up my sleeve!  But first – it’s of to the French quarter for me.  I’ll be headed to Grenoble next weekend to see Claire and her diggs.  Looks pretty sweet from the photos!

Auf wiedersehen!