We started our day out fairly late on this day. Kas decided that going up to the Bastille on the téléphérique the previous day wasn’t strenuous enough, so in the morning she decided to run up it as part of a long morning run. While she was doing that, the girls and me returned to the branch of Paul in Caserne de Bonne for some breakfast. Now we knew the form it was a better experience than the previous morning. Kas joined us as we were finishing, having done her run and been for a shower.
While we were there, I took the opportunity to go and find a geocache in the gardens outside Caserne de Bonne that I’d been unable to find previously due to it being in a very busy spot. Even this morning there was a guy sitting right on top of where I thought it was – under the end of a bridge. I tried looking from the other side of the bridge and managed to establish the location, but I couldn’t reach it from where I was. The guy seemed in no hurry to move so I decided to go ask him ( or tell him ) what I was doing so he didn’t get spooked by my presence. He didn’t respond. He didn’t seem bothered, to be honest, so I went for it and did the doings. Throughout the whole process he didn’t so much as look. After leaving the site I figured this lack of communication a symptom of a state of being that later turned him into “shouty bloke”, so I ended up thinking it wasn’t such a great idea to go so close to someone who obviously wasn’t entirely there.
By the time we were all done it was approaching midday. We hadn’t really spent much time thinking about this day beforehand, but the previous day had decided we’d go and try the castle down at Vizille. We’d thought a little about going up into the “proper” mountains but I think by the time we got here we’d done our share of long days in the car, and as a result, the enthusiasm for spending a couple of hours each way driving to the mountains was pretty much missing. Vizille promised to be no more than half an hour away. It also had the advantage of being somewhere I hadn’t visited previously on three visits to the city forty years previously, so I had no idea what to expect.
It was easy to park and there was a cache in the back of the car park that I managed to squeeze in while one of the kids was farting about with footwear. The chateau is quite impressive – the biggest in the Dauphiné, apparently, and it’s been kept (or restored) in good condition. A great dollop of irony was introduced in 1984 when a wing of the Chateau was redeveloped as a Museum to the French Revolution, after the castle became government property and was donated to the Community Council of Isère in 1973. The castle has extensive gardens and that’s where we focussed our attention. There are false canals (part of an early water-powered scheme for the town and castle), a parterre and lots of lawns. There was a kids’ playground but Ami wasn’t bothered and Izzy gave up after a few minutes because the playpark was full of children. I guess we probably spend an hour and a half walking around before deciding to retire for an ice-cream. It was a bit cloudy but still very warm and humid.
To get ice-creams we walked out of the front gate of the castle into the town. We found a place that sold granités – we developed a taste for these in Italy on last year’s holidays but it was the first time our eye had been drawn to one in France.
After sitting outside for a bit we decided we’d had enough for the day, so we drove back to the apartment and camped down for a while. I think we were starting to get the “going home” feeling.
We went out for dinner at about 6 pm and found a boutique burger joint – nicer than McDonald’s but not really a restaurant as such. The burgers were good. From here we moved next door and had a beer while the kids ran around and got wet in a fountain in the street.
We walked back home again and got most of the packing done. We had an early start in the morning and didn’t want to be late to bed and didn’t want to drink much. According to Google, we’d got 870km to drive just to get to Calais and we needed to be there by about 6 pm, so we’d planned an early start. Google reckoned we should allow 12 hours. We were in bed by 9:30pm.
We went for a lazy breakfast at a branch of “Paul” which was right next to our apartment block. We toyed with the idea of going to the place next door until it became apparent that they didn’t actually have much that would constitute breakfast. OK, so we sat down, and then got up two or three times to try to find a menu or look at what they actually sold, and failed. The girls were in various states of grump or of resignation to having to have something they didn’t want or weren’t sure about. It caused me a bit of a sense of humour crisis – we’re at the point where nobody seems happy. Let’s go somewhere else. So we walked into “Paul” next door and were treated to a grand array of sandwiches and pastries all neatly laid out behind the counter and labelled. Being able to point is much better when trying to order food in a language you don’t speak very well. We grabbed a handful of breakfastables and made our way to their outdoor tables – it was a rather warm day again.
After breakfast we headed off for our primary target for the day – a trip up to Grenoble’s Bastille. This is a prominent feature from most of the city centre, because unlike the Parisian Bastille, Grenoble’s is on top of a mountain. I guess the prison builders in Paris didn’t have the option to put theirs on a mountain, but you get the point.
The foot of the mountain was about 1.5km away from where we were staying, and involved a leisurely walk through the old town centre. This gave us the opportunity for a bit of sightseeing and a couple of geocaches before we eventually found our way to the bottom station of the Téléphérique that leads up to the Bastille. There was another geocache at the bottom station, which I was obviously duty-bound to look for.
The ride up in the bubbles was like sitting in a greenhouse on a sunny day for 10 minutes – it was a bit warm. We got our own back in some small way by completing a virtual geocache that requires you to photograph your thumbs, with a ghost drawn on them, whilst rattling over the one and only supporting pylon on the cable-car. In your face, sunshine ! You’re not going to stop us from acting like children…
At the top the view is fantastic. It was a little cloudy the day we were there, so the tops of the Belledonne massif were a bit hidden from view, but the view over the city towards the south and the view west towards the Vercors was excellent. I loved this place the first time I went up there, maybe 40 years previously, and I loved it again. The fortress has been improved somewhat by the addition of cafes, a couple of new buildings that house little museums, and some excellent information boards which mainly relate to the geological features of the mountains that you can’t really appreciate from the valley floor. Several of these information boards had earthcaches attached to them, so that kept me occupied for a little while. A little too long though, so it seemed. The heat was taking its toll, even up here and somehow Kas had managed to trip up on something and make herself bleed. We beat a tactical retreat from the tops of the buildings and retired to a made shaded bit to collect our thoughts and formulate a plan of action. Our plans generally end up being more acceptable to the majority of the family if they are formulated with the assistance of ice-cream, so that’s how we did it.
The plan involved walking down again rather than catching the bubbles. Downhill is easier than uphill, and there are multiple routes down the mountain which pass through different types of scenery on a theme of “wooded hillside with bastion walls” – we picked the route to the east side, which had a greater quantity of geocaches on the way down. It was slightly further to walk downhill, but it drops you off in a better place. The walk down was entertaining, although the kids were grumpy. It turned out that they were grumpy because the caches were all earthcaches, with nothing to actually find. As soon as we reached ones that had actual boxes to find then the mood picked up quite a lot. Ami enjoyed scrambling up a bank and through some trees to fetch one, and was then doubly pleased when she pulled out one cache that I’d been staring at for a couple of minutes without recognising it.
Once at the bottom we were about ready for a break again, so we stumbled into a nearby bar and had a beer whilst waiting for what turned out to be some beautifully hand-cooked chips. I think it was “La Renaissance” on Place aux Herbes – a pleasant little square in the old town.
From here, the ladies of the house decided they wanted to spend the rest of their afternoon snoozing and shopping, so they wandered off in the general direction of home while I went off for a few more geocaches. For this phase I stayed down in the city centre, checking off a selection of real and virtual caches. I got the routing wrong and walked backwards and forwards quite a lot, but made a pretty decent sweep, including finding one outside the famous Grenoble Helicoidal Garage that we’d failed at earlier in the day due to the presence of some geezers sitting at a nearby table. When I went back, the table was clear, but it turned out the cache wasn’t there anyway. The owner of the bar that owned the cafe table came out to direct me a little further along the street. Once I got there I found the cache immediately, so I decided to celebrate and think him by popping into his cafe to buy a drink.
Subsequent walking took me to a selection of the best bits of Grenoble, including the old Roman walls, the Lycée Stendhal and Place Verdun. It was like a bit of a throwback to 40 years previously – which was the last time I’d walked around central Grenoble. Memories now rebooted and updated to the modern era. I toyed with the idea of walking round to Parc Paul Mistral too, but eventually decided that it was time for a break rather than time for another hour and a half of caching.
We went for dinner fairly early to a pizza place in Caserne de Bonne and, because we were back fairly early, I was able to sit up for a while trying to collate notes from the new personal best I’d set for the number of earthcaches found on the same day. I didn’t finish them though.
Relatively early to bed, because Kas was going to run back to the Bastille in the morning, so she wanted to be in the snoozy zone fairly early.
We left Vallon Point d’Arc at about 10am after a very leisurely start to the day. Kas ducked out of running as it was a “moving” day and we hadn’t packed the night before. We made one final run down to the bakery to buy fresh pastries and then had a quick breakfast before packing everything up. We’d reached the stage of the holiday where we could segregate dirty clothes into separate suitcases. Having done some washing in Luz Saint Sauveur I think we were at about 50:50 still, so we were able to pack two of the suitcases entirely with dirty stuff and then leave them in the car.
On the way out of Vallon we took the northern road, which goes past the Caverne du Pont d’Arc on its way through Bourg-Saint-Andéol and then Pierrelatte on it’s way to the A7, which runs between Marseille and Lyon. We somehow managed to get lost when we got confused about the nature of a large blue line on the map. It was the river, but it didn’t appear to be so, and this is a confusing bit where the Rhône has two channels and we were expecting only one. So we lost a few minutes driving in the wrong direction and then recovering by driving along some distinctly rural routes.
Once we made it to the motorway we headed off pretty quickly to the north and made a short stop at some services near Montélimar. This allowed me to colour in the department of Drôme by finding the “only cache in the services” as well as grabbing some cold drinks and letting the kids run around in the playground and climb on the rope frame for a while.
From here it was quite a quick drive up to Valence and then it took another hour or so from there to get into Grenoble, our destination for the following three nights. We were all parked up and into our apartment by 2 pm, which was cool. Lunch was on the agenda next, and we took a walk out to the nearby Caserne de Bonne shopping centre to see what we could see. We saw a place that did cold drinks and fries. They did other stuff too, but they weren’t required.
Grenoble might not seem like the most obvious of places to go at the end of a holiday, but a number of things influenced the decision. Firstly, we’d originally planned to go to Divonne-les-Bains, on the other side of Geneva, because there’s a parkrun there, but a few days before we set off we concluded that we were only planning to go there because of the parkrun – no other reason – and it didn’t feel like a good enough excuse to warrant three nights. Secondly, we’d been pretty much out in the countryside for a fortnight and thought it might be good to finish off with a short city break. Thirdly, we’d sort of figured this was about as far away from Calais as we dare risk whilst still being confident of getting there in a single day.
Finally, and probably most importantly for me, it’s a place I had ingrained in my memory from when I was a kid. One of the first trips I took abroad, and certainly the first I took abroad without my parents, was on a school exchange visit. Somehow the school I was at had come to an unlikely arrangement with the Lycée Stendhal whereby about 30 of our pupils visited them for a couple of weeks in the spring, and then a corresponding number of theirs would visit us in the summer term. It was back in the good old days when everybody was apparently trustworthy, so the sleeping arrangements involved each of us staying with a French family for the duration who had a child in the Stendhal. I stayed with a wonderful family who I won’t name. It turns out that the family father was really rather famous within his sphere of work, although we never really discussed it while I was there. Anyway, my adoptive friend was a little younger than me and was their youngest child. At the time I was about 12, maybe 13. I can’t really remember what year it was. Either 1977 or 1978 the first time I went. I know the second time was 1980 and the third was 1982, but can’t remember the year of the first. I might even have been 1979 the first time, but I don’t think it was that late. Past history, anyway.
I still have quite vivid and very fond memories of the three trips I made to Grenoble and also to the five or six-year period I spent exchanging letters with my new friend. A part of that gig was for both of us to practice our language skills, but to be honest I’m not sure how well I did on that front, because the mother of the family spoke pretty much perfect English. Anyway, I remember very distinctly where they lived, I remember the three tall white tower blocks that are still there, and I remember using the téléphérique to go up to the Bastille (more of that tomorrow). The main thing that lodged in my memory, although the mental images had diminished somewhat, was the mountains. Since I last went to Grenoble I’d subsequently been skiing about 20 times and have visited several other fairly mountainous locations, but in my humble opinion, Grenoble gives the starkest contrast between mountainous country and urban living. The mountains are huge, especially on the eastern side where they rise up into the “proper” Alps of the Belledonne massif. I also remembered a pretty good old town centre. Grenoble’s old centre is small but perfectly formed, and it didn’t seem to have changed all that much.
Two things that definitely weren’t there last time I visited the city were the Caserne de Bonne Shopping Centre and geocaches. Kas took the girls for a walk around the former after we’d eaten lunch, while I wandered off to find some of the latter, thereby completing the department of Isère. This proved to be the final new department for the holiday, although far from the last caches of the holiday. We didn’t really have the time to stop in Rhône or Metropolis de Lyon on the final day, or at least we thought we didn’t, but we’d done enough to join up a circle with various departments we’d cached through in 2016 (see Chamonix). That looked good enough for me as far as this holiday was concerned.
Back at the non-caching activities, I met up with the girls again back at the apartment and we decided to find some dinner by just going out for a walk and seeing what came up. We walked down a few relatively disappointingly empty streets before eventually finding the rather excellent Cafe Quai d’Orsay on Rue Condorcet. They didn’t normally do food on a Thursday evening, but they did have a snacks menu, so we thought we’d try. After a brief discussion between the staff, a guy who we assumed was the owner came forward and offered a selection of things that he could do without needing the chef to be there. OK, so I know that sounds like a really dodgy way to do anything, but the verbally-conveyed menu du jour included burgers and chips, which the kids went for, and carpaccio, which Kas and me both went for. It was really rather good, and was accompanied by a couple of equally nice beers. He managed to rustle up a couple of puddings for the girls too, which was even better. Sometimes when you go “random” like this on a holiday it can end up being rather a disappointment, and other times it can be a bit of a surprise.
It hadn’t been a particularly long day but we decided to jack it in fairly early and get to bed anyway. Kas was off running in the morning at some godforsaken hour.
In the grand scheme of cheesy, touristy things to do on holiday we had yet to achieve the heady heights last year’s trip to Italy. On that trip we ate bolognese in Bologna, we climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we toured central Turin paying homage to The Italian Job, we got fleeced in Venice, we got hot and sweaty in Florence and we went to Lake Como to find the villa used in the shooting of Attack of the Clones. That’s some cheesy stuff…..
The best we’d managed this year was Kas’s epic run over the Col du Tourmalet a week previously, so we needed to address that situation quite urgently.
The best-looking option from where we were staying looked like a trip down to Avignon so we could go sing the song and dance on the bridge.
We started the day, as ever, with Kas going for a run while the rest of us had breakfast. From there, we drove entirely cross-country to get down to Avignon, taking the car’s recommended route south-east through Bagnols-sur-Cèze. It was pleasant if a little slow. It took us an hour or so to get to Avignon and when we parked up it was more or less midday.
Elizabeth the Satnav had taken us to a very large car park by the side of the river. There were plenty of spaces and we seemed to be only a few hundred metres from the first target of the day, which was the old medieval bridge that’s the subject of the song and dance.
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond.
The Pont Saint Bénézet was originally planned to be a massive walkway crossing the entire Rhône, which has a couple of major branches here at Avignon. It’s really a very big river and it occupies a very large valley. One can imagine that back in the day, when river management wasn’t so great, that the entire valley floor would flood fairly regularly, thereby necessitating a bridge which spanned the whole valley. There are similar items throughout Europe, including one famous (locally where I grew up) at Swarkestone on the River Trent. The bridge at Avignon is somewhat bigger. Correction, it was somewhat bigger. It isn’t now. As a strategic crossing point on the Rhône one of its primary purposes was obviously to allow the good denizens of the town to extract a few pennies each for use of the bridge. The history seems to say, however, that as a business enterprise it was a bit of a failure. This was mainly because every time there was a flood, one or more of the bridge piers got washed away, meaning the thing was probably never completed all the way across, and was in a constant state of rebuilding.
Just to completely destroy the romantic image, the song and dance were originally performed beneath the bridge (“sous le pont”) rather than on top of it.
What remains of the bridge now is four arches on the town-side of the river, which is all very convenient because it means you can walk onto the old bridge without having to take a massive hike around to cross the river at any point. There’s a charge to get on the bridge, but it was a relatively modest one by French standards and it was possible to get a multi-buy discount that included the Palace of the Popes too. That was us all booked up for the day, then.
From the car park we walked along the side of the river, stopping for a geocache or two (new department – Vaucluse) and found our way to the bridge. We wandered around a bit before finding the way in – it involved going through the city walls and around the houses a bit. The approach from the city was quite easy, but from the riverside it took a couple of seconds of thought. The bridge itself was heavily populated but not the worst place we’d been. It was at least possible to find breaks in the people-traffic to take a few photos. You can see from the photos that we were also having a cloudy day. Still warm and humid, but cloudy.
After the bridge, we took the short walk through the town centre to the Palace of the Popes, where I wasted an uncomfortable amount of time searching for a geocache in a particularly dirty area before giving up and moving on to use the entrance tickets we’d bought at the bridge. The palace was not quite what we were looking for in terms of entertainment. It’s a very grand building but inside it is basically airless. There’s not a huge amount of enclosed courtyard space that you can get to – the “paid for” zone consists mainly of two walking tours around different floors of the building. The first was quite short but we were getting a bit drained by the heat and lack of ventilation, so decided to see if we could just walk out. You can’t. You have to walk around the whole of the second circuit to get to the exit. We proceeded to do that as fast as our legs would carry us, no doubt drawing disapproving looks from the museum-loving other visitors as we went. Bum to that! We were hot and bothered, and the Palace, impressive though it was, wasn’t helping with the hot-and-botheredness. The girls couldn’t even raise the energy for a half-hearted look around the gift shop.
Once back out in the open air, it was evidently ice cream o’clock, and we stumbled across a very fine vendor of ice creams in a square just down from the Palace. These kept us company as we walked fairly slowly through the town and back to the car. The car was where I’d left it, which is always a bonus.
The drive back home along the same route was pretty uneventful and we got back to the apartment in the late afternoon. The girls fancied a quick dip in the pool, so we let them do that while I figured out the leaving procedure and Kas went over the road to check that the nice-looking restaurant was open in the evening. It was, and she booked us a table.
The restaurant proved to be one of the best of the holiday, and it was very pleasant to sit outside in a garden restaurant surrounded by trees whilst not being bitten to death by insects. We took our time and enjoyed the evening. We were in no rush to get back because the check-out time was quite late, so no particular need to rush home and pack bags. That could all wait until the morning.
Today turned out to be a bit of a “couldn’t be bothered” day. It’s not that we did nothing, it’s just that the things we did didn’t add up to much.
I started (again) with a solo trip to the only boulangerie in the village while everyone else was asleep, or at least in bed. We had a bit of an in-and-out breakfast, with various members of the family coming and going at seemingly random intervals, but eventually we’d all done with it and had progressed into the “getting ready” phase.
The girls wanted a bit of beach action, especially after we’d totally failed to dip our toes in the Mediterranean on Saturday, and whilst kayaking on the previous day we’d passed a man-made beach right underneath the Pont d’Arc. It was the best we were going to get.
The beach in question was serviced by a car park that was, how can I put it, designed for parking rather than driving. Since I swapped the motor I’ve been somewhat more cautious when parking. I’ve been used to sitting high up, having high ground clearance, and having tyres that would quite literally make the Michelin Man look like he needed to go on a crash diet of bacon sandwiches. All of this meant I was quite relaxed about where I was prepared to try to drive that car. It would go over the top of most things. Not so with the new one. Having driven it several thousand miles over the course of the summer I am now thoroughly convinced it’s worth every penny when it comes to cruising, but when it comes to parking in non-urban locations it’s not really at home. It’s lower down, the ground clearance isn’t great, the tyres are like strips of liquorice and the front of the bonnet is in a different time zone to the driver’s seat. All in all, I have rediscovered my liking for long and wide parking spaces on tarmac. The place down by the Pont d’Arc wasn’t like that. From the driver’s seat it looked bumpy and the drop off the tarmac of the road onto the gravel of the car park looked like I’d be hearing the horrible sound of metal on stone. In the event, we got in and out without incident, but this was one of several occasions on the holiday where I wished we’d flown somewhere and rented a car.
Once we’d parked up, Kas took the girls down to the beach while I wandered off for the daily geocache. Well, two, to be honest. It might have been four, but one was evidently not there and for another I went to the lengths of scaling a dodgy path halfway up a cliff into a cave, only to find that I couldn’t find the cache. D’oh!
Down on the beach the girls were chillin’, so I decided to join them for a while. They went swimming, which is something I do my best to avoid, so I played the old “look after the bags” card as a way of craftily avoiding the need to get wet. Anyway, I wasn’t wearing my cozzy.
Back at the car I asked if we could walk around to do a few more geocaches on the condition that we stopped at the cafe we’d have to pass and grab an ice cream. There was a look of displeasure on the kids’ faces until we mentioned the ice cream. I correct myself. There was a look of displeasure on the kids’ faces until we’d actually bought the ice creams. It had been a while since they’d eaten or drunk anything, I guess. The cafe in question was a roadside one close to the arch and next to the entrance to the “other” car park. The other car park wasn’t surfaced any better than the one we were in, and it also included the opportunity to part with some money. Anyway, the caches on this phase were all present and correct apart from the last one, which was another job that involved clambering up a cliff towards a cave. It wasn’t obvious from the hint where the cache should be, so after 5 minutes or so I wrote it off and moved on.
For the evening we went out again into Vallon Pont d’Arc. It was busy. It was market day, and Sunday’s moderate collection of souvenir stalls had been replaced by a full-on tat-fest. Some of the normal shops put stalls outside during the evening, and those ones were generally OK, but they were interspersed with vendors of utter cack. Apparently there’s a market (ha ha) for that kind of thing, so it was busy.
We tried one of the restaurants we’d looked at on Sunday night, but after getting say down we eventually got bored of waiting to receive menus and for someone to clear and clean the table we’d been given. It got so bad that we got up and left without ordering anything. We weren’t impatient. I think the 15 minutes we waited was a reasonable amount of time in which to deliver menus. Anyway, bum to that.
So we walked about 40 yards down the road and went into another place we’d looked at on Sunday. They didn’t have seats outside, which meant going inside to what was a pretty basic looking cafe, however the menu had some things that weren’t pizza and they provided us with menus pretty much as soon as we sat down. By this time it was getting quite late, so we weren’t in the mood for another long wait.
The food proved to be pretty good – I had some grilled prawns and Kas had a salad while the girls had pasta, or pizza, or burgers. I can’t really remember, but if I risk those three I’ve got a 95% chance of being right.
While we were in the restaurant we bounced a few ideas about what to do tomorrow, and the consensus was to go for a look at Avignon because, well, why not.
Kas drove home and by the time we got there, it was well past snooze o’clock.