Driving from Vallon Pont d’Arc to Grenoble, a city I know from way back.

Packing Up, and Heading Off

Grenoble townWe 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. Then we 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 by getting confused about 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.

Motorways, again!

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. 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.

So, why go to Grenoble?

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. We 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 most importantly for me, Grenoble is a place I had ingrained in my memory. 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.

Past History

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. I spent a five or six-year period exchanging letters with my new friend. People don’t do that nowadays. 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. The mother of the family spoke pretty much perfect English. Anyway, I remember very distinctly where they lived. And I remember the three tall white tower blocks that are still there. And finally 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 mountainous locations. 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. It looked very much like I remembered.

Settling in for the Night

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. We decided to find some dinner by just going out for a walk and seeing what came up.

A Surprise Meal

We walked down a few disappointingly empty streets before 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. That’d probably do, so we thought we’d try it.

There was a brief discussion amongst the staff. Then a guy 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. Nevertheless, the verbally-conveyed menu du jour included burgers and chips and carpaccio. That was more than plenty. Two each of those please. Guess who had which. 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. Other times, like this one, it can be a bit of a gem.

It hadn’t been a particularly long day but we decided to go to bed fairly early anyway. Kas was off running in the morning at some godforsaken hour.