Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Les Vercors

On Sunday, June 23, the weekend after Paris, some of our group took a day trip van-tour of the Vercors mountains, one of the three mountain ranges surrounding Grenoble. It was beautiful.

Grenoble from the mountains
Village cemetery
Our first stop was just outside Grenoble, at a prime spot for looking over our city. Up at the panoramic spot was a cemetery of the local village - cemeteries are always so interesting. This one wasn't too big, or very old, but it was still worth looking at.
The whole group for the day!
Lauren, Nate, Doug
Me, Holly, Hannah
 Also on our way up into the mountains we got to see the Olympic ski jump that was used in the 1968 Winter Olympics! That's something that's really interesting about the Olympics in general that I always forget about - just because a certain city (ie: Grenoble) is hosting the Olympics doesn't mean all the events are confined to that one city. Many of the events were held up in the mountain villages, where the major ski lodges are. That was definitely fun to see.

That wooden structure was the ski jump!
Pretty church in the mountains.
After stopping to look at the ski jump we drove for awhile up to another mountain village to look around a bit and then eat lunch at a hotel-restaurant. The town was so picturesque (though I feel like all European mountain villages are). I wish I had more time here, I would take so many weekends to go hiking through the mountains - there was so much I wanted to explore up in the Vercors that we just weren't able to. Although, there's just so much in the world I want to explore that I won't be able to - even if I travel as much as possible, I'll never see everything. Which is kind of depressing, but at the same time, really incredible. Its a testament to how big the world really is, that no one person could ever actually discover all of it in a lifetime. But I digress.

The hotel-restaurant we ate lunch at.
We had such a good lunch - a true French meal, there were 3 courses, each beautifully put together. I had a salad for lunch, with toasts with local bleu cheese - that region is known for its bleu cheese. It was really good, but the cheese was a little too strong and too rich for me to eat all of it. The salad was wonderful though. French salads are actually quite simple usually - just a vinaigrette, nuts and maybe a veggie or two with the greens. I don't remember what else was in this one, but I know it was delicious. Also, whoever told me that the portions were going to be radically smaller in France was painstakingly wrong. Maybe at the super expensive, super fancy restaurants that's true, but otherwise, it is not the case. The French seem to love giving you way more food that you could finish - the difference is just that its all usually fresh, natural foods, unlike all the processed stuff in the States. But again, I digress. Several of my friends got salad with fois gras - that's duck fat for those of you who don't speak french (or french cuisine) - but I wasn't brave enough to try it. Its basically just like spreading bacon fat all over your bread, but much richer, and I just didn't have the guts to give it a go.

After the salad course we had our main course, which sadly, I did not like one single bit. We had a choice between trout (no way) and lamb (okay, I'll try it). And as pretty as it was, I just couldn't take the texture - it was very fatty and chewy, which are my two least favorite textures, especially as far as meat is concerned. Thankfully my salad was big enough to fill me up enough, and even more luckily, my friends finished it for me so the restaurant didn't know that they almost wasted a whole serving of (probably somewhat expensive) lamb. However, luckily for me, the dessert more than made up for the lack of edible main courses. Because if there is one thing I don't think the french could ever screw up, that thing would be desserts. Its actually quite amazing we haven't all gained 20 pounds this summer, because patisseries are everywhere and everything is incredible. And the restaurants are even above and beyond that.

So what you see here is ice cream cake with an in-house-made merengue bottom, three layers of ice cream (raspberry, blackberry and vanilla) and the best not-disgustingly-sweet frosting I've ever had. Nate got a Chartreuse ice-cream thing that was also really good, but Chartreuse is still not my favorite so I wasn't sad about my choice at all. But I am sad about my apparent decision to not take a photo of the other dessert, cause it was super pretty too! Ah, well, c'est la vie.

Another view of the town we ate lunch in. And yes, those are Christmas decorations hanging above the street.
That's apparently a thing in France - we have them all through Grenoble, as well, but they don't light them up
since, you know, its July and all.

Panorama of the view at the overlook we stopped at
The ruins of the village, along with the still-standing church.
After lunch, we drove for quite awhile through the mountains to get to this really awesome cave. The drive was gorgeous - I kept trying to get pictures but I was always two seconds too slow in getting out my camera. We made one more quick stop on our way to the cave that tugged at all the right strings of my heart, for a multitude of reasons. The point at which we stopped was at the same time majestic, beautiful and haunting. The view itself was breathtaking - as all mountain views are (I will take the mountains over the beach 99 days out of 100) - but there was one area down below us that made gave me chills. It was the ruins of a village that stood in that spot until the Germans bombed it to pieces during WWII. What's interesting to note is that the Germans destroyed everything, everything, except the church, which they left standing due to its sacred significance (that idea, in the minds of the Nazis, is such a strange paradox to contemplate). Many of the villages in France that were destroyed during the war were rebuilt after, but for some reason no one ever came back for this one, and today it stands as a memorial in honor of all those who were killed. This overlook was one of my favorite things I've seen here, in France, because of the historical significance (anyone who knows me at all knows I'm completely fascinated by the Nazis and the Holocaust) thrown together with the natural beauty and majesty of the mountains. It was just breathtaking.
smiling extra big cause we're the best friends forever (& cause the mountains are so pretty)
(Nate and me)
After an hour or so of driving (and everyone falling asleep in the backseat of the van) we finally made it to the cave! This cave is famous because the stalactites are so fine and numerous that they look like thousands of crystals hanging from the ceilings. And all the water in the cave was the clearest water I have ever seen - it honestly looks like glass, like liquid, moving glass. Sadly I can't tell you too much else about the cave because a) the tour was in French and contrary to popular belief (including my own) I'm not yet fluent (and so echoes in caves of quick-French with tons of vocab I don't know is really difficult to decipher) and b) I'm three weeks late writing this so I just flat out don't remember much of what I did decipher. BUT I have tons of pretty pictures for you! Basically, just know that it was cold (hallelujah), damp and beautiful. And large. Very, very large. Now for pictures!

Cave entrance!

First large cavern. Huge beautiful pool of water.

Yeah, you're looking straight through the water at the bottom of the pool. Like I said: the water was like glass. Amazing.

More crazy-clear water. I still can't get over it.

I loved this part - the rocks look like people are carved there! But its all just the natural eroding and building of the cave all on its own. Nature is so cool, y'all.
So yeah, the cave was beautiful. It made me want to go to caves in the States, partly because I want to get to know my own country better, and partly because it would be really nice to understand everything being said about them! Cause you know, I like learning and stuff. But I still so enjoyed this one - the stalactites truly looked like crystals, it was just stunning.

After the cave, we drove through a few other mountain villages on our way back towards Grenoble. One that we stopped in, Pont-en-Rayons, I know you would have never left, Mom! It was just this tiny little thing all situated around the river. The scenery was lovely and the temperature was even better. Not a whole lot to say because we didn't do much but look around, but the pictures are more than worth sharing:

Look, Mom, I saw an apartment for sale! :)

View at the chateau ruins; you can see what remains of the fortress wall on the right.

Wall still standing of the private chapel.
That darker grey base is over 3ft high,
to give you a point of reference for
the sheer size of the thing.
It is believed that was the alter.
To end our Vercors tour, we stopped at the site of now-gone chateau of the last Prince of Dauphinois (the ancient name of the region Grenoble is in). All that is left standing now is a wall of the private chapel and parts of the fortress-walls. The sheer size of the chapel wall is incredible - its obvious how large that chapel must have been, and to think, it was just for the Prince's own personal use. The French nobles were such an elaborate bunch (though I guess most nobles are). There was also a wonderful view from up there - so peaceful. I think that's what I love most about mountains: while they are majestic, they are quietly so. I much prefer the beauty and grandeur of mountains to that of the gaudy, man-made beauty of palaces and castles. The buildings are beautiful, but they can be so in-your-face. Mountains have a humble quality about them that I just adore.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome photos!
    1. Foie gras:I had some for the first time on our trip last month. You're not missing anything. I almost puked.
    2. Germany was the same way, the only thing left were the churches.
    3. The caves and views look awesome.
    4. Little villages are the best.