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November 2, 2010

Toussaint Vacation Day Four: Grenoble

I want to you know that I have tasted heaven and its name is speculoos. As you may recall, this manna first passed my lips in Arles, when I was suffering from a horrible clogged face and couldn't verify its deliciousness because I couldn't smell/taste a blooming thing. After days of searching, I finally picked up a jar of Speculoos a Tartiner at the supermarket this afternoon and it is amazing. Don't be surprised if I buy a crate of this to take back with me to the States, and dole it out as gifts for only very important occasions. Your half birthday. Presidents Day. Armistice Day. I'm not going to share this stuff for just anything.

Um... writing that made me hungry and I need to go get some more.

OK I'm back. Whew, that was delicious. Good thing I got an extra baguette on the way home. Alvays sinking, I am...

The périphérique balls we took to the top of the mountain.
Kelly and I woke up on Friday morning after having finally gotten a great night sleep on the bed of clouds. We didn't have to spoon each other for warmth-- there was a gigantic and perfect down comforter that kept things cozy. We went back upstairs to Gus and Line's apartment, where Line was waiting for us with homemade bread, homemade fig jam, and a tea infusion. I think I'm in love with her.

Gus scolded her for keeping us inside talking on this glorious Grenoblin day, so off we went to take the périphérique to the top of the mountain for some incredible views. I could not have been happier. The sun was shining, it was actually warm, I was wearing my super cool new red imitation leather jacket I'd gotten in Dijon for 29€, I could breathe through my nose, and I was gazing upon the most beautiful mountain vistas I'd ever seen in my life. I could have stayed up there all day.

Look at all the patrimony down there!
But alas, one needs to eat. We descended our mountain perch and found some sustenance at a sandwich shop in the old city. Our next destination, naturally, was the Musée des Automates, because robots are like family to me. It was closed when we got there, so we amused ourselves by going to the gare to arrange train travel to Lyon for the next day and stopping in a patisserie to sample the local specialties.

Along with Chartreuse, which comes in yellow and green flavors that are equally alcoholic, Grenoble is famous for their caramel walnut cakes. Uff-dah, were they good. If I thought it would have survived I would have bought one and saved it to send home as a present. Unfortunately, there was just no way, and I was forced to gobble a mini one right then and there, and buy two more the next day that weren't long for this world.

Having wasted enough time, we returned to the Automates museum only to see that they charged more than 5€ per person. In what appears to be a pattern, this turned us off of the museum and instead we headed for the (free) Musée Dauphinois, which is nestled in one of the foothills.

Kelly tried to take a picture of me jumping for joy. Instead I look like I'm being carried off by a condor.
Did you know that the word dauphin can either mean dolphin or heir to the throne? I have to wonder which sense of the word came first.  Either way, the French must revere the dolphin as a very noble beast. Aha! Wikipedia to the rescue:
In the 12th century, the local ruler Count Guigues IV of Albon (c.1095–1142) bore a dolphin on his coat of arms and was nicknamed le Dauphin (French for dolphin). His descendants changed their title from Count of Albon to Dauphin of Viennois. The state took the name of Dauphiné.
In any case, the Musée Dauphinois concerns itself with the history, culture, and, yes, PATRIMONY of the people living in the surrounding area, namely the Alps. Much like the Museum of Burgundian life, there were artifacts from la vie quotidienne (minus all the creepy mannequins). Did you know that the Alps farmspeople and their animals lived together under the same roof in the winter? It reduced heating costs, apparently. I can just imagine the townies coming across such a situation and yelling, "You live in a barn! No, seriously! You live in a barn! With your animals! In a barn!" That must have been really tough for the Alpers to take...

The museum's first floor was dedicated to technology, which is a big industry in Grenoble. The exhibits included... robots! Take that, expensive Musée des Automates!

My robo-bretheren
After leaving the museum we embarked on what was easily the most frustrating part of our journey. We had promised Gus and Line a dinner that night to thank them for being the Best Hosts in the World. There are only so many things I can produce with neither measuring cups nor a recipe on hand, and if you're a longtime Neenuh friend odds are I've made them for you more than once. We were going to start with goat cheese and pear crostinis, with a main course of orzo with roasted vegetables, feta, and pine nuts. Dessert was going to be Lynn Rosetto Casper's wine-and-honey-marinated figs with marscapone to dip them in.

If you haven't figured this out by now, France is not like the United States. In the US you can get pretty much any ingredient you want at any time of the year. They taste a lot fresher when they're in season, of course, but it doesn't need to be June for you to find strawberries. In France, they seem to only stock the produce that's available at that moment in time. Which is great for the environment and all, but really maddening when you're looking for specific ingredients for a specific meal.

One thing I've found particularly shocking is the paucity of fresh herbs. Can't a girl get a little basil up in hurr? I was also lacking a non-wrinkled red bell pepper, green onions, eggplant and red onion, all key ingredients in my dish. I ended up having to make a poor man's version of my orzo with zucchini and slightly less-wrinkled yellow bell pepper, pine nuts, and feta, with a pasta that was close to orzo but was not orzo. Oh, the shame. I promised everyone involved that if they ever popped over for dinner in the US I would make them the real thing and their mouths would explode in happy.

The Best Hosts in the World, Line and Gus.
 All was not lost, however, for the pear and goat cheese appetizers and the fig and marscapone dessert were declared delicious.

Next up: another day in Grenoble, and a soggy trip to Lyon.


  1. I don't care what they say, that place looks positively patrimonious. After all, I doubt the Caesar head is older than those mountains...

  2. Okay, I'm a dummy. What's with all this "patrimony" talk? I don't get it. Please, to explain!

  3. You need to visit me. I can show you some pretty awesome mountains. Our museums are less than thrilling though. But mostly I want you to visit so that you'll cook for me. :)

  4. Back in Arles, one of Cécile's friends told us that we shouldn't visit Grenoble because it was such a young city with no patrimony. It became kind of a running joke between Kelly and me whenever we saw something patrimonic.