Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Froggin Alps

Last Friday I flew into Frankfurt-Hahn airport on ol' RyanAir (who did me another solid by the way!!) from Birmingham to go and visit some family and friends. As I believe I have said before Hahn airport is an old American airbase that they gave back to the Germans after downsizing sometime in the 1990's and it is very remote as most American military bases in Europe tend to be.

I landed and raced to be first through customs of course to call my ride and find out that they were still 20 minutes out. As it was coming up to 8PM when we arrived in the Kaiserslautern area and we had a long day ahead of us tomorrow my friend and I grabbed a quick bite to eat from the absolute best Turkish restaurant in Germany and took the food back to his place.

Early the next morning we woke-up and threw our bags into the car and headed out down the autobahn in the direction of Basel Switzerland. For my money Switzerland is the most beautiful country in all of Europe but it actually was not our destination on this occasion. From Basel we turned southwest in the direction of Geneva only to cross the border into France and continue on our way to our Saturday afternoon destination of Grenoble.

I first visited Grenoble back in 2000 or 2001 with my friend Angel and discovered it to be a very cool city indeed. It is said that it is the Silicon Valley of France and has a world-class university all set in some of the most dramatic scenery in France. To understand the grandness of it you need to imagine a capital letter 'Y'. The letter 'Y' is the plain or basin that the city is set across while along the perimeter of the letter 'Y' is all very large mountains.

My friend Tory and I checked into my usual hotel when I visit Grenoble and after picking up my son we were off racing around the hairpin turns heading up into the mountains in the silver Audi A4 that Tory had rented. The elevation on this particular mountain gets up to about 6000 feet (1900 meters) and the views of the city and the river that runs through it are really quite amazing.

We stopped off on the winding road a few more times that we had planned because my 6 year old son didn't really take to the ride too much and felt a little car-sick. After some fresh air and photographs in the much cooler weather (than below in the city) we were on our way through the mountain before reaching the little village of Saint-Nizer-du-Mouncherotte and turning around to head back down towards the city.

After that short trip up the mountain and because of the lack of sleep from the night before we had to crash at the hotel for a couple hours and grab a siesta while my son watched some weird French cartoons. Upon awaking we drove towards the areas largest shopping centre 'The Grande Place' and walked around before dropping my son of back to his mother at sunset and heading with Tory into the city centre so give him a little tour.

The gem in the crown of Grenoble is what they call 'The Bastille'. It is a fortified structure (that some might call a castle in the nontraditional way) on the side of a mountain just outside the city centre and has bubble like cable-cars taking you up to it unless you choose to take the long walk on the marked pathways. The signs say that this is where the French 'resistance' attacked from but I can't help but imagine it is where they hid form the Germans.

As you can see from the weather it was not so nice on Sunday in the Frog Alps. The mountain range you see here is where we had drove the previous day and taken the previous photo of the city from.

We didn't spend long up on The Bastille as we were hungry for breakfast/lunch and the restaurant up on The Bastille didn't have anything I wanted to try so we came back down the bubble like cable-car and found a nice Lebanese restaurant in the city centre.

We had lunch and then dropped my son back off to his mom before hitting the road again. A seven hour one-way ride to stay 24 hours in Grenoble would have been worth it but the most beautiful and charming town in all of Europe is on the way back towards Geneva so we had to stop.

Annecy is about 40 km southwest of Geneva and boasts the largest Bastille day celebration in all of France, or so I have heard from a frog. Nevertheless, I absolutely adore this town although I must admit on this trip it was the most crowded I had ever seen it. And that was with the weather smelling worse than the formage aisle at Carrefour.

We walked around periodically stopping for coffee when the rain would start to come down especially hard and made our way through the throngs of people for about an hour before stopping off to have simply the best pizza I have had on the entire time I have lived on this continent.

We departed Annecy around 6PM and began our journey back towards Kaiserlsautern. It seemed like there was one gigantic storm cloud over the entire country you and I call Switzerland and that cloud even was generous enough to share itself with southern Germany. We arrived at Tory's house at midnight and went straight to sleep as he had work in the AM and I had a bus to catch back to Hahn.

And here is my (Top Gear) top tip. It took me 6 and a half hours from the time I left my friend's house to when I stepped through my door. It only takes 8 hours to drive from my house in Birmingham to Tory's house in Germany... Airports suck...

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