My love affair with Grenoble, France

April 17th, 2008


I hold a special place in my heart for the French city of Grenoble. I’ve only been there twice, the visits almost fifteen years apart, but whenever somebody mentions it I say with longing, “I love Grenoble!”


I was 22 when I first visited Grenoble, traveling alone and following the Tour de France, and the city charmed me at once. Grenoble was the second stop of my French trip; the only other city I’d seen was Strassbourg. When I stepped off the train in Grenoble, a university town at the foot of the French Alps, it stole my heart . Perhaps if I’d been to Paris first – but Paris was to be last on that trip, when the Tour de France made its traditional conclusion on the Champs d’Elyssee – I would have seen Grenoble with different eyes, but I hadn’t been to Paris on that trip or ever and so it was Grenoble that became the French City for me.


Who knows why a place affects us the way it does – it’s more than just the architecture and art collections and broad avenues of a city, more than mountains and rivers. What we bring with us to a place, what we experience while we are there, the emotions we’re feeling the first moment we get off the train infuses our experience of a place so that we can never again view it objectively. The reasons I remain loyal to Grenoble are at heart the same reasons I am inextricably bound to the places of my childhood: they embody a feeling, a way of being, a place in time as much as a place on the map.


In Grenoble I felt young and adventurous and bold and excited and open to the world and the city seeped into my pores and infected me. It will always be my favorite French city because I was twenty-two, traveling France alone, and about to take a bus to the fabled L’Alpe d’Huez when I first walked out of the train station and looked around to get my bearings. And I found them. To this day Grenoble remains one of the few cities of my life I which I haven’t become hopelessly disoriented. I have been lost in Paris and Montreal and Washington DC and New York and Rome and Amsterdam and Barcelona, but I have not been lost in Grenoble. I went to a movie in Grenoble and did my laundry and ate in restaurants alone and sat in the main square and wrote in my journal. And it will always be my favorite French city because seventeen years later I still remember that I ate a quiche Lorraine in Grenoble, I bought a red and white checked journal in Grenoble, I rested in the shade outside a museum in Grenoble, I stood on a bridge and stared down at the mineral green water of the Isere River in Grenoble, I had fish and pommes frites in Grenoble. I remember all of that all these years later.


And I remember a twenty-two year old woman taking the trip of a lifetime, taking the chance. For that, for that moment in time, for that feeling I still capture just by invoking the name, Grenoble will always be my favorite, my only French city.