An Update

I owe all of my readers (and my mother) an apology. Fortunately, I’ve been extremely busy over the past two months: travelling all over, seeing the world, and just generally transitioning. Unfortunately, it’s left me little time to process, write, and share. I’ve been on the move so much someone recently asked me if I was “perennially homeless.” It’s not far from the truth. Here’s a little life update on what I’ve been up to, what I’m doing now, and what’s to come.

The first of my trips was over Easter weekend. The other English assistants and I went to Chamonix, France as a last hoorah together. The town itself is bustling with tourists, but that’s for a good reason—the surrounding mountains are magnificent.  

 

Mont Blanc

 

Shortly after, during my school’s spring break, I spent two weeks in the Rhône Valley and Southern France. I couch surfed, saw heaps of Roman ruins, met up with a friend from college, and reunited with the host family from my high school trip in 2009.

 

The Calanques, featuring Derek Franklin

 

When I returned I had only a week left at my school. I said farewell to my students, colleagues, and roommates. Some friends in Chambéry have been kind enough to allow me to keep all of my things in their basement during this nomadic period of mine.

 

Saying goodbye to some of my favorite students

 

Next was my month-long voyage. The first stop was Paris, where I spent five days doing obscure things that I had never been at liberty to do. All of my prior trips were with first-time visitors eager to see the main attractions, so I ended up repeating the same things. This time I saw Paris on my own terms.

 

Place des Vosges

 

Ireland was my second destination, where I spent about nine days touring the island. I greatly enjoyed the lively cities, the lush countryside, and the welcoming people. I will no doubt return someday.

 

The Cliffs of Moher

 

I took a ferry across the Irish Sea to Scotland, where I spent more than two weeks exploring both the Lowlands and the Highlands. I had originally planned to descend to England, but I found Scotland so agreeable that I simply decided to spend the rest of my time and money there. I visited distilleries, heard a lot of bagpipes, and shared quality time with two dear friends from back home.

 

The largest scotch whisky collection in the world

 

I intend to post about all of these in greater detail, but it may still be a while. That is because I am currently preparing for a challenge I’ve had in my sights for over two years. On June 19th I’m going to start the Haute Randonnée Pyrenéenne, a 45-day hike across the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. At this very moment I’m squatting in a friend’s living room in Chambéry for a week, digesting my travels and preparing for the coming expedition.

For the next month and a half I’ll essentially be off the grid, but I hope to prepare some pieces in advance that will automatically post while I’m gone—stay tuned. If all goes according to plan, which is not a guarantee, then I’ll finish with my hike in early August and return directly to the US.

My post-European future is less definite. I plan to apply to creative non-fiction MFA programs this fall (which would start in the fall of 2016), and I’ll search for a job in Missouri when I return. I’m sorry again for my silence, but I hope you’re now up to speed!

 

Here's some random Marseille street art for you

An Exceedingly Humble Guide [Part Two]: Grenoble

 

Grenoble has much in common with Annecy: they are both cities, they are both located in France, and they both contain people. Grenoble is a truly majestic city, nestled beneath the Vercors, Belledonne, and Chartreuse mountains. It is so nestled that the amalgam of concrete buildings stretches all the way up to the slopes of its geographic confines. If you, dear reader, ever have the chance to visit, you too might feel nestled—suffocated in a beautiful way.

 


If you are working as an English teaching assistant in Savoy, Grenoble will probably be the nearest real city. With the resources to sustain and entertain 600,000 people, you will frequent it in an attempt to satisfy your cosmopolitan inclinations. It is to this metropolis that you will voyage in search of important government offices, a movie theatre showing Interstellar in English, and a Mexican restaurant that you will have convinced yourself is the best in all of France (your desperation for margaritas having clouded your judgment).



Grenoble has the air of an old capital. Evidence of the city’s former political clout remains: expansive boulevards, elegant apartments, and—most notably—an immense prison-fort looming over the entire city from atop its hill. This last item, the Bastille (a note to the debutant: not the infamous Bastille of the French Revolution), has become a considerable attraction. Instead of serving as a bastion of punishment, it is now a citadel of tourism—a citadel whose import is readily apparent in the volume of Asian visitors it attracts. If someone from the Orient is on vacation in Europe, it means they have travelled a great distance and their destination is a worthy one. Millions, if not billions, of Asians visit the Bastille every year. They summit the fortress by way of the téléphérique: a system reminiscent of a ski lift, but with magical glass space globes. This is, of course, a destination that you do not want to spoil by physical exertion: from the Bastille you can see the glorious mountains, the winding river, the expansive city, the marvelous high-rises, and an enchanting haze of pollution that renders the whole landscape mysterious and ethereal—if a little obscured. 



But dear reader, someone as cultured as you will not be contented so easily with the main attraction. Grenoble has so much more to offer: rapid public transportation, modern shopping centers, a myriad of ethnic food, and an abundance of bars and dance clubs in which you can completely redefine your previous notions of personal space. The Museum of Grenoble is like a miniature Louvre. The iron-lined balconies and mansard roofs near the Place Hubert Dubedout are reminiscent of Haussmann apartments in Paris. Notre-Dame de Grenoble is just like Notre Dame de Paris, in that they have the words Notre-Dame in their name. Why would you go anywhere else (for example Paris), if you could go to Grenoble? 


A Haussmann apartment building in Paris

As you probably know, dear reader, a city is so much more than its attractions. Grenoble is a rich tapestry woven of beautiful and diverse neighborhoods. Take, for example, Arlequin. It was here in 2010 that, after a robbery suspect was killed in a shoot-out with the police, massive riots erupted throughout the housing projects. In the following days gunmen fired upon police, SWAT teams sieged apartment complexes, and protestors burned dozens of cars. Such culture! On your visit to Grenoble, it is likely that a friend of a friend will invite you over for a raclette party at his hippy commune located in a condemned house in the middle of Arlequin. You will probably attend this event with your friend (a local) after you (not a local) assure her that the neighborhood is probably just fine. It is not, you will emphasize, one of the most dangerous in all of France. As if the universe seeks to prove your point, you will certainly not find a knife just lying on the ground as you approach the commune, and your perception of Grenoble will certainly not be thus undermined.

 

The knife that was not found

 

Overall Grenoble is splendidly existent, magnificently populated, and lavishly urban. You, dear reader, will almost certainly visit at some point. It might be that you don’t have many choices for real cities, but there’s no need for other choices when you have a metropolitan paradise like Grenoble.