Sunday, December 11, 2011

Climbing gym.

The weather has been holding up very long and until about mid November I was still climbing outside.  There are still warm days now in December to go out!  However, when it rains it's time to hit the gym and in Grenoble this means a good quality huge gym for a decent price.  I have a yearly membership (cheaper than crag-x) and I've been going 2x a week.  I've hooked up with some climbers (finally!), mostly international crew mostly Italian and German.  They are a super nice group of people to hang out with and it's easy to always hook up with someone as there are many of us.  There are plenty of routes in the gym and all of them are set up to lead climb so finally I get to practice leading.  There is a bouldering area of course and there is also a nice area upstairs set up for the kids, so we've been taking them climbing once a week. Tommy is now leading a 5c which is equivalent to about 5.9 US. The membership gives you access to two gyms and I have not even gone to the other one yet.  Climbing is rather a national sport here in Grenoble, so if a local tells you that he barely climbs, it means that he/she is a very good climber :)  Even kayakers are very decent climbers here.

EV3 gym

Tommy leading.

The kids climbing area; Anna playing dead.

Anna's New Dress

When my mom came over, we bought a sewing machine and since Anna was really wishing for a new princess dress ever since disneyland, my mom decided to make her wish come true.  Here is the product.  Anna is also wearing a tiara that I made her last year out of Czech glass beads. What a little princess :)) 

Now that my mom is gone, I've started to sew.  Maybe I'll post some pictures of what I've made soon :) that is, if I don't sew my fingers together.

Mom's Visit.

My mom came over to visit us for 2 weeks from Canada and this was her first time in Grenoble.  We were initially thinking of heading somewhere south like Morocco or Crete, but apparently warm weather lasts very long in Grenoble.  It was around 20C and sunny the whole time and we were semi-sick, so there was no need to leave for a trip.  We ended up doing a whole bunch local trips and it was really fun.

Vizille (chateau) is a pretty popular place to visit since it's only half an hour drive from Grenoble.  One can stroll in the park, go to the playground with kids, or admire the swans in the canal.  After a nice walk we went to see "A monster in Paris" as part of a children's film festival that was in Vizille.  This was actually quite a great experience because my French is basic, and watching kid's movies is a perfect way for me to learn.  It was a fun movie to watch and Anna still wants me to play the theme song "La Seine" on youtube....

Feeding swans.

Black and white swans.

On our second trip, we went up to the bastille, a fortress that stands 260m above Grenoble in the Chartreuse mountain range, overlooking the city.  A cable car connects the city with the bastille as this is a popular destination for tourists and I guess some people just can't walk :)  We hiked up of course...  The walk up is really nice as you can go through gardens, winding stairs and tunnels.  A via ferrata also leads up to the bastille (see earlier post).  

Grandma with kids.
Fall colors, looking down from the Bastille.

Another expedition was to the Fort Saint Eynard.  This fort is also located in the Chartreuse mountain range but is considerably higher than the Bastille.  We drove up to the top and hiked along the ridge in the forest for a bit.  Anna wasn't feeling so good, so we couldn't do anything extreme.

Up in the clouds...

Our cultural day trip was to Annecy, (a must-see) where we strolled the picturesque streets, visited local markets, and absorbed the atmosphere of this little jewel of the Savoie.  No wonder it is called the little Venice of France.

Cheese at the street market...we couldn't resist.

Trying on some French berets.

Annecy with canals in the town centre.

The fall here has been incredible.  I don't remember ever seeing such a beautiful display of colors.   Here's a few photos, enjoy!

Fall in Grenoble.

Our favourite picnic area close to our home.

Fall colors in the mountains.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Great Outdoors; First two multipitch climbs near Grenoble.

The Rhone Alps are the perfect place to be if you're into outdoor sports. (not to mention we are 2 hrs drive from the world renowned outdoor mecca Chamonix!!).The list includes and is not limited to climbing, via ferratas, caving, ice climbing, cross country skiing, backcountry skiing, mountaneering, paragliding, hiking, and more... (not so much extreme whitewater here - not nearly as good as BC apparently).  As far as climbing goes, one can explore all possibilities of alpine, crag, multipitch and boulder climbing.  Most of the rock here is limestone but it's possible to find some granite about an hour away from Grenoble.  The closest limestone crags are 15 mins hike uphill from our house, essentially located in our "backyard" ranging from a 5.6 up to most likely 5.13+ difficulty, not that I would know the high end anyway.  There's also a smallish boulder garden in the forest about a 15 min car drive from our place.  All around Grenoble and its vicinity, one can find more crags and some superb multipitch climbing which I've been itching to do ever since I got here.

Rochers d'Armentier

We finally had the opportunity to get out on a day trip with Jakub to do our first multipitch at Rochers d'Armentier near the village Bourg d'Oisans (1 hr drive from home).  This was mid October, the weather was stellar and we had some great views of the vibrant display of fall colors.  The climbing was easy and enjoyable (5.7/5.8), so a good choice for a first multipitch.

For rest of the photos click here.

Les Trois Pucelles 

Grenoble is surrounded by three mountain ranges; the Chartreuse in the north, the Belledonne in the east, and the Vercors in the south and west.  We live at the base of the Vercors mountain range on the way to the commune and tiny ski resort of Saint-Nizier du Moucherotte where part of the 1968 olympic games took place.  This is where a 90 meter ski jump was built and apparently gave competitors the impression that they were jumping towards Grenoble and eventually landing in the town centre.  When looking towards Saint-Nizier du Moucherotte from Grenoble, one can see a distinct rocky feature called les Trois Pucelles (Three Virgins), and this was our goal for the next multipitch climb. The drive is approx. 30 mins, and we decided to start after lunch as we wanted to ensure the rock was dry enough from the previous day's rain (mistake #1).  We hiked/scrambled up through a steep gravel corridor to the base of the "Petitdidier" route.  At the very end, the corridor is blocked off by a pile of huge boulders that only leave a crevice for entry.  It took us a while to climb/squeeze through the crevice and finally find the beginning of our route.  This is rated a 5b/A0 or 5b,6b/c which on a US scale is something like a 5.8 with an easy aid climbing move or a 10d+ move for the more skilled and well built :).  Overall this is a straight forward and relatively short multipitch aside from that one difficult move.

Les Trois Pucelles
We finally got ourselves organised and Jakub walked along the cliff edge to start the first pitch.  As I was changing into my climbing shoes, one of my sneakers rolled on the ground, but it kept going, and as it built momentum, it finally fell off the cliff edge and went into the corridor that we just laboriously hiked up through.  So the shoe was now 200m below us (mistake #2).  Option one was to keep going and hike back down in my climbing shoes and I didn't like the idea of that at all.  Option two was to recover the shoe and either go back home or start all over again.  We tried the latter.  Jakub came back, rappelled down over the boulders and recovered the shoe.  By now we were delayed even more and it was about 3 PM.  We probably should have gone back home, but the idea of hiking down a steep gravel corridor was worse than trying to climb late.  It seemed like we should be able to finish the 4 pitches fast (mistake #3).

The first two pitches were OK.  They were easy enough, but the exposure and the freezing wind, made the experience more exciting for sure.  Pitch three was the aid climb move - basically pulling yourself up on a sling.  It took a while, but Jakub managed it pretty good.  Our bigger issue was that some of our rope got stuck on a small pine tree a few metres below me, so Jakub had to first lower me off route, I untangled it, then climbed back up on route and finally finished pitch 3 with some huffing and puffing.  OK, we thought, the worst was over, with one more easy pitch left.  Wrong!  Dusk came after pitch 4 and we had yet a ways to go to find the descent path in the forest.  We were still in the midst of the rock pillars and there was some scrambling/rappelling left to do.  It got dark very fast and we were trying to find our way back (not easy at all).  Our rope got stuck one more time (a knife would have been handy at this point).  At least we had headlamps/flashlight - that saved us. 

The wind was picking up and I could see Grenoble light up.  I was watching all those people in the warmth and comfort of their cars driving down the streets and then there was us - on top of the three Virgins in the howling wind, trying to find our way to the path.  I don't know how Jakub did it, but he lead us through all the way back - he was my hero!  We got to the car 8PM.  This was a bit of a gong show, but we learnt many lessons :)  Kinda neat that you can have such an adventure within such a short distance from home.  That evening the fireplace seemed more enjoyable and the wine tasted exceptionally well :)))

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Disneyland -- Paris

I have mixed feelings about this one.  I was sick on this trip so perhaps it didn't seem as great as it really was but I think I've grown up too much to appreciate Disneyland :)  We went on a family trip to Disneyland Paris for the weekend.  Our package included transportation (TGV), hotel at the park, lunch/dinner and park passes (disneyland and walt disney studios).  We got a really good deal on this and the weather was nice too.  The park was nearly in a Halloween spirit as this was mid October, so it was neat to see the atmosphere.  I think the kids had lots of fun, but the place was a zoo.  The line-ups were crazy (sometimes one hour long!), so we only went on rides that had line-ups less than 20mins wait.  We got most rides in during the morning and in the evening when the crowds eased up, but the majority of the day was spent strolling through the crowds with not much achieved.  I was also shocked by the amount of smokers everywhere!! This is a kid's park mainly so people should not be allowed to smoke here.  Not to mention how much it aggravated my laryngitis.  I'm pretty sure I was receiving a steady dose of second hand smoke all day long.  The souvenirs and food was overpriced, period.  On the positive side there were some cool things to do and fun rides for sure, but were they worth the wait, stress and money?  Probably not :)  I'm not a fan of consumerism; on a day like this, I'd rather go for a hike in the mountains.  At least I can check this off on my bucket list and move on.

Monster's Inc. Disney Character.

Fresh Snow in the Mountains

October has been incredibly warm in Grenoble - I believe this is unusual here.  We've had temperatures hovering around the twenties all month except the few rainy days that hit early October.  That is when we got fresh snow in the mountains!  The Belledonne Mountain range in the East with its highest peak of 2977m is visible from our bedroom and the Chartreuse mountain range in the North can be seen from our bathroom window.  After bumming around at home for a while and being lazy during that soggy weekend, Tommy and I decided to go for a hike one day when both Jakub and Anna were sick in bed.  We wanted some excitement and we were determined to try and reach some of that fresh powder and hike around in it.  We headed to the Chamrousse ski resort in the Belledonne mountain range (elevation of approx. 1700m).  The hike was refreshing with some dramatic views and we enjoyed the pure solitude of the empty ski hills.

Looking out of our bathroom window in the morning.  The spectacular Chartreuse mountains capped by new powder.

Hiking around the Chamrousse ski resort.  We found snow!

Tommy said he enjoyed the fresh air :))

Sunday, October 23, 2011

September activities.

We've already had three visitors in September.  First, Jakub's uncle and aunt came for a short stop, then Jakub's friends Domino and Marta who came for their honeymoon for a week, and finally my mother-in-law and her mom came for a week as well.

My carrot cake attempt in France.
On September 10th, Tommy celebrated his 8th birthday. We made some b-day invitations as usual (about 25) and Tommy handed them out to his schoolmates.  I expected to hear back from about three to five people, but to our surprise, as the day of the party approached, we had more RSVP's.  I think we had around 20 kids at the party at the end (including siblings) and a few parents stayed behind too.  It was a great way to meet everyone and luckily the weather cooperated so we could do our picnic party outdoors - I cannot imagine how we would fit everyone at our place.  Jakub organized some games for the kids so they were running wild all over the park, and we had a good chat with the parents.  Overall I was very satisfied and everyone else seemed to be quite content as well.  We now have contacts for the parents and can finally set up playdates for Tommy.

Marta and Domino hung out with us for two days and then headed to the Cote d'Azur.  While they were at our place, we went to the Veneon where Jakub and Domino did some kayaking and on the way back we visited Vizille once again.

Domino and Marta on honeymoon.


On Wednesdays, Tommy doesn't have school, so we've signed him up to the kayak club.  Since Jakub's mom was here, she could watch Anna one morning and so Tommy and I went on a local via ferrata that is directly in Grenoble and leads up the bastille.  Tommy had a very intense day because we biked there and back, did the ferrata, and finally he went dragon boating with the kayak club.

Tommy loving the Via Ferrata

Almost at the top.

Grenoble from the top of the Bastille.

"We conquered the bastille" pose.

After both grandmas have arrived, we went to Cap Esterel, Cote d'Azur for a four day stay.  This was now towards the end of September so it was low season, and it was not nearly as overcrowded as in August.  Logically, the ocean was no longer as nice and warm and neither were the pools, so I limited swim time for the kids so they wouldn't get too cold.  We stayed in a very nice hotel where we had a kitchen, so we did our own cooking but that was OK.  Cap Esterel is close to Saint Raphael (not too far from St. Tropez).  There aren't too many beaches, as there are some rocky outcrops by the ocean, but it's quite beautiful because the rocks are a pretty shade of red.  Overall a good trip, but now that I've been to the Cote d'Azur twice, I must say I've seen better beaches.  The whole overpopulation and the fact that the beaches are right next to the road and railway (not to mention the smog above Nice), make it a bit unappealing.

Cap Esterel

Roman ruins of Arles.

On the drive back home (about 4.5 hours), we stopped in Arles, a very beautiful city full of Roman and Romanesque monuments (UNESCO world heritage sites) and where Vincent van Gogh lived for one year and where he produced 300 paintings.  We went to see the roman theatre, amphitheater where the bull fights take place, the cathedral (Church of St. Trophime) and l'espace de Vincent van Gogh.  It was hard not to snap photos of the picturesque streets and I'm not surprised that Van Gogh was inspired to paint so much while he stayed here.  We didn't have a ton of time to explore, but I really want to go back here and also travel to the Camargue Rhone river delta region wetlands which is home to more than 400 bird species, and where one can see the Camargue white horses and Camargue black bulls in the park.  Perhaps next year!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The rest of the summer....

It's been a while....I pretty much find myself blogging only when the weather gets bad.  After some amazing weather until yesterday, I've been too occupied to sit down and catch up on my photos.  It's been almost up to 30C here even during the first week of October and I recall myself biking around 7PM one evening and the thermometer read 27C.  The sunshine and warmth is definitely one thing I love about Grenoble.  Apparently the weather here can stay nice until about end of October and then after about one week of autumn, winter arrives.  This weekend the weather reminds me of Victoria so I am empathizing with all my fellow Canadian friends right now.  When I look out the window I can see snow covered peaks of the Belledonne mountain range in the East. 'Tis the season of soups, stews, hot tea and roasted chestnuts, and of course all sorts of fun flu bugs.  Anna had her first bout of pharyngitis just now and Jakub is not so well either.  So we're having a chillaxing weekend. 

I shall begin where I've left off.  We departed mid August on yet another cross European road trip;  South of France Cote d'Azur, Northern Italy Madonna di Campiglio, Oetz and a visit with Tim Starr (Jakub's Canadian kayaking friend) in Sankt Johann in Austria.  Finally, we then spent one week in the Czech Republic.  We hung out at Lipno Vltava river for the Devils Extreme Race and whole bunch of other competitions and races.  Then we spent some quality time at Jakub's parents place, visitng friends, going to concerts and finishing off at our friend's wedding.  It was a relatively busy, action packed trip.

Cote d'Azur - this was supposed to be "my" part of the trip as Jakub suggested, and frequently reminded me, because of course, in our family, I am the one who is obsessed with the ocean and sun tanning (not!), so I was (felt) responsible for making this part of the trip work out. Believe me, if I knew what was coming I would have rather gone skiing instead.  But at the end it worked out well thanks to our "global positioning system", some patience, and skillful negotiation on my part :) yes, I'm being a bit sarcastic here.  When we arrived at the C'ote d'Azur (near Antibes/Juan les Pins), it was clear that the peak season is insane here.  We haven't even reached the oceanfront yet, and already the traffic jams and oppressive heat have begun.  Luckily for us, this was during the European heat wave, so if you stepped outside for about two minutes from your air-conditioned car, you were drenched in sweat wishing for an ice cold beer and a shower.  We were stuck in a slug-paced traffic jam at noon trying to figure out where the ?#@& we're going to camp in this zoo of people.  Thanks to our GPS, I pressed a magic button that showed me where the camps are.  We hit the first camp, but alas, no pool there and the location was not quite too appealing.  So we tried camp #2.  Unfortunately the French usually have their siesta between noon and 2 PM so it looked like the camp was deserted, but thankfully a lady came out and off we went on her buggy to find a site for us.  It was perfect - shaded by figtrees, close to the restrooms and a 5 min walk to the pool.  We then spent our days either in the pool, or in the ocean, which almost didn't feel refreshing enough.  We hung out at a sandy beach in Juan les Pins one day where me and J got sunburnt.  Many beaches are packed with suntanning chairs and umbrellas which cost about 20 Euros a day!! And there is no room for anyone else on the beach - just mostly these empty chairs that nobody rents.  We also went for an evening stroll in Antibes which was a nice change from the intense heat.  And then we took off hoping to get away from the heat, not realizing, that it is scorching all of Europe and even at heights of 2500m, the temperatures were too warm.


Madonna di Campiglio - we drove to Arco first thinking that we could get some climbing done as this is a renowned climber's paradise.  Unfortunately we came to the conclusion that the heat we thought we'd escape was in Italy as well.  We stopped for dinner in Cremona and at 9PM it was still 30C!!!  So more like Crematorium rather than Cremona.  It was an amazing city though with a stunning 12th century Romanesque cathedral which was illuminated by the setting sun (but I didn't bring my camera).  We had a pizza for dinner with a view of the cathedral, but managed to spill some wine and ring an alarm in the bathroom - so we felt the restaurant was a bit too fancy for our table manners :).  We concluded that it would be treacherous to try climbing in this.  (We had an experience with heat and climbing last year in the Okanagan at the Skaha crags mid-summer where I was practically slipping off holds due to sweat on my hands.)  So we merrily drove on past Arco.  Plan B was to do an easy via Ferrata at a higher elevation where heat was not such a nuisance.  However, by the time we got a ferrata guide (only Italian verson, go figure) and found the campsite - 50Euro per night!! it was a bit too late to get organized, so we wedged out and prepped for the next day.  The only intriguing thing that we noticed that evening was the Dutch family camping beside us, that orderly sat at their camping table and read their books for 6 hours straight.  The next day was our big day.  We took the gondola up to the ferrata route and began the ascent.  Anna had some issues with going uphill so Jakub helped her out a bit.  Once we reached the ridge, we descended down and traversed the mountain range so this part was relatively easy as it was mostly horizontal.  I showed part of the route (once we were past the ridge) on this photo:

We had a blast, and the kids loved it.  At one point when Anna had to hike uphill, she picked up a flat piece of rock and pretended to call the police and told them to come and get her parents which are forcing her to do such strenuous exercise.  We had a good laugh and the views were breathtaking.

Austria - we spent one afternoon at the Aqua Dome thermal spa in the Otztal valley after Jakub ran two sections of the Otz river.  We had a dinner barbeque invitation at Tim's place.  Tim and his family live in Sankt Johann in Tirol, in the middle of a ski hill and frequently use the gondola to get home. It is quite an amazing location as you can see the valley, mountains and the town below.  We watched the sunset by the bonfire while Tim was burning some bits of furniture he needed to get rid of.  The Austrian sausage and meat was to die for.  We then opened a 5L box of wine and the evening went on.  I recall Jakub and Tim had a heated discussion at one point about sheet lightning and it was fun to listen to.  Tim is a real good story teller.  At 4 am we fell asleep in the little guest hut, lulled by cow bells.

In the morning Tim, Jakub and Tommy went canyoning as a part of Tim's canyoning permit requirement.  It was a tiny little canyon but Tommy had enough of an adventure going through there.  I think he was happy to see "the light at the end of the canyon" :))

 Lipno - our next stop was Lipno (southern Czech Rep.) where the Devils Extreme Race was taking place.  This is the biggest Czech whitewater festival as it is only at this time that the dam releases water only once a year.  Jakub got to see alot of old familiar faces and had a good time on the river.  Even though I have not paddled for 8 years the river looked quite fun and everybody was having a really good time out there.  I also met up with my dad so we hung out at the river and watched kayakers go by at the more exciting rapids.  But with the kids it was a bit more challenging to make it to all the events so we missed the kayak cross - which was probably really fun to watch - so perhaps next year.  Saturday there was a downpour so we went to an IQ museum with Jakub's cousin Lucy and her family which is where you explore science and find out little trivia bits, like where the F word came from....

Wedding PHOTOS HERE     Kids at grandma's pool PHOTOS HERE

Friends and Wedding - is the last little theme of our trip.  We hung out with our friends, went to the zoo with our kids, went to a Visaci Zamek concert (Jakub's most favourite Czech punk band), and also went to our friend's Domino and Marta's wedding.  So this was the social bit of our trip.

My next post will be on September happenings and separate posts on biking in Grenoble and my climbing update.

Cheers to all!



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

l'Ubaye rafting

In August, one weekend we went camping to the Ubaye valley.  Jakub's friend Emilian is a raft guide, so he was generous enough to take me and Tommy rafting.  Tommy went down a class III portion of the Ubaye and I went down a class IV.  We also met some new people and got to practice our French which I thought I forgot since I didn't speak it at all in July - but luckily it came back.  The kids spent the rest of the time playing by the river bank and in a mud pit.  In the evenings, we went to a nearby town, Barcelonette, a very beautiful place to hang out.   A Mexican/Spanish festival was underway so we enjoyed two open air concerts.  The first, our favourite, Zulu 9.30 has now become part of our CD collection.  It is Spanish reggae!

Pic Saint Michel hike

We have spent 2 weeks back in France in early August and the weather has been gorgeous, so while Jakub was at work I took the kids on a hike to Pic Saint Michel which is in the Vercors mountain range (elevation 1966m).  The ascent is about 700m, but we didn't make it all the way up (but almost!).  After the hike we stopped for the most amazing ice cream I've ever had in the Auberge Allieres, and the three of us could barely eat it all. Overall a fun day out and about.

View from the top of our hike.  Grenoble to the left just behind the Pic Saint Michel.  Mt Blanc in the distance?

Pic Saint Michel just behind the kids.
Treat for such a big effort.

 Cool flower wagon by the hut.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Poppy Seeds

Opium Poppy  (Papaver somniferum) Seed Capsule
Poppy seeds are a pretty common ingredient in the Czech cuisine - especially when making deserts.  A traditional Czech buchta (the best translation I could find is a stuffed bun), consists of ground poppy seeds mixed with sugar.  The poppy seed stuffing is delicious and you can even buy a special poppy seed grinder.  So when I had the opportunity to stop by an opium poppy field, I couldn't resist to pick some poppy seed capsules.  They were past the opium producing stage - I believe the opium is collected when the capsules are still green. 

Climbing in Adršpach.

The Mayor (left) and the Mayoress (right), popular sandstone towers for tourist viewing and for climbing.

Finally Jakub and I had 2 days off to ourselves without the kids, I think since January!  So we left the kids at the cottage with their grandparents and cousins, and went for a little climbing trip in Adršpach, a region in northern Czech Rep. near the Polish border, where sandstone pillars are abundant and it is a paradise for climbing.