Grenoble is not a beautiful city. Partially destroyed during World War 2, it has few historical sights, and many ugly buildings. Sure, new constructions look very nice, but the beauty of Grenoble lies somewhere else.
Flashback. October 9, this is my last week-end in France before long. My dad and I have decided to climb the Dent de Crolles, an imposing mountain overlooking the Grésivaudan valley, not far from Grenoble. As a matter of fact, it’s right above the Plateau des Petites Roches, and its funicular…
09.00, the car’s thermometer reads 3ºC. Quickly, we get out of the car. Click, the bag is closed, clac, the camera is set at my side, we are ready.
Hello, I’m writing this article in Munich Airport. I’m waiting for my plane to Helsinki, where I have found a software developer job. I’m looking forward to this third living experience in Finland, and I’m already dreaming of snow, owls and nordic lights. However, that’s not my main topic today, because I still have tales of heat and sun to share (by the way, the weather forecast in Helsinki, for the coming week, says cloudy, 3ºC… brrrr!).
Before we start, though, I suggest you put this song, taken from the Pirates of the Caribbean OST, on:
One afternoon, I went with my mom to Lumbin, in the Grésivaudan valley. Some shopping was on the table (gloves and waterproof clothes, you know), but we also decided to go to Saint-Hilaire du Touvet via the funicular. This cable car system was opened in 1924, mainly to serve the sanitariums built on the Plateau des Petites Roches to house tuberculosis patients. I don’t remember when I was there for the last time, but it was ages ago, it seemed.
After the visit to the museum, I felt the urge to walk in the wilderness. I had in store an early wake-up call, so early I was the first one active in the house and still the only one awake when I left. My destination was the Petite Camargue Alsacienne, a wetland area I introduced you last winter. Located on the side of the Rhine, it is fed by the river’s water but also by some subterranean resurgences. I was there at sunrise, but there was no sun in the sky, only large and threatening clouds that soon brought light rain. I was adequately equipped, and it didn’t spoil my fun.
I spent the last week-end in Alsace, visiting family with my parents. All my close relatives live there, so we usually spend time with them, seldom going out to visit this beautiful region. This time was different though, as we went to the Unterlinden Museum, in Colmar. It was the first time my cousin and I visited this place, but although my parents, uncle and aunt had been there when they were kids, the recent renovation made it feel all new for them as well.
The highlight of the visit is the Retable d’Issenheim, a majestic painting from the 16th century, which contains several layers that unfold like a book. It’s a piece of religious art, made for sick people to pray. It was originally located in the Monastery of St Anthony (Couvent des Antonins), but was moved during the Revolution. Read more about it here.
It’s migration time again, and “migration in Grenoble” rhymes with “Col du Fau”, the pass at the end of the valley, to the south, where all migrating birds have to go in the autumn. On a sunny Sunday morning, I arrived there at 8, shortly after sunrise. The light, low and warm, was beautiful, and a constant flow of swallows, mainly Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica), was crossing the pass. Four or five European stonechats (Saxicola rubicola) and a Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) took a break along the fence, looking for insects then plunging to the ground to catch them. From time to time, a Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) and a Common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) joined them.
French word of the day: lac = lake
This is the last episode of my Christmas break adventures in France. On the first of January, my dad and I visited the Lac du Bourget. The largest natural lake in France, it gives shelter to many species during winter time. That day, though, was not a winter day, but we saw some interesting birds nonetheless.
We were welcome to the Site des Mottets by a pair of Reed buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus), some tits and wrens, and some Eurasian coots (Fulica atra). The big attraction was the huge group of diving ducks, mostly Tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula) and Common pochards (Aythya ferina), resting on the edge of the reedbed.
Winter can be rough for birds. Days are cold, nights are long and colder, and food may be hard to find. Songbirds, which usually feed on insects during spring and summer, switch to seeds when the autumn comes and the resources become scarce. That makes it way easier for us, well fed humans, to give them a hand during this bad period.
At home, we have fed birds for years, enjoying this incredible festival of claws and feathers while having breakfast or lunch, well hidden in our warm house. From my experience, pure sunflower seeds is the most appreciated food, along with peanuts and all kinds of vegetal fat preparation. If I remember well, robins like oat, and blackbirds like apples. The only time we gave them some kind of seed mix, the birds ate the sunflower and left the rest aside.
I was always told to feed birds only during winter (mid-November to mid-March in France), and that’s also what the LPO (the French bird protection association) advocates. On the other hand, the British RSPB and the American Cornell Lab of Ornithology say you can feed them all year long. Check the links for many tips and tricks about feeding birds.
I haven’t lived at home for three and a half year, but my parents have never stopped feeding birds. I was very glad to see these hords of tits, goldfinches and nuthatches roam around, either sitting at the feeder or picking a seed and them flying away to eat it, hidden in the bushes.
Twice I sat two or three meters from the main feeder, next to the hedge, to shoot the birds. I regret I couldn’t spend more time at home, because I feel like they would have grown accustomed to my presence, had I been able to stay there longer. I also regret that these two shooting sessions happened on two cloudy days, but well…
The Blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) were the boldest birds, always the first one and most numerous to come.
I spent some time in France during the last holidays, including a few days in Morzine. That’s a ski resort located in Savoy, not far south of Lake Léman, with a large ski domain including slopes in Switzerland. Alas, the weather in western Europe was depressingly warm for this time of year, and only a few slopes were open, with a rather bad quality of snow. Not that I am really interested in this kind of things, but there was almost no cross-country skiing track open either there or around Grenoble, so I did not bother myself with ski clothes and took hiking shoes instead!
Before diving into 2016, and while a few pictures from past holidays await treatment on my hard drive, I want to head back to the month of August. I was back from my road-trip in Scandinavia, and a few days away from leaving to Copenhagen. My father and I drove to Villard-de-Lans, in the mountain range of Vercors. From there, we walked up to a pass called Pas de l’Œille. We barely saw the sun, but sometimes clouds create such dramatic sceneries that we can’t really miss the astral disc.