Stuck in the Mountains

Grenoble is for people who like mountains – a lot. That was my first surmise on arrival at a French city about which I had not done my research. Here this city was, nestled amid the Alps and there I was, rather lost.
Nevertheless, despite a couple of logistical hiccups I finally reached the only hostel in Grenoble, Echirolles. I mumbled some bad French at the reception, deposited my suitcase and walked 500m to the supermarket to buy some camembert and a baguette. However, my solitude was interrupted by a familiar voice: “Alice?” It was another Edinburgh student. It seemed I had inadvertently stumbled upon Erasmus ‘base-camp.’ As the evening drew on the place filled up with exchange students consulting tourist maps, practicing their French and bustling about the communal kitchen in a jumpy state of nervousness.
That was the day I began my Erasmus exchange, nearly two weeks ago now. My name is Alice Ojeda and I’m going to be studying French and English Literature at Stendhal University. Perhaps what interests me most in taking a year abroad is the chance to go somewhere new and in turn construct a new life there. I’d like to be a resident of the city, not just a foreigner.
This week I limited my grand objective to four beginner steps: an Erasmus plan of action.
1. Accommodation. At only 150 Euros a month, university halls were the best choice. The facilities, however, fit the French standard. The toilet, although thankfully not ‘Turkish,’ has no seat and there’s just one hot plate in the kitchen. But, in the face of adversity, the residents have adapted. My neighbour currently runs a bustling trade in second-hand fridges and the stairwell is rapidly becoming an internet café for Skype calls.
2. University. The campus here is spread out like a kind of forest, where university buildings sprout up in clearings amid the trees, grass and mountains. Stendhal’s paperwork alone would be enough to populate a jungle, with class timetables spreading their leaves dauntingly over desks and learning agreements gone to seed. My lessons are set to begin next Monday.
3. Friends. Contrary to my first assumptions, my new friends aren’t as wild as I thought; the local Casino turns out to be a supermarket, not a daytime gambling centre. We get along just fine now. The gaps in my French are filled by those timeless expressions ‘Oui!’ ‘Ahh!’ and ‘Vraiment?’ bolstered by onomatopoeia. For this I’m earning a reputation as a good listener.
4. Exploration. Just a glance out of my bedroom window now reveals an assortment of wooded mountains, the tallest rocky peak of which extends above the clouds. There is evidently then, a lot more to be seen here than can be discovered in a fortnight. On Friday my new friends and I took a cable car up to the Bastille, a fortress perched upon a mountaintop. There we watched the night draw over Grenoble before climbing down a labyrinth of staircases in the dark. A rather tricky business when wearing ballet pumps.
Of course it’s early yet but, writing now, I’m beginning to find my place in this new city. After all, sitting on the top of the Bastille this Friday sipping a cold drink, watching the landscape blur into the haze I could only think this: I like mountains too.

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