Why I Run

Mostly for the misery of it, partly for the simplicity and beauty of it. Running for me is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s a good way to manage pain, to visit the more emotional corners of my brain, to connect with people and to explore my immediate surroundings without getting in a car. 

Pain and running go hand in hand. Running hurts and if you’re going to get into running, you’ll have to embrace that. Miles before your first runner’s high you’ll go through blisters, cramps, aches, stiffness, and nausea. Getting into running builds a certain resilience to pain. A resilience that gets stronger the more you test it. I find that after a particularly tough run, where I’ve pushed through physical pain, and come out and finished on the other end of it, I feel empowered to take on other challenges, and to be a bit braver in my day to day. I feel less controlled by the fear of the pain that life can throw at me.

 You can use this pain resilience in all areas of your life to push through things which are painful but necessary, and then spring back to your normal self once the hard thing is done. You can also bring pain from other parts of your life into running and beat them out on the road. When I’m stressed, or upset about something, running more is my first line of defence.

The second reason I run is to keep in touch with my inner self. The rhythm of running regulates the speed of my thoughts, slowing them to a steady beat. And the music I’m listening to is like scaffolding on which I hang the canvas of my mind, and examine it. Different songs, draw attention to different thoughts. I especially love connecting with the sad side of myself in this way. I’ve found that sad songs with added heavy rain makes me run the fastest. Tom Odell’s Another Love and Girl in Red’s 4am will get me every time. I usually feel much better about things after a good run in the rain.

A very good run in the rain last year.

For the same reason that running is a good thinking activity, I find that running with other people is a great way to have profound conversations and to connect with them. The act of running distracts you from what your talking about, and what you’re talking about distracts you from the running. I hardly feel the miles going by when I’m with someone else. I’m also a lot more likely to show up happy to a 6am run if my buddy is waiting for me in the crisp twilit morning.

The last reason I like to run is how simple and beautiful it is. I don’t need a gym or any equipment, I don’t need good weather, some people don’t even need shoes to do it. Running gives you the power to move through the world and explore your surroundings under your own steam. There’s a beautiful run in Tramore, Ireland, which goes down the length of the beach there. Because the beach is a one dimensional spit of land sticking out into the bay for about 4km, with the town of Tramore on a hill at it’s root, and a wide head of sandunes at the tip, it feels like you’re running away from civilization to the end of the world. Getting lost in the sandunes, the sound of the sea disappears and there’s only sand, beach grass and sky. On the tallest dunes in the long summer evenings, you can see the sun go going down behind the silhouette of the town and the whole bay is bathed in golden light. You can’t see this from a car, or a bike, only running can take you there and back in time for tea.

The sandunes of Tramore

So I run because it helps me deal with pain, and because it allows me to keep in touch with myself and to connect with others, and I get to take in views I never could have seen any other way. I highly recommend running to everyone.

Why I’m Learning French and German

Last summer, I came up against a wall. A wall I could see through and touch through, but could hear nothing on the other side. This wall was between me, and the old friends of my flatmate Alec. It was between me and his world. The Francosphere.

We sat around a garden table in the hot sun, eating barbecued meat and drinking beer. They were laughing and joking among themselves and with Alec. But I couldn’t get a word in or out. I sat there smiling, and laughing when they laughed. Occasionally, Alec would look through the wall and render some of the sounds from the other side into English, but not often enough to get me in.

And oh how I wanted to be in it to be among them. Here were the characters from the countless stories he told of his life in France. Here was a history of friendship at least as rich or richer as the four years I’ve known Alec, which I could not participate, which I was simply locked out of.

It’s the fall now. I’ve moved to France for Grad school, and I see an opportunity. This is my shot to make myself a set of keys to another planet, and to step cleanly out of the Anglosphere for a while.

“I want to meet them on their own turf one day”

My relationship to German is a little different. If French is a world to be explored, then German is a world into which I feel invited I lived in Zurich this summer and I felt as if I was being pulled into saying a few more words each time.

I’m lucky to have some amazing friends there. Friends who had no problem stepping out of their comfortable mother tongue to talk to me in my English. I want to meet them on their own turf one day and speak their language. To make things as comfortable for them as they made it for me.

I also feel that learning German also allows me to step outside of the Anglophone world into another domain, different to the one I’ve lived in, and feel a little trapped in sometimes.

Four Fiestas in Fulton County

January 5th to 12th

This first week in Atlanta had four parties in it. I will remember these nights for a long time. Each one was bigger, more extravagant, and more fun than the last. Unfortunately for the readers, but I think fortunately for myself when I was in these stories, I didn’t take so many photos, and I didn’t risk bringing my camera out on nights like these. Word pictures will have to do.

* * *

The First Party on the 5th
We started small at the I-House. On my second night in America, I had a beer (or was it Korean vodka) in my hand and was talking happily in the dorm corridor outside Akib’s room to Australians, Italians, Kiwis, Koreans, and many people from all over the world with whom I had the good fortune to be living with for the next four months. Everyone was in a cracking mood Mel, Alec, Ellen, and I were well introduced. Alec left the party early to meet Shauna at the airport.

* * *

The Second Party on the 8th
Hosted by Skylar and Piers and supplied by a trip to Mac’s Liquor Store was the craziest I-house party night. At Mac’s, while I was picking a drink for myself carrying a box of Alec’s craft beer request in my hand, Piers – the honourable and mischievous Kiwi studying engineering design – came up to me and calmly said: “Conall. You are having a Four Loco with me tonight.” I looked down at the multicoloured half-litre can of beer in his outstretched hand. Between the jigs and the reels and his explanation of what Four Loco was, I obliged him. It was the best mistake I’d made on exchange thus far. Four Loco is blue sugar beer with the caffeine of red bull and the alcohol concentration of wine. A downer and an upper in one.

The night proceeded splendidly. Skylar’s room was lit with fairy lights, and the bathroom between the two rooms was a great dark space where the music was loudest. Someone had put the speakers in the shower. Since we were all roaring drunk, a select few of us decided that getting into the shower and pulling the curtain closed for an intimate chat was the perfect thing to do.

Two Four Locos and many normal beers later, we all danced in Piers’ room to Abba and Viggy was giving Orange Justice Lessons in the hall, I was his most enthusiastic student. I even taught Linda how to do the famous dance. After a little while though, Shauna and I became concerned with the whereabouts of Mel. Some more conversationally inclined persons, who I would later come to know very well, had spirited him away to an unknown location in the building and were surely interrogating him. It became our mission to find him. We shamelessly knocked on doors, woke people up to ask them “Have you seen Mel?” (Very sorry about that Katie.)

In the end, we found him. Talking to Akib, Cheryl and some others in Cheryl’s room. I don’t understand to this day why we were so determined to find him, but we had fun along the way.

The night ended with me unable to get my room key in my door and someone laughing hysterically with me at my predicament.

* * *

The Third Party on the 9th was our first foray out into the wider Gatech social scene. Skylar – the well-connected native of excellent character – was our guide on this night. We went to a block of apartments on the west side of campus past the C.R.C. Huge high-rise things more than ten stories tall. On the walk there, he told me that he was from California.

Inside, the party was on a floor halfway up the building in a plush apartment with a balcony and a view of the massive Mercedes stadium. There were drinks and snacks for all the guests and the thirty or so I-House residents who Skylar brought with him to this party. I couldn’t believe the amount of people who were crammed into that place. We circulated around the kitchen to the balcony and back into the kitchen again. talking at length with Julien, Juan, Javier, Alec, Shauna, Mel, Ellen, Piers and Skylar.

After a few hours there, we ubered to the Spanish club. It was not nearby. 20 minutes later, we got there in several taxis. It was like a nightclub in the middle of nowhere. Inside, the music was sometimes Hispanic I suppose. Drinks were extraordinarily expensive but the fun on the dancefloor was outrageous. I’m not a dancer at clubs but on that night, I danced with enthusiasm until I was so thirsty that I paid the five dollars for a bottle of water at the bar.

I got tired then and looked for some fellow tired souls to go home with. Mel was the only one. We got garlic fries and bacon from the food truck outside at 2am where we met Linda and Maggie who were also quite tired and we shared food while sitting on the asphalt outside the club waited for an uber in the cold early January morning.

* * *

The Fourth Party on the 11th was the one that took the biscuit. The tour de force of Atlantan undergrad life. The casus belli was Hannah The Dane’s and Yeseo’s 21st birthdays. I have never been to a party with a pool before. Nor have I ever heard of student accommodation having a huge lounge and pool halfway up the city skyline. But on this night, Skylar with his excellent connections once again had some friends in ‘The Standard’ apartment block. And boy did this party set the bar high for all parties that came after.

First, the size of the communal lounge was immense. There was a huge high ceiling with a mezzanine area half the size of the main floor again. There were pool tables, sofas, and even a bar (with no alcohol but we brought plenty of our own.)

Then the pool. I have never wanted to jump into a pool as much as I did on that night. Partly it was because of the stories that the Spanish, and especially Javier, had told me about the last semester when impromptu pool parties were a whale of time, and because I had never seen a pool like it before.

There must have been over a hundred people in attendance. I played stack cups or whatever the game is called with over a dozen people. It involved bouncing a ping pong ball into cups of beer. If you miss – You drink. You had to drink for many other reasons too which I didn’t understand and perhaps for that very reason it was tremendous fun. Later, I remember the Irish gang had run out of beer and Shauna and I, the only 21-year olds of the group were commissioned to carry out a resupply mission. I remember simply searching ‘alcohol’ in google maps to figure out where the nearest source was. A service station, half a mile away. Someone else came with me and Shauna but I’m afraid I don’t remember who it was. It was raining and we were in awe of the city lights and that we were drunk and at huge party three thousand miles and a week removed from home.

We returned with beer. There were more people than when we left. Mel was down dancing outside in the cold and rain by the pool. Some fellows had gotten into the small hot tub closest to the door. I needed a leader to jump into that pool. Someone to do it with. I was scared of getting thrown out. The volunteer was Beaux. A fellow with a history of getting thrown out of parties (he told us himself) and so he had no qualms about it. He told Mel. “Ok we’re jumping in the pool now.” Mel said ‘OK.’ But he didn’t want to take his bracelet in with him, so he came and gave it to me for safe keeping. I held it in my hand, hesitating, this was the moment.

 I ran down to the pool bank after him, but Beaux and Mel were in their boxers and already airborne. Into the pool they jumped, and straight out they came. It didn’t look it. But the pool was freezing cold. I had to do it then. I stripped down to my boxers, and left Mel’s bracelet in my pile of clothes and ran to the pool. I tried to do a backflip and I landed gloriously and ungracefully on my back.

I think when I was in the air, falling towards the water and looking up into the rainclouds illuminated by the orange city lights, was the peak moment of that party for me. I hit the water. It was very cold. I got straight out like my predecessors. I got dressed quick, but I couldn’t find Mel’s bracelet. This scared me because it was of extreme sentimental value to him and he had given it to me for safe keeping. Thankfully, I found it and we returned to the party a little chilly but satisfied with our swim.

On the way home at two in the morning, we all went to Waffle House. A 24-hour…waffle house. It was exactly what it said on the tin. We ate like kings in that place. Pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. Waffles with chocolate honey and cream. Onion hash browns all washed down with sprite and coca cola.

And that was the first week. I’ve never partied like that before, but I’m delighted that I did. Putting in the hard miles at the start with people who you know you will spend a lot of time with during the semester was well worth it. It really set a great tone for the rest of the term.

New Years Day 2020

This photograph was taken on a Canon AE-1 film camera. something I bought from a man off the street in Zurich last year. A fine thing to carry with you on days like this one. I took several pictures of that fox and this was the best of them. He seemed purposeful and sure footed while trotting down the mountainside toward the coniferous forest further down.

It was chilly that day, and I had come with some friends to celebrate the new year with a dip in the lake. The water is famously cold but I was looking forward to it. There’s something about swimming in extremely cold water, especially with friends which just seems right to do.

When we got to the top however, I found that of the 8 of us, I was the only one to remember their togs. No one apologized, and no one needed to. I didn’t mind getting in alone. in a way it was nicer because when I did get in, and I did feel the cold grip my feet and then my shins and my legs and then embrace my whole body when I leaned forward and started swimming, It was nice to know that I was the only soul in the whole lake, the only one feeling the cold, the only one looking down at the mossy rocks at the bottom and then up at the grey sky, the only one seeing things from this perspective.

My friends watched me from the shore. After I got out and got dressed, we ate lunch sitting on some rocks. stale croissants and chocolate. Then we threw stones into the lake, as far we could. Cormac, who is a hurler threw them the farthest. Luke and I hurt our shoulders trying to match him. We talked about the future. Jessica was going to Copenhagen, I was off to America. Aysia, Cormac, Charlotte and Luke were returning to college that term. We spoke about the past too, about secondary school and swimming and people we knew. All in all, a lovely way to spend new years day.

One Day by the Lake

The door squeaked to a close behind me. I wheeled my bike on the path to the main street. The trees kept me in the shade until I reached the car-lined residential road, where the sun was still melting the tarmac. It was a hot August evening in Zurich, and I was going swimming in the lake.

                The only refuge from the heat, was the breeze that come from riding a bike at sufficient speed, but not too quickly so that you heat up yourself. on this day, that speed was a gentle pace in 3rd gear. I pedalled up the street, turning right onto Tulpenstrasse, the tower block there offered some more shade for some way before I was in the harsh sun again. I turned left at that block and began the climb up the hill. the hill is called Zurichberg and the route to the lake goes right over it on a road called Frohburgstrasse. Cycling up this is not particularly hard, but it’s best not to think too much about it if you’re not feeling one hundred percent. At this stage, since you’re working much harder, the breeze is no longer enough to cool you, and coming up by the University of Zurich-Irchel just before the steepest part, I was sweating and up off the saddle. The house and the cars in front of them get nicer and nicer the higher you go up. The reason is obvious when you reach the top. I stopped to appreciate the view. Starting from the northeast and sweeping across to the southwest, there is the Airport, Oerlikon with its tall office blocks and apartment buildings, Seebach, and the portion of the city centre to the west which follows the Limmat river northwards toward its confluence with the Rhine.

                This was the highest point of the route. my favourite part of the journey was next. It was all downhill from here to the lake. I hardly touched the breaks coming down Frohburgstrasse until I reached where it meets some main road. Still I glided at speed down towards the lake, smiling, the wind hugging me coolly, steeling my hat and sweeping my hair back. I thought how wonderful that lake water will feel against my skin. I did not pedal once all the way to Bellevue. All the traffic lights were green for me, and there was very little of that particularly troublesome traffic of affluent people in outlandish cars.

                Bellevue and Opernhaus Plaza is one of my favourite places to be. The Limmat begins its sluggish journey north from exactly there; the tram station is just as respecable as a train station; and the lake glitters in the evening sunlight. I made my way to the shore and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not so crowded, and that the platform was still there (They take it away sometime in August).

                The ten-meter-tall diving platform – which stands in the water a good throw of a stone offshore, beside the bridge which spans the very beginning of the Limmat – is manned by a singular lifeguard until 8pm. It was 7:53. I locked up my bike to a lamp post, walked down the steps to the promenade, took off my shirt and shoes (I was already wearing my swimming togs) and gestured to the man on duty on the platform. He said something in German and gestured to come over. I jumped into the water. The cold stung only for a second before I was properly greeted by my friend, the lake. The sweat which had clung to my body the whole way here was washed away and I was suddenly in an environment in which I felt much better about life than up there on the land. I swam over to the platform, climbed up to the bottom portion and said hello to the man. He said in English “you have time for one or maybe two.” Once was all I wanted.

                I swung onto the ladder and began excitedly climbing the ladder to the diving platform ten meters above me. The ladder was metal and slippery and a little small for my feet. As I climbed higher, my confidence grew lower, and a good portion of my excitement became fear. falling from the ladder would hurt, both on the way down and at the bottom. So, I was careful, and I climbed up slowly. My knees were shaking. at the top, I looked around at the unique view of my environment from up here. In a book I read recently, Quicksilver by Neil Stephenson, Mr. Leibniz is walking around 17th century London with the main character, Daniel Waterhouse and is talking about perspective. He believes that if God is omniscient and sees everything from every point of view at once, then to get closer to how God sees the world, one should see it from as many different perspectives as possible. Although I’m not sure if I believe in God, I do agree that there is something very special about seeing the same thing from different perspectives. Try standing on your kitchen table and see how different the room looks from up there.

                Because it was on a hill, Bellevue was just a little bit below me 20 meters away. I was slightly above the level of the bridge too. I realised then that people were watching me, a very pale young man on a sunny day standing up there about to jump of course attracted attention. I looked down to the water and was not comfortable with how far down it looked. If I was alone up there, I would have probably climbed down. But the people were watching, expecting me to jump. It was a question of honour.

                I put one foot forward, curling my toes over the edge, took a few seconds to gather up the courage and stepped off. floating in the air, falling. I let out a non-descript sound that one typically makes when they get that many butterflies. The water rapidly approached. I spread my arms, and then closed my eyes at the final instant. I hit the water. I love that sequence of sounds right then. the first instant of the splash made by your feet, and then your legs and your waist and shoulders until your ears go under, cutting that sound and replacing it with the deep perturbations of the bubbles floating upwards all around you. I popped up  a few seconds later. I let out a triumphant whoop for all to hear and I laughed. I felt fantastic. I swam back to the platform.

                “Are you going up for one more?” asked the guy as I climbed up. I wasn’t. I just wanted to tell someone about how I felt. Someone who  was here. We spoke for a while. His name was Ralph, and he had been to Ireland. I told him about life guarding. He found my story about training hour really being a breakfast club especially funny. We said goodbye and I dived into the water to swim back to my stuff.

                The sun was beginning to set, and I decided to buy a big hotdog and go for a walk down the length of the prom to Zurich-horn. The swans were begging for scraps, the ducks were minding their ducklings, the people were sitting with their feet dangling over the edge of the water or lying in the grass, soaking up the last of the days sun.

Mother of eight. No bother to her.

                This city is beautiful, especially when the sun is going down. On my way back at the top of Zurichberg I saw watched the last of the sunlight run through a wonderful sequence of yellows, oranges, and reds with an old man who struck up a conversation with me on the bench underneath the oak trees. In broken German and then in French, we talked about Zurich, football, and the sunset. It felt really good to just talk to a random stranger. Maybe that’s how my grandmother felt when she used to do it.

                I freewheeled happily all the way down Frohburgstrasse to get home in the fading twilight. A day well lived. My loneliness eased by my commune with the water and conversation with strangers. I realised that my life until now was not just my own experience, but that of others around me too. In my normal life there is more to me than just me and I think loneliness comes from missing the parts of yourself which you have left behind. The upside of it is, you get to see how capable you are as the captain of your own ship. I was on the phone to a friend about this and he said that even though our selves are made up of more than just us, “The biggest part of you is always you.” He’s absolutely right about that.

The Brookfield Rangers Take Grenoble

This is a story with a happy ending. In fact, this story is an entirely happy one. It is the story of the 5 friends. Brian Cunningham, Mel Vincent Dela Cruz, Conall de Paor Greg Downes and the native Alec Byrne embarking on a tour of the ancient mountains around Grenoble, France.

There is good wine good cheese and good company throughout. Challenges met, expectations exceeded, and spectacular views of the country hitherto thought to be known only to the sun and the moon.

Here is the story of this expedition.

Friday
Lyon Airport. Conall, Greg and Mel wait patiently for Alec and Brian to arrive. They wander around and test the air outside. It is cold, although not as cold as they had expected. Brian and Alec arrive soon after. There is jubilant reunion, efficient packing and we get going straight away to Chateau Byrne which is about 45 minutes away. We pass by the castle and the toll plaza which only 30 minutes before, we had seen from the air.

Brian had arrived in the south of France a week before. He stayed with his brother in Val Thorens Ski Resort. He told us of the place, of his brother, and of his skiing with Alec the day before.

We Reached our destination that evening. Greeting Alec’s Parents, Jacqueline, and Rob. And his younger brother Luke, who, that very day had turned eighteen years old. There was a party for him. We deposited our baggage in the spare bedroom. Moving a second mattress in so that we could all sleep together.

Over the next hour, Luke’s friends arrived, as did some of Alec’s. Namely Pierre who is a champion skier and talented musician, Lukasz who swam with Alec and is half polish, and Alexandre who is Alexandre. All are wonderful characters. We cracked open some beer and attacked the pizza on the kitchen table. “Brian iz in ze Kitchen.” And “T’a fait tombé ta carte de pédé” were the ‘phrase utiles’ for the French and Irish respectively.

We all slept in the spare room, mattresses on the floor. Alec slept apart from his troops, which the next morning we would protest, but the next night we would request on account of his awful flatulence.

Saturday

Brian Wakes up to Conall’s camera in his face. doesn’t he look hot without his glasses on?

It is on this second day that Alec resolved to take us on a tour of Grenoble. We would get there by train, and by jove what an impressive train it was. Two stories, completely electric and so silent. It zipped us from Voiron station to Grenoble in 20 minutes.

In Grenoble, it was strange to us Irishmen for half or more of the sky to be obscured by mountains. It was in Grenoble, from this mere appetizer of mountain views that it dawned on us that there are no mountains in Ireland.

Ravioli swimming in a local cheese called St. Marcelin was declared delicious by Conall and Mel. And a burger with several cheese inside was declared the same by Alec, Brian and Greg.

After dinner, we walked into a large crowd of yellow vests. Conall grabbed a leaflet off one, it has since been lost, however.

That evening we took the train back to Voiron, where outside the station, Alec engaged in that disgracable and distinctly continental habit of les bises with a female friend of his. The non-natives stood by some meters away as Alec caught up with this person. An ex-girlfriend of Lukasz’s he told us afterward in the car on the way back to Chateau Byrne.

Our second dinner of that day was cheese fondue with baguette, salad and with some white wine. Five cheeses all melted down in a pot in the middle of the table and a huge pile of bread chunks. The power of cheese and bread to feed 7 young men.

Sunday
At 6:30 am, we rose out of bed bleary eyed, got into our underclothes for skiing and lumbered into the car. Lunch and breakfast consisting of rolls and croissants respectively was bought along the way. The mountainous vistas which amazed us in Grenoble, were outdone by the stupendous rocks on the way to Vaujany. The long valley up which we had to drive, was perfectly flat on its bottom and was flanked on both sides by great walls of snow and stone. One could get claustrophobic. And the sun only seems to touch the valley floor for half the day.

At the resort, Greg and Conall got ski lessons from Gilles on the kindergarten slopes, while Mel, Brian and Alec made their way up to the more advanced slopes. The two beginners progressed quickly, and at lunch time, after sandwiches and beer with the three experienced skiers of the group, and with Luke, Pierre, Lukasz and Rob Greg and Conall attacked the green slopes again. All day they slipped down the kids slopes with glee and with Greg sometimes losing control of his speed and being unable to stop himself careering past the ski lift and down the next slope. Conall was able to stop before this happened to him, but he fell on his arse 28 times instead.

Alec, Brian, Mel, Lukasz, Pierre and Rob came down of the red and black slopes and everyone went for a well-earned lunch in the restaurant on the slopes. We opened our packed lunches ate them heartily with chips from the bar.

From right to left: Mel, Conall, Alec, Lukasz, Luke(behind Pierre), Pierre, Greg, Brian all enjoying their lunch

Coming down from the slopes on the cable car, we were exhausted and slept most of the way back. Except Alec who was driving of course. Dinner that night was risotto rice and more bread. Another delicious meal made by Jacqueline and enjoyed by the 7 men in her house.

We got to bed early, planning on getting up to go skiing the next day.

Monday

Monday had something else to say about our plans. The weather was poor. 7⁰C in Voiron meant it would still be above zero at the resort, which means slippery wet snow which is shit for skiing according to Alec. We also got stuck in traffic in Grenoble. We turned the car around and headed home after an hour on the road.

Instead of skiing, we went on this mild sunny day to some of the local peaks around Voiron. The sandwiches which we got for lunch with us. The walk to these places was peaceful, and ripe for chatter about the profound things in our lives. The cover photograph for this report, is of that day.

These views of us in the forest are nothing when compared to the views from the top of the mountain we were on. At the top, there was a cross, and a view of the landscape something like what the Gods of Olympus had over Greece.

We remained up on that peak for quite some time just looking down at the land splayed out below us, as if it were just a map. The photograph of the day was taken by Brian and is shown below.

Text Box: Conall contemplating the enormity of what he sees before his eyes. Credit to Brian for this cracking photograph.

Later, we went to see a paragliding launch area which had similar views, but in the fading light, and our saturated eyes, they could not be so spectacular as the one’s we saw in these photographs.

On the way home, we bought the funkiest cheese and saucisson in the supermarket, along with the freshest baguettes in the bakery next door. Dinner that night was ­Tartiflette with Leffe blonde beer. We went to bed early again that night, to really go skiing in the morning.

Tuesday
To the slopes of Vaujany, through the valleys of the Rhone Alpes again. Greg and Conall had a hearty breakfast of Weetabix, and porridge and bananas respectively. The others bought their breakfast  en-route. The BSW(Byrne Space Wagon) Enterprise took us too our destination in good time. Brian and Mel and Alec commenced a second assault on the blues reds and blacks. Greg and Conall vowed to follow them in the afternoon and bought the appropriate ski-passes.   

After a good morning of technical lessons from Gilles, Mel, Alec and Brian met Greg and Conall at the  training ground. They broke for lunch and were met by Alec’s father Rob. Although he had been working that morning, he told us the following: “Yeah, I was working at home and I looked out the window at the blue sky and thought of you guys out here skiing. And then I looked at my laptop again and thought…[with his face he expressed what he felt] So I filled the calendar for the afternoon with some random text so they wouldn’t book me for anything and came up here.”              ‘What a work life balance that man has’ we all observed. We’ll do well to get where he is. After beers and lunch and anecdotes from Rob we made our way to the ski lifts to take us up to the blue slopes.

This was a day filled with challenges faced and overcome. The satisfaction felt at the bottom of a difficult slope was a unique and memorable feeling. Especially for Conall and Greg, the two who found even the simplest of slopes challenging.

There were two styles of attack employed by these two beginners. Greg favoured speed at the expense of control, whereas Conall favoured control at the expense of speed. Both resulted in the same number of crashes.








Mel and Greg in the foreground. A view like that of the Gods of Olympus in the background. Above is the infinite blue expanse of the sky.

Alec and Brian entertained themselves by going off-piste, taking shortcuts through the thicker snow between the trees.

Mel and Greg in the foreground. A view like that of the Gods of Olympus in the background. Above is the infinite blue expanse of the sky.

On our last run, we sped down the long final slope in formation. Each skier no more than a few feet the another. Conall scraped his ski-poles in the slope, throwing up a cloud of snow into the fellows behind him as he went. The speed was exhilarating. The falls harmless. And the comradery and spirit of adventure were admirable.

Dinner That evening was well earned Tartiflette cooked by Jacqueline again. The hunger from a hard days skiing on top of that meal, and some Leffe Blonde made it heavenly. After dinner we took over the living room and decided to watch a movie. The Big Lebowski. Brian, Alec and Greg all fell asleep during the opening 10 minutes. Only Conall and Mel actually saw the film.

Wednesday
We awoke late from our deep sleep. Our bodies tired and bruised from skiing. Breakfast was had, and the five set off for a short walk around Coublevie in the late morning sun. The air was crystal clear, and the mountains loomed large and beautiful in the distance.

Later on, we got into the Byrne space wagon to go to the museum of French Resistance in Vercors. An absolutely fascinating place raised and walled off by mountains from the surrounding countryside. The drive there wove through gorges between high cliffs and through picturesque mountain towns. A most interesting landmark was spotted along the way. A giant bicycle simply plonked there on the side of the road. Below is a photograph with Conall for scale.

Text Box: Brian’s Photograph of Conall in front of the Giant Bicycle on the way to Vercors.

It took us about 90 minutes to reach the remote museum. It looked like a concrete bunker which was part of the mountain it was in. The content was fascinating. It told the story of the resistance in France but in particular it focused on The Republic of Vercors. An enclave of resistance to the German occupation on the Vercors plateau. Declared when the Allies landed at Normandie, they had been promised paratrooper support and supplies by the Free French government, but it never arrived. they kept the Germans out for some weeks but were overrun by a glider borne invasion of the plateau. The Germans then proceeded to massacre the inhabitants of the four small towns of Vercors. A tragic event, The museum recount of it was very engaging.

Outside the museum part, there was a viewing area from which the whole Vercors plateau could be seen.

Text Box:  Alec, Mel, Brian and Greg look out over the Vercors Plateau from the resistance museum

As we drove back to Chateau Byrne the sun set in the plateau but still covered the surrounding mountain tops in a sunset orange. Vercors seems like an isolated but peaceful place to live.

Dinner on our final evening in France was cheese, and bread and soisison followed by chili
complimented by Blonde beer and wine. Another delicious meal cooked by Jacqueline Byrne.

Thursday

The next when we were having breakfast and preparing to leave there was a green bird sitting in Alec’s front garden. Possibly a cuckoo. It remained in the grass going about its business there for over an hour.

After breakfast we spent our final morning in France walking in the hills above Voiron to reach the prominent statue of Mary perched on top of a mountain overlooking the whole region. Although the day was overcast, the views from the top were spectacular.




 Mary stands on a snake atop a tower, and when the clouds rolled in over the valley below it was as if we were on an island in a sea of cloud and the mountains yonder were other islands too. A good way to spend the last morning.

Brian and Alec survey the sea of clouds

The final group photograph of the Brookfield Rangers in France at the bottom of the mountain

Soon after this we said our goodbyes and thank you to Jacqueline and Rob for hosting us and feeding us, and they thanked us for coming and insisted that we were a pleasure to host. We wrote a thank you card in all of the languages that we knew for them and according to Alec, it is still on display in his house. Alec kindly drove us to the Airport in the Byrne Space Wagon he sent us of with Bijoux and good wishes. We got on our flight and left France at half past 2. We arrived in Dublin Airport after dark. Mel was the first to break from the party and head home. Then Conall was discharged and got the bus back to Waterford. Brian and Greg waited in Dublin Airport for another hour and got the bus back to Limerick.

And so ended our glorious tour of Grenoble. With a walk in the mountains, affectionate goodbye’s and expressions of gratitude, a flight and a bus home. I hope we get to go again.