The Mole Diaries: Grenoble (Volume 2)
Imagine doing your whole degree abroad - getting to grips with the language, the administration, the homesickness... Rosie doesn't need to imagine! She is there, two years into her degree at Grenoble University, and she has loads of advice for students who are there for a year abroad, covering travel tips, finding somewhere to live, places to go out, fun things to do, banking and mobile phones in Grenoble...
Grenoble is nestled in the French Alps, in the south east of France. According to some, it is known as the “Capital of the Alps”. Due to its mountain location, walking and skiing are top student activities, as well as everything else typically student-y.
Grenoble isn’t a massive city but it has enough going on to keep you occupied throughout the whole year. Skiing, walking and other outdoor activities are a must, as well as visiting historic Lyon and beautiful Annecy which is only a couple of hours away on the train. For those of you who want to go further afield, there is also Switzerland and Italy not far away, so if French food and culture gets boring, there are plenty of options to keep you going during your year abroad!
Getting around Grenoble is remarkably easy. Although mountains surround the city, the actual city-centre is very flat, meaning bikes are a good and cheap way to get to classes and home again. Check out leboncoin.fr and buy your own or rent a Metrovelo (a bit like Boris bikes in London) at Métrovélo. For those of us who are a bit lazier and don’t fancy biking round Grenoble during the cold, snowy winter, you can also buy monthly and annual tram passes; check out Tag for more information. Whilst the annual pass seems expensive to begin with, the tram network is very extensive in Grenoble and will get you almost anywhere you want to go. Trams run until about 1am, meaning that unless you’re planning a long night out, you should be able to take full advantage of your tram pass, whatever you’re planning.
There is a range of accommodation in Grenoble, and in my opinion, fairly easy to come by. For the ERASMUS students, you should have been given the option of the CROUS residences and whilst they are not palaces, it’s a bed and somewhere to stay for however long you want. Once settled, a “collocation” (flat-share) is an option, check out Appartager or leboncoin.fr for flats that are available. Whilst accommodation isn’t cheap in Grenoble, it isn’t ridiculously expensive either and a bit of searching can find you a very reasonable flat. In order to help with rent, there is CAF, which gives you a certain amount of money towards your rent each month, dependent on your financial situation. This is definitely worth checking out if you’re staying in France for more than 8 months!
In terms of eating, there are a great range of supermarkets for all budgets – from Lidl to Casino Geant and Monoprix. Specialities in Grenoble include tartiflette and raclette, washed down with a small shot of Chartreuse; great for warming yourself up on a cold winter’s evening!
Things to do in Grenoble
So once you have your accommodation and eating sorted – what is there to do in Grenoble? Grenoble isn’t labelled as one of the big cities in France, but that does not mean you’ll get bored on your year abroad here. Check out IntEGre when you first arrive and maybe sign up to their “Parrainage” (buddy) programme, which allows you to have a French contact in Grenoble before you arrive there. IntEGre also organises plenty of evenings and weekends so if you want to practise your French in a more international environment, here is the perfect opportunity! For the winter and for all your skiing needs, look up Ecole de Glisse, signing up with them gives you cheaper ski passes in certain resorts, as well as the possibility of free ski lessons for those who have never been skiing before. There are a huge amount of sports' (and other) associations in Grenoble: use a search engine for anything more specialist or check out Grenoble University for any student-related organisations!
[Photo above by archangel 12]
Grenoble is a very a student-y city with around 60,000 students so there is also plenty of bars to keep you busy! London Pub, Metropolitan, Barberousse and La Bobine are student favourites, whilst night clubs such as Vieux Manoir keep the party going until early in the morning. For those interested in more cultural activities, a must is La Bastille, which is the fortress overlooking Grenoble. There is a cable car, which transports visitors up the mountain, giving a spectacular view across the city. There are also several museums in Grenoble, such as Musée de Grenoble as well as the Musée de Resistance, which shows a history of Grenoble and its surrounding areas and how they have survived throughout the years.
Banking and insurance
Paperwork is a little bit of a headache in France and things such as bank accounts and phone contracts may take a little research. Without a French bank account, you will struggle to do anything else – so I’d advise your first administrative trip should be to the bank! There are a range of banks in France such as Credit Agricole, BNP Paribas, LCL, Societe Generale, all of which have branches in Grenoble, so it’s just about finding one that suits you. Unlike in the UK, French bank accounts have to be paid for, however some of these banks do free student accounts, so I’d definitely check them out first! Also look into extra things such as “assurance d’habitation” which may be provided by the bank at an extra cost, this is an obligation in France and you won’t be allowed to rent anywhere without it!
In terms of French phone networks, signal is not a problem in Grenoble and as with banks, there are some great deals to be had, if you do the legwork first. For foreign students, I’ve found Free.fr to be a great network, I have free calls abroad, meaning I can call my parents rather than relying on dodgy internet connection, but in order to find the best deal for you, you could check out Tous Les Forfaits which allows to compare the best deals on the market at any one time.
For those on Facebook, there are variety of ERASMUS student groups if you have any more questions: search “Erasmus Grenoble 2013-2014” and check out the questions and threads on there; there might just be someone with the exact same problem as you!
Your year abroad is what you make of it, which includes improving your French. If you want to improve your French, there are plenty of opportunities to meet and make French friends but you have to make the effort. French people are generally very welcoming and you certainly won’t be the first foreigner they have met and you won’t be the last. This goes for Grenoble and every other city in France; from a personal viewpoint, I have been in France for nearly 2 years and have improved my French so much, but only because for the first year I was forced to speak French – if you make no effort, the French students will make no effort with you.
Have a great year and enjoy it, it’ll be over before you know it!