Saturday, April 23, 2011


It's Saturday and it's raining. We were thinking that there should be rain in the spring here for the vines to really grow, but this is the first rain since we arrived. The vines are leafing out now as yesterday's biking photos show. Luckily, the rain won't bother us as we're headed to Lyon for Christie to catch her 6 AM flight tomorrow back to the States. We plan to wander around downtown Lyon this afternoon and then stay at a hotel near the airport.

The drive took longer than usual, as tomorrow's Easter and it seems everyone is going somewhere. The roads are crowded, causing slowdowns in both driving and proceeding through toll booths. (Luckily, there aren't too many of those.) The rain slowly fades to just clouds by the time we're heading up the Rhone River toward Lyon. Along the way we see a semi on fire (on the other side of the road, luckily for us). Fortunately, the driver was able to disconnect his cab and more it out of harm's way. Whatever was inside the soft-sided truck was pretty much gone by the time we passed the billows of black smoke. The "pompiers" (fire trucks) were making their way through the crowded and, by now, backing up highway. The only other excitement, if you can call it that, was the delay as we were within half-hour of our Lyon destination. As we went through our last "péage" (toll booth), we remarked that they had all lanes open(must have been a dozen for a 3 lane highway). On the other side of the toll plaza, all was gridlock and there was a traffic control sign that announced "Accident". It took half hour to get all lanes merged and moving again, with no sign of an accident to be seen once we started moving. But by now the sun was shining through the clouds and the temps were in the high 60's.

We get to our hotel, which is supposed to be 10 miles from the airport and a tram ride from the center of the city. But the doors are locked. It's some sort of "résidence" meant for long term stays, we think. After ringing and ringing the outside bell, a housekeeper comes to tell us that they will open at 5 PM. (There's no indication of that on the website - in fact it says 1 PM arrival.) So we get a map from the housekeeper, use the bathroom, and head into town by car rather than tram. It's easy to get downtown and we are able to park easily and walk to the old town.

The city center is Place Bellecour on a spit of land between the Rhône and Saône Rivers. We cross the Pont Bonaparte to the old town which squeezes itself into the bottom of a rather rugged and steep hill. There we start by visiting the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist (seen in the photo above in the bottom along the river) the front of which is shrouded by the screening they hang on the outside of scaffolding. There seem to be major renovations happening to the exterior. Cleaning for sure, one tower is now white compared to the rest of the facade. Built mainly from the 12th-15th centuries, parts (the apse in particular) are Romanesque and parts, like the nave, are Gothic. The stained glass was partially destroyed in the 18th century and again in 1944 during the liberation of Lyon in WWII. But some 12th and 13th century glass is still intact, like the Rose window below.

Christie and Dave decide to head up the hill by means of the funicular to see a church and the ruins of a Roman theatre and Odium at the top.

I head into the old town wandering the crowded, narrow streets, stopping at a creperie for a sugar crepe and coffee. The old town is crawling with people, mostly French, and probably none of them local. It is a big vacation weekend in France. Of course we hear Italian, and German a lot too. But no English. The old town streets are, as you might expect, narrow, cobbled (hard on the feet), and lined with medieval buildings. Some open onto squares of some size to give relief and light from the dark pathways. Some buildings have the shell of St Jacques carved above their doors, indicating the owner made a pilgrimage to St Jacques de Compostelle. As I'm waiting to use the "toilette" in the creperie, I notice that this building has been cobbled out of/added onto a gothic building. Pointed arches and broken stones indicate a different form in its medieval life.

The streets are teeming with people and it's clear this area is used to lots of tourists as every other store front is a restaurant. I check out the menus in front of many looking for a place for dinner. We were thinking we'd eat some of the Lyonnais specialties as Lyon is known for its gastronomy. But the specialties all seem to have some parts of meat that I wouldn't consider eating: tripe (pancreas), cervelles (brains), tête (head), pied (feet) or boudin (a type of blood sausage).

In the end we choose a restaurant that seems to have recognizable foods - onion soup, steaks and sausages and lamb. It also translates its menu to English which is a help for Christie and Dave. "Le Laurencin" calls itself a "veritable bouchon Lyonnais" which means it's a restaurant that serves typical Lyonnais food. It is also in a building that dates from 1528. At 6 PM we are the second table in the restaurant (seated next to 2 German ladies). By 6:30, every table in the restaurant is filled, mostly with an interantional array of tourists. I can hear British English, Italian, German and maybe Portuguese. I don't hear any French, suggesting that this isn't the "authentic Lyonnais menu" that we're eating. But that's OK with me. We note that the demeanor of this restaurant is more "American" if you will as there are many wait staff, they are attentive, quickly picking up dishes as courses are finished and turning over the tables quickly once someone leaves, in order to seat the next patrons.

We order the menu at 15 Euros - starter, main course and dessert, plus a bottle of Coteaux de Lyonnais red wine. Christie and I have onion soup, Dave has the salad with chevre (goat cheese) baked in pastry. Dave orders a sausage in brioche (a type of bread), I order the steak in an eschalote sauce (gravy really), and Christie orders the lamb. All are delicious, although I wouldn't say the soup was anything special given the options for onion soup in France. We finish with a creme brulée, tarte tatin (apple pie) and crème caramel with Espresso. (I'll pay for that later when I can't get to sleep.)

By the time we leave, it is now raining (sprinkling really) and there's a line waiting for a table in Le Laurencien. But the streets have cleared of strolling tourists.

We check into our hotel which is spotlessly clean with good facilities and even a kitchenette, which we of course won't use. Christie's flight is at 6 AM in the morning which means we need to get up at 4 to make the half hour drive to the airport by 5 AM. So it's quick showers and bed by 9:30. (Way too early for the coffee to have worn off, so I'm awake considerably longer. Drat! But the coffee's so-o-o good.)

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