Ahhhh Sunday in Paris.
Despite the overcast skies and the impending downpour, we still awake once again, in our favourite (well, one of our favorite) cities. It is 9:00 before I break mon rêve and we both hustle downstairs to join Robin for coffee and breakfast after doing a final quick pack for our journey to Lyon later in the day. John B joins us shortly after that, and we have a brief ‘de-brief’ over croissants and a second coffee about our wonderful yet somewhat language-laden dinner the night before. Some at the table spoke little (no!) English; others spoke only halting French. But all seemed to communicate our various and different ideas and points of view effectively and with passion. Of course, the wine helped as well!
Lunch and then off to Lyon
We have been invited to déjeuner chez Isabelle, along with Isabelle’s two daughters Claire and Aude. I wander up to Montparnasse and have a quick walk through the weekend Marché Parisien de la Création, primarily an arts and crafts fair tended to by local artists; some good, some excellent, some truly atrocious. Both Johns and Robin pick me up, and we walk the wet ten block-20 minute route to Isabelle’s. Lunch of smoked salmon to start, blanquette de veau pour le plat, a full cheese course (but of course!) and une tarte au citron avec mereingue await us. And of course, the requisite bottles of wine. How rude of us to rush off back to the hotel to pick up our bags and grab a cab for our 3 pm train to Lyon as I am sure we could have lingered over another mouthful of tarte and encore du vin.
The rain is pelting now as our cab driver bobs and weaves against the Sunday Parisian traffic towards la Gare de Lyon. We arrive with some short time to spare and get comfortably ensconced in our seats, a bottle of water, and some reading material at the ready as we pull out of the station. The train to Lyon is certainly on time; in fact verging on 30 seconds early. It is a good thing that we did not waste any time with extended goodbyes over lunch! We are surrounded by what appear to be extremely polite and genteel Francais: a handsome young couple with their 7-year-old seated in a 4-seater in front of us with a well-coiffed elderly woman of 70+ years who appears to have no concern about sharing her 2-hour train ride with this family. An older couple to their right, sweater vests and glasses, engrossed for the entire trip in their puzzles and Paris Matches. Single stylish guy to our left and a young couple, also stylish and talkative directly behind us, munching, eating and kissing their way to Lyon. All politely whispering so as not to interrupt their fellow guests. The first half hour all spend with furtive eyes, checking out the fellow travelers, trying to figure out our collective stories. And wow…we certainly are travelling fast! Soon some eyes are closed, books and magazines opened, ipods and ear buds engaged and yes, even a laptop opened and a followsummer blog updated.
We arrive on time: the 480 kilometers, roughly the same distance between Toronto and Montreal is traveled in less than 2 hours…incroyable! Why can’t we figure out a functioning and practical yet affordable train system in Canada? The rain continues on and off as we exit the train with many similar tourists coming to Lyon for La Fete des Lumieres. People-jams ensue as we try to grab the escalator up to the upper platforms and hall; all exiting hopefully at the taxi stand or close by, to whisk us to our hotel.
We stumble out to a notice that all of the Pres’quile is closed for la Fete: no taxis to be found and especially at the taxi queue. We decide to hoof it. Our first attempt deposits us on the wrong side of the Gare Parrache; we turn around and retrace our steps through the pouring rain and end up in a square that has one of Lyon’s Marché de Noel. The first stall is flying the Canadian flag and is fashioned after a Sugar Shack. We feel a little better. We drag our bags onwards, onwards towards the Sofitel Bellecour and some 25 minutes later, wet feet and runny noses, we arrive at the Hotel and our comfy room.
We barely have time to turn around when it is time to head out to our 7:00 p.m. (early) dinner reservation at a restaurant that Greg had researched on the New York Times called Le Petit Flore: a Bouchon typique de Lyon and now unfortunately closed. The Lyonnais take their dining very seriously, and a month earlier when I had called to make a reservation, they offered me 7:00 p.m. or nothing. As the restaurant has excellent reviews and a guarantee of authentic Lyonnais food, we decided to take it. The streets around Place Bellecour are teeming with thousands of people out enjoying not only the Fete installations but also the many Christmas lights that have been hung in the myriad of interconnecting streets throughout the centre-ville. We figure out the Lyon metro system and head off to dinner. The restaurant, when we arrive, is charming to look at, and the menu seems authentic. Greg plays it safe, but I decide to live on the edge, and order veal foot salad to start, and andouillette (sausage – per my dictionnaire) as my main, having read a review of the place how good (and authentic) they are. The salad is – think of a jello salad where the jello is oddly shaped, some of it gristly, and not sweet or flavored at all, but instead in a mayonnaise-based dressing. The andouillette has an odd smell – like a cow pie. (Later, back at the hotel, I google andouillette and discover that it is a sausage made of tripe and chitterlings.) One of the odder dinners I’ve eaten in my life. If eaten is the right word. Oh well – nobody can ever say I haven’t tried it.
We head into the night, deciding to walk all the way back to our hotel, only 2 stops away on the metro. The street has wonderful lights in the trees, and an atmosphere of festivity. There is no sense of menace, despite the huge crowds. We wander along, oohing and ahhing at some of the installations until we find ourselves in the Place Jacobin, where I recognize scenes from La Dolce Vita playing on the fronts of the buildings that line the square. This is the first “show” we have encountered in the Fete – and it is completely fun. The movie is of course deconstructed and lasts maybe 7 or 8 minutes, shifting shapes and sizes and moving around the square and onto the fountain in the centre and back. The imagination at work is incredible – as is the lighting technology, using multiple projectors mounted in a number of different places around the square. We have read that the entire additional electricity bill to power the lights for the Fete is less than 3,000 Euros for the whole four nights – so not only is the technology complex yet completely seamless, it is also very efficient. We make our way back to Bellecour, 1 block from our hotel, and discover that the ferris wheel in the square is being used as a giant canvas for a show called a night at the museum, projecting masterpieces from various Lyon’ museums into the night. We watch only for a minute – we are both tired, and this will be here for 2 more nights.