From Geneva, we took a short train ride into France, to the historic city of Lyon. Lyon was the economic center of the Roman Empire for a time and is a center of banking today. More importantly, it is a major food city. I have since been to Paris, where the eating is very good. But in Lyon, the eating is amazing. While staying in Lyon, we took a day trip to Aix-en-Provence, a cute mini-Paris in Southern France.
Stepping off the train in Lyon, we headed to our hotel in the nearby business district. Immediately, we were struck by the number of people on scooters. Everywhere you looked, someone was riding a scooter. Up to that point, I don’t think I’d ever seen an adult on one. I certainly hadn’t seen a businesswoman in heels riding one before. We were there before the rise of the e-scooter rentals that hit Washington D.C. later that year. Little was open on the Saturday we arrived in the business district, so we stopped in to eat at a small, nondescript restaurant. This was where we learned a few lessons. It was one of the first times in my international travel where we ran into someone on the wait staff of a restaurant who didn’t speak English. Rebecca was able to grasp enough French that we were able to get orders in. Steak and pommes frites (here more in the style of American breakfast potatoes). Lesson learned. Even in a bland looking, business district, lunch counter kind of place, the food in Lyon was magnificent. I’d have been more than happy with a well cooked piece of steak, but it wasn’t. It was perfectly cooked. That night, we went to see the newly released “Black Panther” at the Pathé theater. It was our first time going out to the movies in another country, and it was pretty darned cool. The theater was huge and packed and everyone seemed to be having a good time. It was presented in English with French subtitles, which was fine unless the characters weren’t speaking in English. So there were a few things we missed.
The following day we explored the city some more. Not too far from our hotel was a huge open air market stretching along the riverside of the Rhone. You can see some video of the Rhone River here. Our hotel room didn’t have a kitchen, but we definitely discussed the possibility of staying in Lyon for a longer chunk of time someday and hitting up the market for some fresh food. Further on, we took a funicular up to one of the higher parts of the city where there is a cool Roman ruin and accompanying Gallo-Roman Museum. The museum was more extensive than I expected and was quite cool. From there we went down into the historic city center and visited the Musee Cinema et Miniature – a museum that combines two passions, the magic and art of film with miniature models and tableaus. This museum was a very cool hidden gem in the heart of the old city.
We then had lunch in a 50s style cafe, Cafe de la Cathedrale, which was jammed with bits of Americana. The food, however, was all France with artichoke, cheese, and ham, all well prepared and tasty. After lunch we joined a guide from Only Lyon who showed us around the old part of the city, a huge cathedral that was under repair, and through semi-secret, semi-private, hidden passages and courtyards called traboules. These are like extra-fancy alleyways that cut through blocks of housing and business, often giving access to inner apartments and such.
On the third day, we took a food & wine tour with Lyon Food Tour. I ate so much cheese. So. Much. Cheese. There was plenty of other food, too. The tour wasn’t short and they didn’t skimp on food. Our guide did explain that food tours were fairly new to Lyon and that it was weird for a lot of the restaurants because popping in for a few bites and then moving on just isn’t how the French eat, at least, not in Lyon. When we finished, we waddled to a train and headed across town to visit the Lumiere Museum. The Lumiere brothers’ old home and studio now serve as a museum to the pioneers of film – I would consider this a must-visit if you are a film fan. The nearest Metro station to the museum (Monplaisir-Lumiere) had an art installation showcasing the history of film that was pretty cool – you can see some video of it here. Returning that night to our hotel, we stopped at Les Halles de Paul Bocuse, a kinda fancy covered market/food hall.
Day four found us on a high speed train to Aix-en-Provence where we met a friend for lunch and a bit of sightseeing. We visited Cezanne’s studio, enjoying some of the views he would have had. Then we went to the town center where we had to navigate one of the biggest and most confusing underground parking lots I’ve ever encountered. I swear it actually defied physics. We went down three levels, took a wrong turn and came out at the same level we’d gone in, even though we didn’t go up. Anyway. The city center looks like a mini-Paris, with long open boulevards and many open-air cafes. The buildings are even built in a similar style. I could definitely see visiting Aix again. It might make a good base for exploring Southern France.
The following day we left Lyon for Barcelona. It was hard to believe (and still kind of is now) that the day we got on the train to head to Barcelona was the halfway point of our honeymoon! Lyon was my first experience with France. I’d been very nervous, as you hear stories about the French, and of course my ability to speak the language is below zero. I have a better ear for Cantonese than I do French. It’s like there’s a mental block. Yet, like pretty much everywhere we’ve been, we found that if you are polite, friendly, and make the effort, people are nice, understanding, and will help you out as best they can. Sometimes that means finding the one waiter who can speak English. Sometimes it just means finding the one word you know on a menu, pointing to it, and hoping for the best (it’s usually the best). Lyon was absolutely lovely and definitely a city I could see spending more time in. It might even be a good place to base out of if you want to explore Western Switzerland, as it’s a heck of a lot cheaper and of course it’s Europe, so trains will get you where you want to go.