France, Paris and Lyon 2006

Le 22eme Septembre

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle (aka Roissy) airport very early in the morning. It was much smaller than I had expected, and we waited over an hour to go through passport checkpoints!
Our plane ride (Air France) was excellent. We felt like we weren’t even in the air half of the time! They had personal tvs at your seat, on which you could watch movies (they had foreign and US ones) or watch a little topographical map that would update the loction of the plane and tell you how much longer the flight was. The food was excellent—their wine list was selected by the top sommelier from the year 2001, and they had real silverware. We had champagne, and after dinner they’d come around with a little cart serving tea and baguettes.
The most exciting part so far was at Logan airport—when they announced our plane was leaving – in french! The International Flight section of Logan was an exciting melting pot: Italian and Latino families having animated arguments, Parents scolding their children in Japanese and German, Swedish backpackers (and 2 girls who were from one of the Swedish owned Virgin Islands—they spoke Swedish but with an island accent!) You weren’t even in the air and you felt like you were all over. (One cool thing about the British Airways—they have double decker planes! I saw one out the window—I want to go to Britain solely for that. And tea and crumpets.)
I had a cold today and was sneexing all day long; Poor Chris is just getting over a flu. We were both pretty jet lagged.
When we got off the Metro near our hotel (after almost getting lost and having a hard time getting tickets for the RER), we looked up and right in front of our eyes was L’Arc de Triomphe! When our hotel had advertised that they were a short walk from it, they weren’t kidding. Incroyable, as the french would say! That’s when we TRULY felt like we had arrived.
The staff at the Hotel Duret have been very nice so far. Some poor lad at the front desk initially sent us to the wrong room, and apologized profusely (we didn’t care).
Our room is small but very nice, with a classy apartment feel. There is a cute bakery down the street, from which we had our first “pain au chocolats”.
For dinner, we split a bottle of wine at the Place de la Grande Armee and people watched. It was an excellent day, and our first impression of Paris has been way more that we had imagined . I’m sure we’ll write more after we’ve recovered from jet-lag.

Things we ate today:

Breakfast on the plane: croissants, yogurt, and petit pains with honey

Lunch at the CDG RER station—2 baguette sandwiches with sliced cheese and fresh tomatoes and basil.

Pain au Chocolat at the bakery down the street

A bottle of bordeaux wine for dinner

Le 21eme Septembre

Our second day in Paris, and already I have fallen in love with this city! We woke up to the sounds of a fire alarm gone off at the hotel—we thought there was a real fire but apparently some idiot had been smoking a little too much in their room (yes, in France smoking is pretty much allowed everywhere. Even when it says a no smoking area people don’t pay attention. But you don’t smell the cigarette smell, which is nice).

It was raining outside; we grabbed 2 baguettes and a pain au chocolat at the boulangerie across the street—the people were a bit snobbish but it was understandable—they have hundreds of customers daily, especially tourists. I likened their attitude to that of a NY bakery. We stood under an overhang to eat our pain au chocolat, and a large white dog came out of one of the shops to see what we wee doing. He looked up at us plaintively while we ate (too bad chocolate is bad for dogs!) At first we said “sit” and he looked at us like he didn’t understand. Then we thought “duh, French” and the dog sat when we said “assiez-vous”. How cute!

We decided, even though it was raining, that we would walk to see where the Louvre museum was. We found out that my shoes were not too good for walking in the rain on their smooth pebble sidewalks. I felt like an ice skater walking down the street! Oh well.
How to begin to even speak about the beautiful buildings we saw? It blows the mind. Museums, theaters, even simple apartments—nothing was done on a small scale and without gorgeous detail. The streets smelled wonderful—like a mixture of cardamom, old libraries, and a good pipe.
Past L’Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees, we saw some pretty little parks with lovely fountains. Then we arrived at the gardens near the Louvre. Someone had said that it would take a day just to simply explore the gardens, nevermind the inside of the Louvre, and they were right. Incredible, immense statues and fountains that were hundreds of years old, beautifully landscaped bushes and mazes of flowers, acres and acres worth!
We grabbed a cup of coffee at “Cafe Vierry” outside the entrance and people watched under a covered outside area. The waitstaff was kind there and we enjoyed our cup of coffee ‘french style”-meaning we took over an hour to savor it.
Chris and I took hundreds of pictures today. I can’t accurately put into words how it felt to actually see some of these historical structures in person-The Louvre, Saint Chappelle, Notre Dame—it felt like being in a dream. I have never seen such beauty or history-nevermind the painstaking detail that was put into each. A walk around each corner revealed a sight more beautiful than the last.
After spending some time wandering around the gardens (and seeing that Parisians really do know how to RELAX), we crossed the bridge over the River Siene and saw L’ Institit Francais, Le Grand Palais and le Centre aux Justice (inside of which was Saint-Chappelle).
We stopped into a gorgeous gothic church (St. Germain) it was considered small by french standards, but still had beautiful stained glass windows and flying buttresses across the ceiling. Outside we passed by a real fashion magazine photo shoot,! The woman was dressed like a victorian bride but with spiked motorcycle boots on.
After seeing St. Germain we wandered more streets and then went into Notre Dame. The architecturew as incredible, down to every last detail. The ceilings so high, it made you dizzy to look up! Hundreds of people were there, taking pictures and lighting candles. The light from the stained glass windows cast a gorgeous shadow on the immense walls. To be a part of something so old was incredible!
Later on , we wandered back to the gardens outside the Louvre where we had ice cream- “la glace”-one server was a rude 17 year old who talked on her cell hone. That’s a 17 year old for you—anywhere. Chris had violet ice cream and I had fig sorbet, with real fig seeds in it. It was unlike any ice cream you could taste in America.
Now we are back at the Hotel Duret, eating juicy red peaches that we bought at the fruit market across the street.
Everything here is delicious and sensual.
I bought this little “cahier” today at a paper merchants to capture the memories of our trip. Je suis en amour d’ici!
Things we ate today:
Fresh baguettes and croissants au chocolat from the bakery across the street
cafe creme at Cafe Vierry
violet and fig ice cream
red peaches
tofu wraps from a deli down the street
Salads at a restaurant near the Champs-Elysees. I had a lyonnaise salad with sliced hard boiled eggs and a dressing that was great, Chris had buffalo mozarella and tomatoes. The waitress, Nadine, was very nice and patient with the American tourists who came in and ordered things in very botched French.

People have compared Paris to New York City—I say the two are nothing alike. So Far, my impression of Paris is:

It is relatively clean (hardly any trash on the sidewalks; street sweepers are everywhere!)

It’s actually pretty easy to find your way around. The metro system is far better organized than the NY subway or the Boston T.

Nothing is shocking here!

Less air pollution than NY. Everyone here drives either a Vespa or a smart car, or they walk or ride bikes.No SUVs here!

Fashion is all relative-it is not so much “who” or what you are wearing, but how you’re wearing it here. It’s a way of carrying yourself.

So far, we haven’t spotted a single overweight French person here.

French people know how to savor time. Last night Chris and I spent an hour drinking some wine at a cafe. We finished an entire bottle before the couple next to us even drank half of their martini, all in the course of an hour!

I see very few harried people on cell phones or attached at the hip to their laptops. When you go somewhere to unwind, you unwind and don’t bring work with you.

Police sirens have a calmer, more pleasant alarm here.

Children tend to be more socialized and independent. They can go out to dinner at 9pm with adults and not be crazy.

Many dog owners here don’t walk their dogs on a leash, and yet the dog follows them. French people take their dogs everywhere!

Everything sounds prettier in the French language-even curses.

Le 23me septembre

The Louvre! The Louvre!!! What a mind boggling array of priceless history and art. I will never forget having been part of such a grand place, even if for a short while.
Among some of the countless things we saw:
Italian marble sculptures
Venus de Milo
The Winged Victory of Samothrace
Several Egyptian Sphinx (es?)
A real medieval moat and portions of a castle built in the 1600s that was unearthed underneath the actual Louvre during an excavation in the 1980s
The crowned jewels of Louis XVI and Marie-Antionette (talk about serious bling bling!)
Renaissance armor
Greek epitaphs
Napoleon III’s lavish apartments
religious artifacts dating back to beyond the dark ages

I can’t accurately put today into words, but “je me souviens tout”–I will remember everything.

Today was Saturday, so everyone was hanging outside the museum. Young couples snuggling in the grass, old men smoking pipes at “le tabac” with friends. People walking dogs. On weekends, children often go to the huge fountain near the entrance and sail little boats (“petit bateaux”) and race them on the water.
No one went with a laptop or cell phone. They went to relax and enjoy eachother’s company. What a shocking thing to us Americans.
Lines today were surprisingly not bad, considering the day and time. We hardly had to wait at all.

Things we ate today:

Crepes at a cafe en route to the Louvre (gotta remember names next time!)

A 4 eur. Bottle of wine (was good!)

Dark chocolate

Salads at the museum cafe, and real yogurt that came in a crock

Bordeaux wine and a demi st. Marcelin cheese at Grande Armee

Violet and poire ice cream

le 24eme Septembre
Today we went to see the Eiffel Tower. It was enormous! We didn’t end up going up it because the line was too long.
Nearby, they were having a 25th anniversary celebration of the TGV.
Everyone was out rollerblading, biking or walking (les francais sont actifs!)
There are so many beautiful gardens around.
We had breakfast on Rue L’ecole Militaire—croissants and OJ and Coffee—doesn’t sound like much, but we are adapting to the french way of eating and actually felt satisfied.
A crazy drunk Russian guy came up to us on the street, asking for money. But we knew he was crazy and drunk and we got scared so we didn’t end up giving him anything. His breath reeked of Vodka. CHEAP vodka.
After walking around the Eiffel Tower for quite a while (it started to rain!), we headed over the next few streets to L’Hotel des Invalides—a giant military hospital museum, in which Napoleons tomb was. Napoleons tomb was IMMENSE and set in a gorgeous crypt guarded by marble statues. The ceiling was a dizzying height with stained glass windows, and an exquisite, private chapel was overhead. Talk about a Napoleon complex, this man, even after his death. Then again, NOTHING is small in France.
We also saw medieval weapons and armor, and samurai fighting swords and armor as well. Chris was happy!
Just for laughs, we decided to check out one of the only 2 McDonald’s in all of Paris. The food wasn’t anything special but it was a hell of a lot better than at home. It had posh leather seating and Tvs hung from every angle, blasting MTV. There were areas where you could sit and listen to recent top 40 albums on headphones.
Chris and I ordered a medium french fries, and it was smaller than the american small! They also put the nutrition facts on all of the wrappers there.
We had Indian food for dinner, back at L’Ecole Militaire.
Tomorrow we take the TGV to Lyon-I have no idea what to expect, but I do hope we get there on time and safe-and ENJOY it. Already I wish we didn’t have to leave here so soon.

Au revior, Paris!

Things we ate today:
croissants, OJ and coffee at L’Ecole Militaire
mozzarella panini by the Eiffel Tower
french fries and mini parfaits at McDonalds (aka “Chez MacDonald”)
Indian food for dinner

le 25eme septembre

I am writing this on the high speed train as we leave Paris and enter Lyon.
I find it amazing how a mere train can get us to the other side of the country in less than 2 hours! At the TGV station, trains were leaving every 15 minutes or so to destinations like Milan, Barcelona and Luxembourg. We need a TGV back in the states.
A funny but embarrassing story about the train: Chris and I ended up having to buy business class seating because we were unable to purchase anything else online back at home.
I bought a silk dress thinking it was much longer than it actually was (and silly me, I waited until the day of to actually wear it!), when in reality it barely passed my knees. With tall boots on I have to admit it was kind of a trampy get up. But it was too late to change. When we got on to business class, a very serious professional gentleman sat across from us and gave me the most disgusted looks the entire journey. He kept glancing at poor Chris, who of course always dressed professional, and I think he believed I was Chris’ “hired woman”. I guess fashion taught me a lesson today!
Upon first arriving, I must admit, we were a little bit dissapointed when we reached Lyon. The first station that the train stopped at was in a neighborhood reminiscent of the 5 burroughs, graffiti and all. The second station wasn’t much better, and when we reached our hotel we saw that the entrance was on a shadier side of the street, above a dive bar and down the street from a few empty industrial storefronts.
There is no elevator and no AC, the beds isseperate and small….but the room itself has old-world charm, with a fireplace and big windows that open out to a view of the park below. Directly across from us is the most beautiful old theater, and fountains which light up at night.
The owner of this hotel doesn’t speak any English, but is pleasant enough and everything is clean.
Walking around later today, we found more to like about Lyon. Old monuments and theaters, adorable little shops with adorned front windows (one particular little patisserie had a pyramid of meringues arranged in the window). We bought wine at a cute little shop called “Cerise et Poitron (cherry and pumpkin) ” and had dinner at the only mexican restaurant in town!
We had grapefruit ice cream (glace au pamplemousse) and explored one of the oldest gothic churches in all of France-Cathedral St. Jean. This church had the oldest and largest astrological clock in the world, as well as the largest sundial. Three churches had been erected near it, all of which were destroyed in a fire, but whose vestiges still lay in the archeological gardens nearby.
We found out that our hotel is only a minute’s walk to the river Seine, where a pedestrian bridge passes to Vieux Lyon. Formidable!

Tomorrow we hope to explore botanical gardens and roman ruins. Already I am sad that our trip is nearing an end.

Le 26eme septembre
This morning we had a nice breakfast at the hotel, then crossed over to Vieux Lyon, where we mounted the thousand steps (literally!) to view the remains of 2 roman ampitheaters built in 19 A.D. It was incredible to be standing in a place that was literally thousands, not hundreds, of years old. Some pillars still remained, as well as tiled entrances and water ducts. The larger of the two is still used in an annual music festival in Lyon!
We travelled back down the mountain via metro (which was like a cable car going up and down the mountain!), then walked over to the other side of Lyon to a giant park called Tete d’or (Golden Head, literally). There are over 300 acres of wildlife and botanical gardens at Tete D’or, as well as the world’s largest collection of carniverous plants. We spotted some turtles in the water, and some animals which resembled spotted reindeer.
We had lunch at a friendly little bakery not too far from the park, and ate sitting by the river.
We bought violet and citron vert chocolates at Voisin, and searched for a wine opener at Nicolas. Neither I nor Chris knew how to ask for one in french, so Chris did his best miming impersonation and the seller understood and got us a great cast iron one for only 5 euro. He was so nice!
Later on, we decided we weren’t crazy enough to only mounth the 1,000 steps to the top of Vieux Lyon once, we decided to do it AGAIN to visit the Fourviere Basilica, a beautiful chapel built to look over the whole city.
Along the way up, there was a lovely rose garden and some little prayer gardens that the monks and nuns used to tend when the abbies were still in use (gardeners still tend them today). The basilica itself was rather small (at least in French standards of architecture), but it was very regal, with beautiful gold and turqiouse painted buttresses and immense angel statues all around.
The view from the top was amazing. We had coffee at a little cafe nearby, and out on the terrace you could see all of Lyon below. Everything appeared so medieval—the tile roofs and cobblestone walkways.
An observation tower (looking eerily like La Tour Eiffel) and a private music school were also nearby. As we descended again, we decided to explore the many little shops in the Vieux Lyon disctict. Each corner found more to explore—pleasant cafes and “salon de the”s (tea houses), bakeries displaying myriands of marzipan and chocolate cakes, local artisans…in one shop we met a woman who creates little stained glass figurines and mirrors with her husband.
A vendeuse was selling blue roses at her fleurist shop. We saw students trying to light incense up with their cigarettes.
There were many college students around and the air was thick with the excitement of youth. Lyon has an air of friendliness to it- so far all of the merchants have been very patient with our meager attempts at French.
We encounteres a happy fromagiere and Chris bought some Alome (sp?) cheese.
We had a fantastic finner at an Indian restaurant in town, and the watier let us practice French but promised to interject with English help if needed.
Chris and I are already fantasizing about running away here one day.
The only scary thing that happened to us was a crazy drunk buy who approached us on the street, babbling loudly in drunken brawl-but he approached nearly everyone and they brushed him off.
Some poor girl was lost trying to find flowers. I tried to help her in my broken french but I am afraid I may have succeeded in getting her more lost!
Tonight we are watching soccer (“le football”) on TV and everyone is excited. We have the window open to the street and we can hear everyone cheering at the bar down the way when France makes a goal. There also must be an opera playing at the theater across the way—people are dressed up and ready to go.

Things we ate today:

croissants w/jam and coffee for breakfast

real yogurt w/ blackberries

wine and muscat grapes (yum!)

baguette sandwiches from a local bakery (with veggies, mayonaisse and boiled egg)

rose and orange flower ice cream from a merchant on the street

cafe creme from La Fourviere

Dinner at Saveur Indienne—samosas, baigan curry and rose, cinnamon and citron vert sorbet.

Violet.citron vert chocolates from Voisin.

Le 27eme septembre
After breakfast (“petit dejeuner” or “little lunch” literally), we walked to the Heritage district (south of Croix-Rousse by the metro station) to an all-vegetarian organic restaurant called “Toutes les Couleurs”. We sat in a cute little outside area and the very friendly owner tried to help us in broken English, while we responded in broken French! The chef prepared everything as we ordered it in the kitchen next to the veranda. The smell of good things to come wafted through the window. Chris and I had a curry-walnut and spinach pate as an appetizer, and then had large “salades” with smoked tofu, brown rice, melon, and peas (mashed to a stew-like consistency) For dessert we had an exquisite dish of red peaches and rhubarb topped with a very dark chocolate. Tout etait tres delicieux!
Not too far from this district was another, lesser known roman ampitheater. We explored a little, but aside from the restaurant the remainder of the district was shady, so we tried to get out as soon as possible.
We crossed over to rue St. Geroges in the Vieux Lyon district to go to the International Museum of Miniature. Chris, catching on to the French, asked for “2 billets si vous plait” all by himself—he’s learning fast!
The museum was adorable—housed in a 16th century building (“la maison des avocats” or “house of lawyers”)–with open terraces; very old world style. Hundreds of little scenes created to mimic real historic locations in France on a smaller scale—down to the very last painstaking detail. One of the most interesting scenes was that of Maxim’s, a very famous Art noveau restaurant in Paris; it took the artist 2700 hours to complete. We saw beautiful carved eggs , small scale instruments, clothing and armor (all created with just as much detail as their larger counterparts). We even saw a ship carved out of a molar tooth! Small scale furniture was created with dovetailing, working locks and everything.
Chris had some more good cheese (Tome?) at the fromagiere, and we bought little green candies called “coussins de Lyon” or “Lyonnaise coushins” made to look like the cushins that Louis XIV sat on.
We walked around again, and the more we walked, the more we realized how much we will miss France!We’ll be sad to go.
We went to a bar that had crappy beer (don’t drink the beer in France!), and a rude waitress, what a dissapointment. How ironic that the night we decide to try a”Quick”, the only fast food chain in Lyon, we couldn’t find one!
We saw a dog carrying his own leash today. French people and their dogs.
As I am writing this, it is around 10: 45 at night and we’ve just finished watching some strange movie about Russian girls who got kicked out of military school (?). There is an opera going on at the theater next door—I can actually hear the music-how exciting!

Things we ate today:
croissants at the hotel (again)
vegetarian lunch at “Toutes les Couleurs” (described above)
violet tea and lemonade at a flower-tea shop called “Arabesque”
French cheese
bad beer 😦

Le 28eme septembre
Nous somme tristes (we are sad)…today is our last day in Lyon.
This morning we checked out of our hotel and hung around downtown. Some college students running a news program appraoached us and asked if they could pose some questions to us for their news program—we apologized to them that we weren’t from the area, but we were glad to not be identified as tourists!
We looked around once again at all of the beautiful buildings. We bought 2 “boutellies aux region” at Nicolas wine shop (the merchant there recommended them).
We discovered an amazing cafe called “Pignol” and Chris had a mozzarella and tomato sandwich and I had an awesome slice of pizza.
Ahhh….all the pretty decorated shops and cafe windows. I will miss them as we approach the drab of every day when we go home.
We almost missed our train! We arrived early enough to get the train but couldn’t find our car. In France, when a train or plain says it is leaving at 4:00, it is leaving exactly then and not a minute later, even if someone is rushing to catch it! We jumped inside just as the final doors closed and the train began to move—PHEW!!!
How nice it would be to have a month long EurRail pass and take the TGV all around Europe.
We took the metro crom Gare de Lyon to Charles de Gaulle and are spending our last night (sniff sniff!) at a very nice Sheraton hotel room right inside the airport (complements of Chris’ sister Jen—thank you so much!!!).
Our metro passes somehow didn’t work on the exit to the station, so we (and several other young backpackers) jumped the turnstile.

Things we ate today:
Breakfast at the hotel one last time (croissants and the usual)
Pizza and sandwiches at Pignol
a camembert-sesame baguette from PAUL at the train station
yogurt and sandwiches at Charles de Gaulle
more chooclates from Voisin and a croissant au chocolat from PAUL

Things I will miss:

Watching TV shows like “Desperate Housewives” and “Prison Break” dubbed in France
The music-box sound in the metro station that alerts you of oncoming trains, and the announcers voices as we reach stops like “Charles De Gaulle Etiolle” and “Geroges V”.
The laissez-faire and relaxed attitude about life here.
The sighs and smells

Le 29eme Septembre:
We are getting ready to board our flight home. What an incredible trip we had, one we will talk about for years to come.

Au revoir Paris, Au revior Lyon! A Bientot! (See you soon, we hope!)