Promptly after landing in Madrid, I changed suitcases and headed back to the Barajas Airport. This time I remained within continental Europe, with my destination being Lyon, France in order to ring in the New Year surrounded by close friends.
I must admit that the balmy California weather did not prepare me for the cold in France. Fortunately, like an onion I had on many many layers, and the sun was shining, which tricked me into thinking I was someplace warm. After meeting Morgane at the train station, we joined her mother and sister for lunch in a small café. Afterwards, Morgane and I walked the historic center, where you can see some of the lanterns hanging from the trees on the main street. We do not know why they were there because December 8th is the day of lights, when in memory of the Blessed Mother who saved the city from the plague, the city hangs lights from the windowsills and doors. Regardless of the reason why they were up, they were rather beautiful fluttering in the wind.
We wound our way towards the Opera (Nouvel) House, which directly faces the Hôtel de Ville. From the ground level you cannot get a good view of the interior structure; however, there is one day a year that the building is open to the public. December 30th was not that day. We continued our journey passing through many open plazas before reaching the Saône River. There are two rivers that run through Lyon creating what is locally called as the “almost island” because they never connect and form and actual island of the landmass in the middle. On the other side of the Saône River is the original medieval city (Vieux Lyon). By now, we were both frozen to the bone and stopped in a teashop before continuing our tour.
As you see here there are many covered passageways in Lyon, especially the medieval district to help protect the citizens in case of floods. These tall spiral towers are also typical features of the historic buildings. There are many local shops and other places to stop throughout the section, but we went straight to an antique store where Morgane’s mother works. We did not talk shop, but looking around the storeroom, it is clear that she has many exquisite pieces.
Back at the house, I was treated to an excellent family meal and then we all snuggled on the couch to watch Frozen, which was particularly apt given our weather situation.
The following morning, we toured Morgane’s district, Croix-Rousse, where you can find the famous La Mur des Canutes. Inspired by a trip to Mexico, where the murals by Diego Rivera and others adorn many walls, in 1978 three art students began CitéCréation, a student art cooperative movement. The murals they painted, according to France Today, “were designed not just as decoration but to help the people of Lyon rediscover their local identity, to trace the history of a particular quartier, or district, and to make art accessible to everyone” (Full article here). At Croix-Rousse the subject matter is daily life, depicting local banks and the steps that are present throughout the district. To maintain their illusion, the murals have been updated every ten years. Recently, through the arch to one side, they have displayed the various stages of the murals to give a glimpse of their evolution.
From the top of the stairs of the district on a clear day you can see the Alps. It was slightly foggy, but still a spectacular view. We then meandered down into the city center, stopping by an open air market and a shoe shop before having lunch with one of Morgane’s close friends.
After lunch we hurried back to the house to grab our bags and then head to the train station. Tibo had gone back to his home in Chambéry a few days earlier and we were hoping to join him and celebrate the New Year together. The trip flew by and although I had hopes of seeing the French countryside, with the onset of nightfall being so early in the winter, I saw very little of what we were passing. Once we arrived, we prepared a few things to take with us to our dinner party and then headed out. It was a very low-key dinner with some of Tibo’s lifelong best friends. We ate a traditional dish called Raclette, which consists of various types of melted cheese over potatoes and cold cut meats. There are special machines that individually heat your cheese, so that it is always warm. It is such a typical dish that everyone family had a set and there were no problems bringing four of so to the dinner. It was absolutely delicious and personally, I would invest in one of these pans before the oh so common Fondue pots.
I felt rather guilty for my inability to speak French, but everyone was so accommodating and spoke English with me. We even were able to play Célébrité, a game that in very general terms includes three rounds where two teams try to guess which celebrity is being described. I did in fact add a few points to the team score (José García/ Sancho Panza), however, they were rather nominal in total. Regardless, no language skills are needed for the charades round! Of course in good fashion we rung in the New Year!
To my dismay, no one woke me up the next morning for lunch and I slept through the entire affair. I do not believe that I have ever slept until 3:30 in the afternoon, but I know the sleep was much needed.
Since there were only a few hours left of daylight, we quickly headed out to see the Lac du Bourget, the largest natural lake in France. Below are a few views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Since there were only a few hours left of daylight, we quickly headed out to see the Lac du Bourget, the largest natural lake in France. Below are a few views of the lake and surrounding mountains. We then drove through Aix-les-Bains, if my memory holds true, which is seen on the opposite bank in my photos. The city is known for its baths and natural spas, attracting clients like John Pierpont Morgan and Queen Victoria.
The following morning we toured the city center of Chambéry. After our excursion, teas and local cheeses filled my suitcase. All three of us then took the train back to Lyon, where Morgane’s father had prepared an incredible pot-roasted dinner (there is an official name for the dish that I have since forgotten). We played one more round of Célébrité, this time narrowly loosing to the boys’ team (1 point).
Early the next morning we all departes for our respective countries, Morgane and Tibo to England as I headed to Spain. My hope is that 2015 continúes the way that it started – surrounded by great friends and new adentures. Wishing everyone a fabulous start to the New Year!