Lyon Travel Blog

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I’m lying around in Lyon munching on a hot dog with dijon mustard. Where is Dijon anyways? I bid a fond au revoir to Paris, a city that succeeded in captivating my soul. Humphrey Ingrid and Bruce, will always have Paris.


Getting to Lyon was a snap – a ten minute wait for a ride on the outskirts of Paris and zango - a French Professor, as opposed to a  French Professor, gave me a ride that was virtually door to door. Conversation was inspiring and best of all, he sprung for lunch. A young couple picked me up at the exit and drove me the rest of the way into town. Having budgeted most of the day to travel, I was faced with a bonus because of my luck on the road - The travel gods presented me with an extra half a day to tour. Always a welcome bonus, one that would make up for numerous quick 50 mile jaunts that ended up requiring a full day’s travel. But that, like everything else in life, balances out. 


The white buildings and red tiled roofs cascaded down the narrow strips of cobblestone roads as Lyon paraded her middle aged history proudly for all to see. She looked good for a two thousand year old city that really came into her own in the Renaissance. Quite the re-birth. The city is built on a hill and is divided by the Rhone river. The appealing layout makes for easy access, especially if you are uptown and don’t mind swimming across the river rather than walking 4 miles to find the nearest bridge. Charles Goren was in town that week, so I certainly expected to see more bridges than were initially apparent. In a North American cultural imperialist sort of way, Lyon reminded me of parts of Miami Beach, specifically, the sun- bleached white walls and the Spanish styled tiling on the houses. Avenue de Collins, of course was nowhere to be found, although I did see a sign for the Fontainbleu. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be a blue fountain rather than a glitzy hotel filled with overweight and complaining Jews.


Given that I had not yet formalized my short term accommodation requirements, and since the weather was beautiful and balmy, I decided to draw on the advice given to me by one of the waiters I had become friendly with during my Paris sojourn. Later that evening I would head up to the city’s main park that had some type of a lovers’ lane and experience Lyon al fresco. I hiked to my outdoor hotel with the intention of looking for a comfortable spot to call my own for the next eight hours. I did not sleep outside that night. Al Fresco turned into Al Dente, Al Dente turned into Al Dante, and what was to have been lovers ‘ lane ended up being an inferno of broken glass, dog shit and hooligans playing in the fields. When you order any dish Lyonnaise I suggest you advise the chef to leave the shards of glass and excrement out of the recipe.


I berated myself for not having found a place to stay during daylight hours and, cursing my stupid luck, began to search for some aromatic French poodle crap to lie in for the evening. At that point one of the local gendarmerie pulls up to me, demands to know what I was doing trying to sleep in the public park, and advised me that the gates of the park would be closing in 10 minutes with me on the outside of them. Things were not getting better. I gathered up my belongings and in the approaching gloam discovered that the beautiful walk down through the valley was a lot less beautiful carrying a 44 pound knapsack up through the valley. I had nowhere to go and did not how to get there.


Trudging forth in desperation along the now dark city streets I hear a whistle coming from one of the windows above. Some guy stepped out on his balcony and called out to me, and fearing that he was one of those homosexuals I’d been warned about, I chose to ignore him. When he came downstairs and insisted that I was lost and was to spend the night, my suspicions were confirmed. “No thank you”, I said. He looked at me with a face full of incredulity and offered me shelter again. Seeing as how I had just climbed about 1,000 stairs with a pack on my back, and was hot, tired, dusty, thirsty and a bit horny, I reluctantly accepted.


On the way upstairs to his flat he told me that he was a traveler too; that he had done the circuit years ago and knew exactly what I was going through. He gave me dinner and we sat up and talked the entire evening. He was sharing his apartment with a black Cameroonian priest who wanted to come to Canada. Charles, as he was named, was a good soul. He loved the country and its animals. He was in the process of nursing a baby pigeon back to health. He lived a life of quiet desperation – 30 years of age, no job, no money, and a bleak future waiting down the road. Poverty, for all of its negatives, does force you to strip away the surface needs and dig down deep inside to understand what goes on. Those with meager possessions are required to fill up their coffers, not with material goods but with values and an almost prescient understanding of the human condition and Man’s role in the cosmos.


Charles was the personification of ‘sympatheque’. He would not hear of taking any money from me to defer the cost of the food. I was his guest. The next morning before saying good bye I managed to slip a 10 franc note under the tea pot as a sign of good will, a symbol of thanks, and a sacrifice to my God of my Good Fortune. It wasn’t much, but all I had in my possession at the time was 35 francs. I was on my way to Montpellier and a train ticket would be needed if I were to meet up later that night with an old friend from home who was at school in the south of France. The previous night’s dinner was basic but delicious; whatever might have been lacking from a culinary perspective was more than compensated for by the humanitarianism that seasoned the entire evening. Mind you, now that I think about it, I don’t remember hearing the pigeon coo when I left the apartment that morning.


I found my way to the local train station, an ornate structure with rococo influence. It seems that all of France’s railroad buildings are designed over the top and in excessive design. With the term for ‘railway station’ being gare I wondered if that is the origin of the term garish. Probably not, but that is how my mind works. Hopped onto the 12:00 local train and bought a next stop ticket to get me to Lyon’s suburbs to facilitate my hitch-hiker’s exit from the city. I settled into the moss green velveteen overstuffed seat and prepared for my 10-minute ride, I marveled as the buildings melted away, replaced by the farms and outlands of rural Lyon. Comfort overruled common sense and I decided that the lay trainman is probably drinking in the club car or selling the train schedules to some latter day Nazis who were preparing to sabotage the tracks. Vichy bastard – I hope you drown in your own soup! I figured I’d be off the train long before Mr. Conductor showed up with his leather pouch and metal puncher. My decision to let it roll (both the train and my luck on it) and freeload further down the way toward Montpellier was set. One more stop and I’d go three times further than my initially anticipated iron horse adventure. It seemed to be a repeat of my Versailles Story, without the Bernstein musical score, however.


Not 30 seconds following the train pulling away from my original destination with yours truly snuggled up in the stow away section, Casey Jones shows up, asking for my ticket. Do I feign sleep? Tell him that I only speak English? Or do I slash his throat with my Swiss Army Knife? Unfortunately, he had noticed that I was up, he probably spoke English, and there were three other witnesses on the same car, which meant I’d have to kill them too. Too bloody. I handed over my out distanced ticket and prepared to curl up in a ball to minimize the broken ribs as I was thrown from the train. Instead, the fine gentleman winked at me, punched my ticket and moved along past me as if I had my ticket indicated that I was to take this Orient Express all the way to Istanbul. Since the Fates seemed to be smiling on me, and as I am essentially greedy, I decided to stay on the train all the way to the end of the line and I alighted from the chemin de fer at Avignon, the last stop, a mere 90 kilometers from my final destination and a good 3 to 4 hours ahead of schedule. If this kept up, I’d be sharing a beer with my friend Michael Schacter in the fabled university town of Montpelier with the Mediterranean lapping at our toes in no time. Right.



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photo by: spocklogic