Let’s rewind for a second. It’s 2005, and I haven’t quite grasped how to use a hair straightener or bottom eye liner or how to stop my five-year-old brother from running into my sleepovers. I’ve just moved from Maryland to Virginia and am desperately seeking friends. Any friends (and/or kittens…which is half of the reason why my mom now has four cats). Boy, did I get lucky.
Remember Katie? I talk about her a lot. She was also new to school that year, also making new friends, and welcomed me into her heart/family. I wedged myself in juuuust enough that none of them could ever get me out.
This brings us to this weekend, 2015, nine and a half years (!) since Katie and I met. Katie’s aunt Lala lives in Italy and emailed me asking if I wanted to meet her somewhere for Valentine’s Day weekend. Obviously, yes. We headed off to Lyon for what I think is the definition of the blink of an eye, and ate (and drank) our hearts out…because what else would you do in France’s gastronomic capital?
The last time I was in Lyon, it was an absolute zoo because of the Fête des Lumières. I’m not exaggerating. Someone was probably at the fête one year when they came up with the phrase “packed like sardines.” Alas, this meant my bouchon experience became a kebab and my “easiest” mode of transportation was my feet. Those who have been to Lyon and know that Croix Rousse is at the top of thousands of stairs can start laughing at me…..now.
This time, I got to see Lyon beyond the screen-covered Hôtel de Ville and ferris wheel. We were able to do a lot more than we thought – resulting in some very tired air and train passengers Sunday afternoon. Lala tried frog legs; I discovered my new favorite museum in France (hint: it involves puppets). We both stood within inches of Côtes du Rhône vines, courtesy of Uncle Matt, that had just been pruned for this year’s harvest (hint Helen & Jon this is your incentive AHEM). It was a busy, almost overtly French-filled weekend, and I wish I could take all the cheese and bread in France to Lala when I go to Italy in two weeks. It’s another weekend to file under “who you’re with matters way more than where you are,” because I think without Lala I wouldn’t have enjoyed Lyon nearly as much.
As for the food, what a treat it was to be surrounded by so many Michelin-ranked restaurants. Aix doesn’t really have very good restaurants, which makes it so easy to stay at home and eat avocados and pasta and Nutella night after night (not all together, of course). But Lyon is a whole new ball game, with streets lined with restaurants and the traditional bouchon being on every tourist’s checklist. We ended up at two un-traditional bouchon restaurants – one on Rue de Marrioniers and one in Vieux Lyon – though still delicious and filled with just as much heavy cream.
Lyon is sandwiched between Beaujolais in the north and Côtes du Rhône in the south, so we headed toward Avignon for some syrah and viognier on Saturday. Our tour guide, Olivier, took us through Vienne and the Côtes du Rhône region with Joel from New Jersey (the alternate title for this post was “Drinking with Cats and Joel”). We stopped at Notre Dame de Pipet on the way for a view of the whole city of Vienne.
The most incredible part for me was to see all of the stacked vines covering steep mountains in Rhône valley – then realizing all of the grapes are picked by hand. Owning a vignoble in the south of France sounds romantic, until you realize it’s you who has to climb a mountain everyday without a machine to help you.
For fellow travelers? I would say the “must-see” neighborhoods of Lyon are Vieux Lyon, Bellecour, Croix Rousse, and Hôtel de Ville – manageable if you only have two days to explore.
Definitely go to Notre Dame de Fourvière (you may be tempted to climb…don’t) for the best view of the city, La Maison des Canuts (and, if you can, walk though the traboules! we didn’t have time), and Le Petit Musée Fantastique de Guignol, a two-story museum of guignols set to the music of the classical French puppets singing about Beaujolais. The museums are both small and only took about twenty minutes each to get through. The city has many other museums if you have more time. Above all, mangez bien et alllllllez!
Have you been to Lyon? What were your favorite parts of the city? ♦