Vieux-Lyon is the old town, characterized by its narrow streets, tunnels that connect adjacent streets, and bouchons. What is a bouchon, you might ask?
They were described to us by the lady at the tourism office as “small restaurants which are very hot where you eat a lot of heavy food.” After visiting one, there’s really no other way to put it.
We walked around for a while looking for food (with two meals’ worth still in our backpack…we’re relentless). There were dozens of bouchons, all claiming to be a “verite bouchon lyonnaise”, but we wanted to find the least touristy, most authentic one we could. Hanna found a couple, but since we were at that magical 3 p.m. hour between lunch and dinner, it was tough to find one. The second one we went to wasn’t serving dinner, but the server told us we could go to L’Amphitryon on the corner, and that it would be open.
That was a good enough endorsement for us, and we entered the tiny, stuffy, overly decorated restaurant and were seated at a small table crammed in next to several other tables. Hanna tried to close the gap between our table and the next, but she was brutally rebuffed by the waiter. We looked around and realized that it was the only way for the waiters to get from one side of the restaurant to the other.
I’m hoping to do a review of this place soon, so I won’t say too much, but let’s just say it had…interesting…decorations. To start we had a Lyonnaise salad (poached egg, lardons) and sausage wrapped in brioche. After seeing the meal of the man next to us, we feared that we may have ordered blood sausage (there was no English on the menu), but luckily when it arrived it was the kind we’re used to, sort of like a kielbasa. Both were very good, but the sausage and brioche were the star of the entire meal. It came in a red wine sauce that was soaked up by the bread…yum.
For entrees, Hanna ordered the steak in a white wine sauce and I went with the traditional andouillette lyonnaise. Now, in America, I’ve had andouille sausage. It’s kind of spicy, but very good and I saw the similarity in the name. I saw on one of the earlier menus that andouillette was actually made of tripe, a euphemism for intestines. Hmmmm.
After some contemplation, I figured if I was in Lyon I might as well try the specialty and try to broaden my palette in the process. It arrived in the same sauce as Hanna’s, and it actually wasn’t that bad…for the first few bites.
There was something a bit off about the taste that I just couldn’t get around. It was frustrating because I know that if I had grown up eating it I would have loved it. It was just such a foreign taste that I couldn’t overcome the discomfort.
Both of our dishes came with the other star of the meal, gratin dauphinois, which is basically like scalloped potatoes but with more butter, cream, and cheese. The dish was absolutely phenomenal, to the point that Hanna literally could not stop eating them. The words “ok one more bite” were uttered a few times, to say the least.
We both went to the bathroom, but only I actually used the bathroom. Hanna went, only to return quickly with a shocked look on her face. “It’s literally a hole in the ground,” she said in disbelief. I had to see this for myself, and she wasn’t far off. It was kind of like a tall urinal that reaches the floor, but the hole at the bottom was slightly larger. I can’t possibly see how a woman is supposed to use it, but nonetheless it was designated for both sexes. Gotta love Lyon.
Afterwards, we headed to the Loumiere Museum, which is the former house of the family that invented the first motion picture camera. We saw the first ever film, “People Exiting the Factory,” which was expectedly dull but still extremely cool. To imagine that people had never seen “moving pictures” before is pretty hard to believe.
The museum was very thorough, displaying several predecessors to modern video and film cameras. My favorite was the “photo gun,” which was basically a rifle that took pictures rather than firing bullets when you pulled the trigger.
After that we headed back to the hotel and ate our food from the farmer’s market. As we laid there, stomachs full, reflecting on the day we had, only one thought could come to both of our minds: “This sure beats Paris.”
Since neither Hanna nor I knew much about Lyon, we decided to take the metro to the tourist office and ask what to do. The first thing that we asked, of course, “what’s closed because of the strike?”
The lady smiled, realizing immediately that we had just come from Paris. She said that everything was open and that they weren’t like Paris. “Things close in Paris and then people come here and complain,” she said with a smile. This was the first of many significant and pleasant differences between Paris and Lyon.
She told us to head up to Vieux-Lyon, which is the old town. Of course Hanna asked if there were any good bakeries, and she told us she wasn’t sure but that we could probably find something at the farmer’s market along the river. Did we ever.
Before crossing the river, we walked through a long line of stalls with everything from fresh fruit to fresh fish. Her eyes lit up like she had just woken up on Christmas morning. It was easily the happiest I’ve seen Hanna on the entire trip. It was around 1 p.m., so I suggested we go see some sights, then come back to get lunch.
Hanna was having none of that.
“Let’s just get the stuff now and we can eat it later!” This actually turned out to be yet another one of her brilliant ideas, as most of the stalls were closing by the time we got through the whole market.
As we decided what to get, we realized we had a problem. We had very few small euros, and then a bunch of 100s and 200s. There’s no way one of the stalls could break a bill that large, so we started counting our change. It turns out we had about 14 euros (change goes a lot farther in Europe because of the 1 and 2 euro coins).
The first stop was salami. Hanna picked one out that caught her eye, the poivre, which was covered in black peppercorns. We tried to buy one, but the proprietor (who spoke very little English) said that they were 2 for 7.50. Apparently you weren’t allowed to buy a single, so we got the “specialty” salami. Why not.
So that took a healthy chunk out of our stash, and next up was cheese. The stall had several samples out, so we tried a bunch and came across one we liked. Unfortunately, there were no prices. We saw a woman slicing the cheese, handing it out, and accepting money, so we figured we’d just hand her some money and get however much that was worth in cheese. We pointed to the cheese we wanted and pointed to the four euros in Hanna’s hand. She figured it out easily and we actually got more cheese than we had anticipated.
To finish up, we picked out a large baguette (2 euros), an apple, and some raspberries. We elected to eat lunch out (you’ll see why later) and save the food for dinner. It turned out to be lunch on the train to Geneva the next day as well. Not bad for 14 euro.
From there we took a tram up the mountain to the Cathedral at the top. It looked lovely from the outside, but there seemed to be some sort of mass going on. Not wanting to intrude, Hanna and I elected to stay outside and take a look around.
We’re sure glad we did, because immediately to the left of the Cathedral was this view.
It reminded me of Mijas in Spain, a 180 degree view of the entire city.
From there we walked down to the old Roman Theater, which was a remnant from the days when the Romans ran France (then called Gaul). It was completely outdoors with a stage at the bottom and then stone “stadium seating” all the way to the top. Apparently this provided great acoustics so that the actors could whisper and a spectator in the very top row could hear perfectly.
We got a firsthand example, as a group of schoolchildren and their teacher were playing some sort of French version of Duck-Duck-Goose just below the stage.
After that, we took the tram back down the mountain and started walking around Vieux-Lyon.
On our last day in Paris we decided to get a quick crepe to “take away” (to-go for us North Americans) from a place near our hostel. Hanna asked for two jambon, oeuf, et fromage crepes (quickly becoming our signature dish), and the guy gave us the death stare. He then looked at the “line” behind us (consisting of one other person), and started grimacing and shaking his head as if to say “hmmm, I don’t know, crepes take a long time to make…” Finally the reluctant crepe-maker gave in and produced two of the best crepes we’ve had so far.
We ate on the walkway in front of the Metro Station (all Metro stations in Paris have these weird Carnival-ride-esque signs in front…
very creepy at night), and about halfway through our crepes we noticed some suspicious behavior. This guy walked by and stuffed a brand-new black leather suitcase into the garbage can next to us. Having adopted the “trust no one” motto based on numerous suggestions from Hanna’s family, we were understandably concerned. Add to that the numerous terrorist attack warnings for Paris and we decided to quickly finish our crepes. We elected to throw our trash in the next available receptacle just in case it was some pressure-sensitive bomb that would go off at the softest contact from a crepe scrap wrapped in a napkin. Yes, this is actually the way we think.
So we arrived at the Paris Gare de Lyon train station at 1:00 pm hoping to catch a train to Lyon, which we were told ran pretty regularly. In four full days in Paris we got to see pretty much everything I had wanted to see and more, so we were ready to see what another part of France looked like.
Turns out we would have to wait longer than we had anticipated.
Of course, due to la greve, the next train to Lyon wasn’t until 16:54 (that’s 4:54 pm for us North Americans). Other than the delay, the activation of our Eurail Passes went surprisingly smoothly, and we officially used the first of our fifteen days of travel.
So whatever, we had to wait a couple of hours in the shady Paris train station, sitting on the freezing cold floor and eluding highly aggressive French bums who, when we told them we didn’t speak French, offered us the universal sign of two hands in the cupped formation. We got on the train in our first class seats (ooh la la!) and rode in extremely comfortable fashion towards Lyon.
When we got there, finding our hotel was extremely easy (we found a proper hotel for 44 euros, about half of what we paid per night in the HOSTEL in Paris…ridiculous), and we were introduced to the Paris Metro’s cleaner, more pleasant cousin, the Lyon Metro.
We checked in to find our bed unmade and towels strewn about the bathroom. “Um, front desk, I’m pretty sure there’s somebody still staying in our room.” The receptionist apologized and gave us a new, freshly prepared room, we unloaded our stuff, and went in search for food.
We walked up a street that had plenty of stores and restaurants, however most of them were ferme (a word we got to know very well in Paris…it means “closed”). We figured it was because it was late, but then we checked our watch and saw that it was 8:30 pm! I guess the part of Lyon in which we stayed is more of a business area and stuff shuts down early there.
Lucky for us, we found a terrific Middle Eastern take-out place down the street (it seemed to be a highly Muslim area of town), and we were treated to the best shwarma and kofti we’ve ever had.
This was a great introduction to the self-proclaimed “food capital of the world.” The next day would do even more to support that claim.