Sunday, December 16, 2012

from one place to another

Fourteen hours. That's all Milan gets from me this time. I eat an early morning breakfast at the hotel and think yet again how lucky it is that I finally found a place that I like here (Milan is often a good and economical entry point to this part of Europe and public transportation to and from the airport is fantastic and cheap). I'm at the stately but not too large Gran Duca di York. If you book way ahead, you can snag one of their lovely single rooms for 80 Euros -- that's $100, with a huge breakfast buffet and free Internet. Where in the States can you do that well in a major city? (There is also a 3 Euro city tax added: the Italians treat that separately on the bill and they always apologize profusely for its addition. As if to say it's not their fault, they had nothing to do with it.)

I have an 8:50 train out of Garibaldi Station. I know where the station is, but I can't quite estimate the distance. How long to walk there? I ask. Oh, twenty minutes. That damned (or charming, depending on the situation) Italian wishful thinking! I do add some minutes for comfort. Setting out more or less at 8 ought to do it.

I didn't factor in the snow.

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Sometimes you can pull a suitcase through it. Sometimes.

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(Ocean author)

I'm hurrying, really I am, but it's not easy.

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I don't care about the stuff that's still coming down and soaking my cap and backpack. I care that I have to carry my baby case for stretches on end. It slows me down.

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I cannot miss this train. There are only two to central France and the other one is very very late. And I don't have a ticket for that one. I have a ticket, purchased on the Internet, for the early one. Oh, Italy, is it because you don't have Tort lawsuits that you don't fuss with snow covered sidewalks? I mean, I know it will melt soon, or not so soon, yes and my boots appreciate the absence of salt, but it does create interesting challenges who those who want to navigate on foot. Especially on foot with a carry on, which right now has to be carried like a baby.

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I run the last blocks. I read somewhere that one country is disallowing passangers from boarding bullet trains in the final five, or is it ten minutes.

Luckily, that country is not Italy.

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As always, the train ride is smooth and comfortable and breathtakingly beautiful (we go from a Siberia-like winters scape to sunshine in the Alps)...


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...and there are plugs for laptops even in the cheap seats and my only worry is that I'll fall asleep and forget to change where I must change -- in Chambry. I'm not heading to Paris yet. Since Ed is not with me, I decided to stop first at Lyon. I don't think I've ever been there. So, two nights in Lyon. Followed by two nights in Paris, then home.


Or maybe not. Within several hours of walking the city of Lyon, I conclude the following:

1. Lyon is very much underrated. Decades ago, Americans (those with burning palates) used to come here for the good French food (Paul Bocuse!), but these days, I suppose there's good French food in all major cities of the world (and not only in cities). So you don't see many overseas tourists here on a December afternoon.  Lyon could well lure some more!

2. But being in a major French city makes me realize that I miss Paris. I did a major walk through the city, I combed hills, entered churches, I ate crepes and watched a ferris wheel and now that I've eaten my vegetables, can I please have my Paris?

So rearrange everything. Paris it shall be. Three nights, not two.

But first, let me get back to my earlier point: Lyon is beautiful! And it's helped by a late afternoon sun (and temps at 11 C, that would be around 50, no?) and a sense of pre holiday contentment as everyone pours out on the streets and squares celebrating… life.

Lyon is where the two mighty rivers merge -- the Rhone…

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… and the Saone.

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And the rivers cut the city into three parts: the new, the old and the super old (roughly speaking). The new is a hodgepodge of this and that, but not uncharming (and not especially modern) in places.

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The old is, as the Tourist Office person tells me -- where all the good stores are! But also the grand squares with a holiday ferris wheel and crowds of happy, untouched by violence families.

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Oh, let's not forget the motorcycle rally -- all riders dressed in some form of Santa garb.

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As for stores -- I'm not shopping (yet). I have some suitcase hauling to do. I don't want to cary stuff over and beyond that. But, I enjoy the displays. Especially -- yes, especially foods. Yule logs, glazed fruits and the ever popular here macaroons.

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And I cross the second river, the Saone, which puts me in the oldest part of Lyon and there's a lot to see and admire here as well, but I get distracted by a young band…

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(I'm not the only one who is fixated on their energetic music!)

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…and then I decide to do the quick run up by the funicular to the top of the hill where Lyon's Sacre Coeur stands, golden and beautiful in the setting sun…

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(and Lyon even has its small Eiffel Tower, or at least a look alike model of one)

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And from the top of this hill you can gaze down at the city and doing this at sunset is fantastic!

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I'm going to include a closeup of the rooftops in the old old town, because the chimneys are uniquely pretty, even though I have to shoot through brush halfway up the hill, hence the odd blurs of twigs in the photo.

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And now I'm down the hill, walking through these lovely old and cobbled streets...

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...peeking into storefronts (it's not all about wine here: this one specializes in craft beers)...

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...In this gallery, someone is giving a class on painting still life:

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…and after passing some half dozen street crepe sellers, I finally given in and have one, too, for the road.

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Alright. Back across the Saone...

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... to the older but not super old part of town. Where the ferris wheel is. Blazing with light now (do you see the sliver of a moon to the right?).

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I really wanted to take a break somewhere, but I'd wandered so far away from where I'm staying that I felt there wasn't time. I had a dinner reservation at 8 and that was so very hard to secure. My b&b hosts called every favorite place in town and everything seemed to be booked solid. I know this about the French: they especially love to eat out in the week before a big holiday. Christmas is coming? Excellent! Let's eat out in anticipation of all the good food that's to come! The only place that had a table for me was a huge Brasserie, called Leon. And I mean huge. I had my doubts, but my hosts, Denis and Michel vouched for it and they were right.

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I had to have the salad Lyonaise! Ed and I always order that in our favorite Madison venue, Brasserie V. Let's compare:

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Quite good! (But so is the one in Madison.)

Onto the second course -- scallops in a sauce with artichokes and leeks. Now that was really exceptional.

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Truly a memorable meal. The Leon de Lyon is a bit of a hike from my b&b (maybe 45 minutes), but it's a beautiful evening and I cannot ever have enough of walking anyway in these European cities. And this one has the feel of France. Here, note three things in this photo that shout "France!":

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(the dogs, the city bikes and the carousel)

At home, I check the internet rates for my Paris hotel. Still good! In the morning I'll switch my rail tickets.

And let me say a good word for my wonderful Lyon hosts, Michel and Denis, who run the memorable, modern and delightful b&b -- Loft Vintage Lyon. I didn't take many photos, but you're curious you can see their unique modern art collection on the website. They didn't have to release me from the second night's charge (I offered to pay -- the terms clearly state that cancellations are honored if made before 48 hours), but they did insisted on releasing me, with a smile and a wave.

So I'll have just Sunday morning left in Lyon (for a total of 23 hours!). And I know exactly what I still want to see here. (Find out tomorrow!)