Although I’ve been in the Paris airport multiple times, as it’s a major hub for Delta, I’d never been to France until last May. Kater and I planned a trip to Switzerland in between her trip to France and Italy, but a few weeks before we left, we decided I would meet her in Lyon, France instead of Geneva, Switzerland as originally planned. This would be my first chance to set foot on French soil.
I landed in Geneva and easily took the free train from the airport station to the regular Geneva station. I didn’t buy my ticket for Lyon in advance, in case I was late for whatever reason. The conductor standing outside the train told me I could buy a ticket once I was on board. What he didn’t tell me was that neither of my credit cards would work in his handheld machine and he would not take Swiss Francs. I mistakenly hadn’t obtained any Euros for the trip, thinking I would only be in France for a day and if we needed to use cash, that Kater would be able to foot the bill. So for about twenty minutes, I thought I was going to get kicked off the train in some small town in Southern France and have to work on a farm for a few days to earn enough Euros to take the train back to meet up with Kater. Luckily, the conductor found someone in first class who had enough Euros and had some interest in exchanging them for my Swiss Francs.
When I arrived in Lyon, Kater and I met up immediately at the train station and I breathed a sigh of relief after my stressful train ride. We walked to our Airbnb and settled in a little bit before heading out for the day, knowing that we’d be staying out until we came back to sleep. Soon enough, we walked toward the center of town, along the beautiful river with the coolest trees ever lining the banks. Looking around me, it was exactly what I thought France should look like – renaissance buildings, hundreds of bridges, dramatic statues, cafés, and a random carousel here and there. Oh, and puppets. Lots of creepy puppets.
The first thing we had to do was eat because we were le hungry. Our timing was a little off as it was after lunch, before dinner. We stopped in many places only to find out that they were not serving food. Right when we thought we couldn’t walk any further without sustenance, we finally found a spot along the river that would serve us drinks and a nearby market that was just closing up. We ran over to the market and basically asked them to give us whatever they had left that they hadn’t already packed away and ended up with a soft cheese, some salami, and a baguette. Not a bad haul. We didn’t have a knife so we had to ask some biker dude if we could borrow his since the waiter told us they didn’t have any (no doubt, chuckling to himself about ‘dumb American girls’ at the same time). A restaurant without knives? Come on, garçon.
Lyon felt more like a relaxing city than a “we need to see everything!” city, but there still were sights to be seen. Kater had been there a few days but hadn’t yet been on top of Fourvière Hill, so we took the funicular up. The Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière was beautiful but under repair and covered slightly. It had been visited by my mom’s favorite pope back in the day. The view of the city from atop the hill was even more beautiful than the church. Seeing cities from their high points is one of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling, and this trip up high was made easy with the funicular (unlike my climbs in Florence and Belgium).
Cathédrale Saint-John-Baptiste was also on our list, which was a fascinating site mostly because of the ruins of another church from the 6th century that stand on the grounds of the current church, completed in 1476. Children were playing soccer and people were picnicking under the arches that still stand.
From there we went back to relaxing at a nearby cafe where we ordered Leffes the size of our heads and had this incredible interaction from a table nearby: Them – “You speak French?” Us – “No.” Them – “Goodbye.” This trip was months before I started my Fluent City French lessons. Who knows what could have happened that night had we spoken the right language.
For dinner I had the best pasta carbonara I’ve ever had (including in Italy), but I have tried about 300 times to find the name of the restaurant and it’s 100% impossible. All I know is that we ate outdoors, and it’s somewhere within a few blocks of the Smoking Dog, where we spent the rest of the evening. Both the restaurant and the Smoking Dog are in the Vieux Lyon section of town, which is the historic, traffic-free, renaissance district with tiny passageways called traboules connecting the slightly larger but still tiny streets.
At the Smoking Dog, we found good beer, great tunes, and some fun Brits. Kater and I were in charge of the music for a little bit (and played John Denver, obvs). We spent the night laughing with the Brits as we imitated each other’s accents, watched them throw each other’s shoes on the roof, and made eyeglasses out of drinking straws for them as a sign of friendship.
I’d be Lyon if I said that I’d had enough of France in my short day there. Paris, how’s about you + me get together within the next 365?