On Monday, we took a train just an hour and a half south for a day trip to Aix-en-Provence, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region of France. One of my favorite things about visiting Europe is that I get to see many of things I learned about in my six years of studying Latin in high school. I first learned about Aix, as it is nicknamed, as the Roman city of Aquae Sextiae, founded in 123 BC after a heated battle by the Romans against the Teutones and Cimbri, two prominent Germanic tribes. The city is geographically positioned practically on the Mediterranean coast, a stone’s throw from Marseille, and about 300 kilometers directly south of Lyon. We’ve been in Lyon for nearly a month now, so it was about time we got to see another part of France!
We boarded a TGV train at Lyon Perrache that left the city at the hazy grey hour of 6 am. We couldn’t really sleep very well, as the morning sun only got brighter on our journey down to Aix. Fortunately, I had given up on sleep and was raptly gazing out the window when we went past the Roquefavour aqueduct, which looks absolutely amazing, and managed to grab a non-blurry photo! It’s neat, though not quite as impressive as the Pont du Gard aqueduct, but we may get to see that! Next, we took a bus from the Aix-en-Provence TGV station into town, and set off on a long rambling walk around the city.
Last week, we welcomed our first visitors to Lyon. My friend Kat, who graduated a few years after me from our alma mater, has been doing her masters in journalism in Paris. Out of the (somewhat) blue, she messaged me to say that her mother was visiting her, and wanted to see another city in France. Was that couch of ours still available? Of course it was! We had a great two days hanging out with Kat and her mother Michelle and took the chance to see one of the parts of Lyon that we hadn’t yet visited.
Here’s Lyonnais Geography and History 101: the city of Lyon is divided by two rivers, which flow from the north and merge together in the south. On the east is the Rhône River, and we live on its east bank, right next to Parc de la Tête d’Or. In the middle of the two rivers is the hill of Croix-Rousse and Presqu’île. To the west runs the Saône, and on its west bank that (in other words, clear on the other side of the city from us) is Vieux-Lyon and the hill of Fourvière. (If you are super confused about this geography, check out this map of Lyon.) The two hills of Fourvière and Croix-Rousse are historically (and respectively) contrasted as the hill that prays and the hill that works, because Fourvière is home to the Basilica of Fourvière, and Croix-Rousse was home to the silk workers who made this city an industrial center of their trade in the 19th century. Fourvière is coincidentally also where the oldest part of Lyon can be found, the remains of the town of Lugdunum, capital of the Roman province of Gaul (modern-day France). And if you ever took more than three years of Latin, you will know that Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.
Every morning in Lyon, we wake up later and later. In Croatia, I was merrily out of bed before 8 am pretty much every day; one morning I even trod down to the market a mile away at 6:30 am. All of that has slowly crumbled with the advent of late evenings in Lyon with wine and TV. Usually around 10 am or so, I stumble out of our bedroom alcove to find Steve already cheerfully programming away. For my part, I put on the kettle and make myself a cup of thé agrume (citrus tea), which helps me wake up a little. Sometime after communing with the Internet for an hour or two, I shower and make brunch.
For our first week or two, we were regularly downstairs in the morning, going for a ramble in the Parc de la Tête d’Or or down to Gare Part-Dieu to buy a newspaper. We perused the local shops and patisseries for a pain chocolat (my usual) or a croissant aux amandes (croissant with almonds), which is (and goes well with) Steve’s cup of tea. Now, that’s proven a little harder, but we still make our routine trips to the patisserie while shopping for dinner. Mealtimes are pretty simple. I usually whip up something like grilled zucchini sandwiches, or a thick soup with lentil and sausages, or a pasta dish, and we watch the Colbert Report before Steve does the washing up. The afternoons drift by while I practice watercolors, read and take notes on microeconomics, and write blog posts. Steve programs, always. And yes, we buy fresh baguettes every day.Continue reading La vie quotidienne à Lyon.→
It has been five days since we got into Lyon, and we are slowly beginning to learn this French city, walking the hills, crossing the rivers, accustoming our ears to the language, and memorizing the street names.
Our apartment is located in the 6th arrondisement, on the very edge of the upper northeastern corner of Lyon. Our street is bare meters from the dividing line that marks the beginning of Villeurbanne, a neighboring city to our north and east. Some parts of Villeurbanne are distinctly different — three blocks to our north begins the quartier Tonkin, which is some sort of suburban housing development from the ’60s and ’70s. The large apartment buildings resemble ones I’ve seen in China, but with much more geometric, artistic, and interesting architecture.
The Tonkin complex has within a hospital, an elementary school, and some large playgrounds. It really has a flavor of its own, and we really enjoy wandering around this part of town. There is also a large Muslim population in nearby Villeurbanne, which comes out not only in the populace, quite a few of whom wear headscarves, but also in the streetfront kebab restaurants which hang “Hallal” signs above their shop. Due to the May 1 (Labor Day) holiday, many normal restaurants were closed, and as a matter of last recourse, we visited twice a place with I got pretty decent kebab sandwiches (for 4.5 euro, the normal price). Steve ordered a “taco au choix” with steak, which turned out to be a thick burrito with steak, vegetables, and fries inside. Continue reading Promenades en Lyon.→
Written on the road Terminal 2, Charles-de-Gaulle Airport
Thursday, May 1, 2014
We have hours and hours to kill on our first day in France. We left Croatia before the dawn had roused anyone into the streets, but still there was an incredibly taxing line at the airport. However, a mere hour and a half later, we landed in Paris at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Terminal 1. Though old, it is very picturesque, a circular concrete structure four stories tall, hollow in its very center and transfixed through by two or three elevators which are encased in large plastic tubes.
Our train on the TGV to Lyon is at the deplorably late hour of 5:58 pm or 17h58, as I may well get into the habit of thinking. We arrived in Paris at 10:30 am. Even after going through immigration (which took a blessedly brief 15 seconds) and getting our luggage, it was barely 11 am, and we lounged around in comfortable white armchairs for an hour or so before exiting to take a shuttle to Terminal 2, where the TGV station is also located. We also paused to exchange the bulk of the rest of our kuna. The currency exchange was buying our kuna at the soul-crushing price of 8.68 kuna to the euro, which meant that our formidable looking 880 kuna came back to us just short of 100 euro, given the 6.5% commission rate they charged. Rats. Looking at the change in our hand and well aware of how much things were going to start costing us in France, we trudged onward. Continue reading Enfin, la France!→