Sunday, August 13, 2006

Paris, Thanks

27 Novembre, 2005 - We had planned to have Thanksgiving dinner with Robb's niece, Wendy, but Wednesday night, Geoff was at our place drinking a bit of the juice of the grape. He mentioned that he was going to Paris on Thanksgiving. Then, almost like thinking aloud, he said it was too bad we couldn't go with him because we know our way around Paris. Then he mentioned something about getting us into business class (which used to be first class) and before we knew it, we were booking the flight.

Geoff had said we could stay in his room, but we didn't think that was such a good idea, because if he had been caught smuggling us in, it could have resulted in very bad circumstances for him. I got up Thursday morning and booked a room for Robb and me at the same hotel the airline uses (Sofitel Paris Forum Rive Gauche in Montparnasse).

So on Thanksgiving evening (6:00 PM) we flew to Paris.

We arrived Friday morning around 9:00 AM Paris time (3:00 AM US time). Robb and I took just a carry-on bag with one change of clothes, so we only had to clear immigration and leave the terminal. Goeff, of course, was taken to the hotel in the employee shuttle. Robb and I decided instead of a taxi, we would take the RER since we had only one little bag each (The RER is a train that runs through the city and goes to some of the outlying areas like Versailles and the airport. There are five lines in Paris, the "B" line is the one that goes to the airport.) . I had been wanting to do that for a long time. It was really neat. Just as we approached the outskirts of the city, Sacre Coeur appeared in all its glory. What a beautiful site on a clear, crisp morning! I had checked the weather on the internet before leaving and snow had been predicted. Although it was very cold, it did not snow.

We got off at the Denfert-Rochereau stop and walked down Boulevard St. Jacques to the hotel. It was really, really cold. As you know, we were here for Christmas and the New Year one time, but it wasn't as cold then as it was today. Still, it's Paris! It wasn't that far to the hotel from the RER station and once there, we signed in, prepaid our room, got our key and went up to our room on the sixth floor (seventh floor in the US). It was an interesting turn of events, because we were in 655 and Geoff was in 628 at the opposite end of the building. He had a great northern view while we had a view of another section of the building. We cleaned up a bit and walked down to Geoff's room.

We spent a while discussing what we wanted to do and it was decided that we wanted to go to a nice store to buy some wine and other stuff to bring back with us. We also wanted to go to lunch in a real french place. We decided to have lunch at a nice little bistro that I knew on Avenue d'Italie,
Le Canon de Tolbiac. From the bistro, we could walk down the street to Monoprix, a large super market/department store. The Glaciére métro stop was only about a block from the hotel. We took the line 6 to Place d'Italie where we got the line 7 to Tolbiac. At the bistro, we had moules et frites (mussels and fries). There's something about the way they make fries in France. I think it's because they use fresh, real potatoes. Robb and I drank wine, Geoff had a french beer. We walked down to Monoprix, stopping to check out a few places on the way. In Monoprix, we bought some wine, some tea and some chocolate. We made our way back to the métro and rode back to the hotel. We were all pretty tired after the long flight and the shopping trip, so we decided to get some sleep before deciding where to go for dinner.

After a nice, but short nap, Robb and I showered, dressed and walked down to Geoff's room. Originally, we had thought that we might go to one of the oriental restaurants on Avenue de Choisy, but it was so cold that none of us wanted to walk that far. We decided to check out the area around the hotel. There was a restaurant in the hotel, which I thought looked great, but neither Robb nor Geoff wanted to go there. There was a pizza place right next door (although pizza was their speciality, they did have regular stuff also). We walked a bit further and found a really nice looking Italian restaurant and went in. The owner actually was Italian. I had Penne alla Arrabiata (lord it was spicy), Robb had Veal Marsala and Geoff had the Viande Plat du Jour. Everything was great. Robb and I ordered a bottle of Italian wine and, again, Geoff had a beer. Desert was Panna Cotta for the three of us. Robb and I finished with our usual café noir.

We walked back to the hotel. Geoff wanted to go the the airline crew room and check on the number of available slots for tomorrow's flight back to Miami, but when we got there, there were only two computers. One was tied up for quite a while and the other was not working. Since we couldn't use the computer, we decided to spend the rest of our time in Nellie's bar. It was nice, but it was all I could do to keep my eyes open and we finally called it a night around midnight.

Saturday morning, I woke up, looked at the clock and let out a shout. The alarm had not gone off and we were forty-five minutes late getting up. Somehow, we managed to get ourselves ready and got a taxi to the airport only twelve minutes later than we had planned. It was total pandemonium in the aiport. I've never seen so many people in one place. To make matters worse, the airline ticket counters were not clearly marked like they are in most airports, so we had to look for little signs to know where we were. We finally got our boarding pass and made our way to the security check point. Our plane was to begin boarding at 10:35, at which time we were still in a long line waiting to be checked. But the security check point is near a window and I saw that it had begun to snow pretty hard. The last time that happened in Paris, the flight was delayed by seven hours. This time, it was only four hours. It was an extremely bumpy ride. But thanks to the lovely stewardesses and several glasses of champagne, it was a good flight.

We arrived in Miami at 9:00 PM, five hours later than scheduled. We got through passport control and customs in pretty good time and met Geoff just at the door from customs to the transportation lobby. We all boarded the employee bus and rode to the parking lot to Geoff's car. We were home by 10:00.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lyon - City Beautiful

12/13 Septembre, 2005 - Once again, we started with Geoff driving us to the Tri-Rail station in Fort Lauderdale, where we waited for the train that would take us to the Miami Airport. Every time there was an announcement concerning the train, it indicated that it was delayed even later than the previous announcement. We were beginning to wonder if it was going to arrive at all. Of course, it did and we were on our way.

I know we said we would never fly out of Miami again, but the alternative was even worse. We would have to leave Fort Lauderdale, fly to Memphis, Tennessee, then to Amsterdam (where we would have had a four or five hour layover - which would not have been so bad), fly to Paris where, finally, we would have gotten a flight to Lyon. Since we flew out of Miami, we went directly to Paris, where we got a connecting flight to Lyon which took all of fifty-two minutes. The flight to Paris was further enhanced since we were seated next to another gay guy. Joe McGuiness and his partner, Nick Campbell, have been together for thirty-seven years! They live in Delray Beach, Florida. They always get side-by-side aisle seats so that they can get to the toilets easily. I thought that was kind of funny. Joe was an excellent traveling companion (we didn't speak that much with Nick).

Luckily for us, after we got to Paris, we had over an hour to get the connecting flight to Lyon, and we didn't have to schlep our bags to customs or anything (they went straight through to Lyon) which made for a much more relaxed connection. The flight to Lyon was very short and pleasant. Paris was cloudy and somewhat dismal when we left. Lyon was sunny, warm and lovely when we arrived at
L'Aéroport Lyon-St. Exupéry . We got a taxi to the city. The driver, Assiza, was really great and we had a wonderful conversation during the entire trip, which took a while (it was over twenty-five kilometers to the city). He told us that we had arrived on the day that the Lyon soccer team would take on the Spanish team for the right to move ahead in their quest for the European title. He was very excited about the match since he had tickets to the game, which was being played at
le Stade de Gerland in the south of the city.

We arrived at the
apartment (click on Le Saxe) around noon. It was lovely and very clean, but was a lot smaller than we ever imagined. Still, it is situated conveniently to most of the major attractions of Lyon.

Needless to say, we were really tired by the time we got there. Our hostess,
Madame Marie-Genevieve Gonard-Ramés, was quite cordial and even went so far as to present us with an afternoon dejeuner of ham, cheese and bread. It was excellent, of course, and greatly appreciated.

Even though we were really tired, we decided to walk to
La Part-Dieu (a huge three-story shopping mall with over 250 stores) because we had decided before we left the States, that we would buy our toilet stuff (toothpaste, shaving cream, etc.) in Lyon. We also wanted to get some wine, coffee, milk and other goodies. Being the total tourist, I thought we should first check out a couple of things (a park and the river Rhône, which were only a couple blocks from us) and then we could walk the fifteen or so blocks to the shopping center. It was so exciting to see, in person, things that I had been viewing on webcam and in pictures.

When we got to the
mall, it was surprisingly large, even though Assiza had told us how big it was (which I kind of knew from the web pics). We started at a pharmacie, but thought their prices were a bit high, and opted to go to Carrefour (a HUGE market where you can buy almost anything you might need). Imagine a large supermarket. Now imagine another floor to that market where you can buy appliances, TV's, clothing, hardware supplies, CD's. DVD's, etc. That's Carrefour! We got everything we wanted and a few things beyond that. We bought a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape that had cost us almost a hundred bucks in Fort Lauderdale, for less than €14 (about $18). We stocked up on grocery stuff (coffee, sugar, milk, cheese, paté, etc.). By the time we had finished shopping and looking for a taxi, we were totally exhausted. We returned to the apartment, poured some wine and just chilled for several hours.

Around seven or so, we decided we could just go out for a short walk to the river and then come back and hang out till bedtime. It didn't quite work out that way. When we got to the river, the
Opéra and Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) were just on the other side, so I suggested we should at least have a quick look since it was so close. The problem was that the further we walked, the further we wanted to walk and the more we wanted to see. We ended up walking all the way to Bellecour , a large square in the center of the city, where we found, quite to our surprise, there was a huge-screen telecast of the soccer match and several hundred people (mostly cute young guys) watching and cheering every move that Team Lyon made. Lyon won the match 3-0. Soccer is the most important, most attended sport in Europe, so you can imagine the carryings-on when the match was over.

Afterwards, we walked along the
Rhône and made our way back to the apartment.
14 Septembre - Robb slept soundly, but I barely got a couple of hours all night. Madame Christel Micha called and stated that she would like to drop by around six, so we just went for a short walk around the neighborhood. Mme Micha was the person through whom I had made all the arrangements for renting the apartment. Originally, we intended to rent from her (she has two very nice apartments in another section of the city), but for various reasons, she hooked us up with a friend (Mme Marie-Genevieve Gonard-Ramés) and we rented from her instead. During our short walk we discovered a really nice little grocery (Le Petit Casino) just a block from the apartment, where we purchased a few items. Then, we found a Nicolas wine shop just across the street from the apartment, and we bought several bottles of wine (including, to my great surprise, a bottle of Australian Yellowtail Shiraz).

Typically French,
Mme Micha showed up closer to 6:30 than 6:00. She is a very friendly, charming woman. She brought her 10-year-old daughter because she thought she spoke better English, even though we had told her that we would prefer to speak French. It turned out that her daughter was a bit shy and didn't speak English all that well. Mme Micha, on the other hand, spoke really good English. She is a part-time antique dealer. Her husband is an engineer and was in Algiers, from where he was returning this same evening at seven. Even so, she did not leave until after seven to pick him up. But we had time for a nice chat and she promised to return tomorrow with a local events book (le Petit Paume). After she left, we drank a little wine and walked to Presqu'íle (the section of Lyon located between the two rivers) for dinner at L'Entrecôte. It was excellent, of course. .

The TV in the apartment is very small (maybe a 15 inch screen) and has only three stations, one of which seems to re-broadcast the same shows everyday . There is a radio in the dining room/living room on which there are many stations, though they don't seem to come in too good. We finally found a classical station that, so far, seems to be coming in well.
15 Septembre - We both had trouble sleeping last night and are tired as hell. Mme Micha returned with the tourist book she had promised us and then left to take in an antique show.

We have noticed that there isn't as much traffic as in Paris and the drivers don't seem to drive so frantically here.

We went to the computer store across the street to see if I could get a European cord for the charger for my laptop, but they didn't have the one I needed. The salesman, an extremely good looking guy, sent us to another place that repairs and sells computers. It was quite the long walk but we finally got there. They too, did not have the cord I need but said they could order it and I would have it in one or two days. I agreed to that arrangement and we left. The guy at the computer repair place was exceptionally handsome, also. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating, I've never seen so many really
good-looking guys as I see every time we go to France.

Since it was one of our goals in Lyon to ride the
métro, the tram and the bus, we walked down to the métro
station and rode to Perrache, a train station in the southern section of Presqu'ile, where we would connect with the tram. While in the station, we both got a métro pass good for the entire time we are here, as many times as we want to ride. Of course, it's also valid on the tram and the bus. I had mentioned to Robb that I would like to ride the tram all the way to the end of the line, just for the hell of it. Well, it turned out that we had gotten on the wrong tram (there are only two lines, until a third is added in 2006), so we had no choice but to ride to the end of the line and then return to the tram stop where we could get the métro. But it was a wonderful experience and we even got to see the mountains that surround the city. Lyon is a very pretty city in a very pretty setting.

Back at
La Part-Dieu, we went to Carrefour, where we stocked up on a bunch of stuff. I bought a Braun electric razor. We went to Armand Thierry where we both bought a pair of jeans (not denim). Then we both got a sweater, but different kinds. I like Robb's better than mine, but they didn't have it in my size. We checked out the stuff at a lot of other stores but didn't buy anything.

Around nine-ish, we went next door to the
Grand Café de Geneve for dinner (the doorway just to the left of the café is the front entrance to the apartment courtyard). We had a really cute, friendly waiter, named Jean. Since we had heard so much about Lyonnaise cuisine, we decided to order only Lyonnaise dishes. We started with Salade Lyonnaise, without question, the best salad I have ever had. That was followed by breaded, pan-fried Tripe in a delicious morille sauce. Tripe, for those unfamiliar, is the stomach lining of a cow. Desert was a Lyonnaise fromage blanc (white cheese) dish. We drank Cote du Rhône (of course, since Lyon is practically in the middle of the Cote du Rhône region). And how could we not end dinner with a café noir? Everything was exceptional. Robb and I were a little hesitant with the tripe, but once we got our first taste, it was fine. Tripe doesn't seem to have much of a taste of its own, so basically we were just enjoying the lovely morille sauce.

After dinner, we walked a few blocks around the neighborhood and then returned to the apartment and bed. Sleeping was difficult. We had the windows open because it was rather warm-ish (AC seems to be a rarely used convenience in Europe), and the place quickly filled up with mosquitoes after the sun went down.
16 Septembre - This morning, we mentioned that we were unable to sleep because of the mosquitoes. It happens that there is a device which uses something that looks like a deodorant strip for a room deodorizer, that not only kills mosquitoes, but somehow prevents them from even entering the place. I was skeptical when Mme Micha told me about it, but it really does work, so we don't have to worry about mosquitoes any more.

On the advice of
Mme Micha, we walked down to Cours Franklin Roosevelt and followed that until we arrived at Cave Vavro, a wine store. Since it was after noon, it was closed. We quickly discovered that during the period between noon and two (three for some places), everything is closed for lunch. So we continued down the avenue and came upon Cafe Kleber, where we stopped for lunch. We bided our time until the stores were open again and then checked out the wine store. It was nice, but not as special as Mme Micha had made it out to be.

Due to the lack of sleep for the past couple of nights, I needed to nap for awhile. And did for several hours.

We were going to eat again at
Grand Café de Geneve, but when we got there, they were closing the kitchen, and since we would have been the only two eating, they would not re-open it. Jean, apologized profusely, and recommended a place on Cours Franklin Roosevelt called Le Théodor, so we went there. It had rained lightly while we were walking to Le Théodor and the weather had taken a definite turn toward cooler by the time we left.

We returned to the apartment, drank a little wine and went to bed.
17 Septembre - The coolness of last night turned into rather cool weather, and the apartment was cold when we awoke around 10:30 or 11:00. We had coffee and took off to the computer repair place to see if they had ordered the cord for my laptop. The guy I had spoken to the first time was not there and no one else seemed to know anything about a possible order. I ended up buying a universal laptop adapter. From there we walked to La Part-Dieu. Robb had bought what he thought was shampoo but turned out to be some kind of blonde hair-coloring, so we went back to Carrefour to return it. He checked out the shampoo there and decided that in order to get something good, he would have to go to Sephora (a cosmetic store that can now be found in the US - at least, in Fort Lauderdale). Afterwards, we went to BHV where I returned the plug adapter I had bought and bought a French Press coffee maker. Then we checked out several stores looking for T-shirts and we finally got them at Foot Locker (yes, the same one).

We stopped for lunch in a really good Chinese restaurant (
Veng Hour), after which we checked out several more stores but bought nothing.

We returned to the apartment where I decided to check out my new universal adapter. It worked (hooray) for which I am really glad because I was down to only 30% power and I had only written a part of our first day. While I was doing that, Robb walked to the
pharmacie. Shortly after he returned, we were treated to a visit by Mme Gonard-Ramés. She speaks no English at all. She said she tried to learn, but it was hopeless. We have found that, unlike Paris, most people in Lyon not only speak English, but are glad for the opportunity to use what they know and the possibility of learning more. We've also discovered in our short time here, that the people of Lyon are extremely friendly and will go out of their way to help you. We found that was also true of the Parisians, in spite of what you may have heard to the contrary.

We had decided before we even left home that we would dine at the premier restaurant of the premier chef of Lyon,
Paul Bocuse. We figured it would be expensive but since we didn't plan on eating there every night and since Monsieur Bocuse is so famous, we just had to do it. The taxi picked us up around 8:30 and we drove the 5 kilometers to the restaurant. It's too bad we couldn't have made the trip during the daytime because, even at night, it was a wonderful, sight-filled experience along the river Saône. Before we even got to the restaurant, we could see there was some kind of problem on the street. Our side was open, but the other side was barricaded. There was some kind of event scheduled to take place tomorrow, but the police had already barricaded the street. Our driver could get us near the restaurant, but they wouldn't let him return the way we had come. He was just a bit upset. We had to walk a short distance to the restaurant and once we were on their grounds, were greeted by a uniformed doorman who led us to the front door. Inside, we were greeted by the maitre d' who took us to our table. It was trés élégant. All the waiters and the sommelier were dressed in tuxedoes and were all very proper. Our dinner consisted of seven courses, each one served with a certain air of arrogance, yet gracefully correct. Even though I ordered dinner, my French isn't so good that I actually knew everything I was ordering, but I figured what did it matter, whatever I ordered would be good. And it was! We were worried about getting a taxi back to the apartment, but it was really unnecessary. After dinner, the maitre d' asked if we needed a taxi and had one waiting when we left. All in all, it was an interesting experience. A VERY expensive experience, but we both felt it was worth every euro.
18 Septembre - We slept really late. It was after 1:00PM when we got out of bed. I took a shower and shaved while Robb prepared the coffee. One of the very first things we notice when we come to Europe is the difference in the taste of the coffee. It's not just the coffee itself, it's also the milk, which is a lot creamier than in the US.

I think I need to mention the "showers" in France. Some places, especially tourist hotels and some apartments where they are used to getting US/English tourists, have regular showers with which we're all familiar. Other places, like this apartment, have what I like to call a "half-shower". It is one in which you can't really stand up because there just isn't enough space and there will be water all over the room. It is like a weird
half-bathtub thing in which you have to sit and spray yourself with water. Also, there is no shower curtain, so you still get water all over the place. I hate them and if I had known that was the kind here, I probably would not have agreed to stay here. C'est la vie, n'est-ce pas?!

We had our coffee and decided to take the
métro to Bellecour. Bellecour, in addition to being a large public square, is an area of the city in which there are many things to see and a lot of stores and cafés. We checked out the area, seeing a lot of places in which we wish we could afford an apartment, but they're definitely out of our price range (probably starting at over a million euros). Then we crossed Pont Bonaparte to Vieux Lyon (the really, really touristy section of Lyon). The first place we checked out was Cathédrale St. Jean. It's bit smaller inside than it appears from the outside, but was very nice. Then we walked up rue St. Jean to the Musée International de la Miniature, where the artiste had sculpted all these miniature things. He evidently was heavily into sci-fi, since a lot of sci-fi movies were represented in miniature. He had done one of the ship from 2010 that was truly exceptional.

Afterwards, we continued our walk up
rue St. Jean, stopping at a small bistro for coffee, and then over to the Saône. We walked down to the Palais de Justice and crossed over to Presqu'ile using the Passerelle du Palais de Justice, a pedestrian-only bridge of which there are several along both the Rhône and the Saône. We walked to the Cordelier
métro station and caught the métro back to our area.

Around, 9-ish, we decided to go to
Café de Geneve for dinner, but it was closed. We went back and asked Mme Gonard-Ramés if she could recommend something nearby that might be open. She drove us to L'Entrecôte on Presqu'ile. L'Entrecôte is a strange restaurant in that they only serve one dish - steak with fries. We discovered that because, although it was good the first time we had it, we wanted something different. So we asked to see the menu, and sure enough, that was the only thing listed. Sooo, we had steak and fries.....again. Dessert was really good though. I had the Mont Blanc - vanilla ice cream topped with whipped cream and nuts. Robb's dessert was vanilla ice cream topped with pineapple slices.

We started the walk back to the apartment, but when we got to the
Opéra, we were treated to the end of a live, outdoor jazz concert. Even though it was a bit chilly, there was a good crowd. We have noticed that the street running from Hôtel de Ville down to Bellecour is where most of the action occurs in Lyon. It is always crowded and things seem to be open later there. Lyon is not a late city like Paris. Except for the "strip", most other areas seem to close by 7:30. The busses, trams and
métro run until about 12:30 (00:30 in European time - they use the twenty-four hour system mostly, so anything after 12:00 PM is easily discerned as afternoon or evening).
19 Septembre - We went to le Petit Casino to get some stuff but it was closed - all day, so we took the métro to Perrache to get the tickets for our weekend trip to Venice. We had purchased a Eurail Pass from a travel agent in Fort Lauderdale, but that is not the actual ticket. You have to go to the train station to do all that because the Eurail Pass has to be confirmed and you need to show your passport if you're not European. It was a fairly painless experience. But if you're planning to travel in Europe, forget the Eurail Pass. It's a ripoff! It costs several hundred dollars for the pass, and you still have to pay for the train tickets anyway. We saw absolutely no advantage to having it. We also learned that our train would be leaving from La Part-Dieu, and not from Perrache.

The weather, that had been a bit cooler (not cold, just cooler) has warmed up again. It is in the low to mid seventies during the day, and the mid to upper fifties at night. Perfect for me. Robb prefers it a little cooler during the day.

After, we went to
La Part-Dieu again and started buying, buying, buying. Which brings up something else we've noticed. There is supposed to be a very high unemployment rate in France, but you would never know it when you go to the shopping areas. The malls in France are always more crowded, even during the week, then we've ever seen any place in Fort Lauderdale, Miami or West Palm Beach. And they're not just window shopping, they are buying, buying, buying! Now, boys and girls, these stores are not cheap (although they are cheaper for them than for us because of the rate of exchange). One wonders where they get the money to buy all this expensive stuff. We caught a taxi back to the apartment then went across the street to Nicolas to get some wine.

We went out for dinner around 9:00. We wanted to go to
Grand Café de Geneve, but it appeared to be closed. We walked up Avenue du Maréchal de Saxe looking for something open, but found nothing. We went back to Grand Café de Geneve. Robb tried the door and it was open. He asked if they were serving and they replied that they were. Tonight, we had a waitress. She was really cute, but spoke no English. I wasn't really hungry and ordered just a Salade Lyonnais and a glass of wine (un verre du vin). Robb ordered a Chevre Chaud salade (salad with warm goat cheese), Sole with potatoes and a small bottle of white wine (une petite bouteille du vin blanc). We had barely been served, when a group of seventeen people entered. Our poor waitress was running back and forth to the bar and the kitchen the rest of the night. After we had eaten and drunk our café, because she couldn't provide the service she thought was necessary, the waitress presented us with a glass of peach brandy - on the house. It was so yummy!
20 Septembre - We arose, had our coffee and walked down to
le Petit Casino to stock up on snack stuff and assorted necessities. We also bought a bottle of champagne because we couldn't believe the price - €1.64! I needed to find a computer place because I had to email our Italian B & B the estimated time of our arrival in Venezia. I asked Mme Gonard-Ramés if she knew of a place and she stated that I could use her son's (Jean-Charles) computer after 5:00PM when he returned from school. Having gotten that sorted out, Robb and I walked down to Avenue Maréchal Foch where we stopped at the bank to get more money and then across the street to a small bistro for lunch. I wasn't hungry and just had a café. Robb had a full lunch of pork with green beans and a small bottle of wine. I tasted the green beans. Damn! they were good! It made me wish I was hungry enough to have lunch.

Then we metroed to
Cordelier because Robb wanted to go to Foot Locker and get some T-shirts. Unfortunately, that Foot Locker was closed and looked like it may not have been there for some time. We wandered around the area stopping at various places. We stopped at a store called "Jules" that we have come to like very much, and Robb bought a nice pair of jeans.

Afterwards, still in shopping mode, we wandered down a couple of the side-streets and found all kinds of really neat stores and shops. We happened to come across a Virgin Megastore (a place that sells CDs, DVDs, books, office supplies, etc.). We spent a bit of time in there. Robb bought a CD by
Patrick Bruel. Then we wandered over to St. Nizier and had a look around. St. Nizier has some beautiful stained-glass windows, but other than that, it is rather austere. Still, it was worth the effort. We had kind of made a date to go to Mme Gonard-Ramés' place to use the computer about five-ish and it was already after five, so we started the long walk back to the apartment.

When we got there, we deposited all our packages and went next door to
Madame's apartment. We rang the bell, but no one answered. Then, while we were standing there, she and her children (son Jean-Charles, 17, and daughter Marina, 15) appeared. Apparently, she had been grocery shopping. That is a very French thing. They shop for groceries almost every day because they appreciate that food tastes better when it is freshly purchased. Of course, the fact that most of the refrigerators in France are less than half the size of the average American fridge means they can't stock up like we do anyway. She asked for ten minutes to get everything put away and then she would come and get us and we would be able to use the PC. It was, of course, a bit more than ten minutes, but she did come over and summon us to use Jean-Charles' PC. I sent the email to Ca' del Pozzo and Robb transferred some money from his savings account to his checking account. Madame was preparing dinner, so we thanked her and left, but not before making a date to have a drink together either Wednesday or Thursday. We will be going to Italy on Friday and she will be leaving for a short vacation before we get back and will not return until very late the night before we leave (30 Septembre).

We went back to our place, had some wine and just chilled for a while. A little after eight, we set out looking for a place to have dinner. After walking a bit, we found a Persian restaurant (
L'Iranica de Lyon) and went in. We were the only customers in the place. The owner had a cool sense of humor, and when we asked where he would like us to sit, pointed to every section of the restaurant and told us we could take our pick. After we were seated, he brought out an appetizer of olives, garlic and other stuff (which Robb loved) and something made of onions and a lot of other wonderful stuff (even though it was rather spicy, I liked that more than the olives). My entrée was eggplant with salad. Robb's was similar but different. We both had the same main course which was Mahi Mahi in a fantastic sauce with mushrooms, served with saffron rice, yellow squash and more eggplant. For dessert, we had Créme Caramel á l'Orange. During the entire course of the meal, we enthusiastically stated how wonderful each dish tasted. We couldn't believe that we were the only customers in the place. The owner of the place was an Iranian, who preferred France to the Iran of today. Throughout the the evening, we chatted at length with him. It was a wonderful experience and we hope to return before we leave.
21Septembre - We got up a little earlier than usual, around 10:00. After the regular morning routine, we went to La Part-Dieu, the train station, to check on where we would get the train that would eventually get us to Venice. Unfortunately, we couldn't get any information and decided we will just have to get to the station a little early to make sure we don't miss it.

Then we crossed over to the
Centre Commercial (the mall) where Robb picked up his jeans from Jules, and I bought a nice pair of shorts to wear around the apartment. After, we went to Carrefour, where I bought a CD by Francis Cabrel, some paté, some cheese and a backpack. By the way, if anyone is interested, Carrefour has a large screen plasma TV (it appears to be about 42 inches) for only €1,099. We métroed back to the apartment. Somehow, Robb discovered that to use our métro passes, we don't even have to take them out of our wallets. We can just wave our wallet over the scanner and it works the same as if we took them out and scanned them. Such a clever little devil, he is.
Mme Gonard-Ramés invited us for a 'little' apéritif. She also invited her friend, Martine, because she speaks English. The little apéritif started around seven and we finally left around 11:00. We all had a wonderful time, and the "snacks" were quite numerous and really, really good - ham, langoustino, shellfish, tomatoes, grapes, bread, cheese, several bottles of Bordeaux, and the pièce de résistance, real foie gras made by Mme Gonard-Ramés' father. Martine told us a joke I had heard before, but I laughed heartily anyway. The joke: The government has cut funding for the study of Alzheimer's. Meanwhile they have made it easy for women to get breast enlargements and men to get Viagra to enhance their sexual proclivity. All of which means that women will have big tits and men will have raging hardons, but neither will remember why.

Robb and I had originally planned to eat a bit early and then check out a couple of the many gay bars. There is a thriving gay community in Lyon, as can be seen in this picture of the
Gay Pride festival last year. In fact, on the way into town in the taxi, Assiza had told us that Lyon is the drag-queen capital of France. We both thought the evening had turned out a lot better than we could have planned.
22 Septembre - Because of its location in a courtyard and next to several businesses, this is a very busy, noisy place pretty much all night. There are many apartments in the several buildings surrounding the courtyard, and most of the residents are working people, so they're using the stairs and the elevator pretty much constantly. It is not easy to sleep here, although I'm certain that once one has been here for awhile, one would simply get used to it and sleep right through it. But for us, it isn't easy and we don't get a lot of sleep. All that by way of mentioning that once again, it was rather late when we got out of bed to start the day.

We had our coffee and got down to the business of washing some T-shirts and socks, which
Mme Gonard-Ramés agreed to dry for us. There is a clothes washer in the apartment, but no dryer. That took awhile, but during the second wash, we left and went for a nice walk around the neighborhood. We discovered a lot of really great looking restaurants, in one of which we will dine tonight.

We returned to the apartment, took the wash out of the machine, and then left to catch the #4 bus to
Cité Internationale. When we got to the bus stop, there were a bazillion people waiting. We let them take the next bus and waited for another. That was a good move on our part because the first bus was crowded when it arrived, so there was barely room for the people who were waiting. The next bus was considerably less crowded, and we even got a seat. It was a nice ride to the Cité Internationale, which is located directly across the street from the beautiful Parc de Tete D'Or. I became quite excited when we passed a showroom for the Smart Car (a collaboration between the Swatch watch company of Switzerland and Mercedes Benz) just up the street from where we had gotten on the bus.
Cité Internationale is very interesting because it is exactly what it calls itself, an International City. There are many contemporary apartment buildings in which people from many countries live. There are multi-cultural restaurants and theatres, there are Tabacs - tobacco shops in which in addition to cigarettes and cigars, you can buy stamps and telephone cards (the phones in France use a card like a credit card - like the prepaid phone cards in the US) and, even though I didn't actually see one, I'm relatively certain there are food shops also.. The Casino Lyon Pharaon, so-called because it's all decorated in an Egyptian motif, is also there.

Also in
Cité Internationale is the Musée d'Art Contemporain de Lyon. We went to a show there. It was on three different floors and was very interesting, even if I didn't totally understand what the artists were trying to say. The first show consisted of seven movie screens on which were shown different angles and perspectives of the same shot. The "movie" ended with a motorcyclist ramming into a truck and everything blows up in a fiery conclusion. The second show was a totally dark room in which there were moving, hanging squares (some solid, some with open centers) upon which light was projected and they would produce changing shadows on a background that kept changing colors. Part of that same exhibit, was a movie in the next room. The third show was a room full of hanging plastic panels of various colors. Each day of the exhibit, which was to last until Decembre, a few of the panels would be removed until there were none left.

Dinner at Italian restaurant "
Le Freedom" The waiter and chef were both from Lebanon. We both had the Salade Lyonnais, I had Penne Arrabiata, and Robb had Spaghetti aux Fruits de Mer (spaghetti with seafood). We passed on dessert and finished the meal with an expresso. While we were eating, I overheard an oriental guy and and one who looked very Italian, speaking in English. As they were getting ready to leave, I called them over and asked where they were from. The oriental guy said he was originally from Vietnam and the other guy was from Albania. To say I was surprised would be understating it.
23 Septembre - Venice - Up at 7:00. Mme. Gonard-Ramés drove us to the train station at La Part-Dieu. We had 15 minutes to find the train but no problem. We had a 1st Class ticket on the TGV, but sat in 2nd Class anyway. It was nice and only took a little over an hour to get to Chambéry Challes, where we connected with the next train that would take us to Milano, Italy. On this train, we sat in 1st Class. I had never ridden a train through mountains before. I have flown over them, but it is a totally different experience to ride through them. The scenery was just magnificent! It was thrilling to ride through the mountains, because you could look up to the top (when they weren't in the clouds) and see ancient castles that had been built there for protection from their enemies. When there was no castle, there would be a huge communications relay station. It was totally fascinating to see the little villages and towns that were built up the mountainsides, and I never tired of looking at them. Every once in awhile, we would pass a mountain river or a lake. The clearness of the water amazed me. The only other place I had seen water that clear was in the Florida Keys many years ago before they were spoiled. Some of the mountains were nothing but rock, no vegetation at all growing on them. Fascinating!

In a tunnel, somewhere between
Chambéry, France and Milano, Italy, a couple of Italian policemen came through asking to see passports. It was not a big deal and they made no threatening, cop-like overtures, just checking cause it's their job.

When we got to Milano, there was a bit of a ticket mix-up. The ticket agent at
La Part-Dieu did not give me a ticket from Milano to Venice. She gave what turned out to be a kind of itinerary from which I was to choose the train I wanted. I didn't know that and neither did anyone to whom I showed it. Everyone said all I had to do was stick it into the yellow verification machine and get on the train, so that's what we did. When the conductor (Italian) came through, he said, "That's not a ticket. It's just an itinerary. You need to buy a ticket." He charged us an extra €50 because we were buying the ticket on the train. On top of all that, he only gave us a ticket to Mestre, Italy instead of to Santa Lucia, which is actually in Venice, so we had to buy another ticket in Mestre to get to Santa Lucia. The ticket agent in Mestre was appalled that the conductor had ripped us off and sold us the tickets to Santa Lucia for only €2.

That was just the beginning of the mix-ups. I called
Ca' del Pozzo, the bed and breakfast at which I had made our reservation in Venice. They told me that when we got to Santa Lucia to take the #1 Boat up the Grand Canal to Santa Maria del Giglio. We were just about to board the boat when we realized that we needed a ticket. We found the ticket booth and got it. We got Boat #1, but couldn't find anything in the list of stops that indicated Santa Maria. The closest thing we saw was S. Marcuola, so we decided that must be the place and got off there. There was a telephone right on the dock but it wasn't working. We walked around a bit and found a hotel, where we asked the guy if we could use his phone. He was really nice and used his own private cell phone to call. Between the hotel clerk and our own intuition, we figured out that our "boat stop" was simply listed as "Giglio".

When we got there, we met a representative from the B & B. She spoke really good English. She guided us to the B & B, which was a good thing because we never would have found it on our own. The B & B consisted of three very nice rooms and the office. It was on the third floor in an old building which meant that we had to walk up three flights everytime we wanted to go to the room. Our room was larger than we expected, with an oversized double bed, night stands,
armoire, nice carpeting, 2 windows overlooking a common courtyard, TV with many stations and a table with two chairs. There was a nice bathroom with a real shower, unfortunately the water pressure produced only a slight trickle of water.

On the way to the B & B, we had passed an interesting restaurant and we had our first dinner in Venice there. Spaghetti, salad, wine and expresso. We walked around the area for a couple of hours. Being in Venice is a lot like being on the set of a Disney movie. It's also like being in a living puzzle. The "streets" twist and turn and sometimes come to a complete halt. It's very easy to get lost. Luckily, I have this great sense of direction and I can almost always find my way back to where I started.
24 Septembre - They delivered our breakfast at 8:30 - croissant (not as good as French, but good anyway), toast, butter, jam, orange juice and cappucino. We did our morning stuff and left to walk to Piazza San Marco. It took a long time to get there because we kept stopping to check out shops and art galleries. If you've ever seen a movie or travelogue of Piazza San Marco, that's exactly how it looks in person. It was filled with people and pigeons. We wandered about the piazza. The side arcades are practically side-by-side jewelry shops. There are several very good, but very expensive restaurants scattered between the jewelry stores. We stopped at a place and got a gelato. We stood and ate the gelato as we looked around the piazza. The gelato and the view were excellent.

Afterward, we toured
Basilica San Marco. It was quite impressive and beautiful. They do rip you off for €1.50 to see the gold replica of Basilica San Marco. We wandered around the piazza for awhile and suddenly remembered that we had to go to Santa Lucia to make the reservations for our train back to Lyon on Sunday. When we got to Santa Lucia, we decided to use the automatic machine to get our ticket to Milano. We will get the other tickets there. The automatic ticket machines are easy to use as long as you are going to one of the destinations they include, otherwise, you have to go to the regular ticket agents.

crossed the Grand Canal and walked around that area for awhile. We bought a few souvenirs and then got the boat to Santa Maria del Giglio. We stopped at a small sandwich shop, got a really good sandwich and some wine. After eating, we wandered back to the B & B. We rested until about nine, then went looking for some place to eat. Neither of us was hungry after the rather large sandwich, so we settled on a pizza place in a square a few bridges over from the B & B. We sat at an outside table, had a four-cheese pizza with wine, and watched the people coming and going. It was interesting because at one point there would be no people at all and then suddenly, there would be lots of people passing by. It went on that way all night . And the people we saw were of all ages, from 8 to 80.

The walls in this place are paper-thin. You can hear every sound made by everyone in every room and apartment (there are apartments in this building as well as two B & B's). So, I would not be surprised to find that everyone in the building heard Robb and me when we awoke in the middle of the night and had one of our wonderful interludes!
25 Septembre - We got up at 8:30 when breakfast was delivered. Our train to Milano was scheduled to leave at 12:52, so we decided to check out at 10 and walk down to get the boat at the dock, because we weren't sure if they would run as usual, or only intermittently because it was Sunday. We got to Santa Lucia and found there was a train to Milano at 11:17. We took that. We arrived in Milano Centrale at 3:30. We tried to get our ticket to Lyon, but the train had already been sold out. We had to get a ticket for the 9:00 AM train on Monday. We found a nice hotel (Hotel Ada) just across the street from the train station. Once in the hotel room, I discovered that our train ticket was only good to Chambéry. There was no ticket to Lyon. We jumped up and ran back to the train station, where we were told that we must purchase the ticket to Lyon in Chambéry. I didn't understand that because the agent in La Part Dieu had sold us tickets through to Milano, why couldn't they sell us tickets to Lyon? C'est la vie. No point arguing.

We went out and walked around the area surrounding the train station a bit. Stopped at a place and got some gelato. Walked back to the hotel and rested until about 8:30, then went out for dinner at a restaurant recommended by the hotel clerk. The meal consisted of pasta (those Italians KNOW how to cook pasta), salad, a wonderful dessert, wine and expresso. We walked back to the room past several gay bars which we did not enter. There didn't seem to be too many people there. I guess it was too early. From the little we saw, we decided that we like
Milano. A lot! We will return there one day.
26 Septembre - We had left a wake-up call for 8:00 AM, but Robb was up by seven. While I was still in bed, he ordered coffee and had it delivered to the room. We got everything ready and walked over to the train station around 8:30. Got the train to Chambéry and enjoyed the view as we rode through the mountains again. When we got to Chambéry, we went into the ticket office and tried to buy a ticket to Lyon, but the agent told us that we already had the ticket. I didn't really believe him, but figured "what the hell", the worst that could happen is we would get ripped for another €50. There were a lot of cafés across the street from the train station. We chose one and ordered a sandwich and coffee. There were several other people (men) in the restaurant but they weren't eating. They were gambling on televised horse races. We finished our sandwiches and walked back to await the train to Lyon. I checked the schedule and it indicated that the train would arrive on Track A. We found a couple of seats and sat down to await the train. Just before it was due to arrive, they announced that it had been changed to Track B, so we hustled over there. For the very first time, the train was LATE! Up until this time, every train had been precisely on schedule. After boarding the train and riding for a while, I was certain that we were going back on a totally different route than the one on which we had originally gone to Chambéry. We weren't at all sure that we were on the right train. It wasn't until they announced that we were approaching La Part-Dieu, that we sighed in relief. Oh, and no one ever did check our ticket.

Once we arrived at
La Part-Dieu, we walked out and got a taxi to the apartment. It felt so good to open that door and walk in. We put our stuff away and settled down to a nice dinner of paté, cheese and wine, while listening to the Patrick Bruel CD that Robb had bought before we left for Venice.

Our impression of Venice? Magnificent architecture, wonderful art, too crowded with tourists, very expensive, everyone will rip you off if you don't "bargain" for even the cheapest stuff, the Venezia Italians are beautiful, loud and extremely rude people. Still, it was a really interesting experience, even though we saw very little of the city. I suppose that means we will have to go back someday! Oh, drat!
27 Septembre - We are extremely excited today, but I will explain that later! We got up at a reasonable hour and had coffee. Then we dressed and métroed to La Part-Dieu to pick up the pants we had bought at Armand Thierry last week. After, we métroed to Bellecour and the tourist office. Martine (Mme. Gonard-Ramés' friend) told me that to buy a T-shirt or other souvenir, we must go the Office de Tourisme (that eventually turned out to be false information as we found several souvenir places in Vieux Lyon). We figured it would also be a good place to get other information we want (and need) about living here. I bought a magnet for the fridge. I collect magnets from every place we travel. It's a good thing we have a large fridge. After, we walked over to Brioche Dorée for a sandwich and a drink.

After our brief lunch break, we went next door to
FNAC, a large multimedia store. I love stores like FNAC with all their cutting-edge technology. We were happily surprised to find that big-screen, flat panel TVs are really inexpensive here. The 43 inchers start at €1000. Smaller screens are, of course, less expensive. Woohoo!! Guess what we're buying as soon as we move here. We checked out some DVDs but bought nothing. We were also surprised to find that they had a pretty good-sized section of gay videos. It was clearly marked and right out where anyone could see it, not hidden away in some dark corner like it might have been in the US, if you could even find a media store that sold gay videos in the US.

FNAC, we walked around some of the side streets looking for a particular place that I had seen on the internet. After a bit of looking, we actually found it, though it looked a little different in reality than in the picture. It turned out to be just a block or so from the Bourse.

métroed back to the apartment. We realized that we needed to go to the store for milk and stuff, so we did that. Then on the way back to the apartment, we stopped at a boulangerie and bought a couple of pastries to eat with our morning coffee.

We rested until a little after eight and went out looking for a place in which to have dinner. We walked down
Avenue du Maréchal de Saxe and found a few places, but they seemed to be serving only drinks. I remembered a place on rue Séze, so we walked over there. We entered Aux Petites Oignons and were greeted by the host/owner, a good-looking guy who showed us to a table and brought the menu. Aux Petits Oignons is a small place with seating for only about twenty people. There were eight others there when we arrived and one girl who showed up afterward. We ordered salade, filet mignon de porc and wine. Everything was wonderful, but the filet mignon de porc was outstanding! For dessert we had Framboisienne. My taste buds will be thanking me for years! We finished with a café, of course.

After walking back to the apartment, I decided that tonight would be a good night to shoot some video of the area in which we are staying, so I got out the videocam and we took off. We walked down
Avenue du Marèchal de Saxe towards Cours Frankling Roosevelt, then turned west toward the Rhône and Hôtel de Ville on the other side. Robb was showing signs of being tired so I didn't want to push it, and after we walked over to Hôtel de Ville and videoed that, we went back to the apartment.

On the walk back to the apartment, we stopped at a real estate office (
Immobilier). It was closed, of course, but as in most of the real estate places here, their windows were full of ads with pictures, information and prices. What got us really excited was that we discovered there are places that are quite affordable in the area in which we would most like to live. We never would have thought that possible, because it's just off the strip and we were certain apartments there would be in the millions of euros. Oh, happy day!

While Robb was getting ready for bed, I grabbed up our post cards and took them to the mail box just down the street.
28 Septembre - Got up around 10:00, had coffee and a wonderful apple tart that we got at the patissierie down the street. Then we got ourselves ready and went out and took some pics of some of the places to which we had been. Having accomplished that, we caught the 27 autobus to Cordelier. There, we got the métro to Vieux Lyon, where we took the Funiclaire up to Notre Dame de Fourvière. As soon as you reach the top of the stairs, the cathedral is right in front of you, just across the street. We went over and had look around. It is a very ornate cathedral, in which they used a LOT of gold. It is beautiful!

After seeing
Fourvière, we walked down to the Musée Gallo-Romaine (that's an actual Roman mosaic-tile floor), which is right next to the ruins of two Roman ampitheatres. The musée is rather large, certainly more so than I was expecting from the pictures I had seen, and displayed a lot of Roman artifacts, including coins, swords used by the Roman soldiers and a lot of "jewelry" (bronze and copper bracelets and stuff). Then we went out and viewed the actual remains of the ampitheatres, right next door. Simply fascinating! They still use the ampitheatres to present concerts and other shows. There are actually two ancient Roman sites in Lyon. The one we saw, which consists of two ampitheatres (one larger than the other) and another, smaller, site in a different section of Lyon called Croix Rousse.

After checking out the Roman ruins, we decided to forego the
Funiculaire and walked down the hill to Vieux Lyon. We walked from there to Hôtel de Ville and crossed Pont Morand back to the apartment. Take my word for it, kiddies, it was a long, long walk.

Back at the apartment, we decided to have some
patè and crackers with wine. We had to run out to le Petit Casino because we were out of crackers.

I was really tired after the long walk back to the apartment and slept for an hour or so. Then we went to dinner at a really great looking restaurant we had run across in our travels on
Cours Franklin Roosevelt, Le Rive Gauche. It was as good as it looked. We won over the waiter (an exceptionally handsome guy) as soon as he offered us a menu in English. Robb told him that since we were in France, we would rather have the menu in French.

Unfortunately, we came back to the apartment and had to start packing to return home. Tomorrow will be our last day in Lyon!
29 Septembre - Up around 9:00. Packed everything we would not need for today and the trip home tomorrow. Because our plane to Paris leaves at 7:25AM, we're thinking we might go to the airport tonight and get a room there. We both feel it's going to be difficult to get a taxi at 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning. Then we hopped the métro to the Ampère station, from which we walked to Place Ampère. You remember Monsieur Ampère? The guy after whom amps are named? It's a lovely area and possibly the site of our next home! Ah, decisions, decisions! We walked from there to Place Abbaye d'Ainay to have a look at Saint-Martin d'Ainay. It was under construction and we could not get in to see it. But even from the outside, it's pretty impressive. It was built between 1099-1118.

For some reason, Robb had become fascinated with the sculpture of an
ox on a corner of a building on rue du Boeuf, so we
métroed to Vieux Lyon and walked down the old, cobblestoned street until we found it. We were getting a little hungry, so we stopped at a small bistro, where we ordered a fromage blanc. Fromage blanc is a white cheese that is mixed with cream and sugar. It's really good. Easily the best we've ever had was in the restaurant on the top floor of Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. After, we had a café. I was starting to feel like I might have caught a cold or something, so as much as we disliked the idea, we returned to the apartment so I could rest.

We decided to have our last dinner in Lyon at the same restaurant in which we had had our first. It is behind, and yet part of,
Grand Café de Geneve. Jean, had promised that the next time we came, he would have champagne for us, and he kept his word. We had no sooner sat down then he appeared with two glasses of the lovely bubbly and a little appetizer. For dinner, we had Salade Lyonnaise, roasted Canard á l'Orange with a wonderful veggie medley, desert as nearly as I can remember it was crème brulée, we drank a very nice Mommesin Chardonnay, and of course, finished with a café. After dinner, we said our goodbyes to Jean and went back to the apartment to call a taxi.

We had definitely decided that the move to the
Sofitel Hotel in L'Aéroport Lyon-St. Exupéry was the wise choice. We could get there a little early and have time to sleep and take a real shower. Jean-Charles helped us carry our bags out to the cab and we were, sadly, on our way home.

Hôtel Sofitel was really nice and the bed linens were probably the best we've ever seen in a hotel anywhere. We had a lovely, slow shower and slept like kings until about 5:30.
30 Septembre - We checked out of the hotel and made our way to the Air France ticket counter to check our bags. Again, they were sent straight through to Miami, so we wouldn't have to grapple with them in Paris. There had been a very definite change in the weather overnight, and the sky was grey and cloudy. It had gotten considerably colder also.

The trip to Paris was uneventful, as was the trip back to Miami, where we arrived with a planeful of mostly German tourists at about 2:30 Friday afternoon. We collected our bags and got a taxi to the apartment.

Lyon is not Paris! But it is just as wonderful and has many things to offer that even Paris can not. The surrounding mountains, the proximity to other countries, it's in the middle of the wine region and it has two beautiful rivers running through it. We were extremely pleased with Lyon!