Finally, the rest of France!
Aug 3, 2011
|The rest of France (Lyon, Dijon and Paris)
Yes….its taken quite some time (7 weeks in fact) to release this next blog….we are currently in Scotland after spending the last 7 weeks with family and friends in Belgium, The Netherlands, Poland, Paris, England, Ireland and now Scotland. But…you’ll have to wait in suspense for those stories – here is the final chapter of our French adventures. Enjoy ☺
Well here we are again… this time with an exciting blog about our journey from Lyon through to Dijon, including exploring the beautiful Burgundy (Bourgogne) wine region.
On departure from the French Alps little Ralphy took us through the many hairy twists and turns of the Alpine roads, along many a Tour de France route surrounded by beautiful snow capped mountains (namely L ‘Alp du Huez’). For the next few days our time was to be spent in Lyon, Frances’ second largest city and home to two large rivers – the Rhone and Saone.
Sadly leaving the French Alpine region also meant that we were once again without a map to show us the way. Finding our way to Lyon was never going to be a problem given all the road signs pointing us in right direction… but as usual, getting to our accommodation was another challenge awaiting us. Three McDonalds trips (free Wifi), two games of Charades with locals and two identical street names later, we finally found the right street and therein our accommodation!
Exploring Lyon was best done by bike, with over 2000 bike stations around the city making it very easy to go from site to site without trouble. The most beautiful part of the city was what the locals refer to as the ‘left bank’, the original medieval city known as Vieux Lyon. Old cobblestone streets lined with tourist shops and creperies at the base of Fourviere Hill, where the Notre Dame Basilica looks out over the city below. To date, one of the most beautiful cathedrals visited so far with its unique mosaique interiors. It was also here in Vieux Lyon that our first French crepe was consumed (and not the last by a long shot!) along with a bright purple blackberry macaroon – the picture of the stall is worth seeing!
Our crepe, wine and cheese consumption led to the thought that a run to Parc de la Tête d'Or (one of Europe’s largest urban parks) was needed to keep our waistlines in check. Yet another (failed) test of our navigational skills (and fitness!) meant we managed to turn a simple 8km run into at least 10 – including a sprint finish for Rich to catch the Champion’s League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United…note to selves – one must also carry a map when running around a foreign city!
Markets on Croix Rousse, a picnic in the park and ridiculously massive, delicious and cheap oysters by the river filled our last day in Lyon. On our last evening we treated ourselves to a trip advisor recommended restaurant – Leon de Lyon. At this stage of our trip, with over 2 weeks in France under our belts, we walked into the lovely restaurant confident that our French language skills were up to the task of reading a French menu. Boy were we wrong – Boeuf (beef), Poulet (Chicken), Canard (Duck), Poisson (Fish) and all the other countless French words we’d absorbed went out the window – no where to be found on the menu we were given (with dishes more up-market that what we had previously been exposed to). And so with laughter we perused the options, using our imaginations to decipher our options, delivered our choices with a smile, and waited...further blow-by-blow details of the dinner would take forever, but we can tell you that Rich ended up with a beautiful fish dish, and I a white meat that we still don’t know what it was!
Next destination was a little town by the name of Beaune (pronounced “bone”) in the Burgundy wine region, a location that we quickly fell in love with and would love to go back to ‘one day’. An uneventful drive there from Lyon meant that we had plenty of time to explore the old walled city – and what better to do in a prestigious winery region than venture into the old underground caves (cellars) lined with wine below the township. It is here we were first exposed to wine-tasting of a new kind, that is, after perusing over 5 kilometres of caves (containing >300 million bottles) we helped ourselves to over a dozen tastings – a lot more trusting than our previously visited Aussie wineries, who wouldn’t dare leave a bottle of wine (or 12) there for the taking! Just slightly wobbly at the knees, we resurfaced into daylight, only to be force-fed (the shop keeper was very insistent) some delicious 40+% Cassis, an unbelievably delicious berry liquor. From here our only option was a wander through the cobble-stoned streets en route to purchase our favourite bottle of red, along with some cheese and fresh bread, and return to our campsite – where thankfully we’d set up camp earlier. By chance we had a campsite right next to a lovely Kiwi couple (Kim and Duncs) we’d met earlier in the day, and therefore allowed a very enjoyable evening chatting over red wine, comparing our near parallel lives and remarkably identical trip itineries!
With hesitance we packed up and set off the next morning, not wanting to leave such a beautiful little town and our new friends behind but alas….after 14 days on the road, the time had come to return the reliable Ralph the Reno to his rightful home in Dijon. It would be lovely to be able to report that our final journey in Ralphy was one of faultless navigation and an enjoyable last drive….but of course that would only go against the theme of our French driving experiences to date. Lets just say that even Google maps aren’t enough when a city decides to put in countless ‘deviations’ into your well-planned route – at least the Europcar staff were understanding of our plight when we returned Ralphy over an hour late!
And so there we were…back on foot after a fortnight on four wheels, exploring the town home to the famous Dijon mustard. With Dijon itself not much more that a centre from which to explore the Burgundy region, we took no time to explore the few sights of the town – another market full of French delicacies, a cathedral or two, and multiple stores decked with shelves of multi-coloured mustards. A rainy day allowed for some catch up time and a pre-arranged ‘reunion’ with the Kiwi’s from Beaune, and then…with a burning desire to return to the wineries and vineyards around Beaune, we wasted no time in arranging a day trip through the Burgundy region. So as not to bore those not so excited about the ins and outs of the wines from Burgundy, we will save you the details – other than to say that it was well worth the visit regardless of your interests – picturesque vineyards, stunning Chateaus and a fascinating history…. and yes – the wine was ok too!
With France all but conquered (except for the midlands and most of the west!!) we were left with only one destination, high on most traveller’s lists, and not without a reputation preceding it……Paris.
Arriving mid-afternoon and effortlessly navigating our way from train station to accommodation we wasted no time and made our way straight to the bottom of Montmatre, to join a free walking tour of the district. Moulin Rouge, Van Gough’s House, Amelie’s Café and the Sacre Cour Basilica were amongst the highlights, not to mention the last vineyard in Paris (the most expensive bad wine in the world!) and Saint Dennis – the man who walked 15 miles carrying his head after he was executed… and the stories became longer and more ridiculous as the tour progressed!
The next day was tourist day – another walking tour and nearly all other notable sites taken in – I’d be here all day (and so would you) if I told a story about all of them, so a list will have to be suffice…Notre Dame, The Seine, the Louvre, Champs Elysee, Tullieres Garden, le Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph to name the highlights.
Now…having just said I wouldn’t go telling a story about each of them….I cant help but share a few things about our visit up the Eiffel Tour – feel free to skip to the bottom if you cant take any more! Well for those of you have visited the Eiffel tower, you would most probably agree that you arrive and feel like you’ve seen it before – and in daylight, it happens to be quite an ugly looking metallic structure up close. However….taking in the views from on top as well as seeing it alight at night time…you quickly appreciate what all the fuss is about. Which brings me finally to the story – Rich and I decided that we would most likely only visit le Eiffel once in our lifetime, so after paying 10 euro each to climb the stairs and take the lift right to the very top, we decided we’d get our money’s worth. After a total of 90 minutes of queuing we finally made it to the top – an amazing view welcomed us as we stepped out onto the viewing platform. At this point it was 7pm – and about 3 hours prior to dark falling….and having decided we’d wait to see Paris from the tower at night….that meant 3 hours to fill – what does one do? After about 15 laps of the viewing platform, we’d nearly had enough…until we fell across an idea – to pick the couples that were coming out of the lift who were going to get engaged on the tower that night….and proceed to stalk them around the viewing platform. Lets just say we weren’t particularly good at foreseeing the future (no one person proposed whilst we were following them ;)) but our immature little game finally took us through to nightfall, where we saw the beautiful lights of the city from the tower, and the equally beautiful lightshow once on the ground below.
Our remaining time in Paris we spent doing what we do best – getting lost….but in a good way. With a few recommendations of districts in which to wander, we found ourselves strolling through back-streets, taking in the non-touristy side of Paris – the side we actually preferred. Delicious chocolate crepes, little market stalls, beautiful little gardens and tiny laneways treated us to a very different Parisian experience. Frogs legs were on the menu for our last French dinner – not bad for something that you normally find in the pond in your backyard – but I think ours may have been fed some steroids in their lifetime!
And there you have it – the completion of our French Adventure – quite a roller coaster of contrasting landscapes, navigational nightmares (and some successes), unusual foods, delicious wines, cheese and pastries – now off for beer and chocolate in Belgium….where our trip of a lifetime (and culinary tour) continues.
Summary – What we’ve seen/learnt in the rest of France
1. Driving the L’Alp du Huez gives you a whole new appreciation of the unbelievable strengh (physical and mental) of the Tour de France cyclists…Go Cadel ☺
2. Nutella Crepes…enough said!
3. The interior of the lesser known ‘Notre Dame’ Basilica (in Lyon) leaves its Parisian namesake for dead.
4. Our mouths salivate (and stomachs grow) at the thought of any farmers market in France (cheese, pastries and foie gras mm mmmm)
5. If one is to use “Frenglie” (a miss mash of the French and English languages) as a means of communication, one must respect it’s limitations…if at a fancy restaurant consider combining with charades if you wish to know what you are going to be served!
6. Beaune is a red wine lovers paradise! Cellars with over 300 million bottles and unlimited tastings of more than a dozen delicious wines at each cellar…could it get any better?
7. We have taken great pleasure in drinking beautiful French wine every night while in France but it always tastes better when shared with great people – thanks Kim and Duncs
8. Dijon, home of mustard and not much else.
9. Although the Arc de Triumph, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysee, Notre Dame etc are all worth a visit, the true Parisian experience is found down quaint little alley ways lined with small book shops and cafes from which to watch the world go by.
10. Apparently once every 30 minutes of every day of the year someone pops the question on the top of the Eiffel Tower, after our 3 hour stint up there observing no proposals…there is some serious catching up to do.
11. The Paris metro makes the Melbourne rail system look like it is stuck in 1950’s. Parisians get impatient if they are forced to wait for more than 2 minutes!
12. Merci Beacoup France – for: delicious red wine, cheese, crepes and pastries, incredible scenery and hiking, being patient with our ‘Frenglies’ and charades and an unforgettable French adventure. Au revoir!