Tourists see things. Travelers meet people. And I am particularly fortunate to be both. Today was bookended by two churches. St. Nizier, around the corner from my apartment, is according to its leaflet “one of the finest examples of flamboyant gothic style in France.” Flamboyant it certainly is, with its 2 spires, flying buttresses, “magnificent triforium”(whatever that is) 3 naves and much more.
Abby might be particularly interested to know that this 14th century structure was built on the ruins of its predecessor, “burnt down by the Waldensians.”
The other was a hidden gem, revealed to me by my friend Caroline. Built in the 12th century in Romanesque style, it is as simple and zen as the other is over-the-top.
Between these visits I had another extraordinary lunch at the home of Caroline’s parents. I have heard many times that it is difficult to know the French and that they never invite anyone into their homes whom they have not known for years. That has not been my experience, happily. Perhaps, as Caroline pointed out, people who exchange their homes are more open to random strangers. In any event, I was treated to a “simple home-cooked meal” that would have done honor to Paul Bocuse. After aperos, we had 3 types of charcuterie–sausage, roasted lard and pate. Accompanied by a heavenly Beaujolais. For the main, it was another lyonnais specialty, quenelles. Most of you probably think (as I did) that this a type of fish dish. But it turns out quenelles is actually the wrapping and you can fill yours with anything, including veal, as was the case here. The quenelles is (are?) a kind of eggy pudding, somewhat reminiscent of Yorkshire pudding. These were finished with a lobster sauce and were extraordinary. I was also finished–with food for a week–or so I thought. Out came the cheese course and a bottle of burgundy. The local specialty is St. Marcellin, which is one of my favorites. Unfortunately you have never tasted a proper st. Marcellin unless you’ve been to Lyon and have had it fresh and runny. Then came a homemade tarte praline, which is pink. It is made with almonds that have been coated in a pink sugar, ground and spread on a pate sablee. Ok, so now they had to roll me from the table, but not before a petit digestif of pear liqueur.
Tomorrow I’m off to the deep countryside where I promise I will subsist on lettuce.
Some of you are aware that I am already somewhat burned out by all this traveling. This is probably the hardest travel I’ve done (at least, since college) and I have to ask myself if it’s worthwhile.
Today exemplified the pluses and minuses. I set out this morning on what turned out to be a long trek to the Halles Paul Bocuse. Ellie and I crossed the Rhone and walked a long way through an uninteresting commercial district. When we finally got there–no dogs allowed! I stuck Ellie in her carry case and made a quick pass through what turned out to be a very high end food court. Lots of boulangeries, boucheries, charcuteries, etc. but characterless–a Disneyland for foodies.
I was quite disappointed but took the opportunity to find the concert hall Mike had mentioned. I thought it was cute–a mushroom made of concrete.
I figured out the bus system and we made our way home, feeling somewhat defeated. When you’re traveling, every day requires a new experience. Or maybe it’s just that I need something to report for this blog.
I decided we needed a nice lunch and I found a nearby place on Tripadvisor. When I called to reserve, the guy told me I had to share a table, which was fine with me. My table mates turned out to be two older gentlemen (not together) who were quite friendly. Within minutes I learned that each had been an engineer; one of them had lived in China, Africa and Newfoundland, the other in Washington and Sao Paolo. Within a few minutes, we were sharing a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. The very friendly owner-chef sat down to explain the menu, which was vast, considering the tiny size of the place. On the table were pork rinds–homemade, crackly and very tasty. I had a starter of warm pleurottes (a kind of wild mushroom) in a mustardy salad, followed by pork cheeks–the tenderest cut of pork in a wine sauce with potato gratin. After coffee (and half a bottle of wine) the owner plunked a bottle of marc (grape Brandy) on the table for us to help ourselves. By this point one of the guy’s wives had shown up and the 4 of us (5 counting Ellie) were now BFFs.
This is why I travel. A shared meal with strangers. A pleasant and interesting conversation. Simple things that don’t happen at home. Maybe they could but I don’t force myself into situations where they are possible. Happy and quite drunk, I found my way half a block home and had a nice long nap.
Traboules are medieval secret passageways hidden behind ordinary doors–so secret that my friend Caroline had to get directions to find them. They were originally built as shortcuts for the silk workers of Lyon and during World War II the resistance used them to escape from the Germans.
Caroline is someone I’ve known on Facebook for years, but had never met in person. We had a wonderful lunch today in a traditional lyonnais bouchon, with her husband, Bruno, and their adorable daughter, Constance.
After lunch, Caroline showed us around Vieux Lyon, with its medieval cobblestone streets and Italianate Renaissance buildings. We ended at cathedrale St. Jean, a magnificent gothic church that antedates Notre dame de Paris. (Construction started in 1180 and was finished in 1480. )
In response to Mike’s comment, I thought you might like to see the opera house. Weird addition on top of 18th C building is by Jean Nouvel.
Ellie and I walked about 3 miles today, crossing the Saone (for you crossword fans, Michael) several times. We are on the “presqu’ile” which means peninsula, between the Rhone and the Saone. Most of the shops were closed but we got a sense of the city, which seems a little sleepy. Or maybe it will liven up on Tuesday.
After lunch (a chicken liver cake!) I left Ellie in the apartment and went to the Musee des beaux arts. It’s housed in an old convent with a section dating to Roman times. The central garden is quite pretty.
The collection is a kind of dollhouse version of the Met, with everything from Egyptian antiquity to a full-blown art nouveau bedroom. I was particularly struck by a Zurbaran St. Francis and a few fine impressionists (Bonnard, Pissarro, and Sisley in particular).
atrompe l’oeil mural depicting famous lyonnais including paul bocuse and St. exupery
It is colder here than in New York (48 F) and I had to pull out the winter jacket. Ellie and I took a Citybus tour which gave us a nice overview of France’s second largest city (or third, depending whom you count).
place des jacobins
After, we wandered into a beautiful Art Deco bistrot where I had salade lyonnaise (naturellement)a demi of Côte de Rhone
and a weird dessert called “brains of silk workers” which is essentially soft cream cheese with chives.
Arrived in Lyon yesterday and my first tourist stop was the market this morning. The lyonnais take their food seriously and the market reflected that. At least a mile of vendors (126 according to the web site) selling fruits, meats, baked goods and much more. I am set for food for the week.
So it turns out that the princes of Savoy, who ruled Turin, actually started out in the French ski resort of Chambery, where I am currently happily ensconced in a hotel designed to look like an Alpine chalet.
To get here from Turin, I had to drive through both the Italian and French Alps. Fortunately, it was 4 or 6 lane highway all the way. Unfortunately, I had to pass through the Frejus tunnel, an 8-mile feat of engineering that costs €45–one way! Here is a shot I took at a rest stop high in the mountains.
I cannot tell you how happy I was to hear French again and to be able to communicate. Italy is fabulous, but I really will need to learn some Italian before my next trip there.
Chambery is my kind of town–small and filled with expensive shops. Tomorrow I drop the car (thanks be) before a week in Lyon.
So I am doing what I hate–being a tourist. Turin is halfway between Lecco and Lyon, so I decided to break up the 6 hour drive with a stop here. I’m not even sure what the main tourist sites are but I’m in a lovely small pensione in the center of town so just wandered a bit.
The Via Po is arcaded. Lots of book stalls. The banner advertises a jazz festival which starts tomorrow.
Naturally I had to stop for a glass of Barolo.
Verona is possibly the prettiest city I’ve seen and, unfortunately, I don’t have photos that do it justice.
Here is lunch along the river–the bridge dates from the Roman era.
This is Evelyn under “Juliet’s” balcony. Apparently, there is some historical basis for Romeo, but Juliet was pretty much Shakespeare’s invention.
I know you want to see the Arena and I’ll try to get a decent picture tomorrow. Also, for those of you who are expecting me to make fresh pasta–sorry, it requires much specialized equipment which I have no room for.