Wednesday, 11 July 2012

ITTP TEFL Prague: J'adore Lyon!

(Click on photo to enlarge)
Sometimes I find myself yearning for a break. For something different. I find myself experiencing itchy foot syndrome, and the whiff of the scent of the yearn to travel. To taste different food. To get slightly inebriated on a different type of alcohol. To step off a plane and not know what the day will bring.

A few years ago when I was on one of my trips - I used to take a one way trip to a European destination and slowly make my way back home by hitching and catching trains - I was hitching in France and was really fortunate to be picked up in a bad hitching spot outside Clermont Ferrand (I had walked all morning from the city center just to reach the main road intersection), by a wonderful Frenchman who explained to me that Lyon was a great city to visit and was the Gastronomical heart of France. He subsequently drove me into the center of Lyon and since then I have been back a few times, always as a food tourist. This weekend, having booked up in advance for the flight, we had a long weekend in Lyon and I urge anyone living in Prague who has an occasional need for an affordable and authentic French food fantasy fix to also make the trip.

Because we booked up early we got the flight for under 2,000 CZK per person return. That's Prague to Lyon and back again, inclusive of all taxes and fees, for less than US$100 per person. We flew with EasyJet and landed at Lyon-Saint Exupery Airport 1 hour and 20 minutes later.

Our Easyjet flight to Lyon with their website address on the plane (Click on photo to enlarge)

From the airport there are really only 2 options to get into town; either the expensive option of taxi (approx 50 Euro), or the semi-expensive Rhonexpress - 14 Euro for the single journey to Lyon's Main Train Station (Gare SNCF de Lyon Part Dieu). From the station you can either take the metro or tram, or simply walk into the center (approx 30 minutes only).

Map of Lyon (Click on photo to enlarge)

Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site host and is situated in East-Central France, close to Geneva. The overall ambience of the city is more Southern French than say compared with the hectic milling of Paris. Lyon is the capital of the Rhone-Alpes region, as well as the capital of the smaller Rhone departement. Both the Rhone and Saone rivers run through the city, creating 3 distinct land masses and resulting in a variety of gorgeous bridges needed to bridge the gaps.

(Click on photo to enlarge)

For a visitor the main areas of interest are the sections of the city (Arrondissements) 1, 2 and 5. To the west of the Saone river, the 5th section covers the old city (Vieux Lyon), Fourviere hill and the plateau beyond. Between the two rivers, on the Peninsula are the 1st and 2nd sections. The 2nd includes most of the city center, where the main shopping precinct is and where most of the affordable Bouchons and where most of the mid to upper priced Bistrots are located. The 1st section is directly to the north of the 2nd and covers part of the city center and the slopes of the Croix-Rousse, up to Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse. The Croix-Rousse is the Bohemian neighborhood of Lyon and reminded us a bit like Prague's Zizkov.

Croix-Rousse neighborhood (Click on photo to enlarge)

Croix-Rousse neighborhood (Click on photo to enlarge)

Croix-Rousse neighborhood (Click on photo to enlarge)

Croix-Rousse neighborhood (Click on photo to enlarge)

The Croix-Rousse neighborhood offers alternative shopping options and many of the more affordable bars, restaurants and cheap eats of the city. It's here that you will find the art exhibitions and galleries, the underground music scene and the less mainstream way of life. We were only here during the day so were able to soak up the light time feel for the section but of course can imagine that at night the place is buzzing and probably a slightly more affordable alternative to the center or Old City.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere (Click on photo to enlarge)

Vieux Lyon (Click on photo to enlarge)

Vieux Lyon and Fourviere hill (Click on photo to enlarge)

The Old City (Vieux Lyon), feels a bit like the Malostranska quarter in Prague and it's here that you will find the quaint buildings, the slightly over-priced cafes and restaurants, the souvenir shops and the throngs of English-speaking tourists (and also a seemingly unnecessary number of Irish bars). It's also here that you get a lot of "authentic" Bouchons and Bistrots. Still, there is a reason why this area is so popular and the buildings and atmosphere are charming beyond words, and beyond photographs as I don't seem to have any good, reasonable pics of the Vieux Lyon. High above the Old City stands majestically the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere. You can reach the Basilica either by funicular or by walking the many steps up the hill but either way it is a must-see building and the views from this height over Lyon are quite stunning. The Basilica and the Old City form the UNESCO World Heritage Site designated area and it's easy to see why as you stroll the cobbled streets with eyes wandering the brick roofs of the Renaissance neighborhoods.

Boudin Noir (Click on photo to enlarge)

Pigs Trotters (Click on photo to enlarge)

An old favorite: Creme Brulee (Click on photo to enlarge)

Our recommendation for an authentic Bouchon experience (Click on photo to enlarge)

Rue des Marronniers (Click on photo to enlarge)
Bouchon: La Tete de Lard (Click on photo to enlarge)

As previously noted, it's the 1st Arrondissement where the main concentration of authentic Bouchons and Bistrots are. Bouchons are basically holes in the wall with limited seating, where affordable meals are served along with flair of atmosphere created by the owner. These restaurants are where you will get a true taste of Lyonnaise cuisine - which btw isn't for the faint hearted. Vegetarians should stay well clear. Dishes tend to be heavy on the cream and heavy on the organs and other less commonly eaten animal body parts, such as pigs trotters, veals head, etc. We can definitely recommend the Chez Mounier Bouchon on Rue des Marronniers, with great and simple yet very tasty food and wine and with very affordable prices. The owner was wonderful and also very helpful with some of the more difficult French words which my high school French couldn't pick up on. The restaurant is located close to the Bellecour Square. As a second option from the bunch we can also recommend the Bouchon La Tete de Lard, where the food is of a slightly higher quality (same price scale though) but where the atmosphere wasn't as endearing as at Chez Mounier. We also really liked the Pot lyonnais wine bottle which came with the meal in the Bouchons and which was great value considering how much Cote Du Rhone wine is outside of France.

So, if you have the gut for it and the need to get away a bit further then the confines of the Czech mountains then we definitely recommend a trip to Lyon for the weekend and if you get there before July 31st you might even get the chance to see Bob Dylan play live at the Nuits de Fourviere festival, set in the Roman amphitheater overlooking the city - an international celebration of music, theater and the arts.

Hezka cesta!/Good journey!

Neville :-)