Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Trains and Gastronomy in Lyon…September 28 and 29

We traveled to the gastronomic capital of France on a lovely sunny and clear day. The previous rains had cleared the skies and the air was fresh with flowers, baking bread, and cigarette smoke.  Yes, they do smoke – the teens, the adults, and the elderly, the French, the Germans, the Swiss – where ever you walk, someone will light up. It is one of those expectations you must travel with in Europe.  However, the ills of second hand smoke continue to drift through my consciousness this entire trip.

It’s almost four hours from Colmar to Lyon, so it left lots of time to both enjoy the ride and vistas. Not only we were on the observation level, but for an extra euro each were treated to a new feature the “quiet car”. No phones, loud discussions, music, kids, etc. were allowed.  It was a lovely quiet ride – though Betty’s crunchy apple did make quite the noise while we were having lunch. ☺

The countryside is a dazzling display of green, yellows and browns. Heading south we note the cornfields are greener here, not as dried as they are north. Dairy herds dot the landscape in beige, brown, black, and white spots. The tree line moves past us so quickly that it’s hard to identify varieties, but pine, oak & chestnut seem most common. The sky is a brilliant blue, with big puffy white clouds following along the horizons both sides of the train.  What a wonderful day for a train ride.

Travel by train, thinking about this while passing the vineyards around Nuits-St-Georges, it seems unfortunate that we haven’t a train system in our lovely country.  We travel by car and see little because we focus on driving. We travel by air and see little except large natural structures. It’s only by train that one can sit and observe the changing vegetation, architecture, weather, and the like. I watch the passing of these vineyards with people picking and wonder what will happen to the grapes as they move through processing. I see the furrowed fields and wonder what taste treats will they produce.

It’s moments such as these that even with the speed we pass, I value the relaxation of this form of travel. This “quiet” car is calming…save for the snores of the three men who have taken relaxation to its culmination.

We arrived in the most insane place – Lyon Part-Dieu. We find out later that the train station was designed to accommodate around 30,000 travelers a day. However, the number it actually receives is over 130, 000 – a wild place indeed. We escape quickly to find a cab and head to our hotel in the center of town – La Residence – on the pedestrian only rue Victor-Hugo.

Funicular & dark tunnel up the hill
After checking in we allowed no moss to collect, off to the Tourist Information to find out about the funicular schedule and other things to see.  The lovely young woman who provided assistance suggested that we take the Funicular this afternoon as the forecast was rain for the next few days.  This proved providential…rain it did (but that’s another story).  The funicular was an old tram that ran up a steep hill (Fourviére) to the site of their Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviére.  It was a short, dark ride, but the moment you climbed the stairs, a startlingly beautiful cathedral greets you.  The cathedral was built after the 1871 Commune, as one person put it, to emphasize the defeat of the godless socialists…much as had happened in Paris with the stunning Sacré-Coeur.

However, it is the view behind the basilica that draws attention.  A full 180-degree view of Lyon, central to which was the square that was to become our landmark – Place Bellecour - it was a beautiful vista.  The Place was laid out in 1617 with its pink gravel and stone walkways, it is hard to miss. Located center of the Place is the bronze statue of Louis XIV astride his horse installed in 1828 and created by a local sculptor, Jean Lemot.  We always knew that we just had to follow the derrière of his horse to find our street and hotel.

Lyon with Snow Capped Peaks in the distance
Lyon View with Place Bellecour in lower left

After touring the basilica and taking multiple pictures of Lyon, we began the stroll down the hill through the hillside gardens.  It was a lovely afternoon and the gardens were worth the visit.  A quick stroll through the Vieux Lyon (the old town) headed us back to our landmark.  Not far from there was our first meal.

The dinner at Chabert et Fils was nice, but not as remarkable as I had expected.  Dinner:

Betty:  Sauté d’agneau à la provençal, gratin niçoise
Deb:     Bauvette d’aloyau de boeuf à la pointe d’ail paillasson de pommes de terre
Pot de Côte du Rhone (served chilled)

Sauté d’agneau à la provençal
Bauvette d’aloyau de boeuf
The veggies were lovely, but the meats were tough, and chilled Côte du Rhone, so strange.  We headed back to hotel ending our day. Along the Rhone we found the most interesting glass sculpture and fountain...what a pretty end to the day...

Betty, Glass & Fountain
Lyon and the Rhone

September 29th, our first full day in Lyon begins.  A bit about Lyon…this city spans two rivers – Saône to the west and the Rhone to the east.

It is organized into nine arrondissements (districts/neighborhoods). The 1st and 2nd arrondissements (Presqu’île) lie in between the two rivers and that was where we were to spend a good portion of our time.  There and the 5th, the Vieux Lyon (old Lyon).  The city is well organized and bustling. It home to many international companies, but its focal point is food. There are more restaurants in Vieux Lyon per square metre than can be found anywhere else in the world.  One of the guidebooks noted that they could form a soccer team with the number of international superstar chefs that populate the city. And we believe it; there were enough restaurants, bouchons, bistros, etc. that it would take a lifetime to tackle everyone. And, by the time you were done in one area, more would have already been added.  It was almost overwhelming to figure out where to eat. Overwhelming, but exciting.  But now onto Lyon…

We started the day with a visit to their Farmer’s Market. Located along the side of the Saône River, it is one of the prettiest markets I’ve seen.  There was even a stand for cafés…yes, of course we bought a couple of espressos to kick start the day. We found some things to nibble on, but the tastiest treat was a Lyon speciality – shredded/grated potato, mushroom, onion, garlic, shallots, deep-fried, and fabulous.

After the market we wandered the pedestrian only shopping streets to the Gare Parresh to catch the tram to Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. What an amazing place! We went because a friend, Bob Stull, had suggested trying a foie gras du canard macaroon at Séve, one of kiosks in the hall.  Now these types of macaroons may be found in Portland at Pix Patisserie (perhaps not the foie gras ones). However, they are not the coconut macaroons of my childhood. We found Séve immediately, but decided to investigate before trying this little taste treat.

Les Halles held every possible foodstuff imaginable and then some.  All high-end, all amazing!  We agreed to have lunch right then and there, but them were stymied by the options. Everywhere we looked…food. Since we’d not had paella in quite some time we were leaning in that direction, but the fellow in that kiosk insisted we try the grenouilles (frog’s legs). He said they were fresh and delicious.  So frog’s legs it was. They were delicious, dredged in flour and sautéed in garlic, butter & parsley. He said if we didn’t like them we didn’t pay – we paid and gladly!  We accompanied the little guys with a couple of verre de vin blanc (Macon) and un boteille d’eau.

Ready to EAT!  Grenouilles!!

After such a tasty treat, we headed to Séve for the infamous foie gras macaroon. Betty, being always willing to eat things of liver, was the guinea pig.  She found it “tres, tres bonne” – sweet and salty.  We also chose to buy a couple of Lyonnais special “cookies” – sable de praline. They were sugar cookies with a red pecan praline mixture…tasty!
Eating the Fois Gras macaroon

The remainder of the day was more promenade sur la ville de Lyon (walking about Lyon).  Here are a few of the sights...

But soon as it you can imagine it was time to eat again.  This time we visited L’Atelier d’Yvonne on the same street as the night before – rue des Marronniers. It was an interesting place with the primary owners/servers dressed in painter’s smocks as they “dealt with the art of food”.

Meal began with Apertifs:
B: Le Communard – now this is one disgusting drink, Beaujolais with a lot of Cassis. This is a drink that would not be allowed anywhere else in France.
D: Le Kir – now I’ve had kirs before – a mix of white wine and cassis, but it’s always been a pleasant blend. Whatever cassis they didn’t use in Betty’s they must have used it all in mine.  Sigh.

One would have thought this might not bode well for dinner, happily, that was not the case.  Dinner was quite good we shared:

  • Ris de veau en cocotte – served with mashed potatoes, fried cougette avec oignan and a vegetable mousse. 
  • Caprese salad – tomatoes, mozzarella & basil
  • 2 verre du Macon

We walked back to the hotel for the night…and found it easily, thanks to Louis’ horse’s rear end.  Tomorrow – Vieux Lyon.

Collapsing in Colmar…September 27

Our last full day in Colmar was supposed to include a visit to the Alsatian wine route. However, we were tired.  An agreement was reached to remain in Colmar and visit the myriad of markets that were slated for the day and to see if we could find the illusive wine bar “L’un des Sens” suggested by friends - Steve and Melissa McCall.

First on the market list was the covered market for Petit Dejeuner.  Pineapple yogourt fermier, un croissant, et un café crème made the morning. I’ve been drinking cafés more often than tea for some reason I’ve yet to explain to myself. But the coffee is good and much like wine deserves to be savored.  The covered market is quite the collection of kiosks with all manner of food and beverage.
Covered Market Exterior


Bretzel Kiosk in the Covered Market - so GOOD!

Outside the covered market with its established kiosks, was a farmer’s market. Small but well appointed with fine looking vegetables, fruits, cheeses, etc. However, we made no purchases.  We wanted to make sure we were in time for the Linen Market.

It was an interesting find the Linen Market. I had supposed that it would hold fine linens and lace work items. Nope. Clothing, purses, leathers, coats, scarves, hats, all sorts of  prêt à porter (ready to wear).  We bought a couple of scarves and then headed to the Petit Venise as it was nearing lunch and we had crêpes on our mind.
Purses Anyone?
The Crêp-stub was a perfect solution to the crêpes need.  I wasn’t particularly hungry so I happily selected a “sweet” – Citron. It really wasn’t sweet, just the right blend between lemon and powdered sugar.  Bets, on the other hand, was hungry and had a savory crêpes – une Croque - croque monsieur crepes – it was pretty good.

Betty's Savory Crepes

 Crêp-stub Interior

After the crêpes we took a stroll along the canal system. As noted in a previous post, this is a charming area, but if you plan to stay here, it’s much more expensive,  touristy, and noisy.  As we strolled along the canals we found the original walls that surrounded Colmar. Two sets – the oldest dating from the 1200’s had slits in it to accommodate the firepower of the age – bows and arrows.  The second wall dated from the 1500’s and by then guns had taken over – different openings for different types of weaponry.  Hard to consider that with all its charm, Colmar was ever a military location. But with wealth comes those who want to take it…such it was then, such it is today. I really wonder if we’ll ever learn.

After another nice long walk we headed back to the hotel so that I could do some work and we could prep for hors d’oeuvres at L’un des Sens. We had no idea where the place was and had not found it in our excursions around the town. So we decided to turn right when we left our hotel instead of the accustomed left into town. And then we started to crack-up. In the next block behind our hotel and its restaurant, lo and behold, L’un des Sens.

This is a very cool little place and we arrived just as it opened. While they have plats (meals), we chose a couple of entrees and wine because we were planning dinner at another restaurant.  One was cheese, the other meats:

Fromage: Loire Chevre – St Maure de Touraine
Pommard Chevre – had mustard seed and came from Burgundy
Pyrenees Chevre
Champagne Vache – cow’s milk cheese from Langre

Meats: Jambon Cru (dried ham)
Sausage Sec
Andouie de compagne fume

He asked what we wanted to drink and I said surprise us, and he did!  He came back with a blind tasting.  Sigh.  I blew it on both.  Riesling like I’ve never had before and a Pinot Gris (was close on this one, but still missed it), here’s the information:

2010 Valentin Zusslin Bollenberg Riesling – biodynamic wine maker, no sulfur used except for a bit just before bottling
2008 Domaine Léon Boesch Clos Zwingel Pinot Gris – also biodynamic

Best recent vintages in Alsace – 2008 and 2010.

It was an interesting and enlightening early evening.  However, with all the food and wine, we weren’t as hungry as we’d been. So, one of the things we’d wanted to try was a pizza from the area. So off we went to La Krutenau for a tarte flambées. We chose the Tarte Flambées Gratinée (fromage blanc, crème, lardons, oignons, and fromage râpé). It was accompanied by a chilled glass of Pinot Noir – weird, but worked with the “pizza”.  The flambée was the thinnest pizza I’ve ever had. It was more like a wafer cracker than pizza dough, covered with cream, ham, onions, and cheese.

Back to the hotel to pack for the morning held the train to Lyon and all the incredible goodies that the food capital of France had to offer…until then…

Friday, October 5, 2012

Basel Beckons - September 26th

It is socked in this morning. The night’s rest was better for me, not so much for Betty. Had the banana’s from last night’s Monoprix visit to cut a few of the hunger pangs prior to heading to the Gare, but it was the pain au chocolate & raison really put those growls down for the count.

We made the train with time to spare after getting ourselves a bit turned around. Let’s just say that trying a new path when you’ve a schedule to keep isn’t a brilliant plan.  But Betty hotfooted us through Colmar and as noted we made the train.

The weather lightened up the further we progressed south. While I love train travel, I prefer to be on the observation level (haut). Low-level seating is equal to the tree line and doesn’t allow for many views of the countryside. However, the trees would give sway to vistas every so often and they were lovely.

2nd Class TER coach

Switzerland is not part of the EU. So it required carrying our passports (which we do normally) and a change of currency to Swiss Francs. I was disappointed to not get another country stamp when the train arrived in Basel. But the passport control was closed and everyone just walked right in to this new country for me.  The most notable immediate change was the language. From the lyrical French we moved to guttural German. To be fair though, Swiss German is softer than that spoken in Germany (according to a woman in the coffee shop we visited).

Welcome to Basel, Switzerland

Center Mural of three in Basel Train Station

Take a tram in Basel, they go everywhere
And speaking of the coffee shop, the Grand Café Hueigen, was the site for very expensive café crème and a language lesson.  While I tried hard with French, my German was basically non-existent.  So, the women working in the café (and a customer) took to looking after my language education.  Danke, bitte, bitte-shen, gutentag, etc. were explained and I had to practice.  The one I never quite figured out was how to ask for the check…zum-something.  But we all had a great time.

Before I move on to the sites, tastes, and sounds of this city, I want to thank Anne Schiedel (remember her from a couple of other posts?).  Anne used to live outside Basel and recently returned to Portland. We reconnected and over dinner told her about the trip and, perhaps,  the visit to Basel.  Well, then she returned the favor and invited us for a delicious fondue dinner at which she pulled out a map of Basel and told us about and showed us a walk to see the sights.  Now one would think that was enough, but not Anne. Shortly before we left I received an email from her with an entire walking tour documented street by street, turn by turn, site-by-site.  It was amazing and we followed it to a tee.  Anne now takes people on walking and hiking tours in Switzerland and Alsace. If you are interested, let me know and I’ll connect your with this wonderful friend of ours.  Thanks again Annie!!

Now onto Basel!  The highlights of the visit included: the Hammering Man, a tall iron sculpture of a man hammering on a building. According to Anne’s notes, there is also a Hammering Man in Seattle, going to have to locate that on one of the trips north. A quirky fountain by Basel artist Jean Tinguely was our next stop. What a fun collection of mechanical contraptions. There was one that I liked in particular, just a little things with extensions appearing much like a horses legs & hooves. The hooves would scoop and toss the water…it was hilarious.

The Hammering Man
Tinguely Fountain...loved the one in the lower left

The Marktplatz was a buzz of humans, cars, and vendors plying their goods. Center to the square was the Rathaus or town hall. A gorgeous red building adorned by gold-plated turrets, brilliant gables, and beautiful murals, it is truly one of the prettiest structures I’ve seen on my travels.  We were able to stroll inside the Rathaus to the courtyard where we found a woman high on a platform cleaning and painting the building.  It is clear they take great care of the lovely building.


Betty & the Klopfers
Since we’d planned to have lunch on the Marktplatz and had arrived such that the market vendors were still actively selling, we strolled along to figure out what was on our menu.  We found a number of options, but this one stand had two women grilling wursts (various types of sausages).  We looked them over and chose the biggest, fattest hot dog I’ve every seen.  They grilled them for you on the spot and serve with a big slab of bread and a large dollop of mustard.  Oh goodness was it tasty.  The mustard was the perfect highlight, I could get used to those pretty easily.

But the highlight of the trip to Basel was the Münsterfähre; a ferry that crosses the Rhine on a wire and just with the current pushing things along.  The view from the river of the river and the homes/buildings along the Rhine was spectacular.  The current was quite strong and we crossed way to quickly, but that was just too fun.  As Anne put it the Münsterfähre is “cheap entertainment”.  I wanted to go back and forth, but Betty thought that might have been considered a bit nuts…ah well, it was a lot of fun.

Attached only by the wire & moved by the Rhine current

Our Ferryman

Heading back - ring the bell if you want a ride
We visited the Münster (the cathedral) and then figured it was time to head back. Weather was changing and the rains started to increase, so back to the train station to return to Colmar. The ride back to Colmar would have been pretty sedate had it not been for the patdown I received from the Customs (Duane) people. We’d watched them pat down and search a fellow from Turkey and felt bad for him as they started going through all of his bags.  They then were walking past us as I was making notes about the situation. I happened to look up and caught the eye of the female officer…sigh, you know the rest, pat down, searched purses and backpacks.  Were we transporting more than 10,000 euros (I wish!)…no.  What did we buy…nothing but food.  And on, finally they decided we were not smugglers and wished us an au revoir and bonjournée.  Whew.

After arriving in Colmar, we decided a degustation was in order so we went to find the only winery in the city confines – Maison Jund (another of Anne’s suggestions). Tasted both a Pinot Blanc and a Riesling – both dry and mineral, the Blanc was a bit more fruity.  Bought a bottle of the Riesling to share with Betty’s sister, Jinny, in Provence.

The evening brought us to the Winstub Schwendi for roesti which we enjoyed very much at a little Swiss restaurant in Portland (also suggested by Anne).  So we ordered:

  • Le Roesti Forestiére (pommes de terre (shredded), champignons, jambon epaulé, sauce hollandaise, lardons)
  • Salade verte
  • Une pichet de Riesling

It was WAY too much food for me.  Betty made it through, but whew.  Back to the hotel to a bunch of work…seemed like every client was having issues or questions. However, gave me time to digest a bit before bed…

So, we close the visit to Colmar and Alsace…almost. Will post another with more pictures and a few notes.  The next major post…Lyon.

Bon Nuit…