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.

1 comment:

Paul Cunningham said...

I think perhaps they should charge an extra Euro for those who are noisy and not the other way around.

And boy do I wish I was eating 'ris de veau'. To what does 'en cocotte' refer?