Sorry this post has taken so long. I thought I’d better wait till I had an update on the accommodation situation seeing as that’s what most people have been asking about. Well, I’ll get the bad news out of the way – no update. To cut a long story short, I’ve had a place lined up since before I left and it has taken ages to hear back about it. I was meant to know by today so if I don’t know by tomorrow (Monday my time) I’m going to have to give up on that one and desperately try and find something else. I still have two weeks till uni starts but the later it gets the more competitive it is so I don’t want to take any risks!
I’ll also note at this point that I haven’t read over this as it’s 4000 words and ain’t nobody got time for that! Hopefully it’s not too incoherent. Without further ado, here ‘s what I’ve been up to…
I’ve been using a diary my art history gfs gave me to write bullet points of what I’m doing each day, stand out observations etc which is good as I can actually remember what I did when I finally get round to these overdue posts! So this blog is basically going to be a rundown of the whole week. You’ve been warned.
Was pretty sucky. Long, didn’t sleep, and vomited (I won’t go into further detail). Geting to Heathrow and having to stand in a queue for half an hour while they had one security ‘gate’ going to process everyone in transit really topped it off. Anyway, I eventually arrived in Lyon (via a r e a l l y long wait for bags and zero customs) and made it onto the airport tram into town. I then waited there for about 10 minutes before I was met by my ‘lifeguard’ (more on this later). It actually wasn’t that cold given it was about 9:30 at night which was lucky. As I had my illegally heavy (23.8kg) suitcase I wasn’t too keen to battle with the metro so we got a taxi to…
I was a little bit nervous about my hotel as it’s a little boutique-y two star place. It looked great in all the photos but the feedback on booking.com, tripadvisor etc basically said it was really luck of the draw as to what your room was like. Fortunately I got one of the rooms in the photos which looks right out onto Place Bellecour, which is France’s third largest public square and right in the centre of the city. So the location is fantastic and the room really nice (I have a thing about mass-produced characterless hotel rooms). The only problem is that, because it’s a hotel (and a two-star one at that) I have had to have every meal out. I knew this was going to happen but I didn’t anticipate quite how depressing it would be. So I’m looking forward to that being over.
Saturday was my first day in Lyon and I spent most of it trying and failing to sleep. You’d think given I arrived at night and was shattered I would just sleep straight through and avoid jet lag, but no. About 4pm I finally gave up and went out to have a look around. I spent about an hour wandering round the Presqu’Ile (literally ‘almost-island’) which is the main shopping area of the city between the two rivers. It was a very mild 14 degrees, with wind at Wellington level on the bridges of the Rhone which was unexpected! I was pretty pleased that I didn’t have to look at a map at all as I guess with the rivers as borders it’s pretty easy to get your bearing. I even got asked for directions by a French person! They weren’t too impressed when I was like ‘I’m not French’ haha. Other highlights included almost being run over crossing the road which was totally not my fault; I was on a green! It’s quite odd, all the intersections here have pedestrian crossing stripes on the road even though most of them are controlled by lights, and also you don’t press a button when you want to cross – it’s just automatic. Which I guess makes sense as there’s always going to be a steady stream of traffic. Dinner that night was a takeaway pizza which seemed pretty, you know, safe. That was until I got back to my room and discovered they hadn’t cut it, so that was fun ripping it with my hands to eat it given I didn’t have any cutlery…
Sunday was a much more eventful day. I went out fairly early as I guess I was awake anyway. First of all I came across a market on the banks of the Saone which was pretty bustling. I spent heaps of time just looking at everything (so much cheeese) and was going to buy a pain au chocolat but the guy blatantly knew I was next and kept serving other people so I was like you’re not getting my custom, mate, and left. Even though I reeally wanted one :( Then I got the cable car up the hill to the Basilique de Notre Dame de Fourviere. First of all I went to the lookout point where you can see the whole city, and attempted to take some panorama photos (like the one on my header) which were a bit of a fail. It was a really nice day though which was lucky. At this point I should probably note that the photo above is from wikimedia commons, I tried to add credit to it but I’m a noob and don’t know how. NOT MY PHOTO.
I spent a good couple of hours at Fourviere, mainly because I was filling in time, but it was really interesting. It had amazing mosaics, some of which were being restored, and there was a whole ‘nother full-scale ‘chapel’ underneath the main one which I was not expecting, as well as various smaller ones. I looked around the gardens as well and then headed to the nearby Roman amphitheatres. There are two, a smaller one called the Odeon which was used for smaller music concerts then the main one which …. . I found it pretty amazing that we were allowed to (just about) climb all over them, and all for free as well! Part of me was like isn’t this just going to wear them all down and then they just won’t exist any more but I guess ‘they’ now what they’re doing.
I then headed back up to the Basilica where I was again asked for directions! This time I actually helped them though haha. Each time I talk to someone in French I keep wanting them to ask where I’m from so I can rep NZ but so far it hasn’t happened. I’ll keep you all posted though. Then I went to the toilet and was reminded of a fact that I had blissfully forgotten since I was last in France: public toilets don’t have toilet seats. These were particularly gross toilets too so that was fun.
Thenn I went back down into Vieux Lyon which is the old town. I just roamed around looking at everything, found a ‘traboule’ which is an old tunnel system going beneath/between the buildings, and then eventually got some lunch. I think it was about 3pm by this stage so I was pretty impressed with myself. I found a great place where I could get a panini, ‘dessert’ and drink for just €6! Unfortunately that was their only branch in Lyon which was a shame as it was really good!
Then I found the big Cathedral. Unfortunately I was a bit churched-out by that point so I only had a little look. They must have been restoring the altar as they had projected an altarpiece onto the wall which I found quite amusing. I happened to be there when the astronomical clock was due to go off so there was a huge crowd round that. There was also a plaque which said that Henry IV and Marie de Medici were married there so that was pretty cool.
Then I just kept walking round the city and saw most of the main sights including the Fresque des Lyonnais, a building covered in trompe l’oeil frescoes of famous Lyonnais; the art museum, town hall and opera. Then I went back to the place where I’d got the pizza to give them another chance and they failed me again; their ‘restaurant special recipe’ carbonara was a ginormous bowl of pasta just coated in cream with absolutely no flavour and hardly any bacon. To make matters worse I had to wait for ages until someone came to take my plate so I could leave. So they’re officially struck off which is annoying as I would have eaten there like every night if they were good!
In the morning I went to stock up on some food supplies as it was New Year’s Eve so a lot of shops were going to be shut over the next couple of days. I went to the mini supermarket near me to try and buy some breakfast food I could eat in my room so I didn’t keep having to pay €12 for the hotel’s one. From my previous experience in France and New Caledonia, it is apparently normal for everyone to drink UHT milk, so I thought it would be easy to buy some of this and have it with cereal (as I don’t have a fridge in my room). Not so. The whole trip was a bit of a fail but I had to buy stuff anyway as I didn’t know when I would get another chance! So instead of cereal, milk and a bowl I ended up with cereal, juice and a 10 pack of plastic cups. Yep. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Then I had a wander round the market at the same place as the day before except this time it as full of…crap. Seriously, every stall looked like junk that had come straight out of $2 shop. So that was a bit disappointing.
Then I met up with Jamie, a student from Dunedin also here for the semester. It was looking pretty dire seeing as we pretty much couldn’t contact each other but eventually she arrived and it was just good to have company! We were hoping to do something casual to celebrate NYE but the lady in the tourist office said that literally nothing happens in ‘public’ and that everything was going to be closed the next day. So we decided to head to the (real) supermarket in the mall in the ‘financial district’. This involved my first metro experience and I’m proud to say we survived the line changes! We soon realised that supermarket shopping 30 minutes before closing time was not the brightest idea. I ended up just grabbing some bananas and a bread roll which came to the grand total of 89 centimes. Can’t believe I queued for that!
Then we had to find dinner and, you guessed it, everything was closed. We ended up having to go to ‘Quick’ which is like McD’s, where we had to stand in a line for haf an hour, most of the burgers weren’t available and the place shut at 7. So that was fun. Then I went home and seeing as none of you wanted to skype me I went to bed and cried myself to sleep, until I was woken up by tooting cars going cray cray at midnight.
Probably the worst day so far. I stayed in my room all day because a) it was raining and b) nothing was open. I did plan my trip which I will hopefully be doing this week provided I get all the flat stuff sorted on time (which is looking more and more unlikely). I would like to go to Provence for 4/5 days but I won’t tell you anything else in case it doesn’t eventuate! I eventually had to go out to try and find food, I really didn’t want to get Quick/Maccas again so thankfully I managed to get a sandwichy thing and a sandwichy-thing place. Everything was shutting pretty early again too. Then when I turned on the tv Titanic was on (en français) so of course i had to watch it, even though it was already up to the flooding and was not exactly a relaxing viewing experience.
Jamie and I met up again and went back to the supermarket to actually buy some stuff. It took us a fair while as it was huge and there were so many options for everything it was hard to pick! I still couldn’t really buy anything food-y due to lack of fridge/microwave/kettle which was frustrating. I then went back to my hotel and met Stéphanie;
My French Lifeguard
About a month before I left I found completely by chance, this website called myfrenchlifeguard.com. Basically, they’re an organisation that helps international students settle in Lyon. You pay a certain amount of money and they will set up your bank account, cell phone and a pass to use the free bikes. Then they will look for accommodation for you, and if they find something do all the admin, set up insurance and all the other stuff that goes with it. There is a fee for this too but you only pay if they find something you’re happy with. So I signed up to do this as I felt it was definitely worth it to have them sort out all the tricky stuff for me. Long story short, they found a flat I was happy with before I left, but were still waiting to hear back from the landlord about it. This was kind of fair enough as I did arrive between Christmas and New Year when most people are on holiday. I heard pretty much nothing about it for the first week when I was here though and started to get nervous, because if I waited for this and it fell through then the clock was ticking and it was just going to get harder as more and more students started arriving. Then there was the added issue of me wanting to go away (as this flat wasn’t available till the 12th, so I figured if I would be paying to stay somewhere till then it might as well be somewhere else). So anyway, that was all a bit up in the air and I didn’t even know for sure if she was going to be meeting me etc so I had to pretty much make my own plans and assume I wouldn’t be getting any help from them, which is why I didn’t mention them in my last blog. Anyway…
Stéphanie and I opened my bank account, but I can’t use it yet because I have to wait for the credit card and chequebook (for paying rent, apparently….) to be posted out. I have my online banking logon, but have to wait for the password to be mailed out separately for ‘security reasons’. So it’s lucky I’m not in dire need of this account! Then I bought the transport pass which is €28 a month for unlimited travel on the metro, bus, tram, cable car. Even though it’s easy to walk everywhere I would be getting the metro to uni and I figure all it takes is 10 return trips to make this card worthwhile (if that makes sense). And you choose each month whether you want to use it or not so maybe once I’m into the swing of things I won’t need it. Then I got the 12 à 25 travel pas for the train (as opposed to metro) throughout France which gets discounted rated for ‘youths’, that was €50 for the year but will definitely be worth it with the amount of travelling I want to do! So that was an expensive day. Hit up Maccas for dinner because YOLO.
Today Jamie and I went to explore the Parc de la Tête d’Or, which is pretty much Lyon’s equivalent to Central Park. It’s massive park next to the Rhone I can’t remember how big but i’m pretty sure the lake was 16 hectares? Can’t remember. Anyway, massive. It even has a zoo! This was free and there didn’t seem to be any staff anywhere, so we were kind of expecting it to be just a couple of animals, maybe more of a petting zoo or something. But no, it was a fully fledged zoo with giraffes, leopards, lions and….ELEPHANTS! We couldn’t believe it when we got to the elephants, we thought we’d seen everything and were trying to get back into the main bit of the park and then we came round the corner and literally both our mouths dropped open as we saw them! It was hilarious, I wish someone had got it on camera haha. We also got churros from the little stall as Jamie had never had them before and they pretty much filled us up for the rest of the day!
Then we walked to our uni to have a squiz round. The main campus seems really nice! Although given that my courses still aren’t available I don’t even know which campus I’ll be at. We went to the international office, got some stuff sorted with them then sussed out where we had to go for our orientation things. There was a braille map which was interesting and I inadvertently set it off by touching it. Ma bad. Fortunately there wasn’t really anyone round but what’s to be the people who were will be in every one of my classes -_- Also I can report that there were no seats on the toilets here either.
Friday started off with ‘coffee’ with Jamie, Sarah (another Dunedinite) and Etienne who Sarah had met at the hostel. Etienne had to get a bus to Vienna (as you do) so the three of us roamed around for a bit. Then Sarah had to sort some stuff out so Jamie and I hung in my room until Louis from the lifeguard service cam over to finally give me my sim card and bike card and I had to sign a whole lot of stuff authorising direct debits etc. The good news is that my phone plan, which was €4.99 a month for 60 mins of calls and 60 texts has now been randomly upgraded to 120 mins and unlimited texts! Not to NZ though unfortunately. And if you’re reading this, don’t bother trying to contact me on my NZ number as I’m not using it anymore. Louis was really nice and helped us out with heaps of stuff we had questions about.
Once that was done we went back to our fave supermarket (really getting the value out of my transport card) and bought food to have for dinner at Jamie’s flat. We made spag bol and I had REAL VEGES for the first time all week! Then I got the bus for the first time, in the dark, and managed to get off at the right spot and get the metro (for one stop but why not) successfully which was exciting.
I spent most of Saturday working on this blog. Then Jamie, Sarah and I got together for dinner and made pumpkin and pea risotto (Sarah is vegetarian) which was AMAZING. Real food! It was a bit of a mission though as we had to go to three places before we found a pumpkin! Even then we ended up using a ‘potimarron’ (as opposed to ‘potiron’) which was some kind of squash thing. All I know is it tasted good! We felt it would be wrong not to top it off with some kind of dessert so after a solid five minutes staring at all the delicacies in the frozen section of the supermarket we settled on a spherical chocolate icecream with chocolate coating and molten chocolate centre concoction. We were not disappointed! Then Sarah and I got the bus home from Jamie’s and after working up the courage to ask a guy at the bus stop where to buy a ticket (not as straightforward as it sounds) we were soon phat-chatting away. Our first French friend! Except he was actually from Sri Lanka and had casually studied at Cambridge as you do. Everything in the conversation kind of revealed itself backwards which was quite funny.
The three of us met up again with big plans to visit the cafe run by Kiwis that we’d heard about. Naturally, it was closed. We settled for pastries at a nearby ‘dairy’ and then did a bit of exploring in Croix Rousse which is the old silk weavers’ district, which is now pretty much the hipster area. We struck a Sunday market (the highlight by far was rotisserie chickens with potatoes soaking in the ‘jus’, can’t wait to buy one of those when I actually have a kitchen/cutlery to eat it with!). Today is the Epiphany which I don’t think is really celebrated in NZ but is quite a big deal here, not just among Christians. I don’t know too much about the religious origins of the holiday but the tradition is to eat a galette du roi (‘cake of the king’) which is usually puff pastry filled with frangipane although the fillings can vary. Inside it somewhere is a fève which is a little trinket, usually ceramic or plastic. The youngest person goes underneath the table and dictates who receives each piece of the galette as it is cut. Then, whoever has the fève gets to wear the crown and be ‘king for the day’.
The galettes go on sale around the start of January and are EVERYWHERE, and there is quite a variety in the price as well. We saw one for FORTY EUROS at a patisserie in Croix Rousse (will upload photo when I can!). We grabbed the cheapest one we could find find which was €5.90 from the supermarket and about the size of the inside of a dinner plate, if that makes sense. We decided to accompany it with some cider in a nice corked bottle that was displayed next to it because it was about €1.50. Yep, you can guess how that tasted. We’re not even sure if it was cider. Our little party started off with leftover risotto from the night before (pinching pennies off to a good start) and then, being the youngest, I had the pleasure of contorting myself under the tiny kitchen table while the galette was doled out. Photo come of that too. Sadly I did not win the crown but we managed to escape before we became Jamie’s slaves for the day (I was reading up on wikipedia and it can get quite intense!). Also we made another friend on the bus, doing well!
Other than all that, I’m not sure what else there is to say. It’s been quite cold, around 6 degrees each day but it hasn’t actually been too bad. I’m finding that two layers of merino (and longjohns) underneath a coat/jacket is fine, because I’m usually on the move outside or when I get inside it’s hot so I have to peel of the layers. But overall it hasn’t really seemed that cold. It’s been really ‘fresh’ every day and has only actually rained once so fingers crossed this continues! The city is actually pretty compact and really easy to get around. My main gripe is probably that there is something funky going on with the water here which is making my hair really limp and annoying! I’m not the kind of person to normally mind about this sort of thing but when when you’re used to having an unruly mane and it is suddenly pinned to the sides of your head it’s un peu disconcerting.
If you’re still reading at this point congratulations! I’m pretty sure both the quantity and quality of these blogs is going to drop pretty sharply so enjoy it while it lasts haha. I’ll aim to write my next post at the end of next week unless I’m in way in which case I’ll de it when I get back and have exciting stuff to report. Win/win! (I think). Anyway leave me a comment and I’ll reply and it will be exciting!