The car rental drop off was as smooth as silk. The TGV station was in the airport so it was only a matter of getting there with my bags. I tried to pack lightly knowing that this leg of my trip was going to actually require my legs. Still, I did have some difficulty schlepping my bags around.
When I walked onto the platform, I was caught a bit off guard. The station was huge. The very modern, industrial structure, an impressive conglomeration of glass and steel was completely unexpected. The train was already docked when I arrived. I found my car and planted myself in my seat. A nap was definitely in order. The rigors of the trip were beginning to wear on me.
The first thing I noticed when the train pulled out of the station was the silence. I glanced out the window. The countryside was whizzing by at breakneck speed. I rested my head on the back of my chair. I was really tired. I wanted to enjoy the view but my body had other ideas and I was asleep in no time flat. Luckily, the guy sitting next to me accidentally woke me up or I might have missed my stop.
When the train to pulled into the station in Lyon, I headed toward the exit to catch a cab. Today was La Fête du Travail or Labour Day and no other forms of transportation -buses, subways, trams- were running. Secretly, I was glad because it gave me an excuse to take a taxi. The walk to the train in Paris had been more tiring than I expected and my host had actually suggested I walk to his place from the station! I didn’t want to seem lazy but there was no way I would survive a 30 minute walk with all the crap I was carrying. Labour Day is a major holiday in France. On this day, it is customary for men to give women a special flower called the Muguet de Mai (Lilly of the Valley). Like roses on Valentine’s Day in the states you can purchase them on every street corner, a symbol of springtime and good luck.
I caught a cab and asked him to take me to McDonalds Bellecour which was right in front of where I was staying. My driver was extremely nice. He was an older gentleman who had lived in Lyon all his life. He loved it there. He described life in Lyon as easy and content. To him, Lyon was one of the most beautiful places in France and the best place to live. He wholeheartedly supported my moving there. My apartment was right off the main road that bordered the river. He wasn’t wrong. The view was breathtaking.
When we reached the McDonalds, I gave him a really nice tip. We talked the entire drive and I really enjoyed the conversation. He asked me to please wait – “Attends, s’il vous plaît” while he ran across the street for something. He came back with Muguet de Mai for me. It was a very sweet gesture and as you can imagine, they were the only flowers I received that day.
My host, Wassime, met me in front of the McDonalds and we walked the short way to his apartment. It was a tiny, tiny place with an elevator that could only fit me and my bags. Wassime had to walk up the 10 flights of stairs to the 4th floor. The entire apartment could fit in my living room but it didn’t matter. It served only as a place to leave my bags and rest my head.
I have to say that my host turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Before I arrived, Wassime had been extremely helpful especially with the logistics in getting to his apartment during the holiday. But after we met, we didn’t really click. When I was looking for potential hosts, I specifically chose people who seemed friendly and outgoing since I wanted their input on the places where they lived. I was very clear in my inquiries about the reason for my trip. Wassime was literally no help. If I saw him for 10 minutes during my stay it was a lot. It was lucky that I had others options in Lyon otherwise I would have been completely on my own.
Knowing that it was Labour Day, I didn’t hold out high hopes that anything would be open but as usual I was hungry so I ventured out to find a restaurant. Surprisingly, most of the restaurants were open so I popped into a place right by the apartment and sat down to order. At this point, I had been in France for about a week and I was starting to pick up on some things. Every meal came with bread and they consistently forgot to bring the butter. After having to ask for butter 3 or 4 times I began to wonder if this was not an accidental omission. It wasn’t. It was one of those ‘Oh… She’s American.‘ moments which many of us blindly walk into when visiting. In France, you eat bread with your meal but you don’t ever put butter on it. As far as I can tell, butter’s primary purpose here is for cooking and baking. France has a lot of very rich recipes and butter is at the heart of many of them.
Lyon is truly beautiful. They call it little Paris but personally I think it’s prettier. It has a wonderful charm about it despite it being one of the largest cities in France second only to Paris and Marseilles. I wandered around for most of the day. I had no specific agenda. I treated it as I had the other cities – walk around and get a feel for the place. Because of it’s size, Lyon like Paris, has arrondissements. These are districts within the city that are designated by numbers each with it’s own personality and characteristics. I was staying in arr. 1, the center of town, again. It was a beautiful juxtaposition of traditional and modern architecture. I could definitely see myself living here. It had all of the things I was accustomed to as a New Yorker, nightlife, theaters, sports, culture. I would never have to leave Lyon for anything and for the purposes of opening a satellite office, it was by far the most logical choice.
During the hell of 2014, (another story for another day) my friends were my rock. I found out in a very concrete way who I could depend on when the shit hit the fan. They have been my family and have continued to support me through my transition to France. As I told you before, the transition was neither simple nor quick. It took me almost a year to organize and prepare for my move. There were a lot of things needed to make it happen. The Expedition was only one small piece. But the benefit of having friends who truly care about you, is they go above and beyond to help you realize your dream.
Lyon was a huge city. I could never have adequately navigated it alone. Not in 2 days. I needed help and true to form my friends came through for me. One of the nice things about being an airbnb host is that you get to meet all kinds of people from all over the world. This is especially true for those who host in major cities like New York. As fate would have it, my friend Sonya had a guest from Lyon just that past summer. She reached out to Florian and he graciously offered to take me around while I was there. When I arrived in Lyon, I sent him a quick message and we made plans to meet the next morning. A local guide. Who could ask for more?