During my year abroad in college, I realized that the United States is huge compared to pretty much everywhere else. As Americans, we can easily spend our entire lives never crossing the U.S. border and still manage to travel extensively (distance wise). This differs greatly from Europe where the countries are the size of our states and traveling the same distance from New York to California could take you through twelve countries in Europe. As a result, it is not uncommon for Europeans to relocate to other countries or speak multiple languages because the borders are so close. Most of my non-American friends speak 3 or 4 languages minimum. This migratory lifestyle lends itself to a familiarity with entertaining friends visiting from other places. So when I reached out to Florian about possibility meeting him while I was in Lyon, true to form, he offered his place. I had already booked the apartment with Wassime so it wasn’t necessary but the generosity of people still never fails to amaze me.
I met Florian and his son the next morning at Place Bellecour just a few blocks from my apartment. After exchanging greetings, we walked over to his car and headed to our first stop. Lyon is a large metropolitan city so I was somewhat surprised that Florian had a car. Public transportation is readily available and widely used but I wasn’t going to complain. It was definitely helpful. There was a lot of ground to cover and we could do it much faster by car.
Our first stop was the top of Fourvière hill. Once at the summit, it opened to a beautiful, expansive vista that allowed you to see for miles in every direction. We had a great day for sightseeing with nothing but blue skies and sunshine. From this vantage point, Florian pointed out all the arrondissements in the city.
We had tried unsuccessfully to schedule appointments with some realtors but the holiday weekend basically made that impossible. I searched for properties while I was in New York but I could only see the apartment not the neighborhood. I managed to narrow down the choices to 3 or 4 areas based, in part, on suggestions from Florian. But once we started to visit, I realized that the apartments I liked were in districts that I didn’t. It was the classic problem of modern versus traditional. Modern apartments tend to have all the best amenities, but the neighborhoods don’t have any personality or character. Conversely, the older buildings while very classically French and beautiful in their white stone splendor have old pipes and old plumbing and no water pressure and, and, and…
After a couple of hours of driving around, we were ready for lunch. Florian had a favorite place that he thought I would like so we headed straight there. His son, not overly excited about the sightseeing was starting to fidget. It was our cue to get him somewhere quickly. What do you think we found when we arrived? A closed door and shuttered windows. My restaurant curse seemed to be contagious. Merde. We checked a couple of backup places and they too were closed. I had to laugh. It was so typical of my life. So Florian decided we would go into the touristy part of town that was certain to be open despite the holiday weekend.
We found a little place and sat down. This meal was educational in more ways than one. This is when Florian confirmed my suspicions about the bread and butter. I’m sure his entire day with me was a series of amusements. My second revelation was this: Cats in France eat the same thing as cats in the states. Purina is international apparently. **Addendum: This piece of information turned out to be only partially correct but we’ll get to the cats much later in the story.** This was also where I understood for the first time how courses are setup here. You begin with an apéritif, a cocktail ordered before the main course, it’s standard in France. In fact, I have actually caught flack for not ordering one. It’s that common. Then you order your entrée, which is actually an appetizer here (you can imagine how this screwed me up initially) after which you have ‘Le Plat’, the main course, and lastly you have dessert or coffee. The food was amazing. Lyonnaise cuisine is well know for their gastronomy. Everything I ate was phenomenal.
After lunch, we resumed our tour. The neighborhoods in Lyon vary greatly. There are areas that are exceedingly beautiful and very expensive and there are not so savory parts of town which Florian told me very bluntly to stay away from. You also have heavily industrialized areas with lots of glass and steel which I didn’t care for at all. They lacked personality. It could have been anywhere. What is the point of moving to France if I can’t tell I’m in France? When I told Florian this he chuckled and said “Most Americans prefer the stones and traditional architecture of vieux Lyon.” I bristled at this. I hated being grouped in with ‘most Americans’. I was after all contemplating making France my home not just some tourist destination. But I had to concede, on this point, he was correct. I did prefer it.
My most memorable moment of the day had nothing to do with the neighborhoods or the food. I was beginning to feel parched so as we were heading up the hill I said “I’m thirsty. Let’s pop in the store and grab a soda.” He turned to me with a blank look on his face. It was a look of complete incomprehension. I started to giggle as it slowly dawned on me what I had said wrong. He replied “There are some places right up the street if you want to sit and have a coffee”. You see in France you don’t just grab something to drink and keep going. Food and drink are meant to be savored, enjoyed. It is an insult to the food and those who have prepared it if you do not give it the appropriate time and respect. They take their leisure time very seriously here.
This was a forceful reminder that in France you do not rush. It was one of the things that drew me here to begin with. The chance to enjoy life, to stop and smell the flowers so to speak. Basically, the antithesis of New York. Now, whenever I feel inclined to rush I think of that day with Florian. We sat down and enjoyed a drink (which took about 30 or 40 minutes) and then we got back in the car and headed back to my place. It had been a full day and I was exhausted but a lot of questions had been answered and even more had been raised.
I got up early the next morning to walk around a bit more before leaving. My train back to Paris wasn’t until early afternoon so I had some time to kill. I wandered into a wonderful open market. It was amazing and it had everything you could possibly want. I’m certain if I were staying another day, I would have spent entirely too much money buying more food than any one person could realistically eat. Instead, I picked up a few souvenirs for friends back home and made my way to the train station.
I was staying in my absolute favorite part of Paris, Montmartre and I couldn’t wait to get there.