Lyon-The “Stomach” of France

Yesterday was primarily consumed with getting from Paris to Lyon on the high speed train (the TGV). Our train trip was greatly enhanced by meeting two new friends from our tour, Jay and Susan. However, by far and away the highlight of the day was a special dinner at one of the restaurants of Paul Bocuse, chef extraordinaire! We ate at the Abbaye de Collognes, near Paul Bocuse’ birthplace, which is a large catering facility. The meal was mind-blowing! We started with the famous black truffle soup (served with a cap of puff pastry), and then had an amazing roasted Bresse chicken with a potato galette. Dessert just kept coming in waves, and we rolled out of the restaurant full and very tired.

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Today, May 17, was an INCREDIBLY full day! We spent the morning in old Lyon, followed by a visit to Les Halles Paul Bocuse (the luxury food halls of Lyon), before going wine-tasting in Beaujolais in the afternoon.  First, we went to one of the two main hills in Lyon called Fourviére. When I say “old”, I mean really old, as in Roman times. On Fourviére hill, they have excavated lovely Roman ruins of a theater.  The views from the top of the hill were great, and we visited the cathedral, as well.

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Lyon-45Then it was off to the heart of the old city, which lies to the west of the Saône river. The Saône and Rhône rivers meet in Lyons, and form an island of land between them called the Presquisle.  The old town lies at the base of Fourviére hill, and is riddled with ancient walled passageways (over 300 of them) called traboules. We got to walk through several of these traboules, which are secret passageways to medieval age buildings, complete with towers.

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After walking through the old town, we headed over to the new town (to the east of the Rhône river) to enjoy a paired food tasting in the gastronomic wonder known as Les Halles.  If you can imagine a type of gourmet food, chances are, you can find it here.  We experienced a salami and cheese tasting paired with wine, and then we were set free on our own to buy whatever gourmet treats we wanted to bring home.  Then it was back to ship for a quick lunch, before we set out for Beaujolais.

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I don’t know about you, but Jim and my combined experience was limited to a couple of times we decided to try the nouveau beaujolais when it first arrived in the United States, which produced two of the worst hangovers in memory. Vive la France!  We were hoping there was actually some wine produced in the Beaujolais region which didn’t make you wish for death!

We went to the vineyard and winery of Chateau la Chaize, in the town of Odenas, which produces some award-winning Beaujolais Cru (the good kind of Beaujolais).  Jim had brought his Vin Valise (wine suitcase) for exactly this type of opportunity, so we were hoping to score at least of couple of bottles worthy of being carried home to America. We were not disappointed!  What we learned was that wine in France, much like in Italy, is really made to pair with food, and is at its best when paired with food.  Jim scored two bottles of “vin valise worthy” Beaujolais, and the collection begins.

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Then we headed to another small medieval town, Salles Arbuissonas en Beaujolais, to visit a priory and former convent. Many appropriate photos later, we jumped back on the bus and went back to Lyon, in order to set sail.

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Finally, we returned to the ship, for our sail away down the Rhône. It was a perfect evening, and as we sailed, swans floated gently by.  The water is really high this year, so all the superstructure of the ship has to be laid down and we are cautioned repeatedly to stay seated, lest we be brained by low bridges. We even got to experience several locks (écluses, in French), and the boat fits through with just inches to spare on each side. We also met the second set of new friends for our trip Ken and Jean, and the six of us pretty much formed a posse for the remainder of the trip. WE stayed out on deck ’til the sun went down and then went to dinner, ready for another full day of adventure tomorrow.

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