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Layover in Lyon!

Kinda diggin' this vacation in February thing...

overcast 8 °C

Saturday was the start of « February Break ». Yep, just a random week in February with no classes. So, now that I have recovered from Christmas, I am taking the opportunity to do a bit of traveling. As some of you may know, I am working on researching my UNL Honors thesis this year. I’m writing it on the Slav Epic (an incredible 20- canvas visual epic telling the story of the Czech and other Slavic peoples) by Alphonse Mucha. (You may know him for his Art Nouveau commercial advertisements.) Anyhow, Mr. Mucha was born in modern-day Czech Republic, and Prague is home to both a museum dedicated to his life and work, and the National Gallery, which is currently exhibiting the Epic. So guess where I am?!

However, there were no trains available to Prague, so I got to watch about 17 hours (one way) of European countryside from a bus window (which is actually kind of cool; we passed through Northern France and Germany). But again, there were no buses direct from Besançon, so I took a train into Lyon early Saturday morning, were I got to spend almost two whole days before catching the bus to Prague on Sunday night, giving me some good time to explore the city.

But before that, on Friday, (I don’t have classes on Fridays again this semester!), I had one of the most fun days yet in Besançon. I probably should have been either working on my pile of homework before leaving town or packing (that happened at midnight…) but instead I was invited to participate in a community event with ESN.

There is a small group of girls here from Romania, and they led a cooking class at a community center for the elderly. We all met there at about 10:00, cooked a four course Romanian meal then ate it for lunch. It was so incredibly fun. There were six or seven old French ladies between 70 and 80 years old, a couple of coordinators, and seven students (three of them Romanian).

We made a vegetable and meatball soup for the first course, then had an amazing polenta variation that was just a bowl of plain polenta mixed with three naturally salty cheeses – feta, goat, and sheep – then topped with crème fraiche. Next was a French salad (salad is typically served after the main course, to lighten things up for dessert). A few of the ladies took great pride and pleasure in showing me, an Italian guy, and a Swedish girl how to make French dressings from scratch – and bickering adorably amongst themselves all the while. Finally, for dessert, a really delicious cocoa cake.


It was a super fun activity – who doesn’t love to cook (and eat)?! – but it was also very interesting to interact with an entirely new population here. Every single lady was incredibly sweet and chatty. And we got to learn a little bit about the phenomenon of regional last names. Most of them were from families that have pretty deep roots in the Franche-Comté region, with names that can be tied back to the history of a particular town or village. And one woman, who was probably one of the spunkiest and most talkative, was from way up in the Jura hinterlands and spoke with such a strong mountain accent that I could only understand about 20% of what she said. If I wasn’t concentrating really hard, and just heard her voice in the background, it didn’t even sound like French.

Then, because it was BEAUTIFUL outside, the four of us who didn’t have class just went for a walk, then ended up sitting on a park bench for about an hour. It turned out that all of us had signed up for the same Club Cuisine that evening (led by the Swedish girl, Oda). So then we meandered to the other side of the centre-ville to go Swedish grocery shopping in a French supermarket. And then it was almost time to start, so we made our way to our hosts’ apartment to get cookin’!

Our appetizer was dark bread with cheese and smoked salmon, accompanied by a bag of reindeer jerky sent over by her parents. Dinner was a Swedish gratin – potatoes, onions, and anchovies and sliced and layered in a pan with cream poured over the top and baked. It was super good! And for dessert we had banana sundaes! Because the Swedish, like Americans (and unlike the French) eat ice cream all year round. Oda also had us taste a candy that came in a teeny tiny bag and that looked like black jujubes. We all popped them at the same time, and the room erupted in cries of indignation and groans of dread. They must be the SALTIEST candy in existence. After the thick coating of fine salt dust has dissolved – I feel like we could call this the “seawater phase” – it actually turned out rather yummy, with a strong black licorice flavor.

So after another day filled with incredible food and fun, I got back to my room and packed really quickly before crashing. (So far, I haven't forgotten anything!) Then I got up nice and early – 5:30 – for the train.

I arrived in Lyon, France’s second largest city, at about 9:30 Saturday morning. There was a steady light rain, but, having broken and not bothered to replace my umbrella (that has become somewhat of a priority now), I started making my wet way to the hostel. About halfway there, a super friendly guy with a big red umbrella jogged up behind me. He wanted to share his umbrella with me! But I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, because he had a cold and had plugged his nostrils with Kleenex wads. Once he realized that that was not working for my comprehension, they came out and we had a nice chat during the last two minutes to the hostel. It was all a bit surreal, but kind of a fun way to start the day in a new city!

Once there, I just dropped my stuff and headed out again. I was close to the Fourvière, which I really wanted to check out. It is up on a giant hill, which I climbed about 90% of – just as far as the giant ROAD WORK – CLOSED sign. It was still raining, and I was still umbrella-less, and I had no idea how to wing a detour in this neighborhood (generally a bad idea in windy European cities, I have discovered), so I abandoned that one until the next day. So then I just wandered around a bit along the rivers and came across some pretty cool stuff (a fairly effortless task here).


For lunch, I found a little Lebanese restaurant and ordered a super good falafel sandwich. Both the bread and the falafel were a bit different from what I’m used to. It was definitely still bread, but it was also a lot like a wrap or some sort, and the falafel was very dry and pasty, but not at all in a bad way. By the time I had finished eating, the rain had stopped and, as I was finally in the neighborhood of the fine arts museum, I got to head right inside again. Perfect timing.

I have discovered that it is a rule here in France that museums are pretty amazing. Obviously. But there is an added layer of cool when the card on the wall next to some incredible piece explains that it was once a part of a building on one of the streets that you walked down to get to the museum (as is the case with the door pictured below). I managed to stay at the museum until closing time, so I headed back for the hostel and stopped at a grocery store on the way.


Saturday ended up quite eventful as well, as I had planned to visit the museum of decorative arts about two miles from the hostel. But as I was walking along the river, I could see a bunch of market tents set up on the other side. So I crossed over at the nearest bridge, and ended up walking through the most impressive art fair I have ever seen. If I weren’t poor and travelling, I would have easily walked away with four or five pieces; it was incredible. (Lyon seemed to be a very artsy city. In the neighborhood between where I stayed and downtown, I’d say about 40% of the storefronts were art studios or galleries. By the time I had reached the end of the fair, I could see that there was another fair starting up on the other side! This one turned out to be a HUGE food market, with bakers, butchers, farmers, cheesemakers, seafood vendors, florists, patissiers, and all kinds of amazing things. I bought a lump of Savigny chèvre to accompany my lunch, and it was SO fresh and delicious!

After that series of happy detours, I finally made it to the museum, where I spent the rest of the morning (and a bit of the afternoon). It turned out to be two museums; one of the decorative arts (so each room was basically furnished like a period room, be it a salon, bedroom, whatever) and the other was a Tissues Museum (Lyon was once renowned for their silk manufacturing). On the way back, I walked back through the market – which was even more crowded and noisy than before – to pick up some other lunch ingredients.

Then, in the afternoon, I was resolved to find the Fourvière, so I mapped out an alternate route. This brought me through some really tiny little alleyways and it was absolutely fantastic. When I got to the top of the freaking MOUNTAIN, it was even more worth it, both for the view of the city and for the church itself.


After the Fourvière, I went on a quest for some bread to pack a sandwich for the bus ride the next day. You’d think that by now I would have figured out that options are very limited on Sundays, not to mention at 6pm… But Google told me that there was one boulangerie open about half a mile away, so off I went! And that little detour took me into an entirely new little area of the same quarter that I had spent most of my time in. Full of restaurants, candy shops, patisseries, book stores, and antique shops, it was a bit touristy, but in a much different way (quieter, more diverse stores, and actually probably about 50% French – I guess they still could have been tourists…) than the tourist neighborhoods of London, Dublin, New York City, or Paris. Wow, it’s kind of crazy to think that I have been to ALL of those places now! I think that I can say that Lyon is my favorite French city outside of Besançon so far; not too enormous, but definitely some really cool stuff going on!

For the sake of everyone, I’ll let this be it, and update you all on my Prague adventures once I’m back in Besançon.

Posted by NKammerer 15:15 Archived in France Tagged vacation bus museum sweden spring cooking cheese lyon fourvière esn club_cuisine romanian_cuisine retirement_home

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I hope you brought your waterproof Killarney jacket! Lyon looks like a beautiful town, not that I'm surprised. I love reading about your adventures from the random guy with the umbrella to the cultural cuisine!

Non, je ne suis un livre jaune pas! Yeah, I learn quickly...

by Vinnie

Wow, Lady! Truly amazing. Thanks for the personal updates from Prague, too. She is doing well, dear readers! I just ate bread and cheese with some chili for dinner. somehow it just doesn't compare.

by Dad

Some of your meals sound intriguing - the polenta would be a fantastic dish! I think I'll pass on the reindeer jerky, though!

The photos are wonderful - it's unbelievable that there is so much beauty everywhere you turn. The museums must be like "candy" for you - I know how you love to take in all they have to offer.

I loved your story about the young man with the big, red umbrella and the Kleenex-stuffed nose.


by Judy Trout

Hi Hon,

Your photography is great the lighting is very good. I love the way you turned a pain in the butt layover into another fantastic adventure. You're something lady.


by Opa

Natalie, you are amazing ! Your photographs are second to none. Your dad has been keeping us up to date. Love,Muti

by Muti

Love your adventures, pictures, and stories. But the food part WOW, I have now decided when I read this blog to do it right before lunch! You really are an amazing writer, I feel like I'm right along with you! And am really enjoying the journey!!!

Keep exploring and keep writing!!
Love you!!
Aunt Chris

by Chris Wulff

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