Pandemic travels – March in Annecy and Lyon, France

The Aer Lingus flight to Lyon was uneventful as was the BlaBlaBus journey to Grenoble where we caught the connecting train to Annecy. We said our temporary goodbyes at Annecy train station to make our way to our respective hotels. I was staying in a comfortable one-bedroom apartment. As I took the sheet from my suitcase to place on the bed, I reflected on landlady’s request that tourists bring their own bed linen with them on their foreign travels to reduce the spread of Covid. Seemed a bit far-fetched.

Pont Perrière, Annecy

We had arranged to meet at 8pm that evening, by which time it was dark. The Alpine views would have to wait until the morning. After a dinner of perch and garlic chips, we repaired to a French bar where we encountered a couple of gentlemen who seemed fascinated by our Irish origin, and took the opportunity to practise their English. My French was better than their English I suspect. Rarely had I seen people so drunk, that they had not passed out. They were friendly however so the evening was pleasant.

The following morning – Monday – we met in the historical town centre and climbed the hill to the Annecy Castle overlooking the city. The chateau is now the the home of a modern art museum which was a nice juxtaposition of old and new. Annecy has been called the ‘Venice of the Alps’ for its historic, beautifully preserved streets and bridges. Its real attraction is the scenery. It lies on the northern tip of Lake Annecy, 35 kilometres south of Geneva, Switzerland. Lake Annecy has been called the “Pearl of French Alps” describing its location between lake and mountains. Annecy is a breathtakingly beautiful place. Lake Annecy is one of the cleanest lakes in Europe as efforts to tackle pollution began over sixty years ago. The sun was shining on that day which gave stunning views.

We had planned to take a lake tour on the Tuesday morning. As the mist was almost entirely covering the view of the Alps, we decided instead to sit by the lake to soak up the warm March sunshine. Joan Crawford kept me company.

The train journey to Lyon took about two hours. Masks were still compulsory on public transport, as was possession of a vaccine certificate to gain entry to any cafe, restaurant or bar. It was in stark contrast to the manner in which Ireland had discarded restrictions in their entirety only a few weeks earlier. I had no objection – I was in France, I had to abide by French rules.

Théâtre Gallo Romain de Lyon

Lyon is third largest city in France and is situated at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. Lyon was originally a Roman settlement, created about 2000 years ago. We were staying in the Renaissance area of the city, which was developed to ease access to the river for silk merchants in the fifteenth century. There was no cars on these narrow cobbled streets – instead there was a huge range of cafes, bars, restaurants, bakeries, craft shops and bookshops. My apartment was the size of a shoebox on the sixth floor of a Renaissance building with a spiral staircase and no lift. It was a grim little room. I ignored the grimness – this was a place to sleep and nothing else.

Traboule

On Wednesday we took the funicular to the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste overlooking the city. Appropriately for a Catholic cathedral it was loud and gaudy. Close to the cathedral lies a series of wonderfully preserved Roman theatres which are still in use for concerts. We climbed down the steps to return to our own neighbourhood and stopped at a bouchon for our lunch. A bouchon is a type of restaurant found in Lyon, that serves traditional local fare such such as sausages, “salade lyonnaise” or roast pork. The tradition of bouchons comes from small inns visited by silk workers passing through Lyon in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We found a bouchon with an outdoor terrace for our midday meal. Being the adventurous type I ordered ‘tripe lyonnaise’ – a dish made by cutting and boiling cow intestine and serving in a tomato sauce. It was slimy, rubbery and nauseating. I persisted until it was finished – I desired the authentic Lyon experience. My friend ordered a pancake – but sent it back as we’d spotted a bird licking the lip of the container holding the batter, stood beside the outdoor pancake plate. A vile meal for everyone involved. In the afternoon we visited the Musée Cinéma et Miniature – Lyon’s film museum and discovered some ‘traboules’ – secret covered passageways used by silk manufacturers and other merchants to transport their products during the height of the silk trade.

Tripe

That evening we crossed the river to explore the grand, newer sections of town before an evening pizza and an early night.

On Thursday we went to Le Parc de la Tete D’Or – the large city park which also houses Lyon’s botanic gardens and a small zoo. The giraffes looked bored – I wasn’t, as it was an enchanting park. Afterwards I travelled to The Confluence Museum – so named as it’s built at the point where the Rhone and Saone Rivers join to form one river. It was no coincidence that ‘2 become 1’ by the Spice Girls was buzzing in my head. I enjoyed the exhibition about birds. I never knew that birds tweet in regional accents to let others know where they are from. I pictured Dublin seagulls greeting each other in thick Dublin accents.

‘Howerya. What’s de story? Are we havin’ BOORGURZ for tea?’

Musée des Confluences

Our final night in Lyon consisted of an Indian meal and an English pub where we encountered an elderly Manchester drunk who was pleasant and friendly, until he started doing vodka shots. By the time he started cursing Prince Charles for what he’d done to poor Lady Diana with that old trollop Camilla, we decided it was time to leave. A wise decision. Our flight back to Dublin was at lunchtime the next day. As I closed the door on my lonely little hovel, I was sad to be leaving. Lyon is a fascinating city and was a wonderful part deux of our French Spring break.

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