Vive La France!
We return to France. My Guy’s friend, a former owner of a travel company, gets a group of us a great deal on a Viking River Boat tour from Lyon through Provence’. Bien Sur, of course we will go. You know we like to start our trips with a little drama, so my guy tears a ligament underneath his big toe one month before the trip. In the same week I, with a little too much spring and joy in my step, take a wide angle turn into the bathroom and nail the door jam breaking my little toe. I guess I didn’t want to be left out. Shees. My Guy is in a boot up until the day we left. My two toes get wrapped daily, and my foot doesn’t fit into the walking shoes I bought for France until after our arrival.
I would classify this trip as very educational. I learned about wine, the Romans, and the French Resistance probably in that order. Viking is staffed with mostly Eastern European young people. No French accents on this boat. I want to say this upfront. I never met a friendlier, harder working staff than this crew. Service with a smile, never grumpy, basically working around the clock. By the way, France has lots of great rules for workers like you cannot work more than 35 hours a week, a certain amount of break time, about six weeks off a year, and no contacting employees after hours. Makes for a very healthy life-style. Work is work and home is home. The French are on Easter holiday when we are here. Everyone gets two weeks, staggered, so not everyone is off at the same time.
Lunch is our first meal on Viking, oh, and here they come with the wine. Milhai calls it happiness. “Would you like a little more happiness?” he says. He’s so efficient at giving me happiness I have eight days of a never ending wine glass. Meals take two hours regardless of whether you are on the boat or eating at a French bistro. That’s a lot of happiness. About the food in France. You will never have a bad meal. How can you with butter, cream, bread and wine part of every dish? Plus dessert. And there we have it, the French Paradox. Just how do they do it and stay so thin? I personally think the fat in the food and the wine work in collusion together, and walking everywhere helps. To be honest, I did notice a few changes since our last trip to France. It seems like the US has exported the worst of itself abroad — fast food (my opinion). Driving down the highway I spotted in succession a KFC, McDonalds and Burger King. And even more dishearteningly, I observed many people ordering bottles of Coke with their meals (not Diet Coke or Coke Zero, straight-up Coke). I’m so sorry France for peddling our wares.
We begin our trip in Lyon, a foodie paradise with its own culinary specialties, like where isn’t? Lyon, the third largest city in France, was also the central hub of the French Resistance during World War II. Our walking tour takes us to Vieux Lyon, the old town, where we discover beautiful old medieval doors which open to secret passageways, traboules, leading to central courtyards and out onto other streets. They were originally used by the silk weavers taking shortcuts to deliver their wares and later by the French Resistance to escape notice by the Germans.
Let me back up here. Even before that, before medieval times…..every town we visited was first settled by the Celts followed by maybe the Greeks and then definitely the Romans. There are Roman ruins everywhere which honestly kind of blew me away. It was like being in mini Romes. And who knew the path of the ancient Celts?
We honor the history of Lyon and the French people by spending an afternoon in Centre D’Histoire De La Resistance Et De La Deportation, a museum documenting the Resistance and Gestapo Officer Klaus Barbie’s reign of terror. They called him “the butcher of Lyon” for torturing and killing French prisoners. We experience that this history and even more so, the loss of a generation of young men in World War I, lives on in the psyche of the French people. As does the spirit of the French Revolution.
There are a lot of buildings in Lyon where you literally have to look twice. Sides of buildings are painted in 3D to give the illusion of depth and reality, trompe l’oeil. Back in the day, the Lyonnese got taxed by the number of windows, so they just painted them on instead. Later the paintings depicted the history of Lyon and the achievements of its inhabitants who created film, pharmacy, Beaujolais wine and gastronomic delights.
Lyon calls its bistros, bouchons, quaint little restaurants where locals meet and everybody knows your name. It’s like your neighborhood working class hang-out with good food and drink. We steal away after our tour and find a pretty famous one, Daniel and Denise’s. We each have one of the local cuisines, Quenelle de brochet, an oblong fish dumpling, like a mini- football, in a rich, delicious cream sauce. Every table got frites fried in duck fat and pasta in bechamel sauce. After lunch we made our way to the patisserie, pastry shop, for another of Lyon’s specialties, pralines, pecans sugar-coated in pink and melted into rich pastry like pies. It took us several days of nibbling to get through one piece. It really is true, the food is so rich you only want and need a little bit to satisfy you. And oh, the chocolat. Melt in your mouth. Never pass up a chocolatier or bake shop. Speaking of, the day before we found a chocolat shop where I famously asked the shop keeper if she spoke French when what I meant to say was I didn’t speak French. She laughed and said she spoke French quite well, thank you. Then she kept talking in rapid fire French like I understood. That’s what 24-hour travel will do to you.
It’s Friday afternoon quitting time when we are in Lyon, and we stroll along the river. People are always outside in France, no matter the weather, eating, drinking, pushing baby strollers, biking to work and shops. Children run ahead or lag behind their parents who show no anxiety about that and seem confident there is no lurking danger ahead like American parents. I imagine this makes for a very healthy, secure child, this freedom to run and play. I don’t know this for sure, but it seems like French children remain children longer. Parents are available. Play is important. The children are well-behaved and walk or ride their scooters on market day and down the promenade without complaint. Restaurants accommodate children and treat them with respect. Amazing. Juxtapose that with the walking Gendarmes, military police with assault weapons who walk in groups of four through the large cities like Lyon. Hard to put the two together. They waltz the promenade like everyone else. Swans lazily swim along the river Rhone, intertwining like it’s normal for there to be so many at any given place. I counted 17 swan couples who competed with the doves for the handouts along the riverside. Elegant, beautiful sight.
The next day off to Beaujolais wine country.The Viking staff saw it necessary to be our crossing guards to get through the bike path as we disembarked the ship and headed to the buses, because literally, if you do not look both ways, you get clipped. The bike path is seriously the bike path. And they’re not afraid to ring their bells at you. It would never have occurred to me to look out for speeding bikers. There’s a reason they have the Tour de France. Viking thinks of everything. We stop in the little town of Beaujolais on the way to the winery where there’s a bathroom in the tourist center and a local boulongerie, bakery and coffee shop. So about that pit stop. I was first off the bus. I really had to go. I bop into the bathroom which has an open door and find a man with his back to me at a urinal. I promptly back out. Oh, no, no, no, this is the correct bathroom. I’m nudged back in. The girls get to go in the stalls while the guys pee right next to you. I don’t know what happens if you have to go number two. Guys and girls going in the same bathroom. We never encountered this in Paris. And this continued to be the norm throughout the rest of France. The only good I see out of this is the guys have to wash to their hands. We women are all watching. This blows HB 2 right out the water doesn’t it? Remember, the North Carolina house bill that makes transgender people go in the bathroom of their birth sex. The French must be shaking their heads at us.
On our little tours we are all equipped with ear plugs and gadgets that hang around our necks. We are assigned a bus and tour guide who holds her “lolli,” as in lollipop, for us to touch our gadgets and get connected. Amazing technology when they work. The third week in November is one of the biggest parties in France as the Nouveau Beaujolas is uncorked. If I understand our guide correctly, this was actually a gimmick to make quick, much needed money after WWII. France heavily regulates its wine growers, what grapes can be grown in what regions and how long the wines need to age. Somehow Beaujolais developed a quick fermenting method which was approved. This type of Beaujolais, and there are many different types, is meant to be drunk quickly, not to age. The winery we went to is a non-profit where all sales go into cancer research. Let me tell you, all French know their wines, pinpointing grapes, tastes, regions with ease. It flows in their blood. Our guide teaches us and demonstrates how to sniff, swirl, draw more oxygen into the mouth only it gives it all a different meaning when you are listening to the process through your headset. My Guy’s friend said at dinner he didn’t know what was happening and thought for a second he was listening to porno.
We passed through many wine regions on our trip, Beaujolais, Cote d’Rhone, Chateauneuf Du Pape, and Provence’ which is known for its Roses. And I have never tasted better Roses, so smooth and light, not tangy or bitter. Just loved them.
And that’s it for now. How are you liking the trip so far? More France to come.
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Dyanne is an inner wisdom coach, psychotherapist, writer, mind-body healer, Integrative Yoga Therapy teacher, certified “Journal-to-the SELF” instructor and creator of https://www.holywhollyholey.comhelping women heal and step into their power. She is the author of the ebook, “Holey Path to Holy Living: A Women’s Path to Healing and Freeing Sacred Feminine Power,” which can be found on Amazon and on her websitehttps://www.amazon.com/Holey-Path-Holy-Living-Feminine-ebook/dp/B01MUI0OOJ/ref=sr_1_13?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1486652110&sr=1-13&keywords=holy+path