Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice

Something I forgot to mention in my previous travel blog - the popularity of fresh-squeezed orange juice. The nearby Starbucks in Lyon had this great machine that produces orange juice on demand, no sugar added. You can actually see the half-oranges in the machine as they travel through the roller to produce your juice! I don't remember noticing this during previous trips, but we saw this offering on several menus and at several different types of cafes or restaurants. I wonder if this trend will travel to the US?


Lyon & Geneva Travel Journal

Wednesday 10/5 (Sacramento > Geneva)
Travel day! Miss S kindly provided airport transportation for our 7:30am flight to Dulles. The free in-flight movie was "Mr. Popper's Penguins," which was fairly entertaining and better than I had expected. We had a 3-hour layover, and we took advantage of the time to grab some nibbles at Chipotle before a couple of phone calls. The flight to Geneva was pretty empty, and we somehow ended up in Economy Plus seats with extra leg room. Mr. E watched "The Green Lantern" on the in-seat video, and I watched "Captain America." For free movies, both provided good ways to pass the time. I would not, however, highly recommend the "special" vegetarian meal... not entirely sure what everything was in that little tray... We both attempted to sleep a bit overnight, with varying degrees of success.

Thursday 10/6 (Geneva > Lyon)
We arrived in Geneva around 8am and breezed through customs, though there was a slightly troubling encounter with a fellow traveler as we disembarked (because of course I totally intended to have that bottle of duty-free alcohol fall on her head when I opened the overhead bin...). Not having any checked baggage was definitely a time-saver, but we actually needed to kill some time as we weren't due to meet L & M at their hotel until 9:30am. We discovered that the train from the airport to the main Cornavin train station is free, so we got our tickets and hopped aboard. Despite an initial wrong turn out of the station when we arrived, we made our way to the Hotel d'Angleterre on the Quai Mont Blanc and then strolled over to a little cafe in a nearby park by the Brunswick Monument for coffee and spice cake.

At the appropriate time, we headed back to the hotel to meet up with L & M. Mr. E tried to nap while I went for a 30-minute run along the right bank of Lac Leman. So nice to have access to a shower and comfy hotel room after a long trans-Atlantic flight! We got cleaned up and then hoofed it back to the train station with L & M. More coffee to while away the time waiting for our train to Lyon.

With 4 people and accompanying baggage, we opted for a taxi from the Part Dieu station to our rental apartments in the Presqu'ile section of Lyon. Due to a couple of protests, the taxi driver used the bus lanes as the most efficient route to the Place Cordeliers, where we managed to find our designated building thanks to a group effort (sort of difficult to spot from street level). Up to the 3rd floor to find the Suite Opera (L & M) and the Suite Cordeliers (J & E). Completed the inventory, signed the contract, used L's phone to email the landlord about the lack of towels (despite my earlier email to confirm that there'd be 2 sets in each Suite), unpacked a bit, and then trotted across the street to the Monoprix store to stock up on some basics of food and supplies (e.g. toilet paper) for the next 6 days. Very convenient to have the Monoprix nearby - it's similar to the new Target superstores that include a full grocery section. Enjoyed our picnic-style dinner in the apartment and then crashed for the night.

Friday 10/7 (Lyon)
I did a 60-minute run along the east bank of the Rhone, which was redeveloped in 2007 into a great ped/bike path. My route took me south all the way to the Confluence, where the Rhone meets the Saone. Mr. E was up by the time I got back, with coffee ready. After breakfast, we started a load of laundry and then headed off to the market on the Quai Antoine to pick up some fresh veges, cheese, and a roasted poulet for dinner. I had a nice chat with a very friendly cheese vendor. By the time we returned to the Suite with our purchases, the laundry was ready to hang. So nice to have a combo washer/dryer in the apartment!!!

We set out for Place Bellecour to get some info at the main Tourist Office. Along the way, I led Mr. E by the big flower ball sculpture that I had noticed from the other side of the river while I was running. The sculpture was part of an exhibition in 2003 and was so popular that the City purchased it for public art in 2006. We picked up some brochures about bus and boat tours along with info about the Beaujolais wine region, in anticipation of an eventual road trip with L & M for some wine-tasting.

Feeling a bit peckish, we strolled down the rue Victor Hugo towards the train station to find a boulangerie, and after a bit of discussion, we emerged with a freshly-made jambon & fromage sandwich SANS beurre. For some reason, many of the pre-made items contained butter or mayo, neither of which is desirable for me, so it was lovely for these folks to make us a ham & cheese baguette without butter.

We then focused on our primary destination, the Musee des Tissus and the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. These two museums are in adjoining buildings, and contain fascinating collections of textiles, fabrics, and assorted decorative arts. A very friendly museum employee chatted with me about language and learning before we started our tour. So great to have an opportunity to engage in conversation in French, as being able to be immersed in the language and culture was a primary reason for our visit.

After our museum visits, we purchased wine at the Cave Chromatique, a local wine shop whose owner has organized his inventory by colour to indicate the characteristics of the wine. He and I had a lovely long conversation as Mr. E and I made our selection, and he complimented me on my French. Nice to know that I haven't completely lost all of my linguistic ability due to lack of use! We then got a multi-grain baguette and a huge meringue at a nearby boulangerie before returning to the apartment, where Mr. E napped while I read. After checking in with L & M and making some plans for the next day, we enjoyed our poulet dinner with pommes de terre and a cheese plate and a game of Scrabble, which we left unfinished as we were both starting to get sleepy.

Saturday 10/8 (Lyon)
I worked out in the apartment for an hour (boot camp, Pilates, yoga) in the morning, and we met up with L & M around 10:15am to grab an espresso at the stand outside the Bar Americain across the street and then catch the hop-on hop-off city tour bus, which conveniently has a stop just down the block in Place Cordeliers. L & M got off in Vieux Lyon, about half-way through the tour, but Mr. E & I decided to stay on until almost the end, which put us right by the Musee des Beaux Arts.

Before visiting the museum, we walked up to Place des Terreaux to admire the big fountain with horses that have smoke coming out of their noses every 30 seconds or so. From there, we headed to the Opera to have a leisurely lunch at the restaurant on the 4th floor, which gave a great view over the city, despite the rainy and grey weather. After lunch, we returned to the Museum, which is sited in a former convent, so the entrance is through a beautiful courtyard of cloisters. When we were finished with our visit, we braved the weather and walked back to the apartment along the rue Herriot.

The leftover poulet was just as yummy for dinner as it had been the night before. The Scrabble game concluded rather unexpectedly, with Mr. E's first win - yay! As it turned out, foreign travel seemed to be quite lucky for Mr. E with games, as he also beat me later in both Rummy 500 and checkers.

Sunday 10/9 (Lyon)
More rain, but I went out for a 30-minute run anyway, again on the east bank of the Rhone but towards the north this time. Didn't see many other runners this morning...

After breakfast, we went to the market with M to get a poulet, potatoes, and veges for our planned group dinner that evening. We dropped off the food at the apartment and then walked to the Perrache train station to find some info about rental cars for the next day, as we had arranged with L & M to designate Monday as our Beaujolais road trip day. Unfortunately, all of the rental agencies were closed that morning, but at least we figured out where they were located and how long it would take to walk to the station.

We took advantage of our 2-day tour bus ticket and just managed to catch the bus at a stop near the station so that we could avoid the uphill walk in the mist to the Basilique de Fourviere, the huge white Basilica that dominates the City from the hilltop. This structure is also known as the "upside-down elephant," as the decorations and style aren't necessarily appreciated by everyone. A group of students (like Girl Scouts of some kind) were touring the site and providing homemade chocolate cake for a donation, so Mr. E got a snack before we walked around both the exterior and interior of the Basilica.

After buying a few souvenirs, we walked slightly downhill towards the remains of the Theatre Romain and the Odeum, both of which are over 2,000 years old. I remembered these sites vividly from my previous visit to Lyon in 1995 when I was working at EuroDisney, and I even have a picture of myself standing in the tiered seats of the theatre from that visit (much nicer weather that time...). I also remembered the Gallo-Roman Museum at the site, which has very little curb appeal but is wonderful inside, both for the contents of the collection along with the architecture of the building itself. The museum is built into a hill, so you enter at the top of 5 floors and work your way down a series of descending ramps to view all of the exhibits. Mr. E was definitely engaged by the history of the site, and most sections included introductory information in English, so he could really appreciate the exhibits without my providing constant translation services.

We had considered walking back through Vieux Lyon, but the rain and mist were pretty steady, so we opted instead to go back to the Basilica to catch the tour bus for a warmer and dryer return trip. As we were waiting, we were "entertained" by a small group of activists who were demonstrating around an SUV to protest use of that type of vehicle in the urban environment. We figured that this "protest" was going to be posted online somewhere, since the group repeated the same demonstration several times for a video camera.

Before going back to the apartment, we stopped at the Bar Americain outside stand for crepes (sugar & lemon for me, apricot for Mr. E).

Monday 10/10 (Beaujolais region)
Another 60-minute apartment workout for me before Mr. E & I traipsed off for the train station to fetch a rental car. We managed to procure one from Avis at a decent rate, since Mr. E is a preferred customer, thanks to his work travels. Although we were a bit later than we had expected in concluding the transaction, our timing was perfect, as L & M were just coming out of the building when we arrived.

We navigated to the A6 highway (only 1 wrong turn), with Mr. E at the wheel and me at the map, and directed ourselves towards the Belleville exit, figuring that would be the northenmost point to visit and we could then follow the map's wine road path south to return to Lyon. We didn't have any particular wineries in mind to visit, so we just looked for signs saying "cave ouvert" and turned off when we saw a likely spot to enjoy.

Our first stop was at Domaine St. Odile in St. Jean d'Ardieres. We tasted 1 white and 3 reds, all of which are produced from vine to bottle at the winery. Mr. E and I liked one of the reds, so we purchased a bottle to enjoy later in the trip. L had been feeling under the weather ever since we got to Lyon, and the rainy days didn't help at all, so she didn't partake much in the tastings.

Our next stop was Domaine Petit in Villie Morgon. Our hostess was Brigitte Petit, whose spouse was literally born in the wine caves and whose family has been in the business for several generations. Their approach to making wine is quite different, in that they tend to hold their wines for several years before releasing them rather than imitating other "classic" Beaujolais styles. This makes their wines distinctive, and we got to taste 5 wines, all made from the same vineyard but with very different tastes and qualities, due to the year of harvest. M bought a bottle of the 2006 (?).

Since we were getting hungry, I asked Brigitte if there were any boulangeries nearby. She told me they're all closed on Mondays, since the weekend is their busy tourist time, but she recommended the restaurant in the nearby town center. What a great value! We all ordered the prix fixe lunch menu, which included salad with smoked salmon, pork in mustard sauce, rice with mushrooms and peas, cheese, wine, coffee, and bread. Yum!

After lunch, we investigated the Cave du Morgon next door but decided not to try anything. We waved goodbye to the deer and other animals in the little park and then continued on our way south. As we drove up and down through the hills, we pulled over in one small town to walk around a bit and enjoy the view. We also stopped at a wine-tasting room to try wines from several different domaines, and our purchases there included cookies (L & me) and 2 souvenir wine glasses (Mr. E & me).

Mr. E decided to make one final stop for tasting, which resulted in a purchase of 1 bottle of rose (me) and 3 bottles of a red (L & M). At that point, we all agreed that we'd had enough of the winding roads, so we made our way back to a larger route and eventually to the A6 to return to Lyon.

We dropped L & M at the apartments along with all of our stuff. Trying to return the rental car was quite an adventure, as the under part of the train station is a bit of a labyrinth, but we finally succeeded and then headed back to the apartment on foot. We were pretty tired at that point, so we declined L & M's invitation to join them for snacks and just settled back into our own place, having made plans to gather for a final group dinner the next night.

One of the most interesting things about the wine-tasting was meeting the proprietors. So many of the wineries are truly family-owned and such a contrast to what we're used to here in California. Our visits were very intimate, and the "tasting rooms" were often just tucked away almost as part of the house itself. For example, at Domaine Petit, we pulled into the gravel driveway of a small house, including shoes and kid's crocs on the doorstep. Brigitte emerged from the house and led us down a small hill to the tasting room, which was basically a little room in the basement of the home. We noticed photos on the wall of children in the cave, and Brigitte explained that her kids had often accompanied her in the cave as they grew up. I asked if they planned to follow in the family business, and she just shrugged, noting that it can be a challenging affair.

It was definitely fortunate to have a French-speaker in the group, since most of our hostesses didn't speak much English. I enjoyed conversing with them and acting as interpreter for our group!

Tuesday 10/11 (Lyon)
I enjoyed my 40-minute pre-dawn run south along the east bank of the Rhone. Seeing the city lit up at that time of day was so beautiful, and I also got to notice the lights and light projections along the bike/ped path that I hadn't seen during my previous run, since that had been at a later time of day.

Mr. E & I decided to trek up (and up and up) to the Croix Rousse area north of us to visit the Maison des Canuts, which has exhibits about the history and technology of weaving. We had seen some small loom models in the Musee des Tissus, and we were both fascinated by the complexity of the machines and wanted to learn more. The silk industry was very important to Lyon in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and this art is still practiced to a much smaller extent today for haute couture and luxury fabrics. We didn't do the tour of the full Maison des Canuts but just walked around the couple of rooms readily available to the public to learn more about how silk is made and how weaving and loom technology have developed.

One of the special features of Lyon mentioned in my guidebook was the "traboules" - small passageways through buildings that serve as shortcuts and were used extensively during certain times of war. I was determined to find some of these traboules, and we successfully located two of them during our journey down from the Croix Rousse to Vieux Lyon (the old part of the city).

L & M had recommended a Vietnamese restaurant in Vieux Lyon, but when we found the location, the restaurant was closed (despite the sign on the door claiming it was open 7/7). We wandered around the cobblestone streets and ended up at a small cafe, where I had a fabulous salad with fresh tuna, roasted peppers, cucumbers, and shaved parmesan while Mr. E enjoyed a starter of Quiche Lorraine followed by some taglietelle bolognese.

After lunch, we walked across one of the pedestrian bridges over the Saone to the Quai St. Antoine to find the kiosk to buy tickets for the afternoon boat tour. We had some time before the tour, so we went the few blocks to Place des Jacobins to the Fontanel store, which had been suggested by staff at the Tourist Office as a place to find a flag of the City, since we both really like the motif.

Although the weather had been a bit cloudy in the morning, the sun had emerged during lunch, so our afternoon boat tour from the Saone to the Rhone via the tip of the Confluence was perfect. Mr. E took lots of beautiful pictures, and it was a great way to end our visit to Lyon. On our way back to the apartment, we stopped at the Bar Americain for a smoothie (Mr. E) and a hot chocolate (me) to tide us over until our final group dinner with L & M. Before finishing off most of our leftovers, we walked across the Pont Lafayette to one of the restaurants on a barge on the Rhone for pre-dinner drinks. Several of these restaurants and bars were moored along the east bank, as were numerous river barge cruisers, which looked like a great way to travel along the river.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes to L & M, packed up most of our stuff, put the furniture back into place (we had rearranged the orientation of the sofabed earlier), and did some light cleaning to prepare for our departure the next morning.

Wednesday 10/12 (Lyon > Geneva)
I did a final 30-minute run north along the east bank of the Rhone. It was nice to see this part of the bike/ped path without rain, though it was rather dark along a certain stretch where the streetlights for some reason weren't lit.

I threw some final laundry into the machine, knowing it would be damp when we left but at least clean, and then went off to Starbucks for coffee and orange juice to bring back for our last Lyon breakfast. We gathered the trash and recycling and our bags and set off for the Gare Part Dieu to catch our 10:34am train to Geneva.

We arrived in Geneva around 12:30pm, emerging from cloudy conditions in the mountains to a beautiful sunny clear day. It took about 30 minutes to walk from the station to the Hotel Residence St. James on the left bank of Lac Leman. We checked in, paid for our 2 nights, and dropped off our bags in the room. Ugh. Nasty. Old... dirty... noisy... loud TV from next door... Not even close to matching the photos on the web site!!! But I figured it was only 2 nights, so we'd just make due.

Prior to our trip, we had learned that Geneva is a VERY expensive city. We had noticed this when looking for hotels and were especially struck by the high cost of food as we sought a place for lunch. Even our "moderately" priced meal at the nice food court in the Globus department store was over 20CHF ($25ish) for a big piece of pizza (Mr. E), a small mixed salad (me), and a bottle of lemon fizzy water. Yikes!

We went in search of a creperie listed in the guidebook and ended up strolling around the older part of Geneva. We didn't find the restaurant, but we did discover the Maison Tavel, which houses a collection of art and artifacts in a beautiful old building. One of the best parts of the visit was the scale model of pre-1850 Geneva on the top floor. We managed to arrive at that exhibit at the same time as a tour group (Dutch?) whose leader was explaining about the city's history. Since the gentleman was speaking English, both Mr. E and I could appreciate his narrative. What I remember the most is that the area used to be called the "confederatio helvetica" in Latin, which is why the URLs for Swizerland end in ".ch" and also why the Swiss franc is abbreviated as "CHF." I'd been wondering about that latter item especially, so it was great to learn the reason for the acronym! We finally picked up some yummy crepes from an organic food truck near the river bank (cinnamon & sugar for me, maple syrup for Mr. E).

As we walked around, I realized that I was dreading the return to the hotel. When we got back, my dread was affirmed, especially since all of the nastiness had been augmented now by food odors. Yuck! I decided that I just couldn't stay there, not even for 2 nights, so I started to look through my guidebook and other information for possible alternatives. We liked the left bank and wanted to stay in that area, which limited our options, at least in terms of what was listed in our reference material. We set off for one nearby hotel, the Bel Esperance, but arrived to find a sign indicating that the hotel was full. To confirm, we went upstairs to the small reception desk, where the very friendly gentleman was super-helpful and called 2 other hotels to see if they had any availability. On the second call, we got lucky and found a double room at the Hotel Pax available for 2 nights at a rate of 150CHF, including breakfast, so we scurried back to the St. James, checked out, got a refund of 125CHF for the cancelled second night, and walked to our new hotel, which was about 15 minutes away. So much better! Quiet, clean, old-but-nice, updated bathroom. Phew!

We didn't bother to unpack much, given our short time in Geneva. We had passed an interesting-looking building with a restaurant about 2 blocks away, so we returned to Cookfriendly for pre-dinner drinks. The menu was rather limited, and we decided to go downstairs in a different part of the same building to the Cafe Cult for dinner. The building seemed to be an old church, and it was a great reuse of space to house 2 different eating venues. The best dinner value was the prix fixe meal, so Mr. E ordered the option with hare as the main course and I selected the chicken. We both really enjoyed the meal, although it was probably good that I'd forgotten the mention of foie gras with the chicken until after we'd already finished...

Back to the hotel to sleep, with the intent to search for a corkscrew the next day since we'd brought 2 bottles of wine with us from Lyon!

Thursday 10/13 (Geneva)
What a beautiful day! I got up for a 40-minute run along the left bank of Lac Leman and got to see the sun lighting up the mountain tops as it rose, along with the moon hanging over the city. We took advantage of breakfast at the hotel and then explored the commercial center (sort of a small vertical mall) in the same block to see what was available and making note of the grocery store for potential dinner options and the small department store for an inexpensive corkscrew purchase, if necessary. Mr. E also bought an International Herald Tribune, as the plan was for him to read in a park while I visited the Musee d'Art et Histoire.

One of the inexpensive things about Geneva is the public transportation system, as least for visitors, who can get a free public transport card from their hotel, giving access to all forms of public transit - bus, tram, train. We hopped on the tram near our hotel and rode a few stops to the Starbucks we had noticed near our former hotel. We got some coffee to share and then strolled uphill to the park near my destination museum. With the sunny weather, we had a clear view of Lake Leman and the Jet d'Eau, a huge jet of water that spurts up from the Lake and has become an iconic symbol of Geneva.

I spent almost 2 hours in the museum, which houses an extensive and varied collection on 5 floors, including archelogical artifacts, antiquities, sculpture, and painting. Visiting sites in Europe always reminds me of how very young the US is as a country, since other parts of the world can trace their history back to many centuries B.C. A little perspective and humility can be healthy (too bad more of our electeds and others in positions of power don't remember that).

I rejoined Mr. E at the park, and we walked through the older part of the city to find a place for lunch. We settled on Soupcon, which specializes in different types of tartare. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that the salmon tartare would include chives and oil, so Mr. E and I exchanged lunches and I got to enjoy his chicken club sandwich (no bacon, no mayo). The food was tasty, but was the sandwich really worth 25CHF ($30ish)???!!! I think not.... At least we snagged some extra bread to save for a picnic dinner back at the hotel.

After lunch, we made our way to the Parc des Bastions, stopping to look at the Mur des Reformateurs and play checkers on the huge boards in the park (Mr. E soundly trumped me). We then jumped on the tram to go across to the right bank and the Musee Ariana, which is next to the United Nations headquarters. The museum existed prior to the U.N, and it's an odd juxtaposition to see the elaborate ornate older building near the modern and rather generic U.N. building. The museum houses the glass, china, porcelain, and other decorative arts of a private collector, who built the structure specifically to hold his extensive and varied collection and make it accessible to the general public. Mr. E perched on a comfy stuffed sofa in the first floor rotunda while I strolled around the 3 floors of exhibits.

In addition to the free transport card for visitors, Geneva also offers about a dozen free museums, including all of the sites we visited. Some of the museums have a small charge for their special temporary exhibitions, but their permanent collections are "entree gratuite," so we figured the money we saved on transit and entrance fees helped to at least slightly offset the high costs of food!

Another tram ride brought us back to the left bank and some browsing at the Victorinox store, makers of the original Swiss Army knife. The name of the company is a combination of the name of the founder's mother (Victoria), who helped him launch the original business, and the French word for stainless (inoxydable), since the invention of stainless steel revolutionized the knife-making industry. The company now also sells watches, luggage, clothing, and perfume.

Before purchasing food for dinner, we returned to the hotel to see if there was a corkscrew on-site, as I had noticed a little bar area near the breakfast rooms. The staff was very friendly and opened 1 of our bottles of wine. Since we knew we wouldn't drink the other bottle and couldn't bring it home in our carry-on bags (we avoided checked luggage), we left the second bottle with the hotel staff to enjoy or present to another guest. At the nearby grocery store, we got sushi (me), a roasted 1/2-chicken (Mr. E), along with some final bread and cheese to round out our journey.

Friday 10/14 (Geneva > Sacramento)
I awoke to a grey and windy day for a final 30-minute run from the left bank of Lake Leman across the Pont Mont Blanc to the right bank and back again. We gathered our belongings, enjoyed the hotel breakfast, and walked up to the corner of the block to catch the tram to the main train station, where we then connected with a train to the airport for our noon flight. The return flight from Geneva to Dulles was quite full, and we spent most of the time watching in-seat movies ("Super 8," "The Trip," and "Bridesmaids" - ugh! - for me; "Super 8," "Captain America," and "Zookeeper" for Mr. E). During our 3 hour layover in Dulles, Mr. E made himself at home with Chipotle, I got a big soft pretzel, and we lingered over 3 wine flights at Vino Volo. Despite some high headwinds, our flight home to Sac arrived pretty much on time at 9:30pm, and Miss S delivered us safely home to the kitties.

The vacation was wonderful, and having an entire weekend to "recover" before returning to work made the re-entry process a bit easier.

I forgot to mention our other souvenir purchases aside from the Beaujolais wine glasses! In addition to the usual magnet or two, we often try to bring back unusual but functional items (cloth napkins, provencal tablecloth, liquid soap holder with cows, etc.) along with temporarily restocking my supply of European candy. For this trip, we returned with a small white & black kitchen timer in the shape of a cat's head, a heavy-duty reusable shopping bag with "La vache qui rit" (the laughing cow), 2 bags of mini Lion bars, 2 bags of Regal'Ad chewy fruit candy (sort of like Starburst but not quite), and 2 boxes of Bonne Maman lemon tartelettes (I haven't been able to find them recently anywhere in Sac since Corti Brothers stopped carrying them on a regular basis). All items successfully survived the return trip.