Lyon – The Stairway From Hell

I thought I would be more self controlled than this.

But, the thing that I have in common most about my days on this trip has been the fact that I think I am going to be getting up before 9am, and I often wake after 9am.

This is another one of those days.

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The sun is already up, saying G’day to us, and Tizi & Clement are already well and truly at work by now.

We have got the low-down from the guys about where we should go and some of the sights we should see. So, we have go this map with all the goods on it.

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We kick the day off with a walk along the riverbank again, heading toward the old part of town. Yesterday, it was pretty much shoulder to shoulder with people length river bank. It was absolutely mental how, busy it was this time yesterday.

Bec is walking all over the foot path, trying to keep in the sun. Her goal is to try and even out her tan on her shoulders. I dunno how well it will work, but it is a little patchy. I am pretty much left to carry everything so that she can keep her beauty levels over 10,000.

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Yesterday, Clement told us that in certain parts of France, you can only get certain pastries. One such pastry is the Praline. It’s this red almond meal tart-looking dish, and it is VERY moreish. It’s kinda creamy, but it looks like it should be a strawberry tart. The only thing in common with the strawberry tart is the intensity of the flavours.

You finish it, and you want another one.

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You definitely should not have another one though. I mean, the thing would have to be loaded with sugar. We get cruising through the streets of the old city of Lyon, exploring all kinds of cobble stoned streets, and all the cafes & bakeries that they sport. It is just as you would imagine it. We head into a bakery and pick up our praline and baguette (which is a must), and take a seat in one of the courtyards while we enjoy treat.

We are surrounded with tables spilling out from the cafes and restaurants into the public areas to lap up as much of the sun that the patrons can handle. The sun is cast through the branches that hang from the willows, pressing through the foliage to reach the guests below.

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Yeah.

Its pretty tidy.

Lyon is pretty tidy, and as we had mentioned earlier, France as a whole is impressing us more and more with it’s beauty. We wander through the streets, and we see what is a little courtyard through this tunnel. Naturally, being the curious type we are, we head through, and as we look up, see this beautifully rich red tower, with all these windows, connecting the building and it’s different floors.

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Its so cool. Just a few metres away, there are countless people running around, going about their day to day work, and just through a tiny little tunnel, is this courtyard with a small fountain in the corner, and flowers in terracotta pots beside walls. It’s a gorgeous tiny little retreat.

We have been told that we have to go see the Taboulehs. For those who don’t know what that is (because I was one of those people), a Tabouleh is a fancy word for an awesome little tunnel that connects one street to another. Kinda like an alleyway, except that it is undercover, connects a heap of houses in the middle of the block, and often leads to tiny courtyards in the middle of the block that you would have no idea of, otherwise. They are laden with similar stair wells to that which we discovered in the courtyard, with even more dramatic arches to match.

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The best bit, is that there aren’t any signs or anything, and unless you know they are there, you don’t know they are there. The entrances to them just look like any big, almost medieval door that you would expect to see anywhere else in Europe. You would have no idea that they house little wonders behind the doors. The only down side to them is that they are so short. The biggest one takes a minute or two to walk through.

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We head to the medieval area of Lyon, and being that I know none of the history of Lyon, specifically, this area so being that Bec is wanting to know why we are checking this part of Lyon out, I have to make up something on the spot. So, that is what I do. I begin to tell her about all the thieves and murders that were found around these parts and all the craziness that this suburb embodied during the medieval era.

Not to toot my own horn, or anything, but I’m gonna toot my own horn, and say that she had to ask whether I was serious or not.

#storytelling/10

Post medieval part of town, we were told that we HAVE to head up to the Cathedral at the top of this hill that overlooks Lyon. On a good day, you can look out all the way and even see Mont Blanc in the distance. I figured that today, we had a pretty good chance. We cross the road, and we see that there is about 70-90 stairs in front of us. After this, we’re pretty sure that we should just have some path or something to walk to the top.

You’d think that would be the case.

We get to the top of the set of stairs, and there is a chick walking out with what looks like her father, or something, and she asks whether we are looking for the tower.
“Nah. Just the place with the view over the city”
“Oh yes. Up this way”, pointing up the stairs that she just came down from.
“Oh awesome. Thanks”, we say so naively.

It was not awesome.

We were walking these steps for a good 10-15 minutes straight.

Step after bloody step, our legs burned more and more. Each time we turn a corner, we were greeted with another set of stairs, much longer than I would expect. After a while, and using a few big-kid words, we gave up expecting a small set of stairs. Then, just like that, we look up, and see that there is someone turning a corner, and we can see the light.

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We get to the top, and the view looks across all of Lyon, and we are greeted with a sea of red terracotta roofs, with the chimneys to match. In the distance, we can only just see the foot of the mountain, but the low-lying cloud cover inhibits us from being able to see the peak. Nonetheless, it is still an amazing view. Everywhere you look, the only thing stopping you is the quality of your eyesight.

We head from here, down to check out this ancient amphitheatre, back from the Roman days. The way they have set it up is brilliant. They have fitted it with a heap of speakers and rigs so that they can have events and shows using the ancient structure. It’s brilliant.

Right at the bottom of the steps, there is this stage, where all the performances happen. There is big gap between where the tiered seating starts, and the stage. So, naturally, I have to assert myself as the premier gap-leaper for the day. Being that Bec doesn’t think I can make the jump, this means that I have even more reason to clear the gap.

…and I do.

She’s surprised.

I’m a boss.

The world is a beautiful place.

We begin to walk around the ruins, and Bec is saying how her legs hurt, and I know that deep down, under my new layer of fat, I still have the strength, so I tell her to climb on so I can piggy back her. She takes a bit of coaxing, but I do it, and I piggy back her all the way around to the decked area, behind where they seem to be rebuilding the ruins.

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There are these awesome grassy slopes that run along the length of the amphitheatre, and you can see people just kicking back, napping in the afternoon sun.

The more time I spend in European countries, the more I am believing that in Australia, we tend to have things back to front. We certainly don’t enjoy life like the French or Italians do. Its truly lovely to see and be part of.

We pass through the gardens, largely unaware of where we are, and have to revert to a map to workout where we are actually located. We work out that we are not very far from the cable-car thing. We thought that it was more of one of those things that stay level all the time, and kinda just run up and down the hill on this gear-like operation. It was pretty much just a train, but on the angle.

As the beautifully natured Borat would say, “Great Disappoint”.

We hop off the downhill tram thing, and make our way to the subway. I have been saying to Bec for ages that I would LOVE to sit in with the driver, just to be able to see what they see in the tunnels. Little did I know, that I would have that dream come true today. We get into the train, and there is nothing in the front of the train.

There is no driver.

No camera.

Nothing.

Just one dirty big window for you to look through and watch for what is coming through the tunnel. How actually brilliant is that? I was expecting to have to wait till I make friends with a train driver, and make some sub-par deal with him to get in the front cabin with them. I never thought it would be as easy as just taking the subway in Lyon, but turns out that it is.

We get off at our stop, and make our way to the front of the train. There is nothing we can see that even suggests that there should be a driver, and there is nothing suggesting a driver in the middle of the train either. None of it makes sense, but I love it. We come to the conclusion that it has to be an automated train. I mean, the doors open perfectly at the barriers, exactly on queue, and everything is seamless. I still don’t know for sure, but I like where it is at.

We get off at the big square, and walk our way to the river bank again.

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We cross the bridge, and in broad daylight, there are a few groups of guys unapologetically tagging things from the halfpipe, to the concrete facades. I mean, even when I grabbed the camera out, they just asked that their faces weren’t in the shot. They didn’t care whether the act was caught, just as long as they weren’t identified.

Classic.

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We collected a few cheeses and a baguette to munch on the embankment, and that is exactly what we do. We find ourselves a nice little spot under a tree and proceed to sit and enjoy the basic, but equally as brilliant French cuisine, with the water of the river gently flowing past. It is a brilliant way to spend an afternoon in France, and I do think it should be done by anyone.

We shift from one spot, to another to avoid staying the direct sun the whole time, but it’s not long before we have to head to meet Clement at the Opera House.

Being that he works at the Opera House, he has offered to give us a tour of the place. I mean, I dunno how interesting an Opera House could be, but we do an a backstage pass, so I’m keen to have a sus. We wait by the funky water feature just out the front while we wait for him to knock off, and it doesn’t take long before a French Bulldog (ironically) comes over to befriend us.

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He is a little legend of a bloke, and almost looks like he is on the lookout for something or someone, but is isn’t fussed enough to go looking for them. At least, not while he is getting a scratch.

A few minutes pass, and soon enough, Clement comes waltzing over to us with his dark coloured Beret, greeting us to show us the Opera House. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was impressed nonetheless. We walk in through the back, straight onto the main stage, and get to see everything from the performer’s point of view. The view from the stage is crazy. The seating is actually really close to the stage, and has a real intimate feel to it.

I mean, the seating area, which holds around 1100 people is actually suspended in a giant box. You can’t tell from inside, but outside, you can see that there is these massive pylons that run way under ground, and suspend the box, so that the vibrations from the subway underneath doesn’t affect the show.

Not bad ay?

His booth is the tiniest of tiny offices, but for it’s size, it also has the best view. It is on the second level, which is pretty much one of the best spots. Their reason is vaild. I mean, they need to be able to hear the sound well, but he has really hit the jackpot with this one. He even admits to me that he didn’t really like ballet until he started working there. Some shows will last a good 4 hours, and then he has done others that only last a cruise 45 minutes.

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Clement takes us up through where the posh folk have their mid-show drinks, which is lined with champagne coloured wallpaper, and gold leaf chandeliers. The drinks are a good 12 euro for the minimum. We head up to the 10th floor, and you would think that this would be reserved for the fanciest of fancy events. This is actually the ballet practice room. How epic is that? The ballet dancers have the best view in the city to practice with.

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The view actually overlooks the mayor’s house, and we have this whole view to ourselves.

Who would have thought that the ballet would incur such prestige?

We head down to where Clement works most of the time, which is 2 levels underground. This is where they prepare everything for the Opera. As with most things in life, you know that there is a lot of work that goes into preparing something like this, and putting something like a stage show together, but when you see all the upholstery that has to get done, the sets that have to be created, the tables that are made, and in this case, the hospital setting that needed to be put together, you have a whole new appreciation for the amount of work that goes into creating something like this.

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The most crazy thing about it all, is this HUGE elevator that they have down there. It is just a huge big metal wall, which is actually an elevator. They will open the doors, and roll everything into the lift, and pull the sets up onto the main stage when they are finished building them.

Its absolutely mental.

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We finish up the tour, and Clement has to head off to his Kung-Fu class, and we have a dinner with a few other Couch Surfers to head to, so we thank Clement for such an amazing opportunity, and make our way to our dinner. I pause for a few minutes, to admire the breakdancing of the locals Lyon-ians out the front. It’s pretty much just a freestyle thing going on, where people will just jump in and bust a couple moves whenever they want.

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We head to meet Dani & Braxton, who are our hosts for the night .They were one of the couples that we requested to stay with, but being that they couldn’t host us, they offered for us to come around for dinner with them instead. Tizi & Clement were going to be out till about 10pm anyways, so that worked well on our part.

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We head across the river a few blocks to meet the couple, and turns out that they are actually not French at all.

They are actually an American couple who have come to work over here are English teachers. Except, its not even that. They kinda just help the teacher teach. They do like 20 hours a week. Even they admit that it is the cruisiest job on the planet. Soon enough, the other surfers arrive too. They are in the same boat as us. They had requested a few nights with Dani & Braxton, and so they came around for the dinner instead also.

There was an American yoga teacher, who has been travelling for the past 7 years, a south american lady who is trying her hand a photography, and launching her first exhibition the week that we leave in Switzerland, and a Bulgarian animator who has taken a month off to travel with his new girlfriend, who is also the yoga instructor.

We eat this dish called rachlette (or spelt something like that), where you use potatoes and all sorts of other foods, and melt the cheese under an element, and then pour the melted cheese all over your potatoes and other ingredients. Its not too bad at all.

We chat and get talking about where we have all come from and our plans. The most interesting person in the room was definitely the animator. It was really interesting to talk with him about his life. I mean, he is a talented animator, and even won a pretty prestigious award at an Irish film festival earlier in the year. He did the whole animation himself, which goes for nearly 10 minutes. Naturally, you are your own worst critic, and he was certainly his own worst critic.

He was telling us how he wanted to travel for the past month with his mrs. But, everywhere he goes, it costs him so much money, being that the Bulgarian Lev is so low compared to other currencies. He was telling us that it literally took him a full year to be able to save enough to spend a month travelling, and even then, they are still couch surfing and hitch hiking everywhere.

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Here, I was no more than half an hour ago telling everyone about what we want to do when we get back, and that it took us all last year to save enough to go travelling for 6 months. Little did I know that it took just as long for another guest at the exact same table to travel, but only for 1/6th of the time we are travelling.

You cannot underestimate how foolishly humbled I felt.

My eyes are fixated on this guy, and he’s telling me how he had to eat plain oats and hot water every day for more than a month to save the last amount that he needed for the trip. He is telling me how he wants a job at this particular studio in Cork, in Dublin, and to just get a foot in the door, he is just going to save enough money to live there for a month, and go volunteer at the studio, and if they like what he can produce, then he will hit them up for a permanent position.

I mean, it is a bit of an act of desperation, but still, he knows that if he is going to have a better life, this is his way out. He has the skills, but he just needs to be working somewhere that they are recognised better.

Even now, I still feel embarrassed. We have so much opportunity, coming from Australia, and this was a slap in the face for me. I know in theory how lucky I am, and I have done nothing to really deserve it, but I don’t think I will ever really know how lucky I am.

We wrap up the evening, and we get on our way back home.

We get back to the apartment at around 11pm, and Tizi & Clement are already fast asleep. We sneak into bed, and fall fast asleep. It’s been a great day, and Lyon a gorgeous city, and full of surprises I didn’t expect.

Come back for the next story,

Billy

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