It’s already my third – my penultimate – week in Lyon and I love this city. With my abundant free time I have been exploring a lot: wandering through beautiful little alleys; cycling along the Rhône and the Saône; guzzling coffee (and cake, and wifi) in some of the nicest coffee shops I’ve ever found. But. This blog post is, counter-intuitively, not going to be about Lyon, as wonderful as it is. I’ll save that for the end of my month here, when I’ll have made it to the end of my Lyon to-do list. Instead, this is about the two weekend jaunts I’ve had since I’ve been here. (I caught the year abroad travel bug in Leipzig in September and have been fleeing from my city almost every weekend since). Armed with something I certainly didn’t have in Leipzig, free Friday afternoons, I’ve been able to make two very different six hour journeys for two very different weekends.
Having travelled from Paris to Lyon by Eurostar only four days earlier, the prospect of covering the same distance in three times as many hours seemed bizarre but also quite exciting. I was looking forward to gazing out of the window onto a landscape I’d never really seen before, headphones in ears and snacks in hand. The reality – so much rain I could barely distinguish the road from the sky, and a compulsory hour at a desolate service station somewhere near Dijon – was far less fun. It was a huge relief when, after trudging through the traffic of the périphérique on a Friday evening, and navigating the Paris métro for the first time, I finally found myself in a cosy restaurant with Noonie and food and wine.
I’d spent the last few years surprising people with the fact that I was a French student who had never been to Paris. (I’ve never counted the afternoon we spent there on French Exchange, where we didn’t see the Eiffel Tower but did see the interior of the McDonalds on the Champs-Élysées). Well, not any more. I have wandered along the Seine, and weaved in and out of boutiques in the Marais. I have strolled through quaint alleys at Montmartre and looked out onto Paris’s chaotic rooftops from in front of the Sacre Cœur. I have seen the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight. I have been to Paris, and I am a changed woman.
Well, not quite. But there is something completely bizarre and quite life affirming about visiting a new city in which you know you will soon be living, like it or not, and finding it to be nothing but charming and exciting and beautiful. Spring in Paris. I can’t wait.
(I think my liking for any given city might also depend on how instagram-able it is. Lyon scores pretty damn highly. Paris might just beat it).
Weekend number two took me in completely the opposite direction. We drove south east out of Lyon and into the mountains, which seem to appear out of nowhere. This time my window-gazing really was a treat, and, accompanied by the dulcet tones of Jenni Murray and the BBC Women’s Hour podcast (I’m embracing my inner middle-aged woman), I stared dreamily at snowy, rocky giants until we finally arrived in Turin. There I met Cato, who is lucky enough to be spending the year in a town elsewhere in the Italian Alps, and we boarded a train to the Aosta Valley.
This was by no means my first ski trip but it was unlike any other I’ve experienced. Instead of staying high up, at resort level, we hired an airbnb in Aosta, right down in the valley. Aosta itself is completely beautiful. It’s small but very affluent and full of life, with striking roman ruins and a cathedral, and delicious gelato. Mountains seem to peer down into it from every direction. It was fairly warm down in the valley, and stepping out of the cable car after our days skiing into relatively tropical heat – I mean, people in t-shirts – was a very odd experience indeed.
To get to ski, we had to sit for half an hour in a cable car bubble, and try not to panic when it stopped (frequently) and swayed. This took us to Pila, which is a small but lovely Italian resort, with a network of glorious runs, mostly red but with a few blues and not-terrifying blacks scattered among them. Saturday, our full day, was a day of divine sunshine and completely joyous skiing – a rush of adrenaline and endorphins and grin-inducing joie de vivre. I’ve realised I always sing aloud as I ski – a kind of uncontrollable happy reaction. I didn’t even mind the stripe of sunburn I acquired on my forehead, an unfortunate result of the gap between my helmet and my goggles, and my silly determination to get a snow tan. Sunday skiing was a complete whiteout: we skiied in a cloud, unable to tell the sky from the slope, and all too aware of the steep falls we’d seen from the sides of the pistes the day before. I didn’t mind too much.
I arrived back in Lyon at midnight on Sunday night, just as I had the week before. This time, though, I didn’t go back to my grimy student accommodation, but to a place I’d found on airbnb. Two weeks with no wifi, no way of cooking anything ‘proper’, a shower that barely worked, and, the cherry on the cake, the discovery that I “wasn’t eligible” to do my laundry there, had all become a bit too much. I didn’t want anything to spoil my time in this lovely city. I’m typing this from my new studio. The oven is within an arm’s reach of the bed, but it doesn’t matter because I made myself a curry, and I have clean clothes, and enough wifi to be writing this in the first place.
France is going pretty well.