So we've arrived in Paris at CDG and went through immigration without anyone stamping our passports. That's a little strange and we've never had that happen before. I can only assume that they thought we had chipped passports and the computer logged us. The very first thing we do when entering a foreign country (actually there are only foreign people...) is get local currency so our search for an ATM begins. The one on the arrivals level was broken so after walking the entire length of the terminal and not finding another we ask information which informs us theres one on the departures level two floors down. We walk the entire length of the departures level without finding one so we ask the United Airlines lady and she gives us directions. Ten minutes later we're equiped with 300 Euros which should get us into the city where we can buy our train ticket to Lyon.
We want to go to Lyon because we've discovered (like Colobus discovered America) the Institute of Paul Bocuse and Natalya is interested in going to school there instead of or in addition to Corden Bleu in Paris. Lyon is the culinary capital of France so most great chefs come out of there. Our plan is to visit the institute and get information on it and possibly eat in one of Paul Bocuse' restaurants of which he has 5.
We head to the SNCF booth to get RER tickets into the city. The RER trains are the suburban rail trains that service the burbs as we'd call them. The trip into the city will take about 30 minutes. We're approached by a man wanting to sell us shuttle tickets for $22 ea for a total of $88. Yeah right buddy. Our RER tickets cost us $50 which was still way more than I expected. I was thinking they'd be about $30 but it's the airport right so they're way overpriced. We've actually been to this RER station before two years ago when we went to Parc Asterix so we knew our way around a bit.
Half hour later we're at Chatalet station to catch the number 1 metro. The Chatalex/Les Halles station is my least favorite because it's a maze of passages and levels and you never know just where you are. We've had to pay to get into the station before and then walked so far we had to pay again to get further into the station. It never made sense to me. Sometimes I've wondered whether it would be easier to walk to the next station to catch the metro instead of venturing into the labyrinth. So we walked and walked and walked and never saw a ticket booth. I asked and someone told me go straight and then turn left. I walked and only saw turnstyles. I go back to where I'd left the kids and ask someone there and he says to go straight and turn left. Once again I only saw turnstyles. I realized we have to exit the RER section and enter the Metro section, as soon as we got this little tidbit we ran into a metro ticket booth where we bought one adulte carne and one enfant carne. We proceed to the metro where we never go through a turnstyle and never pay. Like I said this station doesn't make sense.
Paris has 5 giant train station which to be honest can be confusing. I don't believe it's actually not possible to take a train through Paris without getting off the train and goign to different station to proceed. If you come from the north (London or Brussels) you will come into the north station, Gare de Nord. From the west, Gare Monparnasse, southeast Gare de Lyon and so on. The movie Amelie (must see for everyone) took place mostly in Gare de L'est or the east station. My first time in Paris I arrived in Gare de Nord from London on the Eurostar and had to transfer to Gare de Lyon and to this day I don't know how I managed. I've retraced my steps and I really don't know how I ended up at Gare de Lyon, it was pure luck since I really had no idea what I was doing. Since we were headed south we needed to get to Gare de Lyon so we took one of our favorite as well as least favorite metros - the number 1. We like it because it's fast and modern. All the cars are linked together like a slinky and you can walk the entire length of the train once you're on it and a great wind blows down through it which helps beat the summer heat. Problem with it is it's also one of the most crowded.
We arrive at Gare de Lyon without incident and proceed to the SNCF ticket counter to purchase our round trip tickets to Lyon. We purchase the enfant+ pass for 70Euros which saves us about 80 but would allow us 25 to 40 percent off any other future tickets if we decide to go anywhere. The ticket man tries to charge my card and it's denied. I give him my backup card which met the same result. I only have pin numbers for one of my cards so I can only withdraw cash from one. He suggests I run across the street to the Post Office and withdraw cash. This works but I kept taking out incrments of 80 and Enfact hot carded it for suspicious activity. Now we have about 300 Euros and no working debit/visa cards.
We're in Paris for 2 hrs and we're out of money. My bank won't open for another 8 hrs. The price of the ticket to Lyon is 380 euros and even if we could pay that we'd be sleeping on the street with nothing to eat. I have backup US dollars so we exchange $300 and get 175 euros. I go back to the ticket counter and buy a one way ticket to Lyon for 229 euros. This leaves us with 250 euros which will get us food and one nights stay. It would do us no good to get a hotel in Paris because we'd be in the same boat as in Lyon and we might as well see new territory so we push on.
Starving I go looking for food. There's a kabob place around the corner that I know well but even though it was open they said they were closed. This is the problem with not speaking the language. I get frustrated because "fermee" may mean they're closed, it may mean that they're out of the thing you ordered, it may mean they're only serving cold food right now etc.. The people here use closed for meaning no. If they can speak any English they use the "not possible" phrase which cracks me up. If you try to eat dinner too late they'll just say "this is not possible". They won't say it's too late or tell you the hours they'll say it isn't possible. This is a very common French phrase. We asked to be seated outside once and they said "this is not possible" and led us inside. It took me a minute to fathom the impossibility of eating outside at 11pm.
So after leaving the place that was closed we found another kabob place round the corner. If you're thinking a kabob is a stick with meat on it you'd be partially right, that's a shish kabob. The kabob shops sell donar kabobs which is similar to a Gyro in the states and it's by far the cheapest way to eat in Paris. The second place fixed us up with four kabobs with fries and a giant bottle of Vittel for 12 euros or $18. We were able to scarf down half our food before we were stuffed. We could have all eaten for $10 total. If you come to Paris and you're on a strict budget eat Greek. It's comical but the French don't really like the Greeks and remind you as you walk by their restaurants by saying "This is French food, it's not Greek food, it's made fresh". French food is excellent but it costs a fortune in comparison to Greek food.
At 1:00 pm we board our TGV to Lyon which at about 150 mph takes 2 hrs. Lyon is an interesting city because it's not in Burgundy and it's not in Provence. It's as if Lyon is in it's own special region comprising of only Lyon. Lyon is special in this way. Because it's so far south you see palm trees as well as Parisien style buildings. In Paris those same buildings would be beige, in Lyon they have light hues of pastel pinks and blues. If you were to continue further south to the Riviera the building style would change to more simple flat sided buildings like Italy's and the colors brighter. I think Lyon is a nice mix and has a bit of warmth that Paris might not have.
Lyon has two train stations but we've come into Lyon part deu which reminds me of the sequal in the Hot Shots series and brings a smile to my face every time I hear a French person say part deu. The station is a little crazy as train stations seem to but after finding our bearings we studied a metro map to see if anything would take us to the penninsula where we wanted to stay. We only found bus lines and we have had bad experiences with buses in the past so we decide to walk the 25 minute trek. I figure this will give us time to get to know Lyon. My Let's Go guide says not to walk near the station at night but the suns up and we take off. The area around the train station is a bit dirty but not bad considering we're used to really big cities and I think it would be about average if compared to Paris. Lyon is an intersting city in that it's built at the confluence of two rivers. The old city center is on the peninsula between them and it completely engulfed in a semi-large modern industrial city. I never hear anything about Lyon and it's not much of a tourist destination so even though we've passed through maybe 8 or 10 times we've not stopped. As we got nearer to one of the rivers we were passed by the strangest bus. This was not a bus like home but more like a tram without tracks. It ran only on electricity, was articulated and had the wheels covered so it looked like a train and apeared very futuristic. Our problem with riding buses is they wander through residential areas and it's hard to tell when to get off. We've been stung before by riding buses that took us into the middle of nowhere and just stopped leaving us stranded where our only choice was to walk back. This bus drove down the main streets, had nicely marked "stations" and I don't think would have been a problem. No matter because were were to the river. As we walked out onto the bridge it became very apparent that Lyon was far more than I'd heard it to be. Both river banks were done up with paths, and public areas. Lining the river were boats that had been converted into restaurants and bars. The architecture changed to a more Parisien style and there were many large churches visible across the water. Further past the peninsula was a large hill topped with a castle and what looked to be a clone of the Eiffel tower in Paris. I told Natalya that I think I liked this city and it "felt" nice. We crossed the Rhone river to the peninsula, crossed in front of a very large impressive looking building, noted the Monoprix (multi use store similar to Fred Meyer at home) across the street and turned north onto a very pedestrian friendly street. As we walked we noticed that everyone was dressed very stylish. The women wore brightly colored clothes with vibrant patterns, heels and scarves around their necks. They dressed like the stereotypical Parisien that doesn't exist. Paris is such a cosmopolitin city that no stereotype could possibly match the people living there. There are Arab, Africans, French, Chinese and many other expats from around the world. There are rich and poor alike. Lyon though seems to be a much less cosmopolitin city and thus easier to have a reliable "cross section" of the residents. My next impression of the Lyon is the women are beautiful. I've never felt this way about French women before as the look alot like American women but without the skank. They could look totaly normal but still melt you with their accent. Women in Lyon however are classy, sophisticated, very pretty and still turn you to putty when they speak. Most of the French women I've seen have had dark hair and the most deeply brown eyes you can imagine. Lyonnaise women are no different as they have those gorgeous brown bambie eyes. Another thing I noticed was the pace in Lyon. People were trudging right along but it seemed to be a quick happy pace and not a fast stressful pace. This is very much a strolling city and there are 343 bicycle renting locations strategically located all over the city. With a card you buy ahead of time you walk up to any automated location that has bikes and check one out and ride it to your destination where you check it back in. This way you're not paying to have it all the time, only when you ride it and with 343 locations you're basically gauranteed to have one near you. With electric buses, metro, trams and bicycle rental everywhere I see Lyon as being a fairly green city.
So we made our way to an old convent converted to hotel near the Opera house called Hotel Iris. They had two rooms for 99 Euros total which in the states would be expensive but here it's about average for 4 people. We climbed the outdoor square staircase to our hallway where we found two small cute rooms with parts of the plaster artfully removed to show the now exposed brick wall. We made it to Lyon and have a roof over our head. Next order of business is to get to the internet cafe and get ahold of my bank.
One difference between Lyon and Paris is that in Paris internet is readily available. Or at least we know where to find it. The Let's Go guide only listed one internet cafe so we headed there. It was closed but I could get a wifi signal on the Nokia and I emailed my bank. The only thing to do now was to eat and wait. Not wanting to spend too much but not go slumming either we went to the Hippopautamus, a chain in France that reminds me a lot of Red Robin or TGI Fridays. We saw a man outside eating Steak Tartare and Jade kept saying how good it looked so after not being able to order my French onion soup I ate steak tartare which I have a picture of on the gallery. If you don't know steak tartare it's a mound of raw hamburger with a raw egg on top served with side dishes of various things with flavor like mustard and onions that you mix in. It wasn't bad but I'm not sure I'd eat it everyday. And guess what? I didn't die from eating raw hamburger nor did the other guy in the restaurant. I wouldn't trust American Beef suppliers to feed me raw hamburger though.
That night we slept well