Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lyon sous la neige

Three of my friends and I just got back from Lyon (actually it was three days ago now, but I'm still tired and my head's still there..) where we spent a whirlwind weekend of sightseeing and walking and shopping and being all merry in general.

The view from our hostel.  No joke.

We took a TGV train down on Saturday morning, which was an experience in itself... we had a connecting train in a little town outside of Evreux that we barely caught.  There was some pretty cinematic seconds while we were along the tracks in the snow flurries... :)  We made it though, and although the 4 of us booked our tickets separately, I was sitting right next to Jill R. and Ana was sitting right next to Jill C.  Funny how things work out perfectly!

The snow was gorgeous outside!  Jill and I got around to talking about Wallace and Gromit for some reason, and I told her my favorite character was Shaun the sheep, and she said hers was the funny little penguin.  I was like HOLD ON I HAVE SOMETHING TO SHOW YOU! and got out my little Feathers toy.  Sorry guy, I've been neglecting you!  I was going to go around and take pictures of him by big European monuments, kind of like the gnome in Amélie.  I gotta get on that.

We walked all the way from the train station to our hostel (my brilliant idea... I didn't realize it was so far), which was quite a trek but it was a beautiful day and we got to see some nice parts of the city.

Finally we got to where I thought our hostel was, at the foot of this big hill, but the sign for the Auberge de Jeunesse (hostel) pointed up the hill.  Up the steep, icy hill.  And we couldn't see it from the bottom so we figured it must be way up there... luckily we had seen a funiculaire a little ways back so we took that up the hill! Fun!  (hee!)

Winter wonderland
My friends were saying that they at least hoped the hostel had a nice view, it being on top of this hill and everything... and I was slightly more pessimistic about it.  I mean, why would a youth hostel that charges 20 euro a night for a bed and a bathroom down the hall have a nice view?  If anything the office would have a good view, and then the bedrooms would look out over the street or something.  Right?

Wrong!  First of all, there were 4 of us, and we got our very own room of 2 bunk beds.  With a sink and a shower inside the room.  Nice!  Second, we had french doors, not windows, opening up to this courtyard that looked over the entire city of Lyon.  I could sit on my bed (lower bunk, thank you!) and see the big ferris wheel in the main city center.  AMAZING.  Oh, and everything was covered in snow.  I felt like I was in a perfect little snowglobe city.

Hi Ana!

Me in the courtyard

There was also this neat little staircase that led up the outside of the building, where I got some good shots of the city.  Jill and I were exploring and trying not to slip and die...  still very icy after all!

So very happy!

A cute little café where we didn't end up eating

One thing I learned on this trip... I am obsessed with vin chaud.  It's hot mulled wine, and they have it almost everywhere in France this time of year.  It's the perfect thing to warm you up and get you in the holiday spirits.  And it's tastyyy!  Oooh boy.  :)  We went to a swanky restaurant before dinner time when no one was there yet and ordered a couple each.  This particular version came with an orange slice in a fancy glass... but I've also had quite tasty versions served in little plastic cups while walking around Christmas markets.  So much love for the vin chaud.  <3

So, turns out we just missed the famous Lyon Festival of Lights by just a couple days...  bummer, but we still got to see the city all decorated for Christmas.  It was wonderful.

View from the hostel at night

My favorite Scot and me with our tartan scarves!  (NOT plaid.) :)

Christmas market!
I got some much needed Christmas shopping done at the marché de Noël, and more vin chaud, of course.
Various yummy holiday treats at the Christmas market

2 seconds after I snapped this, a giant piece of hard icy snow came crashing down from the 6 story roof above me, about 3 feet away.  Thank you, pretty building, for distracting me enough to take a picture!! Eek.

After we had a nice lunch of wood-fired pizza and eggplant parmesan, my friends and I parted at the metro stop.  They had booked an earlier train while I had decided to stay in Lyon for a couple hours.  Kind of unfortunate that we didn't get to go back together, but I was okay with going by myself.  I'm glad I got a couple of hours to explore the city toute seule.  I didn't do much, just some more meandering around the Christmas market, wandering around little streets, and doing some more shopping.  I bought a really pretty big red umbrella for myself for 12 euro!  I got it at this little tiny umbrella shop tucked away in a little alley of shops, and when I came out I felt completely lost.  Not to worry though, I absolutely love getting lost in a big city.  Really!  As long as I have a map with me to pull me through if I get in trouble, I'm fine.  It's one of my favorite things about traveling.  :)

Those are my pictures!  Hope you enjoyed!  Now here's a boring story about my trip home, you don't have to read it if you don't want.  I won't be offended.  :)

So a little while after my friends departed, I headed back to the train station myself.  I looked at my ticket and noticed that I had exactly 12 minutes to change from the TGV train to the little regional train back to Evreux.  It was connecting in the same little town as we passed through before... only this time I'd be catching a very small train back and not a major train, so I wasn't sure the connection would be "assured", like it was last time.  Hmm.  I made a mental note that my first TGV train better not be more than 10 minutes late, or I'm screwed big time.  What the hell would I do in Mantes-la-Jolie if I missed my train at 9pm on a Sunday night? By myself, no less?

I waited a bit for the train to show up on the big screen, and it finally did.  A l'heure; on time.  Great!  Now I just have to wait to see what track it will be on.  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.    .....wait, what does that say all of a sudden?  Probably 20 minutes late?  Hmm, that can't be right, lemme just go check this big screen over here again that just said it was on ti---  oh.  Yep, 20 minutes late.  That means I'll definitely miss my connecting train in Mantes-la-middle-of-nowhere.

Now, if this had happened before?  Like, say, 2 years ago?  I would have straight up panicked.  I know because I did, once.  When I arrived in Montpellier in the summer of 2008 by myself and I couldn't find the person who was supposed to pick me up at the train station.  No contact number, no address for where I was staying, all my luggage... I panicked.  For the record I was jet-lagged out of my mind and exhausted beyond belief from traveling for 24 hours, so of course I panicked...  but yeah.  I hate that feeling that just bubbles up from inside when you have no idea what to do next.  You think you're screwed, and even if you're not really, you just know that against all reason you can't possibly get out of this situation.  Of course there's always a way, but that didn't matter to me then, when I was fumbling for my sunglasses to hide my tears and making an expensive phone call to my Mom back home.  (Turns out the guy with the sign was just waiting downstairs in the other part of the station.  I just needed to look harder...)

Anyway, that was then.  This time I started going through options in my head... and I didn't panic. Even though the worst case scenario would be that I would spend the night in a small-town train station, I didn't panic.  Uh, go me?  So, my options: get a really expensive cab ride home (and I had no idea how far it was from MLJ to Evreux), call my friend with a car who would just be getting home from her earlier train from Lyon (I would really not want to put her in that position), or find a place to stay in MLJ (probably the best option, but on a Sunday night, who could help me find a place?).  I started to look for an ATM to withdraw as much cash as possible for a taxi when I figured I may as well go to the information desk and ask if there was a later train going from MLJ to Evreux.  Probably not (Sunday night.), but worth a shot.  Still not panicking!  Yay!

I showed my ticket to the lady behind the counter and started to explain my problem while she started typing away at her computer.  "Ok," she said calmly, "there's a train that goes through Paris that will get to Evreux at 9:39, but the only problem is.. you'll have to change train stations in Paris."  You mean I can just change my trip like that?  And through Paris?  Awesome!  And I don't care about changing stations as long as I have enough time to connect.  I love taking the metro.  :)

I said OK and she left and returned with a ticket.  Here you go!  Free of charge!  Train leaves in half an hour and you have 45 minutes to change in Paris.   COOOOL.  I admit it, I still get giddy when I have the chance to go to Paris.  :)  I thanked her profusely and walked away, not believing my luck in scoring a ticket through Paris that would get me home safely that night... then I looked at my ticket more closely and saw that it was in first class.  I stopped and said some bad words out loud, but meant in the best way...  hahah, oh well, I'm in France and no one can understand English anyway (who am I kidding, everyone always learns the bad words first in another language..).

So I'm on cloud 9.  I've always wanted to take a seat in a first class train but it's always seemed extravagant.  Now this lady just hands me a ticket with 1st class seats on both trains back!  Neato!!  My first train boarded on time and I had a nice short trip to Paris.  It turned out that there was a 15 minute delay though, so I'd only get a 30 minute layover in Paris.  Of course now is when I start to panic a little bit (I blame it on my Mom!  Always getting to the airport way too early!  Running through DFW airport trying to get to the gate on a connecting flight!  hahah).  So I booked it out of the train, through the metro (only one line, thank God... #14 for goes straight from gare de Lyon to St. Lazare) and to the platform for my Evreux train.  Aaaaaand now that train is 15 minutes late.  Didn't even have to run.  Of course.  Then it's 20 min, then 25 min late...  ends up being about 35 minutes late, but I didn't really care because I'd be home free as soon as I got on that last train.  And I did.  I decided I wanted to take a cab home from the train station instead of walking by myself for 25 minutes at 10:30 at night... but no cabs were outside in the taxi zone when I arrived.  Of course.  So I walked, holding my big red umbrella tightly in case anyone tried to pull anything.  I convinced myself I could potentially cause some damage with that thing.  Hahah.

Now it's Wednesday!  And I don't have to work today!  And it was snowing a little while ago!  And I'm drinking tea!  Life is good.  The plan for Saturday is to go to Strasbourg and then back to Paris for Saturday night... hopefully without any train delays.  :)

Home in 9 days.  I can't believe it.

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