Monday, January 12, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Five

Saturday, 10 December 1988
Lyon to La Côte St. André

LYON-- Slept last night at the Hotel Alexander†, within schlepping distance-- just barely-- from the Perrache station. Turns out I may have reamed myself if the object was to avoid carrying things-- the interurban bus station is at Part-Dieu. The local one is at Perrache.

However, considering that the bus for La Côte doesn’t leave till 5:00 pm, and that the sights worth seeing here are closer to la Gare Perrache (such as Vieux Lyon), maybe it’s ok.

Terribly tired and stressed and not having such an easy time determining the bus schedules. I really think I’m going to have to rethink my itinerary. Allow a full day in Toulouse, perhaps, just to sit on my rear and recruit my strength. I’m getting to the point where I can’t cope in English, let alone in French. Tempted to cry or get bitchy in public which is not Christian.

At the moment I’m sitting in a salon de thé in la Vieille Ville . . . Nursing a pot of tea after dejeuner. Charcuterie, I learn, is cold cuts and not a lot of them, either. But the salad was good, as was the cheese dressing for it, and the bit of gateau chocolat generous. And the
orange amère is quite flavorful.

They have little glass pitchers pour le vin which are quite attractive. Williams-Sonoma should pick them up.

The young lady doing the serving was taking her sweet time about bringing the rest of my order after the initial entrée. This was all right in its way: I thus had no compunction about sitting there getting the tiredness out.

And I had the opportunity to listen to a sextet of Britons who walked in about the time I was tucking into the cake. It was good to hear a British voice again. Couldn’t identify all the accents but one woman sounded northern Irish and one of the men like a Liverpudlian. They knew even less French than I do and were discussing what the really useful phrases for the English-French phrasebooks would be. When one of the men wryly suggested, "‘I am an idiot!’" ("Je suis un idiot!"), I couldn’t help but smile. They must’ve noticed my reaction, for one said, sotto voce, "I think the lady’s English."

Well, not quite, but that’ll do.

(Funny about that. No one’s nailed me as an American yet. Or else, that’s considered a bit of an insult around here and it’s politer to ask first if one is British, even if you think otherwise.)

After awhile, the dilatory service stopped being an advantage. It was 3:05 and I had a train to catch at 4:08. Pried the bill out of the girl, though I had to go to the kitchen door to get it, and paid it. Service charge tacked on top of the food here. Not sure if that included gratuity; if it didn’t, tant pis. (I am rotten.) Au revoir, merci, I’m gone.

The old city looks like a great place to come on a sunny day with more energy and a lighter (in terms of weight, not money) purse. Myriad cobbled streets with the drains down the middle. I mainly stuck to the Rue St. Jean, which extends from the Cathedral.

I’m growing quite used to walking in the middle of streets like that, along with everyone else. Always liked that sort of thing. Not on the boulevards, of course. Not that wild and crazy.

(What’s the term for when you state the obvious and it sounds inane? I think I just did it.)

Most French cars have yellow headlights. A lot easier to see. Although there may be a white or yellow option, because in the country they’re mostly white.

They drive on the right side of the road (with allowances for the feelings of my British friends, who prefer to keep left). But there is a street just before the rue Victor Hugo here where they were doing it the British way. Most odd.

Anyway, I’d passed a couple of old bookshops in my ramblings before lunch. They’d been closed then (lunchtime is lunchtime here. Period.) but were open now. Ducked into one; asked if they had any books by or about Berlioz. No, they did not. A bit further on, tried the other one. The proprietor indicated a lower shelf. And there were two little volumes of the Mémoires, en française, à bien sûr, with very nice leather spines and inscribed 1882 by their original owner. Second or third edition, 1878, but still tantalizingly close to the original publication date. It’s a good thing this wasn’t one of those places where one bargains, because I pounced on those things like a starving man on food. The price would’ve gone straight up.

As it was, the marked price was pretty high: 500F, or around £45. I realize that’s not so bad, when you compare it with those Oxford U Press volumes I priced at £30.

Oh, well, they didn’t take Visa and if I’d spent my cash I’d never make it out of La Côte. "Trop cher," je dis, et je pars.

It’s wonderful how I have the chutzpah to say in French things I never would in English. I’d never tell a British or American shopkeeper I couldn’t afford something. Anything else but.

I took off-- it was 3:25 by now-- but just as I was rounding the corner towards the Pont Bonapart I saw that the Credit Agricole was still open. Oh God! Hector, the things I’ll do for you!

And I went in and changed another £60 of traveller’s cheques. They took an ungodly amount of time about it, though there was no line. And I'd already eaten up several minutes finding a private nook in the bank where I could discreetly extricate my waist wallet from under my clothes and lay hands on the cheques.

Finally the transaction was done. I took the money and ran, back to the Diogenes Librairie. Cash on the barrelhead (or the chair seat), take the books in a plastic bag, and pray we get that 4:08 train.

Plan was to find a taxi, but the only one I saw was occupied. Ran like the dickens. Fortunately felt better having eaten. Bypassed Place Bellecour, down the first stretch of rue Victor Hugo, past the statue to M. Ampere (electrifying), down more of Victor Hugo to the hotel entrance opposite the charming McDonald’s. Collected my bags from the hotel closet and began limping for the station. Across Place Carnot, up the stairs (ascenseur broken, of course), through the shopping mall, across the pedestrian bridge, through the station entry mall, and in.

OK, there’s my train on the board. Track 5. So I got down there and the conductor tells me the train to Lyon-Part Dieu is on Track #1! He very graciously shouldered my heaviest bag and got me over there in time to catch the 4:08 to get the bus at the other station.

ON THE TRAIN TO LYON-PART DIEU-- Something else odd I’ve noticed here in France. About half the time, I’ve observed, nobody ever comes to take tickets on the trains. And though you do have to validate your ticket each time (not passes, though) in a machine before you enter the platform area, it’s not like there’s a turnstile. I suppose the penalties for travelling without a ticket are great? Or could you just say, Oh, I was running late, and buy one from the conductor?

LA CÔTE ST. ANDRÉ, 11:50 PM-- Everything turned out ok with the busses. A tourist information lady showed me where to wait. And though the posted schedules were no help, the bus driver was able to give me a schedule of the route to Grenoble. Turns out it originates in Vienne, which was why my referring to the "Lyon-Grenoble bus" was so confusing to everyone in Lyon.

Travelling to La Côte, the bus takes a little two lane highway that all of a sudden shoots into these little villages. The road narrows to a lane and a half and that great big bus has to negotiate the tightest turns against the houses. It’s a miracle they have any walls left.

I took the time on the road to verify that I don’t need a seat reservation for the TGV between Narbonne and Montpelier Monday. And that I shall either have to punt my side-trip to Aurillac or rent a car from Toulouse. The train schedule won’t let me get there and back to Toulouse again in a single day.

It was raining on the way down here. It’s raining everywhere in this country. Je pense que il pleuvra toujours.

Well, it’s December. And at least it wasn’t actively dripping when I was set down by la Place Berlioz here. It is not exactly in the center of town. So I shouldered my load and took off. The things I do for Hector, again!

Lost one of my lightweight leather gloves in all that running about in Lyon. Missed it as I was assembling my things to get off the bus.

Found the rue de la Republique within a couple of blocks. And there on my right, up the street a ways, was the solid but unprepossessing facade of the
Birthplace. Funny, but I don’t think I expected it to be smack in the middle of town like that. But then I guess I don’t expect small towns to be all rowhouses like this, either.

Checked the opening hours but didn’t stay around to pay my devotions. Bags too heavy. Crossed the street to a stationer’s (still open, at 7:15, thank God) and asked the way to the two hotels I knew of.

Hotel Europe, recommended by Brian Chenley‡ in his letter, was closed for the season. So I trudged on up the hill to the
Hotel France, aupres de l’eglise. It, as Michelin states, is a restaurant with rooms. A very nice girl and an elderly lady are running the place; I’m afraid my French abandoned me at the crucial moment. N’importe! They discerned what I was after and showed me upstairs immediately, never mind, I could register later.

I’m spending the money (Visa, since I have to make up for the books I’ve bought) on a room with a bathtub. I am just too grubby otherwise. I think I perspired all the way through my coat. How else did the inner face of my backpack get wet?

Nice little room with a table that, covered with the spare blanket, made an adequate ironing board for my dark gray dress. Thank goodness that B&D travel iron does work and didn’t blow any fuses.

Only problem with this place (ignoring the insufficiency of hangers and no hooks in the bathroom, which is par for the course all over cette pays and besides, these people do provide towels) is the presence of a high-pitched, irregularly intermittent sound, like a sign swinging in the breeze or maybe a swinging door opening and shutting . . . Whatever it is I shall have to endeavor to ignore it and try not to get a headache from tension.

Over to the eglise first thing after getting established. Mass at 10:30 in the morning. And there’s a Berlioz birthday celebration concert there at 5:00. Wonderful, think I, we shall hear some of Hector’s music in his hometown. Then I saw the poster. All Debussy and Fauré! OK, so it is the Fauré Requiem, which I love, but still.

Maybe they don’t have the forces around here to do a decent job of most Berlioz. They could tackle L’Enfance du Christ and Les Nuits d’Été, I should think, but maybe they’ve been done recently.

Feels a little odd being here. Wonder what the townspeople think of people coming in just to honor their most unusual native son. Do they regard us as oddities? But then they found him rather odd, too, didn’t they?
†Having done some Web research, I find I gave my Lyon hotel an inadvertent sex change! It's really the Hotel Alexandra, and it's still there at 49 rue Victor Hugo and is still quite reasonable.

‡The then-secretary of the London Berlioz Society


whiskers said...

As I'm sure you know now, l'addition does include le gratuity. Also, c'est "je suis un imbecile/facile/cretin" not "idiot".

That tea shop sounds delightful, but not the wait...they are so much more relaxed in France.

OOOOOH! I forgot to tell you, I'm going to London and Paris, one week a piece, in May!! Any tips on "must sees" would be gratefully received.


St. Blogwen said...

Yes, I've since figured that out about the service fee . . . though my conscience tells me that intending to stiff the waitress in retribution for her slowness was still very, very naughty.

And yeah, "imbecile, facile, cretin" might have been better . . . though my big Cassell's French dictionary likes "idiot" for the purpose as well. But as I said, my French was minimal and theirs was even less!

That's fabulous about your plans for May! Wow, must-sees in London and Paris . . . Really depends on what you're interested in. Music, history, architecture, food, shopping, art, what? I might not be the best one to ask, since I tended to visit both places for Berlioz' sake!

whiskers said...

Oh my...all of the above! More food, history, and art...but everything else too. The trip is focused on the period from 1660-1870. And I know I don't deserve, (or even necessarily believe in), prayer, but if you could think good thoughts about me finding the rest of the money...? I have most of it, but the rest needs to come from scholarships and grants, which I am not guaranteed to receive.


St. Blogwen said...

Here's an idea: When I post tthe Paris days of my journal, you can glean what you wish from that. Then we can go from there without redundancy.

Viola Larson said...

I think you could write a book on your travels--I am enjoying this so much.