"Gourmets, eat your heart out, Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France with a lavish table of piggy-driven dishes and delicacies to savour, and a fabulous bounty of eating spaces on which to do it." So says The Lonely Planet.
We wouldn’t know.
Here’s the thing: the French (or at least the Lyonaisse) are very particular about their eating hours. Lunch is over at 2 p.m. All the restaurants close at this time. All of them. If you’re really, really hungry, and you get stuck in traffic coming in to a city (such as Lyon), which for some reason has so much traffic on a Saturday that you spend 45 minutes getting through a light such that it’s no longer lunch time by the time you arrive, you’re going to go hungry.
And by "you" I mean "we".
OK, not exactly true, we did, after much searching, finally find a little neighborhood bar in the Choix Rousse district where the barman made us some of the best food we’ve had since we’ve been in France (excepting the fine meals prepared by our couchsurfing hosts): Cuisse de Poulet Fermier for Michelle (a huge, meaty chicken leg with a delicious sauce), bauette oc "ilee" for me (beef with a red wine sauce) and a side of haricots beurre (butter beans) for both us.
Sated, we wandered the area a bit and poked our heads in shops, but were feeling lazy and wanted to connect with the folks we hoped to couchsurf with that night.
Unfortunately, our connection strategy was flawed: we were to meet them at a bar that turned out to be packed to the jowls with rugby-frenzied drunks without a clear picture of what they looked like (and we hadn’t confirmed with them that we’d meet them there), so we ended up around 11 p.m. in the middle of Lyon with no place to sleep. All the hotels in the area were "complet", so, after enjoying a bit of art that we happened upon in the middle of town (below), we drove beyond the city limits in search of a Ibis (the Howard Johnson of Europe, best we can tell).
Having had a bit of a grumpy first try with Lyon, we decided to skip it the next day and head straight to Grenoble.
Well, not straight. Nothing’s ever straight. We told our GPS to find us a way that would twist us and turn us and take us through farmer’s fields and over mountain passes, and weren’t disappointed.
Absolutely gorgeous to see how the terrain changed coming from the mid-country up to the foothills of the Alps and then into them. The country farm houses were set on amongst small stands of trees on hilltops, surrounded by their gardens, horses and fields. The architecture had transitioned from the stone, medieval style of the mid-North to a more Hansel and Gretel plaster and wood style construction.
In Grenoble, we went straight to the home of Gil (pronounced "jeel"), a first-time couchsurfing host and truly sweet man. Gil is the deputy manager of a youth hostel, and has been living in Grenoble for 15 or so years. We spent the night at his place just talking, made a meal, went through a couple bottles of wine and just relaxed.
Gil drew us a map to a hike we took the next day, past the monastery at St. Pierre-de-Chartreuse, where the monks originally made the spicy-hot liquor that took the region’s name (bought a couple airplane-sized bottles: yum!). The drive and the hike were both lovely, autumn is painting the mountainside and the forest, different at different altitudes, reminds me a lot of New England: small and varied trees, moss covering glacial rocks, brown leaves crunching underfoot. It felt warm, but the air still had a lung clearing sharpness to it that left me feeling light and happy.
On our way back, we passed a small farm selling goat cheese, so we picked ourselves up a couple of rounds and enjoyed it on a thick bread we had bought back in Grenoble. The farm also sold honey, but when we explained in our broken French to the owner that we had hives of our own, she seemed disgusted with the idea of city honey: "main les voitures!" (but the cars!) So much for the international bond of beekeepers.