The (belated) last entry

We spent the last week of our summer holiday in urban France; the first half sweltering and fighting colds with our friends the Scalberts in Lyon, the second half cooling off, coughing, and hanging out with our buddies the Pesmes in Corbeil-Essones (about 35 km south of Paris).

The Scalberts own the beautiful country house where we stayed in Burgundy. Lyon, where they live full-time, is just under two hours away by car. Lyon is a beautiful city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with two rivers (the Rhone and the Saone), cobblestone streets, gothic cathedrals, gourmet food shops, and a spectacular park, the Tete d’Or. But when we were there it was so unbearably hot and humid we were afraid to go outside.

Entrance to the Parc de la Tete d’Or

However, after being cooped up for a few hours our first full day there (Aug. 20), we forced ourselves to leave the hotel where we were staying (to avoid exposing the Scalbert family to our germs), and explore the city.

I had read about a fancy chocolate shop about a mile from our hotel, a walk that didn’t sound daunting. The Google Map directions included turning right onto something called “400 Marches,” which, if my French were better, would have sent off really loud alarm bells.

A very small fraction of some of the 430 stairs

However, my French is rudimentary at best. And so we found ourselves hiking up 430 stairs to the old part of Lyon. In stinking, humid heat. By the time we reached the top, we were in dire need of air-conditioning. But everything was closed.

Apparently a lot of things close in France in August. Basically about three-quarters of the country’s business shut down for the month. Further impeding our search for air-conditioning was that we went exploring on a Monday. On Monday, the remaining one-quarter of businesses that stay open in August close for the day.

If my knowledge of French business practices were better, the kids and I would have done the wise thing and stayed in our hotel room and played with the electronic shades and awnings (which we did do, later, and which was shockingly entertaining).

But I digress. On our walk through the Hades that was Lyon on Aug. 20, we sought shelter in the Maison de Canuts, a museum dedicated to the silk industry which played a significant part in Lyon’s history.

In truth, it’s not much of a museum. In fact, when we first peeked through the door, I thought it was an upholstery shop. That’s because the first thing I saw was a display of window shade pulls, which turned out to be key chains made not of silk (too expensive), but viscous.

The museum consists of a gift shop and three small rooms of displays. Most of the information was in French. That and the fact that the place wasn’t air-conditioned meant that our stay there was relatively brief.

Noah headed back to the hotel. He was fighting a cold and the heat was making him feel worse. Elizabeth and I forged on, determined to find the chocolate shop, but after discovering that pretty much the entire neighborhood was closed (and there was no chocolate shop) we, too, retreated to the hotel.

We visited one more museum in Lyon, the Musee de Tissus, which is not actually a museum of tissues, but a museum tracing nearly 4,000 years of fabric history. A friend who was also in town wanted to see the museum, as did her teenage daughters.

I convinced Elizabeth and Noah to come by promising them it would be air conditioned. Sadly, my promise was not fulfilled. Foolish me, assuming that fabric needs to be cool in order to be preserved. I should have realized fabric merely needs to be kept in the dark. So instead of a brightly lit, cold museum, we were in a dark, hot museum.

Was it fun, you ask? No. It was not. The kids raced through that place so fast Usain Bolt would have been impressed. They finally slowed down in a room filled with photographs, some on fabric and some, of Barack Obama, which had been shredded and then woven back together.That was a fascinating exhibit. It also seemed much cooler (temperature wise, that is) than the rest of the place.

For me, the touristy highlight of Lyon was a visit to the Paul Bocuse Food Hall on Thursday morning. Pamela took Dave, Elizabeth and I (Noah stayed at the Scalbert’s apartment with the family’s youngest son, Kaciel). We rode those nifty city bikes that are becoming popular in major European cities. The food hall was amazing. Even with nearly half the shops closed for the August holidays, it was overwhelming. Here are some pics.

Are you salivating?

Have some pain. (Not pain. Bread. Pain. Pronounced “pan.”)

Some fromage to go with your pain

Mmmmm. Yummy. (Okay. Maybe not. But the shells are pretty, dontcha think?)

If I told you this was a Rockette, would you believe me?

Why is this pig foot wearing a sock? I do not know. Do dead pigs get cold? (Am I               being offensive?)

I hope this makes up for the animal flesh photos

Don’t forget your fruits and veggies

From Aug. 23-27 we were in Corbeil-Essonnes, staying with the Pesmes, friends we met when they were in Edmonton for the 2010-11 school year, when Denis, a physicist, was doing a sabbatical at the University of Alberta. Their oldest son, Scott, was in Elizabeth’s class in grade 10. Their middle son, Craig, was in Noah’s grade and they played soccer together. Their youngest, Aileen, was in elementary school.

Maggie, the mom, is a dentist. Her office is in a little building at the far end of their massive backyard in Corbeil-Essonnes. To get there, you have to walk past the in-ground pool, the ping-pong table, the trampoline, the plum tree, the apricot tree, the apple tree, and the chicken coop. Those French – they know how to live.

Dinner in the Pesme’s garden

We had a wonderful few days with the Pesmes, who clearly have stronger immune systems than we do, because none of them came down with the colds we brought to their house. Originally we thought we’d get up early every day and go into Paris but we were feeling so exhausted we didn’t make it into the city until well into the afternoon most of the time.

One day we visited the Holocaust memorial behind Notre Dame. Another day we walked to the Luxembourg Gardens. Mostly though, we wandered, shopped, and ate.

One of our fave stores in Paris is a place called Pylones, which has all kinds of fun, funky, brightly-colored things, some of which are inherently useful (pencil cases, tablecloth decrumbers, hammers, scissors) and some of which are not (rubber ducks with Queen Elizabeth’s head, or a Horse Guards head).

Dave, Noah, and Craig kill time waiting for Debby and Elizabeth outside Pylones

We had a few very late nights in Corbeil-Essonnes. Benoit and Alexandra Amsallem, whose son, Sam, stayed with us for two weeks in June, hosted a beautiful vegetarian dinner for us at their house the night after we arrived. (Benoit also presented Dave with the biggest bottle of Champagne I have ever seen – and I think we went through most of it that night.)

We arrived at the Amsallem’s at around 8 and didn’t get home until 1:30 a.m., three hours before Benoit had to be at work.

Dave and Benoit share a laugh. I wonder how smiley
Benoit was at work the next day…

Benoit and Alexandra are both flight attendants with Air France. Alexandra also runs a day spa and, like Maggie, she has built office space next to her house. Her place is lovely and very peaceful, much like she is. (She gave Elizabeth and me a care package filled with potions from the spa – a real treat.)

Alexandra in her spa

Sam was away, on an offspring-of-Air-France-employees trip to Asia (nice perk!), but his younger sister, Louise, and younger brother, Noe, were there. Saturday night they treated us to an evening at Vaux le Vicomte, which was the model for Versailles.

Vaux le Vicomte

In fact, Louis XIV was so jealous of Vaux le Vicomte the first time he visited that he locked up the original owner, one of his own cabinet ministers, and pretty much stole the place before copying it for his own country home.

Things were more peaceful the night we were there. Every Saturday in the warm months, the grounds are lit exclusively by candlelight, so it’s quite beautiful – but also dark. So dark that Aileen Pesme fell into a hedge after mistaking it for a flight of stairs. Oops.

I hope Aileen’s scratches have faded by now. Our memories are starting to, which is why I thought I’d better commit this all to writing before another day passes. After all, we have been home in Edmonton for more than a week.

Our three weeks in England and France were amazing. Thanks for reading about them. Stay tuned for the next adventure, and also for my soon-to-be-established book blog.

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4 Responses

  1. Michael spent a month in Lyon this summer studying French at the Catholic University. He loved the city. Sounds like you did too! I have enjoyed your vacation vicariously.

    • The city was beautiful but boy, it was hot, so we didn’t see nearly as much as I wished we had. Michael and I will have to get together so he can tell me what we missed…

  2. Sounds fantastique! I am full of envie, stuck in my studio slaving away. I’m going to pretend that I came along with you on your vacation for all the best parts.

    • You can photoshop yourself into my pictures (or just draw yourself!).

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