Monday, July 21, 2008

Lyon and Montpellier

Bonjour! *Note: this will NOT be a minute-by-minute accounting of my actions this time. I have a feeling I'm getting boring with those kinds of postings (due to a glaring lack of comments). Instead I'll just relate a few interesting experiences I had in these two French cities.

After visiting Rennes I actually wanted to go to Spain, but it turns out this can be rather difficult sometimes. It seems the whole of Europe is leaving on vacation this week (some bringing their dogs like this cute thing that slept most of the way), and all of them want to spend it in sunny Hispanola. I waited in long lines and probably taxed the patience of many a rail clerk poring over train schedules and maps for me... "Ok, what about Beziers? Can you get me to Beziers tomorrow?" Sometimes it really IS true; you can't get there from here. You have to go somewhere else.
So my first stop was Lyon (pronounced "Lee-ON" with that French nasal twang), which I read (while standing in one of those lines) was a great place to visit, full of history and old cobbled streets and cathedrals and such. I had to check it out, and it was on the way south.

After Rennes, Lyon was a nice change. It just seemed sunnier, warmer and brighter there... possibly because it wasn't raining like in Rennes?   Lyon really is a smaller and friendlier "Paris of the South", like the guidebooks say.  There was an almost modern basilica (only a hundred years old) that was a joy to explore; so much so that I spent the 5 euros (about $7) for a guided tour of the upper rooms and views from up high... I'm usually too tight-fisted for such wild extravagances, but this time I made an exception. I think it was worth it just for the photos. The guide was pretty cute too, and brought us all the way to the rooftops, helpfully translating what she said for me, the only American in the group. In fact I've seen hardly any Americans anywhere in France so far, except a few older folks lugging those gigantic suitcases through the train stations. Honestly, all they really need here are some shorts and t-shirts... how much clothes can they possibly wear?

Anyway, I had a good time in Lyon; I bought some great cheeses after making a poor merchant let me try eight or ten different ones, and have been trying to resist the Irish pubs and taste the local wines instead (all good). I was actually approached by some friendly young guys who were interested to talk about their country ("Go to Beziers! You'll like it there.") It's unusual to find such open friendliness in northern France; down south there seems to be a more relaxed attitude-- kinda like in America.
And I got some great photos: I think in places like Lyon, as in Tuscany or Venice, you could set the 1-second delay on your camera, throw it up into the air, and almost always get a Pulitzer prizewinning shot.
Montpellier was almost as good. It's a much smaller city (town, really), so it doesn't have all the fancy museums and monuments and such that Paris and Lyon have, but I hardly go to them anyway, so it's ok. It did have a large, totally car-free historic district, which I love. It didn't have the almost obligatory huge ferris wheel that are all the rage these days in almost every big European city. It had all the usual cafes, shops and restaurants all over the old town, making strolling or sitting a joy. I only spent one night there, but it was plenty of time to see what I wanted. It also actually has an Arc d' Triomph to (almost) rival the one in Paris.

The only bad experience was when I approached a young, scruffy-looking couple of backpackers carrying some young, scruffy-looking dogs. I was curious as to why the dogs weren't walking (they certainly looked old enough) and if they were ok. When they stopped to rearrange the pups, I asked if they spoke english and the girl sullenly shook her head. Then I pointed to the puppy she was holding and asked, "Dog ok?" She nodded. Wondering if I couldn't help, I started to say, "I'm a veterinary--..." when the guy, picking up his pup by the scruff, yelled around his cigarette, "I don't speak english, so f*** off!" At that they walked off, and at first all I could mutter was "it sounds like you speak some english". Then suddenly angry I called after him, "What about as****e? Do you know what that means?" They ingored me and kept walking. Unfortunately the picture I took of them came out dark, like the stray kitten pic as well.

I have a theory about them: I'd bet you euros to navy beans that they sit all day in public places with those dogs, begging for money, then take them "home" to some godforsaken place where they tie the pups up and drink and smoke away the day's earnings. I've seen people like that all over Europe with dogs (sometimes young puppies), using them to gain sympathy. I never give them a ha'-penny. It's no life for dogs to be kept on the streets just so bums can beg for beer money.

There were also some ponies used for rides, tied fully saddled to a rail for who knows how many endless hours, probably bored out of their minds and unable to even lower their heads due to their short leads. (see photo) But hey, as long as people can have them conveniently ready to give their kids rides, that's what's most important, right?
It's also not much of a life for stray cats, which I'm seeing more of the further south I go (and the closer I get to Spain). I wonder what I'll find there. At least there's no more bullfights in Barcelona, where I go next, thanks to the good Spanish activists who managed to get them banned from the city two years ago. I wouldn't want to end up in a Spanish jail.

Next: Barcelona

1 comment:

MozzarElla said...

Strange trend to erect ferris wheels in cities these days! A way to keep the Euros circling?!

Great to know that bullfighting was outlawed in Barcelona. What progress.

Sorry I've been out of the blog loop lately. We're still unpacking and arranging our new digs.

Keep writing! Ella loves "reading!"