Lyon: Culinary Treats and Colorful Streets

When it comes to travel planning, there’s a sweet spot when choosing how long to stay in a place. You don’t want to remain too long and wind up bored, nor do you want to leave too quickly and miss important things. I like to think that, over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at judging the perfect length when planning trips. Most of the time, I get it right. With Lyon, I didn’t.

Lyon is a fairly easy journey from Geneva; the train whisks you there in about two hours. Because of this, I figured making Lyon a day trip was just fine and, indeed, it’s definitely doable in a day. But, for me, I wound up loving Lyon, so much so that I wished I had been able to linger and explore longer. Staying at least one night would have been ideal, and making an entire weekend out of it would not have been a bad choice either.

Still, though I regretted the length of my visit to Lyon, I was lucky to have had a day there, as the city was truly fantastic. From the lovely riverside views to the abundance of historical treasures to the culinary delights, France’s so-called “Second City” had much to offer.

Arriving in town, my plan was to make my way first to the hilltop Fourvière district, home to both a spectacular church and Roman ruins. As I headed toward the river, where I would cross a bridge and catch the funicular up the hill, it immediately became apparent that a slight change of plans was in order: I had stumbled on the Saturday morning market.

Markets in Europe fall under the category entitled “things of which I will never tire,” and thus taking time to explore Lyon’s was all but mandatory. Filled with French grannies doing their weekly shopping, stands heaped with every imaginable type of cheese, and the delicious smell of rotisserie chicken wafting through the air, Lyon’s market did not disappoint.

I eventually tore myself away from ogling the produce and made my way up the hill, where my first destination was the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Two things stood out about Lyon’s Notre-Dame. First, my favorite part of the church was the underside of its portico; standing just below it and looking up made for some pretty incredible views.

Second, the church is perched atop Lyon, and nearby, you’ll find a panoramic viewpoint of the city. Here’s what it looked like on the day I visited:

Was it a foggy day? No, not particularly – that’s pollution you see, not bad weather. It was a bummer, but there was a silver lining. On the day I visited Lyon, all public transportation was 100% free, in an effort to address the pollution problem by getting locals to ditch their cars for the day. It’s never nice to see a smoggy city, but I loved that Lyon was taking real steps to address the problem.

From the viewpoint at Notre-Dame, it’s only a short walk to another must-see in Lyon: the Roman ruins and the Museum of Gallo-Romanian Civilization. I spent some time poking through the museum’s interesting collection before heading out to the ancient Roman theater. While I’ve seen grander theaters in Epidavros and Taormina, it was cool to find something like this in France; even though I know how far the Roman empire once stretched, I still never associate it with places like France – yet, here it is.

And though the history nerd that lurks within me was thrilled about the Roman ruins, there was another aspect of Lyon I was equally excited about: the food. Lyon is known as the gastronomic capital of France – Paul Bocuse is based there, so it’s clearly legit – and I knew I had to have one really good meal while there. I wound up at Les Lyonnais Bouchon, which turned out to be a great place to do just that. I loved the restaurant because it was filled with locals and felt cozy and very French. Which, yes, I know, I was in France, so it should feel French, but that is the best way I can explain it.

Anyway…I began with the classic salade lyonnaise. Even though it’s billed as a starter, this salad could easily fill you up: it was a hearty portion, topped with a poached egg, croutons, tomatoes, and a very generous amount of bacon.

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For my main, I had a pike soufflé in lobster sauce. I’m not an expert on French cuisine, but to me, this felt classically French: the dish was decadently rich and drenched in a delicious sauce.

I ended my meal with an espresso and a crème brûlée. While I may not have strictly been hungry for dessert at that point, like I said: Lyon is a culinary capital, and I went all in. Worth it.

Beyond stuffed, I headed to Lyon’s Old Town to work off the calories and walk off my food coma. Much like I felt in Nice’s Old Town, I was completely charmed by this area of Lyon. The narrow streets, the colorful buildings (here, in varying shades of yellow and orange), and the interesting shops: Old Lyon ticks all the boxes for quintessential European charm, and so I adored it.

I could have poked around the Old Town for even longer, and perhaps I would have if not for the call of my return train to Geneva. I had arrived in Lyon not knowing much about the city, but I left with an appreciation for all it had to offer: food fit for feasting, history worth remembering, and more than its fair share of beautiful streets to get lost in. I would go back to Lyon in a heartbeat – and I hope someday, I get to do just that.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 112

men's shoes

The weekly(ish) roundup of internet finds:

  1. Anne Hathaway has been pretty annoying for the last few years, but I’m going to go ahead and say she’s redeemed herself with this: Jimmy Fallon & Anne Hathaway Sing Broadway Versions of Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar.
  2. Things I Would Wish Upon My Enemies Part I and Part II.
  3. A bunch of good movie trailers: Gone Girl (Ben Affleck is perfect for this role), If I Stay (I cried at this trailer and I am not ashamed) (I’m a little ashamed), Obvious Child (Jenny Slate! That guy from The Office!), Wish I Was Here (Mandy Patinkin! Non-aging Kate Hudson! The Shins!)
  4. Accurate: How to Write the Bio for Your Lifestyle Blog.
  5. I like wine but know nothing about it, so I like that this guide keeps it simple: A Wine Guide to Europe.
  6. The Wolf of Wall Street’s Honest Trailer is more entertaining than the actual Wolf of Wall Street by a factor of ten.
  7. This is magical and joyful. I promise it will make you happy: Watching These Two Old Women Fly for the First Time Is Pure Gold.
  8. Oddly mesmerizing: The Office Stare Machine.
  9. Cannot wait for this to return: Orange Is the New Black Season 2.
  10. So, so many of these are spot-on: 33 Graphs That Reveal Painfully True Facts About Everyday Life.

(Image via Demilked)

Basel: A Springtime Stroll Along the Rhine

Those who know me well know that I am tennis-obsessed (see: Exhibit A, Exhibit B). So, it should come as no surprise that the first – and only, really – thing I thought of when it came to the town of Basel was Roger Federer, who was born there. Yet, as I wandered around town I didn’t see any signs of its most illustrious native son. I’m not sure quite what I was expecting – maybe a statue? A plaque? A display case of golden tennis rackets? I don’t know, but as far as I could tell, the town was Federer-free.

What did I find in Basel then? Well, a lot of loveliness. I didn’t do much of anything there; I didn’t poke into a single church or museum. Instead, I walked. And walked. I meandered through the town’s colorful streets, passed through its quaint squares, and spent quite a while strolling by the Rhine. It was our first real day of spring (note: I visited in early March; yes, I am behind on blogging), and the weather was just perfect. With all the sunshine and clear blue skies and warm temperatures, everybody’s coats quickly came off, and it seemed that everyone – Swiss and non-Swiss alike – was out and about enjoying the beautiful day.

A part of me feels guilty that I didn’t make any attempt to be more cultural in Basel; the town has plenty of museums and other attractions that I could have taken advantage of. Yet perhaps I’ll tackle those if I ever get the chance to return. For now, I’m happy enough with what I did do there. There are some days you just need to soak up the sunshine, and a city as charming as Basel is the perfect place to do just that.

Jungfraujoch: The View from the Top of Europe

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Sometimes, I wonder if I’m missing out on a big part of the Swiss experience: skiing. Switzerland is – to state the obvious – quite mountainous, and skiing is a big deal here. My dad has been trying to get me to embrace skiing for years and years now, but after trying it once in middle school and being absolutely terrible at it (seriously, it cannot be overstated just how bad I was), I have zero desire to try again.

Most of the time, my ski-free existence doesn’t bother me, but I must admit that a part of me thinks it would have been sort of amazing to go skiing in Switzerland. A larger, more sensible part of me also knows that it probably would have resulted in my imminent death, as the mountains here make our faux-mountains in Michigan look like a joke. Needless to say, that part of me wins the battle every time.

But while I never made it to Switzerland’s slopes, I did make it to the mountains themselves to soak up some pretty incredible views. I used the town of Interlaken (cute but, in my opinion, unremarkable) as my base, and then made a day trip up to Jungfraujoch, also known as the highest train station in Europe. From the viewpoints at Jungfraujoch, you can look out onto the peaks of three mountains: the Jungfrau, Eiger, and Monch. Despite bitterly cold winds, seeing the view from the top is definitely an awe-inspiring experience.

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While at Jungfraujoch, you can also make your way through the ice caves. Every surface – even the floor, so tread carefully – is made of ice, and the passageways are dotted with ice sculptures, too. To be honest, I thought the ice cave was almost more fun to experience than the mountain views, though that may have just been my windburned face and shivering fingers and toes talking.

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A trip to the top of the Jungfrau is lengthy (from Interlaken, you’ll have to take three trains) and pricey (even with my 1/2 fare travel card, the tickets were about $115 – yikes!). For that reason, I don’t know that I would classify Jungfraujoch as a “must see” in Switzerland. For me, however, I knew I had to get to the mountains at least once, and seeing the dramatic views from “the Top of Europe” turned out to be a solid way to do just that.

London: Bits & Pieces from My Favorite City

I had a theory about this semester.

My theory? That I should visit new places. I have traveled around Europe a fair amount, but there are still so many spots I’m dying to visit. Given that, it only seemed right that I seek out new adventures instead of revisiting old standbys. That’s a solid plan, right?

Except, one day, I found myself messing around on Kayak, and before you know it, I’ve discovered a super cheap flight to London and, really, how can you pass up something like that? And then, of course, I decide my semester would be utterly incomplete without a return to Paris, so I snap up an inexpensive train ticket there. And then it turns out I have a free weekend in April and - wouldn’t you know! - EasyJet flies to Berlin for a reasonable price.

So there you have it.

My theory was thoroughly demolished, and I find myself making several return trips to old familiar places. But the thing is, at the end of the day, I’m not all that mad about it. In fact, I’m pretty happy with my choices and with the fact that, while this semester has involved plenty of new places, I’ve had the chance to revisit old favorites and discover new things to love about them. Among these well-traveled destinations, London just might take the cake as my very favorite city of all.

When I was planning my time in London, a second travel theory emerged. I decided I would eschew lots of the things that tourists typically go to London for (e.g., no Tower of London, no St. Paul’s, no Buckingham Palace) and instead focus on walking around, exploring neighborhoods, and eating good food. Sure, I threw in a few touristy things here and there, but I was also determined to fit in plenty of new-to-me spots. In that, I think I succeeded. Here are a few of my new highlights from good old London town.

Champagne Truffling at Charbonnel et Walker:

If I’m being honest, I wanted to visit Charbonnel et Walker because I have seen many Europe-based Instagrammers post drool-worthy snapshots of the tasty truffles. I’m happy to report that Charbonnel et Walker’s truffles are just as delicious in real life as they appear through the filters of Instagram. I sampled the pink champagne and salted caramel truffles and both were absolute perfection. Plus, the store’s location – tucked away in the Royal Arcade off Old Bond Street – is super charming too.

Ascending the Shard:

I decided I wanted to go somewhere with a panoramic view of London, and since I’ve already taken a spin around the London Eye a few times before, I needed someplace new. The Shard, an 87-story skyscraper completed in 2012, seemed to fit the bill. I loved the building’s sleek, modern design, and it did indeed offer great views of the city. There was just one problem: as it tends to be in London, it was foggy the day I visited, making viewing conditions less-than-ideal. I was a little bummed, but it was still cool to be so high above lovely London, fog and all.

Seeing Les Mis:

Here’s a strange statement to make: I love Les Mis…but until this trip, I had never actually seen it. I’ve listened to various versions of the soundtrack millions of times (and, of course, I’ve watched the movie), but I had never seen it performed onstage until now. I finally remedied that in London, and I’m so glad I did. No matter how cheesy some of the songs are, I still got chills hearing them performed live, and it was so fun to see the musical as it is meant to be seen, onstage.

Snapping Spring Blossoms at Southwark Cathedral:

After visiting the Borough Market, I roamed around the surrounding area, happening upon Southwark Cathedral completely randomly. I’ll be honest: I was drawn to the cathedral not so much due to the cathedral itself, but rather because of the gorgeous trees blooming in front of it. In fact, there was a wedding that day, so I couldn’t even go inside. Still, I was perfectly content to snap some photos of the cathedral set against the magnificent blossoms. When I visited London (the first weekend of March), it was not quite spring yet, but this was a sure sign that it was close.

Wandering Notting Hill:

My hotel was located right on the border of Notting Hill, so I made sure to spend an afternoon walking around the neighborhood. I didn’t actually do much in Notting Hill (besides repeatedly imagining Hugh Grant running into me with a cup of orange juice), but I adored just walking around, even if it was a bit rainy. The streets are elegant and charming, and even under overcast skies, they looked gorgeous to me.

After my all-too-brief spin around Notting Hill, I hopped on the Gatwick Express and headed “home” to Geneva. As I left the city, I had two major takeaways. One, London remains one of my very favorite places on earth, even in the rain. And two, a weekend in London is simply not time enough to experience all the city has to offer. I did many wonderful things but left, as ever, hoping for the chance to return someday soon.

London: Indulging in Two Untraditional Tea Experiences

The last time I visited London, I had afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason. The experience was lovely from start to finish; the tea service was impeccably done and oh-so-British. This time around, I wanted to experience another afternoon tea, but I thought it might be fun to do something a little more unexpected. In the end, I found not one, but two, unique tea experiences in London, both of which were highlights of my much-too-short weekend in the city.

BRGR’s Burger Tea:

Okay, okay – the afternoon “tea” at BRGR isn’t really a tea at all, but rather a clever lunchtime twist on the tea experience. You won’t find any Earl Grey here; instead, it’s iced tea and Prosecco to drink (and you sure won’t find me complaining about sipping Prosecco instead of hot tea). Instead of delicate finger sandwiches, you get sliders, and in place of dainty little petit fours, there are more common miniature desserts – think good old milkshakes and brownies.

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The concept is cute and the atmosphere is fun – so what about the food at BRGR? Overall, I would say it’s pretty solid though not spectacular. On the savory end of things, you receive three sliders and fries. I loved the Chicken Caesar Slider, and the fries were pretty tasty too. As for the other two sliders – a Butchers Cut Cheddar & Cheese and a Lobster Blat – they were only okay.

The desserts were the real stars here, I think – especially the Mini Vanilla Milkshake, which was so delicious that I would return to BRGR just to order a full-size one. The Mini Warm Doughnut with Salted Caramel was also fantastic, and the Mini Chocolate Brownie and Mini Strawberry & White Chocolate Cheesecake (served layered in a shot glass) were good too.

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Sanderson Hotel’s Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea:

My other afternoon tea experience, at the Sanderson Hotel, was more of an actual afternoon tea, but it too came with a twist – a delightful Alice in Wonderland theme. What impressed me the most about the Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea was how thoughtful every little detail was; each element of the tea service was whimsical and contributed to the Mad Hatter motif. Some examples of my favorite details included -

The riddle on the napkin ring:

(Do you know the answer? Stars, of course.)

The special teas in little potion bottles:

The menu in a vintage book:

And the sugar cubes in a real music box:

As for the tea itself, the Sanderson has all the usual selections plus four special blends created specially for the Mad Hatter’s Tea: strawberries and cream, rhubard and custard, apple pie, and mint chocolate chip. I figured I had to try one of the special teas, and while I was seriously tempted by the strawberries and cream, I could not resist the mint chocolate chip. As it turned out, I made a good choice: the tea smelled – and, more importantly – tasted just lovely. Plus: look at that teapot! Like I said, every little detail was just spot-on.

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When the tea tray came out, it was also quite impressive:

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The little sandwiches were the most traditional – and therefore, least memorable – aspects of the tea. They included a smoked Cumbrian ham, a cucumber and chive cream cheese, a cold smoked salmon, an egg mayonnaise, and a mini quiche (the latter of which was my favorite savory selection):

The scones were also fairly standard, and I have to admit that I missed my beloved lemon curd being served on the side. However, the herb butter turned out to be quite a good topper for these little guys too.

When it comes to the sweets, this is where the Mad Hatter’s tea experience truly shines. There was an incredible amount of creativity and cleverness on display, and I absolutely adored most of the dessert selections.

The most over-the-top and strange dessert sat perched atop the tray: a carrot meringue served on a bed of pea shoots with strawberries and cream homemade marshmallow mushrooms. Taste-wise, this was probably my least favorite dessert, but it was such fun to see regardless:

The other desserts were just as beautiful, yet even more delicious. First, the “Tick Tock” Traditional Victorian Sponge:

Then, the Melting Mango Cheesecake, which was served inside a beautiful rainbow shell. When you got to the center of the cheesecake, the bright mango filling spilled out, sort of like a soft boiled egg. This was absolutely delicious; I loved the mango/cheesecake combination.

Next, the Matcha Green Tea and White Chocolate Mousse. The green tea mousse was tasty, as was the edible chocolate cup it was served inside.

And finally, the “Drink Me” Potion. After the tea, I jotted down a few quick notes in my iPhone, and I described this as “layers of liquid-y goodness.” While I cannot recall what each layer consisted of (note-taking fail!), I do remember that this tasted completely incredible. Such a memorable dessert!

In case you aren’t stuffed enough by the goodies on the tea tray (unlikely!), the Sanderson also features a “Jelly Wonderland” with lots of jiggly jellos to choose from. Jellos aren’t really my thing – I cannot quite get on board with the texture – but I thought this was a neat addition to the tea.

The Mad Hatter’s tea at the Sanderson will go down as one of my most memorable meal experiences in a long while. Though I didn’t love all the items the Sanderson served, some of the dishes were amazingly yummy, and all of them impressed me with their creativity. I will always have a soft spot for the traditional London tea experiences, but I’m glad I went “down the rabbit hole” at the Sanderson, too.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 111

The weekly roundup of internet awesomeness:

  1. So fun: A Tour of the British Isles in Accents.
  2. I think a lot about the concept of “unplugging.” Sometimes I’m for it, and sometimes I’m against – which is why I thought these two completely different viewpoints were both worthwhile to consider: Experiencing Experience and The Pointlessness of Unplugging.
  3. This letter from Helen Keller is just beautiful: My Heart Almost Stood Still.
  4. A lot of gems here: Haikus to NY.
  5. That hair! That fabulosity! That hair! Watch 25-Year-Old Jon Hamm Lose on a 1990s Dating Show. Dying, just dying.
  6. The website Television Without Pity is shutting down, which is a shame because some of their recaps were downright brilliant. Case in point: this recap of Center Stage. It’s insanely long, but from recent experience I can report that if you’ve got a lot of time to kill in an airport, it’s the perfect read.
  7. Such a cool project: Eight Hours of Airliners Departing from Los Angeles in One Single Photo.
  8. I know they are celebrities and who knows what they’re really like, but, come on – aren’t we ALL rooting for these guys to wind up together? 35 Times Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak’s Best Friendship Killed You in the Heart.
  9. I freaking love her: Emma Stone Meets Mel C. from The Spice Girls.
  10. The French know what’s up: Two French Unions Ban Checking Work Emails after 6pm.

(Image via People)