Monday, May 20, 2013
I thought I would be alright combating my jet lag and getting myself up in time for a 10 am tour on Monday. However, I was so backwards on time that I mistakenly set my alarm for 8 PM rather than 8 AM. When I woke at 10:35 AM to find my group already on the tour of Old Lyon on a route I couldn't hope to follow, I started to panic. Sure that I’d be in trouble, I frantically started to get ready. After a few minutes of overreacting, I decided to look into tours of Old Lyon that I could perhaps take on my own, since sitting around the hotel waiting for my chaperons would be pointless.
I found an audio-guided tour through the city online, so I headed to the Office of Tourism to get the mp3 player and map. The tour included Old Lyon and even other parts of the city, but unfortunately I would only have time for Old Lyon.
Catedral Saint Jean Baptiste de Lyon
I have little to no knowledge of how to speak French, so the map I had in hand was a challenge. Still, I found my way across the bridge and to the Cathédrale Saint Jean Baptiste de Lyon. This is what I came to France for—monumental Cathedrals with relics and detailing that take your breath away and humble you to your knees. Unfortunately it was closed, however I plan to visit if I have time on Thursday to see the inside.
The streets of Old Lyon
I made my way through the city, walking along the cobblestones passing historic doors and the former mansions of rich families. At least three times, I took a wrong turn. But each time I came across a more stunning view or something I wouldn't have seen otherwise. The whole time I was overwhelmed with the aged buildings, their height and how they towered over narrow cobblestone streets that seemed abandoned by cars until a small Renault came buzzing by towards the plaza.
The first half of the day was luckily changed from catastrophic to fantastic. I found a McDonald’s for a quick lunch (plus I just wanted to try real French French fries!). At last I was reunited with my classmates and we boarded a bus to the Beaujolais.
In my ignorance of European wines, I had originally thought that “Beaujolais” was a fancy restaurant in the city. How wrong I was. I had looked it up to know well enough that it was a wine region in central France just north of Lyon. Journeying there left me speechless. I have always wanted to visit the wine country of Italy, but I must say I was well enough floored by French wine country.
The views were breathtaking, and the photographs don’t do them proper justice. We were lucky enough to arrive at a winery run by a family that has been producing in the Beaujolais for 8 generations or more, passing the proprietorship from mother to daughter. The family and the workers of the wine were beyond welcoming. At last, everyone seemed to feel more at home—welcomed and comfortable, with relaxed inhibitions and a sense of familiarity (we hadn’t had THAT much wine yet!).
We were offered aperitifs of wine from the home vineyard and pâté spread over fresh baguettes. We were shown around the working areas of the vineyard and allowed to play games. As it was a holiday, we were lucky enough to be invited to take our meal in the main room of the vineyard’s working building, complete with enormous barrels of fermenting wine and huge barn doors made of solid wood.
Most of us were confused that our appetizer was not the dinner itself, because it was so pleasing and delicious. We began with cous cous, tomatoes fresh off the vine, bread, and salad with hard boiled eggs. Shocked to hear we would be served chicken with legumes and pasta, we downed some of the table wine to try to settle our stomachs for the entrée. The chicken pasta was indeed delicious, and the meal was made even more phenomenal when the proprietor offered the winery’s 2003 red with our dessert. The gift marked the uniqueness and special-ness of the occasion, because 2003 was the year of the heat wave in which the dwindling grape crop had to be picked early to avoid shriveling to nothing. It was some of the best wine—perhaps it was because the entire event had been so extravagant, but I do know there was something special about it. We drank and clapped and chattered while devouring a myriad of aged cheeses and crème brûlée. Everyone felt gluttonous and perhaps a bit rosy-cheeked after the feast. It reminded me of a family celebration.
Barrels of Beaujolais wine!
The decade-old wine we had as a special treat!
Reflecting on the experience on the bus ride home, classmates and I expressed how welcomed and honored we felt by the owners and employees of the small business. Rather than feeling like a tour of a business, it had been as if we’d known them for years! A friend and I agreed that there is something inherently spiritual about wine to its growers and those he elects to share his or her pride with. It is a way of life and sustenance, a way of offering welcome and friendship, and a way of sharing some of the most basic feelings of humanity.