Freebies and the tip of the iceberg

After the disappointment of the night before I woke up early to quickly pack my tent and get out of the park before too many people were about. By 7AM I made my way back to the Mecure to sort out my refund from the night before. The lastminute.com office didn’t open until 8AM UK time, which was still another 2 hours away. When I arrived the lady at the front desk knew all about my issue, and assured me they would sort it out. She found a place for me to park my bike and I went off to use their bathroom. The buffet breakfast was being served, so I made my way into the dining hall and found a table where I could sit, charge my batteries, and use my laptop. I helped myself to the breakfast of croissants, bacon and eggs, fruit, toast and of course coffee. Slowly the guests of the hotel starting filtering in until the place was buzzing with activity. After 2 hours, when the rush was over, the place was empty and the staff were busy cleaning tables I packed my bag and went back to the front desk. This time there was a different woman, who showed me the email she had sent the agent, and also sent me a copy to resolve any issues that may arise. I was satisfied I’d get my money back now and I got a free breakfast. The day was looking up!

Next stage was to ride back to Tours train station and see if I could get my train to Italy. This time riding from Tour Sud, I found the Loire à vélo again, the same way I had first approached the city. When I came to intersection at the motorway, this time I followed another road, rather than the bike path. Further down this little road led me around the back of a golf course and then river once again with signs for the Loire à vélo. Coming this way into Tours was a completely different experience, riding through wooded areas along the river that avoided the motorway completely. There were joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, even a few people out tending to little vegetable patches that led down to the banks of the river. When I finally reached the city, it was simple to retrace my route from the night before and find the station again.

The ticket office at the station is like a deli, without the small goods, hairnets and plastic gloves. I took my ticket and sat down in the waiting area with a crowd of people. Number 2014 was being served. My number was 2048, so I had a while to wait. When my number came up a lovely young girl Mavel, helped me with my enquiry. “It’s a bit complicated” she said. To get to Torino, I had 2 options. Go back to Paris first, or go via Lyon. I was keen to take the opportunity to see a new city, and it seemed silly to go North again, only to come back south so I went for the Lyon option. Still it wasn’t that easy. All the services to Lyon were booked out, all the services from Lyon to Torino were also booked out. She said I could just get on the train and buy a ticket anyway, even without a reservation, but that was at the discretion of the conductor. “Just smile and say you are desperate” she said. Ok. Sounds like a plan. I would travel to Lyon today, stay the night, then catch a morning to train to Chambery and change for Torino, all without a reservation and carrying my gear. It was a gamble, but I didn’t really have any other options. To complicate things further, the strike was still in effect and there was no guarantee that any of the trains would be running.

To cover the ground I want to cover in the limited time I have, and get to visit all the places I want to see, train links are a vital part. This was my first big test. If it didn’t work, then the rest of my plans could go out the window. The trains I needed to catch required my bike to be packed, which means removing the panniers and pedals, turing the handlebars parallel to the frame and wrapping it up. Of course lugging a bike box all over Europe was completely impractical so I had purchased a tough plastic bag for this purpose. I rolled my bike in the walkway between platforms and began packing. It worked a treat. All my gear fit it one bag, and the bike was wrapped neatly. The only difficult part was carrying the weight, but I managed to get it all up to the platform and onto the train. The train was very crowded, but at least everyone had a seat. It was a very comfortable ride with the countryside whizzing by. I kept an eye out for the conductor to buy a ticket, but they never appeared, so another freebie. The day was getting even better.

Arriving into Lyon about 5:30PM, I couldn’t manage to walk very far carrying my gear. Because I was (hopefully) catching a train early in the morning, I was reluctant to unpack my bike so I booked a room at a reasonable price at the Hotel du Dauphiné in central Lyon and hailed a taxi. Putting the seats down in the back, the driver managed to fit all my gear and we were away. My first impressions of Lyon, were this strange clash of heritage and modern life. The style of the architecture is similar to many of the buildings I saw in Paris, but the difference in Lyon is these builds are often adorn with large neon signs or advertising billboards. The city just seems really functional, while still paying homage to it’s origins, not just monuments for preservation and tourist attractions, which is the sense I got from Paris. I told my taxi driver I was from Australia, and I was keen to see how they were going in the world cup game against Holland. He told me if I wanted to see the game, there was an Australian bar on a boat called Ayers Rock and I would be able to watch it there. Now that sounded like fun.

When I got to the hotel, I checked in, dumped my luggage and headed off in search of Ayers Rock. In Lyon, just like Paris, there is a public bike share scheme called Cyclocity. I found a station around the corner from my hotel, bought a daily ticket a couple of euros and grabbed bike. It took a few moments to get accustomed to the strange feeling of the wide squishy saddle and the operation of the 3 speed grip shift, then I was away. I crossed the bridge and followed the river until I spotted the Ayers Rock boat. Leaving the bike at a station nearby I ran down the steps to the bank. Expecting to see a crowd of enthusiastic Aussie supporters, the bar was really quiet. I arrived in time for the second half, the game was showing on a screen behind the bar so I took a seat in prime position. That is when I met Amanda and Gijs.

Amanda was in Lyon studying at the University as part of her cultural studies degree from University of Technology Sydney. It was refreshing to hear an Australian accent, probably the first I have heard since I arrived in France. Gijs was visiting Amanda on holiday from Amsterdam, but had also lived in Melbourne for a year while studying at the University of Melbourne. Amanda and Gijs filled me in on all the best places to go while I was in Lyon and we had a fun time together watching the game, stirring Gijs the dutchman when Australia took the lead, then being berated by his taunts when they got back on top. I admit I was getting a bit passionate and animated with the match, which is nothing unusual for me but not sure what the locals made of it. In the end, the Netherlands were victorious, but with such a valiant effort from the Socceroos it was hard to be disappointed. During the game the rain had set in and being in such a hurry, I had left the hotel without even a jacket, but by the time we left the bar the rain had stopped.

I walked with Amanda and Gijs across the bridge to the old city centre and then said goodbye as they headed off for dinner. I found another Cyclocity bike and headed off to discover the city. l stopped to take a picture of a building with the Lion of Lyon emblem, when I guy called out to me “I am a lion!” I laughed and we got chatting. His name was Mark, and I told him I had a brother called Mark! I asked him where are the best places to go in Lyon. He suggested the Cathedral that is right at the top of the hill over looking Lyon. Sounds like a plan, so I headed off in that direction to conquer the hill with my 3 speed vélo. It was a brutal steep climb to the top, up a narrow winding street lined with cars. As I pedalled a few people called out and took pictures. Eventually, legs burning, still smiling, I reached the summit to enjoy the view. The roll down the hill was much easier, but by this time it was dark and confronting cars coming in the opposite direction up the narrow street was a bit hairy.

I spent the next few hours riding around, parking my bike, walking a bit, grabbing another bike. It was brilliant. Lyon is a pretty cool city. Lots of open public spaces, statues, many beautiful buildings and a nice path along the banks of the river. I knew I had only caught a glimpse. About 11PM I stopped and grabbed a pizza napolitaine from a van parked on a street corner. I ordered the “petit” but it was actually more like a large. I still devoured the whole thing of course. Eventually I found my way back to the Hotel du Dauphiné for some sleep. I had a taxi booked to take me to the station at 7AM. If I could get my train to Torino tomorrow as planned, tonight would be my last night in France and I couldn’t think of a better way to have spent it.

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