Work takes me to Paris at least once every year. And this year was no different. I traveled to Paris at the end of June. The agenda was to meet my onshore counterparts and also attend a couple of business seminars. The travel was planned for close to two weeks. The time I take to pack my luggage is improving with every such travel. This time around, I could complete all the packing in about 45 minutes. I was travelling on Emirates, my preferred airline, yet again. The travel was event-less except for one forgettable gaffe. My wife had asked [rather instructed] me to shop for some gold in Dubai. I have never done this in my life and did not know how to check the authenticity of the goods. At one of the duty free counters I was examining a pair of gold bangles. I think it was my natural instinct which made me press the bangle hard just to check its authenticity. And that crap was so thin that it lost its shape immediately. I returned the piercing stare of the exasperated lady at the counter, with the dumbest look possible. To my relief she did not complain, instead she deftly restored the bangle to its original shape. I thanked, apologized and bade goodbye all at the same time.
I usually stay at the Adagio ApartHotel in Courbevoie [near La Defense] since it is very close to my office. This time around my friends suggested taking a hotel in Paris and hence I had booked the first few days of my stay at Hotel Viator near Gare De Lyon station. The hotel room was akin to a pigeon hole. I stopped complaining about this, after seeing the rooms of my colleagues who were staying in CitizenM, also near Gare De Lyon. The less said the better about these hotels. I was glad that I had to bear this only for three days, since I was booked at Adagio thereafter.
Summer had just about started, which meant many hours of daylight. Darkness set in only at about eleven in the night. Quite a few of my friends and colleagues were in Paris at the same time. The FIFA football world cup was also underway. All of this ensured that after-office hours were really entertaining and almost unending. I might have visited Paris at least a dozen times in the past seven odd years. However, every time I go there, I feel happy to be in this beautiful city. My gratitude to my destiny and the powers to be; which has taken me there so many times. I cannot single out the reason for the beauty of this city. Is it the people who present themselves very well; is it the cobbled streets; is it the history which you see anywhere you go; is it the homogeneity of the apartments; is it the food; is it the Seine; is it the local metro; is it the Christmas market near the Grande Arche every December; is it the lovely Champs Elysees; is it the view from the Arc De Triomphe; is it the alfresco dining; is it the funny feeling of answering in English when someone speaks in French; … I am just not sure. Perhaps it is all of this and much more put together. I rate Bangalore as my favorite city, due to my allegiance to it [You can take me out of Bangalore, but you cannot take Bangalore out of me… haa haa haa]. Thereafter, without any iota of doubt, it has to be Paris… even ahead of the Big Apple.
One of the highlights of the visit was the business seminar. It was organized in Chantilly in the Serge Kampf Campus. I was told that this campus was maintained by CapGemini and was rented out to organizations for business seminars. I have never been to a seminar in such a quaint location before. The place had a large lake; a castle; a lavish setup for the conference and was surrounded by a forest. A fortunate few had the privilege of sighting deer near their cottages. The business discussions during the two days were interspersed with a good doze of fun, food and laughter, to make it a memorable event.
The weekend plan was to visit Lyon along with my friends. Eight of us gathered on a sunny Saturday morning at Gare De Lyon and boarded the train to Lyon. The super-fast train covered the distance of about 450 Km in slightly less than two hours. We alighted at Part Dieu station at Lyon. We first headed to the Citadines hotel, where we had booked our stay. The hotel is very close to the Part Dieu station; close to the metro station; close to the tram lines; has a variety of restaurants nearby; very clean and well maintained and had hospitable staff. All of this makes it an ideal choice for budget travelers visiting Lyon. The lady at the front desk of the hotel was gracious enough to allow us an early check-in without any additional cost. Hence we could drop our luggage at the hotel before starting our visit of the city.
It was close to mid-day when we all set out to explore the sights of Lyon. Imagine eight adults, all of them managers for many many years, working in information technology and specializing in banking domain. It should be easy to guess how difficult and arduous decision making would have been amongst this group. It took us nearly 45 minutes to finalize how to start our tour. And finally it was a simple decision to board the metro and visit Fourviere hill as the first destination!
The aesthetic designs of the metro stations were a welcome change from the stations in Paris. The highlight of the short metro travel was the funicular ride. The funicular was a mishmash of a metro, tram and rope-car, which took us to the top of the hill. We visited the beautiful Basilica of Notre-Dame situated atop the Fourviere Hill. A sense of calm prevailed as soon as we entered the basilica. The silence inside the basilica was almost deafening. The interiors were exquisite; many rows of chairs were neatly laid out for those who wished to pray; the corridors on both sides were lined with idols; candles were lit in numerous places. When we visited the lower level of the basilica, we were surprised to see something written in Tamil. There were idols depicting Velankanni here. We had to remind each other that we cannot be spending the entire day here, even though some of us would have loved to just sit and lose ourselves in the tranquility of the basilica.
We then strolled around the basilica. The view of Lyon from atop the Fourviere hill was breathtaking. The red tiled roofs of the numerous houses; along with the Rhone river dissecting the city was picture perfect. The only aberrations were a couple of skyscrapers namely the Oxygen Tower and the Radisson Blue hotel. I hope someone consciously decided to stop construction of high raise buildings to preserve the beauty of this city. We took time to soak in the views, of course clicking many pictures and for sure selfies!
After shopping for souvenirs we next headed to the ancient theater of Fourviere. It was a short walk from the basilica. The amphitheater at these Roman ruins was being prepared for some kind of a performance later in the day. I had read that this place is about 2000 years old. No wonder it was crumbling at most of the places although it had withstood the vagaries of time. The ruins and the flawed state of the theater had a beauty of its own. By now, the weather was really sunny and humid. However, we still laboured our way around the theater to admire its architectural wonder. The perfection of the concentric arcs and the elevation made one think about the methods used to achieve this perfection, 2000 years ago.
After visiting the roman ruins, we headed towards Vieux Lyon, which was the old town of Lyon. It was a long walk, albeit downhill, to reach the old town. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Les Lyonnais. Most of the websites recommended a bouchon when in Lyon. This was traditional Lyonnaise cuisine rich in traditional herbs and meat. Les Lyonnais was one of them. We were seated in a kind of cellar, which was an experience by itself. It took some for the waiter to get us our food and drinks. We were so exhausted that we devoured the food in quick time. I am not sure if it was the hunger or if it was the taste, but the food was toothsome.
Having ticked off the bouchon from our To-Do list, we walked the narrow cobbled bylanes of Old Lyon. We next had to find a decent bar to watch the Argentina versus France football match as part of FIFA 2018. We found a crowded bar and squeezed ourselves into a corner to watch the match being displayed on a large screen. Most of my friends were supporting Argentina and more importantly were ardent fans of Messi. I had finally forgiven France for defeating Brazil in 1998 and was supporting them for the first time in all these years. It was a pity that my friends could not cheer Argentina when they took the lead. For sure they feared their health and lives more than cheering for an alien country in a foreign land! The match ended with France winning convincingly, although the score line indicated a close finish. Shouts of “allez les bleus” dominated not only the bar, but even on the streets after the match, where many of the French fans were celebrating the victory.
My Argentinian supporter-friends trudged out of the bar with a heavy heart. We had a few hours before the Uruguay versus Portugal match. And so we went on with our tour plan. We were aimlessly walking the nostalgic streets of Old Lyon trying to find the entrance to the traboules. These were supposed to be secret passageways and some of them were open to the public now. We chose to explore the longest traboules in Lyon, which starts at 54 Rue Saint-Jean. We opened the door at the entrance of the traboules and started our walk. I was initially disappointed since it was nothing more than the small passage leading to houses and small apartments. However I kept my displeasure at bay hoping there is something more exciting to come in this longest traboules. However, in no time we reached the end of the passage. It took us not more than 5 minutes to traverse this so called longest traboules! It was a damn joke… not sure why we took the trouble to visit this traboules. For me, there are more exciting passageways in Cottonpet and Chickpet in Bangalore!
From here we headed towards Bellecour Place. Instead of taking the metro, we walked all the way from Vieux Lyon to Bellecour Place. It was a long walk indeed and helped us discover the sights of the city. At Bellecour Place there was nothing much to see other than a few fountains and large lawns. We still walked around the place and found another good bar just in time for the Uruguay versus Portugal match. Here again I was supporting Uruguay and most of my friends were rooting for Portugal. Uruguay won the match and some of the guys were really disappointed losing again. Perhaps this FIFA world cup was not for the big stars. Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo were all out of the tournament.
It was late in the evening now and it was time to head back to our hotel. Some of the guys decided to take a few drinks in a bar very close to our hotel. That small break went on for nearly four hours! Many of us were hungry towards midnight and were searching for a hotel. To our chagrin, there were none nearby. We finally found a “desi” restaurant. The owner had stopped taking orders. However once he realized that we are from India, he was kind of enough to prepare something for us. And thus we ate, drank and talked well into the night. This is what I best like about being with friends. You never realize how time goes by.
The next morning, we were all ready to explore Lyon again. Our train back to Paris was in the evening and so we had sufficient time to visit a few other places. After a healthy breakfast and shopping at a nearby flea market, we headed towards a museum. Sadly the museum was closed. Thereafter the group split. Some of them decided to visit the museum of natural history. The lone lady in our group decided to explore the city on a bicycle. I and a couple of others decide to go canoeing! There was constant knot in my tummy when we were buying the tickets for the canoe. I was apprehensive for sure. I had never done this in my life and was not sure if it was a good idea to do it now. It was the constant reassurance of one of my friends that egged me on. I hoped the life jacket was well tested as I got into the canoe. It was three of us. The lone expert [relatively speaking] amongst us took one canoe and the remaining two of us took a two-seater canoe. It took us about ten minutes to get adjusted to the rowing and also to calm our fears. Once this was done, the experience was truly exhilarating. Canoeing in the pristine waters of the Rhone river was an unforgettable experience. It was physically taxing for sure, but at the same time it was really fun to be doing this. Maneuvering the canoe required some deftness for sure. And navigating the waves, generated every time a large ship passed by was scary and exciting at the same time. We easily spent more than an hour in this adventure and reluctantly returned the canoe and headed back to meet our friends. Seemed like the guys who had visited the museum of natural history also liked what they did. Overall it was good that we all did what we liked.
We had a late lunch watching the match between Spain and Russia. I must say that everything we ate at Lyon was delectable. And I mean everything… starting from the bouchon, to the late night dinner, the snacks at the numerous bars, the desserts and even the simple breakfast. Little wonder that Lyon is known as the culinary capital of France. Gorging on food is a must for all tourists in Lyon, especially for foodies like me!
After lunch, we had to head back to the train station to be on time to catch the train back to Paris. We finally bade goodbye to this beautiful city and retained the many memories of the last two days. Back in Paris, the rest of the days were only for official work. Very soon I had to pack my bags for my return journey to Bangalore. Thus, another visit to the beautiful city of Paris came to end.
Au revoir et a bientot…!!!