Thursday, August 6, 2009

3. Lyon and International Travel

Well, we made it here to Delaware, basically unscathed. The only large snag was leaving our beloved sony cybershot on the plane – so no pictures of Lyon – except for a few that Andre’ took with his phone. We flew British Air from Lyon on a short flight and then had the treat of going through Heathrow for a 4 hour layover. But, as soon as my ears heard the captain announcing our arrival in his crisp British tones, the strangeness started. I’ve been away 9 months, not 9 years but all I can feel is utterly out of place and disoriented. I am lost and confused. I don’t belong here, do I? In this world, people around me speak English, the signs are in English and when you are waiting on a terrible line, it is not unheard of to strike up a chat with the bored person stuck next to you. My brain can’t wrap itself around this strange new world… it’s not like it is any different than I remembered. I know this is the same world I have been so looking forward to. There are strip malls here, and fast food, and chains and Wal-Marts – scattered across every road, lining every highway. There are lots and lots of fat people and people walking around in grungy clothing. There are Oreos, and Thomas’s English muffins… This is the US, this is my world. It hasn’t changed, but I think I have. I just don’t know how, or what that means.

We left on our journey Saturday morning very early. I worked hard all week to be all packed by Friday night, before the kids went to bed. This gave us the opportunity to finally watch the final episode of Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Poor Buffy…. having to kill the vampire she loves.

Lyon is a very large city, second only to Paris (in France, anyway), and we were going to have only 1 day to see it. Actually, we wanted to be done by 3pm since we had reservations in an actual hotel for once! And, it was not just any hotel, but the Hotel Lyon Metropole, a spa hotel. That means there are pools, hot tubs and a really nice room (at least we think). The kids are so excited for this, they don’t even want to go see Lyon at all… “Can’t we just go to the hotel?”  I think their favorite thing all day was the rest stop – French have some great rest stops – amazing playground – reminded me of the TeleTubbies or something.

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We headed off for Lyon at around 5:30 in the morning and made it to Fourviere Hill by about 8 am. We saw the oldest Roman amphitheatre in France--it was begun in 15 BC. The area, named Lugdunum, also had a 2nd-century odium (a small, roofed theater) and the remains of a craft district. It was fun to walk around in such a place, imagining what life must have been like so long ago. I especially liked imagining the theatre, covered by a giant canvas roof, filled with people. It’s funny how things like having a roof surprise me. I know, the Romans had chariots, and aqueducts etc…. but also they could sew together a roof the size of a football field out of scraps of cloth. Was it from wool – woven, made on looms? Did they have needles? Made out of bones or what? Was it waterproof? Hmmm…. Lugdunum rises above the Saône river and very close by was the amazing Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière. This cathedral is very different in that it was built only in the late 1800’s. I didn’t know they built these mammoth things in the past 200 years! Apparently, there was a terrible plague sweeping Europe and the people of the town promised to build a special cathedral to honor Mary if the city was spared. They got spared, they built a giant cathedral. I know this is a common practice, but, there were already quite a few large cathedrals in Lyon. Wouldn’t it be nice for people to like, feed the hungry and clothe the naked to honor Mary instead? I mean, that’s what I’d prefer if I was Mary. But, that being said, I was happy to be able to visit--I especially enjoyed the floors which were covered with beautiful mosaics. mini_P270609_10.36Nearby, there was also what seemed to be a mini-wanna-be Eiffel Tower - actually the Tour Metallique (Metal Tower). It was built in 1894 and now is used as a radio and television transmitter.

We spent a few more minutes enjoying the view and then headed down the hill to the oldest part of the mini_P270609_10.38 city- known as Vieux Lyon (original, right?). The buildings are mostly from the Rennaissance period. We played  around in a park, wandered along the banks of the Saone and then Cathedral St. Jean the Baptiste (photo below). Then it was time for lunch. Lyon is known for its cuimini_P280609_12.26sine and we’d made reservations for lunch at a local boucheron – but it turned out they wouldn’t accept André’s meal tickets (urgh!) so we ended up at a Hippo which was quite good also…. but I was bummed not to experience the ‘real’ cuisine of this neighborhood. The kids were exhausted (even though it  was only 2pm) so we just made a final stop at another Roman ruin. Lyon is full of them!

Before Paris was the capital of France, Lyon was capital of the 3 Gauls (aka France) and once a year all the tribe leaders and towns would get together to hash out problems and disputes before they became full force internal strife/war... This was all before the Romans came in to take over Lyon. The Amphitheater of the Three Gauls was rumored to be initially built with room for 20,000 people at one time, which would have made it climb most of the side of the hill. It is strange to see this small an d crumbling ruin, surrounded by a fence with looming apartment buildings and roads lapping at it edges, and think of how it used to be covered in tiers of stone seats, full of arguing politicians.

Later in its history – once the Romans took over, this was also the site of the torture of the first Christian martyrs. The most famous of these was Blandine (now Saint Blandine). She was placed in this amphitheatre with a bunch of lions who refused to eat her. The Romans then placed a bull in the amphitheatre wich also would not kill her. Finally they sent in men who killed her with their swords. I told the kids this story and they were a bit mystified - I mean, if lions and bulls couldn’t kill her, how come people could? I think they are used to the stories where the ‘good’ guys get away… I guess if God had protected her any more, she wouldn’t have made martyr, right?

Finally, we headed over to the hotel. It was really a very nice place, and fun to be spoiled for once. The kids got surprise eggs, there were little slippers and towels for everyone. They had a large indoor pool, an Olympic size outdoor pool and a giant outdoor collection of interconnected hot tubs. They also had an absolutely amazing free breakfast – salmon, yogurt, cereal, fruit, croissants, eggs, sausage, ham, applesauce etc… etc…. I stole a miniature jar of honey to take home on the plane. I guess this is what you get when you pay actual money to stay in a hotel (180€, thanks Grandma Peterson for bankrolling our stay). Rich people get all the perks. Despite the luxury of the hotel, I’d have to say that I was not particularly impressed with Lyon. The place seemed run down, and the monuments were not set off or well maintained. There was no sense of ‘this is important’ and things just didn’t seem very well planned. Even the main town square was quite bleak, with gravel ground and no impressive buildings. Not a place I would recommend visiting…

Sunday morning, after our fabulous breakfast, we headed for the airport. It is about 40 minutes away from town. André came into the airport with us and helped us check in and get rid of our 6 giant bags. Then, we had to leave him behind. What? Leave Daddie? Of course, we were all crying. I have never been separated from my husband for 3 weeks before! Why am I doing that? I must be absolutely INSANE to attempt this trip alone with 3 kids……

The kids were really good though -– and, pleasant surprise, it turned out that André’s company got us seats in Business Class for the plane from London to home. I have never flown Business before and I would say that there was definitely more cushioning (like 1 inch instead of 1/2 inch) and more leg room (like 18 inches instead of 12 inches) to be uncomfortable in. I actually didn’t realize this at first—got on the plane without looking at the seat numbers until I was in the coach section—then had to fight the tide to get back up to the middle of the plane. I was a bit surprised the meal was the same, no free drinks or anything, and the staff wasn’t any nicer to me than usual, no offers of help for the kids or anything of that nature. Hey, I’m rich – aren’t you supposed to like, spoil me or something? (They did at the spa hotel!)

When we got to Philadelphia, about 40 minutes early, we were all delighted to find out that the entire luggage system at Terminal 5 (Heathrow--my least favorite airport--not that I have a most favorite) had somehow broken. This, in short, meant that almost none of our luggage had made it onto the flight – perhaps this lightness led to our early arrival? So, here I was, 1 am French time, alone with 3 ridiculously tired kids, carrying 5 carry-ons, filling out customs forms and then lost luggage forms and then waiting on the end of an hour long line to give them my form so they could give me a receipt – kill me now, please…. Of course, here is where it sucks to be a parent. Looking around, you can see that every person without kids, looks pissed and exhausted, slumping wearily over their suitcase. But not the parents, oh no! They have to keep it pulled together, encourage the kids, pull out a snack or a drink, figure out a fun game of I spy because, heaven forbid they start to cry or act out or something. Dirty looks will abound – why can’t that awful parent control her children? Drop dead is what I say to you, loser.

Luckily, Grandpa showed up about 1/2 an hour into the luggage line and the kids were thrilled to be with him. We got to Duckhaven before midnight (6 am in France) and have spent the last 4 days here. I have to say one of the best moments of my life was just running in the mini_DSC00547house to hug my mom. I was crying and crying. I literally tackled her! (I’m pretty sure she liked it…) It took 3 days for our luggage to arrive but it didn’t really matter too much – we have had an amazing time. Grandpa worked up a great little playhouse for the kids. mini_DSC00545Zander and he worked well together to finish it and they even spray painted it! (Grandpa made name stencils) Zander and Callie have both had special nights to sleep out there with Grammie. She claims she even slept. Man, I know I love my parents, and I’m obviously prejudiced in their favors, but come on people. Did your Grandpa ever build you your own playhouse? Did your Grammie offer to sleep out there with you? These guys rock! There have been a few challenges, besides the luggage. My camera is missing, I think I left it on the plane. Writing this, and looking over the quality of photos I have taken on my phone – I will say – I HATE not having a decent camera! There is a pathetic lack omini_DSC00546f photos, and I’ve missed all the important stuff (like the house and my mom and dad with the kids – sorry!) I shall strive to do better! Poor Mom and Dad had overflowing septic tank and Dad had contracted a terrible case of poison ivy, which is now infected. Zander has it a bit as well but is being amazingly good about not scratching. But, life goes on! We made a French dinner for Grammie and Grandpa and also have been indulging in American food, riding on the sea bike, playing at the Jay’s Nest, visiting the library, going for walks, doing crafts (especially our ‘float’ for the Watertower parade) and just enjoying snuggling our family. I am slowly readjusting to life in the USA. Tomorrow we head for Philadelphia… and friends…..

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