France: The Final Destination

Nice – Lyon – Lille

Nice

Once we were up and ready to go in Milan we headed down to the station, for once organised enough to have already booked seats for the train we wanted to get. The journey took us from Milan, down to Genoa and then along the Mediterranean to Ventigmilia where we had to change onto a domestic French service that would take us into Nice. On the train we found a group of drunk French teenagers, one having an argument with another passenger as to why he didn’t feel he needed to get off the train to enjoy a cigarette. The rest of the journey continued without issue and we arrived in a very hot, bustling Nice. My first impression of the city was that it was strikingly reminiscent of Varna, only this was clearly a wealthy city. We made our way to our hostel-come-hotel and unloaded our stuff before heading down through to the old town where we foolishly decided to grab some dinner.

Nice Hostel Room

The food itself was nice, nothing out of the ordinary but the price tag was a shock despite the warnings that eating in the old town would be expensive. Still, it’s nice to be able to say “yeah, I’ve eaten out in the Nice’s old town.”

The following day we decided to check out the Museum of Modern Art; often abbreviated to the MOMA. This was the first time we’d been to a gallery since Amsterdam and it was certainly worth the visit. The guidebooks all claimed that Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can was in the MOMA but David and I never found it. Fortunately I found myself pleasantly surprised and inspired by the eccentric and impressive Shooting Paintings of Niki De Saint Phalle and David enjoyed the more simplistic, minimalistic paintings of Hans Hartung. It was safe to say that we enjoyed the MOMA and for a free gallery it holds quite the impressive collections including some household names. That evening we met the girls we would be sharing our room with for that night and ended up spending much of the night drinking wine and playing cards before heading down to the beach. The beach in Nice is a rocky, uncomfortable place to consider falling asleep so I just sat and chilled out with our new friends. David, simply because he just cannot get enough of the sleep, had a nap. Later on we staggered back to the hostel and crashed out for the night.

The next day David and I struggled to get out of bed, eventually deciding we should see some of the city and in typical style ended up in one of the local parks with a variation on our favourite theme of meat and cheese. Whilst in the park we met some of the locals and shared some of our food with them and decided that that it was more likely that they were nomads than locals as many of them had backpacks and the companionship of scrawny dogs. We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the city taking a few photos before returning to the hostel and hitting up an American style restaurant for a delicious burger before a quiet evening of playing cards and preparing to move on once again.

Lyon

The next morning we were up early and on our way to Lyon, the weather still treating us well and the views out across the French riviera to Marseilles continuing to give me the impression that the Mediterranean coast line is without a doubt one of my favourites. The TGV in France is an impressive indicator of how train travel should be as we managed to cross half of the country in around five hours. We had undertaken many shorter journeys that had taken a significantly longer time to complete, not that I need remind you of the Dubrovnik Challenge. Upon our arrival in Lyon we had to trek into the centre of the city to find our hotel. For some reason Lyon only has one hostel and it was fully booked, which we soon realised was due to Bastille Day, and we ended up in what turned out to be a basic but pleasant hotel.

David had some friend from University who had spent a year in Lyon and he used these sources to gather valuable recommendations on where to eat, where to hang out, what to drink and how to make the most of our few days in the city. My immediate impression was that we’d found ourselves in a smaller, quieter, less touristy version of Paris, it was as though everything I dislike about Paris had been taken away and we had been left with what would become my favourite French city. For the rest of the day we mainly chilled out in to the hotel room, three months on the move really takes it out of you and by this point we spent a lot of time feeling tired. When the evening eventually came around, we headed out to St. Jean where the old town resided and the restaurants tumbled out onto the narrow streets.

The following morning we planned a route around the city, taking in as many of the sights as we could, starting in St. Paul and heading up a hill that was comparable to the one that Prague Castle is situated upon.

Once at the top we found ourselves stood next to a scaled down version of the Eiffel Tower and the Notre-Dame de Fourviere. What was it I was saying about Lyon being like Paris but better? Lyon’s Notre-Dame had some pretty interesting architecture, I took particular interest in the winged beasts that covered the front facade. We then moved on to the reason for making our climb, the viewpoint. From such a great height we had a magnificent view back across the sprawling city, joking that we could see the Alps in the distance. In all seriousness, it could have been the Alps.

We then took a less direct route back into the city, where we walked past the hostel we could have stayed in, had we been more organised or more aware of other countries national holidays, which probably had it’s own excellent views across the city. Eventually we found our way back to St. Jean where we opted to stop for coffee, finally taking the time to pretend that we were European hipsters.

Our journey through Lyon continued as we progressed towards Parc de la Tet d’Or, where much to both of our surprises we found a zoo which normally we would pass up, but this was better than usual, it was a free zoo! In the middle of a park! in a huge city! We strolled through the park, watching the animals as they chilled out by the pond, or grazed on the trees. We then made a very typical decision to walk around the boating lake in the park, fortunately this didn’t take nearly half as long as it had taken for us to get round the Alster lakes of Hamburg. We eventually made our way back to our hotel, picking up supplies in a supermarket to enjoy bread, cheese and Beaujolais, which David informed me was necessary to drink while we were in Lyon.

Lille

The following morning we prepared for the last journey that would finish on foreign soil and our final destination, Lille. We left Lyon in torrential downpours, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since being caught out in a hailstorm in Budapest and the bad weather continued until we arrived in Lille and things dried out just long enough for us to find the Novotel that we had been forced to book into due to the lack of other options.

Lille Novotel

The change in weather to a very British, overcast, dreary grey outlook made it very apparent how close to home we were both in terms of distance and in time. Still, this would not prevent us from enjoying our return to the familiar styles of Northern Europe, in particular the Flemish architecture that lined the cobbled streets.

The constantly unpleasant weather made it difficult to enjoy being out and about, and a bitterly cold wind constantly swept through the old town regularly forcing us to find somewhere to escape and enjoy a coffee, but things eventually brightened up long enough for us to explore the Citadel of Lille, which had what seemed like a never ending series of walls and moats which probably provided a significant amount of defence in the past and made it increasingly difficult for us to find our way back out.

After the constant losing battle against the weather we finally retreated back to the hotel to pack our bags for the final time and prepare for what would be one of our shortest journeys; the journey home.

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