Ok. We’re sorry. We understand we’re behind. So here’s a super long post that covers a month of our time in France. Get ready it’s a doozy. Like, make sure you have a nice cup of coffee, because we can’t make something this long that entertaining. You might also want to turn on that fireplace and get wrapped up next to loved ones with a nice homemade blanket made by your grandmother. Ok you ready? You sure? Double check you don’t have any distractions. Maybe turn that phone to silent. Dim the lights down low, let’s set the mood right for this one.
Here it is.
So we went to France. It was dope.
Ok, so we arrived late in Lyon from Brussels and were welcomed at the train station by our lovely and kind host for the next 2.5 weeks, Stephanie! She took us to her apartment, where we were greeted by an intensely energetic kitten and a darkly beautiful painting Stephanie did for a school assignment of the sculptor Rodin, but she didn’t get a good grade on it because she didn’t capture his “gaze” correctly.
We spent our time in Lyon slowly exploring its intricacies and significance in the scrolls of time, from the ancient roman ruins that still exist in the city, to the neighborhood of Old Lyon, to its prominence as an integral stop on the Silk Road. In the 1500’s, King Francis I awarded Lyon France’s exclusive rights for the production of the shiny smooth fabric that everyone in Europe and Asia so prized. Many innovations in the manufacture of silk goods took place in the city, most notably the invention of the Jacquard loom, which was still in use by some of the few remaining artisan silk-weavers in the city. Jacquard combined the innovations of three other individuals into a single mechanism and turned the two-person job of silk weaving into a one-person job . It also allowed for the incorporation of novel and stunningly detailed patterns onto the fabric.
We also connected with the “Zero Dechet” (Zero Waste) group in Lyon, which was dedicated to community and political initiatives promoting zero waste and the reduction of single-use consumer goods. We attended an informative free workshop where we learned how to repurpose old t-shirts into reusable tote bags. We both have been looking around more and more while on this trip and realizing just how many items we see in people hands, in stores, and on trains, buses, etc. that will end up piled into a landfill.
Perhaps the most unique experience we had in Lyon came about when we found out that this city was in fact the gastronomic capital of France and contained a wide variety of Michelin-starred restaurants. We thought we would look into finding a Michelin restaurant that had an affordable lunch option that would allow for us to experience high-cuisine without breaking the bank. We picked a restaurant that offered a vegetarian lunch and advertised a 36 Euro daily lunch special. We emailed the restaurant to confirm our vegetarian lunch reservation and arrived the following day at the restaurant at the appointed time. It was only after we started receiving our food in courses that we realized that we had failed to specify we wanted the 36 Euro, 3-course lunch special.
So, we ended up breaking the bank anyway and received a 9-course lunch that cost us $195. But boy oh boy was it an experience.
We were treated with 2 appetizers, 4 mains, and 3 dessert dishes, all delicately engineered to uniquely satisfy our pallets. Michelin star well deserved. We were most surprised and impressed by the continuity of the nine courses–some of the same ingredients were used throughout multiple courses, each time in an inventive and creative way. Among the taste front-runners were the variety of mushrooms, from garlic seasoned diced mushrooms, to mushroom foam sauce, to even mushroom sugar ice cream. Below are descriptions of the 9 dishes we enjoyed –
- (Appetizer) Corn Pillows with herbs. Rutabaga spaghetti cups with flowers
- (Appetizer) Pumpkin curry soup with mustard ice cream
- (Main) Mushrooms diced with a lightly sweet biscuit and garlic butter sauce and foam with shaved mushroom
- (Main) Chicory stuffed with mushroom with saffron sauce and crepe flake
- (Main) Smoky chanterelle dumplings with hazelnut and herb dumplings with a light sauce with hazelnuts
- (Main) Thinly sliced and layered pumpkin and celery with mushroom in the middle with sesame seed and green dust topping
- (Dessert) Plum and squash ice cream with meringue flake and breadcrumb bottom with jam
- (Dessert) Quince ice cream with hazelnuts and mushroom ice cream
- (Dessert) Homemade candies pear and chocolate, mango jellies, peanut butter and chocolate
While in Lyon, we also took a couple day trips down to the French Riviera. The first trip was down to Marseille, where our primary focus was to visit Parc National des Calanques. Calanques are features in the land that allow for long inlets of water from the sea that spear through limestone cliffs. As we hiked around the park, we were treated with amazing views of the Mediterranean Sea and the beautiful nature the climate created. Smooth, rounded rocks weathered by the sea provided the trail upon where we hiked, while towering limestone cliffs were our walls. As we came upon the most notable calanque, Calanque d’En-Vau, a hidden, pebbled beach appeared before us, providing us a tranquil lunch spot.
As hiking took the majority of our day, when we returned to Marseille, we decided to walk towards St. Pierre’s Cathedral at the top of the city as our lone activity in the city proper. As sunset nearly ended, we were treated with a gorgeous twilight view of Marseille as the city lights turned on and evening activities came alive. We took our bus back to Lyon thoroughly satisfied with the appetizer that the French Riviera gave us.
Our next mini-trip took us to Nice, France where we stayed at our first hostel of the journey and experienced more pebble beaches, and a somber, reflective realization. As it was the off-season (aka not summer), the hostel experience was underwhelming. While we did get “upgraded” (6-person dorm to 4-person), there was not the lively interaction between backpackers as there were only a handful staying at the hostel. To quench our adventurous appetite, we took a bus to a small village, nestled high among the cliffs, called Eze. From this village, we hiked down to the beach, via the Nietzsche path, a fairly easy hike (as we went all downhill) that Freddy Nietzsche took many times that inspired some of his philosophical musings. While the hike did provide gorgeous views of the towns below and the Mediterranean, our favorite section was a nook we found a bit off the trail of a waterfall that eventually fed into the sea. While nothing was significantly fantastic about it, what captured us was the seemingly remoteness and the peaceful sounds. While the hike may have been objectively more beautiful, we like to think that Nietzsche was experiencing this type of tranquility.
After our hike we enjoyed more of the city by walking its narrow streets and many markets and shops. We had our sights set on some of the best-reviewed ice cream, but alas, it was always closed. So we just enjoyed the ambiance, which was very quaint and ambience-y. Despite all the beauty the French Riviera provided us, we were reminded of the subtle evils we (meaning humans) have been dumping onto the natural world. At the Environmental House in Nice, we walked through an exhibition that provided facts, pictures, and videos of how plastic is affecting our oceans. If items aren’t properly recycled, they can find themselves in the ocean, where the breakdown process is incredibly slow. The amount of waste in the oceans affects all living creatures that come into contact with it, affecting these species, biodiversity, and the environment.
It is one thing to know that plastic is in the ocean, as I hope most of us do, but it’s another thing to see these images and facts. It’s difficult not to feel strongly about this the more we encounter the diversity of nature and observe the lives of people going about their days across Europe. Plastics and the rate at which they are produced, consumed, and discarded disrupts the planet’s foundational cycle of decomposition and recomposition. Due to their chemical composition, plastics are much more likely to break apart and become microplastics than they are to decompose. Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PET, is the plastic used to make disposable water bottles. It takes over 400 years for it to decompose. Plastics and microplastics are carried by the wind into the oceans and into the soil and then get consumed by humans and animals. The exhibit in Nice showed more videos of dissecting dead animals and finding bottle caps, lighters, etc. in their stomachs than we would ever like to see again.
Based on how civilization has developed in the past century and half, it seems as if everything we now do somehow enables the destruction of our environment. With such an intense dependency on plastic and its ubiquity in our everyday lives, trying to entirely disengage from plastic feels impossible. We have tried to adopt the philosophy of Zero Dechet Lyon, where bit by bit we eliminate plastic consumption in our daily lives. For us, that has meant going to the store and not buying anything in plastic packaging if we can avoid it, bringing empty jars with us and finding bulk food stores to fill them with snacks, and using our beeswrap instead of plastic wrap. Something it also means is that we always try to finish our food when out at a restaurant so that we don’t get disposable to-go containers.
With this new layer of determination to be waste-conscious, we moved on to Paris, Andorra and Toulouse, which we’ll cover in our next post, hopefully coming sooner than this one. Until then, Au Revoir!