I recently came back from a few days of travelling France with a friend, discovering some areas outside Paris. This is what we got up to!
Day 1: Paris --> Lyon
We both got up early in order to catch the (cheap) morning OuiGo train from the Marne-La-Vallée (Disneyland) gare (train station). Once we both arrived there, we bought some breakfast from the Relay shop in the station, and joined the queue for the train! For the OuiGo trains, they check your tickets before you get to the train; I found that using the specially-made app was the best way. I always screenshot online tickets/passes, too, in case of any internet issues.
The train trip was quite straight forward. Once we arrived at the Lyon Saint Exupery station, we bought tickets for the Rhone Express train between the station and the city, and went over to the stop to catch that train. We caught it through to Gare Part Dieu; once there, we stored our bags in the consignes area, and took a bathroom break. We then headed to the metro (which is accessed outside the station), and had gone a couple of stops before realising that Saana had left her phone in the bathroom. We quickly got on the metro back to the station and went to check the bathroom. The phone wasn't there. We went next door to where we had left our luggage, as it is also the lost-and-found area; thankfully, someone had handed it in!
After all of that, we headed into the Vieux Lyon area - checking out some historic sites, and just wandering around. Lyon is the gastronomie capital of France, so, of course, we had to find a good spot for lunch! We settled on a little place called L'Atelier d'Yvonne. We order from the formule menu, which consisted of a plat and dessert for about 11,50€. At this particular restaurant, the formule menu was set, whereas at many places you can choose from a few different options. The plat was apparently pork, but I could swear it was actually beef. It was delicious, in any case, so I didn't really care! The dessert was a caramel flan, if I remember correctly (there were choices for the dessert). We also took drinks - I went for a white wine, while Saana went for a cocktail - specifically "Le Oohlala"!
With happily full stomachs, we continued looking around Vieux Lyon, stopping to look at things whenever we felt like it. I think our favourite place was probably the Les Pentes de la Croix Rousse area, with the adorable streets adorned with strings of pennant flags hanging between buildings.
We started heading back to the Gare Part Dieu to collect our bags at around 5pm, and after accidentally taking the wrong metro, got there at around 6pm. We then caught the bus through to where our Couchsurfing hosts lived and started the ascent up the many stairs to their house (which they conveniently left off their profile!). Emmanuel and Guillaume greeted us from their apartment window, and Saana greeted them with some choice words after the climb (but in a funny way!). Our hosts are flatmates who work in IT, and they've been taking in Couchsurfers for a few months. Emmanuel has two cats - one which looked eerily like one of my old family cats, and one which was one of the most majestic cats I have ever seen (Mango was his name). Emmanuel and Guillaume cooked us a good dinner, and then taught us to play the board game Catan. They have a jacuzzi on their deck, which we were welcome to use, but we were quite tired (and possibly a little cautious in the house of strangers!), so we didn't join when they decided to get in. Saana and I went to look out at the incredible view they have over Lyon (we couldn't help but think how much a view like that from an apartment of that size would cost in Paris!). The fold-out bed was set up for us, and then it was bedtime!
Day 2: Lyon
The guys got up early for work, so we didn't see them in the morning. We headed out for the day, starting with breakfast at the #1-ranked Lyon café on TripAdvisor - Slake Coffee House. It was deserving of its ranking; it was a cute little rustic, hipster-type café. We took one of their breakfast options: boisson chaud + granola + viennoiserie. I took a cappuccino and a financier (and the granola). Saana took a hot chocolate and a croissant.
After breakfast, we took the funiculaire up to the hill to see the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière and the Théâtre antique de Lyon (an ancient Roman amphitheatre). The views from the basilica were spectacular. We had a great chat with the guy cleaning up all the cigarette butts and rubbish left by tourists, too; he pointed out a few things we could see from where we were. Thank goodness for learning French; there are so many local tips that you don't get if you don't speak the language! The inside of the basilica was good to see, too, and I was stoked to see the Hail Mary translated into Maori on the wall!
We walked down the hill to the Théâtre after we finished at the basilica, sat in the ampitheatre next to lots of school kids, and wandered around the ruins for a while. As we were leaving, two young tourist guys called out to us. They had seen us at the basilica and figured we were also tourists. We were heading to see the traboules, and they had no plans, so they joined us before checking in at their accommodation. The traboules are little secret tunnels hidden around Lyon, which were originally used by silk traders. In World War II, people used the tunnels to hide from the Gestapo. Nowadays, a selection of the traboules are open to the public - marked on the standard tourist map, and indicated by a seal with a lion's head at the entrance. Our new friends left after we had seen a few traboules, and Saana and I continued on our own.
After seeing a fair few of these hidden passageways, we stopped in at a Franprix supermarket, bought a baguette, cheese, ham, and dessert, and headed to the Parc de la Tête d'or for lunch. This big park doubles as a small zoo; giraffes were a couple of hundred metres away from where we were eating. We sat in the park for a while, gave up on the squatting toilets (which I had never seen in France before!), looked around the zoo, and headed in the direction of the Musée des Confluences. The Confluence area of Lyon is where the two rivers meet, and features a great museum and a big shopping mall. We were lucky it was a Thursday - on Thursdays the museum is open until 10pm, and after 5pm the prices drop. It was free for us as students. It was a unique and interesting museum with some great expositions - definitely recommended! The highlights for me were the cinema and poison expositions - they had real life black widow spiders and those super poisonous tree frogs, among other things!
We finished looking at the museum and headed back to where we were staying. We had raclette for dinner, and a dessert that Guillaume had made. After talking and eating, we went to bed, ready for an early morning the next day.
Day 3: Lyon --> Marseille
We left for the train station at 7:15am, buying breakfast at the station. The trip between Lyon and Marseille is fairly short. When we arrived, the Kiwi husband/father of our host family came to pick us up. We relaxed at the house until his wife came home. After lunch, we went to the Palais Longchamp, which now houses a couple of museums. We decided to go into the Beaux Arts one after exploring the palace exterior and getting splashed by the huge, beautiful fountain. The museum had some interesting artworks. One of the museum workers really liked the pants I was wearing, so came up to me to ask what they were called; I didn't know the name in French, but I told him the English name of "harem pants" (which he heard as Haarlem pants - probably a better name, tbh!).
After that little sidetrack, we finished looking at the museum, we went to the Vieux Port area of Marseille. Of course, when one is in Marseille, one must go to the Savonnerie, where the famous Savon (soap) de Marseille is made. There are many Savonneries and places that sell the soap, but not all are authentic. In fact, most aren't. We went to La Grande Savonnerie, where they make all the soap onsite, and you can even make your own. They sell the original, cube-formed, olive oil blocks, but also many other varieties and shapes of soap. I bought two blocks of soap; one olive oil one with a soap dish, and one red fruit one.
Next up, we wandered around the Le Panier area of Marseille, which has many historic things to see and visit. We stopped in at the Vieille Charité, which served as an almshouse in former times. At its peak, over 1000 beggars lived/were imprisoned there. Poor children found jobs in various industries through the services it offered. Many people lived there right through until 1962, including during World War II, after the bombing of the Vieux Port. The Vieille Charité is now a big museum, but we just explored the grounds.
Once we left, we started walking in the direction of the Sainte-Marie-Majeure (La Major) church. On the way, a guy started following us and hitting on Saana. He wouldn't leave us alone. We kept walking, eventually losing him. We finally arrived at the church, and had a quick look around the outside (it was closed for the day by that point). It had begun to be very windy. We went down to the nearby fort area, struggling against the wind. A group of young guys heard us speaking in English and warned us jokingly to "be careful, there is wind" (pronounced like "whined". When we got to the other side of the fort, we saw them again, and they smiled and said "vous êtes tellement belles" (you are so beautiful) - not in a creepy way, so it was ok.
We had stopped in at a little confectionary shop called "Délices Lamarque", where we had bought some nougat, so we sat on the steps near the fort to eat. Mine was a red fruit one, and Saana's was salted caramel. Both were very good! After eating, we went back to the Vieux Port metro stop, and headed back to the house. We had dinner with our hosts Andrew and Pascale and their son, Noah, and then went to bed.
Day 4: Day trip to Aix-en-Provence
We caught the TGV train through to Aix-en-Provence TGV station, which, as it turns out, is quite far from the actual town. We had to catch a bus to go to the town. It is quite confusing to find - the navette bus goes through from the TGV station to the airport and to Aix-en-Provence, and the stops for the different directions are on opposite sides of the station. We found it eventually, and got to Aix-en-Provence without too much trouble. We meandered through the markets on our way to all the things we wanted to see. Along the way, we came across a really cool confectionary shop, which was filled with pirate and Halloween decorations. All the different types of sweets/candy/lollies were in big barrels. It was a really interesting concept!
We found a place to have breakfast, called "L'Unic". They had a two petit-déjeuner options - an ordinary one, and an anglais version. The only difference was that the English breakfast came with a plate of eggs and ham/bacon; when this plate came out, Saana declared that it was the best day of her life (the waiter replied with a strongly-accented "thank you"). Other than that, our petit-déj came with bread and condiments, a viennoiserie (I took a pain-au-chocolat), orange juice, and a hot drink (cappuccino for me). It was definitely a good breakfast for the price!
After breakfast, we went in the direction of the theatre where the Festival d'Aix is held. We came across a very cool and very talented handpan musician, who chatted with us as he played. We also stopped in at the Musée du Vieil Aix (free entry) - a tiny little museum with some old items from autrefois in Aix. We made it to the square where the theatre is, but didn't see it at first. We went inside the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur and had a quick look at the art market outside, and then found the theatre. It isn't really much to see out of season, though it does house a museum. I'll just have to sing there sometime so I can see it in its glory (and on the inside!).
Our next destination was the hill where Cézanne's atelier and the Terrain des peintres are. You can catch a bus, but it isn't that far to walk. It was a nice day, so we chose the latter option. The atelier was closed until 2pm, so we saw the Terrain des peintres first. From here, there is a great view out towards the mountain Sainte-Victoire, which Cézanne and other artists were inspired by and chose to paint. A group of French women were there, too, and offered us cake. We declined, but it was nice of them! They had a funny argument about whether or not to go to Marseille the next day; there were three different opinions on the matter. We stayed there a while, looking at out the view and exploring the nearby streets, and then went to the atelier.
The property is very cute, and it was interesting to see Cézanne's workshop and the authentic items that were in there when he painted his famous still-life works (obviously, the original fruits weren't there!). There was a tour guide explaining all the different features (in French), which was interesting. It is only a one-room experience, so one doesn't need to spend a lot of time there. In the gardens, there is some modern art - some metalworks by an up-and-coming artist. Neither of us found this particularly inspiring, unfortunately.
We walked back into the town, in search of the Coteaux d'Aix en Provence wine and some calissons (almond sweet treats), as recommended by the lovely Martin Snell. We found the wine at a place called La Fromagerie, so we order a glass each of the rosé kind (they also have a red), along with plates of cheese and charcuterie. The whole lot was very good, and many people stopped to look at what we were eating, and were tempted to order some for themselves. The wine isn't particularly strong, but combined with our tiredness, we were feeling it after only one glass! We went across the road into Sephora while we waited for it to wear off, trying out ridiculously expensive Dior handcream, checking out the colours in some Too Faced eyeshadow palettes, and looking at many things neither of us could really afford. Saana bought a few things, but I didn't particularly need anything. We found the calissons in a beautiful shop called Weibel that we had admired early after seeing their window display; I bought two little packets - one to share with our hosts, and one for my host family in Paris.
To get back to Marseille, we took the train from the central station, back to the Marseille Saint Charles station, which was much easier than the way we used to get to Aix. It was also cheaper for me, as I have an SNCF Carte Jeune, which gives me discounts on SNCF transports. We had dinner with our hosts, including the daughter, Clara, who had just arrived back from Scouts camp. They tried to convince me to sing, but I was too tired that night, so just slept!
Day 5: Marseille
Saana had to head back to Paris on the Sunday, so she left quite early that morning. Meantime, I had a solid croissant and coffee breakfast, and slowly got ready for church. Pascale had put me in contact with a Kiwi au pair she knew, and we met at the church. It was a small church of maybe around 30 people, but everyone was very friendly, and I really enjoyed the service! Olivia (the Kiwi) and I picked up another Kiwi girl she knew, Becki, who was travelling around Europe. We were going to go to Les Goudes, but it was much too windy. Instead, we drove out to Le Rove, where we met Andrew, Pascale, Noah, Clara, and their friend, David. We walked through the forest and found a picnic spot. After eating, we wandered the woods, finding wild rosemary and thyme, and taking lots of photos of the area. One of the famous Marseille calanques can be found here, but we didn't walk far enough to reach it.
We walked back to the picnic spot and back to the cars, and Olivia, Becki, and I headed to the Notre Dame de la Garde, which perches on a hill above Marseille. Traffic was hectic, but we made it in plenty of time to see the sunset. It was extremely windy! We climbed up the rocks to find a good lookout spot, and sat there until it was dark enough that we decided it was time to go.
Olivia dropped us off at the metro stop, and Becki and I headed to our respective accommodation. Upon arriving, I helped Pascale prepare for the visitors who were coming for dinner that night. The visitors were a lovely American family with 4 kids, who have been living in France for quite some time now. David (the friend who was there on the picnic) was also there, and is also American. I had previously been called on to sing by our hosts, so I told them that I would sing that night! Before dinner (and after the apéro), I performed "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes" from Massenet's Werther, which went down very well. Pascale accompanied me on the piano, and did a good job of sight-reading it from a tablet! As often happens, all the children in the room suddenly became opera singers. We then had dinner and dessert (raspberry tiramisu - yes, it's as good as it sounds) and had some great conversations!
The next day, I just relaxed around the house for most of the morning, and left for the train station at 11am. I got back home in the late afternoon, and took the rest of the day off! The trip was short, but we packed a lot in, and I have so many great memories! Now to start planning the next one... (I'll need to save some money first!)