by Anna Labat, Greenheart Travel Director

I arrived at Place Bellcour around 6.30 p.m., and as I stepped out from the Metra, I came into a plaza with a giant, lighted Ferris wheel and the giant, white cathedral on the hill in the distance.  It struck me then how much I love this city, and how my separation from it over these last 4 years has simple made my fondness for Lyon grow.  I don’t know if I’ll ever live here but my memories from it keep it alive always.

So let’s talk about Lyon, France.

After checking into the hotel (where they upgraded my room, by the way), I got into a lively discussion with the guy at reception as we started talking about food.  Backing up for a second, I have to admit that I don’t believe the French are friendly in general.  In fact, when I lived here I was downright depressed at how few friends I made and how difficult it was to meet people.  However, I always noticed a marked difference in Lyon.  Even if I didn’t have friends, the people were always gracious and interested.  Especially in the ‘bouchons’, typical Lyonnais restaurants that serve incredible food in a teeny, tiny space.  So small, in fact, that at most bouchons the tables are actually pressed together, making it impossible to get out without forcing someone to stand or a table to be moved.  There is a rich history of bouchons in Lyon and I recommend taking a look-see before you visit one to get the full story.

So at the Bouchon I ate at tonight called La Mere Jean, I arrived alone.  When the convivial maître d’ realized I was alone, he gave me look like, ‘well let’s change that!’ and seated me on top of two other tables.  There were plenty of spaces available, but he sat me in between the two tables in the front of the restaurant that were taken.  And lucky, lucky me.  I quickly started up a conversation with the couple to my left who, during the video I took in the first 5 minutes of getting there, offered me wine so we could ‘trinquer’ together.   The man was planning a trip on Route 66 in August and the woman was in Lyon only for the day.  We talked quite a bit and they invited me to walk with them in ‘Vieux Lyon’, the old, historic area of Lyon with cobblestone streets and adorable stores.  Everything was closed (it was Monday night, after all , but it had the same effect on me as when I lived here four years ago.

Traveling alone can be extremely intimidating.  In fact, before leaving the hotel tonight I almost talked myself into going somewhere I could be inconspicuous.  But luckily my better judgment took over and I decided that I should go to a bouchon.  If I didn’t meet people there I would at least eat well.  I was fortunate that both things occurred.  But more importantly, it reminded me that traveling alone is only as scary as you make it.  There are always challenges and lonely moments, but unless you put yourself out there you’ll just spend your time feeling sorry for yourself.  I’m exhausted now but so happy I went out and did something I could never do in Chicago.  It’s not much, but it takes more energy than you think.

Anyway, I love this city and I am so happy I got to see it again.  Many of our Greenheart Travel participants on our Language Exchange Homestay program in France are often placed near or in Lyon and I can’t describe how happy I am to know that.  So many towns and cities in France are spectacular, I just happened to find the one that I love most.  And the crazy thing is, after four years I still don’t feel like a tourist here at all, I just feel like myself.