Escape to Lyon and Aix en Provence

Whilst studying abroad in Paris for a year is every Francophile’s dream, sometimes seeing my ridiculously model-like fellow students strutting carefree to seminars, down Boulevard Saint Germain, forces me to console myself with yet another almond croissant. With long, dark nights setting in and essay deadlines drawing closer, I jumped at the chance to abandon the library and the oh-too-beautiful Parisians in favour of a reading week mini-break.

Firstly, to Lyon, “the gastronomic heartland of France”, or so the guidebook declared. Being only two hours from Paris by train, I decided to take the risk. Then, on to Aix-en-Provence for some light hearted and heavy-stomached relief.

After a hassle-free train journey (take note East Coast and Northern Rail), where my only concern was trying to avoid gawping at my dreamy Foucault-reading French hipster neighbour, we arrived in the bustling centre of Lyon. Whilst our hotel wasn’t exactly in the best neighbourhood – several inappropriate anecdotes could confirm we were, in fact, in the red light district– it was just a velib ride (the French version of Boris’ Bikes) away from the city centre. With cycle paths all over the town, including the riverbanks of the Rhône and the Saône, Velibs really are the perfect way to see the city. Plus with bike hire for the day only €1, there’s no better way to work off the endless supply of bread you are plied with in restaurants.

An afternoon wander led us around the Hotel de Ville, Place Bellecoeur and Vieux Lyon, where Rue Saint Jean plays host to numerous amazing patisseries, cafés and bouchonneries. After consuming our body weight in brioches aux pralines and tartes aux fraises (traditional Lyonnais fare), the challenge of mounting la Fourvière (one of the two hills on which Vieux Lyon is built) awaited us. Despite struggling along winding roads to the top of the hill, the vista from the peak and the beauty of the Basilica de Notre-Dame de Fourvière more than rewarded our laborious climb. We later discovered a funiculaire just on the other side of the Church, which for about €1 would probably have spared my friends and I from the mêlée of nitpicking we descended into after multiple failed attempts at map reading.

After a couple of great days spent overindulging in Lyon, we moved on to Aix-en-Provence. Despite being asked by Aixoises themselves why on earth we had chosen to visit Aix, it was full of fantastic surprises. The small city is filled with winding Mediterranean-style passages leading to fountain-centred squares, endless streets of shops and some reassuringly student-friendly pricing in restaurants. The artist Paul Cézanne grew up and spent most of his life in Aix, so the town is filled with signposts relating to the birthplace of his distant relatives which we naturally became a bit blasé about.

After a while, we realised that the streets were not, in fact, starting to blend into one another, but that actually there were really only five interesting streets in the town. Although bigger than St Andrews, Aix is no Paris, and it was with this realisation that I was relieved to be heading back to the capital. I was well fed, cultured and ready to fall back in love with the city of love and more importantly, ready to fight that high-heeled goddess for the last seat in the library.

Final photograph courtesy of  stuckincustoms.com

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