I’ve had the luxury of visiting Paris, not once, but twice. And both times, with a young family. That’s not an easy feat for most Kiwis. Europe is so far away and Paris is an expensive destination. This trip through Europe, we deliberately avoided Paris.
It’s not that Paris doesn’t have it’s allure. We loved Paris, both times we visited it. But when travelling with a young family, it loses some charm when you’re having to queue up with loads of people to enter the famous Notre Dame or go up the Eiffel Tower. It was only because of Easter Sunday that my friends and I shoved our way through other tourists who were blocking the way, so that we could see part of the Mass. Going up for communion was tricky because we found ourselves on the outside of the church area. The “outside” of the inside are the aisles along the outer walls of the cathedral where tourists look around and take photos while mass continues. To be fair, that was Easter weekend and everyone in Europe was on holiday, but it’s also typical of a quick Parisian trip for those of us coming from the other side of the world.
I’m not saying don’t visit, because there are wonderful things to see throughout Paris. There are amazing palaces and museums and just walking around the centre of the city is pleasant. There’s definitely an air of “je ne sais quois”. But I personally prefer Lyon to Paris.
And perhaps that’s because we were visiting a dear friend of mine who had left Auckland to live in Lyon with her family, and we stayed with her family three for the weekend.
But having that as the sole reason would be extremely bias, wouldn’t it! So here’s a few other reasons why I prefer to Paris.
We arrived in Lyon after a tricky train ride, trying to leave Germany. We literally were running off trains, hauling luggage down escalators while carrying Kenzo or Lui, running through the underground, and up the escalators to the platform, only to find we had missed it by minutes. Once we were finally on a direct high speed train from Strasbourg to Lyon, we all relaxed in the comfy seats.
Unfortunately it was dark when we arrived in Lyon so we didn’t see much except for a beautiful basilica up on a hill. It’s embarrassing to say it, but we were so ignorant of what Lyon had to offer before we arrived there. And yet, that’s how we like to travel the most, not knowing what surprises are in store for us until we get there.
Firstly, my absolute favourite part of being in France, the part that makes me wish I lived in France (not that I want to live in France) is the boulangeries and patisseries. Boulangeries are the bakeries that sell pastries and breads and other types of French baking. The patisseries are gourmet desserts that the French do so well. I haven’t seen such meticulous detail in taste and presentation, so consistently presented throughout France, in any other country when it comes to these delicious sweet foods.
Before we met up with Geeta and Guillaume, we stayed in an Airbnb. Our first morning there we ventured out to find food. Of course, we stopped at a local patisserie, and had breakfast, feasting on mille-feuille (which is the heavenly version of NZ’s custard square), pain aux chocolates (no – it is nowhere near the same as in NZ bakeries) and more.
Of course you can access these delicious foods in Paris, but in Lyon you are with local French people, going about doing every day living. In Paris, you are surrounded by other tourists.
In another post I’ve written about sight seeing in Lyon which highlights the beauty in the buildings, parks and museums of Lyon. Paris has the pretty buildings and parks but they are swarming with there tourists. In Lyon, it felt like we were the only English speaking people around, and any other “tourists” were French school groups. I felt like we were the only ones taking photos of these magnificent structures.
Lyon also boasts a medieval village and ancient ruins. Lyon was also a major political hub throughout the last two millennia because of it’s geographic position being at the confluence of two rivers. This made trade easy since the rivers flow out eventually into the Mediteranean. Because Lyon was settled by the Romans before 0AD, there are Roman coleseums and other ruins. But it also has many other historical landmarks.
While it’s parks are not the manicured perfection of Paris, they do allow for a more authentically French feeling as you roam the streets and parks.
We eventually had the pleasure of staying with them for a weekend and experiencing local living. Guillaume was raised near Lyon and explained that it was famous in France for it’s fine food. They introduced us to some of the desserts in Lyon, because I have a sweet tooth, including an amazing brioche loaf filled with a pink type of sweet. It was super delicious. We got to sample some perfectly presented gourmet desserts. And try savoury crepes.
They also took us to a great Chinese restaurant which was something we’d been missing since leaving Auckland. And they taught Ajay how to make some must-know Indian dishes.
We eventually had the pleasure of staying with our friends for a long weekend and experiencing local living. Guillaume was raised near Lyon and explained that it was famous in France for it’s fine food. He took us to his parent’s place for a typical Lyonnaise family Sunday lunch. This is another reason why I prefer Lyon. We had a local take us around to show us the things that our family wouldn’t find out on our own.
They introduced us to some of the desserts in Lyon, because I have a sweet tooth, including an amazing brioche loaf filled with a pink praline made of sugar and almonds. It was super delicious and very much a Lyonnaise bread. We got to sample some perfectly presented gourmet desserts. And try savoury crepes, which are called something else that I can’t remember.
They also took us to a great Chinese restaurant which was something we’d been missing since leaving Auckland. I didn’t notice a lot of international food places. I assume it’s because they are famous in France for having the best food in France, that they don’t have the urge to try much else. And if there desserts and bakeries are anything to go on, in my opinion, they definitely have the best food in France.
Most of all, Lyon allowed me to catch up with a friend in a way that isn’t easily available when I’m in the day-to-day grind of work and school life. Geeta and I were able to see each other in everyday mode rather than seeing each other for a quick catch-up and I loved every minute of it.
For me, I’ll always remember Lyon as the place where Geeta and Guillaume inspired us with their diligence in being environmentally friendly. It left a significant imprint on our family. As a family we often have ideas that we think would be good to try, or things we should really get around to implementing, but laziness strikes and lack of motivation to do more. Such is the way with our environmental habits.
We followed Geeta and Guillaume around for the weekend and noticed that Guillaume did not waste a crumb of food. They bought foods from the wonderful fresh produce market down by the river every Wednesday and Saturday. This way, they supported local suppliers and were able to use their own bags and packaging. They walked everywhere! That’s easy to do in Lyon because things are nearby. But they were happy to walk an hour for the school drop off and pick twice a day. They even walked to the other side of town to go to the zoo.
Most impressive of all, though they lived in a city apartment with no access to a green waste drop off, they still composted. They diced up anything that could be composted so that it would break down easily. Every week or so Guillaume would take the compost and bury it in his mother’s garden.
Paper bags from bakeries were reused. They had never used nappies or wipes on their child. They didn’t buy diary or beef and ate mainly vegetarian. On a side note, they taught Ajay how to make a couple of vegetarian Indian dishes. They turned off the gas water heater if no-one was using the shower or doing the dishes.
It made me realise how little I was doing to make a difference to climate change and how much of a lifestyle choice it is. Sometimes, until you know someone who’s doing it, you don’t really know what you could be doing.
Lyon was is a better place for small children than Paris. Geeta’s son is about the same age as Kenzo and the two of them got along really well.They both enjoyed board games and were of an age that they could co-operate well and follow rules of a game. Seeing each other occasionally in Auckland didn’t offer the same environment for their relationship to thrive. But living together for a few days allowed them to really play together.
What I loved seeing in Lyon was the way these two boys would race over bridges or down the road and safely stop before a crossing. I wouldn’t have allowed them to do this in Paris because it is far too crowded and much too busy. Lyon, in spite of being a major city, still has a very Auckland laid back vibe, where families are out cycling or picnicking in the park or strolling by the river.
I know I’m biased and I do have terrific memories of Paris, but I would definitely recommend a stop in Lyon for a more authentic French city experience.