Modern meets historic

For the better part of six days, my wife and I called Lyon home during a two week vacation in France. Lyon is beautiful. Gorgeous, really. And if you were dropped into the city blindfolded, you’d know you were in France from the architecture alone. I really wasn’t expecting to see much modern public art while visiting here, but was more than pleasantly surprised by a few sculptures and installations as I wandered around Lyon. These pieces all caught my eye as physical representations of a noticeable modern vibe running through this historic city.

On a stunning afternoon in the sprawling Parc de la Tête d’Or, this installation, “Ensemble Pour la Paix et la Justice” caught my eye. It was commissioned for the G7 meetings in Lyon in 1996.

Ensemble pour la paix et la justice

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A day in Burgundy

If I had to pick one wine, and only one wine to drink over the remainder of my days, it would be a toss up between pinot noir from Burgundy or the effervescent bubbly from Champagne. Coincidentally, on our visit to France this spring, we spent a couple of days touring these respective wine regions to help me solve this dilemma to which there really isn’t a wrong answer. I’ll leave the account of a day in and around Reims tasting world class Champagne for another post… this one is all about a spectacular day spent in Burgundy.

We took an early morning train from Lyon to Beaune and waiting for us at the quaint station was Patrick, an expert on all things Burgundy. He was our guide for the day and after some quick hellos and a sketch of our plans, we got into the back of his car to make our way to Auxey-Duresses for our first tasting and visit with a winemaker.

It couldn’t have been a better start to the day. Michel Prunier warmly welcomed us into his small facility. Although Patrick was available to translate where needed, Michel spoke in French slowly and we followed along except for the most technical of winemaking jargon. Michel explained his winery and its 5 generation family history and spent some time showing us the small batch of bubbly he makes each year in addition to his pinot noir.

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Three great meals

Admittedly, it’s not too difficult to simply stumble upon a great meal in either Paris or Lyon. With even a half an ounce of planning, you’ll have hundreds and hundreds of options at your fingertips. Our challenge was a little steeper as our plans need to be gluten free for one of us (thankfully, not me… I’ll take the entire bread plate, thanks). Over a two week period, we made three reservations and each gave us an outstanding dining experience.

Chez Marcel, Paris

You would walk right past this place if you weren’t paying attention. It is a quaint 30 seat bistro tucked just off the busy Boulevard Raspail. We arrived a few minutes before our 7:30 reservation and waited for the owner to arrive and let us in to the restaurant. As soon as we stepped foot inside, we knew we would be in for a great meal.

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A perfectly French day

March 17, 2017 – Lyon, France

It might be hard to have a better, or more “French” day than I’m having. I slept in (good start). Had a leisurely coffee and a pain au chocolate at a cafe a few blocks from our lovely hotel. Then it was off for a morning of exploring the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood including the almost 100 vendor daily market of fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses. I turned some market purchases and a baguette into a perfectly acceptable picnic on a bench overlooking the neighbourhood square all the while sipping on a just before noon Kronenbourg beer. And of course, the meal ending strawberries from Provence were divine. A short break later, I had an un-St. Patrick’s Day afternoon by enjoying a Hoegaarden on a patio of a cafe that had no traces of leprechauns or green beer. And tonight, another picnic, this one in Place des Célestins with a bottle of pinot noir we brought back from our day trip to Burgundy.

France, I like what you do to me while I’m on vacation.

Islands in the Seine

A grey, slightly chilly March morning was a perfect backdrop for some wandering around Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. I love Paris, and maybe it’s unfair to say this given how spectacularly beautiful Paris is, but those two islands and the views from both are, for me, quintessential Paris. So this will be a bit of a love letter in photographic form to the Seine and one of my favourite locations in the city of lights.

The Seine

Love letter might be the right term – especially on the Pont Neuf where so many have placed a “love lock” on this bridge.

Love locks on Pont Neuf

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There’s more than wine

In the days leading up to leaving for France, the most common question asked of me was some variation on “How many wines are you going to try over two weeks?” No one asked me if I was excited to sample some French craft beers. While I have almost built entire trips around craft beer tastings, you just don’t do that in France. You could. Not that there isn’t an ample and growing beer community, but there’s really so much else that’s worthy of attention. So on this trip, while leaving most of my time to wine (I’ll be writing much more on that soon) I fit some beer in along the margins.

On a late morning (if there’s something I love about Europe, it’s the laissez-faire mentality to a moderate amount of morning drinking) where my wife was getting a few extra Zzzzzs, I popped into Académie de la Bière just down the road in Montparnasse from our hotel and enjoyed a just before noon amber ale from La Parisienne. Nicely balanced, my first craft beer in Paris gave me hope I’d find a few hidden treasures over the two weeks.

Beer at L'Académie de La Bière

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Cemeteries in Paris

About five years ago, on a quiet Sunday morning in Uppsala, Sweden, I walked through a park-like cemetery and from a distance watched an older woman tend to the grave of her recently deceased husband. It is one of those moments that’s burned into my memory for being both terribly sad and incredibly beautiful. That morning, and through a few other visits to European cemeteries over the years, I have come to learn that some of the most beautiful parks in many foreign cities are in fact their graveyards.

While in Paris back in March, I made a two trips to cemeteries within the city. The first was a morning visit to the Montparnasse Cemetery in the same neighbourhood as my hotel.

Montparnasse Cemetery

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A rare clear day

I was under no false pretences when I booked a February trip to Portland, Oregon. I used to live on a coast and I get that winter weather can be grey and dreary. I was looking for somewhere warmer than Saskatoon, even if I’d be dealing with damp winter days. Imagine my pleasant surprise waking on my first day in Portland to crystal clear blue skies and unseasonably warm temperatures (no jacket needed!). I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by – I had a rare February opportunity to view the mountains off in the distance from Portland.

After a short train ride south of downtown, I took the Portland Aerial Tram to the top of Marquam Hill and feasted my eyes on this – a stunningly clear view of Mount St. Helens:

DSCF9334

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