I came to Lyon 100% because my friend Chris threatened me. Several weeks prior, in a moving phone conversation about career and living abroad, he warned me: “If you come to France and you don’t visit us in Lyon, I am never going to invite you again”. I promptly added Lyon to my itinerary.
I was leaving Austria by air, headed to France, home of my ancestors. At Flughafen Wien, despite delays, I started to get really excited. For one, I was finally hearing a language I could understand: French was everywhere around me. But most importantly, on the other side of this short Easy Jet flight, there were people waiting for me. I had spent most of the last 12 days or so alone in foreign countries and to be frank, I was ready for some company. At Lyon’s Aéroport Saint-Exupéry, I stepped outside and almost immediately saw Dana. I did a little end zone dance as I rushed towards her before we fully embraced. A few meters away, Chris was also there, waiting by the car. Another embrace ensued.
I believe those readers who travel often would agree with me: getting picked up at the airport is a special luxury. Most of the time, the arrival either at the destination or the home airport is uneventful, sometimes even cold: it’s part of the journey, part of the getting to where we need to be. I love being picked up at the airport: it demonstrates that someone is appreciative of the travel I have just completed and is so happy to see me that he or she will take time out of their (usually busy) day to display this thankfulness and enthusiasm for the time we will spend together.
I knew very little about Lyon. Come to think of it, I only knew that Chris’ brother Mike, who had accompanied my girl Cindy and I on a trip to Paris in 2017 had absolutely loved it. I hadn’t researched anything about the city. I wanted to experience it first-hand through the Jelepis’. And that’s exactly what happened.
Chris and Dana’s love of their adopted city was apparent immediately. For background, their nomadic history brought them to Lyon about a year ago, by way of Tacoma, Washington, originally from South Philly, with a stint in Arlington, Virginia after law school. They narrated our journey to their home in Lyon’s 1er arrondissement as we passed by some important landmarks: “Lyon is the second largest city in France. This on the left is Interpol’s HQ. This here is the main entrance to Le Parc de la Tête d’Or, one of the largest parcs in France. This is la Saône, it’s the smaller of the two rivers that traverse Lyon. The other one is the Rhône. This here is our building. We have a soccer player from Olympique Lyonnais that lives in the penthouse up there, that’s his terrace.”
Chris accompanied me to check in to my AirBnB, some 700 steps away from Jelepis HQ. For the next 3 days, the only time I would spend in host Alexandre’s self-proclaimed bachelor pad would be to sleep in his super comfortable bed. We then headed further into town to pick up the two youngest, CJ (6) and Eleni (2) from their French elementary school equivalent. All along the walk, and for all the walks we would go on over the weekend, Chris shared more of his love and knowledge of the city. I insisted on speaking French with CJ, whose acclimation to his new environment is simply remarkable. He understands everything, both in English obviously, and in French. A bit shy, his French is on the brink of a breakthrough. I would enjoy my conversations with him the entire weekend.
After fetching the kids, we kept walking to complete a few necessary errands: baguettes, wine, treats. Back at Jelepis HQ, we were joined by Sia (8), who travels home from her bus stop across the river like a real grown up. She shared a story about the first time she took the bus home from school and missed her stop. Lost in a then foreign city as a child, her composure at the time and as she recounted the events were inspiring. We would consume all of our provisions lounging in their spacious open concept living space overlooking the Saône on Quai St Vincent. Très Français.
I was eager to spend time with Dana and understand the layers of her experience as an expat in France. As a former attorney and prosecutor, she now dedicates her life to raising three kids. Social and outgoing, I wasn’t surprised to find out that she already has a network of solid girlfriends to share her sparkle with. I was delighted that I would get to meet one of them for dinner later that evening.
Shortly after dusk, Dana and I stepped out of Jelepis HQ into the darkening and wet streets of Lyon, climbed the Grande Montée to la Croix-Russe and met Carla, an Australian expat, for a lovely meal au Café du Gros Calliou. Exactly what I needed: a challenging walk for exercise, delicious food reminiscent of my childhood and girl talk for the soul. Women classically getting together to chat about the different spices of life: relationships, career, family, home, society, future. We ate raclette, drank local red wine, shared a dessert (trois cuillères!), listened to each other’s perspective and laughed together. While our experiences manifested themselves in different places and outcomes, we were together in this place at this moment and we had so much in common. I felt like I fit right in.
Back at Jelepis HQ on Saturday morning, after un petit déjeuner with the family, Chris and I prepared to go on an epic walk. “Are you good for 5 miles or so?”, Chris asked as he planned our excursion. “Absolument!”
For several hours, we weaved in and out of the wonderful streets of Lyon, both quaint and remarkably attractive. We were lucky with the weather as a little bit of sunshine lit our adventure all the way up to La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. Chris narrated our tour like a professional, sharing about the city and it’s people’s history, pointing out the family’s favorite spots, calling out the neighborhoods they lived in and hang out in, counting the Michelin rated restaurants along the way. He was both patient with me as I stopped to take pictures, and aggressive to keep us on track with the walk “We have more to see!”. His love for France and his family’s life there is obvious, profound and contagious. He is carefully architecting a career in HR at IKEA to enable the entire family to, together, have a life full of culture and adventure. I admire him.
Returning from our walk, we rejoined the rest of the Jelepis clan back at the flat. The anticipation was starting to build for our evening’s main event: a traditional Lyonnais dinner. At nightfall, the kids’ favorite babysitter arrived. The adults were cleaned up and ready to go to Le Canut Les Gones. I was apprehensive at first: I am not the most adventurous of eaters. Sure, I’ve tasted a few exotic things, mostly of the Canadian wilderness kind: bear, beaver, deer, elk, moose. I also grew up in a home somewhat influenced by French delicacies: fois gras, cretons, boudin to name a few.
In Lyon, food is life. Everything is centered around it. Dana and Chris helped warm me up for the culinary experience I would later enjoy by serving escargot for happy hour. I loved it! And in the end, that dinner was one of the highlights of my trip to Lyon: insane food, quality time and deep shit of the universe conversations with Dana and Chris, people I love. We tasted everything from everyone else’s plates and didn’t need any words to describe how divine all of it was.
At a local bar for our night cap on the way back down the hill, I couldn’t help but notice how good Dana’s French is. She doesn’t need any English to communicate with the locals. While she will criticize her basic knowledge and her accent in an adorable self-deprecating way, I was left completely impressed. I loved watching her in her community all weekend. My favorite sentence: “C’est mon amie Canadienne!” as she introduced me in some of her regular spots.
Sunday morning, we all piled up in the family’s Renault and headed to Le Marché de la Croix-Russe, an open air market Chris takes one of the kids to every Sunday. This place teased every one of my sense. We navigated around hundred of French men and women preparing for their week ahead, determined to fill our basket as we aimed for the end of a couloir of vendors.
I enjoyed spending Sunday with the family and watching Chris and Dana prepare Sunday family dinner from the wonderfully fresh foods we had acquired at the market earlier in the day. What a treat.
After dinner, the scene undoubtedly turned to a dance party. Eleni reached up to be picked up, I happily obliged. We swirled around in the living room. Pointing at a large picture of Seattle that adorns one of the walls at Jelepis HQ, an ode to their heritage, Leni coyly asked me: “Is this your city?” I responded: “No honey, that’s your city!” She gave me the most enlightening answer of my trip so far, as she pointed out the window: “No, that’s my city…”
Thanks for making Lyon one of the best experiences of my trip, Jelepis family. I look forward to rejoining you in Barcelona next week.
For now, my journey continues to Paris.
Follow me on Twitter @SeriousCaroline