Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cannes to Paris Avalon Cruise September 2017 - Day Nine

Basilica on the Hill
Sunday September 24 2017

Awoke to sunshine outside the window and a bigass building we had gotten docked next to in Lyon. We had slightly overslept so a need for a swift ablute and breakfast to get out and onto an 8.30am bus that was going to take us around Lyon town. For some reason we got the wrong radio pack which would mean that we would not be able to tune into our guide for the city tour. Might have been a blessing; she had such a monotone voice that just listening to her on the bus set us dozing… 

The area where the ship had docked looked quite modern, all steel and glass building and lots of space for lounging at coffee bars. It was a bit early and a Sunday to boot so it was all a bit quiet at this breakfast time. Seems there was a cable car system that could get you both in and out of Lyon in about 15 minutes, so anyone who wanted to stay a bit longer in town could do this to get back. In principle, anyway - the instructions on the handout were not crystal clear as to where the thing stopped in town nor quite at which stop we would have to disembark. Never mind, figure it out when we got there.

Overlooking Lyon - bit hazy...
It had earlier been decided not to come back for lunch but to try somewhere in town. I had unearthed a Paul Bocuse backed Bistro named Le Nord. There was not enough time to go to the main restaurant (nor could I establish whether it was open for Sunday lunch) so we figured this was the next best thing.  I had figured we did not need a reservation since the French rarely take them anyway, and was quite looking forward to it. 

More Lyon - slightly brighter...
We dozed as our guide told us we were going up a hill to visit the Basilica which on a perfect day would give us a fabulous view across Lyon. Today was not a perfect day - there was a haze covering the city so the most we got was a shadowy dust brick view of buildings poking through it. The photos were predictably grim. Still, there was a toilet at the top allowing for a free pee which was quite welcome. We lurked about the car park for a while in the eye watering sunlight and slowly ambled back to where the buses were parked. The ride up had been a bit close to the side on a couple of occasions and we hoped the return would not be as narrow.  There was a disabled chap parked at the church entrance craving alms from the faithful walking in for the service and not proving too successful. I just grabbed whatever small change was in the pocket and gave it to him. You can turn the eye in the town but not outside a church. He had stumps for hands and seemed most grateful and shook my arm with much merci Monsieur. Mon brave I called him. There but for the grace of God... 

Lyon Old Town - narrow cobblestone affairs
Back on the bus for more monotone commentary as the town rushed past. It looked very quaint and unmistakeably French with shutter windows and rail verandahs. Which suggested we were coming to the Old Town (correct!) and quite soon we were dismounting and cutting down a street to get to the heart of the city. This would prove an ankle wrenching wander through cobblestone streets and through some of the secret tunnels of the town. The buildings were quite tall so the streets were pretty shaded. I got a large sense of "tourist" at many of the places we stopped at, though some of the shops looked authentic old and dedicated to the Lyonaisse. 

Somewhere along the way we managed to lose the guide and hence we did not receive instruction as to where to meet the bus. But the Old Town is a small town and we came across Big John from the cruise who shared the detail. There was an Artist market going on along the bank which made for more diversions.

Delightful Riverbank Market
The bus came to pick up the Cruisers returning to the ship and parked up on the narrow roadside. We had earlier been told there were only very small windows for parking and if one was not at the appointed spot then one would be walking back. I swiftly retrieved the bags from the bus and Lenglui and I left on foot for our lunch, though not before getting delayed by the rest of the market and Lenglui stopping to buy little bits. Naturally. Though in fairness there were some delightful little souvenir bits that were way too pretty to pass up. 

We had a map of Lyon from the ship and I had marked the restaurant on it. It was on the other side of the river and appearing not too far to walk. Which indeed proved so. Le Nord was scheduled to open at noon and, notwithstanding a couple of stops along the way from the Old town, we were still a shade early. 'Yoo 'ave ze reservation?" I explained no. "Nevair maind," said the Maitresse D', "yoo sit zere whaile ai get zee staff ready, Oui?"  So Lenglui sat "zere" whilst I went up zee stairs for the toilet. I should have known they would have wanted a reservation… bloody French…   

Maitresse came back with the menu and we ordered quickly. Lenglui had been tasting the Bresse chicken since Cannes and quickly went for it along with some Escargots. I opted for Plat du Jour figuring Lenglui would share. Of course. We also opted for a carafe of the house red. 

Ham Brioche
Ultimately the food at Le Nord felt a bit ordinary and not up to expectations of somewhere with a Bocuse name attached to it. My starter came quickly, a chunk of ham in some brioche with (I think) wasabi and a side salad. Not bad. Can't remember what my main was and I don't seem to have a photo of it. The Escargots were delightful - poached in little porcelain pots in a stew of herbs and butter garlic and topped with garlic butter croutons. Lenglui's Bresse disappointed - it came in some gravy and the meat was a bit on the dry side. I had a taste and was also disappointed - not a patch on the Hotel du Ville in Beaune. My dessert of Fig Tart was…  missing something. It was fresh figs on custard basted sponge with raspberry coulis and whipped cream on pastry. The coulis dominated and needed a counterpoint to its tongue stinging acidity. But then it was a Sunday lunch - we would need to go back for dinner to give a fair review. 

Le Nord Escargots - wicked!
We got chatting to our table neighbour Frank, from Cork, who was having the Fish. Turns out he was (still is) a Chef who ran a place called the Wild Goose in Long Island USA for a while along with a few places beside (some club in Wardour Street in the early 80s got mentioned). He had landed that morning from somewhere in the US and was having problems finding where his cruise ship was docked. We eventually helped him find it via a roundabout taxi ride as a result of Frank's taxi driver who managed to get himself spectacularly lost. The problem was that the ship was not answering Frank's phone and the restaurant would not let me use their phone to find where it was. Bloody French. Nay, bastard French on this occasion. We eventually found the Affinity where Jean Loup did the necessary. Frank promised to travel Avalon next time rather than the one that had been booked. He also gave us some suggestions for restaurants to try in Paris. I would give our last bottle from Arles to Jean Loup as a thank you and early Xmas present the next day. Should really have given chocolates I suppose - didn't have any. 

Fig Tart
We boarded the Affinity to sleep off lunch and showered and surfaced for a 6pm talk on "The French" by a guest speaker which was quite entertaining. Then it was back to change for dinner whilst the sun shone over Lyon. Got to the lounge and we set sail and enjoyed the passing riverside and wildlife in a great feeling of tranquillity.

Lyon centre
From the verandah window I observed a couple of yob types on the Lyon riverbank in their rebel black jeans and jackets, and one shouting some sort of odds and seeming to lob a rock at the ship. I might have misperceived this, though some gestures were certainly involved. Got me thinking how some people feel they didn't somehow get a chance, and consequently feel justified in their rage against whom they perceive as the better off. Reminded me of me. Wasn't the exact reason I ran off the rails in 1983 but it was contributory. Rage against the rich and the establishment and wanting to stick it to the man. But when you get some education then you begin to understand the man and the machine and the reality that there isn't any real escape. We all need to earn and turn a buck but it is true that sometimes you get so far down through circumstance or birth defect that the chances to make something of life dry up quicker than they do for the able bodied and the strong and the strategic. I know I got thrown a second chance when my train derailed and I was fortunate that I had not yet been trapped by the welfare system nor the society of the underground. I got an education which the state effectively paid for and was able to come back from scrounging around for dog ends to roll into a smoke to cruising the world on the Avalon Affinity. And here was this black jeans and jacket kid in Lyon cursing at me in French for selling out and becoming a comparatively rich bastard. Perhaps he is not wrong. Perhaps I have sold out. Middle class and comfortable. I remember the rebel, but now I know you sometimes have to choose your causes. 

Lenglui rocking the house!
But perhaps there is also an undercurrent of resentment here that the rest of us are missing. The poor in Europe continue to swell and line the river banks of the towns in their cardboard shanties. Maybe better than where they came from but still shitty conditions. So all one sometimes can do to get attention is to throw a brick. But the sense is that the (we) Cruisers are all too old to care or want to do anything about it. We are happy and distracted and just want our cocktails and wine with dinner. We have made it, we have built our fortunes and are enjoying them whilst we plod on to our singular oblivions. Angry young men? They have no place in the cruising community. Though the rock thrower did stir a strange pang of guilt and perhaps a need to shake the complacency… maybe time to rock the boat?

This evening was to be our farewell dinner and everyone had dressed up in their best and finest. Can't remember much about the food. I do recall giving a book on French Wine by Keith Floyd that I had picked up in the UK to Charlie and Karen as souvenir and thank you for sharing their CdP. They seemed quite happy, though I had a little pang of regret in letting it go. Never mind - good to see them happy and it would mean slightly less weight to check in on our upcoming Easyjet to Catania in Sicily. 

Look what I found!!
Dinner was followed by the March of All the Staff around the tables. I was sucking down some delightful red Beaujolais and ended up in the lounge singing with pianist Mitko whilst the assembled got jiggy with some standards - I recall singing Teddy Bear, Rock around the Clock, and Eight Days a Week in harmony with him. Quite fun. Lenglui also sang a couple of songs (Only You and Hello Dolly) and tried some German brandy whilst I socked down a Grand Marnier. Excellent ways to end a good fun evening.

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