Lyon and Paris in the days before Christmas

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Merry Christmas from Geneva, where I spent most of the last two days in bed, recovering from booster-related body aches. My mom is here visiting for the month of December; we went to Lyon earlier in the month for the annual light festival, and then Paris earlier this week just because.

Lyon

During the days of the light festival (8-11 December), SNCF ran a promotion on train tickets so that they were only 50% of the normal price (14 euros instead of 29). To encourage visitors to stay the night in Lyon, they also stopped running trains as early as 8:30pm.

I was not terribly impressed by the light festival; we tried to walk around the banks of the river to see the lights, but the crowds were massive and difficult to navigate. My mom was understandably nervous about the number of people due to both COVID and terrorist attacks in France in recent years, so we went back to the hotel early and called it a night.

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In pictures it looks quite nice, but in person the lights are underwhelming.

But before that, we had an incredible dinner in Lyon, as I couldn’t let my mom visit the gastronomy capital of France without trying classic French cuisine. I booked a table for us at Le Bœuf d’Argent, a restaurant in old town Lyon. We tried one of the tasting menus, and there must have been five or six courses in total. The richness and complexity of the flavors were deeply satisfying.

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All photos by mom!

That night we stayed at Aparthotel Adagio Lyon Patio Confluence. The hotel is near Lyon Perrache train station, a little farther away from the center of town (since this was a last-minute trip, there weren’t a lot of options). That said, I was completely satisfied with the stay — super kind and courteous staff, spacious room, nice room, good buffet breakfast.

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Paris

I think this must have been the 5th time I’ve stayed overnight in Paris. Over the years, my stays have included:

This time we stayed at the Hotel Relais du Louvre, a four-star property that charged nearly 600 euros for three nights in a twin room. This being central Paris, real estate was precious. The room had a nice view but was tiny. Every time we left the hotel, the front desk asked to hold on to our room key because “it’s safer this way”. For that reason alone, I don’t think I’d stay at this hotel again, but otherwise it was nice.

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The Church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois was right outside our window.

Breakfast was 15 euros per person and had to be pre-ordered the night before, then brought up to the room in the morning. We just had coffee, orange juice, two fruits and an assortment of bread. We also could have asked for ham and muesli, but this was enough.

It was nice to see big teddy bears wearing fake festive beards outside many of the neighborhood cafes.

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For our first full day in Paris, I got us tickets to Disneyland Paris. I really don’t want to sound like a grinch, but it was… not the greatest experience. Having grown up in Georgia, I’d visited Walt Disney World in Orlando at least 4-5 times throughout my life. I had certain expectations when came to Disney Parks, and as a result I was disappointed. (After I had come back to Geneva, I told some colleagues about this, and everyone was like, uh, yeah, Disneyland Paris kind of sucks, thought you knew that. Rookie mistake on my part.)

I think there were a number of factors that made it an unsatisfactory visit:

  1. Bad weather. Much like Geneva, Paris in winter is grey and gloomy. On top of that, it was chillingly cold. If you wanted to go inside to keep warm, your choices were a restaurant, gift shop, or a ride. I was really surprised that they didn’t put anything outside, such as heaters, to keep people warm — the diners at outdoor restaurants were visibly trembling as they ate their food. Disneyland Paris is not a good place to visit in the winter.
  2. Poor masking. We only did one ride, and while we were waiting in the (cramped) line, the people in front of us got into a verbal spat over masking. As much as 30-40% of the adults were wearing masks under their noses or chins, and very few children were masked. The employees clearly could not be arsed to tell anyone to fix their mask. It was an omicron breeding ground.
  3. The park seemed old and broken down. Lots of sections were closed for refurbishment. The parts that were open seemed old and sad, with outdated animatronics, garish paint and bored, grumpy-looking staff.

We arrived at the park at 10am, had lunch at the Agrabah Cafe, and left at 3pm. The cafe was the one bright spot of the day — not terribly cold, staff was nice, and most of the food was still warm.

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Technically you’re supposed to reserve this place in advance, which I did, but it was not crowded at all.
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The food was self-serve buffet style, I think at 36 euros per person.
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Had a chuckle to myself, picturing a grumpy French person dancing under the Goofy costume.
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Couldn’t resist making this meme and sending it to my Belgian coworker who is a “Disney-head”.

The second day, we did touristy stuff around Paris, mostly for my mom’s benefit.

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Near-empty square outside the Louvre.
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A Pass Sanitaire is required to get near the Eiffel Tower.

Near the Eiffel Tower, we also visited the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris. It was nice but deserted and had one exhibit on architecture; I imagine the place is more lively during normal times.

After that, we also went window-shopping at the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, an old department store with a stunning interior.

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Christmas decorations at the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann.
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You can get an almost panoramic view of Paris from the rooftop terrace.
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I got a copy of The Testaments from the English section of the bookstore.

After lunch, we walked into a nearby pharmacy and had antigen tests done on the spot. (Switzerland is requiring negative tests for travel from all foreign countries except border regions in France, Germany, Italy, etc.) It cost 25 euros per person, and we received the results by text about 15 minutes later.

In the afternoon, we browsed a couple of secondhand stores and had coffee in Le Marais, a chic, buzzy district I had never been to.

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Even though this trip was far from perfect, I’m happy that I was able to treat my mom to a nice vacation in Paris (of course she took a million pictures and posted about the trip nonstop on WeChat for her friends to see, ha). It’s been a tough year for her, and she deserves this.

Another thing that I’m happy about is the fact that I can now travel in France without needing to switch to English. When I first came here in 2019, I had to rely on my friend to order for us at the restaurant. Now I’m the one doing all of that, ordering food and calling people and arranging COVID tests. Even in Paris, where people tend to speak faster, I’ve found that I can generally keep up. I now have a different appreciation of Paris and France, compared to when I first came here as a tourist in 2015 and didn’t know a word of French.

Although I don’t think I would come back during the winter months again. Cold weather and grey skies make me so grumpy!

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