This weekend, we headed off to the city of Lyon, for a gastronomic tour of epic proportions. With 27 Michelin-starred restaurants, Lyon is known as the culinary heart of France, which means it’s also considered one of the top eating destinations in the world. Since it’s only an hour and a half train ride, we decided to hop the TGV and make a weekend of it!

First of all, the food…as many of you know, Sophia doesn’t mess around when it comes to eating. She knows her chefs, her ingredients, and is among the best restaurant-searchers I know. As a result, we were able to get reservations to the brasseries of two of France’s most famous chefs, Paul Bocuse and Georges Blanc. And let me tell you…they served some heavy dishes! Escargot in a thick butter and herb sauce, chicken in a rich butter sauce, quennelle that melted in your mouth (probably with some butter thrown in there somewhere)…everything was so good, that we even tried liver! It also was ridiculously good. The bonus part of all this, is that each meal was still cheaper than the average meal in Geneva…as such, it’s going to be tough to ever surpass this in terms of an “eating weekend”.

The city of Lyon itself is pretty cool. It has one of the larger old towns in Europe, as well as some decent Roman ruins. There is also a great view of the city on a nearby hillside, where one of the most impressive and ornate cathedrals I’ve yet seen sits. That said, the city itself is kind of…dull somehow. I think it’s due to the fact that almost every street is filled with chain stores and bank branches. Outside of the old town, none of the streets had much of a personality, which is kind of the exact opposite of Paris. Also, there were an inordinate amount of pubs. We counted 8 just on Saturday, and we weren’t even exploring like we usually do. Only ran into one Starbucks though…which is odd, because in most French cities the pub-to-Starbucks ratio is the other way around! Lastly, there was a huge mall there – one of the biggest in Europe, apparently. As we were walking through it, Soph and I both looked at each other and said “this reminds me a lot of Columbia Mall (in Baltimore)”. Weird.

We didn’t have too many dealings with the locals, but in true French fashion we did receive at least one dirty look. We were on the subway, and Soph winked at a little child who was staring at her. The kid scrunched up her face trying to wink back, at which point the father barked at her and glared at us. Ahh, France…on the other hand, we went into a wine store (which was ridiculously awesome), and the guy went over my list of wine producers and spent about fifteen minutes telling me the story of each one, and what made them good / bad. Wine store guys rule!

On the whole, this was a fun weekend – especially for a Valentine’s Day. Soph got to eat at a lot of good restaurants; I got to walk around a cool Old Town; the weather was sunny (although cold)…what’s not to enjoy?

Next weekend: More skiing!

Verbier Deux!

Last year, on this very weekend, we took a trip with a bunch of friends to the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. It was one of those weekends that, among other things, became legendary for a variety of reasons. Part of it was the lodging we had, affectionately known as “The Bunker”. Another aspect was the skiing, which saw us have to deal with inclines that seemed more like cliffs than ski slopes. There was also the party scene, where a handful of us stayed out well past 4:00 in the morning, which is something that just doesn’t happen more than once every couple of years. As a result, there was a lot of hype that had to be lived up to, and this time we had an even larger crew along for the ride!

First, let me revisit The Bunker. The Bunker is, without any doubt in my mind, the single worst place to sleep in continental Europe. I would even go so far as to extend this distinction to the entire Western Hemisphere, as well as Asia and Australia. It’s literally an old World War II bomb shelter, with no windows, a set of air-lock doors, and a descent of about fifty yards into something that, if you were faced with it in a horror movie, you know there would be some kind of zombie or man-eating alien creature at the end of it. Oh, also there are no locks on any doors, it’s co-ed, and there are about 16 beds per room, and they are laid out so that every bed touches at least one other bed on either the right or left (and they’re all bunkbeds).

The other thing about The Bunker is, it’s not cheap. I mean, you expect to have bad accommodations when you’re paying hostel prices, but The Bunker runs about $50 per person, which is more than most Holiday Inns. Luckily this year, the trip organizer was able to score a deal with another hostel, which seemed like a palace in comparison. Thus, with lodging taken care of, things were looking good.

We’ve been lucky up to now in that we’ve generally had good weather for skiing. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to beat going out to the mountains and seeing not a single cloud in the sky. This weekend, however, we were caught in a raging blizzard. It was probably the hardest snowfall I’ve ever been outside in, but that being said, it was awesome. Most people left the slopes (due to extremely low visibility), but a couple of us stayed on, and were rewarded with excellent powder and tons of wide-open space. The visibility did make it a bit dangerous, as you couldn’t see bumps or small changes in elevation, but that also made it kind of exciting. All in all, it was a good day for skiing, and again, no major injuries were sustained.

Lastly, there was the nightlife that we had to live up to. This time, everybody was ready, and we headed out to a lounge, and then a club. It’s odd being in a club anymore, as I always expect to feel like the old guy in the corner; but in Verbier, there were plenty of other old people (in club years, which means you have to multiply every birthday by 5 after the age of 21). And as far as the whole 4am thing…well, there were about eight of us who made it! Was actually a lot easier than it should have been, although it kind of sucked when the hostel came in and told us to get out at 10am the next morning. Leave it to the Swiss to be sticklers on their check-out times!

Next weekend: Lyon!

Random Snowboard Weekend

Another gray weekend in Geneva, another beautiful sunny day in the mountains. While Geneva’s weather is by no means bad, there sure are a lot of sunless days during the winter. Since it had been a couple weeks since I’d seen the sun, I jumped on a ski bus and headed to France. The first hour of the trip seemed like it might have been a waste, as we kept gaining in altitude, but the clouds didn’t disappear. Finally, though, we cleared them, and bright, sunny skies awaited.

I’m continuing to work on the snowboarding thing that I foolishly started this season. This weekend, I was working on what is called “connecting turns”. To the layperson, that means “turning”, and as you can understand, it’s a somewhat important trick to add to your repertoire. The good news is, I made it through the day without sustaining so much as a minor injury, which is always a positive. The bad news is, I still fell probably more than 30 times. I think I’ve just learned to fall on the parts of my body that are less important, such as my head. I’ve also learned how to say “I’m going to fall” in French, and I repeated it to just about anyone who would listen. Hey – that’s using the future tense – that’s a positive step!

On the topic of snowboarding, I want to revisit something I mentioned in an earlier post; that is, the J-Bar. Previously, I had called these things the minions of evil, and went on to describe why this was a correct statement. Since that first time, I had thought that maybe I had been a little harsh. The past two times I went snowboarding, I really didn’t have any trouble with them, and they had been kind of convenient in many ways. This weekend, however, they decided to remind me of how thoroughly vile an apparatus they are. When I first got on one, I was all ready to go, and the thing paused for a moment, then shot me from 0 to 25 mph in about half a second. I managed to stay on, but let’s just say that the future generation of Wintermeyers weren’t particularly happy. The next time I tried the J-Bar, there was no way I would be able to hold on, so I just let it go, at which point the guy who was running the lift thought he would try and berate me (what he didn’t know was that I’m impervious to yelling in the French language). So I then used a different J-Bar, and within about 20 feet of getting up the hill, the machine broke down; just wasn’t my day I guess. That said, a third incident saw some other guy try to use the J-Bar (who happened to be 2 people in front of me), and the entire thing fell off the line it was attached to! That was totally meant for me, but thankfully machines aren’t yet advanced enough to get their timing down.

All in all, however, it was a good weekend snowboarding, with beautiful sunny skies, relatively warm weather, and no major injuries. Also, Geneva wasn’t the place to be anyway, as there were riots going on downtown. Yes, riots – apparently the police fired tear gas at some protestors, which is pretty cool. I don’t know that it was getting particularly violent or anything, but our theory is that the police normally don’t get to use their muscle around here, so on those rare occasions when they see demonstrators, they go all out and just wail on them. Gotta love Switzerland!

Next weekend: Verbier!