Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Vienne (or Vienna in English) is the capital, and largest city, of Austria. The famous home of Mozart, Beethoven, and Johann Strauss. It is the birthplace of the waltz and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

Or at least I assume it is, I've never actually been there. We didn't go to that Vienne, we went to the Vienne in the suburbs about 20 kilometers outside of Lyon.

This Vienne was awesome too. A much smaller city of less than 30,000 people, it's just an 18 minute train ride from the station near my house. Like Lyon it was founded by the Romans over 2,000 years ago, and has a few interesting, and well preserved, ruins from that time. Like this:

We only spent a day there, but that is probably enough to see what you want to see. There is a really cool Roman history and art museum and a pretty nice castle a few miles outside of town that we missed, but otherwise we saw the big highlights. A couple of really cool churches, the Roman temple above, an old roman amphitheater, and a really nice park (with a pretty good skate park next to it).

One of the cool churches

Like all cities in France, Vienne has a pretty cool church on the hill over looking the city named after Notre Dame (Our Lady). It's not as cool as the one in Lyon or Marseille, but it also has a pretty cool view of the city. If you look on the right hand side of this picture, you will see the remains of the old castle looking over the city.

I also ran into one of the most famous people in France getting her hair cut, so of course I had to interrupt her and get an autograph and a photo!

Actually I have no idea who this person is. Her mother stopped me on the street and asked me to play a joke on her daughter for her 20th birthday. So I ran into the beauty shop telling her how much I loved her last movie and how I really wanted her autograph and a picture. I look like a total dork in this picture, but I thought it was cool, and I hope she did too.

Overall we had a good day. Saw a lot of cool stuff, talked to a few cool people, had a really good italian dinner, and watched some drunk kid puke on the nicely landscaped trees near the train station. They have a roman festival and a jazz festival coming up, so I will probably return for another visit soon.

Anyway, for more pictures of Vienne, check this out.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Una de mis bandas favoritas estuvo en Lyon esta semana, y George y yo fuimos a verlos el viernes. Ska-P es una banda español de ska/punk rock. Su musica es rapida et sus letras son muy critica al capitalismo y la mondialisation, et un poco anarquista (como la mayoría de las bandas de punk rock). Me gusta mucho, tuve que ir.

Ska-p Live

If you are not down with anti-capitalist, animal rights activist, anti-globalization, pro-union, peace loving, mohawk having, spanish punk bands, don't bother clicking the link above. But if you like your punk rock with a brass section, you might dig it. That video is not the concert I went to, but since my nikon coolpix is incapable of capturing decent audio, I linked to a slightly more professional video of a live performance. That video is from a earlier performance in Paris.

Despite being a spanish band singing in spanish in Lyon, France where nearly nobody speaks spanish, the place was packed. George was upset that they had a different band open for them (apparently in Hong Kong, concerts just have a single performer), but they played for about 2 hours after the opening act, and the crowd never stopped moving.

Security for shows like this is a little different in France than it is in the US. In the US I have had pocket knifes confiscated, been told my camera was too sophisticated to bring in, or even told back packs simply are not allowed. At this show, my backpack, pocket knife, and camera were fine, but I had to check my water bottle! Seriously, they took my empty water bottle and gave me a number so I could pick it up after the show.

The concert was held at Halle Tony Garnier in Lyon, which was originally built about 100 years ago as a place to sell and slaughter cattle.

I think the place is a bit fancy for a meat market, but Tony (the Tony Garnier this place is named after) had a plan when he built it. He had planned out a utopian industrial city where all of the people would live close to their places of work, and all the schools and factories and stuff would be beautiful and nice to strengthen the community. He also didn't put any law enforcement or churches in this area, because in such a beautiful paradise of a city, people would govern themselves fairly.

Interestingly, this utopian area of Lyon is called "The United States" (after the name of the main road that runs thru it) and like most industrial areas of any city, it is not one of the nicer areas of town.

In fairness to Tony, World War 2 began before he could finish his project. Right about the time WW2 ended and France was picking up the pieces, Tony died.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Île Barbe

Île Barbe (barbarian island, or maybe island beard) is a small island in the Saône river on the north side of Lyon. It was originally a monastery, but I am not sure what it is now. The north 3/4ths of the island is closed off behind giant fences, but the south side is a nice little park connected to both sides of the mainland by an uncomfortably skinny bridge (that is open to vehicle traffic too).

The area around Île Barbe is kinda cool too. I especially like this.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Marseille is just a few hours south of Lyon. It's right on the Mediterranean in the heart of Provence, where it is always sunny and warm. So of course when George and I arrived in Marseille it was pouring rain.

Actually, when we first got there it was just cloudy. So we took our time getting from the train station to our hotel, and grabbing a nice lunch on the way there.

Marseille has a really cool train station.

After getting lunch and checking into our hotel, we decided to head out to explore the area. That was just about the same time the monsoon rolled in. Our hotel was located in the super touristy Vieux Port (old port) area, but instead of heading straight to the area most exposed to the elements, we decided to explore the city north of us a bit and keep the buildings around us to protect from the wind a bit. This was probably a mistake.

Neither of us knew anything about Marseille expect that it was on the sea and was famous for soap. Well, for a city famous for soap Marseille sure is dirty! The streets were covered in trash, the buildings covered in grafitti and falling apart, and the stench was pretty bad at times. Maybe it was the monsoon blowing over trash cans or something, but whatever it was, our first introduction to Marseille was not starting good. We ended up getting subway for dinner and taking it back to the hotel, because we were a little bummed with the environment.

The next day the weather cleared up a bit, and the rain turned to a light on and off again drizzle, so we headed to the cool part of town. The old port area of Marseille is pretty cool. The port is tiny, but it has these awesome forts at each side of the entrance to protect it, and the area is clean, nice, and full of great restaurants.

one of the cool forts protecting Marseille

The Food in Marseille is awesome! Being a port city, Marseille is more diverse than Lyon, and the old port area being the main tourist area, is probably even more diverse in its food offerings. Chinese, vietnamese, indian, tunisian, american, etc., the food choices were many. We had awesome seafood, some really good indian vegetarian food, a nice Louisiana style cajun dinner--everywhere we ate was awesome.

After exploring the port area for a bit, we took the touristy train ride up to the church on the hill (apparently all French cities have a church on a hill over looking the city, usually named Notre Dame). This Notre Dame isn't as cool as the Notre Dame overlooking Lyon, but it might have had a better view. Although the city of Marseille is a bit ugly IMO, it is located in a really cool coastal area surrounding by water and hills/small mountains (kinda like Los Angeles in that respect).

Everything in Marseille has a lot of steps leading up to it

The church was cool and the views of the old forts were awesome, so we decided to head down and get a closer look at them forts.

The forts were awesome, and the weather, although still cloudy, was starting to be okay, so our second day in Marseille was turning out much better than our first. We strolled this fort for a bit, and then walked all the way around the harbor to see the other one (can't the make a bridge or something?). Afterward, we had a good seafood dinner and went to a bar to see the local Marseille soccer team take on our local Lyon soccer team. Despite ending in a tie, Marseille took a one point lead over Lyon for first place in the league, so the Marseillaise were quite excited.

Our third day in Marseille began with me squinting as I woke up to the unfamiliar sight of the sun coming thru our hotel window. As mentioned above, Marseille is located in the beautiful south of France right on the Med, so we decided to hop a boat out to the sea and check out the surrounding areas.

Awesome Cliffs!

The cliffs and coves and beaches around Marseille are spectacular. The water is unnaturally blue and very clear, and overall just beautiful. When I go back to this area, I want get outside the city and do some hiking and kayaking of my own. Or maybe rent a sailboat and explore the area at my leisure.

Despite our rough introduction to Marseille we had a good time. The port area is cool, the area by the church is nice, the food is awesome, the people were great, and the natural setting is amazing. When you have a chance to go to Marseille, avoid the area north of the old port, eat a lot, and be sure to get out on the water. Oh, and buy some soap!

To see more pics of Marseille, click here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Yummy, yummy American food

There are not many "American" restaurants that I like enough to worry about not being able to find them in Lyon. As mentioned in an earlier post, a good BBQ place would be nice, but for the most part when I miss American food, I mean the stuff I eat at home. Stuff like this:

Some of this stuff can be found in Lyon. Peanut butter is becoming more common, but still 3 to 4 times more expensive than in the states, and I have seen relish in a couple places (similarly expensive), but a lot of the american junk that I like cannot be found in Lyon.

Cereal is a big problem for me. I love cereal. I eat it for nearly every breakfast, and generally at least one night per week (is that healthy?). The supermarkets of Lyon have quite a few choices in the cereal isle, but every store has pretty much the same choices--Frosted Flakes, Golden Grahams, Corn Pops, and 45 different kinds of chocolate cereal. I don't like chocolate, and don't really like my cereals to be that sweet either. I like to eat cereals that I can pretend are good for me, like Raisin Bran, Chex and Frosted Mini-Wheats. I have yet to find any of these cereals in France. Maybe I just do not know where to look yet.

Hong Kong has most of the things I missed though, so when George and I went there recently, we brought extra luggage just for groceries.

When I first came to Lyon, I could not find peanut butter, pancake syrup, pancake mix, or a few other things that I knew would be hard to live without. Coworkers were no help, and internet searches only found stores in Paris that carried these types of things, until I found Lyon Eats. That site not only contains directions for finding lots of american products, but when those products cannot be found, they have the closest french approximation! Probably the most important website I found after moving here.

Thanks LyonEats!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I'm Apte (with an e)

Because my health insurance is provided by the government, they have a vested interest in keeping me healthy. As such, they require me to pay them a visit every 6 months or so for a check up. I was summoned last week.

In France the average person "costs" about half of what the average American "costs" for healthcare. In the US these costs are split pretty evenly between the government (medicare, medicaid) and private payments (like health insurance and personal out of pocket expenses). In France the government pays for about 80% of it. Despite spending less than half of what the US spends of health care, people in France somehow live longer and healthier. Lifestyle certainly has a lot to do with this, but I also think that the french approach to healthcare is better than the US approach.

You often hear that prevention is better than reaction. It is much cheaper to keep people healthy than to wait until they become unhealthy and then try to fix them. This seems like common sense to most people, but despite how obvious this seems, I have never had a health care plan in the US that required, or incentivized in any way, regular doctor's visits and checkups. I am just as busy and lazy as the next American, so of course I never took my own initiative and scheduled my own regular checkups, and I cannot even remember the last time I went to a doctor for a non-emergency.

In France these regular checkups are required. And they are free. They check your eyes, make you pee in a cup, check your blood pressure, check your weight, ask about your diet, your work, any aches or pains, etc. Pretty routine and the goal is just to catch the bad things before they become too bad. As long as everything is good, they give you a piece of paper that says Apte and let you go on your way. If things are bad, you get something else, and are maybe required to visit other doctors or prevented from returning to work (with full pay, of course :-). I got an apte, and a big pat on the back for getting my blood pressure down from the first visit I had when I first got to France. The only negative was that I cannot remember the last time I had a round of vaccinations (polio, tetanus, diphtheria), so the doc gave me an address to get my vaccinations updated. Also free, of course.

I wonder what impact something like this would have on the average healthiness of the US. If these regular checkups detect problems, they send you to a specialist for consultation. If the doc thinks you might be carrying a few extra pounds, they send you to a nutritionist to help you get your diet right. If you are suffering from any work related illnesses, they can give you the time off to recoup.

I know I certainly tend to ignore problems until they become too difficult to ignore, so hopefully this will keep me informed on my current health.