Tag Archives: Great European Roadtrip

Great European Roadtrip: Lyon revisited

Guest post by George:
I last spent time in Lyon back in the late summer of 2002 when, being jobless, my circumstances confined me to an austerity diet of a sandwich or two a day and water from the public fountains. This time however I was determined to test the place’s reputation as the country’s gastronomic capital. So, after finally squeezing the van into a spot Friday night, Lucas and I found a typical hole-in-the-corner restaurant: think scarlet walls, retro decor and a bead curtain dividing the kitchen from the tiny dining room. Lucas enjoyed duck salad followed by chicken stew while I gobbled up asparagus soup and French black pudding. Still parched from the drive we went on to a Belgian beer bar where two locals – William (a rock drummer) and Ludo (an artist) – bought us a round and, fueled by civic pride and Chimay, expressed their love of Lyon, the Lyonais, and, most of all, the Lyonaises. The night ended in another bar where one member of the party was hoping that the Lyonaises, or at least one of them, would return his affections. Unfortunately, having drunk far too much Chimay, I cannot say if his hopes met with success. I can say however, that William and Ludo were great hosts and a lot of fun. At my current rate of progress my next dining experience in Lyon will be in a Michelin-starred joint and instead of Chimays we’ll drink champagnes–on me.

Great European Roadtrip: Tetris in Montpellier


After leaving the snowy mountains of Puigcerda Friday morning, we reached Montpellier in time for lunch on the main square. Then we went for a brief promenade and found ourselves in the middle of a life-sized Tetris game. Jean-claude, the red piece in the photo, later explained what they were doing:

“I’m giving you some context so you can tell your friends while you’re pointing out our face on the screen : we have been working for 3 years to sit an exam in order to join the greatest engineer french schools (Centrale, Polytechnique and so on). That was our last day here, training and we’re heading at two weeks of intensive work to make sure we’re ready and that will be it… We are some kind of geeks and that was the costume that came first to our head, obviously. It’s made of cardboard, tapestry and long hours of commitment… !”

Great European Roadtrip: Puigcerdà, revisited


Tonight we arrived in Puigerda, a town where I have a little history. You could say it’s where I learned how not to drive a manual transmission vehicle.

The summer after graduating from university I high-tailed it for the Pyrenees to update a Let’s Go travel guidebook. I’d heard my dad tell the story of the first time he’d rented a manual transmission car. The way he tells it is a bit cavalier: he says he drove it off the lot in first gear until he was out of earshot of the car rental agent and then taught himself to shift gears manually. I figure’d anything he could do, I could do, better, so when it came time to rent a car I didn’t ask for an automatic.

My buddy John was covering the area just south of my route, also for Let’s Go, and I enlisted him to give me a lesson. It lasted 40 minutes–the time it took me to lurch and stall my way from the Barcelona Avis office to the bus station where John would begin his route. About halfway along I decided to just leave the hazard lights on in anticipation of stalling yet again.

The freeway to Ripoll was fairly easy but by the time I had to park the car on a cobblestoned medieval alley I was uncomfortably familiar with the foul smell of burning the clutch. Two days and many mountain passes later in Puigerda, the car finally refused to go into first gear.

Avis gave me two options: return it to their office in nearby Andorra or they’d send a tow from Barcelona to pick it up. Some odd law prevented them from towing it across the border with Andorra. So a long, $1900+ wait later I handed over the vehicle and began my career as a hitchhiker.

I found a bar in the town square where a sympathetic bartender served me a caipirinha and I felt sorry for myself. Tonight, George and I are drinking in that bar. It hasn’t changed much. But this time the car I’m driving is in perfect working order.