Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 33: Festival of Lights 2010

Welcome to France! The land of stinky cheese, cigarettes, and lovely people.

Laughter permeated my first night here. I couldn't stop giggling to myself while repeating "You're in France" (In a thick french accent) inside my head. I'm in a new country with a roof over my head, and two beautiful hosts. CouchSurfing comes through once again. Life is good.

There was a lot to absorb. I'm glad we spent the first night in. My hosts, Florent and Alice are awesome. They just finished a CouchSurfing tour through South America. They felt like it was time to give back to the community, so once they got home they opened their couch. I received a generous welcome – a freezing room to myself and a hot meal. I was in heaven (or France)!

Florent mixing his rap track.

As we had both been traveling, we exchanged a handful of stories about our travels. My favorite story of theirs involved introductions in Spain. Apparently, "Florent" In Spanish is the equivalent of "bum." After enduring some friendly abuse from the locals, he began introducing himself as "Flo." This wasn't much better as they thought he was saying "Flow," and started calling him "mucho flow," a popular Spanish saying. We joked about how they might make fun of his name if it were shortened to "F." Poor Florent! Good thing he was back in France, where no one would make fun of him.

Before bed I asked Alice what time she normally woke up. She shrugged "somewhere between 11 and 1," she laughed. I knew I would fit in.

Alice kept threatening to throw me out the window.

The next morning came and went. I woke up at 1. Nice. I spent the day bumming around the apartment until later that night when a handful of their friends came over. I felt awkward. Not being able to easily communicate is difficult. Meeting new people is hard enough. I spent most of the night reading travel blogs. Lame! But I had a good time none-the-less. We were headed out to the Festival of Lights, but not in the center of the city. There was an event happening in a nearby park. CouchSurfer backstage pass!

When I first discovered the Festival of Lights I planned to be in Lyon on the 8th for the festival's beginning. I supposed that the festival would go through the weekend from the 8th-12th. Unfortunately, the main celebration was on the 8th! The festival's roots date back to the middle ages. As the black plague swept over Europe, people were desperate to save themselves. The citizens of Lyon dedicated the town to the Virgin Mary in hopes that she would keep them safe from the plague. In 1852 the celebration was going to be canceled due to a storm. By some miracle, the skies cleared and the citizens of Lyon lit candles in their windows and took to the streets. They illuminated the whole town and celebrated late into the night. Today people put cinnamon coated candles in their windows. I wish I was around to smell them!

Fete des Lumiares 2010!

Despite missing the main celebration, I was happy to hang out with locals in their environment. Since we all couldn't fit in the car, we waited for Florent and a few others who were coming by bike. As we waited in the park, I absorbed the chill vibe. There weren't any fireworks. Instead, thousands of candles burned. I felt like I was back at Art Outside. Fire everywhere – awesome – my kind of celebration.

This dude had a crazy flame contraption.
One man loop band. Outstanding!
Alice makes me laugh.
Inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, take note.
Beautiful steel sculpture thinger.
Cold, ah. Hot, oo.
The gang!

I had a lovely time experiencing the park with the gang but I wanted to go into the center and throw myself into the fray. No one wanted to come with me? No problemo! We parted ways at a bridge along the Rhône.

Crossing the bridge of no return.

Psyched and reasonably drunk, I headed towards the light.

Lyon was beautiful. Look at that sky.

The festival has come a long way since the medieval ages. As I walked through the streets I was overwhelmed by everything going on around me. There were as many lights as there were people. Sophisticated projectors displayed psychedelic videos over the façades of buildings. Monsters rose from the mist of fountains. Every element of the festival tried to bend reality. Interestingly, Lyon is famous for trompe-l'œil, an illusionary method of painting intended to trick the eye into thinking its real. It was interesting to be a part of this 'bent reality,' seeing the reality they created.

The streets were packed!
The buildings were colored!

Despite the small mountain of food that I ate before leaving the house, I eyed up every snack stand I passed. There were signs for churros, crepes, and french fries – the usual. When I saw a sign for "American sandwich" I was so curious that I almost bought one. Later, when I found out what was in it, I wish I did. The French delicacy, "The American Sandwich" includes bread, meat, lettuce, tomato, onion, and french fries, on the sandwich. What gives? We don't even make sandwiches that good in America! All of my years I have dreamt of a sandwich of this caliber and I found one in France!

Real American sandwiches made by Turks.

I continued meandering around the streets. I mainly walked down Rue de la Republique, the 5th Avenue of Lyon. Fittingly, the street was replete with lights. All of the buildings were bathed in a red light while illuminated origami birds flew over the street. There were groups of these giant desk lamps that would have made Pixar jealous. At one point I wandered off the strip and I saw a queue of people, so I joined them. Ross' Recommendation #98: Excluding hospitals and public bathrooms, lines lead to good things. We filed into some sort of courtyard area lit by trippy green lights

Ginormous lamps.
This is probably an important building.
Rave wave.

After the rave wave I continued down Rue de la Republique, enjoying my time at the Festival of Lights. I stumbled upon grande roue (ferris wheel) on Place Bellecoure. For the festival the wheel was illuminated and they were projecting onto a large central screen. It was a sight to see!

Fourviere and the grande roue on Palace Bellecoure.
Time. It's your friend.

It was getting late and I still needed to see Fourviere and get home before the subway closed. Fourverie is Lyon's most well known landmark. It was decked out with beautiful lights for the celebration. The building was constantly changing color and behind it there were spotlights that shone out over the whole town. Quite a sight, but I needed to see it up close, so up the hill I went. The climb was steep. If I had drank more beers this trek would have been bad news. I passed a number of people who looked like they were going to pass out. Once I got to the top I hunkered down on top of a wall to take the view in. I'd imagine Lyon is normally beautiful at night but during the festival it was spectacular. I enjoyed picking out landmarks of places where I had been and visualizing the path I walked. A great conclusion to the night.


The end of a steep climb.

I highly recommend the Festival of Lights. I wish I got here for the 8th when the majority of the celebration took place but nonetheless, the Festival of Light was a force to behold. Seeing two halves of the festival was a treat. Hanging out with locals gave me the opportunity to experience something I wouldn't have otherwise. While seeing the festival in the heart of the city allowed me to experience all the energy and excitement that came with. I had a blast.

Some other important building!
Another player in Lyon's illusions.
Real or fake?

Thankfully I got to the subway in time. Better yet, it was free! Tonight I realized two bits America should learn from France. Firstly, we need to make our sandwiches more 'American'. Secondly, NYC's MTA should give out some free rides every now and then. At the stop before mine two kids about my age got off, tapped on the window next to me and made goofy faces. "Yeah, I had a good night too," I thought. Bonne nuit!

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