March 18, 2002
Off to Lyon! Well, more specifically, Bourg en Bresse, a quaint (read 'little') town 60 km north of Lyon in the Rhone-Alpes region. Actually, more precisely, Chateau Gaillard, a little (read 'diminutive') village in which one of my cousins had settled down. In order to travel lightly, we packed one small overnight bag each and arranged for the hotel to store the rest of our luggage until we returned. We joined the crush of Monday morning commuters in the metro maze and climbed aboard the TGV, France's high-speed train. Sleek (electrically powered steel and aluminum . . . shiny!), swift (speeds of 300 kmh or 186 mph although it broke a world record when it reached 515.3 kmh or 320.2 mph in 1990), and a sweet, comfortable ride.
It was a brilliant, sunny day and the rolling green hills and pastures flecked with white, wooly sheep sped by in a blur. The train smoothly pulled into the station right on time for us to make our connection. We had some snacks, stood patiently on our platform, and watched the passengers mill about the station. When our departure time neared, we approached a conductor to confirm which train would take us to Bourge en Bress. By the time we made ourselves understood, the junky train we were standing next to started to pull away. By the time the conductor made himself understood, we realized that that was our train. Oops.
Luckily, another train was available and eventually, we arrived at Gare de Part Dieu. My cousin picked us up, brought us to her charming house surrounded by lush fields and monster-sized forsythia, and fed us a proper Pakistan lunch which gave our stomachs a little break from all of the rich creams in which we had been indulging. Imagine that, curry to settle the stomach. When her gorgeous daughters (complete with large, liquid eyes and French pouts even when smiling) came home from school, we took a little excursion to St. Denis Tower, an ancient, dilapidated stone structure overlooking the village. The sunny day had given way to a wet dusk and eventually, the rain drove us back into the car for a quick tour of the town before returning home. The rest of the evening was spent playing games, coloring, watching old home movies, and catching up in 1/3 English, 1/3 French, and 1/3 Punjabi.
When night fell, it really fell. It was pitch black outside with no street lights, no car lights, and no store lights to pierce the darkness. The room we were given to sleep in had thick, wooden shutters that would effectively block any overeager, early morning light that might dare to wake us up early. No traffic noises, no neighbors voices, no nothing. It was almost too dark and too quiet to sleep, but we made a valiant effort and finally fell into the arms of Morpheus. Vive le sommeil!