Repaying a night of hospitality with friends in Lyon, France

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By: Rachel Shenk

Here we go again. We have just boarded the TGV (Train of Great Velocity) in Lyon, France, and are on our way to Paris.

We are again amazed at the huge number of people using the train, and that we will be in Paris in less than two hours for a very fair price. But we are sad to leave Lyon, the other “city of light.”

Our departure from the Mediterranean coast, the land of cypresses and palm trees, was also sad but our goodbye coffee on a sunny square with our hostess, Sophie, made it a little more bearable.

With her “Au revoir!” and “A l’année prochaine” (’Til next year) still ringing in our ears, we climbed aboard the train to Lyon.

We chose Lyon as our destination because we had met some friends in Elkhart from this second largest city in France. They came to our house for a bike ride on the Pumpkinvine and a woodfired pizza meal in our backyard. And they suggested that the next time we crossed the ocean, they would return the favour.

On arrival in this unknown-to-us town, we find a light filled apartment rental in the old Lyon and a city whose rhythm suits ours.

The warm sun of the Mediterranean and the slower pace of life of southern France follows us here and we spend our days exploring the ups and downs of the city. Lyon sits on two rivers, so the city divides itself into three parts: left bank, right bank and the presqu’ile in between.

Our approach when we arrive somewhere sight unseen is to soak in the local flavor. So our first walk takes us across the river to an open square where we stop for a café crème and absorb the mood around us.

Next to us, a grandma, her two grandsons and her daughter have stopped after school for coffees and drinks. An older gentleman is sitting having a beer. Local life is thriving with people out walking, shopping and stopping to pick up daily groceries.

We take the funicular up the hill for an amazing view of the sprawl below. The ruins of a Roman theater and aqueduct still standing remind us that people have lived here for over 2,000 years, coming and going on the river.

We also climb another hill to catch the view from this working class neighborhood. We take the stairs down both hills and feel our muscles tightening once we sit for a drink.

Mostly, though, we are looking forward to our meal with our friends, Simon and Marie, in their apartment. And we are not disappointed!

Despite their very busy schedule, they serve us a delicious meal of all the local specialties, topping it off with some local liqueur and moonshine. That four-hour slice becomes the highlight of our stay.

We share memories and make new ones. Now in our mind’s eye, we know where they live and we know what their local is. And that means more than anything to us.

The two hour train ride is almost up. It’s time to switch gears. Goodbye, Lyon; goodbye, Simon et Marie. Hello, Paris!

Here is a dish we made on our last night on the Mediterranean. Its flavours carry the influences of North Africa.

Lamb Shank Tagine

Ingredients

  • 1 lamb shank, about 1 lb.
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • ½ tsp. cardamom
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne
  • a pinch of saffron
  • 2 tomatoes, diced and their juice
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 small new potatoes, diced
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup pumpkin, peeled and diced
  • 4 slices of lime
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • couscous, as an accompaniment  

Directions

  1. Brown the lamb shank on both sides in some olive oil. Set aside on a plate.
  2. Brown the onions in some olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and remaining spices.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar and water. Stir in the two types of potatoes and pumpkin and lime slices and just bring to a boil.
  4. Transfer to a casserole. Add the lamb and spoon some of the mixture over the lamb.
  5. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for about two hours or until the vegetables and meat are tender. Serve with couscous.
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