Thursday, 13 October 2011

AN ‘L’ OF A JOURNEY – LANSING, LONDON AND LYON

Shuttling between terminals at Chicago O'Hare


First Class in an United Airlines B767-300


First Class on the Heathrow Express
Swimming Pool at the Grand Hotel des Terreaux


Lyon beat Paris in providing a fleet of hire-cycles


A detail of the Lyon Fresco


The River Saone in Lyon


Toilet door at the Cafe des Federations


Graffiti atop the Fourviere Basilica


The Lyon Opera from the roof of the Fourviere Basilica
Macaroons in the Paul Bocuse Market


Lyon tram
At Capital City Airport, Lansing, there are two personnel on duty at United check-in. I double-check that my bags are through-checked. Transport and Security Administration seem to have more blue-shirted staff than there are passengers. But it makes for an easy transition to the business lounge
At the gate, there’s a hiatus when the same man who checked me in has to tell a wheelchair passenger that he can’t get on the flight because the airport-owned device to lift him on to the aircraft has broken and nobody can be found to mend it.
In Chicago, I am expecting to have a challenge changing terminals, but United has a little shuttle bus, which achieves the objective within minutes by crossing the taxiways while dodging arriving and departing aircraft. Another first!
I check the boards for my London-bound flight, which is nowhere to be seen. In United’s Red Carpet Lounge, I am told that the aircraft has a maintenance issue and that my flight will either be cancelled or badly delayed. Oh what joy. So I am waitlisted on the next available flight, one of which is already boarding.
United’s system for such eventualities appears to be that you turn up at the gate, irrespective of the class in which you are booked,  until everyone else is on board and wait to see if there’s a seat. There is, but it is down the back end. No thank you.
 An hour later, the same palaver all over again, with no clue as to whether I’ll be on the flight or stuck at O’Hare overnight. Gate supervisor Editha is clearly hassled and is busy changing seat allocations and calling standby passengers forward. I stand in front of her for twenty minutes and not once does she smile, say anything to me, or make eye contact. Then, without a murmur or change of facial expression, she hands me a boarding card for First Class.
I hand her my luggage tags to ensure that my bags, which I have been told are in a ‘Priority handling area’ are loaded on to the plane and scamper back to the nearby lounge to collect my iPad and carry on luggage.
On the B767-300, the First Class cabin only has six seats, one of which is reserved for an off-duty pilot. With two cabin crew for just five passengers, the service from the British male staff is friendly and efficient. The quality of the fit is, in my opinion, second only to the Air New Zealand/Virgin Atlantic business-class offering, but is similarly impressive, with lie-flat beds and plenty of storage space. The quality of the catering is also splendid. (I check later on the price and discover that a single First Class Chicago to London fare is $9500 US, more or less the same as my round the world business class ticket!)
After a good night’s sleep, I watch the priority luggage go round the carousel with no sign of either of my bags. When I check at the United desk, the lady tells me that they are still in Chicago. She can’t tell me why they are not on their way on my original plane, which, despite all the misinformation in Chicago, is due to arrive at Heathrow on schedule.
Of course the bags don’t arrive home when promised and, as in Chicago, the quality of care and communication from United Airlines is woeful. Indeed, as I write this, some 10 days later, they have still not demonstrated any real element of care or concern. However, the bags do arrive home – eventually.
Anyway, not to dwell on that, because my final destination calls. I use the fast and efficient Heathrow Express to reach central London and, uncluttered by baggage, transfer stations to reach my ultimate destination of Stansted Airport.
From there, it’s only an 80 minute EasyJet flight to Lyon in France, where the airport has a spectacular building designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the man behind the Guggenheim in Bilbao.
I am staying at the Grand Hotel des Terreaux, perfectly situated on the peninsula between the rivers Saone and Rhone in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Area. It’s only a three-star, but the former coaching inn has been splendidly refurbished with a most attractive reception and bar area. There’s even a small swimming pool and Jacuzzi featuring stones from a former church!
Rhone-Alpes tourism has kindly organised a guide but, as often happens, she tries to cram in far too much in too short a time. But at least we get to see some of Lyon’s fascinating ‘Traboules’, little passageways through buildings which link adjoining streets.
There’s a lovely atmosphere in the city, very outdoorsy, unthreatening, calm, relaxed.
As in many cities around the world, Lyon has a ‘City Card’, which for €41, gives you three days unlimited access to museums, attractions and public transport. (Passes for one or two days are also available).
And what a wonderful public transport system Lyon has. Four metro lines, trolleybuses, trams and buses, it really is incredibly impressive.
One of the funicular lines takes you to the foot of the Fourviere Basilica, completed in 1896. Most often, I avoid religious buildings but, twice a day, a small group of visitors gets taken on a ‘Visite Insolite’ (unusual visit) of the upper galleries and rooftops. The views across the peninsula across the city towards Switzerland are truly spectacular. The 80-minute tours are, however, totally in French and I’ll admit to having tuned out after 30 minutes of intense concentration.
Just down the hill is the impressive Roman Amphitheatre, still used as a concert venue and, below, the narrow streets of the charming medieval old town.
One of the friendly receptionists at the hotel has recommended the nearby ‘Leon de Lyon’ for dinner and it turns out to be a really good choice with nicely prepared food and a great atmosphere. At under €70 for a meal for two, including drinks, good value as well.
Hotels in France can often be parsimonious about their breakfast offering, but the Grand Hotel has an excellent spread of cereals, bread, pastries, meat, cheese and two
types of egg. Certainly about the best breakfast I have ever had in France.
While my chum Pat goes off to explore the splendid fine arts museum, I use my Lyon card to do some serious examination of the comprehensive public transport system, which I can’t fault.
One discovery I make is that the Metro Line to the former workers’ area, Croix Rousse, is so steep that the trains are assisted by a rack and pinion system, which I don’t think I have experienced before in a city underground network.
I hire a bike from ‘Velo V’, Lyon’s excellent and cheap cycle hire scheme, which introduced the system two years before Paris, and have a lovely time pottering along the banks of the River Rhone.
Lyon was very much the centre of French Resistance during World War Two and there’s an excellent museum devoted to the story. Aided by an informative audio guide, it documents a fascinating, if horrific, period of local history. At the end of the tour it moves away from resistance to holocaust, which is terribly moving.
My host Isabelle meets me for lunch at the Café des Federations to have a typical Lyonnais ‘Bouchon’. We are berated in impeccable French and English by the Rumanian waitress, Sabina, for not making a great deal of inroad into the huge portions. No wonder the gent’s loo has a brilliant cartoon of a pig on the door!
Nearby, just in front of the fine arts museum, is the splendid Bartholdi fountain, originally destined for Bordeaux, but bought for Lyon when the original purchasers couldn’t stump up the cash!
I am a huge fan of produce markets, so set off on the C3 trolleybus for the Paul Bocuse market. While it’s hugely impressive, with a vast array of mouth-watering top-end products, it’s not what I am looking for. Near the hotel, on the banks of the River Saone, I get what I want. A local market with freshly harvested fruit, veg. and locally produced cheese and honey.
In the evening, we wander off to find a restaurant and strike gold. The ‘Second Soufflé’ jazz restaurant at 5 rue Neuve has been opened for less than a month and, accompanied by a very shortsighted pianist expertly tinkling the ivories, we have the best meal I have had anywhere on the current trip around the world. They do say that Lyon is one of the centres of French gastronomy – and they are not wrong!
The following morning, I have time for another cycle ride and a visit to the local bakery to buy some crusty French bread to take home. I sit by the Rhone watching the world go by and am lured to busy Perrache Station and the vast Bellecour Square to see the comings and goings.
Lyon has been a revelation. It’s a city that is chock-full of surprises, historic, charming, picturesque, accessible and really tourist-friendly.
Back at Lyon Airport, there’s no architect-designed terminal for EasyJet. Instead, the modern equivalent of a marquee, poorly equipped, cramped and not very clean, with inadequate seating. Of all the airport terminals I have visited over the past two months, it’s far and away the worst.
Just as I started this trip, it’s back on the train to Norwich and an easy bus trip home.
With no suitcases and only carry on luggage, it’s a painless process.
And so, journey’s end.
Sixty days to go round the world with almost no changes to the original plans and a week on top to do Lyon and wait in vain for the promised calls from United Airlines.
Thanks to the many folk who have been so wonderfully supportive of the trip and with whom I have interacted since I left my home in Norfolk, England, on February 28th. People who were acquaintances are now friends. Links with existing chums are now closer than before.
Also, my sincere appreciation to the more than five thousand people who are now reading the blog. Your kind comments and encouragement have helped keep me sane.
Thank you.


A selection of images from all the destinations visited in ‘Around the World in 60 days’ is at




Lyon photographs are at:










Regional Express train at Perrache Station


Bellecour Square


Lyon Airport's dreaful Terminal 3


Journey's End: Norwich Bus Station