There is nothing interesting about an Autostrada. Except that you can go fast! …but then only when the traffic is light.
We were concerned that our 850km journey was going to be a slow. It is a holiday long weekend in Italy. Memories of an horrendous journey from France to Slovakia during the February school holidays loomed large in our thoughts. But fortunately, while there were huge traffic jams for people heading east to the Dolomites , going our way to the west was virtually empty. Lucky us.
So we made good time, although we did stop every 2 hours for a leg stretch, espresso coffee and to swap drivers. At the “warp speeds” we were driving, the level of concentration is intense. Our route took us across the top part of Italy, just skimming to the north of the major cities, Milan & Turin and then under the Alps via the Frejus tunnel.
The Frejus tunnel is longer than the Mont-Blanc tunnel (13km vs 11km) and interestingly about halfway along its length and at its deepest point underground – a special laboratory called Neutrino Ettore Majorana Observatory has been set up. Personally, I’m not that comforted to know that I could get stuck in a tunnel where scientists are conducting nuclear experiments! But hey I was driving….I just kept my eyes on the road and stuck to the 70km/hr speed limit.
Thank goodness for “Gina” the GPS. We can’t even begin to imagine how stressful it would have been to travel this distance across Italy and then into an extremely complex road system like Lyon without GPS guidance. This morning in Arabba we gave Gina the address in Lyon and voilà, she calculated the shortest route and calmly gave us directions door to door. We like Gina better than Penelope (our previous Peugot GPS). Penelope used to chime a little bell each time we took the right direction. But if we took the wrong direction, she would angrily sounded her alarm over & over until we got it right. Gina is much more calm. No aggressive “dinging” – just a gentle reminder to make a U-Turn if possible. And if not, don’t worry, she will re-calculate the route.
We arrived in Lyon around 4:30pm just in time for Marie to have finished teaching and meet us at her apartment. Hubert was to arrive after 7pm from the TGV (superfast train) from Paris.
H&M live in a funky apartment in the artistic 4th arrondissement of Lyon. Their apartment is on the 4th floor of an old silk weaving factory. With no elevator, the whole family keeps fit climbing the 104 steps each way to & from their apartment every day.
Both daughters, Diane & Cammi were at home to greet us. Louis their brother is now in the army and is stationed in Brittany. But to keep life entertaining, H&M are hosting, Lionel, a student from Burundi. More about Lionel later.
It was wonderful to see that Diane & Cammi have matured into lovely looking young women since we last met them 8 years ago. But not only are the changes physical, their shyness has disappeared and they can converse easily with us in excellent English.
It was “all go” in the in the Teste family household this evening. Diane has given up her bed for us and was off to stay with the boyfriend and Cammi needed to be driven across town to volleyball practice. And like all parents of teenagers, Marie was the “mum’s taxi”. We joined her in the car for a true rally driving experience through the back streets of Lyon. Then back to the apartment for dinner and to light candles for Saint-Marie day – 8 December. Every household in Lyon lights some little candles and puts them on their window ledges. This custom marks the beginning of the Fetes des Luminieres a 3 night festival where the whole of Lyon is lit up with creative light projections on their important buildings.
The origins of the festival date from 1643 when Lyon was struck by plague. On September 8, 1643 the municipal councillors (échevins) promised to pay tribute to Mary if the town was spared. Ever since, a solemn procession makes its way to the Basilica of Fourvière on 8 December (the feast of the Immaculate Conception) to light candles and give offerings in the name of Mary to give thanks for saving the city. This uniquely Lyonnaise tradition dictates that every house place candles along the outsides of all the windows to produce a spectacular effect throughout the streets.
And so here are Hubert & Marie’s candles and those of their neighbouring apartments. It does truly create a wonderous effect in the cold winter night.
Despite our excitement at arriving in Lyon, by 10pm we faded & literally collapsed into the comfort of Diane’s futon bed.