I’ll be honest. There is no fun in celebrating your country’s Independence Day if you’re not in that country. I think that is why the 4th of July was nothing to write home about for me this year. I was in Barcelona. I had randomly met a girl from Wisconsin and her American cohorts on the 4th and went with them to a 4th of July party at the Hard Rock Cafe. Seriously, without the BBQ, fireworks and knowing I was getting a paid day off from work, not really much of a celebration for me.
Point being–it’s better to celebrate something country-specific in that country; hence, my excitement for being in France for their independence day, aka, Bastille Day.
I arrived in Lyon the night before with some girls I met in Pamplona. They were studying in Lyon and had offered up an empty dorm room (yep, add it to the list of completely random places I crashed) for me to stay in for the night. They would be heading to Paris the next morning for Bastille Day, but 1 free night was music to my ears. I woke up early the next morning to leave when they left. I pulled out a map to the city and found a quiet park overlooking the entire of Lyon and I promptly took a 3 hour nap before starting my day at 11.
Lyon was a nice city. It had the odd combination of having that big city feel w/a small town attitude. Everything was peaceful, the scenery was gorgeous (2 rivers run through it), it was clean and had enough parks to relax in that you began to think you were in a small town.
I played tourist for the morning and afternoon. In the early evening I decided to find a hostel to throw my bag at and find some people to celebrate with. I took refuge in a hostel on a hill (Fourvière, which means, “the hill that prays) overlooking the city and the Rhone River. My hostel had a balcony that overlooked everything, so I grabbed a bite to eat and my journal and headed outside. That’s where I started talking w/a Dutchman and a girl from Canada. We could see a lot of action starting up along the river, so the Canadian and I headed down to see what was going on.
We walked around for a little over an hour. We checked out stands set up and the live entertainment being had. It was funny to see a pseudo rock band comprised of 5 pre-pubescent boys and even funnier to see their mosh pit. Everyone was having a great time—tons of families along the waterway and everyone in a really good mood.
All in all, I gathered Bastille Day celebrations to be a lot like the 4th, only in the evening though. During the day, shops were still open and business went on as usual, like a typical Saturday. I talked to a couple locals, and they said that people do get together for the holiday, but that it’s not so much an all day affair, at least in Lyon. However, as soon as the late afternoon hit, everyone got in firework mode. They made their way to get a spot along the Rhone so they could catch the fireworks from the hill.
The Canadian (God, I wish I could remember her name!) and I went back to the hostel and got a few people to walk up the hill even further to get a view of the fireworks. They were ok. I guess I was spoiled from Pamplona, where every night was a firework display in a weeklong competition, so every display was essentially a half hour grand finale.
Afterward, we headed back to the hostel and I spent the rest of my evening talking w/Frenchmen, Englishmen, the Canadian, the Dutchmen and a couple Aussies. The action below had calmed down and I was content relaxing on top of the hill. Really, it was no different than if I had been at home–a day w/friends, some fireworks, a good beer and conversation to go with it.
I’m sure if I had been in Paris it would have been a whole different story—fireworks over the Eiffel Tower—thousands of people convening on the town for the day, etc. Yet, I would have been taking part in a huge touristy affair and that’s not always the way to experience local flavor. I’m glad I spent it someplace low key where I could really get a French feel–no matter who I was hanging out with.