Postcards from Abroad: Lyon

Though across shores, Matt Gregg discovers that the difficulties students face both in Dublin and Lyon are not quite so far apartI just have to get something off my chest straight away. I hate snow. Now, I know this might sound like jumping on the bandwagon but I’ve always hated snow. The weeks leading up to Christmas, during which Europe was transformed into a cross between The Day After Tomorrow and The Terminal, merely reinforced my aversion to Colin Matthews’ powdery nemesis.Okay, maybe hate is a little strong. However, when you’re just days away from flying home for the Christmas break and every airline announces their planes are grounded, you can be excused for overreacting. Picture the scene: I was the last to leave so everyone huddled around my laptop, their bags packed, waiting to see if they could make it out. Tensions mounted as their fates flickered through; flight after flight delayed, disrupted or grounded.Jonny, my Yorkshire neighbour, had four flights cancelled before deciding to give up and train it home. Others were not so decisive and ended up stranded for over a week. Thankfully, I was lucky and faced only minor delays before I was on my way.Excuse me if this hasn’t quite the forced optimism or disingenuous pleasantness of traditional New Year columns, but I can’t help it. Unfortunately, both of these things are hard to fake when it’s the day after New Year’s and, already, exams have begun in France.Stereotypically, the French are all about indulgent holidays and putting off work. That stereotype could not be more wrong. It’s less than two weeks off then straight back into your exams. As I sit writing, I really should be revising. Various Christmas parties, three roasts in as many days and the new Call of Duty have made Christmas as ineffective a revision period as feared.Moreover, it appears Christmas cheer is not the only obstacle. Here, the library is closed, as staff turn our hardest weeks of the year into a holiday. Though much maligned, it appears UCD’s own group of sabbatical incumbents aren’t that bad. Somewhat self-serving, they still manage to achieve the basics. UCD library may not be open 24/7, but at least it’s accessible during exams.Thanks to Ireland’s very own snowstorms, the horrors of exams in January are something many of you will understand. At least I’m on an Erasmus year, so to some extent, I can get away with gaps in my knowledge by just scrawling ‘FOREIGN’ in big letters across the top of my paper. Somehow, I doubt that ploy will work back in Dublin.Looking back, I may have given the snow a bit of a hard time. It’s not all cancelled flights and rescheduled exams. In fact, it does bring some upsides. Snow makes mid-December the perfect time to sample the many delights of Rhône-Alpes’ premier city.From the top of Fourvière, one of two mounds overlooking the city, Lyon looked serene. Gone was the harsh contrast between central Lyon’s sandy hue and its greyer banlieux. The ghastly rooftops of Villeurbanne, where most of the city’s industry can be found, were smothered in a blanket of snow.  A picturesque town at the worst of times, Lyon is transformed into a winter wonderland.Located in Place Carnot is a Christmas bazaar that puts anything Ireland could offer to shame. Just outside the Perrache metro stop, it is a series of colourful chalets selling everything from wire dolls to mulled wine and giant gingerbread houses. Lyon’s Christmas Market is also home to the best hot chocolate in the world (even better than Insomnia’s!)Lyon literally lights up in the lead up to Christmas. The Fetes des Lumières, unique to Lyon, expresses gratitude towards the Virgin Mary by covering the whole city in lights and putting on numerous performances. With public drinking encouraged and most supermarkets offering bottles of wine for less than a euro, it’s a great night out.Come to think of it, 85c wine is a student’s best friend in Lyon.  Called Fin Bouquet and cheaper than a baguette, it comes in very handy when most bars are ridiculously overpriced. The fact that each bottle has a label and an authentic cork, which themselves must cost around 50 cent, makes Fin Bouquet an economic miracle. It’s no Chardonnay, but certainly does the job.And if Fin Bouquet doesn’t cut it, then maybe Gluwein in the Alps will hit the spot. The ski slopes of Grenoble are only an hour away from Lyon and while I may hate snow in the city, it’s rather essential for skiing, which I hope to enjoy après exams.