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Nuclear Science Symposium
Medical Imaging Conference

Lyon, France
15-20, 2000

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An American Visits Lyon

A report from: Bill Moses, Lawrence Berkeley Lab


In May of 1999, I traveled from San Francisco to Lyon in order to participate in an organizing meeting for the 2000 NSS/MIC meeting, which will be held in the Palais des Congrès in Lyon. In many ways that trip was a "beta test" for conference attendees travelling to the 2000 NSS/MIC, and so I thought I would share my experiences with you.
First, I speak virtually no French — just what is left over from a two week "exposure" in junior high school some thirty years ago and what I have gleaned from menus since then. Although I travel a moderate amount domestically, I rarely travel out of the country. Thus, my general level of competence is fairly low. Finally, I work at LBNL and so followed DOE travel rules.
I planned to meet up with Patrick Le Du, the General Chairman, in Paris and ride with him on the TGV (the high speed electric train) to Lyon. Therefore, I booked flights (on United) that departed San Francisco to Paris, then returned from Lyon to San Francisco via Paris. I priced this flight on a Friday afternoon at about $600, which was also the cost for the true round trip alternatives (i.e. SFO to Paris or Lyon round trip). All the itineraries that I explored had a Saturday night stay-over. I confirmed my travel plans with Patrick, then went to buy the tickets on the next Monday. Unfortunately, this delay meant that I bought the tickets less than 28 days before the flight rather than more than 28 days before the flight, and that caused the price to go up to $1000. Next time I’ll make plans a little sooner! When I received my tickets, I was surprised to find that the Lyon to Paris leg was actually on the TGV, not on an airplane. It would appear that you can 1) effectively book TGV trips through United and 2) not pay virtually nothing for them (remember that adding the Lyon leg didn’t affect the ticket price).


Although my ticket was from United, I somehow ended up on an airplane that said "Air France" on it. My flight into Charles De Gaulle airport was long but uneventful. Customs was a breeze, as was exchanging money using an ATM in the airport (or anywhere, for that matter) and my normal ATM card. All the ATM machines that I used had an English menu option, which was helpful. The Air France flights arrive at Terminal 2, which is the same terminal that the TGV station is in. The station was easy to find and all of the airport / train station personnel spoke English quite well (as did all the people in the hotels, restaurants, etc.). The plane for my return flight said "United" on it and departed from Terminal 1, which most of the US carriers seem to use. The route from Terminal 1 to the TGV station is much less obvious than it is from Terminal 2 (and includes a free shuttle bus ride that departs from the arrivals level of gate 26 and 28), but isn’t bad.

Due to a foul-up with my travel agent, I didn’t purchase my Paris to Lyon TGV ticket before leaving the US and so had to buy one after arriving in France. Not having a TGV reservation is no problem at all as tickets virtually never sell out. I could either buy the ticket from a ticket agent or with my credit card in one of the many ATM-like machines at the station (these also had an English menu option). Tickets were approximately $75 for second class and $100 for first class, and both are good options. I went second class from Lyon to Paris, and it was cleaner, quieter, and significantly more roomy than a standard airline flight. I went first class from Paris to Lyon, and it was a lot like getting an upgrade to first class on an airplane for only $25. That sure felt great, especially as I had just gotten off a long, overnight flight from the US.

I can’t say enough good things about the TGV in general. Although the raw speed lies between that of a car and an airplane, it tends to be significantly faster than air travel because 1) you start and end in the middle of the town instead of at an airport 30 minutes outside of the town and 2) boarding (and disembarking) is so fast that you can arrive at the station without a ticket 5 minutes before the departure time and still have the train depart (on time) with you on it. I don’t necessarily recommend this, but from personal experience I can vouch that it can be done! I did, however, have two snags with the TGV. First, there are two TGV stations in Lyon (three if you count the one at the Lyon / Satolas airport) and I didn’t know which one to buy a ticket for. It turns out that the "Part-Dieu" station is closest to the conference hotels (an embarrassingly short cab ride), although the "Perrache" station is only about a mile farther away. The bottom line on the stations is that you should go to whichever fits your schedule best, but if everything else is equal, use Part-Dieu. The second snag was that the TGV "ticket" that United included with the rest of my plane tickets wasn’t actually a ticket, but a voucher that needed to be exchanged at a TGV station for an actual TGV ticket. Unfortunately, this is something that I determined by a series of poorly controlled experiments (but still managed to make my train)!

Lyon does not have a hotel that is anywhere near large enough to house all of the NSS/MIC attendees. Therefore, the meeting will be held in the Lyon Palais des Congrès (i.e. conference center), and we will arrange special fares at a number of hotels that range in price (and quality) from one to four stars. All of the hotels are in downtown Lyon and are within about a half mile of each other. The hotel that I stayed in was excellent. It was a 3 star hotel and the cost (approximately $80 per night) included a very nice continental breakfast. Although the room (and bed) was small by American standards, the quality and general ambience were equivalent to that of an American hotel costing two to three times as much.

The Palais des Congrès is about a mile away from the hotel area and is sandwiched between the Rhône River and the Parc de la Tête d’Or (the Lyon equivalent of Central Park). I took a bus from my hotel to the Palais de Congrès (the #4 bus line, which ends at the Palais des Congrès) and that took about 20 minutes — half of the that time was waiting for the bus and half the time was actually spent on the bus. There are lots of public transit maps and ticket dispensers throughout Lyon and the public transit system is very easy to use. A single trip ticket is 8 Fr. (about $1.30), and can be used on the Metro, on the bus, or any combination (i.e. it allows unlimited transfers) as long as your trip lasts less than an hour and you don’t do a round trip with a "single" ticket. There are various other options, such as multi-trip or unlimited travel day passes. I walked back from the Palais des Congrès to my hotel along a jogging / bicycle path that borders the Rhône, and that took me 40 minutes.
All in all, getting there and back (and getting around) was pretty easy. My lack of French slowed me down a bit, but everybody that I talked to was quite willing to help out and often spoke enough English that we could work things out. The few pitfalls that I encountered I have described here, so hopefully you can avoid them. The real bottom line is that Lyon is a wonderful city and that you shouldn’t let potential travel difficulties or a language barrier prevent you from coming to enjoy the city and the conference!

An estimate of travel costs by Patrick Le Dû:
(Prices include local and VAT taxes)
- Airfare (including a week end) Chicago - Paris -Lyon < $500
- Hotels:
  ***** 4 and 5 stars  (type Hilton Westin) $120
     *** 3 stars  (type Holiday Inn) $80 - $100
      ** 2 stars  (type Travelodge) $40 - $60
        * 1 star (type Motel 6) $25 - $40
   Student residence  $15
- Meals:
Breakfast (continental) $6
Lunch (regular) $10-$15
Dinner (standard) $20-$25
Dinner (high level) $40-$60

Conclusion: a trip to Lyon will not be more expensive than to a US IEEE conference.