With Kelly in town, it seemed like a great opportunity to see another city and use another 2 days on the rail passes. Monday morning over coffee, Kelly found us an apartment and by the time Pete woke up, we had a 3 day trip to Lyon planned. The forecast for a Socialist movement rail strike proved to amount to nothing more than a longer line in the billeterie…the ticket agent reminded me, “There is always a solution,” but also warned me not to buy return tickets for Thursday due to the strike…
While still on apartment wifi, I downloaded two articles from The Guardian about things to do and places to eat in Lyon. On the train, I used the Kindle 3G to download a travel book. Armed with that small amount of information, we tasked Camille and Pete to make us dinner reservations (the dreaded French phone call) and I set about processing the 2000 years of history and architecture that lead to Lyon’s UNESCO World Heritage site status. So by 4pm we were rolling our suitcases across more cobblestones and navigating new public transportation headed toward new experiences.
First off, Lyon is a beautiful city.
1. Lyon bears exceptional testimony to the continuity of urban settlement over more than two millennia on a site of great commercial and strategic significance.
2. Lyon illustrates in an exceptional way the progress and evolution of architectural design and city planning over many centuries.
Lyon is at the convergence of two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône, just west of the French Alps. This made it a great spot for moving goods up and down the rivers. The hills on either side of the Saône allowed for easy protection. The historic part of the city is divided into 4 distinct districts, and each one perfectly represents a time period and has a unique personality.
Atop the mountain, this area has been settled since 43 AD when the Romans built the city of Lugdunum here. It was capital of Gaul and the ruins of a theatre and Odeon on the hillside are well-preserved and highlighted by an impressively curated museum.
The museum uses audioguides synced with displays to illustrate the history and growth of the Roman city. Emperor Claudius was born here and there are bronze plates that were excavated inscribed with a famous speech he gave about whether or not to allow the people ofGaul the right to vote and be represented in the roman Senate. The McGriff conversation lead to the similarities of this situation with that of the US and Puerto Rico- Pete chimed in “Taxation without representation!”
Below Fourvière at the bottom of the hill is Vieux Lyon.A snapshot of medieval architecture, this area was in decline until Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux, took a special interest in its preservation in the 1960s. Malraux ended up creating the Malraux Law, which provides a certain amount of historic preservation along with tax breaks for business and property owners in these areas. Today, Vieux Lyon is home to streets full of bouchons, restaurants specializing in the warm, homey cuisine of the region, and nice apartments.
Its location on the rivers lead to Lyon being a center for trading spices and silks. In the 1300s, Francois I gave Lyon exclusive rights to furnish silk to the royal court and the rest of the kingdom. Croix Rousse, named for a red cross that stood in the neighborhood, was a neighborhood of silk weavers.
Outside the city walls, it was a more rural, working area. The homes were built to house their looms and are built up the steep hillside. Many of these were connected by “traboules” or vaulted hallways that lead to a center courtyard and then out the other side. This allowed silk weavers to move their goods down the hill and to the river quicker.
The neighborhood is full of the expected boulangeries, boucheries, and cafés but all are modern and part of a community, not tourist spots. Another interesting cultural element of Lyon that is highlighted in Croix Rousse are the Murs de Lyon, or murals. These have grown in popularity over the last 30 years, and there are entire sides of buildings painted in the trompe l’œil style. The largest in all of Europe, Les Murs de Canuts, or The Mural of the Silk Weavers, is a short walk from the plazas.
The Presqu’Ile, or Peninsula-
From the Croix Rousse, the spit of land that extends out between the two rivers toward the confluence is referred to as the Presqu’Ile. During the 19th century, this area grew in popularity and was the more fashionable neighborhood. The buildings are mostly Haussmann Style (think the Parisian remodel of the late 1800s) with white stucco walls and gray slate roofs. The Bellecour plaza is in the middle of the peninsula and was converted to a parade ground, so it is a huge expanse of red clay.
Overall, Lyon is a proud city. Full of personality with painted walls and delicious food, they welcome visitors but are more interested in the city they have built and its citizens, not attracting more tourists-a perfect break from the places we visit where we worry that Europe will become nothing more than a crumbling tourist site.
It is hard to have a bad meal in this city but we ate at(and would highly recommend):
Bouchon des Filles- andouillette sausage and boudin in puff pastry
Le Sud- Chef Paul Bocuse- loved the joue du porc, and the cornichons!
Daniel et Denise- Joseph Viola-award winning foie gras in puff pastry
La Menthe- chevre fondue
InCuisine- the Fresh Bowl, or anything on the "Daily Specials" menu