Bonjour de Lyon!
After a hectic trip to London for the Olympics and Paris to apply for replacement passports, we definitely needed to take a step back and enjoy the rest of our time in Lyon with mum and dad. Now that my foot was out of its cast and I was more mobile I knew that I was running out of excuses to sit on the couch and be lazy. Even though we had been in Lyon for 8 weeks, we still had not explored the beautiful French city that we had come to know as our temporary home. We only had 2 weeks before hitting the road and so much to discover! (Though I am sure that mum and dad were sick of the sight of us by now!)
For those that do not know, the city of Lyon is located in the Rhone-Alps region in east-central France, about 470km south of France (or a 2 hour train ride on the TGV fast train). The 1s arrondissement, where we were staying, was included in the Historic Site of Lyon when it was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1998. It was acknowledged for its Roman district, Presqu’ile, narrow passageways (traboules) and architecture from the 12th century to modern times. While it is known for its historical and architectural landmarks, Lyon has recently developed a reputation as the capital of gastronomy in France. This is due in part to the presence of many fine French chefs (e.g. Paul Bocouse) and the fact that the famous wine growing regions of Beaujolais and Cotes du Rhone surround Lyon in the north and south.
If you are ever in Lyon, try to visit some typical and traditional restaurants serving bouchons (local dishes and wines). The incredible food is some of the best I have ever eaten. Some of my favourites include Tartre de Boeuf (raw minced beef), Eggs Meurette (poached eggs floating in red wine sauce) salade lyonnaise (similar to Caesar salad with a poached egg on top). Dan enjoyed the red Cotes du Rhone wines with saucisson de Lyon (sausage) and Foie Gras (duck liver pate). Though we were a little wary of trying anything we did not know since dad had told us of his horrifying experience with animal hoofs disguised as potato salad!
Dan and I spent a wonderful day exploring the ‘Old Town’. The public transport system consists of only 4 Metro lines, 2 funiculaire lines, 4 tramways, trolley busses and normal busses and is very easy to navigate. We caught 2 Metros to Vieux Lyon and a funiculaire up the 30% incline to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere. The gothic-like cathedral was dedicated to Virgin Mary and built between 1872 and 1884. The inside of the magnificent church is decorated with gold flecked mosaics, sculptures and stained glass and sits on top of a large crypt guarded by a Lyon lion. The internal stairwell, between the main cathedral and the crypt below, host a large array of Hail Mary prayers in different languages from around the world, including Maori, Chinese, French, Arabic, etc.
The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere sits on top of the hill of Fourviere, on the site of ancient Roman ruins that lay buried beneath its crypt. The view from Fourviere of the city of Lyon is one of the most incredible views of any city. On a clear day you can see the white snow atop the French Alps in the east. Between the red rooftops and chimneys you can clearly see the River Soane and River Rhone joining in a “Y” shape and forming the Presqu’ile (peninsula).
If you are feeling up for it, and it’s not 35 degrees, you can enjoy a wonderful walk down the steep hill and many staircases to Rue Saint-Jean, the main cobblestone street of the Old Town. If you are lazy, like us, you can take the funiculaire down the hill and wander through the busy cobblestone streets and traboules. Traboules are narrow passage ways that join two streets. They are open to the public during the day and give you a wonderful insight to the lives of locals. The Old Town is the touristy area of Lyon and is where you can find the most restaurants open and plenty of people enjoying the sites. Elsewhere, Lyon in August is a very quiet place. Everything, from the local bakery to the Irish bar, are empty and close earlier. Many businesses will close down for a number of weeks while the locals disappear to locations unknown. This meant that we were able to enjoy a wonderful Lyonnaise meal at a lovely restaurant that is normally booked during lunch and dinner.
Other parts of Lyon that you must check out on your visit include the view of Lyon and the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere from the slopes of Croix-Rousse (in the 1st arrondissement), Place de Terreaux featuring the Fontaine Bartholdi, Museum of Fine Arts and Hotel de Ville as well as Place Bellecour and the shopping district of Rue de la Republique.
A fantastic tradition in France is the faire le pont (literally meaning “make the bridge”). This is when you take the ‘bridging day’ between the weekend and the public holiday to extend your holiday. On Wednesday the 15th of August France celebrated Assumption Day, a public holiday in Lyon. So mum had Monday and Tuesday off work as her faire le pont and the four of us made a day trip to Vienne, 30km south of Lyon.
Vienne became a major urban center when the Romans transformed it into a colony in 47BC under Julius Caesar. Vienne became the Kingdom of Provence and was ruled by several archbishops before they surrendered it to France in 1449. Amazing sites in Vienne include the Roman remains of the temple of Augustus and Livia (built on a sacred area around 20 to 10 B.C), La Pyramide, the archaeological gardens of Cybele & the Vienne Theatre and the very gothic Saint-Maurice cathedral. There is a wonderful tourist path around the town that guides you through the small town to each of the tourist sites where you can find a panel of information to read (in English and French). You can even pick up an audio guide from the local tourist office, something I thoroughly enjoyed as it provides you with a little more information than the panels on the walk.
After our walk through Vienne we got slightly lost in the French countryside on our way to a destination that was decidedly not a tourist icon in France, IKEA. IKEA seems to be the same in every city, but we enjoyed it none the less, feasting on IKEA meatballs and beer (they really do sell everything) for dinner that night.
On Tuesday night we enjoyed a lovely Lyonnaise meal with mum’s highschool friend, Viven, and her French husband, Christian. It was a wonderful meal followed by a night walk up the slopes of Croix-Rousse to see the fabulous illuminated Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere across the River Soane. I am now adamant to return to Lyon for the Fete des Lumieres (Festival of Lights) that is held on the 8th of December.
Over the last few days we gathered the incredible amount of crap that we seem to have accumulated and packed our backpacks to their limits. Our cheap flights from Lyon to London meant that we were entitled to 20kg each of luggage, which we only exceeded by 1.9kg when we eventually made it to the check-in counter, backs arched under the weight and spiffy new (empty) passports in hand. The gentleman at the counter was generous to let us off this time and we boarded our plane to the next stage of our adventure.
London here we come!!
Au revoir Lyon!
HIT THE ROAD, JACK!
First Published on: Aug 20, 2012 @ 23:30