I know, you were getting mighty sick of all those shots of endless sunshine, right? Lyon has been cold, wet, and...wonderful! Even as I try valiantly to fight off a cold, I am thinking of ways to make the most of my limited time here. There is so much to see, and soak up: it's a wonderful city.
We left Buis late Wednesday morning after taking the opportunity to visit the midweek market. Much larger than the one held on a Saturday, all manner of items were on offer. We picked up a few goodies and hit the road.
Our trusty Renault Captur was due for return by 3pm, and we pulled into Europcar at around 2:55. There's that chronically on-time superpower in evidence again. Our taxi driver was very chatty, and took great pride in telling us about his city. He pointed out some places of interest on our way, and I was very ably deposited at my lodgings for the next 4 days. We had booked separate apartments through Airbnb, and they ended up being about 500 metres apart in the Old Town. We were all pretty tired, so decided on having a night in at our respective abodes and meeting up the next day. I knew my host Isabelle didn't speak a lot of English, but we managed to communicate pretty well! She lives in the next apartment, and is probably the most generous Airbnb host I've come across. Apart from the delivery of croissants for breakfast, she provided other breakfast provisions including bread, milk, juice and fruit, not to mention the mountain of biscuits on arrival. She writes travel guides, and presented me with some in English as a gift.
Once again I found myself opposite a church, with the attendant tolling of bells. The first peals rang out at 7:30 am, so no sleeping in for me. That didn't mean though that there wasn't a quick trip to the lounge room to pop on the heaters and make a quick coffee, then jump back into bed to plan the day! Given the inclement weather, it seemed a good chance to explore the traboules. These passageways might cut through a house into an internal courtyard, or may even go through an entire block to give access to the next street. Some of them may have been built as early as the 5th century. Traboules are found in other French cities, but in most cases, unless you happen to live in a house that has one, you won’t know they are there. Lyon is different. Dozens of its 300 or so traboules are open to the public, thanks to an innovative agreement between the city council and the inhabitants of the pertinent buildings. The city bought up many of the properties surrounding the traboules and made them available as low-cost housing, but with strings attached. Residents around a traboule must agree to keep it open to the public between certain hours. Visitors are expected to be quiet, and respect the fact that the apartments surrounding the fascinating old passages are private homes. There was certainly a sense of being allowed somewhere secret and private as we pushed open the heavy doors to find ourselves in one corridor or another.
For centuries they were used by people to fetch water from the river and then by craftsmen and traders to transport their goods. By the 18th century they were invaluable to what had become the city’s defining industry: textiles, especially silk. The silk weavers used the traboules to carry their bolts of silk down to the markets in the new city center on the Presqu’île, the narrow peninsula between the Rhône and Saône rivers. The covered traboules were the quick way, and had the advantage of protecting their precious goods from the elements.
We continued exploring the old town, dodging in and out of shops as the rain fell. Barbara was keen to visit her favourite French boutique, Antoine et Lili, and let's just say I didn't have to be dragged kicking and screaming. On our way we passed La Fresque des Lyonnais. Approaching it from the bank of the Saône it looks like just another of Lyon's lovely buildings. When you go to the other side, you realise that two facades of the building are trompe-l'oeil (to trick the eye). The paintings represent Lyon's history, with 31 famous inhabitants depicted, including the Lumière brothers, Antoine Saint-Exupery, and Paul Bocuse.
Our eyes may have been tricked at La Fresque, but they were in for a treat at Antoine et Lili. I don't think I've seen a more beautiful store. The colours were extraordinary, and I'm delighted to report my first French fashion purchase. Just as well I have that generous baggage allowance! Shopping done, we lunched at the bouchon next door. Bouchons serve traditional Lyonnais fare, particularly specialising in offal. Just pumpkin soup for me, thanks! Hermès the spaniel was clearly hoping for a more meaty snack from the kitchen.
One more spin around the old town, a quick rest back at home, and we then decided to eschew the bouchons for some Indian food for dinner. We had our first taste of Indian wine (not bad), and some very tasty curry.
Friday was against forecast to be wet, so we decided to stick pretty close to home again. My cold wasn't improving, so the prospect of being caught in the rain wasn't something I relished. We visited Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, constructed between the 12th and 15th centuries. We were fortunate to hear the organ playing as we entered, and while walking through I was reminded of reading The Pillars of the Earth. It's extraordinary to think of these massive monuments being constructed without the benefit of modern day engineering. Clearly some carving in the stone was supposed to be there; sadly there were later additions. I don't understand why anyone would feel the need to deface something so extraordinary. Clearly though, graffiti is not a modern phenomenon.
Saturday promised to be clearer weather-wise, so we planned more outdoor activities for that day. I don't want to let you in on all of Lyon's secrets at once, so you'll have to stay tuned for part two!