So last week Marc and I found ourselves in a very happy situation. We had very little scheduled, we had some unused credit with the train company, and Marc’s company has been leaning on him to use up some vacation days. The only question was….where should we go? Our only limitation was that we had to leave Thursday and return Sunday so as to miss the rail strike (life in France!).
Ultimately we chose to go to Lyon, which is a quick two hour train ride from Paris and the gastronomic capital of France…and since we always plan our holidays around food (what shall we have for breakfast? Should we come back and try this restaurant tonight? Is it too early to start afternoon drinking on the terrace?), what city could be more perfect? Lyon is a beautiful city full of amazing things both to see and to eat, so I’ve compiled our adventures and split them into two separate blogs. We will start off today detailing what we saw- ranging from stunning mosaics to cherry blossoms to a surprise protest (really, are you even in France if you don’t happen upon a weekend protest?). I hope you enjoy!
What we saw:
The Basilica de Notre-Dame de Fourvière
The Basilica de Notre-Dame de Fourvière is located on a high point overlooking the old city of Lyon. It’s a bit of a hike and stair climb to get up there, but much of it is through stunning gardens that have recently come into bloom and still have that fresh, electric green of spring. We also walked through the famous rose gardens (the picture with the arches above), but sadly no roses had come out yet. We chose to head up here first thing on Friday, and boy am I glad we did- the weather was perfect! It was also perfect timing to see the city from above…it gave us a great reference for our exploring later.
The interior of the Basilica was similar to many other cathedrals and basilicas in Europe, but I loved that it was covered with enormous, intricate mosaics (like the one above) instead of paintings- it gave the whole place a different feel.
We also stumbled upon a fun little experience while wandering around the Basilica- we wandered into a free museum and got to see their exhibit on Martin Luther King Jr. He actually visited Lyon in 1966 and is quite well celebrated there: we came across several streets and squares which are named after him. This particular exhibit was all about a poem that a local artist wrote about him and then some accompanying abstract art by a different artist. It was very peculiar (abstract art isn’t really my thing!) but it was fun to try and guess the idea behind each painting, and the people running the exhibit were very excited about it and spent a lot of time talking us through it. I felt very cultured after!
The City Streets and Bridges
Located at the confluence of two rivers (the Rhone and the Saône), Lyon has a lot of bridges to offer! The Rhone is near its source here and therefore had the amazing blue-green colour of a mountain river in the spring. It was so nice to see a river that isn’t dark brown….the Seine has many beautiful qualities, but colour definitely isn’t one of them!
Most of the historical and cultural areas of the city are either located between the two rivers (called the presqu’île…almost island) or on the other side of the Saône. We had a great time wandering through these areas and appreciating the amazing architecture, style, and culture. We also got to see real-life transformers, which was probably the highlight of the entire weekend!
Parc de la Tête d’Or
Saturday wasn’t as sunny and brilliant as Friday, but Marc and I decided to do some exploring outside anyways- honestly, we really needed a way to burn off all the amazing food we’d been eating! We walked up to the Parc de la Tête d’Or (literally, Park of the Golden Head) and wandered around there for some time. It was amazingly quiet for such a big and beautiful park so close to the city…I imagine it would have been completely overrun in Paris. We saw a few families and about four different weddings- getting your photos taken in the garden seemed to be the trendy thing to do!
A Surprise Protest
Marc and I were relaxing in Bellecour square, eating a praline brioche (one of my favourite local specialties, I can’t wait to tell you all about them in the next blog), when all of a sudden there was a MAJOR racket. It turned out to be hundreds upon hundreds of people riding motorcycles onto the square, all of them revving their engines like crazy….the noise was unbelievable! There was a long procession of honking cars as well, just in case there wasn’t enough noise and excitement. It turns out this was the Lyonnaise branch of a nation-wide protest against a proposal to change the speed limit on secondary highways from 90 to 80km/h. Honestly, I was expecting it to be something from the unions (we are having massive strikes at the moment) or about immigration….but a change in speed limit? I’m definitely impressed that all these people could work up enough excitement and emotion over something relatively banal….and really, how many of those 600 odd motorcyclists respect the speed limit anyways?
We even got to witness a ‘counter-protest’ in the form of a man who clearly liked to disagree with things: he started yelling general complaints and insults into the crowd, finally provoking the motorcyclists to rev their engines in order to drown him out. He was either very brave or very stupid to try and take on 600 plus people!
I think this wraps up what we saw over the course of our visit to Lyon. The next post will be about what we ate- there was a lot of epic food on this journey! Stay tuned, it should be up in the next couple of days.