And we’re back with another long overdue blog update. I have arrived in Zagreb, Croatia, and the hostel that I’m in has a pair of public computers, so I’m trying to take advantage of them and crank out a post. The keyboard here is close to a standard American one, but with a few keys in different places and several extra letters to accommodate the Croatian alphabet. All that said, we return now to the journey and my time in Lyon, France.
As I was leaving Amboise, my left knee was still bothering me but it felt better than the day before. I took one last walk around town to stretch and exercise the knee and then grabbed my backpack and headed to the train station. To get to Lyon I had to first had to take a short train ride to St Pierre de Corps and from there get on a train to Lyon. Though I had a second class rail pass, I was accidentally reserved for a first class seat on the train to Lyon due to a mistake by the staff at the ticket office in Paris. The staff wrote something on the back of my reservation stub explaining the situation and it must have been sufficient, because the ticket inspector did not ask me any questions. So, I got to ride first class to Lyon, purely by accident. Having ridden second class on many trains in the past, I can tell you that the first class cars are nicer, but not that much nicer. Personally I would say that if you’re thinking of splurging a little on a Europe trip, your money is better spent on something like nicer accommodations or seeing/doing more things than on first class rail tickets. It was roughly a three hour train ride to Lyon, which was serving as the city that would bridge northern and southern France on this journey.
Lyon is France’s third largest city, after Paris and Marseilles. Although smaller than Paris, it feels much more urban. I think this is because Lyon is not under the same building restrictions as Paris, so the city can more freely construct taller buildings and there also appeared to be no rules on their appearance. The walk from the train station to where I was staying took me through downtown and across the Rhone River. Lyon has a pair of rivers, the Rhone and the Saone, that divide the city into sections, and where I was staying was the part of the city right between the two rivers. For those interested, it was a five minute walk north of Place des Terreaux. My room was in a 6th floor apartment and the couple hosting me spoke a bit of English, so I was able to talk with them a little. I walked around the neighborhood a little and was glad that my knee was continuing to improve, though I still felt some pain during movement. The day soon ended and I went to bed.
When I got up the next day, my hosts had already left for work, so I had the apartment to myself while getting ready. I had a single full day to see Lyon, and I started it at Place des Terreaux, a large square with a horse fountain. From there I crossed the Saone River to the old town, whose winding streets were a contrast to the straight, modern, grid streets of the newer parts of Lyon. In the old town you can find what are called Traboules, which are covered passageways between streets. These passageways frequently pass through building courtyards and are interesting to walk through, but I do wonder if the locals ever get tired of having tourists in their courtyards. While in the lower part of the old town I also visited the St Jean church. Next to the St Jean church are the ruins of what was Lyon’s church during Roman times. This church is the second oldest one known in western Europe (the oldest being the one in Rome) and dates to the second century AD. Interestingly enough, the primary way we know about the church is Roman records of the persecutions they conducted on it. After getting some photos, I hiked up the hill to the upper part of the old town and visited the Notre Dame church at the top (I think there are about fifty or so churches in France called Notre Dame). The Notre Dame church in Lyon is similar to the Sacre Coeur church in Paris in that it is the result of the Franco-Prussian War of the late 1800s; the local bishop vowed to build a great church if Lyon escaped the wrath of the advancing Prussians, and kept his promise after the Prussian army left the city alone. You can tell no expense was spared on the main part of the church by the exquisite mosaics on the walls and all the other decorations they put up. Down in the crypt you will also find something interesting: a smaller church dedicated to Joseph. Those of you familiar with Catholic churches know that Mary normally gets all the love in Catholic art and architecture, so finding a church dedicated to Joseph is not a common occurrence. That said, the priorities of the church are clear, as Mary’s church is in the upper level and completely furnished while Joseph is in the lower level and nowhere nearly as ornate (apparently Mary’s church was finished first and they ran out of money to finish Joseph’s church). After checking out Notre Dame, I went over to the ruins of the nearby Roman amphitheater and its museum. The amphitheater is still largely intact, though the back area, where the rear of the stage would have been, is mostly gone. At this point I had seen everything I wanted to see in the old town, so I came down the hill and crossed the Saone back to the Presqu ‘Ile (the peninsula part of Lyon between the rivers). I had a few hours left in the day, so I looked at the map and figured I would walk all the way down to the bottom of the peninsula, to the confluence of the two rivers. However, I did not realize just how far away that was, so I walked for almost an hour to get there. Upon arrival at the confluence, having walked as far as I did, it felt kind of like reaching the end of the world. To solidify this feeling, there are actual train tracks that run to the end of the peninsula and into the river. Not sure why that is, but maybe at some point the peninsula extended further. I stood there, at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers for a few minutes. Were this a movie or a novel, I’m sure the unfortunate students forced to watch/read this scene would have to submit a term paper on the symbolism of this moment. We could no doubt draw many meanings out of the merging of rivers and maybe even say that it is an allegory for life, but that’s a discussion for another time. I left the confluence and started back north, but this time I learned my lesson and took a tram most of the way back to the apartment. After dinner I took a short night walk around the old town and then called it a day.
The next day I had a few hours in the morning before my train to Nice, but at that point the only thing I had left to do was to pay a visit to the Fine Arts Museum, which is like the Louvre of Lyon. While not as good as the Louvre, it has a wide collection of art and artifacts, and I spent a bit over an hour in it before leaving. I then took a walk up and down the hill of the La Croix-Rousse neighborhood, which used to be home to Lyon’s silk-spinning industry, but is now turning into another hipster gentrified neighborhood. Back at Place des Terreaux I ordered my first kebab of this trip. I do enjoy kebabs, though like burgers, I prefer them without the lettuce, tomato, and onions. Unfortunately I don’t speak French, so I wasn’t able to communicate that fact to the guy at the counter. No matter, I’m an expert food surgeon. I ate my kebab lunch back at the apartment and then grabbed my backpack and left for the train station. Though I left with sufficient time, I came close to missing the departure time of the train because along the way to the station I got on the wrong subway. When I corrected my mistake and got to the station, there wasn’t much time until the scheduled departure, so I ran from the metro into the train station. On my watch I read sixty seconds until departure. “Sixty seconds, I can do this. Just tell me what platform and I can get there in less than thirty” I thought to myself. I came running into the train station, looked at the departure board… and saw that my train was running fifty minutes late. It turns out that I’ll my running was for naught, but at least I would still get on the train. All I could do at that point was just sit and wait. When the train eventually came I got on board and departed Lyon.
That was Lyon. We’re almost to the end of the French part of the trip, with the final entry being the next one. The next post will take us to the riviera town of Nice.