When people think of France, the first city that pops into mind is of course the capital Paris (check my previous post on Paris). However there are many beautiful and interesting cities besides the obvious and I’ll be doing posts on a couple of them from time to time on this blog. I have been several times to Lyon but each time I was there for a specific reason that left little time to explore this great city.
So when a couple of my friends decided to move to Lyon this year, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get back together and celebrate Thanksgiving and my birthday all in one! This time I decided to carve out time to discover this beautiful city. Lyon, a city in France’s Rhône-Alpes region, sits at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Its city center reflects 2,000 years of history. It is also known for celebrating gastronomy and good food with some of the top French chefs who come from this city. Population is a little less than 500 000 and it’s considered to be the second largest city after Paris.
Day 1 : Friday evening
It’s only a two hour trip by the TGV train (high speed French train) from Paris. I decided to leave on a Friday afternoon after work from Gare de Lyon. A friend kindly let me stay at his condo right next to the Lyon Part Dieu train station. I dropped my bags off, and off we went to have dinner with some of the friends who had moved here recently and discover their new digs at the same time !
We parked on the Quais de Soane, which is the one of the two rivers bisecting the city. The view is gorgeous between the two bridges Passerelle du Palais de Justice on the right hand side and the Bonaparte bridge on the left hand side. Between the two of them, a couple centuries fly by. They illustrate Lyon an old city with a modern twist.
We walked along the quais or wharfs and snapped some pictures of the Palace of Justice one of the finest neoclassical buildings in France. It’s a court house also known under the name “Palace of the 24 columns”. You can see why in my pic! It was built in 1835 on the same locations of previous court houses since the 15th century.
We admired the Basilica Fourvière atop the hill and overlooking the city as well as the church beneath it. I was going to explore these during the daytime for sure. The radio station antenna can also be seen on the right hand side.
Eglise Saint Bonaventure
We passed by this gorgeous church that I had to take a shot of. This is the only medieval building not demolished after the creation of the rue de la République a major avenue in Lyon. The church was built in just two years between 1325 and 1327. It was closed unfortunately so I didn’t get to see inside and all its chapels.
We made our way to my friends’ apartment in one of the oldest and cushiest “arrondissement” or neighborhood’s of Lyon the 2nd (out of 9). It is very lively during the day and full of shopping possibilities.
You have to take small alcoves and passage ways to get to my friends’ apartment. It’s fun to walk in a medieval city :). I couldn’t wait to start exploring the city the next day.
There was no elevator, so we took the beautiful staircase, luckily it was only on the third floor J.
Here are a couple of typical Lyon old chimneys that you find in each room as that used to be the heating system prior to central heating.
After a great night catching up with friends, it was sleepy time !
Day 2 : Saturday
What better way to start the day than with wonderful crèpes (thin French pancakes) for breakfast ? Then, it was time to go shopping at the French markets for produce and let’s not forget the turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner !
We went to the best one in the city : Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. Paul Bocuse in case you haven’t heard of him is one of the best French chefs, and in my opinion one of the best in the world ! He created the Bocuse d’Or which is the most prestigious award for chefs in the world (Top Chef reality TV program is inspired by such competitions).
Les Halles is a covered market place, very known for having the best quality produce and products and is sometimes nicknamed the “stomach of Lyon”. It was where Paul Bocuse used to shop for his three star Michelin restaurants. You can still find to this day some of his original vendors : Mère Richard, Fromagerie Maréchal (cheese vendor) etc…
The market isn’t in the old city any longer but near the Part Dieu train station in a pretty contemporary area. The building is very modern on the outside, but inside it is a typical market place if slightly upscale, well who am I kidding ? VERY upscale, with some stands having counter seats or even tables and their own mini restaurants, should you want to try something out on the go or not. If you love cooking or maybe just eating this is a dream come true place!
Everything looks beautiful and I wanted to try it all ! There are mainly French specialty products from the Lyon region but you can find a bit of everything as well : fish market, cheese, meat & poultry, pastries etc… The turkey was from Bresse, top notch location for poultry in France.
I couldn’t resist and had to taste a Lyon Specialty : the praline pie. Let me tell you, you need it in your life!
After having a yummy but quick lunch, it was cooking and baking time! Once everything was in the oven, I snuck out of the kitchen for a much needed break and went on to explore the gorgeous city of Lyon.
I started with the main Lyon square “la Place Bellecour” the biggest pedestrian square in Europe.
A giant Ferris wheel is set up each year for the holidays.
In the center is a statue of King Louis the 14th on his horse. The statue at the bottom of the horse, represents the Rhone river. Being slightly rebellious – as most French people tend to be – the statue is referred to here by the locals as the “bronze horse” purposefully omitting to mention the King. Telling someone to meet under the horse’s tail is a habit here. This statue also stars in an urban legend. The statue sculptor was said to have forgotten to add stirrups and only noticed when the statue was finished and in doing so committed suicide! This is of course complete hogwash as the sculptor Lemot intentionally made the statue in the Roman style meaning bareback and died of old age. Unlike urban legends which never seem to die out!
Afterward I took the bridge in order to go and visit the Old Historic City or “Vieux Lyon” dating back from Medieval times.
I entered the Vieux Lyon or old city. You can tell right away from the cobblestone streets.
Saint Jean Cathedral
The first thing on the list was Saint Jean Cathedral. It started out being built in the Roman style (my favorite) but was transformed into Gothic along the way. They had the time to do it, since it took three centuries to complete it from 1175 to 1480! It is built right along the Saone River and the hill.
The inside of the cathedral is very pretty.
I also walked around the cathedral in the historic gardens that hold archaeological remains of the church and baptistery of Saint Etienne (side building in which Christians were baptized) from 429 upon which the cathedral was built.
The lone remaining standing arch if the baptistery is compelling of the time through the ages.
After which I meandered in the busy paved and narrow streets of Old Lyon. Did you know it is one of the largest old neighborhoods in the world dating back to medieval and Renaissance times that has been preserved through the ages, virtually unscathed? It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most famous street is pedestrian and called rue Saint Jean.
It is filled with boutiques but mainly typical Lyon restaurants called Bouchon. Which literally means cork. Are you sensing a foodie theme to this weekend? Well it is Lyon after all and thanksgiving fits nicely too!
Along Rue Saint Jean are many open passageways and doorways that can lead to unsuspected and gorgeous inner courtyards. I love the fact that you feel like an explorer never knowing what piece of architecture will delight you.
The most famous attraction in the Vieux Lyon are the Traboules. The name comes from Latin and means “to cross”. They are medieval passageways used originally by silk merchants to move their product. The street layout is such that there are very few connecting streets perpendicular to the river. The Traboules was a way for people to quickly get to the river (at the time there was no running water). There are around 500 of them.
During WWII, the Traboules were used by the Resistance and helped prevent complete German occupation. Some passages are underground and hidden from view, most are on private property so not all accessible to tourists.
A lot of apartments use them as their only way in and out, and I feel bad for those who live in the ones accessible to tourists as that must get old fast. You can’t tell most of the time if a Traboule exists or not, and locals consider you a true local once you know them all by heart.
On the way back to my friends place, the twilight was setting in and the setting sun was beautiful over the Saone river. I snapped a couple of shots quickly, hoping nothing was burning in the oven ! French people usually eat pretty late starting from 8 pm.
Thanksgiving diner was delish, but I was so busy, I didn’t have time for many pictures sorry! My friends thought the sweet potato casserole was very funny tasting haha!, but they enjoyed the corn bread and the stuffing. Pumpkin pie was also an unusual hit, but I served it with vanilla ice cream just in case. French don’t eat pumpkin in sweet dishes or desert. I even had a vegetarian friend tasting the turkey. My friends are the best !
I’ll be making another post on the Dior makeup I got for my birthday, so watch out for that.
to be continued…
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