Our ship has returned to Lyon for a day in the city. We will not leave until midnight tonight. Lyon is the third largest city in France behind Paris and Marseille. There were a variety of tour options presented for today. You could take a bike tour around the peninsula (with a warning that 20% would be in traffic); the second option was a five-hour walking tour (on cobblestones) through the city’s old town. The third option, the one recommended for first time visitors, was the gastronomy tour which included a bus tour of the city and walking portions around the basilica and old town. There were also several stops to sample the city’s goodies.
The city of Lyon has the benefit of two rivers, the Rhone and the Saone. We are docked on the Rhone on the peninsula that sits between the two rivers. Facing the river is Lyon’s Hotel Dieu. (Like yesterday’s Hotel Dieu in Beaune, it offered hospital services to the poor.) The local Hotel Dieu has the largest façade of any building in the city. It is now the site of the Intercontinental Hotel and many shops and restaurants. The courtyard is set up with chairs, tables, and canopies for people to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Our first stop is the city market inside the Hotel Dieu.
The two-story market is very popular, so we have arrived early to beat the crowds. Early August is a time many Europeans do their own vacationing, so some of the stalls were closed. We stopped at the end of the upper section to enjoy samples of the meat, although our guide mentioned that the French do not eat meat in the morning. That is probably why the tables are available to us. There was a lovely sausage stuffed with pork, pistachios, and other goodies. We also learned that apparently it is never too early to enjoy wine with your snacks.
The guide also told us the background of the red pralines, a local favorite. We’ll sample some later. They are also referred to as pink pralines or praline roses. I learned later that there are many origin stories. Some date the treat back to the 18th century; others say the 19th. Some say it was the color that was the inspiration; others say the roses. Whatever the history, they are now eaten as treats or baked into pies and cakes and can be found all over the city.
After leaving Hotel Dieu, we wound our way up to the basilica, past the Cathedral and Place Bellecour. the largest pedestrian square in Europe. To me it just looked like a large open and very hot space with no shade. There are no trees of other greenery whatsoever. It is a former parade ground with an equestrian statute of Louis XIV in the middle. Most of the surrounding buildings are from the 1800s. The most exciting thing we saw on the drive up were the two Roman theaters. They sit side by side. I wasn’t able to get a good picture, but on another trip I think they would definitely be worth a visit.
We parked and walked over to the square just in front of the Basilica. From the square you got a great view of the Tour metallique de Fourviere, a replica of the upper third of its Paris cousin. This metallic tower was built three years after Paris’ Eiffel Tower, but was not overseen by Eiffel. Although it once had a restaurant and observation platform, today it is used for television transmission and is not open to the public. It is the highest point in Lyon.
The basilica Notre Dame of Fourviere is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sits on the spot which was once the Roman Forum of Trajan in a dominant position overlooking the city. The church was built to thank the Virgin Mary for having spared the city from invasion during the Franco-Prussian war. Our guide was not allowed to share information inside the church. Additionally, Mass was going on so pictures were not permitted. We could just take a quick peak inside. The 19th century church has some beautiful mosaics lining the interior side walls. It would definitely be worth a return visit.
The guide did encourage us to take in the amazing views of Lyon from the basilica’s beautiful terrace. Place Bellecour was more impressive from this vantage point. You could see far enough to see both rivers that are part of the city and view the perimeter of the peninsula in between the Rhone and the Saone. The long façade of Hotel Dieu was perhaps even more striking from above. We saw the Opera House and more of the city’s amazing architecture.
After leaving the panoramic esplanade, we made our way down to the city’s Croix Rousse area built on the slopes of the hill of the same name. This cobblestoned historic sector just behind the columned Palace of Justice was slated to be torn down when a Councilman stepped in and gave the area historic status. The silk weavers made their home in this area of the city.
The most fascinating thing about the Croix Rousse is the traboules, covered passageways that function as public hallways through the quarters of private houses. They were used frequently by The Resistance during the war when they needed to hide someone or as a shortcut to make an escape. Most of the traboules are now private. Although there are estimated to be 300-500 traboules in Lyon, most in the old town, there are only five that are public. Those residents willing to give public access to their traboules during limited hours enjoy free utilities and other added benefits. The one we visited showed the Italian influence in its architecture.
While in the Croix Rousse, our guide pointed out a sign for Bouchons Lyonnais. It is a type of restaurant that serves the traditional cruise of the city. The food originated as a way to use the products that would have otherwise been wasted at the end of the day. This type of menu started in the Croix Rousse where the restaurants catered to the silk weavers.
We sampled cake made from the red pralines and had little bit of time to wander around Croix Rousse before we made our way back to the bus and our return to the ship for lunch. We will have free time this afternoon and although I have lots of ideas about places to go-the Roman theaters, an inside visit to the basilica, or getting lost in the Vieux Lyon-I suspect I will end up taking a nap and trying to get caught up on my sleep. I keep waking up in the middle of the night, as I have not adjusted well to the time change. The days are also very warm. When we landed in Frankfurt on Sunday morning it was 57 degrees Fahrenheit, but that was the last time we saw cool weather. While the first morning was pleasant at 74 F, the afternoons have climbed to almost 90 F. We are heading south and they are experiencing record high temperatures and the afternoons may be particularly brutal. We move again tonight and I will catch up with you tomorrow as Boris and Natasha head south along the Rhone River.