First few days in Lyon

Arrived back in Lyon from our bike trip yesterday afternoon (Thursday). At around 10 am Friday morning, there was a fire alarm at the hotel, so we proceeded to vacate our room and walk down four flights of stairs. Good thing we weren’t on the 10th floor and thankfully it was a false alarm, but certainly a jolt when not expecting something like this. One of the staff approached us and apologized… if it was his fault. Only out of the hotel for about 5 minutes. They are doing some renovations to the bar of the hotel and had to wonder if this wasn’t the reason.

As an aside, last night after dinner, Robin and I were watching the BBC news channel; the only english tv channel at the hotel. A banner comes across the bottom and it says “New Zealand plans to tax cow and sheep burps”. Seriously how does one or the government for that fact, keep track of burps and does the definition of burps include those coming out of both ends of the cow/sheep. Just asking!

We took possession of our apartment at noon today (Friday), which is in the 8th arrondissement of Lyon. Our landlady, Catherine and her husband Marc, met us and walked us through everything we had to know. The apartment has everything one would need or want. A bright one bedroom with a fully stocked kitchen and air conditioned. It is to reach 25 C today and get warmer next week, so that may be very welcome. Having said this, we are getting a lovely cross breeze from opening the large windows in bedroom and kitchen/dining area. This apartment belongs to our landlady’s daughter who is away in Ireland studying for a few years. Robin and I are always so impressed with the linens in France. I know they may sound strange, but the bed linens are gorgeous….you almost don’t want to sleep in them! The other thing about the bedding that one finds a lot in Europe is square pillows vs our rectangular pillows. I always find these small differences interesting and wonder how these changes evolved. Something to look into when I am really bored or can’t sleep! Maybe I will investigate this along with the New Zealand “burp” thing. If I find anything, I will be sure to report back.

There is an elementary school across the street and it is nice to hear the children’s voices. This afternoon a parade of parents picking up their kids from school. “Bon weekend”….that is by the way what the French actually say.

This apartment is in a residential neighbourhood, so away from the tourist centre, which is one reason we chose it. The metro is two blocks away and a ten minute metro ride to Place Bellecour, which is the major square in Lyon and is the historical centre.

We are only a couple of blocks from Place Ambroise which is the local square of this neighbourhood (Monplaisir) and is surrounded by cafes, grocery stores, butchers, bakeries and most importantly of all a chocolate shop…Jeff de Bruges, a well known chocolate maker in France. We unpack and make our way to the local butcher, Maison Vessiere. We spend a pile of money here on wonderfully prepared meals, fresh cuts of meat and some seasoned and fully cooked meats as well. Then on to the local épicerie (grocery store) Casino. There is also a UExpress nearby which we will also check out. Nice that everything we need is really within a very short walking distance.

After getting the provisions we need, we decide to stop at one of the local cafes for a late lunch. In addition to the restaurant, they also have a section of tables in the square. When we first approached the host of the restaurant, he asks if we are here to eat; to ensure we just weren’t there to have something to drink. Busy lunch time and it appears they try to maximize their earnings by insisting that one eats as well as drinks; can’t say I blame them. They did turn away a few people.

A lot of you know that I am on a special diet and the one thing I am really missing are all the wonderful/delicious salads that they make in France. Salads used to be our main staple for lunch whenever we came to France and they are so large, we used to share and still had plenty to eat. Who said this was fair! We share (a partagée) a pasta dish and some beer for Robin and white wine for myself. We engage the young waiter to find out what time the restaurant opens in the morning as we like to usually have a coffee/tea before heading out for the day. I also ask where we could get a drink nearby in the afternoon. He tells us that starting at 2:30 pm, after the lunch time crowd is finished, they do allow people to come in and simply have drinks. It is now 2:35 pm and the outdoor chairs are filling up with the University crowd…..I guess they know the rules of when to come for drinks!

OK….I know the next part might be quite boring for some readers, but I always like to know about the history of where we are visiting. Our dear nephew Marc, asked if I was going to write my blog on this trip. When I responded yes, he said he could hardly wait to read the “history” part. Think he was being sarcastic….he has trouble falling asleep and I think reading this section of my blog helps him sleep!

Lyon is the capital the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region in east-central France. It is set on a hilly site at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. It is the third largest city in France, after Paris and Marseille and is know as the gastronomic capital of France. 

It was founded in 43BC by the Roman military and became the capital of the Gauls. In 1032 it was integrated into the Holy Roman Empire and annexed to the kingdom of France in 1312.

The Renaissance brought prosperity to the area. By the 17th century it was the silk-manufacturing capital of Europe. Printing was introduced as early as 1473, and Lyon soon became one of the most active printing centres in Europe.

The city now has a diversified economy. The textile industry is dominated by the manufacture of rayon and silk. The production of chemicals has become a key industry as it was originally connected with the treatment of textiles. The construction, food, and printing industries are prosperous.

Lyon is the third-largest city in France after Paris and Marseille with a population of 472,317 in 2019. The larger metropolitan area has a population is 1,747,246 and it’s the second-largest metro area in France behind Paris. I always find it amusing when searching out statistics or information about an area we are visiting. Depending which site you use, the numbers vary somewhat; but I’ll stick with those above.

It’s large historic centre, Le Vieux Lyon, is a Unesco World Heritage site….another one for our list! The city also has the largest ensemble of Renaissance buildings in Europe.

From Wikipedia –

“ Economically, Lyon is a major centre for banking, as well as for the chemical, pharmaceutical and biotech industries. The city contains a significant software industry with a particular focus on video games; in recent years it has fostered a growing local start-up sector. Home of renowned universities and higher education schools, Lyon is the second-largest student city in France, with a university population of nearly 200,000 students within the Metropolis of Lyon. Lyon hosts the international headquarters of Interpol, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, as well as Euronews. According to the Globalization and World Cities Research Network it ranked second in France and 40th globally in Mercer’s 2019 livability rankings.” END of history lesson…..for now!

In the News

1) This past Thursday, ground crew and firemen at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports called a one day strike. They are demanding a raise due to the high cost of living. They have also called for another strike on July 2nd; thankfully that won’t affect us, flying home on July 1st through Amsterdam. I have to love the French workers….they always give advance of when they are going to strike….so polite. Health workers demonstrated this past Tuesday. Lack of resources have caused extreme stress…..sounds familiar! Same happening in our country. 2) Sunday, June 12th is the first round of Regional and Departmental elections. These elections are held over two Sunday’s and will affect the Assemble Nationale (the lower house) and could weaken/strengthen Macron’s efforts. Results from today’s election are posted then the public votes again on Sunday. A little confusing. Right across the street from our apartment is an elementary school and on the notice board are all the candidates posters. It has been interesting to watch the public walk by in the last few days and actually stop and look at the posters….don’t think I ever pay attention to posters during elections back in Canada. People already entering poll at eight am this morning and I did notice that the candidates’ posters have had paint thrown on them overnight….damage to political posters….my, my, what a surprise! Update at 5 pm….people still streaming in to vote and news reports that the voter turnout is 39%.
3) France football (soccer) team has qualified for the 2022 World Cup. 4) Eighteen people went on trial on Tuesday accused of running a Europe-wide giant horse meat trading network involving produce not cleared for human consumption. We know the French take their horse-meat seriously. We have actually tried horse-meat in previous travels; but not really a fan.

An interesting point of these elections is gender parity. For departmental elections, candidate duos (always a man and a woman) are paired together. All the posters show both of them. If a certain duo wins, they both get a seat and exercise their duties separately. For regional elections, parties lists must alternate candidates male and female. After reading more about the regional elections related to gender equality, I was totally confused!

On Saturday, we attended the local market, stopped for coffee/tea in an outside cafe in the park. There was a group of adults just off the square giving a concert, nice to hear.

We then headed out to the Westfield Mall in the Part Dieu area of the city. You ask “Robin and Claire going to a mall in Lyon, France…why?”. Robin decided he wanted a pair of sandals when he looked at the weather forecast for the next few weeks. Temperatures are to be in the high 20’s and low 30’s and he only brought his shoes for cycling and some dress shoes. We take the Metro to get there. This mall was built in 1975 and was one of the largest when built; not sure where is ranks now. It takes up 5 floors and has retail square footage of 1,370,000. No dilly – dallying…..find the Decathlon store, buy the shoes and get the heck out of there. Actually, we stopped at a pizza restaurant on the outer part of the mall for lunch. As the host approached us, he says “Bonjourno”….really, we are in France, not Italy. Like me ordering a cappuccino and being told I need to go to Italy. Robin decides to go to the washroom before we leave the restaurant and he tells me that their is a recording to teach one Italian!

On the way back to our apartment, we stop at the local grocery store as we missed getting a few things we needed yesterday. When I went over the list with Robin and asked if there was anything else we needed, his reply….WINE. Of course, how silly of me. Not sure why wine has go on the list though, not sure I would have forgotten. This evening in our local square a “block party” of sorts was happening; games and demonstrations for kids and bands playing.

Love some of the things I have come across in the apartment.

The “Marilyn” glass cutting board, the soccer player pizza cutter, soap dispensers, dish scrubber and tongs, the coffee maker (looks alien) and the iron.

On Sunday, our second full day in our apartment, we decide to do the Hop on/off bus. I know this sounds very touristy, but we have done this on occasion when visiting a new city. It is good at giving one a good overview of the City and where you want to return. The tour starts from Place Bellecour, which is the major square in Lyon. This square is located in the heart of the Presqu’ile (peninsula) district which is considered the heart of the City. 

We stop for a coffee/tea as we are early for our tour, we had bought tickets on line for a specified departure. I order a cafe creme and I get what looks like an expresso with a bit of milk. I have ordered a cafe creme on other occasions since arriving and I get what we would call a latte, which is what I want. The “lightbulb” in my head goes off and I realize I need to order “un grand cafe creme” (a large).

A view of the old town from the Soane

We are on the bus for about 1 1/2 hours and see the main sites. We begin in the Bellecour neighbourhood where we see an equestrian statue of Louis XlV (Le Cheval de Bronze). This statue was commissioned by the King and was cast by a couple of Lyon brothers. He wanted the statue placed in this square as it is said he fell in love with Lyon. I read that the statue was hidden during the French Revolution and put back in the square in 1826. We then view the “Grand Hotel Dieu”. This was at one time a charity hospital and was refurbished into a 5 star hotel and high end shops. Beautiful architecture in Lyon.

The Opera House, the Musee des Beaux Arts and the Hotel de Ville

The bus then proceeds to the Terreaux neighbourhood where we see the lovely Opera house. We do attend the opera in Calgary, but unfortunately no opera held here during the summer months. City Hall (Hotel de Ville) and the Palais de la Bourse are also located in this area. The Chamber of Commerce now inhabits the Palais de la Bourse as the major stock exchange and treasury are now in Paris. Beautiful painted wall murals in this section of the City. Will have to come back and get more pictures. Also note many book vendors along the river here, reminds of Paris.

Scattered throughout Lyon are more than 100 large murals/frescos.

A funny aside about Hotel de Ville. Many years ago Robin and I were travelling by car through Europe and had a very long day of driving and had some issues at a “payage” (toll road/booth). This was in the days before the EU and we ended up paying our toll in Swiss Francs, Italian Lira and Deutsche Marks. Completely stressed we finally enter France and are looking for a hotel in a small town just across the border. I spot a hotel across the square and say to Robin, there is a hotel…..he says to me “ sweetheart, that is the Hotel de Ville…the city Hall”. Kind of funny when you think I am the French person. Robin never lets me forget this.

Le Musee des Confluences, Le Musee Lumière near our apartment, the Basilica and the fountain in Place Jacobins

The bus follows the Soane, an area we have not yet seen. Along here we can see the Basilica, the Cathedrale, the Tour Metallique which are situated on the Fourviere hill above the City.

We continue and find ourselves at the Confluence. This is located at the southern most end of Presqu’ile and is where the Soane and Rhone meet. There is a spectacular Musee de Confluences and some spectacular architectural buildings along the southern part of the City.

The Orange Cube and The Green Cube (houses Euro News). Both designed by Jakob and MacFarlane based in Paris. Many interesting building designs along the Soane, will hopefully get back there to see more. One older building was an old sugar factory turned into office buildings.
View of the city from the Basilica

Up the hill to the Fourviere district and this is where we decide to disembark.

We are both hungry and want to find a restaurant. Just a few cafes up here on the hill, so we take the “funicular” down the hill and stop at a local cafe. A young lady is sitting next to us and she has the reddish/pink drink, so I ask her what she is drinking and if it is alcoholic. She tells me it is a “Monaco” and it is beer mixed with syrup. So of course I have to look this up. A Monaco is two parts beer and one part lemonade with a splash of grenadine (guess that is what gives it a pink colour). I do like the odd Radler at home on a hot day, so I will have to try one of these and will report back. Still see a lot of people drinking Aperol Spritz’s, but I just find them too sweet. It is now 29C and with the constant breeze, it is very nice sitting in the shade. The owner of the restaurant comes out and sees that the sun is now shining a little on our table, so she promptly tells me that she will move the table a little to ensure we are in the shade. Too kind, thank you. By the way, the old adage that the French are rude is totally not true. If one makes the effort, they are very kind.

More Expressions. Vous avez commander? – You have ordered? Dite moi – tell me what you would like. Pas de soucis – No problem

After getting off the bus, we stopped for lunch. During the bus tour today, we also came across the “vide-greniers” (flea market) just near where we were having lunch. Following is a picture of the funicular we caught going down from the cathedral to the old town. Also came across several local food markets. The food market in our square runs three days a week.

Chocolate ice cream (of course), the funicular, and the “vide greniers” (flea market)

Must mention that you don’t see many people here wearing masks; I would say less than 1%. Robin and I continue to wear ours on the Metro or crowded indoor areas.

Monday with Konstantin

I had booked a private tour of the City before we left Canada. Spent three hours Monday afternoon touring the old City with a local guide Konstantin. Although I say local, Konstantin was born in Belarus, moved to the Czech Republic as a young boy, as his parents thought it would be safer for the family. As an adult, he decided he wanted a French wife, so he went to China to study….makes sense so far. Believe it or not, he met a young French lady studying in China and “ergo” he made his dreams come true. They both had scholarships to study in China and they were there for a few years and travelled around. They decided to settle in a small French town of about two thousand people in the north of France. They found this town simply too small as they had come from a city of ten million in China. The lack of jobs there was also a driver to move to a larger city and they decided on Lyon. They have been here for five years. With hard work, they have been able to buy an apartment in the outskirts of Lyon. Konstantin teaches English at two Universities and runs his tour company on the side. He told us that he teaches English to reluctant French people who should have taken English in school and are finding it difficult later in life to learn a second language, which they now require in the work world. 

We start off our tour at Place Bellecour, which is the largest pedestrian square in France. It is also the heart of Lyon’s historic district. Konstantin tells us that no change can take place in the square, except for possibly planting more trees around the perimeter, as the square is part of the Unesco World Heritage site. This Unesco site includes the districts of Vieux-Lyon, Fourviere Hill (site of the Basilica and the Roman amphitheatre), the slopes of Croix-Rousse Hill (home of the silk industry) and much of the Presqu’ile (location of Place Bellecour). On the square we see the statue of Louis the XIV. He wanted this area to become a second Versailles. The land was owned by a local monastery and they did not want to give it up as they used the land for agricultural purposes. Needless to say, the King took the land. Some gardens were planted, then the French Revolution took place and the square was destroyed. It was rebuilt and two identical buildings are on either sides of the square.

Place Bellecour

We start walking along a pedestrian area which Konstantin refers to the “Champs Élysées” of Lyon as this area features many high end shops. We get to Place des Celestines, where we view the Theatre de Celestines. The theatre was rebuilt several times as it had burnt down on a couple of occasions. It is said that this was mainly due to the lighting, which in olden times was by candlelight. So the owners of the theatre decided to have its own fire brigade. One night, a fire takes place and the building burns down, once again. Where were the firefighters? Apparently enjoying a beer in a nearby local establishment…wonder if they were FIRED!

Then on to Place des Jacobins where we see a beautiful fountain. This area is bordered by 19th century Haussmann style buildings. These buildings have been refurbished over the last few years and the apartments are very expensive due to their location.
I ask Konstantin if this warm weather is usual for this time of year. He says probably a little warmer, but he feels that this has to do with the increase in buildings in the Presqu’ile area over the years and the lack of trees which were cut down to make the roads wider for more cars. He said the previous mayor, who was in power for 30 years, should take most of the blame for this. Last year the mayor was overthrown in the elections and the city is now ruled by the Green Party.

Konstantin takes us to a parking garage…..yes, a parking garage which is below the Place des Celestines. In 1996 this car park won an award for Europe’s most remarkable car park renovation. Who would think of going into a car park when touring a city…..that is why getting a private guide is so worth it.

Robin asks Konstantin about local beers. He says that growing up in the Czech Republic, he always thought they had the best beer. But having travelled in Europe and China, he has come across a lot of good beer and went on to say that Czech beer is the best Czech beer! Konstantin points out a sign which shows the height of the river during flooding.

Hope no flooding in Calgary! See the rivers rising back home.

Some of the streets in the area were known for their printing shops. Lyon has a history in the printing industry and many of its streets are named after famous printers. During WW11, Lyon was a centre for the Resistance and its printers produced many Resistance newspapers.
We view the upper town, known as the Croix Rousse. This is where the silk industry established itself. It is said the workers lived on the hills as they would have to climb up to their homes. Whereas the wealthy lived on the flats, closer to the river and fresh water. Konstantin says their are two hills….Croix Rousse, the hill that works and Fourviere (Basilica located there), the hill that prays.

Beautiful views of the City as we cross the Soane

We cross the Soane and ahead of us is the Palais de Justice. Our guide tells us that Klaus Barbie was tried here.

Robin and Konstantin walking across a pedestrian bridge on the Soane towards the Palais de Justice. The Basilica and La Tour métallique de Fourviere (Metallic tower of Fourviere).

We continue on to Vieux Lyon. On one end of Vieux Lyon is the Saint Jean Baptiste Cathedral and on the other end was (centuries ago) the banking and trading centre of Lyon. People came to Lyon to trade goods; at the time the silk industry was the largest in Europe.

The Old Town

The Cathedral was complete in 1476 and is older that the Basilica further up the hill. Inside is an astronomical clock. Konstantin points out that the last year on the clock is 2019…..just before the pandemic….he raises his eyebrows!

La Cathédrale Sain Jean Baptiste

Konstantin then takes us to several Traboules; an informal network of elusive passageways. The doors to these passageways are not evident; they look like any other door, so one needs to know where they are. It is said that some 400 existed at one time, now about 40 are accessible to the public; others being private. These are like hallways that give one a shortcut from one street to another. Some of these have access to basements and tunnels that lead to the river. These were also used by the French Resistance to avoid the Nazi’s and to spy and plot against them. One can also see the stairs that lead up to apartments. Some of the stairs had small holes in them and Konstantin tells us that these were used for carrier pigeons.

Traboules – hidden passageways.
Konstantin explaining Traboules. The door looks like an entry into an apartment building. A visitor can get a map for the Traboules.

We take the funicular up Fourviere hill to visit the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere. This basilica was built in the 19th century on land that was once a Roman forum. It blends both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. It has four main towers and a bell tower with a gold top and a small chapel on the side. The basilica is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom is attributed the salvation of the City from the bubonic plague that swept Europe in the 1600’s. The Virgin is also credited with saving the city from a Cholera epidemic and the Prussian invasion. Interesting to see that above the altar, where one would normally see a cross with crucified Jesus, here you see a statue of the Virgin Mary. Each year in December, the city of Lyon thanks the Virgin Mary by lighting candles throughout the City; which is called the Festival of Lights. Konstantin says that the Festival now takes on a new spin by having fire works and lights throughout the city.

Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere
Beautiful mosaic walls and gilded ceilings in the Basilica. Note the statue of the Virgin Mary above the altar. A side chapel is attached to the side of the Basilica.

We also see La Tour Métallique de Fourviere in the distance. This is a television tower and not accessible to the public. Built in 1892-94 it resembles the Eiffel tower. The metallic tower was actually constructed with financial assistance from the republican/secular local council that wanted a secular monument to balance against the religious symbolism of the Basilica, which was built 10 years earlier by public subscription. Apparently once the spire was positioned on top of the tower, it was higher than the Basilica. I also read that the Nazi’s considered disassembling the tower for the metal for its war effort, but this never transpired. Not sure who built it, but it was not Eiffel.

La Tour Métallique de Fourviere

There are gardens beside the Basilica with beautiful views of the City below. This is the end of our tour. A wonderful three hours spent with our very informative guide, Konstantin.

We take the funicular back down the hill and stop for a cold beer. It is very warm today (32 C), but thankfully a breeze blowing. I think I have already drank more beer this trip than I did all of last summer!

We are also thankful that our apartment is air conditioned. It is 9:30 p.m. as I am writing my blog and still 24 C. We have the windows open and enjoying a nice cool breeze. Very tired with all the walking but certainly a worthwhile day. We always find it so interesting to view a city from a locals’ perspective and enjoy all the stories we are told, not just the history.

6 thoughts on “First few days in Lyon

  1. Another fascinating blog and I never fall asleep 💤! So nice also to see pictures with both of you in them. If you recall the meal, what was Robin eating in the bowl, looked like meat but not sure. If you ever have the urge or time or commitment, you could encompass all the main elements in a travelogue book and publish it for sale. We would certainly buy one, love Tim & Gail.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tim, not sure you got my reply…so here goes again. Thank you for your lovely comments. I enjoy writing my blog and when I get back I always do a photo book and incorporate parts of my blog. What Robin is eating is chocolate ice cream. He is quite a chocoholic and he found an upscale chocolate shop near our apartment. Hope you are both well. Hugs, Claire


  2. Great reading. Feel like I am on the trip with you guys. I enjoy the history even if your nephew doesn’t.
    Nice to be able to travel again. I just got home from Vancouver Island. You have the best camera as your photos are excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jane. Robin takes most of the pictures with his IPhone 13 mini. He has a good eye for composition. On our way home, I have some health issues and thought it best to return. Did enjoy our time away.


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