We love the french transportation system; being car-less has been a freeing experience. Steve likes driving more than I do, but we have not driven a car in almost 4 months, and I couldn’t be happier! – Steve still wants his Aston Martin, but I’m keeping an eye on his “men and their toys” syndrome!
The rail system in Europe is notorious for being efficient – save Italy, easy to navigate and relatively inexpensive. Not having used the mass transport system in NC, I can’t speak to its qualities, but in France if the schedule says the train will leave at 7:13, you can almost bet that it will. So a trip for the day to Lyon (pronounced Lee-ohn) was a simple matter of purchasing some train tickets at the Gare and showing up to board the train.
The evening before we had booked the 8:11 train out of Grenoble, arriving in Lyon at 9:20 (imagine a Sam Spade voice in a Dashiell Hammett novel). The ride was comfortable, and we pulled into Lyon’s Part-Dieu on-time. Using an old Rick Steves’ France guide book that I had picked up at the Bookworm Café, a café/anglo bookstore run by a British expat in Grenoble, we had figured out how to navigate from the train station to the center of town. We had mapped out where the Tourist Information (TI) Center was, and when we arrived, we found that Place Bellecour was alive with an eco-festival. Lots of cool gadgets and transports, so we browsed around some, and then we stopped in the TI and purchased a Lyon City Card. At 20 € each for our cards – one of us used his student ID and got a 20% discount- we had access to all the mass transportation possibilities and a host of exhibits and museums for the day – outstanding!
Lyon is France’s second-largest metropolitan area and considered the gastronomical capital of France (have I mentioned how good the food and wine is in France?), but even though it is larger than Grenoble, it has more pedestrian-friendly areas that made it a delight to navigate. There are three different Lyons: the historic Vieux Lyon, Fourvière Hill and the Presqu’île. Consulting the map, we decided that our first destination would be Fourvière Hill where Notre-Dame Basilica is situated. It’s dedicated to the Virgin Mary, hence the moniker, and Mary is everywhere in tribute to her with walls and floors covered in gold leaf and with mosaics depicting her and Jesus. (I guess they had photos from which to work.) Taking the funicular (a railway up the side of a mountain pulled by a moving cable and having counterbalancing ascending and descending cars), we did the tour and ended with the French omnipresent tribute to Ste. Jeanne d’Arc. Moving outside, we had an outstanding view of the city from the terrace with Mont Blanc (the highest point in Europe) in sight.
Making our way down to Vieux Lyon, we stopped in at Cathédrale St-Jean, built between 1165 to 1480. (And we think road construction in NC takes too long?) It showcases a unique 14th-century astronomical clock which we found to be beautiful. It chimes at 12pm, 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm while a rooster crows and angels herald; our iPhone was jealous. In this district we also visited Lyon’s Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts), a “small” museum that occupies a former 17th Century Benedictine abbey. It reminded me of our own NC Museum of Art in Raleigh with its collection ranging from Ancient to Impressionist art.
As it was a Saturday, Lyon was bustling with people enjoying the fine weather and the great spots in the town. The market was in full swing along the rivers. Escaping the crowds for a while, we took a trip on the Lyon City Boat (think Circle-Line to Bear Mtn. in NY). It chugs up the Rhône and down the Saône rivers at a clip with a bi-lingual narration.
Returning to land, we knew our time in Lyon was growing short. We made our way to the Presqu’île (peninsula), the area of Lyon between the rivers Saône and the Rhône, which is Lyon’s shopping and restaurant district. We decided to try the Francotte, a restaurant which had been recommended in the guide book. It was opening up in about 15 minutes of our arrival so we returned to the nearby Place de Célestins where the Théâtre de Lyon was readying itself for the evening performance. Families with small children running and playing filled the square, so we sat and enjoyed the open air and the amusing decoration on the theatre’s facade. (Click on the pictures for a better look.)
Soon the Francotte opened, and we were welcomed by the hostess. She seated us, gave us the menus and directed our eyes to the chalk board on the wall. This restaurant is considered a bouchon, a small bistro which offers a limited traditional fare selection. Choosing from that menu board meant we could have a prix fixe meal consisting of l’entrée (1st course here -salad and soup), plat principal (main course) and dessert. The meal was well-prepared, the service good, and we had the added benefit of watching the theatre-goers come in for their “before the show”dinner.
All too soon we had to get back to the train station for our return journey. It was becoming dark and Lyon became illuminated. Even though Paris is known as the City of Lights, Lyon gives it stiff competition. The buildings and public areas are lit with floodlights that highlight the beautiful city. One day is not enough to take in all the sights of Lyon. On the train, I thumbed through the guidebook and saw the entries of interest I had highlighted before we left Grenoble. We managed to see a few, but the neon yellow marks in the book mean we have a bit more exploring to do on our next trip to Lyon.