Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Lonely Planet: “…Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France, with a lavish table of piggy-driven dishes and delicacies to savour. The city has been a commercial, industrial and banking powerhouse for the past 500 years, and is still France’s second-largest conurbation, with outstanding art museums, a dynamic nightlife, green parks and a Unesco-listed Old Town…”

It got me at gastronomic! My stomach was looking forward to a weekend of good food and sightseeing, and it wasn’t disappointed. We took an early train out and arrived in Lyon late morning. Public transportation is simple and easily navigable; we were at our hotel in Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) just in time for lunch. Picking a restaurant based on the rooster signage, we dined at the Les Ventres Jaunes (The Yellow Stomach). My salmon was delicious, Roberts had a beef stew and Lauris made a significant dent in the bread basket. Surrounded by chicken paraphernalia, the atmosphere was original and quirky, the only thing better would have been to dine outside as the restaurant was on the main stretch and people watching would have been interesting. With full stomachs we set out for Fourvière, Lyon’s “hill of prayer”, topped by a basilica and the Tour  Métallique, a giant TV transmitter.

After buying tickets for the funiculaire we found it was currently not operational. This tram is the easiest way to get up to the top, although there are several buses that make the trip. We decided to hike it, complete with Lauris, stroller, baby bag etc. The montées, or rises, consist of winding flights of stairs and steep roads that climb the hill. We ended up on Montée du Garillan which consists of (per tMg) 224 steps. After the first ten flights of stairs I was having my doubts, but we were soon rewarded with some great views of the mosaic roofs of Vieux Lyon.

Through the park with the occasional glimpse of the basilica, and suddenly we were at the very top, rewarded with a view of Lyon. The Basilique Notre-Dame is a place of pilgrimage built after the Franco-Prussian War (1870) in fulfillment of a vow taken by the Archbishop of Lyon to build a church if the enemy did not approach the city. Magnificent inside and out, with its awe-inspiring location and beautiful surrounding gardens, we could have spent the entire day exploring. The cold and windy weather cut our sightseeing a little short however, leaving the Gallo-Roman ruins for another visit.

We continued our exploration of Vieux Lyon after a quick stop at an Irish pub to catch the last 15 minutes of the Italy-France rugby game. The Primatiale St-Jean is a beautiful cathedral that dates back to the 12th century. We caught the astronomical clock chiming complete with little figures emerging and circling the top of the clock. Next to the cathedral are ruins of Gallo-Roman baths and churches dating back to the 4th century as well as a crêpe stand that allowed us to continue our gastronomic adventure with a Nutella crêpe. Our hotel was one street over, on Rue du Bœuf. We searched in vain for the statue of the bull after which the street is supposedly named, but enjoyed our hotel very much. Four restored houses have been incorporated into the hotel, leaving a beautiful courtyard with U-shaped galleries in the center. Spiral rock staircases, small hidden alcoves and beautiful art complete the look and urge visitors to explore beyond the rooms. We took a break here to let Laurīts nap, then found our next meal at Chez Louise, again with traditional Lyonnais food. The meal – delicious! I can’t even tell you exactly what Roberts or I ordered, but my meal was tender ribs with a cheese sauce and heavenly scalloped potatoes, while Roberts ended up with another beef stew because of a mix up in the order. The atmosphere was cozy and warm, and it was late when we left for another quick walk through the Old Town before turning in for the night.

Basilica Notre Dame at night
We awoke the next morning to a steady drizzle that kept on the entire day. Not to be discouraged, we stopped at a corner bakery for breakfast #1 (croissants and pain de chocolate) before heading to the Saône river, along which Sunday mornings bring the Marché de la Création and Marché de l’Artisanat. We bought a painting of the very river scene we were strolling down, as well as a stunning red pansy necklace, then decided to get out of the rain for a bit. Breakfast #2, café au lait, more croissants. People watching. It was such a wonderful little café that we didn’t stop there, and eventually had breakfast #3, coffee, hot chocolate and begnets. Finally we headed out, this time to La Presqu’îlle, Lyon’s main city center situated between the Rhône and the Saône. Starting at Place Bellecour we headed north to Place des Terreaux, stopping at Häagen Dazs to get out of the rain for a bit, as not much else was open. The architecture along the way is lovely, and we will have to hope that next time we can explore without hurry. At the north end of our walk we marveled at the 19th century fountain sculpted by Bartholdi, creator of the Statue of Liberty. This was my favorite part of the day, because after seeing the fountain we ducked into the courtyard of the Musée des Beaux-Arts where we were able to stay dry while eating a quick snack and watching the rain fall in the gardens.

Back at the hotel we relaxed for a bit, and before we knew it, it was time to take the subway to the train station. One more gastronomical stop however, For Roberts a steak and fries, for me a pizza. This time the order mix-up was mine, I ended up with an olive, sausage and egg toppings. However, still delicious, and a short time later we were on the train back to Clermont, tired, a little wet but vowing to return soon, impressed with this city that is so close to home.

Roberts relaxing in front of St-Jean with a bit of parcour

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