My Apologies – Mes Excuses

Armed robbery of a jewelry shop in downtown Geneva, the robbers fled over the highway, direction Lyon. Carjacking in Lausanne, police followed the carjackers and lost them in the suburbs of Lyon. A 34 year old man, called the “burglar of Vandoeuvres” by his victims, was finally arrested at his home in Lyon.

If you hear the name of a place so many times related to bad headlines, no matter how much you try to fight against prejudice, the bad reputation is already stuck in everyone’s mind. The publicity for the “nuits des lumières” (night of the lights) which take place in Lyon once a year in December is not enough to erase this tainted image one gets of this town over the years.

But still, I had intended for years to visit this town to see the facts for myself. Preferably by train and not by car, well you know, the carjackers … Just kidding.

Finally Lyon welcomed me and a good friend for an entire day… Arrival in Part Dieu. We realised, when rushing back to it at the end of the day and asking our way through, that it is important to know the station’s name. Because Lyon is a  big enough town to have two stations.

The weather forecast announced bad weather for the day, but their timing was wrong. We enjoyed the sun and a serious wind before the storm that built up and brought us a day with more than 30°C. We headed from the station towards the river Rhône with the goal of the Old Town of Lyon (UNESCO world heritage site).

We felt slightly underdressed when passing in front of coffee places with mainly male customers. The women we crossed were covered with a hijab. Baklava, corne de gazelle, basbousa, stuffed dates, loukoum, knafeh and other mouth watering pastries tried to lure us into the shops. But we stayed strong and I decided to get on the way back some of these lovely honey drenched sweets which remind me of our trip to Casablanca. Our first encounter with Lyon had brought us through this Maghreb part of the La Guillotière district. It is a very international part of town where Chinese food lovers also get lucky.

Rue Mercière

Rue Mercière

Once the river Rhône crossed, fighting against a strong wind, we made it to rue Mercière, where the choice of restaurants is almost overwhelming.  Far more a tourist zone than La Guillotière, terrace seating were popular and rare that day. We left rue Mercière well fed after having won the race for an outside table at a small restaurant with a criminally dangerous staircase leading to the restrooms.

Another river to cross, the Saône, and we finally found ourselves in the old town…rue de Boeuf, rue St. Jean. To the lovely student at the tourism office we must have looked very athletic for she wanted to cram a heap of attractions to visit into just a few hours’ time. I will keep the map full of circles she put all over the city, indicating everything worthwhile to see.

We narrowed it down to

  • Traboules – passage ways through which you to go from one street to another through private courtyards -built in the IV century to ease water supply from the rivers to other parts of the town and used later by the Canuts (silk weavers) to get down from the hill Croix-Rousse to join the merchants, installed at the foot of the hill (did you know that Lyon was declared in the 15th century “sole depot for foreign silk entering France”?)
  • Soierie Saint Georges, whereLudovic de la Galle demonstrates silk weaving on a200 year old weaving machine

    Phoenix sound check - Théâtre Gallo-romains Fourvière

    Phoenix sound check – Théâtre Gallo-romains Fourvière

  • Façade of Saint Jean Cathedral
  • Pink Tower (Tour Rose) and its courtyard
  • Basilic Notre-Dame de Fourvière so richly decorated that, if our intention was to pray, we would have been distracted
  • Beautiful view over Lyon and its two rivers
  • Sound check of the group Phoenix who got ready for the concert in the gallo-roman theatre

I have an even longer list for our next visit, which will definitely happen. This city is really worth a visit. Apart from the historically charged Old Town, the people we met were so friendly and helpful. The girls at the information counter at the station, Mr. de la Galle the silk weaver, the student in the tourism office, the ice cream seller (well, he was a guy for Paris who confirmed that the “Lyonnais” are much friendlier than the Parisians 😉 ) and the lovely couple explaining how to get back to the right station.

We rushed back taking the subway. Unfortunately I had no time to buy the pastries as initially planned. But I take the time to ask the people of Lyon, through a longer than usual post, to accept my apologies for having thought, even just a second, badly of this exceptional, interesting town and its extremely friendly citizens.