Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mommy in Montpellier: Weekend in Lyon

Mardi, 19 novembre.

Like I said in my first post, I'm going to divide Mommy's visit into a couple of posts ... we took too many great pictures to fit everything in one! You can read about our first day in Montpellier here. On Friday morning, we took the train a few hours northeast, to the city of Lyon.

We stayed in a charming little apartment in Vieux-Lyon, the city's old Renaissance quarter and the heart of its historic district. The apartment was incredibly convenient -- right above the metro station, around the corner from the Lyon cathedral, and just across the river from some of Lyon's most famous squares! We were picked up at the train station by our host's parents -- an adorable and incredibly welcoming couple who were clearly very happy that their daughter has found a way to make some money with the apartment they bought her. They left us with fresh fruit, milk and orange juice, homemade jam, and even a bottle of wine!

After a quick cup of coffee/hot cocoa to wake and warm us up, we headed out to explore Lyon! Well ... almost. The building's old door was a little tricky! (Also, confession: I am absolutely terrible at opening doors. We stayed in three separate apartments over the course of the week and I couldn't open a one of them.)

For whatever crazy reason, given the fact that it was raining and we only had one umbrella, we decided to walk up the hill to Fourvière! Hey, it didn't look that far ... right? Wrong. What seemed like a straight shot from the apartment window was actually a series of winding roads that led sloooowly up the hill.


Luckily, we were able to take a few pauses and admire the view as we got higher and higher! In this picture, you can see the Saône River, which runs parallel to the Rhône through the city, just below us and the Eglise Saint-Georges in the right-hand corner. (Fun fact: the church was designed by the same architect as the basilica at the top of the hill. He referred to it as a "youthful mistake." Poor Saint-Georges.)

Our first stop, once we made it to the top of the hill? The ancient Roman theatre of Fourvière, which has been around since before the birth of Christ. At its most popular, during the reign of Emperor Hadrien in the second century AD, it held up to 10,000 spectators. Bottom line: this sucker is very big, very old, and very cool. And because of the rainy weather, we had the entire thing almost entirely to ourselves!



Our next stop was the hill's main attraction: the beautiful Basilique de Fourvière. The church isn't old -- at least not by French standards: it was built at the end of the 19th century in honor of the Virgin Mary, who holds special significance for the city of Lyon. Its design is unique, as it combines Romanesque and Byzantine styles and strays away from the Gothic architecture that was popular at the time. Also, all of its exterior decoration -- all of the sculptures, all of the carvings -- is dedicated to Mary. 


We walked around the back of the basilica to take advantage of the amazing views. Apparently on a clear day, you can see all the way to Mont Blanc! Still, even on a dismal rainy day, the view was breathtaking -- everything just seemed so tiny. We had fun taking pictures ... even if we were pretty much soaking wet by that point!

I look like a drowned rat.
The views from opposite sites of the church!

After poking around outside for a little while, we decide to go on in ... and thank goodness we did! In addition to being a welcome respite from the gloomy drizzle, it was also THE. MOST. BEAUTIFUL. CHURCH. EVER.

Below the upper church, we descended into the "crypt" -- unlike others, this one was basically another full-sized church! While the upper church, which was full of light and beautiful mosaics, the crypt was darker and simpler. There was. however, one mosaic in the crypt: a giant composite image dedicated to Saint James the Great. The huge mural depicted both scenes from his life and depictions of the many churches featured on the Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, the massively popular pilgrimage to his burial site in Spain. These include the basilica in Lyon, along with the churches in Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert and Toulouse. The mosaic was incredibly detailed ... and under the lights, it even sparkled!

Mommy and I don't make the same mistakes twice, so after our lengthy hike to the top of Fourvière, we decided to take a speedier route back down. Our transportation of choice? The funiculaire! This little train is one of the only remaining funiculars in the city and shuttles people all day from the basilica at the top of Fourvière down to the center of Vieux-Lyon.

Quick sidenote: want to know my lasting impression of Lyon? Best. Public. Transportation. Ever. Seriously. Typically, getting off a train in a city and being ushered immediately onto a tram and then a metro car wouldn't leave you with the best first impression. (Seeing Paris or New York this way would be enough to make you want to get straight back on that train and head home!) But Lyon's public transportation is GREAT: an advanced system of underground metro and aboveground trams and buses that criscrosses the whole city.

Like in Montpellier, the Lyon trams are absolutely adorable. While Mommy was obsessed with the trams, my favorite part was the metro. It was all just SO CLEAN -- the cars, the platform, even the space under the tracks that's usually full of cigarette butts and broken bottles. I'm usually exaggerating when I say that things are clean enough to eat off, but in this case, I mean it: if you dangled a little cash in front of my face, I would be more than willing to eat off the floor of the Lyon metro station. And the coolest thing about the Lyon public transportation? One ticket gives you unlimited travel for two hours -- which means that if your commute involves the metro, a tram and a bus, you only need to buy one ticket!

Mommy thought this one looked like a beluga whale.
But back, for now, to the funicular.

We emerged, about five minutes later, at the base of the hill. (Remind me again why we didn't take the funicular both ways...?) As we walked back out into Vieux Lyon, it was so cool to look back up the hill and see where we had just been! Naturally, a small photoshoot ensued.

We spent a little while walking around Vieux-Lyon, exploring the streets near our apartment. Just around the corner? La Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon. The church, which was built between the 12th and 15th centuries, is the seat of the archbishop of Lyon and is quite the big deal. Although it's the beautiful facade of the church that is definitely the most gorgeous (would ya just look at that!) the side reveals a really interesting part of its history: it was actually built on top of the remains of an ancient Catholic church dating all the way back to the sixth century, when Catholicism was first brought to the region that is now Lyon.


Tragically, the weird times of day during which we were always walking through the square meant that we never had the chance to go inside the famous church ... but we did admire it from afar!

All around the cathedral, Vieux-Lyon is filled with restaurants, cafes, and adorable little shops. These were two of my favorites: a herboristerie in Place Saint-Jean and a toy store called Les Jouets des Anges just down the street. 

Despite the massive number of pastries we'd eaten for breakfast, we were getting pretty hungry. And it's hard to walk around hungry in France -- you pass too many delicious cafes and boulangeries to continue for long! So we stopped for lunch at a little sandwich shop for paninis (and, of course, dessert). I haven't always been one for hot sandwiches, but BOY do they hit the spot on a cold day.

After warming up and drying off at lunch, we continued on our self-guided tour of Vieux-Lyon. We walked a little bit down by the Saône River and marvelled at all the adorable little houses lining the banks.

Thoroughly tuckered out by our walk through the rainy city and still full from our late lunch, we had a nice quiet evening at the apartment. Because what's better than baguette camembert sandwiches and a dubbed version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses? (Answer: the original version of Dangerous Laisions. I hate dubbing. Oh well, we had to make do.)

We spent all of Saturday in Annecy, which you can read about here. It wasn't until late that night that we got back to the city. I took these pictures on our way back! On the left, up at the top of the hill, you can see the Fourvière Basilica. On the right is a shot of St. Jean Cathedral.

On Sunday morning, we decided to explore a little bit more of the city before heading to Perouges. I really wanted to check out the city's famous Parc de la Tête d'Or (which translates as "Park of the Golden Head" for some odd reason), so we decided to take the scenic route. We walked along the Saône before crossing over the river to the Presqu'île. The little peninsula, located right between the two rivers that flow through Lyon, is the true heart of the city and is full of museums, old buildings, and beautiful plazas. Our first stop was la Place des Terreaux, where the city's beautiful Hôtel de Ville  is located.

In addition to the beautiful Hotel de Ville, Place des Terreaux is famous for its namesake -- a giant fountain by Bartholdi. (Yep, the same Bartholdi who designed the Statue of Liberty.) Although the statue -- cleverly named La Fontaine Bartholdi -- has been in Lyon since the 1890s, it was originally designed and sculpted for the city of Bordeaux. Unfortunately, the statue proved too expensive and was sold to the city of Lyon! 

The woman in the statue is a representation of France, while the four horses represent the country's four main rivers. All together, the fountain weighs TWENTY-ONE tons. (Which has me wondering, if Bordeaux couldn't afford to keep it, how on earth did they afford the shipping on this sucker?!)

As the park is on the other side of the Rhône, we got to cross another river. We loved seeing all the beautiful old buildings on this side of the city. Mommy got a kick out of the fact that some of the old buildings had had garages installed!


We continued on our way to the park, stopping only to do a little casual window shopping at one of Lyon's many little boutiques...

And finally, we arrived at the Tête d'Or. Although the weather had been gloomy and wet all morning, it turned into a beautiful day for a walk in the park!

Aaaand the real reason we came to the park ... to take a picture with the Lyon Tourism Office's famous "ONLY LYON" sign. (Did I mention that this city has one of the best tourism websites I've ever seen? Seriously, it's crazy!)

We spent the rest of Sunday in Perouges, a picturesque little town that you can read more about here. But we were back in Lyon that evening, for one last nighttime stroll through the city! We walked through Vieux-Lyon, which comes alive at night with dozens and dozens of bouchons (traditional Lyonnaise restaurants). Each one was more adorable than the next, but we didn't pop in for a meal and opted instead for good old street fare. Lyon cuisine made be world famous, but I'd much prefer fresh-made crêpes to some of the city's culinary specialties. (Tripe? No thank you!)

We even took the funicular back up to the top of Fourvière Hill to see the view at night! The church looked beautiful all lit up and the view was even better. Excuse my blurry pictures ... but trust me, it was lovely!

It took me a little while to warm back up...
We headed back to Montpellier on an early-morning train the next day, after checking out of the apartment and saying goodbye to our host's adorable parents. It was my first trip, but I'm sure I'll be back to Lyon someday. After all, I still have to go inside that cathedral!

1 comment:

  1. It's a good thing to always leave something for the next visit. :) I adored our time together in all the places and along all the rides or hikes.