With the Lyonnais


The following is a report to family and friends form a lecture tour to Lyon in southern France.

Ok, I am oriented now. Couldn’t get my bearings yesterday, but I’ve got my see legs back.

One lesson I’ve learned from Nancy is it’s OK for men to ask directions. Yep, we can do it.

Another lesson from travel is the need to stay flexible. Yep, we can do that too, but it’s even harder than asking directions.

I had an early breakfast and by 8.00 I was ready to explore. Figured I’d just grab a cab out front and head to the old city. Problem, I only had a 50 Euro note and from a very unpleasant experience in Washington DC I knew that cabbies, at least Yankee cabbies, don’t like breaking big bills for short rides. So, in my best broken French asked a cabby if he could take me to the old town and explained that I had only a 50 Euro bill. He gave a Gaullic shrug–yes, they really do do that–and said something in rapid-fire French that I took to mean, “No, but you can get a bus over there somewhere.” Now, normally that would be rather insulting to have a cabby say, “buddy, go get someone else” but I shrugged–I can do that too–and went in the hotel and asked the concierge for help.

The concierge said in effect “no problem, take the number 28 bus and it will take you right to the old city and the funicular.” Well, hell that’s right where I wanted to go. She went on to suggest the sights to see and drew a little walking route right on my handy dandy tourist map.

Next challenge, catching the number 28 and paying with a 50 Euro bill. (Ok, I would have changed it at the hotel, but all the businessmen were checking out and I didn’t want to wait.) Found the bus stop as directed. The number 28 pulls up and I ask to buy two tickets. Half fearing the expected, “geesh, 50 Euros, what do you think I am a bank,” I was pleased that the bus was only half full and the driver cheerfully forked over a mountain of change, patiently counting it out in front of me. Voila, I was on my way. Grabbed a seat, whipped out my map, and started an adventure.

Lyon was settled at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone (Sone). The old city’s on the banks of the Saone and the city proper is on the peninsula between the two rivers. The bus proceed to cross one river, then the next. Each view revealed more of the city, more bridges, and my destination: the basilica of Fourviere.

An old man with a cane got on the bus and sat next to me. He saw me reading the map and started pointing streets out to me. He asked where I was going and told me it was just ahead. It was a helluva good way to start the day. You can’t make taking a bus easier than this. There’s a clear route plan on the wall, just like in the metro. There’s a digital sign that tells you what stop is next, and the stop after that. Each bus stop has a metal sign that clearly tells you the name of the stop, what bus stops, and when. In a matter of minutes I felt like an old hand.

The funicular was just beyond the bus stop. When I confronted the turnstile I took out my extra ticket. As I was pondering what to do next a man came out of a little room and started up the escalator. I asked him politely (sil vous plait always works wonders) if my bus ticket would work, “Bien sur,” and waved me on. I passed the ticket through the machine and I was on my way to the basilica.

Why? You may ask. Well, it has a commanding view of Lyon. Of course I can also go inside and light a candle for my mutti back in Alexandria–it’s become something of a tradition.

Now, I’ve lighted a lot of candles in my day, but Lyon Catholics don’t make it easy. I dutifully dropped my two Euros in the box, picked up my squat little candle and then–well, I was stumped. There were no matches, no wicks, and the only candle thin enough to light the others was out. Hmmmm? I tried several approaches to no avail. So, I looked around. There were other devotional candles spread throughout the nave. I saw a French family struggling with their candle. (See, I wasn’t the only one!) When they got theirs lit I went up to them and they offered their candle to light mine. There mom. You have your $2 candle burning away in the basilica.

The exterior is austere, but the interior is lavish. The building, like Sacre Cour in Paris, was built after the Franco-Prussian war in thanks that the Boche didn’t destroy France after their victory. (Well, we won’t go into what a French general did to the Paris Commune or that Sacre Cour has always been a symbol to the extreme right in France. Nope, we won’t go there.)

Heard singing coming from the Sacristy and outside I stumbled on a gaggle of nuns who could have been on tour, “Today is the basilica of our lady of . . .”. You can fill in the blank. There were churches and cross-topped buildings everywhere I looked.

I’ve seen pictures of some ugly imitations of the Tour Eiffel. There’s one in Tokyo I understand. The Lyonnais have their own version just aside from the basilica and I’d say it rivals the one in Tokyo.

On my way to the basilica I walked through the Roman amphitheater. Open to the public and well maintained, the park has blocks and carved columns excavated from the site. This is the area where the great aqueducts entered Lyon.

Unlike Paris, Lyon is clean and for the most part graffiti free. The bus was immaculate as was the funicular.

I took the funicular down the hill and walked across the river on a modern “pont suspendu” or suspension bridge devoted to pedestrians. Today was market day and I passed stall after stall of exotic cheeses, fish, and meat. Could have grabbed a slice of sanglier (wild boar) if I had been hungry.

Strolled down to the monumental city hall and the recently remodeled opera house. A women stopped me and asked for directions to the Metro. You should have seen her face when I replied. But guess what, I told her where it was and she found it. Yeah, score one for the Gipper.

Crossed another suspension bridge for pedestrians (“This bridge was destroyed by the Germans in the year blah, blah, blah, and was rebuilt in . . .”) and found my way back to my hotel.

From my vantage point at the basilica I could easily see my hotel. You can’t avoid seeing my hotel. It is the tallest, the ugliest, the most out of place building in all of Lyon, somewhat like the Tour Montparnasse in Paris.

The building, a skyscraper (literally “gratte ciel”), is not really a hotel, it is the home of Credit Lyonnais. Yep, that Credit Lyonnais. My hotel is only on the top and bottom floors.

Well, it may be ugly but the hotel here prepares one mean omelette. You can never go wrong with an omelette in France. And when all else fails and the menu has sinister sounding dishes like “rognon de veau” (kidneys I think, but I wasn’t about to find out), you can always fall back on an omelette.

Time to go to work.

Quartier Part Dieu, Lyon