On Saturday morning, they asked us to be off the barge by 9 A.M. There was a little store near the harbor where I’d seen a piece of Gien ceramics that I wanted to buy. We walked over there to get it, but the store didn’t open until 10:00. We were worried about having enough time to get to Lyon, so we couldn’t wait.
Other than setting up the framework for this next part of our trip -such as hotels and train tickets- the rest of our time in France was meant to be as unstructured as possible. Mike doesn’t like to be on the move too much…so I narrowed our touring to the Southwest part of France and picked five cities to visit.
I only did the most basic research about things we could go looking for at each destination if we wanted to. There were three specific active outings that were “must dos”, but otherwise, I’m sure we missed 9 out of 10 of “The 10 Best Things To Do In (fill in the blank)” everywhere we went.
Lyon was about a four hour drive from Briare. I had given us as much extra time as possible with the car rental timing in case of traffic delays or us getting lost… but we pretty much sailed through all the twists and turns along the way. There were three different toll roads along our route with three different ways of paying…so that was fun to figure out as we went.
When I was on the car rental website looking for a one-way rental, I’d put the Lyon airport in as a return location just to check and see if that would work…it did…so I stuck with it. Turns out the airport is pretty far outside of town. Luckily they had a connector train between the airport and one of the train stations in Lyon -the one that happened to be steps away from the hotel I’d booked.
We’d jumped in the car that morning without drinks or snacks for the road -so by the time we arrived at the hotel, I was feeling seriously dehydrated! Did I even think to drink a big glass of water in the room? No… typical me, I thought this was a better idea. Probably not!
Doing my research for choosing our hotel, I’d seen that there is a very large mall directly behind the train station. We had to pass through the train station and cross one road to get there (not a long walk at all). Not only was it one of the larger malls I’ve seen in recent times, it was very busy that night.
They had something like twenty-five restaurants there. We were surprised to see a Popeyes in France!
Not being terribly hungry, we decided that “All we needed was crepes”. Perhaps the sign influenced us?
Logistically, Lyon was where we could drop a car and get to a train station -so I only planned one full day there before we moved on. Even though Lyon is getting a reputation as the food capital of France, there isn’t much else to do there otherwise.
In a book (fiction) I was reading recently, the author used the phrase: “the weight of history” in a sentence. That really resonated with me in context of our travels around France. All of these places we visit in Europe are carrying the weight of history. The interesting thing to observe is how the places we visit have managed to handle the weight of history as time marches on. Some cities have done that in a charming way; others not so much.
On our first morning in Lyon, we walked about two miles from our hotel to the old part of the city. Along the way, we passed a large square called Place des Jacobins with a fountain in the middle. The square was created in the 1500s and has had several name changes over the years. The fountain was added in the 1800s.
A bit further along, after crossing both the Saone and Rhone rivers, we arrived at the old part of Lyon. We were in search of the funicular station to get a ride up to the top of the “hill” above the city.
On our way, we came across this area where, obviously, a church once stood. I found out that it is the ruins of the Holy Cross church -destroyed in the French Revolution. It may have originally dated back as far as the 400s.
It was interesting to see it juxtaposed against the church behind it – which is actually the side view of the Lyon Cathedral. The cathedral was started in 1180 and has been updated here and there over the years.
When we reached the front of the Lyon Cathedral, the square was packed with an art show of ceramic artists and tons of people eager to see the pieces displayed. Since I play with clay now and then, I wanted to walk through and see the various displays… but Mike and I don’t do well with crowds. It wasn’t long before our focus became about getting away from the hubbub going on. It wasn’t until after our escape that I realized we’d missed peeking into the cathedral.
We found the funicular station/subway a few blocks away. What a confusing moment it was to get the tickets and find out which “gate” to enter through. It was obvious that they’re used to confused tourists because there was someone standing there to help clarify which way to go (while only rolling their eyes at us a teeny bit).
We were headed up to see the Roman amphitheaters, which are located high on a hill above Lyon. That’s where the funicular came in handy! It was a quick ride up and a short walk to find them.
Lyon sits at the confluence of the Rhône and Saone Rivers. Although the area was occupied in pre-historic times, it was the Romans who put it on the map. They created a military colony here in 43 B.C. As with other places in Europe, the tides of history ebbed and flowed as to who was in control over places like Lyon. I was surprised to learn that Lyon only came under control of France in the 1300s.
For all the drama getting our funicular tickets, it was only about a 5 minute ride! Once we were back on foot, it was a very short walk to the entrance to the historic site.
The Amphitheater of the Three Gauls (also called the Lyon Amphitheater) dates back to 15 B.C. After it was enlarged in later years, it could seat 20,000 people. It is the oldest Roman amphitheater in France. In the theme of the “weight of history” -as much as we enjoyed seeing this amazing historical site…we did so with the awareness that we were only seeing what remained of it. Time certainly wasn’t kind. It was only in the mid-1900’s that any serious effort was made to excavate and restore what they could. Many of the Roman ear “bones” in this area are buried under newer construction. By newer I mean anything that got built since about the 3rd century.
The smaller amphitheater, the Odeon, was built in the 2nd century A.D. It was located right next to the bigger one and could seat about 3,000 people. It was used for smaller events -like poetry readings and musical events.
The other point of interest up on the hill (and a short walk from the amphitheaters) is the The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.
It was built between the years of 1872-1884. It is positioned directly on the edge of the hill and overlooks the city of Lyon.
We were there on a Sunday during church service, so we weren’t able to go inside.
The funicular has a stop near the church too, but instead of taking it back down the hill we opted to walk down via a long, winding pathway down the hill.
At the bottom of the hill, we entered the old part of Lyon.
As many of my friends know – I enjoy taking pictures of doors in Europe.
We enjoyed walking around the old part of Lyon, but it didn’t take long.
We’d gotten into a casual conversation at our hotel with two American women the day we arrived. They’d just finished a food tour of Lyon and said we shouldn’t miss trying the “Praluline”, which was invented in Lyon and is a regional favorite.
It is DELICIOUS!! We didn’t buy any to bring home thinking we could wait and find them at the end of our trip. Unfortunately…we missed our chance as we only saw them one more time in the next town we visited.
Near the bridge over the Rhône, there was an interesting statue.
It is facing the Palais de Justice. The statue, called The Weight of Oneself, is meant to present a philosophical concept… The gist being that both figures are the same person and showing the balance between being strong enough to lift yourself up and being a burden to yourself, weighing yourself down.
I’d hoped to browse in the mall near the train station on the way back, but by the time we got there the stores were already closing up. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and made an early night of it.