Monday 22nd April Lyon
Later that afternoon we reached Lyon where we camped for two days on the edge of the city. A bus service took us to the metro station and from there to the city centre. It sounds fiddly but took no more than 30 minutes.
Lyon is a bright and clean city. The centre is modern, filled with chic shops, restaurants and cafes. In general however, to me it lacks sparkle. I would hate to live there. Most people live in huge apartment blocks, work in modern office blocks and lunch in characterless plastic restaurants. Or else they are immigrants, of which there are many, and cannot afford such luxuries as lunch. They graze, sitting on benches with cans of coke and a sandwich. We came into the immigrant category but without the coke. On our first day we realised the choice was between a formule serving three courses for 23 euros or a kebab in a side street. The kebabs were salty but cheap and we spent the rest of the afternoon drinking all the water we’d brought with us as we were left so thirsty.
Lyon has aspirations of grandeur. Leading up from the city centre is a funicular which carries passengers through a steep railed tunnel up to the summit, to the area known as Fourvière from where there are extensive views across the city.
Exiting from the funicular the first building we encountered was the white basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, built during the 1870s. It was started around the same time as the Sacré Coeur in Paris, which it resembles, but completed and dedicated a couple of decades earlier. Inside it has a blend of both mediaeval and byzantine features, the walls and ceiling being covered in brightly coloured religious mosaics.
To one side there is a television transmitter that has been designed to emulate the Eiffel Tower while the most impressive building, as one looks out across the city, could be mistaken for the tower at Canary Wharf!
Lyon has something far more special than either Paris or London however. There are excellent remains of Roman occupation with streets, buildings and drainage but most of all, a spectacular Roman theatre. All have been heavily restored but they do make a very impressive and extensive sight high above the town.
Back down in the town we wandered the streets, admiring the fountains and public buildings and seeking out the two famed puppet theatres. Punch and Judy was introduced to Lyon by Laurence Mourget (1769-1844) at his Théâtre Guignol. When we found it in a little side street in le Vieux Lyon, they were performing a version of Cyrano-Guignol de Bergerac. Normally however the same adventures are still going the rounds with wife battering, strings of sausages and Mr. Punch being eaten by a crocodile. What has certainly changed since our childhood when we watched shows for a few old pennies on the beach at Margate, is the price! Ten euros each to watch a forty minute Punch and Judy programme in French!
In the cathedral we noted a plaque commemorating the marriage of Henry IV with Marie de Medici. Presumably this was after Margot finally relented and gave him the divorce he demanded, thus allowing her to leave her place of captivity at Usson. There was also an interesting 16th century astronomical clock but much of the interior was cordoned off for refurbishment.
Lyon of course is where the Rhône and the Saône come together. For something so important we expected a monument at the very least. Look what Germany has done at the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle at Koblenz!
We took the metro out to the limits of the city and walked through a formal park as far as the banks of the Rhone just below the confluence with the Saone. We could see the waters flowing together but that was all. No monument, no pretty park. Just an arterial road on the far bank of the Saône with heavy lorries thundering along and several goods yards and industrial buildings.
Disappointed we walked through uninspiring back streets and roadworks hoping to find Lyon’s Halles. They were the work of Tony Garnier, 1869-1948, and considered very avant-garde around 1915 when they were constructed. They now form the core of a large development which is used for trade fairs. Nothing was happening during our visit and the area stood empty and deserted.
The actual food halles were back in the centre of the city and when we finally found them they were really little more than a collection of individual eating places serving excellent but pricey cuisine. Definitely not the place to go looking for a kilo of leeks and a skinned rabbit.
Because Lyon is built astride two rivers it is divided into three distinct districts. The heart of the city is composed of Vieux Lyon on the banks of the Saône with Fourvière on the hill above it, while between the two rivers is the Présque Ile, with modern Lyon and Villeurbanne sprawling out on the far side of the Rhône.
Koblenz See Wednesday 23rd June 2010 for the Monument to German Reunification at the confluence of the Moselle with the Rhine.