Visiting Lyon

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July 22nd 2015
Published: August 15th 2015
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We arrived at Jean-Philippe's flat and met his fiancée Harmony. They showed us to our room and made us very comfortable. It was late so we didn't have much time to talk before we all needed to go to bed. As it was so hot and sticky, exceptionally so according to JP and Harmony, we took a shower. We also slept with the blind open to get some air into the room.

Day 1

Next morning we awoke late and JP and Harmony had already gone to work. After the busyness and chaos of being with the orchestra it was nice to have some time alone. It was a little weird no longer having someone tell us where we needed to be. We had a leisurely morning before deciding to venture into the city. Our aim was just to go to the tourist information and then taken the rest of the afternoon easy.

We went out of the flat and went towards where we thought the metro station was - it turned out we were wrong. We kept walking until we reached the next station. It was a short walk but the heat made it feel a lot longer. We found the ticket machine and I was pleasantly surprised it had the option for English instructions.

We emerged from the underground into the blindingly bright sun shining on a wide open, red coloured square at Bellecour. As our eyes adjusted we saw the beauty of the surrounding buildings and beyond and above them the stunning brilliant white Basilica perched on top of a hill overlooking the city. By this time we were really hungry so our first priority was to find a supermarket. We did this and bought bread, cheese and fruit. We went to make a picnic in a small grassy square between Bellecour and the Rhône River. We sat near a sculpture which was a tree made of flowers. It was interesting but not entirely to my taste. Looking back towards Bellecour we could see a tower which used to be part of a hospital and beyond that an imposing view of the Basilica. After lunch we went back to a cafe we had walked past and had an icecream. The patrons of the cafe were all English speakers and I heard American and Australian accents as well as our own South African and English. The icecream was disappointing but the service in the shop was warm and friendly.

Now, full of sugar, we felt ready to see more of the city. Everywhere we walked were stunning buildings and these were enhanced by huge fountains. The vista afforded by the old city on the far side of the Saône River was incredibly beautiful. I'm afraid my photographs won't do it justice. In the shade the heat was almost bearable but the sun was cooking us where we couldn't avoid it. We stuck to the shady bank of the river and didn't go over to the old town.

After a couple of hours we were very tired and went back to the flat. In the evening I helped Harmony to make dinner, which included an apple crumble. This was a huge surprise! Apparently crumble is one of the few authentically British culinary experiences that the French love. After dinner we discovered JP and Harmony had a love of games so we all played one together. It was a card game called "Level-up". It was similar to Rummy except there were different levels each with their own target. We had a fun evening playing on the balcony as the sun went down. That night we slept with our shutters and door open. This sacrifice of privacy was absolutely worth it for the lovely cooling breeze that resulted. I slept soundly.

Day 2

We awoke and had another lazy morning but we did get out a couple of hours earlier than the previous day. We decided we walk to the Old Town. JP had made some maps for us which were really helpful. We determined to tick off the tourist sites. Our first target was the Basilica. We walked through the park and found Winston Churchill Bridge which was quite funny. On the other side was Winston's (English) pub. We walked along the opposite bank of the river, looking for some way to climb the hill. It was already another hot day and it would only get hotter. Eventually we found a place where a bridge crossed the river and the road lead upwards. Near the bridge was a gift shop. We stopped to get a post card but regretted it; the owner was the most sour-faced woman we have ever come across.

From there we only had one direction to travel... up. The staircase was very steep and really difficult to walk up because each step was only half height. This uneven stone staircase felt like an unrelenting ordeal. There was little shade and the sun was beating down. We reached a turn in the steps where a fig tree had shed its load of fruit, which was rotting in the floor in a sticky mess and starting to attract flies. At this point it looked like we'd come to the end of the stairs but as we turned the corner we saw that they carried on as far as we could see. We were only about a third of the way up. Eventually, exhausted and gasping for water (which had run out) we arrived at the top. It took us a while to recover so we sat and had lunch without exploring the view. I was charged 5€ for two small, warm bottles of water at the local cafe.

After lunch we headed towards the wall separating us from the view of the city. We looked over to see a very impressive sight. Dimly, in the very far distance we could see the blackness of the alps looming through the heat haze. Between us and the mountains was a sprawling expanse of red roofed low-rise buildings. From this vantage point it was beautiful. Towering behind us was the white marble Basilica, bright from the reflected sunshine. The whole scene was awe-inspiring. Eventually though, we pulled ourselves away from the view and went into the church.

Inside was even more stunning than outside, but in a completely different way. Whereas the outside was gleaming white, displaying a radiant purity, inside was darker but gleamed with gold and the colours of painted scenes from the history of Lyon and the bible. There were two chapels, one upstairs and one downstairs. Both were similar but the upstairs one was brighter due to its windows and lofty ceiling. The downstairs chapel did not suffer due to its darkness though, it just added a different depth to the experience. In both, every stone surface was delicately carved and most flat surfaces had either a painting or a hanging on them. Looking down, the floor was a set of intricate mosaics. The artistry was phenomenal. I often struggle with ornately decorated churches, especially those venerating saints, because I feel it is placing value in the wrong things and they detract from a true understanding of God. This place was possibly the most ornately decorated church I'd ever been in. I felt uncomfortable but decided to suspend that and appreciate the sacred space.

Before we had seen half of the church my camera battery died. I was gutted because I really wanted to capture the experience. We were both very tired by this point so we decided we would leave and return the following day. We walked back down the stairs which felt even harder than going up. At the bottom of the hill was an icecream shop which JP had recommended. We bought a cone each and discovered some of the best icecream we'd ever had. I had cherry and raspberry flavours and enjoyed them immensely. We had to eat quickly because the heat was quickly turning the icecream into fruit flavoured milk. We crossed the river with the sun burning the backs of our legs and made our way as quickly as possible to the shade of a narrow alley. Really tired now, we made our way back to the metro and got back to the apartment as quickly as possible. We both fell asleep and were woken by JP coming home from work.

In the evening Lindsey and I had prepared a picnic for the four of us. We took this on a long walk through the local park. The park turned our to be huge and contained, amongst other things, a botanical gardens and a zoo. We had a lovely picnic together and then JP and Harmony introduced us to a Finnish game called Mölkky. Mölkky was so much fun: you take it in turns to cast a baton towards a set of pins.... If you knock one pin over you score it's value. If you knock more than one pin over you score the number of flat pins. Once the pins are down they get replaced wherever they land. Play proceeds in turns until someone gets exactly 50. However, if you go over 50 your score is reset to 25. JP and I quickly took the first game. Lindsey and Harmony equalised in an amazing second game leaving us to fight over the final game. It was very close but eventually the girls took the match. It was a lovely end to our last full day in Lyon.

Day 3

We woke early to say goodbye to Harmony before she went to work.

As we had planned a full day we got going quickly. This time we took the metro into the city and then went up to the Old Town on the funicular railway, which we were pleased to discover was included in our rail ticket. We emerged from the train right outside the Basilica and went inside again. We saw what we hadn't seen the previous day and then left.

The next part of our plan was to see the Roman ruins which were close to the Basilica. Unfortunately we went in the wrong direction on the circular path and ended up going a very long route. This did give us the opportunity to see the ruins of the ancient viaduct. There was very little of this left but what was there was enough to show the incredible engineering which had gone into it. We also passed a graveyard which was very impressive. We only peered in through a wall but we saw hundreds, if not thousands, of graves... row upon row.

We followed signs for a fort but as we were very exposed to the sun and very hungry we gave up before we found it. Eventually we got to the Roman ruins which were impressive and intriguing in equal measure. They comprised two intact Roman amphitheatres and a selection of ruined buildings. There were several rooms connected by passageways. They looked like they could have been shops or offices serving the amphitheatre. A couple of them had stone work-surfaces in the middle. One also had five cog-like pieces of stone inside. I suspect they were the remains of a pillar but it seemed strange that they should be in this room. The narrow curved street between the amphitheatres and ruins was still intact and this gave the sense of walking in the footsteps of those who had come to see the shows at the amphitheatres centuries ago. The amphitheatres are in exceptional condition and are still in use, as evidenced by the concert stage crawling with roadies. Unfortunately this spoilt the photos but it is nice to see the city using its heritage.

We stopped for lunch amidst the ruins but there was little shelter. We ate and then left as quickly as possible. Our plan was to walk down the hill for another icecream and then get the metro back to see the botanical gardens and zoo. We managed the icecream but by the time we got back we were too hot and tired to go to the park again. Instead we packed and then fell asleep.

In the evening JP kindly took us to the airport where we hugged and said goodbye. We didn't have much time to spare and we quickly caught our flight. We were on our way to Dubai.

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