Lovely Lyon and Its Secret Places

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Europe » France
July 27th 2016
Published: June 10th 2017
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Geo: 45.7673, 4.83433

After our walking tour of Vieux Lyon this morning, Bill and I left the group and stayed in town, exploring more of this lovely city again on our own. We had already been here for a day and a half last Friday and Saturday, before we met up with our fellow travellers on the cruise, and so we felt we knew the city a bit, at least from Part-Dieu to the Rhone River and then to the Saone beyond. Having already walked through Place des Jacobins and Place Bellecour, we decided to take the funicular up to see Notre-Dame de Fourviere, the lovely cathedral high on a hill that is a focal point from many places in the city. This cathedral was built to protect the people of Lyon during the Franco-Prussian War; it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. So we bought our tickets and tried to wait in line to board the funicular, encouraging young, loud, active students not to cut ahead of everyone else. It wasn't a very long wait, but this funicular turned out to be one of the strangest ones I have ever ridden! It runs up a very steep incline, and starts out in the open, so the riders are able to look out over Lyon. Then quickly we are inside a tunnel, climbing slowly, until all of a sudden the car alarmingly picks up speed and shoots us to the top. Thankfully it is a short ride.

On top of the hill we gazed at the outside of this beautiful cathedral, and then went inside, expecting another gorgeous interior. Bill thought it was very beautiful, but I was under-impressed; every inch was covered in paintings or various kinds of artwork, bombarding the sense of sight, everything looking (to me) much too visually hectic. There was nowhere to rest the eye, nor to make one want to stop a bit; nothing encouraged one to take time to reflect, pray, or meditate. The people of Lyon not only hoped this church would protect them from invasion, but also to guard them against the plague, cholera, all of mankind's ills apparently. Perhaps this was why everything looked so overdone as they were asking for so much. We did not stay long in this uncomfortable church. But outside the views over the city were magnificent, well worth the ride up in the strange funicular.

On Thursday we also had the morning to continue our explorations of Lyon, so Bill and I decided to visit the three cathedrals that line the banks of the Saone: St. Paul, St. Jean, and St. Georges. (Our guide suggested that only Ringo was missing!) We had already visited Cathedrale Saint Jean-Baptiste, but went back inside to again see its beauty, plus I love to look at the Horologe Astronomique, and to see if it might just be working. Built in 1379, this tall ancient clock is one of the very few in France that can still work, but this year it is in repair and would not be chiming again at least until sometime in 2017. This is an incredibly intricately decorated clock with figures on all sides, built to show the phases of the moon, date religious feasts, and call canons to prayer by mimicking the movement of the stars. When it does work, the chimes ring out at mid-day, 2, 3, and 4 PM. I guess we will have to return to Lyon again after it has been restored to working order. It is a glorious timepiece!

Since we still had some time before boarding the ship, I wanted to explore more of the traboules, the secret narrow passageways that connect two streets, used during wars to escape from pursuing enemies, disappearing in the flash of an eye as a person could step inside a secret door very quickly and be totally hidden; but in modern times traboules are used just for short-cuts between streets and to enter apartments above. One guide had taken us through one, but with only me and Bill, we were careful to make sure we could reopen the doors once we were inside. So I would press the button and hold it while pushing the heavy door open, and then I would step inside and let the door close tightly behind me. It was quite scary being in a dark passageway, with no way of knowing how to get out again from the inside, but on the outside Bill could press the button and unlock the door again so I could escape. These passageways we did not both enter together. But after carefully looking, Bill found another button on the inside that did open the doors again, so both of us bravely entered in, letting the doors close tightly shut behind us, enclosing us in semi-darkness, and quietly walked through unlighted, curving, twisting alleyways, tripping here and there over the uneven cobblestones. But we made it out each time! Every time we re-entered daylight, feelings of relief accompanied our escaping, but still I wanted to explore as many traboules as possible. I expect that I might have nightmares from being locked inside Lyon's narrow, dark passageways, but the adventure in successfully navigating them was extraordinary.


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