03 – 04/09/2016
Fun facts about Lyon:
- It’s the third largest city in France.
- Two rivers run through the city – the Rhône and the Saône.
- It dates back to the Roman Empire.
- The old town is a UNESCO world heritage site.
We decided to buy a two-day Lyon City Card, which included free access to museums, a walking tour, a boat cruise, and discounts on other tours and activities. It also covered public transport over the two days. I think we saved approximately 10€ with the card, give or take. But that was really just over a day and a half (we got in mid-afternoon), and we weren’t really rushing to cram in as much as we could.
On our first afternoon, we went to two silk houses. The tour at the first silk house was really interesting. It previously belonged to Madame Letourneau, who began silk weaving alongside her father at the age of 13 after her two brothers were killed in WWI. The three wooden looms (one for her father and one for each of her brothers) rely on a mechanism invented by Joseph-Marie Jacquard, which uses punch cards. Designs are drawn onto 1mm x 1mm graph paper and converted into punch cards using a binary system, with each punch card corresponding to one horizontal line of graph paper. So a complete design is made up of a collection of punch cards. If a square on the graph paper contains part of the design, then a hole is punched into the card. If it doesn’t contain a design, then no hole is punched. When placed into the loom, the punch cards controlled where and when threads needed to be woven to create the design. It’s an intricate system. No wonder the Jacquard mechanism has been referred to as the beginning of the computer age.
The tour at the second house wasn’t as engaging, mostly because the man spoke in French. But from what I could gather (based on my very limited French), he repeated some of what we’d been told at the first house. Still, it was interesting to see a hand loom in action.
Wanting to the make the most of the city card on our first day, we raced through the Musèe Des Beaux-Arts de Lyon (Fine Arts Museum) before going to the scheduled tours at the silk houses. It took us 30 minutes to go through their collection of antiquities and artworks from the 1500s to the 1800s.
On the way back from the silk houses, we stopped in for a quick drink at a pub called the Dog’s Bollocks. But we ended up staying for a couple more drinks, dinner and few rounds of pool. It was happy hour, which actually went for longer than an hour (3PM to 9PM), so I had my first few pints of beer for this Euro trip. Not at all used to drinking beer, I started to get a headache on the way home, and I was definitely ready for bed once we reached our hotel.
Our first stop on day two was the Institut Lumière, dedicated to the life and works of the Lumière brothers. Louis Lumière invented the Cinematograph in 1895, and together the brothers made impressive breakthroughs in film and photography. They were working with 3D images and film back in the late 19th century! We spent some time in the multimedia room watching their collection of short films, including their first ever film titled “Workers Leaving the Factory” and the train arriving at the station. The museum is located in the Lumière Villa. I think I was more enamoured by the decor than the exhibits. It was beautiful. From the staircase, to the ceilings, to the chandeliers, to the tiles, to the corn crops painted on the walls. Just opposite the villa is the First Film Hangar, which is the first ever film set.
Lunch was at a bustling cafè in old town (Cafè du Soleil). I had the salmon salad for entrèe and then Amy and I shared a quenelle aux escargot for mains. We missed the “quenelle” part when we ordered, so we were slightly surprised when it was served up. We were expecting snails in shells. Google has thus informed me that quenelle is “a mixture of creamed fish or meat with breadcrumbs and a light egg binding, usually formed into an egg-like shape and poached”. Regardless, it was tasty. I think this was the best meal we’ve had out so far. If we weren’t in such a rush to get to a walking tour, it would’ve been nice to have stayed a while for dessert and a coffee.
The walking tour took us around old town, through St John the Baptist church and the unique traboules. Inside the church was a stunning astronomical clock that still had its original mechanism from the 1500s. The earliest traboules (meaning “to cross” in Latin) are believed to be in Lyon. There are two ways to access a home in Lyon’s old town. The first is through the alley, where you enter and exit out onto the same street. The second, almost more covert way, is via a traboule. Using the traboule, you would enter the courtyard leading to your home from one street, and then exit out onto another street.
We left the walking tour early to catch a boat cruise, which went up the Saône river and around a small island (Ile Barbe) with private houses and public parks.
After the boat cruise we took the funiculaire up to the Basilica Fourvière. It was built in the 1800s as a promise by the people of Lyon if the city was spared during the war. The inside of the basilica was unlike anything I’d ever seen. The ceilings and walls were all mosaics of turquoise blue, mint green, light pink, and gold. I’d never seen so many pastels used in a church before. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos in the basilica because we’d arrived in the middle of mass. But we took some photos of the ceilings in the crypt downstairs, which was a much smaller and more simplified depiction of what was upstairs in the basilica.
It took some time for Lyon to grow on me. Having said that though, it’s not high on my list of places to revisit.