After mucking around at home for most of the week, I finally decided to go to Lyon. Boy, were those two days filled with adventures. I seem to attract trouble.
Parc de la Tête d’Or
After perusing my Lonely Planet Guide to France (aka: my traveller’s Holy Book), I decided that for my first day exploring a Lyon, I should try something small, that wouldn’t take up too much of my time or money.
So, of course, I chose to go to a 117ha park, complete with botanical gardens, islands, side shows and a zoo. At least it didn’t cost anything.
My host father was kind enough to drop me into Lyon and gave me directions to the park. “Just go straight ahead,” he’d told me, pointing down the incredibly long and rather daunting stretch of road in front of us. “The metro is only a ten-minute walk away. Look for a sign with an ‘M,’ on it. Talk to someone there about which train to catch.”
Bundled in a jumper and jeans, with my gloved hands clutching the straps of a bright orange backpack (which might as well be a sign with ‘Please Steal Me,’ written in neon, flashing letters) I bid Marc my farewells and set off down the street. I couldn’t help but feel fairly intimidated – Lyon is a giant city to me, as someone who has lived mostly in small towns (Canberra is indeed included in this mix) all her life – and I was about to explore it without any real idea of where I was going or what I was doing.
At the same time, however, I couldn’t help but be filled with a sense of absolute awe. As I walked along, I found myself becoming astonished by the smallest things, including: the gigantic theatre I wandered past, the cafés dotting the sides of streets, the way the light shone through the trees, or the sheer number of people on their way to who-knows-where. I felt a little overwhelmed, really, but incredibly excited.
There were, I admit, a few moments where I just found myself thinking: “I am in France. I am in France. I. Am. In. Freaking. France.” I still haven’t quite gotten over that feeling.
I’m not sure if my missing the large sign clearly labelled with a giant ‘M,’ was partially due to this awe, or if was just because I was searching for a giant train station when there wasn’t one to be found. I have never been one a subway of any kind, and the realisation that it might be underground never really occurred. Instead, when I had walked for much longer than the expected ten minutes, and the bustling crowd of people filtered down to one lonely, confused Australian after the last gaggle of fast – walking French women peeled away, I started to have the strangest feeling that something was wrong. That might have been because I was standing in the middle of a rather empty and somewhat scary business district.
To cut this down – apologies for the endless rambling – I finally got on a train with the help of a friendly conductor who thankfully spoke more English than I do French. And, despite the odds I successfully made it onto the bus heading to the park (although I missed my stop because I felt too nervous to push the STOP button) and reached the black gates leading to the prized site.
With a deep sigh of relief (I still can’t believe I made it without losing something) I stepped down the steps into a wonderland.
I ended up just wandering around the park for hours, mesmerised by the enormity and beauty of it all. I must have looked like a slack-jawed idiot when I first stepped inside and discovered the miniature winding paths, carefully cultivated flowers and sprawling old sculptures, but I had never been to a park that magnificent before.
I even stumbled onto an island (as it turns out, you can do that) with a huge memorial for the children of Lyon who’d died during World War 2. I didn’t realise what the purpose of the sculpture was at first – I was too busy running away from the terrifying French geese – until I noticed the tens of thousands of names written on the walls.
My confused search for a bakery
I started to get rather hungry after wandering through the zoo, and, ever-ruled by my stomach, decided to find somewhere that would sell me bread. Make note: France may have gorgeous old buildings, incredible food and a fascinating culture, but its zoos need work. I was rather appalled by the bare state of some of the animals’ cages.
I finally exited the park somewhere near the botanical gardens with the intention of hunting down one of the dozens of bakeries I’d passed in the bus that morning. As it turns out, the area surrounding the park is devoid of any bread – related shops, so I had to hike for a while to buy my first ever French baguette.
I settled in a nearby park to munch on my utterly delectable, desirable, fluffy lunch (I really like French bread), reading a book on my phone and resting my poor, aching feet. I was just finishing it when a woman appeared, asking for me to exchange her four euros. Unfortunately, she was speaking in rapid French, so I didn’t understand all of it. This, in hindsight, probably made me more of a target.
I then did something you should never do in front of a random stranger in a foreign country: I pulled out my wallet. Immediately, she snatched up a €20 note and took it, claiming she needed it for her ‘bambinos,’ while thanking me profusely. Poor, confused me desperately tried to ask for it back in broken French, but she just told me to wait and skedaddled off before I could say anything.
I was left, €20 short, close to tears and resembling a goldfish, with absolutely no idea what to do next. A kind woman helped me look for her – she blamed herself for not warning me, poor thing – but it was to no avail. I did learn something really important, though: keep a close eye on your belongings at all times and don’t be a naive idiot like me.
Oh, and the trauma of the incident gave me the excuse to buy a pain au chocolat and not feel guilty about it, so that was a huge plus.
Basilique de Fourviere
The next day, I planned to do a bit of exploring around Fourviere and Old Lyon, because, as it turns out, Lyon is rather large and you can’t go far in a day if you’re cheap and need to walk everywhere, like me.
Lyon is split into two parts – Vieux Lyon or ‘Old Lyon,’ which is home to buildings from the Renaissance, and ‘Presqu’île Lyon,’ which is home to everything else – by the river Saône. I decided to go to the beautiful Basilique de Fourviere, which calmly gazes across Vieux Lyon from the crest of a large hill.
Thankfully, after the previous day’s debacle, I’d gotten very good with the public transport system. I managed to get into the city without too much hassle, and before long, I was gliding into Fourviere via funicular.
My expression when I first saw the basilica was, I imagine, quite similar to that when I reached the park, but this church give me a completely different feeling. It was beautiful, but in an old, grand sort of way, whereas the park felt timeless and peaceful. The basilica had the presence of hundreds of years about it; it had and old, religious power that made me want to have a faith.
Unfortunately, they’re doing building work at the moment, but it still is very beautiful.
It was just all the more gorgeous on the inside. I don’t think I have ever seen so much gold and intricacy. The windows, the ceiling – everywhere you looked, there was another piece of art. It was a dream for someone who likes painting as much as I do, despite my agnosticism.
The photo doesn’t capture any of the Basilica’s magnificence, I’m afraid.
When I finally stepped outside, I felt like the world was just too sparse for me. I am definitely going back to experience that feeling again.
Down to Vieux Lyon
I decide to not pay the €1.80 for the funicular down to Saint – Jean Cathedral, and instead wandered through the surrounding parks to Vieux Lyon. Slight mistake.
What I have recently discovered (this particular fact was noticed when I went snowshoeing last week) is that French signs don’t seem to point in quite the right direction. They direct you close to where you need to be, which, as you can probably imagine, is really not helpful at all, and ended up with me becoming rather lost in Fourviere. Although, now that I think about it, that might just have been due to my questionable map – reading skills.
It’s an incredible amphitheatre built in 15BC that you can just clamber all over. I sat toward the back and just gazed over the site and the city beyond, simply amazed by the place I was in and the sheer history of it all.
Unbelievably, I made it to Old Lyon. Being guided by my stomach (as per usual) I set off in search for lunch almost immediately.
I soon discovered that, unlike Parc de la Tête d’Or, I wasn’t spoilt for choice. (Is that the right expression? I hope I didn’t mess that up.) There are quaint bakeries and bouchons, rustic restaurants and stylish crêperies, all crammed into the beautiful old buildings painted in various warm hues. Shops for books, toys, art or lollies fill in the gaps, and people crowd the buildings and spill onto the narrow cobblestone roads.
I quickly settled in front of a bakery with a baguette and spent my lunch people-watching, then wandered amongst the streets of Old Lyon. I loved scanning a shop front and seeing a placard on the wall, engraved with something like “built in MVX.” It’s pretty daunting to be standing in front of a solitary building that’s hundreds of years older than your home city.
I had a look around Saint-Jean Cathedral (it was a day of churches) then walked, utterly lost, into Presqu’Île Lyon. I’m still trying to figure out how I ended up there, a week and a half later. During that time period, I ended up accidentally walking a little old French lady about 200m to a train station in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go (I just wanted to cross a road) and a creepy Albanian guy tried to get my number. Marvellous.
Once I’d successfully lied my way out of another encounter with the aforementioned male, I heard out to see the Town Hall and Place de Bellecour. I couldn’t go into l’Hôtel de Ville, of course, but it was gorgeous on the outside, and the Place de Bellecour was amazing.
The glorious sculpture of King Louis XVI dominates the Place de Bellecour.
It’s hard to believe I did all that in two days – imagine how much I’ll get up to in three months.
Featured photo is of the view of Vieux Lyon from Presqu’Île Lyon. It’s a marvellous sight.
And, in reference to the title: it’s true. Everyone in France seems to have perfect makeup, clothing – you name it. I think it might be caused by something in the water.