Thursday, March 24, 2011

France 2011 - Lyon

We have been on ski trips to France several times, visiting Paris and then skiing in Meribel. This trip we got started with a different destination, Lyon. Neither Julie nor I had ever been there. It's famous for its deep history (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and incredible food.

Four people from our ski group decided to skip the Lyon visit and just fly over in time for skiing. That left us with (from left to right) Julie, Terry (from the UK, and not skiing with us), Dick, Cosette, Ilona and Jennifer. Jennifer was the one hit by a snowboarder on our trip two years ago. She spent her vacation in the hospital and has had two major surgeries on her leg. Nice to have her back with us.

The Rhone and Saone rivers both run through the city. It makes for some great scenery.

We humans just seem to be attracted to water, whether it is a flowing river, a lake, or the ocean. The water obviously provides logistical help, like transportation, but it is something much more than that. For me, the water seems to bring some tranquility and peacefulness, even the pounding surf.

Just like so many European cities are built on the rivers, it seems like you can't have a hill top without having a castle or a church. Rural or urban doesn't matter. Every hill needs a large, impressive, well protected building.

Lyon was actually founded by the Romans, a bit before the birth of Christ. It was became the capital of Gaul, for both transportation and economics. There are a number of Roman ruins in the city, the most impressive of which is an amphitheater. It is still in remarkable condition and a true testament to the building skills of the early Romans.

Dick was playing the role of tour leader. He arranged for our hotel and had done a good bit of research on where to go and what to see. We were mostly happy to just follow along, until you saw a few drawn out conversations like this one.

.... which actually led us to this. There was a walking tour through a part of the city. It followed the path that the Persian silk traders used through the city. The sign to the left of our crowd is the first placard. However, the man with the purple shirt is trying to explain that, no, the tour does not start by going in through the door to his apartments. We eventually got on the right track.

There was a lot of art throughout the city, some in museums, and some out in public. Of course, putting art in public risks additional, unplanned additions and modifications. I'm not sure when this lion took up smoking cigars.

As I mentioned, Lyon is famous as the gastronomical capital of France. Our group definitely likes to sample the finer dining. This impressive display was an Automat where you could buy almost anything, including eggs and milk. Dick decided to buy a big bottle of water, mostly just to watch the mechanism to see if the eggs were likely to get broken.

Next to it was a French Fry machine. You stuck in your 2 Euros and got something back. None of us were even willing to try. The area where the fries were dispensed was disgusting looking. We don't even do this kind of low-grade food service in the U.S.. well, perhaps Denny's.

Ah, now this is more like it. Julie found a restaurant a few blocks from our hotel that was fantastic. The food was so good, we broke our normal rules and went back for a second night. It was a small place, without too much seating. When we arrived, the owners tried to help us with the menu (all in French), but they spoke only a few words of English. We were fine with a few in our group doing well handling French. However, the owners called a local friend, who was out walking her dog. She stopped in and offered her bilingual help in translating everything. Now that's service! Of course in France, while she was helping us, her cute little dog was meandering around the restaurant.

We did a day trip by train to the medieval walled town of Perouges. As I have mentioned already, let no hilltop go undeveloped. This one got started back in the 12th century.

It is a small town, with a fair number of residents, a gorgeous old church, and some dining for the inevitable tourists. We were early for the tourist season, so the town was wonderfully quiet.

The church was old and built by the townspeople, so it wasn't as shiny and glorious as others, but the small stained glass windows were beautiful and positioned well for the noonday sun.

Back in Lyon, the best description for the churches was "magnificent". My little pocket camera couldn't begin to do justice in the poorly lit buildings, but these stained glass windows were just a tiny piece of one church's art.

We also went to a large and impressive art museum in Lyon, the Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon. While I could describe the numerous exhibits, ranging from Egyptian artifacts to pop-art, one odd thing stuck with me: the number of paintings where someone of significance (Jesus, Mary, ...) was standing on the heads of babies.

I think the idea is that they were cherubs and not just wayward children, but it kind of gave me the creeps.

It was repeated over and over again throughout the museum.

And then we end the Lyon trip with some special art. Just outside a preschool, they had apparently been holding the art class on the sidewalk. Now the class was back inside, but apparently the art work was there for the public to admire, or step in. I wish I could have gone to a school where you wouldn't get in trouble for doing this.

Lyon is fantastic. It is easy to get to with France's vast, well-connected train system. You can walk everywhere, check out 2000 years of history, and dine as you go. Wikipedia has a nice description of the city here.

More on the trip later.
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