Vieux Lyon

Today is a public holiday in France, May Day. We knew nothing would be open, so we figured it would be a very lazy day, a chance to take it easy and gently allow our body clocks to settle into French time. There was good news awaiting us at hotel reception. Our missing luggage had arrived sometime during the night. So back we went to our room to change into some clean clothes, charge the batteries in our devices and grab a few things we needed.

There was a Maccas nearby that was open. We went in and used the automated ordering service to order some breakfast muffins. That was a mistake. After about 10 minutes of complete inactivity from the disinterested serving staff, one of them came to inform us that the ‘egg machine’ wasn’t working – since when did MacDonald’s need a machine to make a bacon and egg McMuffin? They refunded our money and we headed back to the restaurant next to our hotel, which was open for breakfast and really should have been our first choice anyway. It was after 11am by the time we were served, but we figured we had all day to do nothing, so we took our time and headed back to our hotel by midday.

When we asked the girl at the reception desk if there would be anything open in Lyon today, she said, ‘If you just walk down to the corner and turn left, it’s a five minute walk to the Old Town. Cross the bridge and you’re there. It’s a tourist area. Things will be open.’ So that’s what we did.

We’d only gone 100 metres when Marg discovered her first craft shop of the tour. That put a smile on her face. It was closed, but we’re here for a few days, so I’m sure she’ll be making a beeline for it when it’s open. We crossed the bridge over the Saône River and we were there. The old town is known as Vieux Lyon. A big part of its history, going back over 400 years, is connected with silk weaving (our Hotel Silky is a former weavers’ workshop). And, just as we had been advised, the place was buzzing with both locals and tourists and most of the shops and cafes were open and doing good business. Now it really hit home that we were back in Europe as we walked the uneven and often narrow cobbled streets and came upon all the things we saw and loved here on our last visit – people walking small dogs, people dining and drinking at outdoor tables, grotesque figures and religious icons adorning building facades, shops selling mouth watering cakes and baked goods, medieval and Renaissance architecture, and every now and then a glimpse between structures of a place of worship. In Vieux Lyon’s case, high on the hill overlooking the town and the river the dominant place of worship was the spectacular Notre Dame de Fourvière. Every time we came to a street corner, it loomed into view.

We noticed many people stopping to buy a small sprig of flowers from street vendors. The flowers seemed to have special significance for today. So we bought one too from a seller at the entrance to Lyon Cathedral. A google search revealed that Lily of the Valley flowers (muguet in French) are a symbol of spring, renewal and good luck and have been given here on May 1 each year in a tradition dating back to 1561.

Not far from the river the streets of Vieux Lyon became quite steep, heading up the hill in the direction of Notre Dame. There were people heading up there, so curiosity got the better of us and we headed in that direction too. It was a strenuous climb in places, but the streets took plenty of turns and there were a few spots where you could stop, regain your breath and enjoy the view of the town and the river below. Black smoke billowed from a building across the river, but we never heard any sirens so I figure it was nothing to worry about. It did look a little concerning though.

Eventually, with a little puffing and panting, we made it to the courtyard of Notre Dame. Its exterior was quite grand, but the real treat that awaited us was the interior. A stunning work of architecture, reminiscent of others we saw on our last trip to continental Europe, though not of the same vintage (it was built relatively recently in 1872), it featured magnificent sculptures, mosaics and stained glass windows. We sat in silence for a time and admired the craftsmanship. It was worth the hill climb to see this.

The descent back to the Old Town took us on meandering paths through beautiful gardens. Every now and then there was a place to stop and look out over Lyon. Upon reaching lower ground, we found ourselves back amongst the cafes and shops once more. We figured it was time for a drink. But some places were only prepared to serve food, so we had to walk back towards Lyon Cathedral before we found a place happy to serve drinks. We love the outdoor dining which is such a feature of French towns, but we don’t enjoy sitting next to smokers. France seems to have a much stronger smoking culture than we do back home, so it’s a bit of a challenge to find a table which is smoke free. Today we got lucky. Lyon actually has a few places where smokers can congregate, like the Smoking Dog.

A confession now. We are both missing our granddaughter Layla already. And while walking through the Old Town, we kept stopping to window shop whenever we spotted something she might like. We eventually settled on an embroidered apron, because she loves helping her Mum in the kitchen. The guy sat at his sewing machine and expertly sewed her name onto the apron, along with the words Mum’s Helper. He then asked Marg for her name and sat down at another machine and made her a gift of her own name. I guess it won’t be the last time we see something to bring home for Layla on this trip. She’s worth it 🙂

We came back to the hotel for a while and in the evening we walked down to Rue Mercière, just a short distance from our hotel. It’s a street well known for its dining culture. There were dark clouds in the sky, but the sun was breaking through. There were so many great menus to choose from, but we opted for Le Comptoir de L’Atelier. We were the first patrons for the dinner service so luckily we were shown to the best table, overlooking all the passing foot traffic on the street below. For a while it rained and we could see waiters across the street shuffling tables and chairs back under shelter. The food was divine. I had the octopus and Marg had the veal, accompanied by a refreshing bottle of rosè from Provence. Desserts were chocolate souffle and creme brulee. French cooking is amazing. It’s been a good day.

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