This past October I spent a week in France visiting two dear friends that I met while I was living in Spain. I spent three great days in Paris and then took a bus down to the lovely city of Lyon, the majestic city that lies just south of Paris and along the Rhône and Saône rivers. The bus ride took about six hours. During the ride, I stared out the window at the lush countryside. It always puts me at ease knowing that just outside of the bustling city, life continues to thrive but in a slower setting. Once I arrived I was met by my friend, Leaurine, at the Perrache Station. After a long embrace and few minutes of excited chatter we walked over to her apartment, which was only five minutes away.She lives near the Carnot-Gailleton quarter, just steps away from delicious food and night life, which can be heard from her large windows until the wee hours of the morning.It wasn’t to long before we set out so I could sight see. It was raining that Friday afternoon but it didn’t stop us from exploring the 4th Arrondissement and the interesting history of the canut workers.In this quarter there were many large murals and museums dedicated to the canuts, or Lyonnais silk workers. During the 19th century, locals depended on the silk industry for employment and were unfortunately exploited. They worked under terrible conditions until the mass began to revolt over a series of years. The workshops where the canuts worked, were based in different parts of the city but a majority in the la Croix-Rousse quarter. Although they were living in the time of the Industrial Revolution, the workers were still in compliance with systems that were put in place pre Industrial Revolution. With an outdated system and wages that one would never deem fair, they had plenty of reasons to revolt.We also stopped by a museum that showcased the machines, equipment, and silk samples that were made during that era. From this turmoil came of course plenty of beautiful silk, but also famous references in the Lyonnais culture. One that I will get to later.
One of the unique features of Lyon are the traboules, passageways, found throughout the city’s buildings, a majority in the 5th arrondissment. These traboules date back to the 4th century. These passage ways allowed the inhabitants to maneuver from the river to the silk workshops.
Many canut workers occupied these passageways and even held protests in them. Some say these traboules even helped in ensuring that the Germans couldn’t control this part of the city during the war. Now they are tourist attractions for all visitors to see and walk though. My friend lead me through like a pro, weaving in and out, it was exhilarating and one of the highlights of my visit.Before we headed back home we picked up a beautiful piece of bread for our upcoming breakfast. All of the bread at this bakery, looked absolutely divine. The bread offered in the states doesn’t even compare, I definitely indulged in a lot of carbs this week. Speaking of food, my friend hosted a lovely dinner for me that evening, raclette. It was my first time trying it and I became an instant fan. This Swiss dish that is popular in different parts of Europe, especially France and Germany, utilizes alpine cow cheese and a table top raclette grill. You simply place the slices of cheese in an individual tray, let it cook, and then slide it over potatoes, meat, vegetables, whatever you’d like really. It was a chill Friday night, but a perfect one. The dinner came complimentary with Savoy wine, bossa nova, and great conversation. The following morning I awoke fresh and excited to be in Lyon. We kicked off our morning with bread..lots of bread and fresh marmalade, caramel, honey, and tea. Not the breakfast I’m used to having in the states but one that fed me well and loaded me up with healthy ingredients.
Afterwards my friend took me to Maison Pralus to buy their famous pink praline brioche. We stood in line for about 10 minutes, got a hold of this beauty, and ate it immediately. This butter and praline filled goodie gave me an extra serving of carbs and sugar to get me through the morning. If you’re in Lyon, make sure to get yourself one!As we walked the city, which is the third largest in France in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, I couldn’t help but admire how different it was from Paris. I had been to France three times in my life, and each trip was to Paris. I finally made it down south to see another part of the country.Nestled by the Rhône and Saône rivers, it’s location made it a desirable place to live in by many groups such as the Romans. Throughout the city you can see both ancient and modern Lyon. Till this day Roman ruins are highly visible, which displays the different time periods that continue to exist in this city.This Saturday afternoon, my friend had planned for us to go visit the “Imagine Picasso” exhibit at La Sucrière. This show allowed the patrons to immerse themselves in over 200 of Picassos paintings using the total image approach. We spent a good hour there before heading back to her neighborhood to buy a few things for her roomies birthday get together.The rest of the evening was spent prepping for the party. I met some other lovely French youth and even a girl from Colombia. These were all students studying Sustainable Business at one of the universities in the city.
I was deeply inspired by their outlook on sustainability and how they incorporate this into their lifestyle. Not only at a macro level but at a micro one. Eliminating plastic from their household, only buying local and second hand, purchasing recycled paper, and more. One young fellow even mentioned cutting out traveling on a plane. We spent the rest of the evening dancing and twisting to jazz at one of the hip bars. I interacted with more youth, answered questions about the American president and stereotypes that haunted me. It was a great night that lasted until very early in the morning. After our morning snooze, we awoke to some more bread and jam, before exploring some more of Lyon.We were to spend the whole day in the Vieux and a bit at the famous basilica on the hill. In order to get to that side of the river, we would have to cross a red rusty bridge called the Passerelle St Georges. From her apartment to the Vieux district, it took about 25 minutes walking. It was a calm walk by the water and colorful buildings. As we neared the district, I saw the instant change in architecture. Vieux is the oldest district in the city and a Renaissance neighborhood. It’s separated into three sections, Saint Jean, Saint Paul and Saint Georges. Everything from the cobble stone, windows, staircases, courtyards, and doors, proved to be something unique. Gothic and Neo Gothic Architecture are also prominently visible.As mentioned earlier, a number of traboules are located in this district. The canut workers lived and worked in the Saint Georges area. Which leads us to Le Petit Musee de Guignol, where the most famous canut workers lives.Perhaps the most popular face of Lyon is Guignol the puppet. Created by Laurent Mourguet, a man born into a silk weaving family who later became a peddler, then dentist, then puppeteer. During this time not much was required to be a dentist except to pull teeth out of ones mouth. To attract his patients he would put on shows. He later perfected his puppeteering craft and social satire, which spoke to the working class. Guingnol, whose meaning is not kind, is everything but a buffoon and knows how to make an audience laugh while also speaking about social justice. Today he is still a popular character amongst children and even adults.After hanging with Guignol, we took a tram up to the beautiful Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. It was built in 1872 on the top of a hill. One of the best views of the city can be seen from here. This Basilica is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Each year the residents thank the Virgin Mary in December for protecting them from the bubonic plague and other unfortunate events.The architecture was inspired by Roman and Byzantine design. It actually reminded me of the Greek church in my old neighborhood of Astoria, Queens.As we made our way down the hill, we made a stop at the Roman Ancient Theatre of Fourvière. This amphitheater was built around 15 BC and could seat around 10,000 people. Each year a festival takes place here but overall it remains a tourist site, free of charge. It’s pretty amazing how much space the Romans occupied. To be able to sit in such an old structure amazed me. As we made our way to the restaurant we would be eating dinner at, we passed many gleaming buildings. I unfortunately had left my camera in Germany and was working off my phone, so didn’t capture any photos worth posting but it was enchanting. My friend decided to take me to her favorite restaurant, Chez Chabert, which specializes in Lyonnaise cuisine.Deep down in the woodsy cellar where we were seated, I kicked off my three course meal with soupe a l’oignon, also known as French Onion Soup. At first I didn’t want to order it because I had it plenty of times in the states, but um, this was the real deal and way more delightful than any of the ones I had tried in the past. For the second course, I went with the Andouillette sauce vin rouge. My friend convinced me that this dish was typical of the city, and although I don’t eat meat, it’s worth a try. When I travel I’m a lot more lenient with what I eat, so I gave it a go, and it was also scrumptious. The course grained sausage, which is made of pork and other intestines, was cooked in a red wince sauce. It’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted before, and I grew up eating pork “carnitas”. It also had some sort of pasta on the plate, I don’t recall the name but it was divine.I ended my meal with creme brulee, the best one I’ve ever had in my life.
I don’t eat out much, especially to specialty restaurants like this, but I would go again in a heartbeat. All three of these dishes added to my Lyonnaise experience. We walked off dinner as we headed home so we could enjoy our last evening together.The following morning, my friend took off to work, and I spent it lounging in her living room, packing up my belongings. I left around noon too head to the airport so I could make my way to Berlin. It was a short but sweet stay. I would love to visit again during the summer. Once COVID-19 ends I look forward to travelling and visiting old friends again. Stay safe everyone.