Every day, my boots get a little more ruined. I defy anyone to suggest that we aren’t using our time to the fullest here in France – we never stop! Lyon, like many French cities, lends itself to walking, climbing and metro-taking and we did all three near-constantly in our mere three days spent in this beautiful city, lodged like a jewel between the Rhone and Saône rivers. I had visited once before for the Festival of Lights, but this time I was determined to see some of the tourist attractions – and just soak up some of the region. I’m quickly becoming a firm believer in the idea that one of the best things about visiting a city is just wandering aimlessly in its streets, soaking it up. The idea of shuttling madly from attraction to attraction is a little depressing. That said, Lyon does have plenty in the way of tourist attractions to see.
Friday morning’s goal was to visit the Fourvière district of Lyon. Located on the far side of the Saône from Lyon’s city centre, it’s the district that includes Lyon’s unmistakeable Basilica, visible from damn near everywhere in the city in its position, pride of place, atop the hill. It also includes a museum dedicated to Ancient Roman history and a vast Roman archaeological site. The metro makes travelling there quick and easy, which is a relief since climbing the hill on foot is a bit of a trek.
The basilica’s exterior is appallingly beautiful, resplendent in the morning light in a gorgeous, gleaming white stone that is a dazzling contrast to Clermont-Ferrand’s dark, volcanic cathedral. It is also vast, dominating the hilltop utterly with its presence and leaving no doubt as to which God is in charge here. Fortunately for racial harmony with its black brother in Clermont, it is the same one – the Catholic one. The walls inside are adorned with glorious mosaics and every crevice is filled with sculptures or gilt icons. Unfortunately, the true extent of this adornment is presently invisible as extensive restoration work to the ceiling is going on inside. Oh well.
As impressed as we were by the cathedral, it was immediately and dramatically upstaged by the view over the city from the top of the hill. The grandeur of the city is staggering, and yet from on high, one can pick out individual streets and landmarks and watch the ceaseless flow of the rivers. It’s beautiful.
After lunch, we set off with renewed vigor to see the Gallo-Roman Museum. The most attractive feature of the museum is that it includes a pair of ancient Roman amphitheatres which tourists are allowed to traverse and examine close-up. The museum itself was well worth the time, however. The building was specially built to house it and settles neatly into the hillside, disturbing the archaeological site as little as possible. To be frank, I initially thought it was a bit ugly, but it grows on you and it is a triumph of function. One thing that struck me is that every exhibit (except the amphitheatres themselves, for obvious reasons) is wheelchair accessible – although I’m not a wheelchair user myself, this is a rarity in France and I think it is worthy of note.
The collection inside is extensive and very well organised, both chronologically and thematically. The building naturally includes a few large viewing portals over the amphitheatres and an explanation of their purpose and how they would have looked and functioned when they were first built, thousands of years ago. I have a keen amateur interest in ancient Roman history, so actually visiting the sites themselves was very exciting for me and we spent a good amount of time wandering up and down and poking around – which is encouraged. I definitely feel that I got a lot more out of it by visiting the museum first. Honestly, The only person I can imagine not enjoying a visit to this museum at least a little is someone with a terrible condition that makes them catch fire every time they view priceless treasures from antiquity, or someone so racist that the suggestion that the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean were able to build things causes them to vomit with rage. The amphitheatres are still used for public shows today, I’m told, and I find that continuity very pleasing somehow.
All this gazing at pretty things left us with an appetite and we installed ourselves in a restaurant with a view out over the city. Although we pretty much came for the view alone, the meal was excellent – we both opted for the same lunch formula which was Lyonnaise salad, pork tenderloins with vegetables and potato terrine and dense, moist chocolate cake. I don’t usually mention my meals specifically, but this one deserves special attention because Alex is still raving about it. It was certainly very good, and the view from the restaurant is unmatched.
After lunch, we decided to round out the day with a nice walk before returning to the hotel for our usual rest before dinner. To that end, we made our way a little way down the hill to the Loyasse Cemetery, whose principal distinction for us was that, from an aerial photo, it somewhat resembles the Millenium Falcon. Take a look. We both love walking in old cemeteries – it’s calm and quiet and usually very tranquil – so this was a good choice for after a big lunch. It was a lovely walk and was somewhat enriched by the free maps we were given at the entrance. You may be interested to learn that the crew of the Millenium Falcon are, unfortunately, not interred in the cemetery, although it does contain the graves of some of Lyon’s most famous and well-respected people.
Our evening was mainly taken up by much deserved rest – which is a common theme so far. Our long, activity-filled days leave us utterly void for the evenings. However we did sneak out for a little shopping before everything closed up.
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