Voted France’s best city by me, I found both historical beauty and modern culture in a lovely local place that I fell in love with on the very first day.
The Town Hall and a lucky snap of unicycling kids
This is where I also did most of my couchsurfing. I met a motley crew of Lyon students and mostly stayed on comfy beds under purring cats for 3 weeks. I didn’t realise until recently that I never actually booked into a hostel or hotel of any kind on the entire trip – I really can’t thank them enough.
Lyon is gorgeous. Go there now.
My holiday has been part writer’s retreat, part euro-trip and part pilgrimage. Lyon was a large part of this – my motivation to write and see more of France, but also because it’s following in the footsteps of various Victorian era photographers who first showed me the beauty of France.
I was not disappointed, as these pictures can only hint at the beauty and atmosphere here.
Mixing old and new – Rue de la Republique.
The inhabitants were of the Londonesque feel – competitive and fashionable. There’s a pressure to sit in coffee shops and look elegant and in a short: everyone looked fit. On the other hand, I made all kinds of friends, some of whom were too cool for all that business.
Several groups of students put me up for several nights and one house I stayed in was in the Presqu’île (peninsular) which is pretty much like living in Cheapside in London – you can’t move for history, money and ridiculously good-looking people.
There are so many beautiful cathedrals and churches here it gets a bit silly – here’s the Church of Saint-Nizier that was a few minutes walk from where I was staying.
You may have noticed I love old buildings – I certainly like taking pictures of them. Three weeks of sightseeing in Lyon wasn’t enough. It’s a really old city – it’s been on the map for 2000 years! The sheer density of amazing architecture means you just have to walk around with your mouth open for most of the day. I regularly turned into an alley only to be hit in the face by a stunning baroque edifice that was hidden by modern buildings.
Here’s the Celestine theatre, one of the oldest playhouses in France.
Lyon is famous for its ‘secret’ short-cuts around the city. Since its a little bit hilly and historical commuters were sick of trudging the long way around buildings and up and down hills, they started building routes through buildings that took advantage of their stairwells. They also carved immense staircases into the hills that wind through other peoples’ landings and gardens. Here’s one route known by my friend as “death by heart-attack” (rough translation).
And then there were routes we found that didn’t seem to serve any practical purpose at all…
I made lots of friends either by staying on their sofas or in various language cafes and events.
Here’s one of them.
The zoo and park (Parc de la Tête d’Or – Park of the Golden Head) is both beautiful and bizarre. After accidentally entering a marathon by climbing the obstacles and signs that had been put in our way to warn us, we found we’d been walled in by supporters and barriers, the only way to escape the onrush of aforesaid ridiculously good-looking people was to make a dash for the other side of the road and pretend it was all part of the plan.
We eventually saw the sights in relative peace. We found the carnivorous plants greenhouse, the giraffes and the flamingos as well as the most perfectly kept garden I’ve ever seen! Have you sever seen so much care taken over a path before?!
The basilisk is the highest point in the area and makes for an incredible view of the city – red roofs for as far as you can see! As usual, its so grand that photographing it is horribly disappointing. It just makes you feel small.
Inside it’s so finely decorated that you go blind to the beautiful murals and paintings inside pretty much immediately. If you’re a photographer you’ll have to fight the urge to climb up one gilded side so you can fit the other side into shot or make a dash over the security perimeter to the alter so you can get some detail in. There are the most beautiful murals and mosaics along the walls telling all sort of stories from the Bible and history. No idea how they expected me to fit them onto instagram.
They also boast the only Jedi Pope .
Pope John Paul II; the force is strong with this one.
Modern Lyon has plenty to offer as well – on one of my ‘get lost then find a coffee shop’ adventures I discovered my perfect sport – underwater cycling!
Most of my time was spent writing and walking around the city on my own or hanging out with the various couchsurfers I met through the website or in the local couchsurfer meetups. Pro travel tip: you can make friends with just about anyone, provided you both aren’t above making weird noises and hilarious miming gestures because you don’t speak each other’s languages.
I’m still working on how I’m going to get this through security…
Clubbing in Lyon is amazing; the free clubs we went to were better than any I’ve been to in England, largely as a result of good music and generally more pleasant people – who said the French were rude?!
It was in the last week that I took off in a different direction to normal and walked along the river Saône, just before it hits the Rhone, only to stumble upon the famous orange and green cubes I’d completely forgotten about since planning this saga.
Its like something born of an illicit relationship between Star Wars and Tango.
Here is also where the modern art and architecture exhibitions get put on and things get built that make you wander how hard it actually should be to become an architect.
Handy Left and Right labels for disused chimneys.
I struggle when talking about Lyon because I enjoyed myself so much and there simply isn’t time to revel in the pictures and memories I have of it. I shall return one day. But first I need to tell you about a tiny town called Le Puy-en-Velay, the next destination of my little trip…