After a week of friends visiting from Australia (which means more wines than one should have with an early waking baby), we had plans to meet up with my parents following their travels in Spain and Portugal. We were to liaise in Lyon, and as Tim had a work function Adelaide and I hit the road alone on Friday. We made our way to Lausanne, not too far from the border of Switzerland and France, and stopped for lunch. Adelaide had a wriggle in the gardens and I had a rose and we were both rather pleased with ourselves.
It’s still novel – and will be for some time, I suspect – to drive a few hours and cross into another country. Luckily the baby slept, because every time I saw ‘FRANCE’ on signposts I embarrassingly screeched in excitement (quietly though, so as not to disturb her).
World heritage listed, Lyon is the third largest city in France, and is lauded as its gastronomic capital. We didn’t have long in town, so we set out early to check out its sights (and squeeze in as many pastries as our arteries could handle). The old town is nestled between two rivers and looming above it, visible from almost everywhere, is the cathedral.
Only visible if you can be bothered looking up, that is.
We strolled around the town in the morning, checking out architecture and finding our bearings (but mostly trying to work up an appetite for lunch).
We moseyed through museums, cruised through courtyards and ogled ornate churches.
And Tim and the girl viewed vinyl at the markets along the Rhone.
Lyon has the largest number of Michelin starred restaurants in the world, and an uber famous octogenarian chef. It has oodles of delicious markets with astounding ranges of charcuterie, cheese, meats, chocolates, pastries, fruit and vegetables. It also has bouchons, home-style restaurants that used to provide a resting place for horses and give a simple meal, usually based around cheaper ingredients, to weary travellers. Given the choices of food in Lyon, we’d deliberated for some time as to how we’d fill our stomachs and had decided to lunch at one such establishment. A low ceilinged, checkered tableclothed affair, it did not disappoint. We were served a standard menu: salami and pickles, rilettes, lentils and a cabbage salad to start, and a choice of mains. They ranged from the local specialty of quenelle (a pike dumpling in crayfish sauce), andouillette sausages and pork cheek stew, to blood pudding with roast apples, and pigs head. We sampled bravely and were well rewarded (also, there was praline pie afterwards for the win). Our bellies full – for the time being – we embarked on a walking tour.
Lyon’s old town consists mainly of streets parallel to the rivers. In order to carry originally water, and later silk, and still later move army troops quickly between the streets a series of traboules (meaning ‘to cross’) were developed. Secret passages through the city, they are located behind closed doors, and lead you through private courtyards and alleys to the next bustling thoroughfare. In the old town there are over 300 such passages, and unless shown where they where I would have walked on past, foolishly taking the long route. Happily for my lazy legs, we were shown many entrances which led us to common courtyards, usually with the communal well still intact.
These were joined by passages: some straight and some meandering, some with stairs and some flat, illuminated to guide the way.
Some of the traboules are signposted, like the one below, but the vast majority of them are private and hidden to the unknowing eye.
Many were filled with tourismos like us, admiring the view (and for some, the greenery).
Unlike today, the cheapest rooms were located on the top floors as they were the furthest from the well and didn’t have the luxury of elevators. The owner of the building would often have a single room at the top to maximise access to the sun as the courtyards were frequently dark and damp.
All the talk of hauling water (or more accurately Tim’s work function) tired out some of the tourists.
Even after being shown many of the entrances to the traboules, it was still a surprise when one popped open in an unassuming place.
I had hoped that this was the nexus of Lyon’s gastronomy and traboules but sadly I was mistaken. It wasn’t all about hidden passageways, of course – we also relished the imposing views from above.
Tim and I hit the town that night sans baby (thanks, grandparents!) and marvelled at the difference of the city. By night, the buildings are lit from below and are covered in a golden glow. The city had a buzz to it – while fairly frantic during the day, it mellowed out at night and the hum of well fed and watered patrons murmered through the streets. We drank champagne in a dark, spacious and ornate bar, and despite learning the hard way that we really should make reservations in a gastronomic wonderland, we had a dreamy night out.
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