November 30, Wednesday:
Lolloping Around Lyon
A Bit of a Disappointment:
Today turned out to be a bit of a bummer. After a really good Continental breakfast (croissants, baguettes, butter and jams with café au lait—mais oui!) at Hotel Liege Strasbourg which was included in our tariff, we set out for Gare Austerlitz with the idea of taking a train to the Loire Valley as that was where we wished to spend the day. But when we arrived at the station, we found that our train to Orleans (where we were headed) was indefinitely delayed due to an electrical breakdown on the line. Since we had the flexibility of going wherever we pleased with our tickets, we made the spur-of-the-moment decision to change course and head for Lyon instead. I called Genevieve, my French pen pal of 36 years (who had been expecting us a day later) and left her a message to tell her that we were headed to Lyon instead. The man at the Information Counter told me that if we made our way on foot across a bridge over the Seine, we would reach Gare de Lyon in ten minutes and would be in time to get the next train to Lyon. Accordingly, we dropped everything and rushed off in pursuit of the train.
More disappointments followed. At the station (where we arrived on time), we discovered that our train tickets were not valid on the TGV (Tres Grand Vitesse—Super Fast) trains, that we would need to make reservations on such trains and pay an additional surcharge, if necessary. Thus, we could not take the train that we had intended, but had to wait for the next train that had seats. This was only at 11.00 am, so that by the time we reached Lyon it was close to 1.00 pm. Fortunately, this happened to be Genevieve’s lunch hour and she was able to get off work for a little while, pick us up from Lyon Part-Dieu Station and drop us off to a very busy touristic square called Place Bellecour that I know well. It was great that Llew and Genevieve finally met. I have spoken of her to him for so many years and of him to her as well! Llew was struck by how warm and friendly she is and how wonderfully well we have stayed in touch and had many meetings through the years.
Touring Lyon on Foot:
Knowing Lyon as well as I do—I had only placed this second-largest French city on our itinerary as Llew had never been there and I was keen for him to meet Genevieve and her family—it was very easy for me to play tour guide.
We started at the equestrian statue of King Louis XIV in the center of the square where we took a few pictures. We then obtained maps from the Tourist Information Center and set off on foot for Old Lyon where we immediately came upon the Cathedral of St. Jean which is filled with stained glass in the royaume style (as seen in St. Chapelle in Paris) and a glorious ornate antique clock that still tells the time.
Next, after posing in the Cathedral square with the Church of Notre-Dame de Fourviere behind us, we began to look for the funicular train that would take us up Fourviere Mountain to the Cathedral. We found this soon enough (after asking a young boy for directions—he happened to have one French and one American parent and had done part of his high schooling in the USA!--and rode the train up on what was a glorious day, if a trifle too cool.
Visiting the Church of Notre-Dame de Fourviere:
This was my third visit to the church and it is amazing how completely you forget just how gorgeous the interior of this church is. It is a mixture of Gothic and Baroque styles—it has a multitude of Byzantine mosaics that completely cover the ceilings and the walls and leave your jaw dropping. There are gilded angels, sculpted saints, medallions rondels on the ceiling that depict the pantheon of the heavens is wondrous guise—we simply could not get enough pictures. The location of the church also offers amazing views of Lyon from the mountain viewing platform and loads of people were taking pictures of the panorama spread out below us: Place Bellecour with its gigantic ferris wheel (does every city in the world now boast one or what?), the two rivers (the Rhone and the Saone) that wind through the city and connect various parts through romantic bridges, Old Lyon with its winding narrow streets. It really was such a fun way to get a bird’s eye view of the city.
The Traboules of Old Lyon:
On the funicular down, we were on terra firma once again—this time we explored the winding maze of lanes that make up romantic Old Lyon with its multitude of charming restaurants, its souvenir shops selling typical confections such as the ‘cousins’ (chocolate and mint flavored cushion-shaped candy), its tiny hostelries. But Old Lyon is best-known for one thing: its traboules. Having explored them myself on an earlier trip, I was keen for Llew to get a whiff of them as well. Traboules are secret passages that led from the homes of the ‘canuts’ or silk-weavers (for Lyon is famous for its silk ateliers) to the river banks from where silk was transported to their homes and the finished products they wove taken back on to boats for trade around the country. The traboules are reached through nondescript wooden doors that face the cobbled streets of the old city. You ring a bell and hope the current residents will let you in so that you can poke around the inner space at leisure. Inside, you will find an apartment building with certain unique features: paint is always in earth tones—yellow, orchre, red, russet. There are rounded balconies and long passages connecting homes. It is all very quaint and very interesting.
In Search of Antonio Canova, Silk Designer Extraordinaire:
Having seen some of Lyon’s main attractions (other than its fine arts museums for which we had little time), Llew offered to buy me a silk scarf from one of my favorite scarf designers of all time, Antonio Canova. Canova is an Italian artist and designer who made his home in France many years ago. He set up shop in Lyon, home of the competitive world silk scarf industry and began designing for the likes of Hermes, Salvatore Ferragamo, Chanel, Cartier, etc. I have, over the years, made many trips to his atelier in a hotel particulier (private mansion) in Lyon where I have feasted visually on his work and acquired some of his fabulous pieces.
So, walking for about 20 minutes over several bridges and their quais, we arrived at Canova’s atelier (or workshop), which is actually marked on the official map of Lyon. I have met his daughter Clothilde (who runs the business with him) before, so I was not surprised to see her. But imagine my delight when I discovered the door opened by Canova himself! Indeed, I was beside myself with delight. In his showroom, he escorted us personally and gave us a tour of some of his more recent designs. Alas, I have to say that I was not a fan of the more Modernist aesthetic in which he has recently chosen to work. I prefer the more classical styles in French scarves and when he drew my attention to the silk scarves of Paul Boccaro, another famed French designer who passed away a few years ago and whose work he now carries in his showroom and represents, I was sold. The scarves were also being offered at hugely slashed prices—which led Llew to buy me two of them! Needless to say, I was absolutely delighted with my gifts.
Afternoon Tea at Café des Negociants:
With about an hour to spare before we met up again with Genevieve who would be picking us up after work at 6.00 pm from Place Bellecour, we found our way into Café des Negociants which is renowned as being one of the most chi-chi salons de the (or tearooms) in Lyons. Inside, in a deluxe atmosphere, with plush velvet banquettes, multiple images created by sparkling mirrors on the wall and twinkling chandeliers that hung low from the ceiling, we ordered tea and hot chocolate and shared a decadent chocolate pastry while chatting with two super-chic French women seated beside us who actually had two miniature lap-dogs with them! Indeed, the restaurant was filled with the most elegantly-dressed women, dripping pearls and clad cozily in cashmere who sipped their tea delicately and savored their cakes. It was a bit of old France to linger over.
Seeing Lyon By Night:
We did meet Genevieve on schedule at 6.00 pm when she swung up to pick us up in her car. But before she took us homewards, she suggested a driving tour of the city so that we could see its many monuments by night—which was really sweet of her. Accordingly, we saw the Opera House—a centuries-old structure that has been ‘improved’ by the famous French architect, Jean Nouvel, who has created a glass arch on top of the building. We also saw the Place de Terreaux with its marvelous sculpture of Neptune and his sea-horses by the French sculptor Bartoldi (who designed the Statue of Liberty). Alas, much of it was concealed by scaffolding for renovation. Next, Genevieve drove us across a river to see the strangely Modernist building that houses the city’s newest museum—the Museum of ….that is designed by ….. in such a way that almost every side of it has a different aesthetic. The drive offered a real capsule of the glorious public buildings and squares that make up Lyon and I do believe that Llew got a really good feel for the place.
Evening and Dinner with the Tougne-Ducotes:
Genevieve then drove us the twenty-minute distance to her home in St. Didier du Mont D’Or—one of Lyon’s most affluent suburbs, set high up on a mountain. It was fabulous to meet Genevieve’s family members again (after four years): husband Frederic and son Amaury (who amazed me at how big he’d grown—he even had a girl-friend named Elisa!). His older brother Louis was out but was expected to join us shortly.
After drinks (red wine) and nibbles, Genevieve ushered us into the dining room. Having spent two stints before in the Ducote home, I am quite familiar with the antiquated grandeur of it all as Frederic is a retired antiques’ dealer in Lyon. The home is filled with furniture and decorative objects from centuries past that lend a sophisticated antiquity to their home and its grand proportions—indeed it is built to resemble an old chateau.
The dining room was beautifully laid with antique fianc (ceramic plates) and in the center was an old iron contraption that turned out to be an electric machine for making raclette—a traditional cheese dinner that hails from the Haute Savoie region of France that borders Switzerland (where raclette is also a favorite). A heated hotplate in two tiers is used to melt slices of raclette cheese that are placed in smaller pans so that they melt and are removed to be poured over boiled potatoes which are passed around. Also accompanying the dish is a variety of cold meats such as smoked ham, boiled ham and salami and pickles such as cornichons. It made a grand old dinner and we had the best time as we melted our slices of cheese individually and dived in.
Lots of red wine flowed, a lot of pictures were clicked for posterity, Frederic kept the conversation going (in French) with his strong political views, and then, when Louis arrived to join us, he posed with us for pictures too. Overall, we had a really splendid evening with our friends and a really lovely introduction (for Llew) to one of France’s most beautiful cities.
Not long afterwards, as Genevieve had to return to work, the next day, we retired for the night in a beautiful bedroom decorated with a decidedly feminine touch.