Despite our best intentions we once again arrived early at the station. Two TGV trains came through while we waited. The first didn't even stop at Avignon, and appeared quite full as it sped off to reach the Gare de Lyon in Paris in three and a half hours. The second began at Perpignan, and stopped at cities between Perpignan and Avignon before the big non-stop leap to Paris; it, too was full, but it was also 40 minutes late, due to some delay to the south. The Rhone river
We were taking a lesser train for the two-hour run to Lyons. [By the way, we have puzzled enough on these points, and have decided for the purpose of these reports that Marseille and Lyon are spelled without a final "s" in French, and that Marseilles and Lyons are English spellings of the same cities. Possibly we're wrong; does anyone know for sure?]
A woman waiting with us engaged us in conversation. She had just returned from a tour to Egypt and assured us that it was perfectly safe as long as you were with your group, even for Americans. Each person we meet is interested in our reactions to France: do we like the people? the countryside? the old buildings? We agreed that it is unfair that Paris controls most of the money and power; she said that a growing number of people who work in Paris are moving to Avignon to escape the city stresses, especially with the fast TGV commute.
As we traveled northward along the Rhone, the countryside changed. There are still, of course, vineyards on every possible hillside. The hills themselves became gradually hillier and rockier, with little towns perched on top here and there. We sped through several old towns including Vienne with its impressive stone buildings, past ruined towers and ramparts and chateaux, and also past manor houses which have been kept bright and re-roofed and prosperous. The Rhone is high and fast-moving. We wished there was a travel guide that told Street march blocks traffic you what to look for out the train windows!
The Gare de la Part-Dieu in Lyons is undergoing renovation, which is good, and the SNCF services are operating full time out of temporary spaces -- adjacent buildings, and temporary buildings put up in the square, which is also fine. What is not so fine is that there are no signs telling you what is where. So we waited for a while in the wrong queue. This was not so bad, because we met a woman from Toronto who has been living in France; she used to work in the used bookstore we had found in Toulouse. She told us her favorite bookstore in Lyons, helped us find the right queue, and commiserated with us about the American election debacle.
Our hotel is a modern and pleasant place with the biggest bed, sturdiest computer desk and brightest lights we've seen in many a week. The bellman, hearing our English, asked us when our election would be complete. He said it seems to the French like a theater performance--plenty of drama.
Before settling in, we strolled along the river toward the tourist Place Bellacour office, noticing that one section of sidewalk looked freshly washed. "Fish market" said (in French) a man coming up behind us. He remarked that he could tell from the Michelin we were carrying that we weren't from this area. When he heard we are Americans he asked who was going to finally win the election, and did we have a preference? Even though it has dropped out of French headlines, it's still a major conversational topic here.
Lyons is about the size of Hamburg, so the quaint old town does not dominate city life; we crossed the Rhone and walked through modern streets filled with traffic and Christmas shoppers. There is a balance between pedestrian malls and through streets, and a good transit system. A couple of streets were temporarily blocked off for a street march.
We didn't get close enough to read the banners, but this could have been the lawyers' strike we read about in the papers yesterday. In France (and we know this is true in Germany, too) lawyers' fees are fixed, depending upon the type of case; the photo in the newspapers showed the young men and women lawyers in their courtroom robes carrying signs for more pay. A sporty car
The tourist office in the Place Bellacour gave us directions and brochures; then we found a cafe across the square. We shared andouillette and sabodet, two very different kinds of Lyonnais sausage. The cafe was sparkling on two levels with bright mirrors and polished wood panelling, filled with friends meeting for late lunches or dessert.
From Bellacour one can see up to the elaborate Basilica de Notre Dame de Fourviere; a funicular climbs the hillside. The sun broke through the clouds just enough to light up the sides of houses on the hills.
We bought a book of bus and metro tickets, got the indispensible transportation map, and found some books in English, along with candy, vitamins, drinks and snacks. (We have taken to using the hotel minibars to keep a couple of items cold.) Then we took a different route back to the hotel: another bridge over the swirling and swollen Rhone, another busy and wide city boulevard. Perhaps our biggest first impression is that Lyons, unlike the southern cities of Bordeaux and Toulouse, did not have its development arrested in the fifties and sixties because of lack of funds.