We've been invited for lunch at the home of the cousins of Bob's brother-in-law. Now retired, he is a nuclear physicist who has taught the new physics to university professors; she has been a dentist who won a prize in Paris, then established her professional credentials and her practice while raising their two boys. Parc Tete d'Or
But first we had a couple of hours for a walk on this beautiful sunny Sunday morning. We decided to walk away from the hotel for an hour and then back to the hotel for an hour.
The first thing we found was Les Halles (the new Les Halles, to old time Lyons residents). This is the famous market featuring gastronomic delicacies. It's all enclosed and sparkling clean, with vendors' stalls separated by four long aisles and numerous cross-aisles; the whole market stretches over a city block in length.
There was everything: fish and oysters; meat of every variety, including still-recognizable birds stuffed and trussed, oven-ready stuffed roasts, cheeses, pastries, pates and terrines, fruits and vegetables and wines. Salmon in colors from red to almost white. Some of the vendors had tiny little restaurants attached to their stalls where you could sit down and eat in case you couldn't wait till you got home. We decided we'd come back tomorrow for lunch!
We saw one group of young men finishing up Saturday night by eating platters of oysters with white wine. Only some of the wine was spilled on the floor. Cathedral St. Jean
We continued our walk, and unexpectedly walked by the Old Halles, which was the same idea, but in a smaller older building. Oddly, there were a few merchants still selling provisions, but most of the stalls were empty.
Then we found ourselves at the Parc Tete d'Or -- Golden Head Park. It was crowded with joggers of every size and description, along with a splendid variety of people doing a little bit of everything -- T'ai Chi, rollerblading, bicycling, playing ball, playing with children, and just strolling along, like us.
It also had lots of attractions that weren't shown on the map, such as the botanic garden with every single plant marked with a sign -- in fact there may have been more signs than plants, because some of the plants weren't doing so well in the cold weather. We didn't stop to walk into the greenhouses; perhaps another time.
As we left the botanic garden we turned to admire the elephants. Wait a minute! Elephants? Well, yes, there is the Lyons Zoo here, too. No admission fees, just the cages with animals. Later we read that it's one of the oldest public zoos in Europe, dating from the 1850s. We liked the name Panther d'Amour for the leopard. Who could love a leopard? Another leopard, probably.
We walked around a large lake in the middle of the park; the swans were just taking their positions for the day. To the side of the park was the Museum of Contemporary Art, next to the headquarters of Interpol, moved south from Paris. In true spy tradition, there was no apparent sign on the building. It reminded us of the headquarters of "the Company" in Langley, Virginia, which didn't exist for a long time!
We returned to our hotel and took a taxi up near the Lycee for our luncheon date. We had a very special, wonderful day with our new friends and relatives. Long-time Lyons residents, Charlie was born in Paris, Andree in Marseilles, but they met climbing rocks! In a combination of French and English 13th c. astronomical clock we exchanged information about family and travels and interests, while eating delicious chicken and creamy potatoes, salad and green beans, cheeses and tart, accompanied by a luscious wine.
After lunch, we went sightseeing. Because of the flooding, it's next to impossible to park near the river, but Charlie found an even better place: the parking garage for the Celestins Theater. On the plaza above the garage is what looks like a telescope; you put your eye up to the eyepiece and see down into the garage, looking directly down the axis of the spiral ramp, seeing the exiting cars move up through the windows.
We walked through a different part of Old Lyons. In the Cathedral St. Jean we found a 13th century astronomical clock, a massive and intricate structure perhaps twenty feet high, with figures and dials and bells and decorations all around. It still works. In late afternoon, Old Lyons was starting to fill up with an evening crowd, street musicians, and the like. Charlie showed us the most famous of the interior courtyards with a spiral staircase - The Rose Tower. They explained that the traboules, passageways which provide an unseen way for a person to disappear off one street and reappear on another, were used as escape routes for people to avoid capture by the Germans or Vichy police during the war.
We took the funicular railway to the top of the hill to see the landmark Cathedral of Notre Dame de Fourviere, started in the 1890s. As we approached the station, we could see a disturbance: the train driver was muscling a man down the stairs. His captive was trying his best to regain the stairs, but the driver prevailed and soon came back, attempting to look as though nothing had happened. In true big-city fashion all the passengers pretended not to notice anything out of the ordinary.
As we tried to understand what may have happened, we all agreed that the driver had not tried to call the police. Andree suggested that perhaps the man The Rose Tower was a beggar. It was very interesting to us (Bob and Elsa) because in the U.S. a transit driver would have been trained not to use violence; evidently in France the driver had some authority to physically enforce rules and regulations on his funicular car.
We got to the cathedral just as a special observance for the Boy Scouts was concluding and just before mass, so we had only a few minutes to view the interior. This is a wonderful example of a modern cathedral, splendid decorated inside and out; clearly, it was built on top of the hill as a landmark for a beautiful city, and it succeeds magnificently.
Perhaps more residents of Lyons go to the top of the hill for the magnificent view than to go to church; even on a cloudy day we could see for miles around, and Charlie and Andree said you can see the snow capped mountains on a clear day. People crowded around the railings of the church garden to enjoy the view. We learned that the Credit Lyonnais Tower, a less celestial landmark with a pointed top, has been nicknamed first The Pencil, but now just called the "Bic" which is a nice pun on the ball-point pen and the English word for the very top of the tower -- like the mouth of a hungry baby bird.
We returned by funicular, this time without incident, and drove south towards the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone rivers. Then Charlie and Andree showed us the Halle Tony-Garnier. This huge building was once a slaughterhouse, built in 1914 by the local architect Tony Garnier. It is over 160,000 square feet, and almost 75 feet high, and is now used for rock concerts and conventions; it is another Lyons landmark.
To continue our tour, Charlie drove us to the Ecole Normale Superior, which is one of the great institutes of higher education. ENS is charged with preparing university professors; its enrollment is 400. When the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to two Lyonnais scientists, Charlie, as a member of the French Academy of Sciences and a professor of physics, had the honor of arranging the award ceremonies at ENS.
Friday will be the Festival of the Lights in Lyons, a ceremony which remembers when the city was spared from the plague in the fourteenth century. The citizens believed that the Virgin Mary saved the city, so ever since on this night they light candles in her honor. There will be small candles burning in windows all over the city, and the public buildings will be illuminated as well.
We saw one more university on the way back to the hotel -- the Faculty of Letters. So this is a city rich in educational resources and tradition. We learned a lot about Lyons and enjoyed getting to know our French relations. We can keep in touch by email!