To round out our view of Lyons we took four subways to the Croix Rousse station, a point on one of the Michelin walking tours. Each subway is clean, fast and silent, and the last was a cog railway from underground up the hill. M. Jacquard et Pere Noel
In the center of the square is a statue of Joseph-Marie Jacquard, the developer of the Jacquard Loom. Lyons has been a center of the French silk industry for hundreds of years. Jacquard invented a punched-card system controlling the patterns being created on the looms, which increased production and created more complex patterns of uniform quality. Of course the statue could have identified Jacquard as the grandfather of the computer, since the IBM punched cards were derived from the Jacquard cards as a way of encoding a program. But the French of the time were more proud of the beautiful silk fabrics, and rightly so!
But today, the Place de la Croix Rousse is given over more to children and Christmas preparations than to history lessons; Jacquard's statue is adorned with a red figure of Pere Noel climbing up with a sack full of toys, and next to the statue is a display of farm animals -- ponies, chickens, geese -- for the kids to feed and touch. A more elaborate creche is in the making, and some special market stalls for Christmas items are going up. There was also a small carousel with Jules Verne coaches, just as we had seen in Quimper.
Several places in this Croix Rousse neighborhood are devoted to the history and current production of silk; there is a small private museum and Ponies for the children several shops which include looms set up in their showrooms. This is also an area rich in labor movement history as the silk workers developed their unions and fought for better working conditions. [There is also a highly-rated museum of silk production in Lyons, but, alas! that visit will have to wait for another trip.]
How do you build a city on top of a hill? With great care, and a lot of staircases instead of streets. So following the trail of the silk district down the hill led us through some pretty intricate passageways, and past some pretty impressive views; as we got lower and lower we found the neighborhood getting less and less attractive. But all in all, it was working class poor, and there were a number of historical sights. We were basically threading our way through the warren of small apartments where the silk workers lived and worked and, eventually, struck. Sometimes it wasn't so clear if we were in a public thoroughfare or a private courtyard, but nobody challenged us, so we kept descending. We did see a piano being delivered, and plenty of dogs doing their business, but not many silk workers anymore.
A little further down the hill we came to Place Chardonnet, with a huge monument to the discoverer of artificial silk, used in making the first parachutes. From the limbs of several trees surrounding the monument hung metal 8x10 photographs, most with a first name stenciled on back; the explanation, if there ever was one, was missing. We believe these are photos of Resistance fighters.
Our trail lead us through a wide arcade called Passage Thiaffalt to the Condition Publique de Soie. This is an ornately decorated building, where the silk was weighed and evaluated to have the correct value, since silk can absorb up to 15% of its weight in water.
Near the bottom of the hill we came upon another memorial; a small marble plaque dedicated to 80 members of the local Jewish community who were deported in 1943.
Suddenly we came out by a beautiful fountain which we recognized. We were in Place des Terreaux, next to City Hall and across from the Beaux Arts Museum.
Well, we were hungry, and we were dreaming of those wonderful places to nosh at Les Halles. We decided to try a bus instead of the metro. Pretty big mistake. The bus went down Lafayette, all the time being packed tightly with Doll house weaving shoppers, and all the time lurching from one side to the other to avoid literally dozens of double-parked cars. It would have been a challenge to thread a motorcycle through those crowded and unyielding streets. There was no way a standing passenger could get out the map to read it whilst bending over between the other bodies to peek out the window to know where we were to be able to decide where to get off. So we guessed. It was the stop just passed Les Halles so we walked back three blocks ...
... to find that Les Halles is closed on Monday. You'd think that as experienced European travelers we'd be on to all the times when places might be closed: for festivals and holidays, for church, for lunch, on Mondays, sometimes on Tuesdays, or, in the case of smaller businesses, when the proprietor is unwell or is visiting his sister. So there went our great plans of noshing in Les Halles. Oh, well! We ended up with a decidedly indifferent cafe near the hotel and had an edible lunch. Sigh!
We had been talking about walking to the train station for our next trip (after all you could practically see it just down the road) so we set out on an after-lunch walk. It started out nicely, with broad flat sidewalks free of crotte-de-chien, but then we came into some kind of tangle around the Credit Lyonnais Bic-Beak; we walked right into the entrance to a parking garage and had to turn back. The more we backtracked the more we got lost. We finally walked back two blocks and down two more blocks and sort of sidled up to the far side of the railroad station.
We counted half-an-hour and many ditches and high curbs which were The steep staircase down unsuitable for our wheeled suitcases, and decided that tomorrow we'd take a cab. All of the modernization effort for the Part-Dieu train station was required to accommodate the improved track and greater length of the TGV trains. The result has been to leave a couple of older stations unused (we believe one is now a restaurant).
While we were at the train station we waited in line and asked the woman for a train schedule. No! she said, in several languages, and directed us in French to another place outside the building. We argued for a while, and tried to explain the empty slot for the schedule, but she was having none of it. Go outside to the other building, she insisted. Meanwhile, the other half of our team quietly found the schedule in a rack on a different part of the wall next to her cubicle. We decided not to go back and tell her she was mistaken.
Then we looked for the big yellow departure sheet for Lyons. It had expired two days ago.
So we returned to our hotel, somewhat chastened by the might and majesty of the SNCF, but nonetheless in love with Lyons and looking forward to the time when we can return. It's an exciting vibrant city, proud of its past and looking forward to its future, and lots of fun to visit.