Alternate title: The City Made of Stairs (and the Girl Who Climbed them All)
Maybe Christmastime in France is prettier because it is still new and foreign, where signs for “marrons chaud” are still charming instead of banal. But I’m fairly positive it’s mostly because of the lights and markets that take over every city, offering vin chaud and chichis to all who wander by.
On my train to Lyon now two weekends ago, as my TGV sped through the fog, passing mountains and fir trees and lakes that had nearly frozen over, I remembered what an incredible experience it is to have the French countryside as my neighbor; to be able to get to l’Illumination for only 25€. Even though it was early and I was very tired, I felt filled with inspiration that I hadn’t felt in so long–I think Amtrak really has something going for it with it’s writer’s fellowship (ahem).
So, enough reminiscing–let’s talk about Lyon and how it is 85 percent made of stairs and how I, the girl who hates crowds, ended up in the most crowded city in France last weekend.
I knew it would be rough the minute I arrived. The line for the metro tickets was out of the station and I was/am too impatient to spend my day waiting in a line…so I decided to walk–a walk which Google maps severely underestimated as 45 minutes. I didn’t do any research before my departure beyond where I wanted to eat, so I decided my best bet would be to go to the neighborhood where many of those restaurants were–Croix Rousse. Four kilometers, a couple selfies, and approximately 1,000 stairs later, I arrived at my destination.
If I do say so myself, this was a pretty good, uneducated move on my part. I knew I had reached my destination when I saw the ornaments surrounding the entrance of the Christmas market next to a row of sapins, wreaths, and holly. The Lyon Croix Rousse Christmas market is the third and smallest market in France that I have been to this month (the first two being Aix and Paris), but it had charming stands selling French delicacies, ceramics, and most importantly after such a trek, vin chaud. Behind the market was a petting zoo, which is a concept I have never really understood but the donkeys were cute regardless. I ducked out of the market and took refuge in a coffee shop, realizing I should probably stop wandering around and make a plan for the rest of my day.
In the very small amount of research I did, I gathered that I wanted to go to the basilica (have ever you noticed that churches always seem to have the best views??) and to one of the many celebrated chocolate stores in Lyon. I finished my coffee, refueled with some vin chaud and tartiflette at the market, and set out on my adventure to figure out Lyon’s public transportation.
I’m sure that when the Fête des Lumières isn’t happening in Lyon it doesn’t take very long to get to Notre Dame de Fouvière. Luckily for me, last weekend the line for the funiculaire was wrapped around the building, and I, again impatient, decided it couldn’t be that hard to climb. An hour later of climbing and getting lost (do not follow other tourists if they also have no idea where they are going) I made it to the top. It was such a beautiful view, but too crowded to enjoy. I would have liked to see the inside of the church, as well, but it was hideously packed with people and seeing the crowd inside started to spark my claustrophobia, so I retreated back down the
On my way down, I found what became one of my favorite spots in Lyon–le Jardin du Rosaire. It was calm, quiet, not filled with people, and had almost the same view as from the basilica balcony. After all that walking, I grew incredibly fond of the benches there, too.
As it grew darker, I buckled down with another vin chaud and prepared myself for the upcoming light show. The Fête des Lumières is a crazy cool mixture of art and technology, with lights and videos shining on the city’s ferris wheel, Hôtel de Ville, and the Rhône River, among many, many other locales. The city really just comes to life–something hard to capture on film, though I certainly did try (and since now I can fit them on my hard drive again, je vous présente Lyon et l’illumination):
Though next time I go to Lyon early in December it would be nice to stay the night and/or make a friend with someone who has a balcony across from Hôtel de Ville, it really was magical to see the city light up for the holidays (literally)…even if it was with everyone else in France, too. ♦