In other words: Lyon
This was the place where I realised I’d made a terrible baggage mistake. It’s not easy carrying a heavy square suitcase up three flights of narrow, time-worn stone steps. The decision was resolved to seek out a suitcase-backpack hybrid when we arrived in Paris – but more on that later.
I had intended to take a gastronomic walking tour whilst here in Lyon, famed as one of the food capitals of the world, but was incredibly disappointed on enquiry at the tourist centre, to discover that despite this reputation, the tour runs only once a week, on a Saturday morning, and being a Friday when we enquired it was of course booked out. So much for that.
We were also there over New Years Eve, so during our visit we noticed the security out in
force with armed soldiers carrying machine guns patrolling the train station. Reassuring in a way but also quite a shock to an Australian who is quite unused to seeing such things. Even at the shopping centre (we went to visit the Confluence, which was somewhat like Melbourne’s Docklands only er… more successful?) our bags were checked on the way in to the shopping centre. It’s a huge modern construction with a semi-enclosed layout and some very interesting features, like a hanging rainforest garden complete with water feature, chimes and fake bird noises near the bathroom- very relaxing. As we were just looking around, we were kind of glad for the partially open roofline letting in some cool air as we didn’t have to do the disrobement dance, but it did occur to me that serious shoppers would have to play too-hot-too-cold going in and out of every store rather than just the centre!
After finally getting in the habit of saying si to everything in Italy, my brain was highly resistant to changing to oui, but we got there eventually!
ATTRACTIONS (AND ARCHITECTURE)
Alright, despite the name of this post we did visit one museum which was somewhat by accident – the Gallo Roman Museum on the hill across the river from the central old town. There used to be a Roman settlement on this hill, and the well preserved and partially restored remains of a large (10,000 people!) theatre and music odeon still remain. I don’t think this is an attraction that many people really come to Lyon for but it was incredibly eye opening to me, really showing the extent of the thriving Roman empire. 10,000 people! The museum itself is half buried in the hill with several levels being hidden except for protruding square windows that look almost like ventilation ducts, and features the most beautiful collection of mosaics out of any of the ‘bigger name’ museums I’ve seen, including one you could walk across! For me, this really changed my perception and appreciation of mosaics as a luxury item. It was so much smoother than I imagined and suddenly the feeling of it being a symbol of wealth and power intensified. It’s really hard to explain, but I never imagined that the feel underfoot would be as silky and pleasant as it was! The museum is also well laid out in terms of having interactive displays set up for kids interspersed with the more ‘wordy’ adult-oriented displays.
The architecture of the theatre obviously maximised the use of the land with the seats sloping up the hill. It’s worth noting that this structure pre-dated the Veronese theatre I’d seek a week earlier, which in turn pre-dated the Verona Arena, which in turn pre-dated the Colosseum, so the development over time was fascinating to observe. I had no idea that Roman technology allowed for a stage curtain that submerged into the floor, for example, or a fan-like retractable roofing structure.
This museum also featured a display of soils (I later saw a much larger one as an art installation at Chambord) which really bring the reality of terroir to mind with their different colours and textures that only become apparent in such extremes when isolated and dried out – even within one country.
The first taste of Lyonnaise ‘food’ I had was a delicious Galet du Rhône chocolate which greeted us on arrival at the apartment. As we went to the little supermarket down the street and cooked dinner the first night, the second taste of France I had was my first real French croissant the next morning. I tried to eat it mindfully, considering whether it was really any different to a Melbourne croissant (a good one) and I can’t say it was, although of course it far exceeded a BAD one. Throughout my journeys in France I could safely say that nothing approached the clumsiness of a Woolworths croissant! So whilst I can conclude that the famous, buttery French croissant is no longer an exclusive item to France, the ability to get a melt-in-your-mouth pastry anywhere you went for only around 1 euro certainly lives up to the French Reputation!
Of course, being in Lyon, we had to visit a bouchon. In a guidebook I flicked through, there were about 30 bouchons for the whole of Lyon, so you can imagine my surprise when walking down the street looking for lunch after visiting the Roman musuem, when every second place seemed to be called a bouchon, and looked no different to the average restaurant. Eventually we encountered a real bouchon, the Bouchon Lyonnaise Le Laurencin, which bears the traditional symbol of the red nosed publican, and learned taht whilst to be classified as a ‘real’ Bouchon meant jumping through a large number of hoops, the name itself was not protected, and anyone could set up a cafe or restaurant and name it a Bouchon! Certainly confusing for the hoards of tourists passing through, and more than a tad cheeky considering the lenghts the ‘real’ Bouchon’s need to go to to maintain their status!
The traditional Lyonnaise food very rich, including lots of offal, rich dark sauces and similar treats. And the servings are huge. I chose a traditional sausage which was an enormous affair, encased in brioche, then sliced and toasted, which came with a red wine sauce so reduced and rich it almost tasted like a liqueur. IT’s interesting that such cuisine – certainly not for everyone – should carry such fame. In my opinion, it’s great for cold winter days and we were glad for the hearty fare, but I couldn’t imagine eating it in summer – yet this is the traditional food, with no seasonal variations. The quantity of the serving was honestly enough for about 3 meals for me! Not to mention the fact that it was a set menu, preceded by traditional French onion soup with a crouton and cheese top, and followed by dessert which was for me meant to be a profiterole but for some reason was buried in a mountain of canned cream that really didn’t do it any favours. So being that full, we didn’t need to go out for dinner at all!
Of course, we also had to pay a visit to Les Halles Paul Bocuse, the food market, famed for it’s quality produce. I think in a way there are some similarities between Lyon and Melbourne, in that they are both located in an area with quality pockets of specialty local produce arrayed through the nearby countryside – a fact which it’s purveyors of food are able to capitalise on with great success.
Oh the cheeses… I wonder how long it would take me to try each and every one! Whilst we did manage to sample a cheese platter at a little restaurant called AOC Les Halles (by the way, though this is a market, the restaurants are VERY popular for lunch so either get there early or be prepared to queue until a table frees up!) they rattled off the names of the cheeses too fast for me to keep up.