OnlyLyon: Settling In

OnlyLyon: So clever!

OnlyLyon: So clever!

Lyon has a tag line “onlyLyon.” You clever readers will quickly realize that “only” is an anagram of “Lyon.” Peter and I are becoming quite the Lyonaises (French speakers must ignore my inability to match person and tense, s’il vous plait). It’s very fun to try to speak French when we feel like it, and to throw ourselves on the good-humored mercy of the locals when we don’t.

Friends at home have asked, “how do you spend your days?” probably thinking that 6 months of this is possibly a tad too long not to get boring, or to remain pleasant to each other, let alone sane. So here’s the deal. First of all, it takes a fairly significant degree of time and fun to get to know a new neighborhood and a new apartment. Where’s the post office? How is the heat controlled? Where are the cash machines? Can we make the shower work better? How does the washing machine work? Why are the locks on the doors so weird? How do we pay for a bus ride? What is all this strange stuff in the grocery store? What do they call baking soda? That looks good, but what are rognons anyway? When are the stores usually open/closed? Do people cross against the light or not? And so on…

We’ve both become relatively late risers, so the first part of the day is just swanning around in our PJs, drinking our caffeine of choice, reading email etc., pouring over maps and deciding what to do/where to go today, eat in or out for dinner (8 pm is the absolute earliest any place wants to see you), do laundry, stuff like that. Laundry is a relatively big part of our lives, as we have to do it fairly often since we didn’t bring much, and also because the machines here have a pretty small load capacity and take forever.

 

Our Lyon kitchen. The apartment must be owned by Jamaicans with African roots--much carved wood, printed fabrics, etc. throughout.

Our Lyon kitchen. The apartment must be owned by Jamaicans with African roots–much carved wood, printed fabrics, etc. throughout.

Lyon is a city of about a half million people today, but greater Lyon has about 2 million. It sits in between and on both sides of the Rhone and the Saone rivers. There are lovely embankments and walk and bike ways on both sides of both rivers, both of which are now running fast and several feet over their usual levels—swollen from rains further north, which have been pretty unrelenting this winter.

Vieux Lyon from a pedestrian bridge across the Saone. See model of Tour Eiffel at top of hill.

Vieux Lyon from a pedestrian bridge across the Saone. See model of Tour Eiffel at top of hill, built deliberately to be taller than the church tower.

Lyon was a the capital of Roman Gaul for about three hundred years—there are 2 large amphitheaters here, one with a beautifully intact mosaic floor. The city collapsed when the aqueducts broke and the city was left without water. In the middle ages, Lyon became a center of silk weaving. It has a large medieval and renaissance section, called Vieux Lyon with many well-preserved buildings. Often the buildings were built right next to each other, with no alley or street in between, so they built interior passageways, called traboules, that run through the buildings from one street to another. The Germans had trouble figuring them out. Still in use, very cool. We took an architectural walk through the area that was very helpful. The city’s buildings were always built of the surrounding plentiful stone, never of wood, so no terrible fires like occurred in many other cities in mediaeval/renaissance times.

Traboule spiral steps in Vieux Lyon.

Traboule spiral steps in Vieux Lyon.

Our Croix-Rousse neighborhood is no longer a center of worker protest, it’s a hip area with lots of families. Teenagers hang out in the evenings and in the daytime the parks are full of little kids and their parents. Amazingly, they all speak flawless French.

The Lumiere brothers invented moving pictures here in 1895. One thing we’ve noticed about restaurants here is that they all have decent lighting! Everyone can read the menu and see their food without turning on their iphones!

Food: can’t stop talking about it. Learned that our neighborhood market has 400 vendors and runs every day 6am-1pm Tuesday-Sunday, closed only on Mondays. Incroyable! Tres magnifique! Those little French radishes with the white tips! French carrots! Leeks and endive galore. Tiny potatoes. Truly, no end of good veggies. Plus cheese, olives, bread, wine, nuts, meats and fishes. Plus our streets are full of fromageries, patisseries, boulongeries, boucheries and a chocolate place about every 10 meters. Plus regular grocery stores, just in case… On the restaurant side, Peter’s had the best tripe and the best calf’s liver he’s ever had in his life.

I’ve also been having fun photographing political posters and various graffiti and frescos around town. That’ll be in the next note—sorry, hadn’t realized this one had gone on so long.

One last photo from a new building in town, a sort of Frank Gehry wannabe. Terrific museum on the inside (like MOHAI in Seattle) but a bit angular and reptilian on the outside.

The Musee des Confluences--looks a little like a Star Wars evil empire spaceship from some angles.

The Musee des Confluences–looks a little like a Star Wars evil empire spaceship from some angles.

Lyon (& Heidelberg)

Very large tromp d'oeil of side of building on the side of a building.

Very large Lyonnais lifesize tromp d’oeil of side of building on the side of a building.

Our Lyon apartment hangs off the side of a plateau, some 300 steps up from the Rhone river, in a part of town that used to be the home/worksites of the silk workers, which was the town’s main industry for several hundred of its two thousand year history. As with the textile industry in England and elsewhere, the introduction of steam power and automated looms caused much dislocation, unemployment and worker protest. Our neighborhood is called Croix-Rousse and was a center of such protest. Today there are other reasons to protest. Here is a photo of a café where we ate lunch a few days ago.

Je suis Charlie

Je suis Charlie

 

We’ve spent the first week finding our neighborhood boulangeries, patisseries, epiceries, charcuteries, chocolatiers, and poissonniers. Also bistros. Lyon considers itself the center of French cuisine, as it is the home of Paul Bocuse. (why are my notes so often focused on food ??) Our Croix-Rousse neighborhood has a farmers market six days a week—today it was full of endive, parsnips, eggplant, many kinds of potatoes, apples, olives, cheese, wine, breads, leeks, fish and Spanish tangerines.

However, we’ve only been here a few days because we spent a long weekend in Heidelberg visiting friends from Peter’s German Microsoft projects. They live in the Pfalz wine district of Germany, quite close to the French border. We took several lovely walks in the vineyards (mostly Riesling—quite dry and wonderful, and inexpensive too) and the hills around them. German food, need I say more, is very pork and potato based. Also cabbage.

Looking down on vineyards with castle below

Looking down on vineyards with castle below

 

Pfalz Riesling vineyard with almond tree in bloom, church in Deidesheim and way in background a nuclear energy plant

Pfalz Riesling vineyard with almond tree in bloom, church in Deidesheim and way in background a nuclear energy plant

 

Pastry break on walk up hill above vineyards with Gilles and Heike

Pastry break on walk up hill above vineyards with Gilles and Heike

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learned and saw a few things about the plight of the refugees. Actually, mostly didn’t see. There are several million of them in Germany, mostly living in stadiums and gyms and such—sounds like New Orleans after Katrina. Obviously the first step for them is to learn German—our friends say that many people are volunteering to teach them. But, interestingly, the refugees are not allowed to get a job for 3 years ! This seems like a recipe for disaster.

In the various train stations and airports we transited we saw fairly light security—very young policemen and army people with variably large and small weapons sauntering around. But not as many or as alert-looking and dangerous as I would have expected.

This past weekend was Carnival, which for some reason they celebrate in Heidelberg. Costume balls, etc. But people were told not to dress as cowboys or pirates—no weapons allowed.

One very fun thing : we saw several of these in our drives and walks. The Germans have renovated their unused city water towers as apartments. Here is one you can see from the backyard of one of the friends we visited.

Residential water tower in Mannheim

Residential water tower in Mannheim