Last Lyon Letter

Happy visitor at Roman amphitheater on Lyon's hillside

Happy visitor at Roman amphitheater on Lyon’s hillside

Lyonnais citizens are a very fit people. We frequently see runners along the riverside walks (all four of them, running up and down both sides of the Rhone and Soane rivers) and up and down the many outdoor flights of stairs. Lyon indeed is a living, breathing Stairmaster machine. I tried to find a count of all the stairways that run like arteries and veins up and down the hillsides of our neighborhood the Croix-Rousse, as well as the pentes or hillside slopes in Vieux Lyon and Presque-Iles. Some are narrow and steep, walled on both sides, like chutes. Others are wider and some even have shops and people’s front doors leading off both sides. There must be well over a hundred separate stairways, each one between 150 and 400+ steps apiece.

The stairways are used by everyone—old people going slowly with canes, little kids, teenagers, shoppers and whole families. I tried many times to get a good photograph that conveyed the steepness and the length of the stairways, but never succeeded. The pictures never depict the stairs as steep or long as they really are.

As we leave Lyon, we definitely want to come back. It’s friendly, accessible, inexpensive, and just so gosh darn French!

Here’s a few last minute random observations:

Hi-tek grown-up scooters in scooter store along Quai St Vincent

Hi-tek grown-up scooters in scooter store along Quai St Vincent


Scooters! After walking, this is the preferred means of transport for both adults and children here. Scooters have improved since my childhood. They are metal, and they fold up and have tiny brakes on the back wheel that are activated when you push down on the top of the wheel with your back foot. You often see grown-ups carrying their folded scooters up or down the stairs.

Our last week, we finally checked out two of the main museums in the city: the fabric museum (the Musee des Tissus) and the Gallo-Roman museum.

Lyon is known for its history of silk weaving and dyeing—the Croix-Rousse neighborhood where we’ve lived the last 2 months was the heart of the silk weavers in the 16th-19th centuries. They were called canuts and there are streets and bars named after them.  Our ancient apartment building was a canut building—very tall ceilings with the cross rafters just like in the engraving of Jacquard attached. They needed such tall ceilings to accommodate the Jacquard loom. Nowadays they’ve squeezed lofts into parts of them—we have little stairs up and down and can’t stand up straight in parts of our place.

M. Jacquard and his famous loom in our Croix-Rousse neighborhood

M. Jacquard and his famous loom in our Croix-Rousse neighborhood

Jacquard invented his loom here, which basically destroyed the handwoven industry—much labor upheaval, but the skills and trade have survived. Hermes scarves are produced in the Lyon suburbs. Lyon is quite a needlewoman’s town—lots of shops full of buttons and ribbons and yarn and fabric, more than you’d see in most towns this size.

The museum has a huge collection of tapestries and weavings and dresses from the past hundreds of years—many exhibited in the various Expositions in Paris and London in the 18th and 19th centuries. From the explanations on the wall (all in French) I gathered that the whole industry wouldn’t have existed without the money and taste of the French royalty, and then Napoleon as well.

Embroidered bird feeing her embroidered babies

Embroidered bird feeing her embroidered babies

I think I’ve mentioned Lyon’s role in Roman Gaul—it was the capitol of the Roman France, a large city with multiple amphitheaters busy with theatrical productions, gladiator battles, martyrdom of Christians and so on; amazing public and private buildings; perfect Roman roads and Roman plumbing; mosaic floors; shops; trade in all directions and cemeteries.

Buying a bunch of tulips from our local florist to give to the staff at our favorite neighborhood bouchon on our last evening there, I said that the flowers were much larger than the usual tulips I see. The florist said yes, French tulips were indeed larger than the usual Dutch tulips. Indeed they were. Anyone else heard or noticed this?

A few last random photos:

Doorway in Ile Barbe, the only island on the Soane--peaceful, small and lovely


Inside Musee des Confluences--a wannabe Frank Gehry structure    Lyon from Rhone upstream


We left France in the midst of a transportation strike. Vive la France!

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