Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 16, 2011: Lyon - Soie, Beaux Arts, Clockwork, Amphitheatre, Ren Fair, Bâteau

In one day, with the power of our Lyon City Card (an excellent program available from the tourism office), we saw more than I'd seen in the previous three days put together.

In the morning we went on an hour and a half guided tour of the historic silk district in Croix-Rousse. Croix-Rousse is interesting in itself, as it's built up a very steep hillside, and can be seen from many vantage points along the rivers. Our guide took us through the history of the area, which was outside the old city walls and thus formed the villas and manors of German and Italian families for many hundreds of years. When Lyon became a silk industry powerhouse the area was rebuilt with hundreds of buildings to house the thousands of Jacquard looms - each weaver owned their own loom and lived in the same apartment where they worked - because the looms required 4 vertical metres of space special apartments with high ceilings were required to house them. And because they were built on such a steep grade, staircases that connected from the interior of one building to the next below it became a substitute for city streets - these "traboules" gave easy access down to the river level where the richer silk owners and distributors did business.

Our tour ended with a demonstration of hand silk painting and printing. Because it had been my birthday the day before, Mark suggested I pick out a silk scarf as a gift (and because it's France, it doesn't feel too fancy to wear it). Our cashier was very friendly and happy to chat with us in English about her travels in Toronto - she loves it and looks forward to visiting again. It seems so bizarre for Toronto to be a travel destination for the French, but I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side...

After our tour we were in need of "les toilettes", but didn't feel like springing for lunch at a cafe just to use the facilities - we had baguette sandwiches waiting for us in my bag. But, with our Lyon City Card we had free admission the Musée des Beaux Arts, which was just across the plaza, so we popped in for a quick visit and made a beeline to the washrooms. We used the ones on the third floor (which were roped off, so we had a dodgy moment where security seemed to be tailing us after we snuck in). It was some sort of day of dance and music performances at the museum, so as we breezed through we enjoyed some avant garde jazz, some amazing acoustics, and some graceful acrobatics.

After the museum we sat outside in the sun in front of the amazing 1889 Bartholdi fountain of France, seated on a chariot pulled by the four horses (i.e. rivers) of the country. It's one of the most exciting fountains I've seen - very dynamic in its sculpture and placement. Apparently it was originally made for Bordeaux, but they couldn't afford it so they sold it to Lyon. Score for Lyon!

During Mark's conference they had half a day of touring Lyon with a guide, so there were sights in Vieux Lyon that he now knew more about than I did! One of them was the clock at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. After he told me about this clock from the 1300s, which tells the time, day, year, and has all sorts of figures that change according to the season, etc, I had to see it. I'd visited the archaeological remains beside the cathedral, but because the building itself was covered with construction hoarding I hadn't bothered to go inside. I'm so glad Mark told me about the clock because it was amazing (and the cathedral interior was pretty great too!). Imagine a very large, very elaborate cuckoo clock which has been running for hundreds of years. We decided to return later in the afternoon on the hour so that we could see the clock chime.

So we took the funicular railroad up to the Fourvière (because I thought it was fun enough that Mark shouldn't miss it) and walked around a bit. Then we wandered over to the amphitheatre and had a rest in the shade while watching the people moving about on the steps (probably the very same thing that was being done almost 2000 years ago in the same spot). We got back down at 4:00 just as the clock was about to chim - a huge crowd of people had gathered to watch (I'm glad we'd visited earlier when we could get close to appreciate the intricacy of the clock).

When we'd passed through Vieux Lyon earlier we saw a few people in historic costumes, and wondered what was going on. By this point in the day there was no denying it - we'd stumbled into the middle of a Ren Fair! How bizarre. People everywhere were dressed up, and there were stalls set up outside the cathedral where traditional weaponry and crafts were being demonstrated. We sat on the wall and watched for a while - I'd say the crossbows were the biggest draw.

We finished the day off with a boat tour on the Rhône. It was a peaceful way to end off, watching the sights go by. Peaceful except for the moment when several swimming boys mooned the boat!

After returning to our hotel we made an impulsive decision to return home early. We'd already cancelled our evening's dinner reservations, since we were still sated from dinner the night before. So if we weren't eating out there wasn't much else to keep us there (apart from the market the next morning), and we were longing for home (isn't it nice that Grenoble feels like home by now?). So we packed up, took the Metro over to the train station, and used our flexible train tickets to head home a day early (loving the trains here!).

Our tour started with the view from Croix-Rousse

The staircase in an 1800s silk industry building - weavers lived in the apartments where they worked. Note the door at each level - that's the one bathroom per floor. Reminds me of the tenement tour I took in the Lower East Side in New York City.

The interior staircases of the buildings continue down to the next building, connecting them like secret roads or passageways, all the way from the heights of Croix-Rousse down to the river - these are the famous traboules.

A good representation of the traboules is seen here in this piece of street art.

Courtyard view to the sky. The apartments of the silk-weaving district are all 4 metres high, to accommodate the Jacquard looms.

Our guide pointed out that the tradition in Lyon is for exterior Italian Venetian blinds, rather than shutters, as seen elsewhere in France.

Carved archway celebrating the silk industry in Lyon; note the lion (= Lyon) and the mulberry leaves and silkworms.

Demonstration of hand silk-screening of silk scarves.

Demonstration of hand silk-painting of velvet scarves.

Bartholdi's maquette for Liberty (remember that the statue was a gift from France to the USA?).

A painting by a favourite artist, Edouard Vuillard. The reflections and window views are done so loosely yet so convincingly.

Amazing fountain by Bartholdi. Has to be seen in person for the powerful impact - the horses are just flying out from the centre point.

Hall in the Museum of Fine Arts with a Last Supper at the end.

St. John's Cathedral - beautiful coloured lighting through the windows in the afternoon.

Amazing clock in the cathedral - created in the 1300s, and has been running ever since (at one point it broke down, but the detailed manual by the original creator provided instructions for fixing). Tells the time, day, lunar calendar, year, and every hour multiple figures pop out and do their dances. People in the Middle Ages were super smart...

The clock knows that it's April 16, 2011!

More coloured light on the pillars.

Wisteria, almost in bloom, overhead as we relax up on the Fourvière .

A Renaissance Fair, celebrating something (maybe the charter granting Lyon the right to four annual fairs, some several hundred years ago?)

View from our boat tour on the Rhône

A mural spotted during our boat tour

Another mural

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