A wander through the ancient city of Lyon

Leaving Marrakech, I knew I was on a plane bound for France because every second person on the plane had a duty free bag with a carton of Gauloises or Camels. There were also plenty of Moroccan families returning home to Lyon, which gave me some new, though vague thoughts about French multiculturalism, especially following on from my experience with my new friend Ahmed. In any case, I’m fascinated by the French experience of multiculturalism. Later when I got into the centre of Lyon, I observed a lot of young interracial couples as well as mixed friendship groups about.

Place des Jacobins, Lyon
Place des Jacobins, Lyon

By the way, I really don’t recommend travelling the way I do. It involves a lot of time in and out of transportation — which admittedly I’ve been using to great effect this time to write blog posts — but it’s quite tiring. And ultimately, for what? 24 hours in a place without any friends or connections gives you nothing more than a mere glimpse.

But the thing is, I actually needed to get to Berlin for a wedding on Saturday and had to work out a way to get there from Marrakech. There were no direct flights so a stopover somewhere in France made sense as I know a little French to get by and it wouldn’t be too much hassle. Believe it or not, I don’t really rush through places that much — I just pick one or two neighbourhoods and spend most of my time there. I’m not too fussed about seeing the sights unless I have a lot of time.

Rhone River
Rhone River

With just over a day in Lyon I used my time well, as my friend Francois had kindly crafted me the perfect itinerary for a stopover in his hometown. I spent the first afternoon exploring the presqu’île — the ‘almost island’ between the Rhone and Saone rivers — on what turned out to be a hot summer’s day, followed by dinner at a popular Lyonnaise bouchon called Café de la Libération. Lyon is known as a centre of gastronomy in France.

Cafe de la Liberation
Cafe de la Liberation

Dinner that night ended up being a highlight. I think it was the first time I’ve ever eaten a proper three course dinner by myself, and it was actually really great. I’ve had plenty of lunches by myself in French cafes, but I don’t recall ever going out at night like that. I read an article not long ago about a liberated woman dining out by herself, and I enjoyed her take but I thought to myself that I would only ever do something like that away from home. After a rest, I had a refreshing shower and wore a favourite summer dress, and even put on a bit of eyeliner to make it feel like an occasion.

Lyonnaise entrees
Lyonnaise entrees

I’d made a reservation and the staff paid me special attention as an Australian, making me feel extremely welcome. While waiting for the courses to come out, I sat there happily reading my French phrasebook and occasionally taking photographs of the food to show Josh later.

I don’t really know much about the character of the Lyonnaise, but they seemed a lot more down-to-Earth than Parisians. One of the owners of the cheap hotel I stayed in had a slightly broad French accent, and on the way in from the airport I saw lots and lots of factories on the outskirts of town. So there’s a strong industrial aspect to the city. It certainly had the air of a prosperous, hard-working place.

Lyon from the Basilica on the hill
Lyon from the Basilica on the hill

On my second and last day I had a fun morning exploring the old city, exactly following the itinerary Francois had drawn up for me. It recalled other happy times I’ve wandered about the old parts of French cities, traversing cobbled streets and winding alleyways.

Roman ruins in Lyon
Roman ruins in Lyon

I was bowled over by the real life Roman ruins of open-air amphitheatres and the incredible collection inside the Gallo-Roman museum. Lyon is an old city, the capital of Gaul, which was part of the Roman empire. It was particularly amazing to see the clearly chiselled script which would later become the heritage of the English language. Somehow it’s very moving to see how writing remains millenia after the original scribes have passed away.

Gallo-Roman Museum in Lyon
Gallo-Roman Museum in Lyon

I hate to say it but being in France did feel like being back in ‘civilisation’, which is a terrible thing for me to say especially as I enjoyed discovering Morocco and I hardly think that the French are the most cultured people on Earth. But there’s no denying how easy it was to be there (aside from ‘gypsies’ hassling me at the train station), and how refined the French are with their expensive clothes and beautifully presented cuisine. I always feel that there’s a slightly oppressive conservatism in France, and I personally feel quite sloppy in my casual clothes, but it’s exactly its strong traditions which makes the country so alluring to someone coming from Australia. Though weirdly enough, on this trip, when talking to friendly French people it was clear that they love Australia and know more about it than I would’ve expected, so there’s clearly a bit of a two-way thing happening.

Me by the river Saone
Me by the river Saone

I really don’t think of myself as a Francophile and yet all up over the past decade I’ve spent about three months discovering different parts of France, which is not an insignificant amount of time for a country I claim not to love. Maybe I should just own up properly to my crush because I know I’ll be stopping by again at the end of the year, and probably again next year too. And each time I come back, I learn a little bit more – which means that even a 24 hour stopover can be an enriching travel experience.

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