Lugdunum may have been musical to Roman ears, but Lyon sounded much better to us — regardless of intonation. You see, France has many, many flavors of French, and as soon as you speak French learned in a non-local home or classroom, they shift, either to formal French or English (in our case). It became a game.
We would use French, and they would answer in English. We would speak English, and they would answer in local French. But Bonjour Madame ou Monsieur was guaranteed to get a sincere and friendly effort to communicate. With 30% of English being French in direct or derivative origin, it’s actually fun if one lets it be.
So far, we and the French we have spoken with, have all walked away with a smile. One thing throughout the trip was we never had to point to a menu item. Our French was always good enough to get us what we expected. Magali, like all our French guides, was more than willing to assist us with pronunciation and word selection and gender. Some of the glottals required a six year old’s throat.
Since we would be in Lyon for more than a day, we chose our cool first morning tour to focus on the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. The less than fully religious here refer to it as the upside down elephant*. Its design dates to the mid 1800s, but its traditional elements make it feel older. Unlike just about everything we’ve seen so far, it wasn’t wrapped in controversy beyond the usual secular-religious tug of war. It was built in thanks for the sparing of Lyon in the Franco-Prussian War.
After crossing a lane of bike traffic moving at breakneck speed with the help of all the crew including the Captain, we loaded ourselves in another coach to cross the river and climb the hill.
Lyon is the third largest city in France. It’s a foodie city, and the foodies get their Euro working in banking, as well as for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech industries — and bistros, cafes, restaurants and brasserie… A word about that, Bistros** mean fast, Cafe means coffee. Restaurants mean at least two course meals. Brasseries are where one gets beer. In practice, it’s not so tightly defined, but that’s the etymology. There are said to be 2500 eateries of some description in the city center alone, and the tourists make up a very small portion of the business. This is a working city with an appetite and always has been.
One of its unique attributes are Traboules. These are hidden, street-level tunnels that were cut between businesses and townhouses to facilitate the silk trade — IT geeks would call it a sneaker-net — a network hidden within and beneath the acknowledged infrastructure. These were neither dark nor dank. People lived in houses that fronted them. They were just an extensive array of short cuts designed to reduce the number of Francs it took to make more Francs.
The first part of the gallery is a traboule that underruns a townhouse. The second is a traboule that runs behind a business and apartments.
Did we say Lyon is a foodie city? The following gallery encompasses a single block. There are hundreds of blocks.
**The word bistro derived from the Russian bystro (быстро), “quickly”. It entered the French language during the Battle of Paris (1814). Russian officers or cossacks who wanted to be served quickly would shout “bystro. “The French turned it from an irritant to an attribute. OBTW, Bistro = Bistrot