Sunshine, amphitheatres and painted walls: three days in Lyon, January 2023

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
.pdf (four A4 pages)

There is a gallery of some photographs of Lyon
including a gallery of the frescoes we saw
There are also
clickable links in the text

Depressing leaden skies, muddy footpaths and puddles. The last of January’s festivities, galette des rois, champagne, dancing and lunch for the village elderly had taken place. Dull damp days lay ahead. We have never visited Lyon, so, on the spur of the moment, on Sunday, we researched hotels, packed clothes and set out to drive southwards through Monday’s snow showers for a change of scenery. We were also to benefit from a change of weather, for, although it remained cold, the sunshine was invigorating.

Lugdunum amphitheatre

We soon realised that our knees are not what they used to be. We had decided to work our way through Lyon’s history, and, of course, history starts with the Romans. One of the Roman sites in Lyon, Lugdunum, lies on the Fourvière hill above the Rhone and Saône. Fortunately the strike of some transport workers on that first full day, Tuesday, only slightly slowed our journey across town from our hotel by tram, metros and one of the two funiculars. We still take a childish pleasure in funicular rides. As we emerged from the tunnel, the expanse of the Roman theatre (the oldest in France) and adjacent odeon amazed us. Bright winter sunshine lit up the tiers of seats, and as we paused on our steep ascent of the amphitheatre and turned round, the concrete offices and apartments of modern Lyon basked in a soft lemon light below us. The brutalist concrete site museum buried in the hillside was as dramatic as the amphitheatre, and the finds of urns, sarcophagi, bronze inscriptions and mosaics were perfectly at home beneath the museum’s soaring concrete columns and arches.

Steps up to old townFrom the museum we walked up towards the Basilica Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière, searching, in vain, for coffee. The glittering mosaics of the basilica and a metal tower (an imitation of the Eiffel Tower) were no compensation for the lack of refreshments, apart from a very expensive restaurant. To add insult to injury, the other funicular station was closed, we assumed as part of the strike. So we set out to walk down the hill to the old town and its cafés. Our ageing knees soon gave way on a long steep flight of steps. When we finally got to the bottom of the hill, we sank gratefully onto chairs in a coffee shop in one of the fine renaissance buildings on Rue de Boeuf. Later, on the metro, we heard an announcement that funicular F2 line was closed because of a “technical incident”. The next day we noticed that the central cable had been removed, which would account for the lack of service!

On the second day, Wednesday, we explored the mediaeval and renaissance streets of the silk merchants in the old town at the foot of the Fourvière hill, with their enticing narrow, covered passageways (traboules) and courtyards behind heavy doors. We wandered into the renaissance buildings and hillside gardens of the powerful Gadagni Florentine bankers. A restored clock, l’horloge aux guignols, had been re-installed there and we watched the two puppets striking the hour. We continued along the Rue Juiverie from which the Jews had been expelled in the fourteenth century to be succeeded by wealthy Italian merchants and bankers. And suddenly we were at the incongruous small St Paul railway station. The enticing aromas from the bakery opposite the station lured us in for large pastries (savoury and sweet) and glasses of milky coffee. We walked on, drawn into St Paul’s church by the sweet recorded music. In an alley, we were accosted by a smoking restaurant worker who insisted that we should cross the footbridge over the Saône to the Presqu’ile and see the famous Fresque des Lyonnais.

Bookshop fresco

Our first glimpse was of a charming bookshop painted on a ground floor wall, but rounding the corner of the building, seven stunning storeys of painted wall opened up showing over thirty famous Lyonnais characters, including the Emperor Claude, the cinematographers Auguste and Louis Lumière, author Antoine de Saint Exupery and his Petit Prince, and chef Paul Bocuse. We returned to the old town to see the gothic cathedral of St Jean. Our explorations ended in the huge Place Bellecour, with its big wheel and its stalwart naked stone warrior guarding the plaque to resistance members shot there in 1944 by the Gestapo (whose headquarters were close). From there we caught the metro and then tram back to our hotel.

Cité idéale

Our apartment hotel (Otelia Gestetud) was in a modern block on the T2 tram route; there were few shops or restaurants nearby, but a large number of funeral parlours which were handy for the two large cemeteries and crematorium de la Guillotière on either side of the railway line. This may sound a grim location, but we found the hotel well staffed and equipped, clean and comfortable, and with parking below. At the beginning of the twentieth century the cemeteries lay on the edge of the city, with fields and farmland beyond. A forward-looking mayor and a local architect, Tony Garnier, who had visions of the Cité idéale with its separate industrial, hospital and hygienic housing areas, planned a large housing estate here in what became known in 1917 (after America’s entry in the war) as the États-Unis district. We decided to spend our last morning looking at the flats which (like social housing schemes in the UK) were so innovative for their first residents in the thirties. They have since been renovated, and in the nineties striking paintings were added to their blank end walls.

Cité idéale abbatoir fresco

In addition to the Fresque des Lyonnais which we had seen the previous day, we had also enjoyed the three striking frescoes of the Tower of Babel just beyond out hotel, so on Thursday we walked from Babel down the Boulevard des États-Unis to the Shanghai frescoes and then on to the wall paintings of the Cité idéale. The five-storey apartment blocks looked spacious, with their large balconies and garden walkways. They were originally designed as two-storey buildings but the mayor insisted the design was changed to four storeys and then sometime later another storey was added. The paintings on their end walls showed Tony Garnier’s plans and illustrations of his ideal city, and ideal cities in Egypt, India, Mexico, Quebec, the USA and the Ivory Coast by other artists. At the end of the development was a small park with attractively engraved quotations about resistance and liberty. Then, unexpectedly, we were in a thronging covered market, bright with shiny peppers, tomatoes, and colourful headscarves.

The T6 tram from the market passed the huge iron, glass and concrete abattoir created in 1914 by Tony Garnier. We had seen its airy interior depicted on one of the murals, with Lyon dignitaries and impeccably clean cattle (not a cow pat in sight). After falling into lengthy disuse, it was restored and is now used for concerts and sporting events. We also paused to look at frescoes commemorating the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, before catching a T1 tram across a curving bridge to the Musée des Confluences.

Musée des Confluences

Appropriately for a museum which included natural history exhibits like a mammoth skeleton and dinosaur eggs, the striking modern building looked from a certain angle like a crouching armour-plated prehistoric animal. We wandered through displays of juxtaposed artefacts from different times and places (bewildering for those of us who like our history to be chronological rather than thematic “magic” “eternities” or “societies: the human theatre”).

On the way back to our hotel, we looked at more of the frescoes on the other side of the Boulevard des Etats Unis and stopped at the tiny Musée urbain Tony Garnier which was now open, but our legs were by now too weary to linger too long over the fascinating twentieth century artefacts and film footage. We were glad to put our feet up in our hotel room before setting out for our last evening meal in Lyon.

Lyon is noted for its famous chefs and restaurants, but our trip was too last-minute to allow for booking any of them. Nevertheless, we enjoyed some varied meals. Many restaurants in France are closed on Monday so the choice was even more limited on our first evening. We walked into the Part-Dieu quarter north of our hotel, to the Asmara Eritrean restaurant, where we ate with our fingers, rolling assorted specialities in torn-off bits of injera (sour dough pancake).

Daniel & Denise bouchon

As all the trams were due to stop running at 20:30 on the second evening due to strikes, John bravely drove us to the old town through Lyon’s rush-hour busy streets. At one of the touristy bouchons (traditional Lyonnaise cuisine restaurants), Daniel et Denise, Helen was delighted to find old-fashioned red-and-cream checked tablecloths, and we ate traditional dishes like the pâté en croûte starter (which looks so like pork pie) and our main course of roast pork pluma and black sausage with roast potatoes and macaroni cheese, followed by apple Tarte Tatin or chocolate dessert. The following evening, groups of diners shivered outside the slightly more up-market Table 101 until Madame deigned to let us in. But the food was beautifully cooked and presented, so all was forgiven as we ate our way through a superior pâté en croûte or some dainty snail and sweetbread ravioli, followed by sturgeon or veal and then fancy desserts.

Poivron Bleu salade de pouple

The meals seemed to get better each evening, culminating at the Poivron Bleu. Helen thought this was going to be a posh place, but it turned out to be more of a convivial narrow passageway running back into the narrow kitchen, with two enthusiastic waiters and a chalkboard menu. Imagine the best prawn cocktail, substitute octopus, chick peas and lemon and curry gel for the prawns, and that was our salade de poulpe starter. The pork main course was delicious, and the desserts too. One of the waiters made a point of giving a long description of the making of the lemon cake dessert to everyone apart from us (why not us?) Was he also its proud creator? Chef rather than waiter?

It seemed a shame to leave on that sunny Friday morning. But we were given a reminder of places we had seen, as our satnav guided us along streets through the city centre which we had seen in the dark from trams and buses, then plunged us into a long tunnel (1.15 miles) all the way under the Roman remains on the Fourvière hill. The petrol station we were heading to closed as we got there (presumably for a petrol delivery), so we saw more of the far side of the hill before filling up elsewhere and joining the A6. As we drove northwards, the skies got greyer, and, would you believe it, the moment we passed sign announcing that we were back in our region, the Grand Est, the drizzle started.

However, the good news is that, during our absence, a young-looking (over a year old) male kestrel has returned to inspect their old quarters on the attic window sill. We have not previously seen one as early as January. So John is having to rush to reinstall their balcony extension and put the second camera in a better position. He thought he had a month or more ahead for renovation works!

Tarmac and Trams and Tulips: January – April 2013 in Entre-deux- Eaux, Lisbon and Porto

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures) click on this link
E2E2013no1.pdf (five A4 pages)

There is a complete set of labelled photographs (950+) showing many more of the museums, galleries, street scenes, graffiti, etc. we saw during the Portugal trip. They are on eight web pages starting at

Can you hear the rumble of a lorry coming up rue du Mont Davaux? No? False alarm. Just the EDF man in his blue van to read the meters. The only other activity outside is the steady chewing of the cows in one field, the galloping of two excitable horses in another, a pair of buzzards circling overhead and a flash of brown, possibly a hare, on the north field.

We have been getting slovenly over the protracted wet weeks of winter, often reading (books or computer screen) in bed till quite a late hour in the mornings. But today we were up and dressed soon after 7 o’clock, as French workmen can arrive at 8 o’clock to get in a solid chunk of work before the two-hour lunch break. We were looking forward to the latest (though it never turns out to be the last) of the outdoor house restoration projects. However it’s 10 o’clock and no Monsieur Pasquier and his tarmacing team. So now to relax, have a coffee and catch up on newsletters, the last one being a pre-Christmas one.

There was a chance that this newsletter could have come to you from India. However, after Christmas at Leila’s in Nottingham, we spent a longer than usual time in London (thank you again Jessica and Mark!). It was great to catch up with family and friends, especially seeing more of Jacob as he approached his second birthday. And then the hot season on the east coast of India was approaching too fast to get organised with injections, visas, etc. and still enjoy cooler weather throughout our travels. So our third Indian adventure is postponed till autumn.

Instead, we spent ten days at the end of February and start of March in Portugal. We arrived in Lisbon (by plane from Basel) and took the metro. With warnings about pickpockets circulating, I clutched my belongings possessively, but we emerged unscathed into a square at the foot of one of Lisbon’s steep hills. Our hotel was near the castle, which, like all castles, was on top of the hill, and we had just missed the clanking number 12 tram. The taxi at the head of the queue in the square was a decrepit Mercedes, long ago exhausted by the hills, and whenever it was brought to a halt in the steep, dark, narrow cobbled streets, we were uncertain whether it would lurch into rattling action once more. The light spilling out from the hotel’s glass door was very welcome, as was the news that they’d upgraded us to an enormous room, complete with sofa, armchairs, low table, writing desk, vast bed and a large terrace (the perfect room for relaxing in between sorties). Had we caught the tram, I doubt we’d have found the right stop to get off, let alone the hotel, in the dark, unlabelled streets.

As so often, it was the unexpected things that were entrancing. On our first morning we paused at what looked like a bank to ask for directions, and the woman insisted on our exploring her building which had recently been converted into a design and fashion museum with fascinating exhibits.



MUDE had indeed once been a bank (Banco Nacional Ultramarino) before being gutted, apart from the bank director’s wooden-panelled room and some mosaic murals, then left unused. Another day we’d reached the old water pumping station and museum, hot and sticky after a boring walk by the railway line, and the small static equipment and photograph exhibition was rather dull. Then, as we pushed open a door, we were engulfed by the most wonderful sounds of early choral music. In the middle of the aromatic, highly polished (floors and brass) pumping station machine room a small choir was rehearsing. The acoustics were excellent as we scrambled up the wrought iron staircases and walkways above the choir and now-retired pumps. And to further revive us, the tile museum a bit further along the railway line was in a rambling convent with an unexpectedly good café.

Lisbon-Ethnology Museum

Lisbon-Ethnology Museum

Another unexpected treat was the Ethnology Museum, now mainly just an archive, which recently had enough funding to display one room of exhibits; Mali puppets leered out of the darkness as individual showcases lit up at our approach. And a very informative young researcher conducted two fascinating store-room tours of Portugal’s everyday rural life implements and Amazonian artefacts.

Lisbon tram

Lisbon tram

The trams were as much fun as we expected, and we enjoyed exploiting our three-day tourist ticket to the full by riding several to the end of their lines (although, for pensioners it is doubtful if the combined museum entrance/tram ticket is cheaper than the other museum discounts available). We also stopped at the enormous tram depot, where we had some difficulty in locating the small tram museum and rousing the staff; eventually they mustered one lady to sell tickets, one man to open the door at the far end to usher us and the solitary other visitor into a waiting tram, one man to drive said tram (a beautifully re-upholstered and curtained vehicle) to some far sheds, one man to open the small shop, and one man to man the small gallery. The tram driver sat and twiddled his thumbs till be were ready to be returned to the exit. As well as the trams themselves, it was interesting to see the safety posters, the tramway corporation’s brass band exhibits and the in-house ticket printing equipment.

Lisbon-Rossio station

Lisbon-Rossio station

Our tourist ticket also entitled us to take the train out to Sintra. The railway station from which we left Lisbon was a stunning mixture of elaborate Manueline exterior, modern escalators and glass, and platform walls tiled with what looked like scenes from literary fantasies. Sintra’s railway station was more modest, unlike its palaces, over-priced tourist restaurants and cafés, and Moorish castle remains. But we enjoyed wonderful views from the Moorish walls and spotted an interesting-looking neo-gothic mansion, chapel and gardens.

Sintra-Quinta da Regaleira

Sintra-Quinta da Regaleira

Our map identified it as the Quinta da Regaleira, and on impulse we decided to find it. The terraced grounds contained the neo-gothic essentials of ferns, winding paths, follies, statuary, noisy waterfall and dank grottoes. Inside, amid hunting scenes, a pianist was rehearsing thunderously and his cascades resounded up the staircase, into the small library with its unnerving floating floor and out onto the ramparts with their gargoyles and sculpted snails. Again an unanticipated pleasure.

In Porto where, alas, our room was less lavish but the breakfasts superb, it was rainy, so we sheltered one afternoon in one of the lesser-known (to us, at least) port wine producers, Calem, near the more famous black silhouette of Sandeman; the tour and tasting was rather fun. We also took the metro about 30km to very nearly the end of the line and a small fishing village, Vila do Conde, with its dramatic aqueduct and narrow streets.

Porto-Lello bookshop

Porto-Lello bookshop

Porto also has my idea of the perfect-looking small bookshop, recently restored to neo-gothic splendour, a dairy serving great éclairs, and tall, decaying buildings, art-nouveau, tiled, and much in need of money and loving attention.

We were tourists, in cities, and at popular tourists sites, so were not seeing the dire economic situation of Portugal most of the time. And whilst there were very few people eating in the small fish restaurants on top of our hill in Lisbon, the café bars were busy with locals eating pastries and drinking coffees at all hours. However, one afternoon the trams came to a halt some distance from the main squares for the huge “Fuck the Troika” march, with protesters of all ages, classes and political beliefs united in protest against the austerity measures imposed by the IMF, EU and Central European Bank. We watched it file noisily past for some time, unable to pass through it, and sensing no end to the throng, retired to a café to put a few euros into the economy.

Before we went to Portugal we had indulged in the usual round of winter activities in and around Entre-deux-Eaux. At the mayor (and commune’s) lunch for the old folk, the food was good as ever and the wine flowed as freely as ever. The main course was described as “parmentier de canard, fondant, au beurre de Normandie, gratine, pousses de mesclun, copeaux de parmesan et tomates confites”, or, as John more succinctly translated, duck shepherd’s pie with salad. For the first time an accordionist from the village provided the music and banter, whilst the dancing between courses was as stylish as ever. The mayor sat quite near us and we realised that his lady friend is one of the delightful sisters who run the nearby La Soyotte farm museum. Later the same week the E2E monthly club for oldies had its AGM followed by lunch, – this time couscous, cooked by the retired fireman’s wife who’d gone to a lot of trouble on the desserts, making ice bowls with leaves and petals prettily encased between two layers of ice to hold the orange slices and ice cream. It was a real delight when Marcel was persuaded to go and get his accordion. He was the kindly shopkeeper back in the 1990s when we first bought our house, and has gone through a bad time since his wife died a few years ago. So it was really lovely to hear him play –he’d once recounted to us how he used to play when he was young at weddings and in their family café. Apparently he was also mayor some time before our present long-standing mayor. John sloped off after the lunch as the packs of cards and the Scrabble board came out. I always say that Scrabble-playing improves my French, though the idiosyncratic spelling of the charming and vivacious wife of one of the former Big Four Farmers doesn’t really help. We had no dictionary, so shrill appeals were made to the mayor who had once been a teacher. But, after a few glasses of wine, as her protests became shriller, it was easier to give her a free hand with spelling.

There was also the AGM of the Philomatique (which is not some tin-pot local history group, but self-styled “savants” with a good publication programme). It concluded with an interesting documentary film about St Dié at the end of the war. And, of course, there was the annual trip over the hills to the village of Saulxures, where a group of local actors feed their audience (with a kir aperitif, wine and coffee included, to get everyone in a good humour) before their performance. This year’s farce was set in an ecologically friendly house in the Vosges so had local references and some Vosgian dialect, which were much appreciated. One of the main characters was played by a local baker, who, apparently, does very good bread on other days!

One event we had not been aware of in previous years was an antiques fair in St Dié, this time held in the old police building. One dealer caught me returning to gaze at a couple of drawings, which were in fact limited lithographs of pencil drawings. He told us that the artist was Abel Pann, who worked in Paris from 1903-1913. He then went to Jerusalem, intending to settle there, but on his return to Paris to collect his things, was prevented by the first world war. He finally moved there in 1920. “My” drawings were part of a series of forty seven illustrations of the first five books of the Bible, done in 1930. Pann later did holocaust pictures and our salesman claimed he is usually bought by Parisian Jews with whom the exodus story resonates. A complete set of forty seven would command huge prices, but he would accept 200 euros for his two. Attractive as they were, we left them for any visiting Parisians to snap up.

On a more mundane note, John sampled the opticians as he had snapped the bridge of his glasses over Christmas, and his fetching epoxy resin glue repairs had not lasted.I still had a few remaining sessions with the St Dié orthoptist, prescribed by the Strasbourg ophthalmologist for eye exercises after I got my new glasses from the Ste Marguerite dispensing optician. These sessions were agreeably childish, looking from the red car to the red mushroom, or following the elephant on the stick! The highlight was when I had an exercise with a screen rabbit (like Peter Rabbit) loosing his tail and his bunch of flowers. It was clearly a treat as it wasn’t repeated. The subsequent screen fish tank and the kites were not as whimsical. We have not had nearly as much snow as the UK, but I did have to clear the garage exit several mornings before these appointments.

The snow was more of a problem on the day that ERDF (the company that owns the electricity infrastructure) were due to make the final connection for the photovoltaic panels. On arrival the man announced that he would be unable to test whether they were working with snow on the roof covering the panels, so made a second appointment to connect. That second morning he rang to confirm there was no snow. All was well. Then an hour before his arrival, the snow started to fall, covering the panels rapidly. John went out with a hose trying to wash the snow from the roof, and later got the ladders out on the snowy terrace to brush the bottom sections of the roof clear. Cold and slippery work, especially when some snow landed on his eye and went down the gap at the top of his anorak. The man said the roads were slippery too as it was new snow. Fortunately he was able to get enough minimal output to be able to check the connections and meters, but it definitely wasn’t the best of weathers for starting to produce solar energy!

We have, however had a few balmy days since our return from Portugal. One of those days we spent wandering round Colmar, seeing it with fresh eyes as we followed a tourist trail devoid of other tourists. We did, however, run into a couple we’d sat with at one of the E2E post-Christmas lunches but did not know well; although we recognised their faces, it took some time to really realise who they were. They were amazed to find two other villagers in the Bartholdi Museum courtyard! And another morning in Ribeauvillé was equally pleasant (again without many tourists despite the spring sunshine).



In a more recent outbreak of dry weather, John was able to get the potager rotavated and I dug in compost and started sowing vegetable seeds. Then the sun came out as Mark and Jessica arrived en route to Putney from Sienna (where they too had had cold and wet weather) so shared our enjoyment of the cowslips covering the orchard, and the windflowers, daffodils and first butterflies. After they left the following morning, we joined the Ste Marguerite group for a walk at the Col de Ste Marie. It was very pretty as it went down from the ridge through woods and fields, then slowly up through the woods to the Tree of Liberty, passing German bunkers, shelters, workshops, traces of the funicular, a mortar launching pit and an intriguing sign to a swimming pool (possibly to aid recovery, including from gas attacks, probably for officers), all from the first world war. However, Lucien, the leader for that day, who is a cyclist not historian, pursued his walk relentlessly, so no exploring. Somewhere to return to with a torch one day. It was the perfect day for a walk.

Snakes head fritillary

Snakeshead fritillary

In the latest precious trio of sunny days, the damson and plum
blossom frothed up, and we spotted more fritillaries in our meadow than we’ve ever seen before – silently colonising amid the more noticeable ladies smock. And so far two bold scarlet tulips and six fiery orange ones have survived the rodent winter feasting in the flower garden. A colourful small spring triumph.

But now the rain has set in again, the tulips look forlorn and the tarmac team have definitely not arrived. We hold our breath.


Lisbon street art

Lisbon street art