Well, despite the unexpected recent rise in doom virus numbers, we are off to Lyon for the Fete des Luminaires. We have been staying close to home except for occasional forays and as we aren’t going to blighty for the annual family ‘do’ and lots of regular activities are on hold we find ourselves free to do something we have often talked about but never got around to doing. we have both been triple jabbed and as the main events are all outside we are taking a calculated risk and going for it before France decides to lockdown again or, at least, limit travel….
The fête des luminaires takes place every December, starting on the 8th, the day the Lyonais put candles in their windows to thank the Virgin for saving them from various disasters down the centuries. I had forgotten this fact and thought it was an odd but kind gesture to be given on arrival at our hotel a decorated bag with maps and guides and a candle in a small glass. We had no windowsill and I wouldn’t have left a lighted candle in our room but a lovely gesture even if I didn’t quite grasp it at the time.
The drive to Lyon is about four hours from chez nous but longer with a lunch stop for our ham sarnies, crisps and a shared Twix. We have our traditions too! We had coffees in the aire towards the end of the A89 and were pleased that the snow we’d seen was on the fields rather than the road.
The drive is beautiful as you go east from the Lot, crossing the Correze with its forests and then Puy de Dome with its ‘volcans’ and snowy mountain tops. A flat bit after Clement Ferrand then up into the Livradois-Forez. The GPS gets muddled around the autoroute changes north of Lyon so we ignored him for a while but listened once we got into the outer suburbs. He took us straight to the hotel, crossing the Saone river and winding up the hairpins to the Croix-Rousse plateau above Lyon’s centre ville.
The Croix Rousse hill is traditionally called the hill that works as opposed to Lyon’s other celebrated hill of Fourviere as the hill that prays. Croix-Rousse was the home of the silk workers, canuts, from the 19th century and is now known as the boho and artistic quarter. With a dodgy knee and claustrophobic to boot I had decided that buses would be a good way to get down to the centre ville. Searching online as ‘I’m only the chauffeur’ rested his eyelids I discovered that due to the fete all buses would be stopping some distance from where we wanted to start our wander. So the metro it would have to be. All public transport was free from 4.30pm on Wednesday 8th so, after looking at the tube stations online and finding one was in the open air, I braved it.
After landing on the wrong platform we ascended back to the street, crossed over and tried again. The platform was hardly any distance down from the road so I didn’t feel too much entombed. The trains run frequently so we were onboard and away pretty quickly. Just three stops and one of those was outside with a very steeply inclined platform!
Hotel de ville is the terminus for our line from Henon so out we piled and followed the ‘sortie’ signs. Our very dear friend who lives in Lyon was very excited that we were coming and had booked a restaurant for 9pm so we had time to wander around looking at the lights. As we emerged onto the square it was clear that things were very well organized. A posse of security people checked bags and reminded people about mask wearing. We noticed that most people were heading in one direction and, after checking with a security girl who confirmed it was a ‘spectacle’, we joined the flow. The Place Terreaux was on my map of places to visit and it was pretty spectacular when we arrived. The commentary was beyond my translation skills but the lights on two sides of the square were not!
As the show ended ‘sortie’ with a big arrow flashed across the facade of the Musee de Beaux Arts and the crowd obediently exited stage left! We got a bit concerned at the closeness of the crush but with some dodging into side streets we got back to the main rue, that of la Republique. The restaurant was at the southern end of the centre ville and we started in the north so were able to saunter along enjoying the atmosphere and light installations despite the slight drizzle.
At one point we felt the need for a sit down and some liquid and plumped for a Starbucks. I went for a fruit juice as even their small coffees come in gallon beakers! We sat in an neglected window and watched the people enjoying the evening outside. Lou wanted me to buy a crown of lights that were being sold everywhere but I resisted. Juggling misted up glasses and a mask plus phone camera was quite enough…
Finally we arrived at Place Bellecour where an enormous big wheel was slowly turning and an affair that I nicknamed the torn paper tent was changing colour as music played. I tried to work out if the colours related to the different notes but gave up and just enjoyed it.
Wandering out of the Place into a long square we passed several very busy restaurants and arrived by the river Rhone.
It was nearly time to meet our friend so after a few more photos it was along the rue des marroniers to Maison Mounier, a ‘bouchon’. We have learned that these are emblematic of Lyon. Tiny, usually, and very authentic bistrots that serve the traditional dishes dearly loved by the locals. Not so much by our British palates, andouilette, tete de veau and tripe. Happily, boeuf bourguignon and the famous quenelle of Lyon were listed on the menu so we chose the quenelle filled with pike which arrived bathed in a delicious fishy sauce.
We had been led through to a tiny and busy back room just off the kitchen which our friend, when she arrived, assured us was typical of a bouchon, bottleneck in English. We loved it and pushed our anxiety re doom virus to the back of our minds, almost.
It was fabulous to catch up on family gossip as we hadn’t seen each other since 2013. Her daughter and I giggled about the lady at the next table who was clearly fascinated by the mix of English and French being spoken at ours.
Finally we dragged ourselves away and with help from our local ‘guide’ found our way to the metro and back to the hotel. The security was very much in evidence down on the platforms so, despite the late hour, we didn’t feel anxious and they were happy to point us in the right direction when we needed to change trains.
I was getting braver on the metro ….but, then, it hadn’t stopped in any of the tunnels!