After a busy and long day in Avignon, the previous day, the kids managed to sleep until eight. Alan decided to have a rest day and Mikl wanted to do his own thing, so the kids, Anto and I headed out before 9am for our day of exploring Lyon. Our first day in Lyon had been taken up with the food tour, the visit to the food market, Fourvière and the basilica. The plan for today was to see some of Lyon’s famous murals, visit a zoo in Parc de la Tete d’Or and to check out the Roman ruins at Fourvière.
When in France there is really no point making breakfast, so we ventured out shortly after the kids were up to our usual boulangerie to obtain some pain aux chocolat and a pistache and a praline brioche. Since it was a beautiful morning out, we walked to Hôtel de Ville de Lyon and ate there in front of the fountain.
Today we were on the hunt for some of Lyon’s 150 painted murals. Lyon is well-known not only for its food, but for having some of the most impressive street art of any city. Many of the murals cover entire building but are often easy to miss as they are painted to look very realistic. On the way to eat our breakfast pastries we happened across one of the most famous of Lyon’s murals – La Fresque de la Bbibliothèque de la Cite. It is a 400 square metre mural with approximately 500 literary references to authors all born in the Rhône-Alps area. It is also just across the street from the famous book market of Lyon.
After our tasty breakfast treats we were off to find probably Lyon’s most famous mural – Le Mur des Canuts, in the Croix-Rousse. La Croix-Rousse is a hill in the city of Lyon, as well as the name of a neighborhood located on the hill. It wasn’t particularly far from our apartment but the hill was rather steep, and after over 20km of walking the previous day we decided are legs weren’t up to carrying the kids up, so a metro it was!
We caught the metro lines that took us to Henon and then Croix-Rousse. We were pretty glad we did as the line up to Croix-Rousse was so steep it was operating as a cog train and couldn’t have been far off needing a funicular to get up the hill.
Once at the Croix-Rousse station we were off in search of the mural. Despite it being a beautiful and sunny day the temperature was still sitting at about minus 1 so we couldn’t stand still for too long! It didn’t take us too long to find the well signposted Le Mur des Canuts. Even though we knew we were approaching a mural it was so realistically painted that it was almost impossible to believe it wasn’t a real scene.
Le Mur des Canuts, is a celebration of the silk workers of Lyon’s past. Every decade, it is altered to show the changes made to the district. It is painted to mirror the Croix-Rousse district, its architecture, its traditions, and of course, the canuts (silk workers) of the past. In the last repaint they aged the building occupants and added to families. The detail is amazing. The mural includes the same bank that is in the street and extremely realistic looking office fronts, people, dogs and cats. There was a small gallery showing how the mural had evolved over the years.
There were more murals spread throughout the area, but we walked for a while and found a couple of small ones but the kids were getting cold so we opted to return to the metro and catch the train back to Hôtel de Ville where we changed lines towards Massena. This put us in the very pretty 6th arrondissement and a short walk from our next destination, Parc de la Tête d’Or.
Parc de la Tête d’Or, in Lyon, is a large urban park the typical French style, with an area of approximately 117 hectares. It features a lake on which boating takes place during the summer months. Unlike Paris, due to the relatively small number of other parks in Lyon, it receives a huge number of visitors over summer, and is popular destination for joggers and cyclists. In the central part of the park, there is a small zoo, with giraffes, elephants, deer, reptiles, primates, and other animals. There are also sports facilities, such as a velodrome, boules court, mini-golf, horse riding, and a miniature train, as well as four rose gardens, large greenhouses and a botanical garden.
We entered the park through the botanical garden section. The gardeners were hard at work replanting garden beds for spring. We had a wander around some of the garden beds and everything was lovely and green, despite being the middle of Winter.
Parc de la Tête d’Or is fenced, so can only be accessed during opening hours but entry is free. This includes the zoo. As the zoo was described as ‘small’ and was free we weren’t expecting a great deal but it was actually very impressive.
The zoo was created at the same time as the park. It was originally intended to be a farm for educational purposes, with some local wild animals. However, it has been developed to accommodate new animals and is now a reasonably sized zoo. The zoo now houses animals from around the world. It extends over six hectares and counts several hundred animals, including many large mammals, and the very rare Barbary lion, extinct in the wild since 1922. In 2006 “The African plain” was opened, an area where 130 different animals – some belonging to rare and protected species – live in freedom on 2.5 acres (10,000 m2).
The zoo is not separately fenced to other areas of the park and we first came across a large oval like area housing lots of deer. There was also some play equipment for the kids, so they happily played while watching the deer eating and snoozing.
Outside this play area was a section with fair-rides and pony rides took place, but it was closed during Winter. We had been hoping to grab lunch at the park, but all the cafes and food vendors were also not operating during the Winter months, or at least the day we were there! Despite being a little hungry we were keen to find some more animals so kept wandering around the zoo.
Next we found the wetlands area which had many birds including, pelicans and flamingos, and curiously, some lemurs, on an island!
The savannah part of the zoo included zebras, bison and the giraffes. As it was cold the giraffes were most definitely staying inside their houses so we only got to view them through the glass. Unlike the Vienna zoo, which was set-up to let you view the animals inside their heated enclosures easily, this zoo wasn’t quite as well-planned. We also saw some leopards and lions inside but it was mostly just a peek of sleeping fur!
The zoo was far bigger and more impressive than we imagined, and definitely worth seeing. Especially as it was free and there was a lot of play areas for the kids. In the Summer months it would be an amazing day out with all the other rides and food vendors open.
We didn’t quite see all the animals but our tummies were rumbling, as the morning pastries had well and truly been walked off, so we decided to venture out in search of food. We went out past the lake. During Summer boats are rented out to use on the lake. For Winter they were all tied up, but it must have been a popular place during the warmer months. The kids were excited by the vast numbers of geese everywhere!
Once we left the park we had a bit of a walk to get back to the nearest metro line, but in no time at all we were back at La Place Bellecour. We noticed a lot of good-looking food options in the Old Town area during our earlier exploring so voted to pop across the Saône and see what we could find. It was now warming up rapidly and was a beautiful day to be out exploring Lyon, except we were all hungry and wishing we’d bought extra pastries to snack on!
Approaching ravenous, once in Vieux Lyon we quickly found an Irish-Lyonnais pub which looked really good and was extremely busy. It was run by a very friendly Irish guy, who had a very quirky Irish/French accent mix. He found us a table and helpfully explained the menu to us. Anto had an enormous bacon and cheese burger with fries that he said was delicious. I had the potato of the day which had coleslaw, cheddar and champignons and was very tasty. There was more than enough food to share with the hungry kids! We were so busy eating that I even forgot to take pictures.
All feeling better with fuller bellies it was time to head up to Fourvière and to the Roman ruins. It was a short walk from the lunch pub, through the very pretty Old Town quarter, to the funicular.
This time we took the correct funicular and were off at the Roman ruins in no time at all. Out of the funicular station it was a short walk across the road to find the ruins. There are actually 2 separate theatres in the ruins. The Roman theatre was built on the hill of Fourvière in around 15BC. At the time this was the centre of the city. The original theatre had a 90 metre diameter and held around 4500 people. In the second century additional seating was added to the theatre to increase that capacity to 11,000 people. It is still used as a cultural venue, hosting performances throughout the year.
The ruins are extremely impressive. It is amazing to be able to walk around something that is so old, and right in the middle of a city. The site is actually surrounded by houses, office buildings and a carpark! We didn’t realise until visiting the ruins that they were only discovered in 1933. Until then they were covered by dirt and had been built on. They are amazingly well-preserved.
We were explaining to Astrid what the theatre was used for, both in ancient times and today. She thought she should put on a dance show on the large wooden stage, ‘since that was what the theatre was there for’. So all the tourists were treated to Astrid’s dance spectacular! It was a pretty nice setting to do a little jig…….
After all the walking we’d done the past few days (and weeks) marching up and down the enormous stone stairs was hard work! It was even harder carrying the kids…….. Luckily the view from the top was worth it!
Next to the main theatre is the Odeon of Lyon, a smaller second theater, with a 3,000 seat capacity that was built in the early to mid-second century during the reign of Hadrian. It is classified as an Odeon ts because it was a covered building used for musical performances and reading to the public, which was less popular than the theater performances. Astrid again used to stage to put on a performance!
After all those stairs we decided to head back into Old Town via the funicular. Next stop on our agenda was a visit to The Musée Cinéma et Miniature. The miniatures section of the museum contains over 100 hand-crafted miniature scenes reproducing daily life settings. There is also a film exhibition, that focuses on special effects techniques, and features over 300 original film props and artifacts.
One section of the miniatures museum is free to enter, so we had a look with the kids. We opted not to do the paid exhibitions and the film section as we were pretty sure the kids would lose interest and it turns out it contained a lot of scenes and effects not suitable for young kids. It’s worth a look though if you don’t have little kids tagging along!
The kids were getting pretty tired so we decided to have a leisurely wander through Vieux Lyon. We had spotted lots of interesting chocolate shops so had to pay a few a visit, to pick up some tasty souvenirs to bring home. We had also pretty much walked off our lunch so figured we could fit in some afternoon tea, and stopped past a patisserie that had been recommended on the food tour to obtain some afternoon sustenance. Soren had finally fallen asleep in the ergo so we had to save him some!
Since Soren was now happily napping we scouted out potential places for dinner and wandered along the river, enjoying our last afternoon in sunny Lyon. Astrid was rightly tired after all the walking, so hitched an ergo lift back to the apartment on Anto, while I got to carry the sleeping Soren.
We had an hour to rest our legs back at the apartment before heading back into Vieux Lyon to meet up with Gramps for dinner. He had apparently been out exploring and eating pastry for the afternoon. We almost missed meeting up for dinner as Astrid delayed us due to an inevitable tiredness-induced tantrum, but we did make it to our meeting spot just in time. We then went to one of the bouchons that we had checked out earlier and looked quite good.
The bouchon had a nice wood fire and lovely atmosphere but they were definitely not in a rush to feed us despite us being the only customers for quite a while. It was only 5.30pm when we arrived and they took our orders and then proceeded to feed all themselves before starting on our meals! Luckily we had wine to drink.
The waitress was very good-humoured about our poor French and my vegetarian ways! She also thought Alan was amusing with his refusal to eat many of the typical French meals that contained things he didn’t like. Luckily Anto impressed her with his willingness to try pretty much anything.
Again it was 3 course set menus. Alan ended up with a starter of French onion soup, followed by beef with pepper sauce and vegies. I had a soft cheese with cream and chives for a starter and a ‘vegetarian plate’ for main which turned out to be 3 different types of potato, rice, pea mash and pears. A weird combo! Anto had poached eggs with bacon in red wine for starter and then was somewhat brave in trying the crumbed tripe (much more pleasantly named veal paunch) with vegies for main. He said it was quite good. The kids were happy sharing with us as there was plenty of food as usual.
For dessert I had the tart citron, which is the only pastry I’ve ever had in France that has been disappointing. Alan had the pannacotta with caramel, that I was going to order, and I immediately regretted my last-minute change as it was really good. Anto had the chocolate mousse, which the kids thoroughly approved of!
With tired kids, and now well and truly dark, we walked back to the apartment and discovered another set of amazing murals, La Fresque des Lyonnais. We had walked past this building many times in the preceding days. From the front (on the river side) it’s a normal building. However, two of the faces are entirely covered by a mural, more than 800 meters squared. It depicts 31 famous people (dead and living) from the Lyonnais area, such as Le Pétit Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, the Lumière brothers who were pioneers of the cinema, and Paul Bocuse, one of Lyon’s most celebrated chefs.
Once the kids were safely off to bed, we packed up for our trip to Paris the next day. The last destination of our European trip.
Statistics for Friday 22 January, 2016, in Lyon, France – it was a cool start to the day with a minus 1 degree start. It did make it to 10 degrees eventually, but took a very long time! The mean temperature for the day was a brisk 4 degrees. It was beautiful and sunny though, so we barely noticed. Despite trying to take it easyon the walking front, and using metros when possible, we still clocked up an impressive 19.5km (after over 20km the previous day). No wonder Astrid piked out on the last few kilometres of walking for the day!