Vieux Lyon, Lyon’s “Old Town” area, is beautiful.
I think I’m an “Old Town” person, having fallen head over heels in love with Tallinn Old Town in Estonia – I love cobbled streets, rickety buildings, and the feeling of having stepped back in time. I’ve been to Vieux Lyon several times now, but yesterday I went with a mission: to find the traboules.
There’s no exact translation for this Lyonnais word, but my research tells me that it comes from “trans-ambulare,” which literally means “to pass through”. That works: they are covered, tunnel-like passageways, which run through buildings and courtyards to connect one street to another. The traboules were apparently invented to accomodate Lyon’s famous silk industry, as a method of safely (and dryly, presumably) transporting fabrics from workshop to workshop. Yes: they are Actual Old Secret Passageways! This pleases me, Enid Blyton fan that I am. Well, OK, maybe not so much “secret” as “major tourist attractions”, but still. If you hadn’t done your research, you wouldn’t immediately spot them. In fact, even though I knew what I was looking for, I was still a bit hesitant to actually go inside, as the first traboule I found was behind a huge, heavy wooden door. It looked awfully official.
It took New Me to give Old Me another determined shove before I stood up tall and pushed open the door. Old Me ran away screaming in horror, and I marched proudly onwards. It was a little scary, actually. Quite dark – and I’ve been a bit jumpy about the possibility of encountering rats lately, since meeting one in the apartment building. Feeling as if I should be in possession of a flashlight, some ginger beer, and a dog called Timmy, I followed the long, winding passage and eventually came out into another gorgeous old courtyard. This might not sound like much of an adventure, but I repeated the process with every traboule I managed to find, addicted to the anticipation of where I might find myself when I reached the other end. Honestly, it really is not expensive to entertain me.
I also paid a visit to the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière, at the top of Fourvière Hill. As stunningly beautiful and ornate as the cathedral was, I have to say that my lasting impression is of the hill itself. I came across it by accident, walking down one of the afore-mentioned cobbled streets, when I saw a guy cut into an alleyway that turned out to be a staircase. On impulse, I decided to see what was at the top. I’m not a fan of steps (or Steps, for that matter, although I did enjoy their cover of Tragedy), but it seemed manageable:
I had to climb more steps than that to reach my apartment in Glasgow. And so I set off quite energetically. My enthusiasm faded somewhat when, slightly out of breath and beginning to overheat, I rounded the corner you can see just ahead of Backpack Guy, and was faced with this:
Hmmm. However, despite the potential heart failure that was this hill, I chose to continue. Figured there must be something worth seeing at the top. Backpack Guy vanished into the clouds and I plodded onwards, wishing I’d started counting at the bottom just for the official record. Thousands and thousands of steps, there were, I assure you, and you have no reason not to believe me. It started to get a little embarrassing when I began meeting people who were skipping down the steps in a most carefree manner. I had to pretend I was engaged in sending an important text message on my phone each time I paused to try to regulate my breathing. They looked at me in amusement, and said things quietly to each other in French. I just know they were discussing the colour of my face, the irregularity of my breathing and the sweat-drenched section of my t-shirt, but I couldn’t speak to shout “Yah! See if I care!”.
It became much, much worse when people actually started passing me on the way up. I just continued to pretend that I was taking a leisurely stroll (and not, as was the case, on the verge of collapse), and tried to ignore their effortless ascents.
By the time I reached the top (approximately 5 minutes after I’d stopped believing in the existence of a “top”), I was barely breathing. I hauled myself up the last few steps by clinging to the handrail, and collapsed on a dusty kerb, wheezing and sweating profusely. I remained there for at least 15 minutes, unable to stand up, receiving sympathetic looks from passers-by, one of whom – for a horrible moment – looked as if he was going to throw me some spare change.
Eventually I got to my feet, and, knees trembling, staggered along the road to the nearest gap in the trees. I stood there for a long, long time:
I could see nearly the entire city from where I shakily stood. My camera (alas, only a phone camera) doesn’t come close to doing it justice. It was breathtaking. And it almost – almost – made it worth risking my life to see it…