There’s bound to be a mystery around here somewhere, old chap!

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…

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6 thoughts on “There’s bound to be a mystery around here somewhere, old chap!

  1. Oh, how I enjoyed that! And I don’t normally enjoy ‘travelogue’ type tales, but you write so well, and so amusingly, and I could SO identify with your feelings (both physical and mental) on those steps!

    We lived in Auckland for a year, and had similar experiences walking around the streets there. It’s built on a number of extinct volcanoes, you see, about sixty of the darn things, if I recall correctly so the streets have a certain uppy-downyness to them – and in the UK we live on the fens, for goodness’ sake, so we’re used to ‘flat’.

    OH worked in the ciy and I can remember the pride with which he came home one day and announced that instead of staggering, panting and hanging onto any visible means of support (as had been the case when we arrived) he had reached the top of College Hill and realised he’d actually been striding! LOL!

  2. bevchen says:

    Ohh, I want to see those traboules. It does sound very Enid Blyton-esque (I was a fan too. Hehe).

    Steps are evil. There is nothing I hate more than having to climb a looong flight of steps.

  3. The Parents says:

    Ahh! My girl has grown up. Appreciation of old buildings and beautiful scenery! Be careful luv, next comes flower gardens? XO.

  4. Jay – that happened to me with the hill that my university was built on. It did wonders for my general fitness! Except, of course, in winter – trying to stride up that death slope when it was covered in snow and ice was *not* an easy task…
    Croquecamille – the photo doesn’t quite show how far you could see, but it gives an idea!
    Bevchen – my only disappointment was that I didn’t discover a prisoner that I’d have to dig out from behind a pile of crumbling rocks, sending a Timmy to the police with a coded note on his collar.
    Parents – There will be *no* flower gardens! Although some of the ones in the park look like they’d be quite pretty to stroll through. Argh – what is happening to me??

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