A CITY WITH TWO RIVERS: LYON, Selçuk Korkmaz | 04.07.2016

“From Paris to Lyon, April 1st, 1932

Bedri! I received two letters of yours at once, which please me greatly. I was trying to predict when you would have returned to Lyon and I was looking forward to your letter. I did not know the city of Lyon and I never wondered. Nowadays I am very curious and dreaming of it.”

Even though the end was a disappointment, these lines written by Ernestine Letoni to Bedri Rahmi as the beginning of a great love were also the beginning of my interest in Lyon. This was one of the most striking letters in the exhibition “Biz Mektup Yazardık” organized in commemoration of Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu. After reading this letter, I started thinking of this city which has always been overshadowed by Paris for me. It was just a few months later that I already found myself in a flight by Turkish Airlines to Lyon.

When I was flying to Lyon, I had neither any plans nor any information. I think I just wanted to experience the atmosphere, wander around on its streets, and experience the city where the great love arouse.

There are many cities that are impossible to imagine without their rivers. For example, you can not portray London in your mind without the River Thames. Likewise, the River Danube adds a distinct flavor to Buda and Pest, which it bisects. It is impossible to be sucked into the real atmosphere of Paris without walking by the River Seine. But there is such a city that leaves all these cities in dust. As you can understand, I am talking about Lyon, the capital of Rhône-Alpes region in the southeastern part of France. On one side the affluent River Rhône, on the other side the River Saône, which flows windward as if it is titting for tat, make Lyon unique in this respect.

From the Lyon-Saint Exupery Airport (yes, he was the author of The Little Prince, oh I loved the city even at the second I saw its airport!) there are two alternatives to access the city. You can arrive at the city center in about 30 minutes by taking Rhonexpress, or you can take the Elite Voyages buses. It would be useful to determine the means of transportation according to the location of the hotel you will stay. Because the two vehicles go to different parts of the city. While Rhonexpress ends up in the 3rd part of the city, Elite Voyages go to the 2nd part. By the way, you need to pay €15 to buy a one-way ticket for Rhonexpress, and for the round-trips the fare is €27. If you are traveling as a group, Elite Voyages bus tickets start from €34. In brief, the transportation from the Lyon Airport to the city is really much more expensive than the rest of Europe. So it would be more rational to take a taxi (I wonder, am I in a hurry to love this city?:)).

The city center of Lyon is divided into 9 different parts. The most living parts of the city are the 1st and the 2nd parts between the Rivers Rhône and Saône, and the 5th part from the Renaissance Period. The 3rd part where you arrive by taking Rhonexpress is the new residential and commercial area. The only skyscraper and shopping center in Lyon is located in this part. We can generalize the other parts as the suburbs. So if you choose a hotel in the 1st, 2nd or the 5th part, you can visit all attractions by walking. If you say ‘no, I don’t like walking’ then you can access all parts of the city via 4 subway lines and 5 tram lines.

I already told that Lyon is overshadowed by the capital Paris. In fact, after seeing the museums in the city, I admitted that I was wrong in this sense. Even though it does not stand out as Paris, Lyon is a real museum city. Especially in the Renaissance Region of the city, which is in the UNESCO World Heritage List, you will certainly come across with a museum wherever you look at. It is possible to find museums appealing to different tastes such as Fire Brigade Museum, Fourviere Religious Arts Museum, Automatons Museum, and Historical Museums as well as the art museums.

I want to tell you about the two museums I liked most where I spent hours in it despite the limited time I had. Both of them are among the best museums in the world in their own category. First one is the Cinema and Miniature Museum founded by Dan Ohlmann, who is also an artist, and the other one is the Puppet Museum, which has an important place in the world art history.

In the Cinema and Miniature Museum, you will find a collection of hundreds of miniature pieces all of which are the works of Dan Ohlmann, and original accessories used in movies. You will particularly be fascinated with the miniatures. What would you think if I told you that the photograph above is actually in a small box?

In the Puppet Museum, you will have the chance to observe a vast portfolio from Hacivat and Karagöz to Little Prince. You will find hundreds of different puppets in the museum from past to present. It is especially pleasing to find out the historical evolution of puppets, the perspectives and interpretation of different cultures towards puppets.

After wandering around the museums, you will get the Fourviere Hill in no time flat, where you will have the best view of Lyon. You can enjoy the panoramic Lyon landscape in company with the mesmerizing atmosphere of the Notre-Dame Fourviere Basilica, located on the hill.

The French have a food and café culture which really appeals to me. I think you will want to take a break in Bouchons which serve traditional food, as well as in the famous bistros of Lyon. These mini restaurants consist of small tables close to each other. Orders are given mostly on a menu. They are incredibly crowded especially in lunch and dinner times. Of course there is a reason why the tables are so small and close to each other. These restaurants do not only serve for eating food, but also to get social. You witness the real French social life when you go inside. I am sure you will find the right place by following the sound of laughters in the narrow streets of the Renaissance Region.

There are also many alternatives for the shoppers in Lyon. Rue de Republique, beginning from the Bellecour Square, one of the largest urban squares of Europe, is among the most living places in the city. Also, you may want to see Lyon from a different view with the big ferris wheel on the square.

On the Republique Street between the Rivers Saône and Rhône, you can find the stores of the world-famous brands, explore the passages it has, and have fun at the night clubs. Republique Street of Lyon means exactly the same as İstiklal Street for İstanbul, or La Rambla for Barcelona. It is a long street, where the life never pauses, thousands of people wander around and spend time.

The shopping habits are similar to the regions where they are located. On Republique, where things go more living and faster, you can find modern stores. The Renaissance Region, on the contrary, is more quiet than this part. There are small boutiques rather than large stores. There are dozens of boutiques scattered on the narrow streets, where you will mostly find retro and second hand clothes. The antique stores and art galleries are also located in this part as well as the shops where you can find souvenirs too.

You will come across with one of the most magnificent opera houses of the world at the end of the street, and just behind it there are the City Hall and the famous Bartholdi Fountain. If you do an opera research when planning your trip, you can watch a play during your visit, or just take the risk to be sad like me!

The small Terreaux Squarein front of the City Hall is one of the first centers of Lyon. The Bartholdi Fountain, located just at the center of the square, has an interesting story. The city of Bordeaux chooses Bartholdi to build a fountain in a contest before he built his masterwork ‘Statue of Liberty’, but the fact that he was at an early age causes the project to be canceled. After Bartholdi created the ‘Statue of Liberty’, the city of Bordeaux can not afford the expenses and the project is sold to the city of Lyon and located on its present location. Rumor has it that the woman on the fountain represent France, and the unsaddled four strong horses represent the four big rivers in France.

In the Carnot Square on the reverse direction of the Bellecour Square, you can find the street bazaar which is a haunt for the local people. You can find handcraft souvenirs and different examples of wood art, and taste the local flavors of France and Lyon. I am sure the keen ones are going to love it.

There is a general view that the people in Paris are not nice towards tourists. I bet you will hear that kind of stuff whomever you ask that go to Paris. But the case is the opposite in Lyon. The local people’s engagement with tourists is really warm and friendly. You will experience the real French hospitality in Lyon.

I suppose my travel habits are changing in time. I found it out better when I went to Lyon. I has been a long time since I stopped rushing around with a map in my hand and wandering around with a camera in a city I visit. I like living the daily life in the cities I visit. I keep doing what I do in my daily life in İstanbul. If I can visit a few good museums then it is enough to make me happy. What else would I want if I can find an exhibition that interests me! I like spending the rest of my time in the local cafés of the city and getting lost on the streets. So, no matter how short were the Lyon days for me, when I was leaving the city, it became a place where I want to come back.

Lyon is really a city which everybody must see and visit. Leave its beautiful museums aside, one can go to Lyon just to beat the pavements in the Renaissance Region under protection by UNESCO, to explore the dazzling atmosphere of the old buildings, and to witness the French social life in Bouchons... You can walk by the Rivers Saône and Rhône, ride a bike or read a book accompanied with the beautiful scene. It all depends on what you would like to do then. You may watch the sunset on Fourviere before the beautiful landscape, or you may visit the St. Paul and St. Jean Cathedrals. You can also taste the croissants and desserts prepared in the best patisseries of the world!

I went there, wandered around, and came back, but the city is on my mind. I am on the lookout for an opportunity to visit it again as soon as possible for a different story and a different experience. This is what makes a city beautiful for me: It makes you desire to go back again... I am sure that I will find myself in a whole different story when I go back. This is what keep me highly motivated. Remember, tomorrow is too late to set off. Today, now… 

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Özlem Şakiroğlu


Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal