01 November 2007

Exploration (Intentional and Unintentional) in Lyon and Avignon

Believe it or not, I tried my best to make this post "short" by not going into too much detail...

Monday, October 29: Lyon
• Waking up at 3:15 is NOT FUN. I’d gotten five hours of sleep, but my body, like the sun, knew that morning wasn’t until at least 8:00. I had given myself an hour to get ready, and since I moved so slowly I’m glad I did! I left the house at exactly 4:20, and arrived at the train station at exactly 5 a.m. Four kilometers in forty minutes isn’t bad, especially when it’s dark, and did I mention pouring rain? Plus, I had to pause about once every two blocks because my shoes kept eating my socks. I hate it when they do that. But that's the end of the not fun part of the trip.
• I actually managed to sleep in the train! I think I got about two hours, which is more than I’ve ever gotten on a plane.
• When the train arrived, something absolutely amazing happened. I got to my hotel… without getting lost or turned around once. I have a remarkable talent: if there are two choices of directions to go (say north and south, or left and right) I always pick the wrong one. I look around, decide which one looks more promising, and then still manage to choose badly. Once I am far enough out of my way to figure out that I’m lost, I manage to get lost again trying to go back. Then I inevitably have a long detour before I finally get on the right track. To shorten explanations of this phenomenon in the future, I’ve decided to call it Unintentional Exploration, with capital letters, in the future. Lyon is, or at least was for my first half hour there, easy to navigate. There’s a metro, which is neat for three reasons:
1) The trains have rubber wheels, so they don’t screech and are both quiet and smooth-rolling.
2) Most of the trains are automatic. It’s really cool to be in the front car, since the windows are huge and you can watch the tunnel.
3) The trains are very well-designed, and lots of people can fit comfortably.
• The hotel where I stayed, Hôtel Iris, is only about two blocks away from the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall, not City Hotel) metro stop. It’s in a typical old building with stone walls and loud plumbing, which is nice. My room was small, but comfortable. The best part was that some patches of wall had (artistically) no plaster, exposing the stone beneath.
• I set off for one of the historic districts, Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon). This was, I regret to admit, the second and last time that I successfully navigated the metro right on the first try. Lyon is mostly flat, but it has a gigantic hill in the middle, which is naturally where most things worth seeing can be found. I took the funiculaire (uphill train) to the top of the hill, picked an exit, and saw the basilica:

It’s occurred to me that I don’t actually know what a basilica is. The only ones I’ve been to are this and Sacré Coeur in Paris, and both are large white churches on top of hills. Anyone know if “Large white church situated on the top of a hill in a large city” is the technical definition of basilica?
• The inside of the basilica is very shiny. In both the slang meaning (impressive, pleasing) and the literal one. The walls are all covered in mosaics and murals that use a lot of gold, the stained glass windows were sparkling in the sun, even the marble pillars were shiny. It’s really a beautiful space.

• I took one picture of a painting of the life of Jeanne d’Arc, and a picture of the plaque describing it. It’s nice to have explanations of what you’re looking at!

• On one side of the basilica there’s a foresty park and a great view of Lyon. In this picture, you can see the scale of the city (it’s the third largest in France) and you can also see Lyon’s skyscraper, which locals call “the pencil” (le crayon) because of its distinctive shape. The weather was better than it looks: low lying clouds, but it was very sunny and actually got hot in the afternoon.

In this picture you can sort of see both the Rhône and the Saône rivers, and the peninsula (Presqu’île) in between. Hôtel Iris is in the middle of the peninsula, in one of the other historic districts.

• Also at the top of the hill is a TV tower which was made to look like the top of the Eiffel Tower. It’s kind of weird seeing something so modern and brash next to the basilica.

• Here is the reason why I took the funiculaire. Imagine climbing about five of these to get to the top of the hill:

• Aaaaw, pretty city on a river:

• Unfortunately, after crossing the river I had about an hour of Unintentional Exploration, made worse by the fact that I ended up in an unsavory part of town, made even worse because I was hungry and couldn’t find a place to eat, and made still worse yet because I had to climb every stair in the area before getting back to the river.
• Right before I got un-lost (returned to Intentional Exploration, if you will) I saw this fresco/mural on the back of a building, which is life-size and thus seven stories tall. It’s amazing!

• I found a bakery, got a sausage baked in a roll, then enjoyed fifteen minutes of Unintentional Exploration before finding the nearest metro station, which turned out to be less than a block away from where I was when I had set out to find it. Typical.
• I took another funiculaire halfway up the hill, where the signs told me to go to see the Roman theatres. Lyon was founded as a Roman colony in 43 BC, and was the birthplace of this emperor guy, Claudius, among other people. The city was called Lugdunum at the time. Two amphitheaters from around the second century AD have been unearthed and restored. Unfortunately, The funiculaire dropped me off at the bottom, so I had to climb up a billion and seven stairs to get to the top.
• This is the Odéon, the smaller amphitheater used for musical performances. I would have loved to stand in the middle of the stage and sing something to test the acoustics, but naturally I didn’t. If I had a quartet with me, I would have though! (Translation: I need an alto, a tenor, and a bass to come with me the next time I go to Lyon.) However, without the wooden roof it’s possible that the sound wouldn’t be any good.

Behind the back walls there’s a fairly wide semi-circular path, which a sign told me used to be a road. Apparently a few blocks of houses were torn down to build the theaters. The road was kept as a useful way of emptying the theater, and the foundations of several homes have been found behind it:

• The other theater was probably used mainly for dramatic performances. Its stage is much longer, and it looks like there is about twice as much seating.

• The view from the top of the stairs is incredible. The stage seems so far away, but in relation to the rest of the city, which is also visible, it’s close.

• More Unintentional Exploration as I got on the funiculaire in the wrong direction and got to go to the top of the hill before going down. I then got on the metro in the wrong direction, and discovered the two horrible things about the Lyon metro.
1) There are actually separate entrances for the separate directions. So you’d better know where you’re going before you go in! This would have been easier if I had had a map of my own and didn’t need to rely on the ones posted by the tracks.
2) Why are there separate entrances? Because there’s no way to switch directions once you’re in. This means that if you go a stop too far, you have to get out, go all the way outside, find the other entrance, put your ticket back in (or buy another if you had a one ride ticket), and get back on a train. It’s so much better in Paris, Chicago, Moscow… really every other metro I’ve used.
• However, I did love the décor of the metro station I had to “turn around” in. One direction had an enormous map of the world, and the other side had a line of city names across the wall. There were quite a few from America, including Chicago, Lansing, Detroit, Minneapolis, and my favorite, Billing. Ha.

• I took the metro back to the train station, since it’s next to a mall. A real mall! I was in a mall mood. I’d estimate that it’s about as big as Woodfield, and likewise has lots to look at and nothing I wanted to buy. There was a Gap, but Gap in Europe is very disappointing: twice as expensive as in America, nothing but neutrals, and only those “high-fashion” styles that no one actually looks good in. However, it was still nice to be in a crowded mall again.
• I got on the metro right direction, but then I missed my stop. Great. However, this bout of Unintentional Exploration brought me to a supermarket, so I bought dinner: a kilogram of grapes, a bottle of water, and a can of Pringles. I figured that after a day of so much walking and so many stairs, I deserved whatever I wanted for dinner.
• After yet again picking the wrong metro entrance and having to switch, I went back to the hotel, where I ate dinner, watched TV and read a bit, and finally crashed at around seven o’clock.

Tuesday, October 30: Avignon
• I accidentally took the long way (three metro lines instead of two) to the train station, but arrived safely and bought a ticket to Avignon. I had decided that it would be cheaper and more practical to go there from Lyon than from Angers, and it’s small enough that I would be able to see everything I wanted to see in one day. The train arrived at noon, and I took a bus from the TGV station to the center. Avignon is, for a girl who explores unintentionally as easily as I do, a dream. The center, including all the historical sites and the bus stop, is enclosed in a tall wall!!

That means that as long as I didn’t leave the wall I would not be significantly lost. Wonderful! I stopped at the friendly tourist office for a map (as a souvenir, reading them doesn’t help me one bit), a train schedule, and a discount card. Avignon is decidedly cheerful. Thirty steps above Le Mans, and five or so above Lyon. About three above Angers. It was very sunny, but chilly and incredibly windy. The wind would put Chicago to shame. Wind pictures later in the post.
• Avignon has two main tourist attractions: the Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) and the Pont Bénézet, better known as the Pont d’Avignon, the bridge immortalized in a song that every French person on the planet knows. Before anyone asks, no, I did not dance on the bridge. I didn’t even pay to go stand on it.
• Anyway, the route from the tourist office to the Palais des Papes is simple: walk along the road without turning until you can’t go straight any more, then veer slightly right and you can’t miss it. Somehow, though, I managed to end up quite far away from it, and enjoyed some Unintentional Exploration in the charming little town. I finally found the palace, which is enormous and should not be easy to miss. After a quick lunch in a café (chèvre chaud: warm goat cheese on toast on top of a salad) I went to the palace.

• The palace is very impressive. It’s the biggest gothic palace in Europe, and the scale is absolutely incredible. Only a portion of the palace is open for tourists, but that includes the chapel (52m long, 15m wide, 20m tall), the kitchen (essentially the whole ceiling opens into the cone-shaped chimney, which is more than fifty feet tall), one of the bedrooms (the walls are painted beautifully) and a few towers. Here are some pictures:
• This is the courtyard. The walls and towers are exactly like what I picture when I picture a castle, even though this is the first I’ve seen that actually has them. When American children draw castles, they must be drawing this one!

• Here’s that corner tower and a better view of the shiny gold angel statue. This is my current desktop picture.

• Here’s the chimney!

• This is the view from one of the towers. On the hill across the river you can see a fortress, and the large building in the foreground is the “small palace” where bishops got to live.

• Self-portraits on the towers didn’t work because of the wind and the sun, both of which were very strong. I did get a decent picture of myself by a window opening to the courtyard though. Yes, I’m sunburned.

• After leaving the palace I decided to go see the bridge, but despite the signs went the wrong way. In the course of my Unintentional Exploration I found a beautiful little 13th century church, a free art exhibition, and a little store where I bought a scarf. Now I can look completely French! My most unusual discovery was a living mural. I’m not sure what it’s a picture of, if anything, but the idea is really cool.

• The bridge is outside the town walls, but I didn’t get lost. It only reaches halfway across the river, since part was swept away by the current. I followed some other tourists for a while (excellent navigation technique, by the way) and ended up climbing up a lot of stairs to reach a park and garden at the top of a hill above the palace. The view from the top was beautiful:

• I tried self-portraits again, and they turned out HILARIOUS. The wind was really really strong. The pictures were so bad that I made it my new goal to capture the wind at its strongest, and I had better luck at that than at looking pretty.

• A gift shop was selling placemats with the sheet music for the Pont d’Avignon song, so I took a picture:

• Here’s the palace as viewed from the top of the hill:

• My most successful self-portrait (although not my favorite, I like the second wind-swept one better), in front of the palace at a moment when the wind wasn’t too strong:

• I walked along the main street again, and stopped in Fnac to buy a book. I’d only brought one with me, and I knew that I would finish it before getting back to Lyon. I bought Around the World in Eighty Days in the original French, and also an English book called The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. The title, the description, and the quotes are hilarious. The first hundred pages are good (suspenseful, funny, scary at times, creative, and so on), and once I’ve read the other six hundred I’ll let you know what I think. My favorite review quote is from the London Paper: “Think of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: its lurid plots, its murky pea-soupers. Now, apply the production values of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, commission a re-write by the Marquis de Sade… A ripping yarn.” So far, it lives up to that. I feel like I can identify with the first of the three protagonists. Here’s one of my favorite passages about her, as she’s attempting (badly) to follow her ex-fiancé to find out why he left her: “Miss Temple found an antiquarian book shop across the street [from Roger’s usual lunchtime restaurant] where, as she was obliged to purchase something for standing so long watching through its window, she on impulse selected a complete four-volume Illustrated Lives of Sea Martyrs. The books were detailed enough to warrant her spending the time in the window, apparently examining the colored plates, while actually watching Roger first enter and then, after an hour, re-emerge, alone, from the heavy doors across the street. He walked straight back into the Ministry courtyard. Miss Temple arranged for her purchase to be delivered to the Boniface, and walked back into the street, feeling like a fool.” Anyway, it is (so far) a well-written, entertaining read. Plus, it’s very long.
• I walked in circles for a while trying to find the natural history museum, which is free. Museums like that are great for picking up vocabulary I wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. The museum was pretty small, and didn’t have much of extraordinary interest to a girl who hails from the same city as the Field Museum. However, there was a “globe” of the solar system that I found picture worthy (unfortunately it was behind glass, so this is the best picture I got). Not because of its structure or historical interest, but because August is spelled “aoust!” Now it’s spelled “août.” In French, when you see a ^ accent it’s because that vowel used to be followed by an s. In words like hôtel, maître (master) and forêt it’s easy to see why there would have been an s. Not so much with August, so I was thrilled to see that. I’m such a linguistics geek, I know…

• Last picture of the day: a typo that should have been caught, on the TGV back to Lyon. I’m sure I looked ridiculous taking a picture of the alarm sticker, but it was worth it.

• Back in Lyon, I got take-out from the Chinese restaurant kitty-corner from my hotel, where they had soupe Ouanh-Thanh (sound it out…) inexpensively.

Wednesday, October 31: Lyon
• After breakfast I hurried to the metro, got only minorly lost, and went over to the Musée des Tissus (Fabric Museum). Lyon used to be the silk capital of the world, and the museum has examples from Lyon’s silk and fashion history as well as historical pieces from around the world. The oldest piece they have is a 4,000 year old Egyptian tunic, there’s a whole exhibit of Persian tunics, carpets and tapestries, embroidered art, and so on. It’s a fascinating museum, but it gets an A- because they don’t let you take pictures. My favorite piece was a silk embroidered with butterflies made of flowers. I bought a postcard of it in the gift shop. So here’s a photo of the photo of the silk:

• I got on the metro in the wrong direction and had to leave and re-enter, but luckily got to the cathedral before noon. Voici la cathédrale:

The cathedral’s big tourist attraction (besides the fact that it’s a cathedral and has amazing stained glass) is an astronomical clock, which has an elaborate chiming process every hour in the afternoon. There are little trumpeters that pop out, and various things move. The clock face itself is very elaborate.

• I ate lunch in a Chinese restaurant (spicy shrimp soup, ginger beef, fried rice, raspberry ice cream, and herbal tea… yum) and then headed back to the hotel to pick up my bag. I missed the stop, but was close enough to walk back. Unintentional Exploration strikes again! I stopped briefly in a church on the way to say a decade for safe travel, and took a picture of a cheerful stained glass window with the sun shining through it.

• Again I took the long way to the train station accidentally. My train home was a regular train rather than a fast TGV, so the ride was more than six hours long. The train got in at 9:30, only fifteen minutes late. I walked as fast as I could from the train station to the Maîtrise’s practice place, so I only missed half of rehearsal. I adore choir practice. There are two sopranos who live in the same direction as I do, so I can get a ride home when I need one. It felt good to be back home.

Thursday, November 1: Angers
All Saints’ Day (Toussaint) is a national holiday in France. Most people go to the cemetery to visit the family plot, so it’s actually celebrated in a way.
The Maîtrise sang Mass at the cathedral, which is fun. It’s a whole different perspective from behind the altar (had I mentioned that the choir is behind the altar? Cathedrals are generally cross-shaped, and the choir is in the tip. The altar is in the middle. There’s a small choir organ which accompanies the choir, cantor, and priests and a large organ in the back (the bottom of the cross) which accompanies the congregation. It’s a complicated system, which I can explain in more detail if people are interested).
My holiday was spent napping, cooking, reading and watching movies, except for the chunk of time it took me to write this. Peaceful and relaxing!
Happy All Saints’ Day to all!


Jakob said...

Cool! I must admit that I secretly enjoy Unintentional Explorations, although I don't think I have as many as you do when I travel. (Not saying that in a bad way-- I'm actually jealous!!) :)

Kathleen said...

A basilica (no relation to basilisk :) ) was originally an impressive rectangular Roman public building. After Christianity emerged from the catacombs, the architectural style of a basilica was adapted to Christian worship.
A cathedral, on the other hand, even if it is simply a mud hut, is the home church of a bishop. (It has the bishop's chair--cathedra (Latin)). When you visit a cathedral, you should be able to find the bishop's chair rather easily. Sometimes the bishop's hat and shepherd's staff (miter and crosier) are on display too.
Nowadays, "basilica" tends to mean "big fancy church that is not a cathedral." St. Peter's in Rome, incidentally, is merely a basilica because it is not the home church of the Bishop of Rome.

Kristen said...

You and your gosh darned soup...

Teehee. Miss you!

Kel Miller said...

You've changed your name, miss G.a.T.E.!
How long was it that we walked around Paris looking for some place that served soup in the middle of a July heat wave... two hours? Three hours? :)