Lyon 1

Last weekend Chris had an A Rocha France Board of Trustees meeting. Traditionally these have been held at one of the centres in the south of France but this isn’t easy for a lot of people, so as an innovation it was decided to meet in Lyon, that great city in the centre of France. As it is a little bit too far to go up and come back by train in a day and not really having had a holiday this year, we decided to make a trip out of it, driving up Friday morning on the motorway and coming back by the very much slower (but more fun) roads on the Monday. We were very glad to do this because otherwise we might just have missed out on Lyon, which is a fascinating and bustling city. There is also a great deal of history: starting when it was the capital of Gaul in Roman times.

The Rhone, with floating restaurants. The other bank is the presqu’île of Lyon, i.e. the area between the two rivers, the heart of the town.

Lyon has been spared the twin blights of many British cities: aerial bombardment during the Second World War and over-zealous planners afterwards. Its attractiveness is helped by the fact that it lies on not just one, but two great rivers, the Rhone and the Saône, being founded on a hill near the junction of the rivers.

We were struck by several things in Lyon. One was the sheer amount of space compared to compressed towns of the Mediterranean, trapped as they are between the sea and the mountain. There was also a fertile hybridization of the influences of northern and southern France: two very different regions. Look down one street and you could be in one of the southern cities, look down another and you could be in a Parisian suburb.

What was particularly striking was the sheer number of young people, due it seems to Lyon’s role as a university education centre. (Or do they ship the elderly down to the Mediterranean coast?) And, whether it’s a blessing or a curse – opinions vary – we were particularly struck (and occasionally nearly literally so) by the abundance of electric micro-scooters or trottinettes. There is clearly a very efficient system for hiring them, which allows individuals to leave them almost anywhere at the end of the day.

We didn’t know you could get two people on a small scooter, not to mention the large board

Chris’ meeting was held in one of the side rooms of the splendidly named Grand Temple, a vast structure that seemed to have been designed to be unmistakably Protestant, with its absence of statutes, its stark interior and its engraved biblical texts. It had the air of a Welsh chapel on steroids.

While Chris was in the meeting, Alison wandered round the oldest part of Lyon taking lots of photos. More on this next week!

Grand Hôtel-Dieu, site of a hospital from the 12th to the 21st centuries (though these buildings are 18th century), now housing restaurants, shops, offices and a hotel.

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