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Day 1: Lyon

When we were planning our holidays for this year, we thought it would be nice to return to France. Although we've had multiple holidays there in the past, it's a huge country and there's still so much of it we haven't seen! In particular, we were keen on the idea of exploring some of the more mountainous regions, around Grenoble. Grenoble felt like it ought to be a fairly straightforward place to get to, given that it has an airport with numerous direct connections to the UK... Once we started looking at summer flights, however, we quickly realised that almost every airline only flies to Grenoble in winter for the skiing, and it's almost impossible to get a flight there in the summer.

We started researching alternative options. One idea was to take a Eurostar to the south of France, which sounded quite fun, but it was complicated by the logistics of trying to get to London early enough for the required train. Flying to Geneva was another option, but travelling onward from Geneva was potentially expensive. In the end, flying to Lyon seemed like it might be the best solution, and with the help of Google we found out that it was possible to fly there from Birmingham with Brussels Airlines, with a change in Brussels. We don't normally take indirect flights, but the convenience of flying from Birmingham rather than Stansted or Gatwick seemed appealing enough to cancel out the hassle of having to change planes, so we decided to give it a go :)

We booked the flights in February. Five months later when we were actually packing to go, I started to doubt whether it had been such a good idea when I realised that the first flight from Birmingham to Brussels was around 6am, which meant that I'd booked the airport parking for 03.30. It was a very early start, but everything went smoothly at the airport and we were soon on our way to Brussels. I wasn't really sure what to expect from Brussels Airlines, which I have to confess was an airline I'd never really heard of before, but it was a really nice plane with an an impressive amount of leg room; at least twice as much space - if not more - than I had on the Monarch flight to Dubrovnik last month!

It was around 08.20 when we landed in a rather cold and grey-looking Brussels. Our onward flight to Lyon was departing at 09.30 so we had just about the right amount of time to disembark one plane, march through a series of long airport corridors, and then queue up for the next one. I'd forgotten that when you transfer you have to go through security a second time, so was slightly disappointed to have to throw away the bottle of water I'd bought in Birmingham and not yet finished drinking! Everything else went well though and we were soon aboard the second flight, on our way to Lyon.

We landed in Lyon just before 11am and even before we'd got off the plane, it was clear that the weather was going to be a distinct improvement from Brussels :) The sky was a brilliant shade of blue and everywhere looked warm and sunny. As we approached passport control in Lyon airport, I was also extremely impressed to see a display of water bottles with a sign inviting people to help themselves for free. That made up for having to throw a bottle away in Brussels!

The airport in Lyon is connected to the city via a tram called Rhônexpress. This departs from the train station just outside the airport every 15 minutes, with the journey into Lyon taking around half an hour. So far so good - and having been on the tram I can say that it was a very efficient service and nicely air-conditioned - but the price is absolutely extortionate at €14.70 each for a single ticket :o  Outside of the Nordic countries, I think that must be the most I've ever paid for public transport from an airport!

The tram stops right outside the main train station in Lyon. We got off and started walking in the direction of the city centre, in the hope of finding somewhere to have lunch. Having got up so early in the morning, we were absolutely starving, despite the fact that it was barely midday. My first impressions of Lyon were that it seemed to be a huge commercial centre, with lots of offices and industrial buildings, but not a lot else to recommend it. Originally when planning the holiday, I'd contemplated staying here for a couple of nights, but then reading between the lines of the Rough Guide to France realised that there probably wasn't a lot for tourists to see. The area around the station didn't give me any reason to regret having only booked a hotel for one night, en route to Grenoble.

As we got closer to the town centre, things began to start looking up though :) The centre of Lyon is situated on a peninsula between the rivers Rhône and Saône, and as we crossed the first bridge over the Rhône, all the building suddenly started to look a lot more attractive. We soon located what seemed to be the main shopping streets, but it took a bit longer to track down a road that had any kind of restaurants. When we eventually found one, it turned out to consist of the sort of restaurants where a meal costs in excess of €30, which wasn't quite what we had in mind. But ultimately we managed to find a branch of Hippopotamus, which I was on the verge of describing as a French burger chain, before I realised that might make it sound like a fast food place and it's actually quite expensive. It's more like a chain of steakhouses, I guess.

We've eaten in several of them before anyway and this one had the advantage of having enough space between tables for us to safely stow our suitcases away while we ate. There was a menu of the day for €20 which included steak and chips, a dessert and a small pichet of wine, so we decided to go with that. Tim ordered my steak to be well-done and his to be slightly rarer. We sat outside in the sunshine, enjoying the free bread (which seemed to be limitless - our basket got spontaneously refilled twice!) while we waited for the steak to arrive.

When I first bit into mine, I have to say I was slightly alarmed; it was distinctly more pink than I would have liked. I reminded myself that this was France though and their idea of what constitutes a "well done" steak is not necessarily the same as mine, so I tried to make the best of it and work my way through it... As I started to get towards the middle though, it began to look barely cooked, and so I remarked to Tim that if this was what a well-done steak looked like, I dreaded to think what one which wasn't well done would be like. It was at that point we realised that the waiter had given us the wrong steaks, and while I'd been wincing at the blood in mine, Tim had been chewing his way through one which was somewhat more on the cremated side. We promptly swapped, and were able to enjoy the second half of our meals at least xD

Once we'd finished eating, it was an acceptable time to go and check into the hotel. As we were only staying for one night, I'd chosen a hotel which was as near to the old town as possible. When we arrived we found our room was a bit on the small side but comfortable and perfectly fine for one night. After a much-needed nap, we set out to see some more of Lyon.

This was the view which greeted us as we walked down the street which our hotel is on.


The large white building on the hill above the old town is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. The lady on reception at the hotel had recommended that we take a funicular up the hill to it and that we would be able to see out across the whole of Lyon from the top. 

That sounded like a good idea. First of all we had to cross the river Saône.


This river seemed smaller than the Rhône, which we had crossed on our way from the train station, but still very pretty.


The old town is on the far side of the Saône, and the basilica towers above it.


Shortly after crossing the river, we found Lyon's cathedral. It was impressive from the back...


...but even more impressive from the front.


Not far from the cathedral square was a metro station, where we were able to buy tickets for the funicular. It cost €2.80 each to go up and annoyingly we had to pay by card (in the absence of the correct number of coins) because the machines didn't accept notes. It was a bit of a crush inside the funicular and the ride itself wasn't very exciting (as it was mainly inside a tunnel), but as soon as we stepped out of the station at the other end, this was the view we were confronted with. Wow.


The basilica is really beautiful up close. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who is believed to have saved Lyon from the bubonic plague.


We went inside to have a look around and found that the interior is extremely ornate as well, although we weren't able to take any photos because there was a Mass in progress.


If you walk around the back of the church, there is a viewing platform with the views out across Lyon which the receptionist had promised us.


We could just about make out the cathedral down in the old town below us, as well as a large reddish square which we thought was probably the city's main square.


After admiring the view for a while, we followed signs to what were supposed to be the remains of a Roman forum.


I think we are probably a bit spoiled by having visited amazing places such as Bitola, Sepino and Pula - not to mention Rome itself - so we found these remains a bit difficult to get excited about.


We had a pleasant walk around the ruins though, finding a path which started to lead us downwards back into the city.


Once down, we crossed the river again...


...before wandering through the streets of the newer town until we found the reddish square which we'd seen from above.


This is indeed the city's central square - Place Bellecour - with a large statue of Louis XIV in the middle.


Some of the main shopping streets lead off from the square, so we took the opportunity to visit a big bookshop and stock up on some French reading material for Tim. By that point it was nearly 8pm, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel to write up the blog and get some much-needed sleep! Tomorrow we will be off to Grenoble, but we will hopefully wake up early enough for another walk around Lyon before we go :)

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We don't normally take indirect flights, but the convenience of flying from Birmingham rather than Stansted or Gatwick seemed appealing enough to cancel out the hassle of having to change planes, so we decided to give it a go 

Note to self: Just because an airport is nearer doesn't mean that you're better off. You might save an hour on the journey time but if the flight leaves several hours earlier ...


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