Things to do in Paris ⋕1: Go to Lyon

This Monday I did “le pont”, which is when French employers give their staff an extra day off between the weekend and a bank holiday, in this case, on a Tuesday. But rather than have a lie in I put myself on the 06h50 train to Lyon for a day in a city that I have wanted to visit for many years. France‘s first TGV line was built between Paris and Lyon linking France‘s two largest centres of population in just under two hours.

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I had two sites of design interest on my wish list. The first is the awe-inspiring Calatrava -designed TGV station at St.Exupery, Lyon‘s airport. Trains running directly to the centre of Lyon do not in fact stop here as St Exupery is on the branch that bypasses the city and heads down to the Med; in order to get there I had to catch a train to Marseille and remember not to fall asleep. The station was conceived to fulfil three roles: as a show piece to mark the opening of the newly built TGV line to the Med, as an entrance to the airport and thirdly as a symbolic gateway to the Rhone-Alps region.

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When I stepped off the train at 8h30, I was virtually the only person there and it felt I had the entire station in all its magnificence to myself. I took photos of the magnificent train concourse and of the arching atrium over the ticket hall, but it was only by sketching different views of the building that I was able to decompose the anthropomorphic structure and understand its underlying logic. In the end I spent the rest of the morning there and I hope you will see why from the photos that I will post over the next week.

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I arrived in the centre of town about 13h00 with no map and no plan. I found a FNAC and bought a guide, and then made it my first task to walk up the very steep hill just next to the town centre and get an overview of the city. Lyon is built on the confluence of Soane and the Rhone rivers. The city centre is on the long spit of land known as the presque-ile which reaches out to where the two rivers eventually join. From the top I was able to see all this and beyond.

Then it back downhill and up again in the district called Croix Rousse. In this area was based Lyon‘s formerly booming silk weaving industry. The district is full of secret passages that link streets and buildings up and down the hillside. Unfortunately there was too little time to discover any and if ever I go back, a return to this fascinating area will at the top of my list.

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Back in the centre, I positioned myself in a café in front of the Opéra de Lyon which had its extension designed by Jean Nouvelle. Unfortunately the building was closed for the bank holiday which was a shame as I would have liked to have taken a tour of the new rehearsal spaces at the top from which, the view is apparently amazing.

Late afternoon was spent drinking coffee with a friend in the town by the town hall, followed by a tour of the campus of the Ecole Normal Supérieure. The tranquil wilderness of the glade in the middle of architect Henri Gaudin’s plan for the school makes for such a pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle of the city beyond its walls.

As evening drew in, there was just enough time for a beer on a floating bar before the thunderstorms rolled in, forcing me to take shelter in a pizzeria opposite the central station.

I really enjoyed my visit to Lyon. It is a city that seems charged with youthful energy and it is in the middle of a region of France that I would really like to get to know better. My visit was rathe quick, but it will serve as a good taster for when I go back, for I am sure that I will do.