Londoner in Lyon: Marionnettes, marchés et mal aux pieds



While this may seem like a glorified extended holiday, with all the workshops, meetings, research and writing, I am struggling to fit in time to blog. The past three days has included a lot of wandering, chatting and adventuring – so I will stick to what has struck me most. I cannot help but compare Lyon with Paris – the two cities are fierce rivals in fact – though I think a whole post could be dedicated to this by the end of my stay.


The first few days got off to a rainy start, but the cooler weather meant that I could explore at a much quicker pace than in the blazing heat that hit the city today. There is so much history here which the locals are all very proud of. I have been told several times that Lyon is not only the capital of gastronomy, but the ‘capitale des Gaules’. The city’s position between Paris and Marseille made it the starting point of the principal Roman roads in Gaul, before becoming the capital due to its converging rivers (La Saône and La Rhône).


Lyon has many remnants of its Roman past, many of which are still being discovered on a regular basis – I happened to have a chat with a guy who was a construction worker here. The main ruin of attraction here is the amphithéâtre Gallo-Romain. I’m glad I got to see it once before in its full glory because it has currently got a modern stage constructed within it where concerts are taking place every evening. I am gutted to have missed Stromae who played there in June!

A traboule entrance

During my wander over to Vieux Lyon I also came across a building painted with famous figures from Lyon as if they are on their balconies. Here I found out that Antoine Saint-Expupéry, the author of Le Petit Prince, was born in Lyon.

Le Petit Prince and Guignol with their creators, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Laurent Mourguet.

Lyon’s trademark is definitely its traboules (passageways) which were originally used by silk manufacturers and other merchants to transport their products. We’ve got a silk factory tour arranged for tomorrow so I am looking forward to learning more about Lyon’s silk manufacturing history. With the city becoming the centre of the Resistance during WWII, the traboules also served as hiding places and secret passageways. Many are open to the public – it becomes a bit of a game whilst walking around to spot the next traboule. A lot of the passageways double up as entrances to apartments or even shops. All the tourists passing through must get rather irritating for the residents, though I’ve always been greeted with a bonjour. I eagerly climbed up one open passageway to find a bunch of teenagers having a sneaky joint who did not look particularly amused as I attempted to take photos!

Until coming here I had forgotten how much attention my blonde hair always draws in France, though I have to admit that whilst sometimes annoying it often works in my favour. I went to my first market here yesterday – one of the best places to meet Lyonnais. Local French markets are one of the things I miss most about living in France – we just don’t get the same thing in England. I was amazed to get 11 apricots for 2 euros, which taste so much more fresh and juicy than your bog-standard ones from the supermarket. Stall owners were really keen to offer dégustations and have a chat when I approached. Some were even friendly enough to offer their local wisdom as my tour guide and even offered to take me outside of Lyon to places tourists never go to. Whilst I know this is pure friendliness with no malice involved I’m not sure I’ll take them up on it. I even had two stall owners battling over me with what they could offer which got me rather flustered –one kept saying ‘t’es un soleil’ whilst the other one tried to offer me a ride on his bike…People seem so warm and willing to share stories here – which is really great for someone not here long enough to settle and find real friends.


IMG_0379I have admittedly got rather fed up at times with the amount of English I have to speak for the project I am taking part in. Seeing as I am working for an English company and writing a tourist guide in English, this is obviously inevitable. The ‘French classes’ integrated into the programme are also a bit of a joke for me which was to be expected. The project leaders can see this already and are trying their best to help me out. I’ve been encouraged to do a lot of interviews for the guide and to chat to locals. Having managed to have gone a year in France without barely uttering a word of English except when I had visitors, it can be rather frustrating – though something I would have to get used to if I were to work for an English news team out here. I’m looking forward to visiting the Euronews office next week and am hoping to get some contacts.

Having been to Franglish events (a language exchange) in both Paris and London, I decided to have a go at one in Lyon. The bar was beached themed with one part completely covered with sand which was rather unusual. Although I didn’t exactly hit it off with anyone there, it was nice to get out for the evening properly and meet some more Frenchies. Three weeks is quite an awkward amount of time to spend somewhere and I think I need to remind myself that this is never going to be like my year in Paris.

Meeting Guignol!

Today I started my research on my next topic for my second article – the Guignol puppet, literally the French version of Punch and Judy. I managed to bag myself a free ticket to a show and have arranged to meet the museum owner tomorrow for an interview. I was the only person under 7 at the show who wasn’t a parent chaperoning a child, but I actually found myself genuinely laughing. The dialogue at times was quite witty and had verve, as well as a panto kiddy-like element. After the show I queued up to ‘meet Guignol’ which did get me some funny looks. I let all the children in front of me first as I would have felt a bit mean otherwise. I managed to speak to both of the puppeteers which should be really useful for my article. The backstage was absolutely tiny – I would love to see how the show works from backstage. It was also really interesting to hear how they both got into puppets. While Yves, the male puppeteer, is also a comedian working on several other projects at the same time, the female puppeteer Julie had a sudden career change after quitting her job as an optician.

After a tour of backstage and some photos, I bumped into a few other project members and had a drink on a terrasse whilst sharing our findings. We then headed back with a detour to the Arab market going on during Ramadan. There were so many sugar-encrusted multi-coloured sweets it was hard to choose what to try. We then turned a corner to browse the street stalls before being mauled by a crowd of admirers. We ended up leaving with dinner invitations and laden with gifts. I cannot imagine that many tourists wander down these streets, so it must have been quite an occasion for them. Whilst it feels like we still have all the time in the world to put our guide together, nearly a week has already flown by. With deadlines already looming, next week can only get busier. It is nearly 1am here and I’ve got another early start tomorrow, so its bonne nuit for now! 



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