I've been to Lyon before, actually more than once. It's one of those places within fairly easy reach of my back 'o' beyond home, and some of my favorite people make Lyon their home. So when I can get a TGV ticket for less than twenty euros, it's hard to resist.
As this part of France is in the middle of spring break, the city was full of children, big and small, which both livened up and softened the street life a notch.
The weather was superb, further contributing to general friendliness and ease. Thus, despite my clingy cold virus, I wrapped well, headed out and mingled.
This is the public, neighborhood school my friend's daughter attends.
Here's a detail of the cast iron door, including mail slot. With such a grand old exterior, you can't help but imagine that wonderful kinds of learning take place inside...
I ranged further afield this visit. In the Croix-Rousse, a neighborhood up on a plateau overlooking the rest of Lyon, you can find some very large-scale murals, like the one below (more than 1200 square meters) called the mur des canuts, or wall of the silk workers. In the 19th century, heyday of textiles, the Lyon canuts were clustered in the Croix-Rousse, then a separate village boasting a population of about 40,000 master workers by mid-century. Lyon was the first industrialized city of France, and the 120,000 plus workers struggled--with eighteen hour workdays--until the canuts finally revolted, which eventually led to ground-breaking changes.
Their working conditions are a pretty far cry from today's legally imposed 35 workhours per week.
There are a number of museums where I could have learned much more about the history of the textile industry, but my heart wasn't in it. The sunlight was far too alluring and being outside just felt too good.
Beyond those old churches, the city parks, the squares, there is all that (absolutely vital!) window-shopping to be done. The French call that faire du lèche-vitrines; literally, to do some window-licking.
In what is dubbed the gastronomic capital of France, you really do find yourself licking your chops, at the very least: all those delicacies, so artfully placed on display...
I spent some time exploring the 6th arrondissement, and boy do I have an address for you: le 126, rue de Sèze. Go to Le 126 for lunch or dinner if you possibly can. Yes, that's a firm but friendly order.
After working in some of the better kitchens under lauded chefs (le Bec, Gagnaire and the like), Mathieu Rostaing-Tayard went rogue: started a small place of his own, with a kitchen he describes as "big enough to turn around in"--under three square meters--where he turns out seasonal dishes that are high on daring taste pairings and big in both portion and flavor.
My lentil soup starter had fat slivers of foie gras, crunchy baby shrimp--and raw red onion. The main course was slow-braised veal on a bed of toasted spelt with both sweet braised and raw shaved fennel, as well as a defining anchovy butter, which gave the comfort dish real zing. Dessert was a very pink blood orange sorbet over pistachio cakelets and warm, gently honeyed, candied carrot, all judiciously sprinkled with the tiniest bits of orange rind and something else unindentifiable but certifiably delicious. All this for a bare twenty euros. Thinking back to those tastes and textures, it's a certain steal. The wine list looked good and is praised by the august Gault-Millau, among others. I avoided alcohol, as I was (am!) still under the influence of that damnably persistent cold.watch him online, at 23--eons ago!--transforming the fairly random contents of a generic twenty-something's kitchen cupboard (kid's cocoa cereal, candy bar, pickles...) into a pretty intriguing three course meal.
|Smoked salmon in dill on left, roe pouches on right.|
In fact, I was slow to put this piece together because I'd taken far too many pretty pictures of food (finished and unfinished) at the Halles. And it was so hard to reject all those images of dazzling foods.
For example, at the Halles there's a shop called Ciao Ciao that specializes in Italian delicacies. Logical enough. But we're talking the most spectacular selection I have ever seen in France. Real burata cheeses, one truffled, a half-dozen pecorino sheep cheeses, one having been cured and wrapped in hay, and well, if I go on any more I'll end up posting some of those photos too, and that might be a bit much on the photo front. So.
These cheeses here? Just a minuscule fraction of the choices on display.
Parenthetically, if you find yourself in Lyon anywhere between the first of January and Mardi Gras, you shouldn't forego a taste of fried bugnes. There are two kinds, the moelleuses (tender) and the craquantes (crispy). My money's definitely on the craquantes, shown below.
If you want something special and hands-on, culinarily speaking, consider treating yourself to a cooking class at the Halles with another Michelin-starred chef, Philippe Lechat.
Among other dishes, we made briefly-baked scallops with hazelnut butter caps in a pumpkin emulsion drizzled with taste-making, cold-pressed pistachio oil. I brought some of that amazing oil home with me; impossible not to.
Dessert was diced, caramelized apple with toasted gingerbread croutons and coconut espuma (foam), topped with a glaze of pan-reduced vinaigre de miel, or honey vinegar. Complicated, overblown descriptions, maybe. Simply delicious, definitely. Of course we ate what we made...During the process, he volunteered cooking tricks of the trade, and taste combinations for across the seasons, using the techniques we'd learned. All of this was in French, bien sûr.
I don't know how Lyon would feel as a non-French-speaking visitor to Lyon. I imagine that as anywhere else, knowing the language does go a long way toward enhancing a visit. But even if French doesn't roll off your tongue, there's certainly enough to see, taste, touch and smell. And beyond the food, Lyon remains a fun, accessible city, with an excellent public transport system that keeps everything human-scale.
As for having such incredible, rich foods within easy reach and still staying svelte the way French women seem to, well, I have a little theory.
In Old Lyon, so many of the buildings are historical monuments, where lifts can't be installed. The residents, like my girlfriend, climb flights and flights of ancient stairs, with all their groceries, their babies, their briefcases and their XXL Louis Vuitton satchels. Every single day of the week, at least twice daily.
It's the built-in, original Stairmastaire. Have mercy, was I ever footsore at the end of each day. Happy, but footsore.