Lyon: The Triumph and Tragedy of History


A light rain was falling this morning as we left our hotel. With our umbrellas in hand, we headed out to explore the city with hopes it would soon turn sunny.

A sleek modern tram took us to our first stop, The History and Deportation Center.  The museum focuses on the resistance of Nazi occupation and the deportation of Jewish residents to concentration camps. Lyon was bombed on May 26, 1944. Over time, stories from personal experience are no longer passed down to the younger generation in families.  The collection of artifacts and audio visual recordings of people who lived through the war, many as children, were made so we can see their faces and hear their stories.

Artifacts included propaganda posters representing solidarity, hard work, and family, photographs, journals, stamps, and personal possessions. 

In the basement of the museum it was pitch black. As our eyes adjusted I noticed a display in a concrete bin along the wall. Was it a bin of coal or representative of the Holocaust, I wondered. As my eyes adjusted to the light I saw it was a model diorama of Lyon during the war when all the houses were in blackout mode. Continuing on we came to photographs, passports, and stories of the Jewish residents deported to Germany. A massive memory book contained all of their names. The tour ended with a powerful and moving video of Liberation Day and the happiness people felt, but the struggles they faced moving on.


We took the metro to the Museum of Fine Arts. It is housed in an old Abbey which was a very prestigious place for nuns during the 17th and 18th centuries. I was amazed by their collection: statues by Rodin, a wall from ancient Egypt given to one of the archaeologists from Lyon who found it, Egyptian shabtis, mummies, ancient pottery, and paintings by Pissarro and Monet, Degas, and Renoir as well as numerous other masters.









Back in town we went inside some of the shops. The weather turned warmer and the children were back playing in the misters down by the footbridge.





Tonight we took a one hour Lyon City Boat Tour. Lyon is beautifully illuminated at night. Down at the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone rivers, it has been completely revitalized with striking modern architecture. Euronews, for example, had a beautiful glass building with a green pattern on it that appeared to have two holes cut through it. A gorgeous new shopping complex looked almost space age and was lit with purple and blue lights. We will miss this vibrant city. Tomorrow we head to Lake Como in Italy.





Exploring Historic Lyon


Returning our rental car in Lyon this morning was quite a challenge. So many of the city streets were blocked for road repairs that our car’s GPS sent us in circles. Thank goodness for our mobile phone. We were able to call Enterprise and get directions to the 6th floor of a parking garage. This garage like all garages here required skill to maneuver around tightest corners. “You live in a place with wide open spaces,” said  Chris, the owner of our accommodation in Sarlat. ” If you had learned to drive here, you would find it easy to squeeze a car into the tightest of spaces.”


The metro system here in Lyon is very modern and from the metro we boarded an old world funicular to the top of the town. The Basilica Norte Dame is very ornate with mosaic tiled floors in a floral pattern and enormous mosaics on the wall showing bible stories and stories from French history. The stained glass windows in the front all have the most beautiful shade of blue like the sky on a clear blue day or water in the Caribbean. I cannot define this color, but have seen it everywhere in France this trip. I am hoping to find a simple bracelet or necklace to remind me how pretty it is here. 



Feeling hungry we hiked down the steep hill into the old town on what seemed like a thousand steps. People hiking up stopped every few steps for gulps of water out of bottles they carried. I did not envy them. It seemed like climbing Mt. Washington yet children dashed up the steps as if it was nothing.


The old town is so pretty. It was once financed by the silk industry in the 16-19th century. We followed an organ grinder down the street and were treated to a taste of life here long ago. 



Taking the funicular back up the steep hill, we visited the Roman Theaters and Gallo Roman Museum. Lyon was first settled in 43 CE. The museum features prehistoric and Roman artifacts all found in the area. At Thoreau we tell the fourth graders how many archaeological discoveries today are made by accident. Between 2002-2004 while excavating the land for an underground parking garage by the river they found statues, the remains of boats, and even part of a brass horse statue. 


Outside the museum are the remains of two Roman amphitheaters which once held 10,000 people. Today you can explore them and even attend concerts there.



Heading back into the old town there was almost a party atmosphere. People were trying limoncello in a small shop and children dashed through water misters that seemed to magically appear out of the sidewalk.



 It’s been a great day. The Fitbit reads 8 miles today.  I think it’s time to head off to bed.


From Sarlat to Lyon


After a very pleasant breakfast this morning at our accommodation Les Cordeliers in Sarlat, I took my unlocked mobile phone to Orange, a major carrier in France. For $39 they set my phone up with 10 GB of data and I can use the phone in Italy too. No one spoke English there so the salesman set up a conversation for us on Google translate. The funny part is the keyboard is not QWERTY so finding the keys was a challenge. I remember this from my days here about 10 years ago when internet cafes were everywhere and were the only way to get online.

The roadside stops on the motorways in France are really nice and in my opinion way better than what we have in Massachusetts. They have grocery stores selling salads and sandwiches, a take out with baguette sandwiches, and even a place with a little buffet featuring hot meals and chocolate mousse. The coffee vending machines grind the coffee so that each cup is freshly brewed. Outside are picnic areas and well maintained playgrounds for kids.

The drive to Lyon was about four hours. As we approached the city the road began to rise in elevation.  These are the foothills of the Alps.

 The roads are in excellent condition, but the tolls cost us $34. Our hotel, Hotel Des Celestines  is right in the city center. 

Lyon Theater

Fountains in Lyon



We used Google maps on the phone to guide us to the bistro where we had dinner. There are two major rivers in Lyon and we crossed over a pedestrian bridge to get to the old historic town. As we crossed the bridge, a sightseeing boat sailed by and we could see people dining inside. 

View of Basilica




It is so pleasant to sit outside at a cafe on a warm summer’s evening and just people watch.  One woman walked by pushing a small stroller but instead of a baby inside, it was a small white dog. Everyone smiled at the sight.  Other people walked by window shopping and we noticed some really pretty things for sale. In one window was a display of beautiful leather loafer style shoes all in beautiful colors. Another display had music boxes with retro designs.  The city is known for marionettes and we saw them for sale in several shops.



Lyon is beautifully illuminated in the evening,  At the top of the hill overlooking the city, the Norte Dame Basilica was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen at night. We sat on some steps with other tourists to just admire it.

View of Basilica at Night


Back at the plaza across from our hotel, the fountain was all lit up even though it was close to midnight.  We are anxious to explore the city and learn more about this amazing place tomorrow.



Theater

An Authentic Prehistoric Cave and a Fairytale Village


When we’re on holiday one thing I really enjoy is watching a town wake up. This morning in Sarlat all the shops and cafes were busy preparing their establishments for the day. Tables and chairs were placed strategically in shady spots and decorated with wildflowers and colorful napkins displayed in crystal clear glasses. Pastel colored awnings were unrolled and pottery, soaps, and fancy jars of foie gras were placed on colorful wooden ladders decorated with geese.

Morning in Sarlat

Shopping area in Sarlat

Sarlat


On our way to Grotte du Peche Merle, we drove through the rural French countryside with small honey colored sandstone houses with pastel wooden shutters closed to keep out the summer sun. As the road wound up into the hilly farmland with huge bales of rolled hay, I began to feel drowsy and drifted off to sleep. “Whoa!” said David as the car rolled to a stop. My eyes popped open like shutters on a camera to reveal a beautiful field of sunflowers in full bloom. We took a moment to appreciate their beauty and drove on. 


Grotte de Peche Merle is an authentic cave with prehistoric cave paintings. Our English speaking guide started the tour much the same way as Lascaux. “Let me say a few words. The artists who created the paintings 30,000 years ago were like us. They were settlers. They were intelligent like us and were not hairy as the movies portray them. Most importantly they did not live in caves.”  What is different is the aanimals who lived here such as the saber toothed tiger and woolly mammoth. 

Inside the cave was massive. In the first cavern was something quite peculiar. It was the root of a 300 year old tree protruding through the roof and extending to the floor, As we walked along through both wide and narrow passageways our guide pointed out the artwork. There were horses, bears, bison, and mammoths. In one cavern were perfectly preserved footprints from 30,000 years ago. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take photos. 

On the walls of another cavern were horses and what looked like perfectly stenciled handprints. Art historians say the artist chewed charcoal and spit it out at their hand. Our guide who is an artist tried it and said it was an interesting technique but quite unpleasant.

We wondered how the cave was discovered and learned that in the 1920s, some teenagers found the small entrance hole. They stole some candles from the church and came back in the dark of night. They discovered the paintings and the cave opened to visitors in the 1930s. 

This year the French government asked for studies to be done on the effects of visitors. It’s the big conservation question, our guide said. It’s an interesting dilemma. There is something special about being in the presence of 30,000′ year old cave paintings. Is it better to keep an authentic cave open so people can enjoy it, or close it like Lascaux and replicate it? As we left the cave, our guide said she sensed we had all been touched by what we had seen and we all truly were.

This week we thought we had seen the most scenic villages in the area, but there was one more: St. Cirq Lapopie. The approach to the village is stunning. Stone houses are built on different levels along a cliff all perched high above a meandering river. We parked at the highest point and walked down. People were looking in quaint locally owned shops, lining up for ice cream, or simply enjoying the view. A popular activity seemed to be dressing up for old fashioned photos and the line led right out the door.

St. Cirq Lapopie











All too soon it was time to head back to Sarlat. Our car’s GPS has taken us down some very rural but scenic roads. On some of them we saw no people for miles. 

 Dinner tonight was in an outside cafe on the medieval square with a talented street performer behind us. Artists have their stands set up and we met a very nice artist named Celine who was selling the sweetest posters and cards (Facebook Mam Zelle Rouge). We have had a memorable time here in Sarlat. Tomorrow we head to Lyon.

Step into the Past at Lascaux


Yesterday here in the Dordogne region of France, we spent the day exploring its storybook villages and chateaus. Today we went on a journey to visit the region’s prehistoric past.

Our first stop was the Musee National of Prehistoire. There was a festive atmosphere when we arrived in Les Eyzies with people on old fashion tractors throwing confetti. We took a left at a sign pointing to the museum and immediately realized we had made a mistake. We had driven into the middle of a craft fair with tents set up on either side and it was a lovely one too. We were so close to the booths I could see what they were selling. One booth had small stuffed animals made from pretty French fabrics, another had jewelry and there we were stuck in the middle of it with people pushing baby strollers in front of us oblivious to the fact a car was behind them. Thankfully we found a way out.

The museum was excellent and had a complete skeleton of a boy who lived in Kenya over 1000,000 years ago. There was also a plaster cast of a hippo unearthed in Poland.  A surprising number of huge animals lived in Europe long ago when the climate was different.

Cro-magnon man

Rhino skull

Prehistoric jewelry

Prehistoric stone carvings

Roof of prehistoric museum



The highlight of our day was Lascaux. In 1940, some teenage boys were walking their dog when they discovered an opening to a cave. Thinking there might be some treasure they had heard was hidden somewhere in the valley, they returned the next day. They didn’t find treasure, but did discover an amazing array of prehistoric cave paintings of animals on the walls. They reported their discovery and scientists did carbon testing and found the paintings to be over 25,000 years old.  For years visitors from all over the world came to visit the cave, but sadly it was closed in the 1960s because mold was forming over the paintings as a result of all the visitors.

Lascaux

Lascaux

Interactive room at Lascaux

Interactive room at Lascaux


Over the years since the cave closed, Lascaux has had several replica caves, but we were really lucky. This year they opened an exact replica of the cave only 500 meters from the original one. We took an English tour and were told right off, “There is no such thing as cavemen. These people who lived 25,000 years ago had the same intelligence as us. Only their technology was different.” 

Our tour began with a video showing how the geography of the land has changed over 25,000 years as well as the animals living there. Suddenly we heard barking and the teenage boys appeared on screen following their dog into the woods. “Let’s follow them,” said our guide and he led us right into the cave. The paintings were amazing, but many have symbols that are still a mystery.  We saw magnificent bulls, cows, and deer all in earth tone colors of reds, browns, yellows, and black.

Children take photos in interactive exhibit


Teenage boys who discovered Lascaux


Once we exited the caves, we were led to a room where you could interact with the reproductions of the paintings by using a tablet they provided. Next we headed in to see a new 3D movie about Lascaux. We were given 3D glasses and sat on plush comfortable sofa like seats. The video was way too long. It was 20 minutes of reflective questions narrated in almost a poetic style. “Who painted these animals? Was it a collective effort? What is their significance? What connection has your soul made to them?” 

At the end of the film as the lights came on there was some snickering. A young man was completely crashed out in the front row sound asleep. 

Roque Saint Christophe was a town built right into the ledges of a high cliff back in the Middle Ages to escape the invasion of the Vikings. No stone dwellings remain, but information boards at each of over 20 points along the ledge walk told the story of life long ago.


The view from the ledges into the countryside was picture perfect. This was such a peaceful place in the early evening. A nest of baby birds chirped from their rocky ledge, children swam in the lazy river below the cliff, cows grazed in the meadow below, sunflowers waved in the gentle breeze, and cicadas sang joyfully.




Stone steps from long ago



Tonight back in town, people are just strolling about, watching entertainers, or stopping for an ice cream. It has been a great day and we are thrilled we will be spending another full day here tomorrow.

Sarlat

Sarlat

Storybook Villages in France

Store selling pottery in Domm

The minute we pulled off the motorway yesterday from our drive here from Bordeaux we entered a different world: picturesque villages with stone houses surrounded by rising cliffs. In some places, the houses became part of the cliffs. This is the Dordogne region of France. It’s a world of storybook villages and prehistoric caves and we couldn’t wait to explore it.

Memorial garden in Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat- Our hotel Les Cordeliers is on the left with blue shutters.

 The sun was shining brightly this morning as we set off for the village of Domm through the countryside. Up a winding hill we drove as two cyclists pedaled on with fierce determination in front of us. The view from the overlook at the top was stunning. A winding lazy river wove through the valley below with hundreds of canoes drifting by. The small shops sold linens, pottery, and wooden toys. In one shop with fragrant soaps and scented oils, we noticed something else. Fidget spinners have made their way over here too.

View from Domm

View from Domm

Overlook at Domm

View from Domm

 At the edge of the cliff were two restaurants with outside tables overlooking the valley and river. One was expensive with tablecloths and fresh flowers. The menu featured roast duck. Just across from it was another simpler restaurant serving fresh garden salads. “They both have the exact same view,” said the friendly owner at our hotel and we thought the food at the less expensive one was delicious. Dogs are welcome at all of these restaurants and bowls of fresh water are thoughtfully placed for these canine guests. Last night in the square in Sarlat, we saw two small dogs pulled right up to the table in chairs.

Restaurant in Domm

Domm

A house in Domm

Domm

Shops in Domm

 La Roque Gageac is built right into the edge of the cliff. Here people climbed the small cobblestone lanes that wound up the cliff behind the main road and watched the canoes float leisurely by. I noticed a sign that I thought said iced coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The young girl at the counter asked me something in French and I took a risk shaking my head yes. I heard a machine whir and thought maybe I was getting a shake. Instead I was handed a cold cup of coffee in a paper cup.  This was such a pretty village though. The film Chocolate was filmed there with Johnny Depp.

La Roque Gageac

La Roque Gageac

Sightseeing boat and canoes in La Roque Gageac

Canoes along the river in La Roque Gageac

Along the river in La Roque Gageac

La Roque Gageac

 

Chateau de Beynac is a storybook castle perched high on a cliff. To get to it in the summer heat was a steady hike straight up a cobblestone lane past stone houses with sky blue shutters and flower baskets in full bloom. People pulled off to rest in the shade, but once at the top the view was breathtaking. In every direction was a chateau surrounded by green trees, fields of corn, and farmland. From the highest point we could see the river for miles and it was as if an army of canoes had started a parade. It looked like a wonderful way to spend a summer afternoon.

Climbing the steps to Chateau de Beynac

Chateau de Beynac

 

Inside the castle, it was a cool respite from the summer heat. There were decorative iron swords on display, but not much else. People mostly came for the views.

View from Chateau de Beynac

View from Chateau de Beynac

Canoes along the river

Overlook on Chateau de Beynac

 

Dinner tonight was at Pizza Romane in Sarlat. Dining outside in their courtyard was very nice on a warm night and our mushroom pizza was served with a fresh salad on top.

Evening in Sarlat

 

Tonight the town is full of people on holiday. They line the stone streets to watch street performers in the cobblestone squares and dine at candlelit tables outside cafes. 

Evening in Sarlat

Evening in Sarlat

A second view of evening entertainment in Sarlat


If you come to France, don’t just stop with Paris or Provence. Come to this storybook fairytale region and you too will fall in love with this area.  You will know you have arrived in the countryside on a hot summer’s night when you hear the cicadas sing.

From London to a Charming Village in France

Signposts in the village of Sarlat, France


Flying from one country to another on cut rate airlines such as easyjet and Ryan Air can cost as little as $25. The only thing you must be mindful of is where the airports associated with each major city are actually located. 

“Are you aware that London Stansted is actually 90 minutes out of central London?” said our cab driver when we arrived.

Sheepishly we shook our heads no. It was the one detail we had overlooked. Hearing a story about how one customer’s taxi fair was over $150 was discouraging too, but fortunately our journey to the airport was no problem at all.  We took the Underground to an express train to the airport and although the total time was 90 minutes, it only cost $30 and was very easy. We would use this airport again.

Our flight to Bordeaux, France on Ryan Air had incredible views of the English and French countryside. Flying over the English Channel it was so clear we could see container ships and wind turbines off the coast.  The only downside was the couple behind me had a toddler who stood only inches away from me and shrieked in my right ear for 90 minutes. No one is a winner in this situation. The mother was mortified.

In Bordeaux we picked up our rental car. It’s a Toyota Yaris which is a hybrid. The built in GPS displayed the map for two minutes and then went blank. We could not figure out how to get it to reappear and the directions were in French. We could hear the English audio though so without a map we trusted it on a 2.5 hour journey through the Dordogne region of France to our hotel in Sarlat and miraculously it took us right to the front door.  My mobile phone is unlocked so tomorrow I am going to buy a local sims card for it so we can also use it for a GPS. 

We arrived in Sarlat around 7:00 and it is a beautiful small town with all stone houses. Our hotel was recommended by Karen Pettyjohn, our librarian, who stayed here last year in the same room.

We ate dinner at an outside cafe in a pedestrian only area with a street performer behind us juggling to the delight of a huge crowd. We will explore more tomorrow, but for now enjoy some evening photos of this wonderful place.

Toy store display in Sarlat, France

Geese are the symbol of Sarlat

Sarlat

Crowds watching street performers in Sarlat

Charming side streets in Sarlat

View from our hotel window