Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 07.14.16
Just Outside Washington

All photos courtesy the author and Kathy Cavanaugh

Lyon and Vienne

LYON, VIENNE | The Viking Heimdal was still docked at the Quai Claude Bernard on the Rhône River in Lyon.--Lyon is either the second or third largest city in France, depending on how you count -- the city is No. 3 and the metro area is No. 2. It is in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France, which was created by administrative reform of French Regions and became effective on January 1, 2016.

The region around Lyon is predominantly agricultural with tourism working up to second place. Cows are much in evidence and are used both for meat and milk, which is made into a number of well-known cheeses: Bleu d'Auvergne, Cantal, Fourme d'Ambert and Saint-Nectaire. Cheese and wine are all that is needed to make Lyon's reputation as a culinary capital.

After breakfast we were loaded into a coach for a tour of the city. First, we went up the Colline de Fourviere to visit the Basilica Notre Dame, which can be seen in the picture beyond Vieux Lyon by the Saône River. Also visible is the partial reproduction of the Eifel Tower used as an antenna tower.


On the way we passed the Roman theater and Odeon, i.e. a covered building used for musical performances and public readings, less popular than the theater in Roman times. Lyon was a base camp for Julius Caesar and became a major hub for the major road system built under the emperor Agrippa. Today Lyon and the Rhône Valley are still a major transportation route with the river, railroads, including the VTG and Autoroute.


Construction of the Basilica Notre Dame was initiated in 1870 after the advance of the German army in the Franco-Prussian War was halted by the Virgin Mary. (Some say that it was built to thank God for victory over the socialists and in expiation of the sins of modern France.) It was constructed on the site of the Roman forum on the hilltop and provides a fantastic view of Lyon and the river valleys.


Though not very old compared to other churches in France, the basilica design draws from both Romanesque and Byzantine architectures, an unusual choice at the time. It features four main towers, a bell tower topped with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary and many spectacular mosaics; HUGE. The mosaic in the picture is about 20 feet tall.


After admiring the spectacular but hazy view, the coach dropped us off along La Saône for a walking tour of Vieux Lyon. After entering the neighborhood we walked Rue Saint-Jean (the first picture, I think), which was the main street where royal corteges and religious processions occurred.


We were guided through the traboules, which are hidden passageways made for medieval merchants as shortcuts; two people needed to squeeze to pass. We passed some of the famous painted houses that were homes for the merchants and bankers who came to Lyon from Florence; Kathy is at the entrance, which is twice as wide as a traboule.


One of these, with an exterior circular staircase, is shown here.


Lyon was the home of the silk industry beginning in the 15th century, and Lyon was granted a monopoly for silk by Frances I. However, the industry was completely destroyed during the French Revolution; it recovered and reached its peak in the 19th century and still flourishes. With all the girls in the family, we had to enter the Boucher Soieries and buy many of the colorful silk items on display. Oh my! Having emptied our purses, we returned to the Viking Heimdal for lunch, shunning the full meal in dining solon for the light lunch in the lounge.


After lunch we boarded the coach for a 25-mile trip east of to Pérouges, which is billed as the 'Most Beautiful Village in France.' It is perched on a small hill that overlooks the plain of the Ain River. Pérouges was originally inhabited by Gallic craftsmen; mainly farmers and linen weavers who returned from Perugia in Italy in about 1167 and set up a commune, which was independent of lords. Until the end of the 18th century, the textile industry in Pérouges boomed. In the 19th century it was bypassed by roads and railroads and declined.


The population dropped 90 people; but starting in 1911, the town was restored and is now a tourist attraction. The town is used as a set for medieval and pre-revolution movies; The Three Musketeers was filmed in Pérouges. It currently has a population of about 1,500 and based on the signs in the real estate office window, a restored house can be bought for about $500,000.


We were dropped off by the coach below the village and walked up the hill and entered through the gate in the village wall. Our guide regaled us with the history of the village during our tour. Afterward, we wandered the cobbled streets, which are a bit hard on the ankles. The views of the countryside were terrific and to the east we could see Mont Blanc. The tour ended in the village square where we were also treated to a piece of Galette Perougienne, a sweet pastry served with clotted cream. This local delicacy was delicious with a cup of coffee at the bistro.

We then walked down the hill to our coach and were returned to the Viking Heimdal just in time for drinks in the lounge and the tail end of the presentation on the Lyon silk industry. We were offered a chance to purchase additional silk items.

Each evening at 7, we had our daily briefing by the Program Director in the lounge. He filled us in on the activities that were scheduled, both included and optional extras, for the next day. He also informed us that the Heimdal would get underway at 4:30 AM for the trip down the Rhône River to Vienne. Hooray! The chef gave us a preview of his specials for the evening, and we were off the dining room.

The next morning I had an early coffee in the lounge and watched the Viking Heimdal cruising down Le Rhône. It is interesting to note differences as we travel. In France it was two rivers -- Le Rhône is masculine and La Sône is feminine, go figure. These French language things are controlled by the Académie fran&ccdil;aise; vive la difference. When Kathy joined me, we went to the dining room for breakfast as the Heimdal docked right in the town of Vienne.

(To be continued...)