Wednesday, July 27, 2011
10 Reasons To Visit Lyon
Founded as a Roman colony in 43 BCE and named Lugdunum, Lyon quickly became the starting point for all Roman roads in Gaul and consequently its capital.
During the second century ACE, Christians in Lyon were martyred for their religion. Legend tells us how in the Roman Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls on Croix-Rousse hill, Romans tortured Saint Blandina, how her faith in the Christian religion was so pure the wild beasts declined to attack her and how a gladiator had to be called in to finish her off.
In the late Middle Ages, Lyon became the banking capital for all of Europe. During the Renaissance, having close ties with Italy, Lyon became a centre for silk trade. There is much Italian influence on Lyon's architecture, especially in the old city called Vieux Lyon.
One of the sites for the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the streets of Lyon upon the orders of the Catholic Catherine de Medici, mother of King Charles IX. During the French Revolution, the Lyonnais supported the king and fought against the Revolutionaries. The city was under siege for months and, when they finally surrendered, thousands were executed in public squares.
Lyon was a strategic centre for occupying German forces during WWII and an important part of the French Resistance.
Jean Moulin, emblem of the French Resistance.
Today, Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and thrives as France's second largest city as the gastronomic capital of France and as a major centre for banking and pharmaceutical industries.
Lyon's rich and fascinating history, gorgeous architecture, quality museums and absolute top restaurants make it "must visit" destination in France.
As I am celebrating my tenth year in my adopted city, I give you 10 Reasons To Visit Lyon.
1. Food and wine, number one, bien sur. The city is filled with excellent quality restaurants for all budgets: from Vieux Lyon's Bouchon restaurants filled with old world recipes from Lyon's silk weavers, to restaurants for the world's top chefs including Georges Blanc and Paul Bocuse, to eating fresh frog legs that originate from the étangs (ponds) of the La Dombes in the surrounding "Pays de l'Ain". Being in the middle of the Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône wine regions, Lyon restaurants offer a variety of delicious wines.
Favorite Bouchon in Vieux Lyon: Cafe du Soleil
Favorite Brasserie near Perrache: Brasserie Georges
Favorite affordable gastronomic Place Terraux: L'Etage
2. High on the Fourvière hill, the original settlement of Lugdunum, sits the Basilica of Fourvière built in 1872 in Romanesque and Byzantine-style architecture. Right next to the Basilica you will find La Tour Métallique, which stands proudly as a copy and rival of Paris' Eiffel Tower. If you are feeling adventurous, pop over to see the Le cimetière de Loyasse located just behind La Tour Métallique. Lyon's most famous citizens are buried in this stunning cemetery.
3. Moving on down the Fourvière hill, you will find the fantastic ruins of a Roman Ampitheater and Odéon. Outdoor concerts are performed each summer called Les Nuits de Fourviere. My first summer here, I saw a Stravinsky ballet performed in the two thousand year old ruins under a full moon—utterly magical.
4. During the day, you can rent a Velov bicycle or simply stroll along the Les Berges du Rhône or Quais du Rhône, a delightful embarcadero along the Rhône River with dozens of péniches or boats that host restaurants and bars.
5. Les Traboules, famed hidden pedestrian passageways dating from the 4th century which run through Vieux Lyon and Croix-Rousse neighbourhoods. They allow one to traverse the city without being seen. These were used by the French Resistance to escape detection from the Nazis. You can find a map of these Traboules in Place Bellecour at the Tourist Information Centre.
6. Once you've visited the Traboules, take a load off at one of Vieux Lyon's many Irish Pubs where you can enjoy excellent beer and a good old-fashioned hamburger if you need a break from the rich sauces and cheeses of the Lyonnais palate. Johnny's Kitchen, directly across from the St. Georges Church, is my personal favourite.
7. It is very French to discuss your next meal whilst eating your current meal. Another must visit spot is Les Halles de Paul Bocus on Cours Lafayette in the 6eme district. There you can nibble on fresh seafood with a "pot" of chilled white wine, taste Spain's exquisite Pata Negra ham with a glass of red wine or simply load up on the best quality cheeses, meats, sausages, cannels, deserts, luxury items like caviar and foie gras, seafood and exotic Moroccan fare. You won’t be disappointed.
8. Museums, museums and more museums! I highly recommend the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon, Musée des Tissus et des Arts décoratifs de Lyon, Musée Gallo-Romain Lyon - Fourvière and the newly reopened Musée Gadagne in Vieux Lyon.
9. Churches. I have already mentioned the Basilica of Fourvière. Also interesting to visit are: the medieval Cathedral of St. John, the 11th century Basilica of St-Martin-d'Ainay (where it is said Saint Blandina's ashes are buried under the foundation) and Gothic-style churches Église Saint-Paul, Église Saint-Bonaventure and Eglise Saint-Nizier.
10. Last but not least, take an afternoon tea or hot chocolate (so thick and rich you would think they simply melted a bar of chocolate) with a plate of exquisite pastries at Bernachon on Cours Franklin Roosevelt in the 6eme district. Hands down the best pastry shop in all of Lyon.
Annual occasions not to miss are: the Fête des lumières on December 8th, Marche de le Mode Vintage in June and the Journées du Patrimoine, this year on September 19 and 20, where ancient buildings and national heritage sites normally closed are open to the public.
Gros bisous de Lyon et a bientôt!
Monday, July 25, 2011
In rather a Blair Witch Project kind of way, a colleague of mine and I visited a chateau with, what we felt, had a potential for truly being haunted.
I cannot name the chateau in question as I would have to kill you all as it is filed in the Top Secret Category of places to go into my Haunted Guide of France!! Ha ha!
We arrived in the early evening for a seance being held by a well-known medium within the castle walls. As this was the first seance I have ever been to, I cannot compare, but I found the ambiance to be excellent! It was held in the downstairs drawing room of the chateau. Afterwards, said colleague and I had a private tour of the entire place--at night!
Zee chateau in the dwindling light of the early evening.
Lit up at night, all dramatic!
Gorgeous staircase in the day ...
That looks like this at night. I had a paranormal experience on these stairs, the details of which shall be written into my haunted guide.
Nice eerie hallway.
Me in a mirror.
The window in which a ghost is often seen looking out of. More details on paranormal activity to come in the haunted guide.
The place was crawling with creepy spiders!
Loved these doorways!
Then we went outside and toured the grounds in the dark--like I said, à la Blair Witch Project.
I have no idea what the heck this is!!
Us, running to escape it!! (just kidding, but pretty dramatic, nest ce pas!)
Then we went down into the cellars under the chateau.
Where the owner has been digging and discovered more rooms!
And we met a bunch of these fellas!
Several rooms were filled with tempting mattresses such as these. Me and my big burly guy friend colleague were given permission to stay the night here. Pah-retty spooky!!
Bon, gros bisous des châteaux qui font peur et a bientôt!!
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin aka Molière
(1622 - 1673)
Known to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature, Molière was a playwright as well as an actor. He wrote dozens of plays, some of the most famous of which are:
Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope),
L'École des femmes (The School for Wives),
Tartuffe ou L'Imposteur, (Tartuffe or the Hypocrite),
L'Avare (The Miser),
and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman)
Les Précieuses ridicules (The Affected Ladies),
L'École des maris (The School for Husbands), and
Le Malade imaginaire (The Hypochondriac).
Molière was born into a well to do family. His mother died when he was ten years old. His father purchased a post from the court of Louis XIII, that of "valet de chambre ordinaire et tapissier du Roi" ("valet of the King's chamber and keeper of carpets and upholstery"). After having completed his studies at the Jesuit Collège de Clermont, he followed his father's plans taking up the King's post which would serve to help him in the future as a great network of contacts.
When he was twenty-one, he decided to pursue a career on the stage, a big decision for a man of his class at the time. Actors were no longer seen as utter villains under King Louis XIV, but they were not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground. This is perhaps why he took the stage name, Molière, to spare his father any embarrassment.
Partnering up with fellow actress Madeleine Béjart, he founded L'Illustre Théâtre in 1643. This company went bankrupt and another was formed which lasted twelve years. During the travels of this second company, Armand, Prince of Conti, governor of Languedoc and member of the reigning house of Bourbon (more on that in the next blog, as I visited the Chateau de Chantilly, home of the Bourbons and Princes of Condé), became his patron.
That is until Armand, Prince of Conti contracted syphilis from a courtesan, attempted to cure himself through religion and turned against Molière. (The drama!)
Armand, Prince of Conti
In Lyon, Molière's troupe picked up a ballet dancer and actress; a certain Marquise-Thérèse de Gorla, stage name Mademoiselle Du Parc.
Known for her love affairs, she was the object of affection for several famous people including Corneille who wrote poems about her. A star of the troupe, "She made some notable antics, because we saw her legs and part of her thighs through its split skirt on both sides, with silk stockings attached to the top of panties". After Racine and Molière quarreled (as Molière refused to perform one of Racine's works), Racine began a love affair with Mademoiselle Du Parc and she consequently transferred over to his acting troupe.
In 1658, Molière performed Corneille's tragedy Nicomède in front of the King at the Louvre. The King as delighted and Molière was awarded the title Troupe de Monsieur and he joined a famous Italian Commedia dell'arte company.
In 1661, Nicolas Fouquet (see my blog) requested that Molière perform his play Les Fâcheux for the first time at a magnificent fête in King Louis XIV's honor at his new castle, Vaux-le-Vicomte. One of the biggest fêtes in the history of France (the head chef was non other than the famous François Vatel, take note of this name, more to come). Fouquet was arrested that night for embezzlement (he was the King's treasurer), imprisoned for life and his wife and son exiled.
As Molière frequently wrote satires on social mannerisms and affections, he was often attacked and criticized for his works. The King always stood behind him, although sometimes admonishing him by obliging him to write something on a more softer tone. Several of Molière's plays were banned during this time, among them Tartuffe and Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre.
It is important to recognize the amazing feats that Molière performed: during his fourteen year reign in Paris on the stage, he wrote thirty-one of the eighty-five plays performed and single-handedly held the troupe together.
Suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, Molière collapsed on stage in a fit of coughing while performing in his last play Le Malade imaginaire (The Hypochondriac). He insisted upon finishing the play, collapsing again with a large hemorrhage. He was taken home at the end of the play and died two hours later in his bed.
As I mentioned above, French actors were not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground. Molière's widow begged the King for a night funeral and the King agreed, allowing Molière to be buried in the back part of the cemetery reserved for unbaptised children.
In 1817, Molière's remains were brought to the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris where you can visit today.
In 2007, director Laurent Tirard made the film entitled Molière starring one of my favorite actors, Roman Duris (see my blog), Fabrice Luchini and Ludivine Sagnier. Voici le trailer:
Voila! gros bisous de comédie exquise et a bientôt!!
Friday, July 1, 2011
Yesterday's haunted château escapade turned out to be bigger and better than I could have hoped for or imagined!! And that's saying a lot!
As this will be in my upcoming Haunted Guide to France, I can't tell you where it is or what name it goes by (otherwise, I'll have to kill you, mwah-ha!), but I can share some photos and some of the experience.
Think château built during the Belle Époque period in France. Built by a wealthy man for his wife and family, this château was socially in the spirit of the Belle Époque era with its opulent architecture, its luxurious trapping and its famed social gathers and dinner parties.
The château eventually passed from one hand to another up to today's current owner who lives in another country and refuses to sell and also refuses to preserve the château which was deemed an official Monument Historique in 1986. Sadly, the building has been utterly stripped of all its finery: original wood floors, chimneys, mirror, wood framing, etc. It has been squatted in, there are traces of sorcery and devil worship and it looks to be party central.
Voici quelque photos.
Living room stripped of everything, note the lack of wood flooring.
Same for the salon.
The only intact piece of finery.
Madame's once opulent bedroom, complete with a small boudoir.
Madame's bath ...
... where we found traces of some sort of sorcery: burning of feathers and meat.
A rapper ode to love and Aids
Staircase to attic
Then my colleague (Ghost hunting is more fun à deux, so I have a big burly guy friend colleague who shall remain un mystère for the time being.) drags me down these dark, creepy stairs into the basement!!
At the bottom of which we find this amazing kitchen à la The Shining.
Then we go even further into the bowels of the mountain upon which the castle sits. Now, imagine the château was built upon massive (and I mean massive) vaulted arches as support. Cave-like rooms were dug back into the mountain from these arches to form rudimentary rooms.
Here is one of the arches.
One of the cave-like rooms in which--now get this--the owner in the 80's turned into a night club/pizzeria! What??? Hold the phone!
How can I explain to you the surrealistic sentiment one gets when visiting a glorious Belle Époque masterpiece that has been raped and pillaged beyond reason, then one takes winding stairs, down, down, down and one finds this gaudy freakish 80's nightclub?
Some clever soul dubbed it "The Whore's Bar 24/24".
I'll have to admit, I was digging the glass walls (well, broken glass walls) looking out over the valley.
Where people have drunkenly launched bits and pieces of Belle Époque and 80's furniture and trimmings.
The pizzeria in arch number two.
The lounge. Love the one tiny remnant of tiger rug upon which sits the one remaining table upon which to pose your beverage. There was a psalm book open on the floor.
We spent several hours in the place simply digesting it all and feeling it. Then we went outside to the pool. I loved this arched gate that most likely led to the gardens, only I had absolutely NO desire to pass through it! It felt creepy and bad as did the pool. I felt as if it led to another dimension. (There were definitely creepy pockets of energy in the place, but overall it felt good)
Now ... just as we walked back towards the château, to head out, I clearly saw a ghost / spirit / presence. It was a flash, as though I had seen through a veil into another dimension. The ghost wasn't looking at us, he was simply walking as if heading downtown to do some errands. I sketched what I saw.
I think that because we spent so much time there and opened ourselves up to the place, I was able to see this spirit. I felt no harm. It was crystal clear and was just amazing to me.
Bon, back to my life as it is in Lyon!! Do stay tuned for next weekend as we are visiting a place that is documented to be haunted.
Gros bisous des châteaux magnifique ainsi que surréaliste et a bientôt!