Lyon: Confluence and Symbolism

By | May 20, 2017

When we planned this trip we decided to spend three nights in Lyon as there seemed to be a sense that it would be a city worth spending time in.  That has certainly been proven to be the case and yet it feels as though we may only have touched the surface.

Leaving Avignon, we caught a cab to Gare Avignon Central and a short connecting train to the TGV station; stopping point for the very fast train that will carry us northward at speeds up to 300 kilometres per hour.




The TGV station is fairly new and very well laid out and has a few quirky inclusions like this pedal power charging station for getting that bit of charge into your device when it has the sad red bar happening.

The trip only takes us an hour and we grab a cab to take us to our AirBnB on the Quai General Sarrail; overlooking the Rhône, one of two rivers which have their confluence in Lyon.

This AirBnB would have to be amongst the absolute best we’ve experienced around the world. The furnishings, linen, crockery, cutlery etc are all superb and it also has good fast wifi. And, as a place that has a large bathroom, living room, kitchen and two bedrooms plus balcony it costs significantly less than a hotel room here which would have a fraction of the space.  


The apartment is in one of the beautiful buildings along the quai, next to a hotel and in keeping with the generally Haussman inspired buildings in the area.  Our building is the one to the right of the dark coloured inverted triangular roof.  The modern skyscraper in the background is part of the Part Dieu area where the Lyon TGV station is situated.

We can look out and see one of the VeloV bike racks about twenty metres from the door and look forward to using the share bikes during our stay.

After settling in, we head out in search of a supermarket for breakfast supplies and something to drink, with beer and wine all available cheaply in the supermarket.  We take the opportunity to stop at a bar on the way back and watch the afternoon commuters heading home on trolley buses, bikes and cars, all somehow managing to co-exist.  

Our host at the bar tells us that he uses the VeloV bikes 4 times each day: 1 from home to the metro station, 2 from the metro destination to work, 3 from work back to the metro station and 4 from the metro homeward destination to home.  Lyon has been home to a share bike system since 2007, (preceding the Velibs in Paris) and it’s clear that the community here have their head around the concept of integrated transport.  

The logic in sharing systems here has also led to a system of shared electric cars, where users subscribe and electric vehicles are plugged in and ready to go.

We wander out across a nearby pedestrian bridge and hunt out a craft beer bar that has a very likeable IPA on offer which reintroduces some lovely hoppiness into what has been a very lager based beer diet in the last week. 

The notion of confluence; of coming together, merging rivers and peoples and ideas seems to be a strong force here.

Our second morning dawns sunny and bright and we hit the bikes to head downstream along the Rhône bank to the confluence of the rivers; where the Rhône meets the Saône. The notion of confluence; of coming together, merging rivers and peoples and ideas seems to be a strong force here. There is a sense that from the Celts in ancient times, before the Roman occupation, through to the waves of peoples and ideas which have gripped this city there has always been a metaphor of confluence; merging without necessarily fully taking on the other.  

It’s saddening, for example, to read the stories of the ‘Butcher of Lyon‘ and the atrocities committed against suspects of the French Resistance during World War 2, or of the martyrdom of early christians in the Roman Amphitheatre which still has its remains benignly nestled into the rise of the Croix Rousse, where so much Lyonnaise silk was produced.

We find some of these places while simply wandering after seeking out a great coffee cafe, where a barista who once spent a couple of years in Australia has created a ‘speciality’ coffee shop which , wonder of wonders, allows you to order a ‘Long Black’ and get a very nice coffee indeed.  Cafe Mokxa is well worth a visit if you’re seeking a fix of decent coffee in Lyon. The barista gives us a few tips on some places to try when we get to Bordeaux.

Our bike ride takes us down the left bank of the Rhone before crossing the river on a bridge which carries trams, pedestrians and bikes. The contemporary building in the background is the Musee des Confluences and it’s an impressive building indeed, located almost at the point where the two rivers come together.  



We cycle around it and down to the confluence where a large sign proclaims proudly, ‘Only Lyon’ with the Lion symbol that signifies the city and appears on its flag.




A view back toward the museum, with trusty VeloV in the foreground clearly shows the coming together of a number of ideas and once again underscores an impression of the city itself.

Looking closer at the ‘Only Lyon’ sign, there appears a very clear message which is one of a number which point to some of the attitudes prior to the recent Presidential election in which centrist Emmanuel Macron was successful.

The lion of Lyon is emblazoned with the anarchist symbol and the words: “Ni Patrie; Ni Patron” which loosely translates to “Neither motherland, nor boss.” It is clear that there has been a strong sense from some that neither option represented a way forward that they were happy to support.  

As we wandered in Croix Rousse a day later we found more signs of a different view of a way forward for France.  Amongst the various other slogans sprayed on footpaths or buildings was a very poignant set of bollards on either side or a roadway up the hill.


One one side of the street, the exhortation toward ‘Abstention,’ while on the corresponding bollards on the other side of the street, the simple word: Revolution.

In a city where one of the main shopping strips is on Rue Victor Hugo, the writer of Les Miserables, and in a country where the 1789 revolution led to the creation of the current Republic; where student protests in Paris in the sixties  and actions across the country brought the economy to a virtual halt, and where the success of Marine Le Penn in making it through to the final round of the presidential election led to riots and  another Night of the Barricades in late April 2017, it is sobering indeed to sense what may have occurred.

As we wandered down from the hill of Croix Rousse we saw a number of the wonderful murals painted on the sides of buildings. For some of these, a double take is necessary to check whether what we are seeing is a painting or the actual building itself.

We’re now walking along the banks of the Saône and find another rack of VeloV bikes.  A few kilometres ride takes us further up the river past barges tied up along the bank, before turning back downstream and pedalling back to Vieux Lyon; ‘old Lyon,’ where we find a street side cafe and a ‘Plat de Jour’ for 8.50 Euros each.

From most of the inner part of Lyon, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière watches over the city from its perch high on the hilltop. Apparently some people locally know it as the ‘upside down elephant,’ with its four stubby legs pointing sideways, like an elephant on its back.




After our lunch in a back street of the old town, we find the funicular railway which lifts us up to the Basilica for a chance to enjoy the spectacular view over the city and the opportunity to shelter inside as a heavy rainstorm moves in from the North.  

We marvel at the intricate work in the building itself and the investment in the creation of edifices like this that seem to dot hilltops all around the world.


Symbolism within our civilisations is such a strong cultural element, and there are plenty of those symbols around Lyon. Amongst the street art in the city there are some in French, and some in English. This piece, in lovely script, was particularly poignant, and sad.

I still feel you, like the rope around my neck

After another day of many footsteps and kilometres pedalled, we seek out some dinner in the neighbourhood near our AirBnB apartment and stumble upon a small bar which has a guitar sitting on a stand in the corner.

The bar manager suggests that it’s there for anyone who wants to play.  With some encouragement, it was fun to sing a number of songs to an appreciative audience, and a great way to top off what has been an excellent visit to Lyon.

So, after just a brief acquaintance with this city it certainly is a wonderful place, with the confluence of many threads of culture and people and much symbolism of both history and ideas. Tomorrow we’ll be back on the TGV for a two hour trip north to Gare de Lyon in Paris before meeting up with our friends from the USA for our Bike and Barge tour eastward to Epernay.


For a sense of Lyon, and the Rhône from the saddle of a VeloV, you might enjoy this video. Lyon is certainly a city that is well worth a visit. Thanks for having us!

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