This past weekend, I spent my time in the city of Lyon, one of the largest cities in France next to Paris and Marseille. I was there to visit the fête des Lumières, or the “Festival of Lights,” a three-night event in which the whole city is lit up with different light exhibitions to showcase talent from in and around the region. On average, it draws three million people to Lyon each year, which is just as an incredible feat as the numerous light shows that it puts out.
Although I’ve been to Lyon before, I’d never visited during the fête des Lumières; I actually had plans to visit it last year and had even booked travel expenses for it. However, due to the Paris attacks that November, the festival ended up getting cancelled and I ended up deciding not to go then; instead, I spent a long weekend in January, exploring the city and what it had to offer for tourists and locals alike.
That said, I’m planning to dedicate another post on my first visit to Lyon and instead to focus more on the fête des Lumières in this post. Considering that so much had happened in such a short weekend, I think it would be better to save the “other touristy stuff” (namely, the sites and attractions that people can see any time, not just during the festival) for later.
Any case, let’s get to it!
My weekend started last Friday; after a long day of teacher’s training (“stage”) in Rouen, I caught an Isilines bus with three other assistantes to Paris, where we would take a night bus over to Lyon. We arrived in Paris around 21h00 and from there had about three hours to kill before getting the night bus. We ended up wandering a bit of the city, both on foot and via metro; by pure luck, we didn’t even need to pay for tickets to ride the metro that night, since apparently Paris was under heavy-pollution warning, and so we just walked through the open turnstiles and rode our way to the Eiffel Tower. While I’ve seen the monument millions of times, seeing it lit up at night never ceases to make me feel something, in that magical, romantic sense. Trite as it is, Paris at night is beautiful.
Aside from the Eiffel Tower, we didn’t do much in Paris that night, since we eventually had to take the metro over to the bus meeting spot. We got on the night bus five minutes before midnight and spent the next five-and-a-half hours in transit. It’d been a while since I last traveled via budget bus, but the one that I took that night (as well as the one to get home at the weekend’s end) was pretty comfortable. Granted, I slept on-and-off, but overall, the service was quick and efficient.
We arrived twenty minutes early to Part-Dieu, Lyon’s main train station. It was around 5h20 and absolutely pitch-dark as we made our way into the station to get warm and wait until the sun rose to head out to explore the city. Spent about an hour at the station’s Starbucks where Christmas drinks were being served (I got a gingerbread latte, which wasn’t too bad). Had my backpack almost stolen by a petty thief as I was having my drink, but I chased him down and retrieved my stuff- thankfully, nothing was taken. What a wonderful wake-up call to start off the day, eh?
Any case, around 7h30 we decided to head out to see a bit of the city since the other assistante I was with had never been to Lyon. We headed out of the gare and made our way to les Halles de Lyon- Paul Bocasse, which is an indoor market that sells artisan goods like bread, cheese, charcuterie, regional dishes, wine, desserts, and so forth. It was still early, so a good number of shops weren’t open yet.
Afterwards, we headed over to the other side of town, crossing Wilson Bridge (Pont Wilson) which is one of the many bridges in Lyon (the Saône river cuts through the city) and making our way to Place des Jacobins with its famous fountain; it was also where we met the other two assistantes from our region who had taken a different bus to get to Lyon, but arriving at the same time in the morning. We were to meet our Airbnb host later in the morning to receive the keys to our accommodation, so we spent the next two or so hours hitting the hot spots of Lyon, showing the assistantes who hadn’t been there the main attractions in Vieux Lyon (Place des Jacobins, cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, théâtres Romains, and the Fourvière basilica). Granted, the hike up to the Fourvière district was a bit challenging, but the hike up was worth seeing the basilica, as well as beautiful views of the city from the hill top.
After visiting the Fourvière, it was about time to head over to the Airbnb to meet up with our host to get the keys. We walked back to near the Place des Jacobins where the Airbnb is near and met up with another assistante from the Grenoble region who would also be staying with us for the night (we were splitting the cost among all of us). The host’s roommate actually received us and took us up to the flat, giving us a quick tour of the place before giving us the key and leaving us with the whole place to ourselves. I have to say, it was a really good Airbnb: spacious, centrally-located, and good for six people, of which we were that weekend (four of us from l’académie de Rouen, two from l’académie de Grenoble with whom I’d been in contact on Facebook to maximize the split-cost of staying there).
We got settled in, spending the rest of the morning relaxing for a bit, even showering, since us Rouen assistantes, in particular, had been out and about for almost a day-and-a-half and were utterly exhausted; I admit, I was half-delirious that morning when we went out exploring Lyon! The other assistante from Grenoble arrived around noon and once everyone was together, we decided to head out to town for a late lunch. I’d suggested that we go to Brasserie Georges, since I had it the last time that I’d visited Lyon and found it quite delicious with its Lyonnaise cuisine at affordable prices. It was quite a walk from our Airbnb, though, but we still made our way over along the quay. The sun was out that day and struck the buildings along the river a magnificent golden color, which merited a photo or two for memories!
Admittedly, we got a bit lost trying to find the restaurant, but eventually we found it and it was packed. I should’ve known that the line would be out the door to get in, considering that it was both the weekend and during the fête des Lumières; I’d actually tried to reserve on the phone a few days prior, but was told that it was not taking reservations, so basically it was a first-come, first-serve kind of deal. There was no way that we would be moving in the line anytime soon, so we decided to find somewhere else to eat, wandering around to the Christmas markets and popping into the first restaurant that could take six people.
The restaurant we ended up going to had really slow service, but in any case the food was pretty good in an otherwise touristy part of town: I got a three-course meal for 23 euros, which wasn’t bad…and there was so much food. Seriously, from the terrine to the duck leg and potatoes to the praline tart, I was pretty much stuffed in the end; the Côtes du Rhône wine that I had certainly didn’t help, either! Still though, I ate very well and found everything delicious: Lyon isn’t world-renown for its gastronomy for nothing!
Super stuffed and in a semi-food coma, I left the restaurant with the other assistantes to slowly make our way back to the Airbnb to rest before heading out again that night for the fête des Lumières. We passed by Place Bellecour and stopped to take a photo of the sunset on the way over.
We returned to our Airbnb where I took a nap, waking up to indigestion (again, too much food for lunch!). However, as we wandered around the city that night during the fête des Lumières, I was feeling better. One of the Grenoble assistantes had old college friends who were in town for visiting, so they joined and together at 20h15, we went out to finally check out the lights.
Unfortunately, we spent the first half of the night wandering and getting lost somewhere south of Lyon, where there weren’t as many light exhibitions happening. We eventually made our way back to the city center, weaving through the crazy number of people to see the different exhibitions happening. From the trippy, circus-themed show displayed on the Ferris Wheel in Place Bellecour to the dragon–lotus one adjacent to Place des Jacobins, they were quite lovely, to say the least.
After a while, our group of eight split off into smaller groups, since we all had different interests for the rest of the night (e.g. return to the Airbnb, get dinner, explore more of the festival). I ended up going with the Grenoble assistante and the two college friends of the other Grenoble assistante to see more of the lights, although the assistante’s college friends were extremely ambitious and had us run all over the city trying to catch as many exhibitions as possible. The temperature was dropping as the night went on and by the end of it all, I was absolutely freezing! Nevertheless, I got to see more cool exhibitions, many of which were displayed on the walls of the hôtel de Ville and the gare de Lyon Saint-Paul. There was also a piano one, which was automatically-programmed and while it played, fake snow sprayed everywhere in the crowd; I got covered in the stuff!
By midnight, things were shutting down. Exhausted, I headed back to the Airbnb with the others, arriving back around 0h30. Brushed my teeth, washed my face, and turned in for the night. I, along with the Rouen assistantes, left the following morning to catch the 11h00 bus back to Paris before taking the train back to Normandy in the evening.
…and that’s about it! I admit, the weekend Lyon was way too short in order to see all of the fête des Lumières, since there were over forty exhibitions all over the big city. While I wish that we could’ve maximized more of our time instead of wandering and getting lost, I’m still glad to have seen the ones that I did see; having good company made it even better, too! Going there for the weekend makes me want to revisit Lyon sometime again this year- perhaps I will.
I leave you with the last photo from that night, after the light shows were over. Even after they ended, the city itself continued to stay brightly lit, refusing to shut down for the world to see; this view of the quay is no exception!
More travel adventures to come soon! Until then, à bientôt.