The French use the expression ‘depuis belle lurette’ or ‘il y a belle lurette’ when it’s been a good long while since the last time you went somewhere or saw someone.
It had certainly been that. ‘Belle lurette’ since we’d set foot in the capital of the Gauls. So we decided it was time to go back and visit our former hometown of Lyon.
In late December, many of the lights were still out for the Fête des Lumières, the festive tribute to the Virgin Mary that sets the city of Lyon alight each year on December 8th – and now draws coachloads of tourists to witness its famous illuminations.
When we first settled in Lyon back in 1992, the event was little more than a tradition of lighting candles in coloured jars – les lumignons – and setting them along your window ledge.
We only lived in the city proper for five years, but they were busy, productive years. Lyon was where we made our first home in France, where our daughter was born, where both our kids went through the school system from maternelle all the way to the baccalauréat. It was where we found work, started our own businesses, made friends and put down roots. When we moved to the nearby Monts du Lyonnais, we continued to commute into town each day. Lyon felt like home.
It wasn’t an easy nut to crack. Lyon is known to be something of a secret city, whose inhabitants live by the motto, ‘vivons heureux, vivons cachés’. Meaning that a happy life is one hidden from public view. (An expression that eluded me at first but one I’ve come to truly appreciate).
Since we moved to the Haute Savoie we had only gone back to Lyon on flying visits to family and friends. We had not set foot on the Presqu’île formed by its two rivers, the Rhone and the Saône, in years.
So we booked a hotel and stayed in the heart of the city. It was a trip down memory lane for us (“You remember that time when…?”), with much of the city achingly familiar.
Yet so much has changed. The city has come up in recent years; there’s a livelier, more modern vibe. The streets are lined with trendy shops, bicycles are everywhere, more languages are spoken. There are still the traditional ‘bouchons’ Lyonnais, the simple restaurants that serve classic French bistro dishes with a lot of warmth and clatter, like the façade shown above. But they are not the only option, as they were all those years ago when we dropped a pin on the map and settled in Lyon.
Il y a belle lurette.
And there are still the other kind of ‘bouchons’ that Lyon is equally famous for. The traffic kind.
Have you been to Lyon? What do you remember?