Sunday, 11 January 2015

Let There Be Light, Travel and Glühwein!

It’s been too long since my last post, and I’ve been home for Christmas and New Year and come back to Lyon and still not actually had the time to sit down in front of my computer and write my latest update. I imagine I’ve already seen some of you back home over the holidays and filled you in on some of it, but if not, or if you want to see my pictures, please read on. I’m going to be talking about my experiences just before the Christmas break, and some of those that I’ve had since coming back.
Hôtel de Ville

The days surrounding 8
th December are a very special time of year in the Lyon calendar. Every year, thousands of people flock to the city from all over the country to visit and celebrate the famous Fête des Lumières (festival of lights), drink vin chaud (mulled wine), and take in all of the amazing illuminations. Four four nights between about 6pm and 1am, you can wander the streets of Lyon, and all over the city, there is something to experience, from flying kites, to fireworks, to massive projections, and there are candles lighting up the windows of many of the houses in the city. The sheer scale and creativity of the event is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

My favourite display

Now for a little history to explain why all of this happens. In 1852 a statue of the Virgin Mary was built on a hill overlooking the city of Lyon, next to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière.
 The inauguration of the statue and the planned celebration was pushed back from 8th September to 8th December, because the statue hadn’t been completed due to the flooding of the River Saône. Many Catholics in the city suggested lighting up the windows of their homes, as was the tradition for other events of importance, such as royal celebrations and military victories. On the morning of the 8th December, Lyon experienced quite a bad storm and the master of ceremonies decided to cancel the celebrations. However the storm eventually passed and the people of Lyon started to spontaneously light up their windows and take to the streets of Lyon, lighting candles and flares to illuminate the new statue whilst singing, and shouting "Vive Marie!" throughout the night. Every year, this has been repeated until it evolved into the massive festival that it is today. Pretty cool really!

Parc de la Tête d'Or

I went out to view the illuminations with friends on three out of the four nights. We started with a night time bike ride along the bank of the Rhône, before ending at le Parc de la Tête d’Or. There were some interesting looking kites and some really pretty illuminations on the lake in the middle of the park. We also headed to Vieux Lyon to watch the projections on the face of Cathedral Saint Jean which were quite special. The next day we wandered the streets of Lyon, watching the various projections, including those at Place Bellecour, Hôtel de Ville and Lyon’s opera house. My personal favourite that night was a combined projection and light show that explored space and the planets of our solar system. On the last night of the festival we climbed to the top of Fourvière hill to watch the closing night fireworks from the front of the Basilica. It was on this night that we also ran into the procession of people climbing the hill, singing songs and carrying candles, before attending an open air mass on the steps of the Basilica. It was a truly magical weekend, and one that I’ll certainly never forget!!!
With my friend, Molly

La belle ville de Lyon

I managed a weekend trip to Germany on the train the weekend before I returned to England for the break. I travelled to Cologne to visit Simone, my old German exchange partner who I hadn’t see in around seven or eight years. It made me realise how quickly time has passed since I was at school! It was lovely to see her after so long, and I enjoyed exploring the weinachtsmarkt (Christmas market), a very interesting Pop Art gallery, and drinking glühwein and feuerzangenbowle, which is essentially glühwein but with rum added for an extra kick. Before I knew it though, I was on the train back to Lyon, ready for my next adventure.

Christmas market in front of Strasbourg Cathedral

On Tuesday 16th December, I went to Strasbourg for the day with my Australian friend Marie-Laure (hi Marie-Laure…you got another mention!). I had been wanting to experience it since I got off the train in Lyon back on August 23rd and so naturally I was “super excited”! We got there just before the Christmas markets opened for the day so we treated ourselves to breakfast before heading out. Strasbourg is so pretty, and unlike anywhere else I’ve seen so far in France; the German influence is plain to see in all the Alsatian architecture, cuisine and accents! We wandered around the many markets spread across the city, bought Christmas presents, went in the Cathedral, ate flammeküche/tarte flambée and drank hot chocolate and hot spiced apple juice. Despite the early start, the late-night return and the very chilly weather, the day was absolutely divine and completely lived up to my anticipation and expectation!
With my travel buddy, Marie-Laure!
Strasbourg. How pretty is this!

I spent just over two weeks back in Nottingham for a very chilled out and peaceful Christmas and New Year with family and friends before returning to Lyon on 5th January. I have, as of Friday, finished all of my exams and handed in all of my essays here at Université Lyon 3, and now have just two weeks left before I travel to Italy for my second semester in Bologna. I’m excited to start the next stage of my adventure, but at the same time I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Lyon for the second time in my life. I truly love this city and all those who I’ve made friends with here. So two more weeks here in Lyon to spend time with now not-so-new but very good friends, and I’ve already started to make the most of it with joint lunches, dinners and film nights, coffees and shopping, as well as trips to various bars, and an evening of watching Lyon beat Toulouse 3-0 and go top of Ligue 1 this weekend! This week hasn’t been without it’s sad moments. The tragic events of the Charlie Hebdo shootings sent a shock wave across France and truly broke my heart. Nevertheless, the solidarity and compassion I have seen at the very peaceful candle-lit vigil (attended by around 10-15,000) and silent protest march (attended by 250,000) in Lyon have united the city and the country (regardless what people's stances are on the attack and aftermath in general), and despite the heightened security and police presence, there has been a very calm and nonthreatening atmosphere in the city.