22 August 2015

Are we talking about the same thing?

A recent article in the online English-language magazine The Local, entitled "The daftest Trip Advisor comments about France," featured an array of damning and often entertaining reviews of famous locations, mainly in and around Paris.

Although I am generally more interested in less well-known gems, the article made me wonder what people wrote about the highlights of my adopted city. Surely, I mused, visitors would be more positive in their comments about Lyon, France's second city (sorry, Bordeaux, Marseilles et al) and the undisputed capital of the Gauls.

A quick trip to the Trip Advisor site proved eye-opening.

26 March 2015

Drama, detonations & dastardly deeds

Despite its name, FNAC Bellecour does not lie directly on Place Bellecour, but rather at the start of the adjacent pedestrian precinct commonly referred to as "Rue de la Ré," where it is sandwiched between a chain café and a chain retail clothing store.

Like all FNAC stores, the interior is a combination of boringly nondescript false walls and equally nondescript false low ceilings, the combined effect of which is undoubtedly designed to avoid distracting the consumer's attention from the purpose of his visit.

However, the façade is the polar opposite of the building's interior; a beautifully ornate creation centred on two huge topless female statues seemingly beckoning you inside. Strangely enough, though, no plaque, architect's mark or date stamp gives any indication of the building's provenance or history. So I decided to investigate.

What I found wasn't all sugar and spice and all things nice.

30 September 2014

Great Mosque

The Grande Mosquée de Lyon is situated at 146 Boulevard Pinel on the eastern edge of the city at the border between the 8th arondissement and the adjacent town of Bron.

(It's also right next door to the subject of my Lyonnais Mystery No. 1)

Although it is not as big as its counterpart in Paris, the Great Mosque of Lyon is the sixth-largest mosque in all of France.

Today it celebrates the twentieth anniversary of its inauguration.

27 August 2014

Garage Atlas

Walking or driving along the Avenue Maréchal-de-Saxe in Lyon's 3rd arrondissement – especially in the summer, when the trees are full of leaves – it's easy to miss the seven-storey white Art Deco building that takes up an entire block at numbers 65-69 and continues along adjacent along Rue Le Royer, Rue de Bonnel and Rue Vendôme. 

If you do spot it, you are most likely to notice the lines and geometric shapes covering the façade and the somewhat dated-looking restaurant that occupies part of the ground floor of the huge building on the Avenue de Saxe side. Glance up at the sign above the central door framed between two Doric columns, and you get a hint about the listed building's former life. 

The restaurant's name? 'Le Garage'.

27 June 2014

Barrage de Cusset

The geography and history of Lyon are defined by two rivers. Hemmed in to the west by the rocky outcrop that is Fourvière hill, the city's growth over the centuries has depended on its inhabitants' ability to cross, bridge and eventually settle on the opposite, eastern banks of first the Saone and then, much later, the far larger Rhone. 

But whereas the course of the Saone was comparatively easy to control, the mighty Rhone was prone to flash flooding, and numerous attempts to rein it in were literally washed away. So it wasn't until the late 19th century that someone came up with a plan that worked. 

The outcome was nothing short of revolutionary - for both Lyon and France as a whole.

30 April 2014

Prison de Montluc

Every week, my wife and I run by what appears to be an unfinished mural along Rue du Dauphiné in the 3e. On the far left of this wall there is a painting of World War II resistance hero Jean Moulin, at the other end, some 200 metres down the road, there are two carefree children in modern clothes, happily racing one another. In between,  names are crudely scrawled - almost scratched - on a somewhat bland blue-and-brown background. 

We had always assumed that these were the names of people whom the artist would one day paint at that location on the wall. But another part of the fresco suggests otherwise: a series of painted tally marks which topple over and eventually turn into birds and fly away. 

One day, curiosity got the better of me, and I followed the wall around to the other side. And there I discovered what the mural meant. Because this was the scene of possibly the darkest chapter in the history of Lyon: the Prison de Montluc. 

1 April 2014


Ask a schoolboy what the number 69 means, and you're likely to be met with a splutter and a muffled guffaw. Because, as any teenager knows, "69" and its French equivalent, soixante-neuf, stand for mutual oral sex.

Serge Gainsburg and his breathy-voiced English girlfriend, Jane Birkin, famously sang the song "69, Année Erotique". However contrary to common belief, the number sixty-nine came to represent this sexual position not because of the way the participants' bodies line up (the circular part of each constituent digit signifying the heads and the trailing ends their legs), but because of Lyon – or rather the early Lyonnais themselves.
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