Lyon is in a test in cardiovascular abilities for which I was not prepared. Fortunately, it is also a city of transit options. Like most European cities, Lyon boasts the usual buses, trams and metro lines—the Holy Trinity of mass transit, if you will— plus the two quaint but rather lackluster funiculaires and a fleet of cyclopousse (motorized tricycle taxis) which I read about on the Lyon Tourism website but never did find. Were this all, I wouldn’t bother to say much else about the subject of transit in Lyon, but it’s not.
Lyon also has traboules.
Vieux Lyon (the city’s charming renaissance-era district) boasts a series of traboules or tunnels (actually, I think “traboule” translates literally to “secret passageways, greatly favored by camera-clutching Americans but so well hidden that the majority never finds them”). Nowadays, they’re great fodder for tourists, photographers and locals who, for whatever reason, enjoy having to trek through dark, catacomb-like passageways to reach their front doors. During WWII, the traboules played a significant role in the French resistance (and I was tempted, whilst trekking through Vieux Lyon to run ahead of my hostess shouting “Vive la resistance!” but this would have destroyed my thus-far successful attempts to blend in).
Although the traboules pre-date the Resistance by a several centuries, they have always housed revolutionaries, rabble rousers and other insurrectionary types. You know the French and their revolutions… at least the Chinese tourists certainly do.
“I was giving a tour to students from China,” explained my tour guide at the Maison de Canuts (the silk weaving workshop and museum), “and when I told them the story of the revolt of the Canuts in 1831, they already knew!”
Evidently, tales of workers revolutions are very popular amongst Chinese students. And the revolt of the Canuts in 1831 was one of the first in industrialized Europe, pre-dating the widespread European revolutions of 1848 by nearly two decades.
The revolt, like and good revolt, began with plummeting wages in the silk industry. The workers got together, convinced the National Guard to join their ranks, and, thanks to the traboules, managed to take control of the city and the official rates for textile production until Paris got wind of the revolution (and the associated 600 deaths) and squelched the Canuts.
They rose up again in 1834, and of course in 1848 but seeing as everyone who was anyone was revolting in 1848, the Chinese students were less impressed with Lyon’s final stab at worker’s rights.
The French Engineering Student from the Bus had told me I had to see the traboules. As had the Lyon tourism website, as had my hostess but here’s the thing about the traboules: they’re hidden. A sensible girl, in this situation, would have just gone to the tourism office and booked an official traboule tour, but where’s the fun in that?
“Which one did you go to?” she asked.
“The one near the park a few blocks from your flat.”
“That’s not a tourism office.”
“Sure it is!” I informed her, reaching for my map and pointing to the clearly marked letter “I.” “’I’ is for information. Tourist information.”
“No,” she laughed, “’I’ is for transit information. You went to the metro information office.”
Oh. No wonder the lady behind the counter responded to my hopeful “Parlez-vous anglais?” by simply handing me a map of Lyon’s metro system.
Fortunately, my hostess had once stumbled upon an official tour of the traboules. Unfortunately it was a while ago, and had been conducted in German, but we made our way to Vieux Lyon undeterred and spent the evening investigating every passageway Vieux Lyon had to offer.
In sightseeing (and life in general, I suppose), the rule of thumb is to avoid dark alleyways, especially if you’re a girl and said alleyway has all the making of a crime scene (no light, no exit, no one to hear you scream, etc.).
In traboule-finding, however, the darker the better, especially because most traboules have more in common with the modern-day apartment lobby than the serial killer compounds featured on CSI, complete with timed light switches.
After a few false alarms, we found them. And unlike the funiculaire, the traboules of Lyon were even better than I had expected.
PS: I have picture-i-fied my Posts From Abroad so check https://katrichterwrites.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/the-kindness-of-strangers/ and https://katrichterwrites.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/london-lyon-and-lingerie/ for more photographs from Lyon.