On our third day we spent 6 hours on two tip based walking tours of Lyon, an excellent way to get a detailed view of the city’s major monuments and features. Vieux Lyon, the World Heritage Renaissance old town, is the subject of these tours. Vieux Lyon is divided into three neighborhoods, Saint Jean, Saint Paul and Saint Georges. The Gothic Cathedral, on the site of the first church built in 549 CE, is in the Saint Jean quarter, it’s facade bearing the injuries delivered by the Protestant iconoclasts who removed the heads of most of the sculptures. The current structure dates to the 12th century. Attached to it is the Manécanterie, originally built for the monks’ dining.
In the middle ages Lyon was the main producer and processor of silk in France. There’s a small silk museum that shows the process from silk worm to final product. The workers were called Canuts. The Canuts transported materials up and down the steep hill ascending from the city’s rivers through alleys called traboul. These alleys and steep staircases snake through heavily populated areas. The twists and turns we walked through proved useful to the Resistance during the Nazi occupation.
Lyon is known for its murals, two of which are famous. The Fresque des Lyonnais depicts the city’s most reknown residents. It is painted on the six-story building located at the corner of 49 quai Saint-Vincent and 2 rue de la Martinière near the Saône River.
After a short visit to Paris to see some old friends we took a crowded ride on Metro 6, switching to the 14 after just a short walk. In the Gare de Lyon we found throngs in front of the trains, especially ours, once a track was assigned. It was smooth sailing after that though, from the Gare de Lyon to Lyon itself on a high speed train. We are in the third largest city in France and the gastronomic capital of the world thanks to Paul Bocuse.
Our roomy flat is just around the corner from the Metro. The owner’s friendly friend was waiting for us. The former is somewhere in the Caribbean for a couple of months. It was after 9 pm by the time we went to the local Carrefour City, the small version of the huge grocery train. There are two very close by and somehow we walked right by the closest one, but provisions we found.
The next morning we went looking for a street market along the Rhone. Maybe they changed the day of the week for the market as it was not on. We walked to another in about 15 minutes. We found olives, ripe figs, green beans and, lo and behold, some brocoletti aka brocoli rab aka rapini. These may differ but they are in the same family, judging by their flavor. We must be getting closer to the Italy. You don’t find these easily in Paris, say, but the Italians consume them by the ton. Sauteed with garlic (add sausage if you will), they are one of my favorite veg.
As we walked around I gained the impression that Lyon is well managed and well served by public transport. At rush hour there are attendants at all the train’s doors, inviting people on or holding them back. I have never encountered this before. The cars are roomy, with the seats set parallel so there’s plenty of standing room. They use tires to reduce the noise, versus metal wheels, just as they do in Paris. Another good idea- the tickets work on all the forms of public transport, metro, bus, electric wire buses (wire overhead) and trams.
It turned rainy that afternoon so we skipped the walking tour at 16h and went to the Musee des Confluences. It is not only a neat modernity of a structure but a very good science museum. Some of it is presented for a younger audience, going though the basics of things like evolution, with some realistic full size presentations of three species of humans dating back 50,000 years. There’s an excellent video that even adults enjoy, showing how the earth developed out of the chaos of debris, then the collision that produced the moon, actually going farther back to how stars are born, one of which turned out to be our very own. I’ve got the sequence out of order here, but you get the idea and you’ll love the graphics. See Musee des Confluence
There is a room full of life sized stuffed animals. You can’t fit that polar bear onto your bed for a warm snuggle and you would not want a chance encounter in the wild. There’s a whale skeleton with an enormous jaw open to allow filtering of plankton, and a dangerous looking dinosaur. The African art collection has a bunch of neat wood carvings. I wonder why they do such pointy and too high on the chest representations of breasts. A lively video records village dancers in costume to the rhythm of the drums.
The tram stops right in front of the museum so we didn’t have to walk long in the rain to obtain the stop’s shelter. A few minutes we transferred to the metro and then walked the 50 meters to our door. The broccoletti awaits.
During a short trip to Paris to see friends we attended the excellent Mucha Exhibit at the Grand Palais Immersif, a video presentation on a huge screen. Mucha was a principle in the Art Nouveau movement. See a bit of the show in the video below:
The Moravian born Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) is famous for his poster designs, especially those he did for the actress Sara Bernhardt. Perhaps his most famous poster is of Bernhardt, larger than life size at two meters in height. He also produced advertisements and decorative panels. His output was enormous, so enormous that he must have had a sizable number of assistants. He lived in Paris for these productive years.
He became famous after a 6-year contract with Sarah Bernhardt, who loved his work. He did her costumes, sets and advertising. He then did the Austria pavilion for one of the International Exhibitions in Paris. After becoming famous, he returned home, dedicating his work to the service of his homeland. He created the Slav Epic, shown in the last part of the presentation. For more see Mucha Foundation
We also went to the excellent Notre Dame reconstruction exhibit at the TrocaderoWithin a short time following the April 15, 2018 fire, donors from 150 countries contributed an amazing €850 million, enough to finance the entire project. Artisans and skilled workers were recruited from all around France to first stabilize then restore the Cathedral. The many panels in the exhibit are excellent and expertly translated into English, yielding a detailed account of this immense and complicated project, with its many task groups: Acoustics, Wood and Framework, Monumental Decorations, Emotions and Mobilizations, Metal, Digital Data, Stone, Structures, and Glass. At the height of the restoration nearly 1000 people were working on the project. Cite Architecture et Patromonie.
The project uses original methods and materials. For example, in 2021 workers felled 800 trees using period axes to rebuild the roof and other structures. Workers used traditional methods to work the stone. Likewise with the 800 pipes of the organ, removed for restoration. It will take six months to reassemble it and six more to tune it. Tuning requires working at night as it is quieter. Sixteen spire statues and over 3,000 square meters of stained glass have already been cleaned and restored.
The restoration as a whole is based on the mid 19th century restoration when the original spire, near collapse, was removed and the most recent and now destroyed spire was built. As restoration works began there was some controversy over this spire as it is decorated complex while the original was plain. However the Voillet-le-Duc version has become so associated with Notre Dame that his design was retained, making its ultimate appearance consistent with the 19th century restoration which serves as the basis for the entire effort.
Mepple: From Franneker we made our way to Meppel, a town of some 35,000. Meppel got its start in the 16th century, arising out of the peat trade. Its tiny central harbor is minutes to the main parts of the old town, sitting behind a small lock operated by friendly and helpful young guys. It is one of the most picturesque harbors in the country, especially at night. Walking around town treats the visitor to pleasant facades and quaint worker housing.
Groningen houses some 235,000, making it the country’s sixth largest cities. It has a small art museum whose main claim to fame is the permanent ceramics collection. When we visited there was a photo exhibit featuring the Rolling Stones, interesting enough if you care about this rock group. Fortunately the town itself is worth a visit. Aside from the all the wonderful traditional brick architecture there’s the super modern library. It’s a glass structure with a 10 story atrium crisscrossed by escalators. Near the stacks are coffee bars, and there is a cinema as well. From the top there’s a great view of the city.
Groningen was established more than 950 years ago. It was part of the Hanseatic trading league and an autonomous city-state until the French era cirrca 1700’s. Today it is home to the University of Groningen, the Netherlands’s second oldest university, and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. One out of four residents is a student, so there’s a lively street scene. The bars are full day and night, bikes and scooters flying left and right in the central zone.
Grou: We came to Grou several times this year due to its crossroads of canals and the abundant moorings in town and outside. Grou sits on a large body of water called the Pikmar, with the Princess Margriet Canal (a section called the Nije Wjittering, Frisian for New Wittering) on one side. Coming into the port you are amazed by the number of boats that live in this itty bitty town, and, at this time of year, by the number of visiting boats. You can fill up with water and charge your batteries without charge, which helps draw visiting boaters.
While we were there a sailing competition filled the ‘passenten haven’ (passersby moorings) spaces up to three deep. Some dozen traditional wooden sailboats zoomed around the islands- we watched from one of them. Heavy weather put an end to the competition. The boats with their dramatic black and white sails repeat the competition in several villages in the area annually.
Leeuwarden is another bustling university town, with a total of 150,000 inhabitants (as of 2020). After an opening bridge, on the right there is a harbor for traditional boats and barges, to the left the visitors’ moorings. From the visitors’ moorings you are just minutes away from the busy central pedestrian zone, shops and restaurants galore.
It was around in Roman times and is built on a terp, a mound of earth built up to protect the inhabitants from flood waters. Medieval Leeuwarden had a moat and ramparts all around, later demolished or converted to gardens. The many canals have been reduced significantly in number. There was a small Jewish population starting in the 18th century.
The weather system that produced the high winds and rains of July finally broke in early August. With visitors aboard we passed through some of the most beautiful towns of Friesland.
Sneek (pro Snake), with its ancient gate called ‘Waterpoort,’ is one such. It was founded in the 10th century on sandy high ground- as were many of the old towns as the poulders had not yet been created. It was also sited on a dike, whose presence is reflected in several street names: Hemdijk, Oude Dijk, and Oosterdijk. The canal winds through it, barely room for boats to pass one another. As in all these old towns history is everywhere, from the finest public buildings to the residences both opulent and plain.
Makkum, like many other early settled areas, rests on a ‘terp,’ an artificial mound created to provide high ground. It is a port town, resting on the Ijsselmeer which is fed by the Ijssel River, one of the extensions of the Rhine. The Ijsselmeer is controlled by a huge dike on its northern edge holding back the North Sea. The Ijsselmeer can get quire rough, so we only venture out on calm days when the wind is not from of the westerly direction over Force 3 or 4.
This is a tiny town despite its port, with a mere 3400 inhabitants. Historic merchant houses line the lock area, itself once owned by a monastery. There is a 17th c weigh house. In the 1600’s, the Dutch Golden Age there were windmill powered industries including lime kilns. The lime was used in Amsterdam’s construction. Today the main activities include water sports due to the excellent sailing on the Ijsselmeer.
Harlingen is also a port town, larger than both Makkum and Grou (see below). We moored in the inner harbor, which is tidal as it sits open to the Waddenzee, essentially the North Sea but named otherwise to delineate the waters behind the West Freisan Islands. You secure your boat differently in tidal areas. To allow the boat to rise and fall you can not tie it tightly. Instead you attach long lines fore and aft. Tied normally the lines will either break or the cleats will as your boat starts hanging sideways to the dock.
Terscheling is a town on one of the islands and is served by a ferry that makes the 26 kilometer journey many times daily. We hopped on. It rumbles its way through a narrow channel. Since it was low tide we saw exposed sand bars not far off. As the weather was good we were able to sit on the top deck, enjoying the approach of the island and the many boats making their way to and from. We also visited the cafeteria. They serve many typical Dutch snacks such as frickadel (meatball) and other snacks usually served as a borrel (an after work drink with colleagues) and tosti – grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Then there is ubiquitous appelgebak mit slagroom, the national desert. That’s apple pie with whipped cream, thick and delicious whipped cream. The pie is identical to that served in the US and Canada. There is a crumble top version.
Harlingen is jampacked with traditional wooden sailing vessels, many of them “tjalks,” a flat-bottomed leeboard (side-keeled) vessel with a gaff rigged mast. A gaff rig is a four corned sail attached fore, aft and at its peak. There is a long pole called a spar. Some tjalks are used to transport day passengers on pleasure cruises but most are for pleasure boating. They were originally used for fishing and cargo transport. As the keels can be raised they can navigate in shallow areas. In deeper water they can lower a keel in order to use its broad flat surface for resistance to sideways motion, thus making it easier to maintain course.
The 12th century village is thick with old brick buildings dating back hundreds of years sitting on cobbled streets. These house many of its 15,000 residents. You walk along the canals starting into beautifully appointed living areas through the un-curtained sparkling large windows, all seemingly cleaned thoroughly each day by invisible workers. We have yet to see anyone ever doing the chore!
The weather was fine so the main streets were alive with locals and visitors, the former going to work or doing errands, the latter walking the streets, waiting for the ferry or train, and every sort populating the bars and restaurants, sitting in the sun which they do not see much of in the long winters. We stopped for poffertijes. These are essentially small pancakes made with yeast and buckwheat. Most are served with sprinkled powdered sugar but there is a savory variant made with Gouda cheese. The sweet version goes well with the strong coffees the Dutch prefer.
Franeker is a bit inland. You pass through a large lock to get inland. Today there was no change in water level so the lock opened to allow us to enter and moments later the other gates opened to allow us to exit. We enjoyed the fine weather passing through the tranquil countryside.
In addition to Franeker’s beautiful architecture, a main draw is the Royal Eise Eisinga Planetarium. The planetarium was built by Eise Eisinga between 1774 and 1781. A pendulum clock powers the movement of the planets, the whole apparatus handing from the ceiling. It is the oldest working planetarium in the world.
Franeker has been around since about the 9th century, playing a role in many major historical events too numerous to go through here. The name may have originally been “Froon-acker”, Friese for “land of the lord/king.” The town’s oldest street in the city is called Froonacker.
Rich with charm, Wergea is a tiny village in Friesland, We passed through on our boat Viking via their one lane canal, the only canal in the village. Tranquility, harmony of architecture, bikes on the lanes. In good weather the Netherlands is one of the best places on earth.
We have been mooring in the deep countryside of Friesland, a province of the Netherlands. Reeds, still used for making thatched roofs, line the canals. Among the wildlife are storks, who nest on the tops of trees. Their black tails help make them more visible from a distance. They have even made some special nesting spots for these large birds.