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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Les Terrasses Saint-Pierre is located inside the Musee des Beaux-Arts.  It is on the second floor and has seating inside and outside.  The interior of the cafe has a giant mural by Raoul Dufy, a painter/illustrator whose works I liked.  The mural was light and colorful, and went perfectly well with the spring scene outside.  We spent more than two hours there, slowly eating Lyon’s version of “brunch”, soaking up the sun and ambience.  The brunch was a mini buffet of different kinds of dried meat and cheeses, pastries, bread, salad,  and other goodies served on a piece of slate, and unlimited hot drinks.  The place must be really popular as it was quickly filled up by groups with reservations.  It was definitely a “find”.

On our last day, we continued our tour of the center of Lyon.  We strolled through the Place des Terreaux which has a big fountain and lots of cafes.  The place reminds me of Piazza Navona in Roma.  It must be great to have a drink or ice cream here and people-watch on a summer night.  The town hall is on the east side while the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon forms the south side of the square.  We wandered into the museum and discovered its well-maintained lush green courtyard and garden.  The tranquility of the courtyard is such a contrast from the bustling square just outside.  The big discovery is the cafe which is located on the first floor of the museum and the terrace overlooking the courtyard.  We had an unexpectedly  spectacular brunch at the terrace which will be in tomorrow’s post.  A satellite map of the museum and the center of Lyon is here.

In the old town section of Lyon, we passed by a Museum of miniatures and cinematic decoration.  It seemed touristy – we did not want to pay to go inside.  But the museum had several displays in the window and a shop selling micro-sized furniture and crockery.  I took some pictures through the glass and some of them turned out surprisingly convincing – just squint a little.

On Saturday, we were surprised by the assembly of people dressed in peirod costume in Place Bellecour (biggest square in Lyon and in France apparently).  The city was holding its annual celebration of  the signing of a charter of rights in 1320, and this year it coincided with the 400th anniversary of the death of King Henry IV.  He was apparently a very popular ruler as his assassination and the plotting of it was renacted by costumed actors in various parts of the old town. Although it looked touristy, it was not commercial and the participants seemed to enjoy playing the roles as much as the crowd were watching it.  It was fun to watch as the story unfolded during the day (not really knowing what was said by the actors) while we were strolling through the old town.  Beside the drama, we saw demonstration of medieval trades, a parade and a performance of dancing with flags.

Lyon is the second largest city in France but it is the top gastronomic city.  It has more Michelin star restaurants than Paris. So there are lots to explore.  Off the main square in downtown Lyon (Place Bellecour), we came across a small cooking school that has a cafe and cookbook store.  The place is called In Cuisine with a motto “Lire Cusiner Deguster”.  It has a fun and colorful kitchen.  Wouldn’t mind learning some dishes there.  We had tea, chatted briefly with the instructor (in English), and continued our tour of the city.

The center of Lyon is located on a strip of land flanked by two rivers: Saône and Rhône.  There are markets on the banks of the rivers, selling vegetables, herbs, cheese, flowers, sausages, books, and seafood.  We strolled along the Saône to check out the produce.  Having never tried pesto cheese before – it was dark green in color, we bought some after a tasting.  We were also tempted by the raw oysters – 10 euros for 12.  We ordered a dozen of them and some cooked prawns.  The oysters were shucked in front of us and Sue said one of them was moving.  The seafood came from Montepellier down South but it was very fresh.  It was nice sitting in the sun, eating oyster, watching the boats go by and the locals doing their weekend food shopping.

Beside the hotel, the Cité Internationale has residences, a major conference center, a number of restaurants (including a Mexican-themed restaurant !), a multiplex cinema, a small casino and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon or mac-lyon).  This art piece shown above is placed in the walkway that run through the entire cité.  This place has to be one of the safest place on earth since the headquarters of Interpol is situated right next door (picture below).

I attended a 2-day business meeting in Lyon towards the end of April.  It finished on a Friday, so Sue came to join me for the weekend to explore this city.  Neither one had been here before and there is a lot to see and eat.  The meeting was held at the Hilton Lyon and we stayed over.   In our experience, packing and unpacking to change hotel is a total waste of time.  The Hilton is located in the Cité Internationale, an impressive large-scale project designed by Renzo Piano.  The picture above is taken from the hotel just above the glass ceiling of the main pedestrian walkway.  It is located between the Rhone and a big, beautiful park (“Gold head”, Parc de la Tête d’Or). It is a neat place but a bit of a hike into downtown Lyon.  More tomorrow.

On our last day in Lugano, the sun came back out but it was still cold.  We took another funicular railway up to Monte Bre located on the other side of Lugano, across from Monte San Savatore.  There are many hiking trails around this mountain and the view of the Alps are perhaps a bit better than Monte San Salvatore.  The funicolare terminus is located in Castagnola, next to a great-looking hotel with a vintage sport car parked in front.  There are further proof of the Mediterranean climate which comes in the form of palm trees.

These were taken near a stretch of the lake front near our hotel.  It shows Lugano center (above), Castagnola (below), Paradiso (with its brightly lit funicular railway going up to Monte San Salvatore), and Campione d’Italia (with a casino).



Campione d’Italia

The Church of St Mary of the Angels (Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli, no English version) was next to our hotel and in front of our room window.  It was built in 1500, partially demolished, and rebuilt in the 1800’s.  It is famous not for its architecture but for its frescoes painted during the Renaissance period. Covering almost an entire wall that divides the church in two is a depiction of the Crucifixion. The square in front of the church is Piazza Luini, named after the painter, Bernardino Luini, reputedly a buddy of Leonardo da Vinci.

Other than easter eggs, it is also asperagus season at this time of the year.  Every restaurant, in Neuchatel and also here in Lugano, has a special asperagus menu (Asperges, Asperagi).  In the US, it is available all year-round.  I guess they have an abundance of it here only in Spring.  The Asparagus milanese with two eggs was delicious for brunch.  The other dishes were fish pasta with asperagus tips, octopus salad, pizza with proscuito, artichoke hearts and olives. Buona Pasqua !

On our second day in Lugano, we each bought a pass that allowed us unlimited travel on many of the local buses, boats, and funicular railways.  First, we hopped on one of the tour boats (Societa Navigazione del Lago di Lugano) and cruised to the villages dotted around Lago di Lugano.  The boats makes many stops, some of which are just hotels built on the hillside (“Grotto”).  One of the more picturesque town is Gandria, which has a church, several restaurants, and a few art shops.  We got off the boat and explored it on foot.  It was tiny (population about 200), steep, and tranquil.  When the next boat came, we continued onto Campione and then to Paradiso.

I found out catcus grows in Switzerland, below the Alps, the hard way.  I got a bunch of needles stuck onto my fleece jacket and did not realize until they worked their way through the layers of clothes.  It took me several days to find them all, mostly by feeling the prick as they are too small to see.

Paradiso is next to Lugano but because of urban sprawl, you will not notice that you have entered “paradise”.  What a name for a town !  We arrived by boat to take a funicolare (funicular railway) that goes up to Monte San Salvatore.  This is one of the four or five of funicular railways that take you all the way up to the top of mountains surrounding Lago di Lugano.  Despite the overcast weather, the almost-36o degree view is stunning.  Most eye-catching is the viaduct at Melide that traverses the lake to Bissone on the other side (below, from right to left), unofficially dividing the lake into a Northern and Southern side.  Also visible are Campione d’Italia, and the inland Swiss and Italian towns behind Lugano and Paradiso all the way up to the Alps.

On our third day, we took a boat tour to the Southern side of Lago di Lugano towards Morcote and other lake side villages (Capolago, Porto Ceresio, Figino) and ending in Ponte Tresa at the border with Italy.  For much of the cruise, the left bank is Italy and the right bank is Switzerland.  It was a misty, rainy day which was not fun because it was cold and damp.  But it created a dreamy setting for these small lakeside villages.  We did not get off at Morcote to explore the Church of Santa Maria del Sasso located above the town.  It looked great from a distance and we would love to go back again to see it, and try out the lakefront restaurants.

The center of Lugano is Piazza Riforma (above and immediately below), the other end of Via Nassa. Because it was Easter (Pasqua as they call it), each of the many small piazzas have a market and they stayed open the entire weekend.  Via Nassa is very narrow but lined by nice shops in arcades.  The facades of the buildings on either side are very ornately decorated.  The whole town was very lively and packed with visitors.  Live music performance throughout the day.

There was a McDonald and a Burger King in the center of town.  McDonald was located inside a classy old-fashioned arcade with decor that looks more like a hotel then a fast food joint.  We did not eat there.  We had a coffee and a black forest gateau in Vanini (Piazza Riforma).