“Second (to none) City”

One of the major perks about working in science is the travel. With the less-than-stellar salary options, there has to be something keeping us coming back to the bench day in and day out (besides an absolute passion for it).  I am certainly in no position to complain, in the past year work has taken me literally all over the world. Well, almost. Four of seven continents is not too bad (tongue firmly in cheek – I am an incredibly lucky woman). I do find that, with all the more exotic travel opportunities that come up, I rarely take the chance to travel around France. So, when my boss asked if I would be willing to cover a teaching engagement for him in Lyon, I jumped at the chance.

Lyon is mostly south and slightly east of Paris. By high speed train, the trip takes just under 2 hours. Currently in hot competition with Marseille, Lyon claims to be France’s ‘second city’ (I have been told this depends on how you count). Of particular interest to me, Lyon is known as the gastronomic capital of France and boasts several prestigious universities and a highly respected scientific community (as well as the only BSL4 lab in France, for fellow science geeks following along). In fact, I have a ongoing collaboration with a laboratory at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), so this opportunity allowed me to meet with them, explore the city a bit and give my best shot at inspiring some young minds to continue in research. I certainly had my work cut out for me.

I arrived the day before my lecture in order to meet with our collaborators. We were productive and efficient and felt that, after our two hour meeting, we had earned a traditional Lyonnaise meal. I will save my recap of dinner for its own post, as it is certainly deserving of the spotlight. For now I will sum up by saying that it was a delightful homage to all things porky and delicious.  Following such a hearty winter meal, the idea of exploring the Vieux Lyon on foot seemed a perfect, if not necessary, idea despite the persistent drizzle.

We wound through the narrow streets of the medieval city, stopping every few blocks to explore Lyon’s characteristic traboules: hard to spot, narrow tunnels that connect two parallel streets through private courtyards. Apparently these passages gained notereity when they were used as a quick escape route from German soldiers during the occupation of WWII. Today the apartments above are highly prized (and priced), the traboules themselves are carefully maintained and are a fun way to explore the nooks and crannies of an area that feels timeless. Around each corner were tall, extremely narrow apartment buildings that appeared to be squished together in some Seussian balancing act. Occasionally a gap between buildings would reveal the Basilica above, colored spotlights illuminating turrets and towers looking down on the streets below.

We ended our walk after crossing the Saone and arriving at Hotel de Ville and Opera. By then we were rather drenched, yet the combination of post-meal bliss and the beauty of the city by night kept me smiling (and snapping photos).

When it finally arrived, the course itself seemed rather secondary. My two hour lecture went over extremely well and the international group of Masters students were intelligent and enthusiastic. To top it off, they were celebrating their last day of lectures with a potluck lunch, to which I got invited. With three different varities of quiche (winner : goat cheese and broccoli – yum), Croatian meatballs, Jambalaya (a Lousiana student a long way from home) and plethora of fruit and custard tarts (not to mention cider, bread and cheese), I ended my visit to Lyon much the way it began – eating and talking science. Not bad for 23 hours away…

2 responses to ““Second (to none) City”

  1. Another wonderful post!

  2. Pingback: Lyon Bites: La Machonnerie | Researching Paris

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