Check out my vlog here: https://youtu.be/I0ByI6lKQoc
Check out my vlog here: https://youtu.be/I0ByI6lKQoc
« Bienvenue a Lyon! »
This video provides hints and administrative tips on coming to Lyon. Hopefully some future Lyon students find it helpful!
Check out the vlog here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbRrx3zxFOA&feature=youtu.be
« Bienvenue a Lyon! »
Welcome to Lyon, the gastronomic capital of the land of frogs and foie gras. I’ll be studying abroad here for the remainder of this year, and oh, what a treat it was to check out the city for a few days on my travels. I cannot wait to go back and actually live in such an incredible city! We tried the famous Bouchon des Filles restaurant, which has a highly impressive menu with a lighter spin on the traditional heavy Bouchon feasts. Needless to say, we still had to leave the restaurant a few belt buckles longer.
Check out the vlog here: https://youtu.be/XygYLlRJ3v4
It’s strange moving halfway across the world to a place you’ve never been before, because as soon as you get there it feels like home. After traveling for six weeks before arriving in Lyon, I was so exhausted from living out of a suitcase and moving between different cities every few days that I was longing for a place to call my own, somewhere to settle in and just take a breath. So after arriving at my new home at midnight, it immediately felt like my place, somehow familiar even though it was completely foreign.
As a result, I never really put my tourist hat back on and explored Lyon as if I was only going to be there for a few days. I never actually set out to see the sights as if I was new to the city, although I absolutely was. Because who goes touristing in your own home, right? But over the four months, I experienced all that Lyon was for tourists, as well as all that it was for locals. There’s something quite special about getting to know a city inside and out without ever really meaning to. I got to the last couple of weeks of my exchange and realised I had practically no photos of myself in Lyon, so went out furiously to all my favourite spots to get some tangible memories. So here are all the best parts of my beautiful city, from the greatest of the popular spots to the tucked away pearls that only a local would know. I hope it inspires you to make a trip to Paris’s lesser frequented but just as breathtaking little sister.
It’s probably Lyon’s most famous tourist destination, but the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière is undoubtedly the most spectacular part of the city, not just because of the awe-inspiring 19th-century basilica but because of its positioning before a perfect panorama of Lyon and its surroundings. I visited Fourvière several times with all the different people who came to stay with me while I was on my exchange, and it never failed to impress me, snow or shine. Just along from the basilica are the ruins of the Théâtre Gallo-Romain, which is estimated to have been constructed in 15BC, telling an incredible story of Lyon’s long history.
A striking contrast from the rest of the ancient, medieval and renaissance city, the area of Les Confluences is a modern architectural triumph. The end point of the Presqu’île where the Rhône and Saône rivers merge, the former industrial wasteland is now a leading urban renewal project, using environmentally-sustainable design. A cluster of bizarre, colourful buildings and a vibrant sense of community, a visit to Les Confluences is exciting and thought-provoking. My favourite experience is walking along the river with the huge modernistic buildings on one side, and ancient
viaducts and manor houses on the other.
Musee des Beaux-Arts
I didn’t make time to pay a visit to the Musée des Beaux-Arts until my last week in the city, and boy did I have regrets about it! One of France’s largest art museums, we spent about three hours there and barely scratched the surface of all the incredible works, from ancient antiquities to room-size modern art pieces. The building itself, which used to be a royal abbey in the 17th century, could pass as its own work of art. I think if I’d known how incredible the museum was earlier, I would have spent every weekend finding new works to stand in front of and make sense of, filling my
heart to its content.
Ah, Johnny’s. My local haunt, frequented far too often for a pint of Belhaven Cider and occasional bowl of their insane hand-cut fries. This Irish pub was literally 40m away from the entrance to my apartment, which became very useful for me in the colder months when my friends were after a few drinks. The Anglophone vibe of the pub was its best asset for a girl craving a break from having to battle through a French sentence, with Irishmen, British-folk, Australians and Americans aplenty. There was even a girl from Ashburton working on the bar – small world, right?
Fête des Lumières
During the first weekend of December each year, Lyon experiences a wild population increase as the city lights up for the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights). On the 8th of December, the Lyonnais put candles on their window sill to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary, whose statue overlooks the city from Fourvière hill. Every year, the festival has become more and more remarkable, with light shows, exhibitions, performances and artists’ installations. It really is an incredible experience, but not one that the Lyonnais enjoy too much, with millions of visitors flooding the streets to see what will be on display.
The other of Lyon’s hills is a well known tourist spot, but it takes weeks, even months, to discover all of Croix Rousse’s best spots. Filled with narrow uphill streets, hidden ‘traboules’ (small passageways between courtyards and buildings), thrift shops and boutiques, and the best cafés in town, Croix Rousse is the place to be if you’re looking for secret places to call your own. Even after four months, I still feel like the best is yet to be discovered.
Place des Celestins
In my opinion, the most magical corner of Lyon is the Place des Celestins, right outside the iconic Théâtre des Celestins. This spot breathes culture, history and community, being the meeting point for not only theatre-goers but also Lyonnais who seek a place to kick a ball, to hang out with friends, or to quietly read a book. It is perfect during the day and even more enchanting at night, when it is illuminated by all its beautiful lights. My only regret is that I didn’t get to go inside – if it looks this good on the outside I can only imagine what it’s like on the inside!
There are three campuses of Jean Moulin Lyon 3 University, of which two are in Lyon and the other is in Bourg-en-Bresse, a small town about 70km north of Lyon. I was based at the Manufacture des Tabacs for all of my classes, which is the largest campus and hosts most of the administration offices. The ‘Manufacture’ used to be a tobacco factory, so it has a kind of institutional and unappealing vibe, especially the dark and unexciting classrooms and lecture theatres. However, it does have plenty of cool cafés and bakeries on and around the campus, including my personal favourite, L’Epicerie, which has a mouth-watering menu of tartines (which is like a toasted opensandwich, including a goat’s cheese, honey and walnut one – YUM). The Manufacture is kind of the heart of Jean Moulin university life, with the largest library, a gym, a Languages House and all the orientation activities and semester events.
Campus life at the Manufacture is similar to at the University of Auckland in the way that people don’t spend too much time at campus except for in between class and studying at the library, but it’s slightly different in that the campus is only about the size of the Engineering block, so there aren’t many nice spaces to hang out with friends other than the courtyard in the middle. This really put me off spending a lot of time on campus, as there are no green spaces or spots that you can go to get away from everyone else.
The Campus des Quais is the other campus in Lyon, which holds all the classes for the Arts and Law third-year and above students, so a lot of my friends had most or all of their classes there. It is a beautiful campus on the banks of the Rhône river, made up of several different buildings which are all very old and impressive. I never actually went to the ‘Quais’, so I’m not sure what the buildings are like on the inside, but again there doesn’t seem to be much outside space to hang out in. However, I think this is probably the reality for most universities in France, as their cities are planned in a way which doesn’t leave a lot of space for fields, lawns or any green outdoor space. I guess I’m just accustomed to the green and outdoorsy way of New Zealand!
There are only 29,000 students at Jean Moulin, of which almost 5,000 are exchange students, so there is a real close-knit and international feel to the campus. It was not uncommon to hear bunches of people speaking English, because the common language of all the international students was actually, much to my advantage, not French but English. But there was an unmistakable French atmosphere, with students having a smoke in the courtyard between classes, and the chic French street style everywhere you look. I definitely never saw the classic University of Auckland activewear strutting the halls!
In terms of my campus life, I didn’t really spend that much time at uni except for my classes and a bit of extra work at the library. I only had class Monday-Wednesday, and didn’t have any gaps in between my classes, so I was basically in and out without hanging around too much. But I think the general vibe at uni, especially for international students, was just to get in and out as quick as possible to leave as much time as possible for exploring the rest of the city and going on weekend adventures. In general, French students keep to themselves and their own friends without going too far out of their way to meet exchange students, so most international students kept their exchange life outside of uni. A huge generalisation, but from what I could tell it was pretty much the truth. The thing with Lyon is, the entire city is so beautiful and full of things to do, so it seemed a shame to spend too much time at uni in my opinion. C’s get degrees, right?
If Lyon is the gastronomical capital of France, and French cuisine is often seen as the finest in the world, that makes Lyonnais food the best in the world, right? My first two months here have certainly put forward a good case, much to the dismay of my wallet and waistline. It’s not just the traditionally-French food, but all the different styles of cuisine in Lyon are worth forking out for, in more ways than one.
Firstly, I have to apologise for the lack of photos on this post; I’m the kind of person who can’t not eat or drink when there’s something delicious sitting in front of me. Even the coffee photo below is fraudulent – I had already vigorously stirred the sugar into my cup before remembering I needed a pretty pic. Luckily, my friend wasn’t so greedy!
Undoubtedly the best aspect of food in Lyon is the passion the French have for fresh and locally-sourced produce. Every single day, there are multiple different farmers markets set up around the city, so everyone has a conveniently local and regular place to get their fresh fruit, veges, meat, cheese, seafood and baguettes. My local market is about a five-minute walk from my house, and lines the Saône river with stalls of all kinds of delicious and cheap produce. I so wish I could transport the market culture to New Zealand with me when I come home.
The best French cuisine in Lyon can be found at a ‘bouchon’, which is a specific kind of restaurant which serves traditional Lyonnaise food, of which there are twenty certified establishments around the city. At most bouchons you order from a set menu, which gives you an appetiser, an entrée, a main dish and a dessert. Cuisine at a bouchon is not for the faint-hearted, with the main dishes heavily focused on meat, and not just the cuts we are used to. Luckily the appetiser and entrée are incredibly filling, because from beef tripe to chicken liver cake to ox tongue to calf’s head, the main dish choices are not always incredibly appealing. However, it is so interesting to try their traditional tastes, and a bouchon has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere which makes the whole dining experience worth it. And with a cheeky bottle of Côtes du Rhone on the side, it is sure to be a good night.
Despite their expertise in the kitchen and the vineyard however, there’s one thing the French are yet to master, and that’s a good cup of coffee. The only place in Lyon I trust with the barista machine is an Australian-owned coffeehouse, Slake, which actually has the kiwi fan-favourite Flat White on their menu and knows how to get it right. And I’m not a huge coffee drinker, so when I can tell the difference between a bad cup and a Slake cup, that’s when you know it’s good.
Please feel free to message me if you have any questions about studying in Lyon/France or abroad in general, I am so happy to help with anything you want to know if you are coming to Lyon next semester or wondering where to apply to! Email me at email@example.com – and keep up to date with what I’m up to on my instagram at @harrietkeown!
As I said in my previous post, I had a traumatic time trying to find accommodation in Lyon, so it is a bit too soon for me to be writing this as I haven’t fully recovered. In the pre-departure stages of my exchange, I was blindly set on living in a flat with French people, and had a few Facebook groups and websites lined up that I was going to look through to find one. I messaged lots of people before I left New Zealand, but found it pretty hard to get anything settled as it seemed everyone preferred people who were able to come and have a look at the flat or have an interview. So I decided to book into a hostel for the first few days that I was going to be in Lyon and work hard to find one once I had arrived.
However, come my arrival in Lyon, most of the flatting options had been exhausted, and all those who were still looking wanted someone who was staying for at least a year. So I swallowed my pride and began looking at university residences, which seemed to have a few places still available, were reasonably priced and in good locations. But when I began emailing and ringing the residences, one by one I was turned down because they were all full up. I hit rock bottom, regretted ever leaving my cold, damp and overpriced Auckland flat, and slowly accepted my fate of having to live in a hostel for four months.
Fortunately however, my luck turned around after the first week of desperation, and, to cut a long story short, I ended up private boarding with a lovely family of a woman and her two sons, aged 17 and 19, in their gorgeous home, which is located in the most beautiful part of Lyon.
In hindsight, I don’t really know what I would advise to students thinking of coming to Lyon in the future in terms of accommodation. You can either play it safe and reserve a place in a university residence, which would put you in a one-bedroom apartment or studio. These are quite well-priced and give you great peace of mind knowing you have a place to move into straight away, but are quite isolating as you live alone and in a very cramped space. If you want to try your luck at waiting until you get there to find a flat or private boarding spot, I would say go for it as you can really end up with a fantastic result and fully immerse yourself in French culture with your flatmates.
However, just know that IT WILL BE STRESSFUL. Like bloody stressful. You will be stressed. But it will be worth it in the end.
So all’s well that ends well! And my lovely accommodation can now be awarded several accolades in the bi-annual 360 International Accommodation Awards including…
The IKEA Award for home comfort and hassle-free living
Moving into a family home gives you a lot of perks that wouldn’t have been there if I’d gone with (or even found) another option. I haven’t had to pay a bond or sign any unnecessary paperwork, and just give my semi-host-mum 500€ once a month, which works out to be about $190 a week. I didn’t need to buy any furniture, linen or cutlery, am welcome to eat dinners with the family, and I only pay from the day I move in until the day I move out. A dream situation really! What’s more, I have moved into a house which has been lived in and loved for years, meaning it feels much more like home than a small and white-walled studio apartment would have, and is much tidier and cosier than a flat being lived in by a bunch of poor students.
The Block NZ Award for location, location, location
The best part of Lyon is undoubtedly the arrondissements on the western side of the Rhône River, and undoubtedly NOT the arrondissements around the university, where most of the university residences and cheaper flats are. By some stroke of luck, I ended up in the most beautiful part of all, Vieux Lyon, which is the old part of town, and hugely Italian influenced from the city’s history in the Roman silk trade. I am so lucky to be able to walk over both the stunning rivers, through the narrow alleyways and colourful buildings, and past all the restaurants and churches and to get home everyday. I know I wouldn’t love Lyon half as much as I do if I was living closer to university, and private boarding is the easiest way to be in an affordable and nice apartment on this side of the
The Friends Award for always having someone there for you:
Living in a private boarding situation, or, as I usually refer to it, a semi-host family, means there is always going to be someone on hand to give you help, advice, or a well-cooked meal. I never imagined myself living in this kind of arrangement on my exchange, and even actively avoided looking into the idea, but it really has turned out to be the best option for me. The woman that I live with has been so warm and welcoming, and feels like a motherly figure away from home, while also giving me the space to live as an independent university student with my own schedule and privacy. My host brothers have adopted me into their family so lovingly, and are great at introducing me to more French people and helping me improve my French. It is such a nice feeling
leaving a stressful day at uni or a night out with friends and coming home to a cosy family home. I’m sure this kind of accommodation wouldn’t work for anyone, but it is so perfect for anyone who thinks they might need a bit of comfort and care every now and then!