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2 weeks in 3 of France's "2nd" cities - Lyon, Dijon, Marseille

I am just finishing posting a trip report about 1 week in Italy and two weeks in Croatia. After that I spent another two weeks in France. As with many trips to places like Croatia, which are costly and time consuming to get to from the US, I’ve found flying in/out of places like Italy and France not only breaks up what would otherwise be a multi-connection, long and expensive flight home but lets me combine some ‘different’ places. From Split we flew EasyJet to Lyon, France (for 45€ each, including ‘upfront seating’). My husband, who isn’t crazy about cities in general, and for some reason not to crazy about France either, flew home from Lyon and I styed on to explore more of Lyon, plus Marseille and Dijon. Since I doubt many people are planning to combine the places we went in one trip I think it would be more helpful to post this as a separate report.

So here it is.
The photos are here: https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/f667172952 (photos and trip report combine if you prefer to read it that way are here: https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/10/lyon-and-dijon-france-july-2019
https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/10/marseille-france

LYON
I spent 3 nights in Lyon, one day doing a day trip to Perouges, another a half day trip to Vienne.
LYON – population of 500,000 the 3rd largest city in France. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site for its old town, Vieux Lyon, and it’s traboules. Lyon has a nice setting at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone Rivers. The large island between them, Presque’ile, has several squares linked by pedestrian streets with a vaguely ‘Parisian’ like look. Unfortunately most were in the process of being re-paved and everything was torn up with construction equipment and a lot of jack hammering going on. Even without that, the comparison with Paris would be marginal. But the view of old Lyon across the Saone River is lovely.
Vieux Lyon - Reached by one of the three passerelles (footbridges) crossing the Saône from the Presqu’île, Vieux Lyon is made up of what was once three villages - churches and the ‘neighborhood’ around each (now all blend together) - St-Jean, St-Georges and St-Paul, at the base of the hill of Fourvière. Cobbled, pedestrianized streets lined with Renaissance and medieval facades really does have ‘Old World’ ambience. Place Neuve Saint-Jean, is the main square. The cathedral’s main façade lacks most of its statuary as a result of various wars but is still impressive and the 13th Century stained glass and rose window are in perfect condition. The most interesting thing is the 14th C astronomical clock, capable of computing moveable feast days (such as Easter) till the year 2019.

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Traboules – The highlight of Lyon for me was the traboules – they are essentially shortcuts linking streets, which provided shelter from rain when reams of silk — a key industry in historic Lyon — were moved from one place to the next. Many are various shades of pastel colors, with medieval stonework, arches, loggias, spiral stone staircases. Other cities have them but Lyon has the most, and many are open to the public even though they are the entrances to private apartments. Most of those are marked with the bronze plaque that indicates anything in Lyon of historic interest, but not all. I had googled the addresses and the ones I found were all indeed open to the public as long as you were brave enough to push open a door that looked like a private entrance, and then push the light button. 6 Rue Trois Maries (actually enter from other side), 3 Place St Paul, 54 rue St jean, 28 rue St Jean. While tourist maps have locations and many tour groups visit them, most had very few people in them when I was there, you are expected to be quiet and respectful for the sake of the people who actually live there. They are so ‘hidden’ that they were used by the French resistance during WWll.

The other highlights of Lyon are up on Fouviere Hill. Reached by a funicular (same ticket as the metro) – or a steep walk up streets or stairs – at the top is a hulking, ornate wedding cake of a church, the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière which was built, like the Sacré-Coeur in Paris, in the aftermath of the 1871 Commune to emphasize the defeat of the godless socialists. And like the Sacré-Coeur, its hilltop position has become a defining element in the city’s skyline. The interior has marble statues, stained glass and gold and turquoise mosaic wall panels. The crypt has some nice stonework and an ornate turquoise mosaic ceiling in the apse.
Halfway down the hill is Musée Gallo-Romain. Alongside the museum, dug into the hillside, are the substantial remains of two ruined theatres – the larger of which was built by Augustus in 15 BC and extended in the second century by Hadrian to seat 10,000 spectators. The theaters are free to enter and you can walk all around and in them (except for the section with the staging, as in every Roman theater in Europe these days, the centers are filled with staging for performances during the summer).

The only museum I did was The Musee Conflulences, one of the best anthropology museums I’ve seen. It’s not huge, the permanent exhibit is on the top floor and consists of five large rooms: The Origin of the Species and our world (big bang theory and evolution), Species (who are we and what is our place in the world?, definition of human identity and the link between humanity and animality (some wonderful taxidermy animals); Societies (how we organize, exchange and create everything); and Eternities (visions of the beyond and how humans view/treat the passing between two worlds (death). A wonderful look at most aspects of physical and cultural anthropology. Everything in English as well as French. Knowing I had limited time and not knowing how big it was I did move relatively fast – I read all the main plaques but not the many smaller ones. It took me a bit over an hour but I could see if you really wanted to read everything it could take 2 or 3. I spent very little time on the lower floor in the temporary exhibits (Himalayan festivals, Japanese, Headdresses of the world, and insects.) But between the building itself (ultra modern, built in 2014, looks like a space ship) and the permanent exhibit it was certainly worth the €9.

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Very nice trip report and photos!

We loved Lyon when we were there in August. We stayed in Vieux Lyon and our apartment had it's own inner courtyard just like a traboule. We also loved Beaune.

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Beautiful photos! I enjoyed looking at them. Thank you for sharing.

My husband had a business trip to Dijon in May. Lovely, perfect town. I think I did everything you did, except for the crypt. I'm sorry I missed that! I also took a ballet lesson at a studio in the very heart of the medieval center of Dijon.

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Very nice report on my beautiful town Isabel ! I'm very happy you enjoyed your stay in Dijon. Beautiful pictures that make you a great ambassador of my town.

I even noticed the little angel on the wall of my back alley (rue des Bons Enfants) and where my main entrance is (rue Rameau right in front of the Dukes Palace).

Next time don't forget to visit our newly renovated Fine Arts Museum where you can almost spend a full day there. Bravo !

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I'm glad people are enjoying the report.

Coco - you live in a beautiful part of a gorgeous city. I just kept walking around being amazed at how much I liked it. I've been to a lot of places in Europe, and quite a lot in France, and Dijon is now very near the top of my list of favorites.

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PEROUGES

On my husband’s one full day he requested we do a day trip to Perouges and it was a good decision. An easy enough day excursion by train from Lyon Part-Dieu train station to Meximieux Pérouges station, 30 minute walk from old town, flat except for the last 5 minutes up the hill. There are trains every 2 hours or so. The station there looks to have been shut for years but has kiosks to buy tickets, though given how well they work it’s best to get return tickets before leaving Lyon. About €8 per person each way, takes about ½ hour. We ended up getting the 10:12-10:45 there and the 16:16-16:48 back. No signs at the station as to where the town is but turn left and eventually you see signs for “Medieval Perouges”.

As we were walking towards the old town a French couple must have thought we looked lost because they started to tell us which way to go and walked with us. When we said we didn’t speak French he said “London?” and I said ‘no, United States’, he really lit up, pointed to his hat (which said “Seals”) and said he was a French GI. Then he made some remark about Trump, and DH said, in French, that Trump was a pig (his French is limited and this was all he could come up with) which this guy thought was hysterical. This man and his wife (who smiled a lot but never said anything) kept walking with us for several minutes, chattering nonstop, most of which we didn’t understand (he did say Bill Clinton had been there). Anyway, they seemed to really like Americans, shook our hands as they were turning down a different street, wished us a good trip.

Pérouges is a village on a small hill of cobbled alleyways and ancient stone houses, an immaculate work of conservation (including all utilities buried) that really makes you feel like you stepped back into medieval times. Its charm has not gone unnoticed by the film industry. The streets and the buildings are all kind of a light grey/honey color stone. There are two gated entrances “Porte d’en Bas” (bottom door) and “Porte d’en Haut” (upper door) and a street that encircles the village, a couple of alleys and a main square, La Place de la Halle. The main square is the site of a majestic linden tree planted during the French Revolution, 1792. Because of this, the plaza is also known as the liberty tree – La Place du Tilleul. Some buildings in the village are clearly not in use but everything is very well cared for. A few tourist shops but nothing tacky. A few restaurants, no fast food. One museum/tower (€5 entry) with so-so views (it’s not very high) and a nice medieval interior (several huge fire places), some weaving paraphernalia, various old objects.

We ate lunch at ‘Relais de la Tour’ on the main square. The price fixed lunch included a ‘buffet’ of charcuterie and crudités, main dish of ham and mashed potatoes in a mushroom cream sauce or chicken and green beans, and a dessert buffet (dark chocolate mouse, Chantilly, ice cream, tarts). DH got a “Pression medieval” (medieval beer), Total €37. One of the best meals of the trip.

We were there 5 ½ hours but at least an hour included the walk up and back to the train. You really ‘need’ about 3 hours to see the village (we walked around it 3 times) and have an hour-long lunch. There were a few other tourists around, but no crowds at all. As we were leaving we wondered why tour groups didn’t invade this place, it’s so picturesque. Then we saw two Viking River Cruise tour buses heading in as we were walking back to the train.

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Coco - you live in a beautiful part of a gorgeous city. I just kept walking around being amazed at how much I liked it. I've been to a lot of places in Europe, and quite a lot in France, and Dijon is now very near the top of my list of favorites.>

I love to read that and I know you are not the only one, thank you Isabel !

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VIENNE is another very easy day trip from Lyon (train stops in both Part-Dieux and Perrache stations in Lyon), ½ hour to Vienne, €7, two or three trains per hour. The gare in Vienne is a short walk from the sites. Vienne is known for its abundance of Roman ruins, many of which are just fragments but there are a lot of them, scattered about the city and able to be seen for free. The most exceptional is the Temple of August and Livia, on Place du Palais (site of the Roman forum), 1st C BC, completely intact just sitting there like any other building. Along with the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, it is one of the two best examples of a Roman edifice of this kind in France. It was well preserved because the temple became a church around the 6th C and the portico was bricked up, restored in the 19th C.

There’s also a theater but it was ‘closed’ for performances so I couldn’t even look at it. But free and always open is the Jardin Archeologique de Cybele, a public garden littered with Roman fragments including a large wall, various terraces and the foundation of several houses, and two large perpendicular archways that would have opened onto the forum. There’s also a couple of impressive churches, Cathedrale St Maurice is huge with intricate stonework on the front, and St Andres le Bas has a very pretty cloister with some well preserved stone carvings. Vienne the city is kind of a dump, not horrible but if it weren’t for the roman ruins it would not be on the tourist map at all. Two hours was plenty.

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MARSEILLE
From Lyon I took the TGV to Marseille. As the train traveled south it passed vineyards, wheat fields, and fields of sunflowers, hill towns with and without castles, the Rhone (lovely shade of blue), the mountains Cezanne painted, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence and on to Marseille.

The train station, Gare St Charles, is beautiful 19th century (but totally modern inside, bright and clean). As you exit there’s a view of the city below you and a ‘monumental’ grand staircase – art nouveau with gorgeous lampposts and statues and palm trees. At the bottom of the stairs Boulevard d’Athenes is a bit gritty but lively with every imaginable ethnic market and eatery, the aroma was exotic and enticing. Short walk to La Canebiere, the main thoroughfare that runs down to Vieux Port. And then there’s the port, really huge for an ‘old’ harbor. Rectangular shaped with a wide promenade on three sides and full of every imaginable kind of boat. Marseille has the feeling of a commination of Palermo, Genoa, Athens, Paris and New York.

I checked into the Residhotel – a one minute walk inland from the port (20 minute walk from the train – or 2 quick stops on the metro). Not exactly upscale or fancy, room quite large, kitchenette with fridge, microwave, 2 burner stove, kettle, dishes, etc. Plenty to make simple meals for a week. Wi-fi ,AC. There is a huge Carrefour grocery store a two minute walk away, ( Brioche Doree, Starbucks and a bagel store all around the corner). €82/night

I decided to give myself 6 nights in Marseille – a rather slow pace for me. But it’s on the water and I love the Mediterranean in the summer, and there were a couple day trips I wanted to take. I thoroughly enjoyed my time and could have even used more. But if someone’s time is limited, a couple of full days in Marseille is enough to see the highlights.

Le Panier – the ‘old town’. When the Greeks landed in Marseille 2600 years ago this is where they landed. No signs of Greeks today (there is a mural depicting their arrival, near the cathedral) but it is the oldest neighborhood with narrowing, steep (and more often than not, stepped) streets lined with tall houses in various states of disrepair giving the area that ‘colorful shabby’ ambiance. Lots and lots of street art – murals everywhere. Lots of regular graffiti as well but there is so much of it, and most of it so well done that it really ads rather than detracts. Flowers in flower boxes and pots, laundry flapping in the breeze. Several small tree lined squares. A few cafes, some art galleries, a few shops – mostly quirky, nothing very upscale but all very interesting. Le Panier means ‘the basket’. This area was a melting pot where immigrants from Naples, Corsica, Catalonia and rest of the Mediterranean coast mingle with the French West Indies, Africa and Vietnam. The Panier became a working-class district when the Marseille middle-class decided to move out in the 17th century to relocate in the new districts, the people who remained largely made their living from the sea – fishermen and sailors.

The streets of Le Panier themselves are the “site” but the Cathedrale de la Major - Roman Byzantine, largest built in France since the Middle Ages and right next to it the 12th century Romanesque Church it replaced. The other major site is the Vieille Charité, Marseille's architectural gem. Italian Baroque, a rectangle of arcades on three stories nestled around a courtyard with a Baroque chapel in the center. The complex houses several museums for which you need a ticket, but you explore the building (all three levels) and courtyard for free.

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Vieux Port – The head of the port is Quai des Belges where fishing boats still unload their catch for sale every morning. There is also a new modern ‘feature’ – a huge mirror canopy suspended high above the pavement– “Le Ombriere” provides shade and adds visual interest. In the evening this quai is full of people selling stuff on blankets – hats, electronics, etc. as well as hair braiding, henna tattooing, and people selling mint tea. Also street performers. The north side, below Le Panier, Quai du Port has a large pedestrianized promenade, lined with craft tents of people selling local produce and crafts (soap is a BIG thing in Marseille). The first few buildings are very Parisian (La Samaritine) looking, the rest are 20th century, except the Hotel de Ville, 1673, Genoan Baroque with a huge bust of king Louis XIV and colorful flags. The opposite side, Quai de Rive Neuve has more car lanes, less sidewalk but both sides are lined with restaurants, bars, cafes. The buildings around the harbor are for the most part not terribly interesting. I did find Bar de la Marine, (#15 Quai de Rive Neuve), a 1930s sailor's haunt with an old zinc bar and a mezzanine that was the scene of the salty barkeeper’s saga in the 1932 film Fany and of Jamie’s proposal in Love Actually. A ferry boat crosses the harbor midway, from in front of the Hotel de Ville, takes 10 minutes and costs 50 cents. And it does cut down on a good bit of walking if needing to get from one side to the other.

The major ‘site’ on north side of the harbor is Notre Dame de la Garde, high on the hill which can be seen from virtually everywhere in the city (in fact it was the first thing I saw coming out of the train station). Neo-Byzantine finished in the mid 1800s. Great views from the terrace and the inside covered is glittering mosaics and, an interesting touch, models of sailboats (and one airplane) hanging rom the ceiling. Abbaye St-Victor dates from the 11th to 14th centuries and looks like a fortress, but the main interest is in the spooky 5th century crypt. Marseille's oldest church (1600 hundred years, one of the oldest in France), The crypt is a fascinating, crumbling warren containing several chapels and passages, and a series of antique, pagan and Christian sarcophagi. Much larger than most crypts, it’s essentially the same size as the church above. Free. Crypt €2.

Both sides of the harbor are guarded by massive fortresses. The north side has Fort St Nicholas, massive but largely in ruin. Just beyond Fort St Nicholas is the Palais and Jardin du Pharo. Château du Pharo, built in the 1860s by Napoleon III for his empress (now a convention center) is surrounded by a nice park with drop-dead gorgeous of the whole port and the much more impressive Fort St Jean across the harbor. Fort St Jean was built in 1660 by Louis 14th and is beautifully restored. It houses the Museum of European and Mediterranean Cultures, for which you need a ticket, but you can explore the whole fort, including climbing the keep and ramparts and courtyard for free. More fabulous views. The site of the fort has been occupied since Antiquity and in the 13th C the order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John (future Knights of Malta) built the original fort.

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Calanques National Park Boat trip. €30, 3¼ hours, departs at the top corner of the Vieux Port (2 minute walk from the hotel). There are two options, the ‘grand’, which I did, and the ‘petite’ (24€, 2¼ hr). About 3 of each per day unless the seas are too rough and then they cancel. Boats holds between 150 and 200 with upper deck outside and lower deck in and outside seating. Goes right by, but doesn’t stop at, Chateau d’If, famous as the site of the prison in the Count of Monte Cristo. The National Park consists of the coast between Marseille and Cassis and much of it lies within Marseille city limits which makes it the only European National Park within an urban area (though after the first ten minutes of the boat ride you would never know).Fjord like, steep inlets. Cliff faces overhang the sea attracts rock climbers and deep-sea divers. The coves cut deep into limestone rock walls, forming pools of seawater that are as calm as lakes. Because the light reflects off the white limestone, the water appears a stunning turquoise color. It has the highest maritime cliffs in Europe.

One day I took Bus #83 for the ride out to the Vallon des Auffes, along the Corniche President John F Kennedy. The vallon is a three arch bridge over an inlet from the sea to a tiny harbor, which is the nearest Marseille gets to being picturesque, with small fishing boats beached on the rocks and narrow stairways leading nowhere. There are steps from the road down under the bridge to the harbor. I had read that the Corniche was ‘dominated by elegant late-19th C. belle époque villas’. Not quite, there are a few but mostly it’s 20th century rather homely buildings, but the view of the water is fabulous, multi shades of blue and green, white rock. There are a couple of small ‘beach’ areas (the one actual beach is further down the road), some boats, views out to Chateau d’If. Worth taking the bus to the area and walking along the cornice for a ways but would be a boring walk to try to walk there from the city center or to walk further than the Vallon des Auffes, as it goes inland for quite a ways. Bus 83 is frequent and takes 10 minutes from Vieux Port.

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Other parts of Marseille: Le Panier may be where centuries of immigrants settled, but the neighborhood between the port and the train station (east) is where the newest immigrants are. A neighborhood with fast food and cheap clothing stores and run down buildings. There is an “Arc d’Triompe” smack in the middle of it though. It becomes a little more ‘colorful’ south of La Canebiere. Interesting how within a block or two a neighborhood completely changes character. The area between Cours Julien and Capucins has a large street market with fruit and vegetable stands and stores selling meat and fish and all manner of ethnic foods. But rue Sainte Ferreol becomes a pedestrianized shopping area with all the international chains (including one of the nicest H&Ms I’ve ever seen). On Le Canebiere, the main boulevard running east-west down to the Vieux Port, there are chain stores but also some more interesting local stores. So a real mish-mash – some streets totally run down and quite ‘sketchy/hang on to your bag type’, others quite upscale, some buildings boring and run down, others beautiful Parisian like.

I considered going to the Museum of European Civilizations but reviews said you really need an audio guide if you don’t speak French, and I don’t like audio guides. Reviews in general were mediocre so I decided instead to try the Musee de Savon (museum of Soap) since soap is such a big thing in Marseille. Savon de Marseille is a traditional hard soap made from vegetable oils that has been produced around Marseille for about 600 years. The first documented soap maker was recorded there in 1370. By 1688, Louis XIV introduced regulations limiting the use of the name savon de Marseille to olive oil based soaps. By the 1920s there were 132 soap companies but today there are just 5. Traditionally, the soap is made by mixing sea water from the Mediterranean, olive oil, and the alkaline ash from sea plants in a large cauldron, then heated for several days, stirring constantly. It is then poured into a mold, cut into bars and stamped. The whole process can take up to a month. The museum is privately owned by a guy who has had soap makers in his family for generations. He charges €2 but gives you a ticket you then take next door for a bar of soap worth €1.75 so the museum is effectively free. Small but well done.

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CASSIS – “A picture perfect fishing village guarded by ruins of a medieval castle (1381) (Chateau de Cassis, now a luxury hotel). The prettiest coastal town in Provence. Pastel cubist houses frame the port, unadulterated charm.” Pretty much does describe it. Certainly a tourist town these days with plenty of boats, some of them might actually be used for fishing, the majority are pleasure craft but some are really cute. And tons of excursion boats into the calanques.

Cassis is the end point of the calanques boat tour from Marseille that I took the other day, and because of that and the map I knew Calanque de Port-Miou – a long narrow calanque completely lined with sailboats – was just around the point from Cassis harbor. With a handy map from the TI I hiked up there, took less than an hour and does have gorgeous views if you walk out onto the rocks far enough (tad scary but probably pretty safe). You can hike to several other clanque from Cassis but the map says they are 3 or more hours.

Bus to Cassis: This was an interesting experience. I took the metro to Castellane where I had previously visited to scope out exactly where the M8 bus stops (got all this info from the TI). It’s a huge square with about 10 different bus shelters. Got there around 10:30 for 11:00 bus. By 10:55 there were about 30 people waiting, all asking each other if this was where the bus to Cassis stops and getting affirmative answers. Then this guy shows up (out of I don’t know where) and says for bus to Cassis follow me – and all 30 of us run across the huge square and down a side street where the bus was. Don’t know what the hell that was all about, on the return the bus stopped right across the street from where we were originally waiting. Took a good ten minutes for everyone to get on. I was able to use my 72 hour metro pass which I though was a good deal since it certainly isn’t within the Marseille city limits. The trip took about 40 minutes (cool, inter-city type coach bus). Drops off a 10 minute walk from the harbor. When I got back to that spot at 17:00 there were already about 30 people waiting (all sitting along the curb). By the time the bus got there at 17:15 there were way more than the 60 or so a bus can hold. Not sure if they all got on but I think I saw another bus had pulled up behind us so maybe they send two for that run on summer Sundays. In any event, the next scheduled bus was a half hour later.

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NIMES

Despite being in the Languedoc-Roussillon region (Marseille is in Provence), Nimes, population 148,000, is only a one-hour train ride away. If it weren’t for the Roman monuments (and they ARE outstanding and reason enough to go) Nimes would just be another medium sized city. It’s well kept, there are several parks, lots of pedestrianized shopping streets and a few nice squares. The street leading from the train station to the arena is itself almost a park with lots of trees and benches. There are sycamore trees, cicadas – you know you are in Provence - but the buildings in Nimes are kind of ‘hum’, and it just doesn’t have much character.

Arènes (Amphitheater) - 1st C AD. Could seat 24,000 spectators, It is 20th in size but supposedly #1 in state of preservation of all the existing Roman amphitheaters. (Nimes 133x101, Pula 132x105, Arles 136x 109, Rome 189x156, Verona 152x123). The Amphitheater was transformed into a fortress in the 5th C and then a knight's castle during the Middle Ages. Now restored to its original purpose – which of course means modern seating and staging that does detract from the picture. Still it is pretty amazing how large and complete it is.

Maison Carree - one of few, fully preserved classical Roman temples remaining in the world. 1st C BC. Although there are modern buildings surrounding it, there is enough space left around it that the building can be appreciated. It inspired builders of La Madeleine in Paris, and Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Capitol building. The interior however has not been restored, it houses a theatre showing a video on the history of Nimes, every half hour.

Strolling through town the first square you come to is Place du Marché, which features two figures from the Nîmes coat of arms: a crocodile and a palm tree symbolizing the Emperor August’ defeat of his arch rival Marc Antony and his lover Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. The crocodile sits in the middle of a fountain and there is a large palm tree in the center of the square (which is much more a rectangle) has lots of pavement cafes and restaurants. Nearby Place Aux Herbes, is the prettiest square with Notre Dame et Saint Castor Cathedral. Place Aux Herbes was the old market square. The third square is Place/Tour de l’Horloge, a 500 year old square with a clock tower rebuilt in the 18th C.

Jardins de la Fontaine – Although the gardens are 18th C they are built around the water source where ancient Nîmes was founded. There are regal balustrades, broad stairways, statues and marble vases, but also Roman monuments – the temple of Diane and Tour Magne are both in ‘semi’ ruin but are impressive nonetheless. When the Jardins de la Fontaine opened in 1745 it was one of Europe’s first public parks, and came about after attempts to channel the natural spring led to the discovery of the temple. On the top of the hill is the 36-meter-tall Tour Magne with 140 steps to the top. Tour Magne dates to 15 BC and was once part of the city's ancient ramparts. The street leading from just past Maison Carree to the park is the Quai de la Fontaine. The canal flows from the spring below Les Jardins de la Fontaine and forms a lovely canal in the center of a plane tree lined street with several small bridges over it.

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Dijon

Dijon gare is not as impressive as Marseille, but it’s modern, clean and was reasonably cool. Less than ten minute walk to the pedestrianized center of the old town. My hotel, City Loft Apartments, was the best deal of the whole trip. The ‘apartment’ is quite large with comfy bed, couch, dining table with four chairs, an armoire, coffee table, kitchenette and a VIEW! of half-timbered houses. €71/night. I got there a few minutes before the desk opened for check-in and while waiting in the lobby eavesdropped on a conversation (in English obviously) of an American, a Mexican and a Frenchman. They were all discussing whose president was the worst (Trump won but just barely).

DIJON is the most gorgeous, most French city I’ve ever seen. Perfect size – most of it pedestrianized, mixture of gorgeous medieval half-timbered houses and elaborate French Renaissance facades, almost every street and square is impeccable. Despite it being 97 degrees and blindingly sunny I just had to get out to explore. I kept thinking OMG to myself, this place is so French, so beautiful. Not quite like a movie set, but a real town that looks like this. Around every corner more beautiful streets. So I got the owl tour book from the TI and just wandered, not really following it but managing to hit most of the main points.

Just off the main pedestrian street, Rue de la Liberte, is the most atmospheric square, Place Francois Rude, a strangely shaped charming square, with timber-framed houses, an old fashioned carousel, and a fountain with the figure of a wine-grower treading the grapes. Leading off from here is Rue des Forges, a narrow shopping street with several exquisite houses. This leads to Place de Notre Dame with the back of the Palais du Duc which houses the TI and on the other side the cathedral, Notre Dame. I followed this around to the back where the owl statue is, and from there Rue de la Chouette ( Owl Street) to an area of even more impressive half timbered houses. Around the corner is Rue Verrerie which is the antiques dealers quarter, typical of the middle ages even better buildings. It just kept getting better and better. I finally ended up at the centerpiece of old Dijon, Place de la Liberation – huge square with pavement fountains, beautiful buildings including the incredibly impressive Palais des Duc et Des Etats de Bourgogne - originally built in 1366, reconstructed in the 17th C by Mansart, the Versailles architect, finished in the 19th C. Capped with an elaborate tile roof, the complex is arranged around a trio of courtyards.

Besides just wandering around Dijon several times enjoying how lovely the city is, I visited three museums and two churches.

Couvent Des Bernadines – Musee de la View Bourguignonne (Museum of Burguandian Life) – a collection of rural ethnography (costumes, furniture, household items) of daily life from the 18th-20th century. Plus creations of 11 shops that used to be in Dijon – pharmacy, hat shop, grocery, clockmaker, etc. Very interesting. The cloister of the convent is austere but nice. The archaeology museum around the corner is also in an old abbey. The lowest level had Roman findings – none were in excellent condition but for a free museum of this size they were still pretty good. The next level was full of graceful columns and arches, the top level had displays on evolution – all in French but if you were familiar with the material you could get the idea.

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Catheral St Benigne is a fairly typical average size catholic church made nicer by sun coming through stained glass and music – recorded but lovely female religious music. The highlight (the only thing that had an admission fee, €2, was the circular crypt.

Musee des Beaux Arts – also free – pretty decent art museum for a city this size. Mostly French artists I’ve never heard of, none of the ‘major’ works but a nice variety of, some of which I liked and it is housed in one of the best preserved medieval palaces in France. Some of the rooms have been done over and look like generic museum rooms, but a few are preserved as palace rooms. There are middle ages and Renaissance works plus contemporary pieces all kind of jumbled together which was actually more interesting than confusing. The tombs are the most well known.
Dijon is a beautiful little city – just large enough that you don’t get bored in an hour, small enough to know your way around the center easily. Even with visiting the three museums, two churches and crypt, a bit over 24 hours is enough. Would make a great base to do day trips from though.

A rather hot end to a great trip. When originally planning this trip we were going to fly home from Lyon (which my husband was still able to do) but then Aer Lingus changed their schedule so, rather than have a 20 hour layover in Dublin, I decided to take the train to Paris and fly home from there. I’ve been to Paris many times but figured with about 24 hours I’d have a nice stroll around my favorite bits and a nice dinner. Turned out this was the day Paris hit their all time record for hottest day - 108.6F/42.6C! So my ‘stroll’ became a search for an air conditioned restaurant. But it made a good story to say I experienced that heat wave. (It had been over 100 in Dijon the two previous days, though that didn’t seem that bad).