The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Sunday Ride West of Town

Sundays in France can be tough. Everything's closed, even grocery stores. It's core family time for French families, who get together for big meals; for those of us without family in France, outside of those tight-knit circles, there's not much to do other than go to the park (if the weather's good) or go to the movies (if it ain't). Myself, I try to get out for a bike ride on Sundays, either tooling around parts of town that remain white space on my mental map of Lyon or rolling out into the hills to the west or north, beyond the Metro lines and TCL bus stops.

I picked up a book of bike tours in the area--there are a lot of these types of publications, because as you can imagine, cycling is much more popular (both as transportation and recreation) than in the US, and much more feasible, due to extensive networks of little back roads connecting quiet villages. There's also a tangible difference in attitude toward cyclists in France: In the States, if you ride enough, you'll get honked at, bottles chucked at you, "Get off the road, asshole!", and so forth. In France, a line of cars will wait patiently behind you as you labor up a hill, and will signal and pass in the opposite lane only when it's clear; people working in fields or yards will nod and say "Bonne route". Riding a bike is a noble endeavor, not merely the province of weirdbeard spandex-clad treehugger Armstrong-wannabes.

So I toss my standard outdoor lunch (saucisson, fresh baguette and fermier cheese from the Sunday-morning marche; Opinel knife to eat with) in my saddlebag with a good map, a spare tire tube, and the camera, and hit the road.

This Sunday I roll due west out of town, through Tassin-la-Demi-Lune, then hook south through Francheville-le-bas, past its ruined hilltop castle [top photo].

The guidebook's route crosses and recrosses the Yseron river by footbridges and not-currently-flooded weirs, and meanders through some of the nicer neighborhoods (stately houses tucked far behind stone walls and wrought-iron gates, second photo) down the hill past earthier homes where people work on their 205's in the driveway.

The route briefly joins the chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle (the ancient pilgrimage route identifiable by the scallop-shell designs inlaid in the pavement), then dives off the road down a dirt track past a ruined factory. I think for a moment that I've misread the French directions, but keep pedaling. Soon, ahead of me appears confirmation that I'm not lost: the ruins of the Roman aqueduct of Beaunant [all the other photos]. Besides the road running alongside the old aqueduct, there is also a busy street that runs through a gap in the middle of it, and a house or two built into its arches [and it's for sale! See photo]. Once again I'm struck by the breadth and depth of French history: this would be one of the most remarkable historic sites in the US if it were magically transported there; here, it's just a 2000-year-old carport outside Chaponost.

Properly refueled with saucisson, I make my way back toward Lyon, passing uphill of the confluence of rivers (and coincidentally, right past Boog's former school) and along the right bank of the Saone toward Vieux-Lyon and home. One can take one's bike on the funiculaire, fortunately, saving me a lung-busting, treacherous cobblestone climb that would make Lance himself say "screw this, I'm walking it."

Arriving back at the Fortress of Solitude, I lock my bike to the grapevine, collapse with aching thighs into my chair, and fire up the laptop to find a website streaming the Panthers game. It's Sunday, after all; what else is there to do?

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