Thursday, March 11, 2004

Regional trains 

One of the problems that we are having with our trip is determining how we will get around the region. Rhône-Alpes was never a province of its own: it is a modern creation in order to put something in that part of France. If anything, there are several old provinces contained within: Lyon and its hinterland, which have been vaguely associated with Provence (the notion of a "province" was invented here), and Savoy, which was annexed completely in 1860 from Piedmont-Sardinia (although there are political groups who would like to see it become independent). The territory is physically large, connecting pockets of population across vacant landscape. And part of the problem is that we want to see that landscape--especially the Ardeche, which has beautiful limestone cliffs and natural arches. It takes two and a half hours to take the train between Lyon and Annecy (below the Alps). A car with an automatic transmission would be expensive (I can only drive a standard in an emergency, which would make Karen my driver). (You can see Rhône-Alpes on this map from SNCF--it is at the southeast of France, south of Franche-Comte and north of Provence).

Tuesday, March 09, 2004


One of the places that we will almost definitely visit is Lyon (city, tourist office), France's "second city". At the moment, I know but a few facts about the city. The people have been jealous of the position of Paris both in France and in the world. It was the home of Eduard Herriot, one of France's socialist presidents during the 1920s.

Odium in Lyon

More interestingly, Lyon was the first capital of the Gauls. As the tribes of Gaul got sick of Roman interference, they revolted against Roman rule, using Lugdunum at the confluence of the rivers Sôane and Rhône. They were defeated by Julius Caesar: he moved his army too quickly, and they were too primitive to wage effective warfare against the Romans for a sustained period. The Romans used Lugdunum for a site for a capital for the province that they established. In ancient times, Lugdunum had a population of 60,000 (perhaps the largest cities in the barbaric world) with large populations of Romans (especially Legionnaires) and Greek administrators. It was reformed by Augustus with the typical accoutrements of an ancient city. For a century Lugdunum was a privileged city, receiving many members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Lugdunum started to lose its centrality after Nero's death: Roman emperors (princeps) made less effort to improve the city. Hadrian built some major aqueducts in the area, but that was typical for his reign. The decline of the city was complete in 197 AD. The death of Commodus precipitated a crisis in succession in the empire. Among the generals who claimed the princeps was Albin, the general of the Legions in the Rhine. He was defeated at Lugdunum by the eventual emperor Septimus Severus. Severus cut off the head of Albin, sent it to the Senate and killed his family. Furthermore, he razed Lugdunum to the ground. The population was purged. He eventually moved the capital of the province.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

We may have decided on a destination for our summer vacation: the Rhône-Alpes region of France.

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