Blog 07/25/22 - MHT’s French Adventure 4th Post Lyon

MHT’s French Adventure – 4th Post Lyon and Bordeaux

By Shayne Jarosz

Shayne Jarosz and Karen Freck are both Retired Teachers with Fairfax County Public Schools. Karen a Special Education Teacher retired last October, specializing in Science & Shayne Jarosz a retired History teacher who retired five years ago. Shayne has worked for Military Historical Tours (MHT) for 15 years or so and has done many trips with MHT traveling extensively through Europe and Asia to explore and teach about the battles that Americans have fought in since WWI.

Shayne was the Tour Leader of the D-Day & Battle of the Bulge Tour that traveled the battlefields from Bastogne to Normandy & ending in Paris. After spending roughly three weeks traveling with the group of 15, it was now time for Karen & Shayne to explore & document France so MHT ‘s future tours can take on additional site recommendations & uncover new interesting spots for our customers to visit. Karen & Shayne are traveling through France on a six-week adventure!

Karen and I departed Chamonix in the morning. It was an easy walk dragging our luggage to the train station so we sat and had a cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant while waiting for our trip to begin. Once our train arrived, we quickly loaded, stored our luggage and settled in for our hour-long ride to our next stop where we would load on a bus for 2-hour ride, followed by another train that would take us to Lyon city center.  When Karen and I planned out the trip we were thinking that if we always stayed close to the city-center we would be close to transportation, either a train or bus. Karen and I were very surprised by Lyon.

In 43 BC, Lyon was designated the capital of Gaul and was called Lugdunum during the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar passed through numerous times on his famed campaigns between 58 – 50 BC as he defeated the Gallic Tribes. Lugdunum was at the top of the hill that overlooked the Rhone and Soane rivers.

This was a perfect cross roads for the Roman Empire’s northern territories. It was the operation center for Roman General Germanicus to attack Germania with eight legions, about one-third of the entire Roman army, which he led from 14 to 16 AD against the Germanic tribes. He avenged the Roman Empire's total defeat in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD and retrieved two of the three legionary eagles that had been lost to the Barbarians. 

As the city of Lyon entered the Renaissance it expanded down the hillside and across the rivers. As the city matured it continued meandering down the hill and eventually expanded across the valley resulting in a city that unless you find someone to show you around you will be lost.  As Lyon grew the city center expanded outward leaving Karen and I, 4 miles away from the city’s historic portion. We found our hotel which as advertised was close to City Center but the one in the year 2022. We started outlining everything we wanted to see.

We visited the Tourism Information Center and then headed for our first stop the Resistance Museum. The museum was about 3 miles from our hotel, so after a 45-minute walk we arrived at the museum. The museum takes about 2 hours to wind through. It educates about how the Holocaust occurred here In France with an agreement between the Nazi’s and the collaborationist Vichy Government to turn over Jews, Communists and other undesirables. It shows how the French resistance began and developed and this museum is definitely worth seeing. If you are interested in the Normandy landings then you must learn of the role of the French Resistance. We completed our tour of the museum by watching a 45-minute film on the capture and trial of Klaus Barbie and his role in the Holocaust. The museum is well thought out and easily navigated with a great English speaking audio tour.

In WWII, Lyon played a role during Operation Dragoon, General Friedrich Wiese's 19th Army was desperately retreating up the Rhone Valley. With the US Army's 7th Army & Free French Armee B trying to cut them off from Lyon. Wiese's immediate response was to urge MajGen Wend von Wietersheim, commander of the 11th Panzer Division, the elite German unit in the South of France to hasten efforts to ferry his heavy vehicles across the Rhone and move north as quickly as possible to secure the German route of withdrawal. von Wietersheim's transportation problems were difficult due to the number of ferries capable of carrying his 45-ton Mark V Panther tanks across the river. The 11th Panzer held back the 36th US Infantry Division at Montelimar screening the retreating German units. On 26 August, Wiese ordered von Wietersheim to begin moving the bulk of the 11th Panzer Division to Lyon, but with crowded roads, fuel at a premium, and incessant Allied strafing attacks forcing his commanders to make most of their movements by night it was a tough retrograde.

The retreating German units ultimately forced their way to Lyon, but suffered horrendous casualties in the process by 27 August the bulk of the 11th Panzer Division had crossed north of the Drome together with almost all of the retreating German infantry divisions. Lyon fell at the start of September. Just last year a Royal Air Force 500-pound bomb was uncovered at a building site.

Karen and I planned five days in Lyon and we quickly realized that we planned too long of a stay. Lyon’s old city has a wonderful Roman theater and museum that should not be missed. They are as amazing as you would expect. The cathedrals are amazing, the Renaissance City that spreads down the hill is as charming as you will find anywhere.

From the towers and spires to the little playful cat statues on the window sills (These were thought to be practical at the time to scare off rats that carried the plague) to the food that is made in traditional Bouchons (restaurants that serve Lyonnaise cuisine) this part of Lyon is amazing!  The part of Lyon that isn’t amazing is the graffiti which covers old and new architecture.

It’s actually very disappointing to discover a 500-year-old building and then look up and see the tagging that has ruined the old limestone. Homelessness is another problem in Lyon as Karen and I were a little shocked to walk by multitudes of homeless people begging on the streets. The Government has brought these people into France but they have no means to work or support themselves. We could have actually seen all of Lyon in three days but we had our reservations and we made the best of our exploring.

Our next stop was Bordeaux, France!  Bordeaux was everything that we hoped it would be! We arrived by bus it took us a little bit to get our bearings and find our hotel but once we checked in, we started exploring. Unlike Lyon, the city center of Bordeaux was easily accessible. Our hotel was right next to the train station and the tram. Although transportation is ample in all the cities that we have visited we do prefer walking. Bordeaux has the old-world charm that one would expect. The classic buildings and houses, the cobblestone streets and the food and wine make this an incredible town to visit.

Our first lunch, we enjoyed a tasty meal of chicken and fish while sitting below the spire of a 400-year-old church. We drank Bordeaux and planned out our next five days. All along our trip we have stopped by the tourism office and asked for suggestions for our activities. Karen signed us up for a wine class and tasting and once again, I know what I like in wine, cheap, red and dry.

In France, wine is gospel. In all regions, wine is regulated in order to make sure that the wine is authentic, pure and made the way its supposed to be made. When you check a bottle of French wine in your grocery store look for the designation AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) is a certification of authenticity granted to certain geographical indications or AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) which means the wine came from a specific regulated region which can be a large area (such as Bordeaux) or specific area (Listrac-Médoc–within Bordeaux). No vineyards in France are irrigated. The vintners believe that the vine must be stressed and suffer to produce the best grapes and wines.

Bordeaux is separated into two regions. The left bank and the right bank. The right bank is where the majority of the red wines are produced. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are the grapes that are grown more prevalent here. The soil has a limestone base and the vines must root deeply in the hillsides to find the water. The limestone is what gives the wines from this area its acidic taste.  The Vineyards and Chateaus are picturesque. Karen and I took an additional day to explore Saint-Émilion, a medieval city located at the crossroads of Bordeaux, Saintonge and Périgord.

The town and surrounding vineyards are an UNESCO World Heritage Site, owing to its long, living history of wine-making. The Left bank is known more for their white wines and the soil here is very dry and gravely. The wine class that Karen and I took was very informative and I was surprised how much I enjoyed learning about the way to taste wine!


One of the excursions that Karen and I explored was an old WWII sub base in the center of the Bordeaux Harbor. Following the collapse and capitulation of France in June 1940, the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) moved swiftly to establish bases for their U-Boats along the west coast of France.  This afforded much quicker and safer access to the Allied convoy routes between Britain and North America, compared with the long and dangerous sailing from their German bases, around Scotland through the Faroes Island, Iceland or Greenland passages. Construction of the Bordeaux U-Boat bunker began in Autumn 1941 and was completed by the Summer 1943. Overall dimensions were 268 yards long, 177 yards deep (front to rear) with a height of 21 yards.  It had 11 pens, eight of which were dry docks and were nearly indestructible with 6 yards of reinforced concrete able to withstand heavy bombers.

The bunker was base for the German 12th U-boat Flotilla, which operated supply U-Boats (“Milchkuh” – Milk Cow) which would rendezvous with attack boats in mid-ocean to transfer torpedoes, fuel and supplies, lengthening the time they could spend on patrol; the 12th Flotilla also operated mine-laying U-boats and large transport boats which maintained a link with Imperial Japan.

This thing was huge & so sturdily built it would have destroyed the town to blow it up. They had a little information on the U-Boat Pen but the facility has now been turned into an art center. As we entered the blacked-out sub base we were greeted by a light show of the city of Venice. As the lights shimmered and shone off the waters in the sub basin it was eerily beautiful. We sat for about an hour and watched the synchronized lights, displays and music.

One of the days Karen and I went on an excursion to see the largest Sand dune in Europe. It was beautiful! We walked around, took pictures and sank in the sand. After, we went to an oyster village and sampled the local oysters, they were amazing! salty, briny and delicious. Afterward we explored the left bank and visited two different vineyards. Karen and I spent five days in Bordeaux. We traveled out and explored both the right and left banks, we tasted oysters next to the largest dune in Europe and we met some really nice people. Bordeaux is a must do! Anyone who loves a great glass of Bordeaux needs to visit this, Wine Mecca.