Lyon II

Saturday was a late start because I had to go and see the pharmacist. I was still feeling unwell and – it being the Christmas and New Year’s period – every doctor in the country had fled their offices, probably all to the same place, to preen, stroke their beards and compare medical degrees. Fortunately, in France pharmacists are everywhere, and they seem to provide a bit more front-line medical knowledge than back home. To make sure there was absolutely no risk of confusion, I wrote out my symptoms in embarrassing detail and showed that to the pharmacist instead of explaining out loud. He praised that decision initially, but after we’d talked for a while, he told me I need not have bothered – apparently my medical vocabulary is very impressive. He sent me on my way with friendly advice, rather than trying to foist unwanted drugs on me and I returned to the hotel ready to start the day afresh. Today’s mission was Old Lyon and a museum of Cinema and Miniatures.

On our way across the river to Old Lyon, we stumbled across the Saint Antoine markets on the banks of the Saône. On the weekends in France, markets pop up everywhere like mushrooms after the rain and it’s not uncommon to walk through two or three on your way to any given destination. We only stopped briefly in the markets, which are mainly food-based and thus not very useful to the kitchenless traveller. I bought two small wedges of cheese made in Auvergne, Gaperon and Saint-Nectaire so that Alex could taste them and we also unwittingly bought some fish-seasoned potatoes and rice from a street stall. This seasoning was an unwelcome surprise to us and we quickly abandoned the meal in search of something more palatable on our way to the museum.

The Musée Miniature et Cinéma is actually two museums in one – on the lower levels, it showcases a range of displays of cinema and television exhibits and the upper floors are dedicated to the artistry of miniatures. There is only the tiniest thematic link between these items – insofar as miniatures are often used in cinema – so it’s actually quite a refreshing change halfway through, around the time when one usually starts to get museum fatigue and needs to take a break.

The cinema section is mainly displays of props from various movies, some of which have quite informative explanations of how they were made, what they were used for and how the desired effects were achieved. My favourite of these was the “miniature” spaceship from the film Event Horizon, which is an old favourite of mine. It’s huge! Four metres long and festooned with tiny, intricate details including (the sign helpfully informs) teeny, tiny maintenance instructions on the different sections to add authenticity. The very bottom level of the museum is dedicated to full sets, and presently displays a few (quite spooky) sets from the movie Perfume in a basement that would be eerie without the horror film music and murder scenes.

The original 'Louis and Clark' from Event Horizon.

The upper floors of this building (there are a lot of stairs, this one is most surely not wheelchair friendly) showcases a huge selection of miniatures of every imaginable configuration. There are tiny restaurants, tiny factories, tiny workshops, tiny studios where there are tiny people making tiny studios in which tinier people are making tinier studios ad infinitum. The level of detail and intricacy in the models is really breathtaking. The museum is – it would appear – actually run by a miniaturist, an artisan who produces these sorts of works fulltime and his work, as well of that of the other artisans shown there, was extremely engrossing and well displayed. I was incapable of taking a good photo of even one of the displays since, in photos, they just look like their fullsize counterparts. Amazing detail.

After a pleasant, but exhausted walk in Old Lyon – which is beautiful, but there is little else to be said about it – Alex and I stopped for dinner at the only Fish and Chip shop we’ve so far discovered here in France. We basically went there for the novelty, and were not disappointed on that score. The chips were served in a paper cone – that’s Belgian – with mayonnaise – I believe that’s also Belgian – and were more like thin, salty fries. Chips they most certainly were not. They were tasty all the same and served as the first part of a balanced dinner which finished in an ice-creamery, where we had ice-cream and hot chocolate. A healthy diet for the modern traveller. Afterwards, we walked towards the hotel, admiring the lights festooned over the city and stopped briefly to ride the Ferris Wheel in Place Bellecour before turning in, instantly ready for bed as usual.

Sunday’s goal was one we had been planning for many months – a trip to Les Puces du Canal, the largest flea markets in Lyon and allegedly one of the largest open-air markets in France. It’s a bit of a trek from the city centre, but fortunately the tram system makes it very easy to get there and you need only pass one huge gypsy encampment and equally sized military cemetery on foot before arriving at your destination. The markets are vast, as promised, and sell every kind of item imaginable, including a lot of militaria – knives, guns, crossbows, swords, bayonets, grenades, mines – all of man’s greatest historical killing machines can be had at a fraction of their original price, each one more forbidden by customs than the last. Alex was most drawn in by the antique and modern French furniture, equally difficult to get home thanks to the logistical restrictions of shipping. Eventually, we bought a few small things – a razor for me, some old keys and a little plaque for Alex – and set off. Just before leaving, though, I stopped at a big outdoor stall and purchased a bunch of old postcards of Lyon, ranging from 1900 to 1940ish and having been filled out and sent. They’re really beautiful – and interesting – and are actually one of my favourite souvenirs, given that they were a mere 35 cents each.

A pair of Lyonnaise postcards from 1915.

At long last, we made our way to the Parc de la Tête d’Or (Golden Head Park). It was a truly gorgeous day, and this park is a sparkling jewel in the sunshine, catapulted instantly to the top of both our lists for places we’ve visited here in France. The park is vast (vast!) and contains a rose garden, a lake (which you can go under in a tunnel to get to the island), a zoo (with giraffes and elephants), greenhouses, a botanic garden, a dog park, a little train, a velodrome and countless walking and bikeriding paths, not to mention the requisite grassed areas. It is huge. Everything inside, including the zoo, was completely free except for a ride on the little train, which was two euros. We stayed for hours, soaking up the sun, before heading back, washing our clothes at a laverie and somewhat guiltily having McDonalds for dinner – nothing else was even remotely close to open.

Phew! To see a gallery of photos relevant to this post, click here. To view an irrelevant but nostalgic (for me) guide to making paper look old, so you can fool your friends into thinking you’ve found a pirate treasure map, click here.

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