Beautiful sunny days, fresh pastries, medieval castles and walls, good wine and picnics in that park have so far defined my time in France. Although the language barrier has been more obvious here than anywhere else I’ve been, I’ve found my limited knowledge of the French language to be very helpful.
After catching 5 trains from Lauterbrunnen (the first of which was at 5:30am) I arrived in sunny Avignon. I caught a bus to the main train station and entered the central city through the gates of a medieval stone wall which still surrounds the old town. The weather was a nice change from the rain and clouds of Switzerland, it was around 30 degrees both days I was there. Unfortunately the train strikes in France meant that I couldn’t do a day trip out to Arles like I wanted, so I’ll just write about what I did in Avignon.
The two main attractions which I saw in Avignon were the Pont Saint-Benezet and the Palais de Papes. The Pont Saint-Benezet is a bridge which used to span the Rhone river from Avignon to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. When it was built around 1177 it was 900 meters long, quite the feat given how wide and how powerful the Rhone can be. There isn’t much left of the bridge now, only four arches which extend out into the river before stopping. But the building you enter through has some interesting 3d reconstructions of the bridge as well as a few videos and descriptions of the history and reconstruction efforts.
On the morning of my second day in Avignon I made my way to the Palais de Papes (Papal Palace) which is a large Gothic palace/fortress that housed seven different popes in the 13th and 14th centuries. While the building itself was impressive because of the scale, I didn’t find the history to be that enthralling. I did however enjoy reading about how each Pope expanded on the palace during his time, and the scale models that were on display made it easy to see what was added each time.
That afternoon I tried to catch a train to Arles but due to the train strikes it looked pretty likely that I could get stuck there as many of the trains were being cancelled. So instead I stopped in at a bakery to get a baguette and a few pastries, then grabbed some ham and cheese from a supermarket. I spent the rest of the afternoon having a picnic, reading and napping in a park across the river from the Pont Saint-Benezet, not a bad way to spend a beautiful day in Southern France.
After leaving the hostel at 8am for what was supposed to be a two hour train ride, I finally arrived up in Lyon at about 1pm. These strikes are really making it hard and expensive to get anywhere in France at the moment. I checked into my hostel then went out to explore this new city. I walked down to the historic core of Lyon then across one of the bridges that cross the Rhone. I came across a big building which had been painted to look like it was covered with windows, the painting contains many famous people from Lyon’s history.
I kept walking East until I crossed over the next bridge and found myself at the Parc de la Tete d’Or. A big park with a lake in the middle of it, since it was such a nice day I spent most of the afternoon in this park. I walked around the edge of the lake first and came across a big rose garden full of all sorts of bright colors. After taking a break by lying in the sun for a while, I continued further around the lake until I found a small zoo in the middle of this place. It was free entry so I spent a while wandering through there looking at the animals, for a free zoo in the middle of a public park there was a surprising amount of cool animals. Bears, crocodiles, lions, tigers and giraffes are just some of the ones that I saw while walking through there. Really cool park to spend a sunny afternoon in.
I spent over two hours in the Musee Miniature et Cinema (Miniature and Film Museum) and it may have been one of my favorite museums that I’ve visited on my trip. This place is filled with hundreds of costumes, props, scale models, mockups and prosthetics which have been used in a large number of movies. There was stuff from so many awesome movies such as Star Wars, Terminator, Alien, Independence Day, plus many many other ones. Really enjoyed my time here looking at all the displays, reading about how the effects were created and watching films showing how specific scenes are constructed.
Then the final floor of the museum has a large collection of miniature rooms created by international artists. Most of them were made at 1/12th scale so are roughly 20 to 30 centimeters wide. The details that the creators put into these pieces is incredible, I spent ages looking at them finding all the small things that you only notice if you look really closely.
That afternoon I also walked up the hill to see the Notre Dame for Lyon, quite a cool looking church which you can see from most of the city. Especially from across the river the site of the four spires and the circular section in front is quite impressive. The interior is detailed intricately with gold and bright colors, which contrast with the darker stone, plus it was nice and cold inside which was a welcome break from the heat outside.
The pastries, oh god the pastries here in France are just amazing. Every single croissant, pain au chocolat or other pastry I’ve had so far has been great, usually with a crisp flaky outer shell and soft inside. I think all of my lunches (and a couple of dinners) have consisted of a fresh baguette sandwich with a pastry or two. I can see why a lot of people here are walking or cycling around with a baguette in hand.
I went out for a nice dinner on my last night in Lyon, in a popular street not far from the Euro 2016 fan zone in Place Bellacour. Really good three course meal and a glass of good wine for 24 euros. I started off by accidentally ordering a salmon and shrimp salad which I actually quite liked, then for a main course I had the duck with mashed potato and vegetables, very very nice. For desert I finished off with a rich chocolate mousse, thoroughly enjoyed that dinner as the sun was setting and I chatted with an Irish woman who was walking from Lyon down to Nice.