31 March 2011

Visiting Lyon's Fine Art Museum, Part 1

According to the website, Lyon's Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux Arts) is one of the largest museums in France and Europe. I've visited twice now and have still not seen everything.

For me, getting to the museum is a visual pleasure in itself. If you're coming from the Croix Rousse section of town, it's an easy walk down the gently winding montée de la grande côte (left).

The morning sunlight brings the multi-colored façades to life on the grande côte; on the ground floors of most buildings you can find cafés, art studios, crafts stores and specialty bookshops. There's even a luthier near the bottom, Claude Macabrey, should you want to buy a violin or cello.

The museum's inner courtyard and garden

The museum itself is located in the heart of Lyon between the Rhône and Saône rivers and is housed in a building whose foundations date back to the 6th century. Originally constructed as a monastery, the museum was first opened to visitors in 1803, but then for only one day a week - Wednesdays from 10 am to 1pm.

Today you can stroll through more than 70 rooms filled with sculptures, paintings, rare coins, antiquities and decorative objects. It's an impressive collection of art that literally spans millennia.

In the Egypt collection, which takes up only a portion of one wing of the museum,  you can see the coffin of Isetemkheb, daughter of Ankhsyenise, from around the 7th Century before our era (fourth from the left). It's decorated with detailed paintings and text that were meant to provide magical protection and "favor the rebirth of the deceased in the eternal kingdom".

Detail of a temple wall with hieroglyphics.

The Musée des Beaux Arts has its own statue of liberty, courtesy of Bartholdi. 
This one was sculpted in terra cotta and stands nearly a meter high. Inhabitants of Lyon know Bartholdi's work well - he created the famous fountain that now sits in the middle of the Terreaux Square opposite the museum entrance (that deserves its own post - coming up).

This room, known as La Chapelle, houses many of the museum's sculptures and has a wonderfully airy, almost etheric feel to it. It was a weekday when we visited, and just after lunch, so we had the place nearly to ourselves.

With two children and a mother in-law in tow, we unfortunately didn't make it to the see any of the paintings by Monet, Gauguin, Picasso or Matisse. That would have required another two hours...at least. I'll post again soon and include photos of the rest of the museum.

There's a boutique on the first floor that sells fine art books, jewellery, gift cards and poster-size replicas of some of the museum's works (open every day except Tuesday, 10am-5:45pm and Fridays from 10:30-5:45pm). 

The café restaurant serves light meals, pastries and hot and cold drinks: open everyday except Tuesdays from 10am-5:30pm (Fridays from 10:30am-5:30pm).

Adults can enter the museum's permanent collection for only 7 euros; for 9 euros they can see the temporary exhibits. Children 18 and under get in for free.

The museum is open everyday except Tuesdays and holidays, from 10am-6pm (Fridays from 10:30am to 6pm). 

If you plan on visiting during the lunch hour, beware that certain sections may be closed between 12:30 and 2pm.  That's understandable when you know that more than 130 people work at the museum everyday — even they have to eat lunch.

* as long as we're on the subject of artwork, the above photos are all © Alex Quici 2011.

17 March 2011

Park of the Golden Head

The kids had two weeks of winter holidays not so long ago and instead of heading to the Alps for skiing, we decided to do something a little more original - we stayed home and played tourist.

On one of those sunny days we walked down the hill from the Croix Rousse to the Parc de la Tête d'or (literally, park of the golden head). Legend says that there's a golden head in the image of the Christ buried somewhere in the park. Thus the origin of the name.

Main entrance to the park

We never found the golden head. But we didn't spend much time digging either. Instead we picnicked on one of the long stretches of grass just inside the entrance, then strolled over to the African Plain, a relatively new section of the park (opened in 2006) that lets visitors observe giraffe and other large African mammals and birds in their..."natural" habitat.

There are even lions, tigers, and one bear, plus a host of monkeys, crocodile, pink flamingo, pelicans and various species of tortoise.

But for me, the main attraction are the green houses with their constant balmy weather, jungles of plants from nearly everywhere on the planet, and relatively few people.

I thought I had walked into Africa here with this cool photo backdrop.

The bamboo reaches nearly to the glass ceiling.

Not far from the greenhouses is this little stand of yucca. 
"South-western United States" says the name plate. And I must admit,
every time I walk by it, I feel a bit nostalgic for home. 

A tribute to the Easter Island statues near the entrance to the greenhouses.

One reason I love the park is that I can wander through secluded groves of trees (nearly 9,000), enough to let me forget I'm really in the middle of a large cosmopolitan city.

The Parc de la tête d'or is said to be one of Europe's largest urban parks, which sprawls more than 260 acres and includes a 40-acre lake. 

From mid-April to mid-October you can visit from 6:30am to 10:30pm. The rest of the year the park closes at 8:30pm. 

You can read more about the history of the park here. Or visit here to see more photos*

* speaking of photos, the above are all © Alex Quici 2011.