Confluence and Resistance Museums

We met up with Ursula in our hotel foyer about 10am and departed in search of somewhere serving breakfast. It took a while and quite a few blocks before we eventually found a place serving croissants with cheese and ham. French food is very good, but I think it could be even better if breakfast was on the menu. Especially when the food in the bakery windows looks so amazing. But first we made a stop for Marg to buy some wool.

It was a beautiful sunny spring day – low 20s, not a cloud in the sky, green foliage on all the trees. A perfect day for a long walk along the Rhone, which is the major of the two rivers here in Lyon. There’s a great walking path along the river’s edge that’s used by pedestrians, joggers and cyclists. We crossed the bridge over the Rhone to the far side and turned right, in the direction of the confluence of the rivers. The Rhone is broad and, at present, seems to have quite a healthy amount of water flow. We’d heard that water levels are currently quite low in other parts of France, which could be an issue for river cruises like the one we’ll soon be embarking on. But it’s heartening to see such high water levels just a couple of days before our cruise begins. Across the water stood the majestic Intercontinental Hotel Dieu, where we’ll be staying tomorrow night, courtesy of Scenic Tours.

It was quite a distance walking all the way to the Confluence Museum. The final district we passed through en route has drawn international attention to some of its carbon neutral innovative practices. Even the bridge that we walked across to gain access to the museum only allows eco-friendly transport modes to carry people across it. The Confluence Museum is so-named because it sits at the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone. The building was designed in a contemporary, organic style by a team of Austrian architects. The first floor level houses temporary exhibitions, and the second level is permanent.

We were rather hot and tired from the long walk under a hot sun, so we chose to skip the temporary exhibitions and go straight to the permanent one. It had four galleries – Origins, Species, Societies and Eternities. Rather than collections of similar objects all grouped by a common property, such as African mammals, for instance, this museum instead groups diverse objects together by broader concepts – and it seems to work quite well. For example, the origins of both the universe and humanity are explored within metres of each other, rather than in separate rooms or galleries. The objects are sometimes displayed in quite striking and innovative ways, such as the wall of butterflies and beetles. We moved through the galleries relatively quickly, as there was very little text to read and no clutter to slow you down. I think it would be a great place to bring school groups, provided that the teachers understand the big picture concepts on display and can help their students to figure out what’s going on in each museum space.

We had a drink at the rooftop cafe, then started walking back the way we came on the path along the Rhone. About 3km into this journey we took a short detour so we could visit the Resistance and Deportation History Centre. For a long time after Paris was captured by the Germans early in WWII, Lyon and the south of France remained free of Nazi control. During this time three separate groups formed in the city, each promoting resistance. They spread the word about their ideals and activities by printing small 4-page newspapers and encouraging people to read them and pass them on. Eventually the three groups were unified and became an effective fighting force against the Germans after the Gestapo established itself in Lyon in 1942 (the museum building was formerly the Gestapo headquarters). There are a few artefacts from the time, though not so many survived the conflict, But there are many documents, posters and eyewitness accounts, as well as an excellent collection of photos that tell the story of what happened. The displays also outline the impact of the Nazi occupation of Lyon on the local populace, and, in particular, the Jewish population of the city. Towards the end of the displays you learn the sad truth about the deportation, incarceration, torture and murder of innocent Jews. Coincidentally, this building was also the place where the notorious Gestapo commander, Klaus Barbi, committed his evil acts during the war and where he was brought to be tried many years later after he was successfully extradited from South America where he’d been hiding under an assumed name since the end of the war. We were there a couple of hours and had to cut short some of the audio commentaries on our devices towards the end of the tour because it was getting late and we were pretty tired after so much walking in the sun. We returned to our hotel for a much needed pre-dinner break.

Later in the evening, feeling fresh again, we met up with Ursula and walked over to Rue Merciere for another delicious French meal, as always accompanied by a local wine. It was a long, tiring day, but also a really good day, and it was really gratifying to share it with Ursula.

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