Lyon and the Champagne Region

Our two week tour of France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and western Germany began in Lyon, France.  First off, we want to give a big “thank you” to Paul Rogers (OSC ’11) for letting us stay at his wonderful apartment in Lyon, while he is off interning in Paris for the semester!  It was a wonderful place to see the city from.  Lyon is France’s third largest city and due to its cultural and architectural landmarks, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The city is also known as a culinary capital, boasting some of the best Michelin-starred chefs in the world.  Additionally, there is a great film museum (which we got to see!) in Lyon because the two men, Auguste and Louis Lumière, who created the “cinematographe,” or motion picture camera, spent most of their life in the city.

The Rhone and Saone Rivers meet in Lyon, which has made the city a very important transportation hub dating back to Roman times.

Beautiful Lyon on a stormy day


Lyon City Hall on the Place des Terreaux

Crossing over both bridges from Lyon’s commercial area, you arrive in Lyon’s Old Town.  In that area, it looks a lot like Italy – narrow cobblestone streets that wind their way along the river.  However, the historic part of town is very small in comparison to the modern area of the city.

Walking over the pedestrian bridge towards the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière

Stained glass in Old Town Lyon

Transformer-esque statue in newer part of Lyon

I am sad to say we didn’t take a photo of our Lyonnaise food, but Paul’s girlfriend Julie took us to a wonderful bouchon (name for restaurant in Lyon that serves typical food from the area).  Thankfully, we did not fall victim to the touristy food area (although the street is really cute!)  We used our Trip Advisor App and unfortunately, these were numbers 820-860 out of 860 restaurants in Lyon!

Cool (but touristy) street full of restaurants and bars

The city has a gigantic park called Tête d’Or.  (Side note: Bobby thinks this is funny because if this was literally translated into Italian, it’s pretty close to “boobs of gold”.  The actual name has nothing to do with that, but Bobby chuckled for at least five minutes. Men!)  Inside the park, there is a large (and free!) zoo and that even in winter, is pretty popular with Lyon’s citizens.  When entering the zoo Bobby said “We are not leaving until I see a bear.  I saw a bear on that sign and I want to see a bear.”  I had my own chuckle on this one, as I had to remind him that bears aren’t really mobile this time of year and they have probably been hibernating for five months.  Considering I wanted to finish our trip, I wasn’t willing to fulfill Bobby’s request.  We did, however, get to see some other pretty cool animals.

A little pink on this dreary day

Beautiful pelicans (I had no idea they were that huge!)

We found Bevo in Lyon, Hook ’em Horns!

Camouflage fail

Mustache-March, anyone?

Bearded monkey

Leo the leopard

After a couple hours in the park, we need to go to the “Musee Miniature et Cinema” to thaw out a bit.  As I stated earlier, Lyon is famous for its film history and this museum was like no other we’d seen before.  Most of the museum concentrated on showing pieces of make-up or masks that were used in films to create special effects or exhibited unique film costumes.  There was another part of the museum that showed miniature models that were used on film sets to create the illusion of a real-life structure.  All pieces in the museum were actual structures used on film sets.

Batman face mask

The Arnold

She looks familiar!

“Minority Report” suit

These next models are all miniatures that were filmed in such a way to appear larger than life.  They were typically shot from many different angles, layered on backgrounds, and then CGI effects were added.  You can click on these photos to see them close up.

Ship from “The Three Musketeers”

The modeling on this ship was incredibly detailed and in the film, it looked like a huge structure (although it was probably only about 10 feet long!)

What it looked like in the film

Detail of the ship from “The Three Musketeers”

This ship from the movie “Event Horizon” was filmed in a similar manner.

“Event Horizon” space ship

The famed F-14 from “Top Gun” was often shot from little three foot models like these.

“Top Gun” F-14


After leaving Lyon, we drove north to the France’s famed Champagne region and toured several champagne cellars in the town of Epernay.  On one main road (aptly named “Champagne Avenue”), you can find the headquarters of many of the world’s best makers – Dom Perignon, Moet & Chandon, Perrier, and Mercier.  There are many sparkling wines produced worldwide, yet most legal structures reserve the word champagne exclusively for sparkling wines from the Champagne region, made in accordance with strict French regulations.  In the European Union and most other countries, the term is protected by both the Treaty of Madrid (1891) and the Treaty of Versailles (after WWI).  Champagne is produced from only three grapes – white Chardonnay grape, and the dark red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes.

Champagne grape growing regions

We decided to do a tour and tasting at Moet and Mercier.  Moet was a family-owned operation for almost 200 years, until the 1980’s when they sold out (unfortunately!) to a corporation that also owns Louis Vuitton and Hennessy.  They are the largest champagne maker and sell their products all around the world.  On the other hand, Mercier is a very popular brand in France, but rarely sell outside of France.  The tour guide at the cellar said they “do not” and “would not” ship to the States.  Interesting. They had very similar cellars and production processes, but their marketing ploys were completely opposite.

Entering Epernay

Epernay Cathedral

Champagne Avenue is a seemingly normal road, but there are miles and miles of champagne cellars under the city of Epernay!  The cellars are carved from the chalk-like earth, a similar substance to the White Cliffs of Dover.

Champagne Avenue

Cellar of Moet & Chandon

In each cove of the cellars, there were thousands of bottles of champagne in different phases of production.  There were signs on each cove denoting a code of sorts, keeping track of the number of bottles, when it was produced, and what phase it was in.  For example, there are 9,625 bottles in this one group.

Signage in the cellar

Our guide explained that champagne bottles rarely ever explode – 1/10,000 chance.  Apparently, this one was 1/9,625 because one was definitely busted.


Napoleon was apparently a very good friend of the Moet family and during his conquests, he stole this barrel that was being commissioned by some Germans and gave it to the Moets instead.  He had the lions put in the center, the champagne maker’s family symbol.

Barrel from Napoleon

Champagne tasting

The Mercier tour was very similar, although I don’t think they had any ties with Napoleon.  Eugène Mercier did, however, commission the largest ever wine barrel and entered it into the Paris World Expo in 1889.  Mr. Mercier was a fanciful man who was no stranger to publicity/marketing stunts, so it was no surprise that he sent his men to Hungary to hand-pick 150 oak trees to fell for the barrel.  A 200,000 bottle barrel, estimated to hold 1,600 hectolitres, weighing 20,000 kilos and comprising 800 working pieces was then realized.  In just two years, the Mercier vineyard produced the wine needed to fill the cask and it was the largest vintage ever achieved. It took eight days and nights, twenty-four oxen and eighteen horses, to transport this world’s largest wine cask from Epernay to Paris for the fair.  At the time, Mercier deemed the cask “The 8th Wonder of the World” and his creation had upstaged the newly constructed Eiffel Tower (which was also created for the fair).

Big Bertha and this guy are cousins!

Mercier cellar