Day 4: Free Time in Dijon
(Relaxed Start) Enjoy the Burgundian capital of Dijon, its many handsome buildings recall the time when the Duchy of Burgundy was more powerful than the Kings of France. Perhaps take the opportunity to visit the wine capital of Burgundy, Beaune. Don't miss the chance in the evening of an optional Burgundy wine tasting and traditional dinner in the Grand Cru village of Fixin. Hotel: Grand Hotel La Cloche/Mercure Dijon Clemenceau, Dijon. Buffet Breakfast.
Relaxed start means we get going around nine in the morning instead of having to have our bags out in the hallway at some ungodly hour like seven.
Today, I wrote at the time, a day trip walking tour of Bones or something, hoping it's an archaeological thing, then tonight a wine tasting and 'Be Our Guest' thing where we go to a local's house and are served the local specialties. This is always one of the highlights of the trip.
First I had to suffer the shower first. For some unknown reason, they have a real aversion to actually finishing the showers in Europe.
They only have a glass panel which covers half of the shower space, and you inevitable get a ton of water out onto the floor. I still haven’t figured this one out. When I took a shower that morning I also discovered that it had one of those shower heads which streams from right overhead. This always seems like a neat idea, but it’s never a good one when you actually go to use it. To wash shampoo out of your hair without it all going in your face, you have to tilt your head so far back you get water rushing into your nose. Ugh. Trying to shower effectively is one of the biggest hassles on these trips. At least I learned on earlier trips that there are some things you can use what you find away from home, other things you’ve just got to bring your own. I bring my own soaps, shampoo, conditioner in little travel bottles., it’s just what my body and I are used to, and it can really throw you off not having very particular familiar things like that. I knew I’d have to shave a few times so I brought supplies for that, but as for my beard I just trimmed it down really low and let it grow while I was away. I’m still growing it now for no particular reason in fact, just need to trim back the mustache as it all grows.
I also on this trip decided that I was going to throw out socks and underwear as I went to make room in my luggage for other things. It was all at the end of their lives anyways, and I just got new when I got home. The little things are what make the trips more pleasant, like not accumulating ever stinkier wads of socks in your luggage right beside your clean clothes.
On the way to Beaune (not Bone), we drove along the Côte d'Or vineyards, what is referred to as the Champs-Élysées of wine, where some of the most expensive vineyards in the world are located.
This area is apparently the wine capital of Burgundy. We pulled the coach over for pictures at a particularly picturesque vineyard along the way.
Picturesque as shit I like to say (or worse), enjoying the odd conjuction of the beautiful and the vulgar in the expression. Going through Beaune I was struck yet again by how amazing it is for these buses to get around on such tight streets and never hit anything, with the exception of the incident in Troyes of course.
We wound up in Beaune, at the Hôtel-Dieu.
This was more interesting to Joyce I imagine as a nurse in an old hospital, but it was interesting to see nonetheless. It can be sometimes quite sad to see how pitifully little they could actually do for people before the germ theory of disease. It makes the religious aspect of it all forgivable, certainly more forgivable then when they didn’t know any better than now when we do. I was perpetually amused at the idea of all of the morbid catholic death cult artwork supposedly being therapeutically positive, the idea that ubiquitous depictions of a man being tortured to death on a cross would be comforting in any way when facing one’s own imminent death. Whatever, it doesn’t make any more sense in any other context either.
The town centre outside the hospital was interesting. It was a lot like I've seen in other places before, with marble walkways and cobblestone roads.
We walked around and I looked for stickers and bottle openers. I found some French cookbooks and though it would be interesting to buy one and try some recipes. In the end I just resolved to look up how to make Beef Borguingnon on the internet when we got home.
Joyce and I kept walking and came to a small triangular park at the nexus of three roads meeting. There are a lot of little parks like this in Europe, the room is there, why not make it a nice place for people. We sat on the bench and watched the world go by near some remarkably old vintage cars.
I saw some pastry in a shop I had to try. It was like one of my favourite way overpriced treats at Safeway back home. I asked for 'un' and immediately wished I'd trusted myself to ask for the ‘mille feuille’ since it was listed as ‘1000 feuille’ and she said mille feuille after I pointed to it. As the name implies, it is many layers of thin flat pastry with two layers of custard and icing on top. She put it in a box and I asked if she had a fork. She said no and held up a tiny plastic spoon which would never do. She was in her twenties and had glasses with red streaked dark short hair. I said 'je veut mange ici' as I pointed to the tables outside, later wishing I'd remembered that I should have said 'je veut manger ici'. I am certainly getting the chance to practice my French here. It does come back, but you have to make a lot of mistakes along the way.
She said something that included the word 'porte' and I headed for the door and held it open for her as she brought my pastry to a table outside. I took pictures of it and Joyce met me there with a bottle of coke light. Earlier she had found an ice cream parlour and got two scoops, one of black currant and the other lime sorbet, which was listed in the shop as limon vert, green lemon. I liked that. I tasted my pastry and determined that in fact I preferred the one at Safeway back home due to it being less nutty. That's why I had to try it though, to know. Joyce though maybe it's more Italian style at home since maybe it was listed as Vienna something on the packaging? I still haven’t had the chance to go find out since getting home.
And then it was the time to go. We saw a dead pigeon on the road and I thought again about when I saw a seagull kill and eat a pigeon in the main square in Vienna. Never has a blood faced seagull looked more like the descendant of dinosaurs it is.
Bus ride back was uneventful, Joyce needed a nap. I could use one too but that would only screw up my sleeping trouble even worse than it already is. So I left the hotel alone and walked about the main square of Dijon.
I like to think I passed for not being a tourist when I wasn't pulling out my phone and taking pictures.
It's a nice place, nice, and classy, and proud in a way very typical of so many European city I’ve seen. I found myself intermittently reminded of different cities by different features I saw as I walked.
I was happy to find Bourgogne and Dijon coat of arms stickers for my luggage. I then found my way to a local grocery store where I found more of that mille feuille pastry. I wanted to know if it all tasted the same way it did in Beaune or if the nutty element was just a local flair. While I was there I also got two pint cans of Heineken and a bottle of Coke Light. The pastry was very good, not nutty and more like the one I liked so much back home. I ate one of the two with my bare hands and drank one of the beers.
This was a mistake. I immediately felt heavy and groggy, and was falling asleep an hour later on the coach on the way to the dinner.
We then came to the Picard family vineyard for the Be Our Guest dinner. Wait, no!
I mean the BERNARD family vineyard.
Phillipe is fourth generation himself, and his daughter Virginie
will take over some day. They have had the same sixteen vine fields in the family the whole time, and they are spread out all over the region to spread out the risk of weather or other catastrophy to the vines, he explained.
He was a very amusing fellow, very proud of his heritage, his vines and their terroire. He made a point of stopping for us to take photos in front of all of the plaques on the outside wall of all the awards he’d won as a wine producer. We were shown all around the fermentation vats and aging barrels.
All this wine education was making me really wish I tasted anything other than rotten grapes.
We were then led into another building on the property for dinner. It was a local speciality of course (as Mark always said instead of specialty), cooked by his wife Martine.
Phillipe joked that he had to do the dishes, therefore we needed to keep our cutlery between courses. They have four children together, and apparently by convention (and law) the family vineyards must be divided equally between all of the children. Phillipe himself was required to engage in a long term rent seven eights of his family vineyard from the rest of his siblings and share equity in the company with them. He didn’t seem to mind about as much as one could be expected to not mind such a thing.
The only thing I actively dislike about these tours quite consistently, is that we are forced to interact with people whom in any other context I’d have no interest in interacting with. Nevertheless you always wind up sitting with them for breakfast and at dinner. Yes I’m sure it’s good for me to have to interact with strangers and people who are different from me ideologically and all that. I can believe and appreciate that without liking it though. And the question I always dread is always inevitably asked, whether immediately or later, but always inevitably... so what do you do?
We sat with the ugly American couple that night. She is apparently a retired lawyer. She is a very round woman, and tends to start wheezing at the slightest exertion. He is a retired navy ophthalmologist, and the best words I was able to come up with to describe him was a happy idiot. He didn’t seem to mind how condescending and sharp his wife was with him, and he always had this goofy grin on his face like he was choosing to ignore all the problems with the world and forgot decades ago that it was something he was actively doing. Perhaps I am being unfair with both of them, but perhaps not.
Our dinner was quite good, though with some horrifying details. The appetizer was a nice salad of sliced smoked duck breast with cucumber, cherry tomato, spring mix, and balsamic vinegar.
Entrée was free run chicken (local speciality) topped with a very nice cheese, white wine, (theirs of course), and cream. This was all super good. The entrée plate also had broccoli (two florets, no more, no less), wild rice, and a baked tomato half with a nice crunchy top on the cut side.
We were then served three pieces of cheese, two of which were somewhat edible, but one which literally tasted like it was made and consumed strictly on a dare. Everyone else ate it without much comment other than it was 'salty'. Sweet zombie Jesus no, it was positively revolting. Wow am I out of my element here. But I guess if you like the taste of rotten grapes... Joyce commented you can really taste the cow. She later told me she meant the piss flavour, but I nodded at the time believing she was referring to the shit flavour. Dessert was a wine soaked pear with black currant and chocolate coulis and a very good gingerbread ice cream.
I really liked the ice cream, though the pear and black currant I was not so hot on. On the way home I realized we were a forty four minute drive from where the Picard family vineyard is supposed to be in the Star Trek universe, in LaBoche. It made me want to rewatch the Next Generation episode ‘Family’ where Picard returns to his home vineyard after being rescued from assimilation by the Borg. I then looked up where David Sedaris had lived with Hugh in France, and apparently it was somewhere in Normandy and in the middle of nowhere, quite some ways west of Paris.