Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Arriving in Dijon, I fell in love with the city itself tout de suit and during the following week the love spread from the city to the whole region of Burgundy. It is more than mustard and expensive wines, but a je ne sais quoi that rolls in from the countryside. (Too much???)

Day 1: After an interesting train ride involving a not-quite famous actor, I wandered the beautifully Medieval streets of Dijon. I found myself on a pedestrian-only street surrounded by half-timber houses, staring up at my quaint hotel. Three narrow, steep flights of stairs later, I found myself in a comfortable single room with a sink and toilet down the hall.

Day 2: I decided to spend my first full day in Dijion enjoying the atmosphere... although, nothing went quite right all day. I set out at 9am with a stop at a pastry store where I ordered a pain au lait chocolat but got a pain au chocolat instead. I tried to find an open cafe, but all were closed tight. I wondered the maze of perfectly French streets (meaning dirty and poop-filled) of some half-timber homes... many leaning at awkward angles. Then I walked to the old convent, but, to my embarrassment, I couldn't find my way in - so I quickly gave up; however, after some lunch I returned determined. The sad part is that it was quite easy... you open the door that says "Museum." The set of the museums - Musee de la Vie Bourguinonne (Burgundy Life Museum) and Musee d'Art Sacre (Sacred Art Museum) - were surprisingly well done. The first, like all small local museums, had wax statues wearing traditional clothing. The second story was designed to look like Dijon in the 1800's with copies of old store fronts. The Sacred Art Museum had all of the artifacts from the Convent. There was one huge room dedicated to goblets... I tried to guess which one I would choose if I were Indiana Jones and needed the Holy Grail. Finding a place for lunch was a trial. I wondered for an hour, passing some places, going in and leaving others right aways, and, meanwhile, my stomach was speaking its own language. That was until I found a Moules et Frites place that, as its name suggests, serves only mussels and fries. You order the sauce you want, and they serve you a HUGE cast iron pot of mussels in sauce and a plate of french fries. So delicious and a great French option.

Day 3: Cluny!!! Anyone who studied Medieval history can understand my excitement about traveling three hours to see a building that doesn't exist anymore. At one time, Cluny monastery housed the largest structure in Europe and was the seat of religious power that rivaled that of Rome. I wont bore you anymore with my thoughts on the really cool Cluny III church... but the bus ride from Maron to Cluny was beautiful. Burgundy architecture is unique in France. Each manor has a square tower rising above the main part of the home that is topped with an intricate iron weather vane. Some with roosters, but many more have flowers, geometric designs, or clover. The rough, rocky hills are topped with rustic stone castles that are older than any others in France. The original "capital" of the very, very first Kings and Queens of France was in this region. In fact, this is where the concept of "France" came to be.

Day 4: I don't have a car, nor can I rent one. This is fine, until I want to tour the vineyards. So when I visit such wine-rich areas, I pay a lot of money for the ability to ride in a bus with people who are wine illiterate and who ask stupid questions just to see the vines and taste the wines. This tour wasn't so bad. Very small (8 people total) and I sat shot-gun so I was able to talk to the guide in detail about the differences in wine regions and the particular problems with wine making in Burgundy. By far, this was the best wine tour I've ever done! The region is unique because it is very small. Half a mile wide and 15 miles long, to be exact. Also, there have been pinot noir grapes planted on this land for more than 1000 years. Many of the cellars used today were build by monks in the 10th century. The growth of the villages is limited by the vineyards and the vineyard growth is limited by the villages. I was able to see the plot of land (20 ft by 40 ft) that produces the most expensive bottle of wine in the world - bottles start at $4,000 dollars and have been sold for ten times that amount. It looked like every other plot of land to me, but apparently it has the perfect blend of sand, slope, and limestone. I settled for a 59E bottle of Grand Cru and a 58E bottle of Premier Cru. The only problem was I wasn't really in the mood for robust reds at 10 o'clock in the morning, but what can you do? Suffer through.

Day 5: I followed a hiking path 6 k through forests, pastures, and fields to a monastery hidden in a valley. Actually, this monastery is the only intact monastery still in existence from the Medieval period in France. What a peaceful, beautiful place to sequester yourself in? Grow some grapes, eat some cheese and mustard, and walk in the garden. Forgetting, of course, that only one room was heated and the rest were completely open to the elements. I was the only one on the path that day which gave me the opportunity to peacefully and leisurely walk among the wild flowers.


Emily said...

I'm still totally jealous. all my wine buddies moved away! and reading about the delicious wines you get to taste/buy makes me wish that all of them would move back here so I could enjoy something that isn't a sweet fruit flavored blush that costs $5 for a 2 liter bottle because no one will let me buy REAL wine because it tastes like wine! *le sigh*

enjoy all your wine and monasteries! Think of me when you drink all your good red wine!!

Anonymous said...

Mussels and fries a great french tradition. Its a great Belgian tradition that the french borrowed :)