France: Sens and Vaux Le Vicomte

Day 16  September 26, 2015

Going Out with a Bang

We bid farewell to out lovely cooking instructors and headed north to Sens. Last year we were able to see the tomb of Henry II and we wanted to see the Thomas Becket connections in Sens. The church has a stained glass window telling his tale, he was banished to Sens at one point, and they have some of his vestments on display. Sens seems like a delightful town. Our visit was much too short.

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The window retells Becket’s story.

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Becket's vestment
Becket’s vestment

Our final target of the trip was the Veaux Le Vicomte. http://www.vaux-le-vicomte.com/en/ Jim had an art history professor in college who did his PHD work on this chateau and we were looking forward to seeing it. The story behind Vaux is that Nicholas Fouquet, the finance minister of Louis XIV, built himself a pleasure palace and invited the king and the rest of the French upper crust to a party to inaugurate his chateau. The king was enraged at Fouquet’s lovely new home and promptly arrested him on trumped-up charges, then locked up Fouquet for the rest of his life – but used Vaux as the inspiration for Versailles.

The money shot
The money shot

Somehow, the home survived the French Revolution and today it is in private hands. We toured and trekked all over the chateau and it’s very extensive grounds. On Saturday nights in the summer and early fall, they light the chateau and grounds with over 2000 candles. We ate a lovely candlelight dinner, enjoyed the sights of the chateau by candlelight, and watched the fireworks. Now that’s the way to end a delightful vacation in France.

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A splendid night
A splendid night

This email won’t be sent until tomorrow morning because our new room is in the turret of Chateau de Courtry with very thick walls. The internet doesn’t reach up here and we’re just too tired to climb down the winding and very narrow stairs tonight.

http://www.chateaudecourtry.com/

The rope acts as the railing. Hold on.
The rope acts as the railing. Hold on.

Some Final Thoughts

  • There are a lot of eyeglass shops in France. They are more common than nail salons or Walgreens are in the U.S. The National Health Service in France must pay for lots and lots of eyeglass frames.
  • The toys shops here are not loaded down with electronic gizmos. The toys are simple and require imaginative play.
  • English is the international language often used here when the French speak to people of other nationalities – even to other Europeans. More and more, people are willing to speak English, and they speak it rather well.
  • Really good cheese can be obtained readily – and it’s quite cheap. You’ll find high-quality cheeses in farmers markets, in fromageries in small towns, and even in the immense hypermarches that ring many French towns.
  • It seems every French town has a war memorial. The monument was built to honor WWI losses and then names for people lost in World War II, Indochina, Algeria, and other conflicts involving the French are added to the existing World War I monuments. It’s the WWI names and dates that face the street. World War I took an immense toll on France. There were many instances of four or five names with the same last name listed for WWI and then none of that name showing up for any other conflict. So sad.
  • French schools seem to start rather early and go late – letting out around 5:00. The life of a French child feels highly structured during the school year.
  • Shoes are amazingly expensive in France. When passing shop windows, you’ll routinely see shoes priced over 300 euros a pair, and very few priced under 100 euros. The high prices were for children’s shoes as well. People walk a lot here, and they value good shoes.
  • Car colors in France are “different” – there are some colors in France that you never see in the U.S. Lemon chiffon yellow is quite eye-catching. Some colors don’t work so well – puppy poop brown and great-granny mauve, we’re looking at you…
  • Of course, “historical” in France has an entirely different meaning than it does in the U.S. For Americans, the late 1700s is almost ancient. In France — depending on where you are — pre-Roman times are the reference point for ancient history. “Medieval” feels rather modern by comparison.
  • Little French girls in scarves are just too cute. No offense to the children of the U.S., but French kids are cuter. Dressed to the nines and very well behaved, for the most part. This doesn’t necessarily translate to being cuter adults, however.
  • Some things are universal. You always exit through the gift shop.
  • A collection of houses with a boulangerie is a town or hamlet. A collection of houses without a boulangerie is just a collection of houses.
  • French food is very regional. At least in the US people have heard of regional specialties from other areas even if they aren’t served. In France they seem to not know or care about food from other regions of France. They have adopted some foods from other cultures though. Kabobs seem very popular, as are pizzas.
  • Old pastures, of which there are many, have hedges “planted” on the fencerows by many generations of birds. The effect is very pleasing for both the passerby and the birds.
  • There is more farmland in France than one usually has in mind. There are huge expanses of land, as far as the eye could see, in production and not a barn, farmhouse, or piece of farm equipment in sight. We were told that it is not uncommon for farmers to not live on their land but to live in the town and commute to the farm to work.
  • Having a GPS, especially one as charming as our beloved Stephen Fry, made traveling much less stressful and encouraged us to just “head out” in search of interesting places.
  • The non-American visitors at the US cemeteries in France equaled or outnumbered the American visitors. Their comments in the guestbooks were expressions of eternal gratitude.

France: Tonnerre and Avallon Cooking Class

Day 15  September 25, 2015

More Reasons to Love France

After last night’s feast we didn’t feel like eating a big breakfast. Then we went downstairs to the lovely dining area and there were fresh berries in a bowl at our table. We had some delightful fresh berries. Then there are freshly-baked croissants with three different homemade jams. Okay, we’ll be polite. Then our hosts brought out crepes made just for us. Oh my. What could we do? No lunch today.

Have a seat and enjoy.
Have a seat and enjoy.

We drove north and east to visit the town of Tonnerre, which is famous for its natural lavoir. It reminded us of Wakulla Springs in Florida. It was used as the town’s communal washbasin for centuries. http://www.francethisway.com/places/tonnerre.php

Ye Olde Laundramat
Ye Olde Laundromat

We then got this idea that we should walk up to visit the 11th century church. We saw the signs pointing the way. Well, it turned out that to get to the church you have to walk up hundreds of stairs that all slope downward. You would get to the top of a set of stairs and feel victorious only to be greeted by another set of stairs that were around the corner. The view from the top was lovely, but the church was closed. Sigh.

Noyers was our next stop. They also have a lavoir. This little town looks like it has been frozen in time with Roman gates to welcome you and many half-timbered houses. We visited the folk art museum and determined that it was made up of whatever anyone collected and was willing to donate. There were wooden toys, cookie tins, paintings, figurines of daily life, and ships in bottles. Rather strange, but fun.

Sublime
Sublime
A bit silly, but fun
A bit silly, but fun

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We needed to get back home for our 3:00 cooking class. Our instructor used to work for Pillsbury and even lived in the US for a short while. Tonight at dinner we got to eat the results of our three hours in the kitchen. We made oeufs en Meurette — which are poached eggs served in a veal stock enriched with beef, wine, onions, garlic, and mushrooms. We also made more gougeres (cheese puffs) with a bit of cumin. For dessert, we made a chocolate lava cake and salted caramel macarons. The learning was great fun and the eating was very rewarding.

The world's richest stock with great dividends
The world’s richest stock with great dividends
A little something to hold us until dessert
A little something to hold us until dessert
Yup. We made it. We ate it.
Yup.
We made it.
We ate it.

Tomorrow we go north for our final full day in France. Sniff. Sniff.

 

France: Semur, Vezalay, and Avallon

Day 14 September 24, 2015

A Picture-Perfect Day

We took hundreds of pictures today. Each place we stopped was buffed, polished, and ready for its close-up. We headed north from Pommard to Semur-en-Auxois. It is a storybook town on a hill with ramparts, towers, and a river slowly flowing by to catch its reflection.

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We walked up and down and earned the little quiches we bought for our picnic lunch.

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Heading out of Semur, we saw a sign to a cheese-lovers pilgrimage site—the town of Epoisses. We made a quick turn, had Stephen Fry revise our route, and headed in the direction of the smell of epoisses cheese. We made a little stop for some epoisses cheese from Epoisses, but didn’t linger long enough for the odor to peel the paint off the gangster car.

Our next destination had been on the plan for a long time. There aren’t too many places that you can say we saw for miles before we got there, but this was one of them. Vezelay has been a pilgrimage site for people walking on the Camino de Santiago (the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain) for centuries. http://basiliquedevezelay.cef.fr/?q=contacts/nous-contacter It is said that a relic of Mary Magdalene is here. That is somewhat disputed, but who am I to say? Anyway, we hiked up the hill to the church and were rewarded with views over the Morvan Forest that were just too beautiful for words. This was certainly a highlight of our trip.

We hiked up the hill, so you don't have to.
We hiked up the hill, so you don’t have to.
What a view
What a view

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Two hilltop towns won’t do if you have the option for a third, and we did. Avallon was a fortified town before the time of the Dukes of Burgundy. Our favorite story is that the people of the town were so confident that its walls and watchtowers were impenetrable, that they were sleeping when their walls were scaled and the town was captured. When the Duke heard about this, he sent an army to win back the town. The leader of the occupying force saw he was outnumbered, so he threw a party for the townspeople. While everyone was having a fun time, he slipped out of town and left this army to be trounced by the duke. What a guy.

Napoleon slept here. Sleeping seems to be a theme.
Napoleon slept here. Sleeping seems to be a theme in Avallon.

We’re now settled into our new home just north of Avallon. We have a room in a beautiful chateau with gardens that are still lush and full.

http://www.lacimentelle.com/

We sat outside this evening and enjoyed some cider and our lovely cheeses while routinely pinching ourselves at our good fortune.

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We couldn’t pinch for too long because our hosts made dinner reservations for us at a nearby restaurant. The restaurant was just your normal, middle-of-nowhere, side-of-the-road, gourmet establishment.

http://restaurant.michelin.fr/restaurant/france/89200-valloux/auberge-des-chenets/28rzk14

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After the lobster and potato soup, the shrimp with grilled artichokes, the duck with seasonal vegetables, the lobster with fennel, the cheese course, and the prunella soufflés there was no doubt that we lucked in to something special (Note from Jim – best meal of the trip).

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Welcome. Have a nibble.
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Some bread perhaps?
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Soup
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Shrimp and artichokes
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Lobster
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Best cheese cart ever
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That’s mine. Share? Ha!

France: Beaune Wine Tasting

Day 13  September 23, 2015

A Tasty Day of Tasting

Yesterday was pretty history focused, and today was more gastronomy-oriented. We started out at the Wednesday morning market in Beaune and enjoyed some tastings and bought a little cheese. I know you are shocked by that news flash.

Kraft? No way.
Kraft? No way.

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We then went to the #2 Trip Advisor recommended activity in Beaune. We attended a wine tasting class. It wasn’t so much about wine as how to evaluate wine according to what you like. The instructor was so much fun and made learning a real pleasure. We didn’t drink much at all, but just tasted and while Cindy never could smell anything the instructor could smell, it was still a hoot. The three hours flew by.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187109-d2092260-Reviews-La_Cave_de_l_Ange_Gardien-Beaune_Cote_d_Or_Burgundy.html

We grabbed a quick salad before heading north out of Beaune to Fromagerie Gaugry. It is a large producer of some really stinky (but delicious) cheese. The most famous cheese of the region is Epoisses and it was almost extinct until Mr. Gaugry collected the recipe and began producing it again. It is a very hands-on, labor-intensive process and the resulting cheese smells like it could peel paint off a wall, but tastes smoother than silk.

With cheese in hand, or in reality in my purse, we headed south and stopped at Chateau Clos de Vougeot. http://www.closdevougeot.fr/fr/ It is set right in the middle of vineyards that seem to go on forever. This monastery worked in harmony with nuns in the nearby abbey that made the wonderful Citeaux cheese we had with the potatoes on Sunday. Anyway, they made wine here that was so revered that when a French general was returning from the Napoleonic War, he ordered his soldiers to salute as they passed the chateau to honor their wine. There were four huge wooden wine presses that were available for viewing, as well as the 12th century well, and the monks’ dormitory.

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They have had plenty of practice at making wine.
They have had plenty of practice at making wine.

This was a very tasty day. Tomorrow we pack up to leave our Pommard home and head north for another history day.

 

France: Autun, Saulieu, Chateauneuf-en-Auxois, and Santenay

Day 12  September 22, 2015

History with More History

For those of you following on the map, we left Pommard and drove to Autun. Autun was built by Augustus Caesar to establish a strong foothold in this area. At one point in ancient times Autun was home to over 120,000 people. We visited a site – the Temple of Janus – that was built in the first century. How’s that for some history to begin a day?

If walls could talk
If walls could talk

We then went to the largest Roman amphitheater in Europe. It was used for musical and theatrical performances, rather than gladiators and such. It is now possible to sit on the Roman seats and cheer on your kid in soccer since there is now a soccer field just past where the stage used to be. The thought of that is just too wild, but at least it is still being enjoyed.

Now this was built to last!
Now this was built to last!

We then drove northeast to Saulieu and walked around this pretty little town and enjoyed a lovely picnic. We drove through some of the most beautiful agricultural settings we have ever seen. We determined that one could perhaps equal their beauty, but not surpass it. The pastures were lush and the fences were lined with hedges, so all one sees are varying shades of green with dots of white Charelois cattle grazing. The pastures were on rolling hills with forests near the top and every now and then the pastures would give way to charming villages. Way to go, France!

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On a whim we decided to drive to Chateauneuf-en-Auxois because Jim remembered reading about it when doing research for the trip. We didn’t expect to have time for a visit, but fortune smiled on us. Roman ruins and a hilltop castle in the same day. This video gives a great overview.

This castle has parts from the 11th-15th century. It was handed over to Philip the Good (the Duke of Burgundy) when Catherine Chateauneuf, the castle’s owner at the time, was accused of killing her husband. It seems that she made a tart and her husband and a handmaid died soon after eating it. Oops. The castle was given to France in the 1930s and is now open to the public. It was a fascinating visit.

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We headed back “home” to rest up a bit before heading to dinner in Santenay. When preparing for this trip, we read a book titled, Breakfast in Burgundy. It is sort of the French version of Francis Mayes’s book, Under the Tuscan Sun. In the book Raymond Blake and his wife buy a broken down house in Santenay and proceed to try to renovate it. Nothing was as easy has he had hoped it would be. In the book he writes about one of his favorite restaurants in town, La Terroir. We decided we needed to go there for dinner in honor of the book. We enjoyed a zucchini and artichoke mousse, salmon and leek custard with a cheese crust, salmon with a tomato and coconut milk sauce, salmon with a gingerbread crust over a potato cake, and panna cotta with a vanilla bean sauce. We can only hope that Raymond Blake feels half as honored as we feel stuffed.

http://www.restaurantleterroir.com/#

Le Terroir
Le Terroir

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Drinking local
Drinking local

France: Puligny-Montrachet

Day 11  September 21, 2015

A Day at the Vineyard

We spent today in Puligny-Montrachet, a small wine hamlet south of our new home in Pommard. We had reservations for a day of touring the vineyards of Olivier Leflaive with a sommelier and touring the winery with the owner. http://www.olivier-leflaive.com/en/wines/

The owner himself showed us around
The owner himself showed us around

We learned a great deal and the clear blue skies all day were very welcome (we hadn’t mentioned it before this message, but there has been rain almost every day of our trip – nothing too extensive, mostly showers). The harvest just ended for the year and was about two or three weeks early due to the very hot summer. Among the facts we learned today, here are a couple that stuck with us. A hectare, a bit over two acres, of grand cru status land near the Leflaive winery recently sold for $22 million dollars. They rarely come up for sale.

This vineyard houses the pickers who work for them during the two weeks of the harvest. Many of the pickers are students who earn money before heading back to college. When they prune the vines in the winter, the key branch that is left after trimming is called the baguette and one smaller branch left behind after trimming is called the croissant. The croissant will likely grow up to be next year’s baguette. What looks like a field of vines belonging to one farmer is actually often split among many different owners – some owners may only possess only one or two rows in a particular field. One grape vine equals about one bottle of wine, more or less.
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The Leflaive winery is owned by two brothers who are from a long line of winemakers. One brother gave a terrific tour of the winery and the other brother checked in with us at the lunch and tasting. They are both retired but still come to work each day.

We're guessing the value to the wine in this picture could fund our retirement.
We’re guessing the value to the wine in this picture could fund our retirement.

The lunch consisted of gourgeres, chicken and foie gras terrine, cod with young green peas, assorted local cheeses, and a panna cotta with berries. We were given several wines to taste and compare during lunch. Cindy was way more impressed by the food, but Jim enjoyed getting to taste some very high-end wines.

The plates had names of vineyards on them.
The plates had names of vineyards on them.

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We headed “home” at the end of a long day and stopped at the market for some fruit as an evening snack. We certainly don’t need another big meal. Tomorrow is a history day as we head to Autun.

France: Nuits-St-George, Beaune, Pommard

Day 10 September 20, 2015

Bon Beaune

It was really hard to leave Dijon this morning. We quite enjoyed being “Dijonnaise” for a few days.

When we started researching this trip, Cindy started following several tourist bureaus and producers. One that was a real favorite was Fruirouge. We put a visit to their shop high on the list and this morning was the time. This husband and wife team transforms red fruits into a wide variety of products, and we tasted them all. We were lucky to have time with the owner and he showed us his kitchen where they make everything in small batches. We are bringing home many red treasures.  http://www.fruirouge.fr/

Currants galore
Currants galore
and one of the best smiles ever!
and one of the best smiles ever!

Now, you may not believe our good fortune on this next tale. We drove into the town of Nuits-St-George thinking that we were just passing through on our way to Beaune. Well, what was going on in Nuits today? A cheese festival! Can you hear the brakes screeching? The covered market was hosting cheesemakers from the area and beyond. The producers had been asked to make a display of their cheeses for a large table at the entrance to the hall. There are flower shows with less composed displays.

How did we get so lucky?
How did we get so lucky?

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We walked around, chatted with cheese makers, and tasted cheese – free tastes of cheese were everywhere. A church group had made giant pans (five feet wide at least) of “Citeau-flette” which was their local version of tartiflette — made with sliced potatoes, onions, bacon, white wine, and their local Citeau cheese. After tasting it and walking around for a while, we went back and bought a plate of it for a mid-morning snack. We felt that even Rick Steves couldn’t have been as lucky as we were this morning. It was very hard to leave that wonderful event and get on with our day.

Cheese, potatoes, onions, cheese, and cheese
Cheese, potatoes, onions, cheese, and cheese

Once we, and our full tummies, arrived in Beaune, we headed straight for the famous Hotel Dieu. http://www.hospices-de-beaune.com/index.php/hospicesdebeaune/L-Hotel-Dieu/Le-Musee It was built in the 1400s as a hospital for the poor. We expected it to be magnificent, but it exceeded expectations many times over. The audio tour was narrated by the 15th century husband and wife who built the place. It added some whimsy to the tour. The famous Van der Weyden triptych was displayed in a darkened room to protect it, but it just glowed in the light that shown on it. There were also fabulous tapestries on display. This was an A+++ visit.

It was a wow.
It was a wow.

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We had a little salad and a floating island dessert to keep up our strength to walk the ramparts that surround the city. Beaune is very walkable because you are contained within the walls that surround it. We’ll go back on Wednesday for the market.

Pommard is our new hometown. It is about 4 miles outside of Beaune and is a quiet little wine town. As has been the case at every “home” so far, the church is very close and the bells ring every fifteen minutes. Our B&B, Domaine Violot-Guillemard, is owned by a rather famous winemaker. We sort of lucked in to an impromptu wine tasting in his cellars below the house. He speaks no English and said a lot that the other three guests found both fascinating and humorous. The wine was outstanding. A bottle or two might make it back to Illinois.

http://www.cybevasion.fr/go_annonce.php?id_annonce=30681&from_source=chambres-hotes.fr

Our happy host
Our happy host

We’ll rest up for another day in paradise.

France: Dijon

Day 9  September 19, 2015

Patrimoine (Heritage) Weekend

All over France this weekend is celebrated as Patrimoine Weekend. Historic and cultural sites that are open to the public at no other times are open this weekend and sites that usually charge admission are free today. It was heartening to see so many French people out with their children learning more about their culture and history.

We got out early to celebrate the culture of the food hall since it is so very close to our apartment. After a nice breakfast, we headed out to soak in the sites. We started at a museum that is in a townhouse that was the home of an off-the-charts wealthy art collector in the 1800s. If you love art that has more than its share of sexist scenes, then this was great.

We then took in a museum that focuses on life in Burgundy throughout its history. This is more about how the other 99.99% lived. Cindy’s favorite display showed a toddler’s walker. The toddler was taught from an early age to walk the straight and narrow.

Go forth, Child. And back. And forth. And back.
Go forth, Child. And back. And forth. And back.

Earlier we had picked up two tickets to climb the Duke’s tower at 12:30. There are 320 steps to the top of the 14th century tower with great views of the city. Some of you may know that Cindy isn’t a huge fan of heights, but she made the climb and even took a few pictures.

It's all fine unless you look down.
It’s all fine unless you look down.

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We just love those Burundian roofs.
We just love those Burgundian roofs.

We had earned lunch by then and enjoyed a delightful stop at a small restaurant nearby.

Fueled and recovered from the climb, we headed to the rarely open Prefecture, which is sort of like a governor’s mansion if the state had been around for a couple hundred years, and the Prefecture building was and is used as a showpiece for visiting royalty. If you are wondering what to do with that pair of fifteen-foot gold mirrors or those pesky 8-foot chandeliers, you could come here for design ideas. The “governor” here is appointed and gets to live and work in this beautiful building. Be nice to the President of France.

Nice digs
Lovely digs.

We toured several other spots and had another Rick Steves moment. As we walked around town this afternoon, we noticed probably a dozen groups of 5-8 college-age kids in lab coats carrying towels. It turns out that to make money for a charity, they walked up to people with a paper plate covered in whipped cream and for a donation you got to hit one of the kids in the face with whipped cream. Cindy nailed a sweet young lady in the face. Such fun! The event made lots of folks smile and the kids seemed to be having loads of laughs.

Splat!
Splat!

We lucked into a “concert” of mechanical music from very old, and huge, music boxes like the one shown below.

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We’d worked up an appetite with all this history and culture so we settled on a trip down memory lane with a Normandy dinner of cider, galettes, and salad Normande. It brought back great memories.

We head down the road in Burgundy a short distance tomorrow and again it will be difficult to leave this slice of heaven behind. Dijon mustard will forever be special to us.

France: Dijon Food Tour

Day 8  September 18, 2015

Dijon is for Food Lovers

One thing we try to do when planning these trips is to vary the types of activities from day to day. Today was much more structured that most other days.

Just a little something from the shop across the street
Just a little something from the shop across the street

After a breakfast pastry from our neighborhood bakery, we met our hostess at 10:00 for a walking tour of the culinary highlights of Dijon. http://www.dijon-rentalapartment.com/en/event/english-french-parenthese/

We began at the large market (built by Eiffel in the 1800s) and were taken to her favorite jambon persille (ham with parsley) vendor, her favorite fish monger, her favorite fruit seller, and so on. We were in heaven.

Eiffel's market
Eiffel’s market

Then, she took us to her favorite cheese shop. We think we heard a choir of angels singing as we entered. We could have spent the rest of the day there, but we had to move on. I think you can still see the scrape marks on the floor from them having to drag us out.

We do love our cheese.
We do love our cheese.

We then walked around town and investigated the local spice cakes, chocolates, bread, mustards, and other culinary delights. After walking all around Dijon, we headed to her apartment for lunch and a cooking lesson.

Not your average hazelnut cookie
Not your average hazelnut cookie

We won’t bore you with details of the delightful hour before lunch spent talking, and nibbling on appetizers, or the first course of slow-cooked leeks with scallops, or the three different tarts (tomato and feta, zucchini and pesto, and cheese and bacon), or the shaved carrot and cucumber salad, or the cheese course with cheese from the heavenly cheese shop, or the chocolate mousse dessert with the salted caramel shortbread. No we won’t bore you with the details.

Just a little snack before lunch
Just a little snack before lunch
Scallops with braised leeks
Scallops with braised leeks
It has a vegetable. It must be healthful
It has a vegetable. It must be healthful
We made room for the chocolate salted caramel mousse. You would have done the same.
We made room for the chocolate salted caramel mousse. You would have done the same.

We then went into her kitchen to make gourgeres to bring back to have with our dinner. All of the touring and cooking were great, but the best part was just spending the day with a local and making a new friend.

French cheese puffs made by the McPhersons
French cheese puffs made by the McPhersons

After waddling back to our beautiful apartment, we decided to take the self-guided walking tour of Dijon. We needed to walk after all that food. The tour has you follow the plaques in the sidewalk that bear the image of a cute little owl (Dijon’s mascot is an owl).

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The owl that is on the side of the church near us gets its tummy rubbed by lots of tourists for good luck. The walking tour was a great way to get our bearings and to fall even more in love with this charming city. We met a couple from Florida while we were out today. They bought a home here 16 years ago and come for four months each year. Jim has now started looking at all the pictures in the windows of the real estate shops. I think I know what one tourist wished for when he rubbed the owl’s tummy. Hmmmmm.

Good luck!
Good luck!

 

France: Fontenay and Dijon

Day 7  September 17, 2015

The Word for Today is THUNDERSTRUCK

While it was a rainy day for our drive from Ervy-le-Chatel, that isn’t what we mean by the word for the day. We drove south and a bit east today through vast agricultural regions and hilly forests.

Once we stopped driving and got out of the car, the rain stopped. Our first target was the Fontenay Abbey. http://www.abbayedefontenay.com/en/

The abbey complex is in a very remote valley, surrounded by forests. It was built in the 12th century by monks who wanted to get away from it all, preferring to live a simple life (they were Cistercians). The silence, simplicity, and beauty of this place were captivating.

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So peaceful
So peaceful
Gone fishing
Gone fishing

We visited the water-powered forge (the first of its kind in Europe) and huge common sleeping area used by the monks. For hundreds of years, this group of monks thrived as a self-sufficient community.

Let's hope the monk sleeping nearby doesn't snore.
Let’s hope the monk sleeping nearby doesn’t snore.
A monk's walk to work
A monk’s walk to work
The bellows
The bellows

One of the interesting points was the kennel. The Dukes of Burgundy liked to hunt in the forest nearby and the monks took care of their hunting dogs. There was even a hole carved into the stone wall where the dogs could stick their heads out and see who was visiting.

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We then headed on to our new home in Dijon — yes, the mustard town. We have already fallen in love with the city. Once we figured out that every street you think you can drive on is one way heading in the other direction, we found the parking lot and have parked the car until Sunday. We rented an amazing apartment in the pedestrian part of the city.

Most of the center of Dijon is pedestrian. Our apartment is half a block from the Notre Dame church, twenty steps to a bakery, around the corner from the indoor food hall (built by Eiffel himself), and two blocks from the fine arts museum.

http://www.dijon-rentalapartment.com/en/accommodation/le-loisy/

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We could have spent much more time in the fine arts museum where we felt thunderstruck at every turn. They have the elaborate tombs of three of the dukes of Burgundy. How can I describe them? The faces of the dukes are carved of alabaster and supporting the tombs are the statues of individual mourners, each one is about 18 inches tall and finely detailed.

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Each room of the museum held treasures that would make you just stop in awe.

We walked around the city a good bit before having a dinner that will live in our memories and on our hips for a long time.

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We ate in a small bouchon that had 24 seats and a waiter that was funny, charming, and spoke a tiny bit of English.

http://www.bouchondupalais.fr/Pages/default.aspx

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Sit back, gentle readers, for here come the details. First we started with a kir, which was invented in Dijon. Here it is made with cassis and a local variety of white wine called aligote. Jim’s appetizer was eggs poached in an onion and red wine sauce served over toast that was bathed in the sauce. Cindy’s appetizer was a horizontal slice of camembert that was breaded and sauteed. It was served with homemade blueberry preserves and a green salad. Cindy almost had a When Harry Met Sally dinner moment. It was awesome.

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Jim’s main course was coq au vin (chicken in wine), and Cindy had beef with an epoisses cheese sauce. Both were plate-licking good.

Would you like some chicken with your cheese?
Would you like some chicken with your cheese?

For dessert, Jim had cassis sorbet and Cindy had salted caramel ice cream. This was a place we had researched and that our host said was one of her favorites. It lived up to everything we imagined and left us thunderstuck again as we wound down our day.