Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dijon - without the Mustard

Dijon –home of mustard – but there is no mustard factory here any longer – like in many parts of the world, including Australia, the artisan has been squeezed out in our world of instant gratification. We don’t know where the factories are now – no-one could tell us.

Despite the noisy and (locally) exciting DJ concert, the room was reasonably quiet and we all slept. It’s funny to be between two snorers – cos I sure don’t snore! Skype is a wonderful thing and Helen is able to talk with the girls and with Greg. His sister Cathie has flown home from Victoria for Father’s Day, so she even gets to talk with her. How lucky are we – we are able to travel the world and yet still see and talk with family ‘face to face’. I’m lucky to be in the room when Antony calls in – can’t talk with Bella because she is long asleep. But it’s nice to talk with Antony and James (and Amanda out of view!).

Knowing that we tend to stay out late, we don’t rush this morning. About 9:30 am we head down to breakfast – Hel’s first truly continental brekky. There is actually a really good selection: cereals, yoghurt, canned fruit salad, croissants, bagette, brioche, toasting bread, eggs to boil, cold meats and cheeses, spreads, jams and Nutella! Orange or apple juice, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. We toast brioche, Michael cooks eggs. So does Helen, but as it doesn’t come to a rolling boil, her egg is still very ‘liquid’ so Michael gets a third! After breakfast Michael and Helen venture out to visit the Tourist Information Centre to find out information on a tour bus and Laundromat.

(Michael) It is indeed a glorious morning for walking through the streets of the old town. There is such a hustle and bustle as the streets swell with people going about their business. And in the market place, the shouts and cacophony of the market sellers filled the air with a boisterous clamour.

Helen was in awe of her surroundings: the people, the ambience and the architecture – a symphony of sight and sound. The old town of Dijon is a mixture of cobblestoned narrow streets and Medieval/Renaissance architecture. The upper floors of the buildings, built around the 14-15th centuries, literally overhang the streets at varying degrees.

Making our way along the Rue de Chouette we are dwarfed by the height of the Church of Notre-Dame – what an amazing sight. The cathedral’s design is a jigsaw of flush and flying buttresses, spires and steeples, Gargoyles and Grotesques! However, the part which stopped us in our tracks was the sight of a group of people clustering around a small sculpture against the corner of the cathedral. It was a six inch sculpture of an owl, the detail of which has been worn away by pilgrims stroking the ‘bird’ whilst making a wish. A ‘Kodak’ moment – yes, sir! We were later to discover, the origins of the owl are unknown as is the identity of the artist. Albeit, it is referred to as “The Owl” and the exact location is on the buttress of the Chapel of Reconciliation.

We eventually find the information bureau and obtain the necessary information concerning the bus and, (….more importantly,) a Laundromat. Oh, we are pleased to be informed the bus is not exactly a ‘tourist’ service, however, it is a free shuttle service which does the circuit of the old town and passengers have the option of hopping on and hopping off!

(I'm back) After a while we head out for the day. Off around to the Notre Dame Cathedral, passed lots of unique little shops. We pass ‘La Chouette’ the Town Owl and rub its belly for good luck, all making wishes that I suspect have something to do with winning Lotto. The owl is the town symbol and so it features very prominently in the tourist scheme – small owl plaques to steer you in the right direction for the town walks and large numbered brass plaques set in the pavement where there are points of interest.

The Cathedral is something else. It has the most amazingly interesting roof line complete with flying buttresses. This corner of Dijon is quaint and the kind of place you might expect to see in France - there is a tin cat silhouette on the roof of a building opposite the Cathedral, and in the side street alongside the Cathedral, a busker – complete with the faithful dog belts out some mournful French tune - very Edith Piaff'y. In his poor English and our poor French we learned that he found the mutt on a visit to Switzerland. He was kind of like a lost soul - we tend to collect a few!

There is a petite town bus that operates a route into and around the Old Town centre – its free and runs to a schedule every 15 minutes or so. It is well patronised by locals and tourists alike. And Helen is right, this is a sign of a generous community. Sure, it is a tool to minimise traffic in the narrow streets of the Old Town centre, but they could easily charge for the service.

We have coffee at a cafe in the Place de Ducs – sitting on a plaza that is a beautiful rich cream coloured stone – including the bricks that form the roadways. And the plaza. And the gateway portal. And the buildings. It’s a monochromatic heaven (ask any of the scrap-bookers!)

After coffee and a sit in the sunshine, we ventured across the place (plaza) to the Palais des Ducs and in to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. This building is probably close to the size of Fontainbleau but is far more dignified. I think that that monochromatic look is less pompous and offers a look that is not above the rest of the community. It has a sense of uniformity and togetherness with its surroundings that is really nice. The architecture is interesting as everything is built in to a semi-circular wall across the place including arched accesses to the streets - very very classy.

The museum is free - so yes, Hels is right - a generous community. This place has soul and body and spirit. And it is really interesting the collections that these regional museums have. There are works of art, some stuning sculptures, two rooms that are done in the decoration of the period, and egyptian collection and more. But we are out of time now - its 6 pm and they are closing.

The traders aren't dumb though - they are still open and we manage to divest ourselves of a few of our hard-earned sheckels! I bought Bella some fantastic stuff at a Kids educational toy shop and even Helen bought some secret present stuff!! And then we found the gingerbread shop - oo la la Glen McGrath - and now we have some goodies for the car (not that these three chaps need fattening!).

Tonight we decided to head in the opposite direction to find somewhere for dinner. Just down the corner we turn to the right and find a tiny restaurant that looks appealing (a restaurant as opposed to a glorified bar). Le Théâtre des Sens - cuisine traditionnelle remise au goût du jour (The Theater of the Senses - traditional cuisine delivered to the taste of the day)
It is really busy and we only see one table free - "Bonsoir, une table pour trois s'il vous plaît?" is met with "downstairs". Ah, more tables downstairs! Hah, only four more in a tight little space down (dreaded) part spiral stairs. C'est la vie! Vincent, our waiter speaks some English - always a help and gives us a hand to decipher the menu.

Huit escargots de Bourgogne au beurre persille (Eight snails of Burgundy in parsley butter) Helen
Œufs en meurettes à l’huie de truffes (Poached eggs with Truffle sauce) Maria
Fois gras de maison (Fois gras of the house) Michael
Coq au Vin, tradition bourguignonne (Coq au Vin in the Burgundian tradition) Helen
Quenelle de brochet (Pike dumpling) Maria
Lamb shank with a selection of vegetables
(Jarret d'agneau avec une sélection de légumes) Michael
Coupe Bourguignonne (Burgundy ice cream with liquer) Maria and Helen
Nougat de crème glacée (Nougat ice cream) Michael

Mmm - another example of great French cooking.

I go back to the hotel to try to wrestle enough time with a terrible internet connection (you have to keep signing in) and do some work on the blog while Michael and Helen go back to the Plaza for a coffee. The night photos are amazing - and in a place like Dijon, I would expect nothing less!

(Helen's turn) Dijon is tres bon! Ces't magnifique and to date my favourite place on planet earth. It has the right blend of quirky energetic happy people and a sense of respect for all eras past and present that I could easily fall in love with and stay for while. Perhaps I will be lucky enough to bring my favourite people on planet earth with me to share in it's honest generosity and welcoming style of living.

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