There is now a gap of about a week in this blog series as there really is nothing of interest to report. I went for daily rambles round Kempten, spent much more time in the hotel bar that I probably should have, made friends with the staff at the excellent Peterhof Hotel, relaxed, caught up on this blog a bit in it’s previous incarnation and generally got my travel head back on. I could have stayed there for a long time as it was still early June and Canada would not be “in season” for a while so all was good.
By the time it came around (a pretty decent day after the dismal start as depicted above) I had determined myself that I really was going to have to shift or I’d be there forever and I had consulted Blablacar to see what lifts might be available on that day. Blablacar is the carpooling service I had been using quite successfully in various countries and I do rather like it as a means of transport. I had looked at the options and decided that Innsbruck looked like a plan and there was a young lady called Mona going that way with a decent pick up time, about 1300 if memory serves. The only couple of slight disadvantages are that drivers often like to pick you up on the edge of town so they can get back on the autobahn or whatever and also, so many of them want to leave at crazy hours of the day when I am not even awake usually.
The pickup was at a MacDonald’s out by the ring road which was a bit of a trek but I was travelling light and so it was not too much of a hardship. I even managed a couple of pictures which was a bonus. I also got probably the best view I had had of the town from an area of it that I had not explored despite my long time there. Time for a quick coffee and Mona turned up with her friend, whose name I didn’t catch, and off we headed and it was a great trip. The ladies spent most of the time chatting away in German but I was just enjoying the outstanding scenery and revelling in the concept of hurtling down German and then Austrian autobahn in a comfy motor with two very attractive young frauleins. How bad can that be and proper Fergy travelling indeed.
Another bonus of the carpool that day was in that the friend Mona was going to see lived very close by my “hotel” and so she very kindly dropped me off at the door of where I was staying. Strange sort of a place, very institutionalised. I still cannot work out if it was a converted student dorm block or a facility for visiting workmen as I saw quite a few people that would have fitted into either or both categories. I suppose the name should have given me a clue. I speak minimal German but I reckon it is something like “Technician’s House” or something similar.
What a difference a day makes as they say. The room was pretty spartan although clean and comfortable and the toilet / shower facilities were communal. When I consider what I had left that morning for marginally less money, it made me think that Innsbruck, even off-season for the winter sports for which it is famous, might turn out to be an expensive decision and so it proved.
A quick wash and brush up and I was ready to go. There is a restaurant / bar attached here but I never once saw it open and so it was time for a wander. One thing in the Garni Garni-Technikerhaus‘ favour is that it does enjoy a central location. However and in the way of these things I got no further than about 100 yards or so when I spied a pub with some people sitting outside enjoying the evening and so I was in like a shot. Again, the planxty “nose” did not fail What a friendly bunch in what was sort of a cross between a takeaway pizza place and a bar. The entire staff and clientele appeared to be Albanian and we had a great old time chatting as a couple of them had decent English. A quick internet check whilst writing this piece indicates it is called the Bistro HTL and has a Turkish website which would figure. Whatever it is, it is a beauty, certainly not on the main drag but well worth looking out purely for a
I eventually decided I had better go and have a look round although I did not explore too far but I did run into the ladies from that afternoon in the car along with a large group of their friends and so we sat outside a bar having a chat for a while. All very sociable.
Wending my way back to “my” side of the river, the pizza place was long shut and there did not appear to be many options nor did I fancy trekking all the way back over the bridge to the centre and so there was nothing else for it. To my eternal shame, I had a Macdonalds! Ah well, apparently it didn’t kill me and so Iwas off to bed which, barrack like as it was, was at least long enough for me and fairly comfortable.
So why Innsbruck and why Austria? The way this trip was progressing the obvious answer would be, “Why not” but that was not the only reason. For all my wanderings in Europe and beyond I had never been there although I shall qualify that. I think we passed briefly through it on the bus in the middle of the night and en route to Memmingen and I vaguely remember changing trains about 30 years ago in Wien but I don’t really count either event. I had gone out of the station, had a quick couple of beers in the nearest bar and then caught the next train. People had told me Innsbruck was lovely and so it proved and so it just seemed like a plan.
In truth, there was rather more sightseeing done of the interiors of the many decent bars on offer than of the undoubted attractions of the city. This is demonstrated by the complete paucity of images which again is unlike me and amounted to the underwhelming total of two for the next day, the 8th, both of which are reproduced here. The first is a rather odd piece of public art which I must admit did nothing for me and the second is the view along the river Inn, for which the city takes it’s name. This most certainly did plenty for me with that stunning mountain backdrop. I would love to visit when the snow has fallen. As an aside I should mention that the river is extremely fast flowing, I dread to think how much water flows under that bridge daily.
OK, little else to report so I shall carry on to the 9th in the next instalment. Stay tuned and spread the word.
The 9th May started early as I had determined to keep heading South in search of the still elusive sunshine and again decided to take it in easy stages so Lyon looked like a place to aim for. To live two hours train ride from Paris I really have visited France remarkably little, basically a cycling holiday in Normandy and Brittany about 30 years previously, and I was determined to rectify the situation now that I had the travelling head back on.
Whilst I described in the previous entry here that I had never heard of Macon, which provided me with enough reason to go there, I had most certainly heard of Lyon and was keen to see it as it is, if I have it correctly, one of the more important towns in the country. Again I had booked a carpool at about €9 or thereabouts which is roughly comparable to the bus and considerably cheaper than the train. Besides that, I was getting quite cosy with the concept. It is comfortable and you get a chance to chat to people as well, which I love to do. Try doing that on a long-distance bus and you are likely to be thrown off as a stalker! I had taken the precaution this time of finding out precisely where I was to be picked up and where I would be dropped off in Lyon and picked my hostel accordingly so that I was not going to have the trek I had endured in my last location.
The pick up point was at the beginning of the toll road and so, getting ready good and early and checking out at reception I showed the young lady the precise location which I had written down and asked her if it was walkable or if I needed to get public transport or even a taxi. I am quite prepared to accept that the fault may well lie with me for my lack of facility in the language of my host country but she assured me (as best I could understand) that it was two kilometres distant. No problem, I can walk that easily especially in the time I had allowed myself. Probably four or five kilometres down the road, hot and getting a bit sweaty, there was still no sign of the toll booth. Time was now starting to press me and fortunately this time technology was able to save the situation. I parked myself on a convenient fence outside a Lidl supermarket and texted my driver. A couple of messages later, she told me to sit tight and she would come and get me which was very decent of her.
Turning up about ten minutes later I stowed my kit in the boot and settled down for the journey with her and her teenage daughter. Very pleasant it was too, except occasionally when the driver started using her mobile (cell) ‘phone whilst hurtling down the motorway at a serious rate of knots. This is always something that terrifies me but we did manage to get there in one piece and the lovely lady deposited me outside the Gare Perrache as arranged and at almost exactly the predicted time. A lovely run.
I had carefully studied the map prior to departure do avoid any navigational mishap and I can still remember the details now. Over the bridge, fifth on the left which is Rue Sebastien Gryphe and it’s on the left. No problem. I also knew I could not check in for a couple of hours so I am sure regular readers are already ahead of me with what happened next. Yes, you’ve got it, it was beer o’clock. Well, the sun was over the yardarm by then. I didn’t see a rough-looking bar which is my preferred type but I did come upon a rather swanky looking place called Bar restaurant Mademoiselle Simone. Although I was dressed in my usual scruffs of bandanna, badly frayed denim jacket, rock T-shirt and so on I reckoned the worst they could do was turf me out on my ear so I chanced it and breezed in and what a venue it was.
The lovely view from the front garden.
Simone is obviously very musically themed (I was later to discover they do have regular live music) with an immaculate baby grand piano amongst other things and I was even more convinced I was going to be shown the door. Not a bit of it. I ordered my beer which the friendly barman served up in short order and the inevitable chatting began. I really was getting pretty confident in my French by this stage although a degree of waving my hands about is always going to be required sooner or later.
I took a quick look at the price list as I reckoned that in a quality place like this the beer was going to be ruinously expensive but it was not appreciably moreso than the other places in town, even those that were not nearly so classy. Fair enough, that was Fergy settled for an hour or three and I could happily have sat there until closing time but I knew I really should go and check in so I bid a reluctant farewell to the barman (by now my latest “new best friend”), tipped him well, took myself off over the rather vertiginous Pont Gallieni and walked straight to the door of the hostel using my memorised map. Far better than the debacle of me attempting to use Google Maps on my ‘phone. Technology and I just do not mix.
I was staying in a place called Le Flaneur Guesthouse, which is actually a hostel and within two minutes of setting foot in the door I know I was going to like it there and it was going to inevitably end up in me getting stuck with “travel inertia” as I have previously described in this blog. Both predictions turned out to be completely correct.
If you are interested, flaneur translates variously as loafer, stroller, loiterer or dawdler and I reckon that any one of the descriptions fits me down to the ground. I got assigned my bunk, which turned out to be extremely comfy and, having dumped the kit, it was straight back to the very pleasant bar in the communal area and down to some serious beer drinking. The sightseeing could wait.I’ll get onto the full details of the hostel in the next entry here but there was just time for a delicious and very reasonably priced plate of charcuterie and cheese before heading to bed.
The 7th May arrived, a Sunday. I had decided I was going to move as I was in imminent danger of falling foul of what I term “travel inertia” which constantly manages to creep up on me. As I believe I have mentioned previously in this blog I went to Dumaguete City in the Philippines for two or three days back in 2012 and was still there five months later! In truth, it caught up with me later in Rome but that is a long way down the track in this saga. Hopefully I’ll get to it sooner or later.
I had decided not to go on a massive jaunt and had looked at a map and decided on Macon which is to the South of Dijon. I had a notion to keep going South as I was still in search of that rather elusive sunshine. Why Macon? Why not? I had never even heard of the place which was as good a reason as any for me. I had organised another carpool ride as I was beginning to quite like that as a cost-effective mode of transportation and the driver and his friend turned up outside the station bang on time. We stopped a little way down the road to pick up a young lady so we had a full car but it was very comfortable nonetheless even with my rather long legs. There was just about no English spoken and after a few pleasantries I was struggling to keep up with the conversation and, rather rudely I suppose, dozed off for a time. Still, no harm done and we arrived in Macon in short order.
I know that the fault is entirely mine for not checking the map when I booked the ride but what happened was that the guy dropped me off at an area composed of motels and industrial units and which turned out to be literally miles out-of-town. The others were heading on further South and he just wanted to drop me and not go too far from the autoroute so he could get back on it which is fair enough and he certainly had not misled me when I booked. Absolutely nothing in the way of public transport was on offer so I thought I’d start heading in the direction of town and at least find a bar to ask directions. Well, that was the plan.
As always, technology was not my friend and, after wandering pretty aimlessly round an industrial estate for a while at the behest of Google maps and then down a long cul-de-sac ending in private land, I abandoned it in favour of following my instincts. I walked and I walked and then I walked some more. When I was finished doing that, I walked! I was literally in the middle of the country, miles from anywhere it appeared. Having located what looked like a fairly main road and seen signs for “centre ville” (town centre) I tried Google Maps again. Apparently Google think it is a good idea for pedestrians to walk along a very busy fast road where there is no pavement (sidewalk) – very smart thinking. It was pretty scary to say the least and I do not scare easily.
After what seemed like an eternity I eventually came upon a bar / restaurant called “a le Tipi” which was aptly named as it was the “in-house” facility for the municipal campsite which did look quite pleasant.
I settled in for a beer and then asked the manageress how far it was to my hotel. Basically it was miles. Not only was I marooned out one side of town but my hotel was very usefully right out the opposite side. OK, bite the bullet then and get a taxi thereby negating any savings I had made by getting a carpool over the train which would have deposited me right in the centre. I asked the very charming lady did she have a number for a taxi firm and she told me there was little chance of getting one on a Sunday evening. This was about 1700 in the day! What kind of backwoods was I in?
In fairness to her, she got on her mobile (cell) ‘phone and made several calls eventually informing me that a driver friend of hers would be along as soon as he had finished his evening meal. No problem, time for another beer then.
Whilst researching this piece, as I always do, I have discovered that a le Tipi is so far out of Macon that it is not even technically in it but has a postal address in Sance. I didn’t know it at the time but it certainly makes the idea of the taxi very sensible in retrospect.
Another thing that strikes me now whilst revisiting my original notes and the images is that I was still following the old habits that I had acquired whilst writing for the wonderful Virtual Tourist website which was primarily tip / review based. I was taking lots of images of the minutiae of places I visited so I could write comprehensively about them.
I am still very much finding my way here as I am actually posting this in August 2018 although backdating it to the appropriate date and I still have not decided what way I want to run this site. The review writing was a great favourite of mine and a large part of why I was so fond of VT as I loved to share useful travel information. I am unsure whether to continue in that vein or write purely in a narrative blog style. I know it is my site, which I am still struggling to get my head around being so technophobic, but if anyone reading this has any comments on the subject I would be delighted to hear them.
I know I am never going to rival any of the myriad hotel / restaurant / bar review sites that are already so well-established as I have a mere 14 “followers” at time of writing and average about two “hits” a day but I do want to provide what people want to read and any and all constructive comments are welcomed. If full reviews are not to your liking, let me know but on the very off-chance that someone, somewhere might derive some benefit from them I shall carry on until people tell me it is boring and unnecessary or whatever. Please do not be shy, I can take criticism.
On that principle I shall tell you that “a le Tipi” is extremely friendly (as the main narrative hopefully proves), not overpriced for the area, spotlessly clean (including the “facilities” as pictured) and fully accessible with designated disabled parking. There is also plenty of room to sit outside although the weather wasn’t really up to it yet. OK, that is the review sorted so back to the narrative.
The off-duty taxi guy eventually turned up, drove me very well and safely to my hotel in about ten minutes and charged me over twice what it had cost me to get from Dijon! He wasn’t ripping me off, it was all on the meter. What a performance but I had learned for the next time.
The hotel, like so many low-cost business type places, was located in an industrial estate on the outskirts of town but it was pleasant enough. The room had a very strange sleeping arrangement with a double bed with a transverse bunk bed above. I had never seen anything like it before. There was little in the way of facilities with a few food / drink vending machines but the restaurant and bar they had made such play of on their website never opened the whole time I was there. Utterly bizarrely, amongst the items on sale was an assortment of microwave meals but search as I might there was no sign of a microwave. How did they work that one out?
After the travails of the day, I really didn’t fancy walking all the way back into town but I had seen what looked like a fairly decent restaurant literally across the road. In truth, there was a reasonable selection close by with all the major chains represented and a couple of Asian buffets but I opted for the Poivre Rouge (Red Pepper) and wandered the short distance there to dine on a very tasty rack of ribs with a baked potato and all washed down with some very acceptable French cider which I do rather like.
For reasons as explained above, here is a quick review of the Poivre Rouge. Service was quick, friendly and efficient although it was admittedly quiet this time on a Sunday evening, the establishment was spotless, the food excellent and presented pleasantly if simply and it was reasonably priced for the area. I am not sure how much English may be spoken here as I was still getting ludicrously over-confident with my newly remembered schoolboy French. It is obviously very family orientated as there was a decent looking kids play area and, if memory serves, a menu for children as well. Thankfully all les enfants were apparently tucked up for the night and so I had a peaceful meal in pleasant surroundings which was all I required. There you go, another “tip / review” slipped in but again,lease do let me know if you think it is superfluous as I can only make this site better if I know what people want.
With a full belly I retired for a relatively early night and certainly didn’t need much rocking. I have mentioned before in this blog about my eating and sleeping abnormalities so to manage both within an hour of each other was something of a coup. This trip was obviously doing me good in all sorts of ways.
In the next instalment I shall go exploring a town I had only ever heard of two days before so stay tuned and spread the word.
The next day dawned with a well rested Fergy and brought with it not only a new month but also the Mayday public holiday which I had totally forgotten about so most places were closed. I had decided that I was going to go to Dijon for no better reason than I wanted to buy some mustard to send home to my foodie friend. Honestly, I am not joking. I did eventually manage to purchase said delicacy but I never got round to posting it and at time of writing in July 2018 it is still sitting in my London flat awaiting delivery!
Even after all these years I still keep discovering new ways to travel and this was one such day as I had my first experience of carpooling. It had happened quite randomly as I was searching on the rather useful Rome2Rio website for my potential options and carpooling was one suggested. I must say that whilst I had obviously heard of the concept before I had never really considered it but it looked like a very cost-effective option, being just a touch more expensive than a bus and far, far cheaper than the train so I thought I’d give it a go.
I used a website called BlaBlaCar and was put in touch with a young lady called Natasha who was making the rather long journey from Luxembourg, which turned out to be her family home, and all the way to Clermont Ferrand (her current home) by way of all major points in between. I was a bit hesitant about having to submit an image of my passport to the website but I suppose that is to ensure the safety of the drivers, there are a lot of crazies out there. In the event, I went on to use them a few times with great results and, as far as I can tell, was not subject to any form of identity theft so all appears good.
Natasha picked me up bang on time outside the train station in Nancy (where I had had the obligatory drink, but only one) in a comfortable but rather full car. It appeared she was effectively moving all her worldly goods and possessions and so there were only the two of us along with all the baggage. We set off and immediately got to talking, once again completely in French. She spoke good enough English but was somewhat hesitant to do so. This was no problem as I was actually getting used to speaking nothing but French by this stage and was amazing myself on a daily basis that I could actually be understood. We chattted about this and that but of course, with me being me, it had to all get a bit surreal.
A while into the journey the conversation somehow included the fact that I am a musician of no fixed ability at which point the charming young lady did no more than turn off the stereo and demand that I sing for her! What? I was stone cold sober as I had not been drinking, being unsure of the situation regarding comfort breaks en route. It is a known fact that I never knowingly perform whilst sober so it was a bit of a strange experience with just the two of us in the car and me knocking out everything from Irish folk songs to the Beatles and the Stones by way of just about everything in between. It was totally a capella and accompanied only by my drumming on the dashboard. As I say, totally odd.
After a brief pit-stop at a motorway services not far from Dijon we were back on the road and the journey was finished uneventfully as Natasha was a very good and safe driver. She dropped me at the railway station as arranged and we parted on great terms with a promise that we would go out for a drink if I ever made it to Clermont (regrettably I didn’t).
I knew that the apartment I had booked in Dijon was literally ten minutes walk from the station and so first things first and straight into the bar at the station for a pint of lunch. I normally don’t go in much for station bars as they are usually a ripoff, being geared towards a fairly captive audience but this place was rather pleasant. It was not markedly more expensive than other places which I was still finding rather expensive even by the London standards I am used to. A couple of very pleasant pints and a bit of a chat with the barmaid and it was time when I could check into my apartment.
This was a day of firsts as until this trip I had never even considered the concepts of carpooling or of renting a whole flat (apartment) for myself as I am perfectly happy saving my beer tokens for, well, beer. I am quite content in hostels or cheap hotels as I am sure my reviews here will attest but I had had a quite wonderful experience in Metz with a similar place which I hope you have had a chance to read about and so I decided I would chance it again in Dijon. What an inspired choice it turned out to be as I hope the following paragraphs will show.
I loved the name – Sweet Home Dijon – as it was reminiscent of the song Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd which is one of my favourite rock tracks ever. I had found it on one of several online booking sites I use and if the reader searches on the name given or the address of 15B Avenue Albert 1er 21000 Dijon they should find it. I always like a central location as it usually leads to slightly more expensive rates but when balanced against the hassle and expense of getting public transport to a more remote suburban location then I reckon it is a price worth paying. Sweet Home Dijon had a wonderfully central location on Rue Albert 1er which is basically out the back of the rather decent train station although be aware that the rear entrance closes at night so you have to walk the long way round but even that is not too far.
I should say that the front (only) window looks out over the marshalling yard of the station which may not be to everyone’s taste but I love trains so it suited me nicely. Despite the proximity to the station and the fairly main road to the front of the premises, external noise was never a problem.
I shall not go into the details of how I accessed the premises in order to protect the security of future guests but suffice to say that the instructions e-mailed to me were spot on and I managed to open the door onto what I can only describe as the flat (apartment) I always wanted to live in. Without going into details too much, I shall let the images speak for themselves.
Yes, it was a studio flat i.e. no separate bedroom but it had everything I would have required and then some.
The kitchen would have made a Michelin starred chef happy with every gadget known to man, the sofa bed turned out to be delightfully comfortable and the bathroom not only had endless supplies of hot water at a very decent temperature but also a washing machine which was very welcome to a man who was travelling on not nearly enough luggage and needed laundry on a regular basis.
The whole flat was absolutely immaculate, I reckon it would have taken me a week to get it looking that spick and span.
To get there I walked past the Ibis Hotel which is no more than about 100 yards away and looked at the room rates which were over double what I was paying for that wonderful flat. Don’t get me wrong, I have had many very pleasant stays in Ibis Hotels and have no issue with them at all but I really did think I had much the better of the deal as evidenced by the room rate on the sign outside especially when the Ibis inexplicably bumped up their prices the second day I was there.
I know the superb apartment I have described was a little outside my normal price range but that is purely due to me “flying solo”. For a couple sharing the costs then this wonderful residence becomes much more affordable and is vastly superior to a soulless hotel room. I really cannot speak highly enough about this place which was one of the highlights of my three and a half month trip.
I sent my mate Jo a Whatsapp message with a picture and her two word reply was “very swanky” which I reckon just about summed it up.
Well pleased with my choice of bed I decided to have a bit of an explore and headed in what the road sign indicated as the “centre ville”. As I say, I had picked Dijon purely on a mustard buying whim but what an utter delight it proved to be. I suspect that unlike other European cities, Dijon must have been relatively untouched by the Second World War as there is still any amount of very old architecture to be seen. It is utterly delightful.
The first place of note I discovered was the Porte Guillame in Place Darcy.
It is true that the Porte Guillaume (William Gate) looks a touch incongruous now sitting in splendid isolation as it does in the middle of a tidy pedestrianised area surrounded by shops and a cinema etc. It has the appearance now of a purely monumental structure but it was once a functioning defensive gate in a system of city walls. It was not the first such structure in this location nor was it the first name given to such gates which seemed to vary according to the political whim of the day.
The first record of a gate here is in the 12th century and was originally known as the Porte de Condé after the Governor of the region. In a fit of revolutionary zeal it was renamed Liberty Gate at the time of the French Revolution shortly after this version of the gate was constructed in 1788 in the neoclassical style and to the design of Claude-François Attiret. Attiret was a famous architect in the Burgundy region as well as Paris where he still has several works exhibited in the Louvre. The current name refers to William of Volpiano who was variously known as William (Guillaume) of Dijon or William of Cluny (962 – 1031) and was a Benedictine monk originally from the Piedmont region of modern-day Italy. He was associated with many religious establishments but notably the Saint Benigne Abbey in Dijon hence the local connection.
Today it is a very popular meeting place, especially amongst the young people who seem to congregate here at any time of the day or evening. Whilst I don’t dislike the Porte Guillaume at all and it is obviously well maintained, I cannot help feeling that it is disproportionately large for it’s 21st century surroundings although it must have looked fine when the walls were there but what do I know?
First things first and so time to find a bar. OK, I had put a couple away in the station buffet which I shall tell you about in the next instalment but that had been a while previously.
I have been drinking for a long number of years and, before anyone starts on me I know it is not clever and I certainly do not advise anyone to imbibe the way I do. However, it has led me to some of the most remarkable places with my travelling allowing me to indulge my pastime in countries near and far. In terms of physical appearance and location I would have to say that the Au Moulin a Vent (Windmill) bar / restaurant in central Dijon has to be in the upper echelon.
I chanced upon this place when I was wandering about with no idea where I was or where I was going as I had not orientated myself yet. I found myself in a small square which boasted a lovely fountain and a roundabout (carousel) which transpired to have been designed and built by one M. Eiffel. You may have heard of his Tower in Paris. My eye next fell upon the beautiful medieval building which are such a feature of this amazing city and you can see in the image. Pleasing as it was aesthetically, it turned out to be a bar / restaurant as well so happy days.
As I have mentioned this was the first of May (Mayday), the international socialist celebration and a public holiday in France which probably accounted for the roundabout and as such the place was completely packed inside and out in the lovely and quite extensive al fresco area. I had to hang around for a little while until a small table became available and I planted myself there. I have to say that service from the traditionally attired waiter was a little slow but that was to be expected given the circumstances.
I ordered a large beer as is my wont and it eventually arrived, reasonably served but nothing to write home about and in truth I cannot now remember what brand it was which must say something. In a departure from normal Continental procedure I was asked to pay when the beer arrived as opposed to the usual pay at the end system but in their defence it was manically busy. The beer was definitely more expensive than usual but I suppose you are paying for the location and possibly the fact it was a holiday.
I would recommend that the reader stops here for one drink just to soak in the amazing atmosphere and then moves to one of the numerous other, cheaper bars in the area. Obviously, the roundabout will not be there but it is still worth it for the beautiful surroundings and the building itself.
Time to walk a bit further in what proved to be an architecturally stunning city and by the time I inadvertently came upon the Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon in the centre I really was suffering complete sensory overload. I had started the morning in Nancy which is no less than a UNESCO World Heritage Site and then found myself wandering round Dijon which, in my humble and totally uneducated opinion, should be. I literally did not know where to look next. OK, I had a half an idea there was a big church nearby as I could see the top of it even above the closely packed streets of fairly tall medieval buildings that been holding me in thrall and naturally I had to go and investigate.
In truth I thought this must be a Cathedral as I know the city was big enough and important enough historically to warrant one, which it does, but that is elsewhere. This is the Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon and I must say I have been in much less majestic cathedrals around the world. This is such a superb monument to a God I do not even believe in although that is irrelevant, it is a subject I have mentioned before in this journal and won’t labour the point here.
The front of the church is a slightly unusual configuration of two tiers of pillared openings above the three main entrance ways but it contains absolutely my favourite feature of the whole building which are the amazing gargoyles that you really should have a look at. They are only late 19th century replacements of previous incarnations and are merely decorative rather than functional but they are very beautiful if gargoyles can ever be said to be beautiful. Legend has it that the original gargoyles were removed shortly after the church was opened in 1220 with the building replacing an earlier one on the site. The reason for the removal was that one of the original gargoyles allegedly fell on the head of an usurer standing outside waiting to be married and killed him instantly. Strangely, the gargoyle was an image of a usurer which is a bit spooky if true. The whole front facade is completed by two turrets which I also found slightly unusual.
On entering the church the thing that struck me most forcefully, as it often does in such buildings, was the sheer height of the vaulted roof. How 13th century workmen with only the most primitive tools, scaffolding and so on managed such a feat never ceases to amaze me. What makes it the more remarkable is that due to constraints of available space there are no external buttresses as is usual but the entire structure is supported internally.
Features of note include two automatons used to tell the time and an external statue of an owl which is said to grant wishes if you touch it with your left hand whilst making one. The owl is also now the “mascot” of the city and even features on the badge of the local football (soccer) club. Whilst these are secular features, the main item of sacred interest is undoubtedly the Notre-Dame de Bon-Espoir aka the Black Madonna to whom various miracles have been attributed not least causing the Swiss Army to lift a siege in 1513 and the Nazi German forces to up sticks and go away in 1944.
The Black Madonna phenomenon is of great interest to me as it has many esoteric associations with Knights Templar and the like and is especially relevant in this region as many of the major players in the original brotherhood were from here. I won’t bore you with it all but it is well worth looking up. I had not been thinking about it but on reflection later I found it strange that I had made my way from Flanders to Burgundy which were the centres from which the original Templar cadres were drawn. As I have mentioned elsewhere I do have a huge interest in crusading knights of all Orders and again I had to wonder if something had been propelling me in that direction.
One way and another this is a superb church building in a country that is certainly not short of them and you really should visit if you are in Dijon. Once more I shall create a separate entry to give you a better idea of the grandeur of the church and not clutter up this entry unnecessarily.
By this time I was suffering architectural overload not to mention a slightly stiff neck. Here I was in another beautiful French city and again rubbernecking slack-jawed at what appeared to be an unending supply of the most magnificent old buildings. I have a habit of always looking up when I am sightseeing as ground levels can often be vandalised by modern shop fronts but the upper storeys are frequently left intact. Hence the neck problem.
After the Church of Notre-Dame, my next major discovery was of a secular nature – the Hotel Aubriot.
I am not sure if the Hotel (not a hotel in the accepted English sense of the word) is generally open to the public as it is now privately owned but I was there on Mayday which is a public holiday and it appeared shut although still well worth a look from the outside. The building originates in the early 13th century and is built on a large vault or cellar which was originally the haunt of money changers. About 1320 Hugues Abriot was born here as son of the then owner Guillaume. He was eventually to become Provost of Paris and Bailiff of Dijon amongst other positions and is an important figure in French history although, in the way of these things, he fell from grace somewhat spectacularly later on.
In due course and after various renovations the building became a court in 1739 before passing through various other hands, eventually ending up in possession of the poet Stéphen Liégeard who became aware of what had become the much mutilated original finery of the building during renovations in the early 20th century. He ordered it restored to it’s original glory much to the joy, I am sure, of anyone passing today, myself included.
I have to say that I rarely follow designated tourist “trails” as I much prefer to just ramble aimlessly and see what I stumble across and it is a travel style that has yielded me some great results over the years. However, I always say that there is no “right” and no “wrong” way to travel, a maxim I wish some of the travel snobs would pay attention to. I realise that self-guided or even guided tours are of great value to many travellers and I would never decry anyone for going on one especially where time may be an issue.
In Dijon the tourist trail is that of the owl which is the symbol of the city and named after a much worn statue on the side of the Eglise Notre Dame de Dijon which is said to grant wishes if you touch it with your left hand and which I have dealt with elsewhere on this journal entry. Although the trail and the attendant literature is offered in many languages, the French term for owl trail is “le parcours de la chouette” which is yet another small thing I have learnt whilst researching pieces for this site. I never stop learning doing this.
I did not do the entire trail myself although I certainly saw enough of the marker signs which are very well situated. There are triangles, usually on the pavement, with the point directing you on your way and each venue of interest is marked by a slightly larger numbered rectangular marker, as pictured. Trust me, you will not miss them. The route is circular and nominally starts at Place D’Arcy but obviously you can pick it up wherever suits you best. Even without following the suggested route a walk round Dijon yields an absolute cornucopia of wonders, it is a superb place and, no, I am not getting paid by the local Tourist Board.
There is a booklet for the tour available from the Tourist Office at 11 Rue des Forges, 21000 Dijon but also at various locations around the route. Well worth doing if you don’t want to miss anything as, let’s be honest, the locals should know best.
I suppose the next move was inevitable really. I had started the day in Nancy with a couple of beers followed by my wonderful day of sightseeing which naturally involved a few more beers. I was tired, inordinately thirsty and ever so slightly off the beaten track so there was only one thing for it and that was to hit the bar. I would not say I was lost, I just wasn’t not entirely sure where I was but I knew I was safe as my digs were right by the station and that couldn’t be too hard to find surely.
Thus decided, I happened upon the Bar Le St. Nicolas and a quick surreptitious glance at the guys sitting smoking outside (I never stare) coupled with another one through the window indicated that this may very well be Fergy territory, allow me to explain. Whilst I can do it, I am not a huge fan of overpriced and terribly trendy establishments and this was certainly not one of those. A few tattoos on display from the guys outside coupled with what appeared to be fairly ribald chat, no frills apparent inside and I was in like a shot to find that my quick recce had been entirely correct. I like places with a bit of an edge, a bit of life and this was certainly it. No, I do not want to go to a bar where I am going to be stabbed or shot but this was just what I wanted.
Certainly I was pretty rough-looking and so no eyebrows were raised until I opened my mouth to let loose with some of my pretty awful French which obviously marked me as a foreigner. I suspect this is a rarity here and did cause the odd glance but nothing hostile at all. A quick chat with the server as to a recommendation for beer produced a very well-kept and welcome but eminently forgettable St. Omer which I do not remember having had before but know now is a brew from the Pas-de-Calais region some distance away. This only made sense to me whilst researching this entry when I discovered it is owned by the Heineken global monster. No surprise there then.
I took a seat in the corner and settled to watch the sport on one of the large screens adjacent. I noticed that there was a table football next to me which was no problem at that time although it did get busy later in the evening when all the young people / students piled in. Certainly the prices are very competitive which may encourage them although it did lead to a couple of injudicious elbows in the ear or shoulder from over-exuberant practitioners of the table football art but always done with good humour, effuse apologies and never a hint of aggression.
OK, the beer was fairly average and in normal circumstances I would probably have tried to visit several more bars on my way home but I think the fact that my saved images tell me I was here for over three and a half hours probably tells the reader all they need to know. Bar Le St. Nicolas was great fun.
I did manage a couple more on the way home and then so to bed in my Ideal Home Exhibition showhouse for yet another great night’s sleep which was becoming quite the norm now.
More of beautiful Dijon tomorrow so stay tuned and spread the word.