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 6th of May was again spent mostly just meandering about fairly aimlessly and enjoying the sights of Dijon, a city I did find rather pleasing on the eye. Certainly, I had scored my mustard (my main, if slightly idiotic reason for going there) but the rest was very much in the lap of the Gods. I had seen a beautiful botanical gardens within a stone’s throw of the train station which was also near where I had been staying previously. It had been closed when I had been passing late the evening before so I decided to give it a look and it was an absolute delight. Apart from some beautifully rendered formal gardens and an excellent herb garden, it was superbly laid out and tended and it was perfumed with the scents from the herbs on display in the air. Even on a pretty dismal day (I mentioned the weather had been fairly appalling) it was a lovely place to walk round. Some better than decent statuary and a man-made lake completed the picture. It is also home to the local planeterium which did not appear to be open when I visited.
A very calming and relaxing walk round the gardens and a few images (see the attached) more or less concluded my day upon which I retired to my “tame” bar to continue my beer drinking exploits.
I say it concluded the day but not quite. On the way home I stumbled (probably literally) into a wonderful little bar / restaurant called La Scala, initially just seeking yet another beer. The menu, however, did, take my eye and I was immediately struck by the notion of moules mariniere (mussels in wine) avec (with) frites (chips / fries). This is a perennial favourite.
Having been through Belgium where it is more or less the national dish and not bothered with it (as previously stated, I eat very little) I thought it really was time. Yes,I know Dijon is miles from the sea and the moules had a load of road miles on them but I just fancied it. A quick chat with the barman (again, I was remarkably speaking French) and it all came up, cooked to perfection and tasting every bit as good as I hope the images look.
Yes, I know I bang on about eating local produce and having the regional speciality wherever I am but this really was well cooked and presented, not that there is much presentation needed for such a rustic dish supposedly invented by fishermen on the French / Belgian coast and which they cooked over an open fire on the beach. I’d love to try my admittedly limited culinary skills under such circumstances, that would be a bit of a coup. Cook Moules Marinieres over a fire on a beach a mile from where they were landed, that is proper cooking.
Well satisfied, in every sense of the word I took myself off to bed. Come on, be honest, how bad can it be? I had started this mad jaunt in a fit of black despair thanks the the rightly reviled kaufer but now I was actually beginning to remember why I travelled in the first place.
Still more to come so, as always, stay tuned and spread the word.
After the excellent repast of the previous evening (I am still salivating thinking of that boeuf Bourgignon!), I had a bit of a lie in on the morning of the 5th of May and awoke to a day that was much more climatically suited to me. Certainly it was not stunningly hot but at least it was dry and you could see the sun.
Perhaps somewhat oddly I still had the Al Stewart song “Night of the 4th of May” as an earworm. If you have happened upon this page randomly then please see the previous entry for an explanation of this.
Finally risen and showered in the excellent shower in my hotel, I took off again to have a look around town and a most charming town / city it proved to be (I am not sure of the exact designation). I found the place, whether it be town or city, to be absolutely delightful and noted that it must have been pretty well spared the ravages of the Second World War as there were still a lot of old buildings to be seen, apparently intact. If they have been restored then they have been attended to very well.
A day of doing not very much except enjoying a bit of much-needed sunshine, admiring a fine town / city and obviously a few beers (including an addition to my rather long list which was called all topped off with a plate of excellent (mostly) local mixed cheese. What more could a man want? Well, a little less garnish and perhaps a pickle or chutney would have been nice but I am splitting hairs here. I am not a rabbit!
Rather bizarrely, I did see on my travels a British pillarbox red telephone box and, to this day, I do not know how it had migrated here. I know it was British because of the crown on it but nobody seemed to be able to enlighten me as to how it came to land in central France.
After a very relaxing and pleasant day it was back to the hotel for another night in my very comfy bed.
Given my initial reluctance to travel (please see earlier entries in this journal for full details of why) I was sort of finding my “sea legs again” and starting to enjoy it. I had honestly thought that for reasons which I shall nor re-rehearse here that I had completely lost my appetite for travel, indeed for life generally but I was very slowly and gradually getting back into Fergy “road warrior” mode.
A decent day in all senses of the word and accompanied here by a few images to indicate how delightful Dijon is. I could not then, and still cannot, fathom how France had escaped my travel radar for so long.
More of Dijon and much else to come so stay tuned and spread the word.
As I have explained in earlier entries in this series I was rapidly losing track of time and sometimes awoke wondering what country I was even in. It was therefore something of a surprise to find that shortly after waking on this day the Al Stewart song “Night of the 4th of May” bounced into my head in what I believe is called an earworm. It must have been something subliminal like seeing the date on the TV news but it was no problem as I simply love Al as an artist and have something like 17 of his albums in various formats. Whilst I do like his later offerings my favourites remain the earlier stuff most of which were written and released before I ever became a teenager or picked up a guitar.
I had never even heard of the guy until I was about 19 and a dear friend of mine at the time called Bob Fleming, who I regrettably have not seen for about 40 years, not only taught me so much about playing the guitar when I did pick one up but introduced me to Al’s music. Just to add a bit of further interest, he had met and played with a young Mr. Stewart in some of the coffee shops around Soho in London whilst on his summer break from Queens University, Belfast in the late 60’s / early 70’s. He also gave me an original copy of the superb “Love Chronicles” album which is still one of my most cherished possessions. I suppose it is worth a bit of money now but I would never sell it.
By way of a bit of pop trivia, apart from Jimmy Page and Ashley “Tiger” Hutchings (original member of Fairport Convention) playing on the album there is also a credit for a Simon Breckenridge who you have probably never heard of. He is in fact Simon Nicol, the only original member of Fairport still playing with them over half a century later and for various reasons used one of his middle names as a surname for his “nom de guerre”, so there you go.
I could tell you stories about some of the lunacy Fleming and I used to get up to together but it is probably best not to. Anyway, back to central France in 2017.
This trip was on the verge of becoming a bit Jack Kerouac (it got worse later, as I will explain) and certainly not what I had planned although I suppose it did provide some sort of catharsis after my profound depression when Virtual Tourist was murdered. On the principle of clouds and silver linings etc., I suppose I would never have had my own website had VT not been treated so abominably but I really do wish it was still here.
Back then to what seems such a long time ago and 4th May when the weather was again abysmal and I was really fearing there was never going to be any sun on this trip. It really was time to be heading South but I still had my mission to fulfil, I needed to get my Dijon mustard from Dijon for my friend. I took myself off, getting pretty damp on the way as I had no waterproof clothing.
A bit of a walk took me to most beautiful park with one of the finest water features (to quote gardening experts), I just call it a pond or perhaps a very small lake. It is pretty sizeable and gorgeously photogenic, even in the rain. Don’t worry, I got some much better images another day. Having grabbed the requisite few snaps there was really only one thing to do, and regular readers will guess what it was. Yes, you’ve got it, a day in the pub.
I had spotted a place earlier which looked quite likely, Le Cafe du Marche. Sure, there was a restaurant section which looked much too fancy for my liking (although I was later to have a brilliant meal in there) but there was a local looking sort of bar that didn’t seem too pretentious and so in I went to shelter from the rain.
A beer duly called for, it was evident that the place was not run by local Dijonnaise or even French. It was undoubtedly Turkish which was later confirmed to me by the owner who became a friend – well I was spending enough money in there! Everywhere I had been thus far seemed to have a large Turkish influence and this was to continue as I carried on. I wonder how many Turks are in the EU now?
When ordering the beer I carried on my “joke” (borrowed from the late Ronnie Drew RIP) about a pint of breakfast which I have successfully managed to parlay into various languages one way or another. I have no idea why, as it was not even intended as a joke by the great man, but it just seems to amuse people. Ronnie genuinely meant it as he was a bit if a drinker himself and I have merely hijacked it.
The day itself was fairly unremarkable as the weather precluded any serious sightseeing but it did finish off in rather spectacular culinary style.
People who know me and friends online will know that I have the appetite of a very small bird. I love to cook and will watch cooking programmes on TV to the point of obsession but I just don’t eat a lot. It had been a few days since I had had my last substantial meal and so, when I perused the menu, I thought I would give this eating idea another try. What particularly intrigued me was the Bourgogne menu for €29. Three courses and the main was a boeuf Bourgignon which I love and have even made a few passable attempts at recreating myself. Shifting myself from the very cosy bar to the equally cosy restaurant room and it was off and running.
My local special began with half a dozen snails in garlic butter (gorgeous) and then the boeuf Bourgignon as mentioned and so much better that I could have made although the sight of salad and chips (fries or even frites here) on the same plate always makes me cringe a little.
Dessert was a creme brulee done to perfection and the whole affair finished off with coffee and whatever the local firewater is. It was actually not too harsh and went down very well with the coffee. Naturally the whole repast was accompanied by a carafe of a very decent Burgundy, well, it would be wouldn’t it?
For one that does not really eat properly, it was a delight and I had no problem finishing it which is unusual for me and so, a couple of beers as a digestif and I was off on my short walk home to my comfy bed. All this despite what was becoming a pretty horrible trip in respect of the weather but utterly memorable in every other respect.
There just seemed no end in sight, metaphorically or meteorologically.
Much more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.
The 2nd May was really a day of doing rather little as the weather sort of precluded doing very much, it was tipping down with rain and so, after a very decent lie-in in the wonderful apartment I was staying in, I did not really stray too far. Remember that I was travelling with absolutely minimal kit and I did not even possess anything vaguely approaching being showerproof never mind properly waterproof. My sole outer garment was and old, much-loved and now slightly tatty Ben Sherman denim jacket purchased as new from a charity shop in Northern Ireland some years ago for the ludicrous price of £4!
I did take myself back past the Church of Notre Dame of Dijon as I had been so impressed with it the day before but other than that it was a day very much occupied by sitting in bars drinking beer. Well, this was Fergy travelling after all. I have to say that there is no shortage of decent bars in Dijon and I certainly did my best to visit as many as possible. As well as decent bars there seems to be an almost endless selection of beers on offer and I really did my level best to do that selection justice. This really is the heart of wine country in France but I am not much of a wine drinker really and so it was beer all the way. I must admit that later in the trip I sampled the fruits of the vine a little but I shall come to that in due course.
What I did notice on my rather restricted travels was just how many memorials there are to those murdered by the Germans in the Second World War. You can barely walk one hundred yards without coming upon another example and I have included one here. The image above is of a memorial near the railway station commemorating the many who were deported from there to German concentration camps.
Another memorial, also included, was rather more unusual. If my admittedly poor French has been up to the task it commemorates those who were victims of racist and anti-Semitis persecution committed under the authority of the authority called the Government of the French state 1940 -1944 i.e. the puppet Vichy government kept in place by the Nazis. There is no mention of the Germans at all which I took to indicate the French hatred of collaborators during those dark days.
A very happy Fergy eventually returned, actually fairly early by his standards, for another night in the really rather comfortable sofabed.
After the rather washed out but generally enjoyable day the previous day the weather still was not great but certainly a bit of an improvement on what had gone before. Time for another walk round I felt but I had a greater imperative first. I fancied staying in Dijon as I was really rather enjoying it but my lovely little flat was booked for the next few nights and so a change of location was called for.
A quick excursion on booking.com yielded up a not too expensive hotel which turned out to be perfectly acceptable and, almost inevitably for me, in a slightly “edgy” area of town. Once again I found myself having to “force” my way past street gangs of North Africans apparently just spoiling for a fight but it never came to anything. Just youngsters strutting their stuff on the street I suppose although there was a distinct lack of females for them to be impressing.
As always, there will be a full review on the rather pleasant “Hotel Montchapet” (that being the name of the district it is in) in due course. On the plus side, I did discover a couple of fairly “lively” bars of the type I love so it was a touch of the “swings and the roundabouts”.
As stated, the weather was an improvement on the day before but then again anything would have been although it was still hardly glorious Spring sunshine and so it was another day of not doing a whole lot other than revisiting the rather good cafe Leo in the station as mentioned in a previous journal entry complete with undoubtedly disease-ridden “flying rats” as we call pigeons in London.
After that it was a very brief wander round town (the weather really was poor and I was not equipped for it) and eventually I used the previously mentioned Fergy “nose” to suss out a really brilliant little cafe / bar / restaurant where I was to become quite a fixture over the days to come.
I really was getting very fed up with the weather by this point and I was seriously wanting to head South for a bit of sun. I know from previous experience that both Southern Spain and the Algarve in Portugal can be wonderful at this time of year and I had seen advertising for travel to all those all those destinations and also Morocco and Tunisia via bus to cater for the needs of the many immigrants from those areas that are now in France. I could have done Morocco for less than €100 but it was going to be an awfully long journey on a coach with my bad back so I decided to give it a miss and just hang out in France.
There was also the question of going to Kempten in Southern Germany for what I thought would be undoubtedly the final Virtual Tourist Euromeet after the butchery of that peerless site and so heading South would have been taking me in the wrong direction. I was still really very much undecided, in truth I was right up until it happened. People had spent a lot of money booking accommodation and flights from all over the world and then a corporate monster just removed the main reason for the meeting with the minimum of notice and evidently not a care for those who effectively provided the best of their content and, ergo, vast revenue.
What was effectively another day’s pub crawl finished up with a burger and off to yet another rather comfy bed in yet another pleasant dwelling.
At this point I had no intention of going home (and still didn’t some weeks later) and the trip was getting progressively crazier by the day. I really did not give a damn about anything any more and has no intention of stopping before I needed to either get back to London to head to Canada or work out how to get there direct frome wherever I happened to be. It was still early May and there was probably still snow on the ground in Alberta (it happens) and so I thought I was good to keep on going for a while longer. When I go to Canada my dear friend Lynne and I go roaming in a rather aged but lovely campervan, or RV as they are called there, but I knew it was way too early for the “season” that far North so I had a bit of time to play with.
There is much more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.
Another one of my gallery entries here and this one refers to the Eglise de Notre-Dame in Dijon which is a uperb building and which I hope you have read about in the main blogpost for this day. I honestly bleieve that if grandeur was the sole criterion for being a Cathedral then this building would be. See what you think.
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.