Saturday, March 24, 2012

Near the end ...

When I Dijon I always take at least one lunch at Restaurant O'Bareuzai. Right here on Rue Francois Rude! Me and countless numbers of French chums especially like to gather here after finalizing our purchases at the market. It's grouse!



Sadly, that is where the story of Groombles having lunch with all French chums ends. The real story is not pretty. The fact is that, having ordered soup and grande cafe, a quick reference to my watch indicated that there was a shortage of time to get to the station at 13:26 for the trip to Paris. I found the waiting chap and told him of my dilemma, but he shrugged and indicated that it was too late - the order had gone in. Now I have more than a sneaking suspicion that this was something of a porky. Nevertheless, I returned to my seat and waited. Finally I HAD to leave, and this I did. Quickly. I shall return some day and order soup and a grande cafe again. In the meantime the chap is just going to have to suck it up and get on with his life. I know I did the wrong thing. I just know it. But clocks cannot be turned back and I AM sorry. A bit.

The corollary to the story is that the train was a good 20 minutes late leaving Dijon Central. I would have made it easily. The main thing is that I am aboard and hurtling across the sunny, green landscape. Dear Jude had booked a first class seat, do I am in the lap of luxury and just about to head off to the dining car for that coffee I missed out on ...


... We cut now to the Rue Moufetard, where Gen Blanch and I have just finished a a wonderful dinner together. Gen had the cod and I had the calves brains. Both were beautiful, but mine was tastier. Gen has just left to attend to family responsibilities. I am left to ponder what life would be like here in Paris ...



You see, the thing about Paris is that there are SO MANY PEOPLE! Today, Saturday, was the first weekend day when the sun was shining. EVERYBODY (but everybody) was out enjoying the sunshine. The result was chaotic catastrophe! Shoulder to shoulder the Parisiennes took to the streets bustling and bumbling along the boulevards, rues Nd squares. People everywhere! More than just a little bit scary! I am not sure that this is a good place to bring up your kids. Maybe THAT'S why Dear Jude and I chose Wangaratta.

So this is the end of the trip. Tomorrow (Sunday) I head off to Charles de Gaulle airport to hop on an Air China flight for home. It has been great. It has been intriguing. It has been educative. It has been wonderful! Home is great and it is the place to which I must now repair.

YBP,

Graeme!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Maps, caves and parks

Finally I looked at a map. I remember a chum at school (Macleod High School) saying once that a map is good for showing you where to go, but not do good at telling you what you will find when you get there. I am not sure that this is absolutely true, but anyhow that is what I remember him saying. [the name of this kid escapes me, but I remember him to be something of a beatnik ...].



The map I looked at today was of Beaune and surrounding areas. And you know WHAT? Beaune I almost completely surrounded by canals! They are a good way out, but they are there nevertheless.



Another thing you'll find a lot of is 'caves'. For the uninitiated, these are cellars at which one can sample the produce (degustation), usually for free. So far I have been to a total of zero such degustation centres, except for the one last Sunday in Beaune. For that, where there were many wineries represented, the cost for a sampling glass was €10.



But every single corner you turn around here you will find a cellar ready to tip a couple of vats of wine down your gob. That, for me, will be living in the fast lane! But you need to have some poor sap to go 'designated driver' so that you 'do the right thing' driving-wise.



Tonight - Thursday afternoon, Paris time, I decided that enough was enough and I went to a degustation joint in Echrevonne, just down the road from Pat's joint. Jean was 'da main man' here and escorted me deep into his darkest cellar to run through the list of wines he produced. He knew Pat and asked if I had met Sache. 'Yes' to both. Pretty soon after, some peeps from London arrived. These were long lost friends and all were heading out for dinner later on. These Brits were in their way for a ski in the alps.

Jean took us through the full gammet (sp?) of wine. Starting with the whites and working our way through. I can tell you now that I am a TOTAL EXPERT on the nuances and various notes of the wine grown hereabouts. Mind you, this does mot come easily and normally takes years of painstaking study at prestigious universities. I picked it all up in a trice!

Sadly, I am restricted to only two bottles back into Australia, but Dear Jude and I will quickly see to them, you can bet your sweet bippy on that! Once again, words escape me, but this was yet another experience toiler feel that the Beaune district is the place to be!

Just prior to my drive 'home' to Echrevonne I walked out to the garden that had been denied me by the lateness of the hour some days prior. This park lay upstream of the Bouze River. Such a peaceful and relaxing place! There are some photos dotted through this blog. One of them is of the local rugby ground. Go Beaune! This last photo is of the Bouze flowing off towards the town centre.





Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dali in Beaune

The Dali museum had been beckoning to me since my first arrival in Beaune some weeks ago. I am not much of a gallery person, a fact to which DJ will readily attest. However, there was something beguilingly intriguing about the little museum touched up there in Place Monge with its flags flying out the front. In more recent days I had noticed that it was a permanent exhibition of Dali works. So, with a couple of hours to myself, inside I boldly went.



A delightful Little Old Lady greeted me and seemed surprised that I wanted to part with seven post-tax euros for the pleasure of looking at the exhibition and not making a beeline straight to the gift shop. She not much English, I not much French. It seems that this is the private collection of a Dali fan, who wants to share his obsession.



As "not much of a gallery person" let me tell you that I was mightily impressed; as much by the works on show as the manner in which they were displayed. It was very evident that the collection was put together with a loving hand. I took some photos, but you will need to go there yourself. Mind you, as the only visitor, I was really spoiled!



Having made my exit from the gallery I did venture in to the gift shop, only to find posters spread over the floor and people buzzing about busily. It seems that some posters had arrived and were being scrutinised prior to being tucked away into viewing drawers. One of the bustlers was an aged chap who seemed to be the gallery owner, and MAYBE wedded to the lass on the door.



Anyhow, he was pleased to please me and gave me an additional free postcard to the set I purchased. When I asked for les toilettes, he took me there, plonked himself down on the toilet seat and refilled the toilet paper holders while I looked on with crossed legs. How helpful was THAT?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Saint-Romain Cycle Tour

Caroline and had finished our meeting and she suggested that I head up into the hills to check out Saint-Romain. This I did. This ancient village sits with its back up against some grey/white cliffs up behind Pommard. She said it was a popular bike route from Beaune N indeed I did spy some cyclists doing the loop. Sadly fore I have been unable to find a bicycle hire shop in town that hires road bikes. Apparently there is one near the station, but it is only open during tourist season. There is just one small chance which I shall try tomorrow.



This would be a great loop for an introduction ride out of Beaune. There is a pretty good spin to get out of town and through Pommard, then some gentle undulations, and then some serious grunting up out if the valley to Saint-Romain, and then taking cycling to another to - wait for it - yes - HAUTE SAINT-ROMAIN! That's because the village is in two parts. Upper and Lower. Just like Waldara Drive, really.



At your Haute Saint-Romain you will find my most favourite church in the world. This church is ancient AS! Simple. Elegant. Old. The photo below shows the town from the cliffs above. In the distance lie Pommard, Volnay and Beaune.



Returning to Beaune completed loop of about 30 km. Of course there are plenty of way of extending or shortening the route via the criss-cross of minor roads and vineyard tracks. On the way down the hill I saw a chap emerge from the forest on a mountain bike, so there is plenty of scope for the 'dark side' of cycling here in Beaune as well. Tell Wes.



This last photo (above) is of an ancient chateau dating from the yonks ago century. It is all in ruins. It perches gloweringly over Saint-Romain Lower and affords the visitor commanding views over the valley and town below. There were very clear and concise explanations of its history, but all in excellent French, so the meaning completely escaped me. Sorry. But it's really gorgeous and well worth 'discovering' - especially on a bike!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rivers and Cafes

I did go for a stroll along the Bouze River. Upstream. Lovely clear water and fish to be seen swimming about like there ain't no tomorrer! Fishing must be prohibited, because otherwise you couln't see fish so close to town. Some were definitely truitte, but other big ones were brown. They were easily scared though and you had to creep yo on them, carefully, carefully.

The river was developed on either side as a park. Quite beautiful. Very soon, and over a little road, the path turned into a much bigger park that contained a small lake and some intriguing play equipment. Sadly, for me , it had closed some 20 minutes earlier at 6:00 pm. I MADE A PROMISE TI MYSELF TO RETURN HERE SOME DAY. That day will be today.

Before that, however, I have returned to Cafe l'Abottoir.




This, you will recall, is the scene of my hasty retreat some days ago when I had eaten too much of the entree and had no room left for the main course. Today is different. Today I am roaring with hunger.


... and just as well, because the set course is whopping. Start with salmon on slices of pain on a bed of shredded lettuce with vinaigrette to die for. This is followed by terrine served by oneself from a huge terrine dish. Next comes the main course - today, stuffed pork, carrots and peas. I have foresworn the cheese dish and have gone straight to the dessert - mousse au chocolat.



Total price? I do not have l'addition yet, so I'll let you know ... [Total cost: €12]

In any event, (have always wanted to write, "... in any event"), the meal was delicious and much more than this little koala could bear.



By the way, the wine is also 'help yourself' from the bottle plonked (sorry) down beside you.

Oh yeah! And then coffee ...

Scrummy AS! All in the company if the working men (mostly) who must come every day.

A driving/fishing adventure

Another unseasonably warm day here in Beaune today. Yesterday was not so good, but grey and occasionally watery drizzles possess a certain charm while motoring through the countryside in rural France.

While driving about a couple of nights ago with the intention of charging the car's battery, I chanced upon a road leading NW out of Savigny. I had made a little promise to myself to explore further the next day.

What? What's that you say? Flat battery? What a goose! How did THAT happen? We, it happened because I am a silly goose and left the lights on while I took the audio your of the Hotel-Dieu the other day. Remember, I did it for you, so you cannot be critical! [Or CAN you?]

Anyhow, orf I nipped on this sunny day. Up through the hills. Not quite in the Morvan, but alongside it. Lots of forest, but no shortage of gorgeous little villages and hamlets. On the other side of the range I found another canal. You KNOW how much I love canals! This, you will recall, is in quite the opposite direction to the earlier canal mentioned in another blog. At one stage I found myself driving along the towpath. No chance of turning around, so I was looking for a bridge that would take me to the road on the other side of the canal. This eventually came into view ( I knew it would) and I drove up the ramp with the intention of driving over the bridge on the left.

Ahead of me, though, were three simple fisherfolk, going about their tasks with good humour. One of these chaps was in the process of catching a good-sized trout (truitte in French - "twee"). I could tell by the huge splashing in the water that the said fish was creating in a vain attempt to preserve its life (wouldn't you?). It was too much for me and I motored over the road and parked near them.




Turns out that it was a rainbow trout of more than good size. The chap was happy to have his photo taken in celebration of his mastery over Nature. Here are the photos.




This is the sort of adventure is one can one can have in the Cote d' Or! New chums around every corner. New canals to discover and fishies to be pulled from them (IF you are clever enough and use the right sorts of maggots for your bait).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hotel-Dieu

Sunday's ramble was topped off with a visit to the Hotel-Dieu, the huge building that Sunday's ramble was topped off with a visit to the Hotel-Dieu, the huge building that dominates the centre of Beaune. This was a hospital, set up by Nicolas Rolin - a very wealthy chap indeed - and his wife, Guigon de Salins. They decided that a hospital was needed for the poor. This they did in 1443. I took the audio tour and bought the book, so now I am a complete expert on everything there is to know about it. Here are some questions you would probably arks me (along with some erudite answers).



Question: Was the Hotel-Dieu set up by this immensely wealthy couple in order to gain the favour of God? Answer: probably
Q: Is the name of the river that runs through Beaune really the Bouzaise River? A: Yes.



Q: Is the Boozy Creek a tributary of The Bouzaise? A: No!
Q: Does The Bouzaise flow right underneath the Hotel-Dieu, thus facilitating the capture of drinking/washing water AND allowing the getting rid of effluent? A: Yes!
Q: Is the Hotel-Dieu an astonishing feat of medieval engineering, beautiful an well-worth a visit?A: Yes, yes, yes and YES!!!



In the photos you can see the beds lined up on either side of the hallway - 15 each side. The outside courtyard shows the splendid roof. Mostly it was the poor who were catered for, but there were other parts for those who could pay. A real public/private model! Patients resided here until 1966 apparently!




An annual wine auction is held each year in Beaune of wine produced in the area and donated to the Hotel-Dieu to keep it and the new hospital going. Caroline has an American client, Bill, who bought a number of nearby wineries and donated them to the Hotel-Dieu in memory of his late wife. Don't get your hopes up, Dear Jude!dominates the centre of Beaune. This was a hospital, set up by Nicolas Rolin - a very wealthy chap indeed - and his wife, Guigon de Salins. They decided that a hospital was needed for the poor. This they did in 1443. I took the audio tour and bought the book, so now I am a complete expert on everything there is to know about it. Here are some questions you would probably arks me (along with some erudite answers).

Question: Was the Hotel-Dieu set up by this immensely wealthy couple in order to gain the favour of God? Answer: probably
Q: Is the name of the river that runs through Beaune really the Bouzaise River? A: Yes.
Q: Is the Boozy Creek a tributary of The Bouzaise? A: No!
Q: Does The Bouzaise flow right underneath the Hotel-Dieu, thus facilitating the capture of drinking/washing water AND allowing the getting rid of effluent? A: Yes!
Q: Is the Hotel-Dieu an astonishing feat of medieval engineering, beautiful an well-worth a visit?A: Yes, yes, yes and YES!!!

In the photos you can see the beds lined up on either side of the hallway - 15 each side. The outside courtyard shows the splendid roof. Mostly it was the poor who were catered for, but there were other parts for those who could pay. A real public/private model! Patients resided here until 1966 apparently!

An annual wine auction is held each year in Beaune of wine produced in the area and donated to the Hotel-Dieu to keep it and the new hospital going. Caroline has an American client, Bill, who bought a number of nearby wineries and donated them to the Hotel-Dieu in memory of his late wife. Don't get your hopes up, Dear Jude!


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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Beaune Sunday

So the Sunday plan was to hop up late, ring Dear Jude, put some washing on and squirt into Beaune to chase some Sunday Beaune Action! It's cold today and raining, so I do not have high expectations of great things. But here I am. In the same restaurant as I landed in on Day One. I am near the door, so when someone enters/leaves, a cold giraffe enters as well. Seems as though that's all right because a lady just came in with a cold giraffe AND a cute little cold doggie! Here is a photo of two chums lunching together I'm the Beaune manner.



Inside the marketplace today is a collection of winery representatives flogging their produce. €10 entry gives you your VERY OWN glass and then off you go tasting, tasting, tasting! The problem was that drinking alcohol was the last thing I felt like that early in the day, so I wandered around a bit and then left. Sober and happy (photo of market place wine sale below).



My lunch just arrived - a Bourgogne pasta specialty. In the Grazyna Kulig way, I have included a photo BEFORE I hooked into it.



Yesterday was Beaune market day. It was the second market I had run into since arriving in France two weeks ago. Typical market, occupying a dedicated market hall and spilling out onto the streets. Weds are not enough, so here are some photos.

While strolling around I heard the quiet voice of Sache: "Hullo Brian". "Sache!". "Great to see you! Actually it's Graeme." And guess who ELSE was with him? YES! Stella and Goofy! Both with their very best market manners in place. Both of them VERY well behaved. I asked Sache to teach me the rudiments of wine drinking and he agreed. He will call
me. I must say it was a hoot to bump into a familiar set of faces at the market. Very homely and welcoming.


I might have mentioned that old Sache is about to set up a business taking visitors around the countryside tasting and sampling the local wines from the many, many wineries offering 'degustation' and sales. Let me say that there would be NO BETTER QUALIFIED PERSON than our Sache for such an enterprise!



That'll do youse for now. I know I was slack for a day or two just past, but I was in the process of settling on to Maison Pat and getting to know the friends and family. I hope to be a better correspondent from now on.


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Pat's House

Here I am in Echevronne! In Pat's house! Pat and Xavier tootled off to Xavier's joint yesterday afternoon, leaving me in charge of this huge house for the next week. How generous is Pat?




The house, at one stage, was the home of the Echevronne priest and there was a little chapel on the grounds somewhere. Also there was a graveyard somewhere on the block. Pat, who has lived here for some thirty years, has dug up bones and teeth at one time or another in the course of tending her garden. THAT is not a 'problem' any of us has encountered now, is it?




Apparently Pat's husband took off with one of his students a couple of years ago, leaving her in the house. Xavier came on to the scene, via an online meeting, about 6 months ago and things have been 'progressing well' since then. Problem is that there has been no divorce, much to Pat's annoyance, and - to further complicate the issue - Pat's husband has tired of the girlfriend and cannot get rid of her (according to Pat). Xavier has not met Pat's husband, but has seen photos. He reckons he saw him in town yesterday, but shied away, not wishing to speak with him.

So here is a possible scenario, more scary than the Walk in the Black Forest of last Sunday:

1. Groombles is tucked up nicely in Pat's house in Echevronne.

2. Pat and recent friend have taken off to friend Xavier's house on her way to a wedding in Manchester

3. Pat's husband (PH - I don't know his name) decides he has had it with the girlfriend, and head home to his house and wife in Echevronne to re-state his claim.

4. Enters the house with shotgun ("just in case").

5. Spies Groombles all tucked up in house, all comfy cosy.

6. Imagines Groom-Choom to be Xavier (they haven't met).

7. No French words of explanation come quickly enough - he is still trying to commit the word for 'eleven' to memory.

8. PH raises the firearm in a jealous fit of tormented rage and ...

9. ... the rest we shall leave for the work of your imagination.

10. By the way, the French word for eleven is 'onze'.

Nothing of the sort is going to take place now, is it? No! Unlike the forest adventure, where Lou calls of "HULLOOOOOOO!!!" could possibly ward off misdirected gun shots, there is little to be done to prevent the above occurring. I shall just have to keep my head down.

One thing is for sure. Pat has been very generous indeed to let me stay here for the next week. It is a very comfortable home with a big screen television with lots of dubbed movies to watch at any time of the day. Or sport (rugby, soccer, curling). Or news (Sarkozy vs Hollande). Or ...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Scary Ramble in Morvan

I didn't tell you about the really SCARY time I had last Sunday, did I? Well that was the day that I set off for the walk out of Pontaubert. It was a lovely stroll really, starting as it did wandering along country lanes up towards Avallon. Walking through villages, alongside babbling brooks, through forest, woods and stuff (I know - same old, same old), I started to hear gun shots and dog howlings off to my left. Now came the flooding memories of stories about mad, drunk hunters in charge of weapons capable of blowing elephants to kingdom come mistaking gentle rambling souls such as yours truly for game (boar, elk, rabbit, hart, penguin - you name it). I am most certainly NOT ready to depart this world, especially at the hands of inebriated, gun-totin' looneys of a French disposition and/or extraction, so I began yelling into the surrounding curtain of trees and saplings, "HULLOOO", "HULLOOO", "HULLOOOOOOO"!

I never ever saw a hunter. Nor a dog. However, I am pleased to report that I did make it through. Perhaps this was a result of the fact that the hunters were located at the other side of the forest and heading in a diametrically opposed direction. Or maybe, just MAYBE, the group of hunters, along with their faithful dogs, HEARD my plaintiff cries and lowered their sights JUST IN THE NICK IF TIME to avoid a trigger-squeeze that would send Old Groomby off to an early grave deep in the heart of the Morvan.

Just think about THAT ONE for a mo' or two ...


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Pat's Family at Dinner

Well, Pat picked me up from outside my hotel right on time at 8:00 pm. Pat, as you will recall, is the mother of Gen Blanch's employer, who lives in Paris. Pat and I drove to her other daughter's house in Beaune, where her son-in-law, Sacha, had dinner 'on the go'. It turns out that Sacha is heavily involved in the wine industry and has worked for a wine magazine where he wrote critiques about wine. He is currently employed by a local winery in the care of the vines. At present there is lots of pruning and burning going on.




Sacha's wife (Pat's daughter) is presently in Australia, but the other resident - a gorgeous 3/4-year-old named Stella. I am told that she is bilingual and that when Pat addresses her in English she responds in French, and vice versa. I do not understand why; she is too young to be being 'smart'. She is just gorgeous. I got a little kiss when I arrived and later when she went off to bed.

The other visitor to Sacha's house was a black dog - puppy really - called Goofy. He and Stella were both at the same stage in terms of emotional development and, by turn, rolled about playing and then called to order by turn. The whole event was most entertaining. Goofy had that way of putting his head between his paws on the ground when placed on his mat and looking upwards to reveal the whites of his eyes, as young puppies do following admonishment. Cute AS!


The dinner progressed well, the dinner comprising various parts of the half pig that Pat had bought recently. We began with pork terrine, then cheese and then on to roast pork. I had bought a cake (citron), all accompanied by Sacha's wine. One of the points that he made was that far too much energy is spent discussing wine, and not enough is given over to drinking it. The labels on the bottles he produces say, in Latin, "Shut up and drink". Here is the "buy me" cake I spoke of earlier.


All round, it was a lovely evening. Pat is heading off to a wedding in Manchester on Saturday and she said I could stay at her joint for as long as I want! Fantastic! She hasn't met Gen yet, but will do do on Monday. WHAT A TREAT IS IN STORE FOR HER!!!!k





Amazed Country Faces

I have been meaning to write for some time now about the way French country people look at you. I am referring to those folk you may chance upon in their front garden, looking up from some task in which they are employed or simply watching the world go by from their front door step. Again, I am referring to country people, and not to city or towns folk. These latter types have seen it all and are not phased by visitors who live, say, three miles away. No, I refer to country people here. Those I have chanced upon in the Norvan.

The first look you see on their faces (having stood bolt upright), and in their eyes is astonishment. "Yikes!", their gaze says to you. "Wowsers!". "Take a look at THAT!". Remember here that it is YOU (that is, me) they are looking at. [The Queen would say "One"].

That is only the beginning of what their look says. Astonishment yes, but also, "What the bloody hell are YOU doing here?". That's it, resentment. There is a little tinge of anger that you have entered their lives, even for the tiniest amount of time it takes for you car to whiz by their garden/shop/paddock or doorstep.

So: surprise, astonishment, resentment, a bit of anger (only a small bit) and then wonderment -all rolled into one. And it's not just the humans. While cattle as sheep seem happy enough to let you drive by, the dogs and even the CATS give you the same look. It is truly amazing!

Of course I could be totally in error here. The minds of these people may very well be on other things that produce these 'out there' expressions. Perhaps they are thinking about what they are going to have for tea, or whether they chose the right numbers for this week's lotto draw. Perhaps they have been dwelling on whether to send Oncle Emile an Easter card this year seeing as he hasn't bothered to send us one for the past two years.

So in all probability these expressions are the result of far-off dreaming that has suddenly come to a stop with the roar of your little engine as it 'thunders' through their village/by their abode. The thoughts may not be directed at you at all! But not the cats! These are vengeful, spiteful, hurtful creatures that never should have been allowed on board the ark all those years ago. That particular 'two-by-two' should have been left out and their places given to unicorns - but unicorns are much bigger, I suppose ...

... Just a thought ...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Auxerre

"Not fair to Auxerre, Graeme! You jump to conclusions far too readily and then live to regret them. Take Beaune, for example. You really stuffed up there, mostly you made an assessment based on the simple error of failing to find the town square before leaping in and jumping to conclusions! Shame!"


Today was set aside to wander the cobbled streets and to stroll along the canal that saunters through the heart of the city. Cathedral - tick, town square - sort of tick, ambience - tick, overall impression - kind of all right ...


The great thing about Auxerre, compared with Beaune, is the relatively lower real estate prices. The question that remains is whether this is "the place for us". It, for example, seems a long ride out of town before a chap can consider him/herself to be "in the country". No such problem in Beaune, where the wineries begin just a short buzz down the track.

So it's off to Beaune again for me tomorrow. Let's see if there is a property that fits the bill there. Perhaps prices are lower in the villages on close proximity, such as Pommard or Savigny-les-Beaune.




Let's see what transpires ...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pontaubert to Auxerre

Pontaubert is the place I stayed in last night (photo below). A wayside inn that beckoned in the fading evening light. €61 isn't all that bad - a cool €70 with breakfast thrown in! I asked why the price is marginally higher than that advertised on the billboard and was told: "It's the weekend, silly", or some such French equivalent.


Hopping up relatively early for a Sunday I threw down the petit dejuner and raced to the iPhone to Skype the girls. It was fabulous to speak with three of them - all except Georgia. Having caught up with all the news I headed off into the countryside, French Waling in Burgundy book in one hand and online maps on said iPhone in the other. Off for a brisk, what turned out to be 12 km walk through a couple of villages and probably too much forest. Anyhow, it did the job of blowing away the cobwebs and working off a few pin au chocolates as well.

Nothing much more to do in the day but to head to my destination for the evening - Auxerre (pronounce a soft 'x' in this name). The approach to the city by the route other than the tollway provided a good understanding of the geography of the place, set as it is on some low - lying hills.




First impressions were not great, but that was the same with Beaune, with which I have since developed quite an affection. I shall report on that tomorrow. I managed to find an eatery open late in the day. All attempts to grab some lunch were thwarted because I had left my run far too late. I blame the decision to go for a ramble myself. All attempts, apart for the restaurants that were "Complet" were unsuccessful because they were just closing. And here is I good tip for traveling in France: LEAVE NOTHING TO CHANCE WHEN LOOKING FOR LUNCH ON A SUNDAY IN YOUR FRANCE!!!

Sitting in the eatery that I eventually found in Dear Auxerre, I downloaded the Agoda app. It is really good for last minute deals for hotels and so here I am in a €45 job for the next two nights. Sure it is BASIC. Certainly it is OUT OF TOWN. OK it is located in a semi-industrial heartland, but for me for the next couple of nights IT'S HOME!

Picture at below is of Bessy-sur-Cure, a random village along the way from Avallon.




And great news! No sooner had I arrived and unpacked the socks and undies, but guess who should call me on my cell? GEN BLANCH, that's who! We had a great old chat, mostly about an old chubby chap with a wig passing himself off as a Graeme whom Gen had met and who had been annoying her on her phone. When I called her today and put on a stupid French accent Gen immediately hung up! Good girl! However it was ME! Gorgeous old cuddly Groombles! I had been trying to get through all day, but only a text message got through. WHAT an Adventure! We sure had a good giggle over that one ...

Gotta go now. I just watch France come from behind to go down by 2 measly points to Great Britain in a rugby match. Naturally I was rooting for the home side and will go to sleep a dejected man (not).

Too much news, not enough sleep! Too roo!


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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beaune to Saulieu

A gentle drive today to get to Saulieu, book into an hotel and then explore the Morvan.

The best way to use the TomTom is to program it to avoid tolls. In this way you stay on the secondary "D" roads and treat yourself to (mostly) more picturesque country-side. This I did today (Friday) as I headed west from Beaune. From the outset I was determined to let myself be distracted by sign pointing off to interesting monuments, natural wonders, ancient relics and the likes. I was not disappointed! Here are the Most Interesting:

Interesting Thing Number 1: The tiny village of Lusigny-sur-Ouche

This village was jaw-droppingly, heart reneringly gorgeous! Words are not enough, so there is only one thing for it - youse had all better come and have a look for yourselfs. The Ouche river runs right through the town. It's no bigger than a brook at this stage (the source of the Ouche is just up a track a-ways. I took a stroll along the banks, looking to see if there were fishies swimming around, and - blow me down - there were! I knew there were fish in the river because lots of signs said "No Fishing". The biggest I saw weren't quite 'pan-sized'. Closer to 1lb, rather than 1 1/2 lb. there were a few other strollers, but all was very quiet ... I checked out the cemetery, but no one there was making much noise either.



Interesting Thing Number 2: The Town with No One In It

Yes, incroyable as it might seem, the city (big town) of Arnay-Le-Duc, the town I had lined up for lunch, was absolutely deserted! Not a soul! It's not a ghost town. There are plenty of shops, but all of them ferme (shut). The chemist was open - I bought some lip stuff. One boulangerie was open - I bought a demi pin. But nothing else. Curious!

Interesting Thing Number 3: Roman Monument in Middle of Paddocks

You see in Australia we have Interesting Things that tempt drivers to slam on their brakes, pull over and pay money to go in and have a sticky beak. Things like Big Bananas, Halls of Fame, miniature villages and Leyland Brothers Nature Parks. There is not a plethora of Roman Ruins, that's for certain! So when I saw the sign to the Colonne Romaine I did not hesitate. Right foot off the accelerator and straight next door to the brakes. And of course there is nothing around this edifice! It's at the intersection of four hedgerows. Not a building within cooee. Magnificent! Understated, but powerful. You can keep your Big Cherry down at Glenrowan, I'll take the Colonne Romaine any day.




Interesting Thing Number 4: Dead badger by the side of the road

Interesting Thing Number 5: Evensong at Abbeye St Pierre

Yes folks, Groomby happened along to Evensong. It happened by chance, having set up digs in a little hotel in Saulieu, I decamped to the countryside to look around the Morvan. Again my foot headed brake-wise when I saw some signs off to the right to an 'Abbaye'. I assumed these to be ruins of an abbey, but HOW WRONG WAS I??!!!

The abbey turned out to be much more than a pile of old stones. In actual fact it was a fairly new construction right in the middle of the forest, along quite a narrow, winding road. I parked the car and headed towards the chapel round the back. The front looked as though it was the entrance of an hotel, and I think it is a place for religious types to dwell in for a little while. Whole there were two or three people headed towards the chapel, the place seemed to be largely deserted (a bit of a theme for the day, I suppose). Anyhow, I went into the chapel and sat down because it seemed as if something or other was about to take place in the very near future. And gradually it did.

By this time there were a few people in the congregation (about 25). Soon a monk-looking chap came in through a side door, dipped his fingers in a small font, crossed himself and sat down on one of the chairs in the choir. A second monk appeared dressed in a similar black robe, but this time with the pointy black hood on. This monk (by this time - 6:00pm, and getting darker) was also black. Very black. He was a black monk in a black cassock. You don't see much of that in downtown Wangaratta. Very soon, more monks came in one by one, each dipping, crossing and then sitting, till the choir was filled with about 50 monks - mostly old (some VERY old) - but some reasonably young ones.

Then the service began. This comprised lots of chanting, separated by periods of intense silence. Immediately prior to the next chant one of the monks blew a couple of notes on a flute to give the starting note. There were about seven chants in all, various ones with us all standing, some with us all sitting. I followed the chap in front of me who seemed to be on top of the standing/sitting regime. I drew the line at the raised arms one at the end, though.

The service ended after about 30 minutes, but here was an odd thing. While some of the congregation and some of the monks sloped off (it was getting close to dinner time), lots stayed around. In complete silence they just hung about. I sat there for about 8-10 minutes and then headed out, leaving the remaining lot sitting quietly in the church.

All-in-all it was quite a moving (not religious for me, I'm afraid) experience. This was not the first time these people had done this. It will not be the last (although the last will not be far off for one or two of the monks). It was very clear that THIS IS WHAT THEY DO! In the 21st Century! Quite astounding.

Anyhow, that's enough Interesting Things for now.

More later.

Interesting Thing Number 6: Rue du Merle (in Beaune)!





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Movies in France

French movie houses usually run their foreign offerings in a dubbed format. When in Dijon I was lucky enough to find a cinema that runs movies in original language and watched Albert Moggs. It was most enjoyable.

Now that I have left Dijon I despair that I will not find another original language movie house because I am really looking forward to catching The Artist before I leave for home ...


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Charolles vs Charlieu

Charlieu did not turn out to be as nice a town as Charolles. I know that industrial activities are essential for the provision of this great lifestyle we all enjoy, but is it really necessary to throw it in our faces every five minutes? You see that is the problem with your Charlieu. Right there. Too many trucks, too many little factories within easy viewing access.

The journey there and back (to Beaune) was something else, though. Driving back alongside the canal in the evening light was just "other worldly". Little clumps of ancient houses clustering around locks; gorgeous little villages off to the sides set in their own unique pasture-scapes; and the ever-beckoning tow path begging to be cycled along. I could go on and on and freaking ON about this, but I simply shan't. So there!

I have decided not to have huge dinners on this trip. It is best, I feel to have a cheap plat du jour for midi and then have something light (but yummy) at night. This last can be picked up from the charcuterie during the day and held in readiness for the late afternoon/early evening bog-in back in the hotel. Just to get you up to speed on this, I can tell you that I just tucked away a wonderful half a pin, half a sheep/goat cheese and a slab of excellent pate. No wine, you notice - sleep comes quicker and is of much higher quality if abstinence can be maintained just before bed I find, and quality of the dreams improves manifold. So there!

One highlight of the day (apart from the canal) was a huge Romanesque church sitting atop a hill in a town I passed through from Charolles to Charlieu. For the life of me I cannot remember the name of the town, but I thought it had some thing like 'Neufch√Ętel' in the town name. You just DO NOT get Romanesque churches on the road out to Beechworth like that, do you?





Now those of youse with a sharp eye will pick that this is NOT a photo of a Romanesque anything. Rather, it is a photo of a cloister in Charlieu!

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Charolles

Today I find myself in Charolles. Just in time for 'midi' (lunch for youse losers). I am on my way to Charlieu, where there is a house on a French Property for Sale website. I don't know why I bothered (there are buckets of similar joints advertised in immobilier (real estate agents') windows everywhere. But I am glad I did make the journey.

Heading south from Beaune, having keyed in "avoid tollways" on my TomTom, the road followed alongside a beautiful canal. Now, if any man-made construction is going to capture my enrapture other than a railway, is a canal. I have tried not to be 'transported' in this way (please pardon the intended - pun?), but to see a canal, with its sealed towpath alongside it, and to come across the occasional lock, and even less occasional cyclist/cycliste is to take living in this planet to new heights.



There is a church across the way from the restaurant, an d some poor soul is being sent on his/her way. The crowd outside included a couple of fully-turned-out, uniform-wise members of the local gendarmerie. As I sit here the bells begin peeling again, perhaps to indicate that part of the mass where the Holy Spirit enters the bread and wine - but what would I know?


I took some snaps of the town here in Charolles for your edification and enjoyment. I have always had difficulty adding photos, so I shall wait for your responses to check if they are communicated by way of the blog.



Oh well, the funeral bells have rung once more and it is time for me to bugger off to Charlieu. Most of the peeps have left the restaurant, so I shall have to be on my way as well. "On my way" to take on quite a different meaning to the chap who is "on his/her way" in the church across the road ...
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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dijon II

I am so SICK of people slagging Dijon! The people here don't seem to mind it. Observing the peeps strolling by (observed from my Salon de The of choice), I get the distinct impression that they are all comfortable in their own skins and keen to get on with the business of living in this bustling, vibrant, if geographically flat, city. Goodness me, persons dwelling in Shepparton seem to be happy enough to while away what's left of their lives in that city without a grizzle or a grump! And there are those who live in Melbourne to consider ....


Market day in Dijon is Tuesday. So don't go thinking that things are normal here at the moment. There are supplies to be picked up: fresh fish, fromage, perhaps a terrine or two ... Roses have been flown in from the equator and lettuces appear to be coming into season. Everyone is still dressed up on warm winter woollies, but there is a real sense of the coming warmer spring and later a hot summer. We've just about had enough of winter and that warmer sun that pokes its head out every now and then is most welcome, I can assure you!

Today is chill-out day for me. Circadian-rhythm re-establishment day. I'm thinking of a bus ride to the end of the line. Dijon is a 'uge city, I believe, judging by the number of buses. And here's some unbelievable news: there is soon to be a TRAM line. Yes! The rails are down and work is progressing at a great rate of knots. I am not at all sure that it is a replacement line either. It looks like a brand-newie!



... OK, here's an update. I am just back in town after a brisk walk to the end of the new tram line. Work is progressing along the entire length of this 10 km stretch of track with teams of laborers working flat-out. Billboard signs boast a welcome to the tram for Dijon residents in 2012. That's this year! I checked out the satellite images of Dijon and there is no sign of the line along the route I took today, so it's not a renovation, it's NEW!

So this brings me back to the opening sentence of this post: stop slagging Dijon! You've just gotta love a city installing a new tram line AND that boasts a famous artist who went by the name of Francois Rude! [He was quite good, too.]


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Dijon I

Second day in Dijon ahead of me, but it's seemings as though I have seen enough. I did the official walk yesterday, guide book from the Tourist Information in one hand and iPhone in the other I checked out all the sites. It is pretty flat, hereabouts, so no cathedrals perched atop hills, glowering down at the populace. It is NOT the sort of town to buy in, but we probs knew that ...

I even went to three museums/galleries - I am sure you will be impressed. One a Beaux-Artsy one, one a recollection of the Algerian War (the British weren't the only mongrel imperialists) And one a VERY boring explanation of hoe Burgundians nused to live.

Having shaken my head clear of boredom after that last one I headed off to a boulangerie and picked up a cheese and legume tartlet and apricot one for dinns and promptly got lost (briefly) and caught in a snow/sleet shower!

I scurried 'home' to my room and popped the TV one itch a view to scoffing my loot at an appropriate later hour. I looked at the clock and decided that the selected time was FAR too far off (it was 6:00pm by then), so I scoffed them down to my tummy. YUMMM!

Better control was exercised with the sleep issue. With eyes intermittently drooping, I lasted till the appointed hour of 20:00 before rolling over and plunging into the much anticipated World of Nod. Slept right through the nigt (almost) and have awoken fresher than a couple of really fresh daisies!

The Peeps at the Tourist Joint told me that the market is on today, but I have decided not to go. ... ONLY JOKING! Had you there, didn't I?! I shall sneak up and see if three is any sorts of food I can have for my breakfast.



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The Journey Out

I arrived safely, and that is all that matters. 'uge trips like this all have their own brand of annoyingness (babies crying, Chinese sniffing, an attack of the runs). The annoying thing about THIS particliar trip is that none of these sorts of irritating things happened and I spent an awful lot of the time WAITING for something to happen, but it didn't! How annoying is THAT?

Smooth connections all the way, just as DJ had planned. the one teency 'glitch' was that the hotel at Shanghai was much closer to the city than the airport, so a much longer trip than envisaged, especially after an initial trip to the OTHER Hotel Baolong Homelike Hotel deep on the heart of Downtown Shanghai. [We had been assured that this establishment was "a bee's dick from the airport". I cannot envisage a bee of the required proportions necessary to fill these dimensions.]. A good 40 minute flog to the airport next morning in very light Sunday traffic was necessary, even from the RIGHT Baolong Homelike Hotel.

Oh yes, one annoying thing (my own fault, really) is that I was not expecting a stop-by at Beijing once the plane's wheels left the Tarmac at Shanghai. My heart leapt on takeoff that the plane was not full! Over there was an empty window seat! Next to me we're TWO empty places! Whoopsy-doo! One slightly unfathomable indicator -- one that my heart would not acknowledge -- was that the monitor indicated "One hour 40 minutes to destination". "Technical glitch", my heart said. Bloody Air China! I forgive youse!

It was as the engines of the plane started roaring, the wheels were lowered, and the "Fasten seat belts" sign came onto the monitor in perfect Chinese character script that I knew that the jig was up. One and one half hours, and a couple of customs strip-searches later I was back in the air, in an aisle seat (I love window seats), but with the spare seat still intact on my right I, and quite a few more passengers were hurtling through the stratosphere to our destination - Paris. [Well, at least that is where I ASSUME all these other people were headed ...]

Yes, all has progressed very nicely so far. No Internet connection so far, but it gives me a chance to get this blog up and going. It is 3:20am as I write this. I dutifully set the alarum bell on this iPhone, but singularly forgot to check the time setting and it didn't automatically adjust, as I had anticipated. I was awoken from deep slumber about two hours after drifting off, at 6:00 bloody SHANGHAI time!

What was that I said about no incidents to date?


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Getting Here

The Journey Out

I arrived safely, and that is all that matters. 'uge trips like this all have their own brand of annoyingness (babies crying, Chinese sniffing, an attack of the runs). The annoying thing about THIS particliar trip is that none of these sorts of irritating things happened and I spent an awful lot of the time WAITING for something to happen, but it didn't! How annoying is THAT?

Smooth connections all the way, just as DJ had planned. the one teency 'glitch' was that the hotel at Shanghai was much closer to the city than the airport, so a much longer trip than envisaged, especially after an initial trip to the OTHER Hotel Baolong Homelike Hotel deep on the heart of Downtown Shanghai. [We had been assured that this establishment was "a bee's dick from the airport". I cannot envisage a bee of the required proportions necessary to fill these dimensions.]. A good 40 minute flog to the airport next morning in very light Sunday traffic was necessary, even from the RIGHT Baolong Homelike Hotel.

Oh yes, one annoying thing (my own fault, really) is that I was not expecting a stop-by at Beijing once the plane's wheels left the Tarmac at Shanghai. My heart leapt on takeoff that the plane was not full! Over there was an empty window seat! Next to me we're TWO empty places! Whoopsy-doo! One slightly unfathomable indicator -- one that my heart would not acknowledge -- was that the monitor indicated "One hour 40 minutes to destination". "Technical glitch", my heart said. Bloody Air China! I forgive youse!

It was as the engines of the plane started roaring, the wheels were lowered, and the "Fasten seat belts" sign came onto the monitor in perfect Chinese character script that I knew that the jig was up. One and one half hours, and a couple of customs strip-searches later I was back in the air, in an aisle seat (I love window seats), but with the spare seat still intact on my right I, and quite a few more passengers were hurtling through the stratosphere to our destination - Paris. [Well, at least that is where I ASSUME all these other people were headed ...]

Yes, all has progressed very nicely so far. No Internet connection so far, but it gives me a chance to get this blog up and going. It is 3:20am as I write this. I dutifully set the alarum bell on this iPhone, but singularly forgot to check the time setting and it didn't automatically adjust, as I had anticipated. I was awoken from deep slumber about two hours after drifting off, at 6:00 bloody SHANGHAI time!

What was that I said about no incidents to date?


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