Sunday, July 22, 2012

Too much apartment organisation had left us with a hankering for a lot more cycling. Strolling along the road from the station one day found us entering the premises with a view to making a cycle rental booking. And so it came to pass that Dear Jude and I hopped on the train at Beaune, bound for Nuits St Georges for the start of a ride north-bound to Gevrey-Chambertin, just shy of Dijon.

Arriving at the bike hire shop at 9:10, just in time to catch the 9:41 am local train to Nuits, we were informed that the bike hire shop did not open till 10:00 am on Sunday mornings. We had booked yesterday and had explained our intentions, so the shop MUST be open. And, happy it is that I am able to report, it WAS open. The chap was MOST helpful and we were soon on our way to the station. [Mind you, by the time we had our bikes, there was a crowd of eager bike-hire-ers keen to set out on their Sunday riding adventures. These chaps really need to take a Good Hard Look at themselves and their marketing plan for Sunday rentals.]

Spewing ourselves out of the train at Nuits, we headed into the town and were blown away. Gorgeous! Should we have really bought here? No, but it really is a cute town. Much smaller than Beaune and with a pedestrian mall and all the trimmings , but just not "home".

Heading north, the trick is to find the tiny road that meanders along the bottom of the Cote through the vineyards. Avoid the D974, with it's rushing cars and trucks and keep to the track at the bottom of the hills to the west. Directions obtained (in perfect English and broken French) put us on the right path and up through the vineyards. MORE gorgeous villages, MORE wonderful chateaux took us through Vosne-Romanee, Chambolle-Musigny, Morey saint-Denis (coffee here), and finally Gevrey-Chambertain for morning tea (pain aux raisin X 2).

Here, at the northern-most planned destination a question arose. Do we return via a suggested ascent into the hills, or back the same way. "Never go back" has always been my preference, but the wise old head of DJ prevailed and we rode back over our tracks to Nuits. [We did try the alternate way through the hills, but we're informed by some intrepid runners emerging from the forest that the road was unformed and unsuitable for easy cycling.]

Rather than wait two hours for the next local train back to Beaune, we decided (after a tasy lunch of pâté, baguette, cheese and terrine) to return via Chaux (I assume you are following all this on a map.). Quite a grunt it is from Nuits to Chaux, but worth the effort, especially given the shoosh down the hill to Comblanchien. Thence alongside the railroad we wandered into Beaune, encountering en route a couple of Dutch chaps hoping to make Madrid on their bikes within three weeks. Good luck!

Bikes easily returned to the shop at 4:00 pm, the chap was very impressed that we had covered the 55 km in such a short time. We are an amazing pair of cyclists, so it came as no surprise to us!

Back home to 28 Rue de Lorraine we made coffee in the apartment and took it and our books down to the cute square (triangle really) outside the florist shop for a half-hour read. Heaven on two sticks! [I am reading "1000 Years of Annoying the French" by Stephen Clarke, which is great for historical perspective and a good laugh. DJ hooked into a copy of the DKI guide to the Dordogne picked up from the free library at the bike shop. Is that where our next purchase is to be?].

Darkness has descended on Beaune and on us. DJ has drifted off to sleep, as soon shall I. I feel that there have not been as many blogs as there might have been, but I have been mindful of my chums. We have been VERY BUSY with setting-up tasks, which are not very exciting and prose-worthy. Nonetheless, general feelings about Beaune and surrounds are of interest and on these I shall report subsequently. In the mean time I am headed for the Land of Nod.

Hasta Lavista!



Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cycling day today. It's been great weather (cool breezes, sunny/cloudy by turns) and the lure of the bike finally got the better of us. Not the greatest bikes at the hire shop, but good for randonnais-ing. We set off at a reasonable hour with maps and lunch gear on a south-westerly trajectory down towards Santenay.

My plan had been to head to Saint-Romain, tucked up under the cliffs of the Morvan just along from Meursault. However this was thought to be too strenuous for the others in the group, so we motored up with a bottle of champagne - real champagne - the evening before. It was a last trip in our little car before it was due back at the depot. Sitting a-top the grey cliffs overlooking the village below and the plains beyond with the setting sun at your back is beyond description. You just have to get yourself there.

The ride out of Beaune takes you round the ring road and suddenly dashing off to the right along the Bouze river and out into the wineries. The ancient vines were being subject to one of many haircuts of the year, some weed-destroying ploughing and some bug-annihilating spraying. Big tall tractors that accommodate the passage of vines underneath them work their way along the rows, make awkward turns at the end and repeat the process once again.

The well-marked path meanders through the wine villages - Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and finally Santenay. Lots of cyclists riding in both directions all seeming to be having such fun, but not giving much away in response to our "Bon jour-ing". It seems that while a bonjour is expected when one enters a shop, it is received with something approaching astonishment when directed at fellow travellers. A nod from the males in the group is about all that one can expect. There are exceptions of course, but these are mostly folk (one can only assume) from the New World.

The route cleverly avoids hills of any great magnitude, though I think that Ally would dispute this claim. But never mind, there is only one side of a hill a cyclist needs to worry about and after a grunt to the top there is always the glide down in which to make a recovery in time for the nexty.

Lunch was taken in a park (aire) in the hamlet of Chassagne-Montrachet. Cheese from the Beaune market (more expensive than we would have liked, but yummy all the same), jambon, fresh bread and a little cake each from an earlier village. The girls scoffed theirs, but I caringly offered each of them a bite of mine. But enough of my generosity of spirit, let's get on with the story ...

Santenay marked the official end of the ride, but we hurtled through and past the town, headed for the Canal Centre that lies a few km to the south, and stretching the length of the country. While tempted to travel its length, we decide on a short skitch along the tow-path in one direction, returning to our joining point and thence on to the Chagney rail station and back in the train to Beaune.

The day was far from over, because next stop was a "free" wine tasting in a cute little cellar recommended by the bike hire chaps; a cosy relationship, but a most fruitful one for us. The tasting of wine is a most serious process, it turns out. None of this rushing through the whites, hurtling through the reds and plunging into the fortifieds (as one tends to do in Australia). While the order remained the same, Monsieur e Madam guided us carefully through their offerings, encouraging us along the way to WRITE down our impressions as we went (yes, WRITE! - pens and paper provided). Much discussion amongst the 8 of us at table (5 Australians, two French and a French Canadian) followed each blind tasting, following which the identity (and price) of each wine was revealed. The main thesis of the operation was predicated on the belief that wine tasting is SUCH an individual process that no 'expert' could presume his/her opinion on any other. No argument from me there. My preference is for the hearty Shiraz of the Great North-east of Victoria, or at least Bordeaux if pushed ...

The inverted commas around "free" (above) are explained by Dear Jude and Ally's purchases of FAR too much wine, given the tiny quantity permitted through customs in Australia. Never mind, you can all come over, stay in the apartment ands scoff the lot! Come on, I DARE you!

An adventure-packed day, to be sure. I' m off to hit the sack. Ally heads off home tomorrow and she and DJ will go to Paris on the train for the last says of the sales. I, in the meanwhile have a list on the fridge to get to and some heavy TDF to watch on the TV.

See you soon!


Monday, July 16, 2012

TDF and north-west travels

Not content with a gorgeous day at the Individual Pursuit (Stage 9), the girls were all-a-buzz about the Tour and INSISTED on heading south again to Macon, for the start of Etage Ten. Back down the motorway at 130km+ and a turn off to the east towards Macon. We had programmed a little village along the way into the GPS and thought it would either take us there, or to another good view-point along the way. The latter alternative was how it turned out and the Route Barre sign pulled us up on the outskirts of Saint-Trivier-sur-Moignans, yet another gorgeous village with a main drag lined with enthusiastic, well-behaved and excited TDF afficianados.

We walked along the route through the fan-lined village and took our respective places at different vantage points - me at a corner and the girls further out along the route towards the Jura Mountains. We waited and we waited, until - whoooshhh! Past us they flew. I saw the whites of their eyes, but not much else. They were up out of their saddles, cranking up the big gears and headed out onto the plain leading into the hills. I whispered a quiet wish for a good ride to all the participants. I thought that just wanting the Aussie boys to do well was a bit on the churlish side and hell, they were all doing their very best, weren't they?

We wandered back through the town, which by this time was almost completely deserted and hopped once more into our little Opel and headed westwards up into the Morvan. Our destination was Vezelay, the hill-top tourist town up towards Auxerre. More gorgeous countryside, but also a fair smattering of camion (truck) routes.

Arriving at Vezelay in late evening we found a cute-as-cute hotel at the foot of the hill, booked in and walked up the main drag to a little restaurant I know of near the top. Lovely meal with two lovely girls. We were dining 'al fresco' and during our main course a table inside sang a close-harmony song that melted our hearts. This is the dirt of experience that one comes to expect in Bourgogne and excites disappointment when it doesn't.

Next morning it was "up-and-attem" for me and the girls and we "hot-footed" it up the hill to the Roman Bascilica at the top. Wonderful, marvelous, astounding, though sans the contemplative nun and then brother that I spied lay visit. The view from les remperts of the little village of St Pere and surrounds was gorgeous and you must make a secret pledge to go there. SOON!

Having vacuumed up most of the low-hanging culture in Vezelay, the Three Intrepids headed even further away from Beaune via Bessy-sur-Cure (those of you paying attention in the last blog know that that is the village containing a possible house purchase last trip) to Auxerre. Here we wandered the streets, deciding that though this was a beautiful city in its own right, that Beaune is right for us. Which is all well and good, because 28 Rue de Lorraine Beaune is where we have dropped our anchor.

The day having skipped along much faster than we intended, we hurtled back to aforementioned Beaune along the camion-way, avoiding the wristy-tristy back roads that I love to travel when in the Morvan. NEXT TIME!

A two-day adventure to complete the Groombles-travels of a couple of months ago. Ally and Dear Jude are up to speed on the outlying areas, but are yet to finish off the Beaune experience. That, I strongly argue, would take a lifetime ...

Too Roo for now,

G. Charles Rose

PS Graz has been asking for photos, but we do not have ready access to wi-fi, so photos not possible. Sozzles!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Yesterday we toddled off to the Individual Pursuit leg of the Tour de France that ran from Arc-et-Sanons to Besancon, a journey of 41.2 km for the riders, but considerably more for us motorists jostling for a suitable possy on the side of the road to watch the combatants scorch by us. It turned out to be a most wonderful day indeed!

Setting the GPS for Arc-et Sansons, we arrived within 3km of the town to be greeted with a friendly "Route Barre" sign that meant we had to disinter ourselves from our chosen mode of transport (viz. hire car) and walk into town to watch the TDF-ers set off on their brutally taxing journeys.

Getting into town involved a stroll alongside the route, starting at a the first corner the riders came upon - the one they took to the left. What a carnival atmosphere! What a happy gathering of dedicated cycle-racing watchers! What polite clapping as each participant rode by to the accompaniment of calls of "Allez! Allez!" , to which I was able to add (supportively and fairly, I trust), "Georgia! Georgia" and "Stephanie! Stephanie".

We walked another 2.3 km into town along the route (more clapping and Allez-ing) until we reached the starting point. Here the carnival atmosphere took a decidedly increased crank of the handle. Naturally there was the race caller yelling into his microphone the names, standings and racing history of each rider as he mounted the ramp and waited patiently for his turn. All in Fluent Fronch of course, but because of the context it made more sense than it would normally.

Across the way, however, another set of modern-day buskers were engaged in filling the air with their own brand of noise pollution (to my ears, at least). This group - bigger by at least 100% to the TDF-ers was engaged in some sort of reality TV program that involved selecting eager-eyed punters from the audience and plopping them onto the stage to perform acts of culinary torture on a range of ingredients arrayed on a table. Lots of shouting, flag-waving and screeching with a "Pick me! Pick me!" enthusiasm that truly defies belief that humans can act with any degree of decorum when a television camera is within 60 metres of them. No interest from this group in the TDF-ers about to launch themselves down the ramp to a different type of glory (or not) - just a focus on self, Self, SELF! Unbelievabubble!

DJ, Ally and I wandered round the TDF carnival for a bit, pressing our noses against the VIP fence, ogling the riders in their preparation for the 41.3 km ahead of them, usually sitting up on rollers and just turning over their legs in imitation of the task lying ahead. I myself was waiting (in vain as it turned out) for one of the team support crew to hand over the fence a once-used but now surplus-to-requirements road bike of untold value on the open market. Oh well, maybe when we head down to Macon for the start of Stage 10 ....

After wandering back down the route to the first bend and off to the car, we headed off to Besancon to catch the finish. It was a tricky drive because there were heaps of "Route Barres" to get around, but we finally made it to a park within 3km. Along the route we walked again, with all the chaps whizzing past again. Different chaps of course, because it only took the around 50 minutes to go the distance. There were far more people at the end point, and no Master Chef to compete for our attention. Just hundreds of genuine Tour supporters. Lots of Australians and surprisingly many fewer Brits. All very jolly, really.

We saw and heard the names of many famous riders. These included Baden Cooke (we saw him shove off), Michael Rogers (I SWEAR he smiled at me as I hung over the fence at Besancon), Frank Schleck (belting angularly down the final slope) and Maxine Monfort whom everyone knows of course. The punctuation point came with the much-anticipated arrival of Cadel, closely followed by Bradley - far too closely as it turned out. Whereas most of the riders appeared as long lanky blurs as they passed, Our Cadel appeared more as a tight-ball-of-muscle blur. He looked great, however, having made up on ground lost early in his ride towards the end. Go Cadel!

We headed home in great spirits, but "dropped in" to Ikea to pick up some "essential items", only to have much of these spirits sucked out of us, as only Ikea can, wherever its location! Still, a wonderful day all round. Never to be forgotten. DJ and Ally are hooked on the TDF and now look forward to Etage 10.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Taking possession

Ally had picked up the key from a pharmacist across the road and down a bit. She and her friend Caro. They had had to spend Sunday night in a hotel because settlement was not to happen until 11:00 on Monday. She was in on Monday afternoon. The apartment was ours!

We met Ally in Paris on Thursday. She had come up by train with Caro, who was headed off intto the WBY (Wild Blue Yonder) to catch up with her brother. Old Groombles took the two heavy suitcases off to Beaune by train straight away, while Ally and DJ stayed for a few hours to rummage through 'Les Soldes' (The Sales) bins of the likes of Galleries La Fayette. Having toddled off to stake my claim on the apartment, I hauled the bags up the stairs and moved in. How would DJ like it? Would Beaune match all the hype I had poured upon it? Had I overstated the case? I would know soon after 1900 hours when the train arrived with the girls.

Not to drag the show on for too long here, I can inform you that all is well. Allowing DJ the headway as we entered the town (from the station), and then the apartment, the eyes of Dear Jude shone as bright as two really really shiny things. They still are. She loves it. Ally loves it and I love it.

It's bigger than you expect. The skylights are more window-y than skylight-y. The ceilings are high and the TV and sound system are better than OK. Le Tour de France is live-to-air on the free station and it is daylight as you watch it. No AFL, but the Maggies got done anyhow.

Lots of things have to be bought for our new abode, so we have been skitching about the country-side buying up all the necessities. Bath mats, eating utensils, spray-on surface cleaner, cork screws, coffee-plungers, vases, bedding, mops, computers, soaps, mustards and alcohol. The adventures keep on coming!

Visits to the market (like this very morning) are the exciting adventures they always have been, but now we take the goodies back to our joint. You must come. You have to. It's grouse!