Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Exploring Dijon and the Burgundy wine region

The plan for today was to go on a guided walking tour of Dijon. This, of course, fell apart when I got to the tourist centre and found out the walking tour had been booked out – despite being told yesterday afternoon that I didn't need to book.

But they have a self-guided tour which covers pretty much everything the other tour does anyway, so I got the brochure for that.  I then asked about wine tours and was told no-one had booked for the one I wanted to go on, so unless more people came in it wouldn't go ahead. He told me to come back at 12.30 to see if any others had come along wanting to do it, in which case it would go ahead.

Important point for later: I asked if I needed to make any kind of preliminary booking, in case enough people came along for it to sell out. He said no.

So, I went off on the self-guided tour that was interesting. Lots of pictures.

A recreation of the Ours Blanc sculpture I saw in the Louvre.

There's a big covered market in the middle of Dijon.

So. Much. Cheese. The big one with holes in it, on the left is emmental, a Swiss cheese which is quite common in French food when they need it to melt.

It was now about 12.30. I went back to the tourist office to see if anyone else had signed onto the wine tour I'd asked about earlier. It was a different person this time, and she checked the computer and said that there was one place left.

One place. After the asshat earlier in the morning had told me that I didn't need to make a preliminary booking so I didn't miss out. I wasn't impressed that what happened still led to me getting to go on a tour; imagine how angry I'd have been had I gone back there to find out sold out. It would not have been pretty.

Anyway, I booked the ticket and went back to the apartment to kill the 45 or so minutes I had before I needed to be at the pickup location; I was told the vehicle would have the company name on it and that's what I should look for. When I went to the location there were several buses around, but none with Authentica Tours on it. So, I was getting a bit annoyed when 1.30 came around and there was only a silver VW Caravelle minivan with no sign whatsoever. But a few people turned up and spoke to the driver, and when they didn't leave, I decided that must be my group and went over to have it confirmed.

Yet another time I'd been misinformed – and that was the third time in less than 24 hours and by the same organisation. It really wasn't helping to keep my experiences positive.

We got on the road – the driver said she had to drive us to the tasting straight away, and after that we'd go around slowly and look at things. So, we spoke amongst ourselves a bit. We were an interesting mix - two Swiss couples, an American couple, a Japanese marathon runner and myself. Oh, and the guide – who I think was originally from Germany. But all the Swiss spoke English very well, so that wasn't a problem, and it wasn't long before we were all happily swapping stories as we drove along. Well, apart from the Japanese marathon runner, who either didn't speak much English or who was just really quiet. I think it was the latter.

In contrast, one of the Swiss guys was REALLY loud, and had a very strange laugh; I can't even begin to describe in words what it sounded like. Heck, I'd struggle to actually recreate myself if I had to. But he wasn't too off-putting, though. But, as it was, I ended up talking to the Americans more - there were from Sacramento, California – and they were quite congenial as well.

So that aspect of it was certainly pleasant; the guide said that she was surprised how quickly we'd all started getting along and that people weren't necessarily so at ease with each so early on. I got a lot of sympathy for having had to travel the furthest to get there.

It was great to get out into the country – I'd been pretty much stuck in urban areas the whole trip, and I desperately wanted to go and see some of the rural. And what I learned about the wine region and its history – and, more importantly, it's sheer baffling complexity – was fascinating. Soils and hours of sunlight and climate and vine height and so forth.

But I won't try to recite everything I got told, because I probably wouldn't remember it correctly. It's far easier to just point you in the direction of the Wikipedia article on Burgundy wines and let you go look at that if you are interested.

And now, pictures. There are, as you can see, a lot of wine barrels.

There's quite a lot of mould on the walls. Apparently it's harmless, to both people and wine.

Vineyards. Miles and miles of vineyards. Apparently Burgundy doesn't grow anywhere near as much wine as Bordeaux, which is my next destination. I shall have to investigate...

We are at the Château de Clos de Vougeot.

A plot of Grand Cru vines – that's the most prestigious of the four Burgundy labels. Only wine from a plot that's officially registered as Grand Cru can be labelled as such.

We went for a bit of a drive further out, away from the vineyards. It was very pretty.

They have locks – as in the river transport system – in France, but this one wasn't in operation.

I spotted a small lizard on the lock.

And then we were back in Dijon.

It was a great afternoon. I learned a lot, tasted some wine (which I quite liked) and had fun. Not sure exactly what I did that evening, but it may have involved a Thai restaurant and beer, given that I needed a break from cheese and dairy and wine for a night.

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