Friday, July 10, 2009

Burgundy - 07.08-09.09

This phase of the trip appeared to start out well, but did not work as planned. We were to take a train from Colmar to Beaune where there would be a transfer at some point. The train station attendants told us to take the train to Chalon-sur-Saone and then transfer to a train going to Beaune. We confirmed this with the train schedule on the platform and then again with the conductor on the train. However, after the train made a stop in Dijon, it continued past Beaune and all the way to Lyon, which was supposed to be our stop the following day. We considered our options once we realized what was happening. Perhaps we could just stay in Lyon two nights and cancel our Beaune reservation? Unfortunately, Beaune was more important to us than Lyon and we really wanted to go to Beaune. So once we arrived in Lyon we hopped the next north bound train back to Beaune. We lost four hours, but we both felt like it prepared us better for The Amazing Race.

So we arrived in Beaune in the late afternoon. We immediately got a train schedule for our trip to Lyon the next day and then checked into our hotel which was right across the street from the train station. (Not the greatest location for sleeping, but convenient.)

We wandered the town to get a feel for it, then started to peruse the menus to see where we wanted to eat traditional Burgundy food. We eventually sat down for dinner and planned our next day's activities while eating delicious regional cuisine.

Our first stop on the following day was the medieval hospice hospital, the Hotel-Dieu. Since Jennifer is interested in hospice nursing this was a particularly interesting tourist site to visit for her. We toured the grounds and the interior which consisted of multiple areas where the sick were cared for. There was also a kitchen and pharmacy area as well. The hospice operated in a similar fashion until the 1970's. Parts of the building appear to still be used as an "old age" retirement type home.

After the hospice, we had more Burgundy cuisine for lunch and then we were off to one of the many cellars to do a wine tasting. There are many independent wineries in Beaune, and two large cooperatives that do free tastings. We opted for the one that has fewer finer wines rather than the one that has more lesser wines. The experience was great and the last wine we got to sample was around 70 Euros a bottle. We purchased some mustard there as well. (Dijon is close to Beaune, and mustard is a staple of Burgundy cuisine.) Then it was off to the train station. This leg proved a bit tiring as we had to wear our backpacks all day in Beaune after we checked out from the hotel.

We arrived in Lyon during the evening rush hour. The walk from the train station to the hotel reminded me of being on Manhattan streets. Lots of people, all going in different directions. It was a bit frantic as we attempted to reach the tourist information center before hitting the hotel, so we would have a map. We didn't get to the TI in time, and decided to make it to our hotel at that point. The hotel in Lyon was our worst. It was in a not so great neighborhood, and was small and dark. That was all right though as we were really only using Lyon for a dinner, and to have a shorter trip to our next destination.

It turned out that Lyon was more interesting that we had planned. We didn't see any of the sights or museums, and were only there to dine. While the food was not top notch, the dining scene was pretty great. In the old part of the city there are plenty of streets just lined with Bouchons. Like the Indian restaurants on 6th street in Manhattan, there is usually an employee of the restaurant near the menu posted on the street attempting to lure you in to their establishment. One such person told Jennifer and I that she would translate the menu for us even if we did not dine at her establishment.

After walking around a bit, we went to a place that had a great formule meal deal and grabbed the last open table on the street. The dining experience was great and we enjoyed the food. Jennifer had pike quenelles which are fish dumplings and a staple of Lyonnais cuisine. I opted for duck which was not particularly regional although the sauce was a Burgundy type sauce. Both were served with Lyonnais potatoes which were really creamy and delicious. After the dinner we headed to an ice cream parlor to pick up an extra dessert as recommended by Rick Steves. I got rhubarb, and Jennifer got Marron [chestnut]. After that it was hotel and sleep time for the ride to Chamonix the next morning.

On a funny note, when we went to leave the hotel and check out. (Probably around 5am.) The desk attendant was sleeping (snoring actually) on the couch. We attempted to find a bell on the counter, but to no avail. Neither of wished to jostle him to wake him, so I eventually dropped my keys on the counter and that did the trick. (Thankfully.) Then it was off to the train station.

Pics are here.

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