On Saturday I found myself with some pals in a small candlelit café in the main square of Dijon, two hours southwest of Strasbourg in the Burgundy region.
A French friend from the city joined us and when she asked how I liked the city so far, I held up a jar and announced, “Got some mustard!”
She sighed. “There’s more to Dijon than mustard…”
She was right, of course, but since it was one of the only things I knew about Dijon before coming, my friends had taken me to the “La Boutique Maille” (founded in 1747) and we spent the afternoon taste-testing several varieties such as White Wine, Dry Apricot and Curry, Parmesan and Basilic, Pistachio, Hazelnut, and many other flavors I didn’t expect in mustard. We finally selected a “Chablis and Morilles” for the road, left the shop and ran into a flash mob of thirty or so French people of all ages dressed in bright 70s workout gear dancing to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” in front of the Galeries Lafayette.
Our tour then took us through the rest of the city which was home to the Dukes of Burgundy from the 11th to 15th century.
We also passed the church of Notre Dame to touch the famous “chouette” (owl), a stone carving on the church wall that is said to bring good luck if touched with the left hand while making a wish, which Superstitious-Me did with full conviction.
We stopped at various other churches that date back as far as the 11th century, including Saint-Etienne. All that remains of this church is a crumbling stone altar. The rest has been converted into the Musée Rude exhibiting the work of 19th century sculptor by Francois Rude, the stepfather and teacher of Paul Cabet.
The ancient charm of the city and the detailed stone religious carvings on the buildings won my admiration immediately. When we headed out to the country side, I fell head-over-heels in love with the region. For a moment I seriously considered giving up on English-teaching to invest in a hilltop chateau overlooking the tiny villages and rolling vineyards that surround Dijon.
We sped south by car to enjoy an afternoon stroll in Nuit-Saint-Georges, a quiet charming village whose streets are mostly lined by wine shops and quaint bed-and-breakfasts. Even the restaurant we chose, “Au Caveau Nuiton” was simply four tables tucked into a former wine cellar. I took an entrée of “croustillant fromager” (goat cheese, herbs and spinach wrapped in a crunchy fried bread shell) and a main dish of coq-au-vin, both of which I had never tried in France. We rounded out the meal with a plate of cheese and “poire vigneronne” (pears in a sweet wine sauce) and luckily I didn’t regret selecting dishes I had never tried before.
We ended the day with (what else?) a wine tasting at the Imaginarium, a museum and guided visit through the world of “cremants,” a sparkling wine harvested by hand and aged for one year. In Burgundy, cremants must include a certain amount of Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, and Chardonnay. We chose a Louis Bouillot Chardonnay and Pinot noir combination for a treat, as well as some Christmas presents (I don’t want to ruin any surprises, so I won’t get into specifics here).
By Sunday night I was exhausted and as we took the train back to Strasbourg, I let the French around me fade into background noise, not having the energy to listen and understand. But when I peered out the window of the tram that takes me from the station to my apartment, I perked up immediately when I saw the sparkling Christmas lights illuminating the entrance to the Strasbourg Christmas market. The market is open, and this week will bring lots of new adventures (and pretty photos!) in my own city…