For V's birthday, we took a 2-day trip up to Burgundy, about 2 hours north-northwest of Lyon by the autoroute. Here are a whole bunch of pictures.
This is the chateau where we stayed, out in the middle of nowhere near Montbard. The rooms themselves were nothing special, but the grounds (including a working farm) were pretty nice.
We got there late on Friday night, and in this tiny town there was nothing open (or in the neighboring towns, either). The chateau has a restaurant... 90 euros a head. So we ate crackers and granola bars in our room instead.
The next morning we headed to Abbey Fontenay, founded by St. Bernard in 1118 and in continuous operation until the Revolution. The monks did have to make some concessions to the monarchy, though--such as letting the Dukes of Burgundy use the abbey as a hunting lodge.
Saint Bernard dedicated himself to reforming monsatic life by strict observance of the Benedictine Rule. In other words, his monks were to have nothing to distract them from prayer and meditation. There are no ornate decorations; the cathedral has a dirt floor. I've been in a number of cathedrals, eglises, and chapels since we've been in France, and I have to count this one, essentially unchanged since it was finished in 1147, as one of my favorites. It is impressively silent.
The cloisters were where most of the meditation and study went on. On this day, a couple were having their wedding photos taken. I don't know that associating one's marriage with self-induced poverty and chastity is necessarily the best way to start... but I bet the pictures were nice.
There must have been something to St. Bernard's ideas, as this whole place seemed to inspire quiet thought. (I don't know the guy in the picture.)
After leaving the abbey, we headed cross-country toward Alesia. Most of what I know about the history of the Gauls in France comes from reading Asterix comics
, so it was nice to get a little real background. Alesia was the site of the pivotal battle between Julius Caesar's legions and the Gauls led by Vercingetorix
in 52 BC. Caesar finally cornered the Gauls on a hilltop and laid siege, fighting off attacks from Gallic reinforcements. Vercingetorix eventually surrendered to spare the lives of his men (and was paraded through Rome and publicly executed for his trouble).
Vercingetorix is credited with uniting the Gauls and laying the foundation for what would become France. Alesia has a hilltop statue set up by order of Napoleon III... though modern archaeology casts doubt that this is actually the right hilltop. I like the way this statue looks like a saintly Jesus-type from one angle; from the other angle, it's "Vercingetorix Is Here To Kick Your Ass."
Between towns, we dropped in on this winery
, the first one we visited in France. Those are the vineyards up on the hillside in the background. They offered us a tasting, and of course we bought 4 bottles...for about 5 euros each.
On a hill overlooking the vineyard is the town of Flavigny. If you've seen the film Chocolat
, you've seen it; V commented that the town looks a lot bigger in the film.
I, on the other hand, found it difficult to photograph--it's hard to capture a place in a frame when it's all around you. Where does one point the camera? I ended up just pointing the camera without aiming and shooting in various directions.
This little town absolutely reeks of French charm, and unlike many other picturesque hilltop towns was free of tourists and gawkers (except us). Like a lot of small French towns, it has retained its charm mostly because progress has passed it by, the economy has stagnated, and there hasn't been any injection of new business
to spur modernization of anything.
Flavigny has one restaurant, one bar, and one hotel (but three churches and a monastery). About the only thing this town is known for is its local specialty, anis pastilles candy (pretty nasty, actually).
It's the kind of place where dogs nap in the middle of the street and teenagers can't wait to move away.
At the one restaurant, we ran into an Irishman to whom I had spoken briefly at Fontenay Abbey. Seeing as how we were the only people in the place, we invited him to join us for dinner. Turns out he was there for a weeklong immersion program at the monastery. He was quite taken with The Tadpole (and his Irish name), and gave us an Irish linen tea towel, one of several he had brought to give as gifts at the monastery. He had lived in Paris for a number of years, and had some firmly held opinions about France and French people.
"Selfish," he said, "or at least self-centered. It never occurs to a Frenchman to consider what the other person's feelings might be." V at least partially agreed with him. She's setting up a blog of her own (I'll pass along the URL when she has something up) where she can vent about the daily difficulties and frustrations of life in France. But for this weekend at least, she came to the conclusion that France is a heck of a lot nicer when you're on vacation.
We got in from a day trip to Provence late last night, and I put Mom and Dad on a plane back to the States early this morning. Man, I'm beat... but some nice pictures coming from that trip as well when I have a few moments.