Le splendide voyage

Reflections on exploration & travel


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“Paris is always a good idea.” ― Audrey Hepburn

A great advantage of living in Dijon is its straightforward access to interesting travel locations. France has one of the best rail systems in Europe. One can take a direct train from Dijon to Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) or simply take a TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, high-speed train) operated by SNCF voyages to a major station in Paris, “Gare de Lyon.” This particular trip takes about 1 hour and 35 minutes and: “Voilà, you are in Paris!”

Paris, “the city of lights,” has always inspired great accolades of love and wonder. Compositions and lyrics have been written by an array of composers and musicians including Gershwin, Offenbach and Louis Armstrong. Gifted authors as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Scott Fitzgerald and one of my favorite poets, the Prague-born poet Rainer Maria Rilke visited Paris. A classic account depicts that Rilke came to Paris to write a monograph on the artist Auguste Rodin. After, Rilke became Rodin’s secretary while Rilke’s wife, the sculptor Clara Westhoff, became the great master’s pupil. All of these architects of excellence shared an enduring attachment to Paris whilst becoming immersed within its ethos. As result, they stayed for longer engagements with some lasting quite a few years.

Initially, it is important to experience Paris as a tourist. Incomparable monuments welcome the visitor throughout its city-center famously designed by Baron Haussmann. This visionary and extravagant prefect of the Seine Department was chosen by Emperor Napoleon III to beautify the city with boulevards and parks, museums, bridges and so much more. Certain places should be a priority when visiting Paris such as the symbol of glories past: the Arc de Triomphe, followed by a stroll across the bustling Avenue des Champs-Élysées where trendy shops and cafés serve the tourist crowds. Next in the agenda: the Louvre Museum. This renowned art museum is one of the oldest in the world and the place where Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” dwells. Staying with the fine-arts motif, one cannot miss the Musée d’Orsay. This unique museum, is located in the interior of the former Orsay railway station and holds one of the finest Impressionists collection in the world. Thereafter, one should steer toward the most recognizable emblem of the city: the Eiffel Tower, built by Dijon’s native, Gustave Eiffel. Often, the Eiffel Tower has long moving lines. Still, it offers one of the best topographic views of the city. Another splendid and perhaps less crowded vista is located at the observation deck on top of the Arc de Triomphe. There, one can behold the impressive panoramic spectrum of La Defense, the Avenue Champs-Élysées and the Sacré-Coeur Basilica.

An additional museum is the Musée Rodin. This museum displays the superb works of the celebrated master, Auguste Rodin, at the Hôtel Biron. Historically, this mansion and garden museum was occupied by several artists since 1905 including the painter Henri Matisse and the dancer Isadora Duncan. In 1908, Rodin establish his sculpting studios within a few rooms. By 1911, he occupied the entire building. Rodin also adorned the outside gardens with some of his work. Today, in the midst of roses and shrubberies, some prominent pieces grace the grounds including the Thinker (1903), the Burghers of Calais (1889), Gates of Hell (1917) and the Three Shades (before 1886). The shades appear in Dante’s Divine Comedy and represent the souls of the dammed standing at the gates of hell whispering: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Inside the mansion, several acclaimed pieces can be viewed such as The Kiss (1882) and the Cathedral (1908). Moreover, distinguished pieces of Rodin’s assistant-artist-muse-mistress, the talented and tragic Camille Claudel are exhibited.

The Parisian experience is multidimensional! Last year alone, I was able to dissect the Louvre Museum, by visiting one wing at a time over an eight-month period which allow me to fall in love with its collections. I have also relished noteworthy events: the sumptuous version of Rudolf Nureyev’s ballet “La Belle au bois dormant/The sleeping beauty (composer Tchaikovsky)” by the Paris Opera Ballet at the Bastille Opera in Paris; and the outstanding exhibit of the Jewish-Russian-French artist Marc Chagall: “Chagall between War and Peace” at the Paris’ Musée de Luxembourg. Additionally, a smaller museum, the Jacquemart-André museum, displayed a delightful exhibit of Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet’s master-teacher. Thematic classes/workshops are taught throughout the city for short periods or even during weekend breaks including: the gratifying “travel sketchbooking” with Pauline Fraisse Art & Culture; and “Un Dimanche à Paris” where I spend diverting weekends learning to make scrumptious chocolate morsels, the famous macaroons and French pastries in the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Unique pursuits also flourish in Paris. Chocolate aficionados will be delighted to visit the “Salon du Chocolat” exposition. It usually runs for 5 days in autumn around October/November. Visitors step into the marvelous world of cocoa while observing the work of internationally renowned chefs and pastry chefs. Victor Hugo’s fans will appreciate the elegantly designed Place des Vosgues, Paris oldest public square in Marais where Victor Hugo lived between 1832 and 1848. The Maison de Victor Hugo and museum is housed here and it provides a glimpse into the author’s quotidian life. Similarly, riverside admirers will welcome a river cruise along the Seine passing through historical sites and bridges while savoring a refined French cuisine feast and enjoying live music performances.

Paris is always a good idea. The French capital will always welcome guests desiring to unveil its social and cultural assets.

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La gastronomie: Les Halles, Dijon

“The gentle art of gastronomy is a friendly one. It hurdles the language barrier, makes friends among civilized people, and warms the heart.”
Samuel Chamberlain

France has elevated gastronomy into an art form.  Effortlessly, the relationships between the culinary canvas, traditions and culture are ever so present in Dijon and Burgundy.  Every autumn, Dijon organizes and presents its International Gastronomy Fair.  This year the fair started on October 31st and will proceed until the 11th of November.  Each year, they invite a country as a valued guest and this year the honor went to South Africa.  In particularly, the wines from the West Cape region displayed proudly in a section of the Vinidivio salon.  Educational talks and discussions on the 3 centuries of viniculture and oenology history of South African wines from the West Cape region were also in the agenda.

The outdoor and indoor markets in the center of the city of Dijon also represent well the gastronomic possibilities of the region.  The location is not far from Notre Dame Cathedral where its gargoyles stare ferociously at Dijon’s luscious market. Also close by is the Place François Rude (or du Barezai).  Historically, the town council decided to build in 1868 a “modern” covered market.  A contest ensued and the design that the dijonnais Gustave Eiffel’s (famous & innovative engineer/Eiffel Tower Paris & Statue of Liberty, US) firm had proposed was found to be the most interesting.  Nonetheless, Eiffel was called to the Franco-Prussian war (or the war of 1870). Therefore, the final blueprints and designs for the structure were drawn by architect Louis-Clément Weinberger in 1869. He used a classic architecture style and modelled the Dijon indoor market after the Parisian “Les Halles.” The market was completed around 1875.  A renovation to bring the market into current health, safety and comfort standards proceeded in 1994. Yet, Eiffel’s signature iron columns and the classic architecture of Weinberger continue to sustain this marvelous structure. The Dijon market is open: Tuesday (7h – 13h30); Thursday (7h30 – 13h/not all stalls are open on Th); Friday and Saturday (6h30 – 13h30).

Still, the Dijon market is so much more than a beautiful edifice! The composition of colors, smells, tastes and the vivaciousness of the proprietors create a scenic quotidian watercolor painting that is both alluring and blissful.  There are fresh meats, fish, mollusc, crustaceans, multiple types of olives, oils, dried sausages, cheeses, honey, fruits, vegetables, legumes, breads, and as of this date, I am still discovering new products. On market days, the indoor market is encircled by a lively outdoor market, with independent stalls.  Little specialty shops flourish along bordering streets with all kinds of commodities from food to clothing, antiques, marvelous used books and ancient post cards.  Fittingly, I loose myself into fairyland at least for a couple of hours on market days.

What I have also discovered is that the proprietors in general welcome new customers with fine etiquette and “politesse.”  Still, the most reassuring feeling is when you start buying from the same vendor every week. Then they masterfully win your heart with: “…I thought of you Madame, and I think you would love to try our new…etc…”  Yes, they learn your tastes and really think of you!  Furthermore, it is so refreshing to me that they are experts when it comes to their products.  They will take time to explain to you the best way to eat or cook a particular item; they will also ask when do you intend to cook or eat the product, then they will pick for example the most appropriate product for your evening gathering. And it works well every time!

My love for the market in Dijon also fostered a love for learning the culinary artistry of the region.  There are different venues in Dijon to learn how to master the “art of French cooking.”  One such place is “La Cuisine de Madeleine,” 18 rue Chaudronnerie, behind Notre Dame Cathedral.  Under the careful tutelage of a chef, it is a fun place to learn because you can join a group or sign-up with a group of friends.  You choose the menu and learn to prepare it. Then at the end, you can taste your creations in a cozy and welcoming environment.  Wine tasting is also part of your education! Accordingly, this culinary experience can be a source of delicious memories.