Le splendide voyage

Reflections on exploration & travel


Dijon: Coffee shops, Tea rooms and Shopping

Quotidian life in Dijon takes a visitor or an unfamiliar expatriate resident into a journey where there is a visible transformation of expectations and priorities.  Certain habits like a hurried lifestyle perhaps compulsory in greater metropolises are not fitting here.   Usually, each working day dedicates two hours for lunch to discuss varied topics with friends or colleagues at a favorite restaurant.  For the disciplined souls, this time may be used to read a favorite book or even write an animated short story.  Ultimately for the romantics: sitting at a local “café” or “salon de thé” is a time for practicing the sacred art of reflection as life unfolds before you.

Certainly “running errands” during lunch is not a worthwhile pursuit since the post office, the bank or any other significant places will also be closed as their employees  “in solidarity” will go to lunch at the same time everyday usually from 12h to 14h.  However, one can easily get accustomed to this new life style especially since some may even leave work early especially on Wednesday to enjoy the varied coffee shops in the city.

Dijon has an enjoyable collection of coffee shops and tearooms.  Even the newly remodeled Art Museum has a good coffee shop waiting to warm any patron after a gratifying tour of its elaborate halls. Native dijonnais usually become attached to particular venues because these places transform themselves into a “parlor” where individuals come together with the most valuable persons in their lives.  Nonetheless, I have embraced the habit of trying different places because it pleases me to discover new settings.

Some of my favorites ones are:  the “Comptoir (trading post) de Colonies” at 12 place Francois Rude.  This is a very popular venue with the native residents. The Comptoir has a flavorful collection of teas and coffees from about 15 different places around the world. My favorite flavors are: the Brazil/Santos a full body, aroma rich and yet less acidic type of coffee and the bold flavor of the Colombian Supreme coffee. The hot chocolates with cream on top are also a fare to behold and taste.  Almost in front of the Comptoir is the celebrated statue and fountain “Bareuzai,” representing the personage of a wine grower treading on local grapes. Also, next to the fountain is the iconic merry-go-round/carrousel that since the 1900s to this day delights young children’s disposition.

Following the streets of Dijon toward place Grangier and the main Post Office is the expresso-T” a coffee shop at 21 rue de la Poste.  Within their cozy ambiance, they make a delicious cappuccino plus they also offer other complementary treats like bagels, muffins, salads, crepes etc.  Yet, for a true “Salon de Thé” experience, “La Rose de Vergy” at 1 rue de la Chouette behind Notre Dame cathedral is one of my favorite places. Their convivial setting has a marvelous and varied assortment of teas, biscuits, and other gourmet treats.  I love going there at the end of a very busy day and drinking their Assam tea while looking outside to some of the oldest streets in Dijon, rue de la Chouette and rue Verrerie. 

There are other interesting places along rue Musette. A well-favored place in this street is the fine Italian market “La Dolce Vita.”  Here, all sorts of fantastic gourmet goods from Italy are available for purchase.  In addition, they have a wonderful restaurant above the market where the recipes are true Italian creations.   In the afternoon, La Dolce Vita becomes an ideal place for a coffee break because not only do they have fragrant Italian coffee that goes rather well with a hot slice of “Panettone (A traditional sweet bread loaf with dried fruits originally from Milan.  An Italian delicacy especially during Christmas and New Year)” but also an incredibly tasting Italian hot chocolate which is a ray of sunshine especially during the severe winter months. Another possible stop on this street is “Tartin’Art.”  Inside, an imaginative consumer can choose multiple toppings to decorate a toast/tartine: from salmon to fresh mozzarella on a bed of tomatoes or lettuce or avocados. Of course, such treat should always be accompanied by a hot cup of java.

After teatime, a visitor may choose to ride a bike through the streets of Dijon.  Bikes are easily accessible for rental throughout the city and bike lanes are available along the Tram trajectory such as riding and resting by the beautiful fountain at place de la Republic. Later, it is also a treat to stop and catch one of the latest movies at the theater at place Darcy. All movies are dubbed in French like most places in France and it is a good way to practice French comprehension skills. Another theater close to the University, the Eldorado, may show from time to time movies in their original language. 

One may decide instead to explore the city by strolling leisurely through its center. From place Darcy you can walk through the portal/door “La Porte Guillaume” an official monument edified in 1786 honoring the prince of Condé. It signals the entrance into the center of the city and the rue/street de la Liberté. The famous Galeries Lafayette always displaying the latest fashions and home furnishings. There are also elegant shops toward the end of rue Piron and inside the Passage Darcy. In addition, trendy shops can be found around place Grangier such as the Italian shoe store Brunate, Hugo Boss and a variety of kitchenware stores. Many hair salons grace this area yet, my favorite is “Carlo Bay” on 6 place Bousset.  The staff and owner are professionals who provide an array of excellent services leaving you completely gratified after each visit.

Should you need a new computer, a TV, but also books or any other electronic gadget FNAC on rue de Bourg is a wonderland offering great seasonal sales. Fine chocolates, one of the French most beloved traditions, can be found in elegant settings such as Fabrice Gillotte, “créateur chocolatier,” on rue de Bourg in front of FNAC. Another well-known chocolatier is Carbilet close to Place François Rude. As always, while walking on the streets of Dijon you will often hear different styles of music and street performances, so be ready to leave a few coins behind in gratitude.

A couple of years ago I visited the shopping center “La Toison d’Or,” located in the northern region of Dijon: I was not impress.  Now, my opinion has changed.  Recently, the place has been completely remodeled and new additions were incorporated. The grand opening was at the end of October of 2013 with great attendance and a fine piano player to inspire shoppers.  The transformation was comprehensive and astonishing.  The new mall or “centre commercial” is modern with stylish shops from the Apple Store to Desigual and a thriving food court and restaurants.  It is a straightforward drive from the city center or one can simply board Tram #2 and exit at the Toison d’Or exit.




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Trains, Snow and Dr. Zhivago

On March 2010, as I admired the Florida sun setting in the firmament, I received a phone call announcing that my next destination was Prague. I was not simply going for a visit; I was going to live in Prague for at least 8 months. My lips greeted the news with enthusiasm and soon I began to read all about the nation and its history. Two weeks latter my plane landed in a familiar territory: Milan, Italy.

Typically, if the opportunity is available, I prefer to use ground transportation. Thus, at “Milano Centrale” railroad station, I bought a one way ticket on a sleeper train to Prague. The convoy’s trajectory encompassed four countries: Italy, Germany, Austria and Czech Republic. At 15 minutes before departure, a melodic boarding call alerted everyone to take their places. The individual quarters were comfortable and I received a small “bon voyage” basket filled with fresh fruit and cheese. These little morceaus were welcomed since the journey was about 14 hours long. However, since I slept for the most of the trip, it was pleasant way to travel.

The trip began uneventful and I woke up early in the morning to change trains in Munich. Then, somewhere after the Austrian/Czech border the train came to a halt.  I communicated in German and a crew member answered me politely using an unusual blend of Czech and German languages. Thus, my hazy appraisal was: a rail malfunction had occurred, we were asked via gestures to come out of the train with our luggage and … wait. As we disembarked and unloaded our luggage, we identified that our minute train station was an open structure. A Swiss passenger looked at me with admiration and stated: “Such a little woman and such large suitcases…”  I replied with a mystified smile as our empty train moved gradually away from our view.

There are moments in life when after completing a task, you lift up your eyes and you finally take notice of your surroundings. At that instant, all I could think was: Doctor Zhivago! Do you remember when in the film doctor Zhivago the train halts in the middle of nowhere and all around are endless fields of snow?  There I was, consuming the same magnificent view, inhaling the crisp air and yet able to feel the frail warmth of the sun. Certainly, this interlude was lasting!

The passengers were a medley of British families on holidays, a group of Swiss backpackers, different groups of lively Italians, old, young and even a priest. Without much awareness, all passengers had stacked their luggage neatly on the edge of the field. Hence, as I sat quietly on my suitcase, I did not worry. I was well prepared! In Milan, I had bought a jar of olives, a Swiss chocolate bar, 2 Kiwis, a baguette, 2 bottles of water and a book on “The Comprehensive History of the Hapsburg Empire.”  Yet, my deep thoughts were interrupted when everyone started to share their commodities with glee and rich conversation began to thrive. Two young Italian minstrels seized their guitars and started to harmonize sounds of love and bliss.  As result, this meeting of nations together with the “breaking of bread” allowed two hours to elapse swiftly, and then modern Daimler buses arrived to our rescue. Once inside the bus, we were offered delicious hot chocolate, coffee and tea. Finally, we were on our way to Prague.