Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trip to Burgundy (Bourgogne) Day 1 Feb 25, 2012 (looooong)

We had a great day today. Had to get up at waaaaay too early to get the girls to school to catch their bus to the train station - we got them to ASP at 5:15am! They had a high-speed train from Paris to Anzére Switzerland to catch - so happy that we just had to get them to ASP (5 minute drive) versus trying to get them to the train station in Paris at that hour! They seemed fine & happy to board the bus. Very weird that they are so far away from us with no real contact. We haven't gotten them phones over here yet, so we don't have a way to get a hold of them directly. Just have to count on it all going well. One of the teachers on the trip is posting photos and I have emailed him so I know they are alive and well. In fact, he told me that they got moved up today to the top skiing group - guess all those years in Tahoe paid off! I still can't believe they are off in Switzerland on their own. Way too cool...

This is the chalet where the girls are staying

S & I headed back home after dropping the girls off at ASP - I was planning on going back to sleep, and he was going to get some work done until the park opened at 7:30 so the dogs could get a walk/run before we headed out. But I got a text from a friend of mine at 6am saying the highway was already full of traffic heading down in the direction we would be driving, so we decided to try to get out earlier. We had been so busy packing for the girls that we didn't get a chance to pack ourselves yet, so it took awhile to get ourselves and the dogs organized. I think we finally left our house around 8:00am.

I printed out a route from, we pulled the route up on the maps on our phones, AND we plugged it into our GPS - then we were off. I'm happy to report that we only got lost once on the way down, and thanks to my friend's text, we weren't stuck in traffic for as long as we could have been. She told me about another route to take to get us off the congested highway. Thank goodness! We were stuck on the crowded highway for probably 1/2 hour and even that little amount was almost enough to make us cranky. Almost, because we agreed before we left to try and just take the trip as it would come - getting lost, traffic, etc. Just go with it and try not to get frustrated.

After 2+ hours of driving, we got off the highway out of the traffic jam (most people were probably heading to Switzerland to go skiing) to head towards Auxerre. We decided to stop there to take a break, let the dogs out to stretch their legs and go to the bathroom, and see the gothic church there. The Cathédrale Saint-Étienne d’Auxerre is known for its massive stained glass windows and most of it was built between 1215 – 1233. The church was really cool (literally almost freezing inside!) and Auxerre is a really cute French town. 

We walked around the town with the dogs for quite awhile exploring, and then decided it was time for some lunch. We put the dogs back in the car to hang out while we went & ate. We found a promising looking place that had a wood-burning pizza oven, and since we are always on the lookout for good pizza for our friend Brad and all the folks at we decided to give it a try. We knew we would be eating plenty of typical French food over the next few days so we were excited for some tasty pizza. It's always a risk in France to get pizza - while you can find it everywhere, it is often very disappointing. Too doughy, too saucy, undercooked, weird toppings you don't recognize that shouldn't be on pizza, etc.

Chez Carlotta was cute on the inside and smelled delicious, but only 1 other table had customers. We never know if that is truly a bad sign as we always seem to get the timing of our meals off - we eat too early! We got seated at a tiny table way at the back of the restaurant where it felt nice and cozy. The menu featured lots of salads and pizzas, and an offer of Lasagna Bolognese. They also had daily specials on the board as almost all restaurants do. S was very intrigued by the Lasagna Bolognese, and I chose the pizza of the day that featured egg (cooked like an omelet), potatoes, tomato sauce and ham (jambon blanc). Why this was called the Pizza Tortilla I'm not entirely sure other than it could have been a variation of a Spanish Omelet with the egg being the tortilla? I got it without the ham as I'm still just not a huge ham fan. We had salads to start and they were very good. So often the lettuce here is just so amazingly fresh and delicious that we love to get salads. Plus the true "French dressing" apparently is NOT the stuff bottled in American, but a mustard-type vinaigrette. It is almost the same dressing everywhere - luckily we like it. We ordered 1/2 bottle of chianti to go with our meal (since we still had to drive). I just love how easy it is to get 1/2 bottles of decent wine in France - I wish America had them on menus more often.

S's lasagna arrived hot & bubbling - he even took a video of it sizzling away. The pizza looked very promising when it landed on our table - thin crust, and slightly burned from the wood oven. When I bit into it I was very happy - it was just as I hoped. Good crust tasting of quality flour, not soggy under the toppings, not too much pizza sauce - just freshly smashed tomatoes - not overwhelmingly cheesy, and the egg and potato were tasty additions. Overall we were very pleased and happy with our find. The only flaw was the dessert. We ordered the chocolate cake with crème anglaise, and unfortunately it was rather dry and uninspired - kind of tasted like a strange brownie. The crème anglaise was tasty so we tried to roll each bite of cake in the sauce to make it a bit more moist and tasty. Another pleasant discovery - things are much cheaper here “in the country” than where we live next to Paris! The lasagna was 8 euros, the pizza was 10 euros, the cake was 3.50 - such a small price compared to Paris. All in all, a good restaurant we would return to and bring friends with us.

After lunch, we got back in the car and headed off again. I had additional sites planned for us to see before hitting our final destination. Next up on the list was the village of Vézelay to see the
Basilique Ste-Madeleine - the largest Romanesque church in France. It also claimed in the past to guard the relics of St. Mary Magdalene, and if you go down into the crypt there is a display that supposedly contains a relic of Mary Magdalene. The church was very beautiful and full of light – again freezing cold inside. The medieval town of Vézelay looked very charming as we drove up the narrow streets to visit the Basilique – full of character and interesting buildings. Like many of the other towns we would visit on this trip, it seemed surprisingly empty. I guess February is not a busy time in Burgundy! We drove through many villages on our trip and would rarely see even one person. Very quiet and peaceful, but a little strange also. Behind the church was a beautiful area where you could enjoy views out over the valleys and hills of Vézelay.

Even Zoe likes the view
Next we drove to Époisses – home of the famous stinky but delicious cheese, as well as a châteaux. I had planned to stop and visit the châteaux and a fromagére, but the châteaux was closed and we didn’t see the fromagére as we were driving. It was getting late and we wanted to get to our rental house before it go to dark, so we just drove through and headed to Semur-en-Auxois where we were staying.

Semur-en-Auxois is another amazing medieval city set up on a hill surrounded by stone ramparts. We rented a house outside of the ramparts down on the River Armançon where we had space for the dogs. Thanks to all our maps we found the house with no problems, and got there before dark It was a very charming and interesting house called Le Moulin Vert (though we saw no windmill) set behind another larger house and right on the river. The dogs were very tempted to go into the river and get the ducks, but since neither of them are big swimmers, they only went in a tiny bit, thank goodness as I was worried they would be swept away.

 The house was very interesting, a bit funky, and freezing cold when we got there. We quickly turned up the heat, searched and found some space heaters and tried to warm things up. We decided to walk up into town to explore, grab a drink and find somewhere for dinner – somewhere warmer than the house! I had done some research on restaurants, but we weren’t sure where they were located or what was open. We found a path down the street from our house that consisted of a bunch of steps going up the hill, through the ramparts and into the city. We walked along the ramparts and looked out over the area of Semur that was outside the city “walls” and then headed inside the city towards the church – Eglise Notre-Dame. Often the heart of the city, we figured the church would hopefully be where we would find more people, stores and places to eat - the area where we entered Semur was very quiet with nobody around. We could hear the church bells and followed the sound until we found civilization. 
 We walked from one end of the town to the other, and found the main entrance to the village proper – I guess we came in the back way. It was much more lively in this location with plenty to look at. You walk along a lovely cobbled street, pass through a medieval gateway (Porte Guillier) and are on a pedestrian street with shops and cafes. We stopped into a bar after awhile to enjoy a beer and warm up by the fire. How is it that Burgundy, which lies South of Paris, is colder than Paris? It got quite chilly after the sun went down. When we finished our beers we decided it was time to find somewhere to have dinner. We paid up (only 5 Euros for 2 beers!) and headed back to the church where one of the recommended restaurants was located. We stopped in to have dinner, but they informed us that they were fully booked – even though almost all of the tables were empty. But again, we were a tad bit on the early side – before 8:00pm – as most people seem to have dinner much later in France. We continued on down the street towards another restaurant we had seen and luckily they had a table for us. Again we were worried as it seemed like we were the only people there, but very quickly after 8:00 the restaurant started to fill up.
Enter the village through this "gate"
S enjoying the cheapest beer we've had in France!
Le Saint Vernier was a Burgundian restaurant that served local fare – though they had a couscous special that night that everyone else seemed to enjoy. It was full of random meat that we just weren’t ready for that night, and I wanted to try some of the regional specialties. I ordered Oeufs Pôche Chablaisienne to start, S ordered a salad, then I ordered the chicken sautéed in époisses cheese and S got Boeuf Bourguignon. Everything was tasty, but nothing outstanding. I enjoyed the egg dish a lot – especially soaking up the sauce with extra bread – but everything else was good, not great. The beef was a little fatty, the sauce could have been more rich, and my chicken could have been more tender. Both dishes were served with the same 2 sides – potatoes and a pickled eggplant/carrot/cauliflower salad - that again were fine, but nothing I needed to finish eating. We shared a dessert of 3 crème brûlées that were a little too watery to be true crème brûlées in my book. I can’t remember what the flavors were – must not have been too memorable. I think one may have been strawberry, one regular and I’m not sure about the last one. They tasted ok, but the texture was so runny it was hard to get past. Not at all what I expected.
OK, I thought those other things in the bowl were mushrooms. But looking at this pic it looks suspiciously like a snail!
This sauce was made with the famous stinky cheese
The trio of crème brûlées - see all the liquid?
After dinner we wandered back home and to bed – the day had started much too early and we were exhausted. I’m surprised I made it through the whole day without a nap, but I guess with so many beautiful things to look at and enjoy, you get energized. We had a great first day and still had 3 more to look forward to.

zzzzz D

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