Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Our Week in Dijon

Staying a week in various areas of France is one of our delights. No more unpacking and repacking the car.
More time for me to explore on the bike.  More time for Sue to cook the produce from the day's market shopping.
In general more time for us to blend with the locals, shop, cook, visit local cafes and actually meet people on a regular basis - if only for a week.

Coco welcomes us to Dijon with a baguette in hand.
When we arrived, it was a warm day - the ground level fountains were in full use by children running between gushes of water, anticipating which would spurt when.
In Dijon, we made an absolutely fantastic choice of apartment and host - well Sue did really. She's a fantastic researcher.
Looking back, all of our hosts have been wonderful in different ways. Several we still keep in touch with by email at different times. I guess if you're in the business of hospitality, you have to have special qualities as I imagine not all of us tourists are nice to deal with!!!!

Coco was one of those special people that made our stay memorable. Coco and her husband have this apartment in the hub of Dijon, everything within walking distance and our own museum across the walkway.

Our apartment backed on to the street of the good children.
Rue des Bons Enfants
We arrived in the centre of Dijon but parking was impossible so before calling Coco, I found a parking spot no more than 500 metres away from the apartment. We rang Coco to tell her we had arrived and she was waiting at the end of the street but instead of taking us to the apartment, she took us on a small walking tour of "her" town. Coco is a great ambassador for Dijon and exudes great pride in her home city. Dijon at the time of our visit had grown to a population of 150,000 with another 100,000 people living within the region.

Typical of Burgundy were the creative and colourful roof tiles on the buildings.
It was all a bit much to take in on first arrival but it did give us a great start to our further exploring walks around Dijon. Later we were to discover much of Dijon's history. It started as an early Roman settlement as did much of France. The Romans called it Divio but Dijon is famous for two other reasons. One is that it was home to the Dukes of Burgundy and their Palace was less than 300 metres from our apartment. It now is a civic centre and a fantastic museum of medieval times. We'll tell you more about that in following Wednesdays.
The other famous Dijon icon is of course Dijon Mustard. Always some in our fridge. Did you know that 90% of mustard seeds to make Dijon mustard comes from Canada? I didn't!

While in Dijon, we just happen to luck in on a Jazz festival. We took a walk taking in the atmosphere and later let the sounds waft throughout our apartment windows on a balmy spring night.

Architecture from medieval times abound in the old centre of Dijon.
When we returned to where the apartment was, I ran off to pick up the car and bring our luggage around. But, I became lost - actually I'd lost the car so I had to back track and try again. Finally I located the Citroen and was able to drive to the pedestrian only street where the door to the apartment was.
We couldn't believe how wonderful Coco's apartment was. Beautifully decorated, light and very comfortable and the bonus of two opening windows to our pedestrian street.

Sue says, "I think I might love Dijon" and she did.
We knew we were in for a very enjoyable and relaxing week in Dijon with drives to some interesting rural villages and historic sights/sites. Tell you more next week.

Check out Coco's website.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Where I grew up

Its been some 30 years since I moved to the Melbourne Bayside area from the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Having my father stay a long weekend with Sue and I gave me sometime to reflect on my roots. I was born in Preston, a northern suburb of Melbourne. Initially it was called Irish Town. The early settlers came from Sussex in England and wanted to call it after their home city of Brighton but Melbourne already had a Brighton which was located on the bay. Preston was their next choice.

Taking Dad back home we decided on catching up with friends who have just bought a home nearby the old district - yes it has changed.

Preston was my birth home - later we moved further up the train line to Reservoir.
I often cycled from home through this intersection - not the traffic signals to the left hand side.

By a strange coincidence, their home is just around the corner from where I almost bought a block of land in the early 70's. The asking price back then was under $2000 and a reasonable home would have cost $8000 to $10000 to build.
At the time our family home was most probably only 2 kms away from that block. The land was under development and although the estate was surveyed in the 1918, it was still acres of farmland, mainly dairy and paddocks with some roads just going in. I remember distinctly that it was called "Merrilands Estate" and it was survey by a Saxil Tuxen who went on to do further work for many other government bodies. He took over his Danish father's practice around 1913 after his father's death.

The Real Estate agent took us to the block but was a little confused in locating it. So he unravelled the original Estate drawings. They were in a roll form with two pieces of doweling with the parchment attached at each end. The drawings showed a grand community with a Town Hall, Police Station and Post Office located on a huge roundabout. Behind this civic centre were the recreational fields designed for Football, Cricket and Cycling. On the outer section of the football field was to be a flat cycling velodrome.

Our second home was on the Merrilands Estate - not too far away was the Edward's Park Lake, an early playground for us kids with a bike. Edgar's Creek meandered through the Merrilands Estate until it was contained by a small spillway to form this lake.
Later as the population grew, the lake and the park developed to offer several form of recreation such as sailing, rowing and if brave enough, swimming.

This earlier postcard gives an impression that it was nearly a swamp. This was taken from the top end as the creek filled the lake.

We passed by these roads and grounds today and some of the sections intended by Tuxen are there, albeit in a more modern theme. The civic buildings never appeared. By the time the area was being developed in the 70's and 80's, there was no need for them. Remember this Estate was designed before much of the area had been developed but it got lost in time and as more land was required, it was opened up.

Edward Street was the main shopping centre of Reservoir and it ran down towards the Edward's Park Lake.
Initially the district was given the name of Reservoir as the area had three reservoirs constructed in 1864, 1909 and 1913 and was used to filter Melbourne's water supply from the Yan Yean catchment area, some further 30 kms further north at the foothills of the mountain range.

High Street in it's different forms runs from Melbourne to Reservoir.
I enjoyed growing up in the district, school, sport, friends gave great memories but as we grow,we change, move on. Our horizons grow, we develop and change the way we think. Although a wonderful rush of memories returned, our life in Mentone by the bay brings a lifestyle that would be hard to trade.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dijon for a Week

We took a quick goodbye look around Auxerre before moving on. We had three stops along the way. First was to find the Auxerre Velodrome. For those who know my passion for cycling would understand this fetish of mine to search out Velodromes of France. I have a program on Google Earth that pin-points Velodromes of France and on occasion I might not tell Sue where we are heading - Ooops how did that happen Sue - another Velodrome, fancy that!
This one was outward bound on the banks of the River Yonne.

Sue took this for my cycling mates back home with the Auxerre velodrome in the background.
Like many of the velodromes in France, they seemed to have seen better days.

The drive out of Auxerre is a most picturesque experience as the road snakes its way beside the river Yonne before we turned off to our first stop at Chablis. We thought it would be a pleasant coffee stop but turned out to be a wine tasting stop. Chablis is not large with a small population of maybe 2500 but it has a really nice relaxed feeling about it. Well, it did when we floated into town. It was a crisp spring morning with very few people around. The village nestles into the valley of the River Serein and as you drive in or out of Chablis, the slopes of the valley are planted with the vines of the Chardonnay grape.
As I write this, I'm sipping on a Chardonnay from our Mornington Peninsula region, a little further around the bay from us. In the past we could purchase local Chablis wine until the French spat the dummy and said we couldn't use their wine names any longer so we use the name of the grape variety. No more Chablis, Hermitage or Burgundy in Australia.
We had a small wine tasting after coffee just a little up from the Cafe on the river that runs through Chablis.
Our host behind the counter was most anxious for us to learn more about the wines of Chablis and offered us the three levels of Petite Chablis, Chablis and Premier Cru but not the Grand Cru unfortunately.
We did however purchase some Petite Chablis being poor travellers.

Leaving Chablis after experiencing Chablis in Chablis.

Leaving Chablis we were looking for a lunch time stop that took us to Tonnerre. I'd read about Tonnerre in our DK eyewitness travel guide book and had it in mind to see the Fosse Dionne, a natural water source that is reputed to have a flow of 200 litres per second. The Romans settled the area 2000 years ago using the spring as their water source. Later in the 18th century the locals used it as their Lavoir in a circular construction which has this enchanting amphitheatre atmosphere. Buildings surround you and I can imagine in years gone by the women would come down from their homes with washing and socialise around Fosse Dionne.

Tonnerre, just near the medieval hospital, one of the largest in France for its time.
Tonnerre was another town to have le Tour travel through in 2009.
The reason for our stop in Tonnerre was this natural spring discovered by the Romans 2000 years ago.

Looking abandoned, this building was actually an Ice Cream  parlour in a former life.
Like most villages, some of the most interesting thing are in the back streets.
If you look very closely at the stone carved ribbon to the right of the balcony, you can see the origins of the building.
Cafe des Glaces.

We decided to lunch at Tonnerre and our selection was in the main street at a local cafe. Not great but friendly - think we just had a pizza and a glass of wine. It was so relaxing and the woman who served us was on for a chat but with Dijon a further 120 odd kms down the road, it was time to get moving.
It was back into the car and off to our one week stay in Dijon. Our apartment was smack in the middle with everything in walking distance - shopping, markets, museums and the apartment was superb as was our host. More about that next Wednesday.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Just another Melbourne Weekend

Friday nights are special - The end of the working week and if you read this blog regularly, you'll know Sue and I celebrate the start of the weekend with bubbles and a quiet night in front of the tellie with a chick flick or old time movie. It helps to wash away the frustrations of the working week.

This Friday night we decided on a dinner out. Our number two son left on the Thursday for two years in Montreal so Sue needed cheering up now that we are empty nesters. We'd been saving a restaurant voucher that we had the good fortune to win at a function. The voucher was for $200 at the Brighton Baths Restaurant not far from home but I'll ask Sue to describe the night for you.

We arrived just as the sun was poking thru the clouds, lighting up a couple of container ships leaving the bay. This was the view from our table.
Within the next thirty minutes the mood of the bay changed with dusk looming. Later it was fully dark with twinkling lights from stars and ships on the bay, plus a troop of seagulls which rode the water in a beam of light from the restaurant windows.

For my money I would have been happy with baked beans on toast just to look at that view. Well maybe not really...not at these prices anyway.
We started with the chefs tasting plate which was very nice indeed. From the front - roasted pork belly with apple sauce. Nothing special but tasty. Then zucchini flowers stuffed with persian feta and fried in a tempura type batter and a small amount of balsamicy salsa. This was an absolute ripper. Then tuna, very light seared on the outside with a coriander crust. Not a big fan of tuna, but it was very soft and quite tasty. Lastly a salmon gravlax with tiny pieces of beetroot and cubes of beetroot jelly and a dob of horseradish cream. Nice. All prepared with care and attention to detail.

Sorry about the poor photos - don't know why my little pocket camera was  not up to its best.

The two mains were perhaps not quite so successful. The one on the black plate, mine, was a saddle of rabbit wrapped in proscuitto, served on roasted cos lettuce with cherry yoghurt and preserved cherries. There was a line of crushed pistachios on the plate as well.
 The rabbit was cooked beautifully, but the cos was over salted and quite unpleasant. The little cherries were an explosion in your mouth.
Leon had duck breast, served, very trendily, with mushroom and truffle soil. The duck was very chewy. Perhaps not rested long enough. The soil had a deep, rich flavour and was nice.
We each ordered a side of asparagus with hollandaise sauce. The sauce must have come from two different jugs. Leon's was yum, but mine had a very strong mustard flavour which didn't suit the other things on my plate at all. A bit disappointing.

Leon had an affogato, yawn, which was presented nicely and was, affogato. Yawn. 
I had what looks not very inspiring on the plate, but was quite possibly the most delicious dessert ever.
It was red and white poached peaches, served simply with mandarin sorbet and little chunks of homemade honeycomb. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. The flavours were very simple and not very sweet, then very so often you would get a hit of honeycomb. It was very yum!

SATURDAY NIGHT and the oldest Wheelrace is run.
Melbourne ran the 114th edition of the Austral Wheelrace on Saturday night - historically it claims to be the longest running track racing classic in the world. It brings out many spectators, some which are past winners over the years. Back in 1983, your writer was the first loser, that's second place to some but to miss being in the record books, first loser is appropriate.

Each year its always a thrilling night and I had the opportunity to be involved as a volunteer. Being in the middle and up-close amongst the riders is very exciting. We had some internationals riders for this years event which made the racing more challenging for the locals.

This morning on waking, I logged in to the European race results and was pleased to see our own Simon Gerrans, current Australian road champion had won the Milan to San Remo classic road race. I think the Aussies will have a good year with fellow Aussie Matthew Goss winning and earlier Euro Classic a few weeks back.

State of the art carbon fibre track bikes with the very lightest of tyres pumped to 180 psi hang in readiness for their riders in pursuit of a famed win in the classic Austral Wheelrace.
Riding wheel to wheel, shoulder to shoulder adds to the thrill of a great spectator sport.
Thrills and spills are not uncommon.
In April, Melbourne hosts the World Track Titles.
Alf Middleton won the Austral Wheelrace in 1894

The question was asked, "Could Patto from the scratch mark". He didn't in 1961 but did in 62' and 64'.

In 63' they were asking if Barry Waddell (pictured) could win from scratch - he didn't but Patto, now in his mid 30s was still up there and won the following year.

The crowds in those early years (late 1800s and early 1900s) at the Melbourne Cricket ground attracted thousands to watch bike racing as it did in both Europe and the USA. Today it competes with many other "Spectator" sports brooch to us through the electronic media.
As the weekend drew to a close, Sunday offered perfect weather for mowing the lawns and a bit of house tidy before returning to work tomorrow. Geee, weekends go quickly, don't they?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Overnight in Auxerre

We left Sancerre after a quick visit to a rather disappointing brocante, more like a boot sale actually held in misty rain. We had now left the eastern extremes of the Loire and entered Burgundy on our way to Auxerre.

The town of Auxerre has a population of 45,000 and I have to say that we really didn't know much about it at the time. It was on the way to somewhere else and that somewhere else was for a week in Dijon. The town sits overlooking the River Yonne where the department takes it name. It's actually not that far from Paris, only about 170 kms but of course we travelled much further than that to get this far. We were in fact travelling north again. It was an uneventful drive but later that night I had the most wonderful dinner but more about that later.

I'm not sure from which direction we entered Auxerre but like most times we had an interesting time locating our hotel. In this case I learn't more about our hotel and Auxerre while posting this "Wednesday's in France". We still had the receipt from our hotel in Sue's trip diary. It was the Hotel de Seignelay and my research tells me it took it's name from Guillaume de Seignelay, Bishop of Auxerre during the 1200s. The Bishop undertook the initial construction of the Cathedrale St Etienne which sits at the highest point overlooking the River Yonne. Building began 1215 on the foundations of a 11th Century crypt and was completed in its first stage over 30 years. It did however continue to have rebuilding stages up until 1560. The ravages of the 100 year war and the wars of religion necessitated much construction over the three centuries.

Back to the meal and our hotel for the night - I guess we were feeling less adventurous after a couple of days on the road but we did wander into the old town and took a stroll around its narrow streets to discover its intriguing architecture. Many of the buildings are half timbered with contrasts of medieval carved stone buildings and wonderful arched walk ways. The hotel was entered by a small wooden double door lane way which I imagine allowed horse drawn coaches to enter. Things change and on our stay, there was a classic motorcycle that rested in the entrance. Our room was average but clean and comfortable. The rooms seemed to hide behind trees, bushes, and little courtyards with tables and chairs which we enjoyed on the sunlit spring afternoon. A glass of wine in hand, I was able to tap away some emails back home on our notebook.
Too tired to investigate a place to eat too far away from our hotel, we booked in at the hotel restaurant. It's menu appealed and we could then just walk a few steps back to our bed afterwards.

If it wasn't for the Maitre D I'm sure the night would not have been so enjoyable as it was. Sue was able to practice her French with the Maitre D who had a wonderful sense of humour.
For my entree I had les Ouffs Mourette which exploded with flavour in my mouth and we both had Coq au Vin washed down with a local wine suggested by our Maitre D.
Looking back at our receipt, the overall cost of our night stay, meal and a garage fee seemed very reasonable at 166 euro.

An early start was planned for the next day's drive which would take us through Chablis and Tonnere before then travelling south for a week in Dijon.

Our hotel was located on the edge of the old town. You entered via the wooden doors  to an sunlit and leafy courtyard.
It had a restful feel about it and we took advantage of its ambience with a glass of local wine while using the wifi and catching up on news from home.

And as we entered this classic motor cycle sat waiting for its owner to return.
Much of Auxerre's architecture in the old town featured many half wooden houses.

The area is famous for it's wine with Chablis only a short drive further down the road.

This is the main road as you drive further into the old town. We walked from our hotel through the back streets and lane ways to St Etienne Cathedral at the town's most highest point.

Then there were much younger buildings like this one that lacked the care of older ones. A bit sad really.

The curved section on the exterior of this building is what I imagine is a stairwell. Note the very small peek hole window at the top of the picture.

The various periods of architecture make Auxerre an intriguing town to explore.

Some of its past from the middle ages still exists.
Just out of interest, I checked out the hotel on the internet to discover that their prices don't seem to have increased greatly over the last 3 years and it has very good reviews - mostly applauding the staff on their friendly and courteous service. I wonder if a return visit to explore Auxerre in greater depth might be in order one day?

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Long Weekend in Melbourne

It's been a long weekend in Melbourne, with many people taking a holiday for three days. On Friday the traffic on the way home from work was madness. Almost two hours it took me to get home with a stop to buy a bottle of bubbles to celebrate the end of the working week. Also bought a DVD to watch, an old Gregory Peck movie called "the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit."

Friday night is bubbles and an old time movie.

We didn't go anywhere on the long weekend as there were things to be done at home and of course I had the new toy to play with. This is the first time I've posted on the Apple MacBook Pro. Just like new friends, it takes a little time to become acquainted.
I've decided that I have to forget how the PC worked so that I don't get confused. While I'm typing this, the Eagles are playing from the music that I downloaded into iTunes - I have to investigate this iCloud thing where all your data is stored somewhere up there.

With so much going on I forgot a few days of posting on our French Travels blog - a photograph every day for this whole year so I used the MacBook Pro - Pop in for a look. Gee it's a real commitment with another 292 days to go.

Anyway back to our long weekend - spent much of Saturday just with the new toy but Sunday was time to work in the garden. Our sideway where no one goes had developed in to a jungle so it was time to rediscover the winding path of second hand bricks that I had laid some years ago.

The garden path emerges from a side way of weeds and rubbish.

Melbourne's autumn is fast approaching - leaves are turning from green to brown.

Some of the trees have already lost leaves.
Did I hear someone ask what the holiday is for? Labour day - to celebrate the 8 hour day.
8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation and 8 hours of rest.
Here in Melbourne we have Moomba, a festival with a parade and lots of things happening on the Yarra River such as water ski competition and the Bird Man competition where crazy people jump off a platform in an endeavour to fly as far as possible before they drop to the murky water below.

With the end of summer comes Moomba and the Bird Man Rally.

Possibly in the 1950s, this photo shows the crowds turning out for the Moomba parade throughout the streets of Melbourne. 

As for us - the weekend is a chance to catch up with friends and enjoy food, wine and conversation.
Last night was enjoyed with Francophile friends with traditional French fare and wines and much tale telling of past and future trips. One of the couples has a place in Uzes Provence.

This all reminds me that we have a lunch to pop off to. CYA.......