Yup, I’m adding yet another segment to my slowly-growing blog life: city tours! Ya di da, it’s never been done before, but as someone to whom fairly funny things tend to happen in fairly foreign places, it could get pretty exciting over here!
You can check out the other recurring episodes in my life / on the blog using the links below, or wait for the soon-to-come navigation bar.
– How I survived drowning in an expensive backpack
– How I survived drowning in a sea of champagne terminology
– How I survived drowning in a flood of stereotypes
– How I survived drowning in a sea of…seaweed
Dijon is a medieval city teeming with young intellectual hipsters, leaving the impression that somewhere within the ancient walls there are classes of sweater-clad youth reading off antique scrolls. The old stone of the city, however, is well maintained and juxtaposed against a clean commercial downtown area, complete with brands like L’Occitaine, the swanky department store Galeries LaFayette, and the famous posh honey boutique Maille. There’s an undercurrent of wealth hanging on the breath of the town, but it’s not ostentatious: a 50-year-old woman with a silver-gray fringe and square-framed glasses stops to tie her loafers, men dressed down in worn denim that’s too crisp to have been purchased at a thrift shop carry shiny briefcases and special-ordered pointy shoes. The true wealth of the city is its history, which far outshines the monetary strength that maintains its beauty. Dijon has a large-yet-small feel, complete with artists, students and businessmen alike, and prides itself on its culture, as it must, for tourism and terroir—good wine, good food, and good rest—are its greatest revenues.
I arrived in Dijon at 8:30 after 2.5 hours split between a bus and a train. As in any sane French city, nothing opens in Dijon before 9:30, including the Office de Tourisme, which provides free maps and tourism suggestions, so I wandered randomly in one direction, stopping in a park and eventually heading off towards one of the multiple steeples hanging eerily in the morning fog. At the church, it dawned on me that my students had suggested I do the “parcours de la chouette”, or a walking path through the city that takes you by some of its most historic sites. The path is marked by little gilded arrows (shown at left), and each important stop bears a numbered plaque with a picture of an owl. The owl takes its significance from the city’s old owl statue, which is said to bring luck to whoever touches it. Somehow, though I passed the owl at least a dozen times throughout the day, I kept forgetting to actually touch it. I will knock on wood (or stone, as the French do) as I say it, but my luck this week has ironically increased significantly despite my blatant disregard for superstition.
After a coffee and the ouverture des portes dans la ville, I headed over to the Musée des Beaux Arts, perhaps the most impressive fine arts museum I’ve seen, partially because it is 100% free to the public—student or youth or none of the above. If you plan to visit Dijon in the near future, the museum currently houses a temporary modern exhibition including some models for François Pompon’s Ours blanc, otherwise known as some famous statue of a polar bear. Be prepared to dedicate at least two hours to the four-story museum, which is housed in an medieval building, and to climb one of the turrets to access the modern exhibition.
Other museum recommendations for Dijon are:
- Musée de la Vie Bourgogne, which to my dismay was closed for lunch when I passed by at noon, as is any normal establishment in the town, because we’re not in Paris anymore, folks. In visiting a new city, I like to learn about the region’s history, and nothing does this most effectively like visiting a museum dedicated to the education of foreigners on local culture.
- Musée Rude, its namesake being the French artist François Rude, and not some unpleasant character. The museum can be found in a little alcove off the side of the St-Étienne church. It’s really petit for a museum, just one room, but it houses some of the largest plasters I have ever seen, including Rude’s famous La Marseillaise (fun fact, this sculpture is more commonly known as Le Départ des Volontaires, Depart of the volunteers, in French.) The Musée Rude is cold, so don’t seek it out as a place of refuge (as poor me tends to do with museums,) and was never properly floored, so don’t plan to wear high heels on its medieval soil.
Dijon is a surprisingly international city, due mostly to the foreign wealth in its agricultural industries, rural artists’ colonies and its university center, which has expanded exponentially over the years. If you want to see an English or Spanish film without listening to dubbed voices, head over to the Ciné Devosges, where every film at 2pm (including weekends!) costs only 4€50. I saw 12 Years a Slave with some women on a field trip from their retirement home, and we all shared a box of tissues. Being someone who would literally prefer to learn an entire language than to watch any film in its dubbed version (yes, even dubbed into English,) this theater is my new favorite place in France and I fully anticipate another day trip just to see August: Osage County or Gloria, a Spanish film that caught my eye during previews.
My day in Dijon went by fairly quickly. I’ll skim through the parts about visiting Maille, the mustard shop, discovering a health food store that weighed down my purse for the journey home, and getting picked up for my ridesharing journey at a giant mall on the outskirts of town that could outdo many at home. For those of you better endowed in the wallet region than myself, I recommend staying at a château in the area or going on a day tour through the vineyards and mustard fields, which both range from 60 to 500 €/person. Nothing, however, beats my sunset ride home through the countryside with three random strangers, and the resulting vision of Burgundy that burns every nightfall: little bare bundles of grapes rising like aged hands into a fiery sky. For a similar experience, skip the fancy tours and try covoiturage for only 8€.