Ah, Dijon! Finally!
This was, as you might guess from the title, our third attempt to visit the capital of Burgundy. The first was 5 or 6 years ago, when we were foiled by a train strike and never arrived. Two years ago, we made it to town only to have John felled by a stomach bug that kept us in the hotel nearly the whole time – and we’d only planned for one day to begin with…
The curse seems to be broken now – we had a lovely time!
Dijon is a grand old city, founded by the Romans in the first century. It rose to prominence in the Middle Ages as the seat of the Dukes of Burgundy, men who were, at the time, far more powerful than the Kings of France. The fertile valleys and flinty hillsides produced the wines, cheeses and beef that made the region famous – and rich. The Dukes poured their wealth into building palaces, abbeys and cathedrals.
The old city is one of the best walking cities I’ve been in. Everything is close – museums, churches, shopping, historic sites. The best way to see all the points of interest is to look down, and follow the owls (la chouette). The owl is the symbol of the city (I’ll explain why later), and these brass triangles set into the sidewalks and streets form a guidepath that takes you from one point to another. Large brass plaques indicate when you’ve arrived in front of something of interest. A guide-book for the route is available at the Tourist Office.
Our first stop – not to be confused with THE first stop, we did things a little differently than the route suggested – was the Museum of Archeology. Housed in an 11th century abbey, the building itself is worth the trip. There has been a church at this site since 1000 AD, when a three-story rotunda stood here, surrounding the remains of early Christian martyr St. Benigne. Inside, the exhibits begin with artifacts from the Neolithic hunters who roamed ancient Burgundy, continue through the Roman occupation and the migration of the Celtic people in the early part of the Common Era. Exquisite glass vials sit side by side with wrought-gold fibulae (Celtic cloak pins) and forged iron knives. Up a small flight of stairs is the well-preserved 11th century Chapter Room, which houses architectural relics from local buildings, both sacred and secular. There are 11 museums in Dijon; all of them are free to enter.
After a quick stop back at the hotel to change a dead camera battery, and a longer break for lunch, we picked up the trail of La Chouette again. Our goal – to locate the carved owl that gives the city its mascot. We knew it was somewhere on the Eglise Notre Dame, but we would take the scenic route to get there. We passed by the ornate 19th century covered market, Les Halles. The vendors had already packed up for the day, much to my disappointment. That will have to wait for a return trip.
We wandered in the fading afternoon light, around the back of the Ducal Palace and through twisty little streets and alleys. As we reached the church itself, the snow began to fall lightly. Now, where was that owl?
AHA! Found it! It sits about head-high on the wall of the church. The tradition is to touch the owl with your left hand for luck. You can see what centuries of touches have done to the little fellow…
So what’s one more? And after our previous ‘adventures’ in Dijon, we figured we could use a little luck!
Mission accomplished, we ambled back to the hotel in the snow to get ready for dinner. We’d found a really good restaurant on the Place de la Liberation. Little did we know, the chef is just a little famous in France, and holds 2 Michelin stars… Mmmm.
Now, THAT’S what I call good luck!