Not Intent on Arriving: France

Wednesday, January 5, 2011 – Dijon, France to Milan, Italy

On Wednesday morning, we enjoyed our final breakfast of

chocolate muesli and packed our bags. When James arrived back from teaching, the four of us grabbed a train to Dijon, world-famous city of mustard and the fast-tra

in. The train passed through vineyards and countryside, and we arrived in Dijon after about an hour. We checked our bags at the train station (unfortunately, the bag check is only available until 5pm, which was inconvenient, since our train left at 11pm), and quickly headed into the main city, a quick walk from the station.

Our first stop was the


gift store. Maille, a Dijon mustard maker since 1747, has a variety of types available in grocery

stores, so if you’re looking to buy a jar of plain mustard, you should check there first; it will be much cheaper. The store is definitely worth a look if you’re in Dijon, though, because they have a variety of different types that aren’t available in groceries, and also a tasting and refilling station. I love refilling things (see the milk machine), and I love ceramic jars with corks, so this was quite appealing to me. We tried a few different types, including a cassis mustard and a chocolate one. When I was a little girl, I hated mustard. Now, I like it a lot, and so this was a fun little excursion.

We left Maille and followed the Owl Trail, a little walking path that

leads you from spot to spot in the city. It begins at

La Chouette

, a small owl carved into the corner of the Notre Dame cathedral. Apparently, it’s good luck if you rub the owl with your left hand. I used my right (because it wouldn’t be me if I’d done it right), but it was actually really lovely to touch such a small, smooth thing. I am into that sort of thing – legends, tactile & interactive things, small & smooth animals. It felt right. I know that sounds strange, but it did.

We continued on to the

Musee Beaux-Arts de Dijon

, which is a nice little museum in an old s

tate building. We went mainly to see “the mourners,” tiny sculptures around the bottom of two tombs that are ceaselessly hunched over in sadness. They were, unfortunately, on loan,

but there was a really amazing painting of them (meta-portrait!) there, along with a lovely Orientalist painting of a half-naked woman in a kimono and some very smooth animal sculptures. Admission is free, and it’s definitely worth a visit.

After that, it was already time to pick up our bags, so James and Roger went to do that while Emily and I shopped a little and tried to pick a restaurant. They had to take the last train back to Tournus at around 8pm, so we had to find a place that was open early. This is no small task in a

city where almost no one opens their doors for dinner until 7pm. We wandered forever, had some awful drinks at a strange and truly empty bar, and then wandered some more, all while James and Roger carried our enormous bags around. They are such troopers. We ended up at a French diner of sorts,

L’Imprimerie Concorde

, which had the most amazing decor ever, made up of books and printer’s blocks and lettering. Yeah, I’m a geek about that sort of thing, but it was beyond cool. The food was also fine, though nothing incredible.

We walked James and Emily back to their early train, and started on our journey to Milan. It was long and painful and reminded me (forgive me the dramatics) of Mary and Percy Shelley crossing the Alps. It began with three hour wait in a waiting room filled with crazies. Seriously, an enormous family that was spread out through the entire room that kept beating each other up and screaming, along with a variety of unsavory looking fellows and a janitor. Once we made it on to the track to wait for our train, an elderly man approached us. We worried he was going to mug us and push us onto the tracks, but when he got closer, he just smelled really bad and was really old and kept trying to ask us how to validate his ticket. We finally managed to explain it to him, but not before Roger looked at his ticket and discovered he was in the same sleeping car as we were. Excellent.

He didn’t appear to speak any English, and his French was worse than ours, and our fourth carmate (thank God there weren’t six of us) was also using French to communicate with us, when it turned out that none of us spoke French as a first language, and we all spoke English much better than French, but some how we still kept speaking in French. Which our Italian speaking ticket-collector took to mean we didn’t speak any English, and which led to lots of painfully awkward moments throughout the evening. The car was already set up for sleeping, which means that the beds pull out of the wall. I had no idea how this worked, and realized that during my six-week trip across Europe, all those tickets that cost so much extra because they had “sleepers” weren’t lies. We just had no clue how they worked, and slept in our seats with beds resting peacefully above us. FML.

We were off, and when the train stopped for a full hour in the middle of no where, I woke up and was overcome by the horrific smell of urine. You may not know me in real life, but if you do, you know that one of my pet peeves is the smell of urine. It pervades every corner of New York City, and it was suddenly pervading every corner of the car. Along with the worst heat you can imagine. I tried to open the door to the car quietly, but the conductor came along immediately and slammed it, and I suffered in silence until the train started moving again and I could fall back asleep. We eventually made it to Milan, and after a few false starts, walked over to our hotel at around 4am. It was very fancy, and miraculously, they had a room available for us. With the most beautiful, white, soft bed you can imagine.

I hopped in. Roger hopped in. I noticed that smell again. The smell of someone else’s urine. “Do I smell homeless?” I asked. “No,” said Roger. I persisted. “Are you sure? I think I smell homeless.” A sniff. “Oh god! You do! That’s disgusting.” FML. Again. “It’s not that bad, right?” Another sniff. “Kristin, you have to go take a shower.” The idea of leaving the amazing bed made me want to cry. “That’s not fair! I was just sleeping above him! Why did I have to absorb the smell!? I’m not going!” Then came the demand. “Now. No one is going to change these sheets until tomorrow. We’re not sleeping in this smell twice.” It’s hard to argue with logic like that, and I begrudgingly went into the (world’s single greatest) shower to wash away the experience of sleeping in a true sleeping car before finally getting some real rest.

Next Up: Our first full day in Milan!