Today we said goodbye to Paris and set out for Beaune with our stack of gear. I had been dreading this leg of our adventure for several days after seeing how the train system works. Our gear is still packed for the flight from the U.S., so Dorothy and I have to move very slowly through the southern Paris train station as we push a large stack of stuff from our overly stuffed taxi. Fortunately we left plenty of time in the train station, so we arrived at the train early enough to find an empty luggage compartment, which we completely filled. This took as far as Dijon but we were not able to catch a direct train from Paris to Beaune in the middle of the day. This meant transferring 5 very large bags from one train to the next at a small station with stairs and tunnels between the platforms. I should have had Dorothy take my picture as I shuffled down the platform pushing our two bicycle cases, and carrying a giant duffle bag over my shoulder. Once I got down the stairs and into the tunnel a very nice French man helped me push one of the bike cases, and then helped Dorothy carry a suitecase up the stairs to the next platform - later he turned out to be the ticket taker on the train. Once we arrived in Beaune, we again faced stairs and a tunnel to get from the platform to the station, since the Beaune station is so small, we were the only people to get off and we felt comfortable leaving the bags on the platform as we moved them one at a time down the stairs, through the passageway under the tracks and up to the station. From there it was just a quick taxi ride out to our small hotel just outside of town. This evening we walked around the town of Beaune, which is arranged in a nice circle, with lots of restaurants and shops in the center.
One strange thing I noticed since I am very familiar with the U.S. Airline ticketing systems is that the French SNCF Train system treats reservations separately than tickets. Our Eurail pass is our ticket to anywhere, however for some trains we still need to make seat reservations, which costs a little bit extra. This is very different from the U.S. airline systems in which your ticket and your reservation represent the same thing.
This morning at our hotel in Beaune is very different than Paris. We awoke to the sounds of many different kinds of birds singing in the trees. Beaune is a little city in the center of the Burgandy wine region. The hills around Beaune are full of vineyards and the town is full of cellars of aging wine. The pace in Beaune is much slower than in Paris. Much like the pace in the mountain towns compared to Denver.In a table with 4 columns and 2 rows insert the following pictures.
The first order of business was to convert the pile of bags we carried with us from the U.S. back into a bicycle. We spent the morning sitting in the courtyard of our hotel assembling and adjusting the bike at a very leisurely pace. We finished this up and made a trip to the local super-market to get some lunch just in time for an afternoon rainstorm. We took advantage of this time by re-configuring our luggage for travel on the bike. This evening we took a nice walk to the center of town for a nice dinner on the patio of a local restaurant. As I said a much slower pace than Paris!
Today we ventured out on the bike for the first time in France. We headed out for a short trip around town to find the tourist information center and hopefully find a telephone cord to allow me to hook the laptop up to the hotel's telephone system. I can't believe that I brought all the adapters I needed, but I forgot to bring a simple RJ11 telephone cord - oh well, if that's the biggest thing I forgot, I'll be happy.
We discovered traffic here in town behaves pretty much as we expected. Although it's a crazy free-for-all, the drivers really pay attention to bicyclists. Besides I'm a consultant, taming crazy free-for-alls is what I'm best at. The one thing that worries us is all the round-abouts (aka traffic circles). Usually in a round-about you stay to the inside until your ready to exit and then you move to the outside. However on a bike it seems a bit crazy to cut out into traffic like the cars. Bt it's also nuts to hang out in edge of the outer lane where all the cars are trying to exit. I guess we'll just use trial and error and hope to figure it out before we get run-over!
We also took an exceptional English-speaking van tour of the wine country to the south of Beaune. Our tour guide, Philippe proved that as usual the deeper you look at something the more there is to see. It turns out this entire region is smattered with little areas where the soil is just right for raising certain varieties of wine grapes. The hills in the country are covered with little 10-acre vineyards that are enclosed within rock walls called "Clos" the French term for a walled vineyard. Most of these vineyards are attached to family owned wineries in the little villages of the region. We were told that one 10-acre vineyard can be managed by two or three people and can produce roughly 30,000 bottles of wine. This has resulted in lots of little villages and lots of little wineries. For example one village just south of Beaune named Pomar has 600 residents and just over 80 wineries in it that support the surrounding vineyards.
Two particular things about this area are really amazing. First is that each little vineyard has its own soil characteristics that determine what particular variety of grape will be grown and the quality of the resulting grapes grown there. We saw several examples of how the soil in this region can vary dramatically over from one side of the road to another. What's really amazing is the system for grading soils and mapping of this region dates back to the 12th century. The second really amazing aspect of this area is the culture. This culture is extremely rich because the vineyards and the craft of wine making have been passed on from generation to generation for centuries. This tradition has evolved because each little vineyard has it's own identity that was most likely established in the 1300's and has been preserved thoughout the ages. Most of these vineyards are also attached to family wineries that get passed from generation to generation. This area has a strict set of laws governing how the vines are grown, how the wine is produced, and most importantly how it is labeled to identify which vineyard, and which winery it came from. There is also a wine school where every aspect of producing wine is taught in a four-year program which is necessary for the people who run the wineries and the vineyards.
During the tour, I couldn't help but think that sometime soon someone (probably our guide Philippe) will set up an Internet boutique to help distribute wines from all of these little local wineries to any place in the world. Building a system for this could be a fun 2-person 4-week project and a great excuse to come back to this region. I gave Philippe one of the calling cards I made up, hopefully he'll send me an email!
Today we set out on our first real cycling excursion. We headed through the vineyard-covered hills of the "Cote de Nuit", the wine region just north of Beaune for a 35-mile mid-day ride. Most of the ride was on a hilly scenic route that travels through several villages in the area. At the northern most point in the ride we visited the main vineyard of Lois Jadot, which encompasses a huge area, and was established in 1298. This turned into a very pretty ride that was very uneventful because everything is closed on Sunday. We were lucky enough to find one small pizzeria that was open for a couple of hours at lunch, so we could sit, eat, and enjoy the warm clear day. After the ride, we sat at the hotel reading, writing, and generally lounging around.
The major task for the day was to get the bike boxes shipped ahead. We decided to send them ahead to Nice, figuring the station at Nice was big enough to handle the task of keeping them for a short while. Since the station at Beaune is so small we decided to send them ahead from Dijon. The trip to Dijon only took about a ½ an hour, and then we had to deal with the SNCF baggage people. Although I had called ahead to make a reservation, they acted like they didn't recognize the reservation number, and started the whole transaction again. Unfortunately, this left me with a paid reservation that went unused. As it turns out we need to write to SNCF, in English fortunatly, to get a refund credited to my account. We'll try, but fortunately it wasn't enough money to get too upset if we can't clear up the problem. The rest of the day we spent riding around looking for an RJ11 telephone cable to help string together all the phone adapters and get Internet connectivity again. This took us out to an industrial area to visit a big electronics supply store. Unfortunately they didn't have one, and they sent us back into town to a place called "Radio Beaune" which is like a Sears appliance and electronic super store from 30 years ago.