Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bike & Barge: A Taste of Burgundy

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Day 1 (Saturday, Oct 10, 2015):
We arrived in Dijon, France for our bike & barge. I had NO idea what to expect but was looking forward to the new adventure. I got a taxi to the canal with our luggage before anyone so I dragged our multitude of bags to what I guessed was our ship. Immediately, an adorable man was by my side to help. I’m so independent, but couldn’t resist the extra hands. And so I met Chris(tan) our bike guide. Pulling the gear aboard the ship and joined by my crew, we met “Skipper” (Arjan), our very Dutch captain of the boat. Full of piercings, painted toenails, and daisy duke shorts to his rear, I KNEW this was going to be one heck of a good time; I couldn’t wait to meet his wife. With several hours to go before our official welcome, we toured the city of Dijon on foot (Owl Tour to come).

Dinner on the barge was met with Daniela the Skipper’s (also very) Dutch wife. A hard exterior with the softest soul, she is much more conservative than the Skip. I can tell quickly that she loves cooking for her guests. Arjan and Daniela live on the barge and have for 23 years. Season after season they allow guests on board to bike and barge with Hat Tours. We spend the day biking while the barge sails to the next location and spend the evenings on board eating, drinking, sharing, and laughing.

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Day 2 (Sunday) 16k:
We are setting off for our first bike. Instead of biking to a new location, we explore a 16k loop around Dijon. The idea is to get comfortable on our bikes and with each other. The bikes are hybrid and very heavy; not quite a road bike, not quite a touring bike, and not quite a mountain bike. The seats are comfy though and while it feels odd to be seated so straight up, I think it’s going to work for me. I adorned her with pink ribbon and was ready to explore! I’m already captured by the experience that awaits me so I can’t wait to explore the countryside and learn anything and everything I can about the Burgundy region of France.

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By the end of the day, I have new friends from Argentina, the U.S., Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. There are 16 of us total on the tour, 14 of us biking.

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Day 3 (Monday) 40k:
Dijon to Longecourt-en-Plaine. Today was the most gorgeous scenic bike ride through the vineyards of the Burgundy region. It was a cold day but the sunshine warmed my skin and the beautiful autumn colors of the vineyards took my breath away.

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The grapevines were mostly harvested and are changing shades of yellow, gold, orange, and red. I fell in love with the views, the people, and the smells… I couldn’t wait to sip the next Pinot Noir. I couldn’t wait to tour the next Chateau. I was smitten for France.

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We made our way to Chateau du Clos de Vougeot for lunch. It was just nice enough to have lunch outside without being too cold. Besides enjoying the ride, I was enjoying getting to know my new friends from different countries.

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Meet Tom, the newly retired sales professional from Colorado. Perhaps a little unsure of what’s next in life, Tom attacked the week hopeful for the adventure. It's so sweet to butt heads with someone only to hug in friendship by the end. Anita and Matt were the cute couple from Australia. Full of comedy and a talent to impersonate, Matt kept us cracked up while Anita moo’ed to the cows; unexpected and unbridled comedy.  Marilyn and Terry were expert travelers from Canada. They enriched us with their stories from Europe and South Africa. Marilyn is spunky and full of life while Terry enjoys his red wine and his wifes’ energy. Conner and Alyssia are also from Canada. Military committed Conner was loud and bold with his humor and friendliness while Alyssia was quiet and gentle but kind. And boy can that girl eat some tiramisu!


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We were all very excited for our main attraction for the day ~the Count of the Chateau de Longecourt. The Chateau dates back to the 13th century!! To describe the place as a museum would be an understatement. The Count and his ancestors have saved or collected generations and generations of furniture, décor, pictures… memories… HISTORY! He has original maps and plans of the fortress from its beginning. And it’s all touchable!! I sat on a couch from the 16th century!! It was all live and real; right here at our fingertips! And the Count himself was such a character. At 60 years old he has only a niece and nephew as heirs. He’s never married nor had children of his own. Having known this prior to making his acquaintance my thought was perhaps he has a different taste for relationship? But I don’t think that’s it. He is a perfectly eccentric elegant man. He was charming and so wise in the history of his heritage and pieces of his life. I think his unique talents maintain his time and attention that others might find in a marriage. 

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The Count took us through a portion of the home that was a chapel. It dated back to the 13th century and was filled with items from the same. We also explored a portion with a museum like quality to include the original kitchen, and a portion that he has turned into a bed and breakfast area for guests. He has welcomed a multitude of people from all over the world into his home to include Bill Gates, Mike Douglass, and Katherine Zeta-Jones. He said something about a Chinese prime minister too. Finally he showed us the horse stables and introduced us to his swans. Yes, he has swans. With a million questions answered, we were fulfilled and finished our bike ride back to the barge. I took a quick 20 minute run alongside the Seone River and called it a day. Back to the boat for dinner...

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Dinner was an entire ordeal. Our Dutch Mother Hen would ring the bell loud promptly at 6:30pm. She prepared soup, salad, potatoes, a main dish, and dessert nightly. Dijon Mustard soup, mushroom, and French onion soup warmed our pallets. Mixed salads with flavorful dressings and toppings were my favorite! Main dishes included the best chicken I’ve ever had, beef bourgogne, pork, and turkey. Potato nuts were a favorite side dish along with green beans and cauliflower. Desserts were the fun part. Skip and Daniela would present it with flare – pirate style with rum and silver, fire blazed over crepes, and homemade tiramisu impressed us all; Argentina always bargaining for extra.

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“Argentina”, ha ha. What a hoot! Her name is Odile, AKA Sock Butt. While she insists she’s always being bullied and steals everyone’s dessert, she definitely sets herself up for the tease. After the first day on the bike, her butt was sore from the seat so she stuffed her pants with socks. SOCKS!! (I’m crying…). She made her own little padded capris by stuffing socks in her pants around her butt. HILARIOUS!! We loved her anyway and kept her warm for the week even though she proved she could pile 20 layers of clothes on for a flight to save from heavy luggage fees.

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Day 4 (Tuesday) 50k:
Longecourt-en-Plaine to St Jean de Losne. Heading out of Longecourt for our next destination we passed through dozens of small towns and lots of farmland. I admired all the old houses with their brick and rustic living. We also biked along the canal where I imagined people from another time transporting goods and developing land into life.

We stopped in Auxonne for lunch. A quaint town rich with history. Chris, Tom, and I ate our lunch in the park, opening our hearts up to one another and sharing our stories. Chris offered insight and simple solutions; I think he might have changed my life a bit in those moments. A charismatic man with a deep kind soul… Chris is from the Netherlands. At 31 years old, he is well traveled and wise beyond his years. With golden curls and mysterious blue eyes, his words are honest and gentle but confident and straight forward. I like when people talk from their heart. Conversation and company was so fulfilling finishing our ride to St Jean de Losne.

That evening mom and I explored a local supermarket before enjoying a drink with Kim, Anissa, Bob, and Chris until it was time for dinner.  It was fun discovering the differences from a French supermarket vs. an American one. We are so complex and difficult in the U.S. We have too many choices for too many pickers. We got wine, monk cheese, and coffee beans.

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Day 5 (Wednesday) 43k:
St Jean de Losne to Seurre. Today was cold. The coldest day yet. A few people opted out of the ride; one to include mom who we MADE not ride (she’s getting sick). We biked through a lot of farmland leaving us vulnerable to a strong wind. I tried to tuck in tight behind my new friends. Lunch warmed us up though! Fresh pumpkin soup warmed some of our cyclists while Pinot Noir did the same job for the rest of us. Oh and the café éclair. Mmmm, magnificent!

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We finished our ride arriving in Seurre and headed straight to a cheese tasting at Faubourg des Saveurs with Stephan. One tasted like a cow smells. One tasted a little less worse than that. The goat cheese was incredible and then the star of the show, Rockeforte. OH MY! My new favorite paired with black currant spread and Pinot Noir. Seriously, I want this with every meal from now on!!

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Day 6 (Thursday) 28k:
Seurre to Beaune to Chalon-Sur-Saone
We woke up to rain. Ugh! Seriously! I already vowed that if anyone else was riding, I was going to too. Conner took the lead, let’s ride!! Fine. Chris whispered, “you don’t have to ride, ya know.” The hell I do! And so Chris, Tom, Conner, and I set out. In the rain. At 4* Celsius. It was cold and wet. But we did it anyway. And honestly, it wasn’t that bad. It was only about 18 miles to Beaune. In 1 hour and 45 minutes, just like that, we were there!

And I’m SO glad we did!! I loved Beaune. We warmed ourselves with soup and wine and were ready to explore. Not only was the company perfect, but the Hotel du Jour was unique and interesting. A hospital, this historic attraction offered us a self-guided audio tour. I was completely enthralled by the architecture and history this story told from the 14th century. I am so impressed by their ways in those times. I wish I could go back in time and live that life for a day. They worked hard and they appreciated so little.

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Instead of more biking, we followed the itinerary to board a train in Beaune (James Bond) to our final destination. With bikes in tow, another adventure! Chalon-Sur-Saone and the rest of the crew were waiting for us with more wine and sweet treats.

With a bit more nightlife, a few of us hit the town after dinner for some drinks with locals. First we headed a local brewery for blondes and ambers. It was casual, fun, a modern feel. But next, we went deeper into the locale and enjoyed cheap drinks, loud music, and dancing around the bar. Best night of the entire trip!! Yet again my life changed by the sweet wise words of new friends…
I could have stayed right there as it was for the rest of my life; just leave me frozen in that moment, with all my happiness. Smitten for France.

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Day 7 (Friday) 55k:
Chalon-Sur-Saone to Tournus. Our final day of biking. It was cold again but nothing compared to the wet cold the day before. I’m a trooper; add a layer and forge on! Daily I wore about 3-4 layers (no joke). We biked through more countryside pointing out la vache, the poplar trees, and the mistletoe. Did you know that mistletoe is actually a sort of a virus to the trees? Add that to my vastly growing nature knowledge bank. Learned a little about oak trees, walnuts, and horse chestnuts too! I even saw real life holly for the first time.

We biked through more country side stopping for a wine tasting at Vignerons de Buxy and lunch in a sweet spot deep in the country. A strawberry tart and cheese and bread was definitely enjoyed.  The final stretch was fast and flat next to the river with a final up up and up to Tournus; yet another quaint town rich with history.

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We toured another Abbey and enjoyed a personal wine tasting and back to the boat for dinner and our last evening with new friends. We toasted our experience, our hosts, and our bike guide. We wished one another well and retired.

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The week was cold and overcast but the entire experience was bright with sunshine. I had SUCH an amazing time. I absolutely fell in love with France and thoroughly enjoyed time spent with new friends. I got to learn a bit about a few different cultures and even picked up a little Dutch ~la boemen zijn rose. Indeed they were.

Another trip well experienced and life changed towards a better me. It’s always an adventure!!

More favorite pictures:

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 Hat Tours: a highly recommended adventure! Click HERE.



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