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Thu, 27 Oct 2011

Je reviens chez moi

Reflections, from a distance

Well, I'm home again. It's interesting to return, and maybe see both countries (France and Australia) from a different perspective.

Certainly there's a lot I miss about France, much of it to do with the food and wine. I can't just nip down to the shops and buy a decent bottle of Volnay for €20 or so. And the good French cheeses....

I also miss the cafés. In particular, it's hard to find cafés in Australia that have reasonably priced, interesting food. There are many very good, expensive ones, and a lot that sell okay food, at a lasagne-and-chips sort of level, but nothing like France. And so many cafés here close at about 3pm. Just when I'm thinking about afternoon coffee....

Travelling through the French countryside certainly was enjoyable and interesting. I got to visit many beautiful small villages and a number of interesting wine domaines. And eating a good meal in a French restaurant still seems to be one of the high points of civillised life: good food, good wine -- but not just that, it's almost a ritual, the formula the same -- wine, entrée, plat principal, dessert -- but the details (the important details!) different.

I'm trying to decide at the moment if I have enough material to write separate weblog posts about some of the domaines I visited. Domaine Macle (Château-Chalon) and Domaine Pierre Overnoy (Pupillin) would both seem interesting enough to write about, but in both cases my visit was very short.

Oh yes, and shopping malls. I always seem to end up in shopping malls in Australia, whilst I managed to avoid them completely in France. I do have a somewhat irrational dislike of them. I think they're one thing in Australia that I'll never really get used to...

posted at: 04:03 | path: /travel/france | permanent link to this entry

Burgundy 2011: Pommard, Volnay and Mersault.

Getting back into blogging, finally. Some travel blogging.

Today, hired a bike in Beaune and cycled to Pommard, Volnay and Mersault. The Cote-de-Beaune is looking beautiful, with the grape vines all still in leaf, and grapes hanging off the vines, almost ready to be picked. Almost, just a few days until harvest...

Vineyards near Beaune

Stopped first in Pommard. I had a meeting arranged for 10h30 at Domaine Mussy. I didn't have a map of Pommard, so tried using my phone's navigation software. It crashed, so I had to reboot it. Thanks, Google... Got there finally 15 minutes late but luckily they did not mind.

M. Meuzard, the winemaker, doesn't speak English, but Mme. Meuzard does. We head down into the cellar for a tasting. The cellar is low-ceillinged, 15th-century. The winery was founded over four hundred years ago -- in 1646 -- and has been in the same family ever since. Mme. shows me the barrel room -- they do not use much new oak, only ~10%, as it obscures the terroir.

The barrel room
The barrel room, Domaine Mussy.

I try some wines. I try first the 2009 Beaune Epenottes -- a very good year, but still young and very closed. Needs at least 4 years, according to Mme. Meuzard. I try then the 2001 from the same vineyard -- elegant, perfumed, some evolved/autumnal characters on the nose, tannins still firm but elegant, red fruit. Mme. Meuzard says that this is their most feminine wine.

I am asked what sort of wine I would prefer -- Masculine (structured, intense) or feminine (lighter, perfumed). I am not used to thinking of wines in these terms, so hesitate. Try a more masculine wine next -- 2001 Beaune-Montremots. More tannins, but still very elegant. Good structure. Ten years old but would last longer. I forgot to try their Pommard, unfortunately. Next time...

M. Meuzard is enthusiastic to hear I am a student winemaker from Australia. I wish I could speak more French, so I could have spoken properly with him....

As I am leaving, realise I bought some wine but forgot to pay, so head back. Too easy to get distracted when enjoying a good conversation...

Head to Volnay, then Mersault. Cycle around Mersault for a bit, then see a shop called Art du Tonneau, a barrelmaker. He has a short video in French, so I go in. The shopkeeper -- perhaps M. Gillet, the tonnelier -- doesn't speak much English but gives some commentary to the video. He sells in Australia, including to some very well-regarded domaines. He kindly offers me a coffee while I watch the video -- I have an espresso.

Afterwards, I head to Volnay and try to see a domaine there. I try one first, but they only sell by the case so cannot give me a tasting. I try another, more-or-less at random -- Domaine Christophe Vaudoisey. I ask "parlez-vous anglais?", but get a non, he only speaks French. Ah, a problem. I ask for a tasting, je voudrais gouter votre vin? He doesn't really follow my bad French. After a minute, he asks if I would like a "degustation"... ah, that's the word I should have used, but forgot...

I follow him down to the cellar. I try a Volnay first, then two Volnay 1er cru. The Volnay is very good, but both 1er crus have a certain something extra... more character, more structure. Then I notice he also has a Mersault, a 1er cru also. I try this last -- wrong order, but can't be helped. I buy one bottle of a Volnay 1er cru -- 'je voudrais...' is the correct phrase, and I remember it for once.

On the way back to Beaune, I finally have the lunch I packed this morning. It's 17h, not exactly lunch time, but still...

Rain is forecast for tomorrow, and the skies still glower, threatening with grey clouds. The grapes wait for harvest. The vignerons, I presume, pray the rain is not too heavy, not this late in the year.

posted at: 03:36 | path: /travel/france/burgundy | permanent link to this entry


I had a picnic lunch today. A baguette, some cheese and a terrine. All that was missing was the bottle of wine...


I thought: this picnic, although very simple, would be impossible in Australia. Why? A good cheese, made with unpasteurised milk is expensive and hard to get (used to be illegal, but rules on unpasterised cheeses are slowly starting to relax...). I might find a decent baguette if I'm lucky enough to live near a good bakery. The terrine would be simpler (though what I had, partridge and almond, would be impossible).

Oh, and I mentioned wine. As far as I know, you're not allowed to drink in public places (eg, parks) in most of Australia. Seems okay in France, and rioting has not yet broken out as a result...

posted at: 03:36 | path: /travel/france/burgundy | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 26 Aug 2011


My weblogging continues...

Today was meant to be the day I visited Gevrey-Chambertin. A train from Beaune stops there reguarly. I wanted to branch out, and see some of Burgundy beyond the Cotes de Beaune.

I hadn't counted on the weather. Rain, thunder, lightening. Not good. Especially with the grape harvest only days away. Mildew suddenly becomes a threat, and picking grapes in the rain is no fun.

So I go to Dijon. Dijon, to see the old streets and the cathedral with the gargoyles.

In Dijon, my first stop is the first church I see -- the church of St. Benigne. A lovely, typical Gothic church, it hides a secret: a romanesque crypt from the 11th century.

11th century crypt

I descend. The first room is low and wide, with many romanesque columns. A statue of Christ, his arms outstretched in welcome. Another room: a rotunda, surrounded by columns. An altar. A doorway through to a gallo-roman chapel, once at ground level, now part of the crypt. Another doorway leads off, to more passageways. Most are still blocked, buried, yet to be excavated.

Reluctantly, I head back up into the daylight. The museum of archaeology nextdoor beckons. Here I find more treasures: a bronze age gold torc, more than 1kg of gold -- a metal more common then, oddly, than now. A roman statue of doves. Post-roman enamels and belt-buckles, intricate in their working.

The best is in the lowest level: an old medieval room full of roman funerary memorials, memories of the long dead. Early medieval wooden figures, dredged from river mud.

Dijon street
Street in Dijon

Out in the light again, I head for the Palais des Ducs. A follow one sign, only to find it leads in the wrong direction. I find another, and follow that. After walking around in circles, I find it eventually. It is now the town hall and the Musee des Beaux Arts. I wonder around, and see what I can of the exterior.

I notice another church: Notre Dame. I am drawn by the impressive gargoyles on the exterior. Coming closer, I notice portions of the portice still have some of their original paint, just faint traces but still there.

wall painting

Inside, I notice a few original scraps of wallpainting survive from the 15th century. A service is in progress in a candlelit side chapel: song fills the church.

I head for the train. I don't like to leave: there is always one more thing to look at, another photograph to take. I don't want to miss the train, though. I head on.

At the station, I can't find the machine to validate my ticket. Eventually I find it, not on the platform, but inside the station. On the train I can relax: I haven't missed it, I'm getting back in time for dinner. Beaune beckons.

posted at: 09:10 | path: /travel/france/burgundy | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 01 Jul 2011

New Arrivals

Well, this is the first time I've been somewhere in Australia that isn't along the eastern coast since... since before I can remember. Since getting back to this country at the start of 2003, I've just been messing around on the eastern edge of the continent. Well, that's all changed now. Temporarily.

I'm in Adelaide for about a week, for the Australian Systematic Botany Society 2008 National Conference. The excitement doesn't start until Sunday, I got here a earlier so that I could look around Adelaide a bit.

I had been warned(?) in advance that Adelaide was designed by the same man as Christchurch in New Zealand. According to Wikipedia this isn't in fact the case, but walking along the river I did get a certain sense of deja vu, the city feeling more like Christchurch than any other Australian city than I am used to. This doesn't explain why I kept thinking that the traffic would be driving on the right, maybe I was subconsciously being reminded of a European city.

The walk along the river was pleasant, and graced by musk lorikeets (Glossopsitta concinna)
Musk Lorikeet
(Glossopsitta concinna), near River Torrens  P1030567
and Australian Pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus).
Australian Pellican
(Pelecanus conspicillatus), River Torrens P1030568
In a tree, noisy miners were raising a nest-full of appropriately noisey nestlings. The next was part twigs, part plastic: old shopping bags fished from the river, having finally found some use.

I crossed over the river on a rather ornate bridge, and walked across the fields. My attention had been drawn by church spires, by analogy with Christchurch, there should surely be some sort of square out in front. Sadly, the analogy did not stretch quite that far. Walking across the fields, though, I found a juvenile magpie using the tried-and-tested "nearly tread on it" method of bird detection. There were adult magpies lurking nearby, I could but hope that at least one of it was the juvenile's parent. Though no longer a chick, I don't think it was quite up to looking after itself.
Juvenile Magpie P1030595

The delusion that I was in Christchurch was more or less dispelled by the CBD. I didn't really look around the city centre much, though, but headed straight for the South Australian Musuem. Sad thought it may sound, this was one of the main reasons that I had arrived those extra few days early. Here, they have some very rare and unusual fossils indeed - trace remains of the first animals ever, from the Ediacaran period -- some 650 million years ago. It's something quite special to see, and think how long ago they lived. That the imprints of soft bodied organisms have survived so long is quite amazing. It's incredible to think that these ghostly shapes in the rock could well have been the ancestor of all of us. Debate still rages as to if, and how, these things are related to modern life. That they don't really look like any thing that you would see out there today still is undebatable.

This wasn't the only thing to see at the Museum, and I enjoyed looking through the Pacific Islands cultures exhibition, and the extensive and brilliantly done exhibition of Aboriginal Australia.

Then I capped off another amazing day by getting the wrong bus back to where I'm staying. This is where it helps to have made a note of what bus you got into town on.

Adelaide photo gallery

posted at: 01:50 | path: /travel/australia/south_australia | permanent link to this entry

London or Siberia-on-Thames?

Greenwich Park
Well, that's exaggerating somewhat. Somewhat.

Whilst it wasn't exactly as cold as Siberia, there was a lot of snow. This is quite odd for London, it doesn't often snow here. It certainly doesn't often get this much snow, it was quite weird. There were several inches of snow on the ground, and it just kept snowing the whole day.

Anyway, with no buses and almost no trains, I walked to Greenwich Park. I haven't seen so many people in Greenwich park before, there were lots of people making snow men and sliding down hillsides on sleighs, plastic bags, road signs, real estate signs, or pretty much anything that could resemble a sleigh.

I took as many photos as I could before the battery decided it had had enough, and died. Still, I think I took some nice photographs: there was snow everywhere, on every branch, on the heath of Blackheath.

posted at: 01:50 | path: /travel/uk | permanent link to this entry

On the train

On the train to Newcastle, winter landscape flashing by. Cold reflections in fallow fields, winter villages huddled around churchyards. Slowly through towns, speeding past hedgerows. Empty platforms gone in a flash of station signs and sodium light.

Somehow the landscape reminds me of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, as if I can see the Raven King's words written in the empty fields and the grey sky. Even though we're not far enough north to be North, not yet.

Ah yes, here comes the trolley with tea and Mars bars. Enough to break anyone out of thoughts of the Raven King...

posted at: 01:50 | path: /travel/uk | permanent link to this entry

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