Breakfast at Hotel de L'Arve was pretty much the same thing. I had a better appetite this morning. I decided to try some muesli with fruit salad. I intended to eat it with yogurt, which I spooned out of a large bowl. Oops! Sour cream!? Very tasty, but I cannot stomach eating that much sour cream (When I was a kid, bananas and sour cream was a very common lunch in our house. It wasn't until years later that it finally dawned on me that sour cream comes with a heavy saturated fat dose!). I prep another bowl, this time using prepackaged strawberry yogurt. Much better. I also have a little brie, and some of the omelette. The omelette is surprisingly good.
We load up onto the bus at 8:30, and away we go. Chamonix is still stunning us with its unprecedentedly good weather. Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc are still shining in the morning sun. In fact, there are already two paragliders soaring over Mont Blanc as we leave the valley. Incredible.
There are sheets of fog in the valleys, as we work our way back out of the French Alps. Brig says they look like blankets over the towns, waiting for the Sun to wake them.
Just as we work our way out of the Alps, we're diverted to an inspection area from a toll booth. An official boards the bus and chats with Tony, who hands him something. Kristen explains that throughout the E.U., regulations on commercial bus and truck operations are strictly enforced. They all carry a device that is constantly recording what the vehicle is doing at any given moment, and how fast it is moving (if it's in motion). Upon demand the driver must submit the device for inspection, to verify that the vehicle has been operated according to regulations. (While I'm certain that U.S. truckers wouldn't be happy about this, I suspect that most of the drivers on our roads would be. So what if we have to pay an extra 2% for our goods? The improvements in health and safety would more than make up for it!) This was the only such inspection during our tour, and it's over in 5 minutes. Not bad at all...
We arrive in Beaune at around 12:30. Time to catch a little lunch before seeing Ho[s]tel Dieu. We have lunch at one of the places recommended by Kristen, right around the corner from the Hotel Dieu. Kristen and Sarah had initially intended to eat there, but when they arrived with us six tour members in tow, the maitre d'hotel was slightly taken aback. The maitre d' came back and said there was a table for us in the back room, and that we should follow her. By the time we got back there, and she asked how many we were, Kristen and Sarah were nowhere to be found. So, it was just the six of us. (Either Kristen got bad information from the maitre d', or they just wanted more privacy.) In any event, we really appreciated this table, since it was just the other side of an automatic door from the restaurant's kitchen. We would have lunch and a show!
Since escargot is one of Burgundy's (and this restaurant's) specialties, Brigid starts with some. They're unusually large, and very good. Brig sops up the garlic butter with some bread. For her main course, Brigid has magret de volaille (duck breast). The breast has been seared, sliced, and served with a delicious wine reduction sauce, along with some pommes (potatoes) au gratin and what tastes like finely pureed turnip. The turnip is silky and delicious. My lunch (the plat du jour) turns out to be chicken drumsticks and pommes frites. The frites are the stars on this plate. They are unusually good, with a crisp surface, and both sweet and salty tones. For dessert, Brigid has the dessert du jour, roasted figs and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. It's quite good, but the figs aren't really carmelized. Nevertheless, I like the idea of serving properly grilled figs with a little ice cream. I have a Burgundian tarte aux myrtilles. Myrtilles are wild blueberries. The blueberries form a thin layer at the bottom of a cake-like tarte. It's served surrounded by a thin puddle of an undistinguished vanilla sauce.
Brigid takes the opportunity to show off our REB-1100 eBook device, and I jump in as necessary.
Next up, a repeat (for us) visit to Hotel Dieu. We were here 4 years previously, on the Best of Europe tour. Nevertheless, it's worth seeing again. The roof is colorful, inside and out. I still find the altarpiece to be the most interesting artifact in the place. I just find it so interesting that in this tryptich, which depicts the Last Judgement, it is Archangel Michael's face that stands out -- not Christ's. And, of course, the brilliant color and detail of the painting is amazing. (I should note that this visit was marred by the inundation of the museum by teenage French and Italian school classes. These kids are loud and unruly, and very disruptive. We eventually manage to get a quiet moment with the tryptich, thank goodness.
We then proceed into the Burgundian countryside, near the famous Côte D'Or, for a wine tasting by Annie at Henri de Villamont in Savigny Les Beaune.
We learn that in Burgundy, all red wines are 100% Pinot Noir, and all white wines are Chardonnay. The white wines are fermented in oak barrels, since they can only get the necessary tannin from the oak. Supposedly, one can hear the fermentation, but I was unsuccessful at this. The reds are fermented (with the skins, of course) in steel tanks, and then aged in oak for 12 to 18 months. The aging process takes place in a vault that's only 120 years old. Annie shows us this "new" vault as she describes the process.
Most of the barrels are lying on their sides, with rubber-plugged bung holes facing up. The red wine barrels have copious red staining around the bung hole. Annie explains that during aging, some evaporation of the wine takes place through the barrels (more with new barrels, less with old ones), so they are topped off with similarly-aged wine of the same terroir every 3 weeks or so. The staining is from the overflow during the topping-off.
While Annie is talking, I'm jockeying for interesting photographic angles, and inspecting some of the barrels, while we're in the room in which red wines are aged. I notice that while most barrels are horizontal, a few are vertical. I knock on one, and it sounds empty compared to the sound elicited by a knock on a horizontal one. Perhaps these are barrels that were emptied to top off the others?
Shortly after this discovery, I notice Brigid playing with a rubber plug in a vertical barrel. She is startled as it comes loose in her hand! Happily, my observation about the vertical barrels being empty (which I had not yet communicated to her) was confirmed by this particular barrel. Otherwise, we might owe the winery for many gallons of spilt wine. Brigid later commented that when that cork came loose, she was more scared than when she ran off the cliff on that paraglider!
The winery also has a vault that dates from the 16th century, but it's only used for wine tastings, at this point. We are brought into this old vault, and sample a couple of white wines, and 3 reds. Everyone else seemed to be very impressed with the last red, which was raised in a field that is very close to a premier cru field. I noticed a slight difference, and that the wine was slightly more enjoyable than the previous ones. At €30.00 per bottle, though, I just did not find it to be that much better than the €10.00 wine. I still haven't come to a definitive conclusion on whether this is a case of "The Emperor's New Clothes" or "casting pearls before swine". Whatever. I guess I will never become a wine connoisseur!
Aside: When inspecting a French wine label, it is presumed that the more detailed the location information (Region, Village, Vineyard, Field's name, Premier/Grand Cru), the better the wine. Grand Cru (best quality) is from a winery's steepest slope, while Premier Cru is on a shallower slope.
Finally, we arrive in Semur en Auxois. We unload up the street, and take our bags into the village, to the Hotel Les Cymaises. We have room #8. As Kristen warned us, the hotel owners insist on escorting everyone to their rooms, and carrying their bag(s). The female owner shows us to our room, and insists on taking a bag, so I give her my knapsack, and continue carrying the real bag. Our room overlooks the courtyard.
We have dinner at Le Sebasteo, described by the hotel's owner as being "simple and correct" (i.e., inexpensive, honest meals). Nine of us troop into this poor fellow's otherwise-empty restaurant, quickly followed by yet another 6. From zero to 15 patrons in 60 seconds!
Brigid starts with moules farci (stuffed mussels). They taste an awful lot like this afternoon's escargots. That is to say, they have the same garlic sauce, but on a different protein. Very good. I chose "Salade Theo", which consists of a small mound of salad, ham, sliced boiled egg, grated cheese, and tomatoes. So-so. Brigid's main plat is a salad with crab and avocado. It's okay, but nothing special. My main course is chicken tarragon and fries. The chicken itself is interesting: It has little or no fat under the skin. I don't taste the tarragon. So-so.
For dessert, the restaurant serves tarte tatin (What, you don't remember? Apple tart!). Not bad, but not great.
Now that I'm all caught up, it's time for a little recreational reading. Bon nuit!