Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cannes to Paris Avalon Cruise September 2017 - Day Eleven

Lenglui at Hospices de Beaune
Tuesday September 26th 2018

Early up and abluted and getting the packed and locked suitcases out into the gangway for lugging off the ship and on to the buses by the crew during breakfast. I opted for the usual oatmeal and honey with croissants and butter and jam to follow. We also made up some ham and cheese rolls for the trip just in case there was no sufficiently decent rolls to be scored en route. Jean Loup had advised that there were some sandwich places in Beaune where we could get something for lunch but experience says these can be variable in taste and expense. And so when it is free and available, then one is obliged to take advantage, n'est-ce pas? Oui. 

Today looked like it was going to be wet, and it indeed began to be so just as we started boarding the buses. The lounge area crowded up as we got called by colour of bus. We broke out the umbrellas as we stalked the Affinity gangplank for the last time and clambered aboard our designated bus. It all got done quite swiftly and, bar one or two cruisers who opted for a last minute toilet, we all got underway by 8.45am. It was a pretty grey drive and I half remember a tour guide talking about what we were passing and where we would be going. It brightened up slightly as we got into the Beaune bus park for a five minute walk in the rain to get to the town centre. We were all pretty sodden and wet by the time we met with our guide for the group tour of the Hospices de Beaune. Bloody French weather. 

The amazing roof of the Hospices
The Hotel Dieu We had not done the Hospices de Beaune (or Hotel-Dieu du Beaune) on our previous visits and were quite looking forward. For the standard tourist, an entry fee of near on Euro20 was required which I felt a bit on the stiff side notwithstanding the charitable aims of the place. Wikipedia says "The Hospices de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune is a former charitable almshouse in Beaune, France. It was founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor of Burgundy, as a hospital for the poor. The original hospital building, the Hôtel-Dieu, one of the finest examples of French fifteenth-century architecture, is now a museum. Services for patients are now provided in modern hospital buildings."

From the Courtyard
Some more: "The Hospices de Beaune consists of a pair of two-storied buildings arranged around a stone courtyard. The building wings are well-preserved today; they contain half-timber galleries and ornate rooftops with dormer windows. The hospital is arranged so that the wings served the office, kitchen and apothecary functions. The nuns and patients were housed nearer the chapel, towards the center of the complex. This Catholic institution focused on healing both the body and spirit of its patients. Over the centuries, the hospital radiated outwards, grouping with similar establishments in the surrounding villages of Pommard, Nolay, Meursault. Many donations - farms, property, woods, works of art and of course vineyards - were made to it, by grateful families and generous benefactors. The institution is one of the best and oldest examples of historical, philanthropic, and wine-producing heritage, and has become linked with the economic and cultural life of Burgundy.

"An important charity wine auction is held in November each year (formerly in the great hall of the Hôtel-Dieu). The charity auction been arranged annually since 1859, taking place on the third Sunday in November amid a three-day festival devoted to the food and wines of Burgundy called Les Trois Glorieuses. The charity is preceded by a black tie dinner at the Clos de Vougeot on day one and followed by the lunch La Paulée de Meursault on day three. The Domaine des Hospices de Beaune is a non-profit organisation which owns around 61 hectares (150 acres) of donated vineyard land, much of this classified Grand and Premier cru.

The Hospice Museum - the beds are pretty much as they were when the Hospice was operating
"With bidding by professional and private buyers, the barrels, from 31 cuvées of red wine and 13 of white wine, attain prices usually well in excess of the current commercial values, although the results give some indication of the trend in expected bulk wine prices for the vintage from the rest of the region."

Nurse. And bedpan.
The spires and the roofing are the first things you notice - long racks and towers of coloured tiles in medieval patterns that even in the rain were glorious. Inside was a bit on the dark side and photos of the museum areas did not turn out too good, given the prohibition of flash. The working areas fared slightly better, but the slight nip in the wet air meant that the camera hand was not as steady as usual. so again, the photos were a bit naff. 

The tour itself was quite interesting, especially the hospice area - beds, patients, nurses, all in exhibition and pretty much as things would have been in past centuries. Lenglui naturally resonated with the pharmacy - large bottles with old style labels depicting what would have been stored inside. I recall only one toilet in the place, which got used quite a bit - cold wet weather can do that to you. Well, me…

I thought about getting some bottles of the Hospice wine but figured I would be banjaxxed for weight on the upcoming Easyjet flight to Sicily so reluctantly decided against. Instead we found a Nicolas wine store just up the road and stocked up on some necessaries for our six night sojourn ahead in Paris. Lenglui found a baguette store and snagged some ham and cheese rolls for the train journey to Paris

Cruisers in Beaune Square
We had all been told to assemble in the town square to get escorted back to the bus, which seemed to happen slowly as some cruisers seemed a bit locked up trying to decide what sandwiches to buy. Thankfully, the rain had stopped by this time, so we hung around the desolate looking tourist centre - for some reason it had clearly been abandoned and looked quite forlorn. Still not sure why - perhaps a renovation. Eventually we got underway and back to the bus or an hour drive to Dijon railway station where the bags got unloaded and trundled toward the entrance. 

We had about forty minutes ahead of the train so figured to sit down with a coffee and munch on the sandwiches. Lenglui and I had actually been to the Paul Coffee shop at the Dijon Rail Station on our previous visit in 2014 and had sandwich and coffee prior to a train back to Beaune. Pleasant memory of ham and cheese and a chocolate croissant to finish. 

I found the Dijon station a bit confusing - you often only get about 15 minutes warning as to which platform your train will arrive at, and the directions as to how to get there are far from clear. We had to double back to get on the right direction. We passed one of the older cruisers who was quite slow in his walking and hoped he would make the platform in time. As memory served, the French trains don't hang about waiting too long - two to three minutes and off. 

On the platform (open air) ahead of a long trundle to the section "X" which had been designated as the coach section for us cruisers. We had been given the tickets at some time previous - I forget when at the moment. Must have been on the boat. The train pulled up but our doors refused to open. Joy. Someone figured out the train had stopped at the wrong spot so our coaches were further back along the platform. This was supported by many of the Frenchies walking back along the platform. Brilliant - dopey French train drivers. We got to the coach door and quickly parked the cases in the storage area - experience says is good to be first on because otherwise you're trying to hump them in the overhead or standing with them in the doorway. We got our seats and settled in for a swift and quite pleasant two hour ride on the TGV to Paris. I studied maps and articles on Paris whilst Lenglui read Time Magazines. Remember getting seated across from a West Ham fan and swapped a few stories about the old days of glory. 

The bar at Le Valois Restaurant
Not sure which Paris Gare we landed in, but we swiftly disembarked with the luggage and trooped to the meeting area where we got met by Avalon flag wielding young Frenchies who instructed us to "pliss stay 'ere" while they waved their flags to look to assemble the cruisers for the buses to the hotel. Once they seemed happy with everything, it was "allons" and we followed our new friend (name of Midi) to where the buses had been allowed to park. There seemed to be a problem with bodies - some people were not going to Paris, and instead directly joining another cruise heading for Normandy. The problem was that there seemed to be no separate list of these and the buses were naturally scared of leaving someone behind. Eventually it got sorted with a few phone calls and Jean Loup making an appearance on the bus for a final check and farewell and we were off into the Paris roads. 

The Steak at Le Valois. Very nice with the Frites
The sun was shining as we navigated our way past various landmarks. Notre Dame came up on our right which told us we were south of the river. We had great views of the Louvre and the various Jardins and buildings, but the traffic was hugely slow. This gave us a chance to get to know Midi a bit more and he turned us on to website La Fourchette for booking restaurants and recommended a place Le Sens Unique which was walkable from the hotel. He said it was the place to take a new girlfriend, which sounded good. I noted down the name. We eventually crossed the Seine to make our slow way toward the Arc du Triomphe and arrived at our hotel (the Du Collectionneur, part of the Intercontinental Group) at about 5.15pm. We got our keys quite quickly and muscled through the logjam of bodies at the elevators. Seems there was a big football game happening on the morrow between Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich, and the entire Bayern Munich entourage were staying at the hotel. Joy. 

Lenglui's bag was already in the room, mine not so. So I wandered back down and saw it jammed onto a luggage trolley waiting to get escalated. Okay, at least it was here. I considered trying to release it from the trolley but decided against. Incurring the wrath of a Parisian bellhop seeing his pocket getting deprived of a Euro or two in tips was not worth the risk. So back upstairs I tootled to the dark, spacious but very pleasant room to wait the bag. Two large single beds, big window that opened out onto the street below, very pleasant chill evening air. 

Lighting along the Louvre
Took about thirty minutes for my bag to arrive, by which time we had cracked one of the Nicolas bottles and parked in one of our ice bags. Must have requested some ice from room service. Very pleasant to sip and chill and get ready for an out to find a restaurant. 

In respect of which I decided to do a recce of the environs. The map and guides talked about a wine bar and a japanese salad bar, but there is nothing like eyes on the ground. I hopped across the road and saw some of the cruisers at a bar - my notes say "Rod and the Gang of Four" though I have no idea what this refers to. They directed me along the road to a large-ish establishment on a corner which they had decided they would later go to. I advised it would be better to reserve and offered to do so for them. They approved. On reaching the place, the menu indeed looked quite good so I booked for the two of us for 7.15pm and headed back to the hotel with the good news. 

En route back, I got cornered by one of the cruisers who latched himself and wife onto our dining group. I had shared on the ship my IWFS connection and presumably figured if I had decided a restaurant was good then it would save him the research and legwork. Which for some reason miffed me - I think it was the latching on without asking nicely first. But I did tell them better to go there and to book in their name - turn up and expect a seat is not always possible in Paris (but then neither is reserving). There was a small Tesco Extra on the way so I picked up a couple of bottles of Evian - big 1.5l jobboes at a Euro apiece. Bargain. 

Eiffel Tower at Night
I retrieved Lenglui and an extra wrap against the evening chill and we headed to the restaurant, name of (I think) Le Valois. Extensive French menu, very appealing bar with cocktails, wine and beer. We met the couple there and parked at the bar pending getting seated at a table I opted for a bottle of house red to go with the ordered steak, the others went for cocktails. They also ordered their own mains in addition to agreeing to share the steak. Hmmm…..   Steak was darn good, though largely went uneaten by the others since they had ordered separate mains though had agreed to share the steak. Eyes bigger than belly. I tried, but there was a lot left at the end. Dam sad when this happens. But we doggybagged and had some of it for supper the following night, so not all was wasted. Total bill for four was Euro200 including drinks. 

We had to get back to the Hotel to get the 8.45pm coach that would take us on a Paris At Night tour to see the son et lumiere of the night time. It was pretty, but I was too tired and belly full to take in much of it. Seem to remember doing the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and two other places but pretty much stayed on the bus digesting dinner. Got back to the hotel about 10.30pm and fell into bed. Goodnight Paris…

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