Author Archives: Tiffany

Cutting grapes during the Vendange

My experience with the vendange (or grape harvest) was a little different than Eric’s experience, detailed here. I was out in the field cutting grapes from the vines each day, and, boy, it is hard work to do day after day! The cutting part of the vendange is pretty straightforward: cutting, passing the bucket to be emptied into crates, and cutting some more. Though physically demanding, I found it kind of meditative to be outside and face-to-face with the vines for so long each day.

Most importantly, participating in the vendange really gave me a new appreciation for wine, and something to remember and reflect on whenever I enjoy a glass of wine in the future. My new-found appreciation comes from two somewhat contradictory things I learned about the winemaking process. On one hand, if you know the grapes have been handpicked, you can appreciate the physical effort that goes into the production of wine. On the other hand, once you see how simple it is to do the initial processing, you can understand why this beverage has been around for millennia. So, this is what I will be thinking about in a year or so when I finally get to enjoy the 2015 vintage from Domaine Charton-Vachet.

Eric carrying crates of grapes.


For those interested in the minutiae of the cutting process, below are the nitty-gritty details:

First, after we congregated at the domaine in the morning, we would head out to the field. The more knowledgeable members of the crew decided how many rows we would pick at a time. Sometimes it was 9 or 10, other times it was only 3 or 4, depending both on how much area was left to pick, how much time we had, and the number of people we had cutting. Usually we went with a one person per row method, but it varied. Then they decided who would be assigned to each row, usually putting the bigger or more experienced people in the rows with crates. This seemed to be because the stronger people could help empty the buckets easier and the more experienced people could both do this and easily keep up with the pace. Then we started cutting! When we would near the end of a section of rows, those who finished first would step over to unfinished rows and help out. It made it seem like a team race where the pace of everyone else pushes you to perform as quickly as possible and your teammates help you over the finish line if needed.

The cutting method is basically to brush/tear away leaves blocking your view, and then cut the grapes off the vine as well and as quickly as you can manage with a pair of small garden clippers. Most of the time the grapes were easy to spot and cut off the vine, but sometimes clumps of grapes were tangled together or in the wires supporting the vines. After cutting away all the obvious clusters of grapes, I would give the plant a good final scan and maybe brush the leaves once more just to check for any hidden clusters before moving on to the next plant. Sometimes clumps of grapes get overlooked, so one way we dealt with this was to scan the rows as we walked back down them after finishing a section. Sometimes whole vines would be missed if two or more people were working the same row and they weren’t conscientious — you really don’t want that to happen, but people weren’t always very predictable in where they started and ended a section of cutting.

The vines themselves were quite variable in terms of the number of grapes they produced. Some had 15 clusters of grapes and others had only one. The size or the quantity of vegetation didn’t always predict how many grapes a vine produced. The Chardonnay plants were quite hardy and easily stood up to tearing away leaves. The Pinot Noir plants seemed more delicate and fragile, but the grapes stood out so well on those vines that you didn’t need to rip away too many leaves. We also picked some Gamay, and those vines were more scraggly than any of the others.


Eric standing with some Pinot Noir grapes.


The thing that makes being a cutter hard work is that grapes on typical Burgundian vines are usually about 1 to 1.5 feet off the ground (30 to 45 cm). This requires the cutter to bend over, lunge, kneel down on one or both knees, squat, or sit. None of these positions are very ideal to repeatedly perform at a quick pace over the course of a full day of grape harvesting. Bending over is hard on your back and could contribute to a bit of acid reflux after the morning snack or the 4-course french lunch provided by the domaine. Constantly lunging really works the leg muscles. Kneeling and squatting are hard on the knees, and with kneeling you also have to deal with avoiding all the rocks in the field. Sitting might be seem comfortable, but sitting is also problematic due to mud and prickly plant life growing alongside the grapes. Thus, the reality is that you do some combination of all of these positions over the course of a day.

For me, at the end of the first day my knees hurt a bit and my abs were surprisingly sore. Leg muscle and back pain seemed to only last so long as I was actually cutting in stances requiring use of those body parts. The next morning though, I could barely kneel; my knees were so sore after a night’s rest. This is how it continued for the remaining days. After an hour of cutting each morning, my knees would loosen up a bit so that kneeling and squatting were possible, but they would stiffen up again during the lunch break. Ultimately though I just started to tune the pain out by the end of each day, focusing instead on finishing the next row of vines.

For the uninitiated, four days of vendange is certainly enough to get the complete experience and to come away with a few battle scars. I highly recommend doing it if you have the opportunity, an interest in wine, and you aren’t one to shy away from character-building work.

The French economy

Sometimes I wonder how it keeps afloat. I really can’t fathom it sometimes. Yes, it is a major industrialized nation with one of the largest economies, but when the rubber meets the road, when you are living on the ground here, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The French economy operates on an ingrained culture of Sunday closures (and usually Monday for independent shops) and 2-hour (minimum) lunch breaks. That’s just the starting point though. Then you also have to contend with the vacation closures and the exceptional closures. Many independent shops and restaurants close down completely for 2 weeks every year for vacation (sometimes up to a month, and sometimes twice a year or more). Then there are also frequent “fermeture exceptionnelle,” which is when a business closes to the public because they have to take inventory, prepare for a sale, or employees just don’t feel like being there for the day. The French do not do overtime or bring in extra staff when they are preparing for a big sale or are taking stock — they just close the store to their customers during normal business hours.

Sure, European culture is known for embracing the separation of work time and family/free time. But the reality of the French version of this is that every time you go out to get something done — to pick up the dry cleaning, to buy a baguette, to find that critical part at the hardware store, to go for a swim at the local pool — you invariably are prevented from accomplishing your goal in an efficient manner, if you can accomplish it at all. How many hours are wasted and how many dollars are lost in France because of this? These numbers must be huge, there is no way around it.

Crazy (by American standards at least) inefficiencies are not just confined to store hours. Even when you do have the attention of a shop owner, when you have managed to make contact with a business with which you want to exchange money for certain goods or services, it is sometimes next to impossible to make an economic transaction happen. For example, there is this custom order hand-crafted purse I have been trying to purchase for months now, but for whatever reason, it has been next to impossible at every step. The shop is far from where I live, but I have already been there twice in person and I have had a lengthy email exchange with the owner. I have money and I want to exchange it for something this person makes as their profession. Should be relatively straight forward, right? But this is France, so instead it is drawn out by ignored communications, unanswered questions, and little concern for expediency. Even now, in this particular situation, the purse is made, I’ve sent my address, promises were made to ship it, and I’ve asked the question about payment more than once — and I still have no purse. We’ve had similar experiences with other transactions. Recently we took our car to a new mechanic for some repairs and maintenance, and even though we were there in person on multiple occasions, with credit card in hand, the owner of the shop said he would send us the bill by mail in a few weeks. The lack of interest in taking consumers money at the first possible instance is unbelievable sometimes. I’ve also noticed that non-profit organizations putting on paid events or activities are also reticent deposit checks in a timely manner. For example, one time our alpine club waited 6 months to deposit our membership fee check.

So, I guess what I am saying is that the French seem really uninterested in accumulating money, and this causes a lot of wasted time, wasted energy, and even wasted money. These things all together create wasted potential in the French economy. Can you imagine what it could be, if only the French were more interested in making money? Or if they put the 24% of 15- to 24-year-olds who are unemployed into the labor force by expanding store hours or hiring temporary staff for busy periods or vacation periods? But alas, the French seem to like things just how they are, so for now I guess the French economy will continue to ramble along as it always has.

The terrible customer service from Philips France

Everyone knows that France has a certain reputation for customer service. In general though I don’t find it to be too horrendous. Yes, sometimes a waiter might be a bit brusque in a Paris restaurant or store employees will just give you a “no” or an “I don’t know” rather than offering a suggestion as to how you might go about solving a problem or finding a particular product. It seems to me though that the French are rarely outright rude to customers during in-person interactions. Over the phone can be a bit trickier. The phone makes it a lot easier for rudeness to occur in the course of your interactions, I suppose just as anywhere. Whenever I do encounter a problem interacting with French people, I can usually work through it by telling them that their behavior is unacceptable; surprisingly, their attitude usually changes for the better then.

However, I recently experienced one of the worst customer service interactions of my life with Philips France. In truth, every single experience I have had with Philips in France has been problematic. From the very beginning there were issues when the product (an electric toothbrush) failed to function properly after two weeks of use. Then a rebate I was entitled to was not issued (it took multiple calls over a period of months to resolve the matter, and when it was finally resolved they still failed to transfer the money; it took several more calls before the money finally showed up nearly a year after I had purchased the product).

More recently the product failed again and a critical replacement part is nowhere to be found in France. Actually, Philips doesn’t even seem to know their own product line, because over course of three chat sessions I’ve been given numerous part numbers for the part I need. Philips also seems intent on sending me on a wild goose chase to mom-and-pop repair shops across France that service and repair their larger consumer products — as I’ve discovered, none of these places ever deals with toothbrushes or their replacement parts. The only other “options” are to purchase the replacement part at an exorbitant price from a third-party reseller or to purchase a part that “may be not suitable for France” because is manufactured for a different country with different specifications.

All of this might have been overlooked though if my latest round of interactions with a customer service representative had displayed a modicum of empathy or positive attitude. Instead, the representative inflamed frustrations by refusing to seek information above his expertise level, engaging in back talk rather than problem solving, becoming personally offended, and refusing to connect me with his superior when directly asked on multiple occasions. The representative is the interface between the customer and the company, and for me this interaction is critical in determining whether I will come back after encountering one or more problems with a purchase. Needless to say, Philips isn’t a company I will be seeking to spend my consumer dollars/euros on in the future.

I’ve attached the transcript of the latest interaction below. I will admit I jumped onto the swear train a little early, but given that this was my third interaction trying to locate this replacement part and the latest in a long line of problems associated with this product, can you blame me? I quickly returned to being a polite human being, but I guess that wasn’t enough for this particular representative to provide actual customer service. I’m now left wondering what percentage of my problems with this company have been a French thing versus an evil corporation thing.

UPDATE: After informing Philips of this blog post via Twitter, they miraculously decided they did have the ability to source a functional charger for my device, at no cost to me. It took a few weeks to get here (because France), but my toothbrush is now back in working order. Turns out the squeaky wheel really does get the grease.


Bonjour et bienvenue sur le Chat Philips. Je vous remercie de votre question, vous conversez avec Alexis.
Alexis: Hello Mrs Tisler
Alexis: I’m affraid this sparepart is not available on the Philips France online shop
Alexis: what is your postal code?
Tiffany: Yes. This is causing me a great deal of difficulty.
Tiffany: I am going to Paris this weekend. Perhaps you can find a retailer there who has this part.
Alexis:  you may contact STE SEREL 22 RUE CAMILLE DESMOULINS 75011 PARIS 01 43 79 72 80
Tiffany: Or point me to a philips website in another country that actually has this product.
Alexis:  It seems to be available on the UK online shop :
Alexis: but it may be not suitable for France (voltage difference FR/UK)
Tiffany: don’t you know?
Tiffany: why isn’t it available in france if it is available elsewhere?
Alexis:  I’m sorry, I don’t have this information
Tiffany: are you not a representative for this company?
Tiffany: obviously if you are selling your products in france, people may need to know this sort of information.
Alexis:  I’m a Philips Helpdesk agent
Tiffany: well this is bullshit
Tiffany: I now have a useless 200 euro toothbrush
Tiffany: what the fuck
Alexis: I can’t have this kind of information
Alexis:  very well
Tiffany: you need to have someone who does have this kind of information contact me
Alexis: i must inform this is a chat plateform for french speaking customer
Alexis: I’m making an effort speaking to you in english
Tiffany: no, it is for customers in france.
Alexis: it’s no use to tell bad words such as bull… or f..k
Alexis: have a nice day
Alexis: goodbye
Tiffany: ugh. please. nothing but run around from this company.
Tiffany: I would not have to use such “bad words” if this company actually provided customer service.
Alexis:  I just did
Tiffany: Haha, please connect me to your supervisor.
Alexis: I provided you a resaler contact as you asked
Tiffany: I’m 99.9% sure that the resaler won’t have this replacement part, because how would they if you don’t even sell this part on your website?
Alexis:  there are more than billions Philips products
Alexis: not all of them are available on the online shop
Tiffany: I’m sure that is factually not true that there are “billions” of Philips products, and even so it is no excuse for leaving a customer without a functional product within the 2 year warranty period.
Tiffany: I have already been in contact with other resalers, and none of them can locate or order this part, or even know what it is.
Tiffany: You need to direct me to someone who has actual authority and ability to solve this problem.
Alexis:  what problem?
Alexis: you aske where to buy, I gave you the info
Alexis:  asked*
Tiffany: The problem with not being able to find this part in france, and if I must go elsewhere (such as the UK website), the knowledge as to whether it is even compatible.
Alexis:  CRP243 is a UK charghing base…
Tiffany: Please give me your supervisor’s contact information.
Alexis:  to what purpose?
Alexis vous recommande la page suivante :
Tiffany: So that I may speak to someone more knowledgeable, as you have already admitted you do not have all the necessary information I need.
Alexis:  you want to know why the CRP243 is not sold on the Philips France online shop, well it is because CRP243 is a UK charging base
Tiffany: Why is it listed on the Philips France website then?
Alexis:  all products are listed on the Philips website
Tiffany: You clearly lack sufficient knowledge, please give me you supervisor’s contact information.
Alexis:  this is not possible
Tiffany: It is possible. I am sure of it.
Tiffany: You just don’t want to do it.
Tiffany: Please do the right thing and give me this information.
Alexis: It is not is work to attend you
Alexis: It is mine
Tiffany: But you cannot do it, so now I must go above you.
Alexis:  I already gave you the info
Tiffany: You have not answered all my questions with appropriate answers.
Alexis: CRP243 is available on the UK web site and here
Alexis: you can also contact STE SEREL
Alexis: CRP 243 is not available on the frenche online shop because it is a UK product
Tiffany: Which I intend to do, but since I know how things work, I am quite positive they will not have the part. Furthermore, my toothbrush, which I bought in France, came with the CRP243, so it is clearly not exclusively a UK product.
Alexis:  what is the reference of the toothbrush
Tiffany:  HX9332/04
Alexis:  ok
Alexis: where did you find the CRP243 reference?
Tiffany: By looking for the part I need in the online store.
Alexis:  well CRP243 is obviously not the part you need
Tiffany: It looks exactly like the part that came with my toothbrush, so please explain how it could be otherwise.
Alexis:  CRP243 refers to the spare part code 4235 090 03211 which is the UK charging base
Alexis: the spare part code of the charging base compatible with your HX9332/04 (FR) is 4235 090 03201
Tiffany: And where might I find that part?
Alexis:  at the same resalers I already gave you the direction
Tiffany: And what is the CRP number for that part?
Tiffany: Please stop sending my this link. 47 euros for this part is unreasonable.
Alexis:  it is not the same link as before
Alexis: this is the link with the correct sparpart you need
Tiffany: True, but it is the same website charging similarly unconscionable prices.
Tiffany: So can I find this correct spare part on the philips website?
Alexis:  That’s why I told you to contact STE SEREL in the first place
Tiffany: As I said before, I know that they are highly unlikely to have this part or be able to find it for me, because that is how things are. Thus, if you could just tell me the CRP number for this correct part, and tell me if it is available on the Philips France website, I would be much obliged.
Alexis:  there is no CRP code for this spare part
Tiffany: How does a layman go about finding it then?
Tiffany: And is it available on the website?
Tiffany: What am I even to ask for when I do go to STE SEREL?
Alexis:  the spar part 4235 090 03201
Tiffany: In the manual referencing this spare part number, it seems to indicate “warranty claims” are possible, but on a previous interaction with a customer service representative, they told me this part was not covered by warranty.
Alexis:  I confirm spareparts are not covered by warranty
Alexis: only the handle
Tiffany: Seems that the charging base is a pretty critical part.
Alexis:  indeed
Tiffany: So, shouldn’t it be covered under the warranty? Otherwise the handle is useless, as in my current situation.
Alexis: I have no opinion wether it should or should not be covered uneder the warranty
Alexis: the fact is that it is not
Alexis: under*
Tiffany: Yes, well, I guess we can’t expect all multi-national corporations to provide excellent customer service. Just last week, Apple replaced a 70 euro charging adapter at no expense to me, even though the computer was well out of warranty. I guess if they ever decide to make electric toothbrushes in the future, the choice will be clear who to buy from. I’m glad I’ve experienced such a terrible time with this philips product and the customer service to go along with it, because it will make my family’s purchasing choices much easier in the future. (PS, be sure to pass this part along to that supervisor who’s contact information you still haven’t given me).
Tiffany: Cheers!
Alexis: I must tell you that I answered the question you asked which was “Where can I get the replacement part CRP243?”
Alexis: you doubted every answer I gave you
Alexis: but at the end it appears you wanted to buy a spare part that is noyt compatible with your device
Alexis: 99.99% sure is not enough
Alexis: the info Ia gave you are 100% sure
Alexis: Have a very nice day Mrs TISLER


Saint-Vincent de Montagny-les-Buxy

January is the time of year when Burgundy winegrowers trim branches from their vines and celebrate Saint Vincent, patron saint of vineyards and vintners. For the second time, Eric and I attended the Banquet de Saint-Vincent de Montagny-les-Buxy. This Saint Vincent celebration is a whole day affair, involving a lot of food and even more wine.

Always on a Sunday, the celebrations begin with a small procession of vintners dressed in ceremonial garb making their way to a local church. After a religious service, they parade to the local war memorial and pay homage to those lost in the two world wars. The procession then starts again, this time headed to a local domaine. Each year a different vintner gets to be host for the ceremonial first drink of the day, and at this point the activities become more jovial. A white wine is served along with gougères. In our experience, everyone joining in the festivities usually crams into the vintner’s cold warehouse area and must jostle to get at the drinks and snacks. Perhaps the wine is too cold and the atmosphere a bit lacking, but eventually a group clothed in traditional regional outfits will step outside and perform a variety of songs and dances. Everyone’s spirits rise in anticipation of the rest of the day.

Lunch starts at 2pm, and can last five to six hours. It is held in Buxy at the Salle des Fêtes, probably the only facility in the area large enough to hold all the guests and equipped with a kitchen that can turn out hundreds of plates of food over the course of the afternoon. This year the organizers were kind to seat us next to the only other native English speaker in attendance and in close proximity to many of the winegrowers we have become acquainted with.

Over the course of the afternoon, six courses of food were served. After the first two courses, we were given a little extra time to digest between each course as the brotherhood of winegrowers performed skits on the stage. While our understanding of French is by no means perfect, the skits were still entertaining for us to watch. We wined and dined over the course of the afternoon and into the evening. Not only are local wines served with with the meal, but the tradition is that winegrowers and attendees bring in bottles of wine from their own cellars. This allowed us to taste and sip on at least 15 different wines throughout the afternoon. We were provided with a spittoon and ample water, so we could move from one wine to the next without worrying about finishing every last drop or getting too tipsy.

Every course of lunch was superb, and dessert — cake decorated with large sparklers — was paraded before the crowd before it was sliced and served. It was a lovely, gut-bursting meal.

After the lengthy lunch, the party really gets started with a live band and dancing. The music is a bit old-fashioned and polka-esque, but I wouldn’t really expect anything else given the average age of the crowd. Eric and I tempted fate by going for a spin on the dance floor again this year, and somehow we managed not to take anybody out. I think it’s safer when we just watch though. Everyone is jolly and satisfied by this point in the evening, and it is nice to take a little break from all the eating and drinking just to watch the French be French. Not too long though, because a buffet is served just a few hours after the lunch feast has ended.

Eric and I stayed until shortly before midnight, just long enough to fill ourselves at the buffet, but we couldn’t imagine drinking any more wine after doing so for the last 12 hours. Many of the winegrowers and their friends were still going strong, dancing across the floor and lining up at the buffet for more food. Eric and I practically rolled ourselves out the door and toward the hotel we had rented for the night. I have no idea how the older French ladies and gentlemen have the stamina to keep partying into the wee hours of the night after so much eating and drinking, but perhaps it is just years of practice. I guess that will give us reason to keep coming back to the Banquet de Saint-Vincent de Montagny-les-Buxy whenever we can!

Applying for French Residence

If you’ve ever heard anything negative about French bureaucracy, let me just confirm for you right now that it’s true. The French have really perfected the art of creating tedious, drawn-out, ineffective, and incomprehensible government processes. If you ever have the pleasure of living in France, you will, without question, experience fits of hysterical laughter and from time to time shed tears of overwhelming frustration after interacting with the French bureaucracy.

Today I’ll be explaining the nightmare of attaining a French residence card, the carte de séjour. First, you have to have the right type of visa to enter France and apply for residence. You cannot merely enter the country as a tourist and convert your visa status. Before moving to France, Eric and I lived in Germany, and therefore we had to obtain our French visas through the French consulate in Frankfurt. As I recall, Eric had an extraordinarily difficult time emailing back and forth with the consulate to arrange an appointment, and we were required to have an appointment. Eric had to have this one sheet of paper from the university before we could apply for his scientifique-chercheur visa and my conjoint visa. It took at least a month to get this piece of paper, because it had to be completed by Eric’s lab, signed the university president, and then get a special stamp from the local French prefecture. This document had the least extraordinary appearance of all the documents in our application package, but naturally it was the most important one for obtaining the correct visas. Once we had all the paperwork submitted at the consulate, the process took two to three weeks before we could go retrieve the visas.

After entering France, the real fun begins. Within two months of entering as a conjoint, you have to apply for French residence at your local prefecture. When I first arrived I had very little idea what this entailed, and a few well-intentioned locals told me all I had to do was mail in a couple of documents. My request was denied. My documents were mailed back to me along with a checklist of about fifty documents one might possibly need to apply for residence, 10 of which were checked off for me. I gathered up all the documents I needed, and submitted them in person to ensure there were no problems. At my local sous-prefecture they are nice enough to accept submissions in person, but some prefectures require you to mail in your application.

Weeks passed by with no communication from the sous-prefecture. The expiration of my three-month visa drew imminently nearer, and still there was no news. I took measures into my own hands and visited the sous-prefecture about two weeks before my visa expired. They issued me a récépissé, a receipt of my request for residence. At first I thought this was a success, but then I researched the document. You can’t travel on a récépissé for your first request of residence. If I traveled, it would essentially be illegal for me to try to re-enter France without applying for another visa while I was out of the country, an excessively burdensome requirement. When I asked the sous-prefecture about this issue, they would only tell me that it was “risky” to travel on a récépissé.

Well, as long as I had no plans to do any travel by air, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Three months passed by, and OFII, the French immigration and integration administration, finally contacted me for the required medical exam. I was checked for TB a full five months after I first arrived in France; if I had it, I would have spread it to everyone in Burgundy by that point, I’m sure. There was also a brief French language test, but the required level of knowledge was very low. OFII gave me a bunch of papers that they said I would have to turn into the prefecture when my carte de séjour arrived.

My récépissé was set to expire about a week after the OFII appointment, and the sous-prefecture told me I would need to get another récépissé. However, the sous-prefecture would not issue a new récépissé before the old one had expired. I explained that I would be out of town when it expired, and that I didn’t want to go without proper documentation of my status. The administrator at the sous-prefecture treated the prospect with a blasé attitude, and told me to come back as soon as possible after my récépissé had expired. I did so, but did not get my new récépissé until after they wasted a day trying to locate my misfiled dossier.

Well, nearly another three months has rolled by, and two weeks ago I went into the sous-prefecture again to check the status of my carte de séjour. Initially the answer was that nothing had happened with it yet, and I would have to obtain a third récépissé when the current one expired. I again asked about the travel situation, because I may travel to the US at the end of the summer. This time the administrator basically told me that if I am still on a récépissé by the time I travel, I should lie to the immigration officer when I re-enter the Schengen area; I should hide my récépissé and pretend to be a tourist, and because I’m American it should not be a problem for me to re-enter this way. Yes, the French government told me to commit fraud to regain entry to their country. Then the administrator asked me if I had had my OFII appointment yet, and I replied that I had, back in February. Her eyes grew wide, and soon the truth unraveled. Apparently I was supposed to bring those OFII documents to the sous-prefecture before they could process my carte de séjour, not after it had arrived as OFII indicated. I took the documents in the next day, and hoped for the best.

Last week we had to go down to the main prefecture so Eric could begin the process of renewing his residence status, and I was able to find out that my carte de séjour is now in fabrication and should be ready the day after my current récépissé expires. How it possibly takes more than 10 minutes to “fabricate” a card, I have no idea. Leave it to the French. So now I am waiting to see what happens when I next visit the sous-prefecture. Hopefully when I finally get this card, it will be valid at least long enough for my summer travels. I really have no idea though, as it could possibly expire as soon as August when Eric’s titre de séjour expires.

Easter Weekend: Wine Tasting and a Château

For Easter weekend Eric and I decided to save money by staying local. Luckily there were several wine tasting events to keep us occupied. First through, I have an observation about Easter celebrations in Chalon-sur-Saône. I have never thought of Chalon-sur-Saône as a particularly religious town, primarily because the largest market of the week is held on Sunday mornings right in front of the most prominent church. I thought surely Easter Sunday would be an exception and there would be no market. When I asked some of the locals, the general response was along the lines of “why wouldn’t the market happen?” Sure enough, there was the usual large market just like on any other Sunday. Other than a small choir passing along our street at 9am in the morning, it seemed like any other Sunday morning.

On Saturday we went to the 11ème Printemps de Monthelie. Monthelie is tiny vineyard town in the middle of the Côte de Beaune, adjacent to Meursault. Most of the wines are red there. At the festival we purchased wine glasses for five euros a piece and could taste as much as we wanted at 16 cellars. For lunch we had some regional favorites that were for sale at the local community hall. Eric had boeuf bourginon and I had a plate of charcuterie and cheese. It was a satisfying lunch before we continued our wine tasting. We had a pleasant afternoon, and the wines were generally good.

After we finished the tasting, we decided to visit Meursault. While normally the main activity in that town would be wine tasting, we decided we had already done enough of that for one day. Instead, we admired the views across the vineyards, visited the small local church, and took a walk to one of the châteaux in the area. Then we enjoyed a couple of hot chocolates at a local café.

On Sunday we visited the hill town of Dezize-les-Maranges, on the southern edge of the Côte de Beaune. There was another spring wine festival there, with nearly 30 wine producers offering wine tastings. The best we tasted were the reds at Domaine Edmond Monnot & Fils. For lunch we had French street food — a crepe with egg, ham, and cheese; a sausage with a potato; and a waffle with a dusting of sugar. The village was delightful to walk around.

After the festival, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon visiting the Château de Germolles in Mellecey. This ancient home was once owned by the Dukes of Burgundy, and then later by the King of France. Though it was partially destroyed in the French Revolution and has since been transformed into a private home, it is still worth a visit. There was a lovely farm area behind it. The history and meaning behind the interior decorations were interesting to learn about. Overall the tour in English was very good, though I was disappointed we could not see more of the rooms.

I think for a holiday weekend staying local, we did a pretty good job of exploring the sites and culture of Burgundy. I think all the towns we visited are worthwhile if you are interested in finding and tasting wine off the beaten path. Germolles is also a great attraction that is not too far from Chalon.

A Visit to Cluny

Eric and I have been doing a lot of traveling lately, and I am way behind on posting about all of our adventures. Hopefully I will catch up one of these days, but that’s probably just wishful thinking. One of these adventures was to the town of Cluny, a rural Burgundian town that is steeped in history in a grand way. Cluny is notably home to the Abbaye de Cluny as well as the Haras National (the national stud farm), but on this visit we primarily kept to the abbey.

Upon arriving in town on a Saturday morning, we found a pleasant market with a good number stands selling the usual fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses. I recognized some of the vendors as the same ones that come to the Chalon market on Fridays and Sundays. We bought some white mulberries to try in our morning oatmeal, and they turned out to be unique addition with a strong floral quality. They were a nice alternative to the standard raisins or cranberries we usually mix in. Unfortunately, I haven’t found these anywhere else yet.

For lunch, we ate at the Café du Nord, close to the entrance of the abbey. Our meals were adequate and the price was fair, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the food. It did seem popular though and the service was reasonable.

After lunch we moved on to the abbey and spent two or three hours visiting it and wandering the grounds. The history of the abbey makes this a fascinating place, but visiting requires one to use a great deal of imagination in the process. The abbey was founded in 910, and over they centuries it developed into the epicenter of the powerful Cluniac order of the Benedictine monks and the largest church in all of Christianity until St. Peter’s Basilica was constructed. The order began to decline in the 12th century, but the church remained intact until the French Revolution. Sadly, during the French Revolution the abbey was seized as public property and was largely dismantled. All that remains today is a small part of the transept. There are some augmented reality screens throughout the grounds that will help you imagine what it used to be like, and for more context you should try to find the remains of the church that extend into the present-day town. The grounds of the abbey and the cloisters are also delightful and will give you an impression of just how large and important this place once was.

After the abbey we visited the abbey’s archaeological museum, which is free with a ticket from the abbey. It displays some of the remains of the church, including the abbey’s carved emblem. Another site in town worth visiting is La Tour des Fromages, or the Cheese Tower. It has a good view over the abbey as well as the town. We also discovered other churches in town and saw some examples of Roman houses.

An afternoon in Buxy, France

Another nearby village we recently visited was Buxy. We had a very French day in Buxy filled with food, wine, and cheese. Unfortunately we were stuck wandering around in the rain again, but it was still a nice visit.

The first thing you notice driving into town is that there are some prominent towers and rock walls that remind you of a fortified castle. There is no castle, but there are some very nice ancient buildings. We started with lunch at Aux Années Vins by the Tour Rouge (the red tower). Their lunch hours are very brief, from 12h to 13h15, but we were the first ones to arrive. We had very good meals. I had salmon with a carrot mash, and Eric had the three course menu with a shrimp and smoked duck terrine, a main dish of chicken and crayfish with vegetables in a creamy sauce, and then fromage blanc. I guess we were lucky we got a table without a reservation because I saw the staff turning away others without reservations when most of the restaurant was still empty. The restaurant filled up throughout the course of lunch, with couples and some groups enjoying the cuisine and wine. The cheese cart looked wonderful, but we decided we were already full enough at the end of our meals.

We next wandered around town until we couldn’t take the rain anymore. The church looked particularly interesting, but naturally it was closed that day. Mostly there are interesting old stone buildings around town, but nothing of significant historic importance as far as we could tell. Perhaps the tourist office would have more info on the buildings in town, but we didn’t attempt to ask because was not located nearby in the center of town. It is actually a bit out of the way along the Voie Verte cycling path, across from La Cave des Vignerons de Buxy, which we visited next.

Buxy Stone House

La Cave des Vignerons de Buxy is the storefront for the local wine co-op. We tasted a variety of local wines, but decided not to buy any this time. La Cave des Vignerons mostly sells wines produced at the co-op combining the grapes various producers, though were were surprised this time to see there were some wines offered from specific domaines, i.e. individual estates. In the fall we had visited the co-op during the harvest season and got to see the grapes going into crushers. The tastings are free here, and it seems you can taste any of the wines in their large collection.

To complete our day trip, we drove down the road a couple of kilometers to Les Filletières to pick up some cheese. La Chèvrerie des Filletières is a goat farm where you can visit the animals and buy a variety of goat cheeses at very low prices. It is a small production, but it offers some our favorite local cheeses. Some of our local friends recommend going the “extra mile” to this place even though goat cheese is widely available in the markets, so you know it is good.

A day trip to Givry, France

A few weeks ago we started our new mission of visiting a small town or village in the region every weekend. Our first town was Givry. Though we had passed through Givry before when we were on a bike ride, we had not seen any of the sights.

Givry is about 10km west of Chalon-sur-Saône, and is known for its red wines, which were supposedly a favorite of King Henry IV. It is a quaint town of old stone buildings, monuments, and vineyards.

We first tried to visit the church, Église de Givry, a surprisingly imposing structure just outside the center of town. Sadly every door was locked, but perhaps if we go back during tourist season it will be open to the public.

We next walked towards the old hôtel de ville, which is a building with a large arch built over the main road into the center of town. The arch is a unique site, and it is decorated with a “France moderne” emblem on one side, and an emblem representing Givry on the other side.

Givry hôtel de ville   Givry vineyard

At the center of town there is an ancient grain market, the Halle de Blé. It is a round structure with a spiral staircase at the center. It too was closed, but we peaked in the glass windows.

Across the street is a cozy restaurant where we ate lunch, La Cadole. I had the Œufs en Meurette paired with a local red wine. Eric had some type of white fish covered in a creamy sauce and accompanied by vegetables. We also had a wonderful cheese plate of mildly sweet to pungent cheeses. One cheese plate between the two of us was plenty. Our simple meals sated us for our afternoon of exploring.

After lunch we walked over to the local tourist office and picked up a some information about the area. They suggested a self-guided walk around town showing more sites. Supposedly they have the pamphlet for this walk in English, but on the day we were there they only had German and French versions available.

We first stopped to do some wine tasting at Domaine Thénard. The tasting was free, and we liked both the local reds and whites. We purchased a red to add to our “cellar” of whites. Our “cellar” consisted of three whites placed on the fireplace mantel, which Eric thinks we probably won’t ever drink because we always go wine tasting rather than drink at home.

We walked around the town getting soggy in the perpetual rain. We saw the local lavoir, as well fish- and sea-themed fountains. There was also a statue of the town’s protector built into old fortifications. On our walk we wandered off course when we spotted the vineyards. We were rewarded by finding an area with vineyards that surrounded old stone houses or possibly sheds halfway up the slope. The view was quite nice on a wet February day, and I want to return in the summer to see the vineyards in their full glory.

We had a nice time in Givry, but I am looking forward to going back in better weather when there might be more picturesque photo opportunities.

Raclette and Fondue in the Alps

When Eric and I visited the French and Swiss Alps a few weeks ago, a friend told us to try the Raclette and Fondue in both countries because of the regional differences in preparation. This was good advice for the Fondue, but I didn’t notice much difference when it came to the Raclette.

Raclette is a dish where a hunk of cheese is melted by a heat source and then the melted part is scraped onto boiled potatoes and dried meats, accompanied by pickled pearl onions and gherkins. For the best experience, you have to eat fast once you scrape the cheese onto your plate, because the cheese hardens again after a minute or two.

Raclette is a fun meal to share with others, and the cheese is tasty. It is a simple meal in terms of ingredients, but it does require special equipment to melt the cheese. I wonder if it is not better in a home setting though. Since we only had it at restaurants during our trip, our vegetable selection was limited to the potatoes, pickled onions, and gherkins. You could easily have a more interesting spread of vegetables at home.

When we had Raclette in France, we were served half a wheel of cheese. Needless to say we did not come close to finishing it. In Switzerland, however, we were only served a block, probably around half a kilogram or one pound of cheese, which we finished. The amount and the style of heating device were the only real differences we noticed between France and Switzerland.

Raclette in Annecy, France    Fondue in Chamonix, France

The Fondue was delectable in both France and Switzerland, but there were some differences. Since there is a variety of regional cheeses in this part of the world, the cheese used in the Fondue naturally changes from place to place. In France we had Fondue savoyarde with Comté and Beaufort. In Switzerland we had “moitié-moitié,” or half Gruyère and half Vacherin Fribourgeois. The Swiss one tasted the closest to what I expect traditional Fondue to taste like, but they were both deliciously cheesy. I think the French one had more white wine in it, or perhaps omitted the classic Kirschwasser in the recipe.

As with the Raclette, I think you could have more interesting Fondue dinners at home by picking out your own veggies and sides. In the restaurants our choices were limited to bread and potatoes. To me, this got a little boring before the meal was half-way finished. Overall it was still an experience to eat Fondue in the Alps, and it would be interesting to try even more cheese combinations in the future.

For now we are back to eating cheese the normal way — on a baguette — but another Alpine cheese specialty we may try this winter is a baked hot box of Mont d’Or (Mont d’Or au four ou boîte chaude)! I’ll report back on how that is another day.