Discovering Dijon and Mountain Delicacies

It’s time for another little round up of what I’ve been up to since Christmas, on the lead up to my trip to Madrid and Portugal. Those blogs will be coming soon and I can’t wait to write them but I have some fun things to write about first. After being home in Scotland for a whole month over Christmas which was lovely but it also involved moving house and trying to fit in all the friends I don’t get to see while I’m in France, stocking up on family time and of course Christmas and New Year celebrations. Safe to say I was still pretty happy to get back to my own apartment, my own space and my own routine. I got back into the swing of things with my classes, ready for my last semester as a lectrice! I’m not going to go into too much detail about how that felt, that’s for another time, but I was definitely looking ahead and I wanted to make the most of my last few months in Mulhouse.

On that note, something I’ve wanted to do since moving to Mulhouse, or more specifically somewhere I’ve wanted to go, is Dijon. Every time I go to Paris, I pass through Dijon on the train but even though it’s only an hour and a half from Mulhouse, I’ve never actually stopped there. Known for mustard, gingerbread and crême de cassis (a blackcurrant liqueur), Dijon is the principal city of the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region and has a population of 157,000, making it a bit bigger than Mulhouse. I went with my flatmate Lilly as she had been wanting to go for a while as well. We also got off to a great start because our train was delayed by 40 minutes which we only found out after we arrived at the station.

Once we did eventually arrive in Dijon, we headed straight to centre ville, or the city centre. Even if the city is bigger than Mulhouse, it felt quaint. We wandered around, did a lap of Les Halles Gourmandes, which is the kind of indoor market found in most large French cities, and then walked down to the Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon. While Dijon also has a cathedral, this church might be even more well known because of one little adornment. Down the pedestrianised Rue de la Chouette you can find a little stone owl on the side of a chapel that was added to the church a few centuries after it was built. You can barely recognise what the block of stone is because it has been eroded by the many hands that have passed over it hoping for some luck. It is said that if you stroke the owl with your left hand and make a wish, it will come true.

Tucked down the little side street with the owl is another of Dijon’s icons, the moutarderie of Edward Fallot. It is the last independent family owned mustard maker in Burgundy. Dijon mustard is characterised by the use of verjuice (green grape juice) from the region and by the high quality local mustard seeds. Edward Fallot has a wide selection of mustard flavours like cacao, fig and honey, basil, provencal, various white wines and more. I got a little taster pack with Dijon style, honey and balsamic, tarragon and cassis that I still haven’t cracked open but can’t wait to try!

At this point we were getting hungry so we headed towards the brasserie that we had picked out for lunch. Brasserie des Loges was excellent. I got a Kir Téméraire which is like a Kir Royal but made of crème de cassis with crémant de Bourgogne (sparkling white wine from Burgundy) instead of champagne or white wine. For starter we decided to split the oeufs Yin Yang which was a duo of poached eggs, one à la crème époisse (a creamy sauce made with époisse cheese) and one in meurette sauce (a red wine sauce with vegetables and lardons). They were absolutely incredible, potentially one of the best things that I’ve eaten in France or even in my life. For my main course I had to get the beef bourguignon. When in Burgundy…

Just around the corner from our lunch spot was the fine art museum which was interesting and also free! My favourite part was the temporary exhibition of works by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, a Portuguese artist who was one of the leaders of the Art Informel movement, a form of abstract expressionism developed in France and the rest of Europe during WW2. After the fine art museum, we went to the Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne which was a suggestion from my friend Aine of Une Bouchée A Day (read about her weekend in Dijon here!). After all that we were pretty tired so we wandered around a little more until we found a coffee shop where we stayed until it was time for our train home.

Another thing that I’ve ticked off the bucket list recently was spending some time in the Vosges. The Vosges are the mountains to the west of Alsace and so far I’ve only gone as far as the foothills to do some hiking. This time, at Aine’s suggestion, I went with her, her boyfriend and two of my flatmates to eat in a ferme auberge and walk to the Grand Ballon. The Grand Ballon is the highest point in the Vosges at 1,424m. Ballon is a French word for a mountain with a rounded summit which makes it even more of a coincidence that the Grand Ballon is topped with an air traffic control radar station that has a large weather balloon. Fermes auberges are a type of traditional restaurant found throughout the Vosges in Alsace where 80% of the produce used must come from the farm and the rest from the local area.

The drive from Mulhouse up to the Grand Ballon is about an hour and the views were incredible. The weather was perfect, very clear and bright if a little bit cold, especially as we climbed higher into the mountains. We had a reservation at the Ferme Auberge du Grand Ballon which we ended up being a bit late for because we went to the wrong place first! It wasn’t a problem though because the restaurant was still very busy. Sometimes there are only a few options on the menu at a ferme auberge but there was a decent selection at this one (I will say, it’s not the best place if you’re a vegetarian. There was the option of cheese fondue or goats cheese toast here but Alsatian food relies quite heavily on meat so most dishes are not veggie friendly). I wasn’t able to look past the cheese fondue, an entire bowl of melted cheese is literally my dream. Some people had the fleischschnacka (meat stuffing rolled up in fresh egg pasta and cut into slices that look like cinnamon rolls) or the pork with roigabrageldi potatoes, a type of mashed potato made with LOTS of butter and soft onions. We made a valiant effort and almost cleared our plates between us and even had room for dessert! When it comes to dessert, fermes auberges are known for tarte aux myrtilles (an open topped blueberry pie). We shared a slice of this with the coupe du grand ballon as well (an ice cream sundae with vanilla ice cream, blueberry compote and chantilly cream). Both were delicious but particularly the sundae was lovely and light, sweet but cut through with the tartness of the blueberries.

After eating all that, a food coma was imminent but we staved it off by walking up to the highest point in Alsace. From the nearby car park, it took us about 20 minutes to walk up to the Grand Ballon and only that long because the snow was really icy. The view going up and from the top was incredible. What surprised me the most was that you could see all the way to the Alps! Sunset was fast approaching and it was pretty cold and windy up there but absolutely worth it for the incredible views. The food, the company, the stunning location, all of it combined to make one of my favourite days I’ve had since moving to France a year and a half ago.

In other news, the start of the year saw a few more discoveries closer to home. I tried a new wine bar called Le Mondrian which had some of the best burrata I’ve eaten in Mulhouse. I also went to a lantern lighting ceremony just before Valentine’s day. It made me feel like I was in the movie Tangled! That is, after I had to chase through the crowd not once but twice to stop our lantern coming down on someone’s head! I went to a volleyball game for the first time as well. In Mulhouse, the three main sports teams are the men’s ice hockey team (check), the men’s basketball team (check) and the women’s volleyball team (also check!). I don’t have much experience with volleyball other than playing a little in high school so we did have to Google the rules throughout but the players were fantastic, you didn’t need to be familiar with the sport to know that. In the end it was a win for Mulhouse!

In keeping with sports, I also had some matches of my own, this time in Mulhouse! I’ve told you already about the water polo tournaments that I had in November near Bordeaux and in Paris but in January it was our turn to host. What was lovely was that I had a large contingent of fans (aka friends) that came to support me and the team. They had even made some signs! The first match was against St Jean d’Angély who we hadn’t played since our very first match of the season when we lost 2-14. It was a tough match, very intense with both teams exchanging the lead throughout. I worked so hard and got a lot of pool time which is great but meant I was exhausted by the end of it. We lost 11-14 but comparing the scores of this match and the previous one, the improvement is clear! We had a second match an hour or so after the first but most of my friends didn’t stay which is totally understandable because it’s a long time to be at the pool. We played against Choisy, a team from near Paris, and I won’t bury the lead here, WE WON! I honestly have no idea how because we had already played a game and the other team was fresh. It was a tight game again but we were consistently about three points ahead. As it got closer and closer to the end, I didn’t want to let myself hope that we might win but we were doing so well in defence that we were able to keep them at bay enough to hold on to the lead! I was so tired and so happy to win that I did cry a little! It felt good to get our first win as a team. We have made so much progress since the start of the season and had a string of matches where we were not far off so finally getting the win felt great. Personally, I had given everything I had in the matches and could barely lift my arms or think straight afterwards! We celebrated with a much needed team dinner and a few drinks but nothing too crazy because two back to back water polo matches really takes it out of you!

That just about catches us up on the start of this semester, from getting back after Christmas at home until the week off that I had in February. If you follow the blog on Instagram (@sara_somewhere_ if you don’t), you’ll know what’s coming next. I had a week off work in the middle of February and combined with the fact that my working week ends on Wednesday, I made the most of having 11 days off! If you want to see where I went, you’ll have to check back in for the next post (Or follow me on Instagram for a preview!).

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