I left Munich in the dark and snow last Wednesday, and returned home less than a week later to warm sunshine and spring blooms. As it turns out, the World Orchid Conference was a fitting interval between this rather startling change in seasons.
I spent much of the trip to Dijon wondering (a) how I had let a travel agent talk me into taking such a circuitous route, and (b) why said travel agent booked me in a day too early. Though I spent more than a few hours of the twelve hour journey waiting in train stations and cursing missed connections, I also had reason to be grateful. If I had left on Thursday, as I intended, I would have been caught in the nation-wide strike that shut down France’s transportation systems that day. And so, while the majority of delegates were stuck wherever because of the strike, I had time to explore medieval Dijon and visit its museums.
This was to be the theme of the entire week: Frustration and disappointment one moment, followed by unexpected surprises and pleasures the next.
I finished settling into my hotel room late on the evening of my
arrival, and was anxious to find a decent meal. I struck out for the
oldest, quaintest part of town (according to my map), but after 40
minutes of wandering through quiet streets I had no luck finding a
restaurant. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted movement along a side
street. It was an older and very elegantly dressed woman, walking
purposefully and probably home. I dusted off my best French and got her
attention, asking her if she could point me in the right direction to
some restaurants. She did one better: She turned around and walked with
me. The woman was obviously well known in the town, because as we
walked and chatted people waved at her from behind the wheel of their
cars and even a bus. She guided me to a perfect little restaurant —
good food, relaxed and traditional atmosphere, and best of all not too
expensive. Once inside the restaurant, she introduced me to the owner,
instructing him to make sure that my meal left me with happy memories
of Dijon. She kissed both my cheeks and warmly referred to me as “ma
The meal was memorable. I started with oeufs en meurette, which are
eggs in a red wine sauce. It’s a specialty of the region, and though it
sounds very odd it is actually delicious. My next choice – some kind
of snail – came about more as a result of my inexpert command of the
language than intention, and although I did my best I couldn’t eat
them. When I pulled the snails out of their shells, their antennaes
reminded me too much of the giant slugs in the garden in Munich. I
tried dunking their little heads in garlic butter to disguise the
The wine was great, a Santerre. I drank lots of that.
The next course was Boeuf Bourguignon, a delicious stew simmered in
red wine sauce. I puzzled over how to tackle the broth with just a
fork, and after a few minutes I gave up and leaned over to the
gentleman at the next table. I asked him if it would be inappropriate
for me to ask for a spoon. His kind face broke into a wide smile and he
called to the waiter to bring me one. Then he told me that if I
preferred I could try the French trick of sopping up the broth with
bread. Aha! All at once I understood that bread, which always seemed
like just cheap filler to me, does have a certain usefulness. Grateful
for the information, I struck up a conversation, and learned that the
gentleman was also in town for the conference. He was Jean Koenig,
vice-chairman of the French Orchid Society and an engineer with
France’s Institute for Agricultural Research. We had a great
conversation about his love for the native orchids of France, as well
as his professional work with wheat at a seed bank.
An auspicious introduction to Dijon.
to be continued….