Our last full day in France was partially spent in Dijon, which was just an overnight stop as we made our way back to Paris to catch the Eurostar to London. We only had an hour or so to explore the city, so we walked around the old town and got a few photos. We had the opportunity for a home-cooked meal here, as our “hotel” room had a full kitchen with everything we could want, and even a washer and dryer.
You likely known the name Dijon from its famous mustard. Even though it is sold here, of course, it is not made here! The most striking attractions in the city are the half-timbered buildings and the 13th century Church of Notre Dame.
Atop the church is an clock with an automaton that strikes the hour called a Jacquemart. Nobody knows the origin of the word, just that it was being used from 1458. The Jacquemart was sacked from Belgium in 1382, and it was a marvel of its day. A second automaton, depicting a woman, was added in 1651 to alternate with the Jacquemart to sound the hours. The people of Dijon named her “Jacqueline.” (Who says life was hard back then, and people had no sense of humor?) In 1714, a Dijon poet asked the city to provide Jacquemart and Jacqueline with children (even though she was now 63 and he was 332 years old!). And so, Jacquelinet was added to sound the half-hours. In 1884, Jacquelinet received a sister – an automaton named Jacquelinette was added to make the family complete, as she strikes the quarter-hours. Phew! Is that complicated (and cute) enough for you??
France threw us one last curve ball as we returned our car the next day just outside of Paris. When we rented the car in Strasbourg, the agent mentioned the city where we were returning the car and didn’t say anything about it. When we looked at the address the night before, Google Maps showed that the location was “temporarily closed.” We tried calling the corporate office and every branch we could, only to get automated responses and to be hung up on. So we drove to our drop-off address, but the location had been closed for some time. It looked ramshackle, with bugs and flies in the dirty windows and mail piled on the floor. A sign on the door had an alternate address, so we drove there. It was a small back alley filled with rental trucks. We walked around and discovered a yard where men were washing vehicles. They said it was the place to return our car! There was no sign, no office – just a man who completed our paperwork on a table adjacent to cars being washed. The silver lining was that they offered to take us to the subway station and advised us as to how to get to Gare du Nord in Paris to catch the Eurostar. We made it with two hours to spare!!! Lucky us. We were on the last day of our allowed 90-day Schengen Area stay. If we had missed our Eurostar train, we might not have been welcomed back to the Schengen Area (i.e., most of Europe) for quite a while. Disaster averted!
We look at this experience as a positive occurrence, giving us the opportunity to build up more brain cells. Whenever we have to figure out something that is blowing up our plans, we get creative and start thinking out loud about what we might possibly do and how we can solve the problem. We have, so far in our travels of 20 years, averted everything in our paths that could have slipped us up, from trains not running to the city where we had hotel reservations, to train tracks under repair and torn up in entire countries, to being lost (!) countless times, to walking for an hour only to discover it was the wrong way, to missing stops on trains or subways. We’ve also been tricked in Barcelona, where the names of streets in our trusty tour book had all been replaced – Spanish names for Catalan names!! We couldn’t figure out how we were exactly where the map indicated we were, but the street names were wildly different! All of this makes us stronger and wiser, and gives us the experience we need to travel better in the future.