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Published: October 29th 2017
Earlier in the week, during my tour of Cote de Nuit, I asked my tour guide, Alexis, about what days are good to do the various things I had planned. One of her recommendations was to visit Dijon on Saturday because the markets are on and all the shops are open. So I took her advice and pencilled in Dijon for Saturday, even though neither markets nor shops held much interest for me.
When it came to Saturday, I struggled to get motivated. Not only was the prospect of markets not working for me, with the wifi not working in my hotel room I had started watching the television and the only two English tv channels are BBC One and Two. Even though the tv shows weren’t particularly interesting, it was mesmerising and I chilled out all morning.
Eventually I got moving and I arrived in Dijon about 1pm after a short drive through the Cote de Nuit. Having no idea what the parking situation would be like, I chose a random parking station on the gps – not too far away from the city centre, but not the closest because I wanted to find one with available parking.
I probably didn’t need to worry too much, because the one I chose had hundreds of free spots and when I got out on the street, there was almost nobody around.
I didn’t have a map either, so I just began walking towards what I figured was the city centre, hoping I would find the tourist information centre to pick up a map. As I approached the centre, I started to see a few people, but it still seemed very quiet. More by luck than design, I came to the tourist information centre and it was closed. I checked the time and it was about 1:30 so I hoped they were just closed for lunch. It seems that in France, if something is closed for lunch they usually reopen at 2. So I thought I’d walk around and come back then.
I turned a corner or two and suddenly the city came alive. Well, it seemed like that but really, I had just entered the main part of the city centre. It was a pretty plaza in front of the municipal building and I walked into the middle of a wedding. Not a drama, because they were posing
in the middle of a public place and plenty of people were walking through the wedding party.
I walked around for a bit and mostly just saw your normal every day shops. I returned to the tourist information centre, picked up a map and walked up to Place Darcy. Of interest to me was the triumphal arch, although it didn’t seem to be that old so I’m not sure what the triumph it was celebrating was. Across the road was a nice little park with a pretty water feature, but nobody else seemed to be much interested in it.
I then headed down a side street to my only real target for the day, the archaeological museum. One cool thing about Dijon is that the museums seem to be free. I headed into the archaeological museum, and there were some interesting displays. Unfortunately, it was all in French so I had to guess what things were. I had a fair idea what was going on in the Neolithic, bronze age and Roman sections (not much Iron age Celtic stuff that I could see) but on the lower floors there was mostly medieval stuff and it was from a
church somewhere, but I have no idea where. The lowest floor was mostly medieval, but possibly had some Celtic things, but you would have to be able to read French to know. It wasn’t the greatest museum I’ve seen, but as it was free, I couldn’t complain.
I then headed out and had a further walk around the city centre. There were some pretty impressive churches, but mostly it seemed to be a commercial centre with lots of shops and restaurants. I skipped the restaurants and bought a tasty sandwich from a bakery and sat down at the tables outside. I attracted a few odd looks which I hope were because I was sitting in the chilly wind wearing only a t-shirt, but who knows?
I was pretty over Dijon at this point, so I decided to head back to Beaune. However, as it was getting late in the day, on the way I decided to revisit the lookout Alexis had taken me on the morning of the Cote de Nuit tour. She had mentioned at the time that it’s a great place to see the vineyards and she said she and her colleague had once taken some
sunset photos there for a brochure. I thought it would be good to have a look at what I missed because of the fog, and as there was a light cloud cover, I thought a decent sunset might be a possibility.
I found the lookout easily enough (it’s not signposted, it seems to be mostly for locals) and arrived at just after 5:30pm. I wasn’t sure what time the sun would set, and there were hills so I wasn’t sure how they would affect the sunset. After taking a few test shots, I hung about and waited to see what would happen. I was there until nearly 7pm, but I was happy with the sunset shot. The vineyards by this stage were in the dark and a floodlight came on ruining the shot anyway. With plenty of shots to choose from, it was time to leave. Besides, the local youngsters were arriving in the park for a drinking session.
Sunday morning I was up and going earlier, and not just because daylight savings finished overnight and I had an extra hour. I was planning a visit to Bibracte, the site of an ancient Celtic oppidum just over an
hour to the west of Beaune. Bibracte was the capital of the Roman allied Aedui tribe of Gauls and is famous because of two things. First, it was here that Vercingetorix gathered together the coalition of tribes that rebelled against Caesar in the campaign that ended up in Alesia. Secondly, Caesar wintered there after Alesia and wrote the final section of his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, one of his finest works and the best written source for information about Gaul and Ceasar’s campaign, even if it is biased.
It took longer to drive there because there were a few closed roads and diversions that my gps didn’t like. The worst was a small village that was having a festival and just closed the road with no signs as to how to go around. I tried a road at random and eventually my gps stopped telling me to turn around and plotted a new course and I arrived at Bibracte.
By this stage the weather had taken a turn for the worse and a light rain had settled in. I figured I would check out the museum first and hope the rain passed. As it turns out, the
road up to the archaeological site is one-way so it’s essentially what you’re supposed to do anyway.
The museum was fantastic though. It was really detailed about Gallic life, the evolution of the Celtic settlements that ended up with a network of oppida across France and Germany. I was surprised to learn that the fortified hilltop settlements only existed for about a century before the Roman conquest. The museum was in French, but the important descriptions were translated into English. The audioguide was also pretty flash, using a point and click laser tag instead of the old type in a number technique. Most impressive was when I walked into a video presentation, it automatically started giving me the English translation.
The museum, like the one at Alesia, is pretty new. Both sites were rediscovered about the same time, but unlike Alesia, archaeological investigations at Bibracte ceased the day before WW1 began and didn’t start up again for 80 years! However, it is now the centre of a European archaeological program and archaeologists from all over Europe work at the nearby centre and on the site itself. I can definitely recommend a visit to the museum.
nearly 4 hours at the museum, it was time to head up the hill and check out the site itself. Thankfully outside of summer you can drive your own car up there, because it’s a steep hill I’m not sure I would have wanted to walk up (in summer there’s a shuttle bus at least). There was another reason I was thankful for being able to drive up – the rain was much heavier now.
The lady at the museum had shown me a few places you could park on the way to the top, but they don’t seem to have been signposted so it wasn’t until I got to the main carpark that I saw another car. I decided to leave the car there and start walking down towards the gates. I didn’t get there, however. I walked to a few sites but it was pretty miserable in that weather. The other thing was that most of the remains are from after the Roman conquest, because the Gauls mostly used wood to build with. Also, with the weather, there was no chance of seeing the apparently stunning views.
I headed back to the car via a circuitous
Dijon archaeological museum
route, which required me to go cross-country at one point. I was a bit disappointed about the visit to the site, but thankfully I managed to keep the camera dry enough – ironically it was drier than I was by the end! I decided to just think about how great the museum was and not dwell on the wet walk I’d just had.
So then it was time to drive home. I probably couldn’t have stayed much longer anyway, because it was getting dark an hour earlier than it has been. The drive home was a little bit hairy at times, because the rain got really heavy at one point and the headlights on the Citroen are not great. I did discover how to make my dashboard lights blue though, so I guess that was something. Hopefully the rain doesn’t hang around for much longer because I’m going to be outdoors again tomorrow.
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