We set off from the Moosloch in the morning, heading for Beaune. The drive through the Black Forest down to Freiburg was wonderful – the clouds were parting and the sun highlighted the beautiful hills and valleys, and the impressive old farm houses scattered across them. In Freiburg we briefly lost our way, but quickly found back to the A5 to Mulhouse.
Driving through France, we noted many picturesque villages in what looked like a very productive agricultural area. As in the Black Forest, small houses cluster around a church; but the French villages seemed more ancient, hardly altered by any recent buildings. We also saw some of the famous charolais cattle – they look very pretty with their cream coloring, and are of impressive size.
Our first impression of Beaune was in driving around looking for a hotel: very narrow streets, mostly cobbled, organized in a series of concentric circles within the city wall. We soon found a nice room in the Hotel des Remparts – as the name suggests, located just inside one of the preserved rampart walls.
Highlights of our afternoon sightseeing:
- Ramparts: the bulwarks of heavy stone, and the giant trees growing on top of them
- Hotel Dieu: the roof is indeed spectacular, especially when it catches the sun; but the whole structure is very impressive and very well restored and maintained. We were surprised at the extent of the building and how much was accessible to the public. The medieval architects had some smart ideas, like building over a running river that provided fresh water as well as convenient waste disposal.
- Tapestries and paintings: not being great fans of tapestries or medieval painting, we were really surprised by a couple of special exhibits that were quite marvelous: the van der Weyden paintings (last judgment, portraits of Nicholas Rolin and Guigone de Salins) and a couple of tapestries that were incredibly vibrant and beautiful. The expressiveness of the faces in the van der Weyden paintings was remarkable and unexpected in such an early work.
- Notre Dame: the yellow stone was glowing in the setting sun. Wendy was particularly impressed by the incredible effort and devotion required to build this monumental church, considering the size of the town and the simple means of construction. It’s hard to imagine today, the importance of religion and the church to the lives of the town folk.
- The town: there is a great sense of continuity and history. People have been living and working in these buildings for centuries; and even today, everybody goes about their business quite naturally … only we tourists gape in awe.
- Dinner: OK, not outstanding; had our first taste of snails, and of rude French servers.
- Wine: we tasted a few today. Surprisingly, we liked the whites better; they were quite complex, a nice balance of sweet and dry, with a little note of perfume. The reds (so far) were on the light side – good drinking, but did not leave a lasting impression.
- We had a French bedroll for a pillow which is essentially one long tubular pillow. Needs some getting used to.