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November 2, 2010

Toussaint Vacation Day Three: Dijon and Grenoble

I woke up before 6 a.m. I still haven't adjusted to Daylight Savings Time, which happened in France this weekend. After two hours of reading a dear friend's blog from her time here during the 07-08 school year, I decided to scrap my plans for a morning nap and get back on that blogging train.

Thursday was the big day of my medical appointment in Dijon, the one I first heard about during my orientation in the beginning of October. We needed to get examined to make sure we didn't have TB, and as a present for good health they would give us a stamp in our passports that would allow us to leave the country and re-enter. Back then they told us it was going to be on Oct. 19, the day before our second orientation in Montceau-les-Mines. Being the responsible lass I am, I immediately sent away my birth certificate for a 39€ official translation (a requirement of the visit, they said). I also gathered every conceivable document they could possibly need, including my college transcript, to bring along.

Then they emailed to say just kidding, the appointment will actually be on Oct. 28 in the middle of your vacation. Hope you didn't already make plans!

The one thing I still needed on the morning of my appointment was a passport-style photo. I got up and out the door of my hotel at an ungodly hour so I could get some snaps at the train station's photo booth. You're not supposed to smile for official French portraiture, but I did my best to smize. The result made me look like an exhausted stroke victim. But hey, at least my hair looked good.

Pretty much the best photo ever taken of me.
Kelly had never been to Dijon before, so we spent the morning before my appointment sight seeing. First we went to the Creepiest (and Best) Museum in the World and grilled a young docent about her thoughts on the ubiquitous mannequins. Did she ever change their clothes? (Answer: No.) Did she ever change their positions? (Answer: No.) Did she ever put them in different rooms? (Answer: No.) But the guy mannequin in the baby cradle scene looks hungry. Shouldn't he be in the kitchen scene instead? (Answer: No.)

On the second floor they have recreations of several storefronts, including one for candy. I tested one of the lids to see if I could catch a whiff of stale, late-1800s bonbon, and incurred the wrath of the Upstairs Docent. She spent the rest of our visit shadowing us to make sure we didn't get any other wise ideas.

After leaving the Creepiest (and Best) Museum in the World, we headed for the Notre Dame church that bears an owl statue on one of its corners. If you rub the owl with your left hand you're supposed to get any wish you desire. Except, apparently, for a shower of gold doubloons to come raining from the sky into your pocket. Trust me. I tried.

Kelly is mini and can barely reach the owl!
We had lunch at a pretty swanky place, where Kelly ordered the local specialty oeufs en meurette, eggs poached in a heavenly white wine sauce. I ordered spaghetti bolognese because I'm a cheap jerk. I could have really used that gold, Monsieur La Chouette.

True to form, I had a burning desire to get to my medical appointment an hour early. I had only originals of many of the documents I had brought with me, and had tried in vain all morning to find a photocopier to make duplicates. Dijon suffers from a serious lack of FedExes and Kinkos. FYI. I tried the machine at the post office, but it was broken (of course). The lady there directed me to the nearby department store Galleries Lafayette, which was "Exceptionellement fermé" all day so they could do inventory. Of course! Of course they were. So I guess I thought if I went early enough to my appointment the kindly front desk lady would allow me to copy whatever I wanted, and for free. Except this is France, and the offices were closed until 1:35 for lunch, at which point the crowd of about 40 people (all with 1:30 appointments) swarmed the door.

I managed to be second in line, and after presenting my summons from the Office of Immigration and Integration, I sat in the waiting room for about 10 minutes. The doctor there asked me if I had any health concerns, anything I thought she should know about. I kept my bubonic plague, malaria, and diphtheria a secret, but told her everything else. Then she asked me for my weight and height. The metric system still stumps me (thanks a lot, America!), but thankfully I have a conversion system on my new genius phone. "Would you like my weight in kilos?" I asked. "Yes, that would be preferable," she deadpanned. I gave her the number. "And my height in...kilometers?" I asked. "Uh... no. One uses kilometers for highways," she said, stifling a guffaw at the immeasurable stupidity of Americans.

In the next room I was told to strip to the waist and then enter the x-ray machine, which had two bulls eyes on the wall to indicate where I was to aim my bosoms. "Plus proche! (Closer!)" the brusque X-Ray Doyenne demanded, as she flattened me against the cold plastic partition. I got to keep the x-ray as a door prize, and it would appear from the faint outline of my flesh that I'm alarmingly lopsided. Also, they only document they needed from me was my Attestation of Logement, which says I officially have a roof over my head.

That horrific experience over, I was free to do what I came to Dijon to do: taste mustard.

I quite liked the chèvre mustard. Myam myam.
Outside, of course, they were rioting. Pourquoi? Pourquoi pas! The streets were filled with smoke, and every now and then they would light something in the street that made a terrific noise. Dijon go BOOM! A month ago, this would have really freaked me out. Now it's just annoying. Yes, yes, I know the government is trampling all over your rights but could you just please go back to work? Please? Who knows? You might really like it. I know I would.

What are they manifesting? Probably destiny.
Thanks to this selfsame strike, our train to Grenoble had been canceled, and we got to the train station about 30 minutes before the one train we could take was set to leave. We waited patiently in line to buy tickets as the time ticked away, and finally got to an agent 10 minutes before go time. She told me she couldn't sell me a reservation for my train pass because they were all sold out. With the stress of our imminent departure making her frantic, she somehow gave me a 1€50 first class ticket to Lyon, and a 19€ adult 2nd class ticket to Grenoble. As was typical for this trip, no one even checked my ticket on the train, so I kicked myself for shelling out.

Finally, finally, after much durm und strang, we weary travelers two arrived in the promised land of Grenoble, the land woefully lacking in Patrimony according to our dear Arlesian friend. We trudged through the city center to our hosts' apartment. We were enthusiastically greeted by Line (pronounced /leen/) and her husband Gus (pronounced /goose/) as delicious dinner-type odors wafted about our famished heads. Kelly had contacted them through, and they came very highly recommended. They ushered us into the salon for some wine and port before giving us the best surprise of the trip: the aforementioned delicious odors were from dinner! Dinner we could eat too!

We ate herbes de Provence-y roasted chicken, onions, and tomatoes, with salad and squash au gratin. Cheese course! Fruit for dessert! Heaven. After dinner, Gus poured us shots of Chartreuse, a spirit that gave the color its name. It's made with a secret recipe that is closely guarded by a nearby sect of monks. It's 54% alcohol.

With that, they sent us to bed in our own private apartment (!) on the other side the building, with a bed made of clouds. We were so, so happy.

Coming up: Grenoble, Grenoble, Grenoble! My new favorite city.


  1. Terrific post, mademoiselle!

  2. Your deadpan hilarity causes riotous laughter across the seas. I am so glad you are able to convert yourself into highway distances. 1/9,976 of a kilometer please.