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Cutting the mustard

January 2, 2011

With the holidays upon me and having my first official guest stay at my apartment, it was high time I got out of Lyon and saw France. And so one crisp morning, Cristina and I set off for the train station to book ourselves some day trips in east France. We settled on Annecy and Dijon; Annecy for its prettiness and Dijon for the possibility to enjoy some good old-fashioned Burgundy food.

Annecy was a pleasant town with a healthy dusting of snow, adding to the whole postcard thing Annecy has going on. On the day we visited, it was bustling with a Tuesday market that didn’t seem to realise that Christmas had finished a few days ago. Cheeses, smoked meats, seafood, jewellery and fresh produce were in abundance. We were amused by an American tourist, who slowly and loudly asked the vendor, “Is this 43 euro?”, apparently unaware that numbers don’t need to be translated.

After being rejected from the first restaurant we tried for lunch (complèt), we settled on a smaller place around the corner, run by a husband and wife who nattered behind the bar. Our choice was more or less made for us: “Vous voulez le menu, oui? Oui.” But it was utterly fantastic, and the best meal I’d had in ages: a salad entree followed by roast pork that melted in the mouth with mashed potatoes and spinach. After washing it all down with vin chaud and a coffee, we wandered for a bit longer before heading to the station and heading back home.

Thursday was our day trip to Dijon, though we had planned to stay longer there than in Annecy. Dijon itself is sort of like a film set in places, with its quaint little buildings and architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries. We wandered here and there, stopping at the odd boulangerie to admire the goods within or sample the wares. Unfortunately, we missed the lunch hours of our shortlisted restaurants so we had to wait until 7.30 for dinner. This meant we were cutting it fine in terms of getting the last train back to Lyon, but we reasoned 8.48 gave us enough time to enjoy dinner and stroll back to the station.

After a glass of wine at a small bar à vin, we returned to our selected restaurant and ordered bœuf bourguignon. This was delivered to us in a small ramekin with a bed of tagliatelle and was quite simply amazing. After finishing up, it was 8.20. Time was rapidly running out, but we had noticed earlier that there were trains leaving Dijon after 8.48. But then it hit me. After consulting the timetable again we realised that there were trains leaving Dijon right up until 11pm. But none of them went all the way to Lyon. Dessert came at 8.40, and we quickly wrapped things up. A half jog back to the station got us there at 8.55. We had missed our train by seven minutes, and the next one was due to depart at 5.33am: in eight and a half hours time.

The thought process of realising you may be stuck somewhere overnight is a funny thing. All sorts of ideas flow through your head: take this train to here and see if there’s another? Try and find a bus? Hitchhike? Get a cab? As reason prevails, thoughts turn to how one is to pass the time. We had two options: find a hotel or bar hop. Given my complete lack of money by this point, we settled on the latter.

Our next problem was trying to find somewhere that was open until 5am. Dijon didn’t exactly strike us as a party town, and so this would prove difficult. However, we remembered an Irish bar we had passed earlier and so we returned to find it open until 2am. That left 3 hours to kill. In the end though, we left at 12.30 in search of a club we had seen earlier, and to our relief found it was open until 5am.

Immediately next to this club, however, another venue caught our respective eyes. Entitled “Le Clap”, we had to see what was going on. Inside, we were immediately struck by the clientele: we were the youngest patrons by at least 25 years. This was instantly confirmed by the looks we received as we quietly sat down on a couch and avoided eye contact. The music was hilariously bad Eurotrash, played at a volume that was evidently deemed acceptable by the patrons; that is, quiet enough that you could quite easily have a conversation without shouting. On the dancefloor we watched as one guy in particular stood out with his dance moves, leading the rest of the dancers in some form of line dancing. After sitting for a good 15 minutes, the bartender became suspicious, and not at all subtly dropped a drinks menu on my lap.

We made our Coronas  go the distance, but at 2am the lights came up and so we headed next door to Hunky Dory, the club that promised karaoke until 5am. Inside, a French guy was butchering some French song, so we sat and watched. In the end we decided to give it a crack and went up and did Bohemian Rhapsody. Despite a warm reception initially, once the song was over, not a single person applauded. Feeling somewhat rejected, we went back to our seats. To our alarm however, the house lights came up at 2.45, and by 3am, the place was shut. This still left us with two hours to kill, and so we wandered in the direction of the train station. In front of the station were a number of bus stops, and after finding the station closed, we set up camp at one of these. And this is where the night got interesting.

Obviously bus shelters and train stations are a point of call for any city’s homeless population, and Dijon was no exception. Our first customer was a lady so horribly addicted to nicotine she shook as she walked, picking up discarded butts off the ground in the hopes there was still enough to smoke. Unfortunately, we were not in possession of a lighter, so she continued her quest for a smoke. Presently, three guys arrived, two of them carrying the third between them. Eventually, they placed him on a seat at a bus stop, where he promptly collapsed. One guy sprinted off, ostensibly in search of water or something while the other remained behind, holding him up as he yakked violently into the gutter. After this was done, he came over to enquire after some tissues, of which we had none. He stood briefly and chatted with us in French and English about why we were here and so on before returning to his colleague.

Cristina went off to stretch her legs at one point, and returned to inform me that the station was now open. We relocated to the relative warmth of the waiting area, as did the menagerie of crazies we’d encountered. One guy who smelled terrible set up shop next to us, and after a while I had to go for a walk to get away from his musk. In the hall, the cigarette lady was still wandering around, looking for the next hit, but there was also an immaculately dressed blind man walking in circles. I wandered for a bit before encountering our friend the chaperone, who was looking for somewhere to park his friend. I informed him of the waiting area and he headed straight for it.

Fifteen minutes later, the platform for our train was finally announced, so in the early morning chill we walked to the platform and boarded the train. We had survived the eight hour wait and promptly fell asleep as the train pulled out of Dijon. By this point I was so sleep deprived I was almost delirious, a fact made evident by me thinking the guy in the next carriage was actually a reflection, and I tried to work out why my bag now had straps and a different shape. But as we finally climbed the stairs to my apartment several hours later and crashed into bed at 8am, there was a sense of satisfaction to be enjoyed. Despite a night spent on the street, and a host of bizarre encounters, we had finally made it home.

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