Cutting the mustard

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Cutting the mustard
Orléans, France

Orléans, France


I started the day braced for confrontation as we guessed our way back to the Europcar depot with our faulty GPS having successfully extracted the car from the garage built for a skinny horses (an elegant 100 point turn even if I do say so myself!)

My strategy was to start out politely and then escalate. I explained the situation and before I could even demonstrate, the GPS was exchanged and we were good to go. I don’t know if I was more relieved or disappointed – I was almost looking forward to going a little postal. None the less, we plugged it in – the light came on, the charge flowed to the GPS which stayed on – ready, willing and able to give us directions… in an American accent this time. We could probably change it but decided that we liked the differentiation and her cheerful inflection and immediately gave her the name Caron after the lead actress from An American in Paris (the previous GPS ended up with several names too, most of them with four letters).

We typed in our next address and off we went with confidence to Beaune – a small town an hour south of Dijon. Sylvie (our host in Epernay) had strongly recommended we go to visit the Hôtel-Dieu, a hospice started in 1443 for the poor and needy that continued life as a working hospital until 1971. The building itself is a stunning example of French gothic architecture which is romantically inscribed throughout – on the floors, beams, windows, tapestries, grilles – with the word ‘seulle’ (meaning ‘only’) as a dedication of love by the founder to his wife. I’m sure it’s the only hospital in the world that doubles as a love letter!

We had also hoped to go to a mustard factory but missed the opening hours. We weren’t too disappointed though having tired so many kinds yesterday actually in Dijon and also after learning that the eponymous mustard isn’t actually grown there – in fact, 90% of the seeds for local production are imported, mostly from Canada!

Instead, we went back to the car to spend time with Caron who was even able to suggest and navigate us to a nearby park to enjoy our lunch in. It was so peaceful and beautiful and we never would’ve found it otherwise. We love Caron. Just as well really because after lunch, we spent the next few hours with her driving to our next destination through changing landscapes in stunning early autumnal colours.

We headed into Orleans around 6pm with the Loire river flowing inconspicuously beside us. Caron led us almost to the front door of our hotel – Marguerite – which although simple, has an adorable window box and view over the square outside.

Once again, we’re staying in the heart of the old town so set off to explore on foot. We meandered the cobbled streets up to the main cathedral which was undeniably impressive, even for our Notre-Dame-wearied eyes. The cathedral itself was closed but we were satisfied with seeing the setting sun bathe the exterior with golden light, setting it aglow.

Back down an even more picturesque street lined with hanging lanterns on the brink of turning on, we settled in at classic French restaurant for what turned out to be the most impressive meal we’ve had this trip so far. We splurged and had three courses and a local bottle of red. The weather was still so warm that we happily sat outside and watched the lights flicker on and grow bright, this time setting us aglow.

Mum’s Message:
There was much excitement as we picked up our American speaking GPS which worked without any problems! We then headed to Beaune where we visited a hospital that was built in 1443 and remained a working hospital until 1971 – it must be the longest running hospital in the world!

It was interesting to see the old instruments and the newer ones, the pharmacy and all the old jars of potions that dated back to the early opening of the hospital. It was nice to see a hospital that pre-dated Florence Nightingale which was dedicated to the care of the poor and the dying.

What made me smile today: Having lunch in a lovely park by a beautiful lake with geese and being greeted by an elderly gentleman who thanked me in French for giving up my seat for him. Also our beautiful, scrumptious dinner tonight. Love to all.


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