Thursday, June 14, 2018

En route to the Grand Est: Moulins, Dijon and Nancy

Our recent spring road trip took us up and across France to the Alsace region. On the way, we stopped in three delightful cities, each with its own character, history and flavors.


The Château des Ducs de Bourbon in Moulins was built in the 14th century,
served as a French prison for 200 years, and was a German prison during WWII. 

Located in the center of France on the northern edge of the Massif Central region, Moulins was once the seat of government for the Dukes of Bourbon. The city owes its name to the many windmills and watermills along the Allier river; today, sadly, all the windmills are gone.

The bells of the Jacquemart tower in Moulins are struck
by the figures on top. 

The social life of residents and visitors to Moulins centers around a pleasant plaza, where we find lots of options for dining. Our budget doesn't allow us to eat at Le Grand Café, but I peek inside at the beautiful Art Nouveau decor. After lunch we find the tourism office and then take a self-guided tour of the historical district.

Joan of Arc is honored in marble inside Cathédrale
Notre-Dame in Moulins.

Then we head to the Centre National du Costume de Scène (CNCS). This costume museum, located in a sprawling former cavalry barracks, houses a permanent collection of costumes worn by Rudolf Nureyev. The amazing temporary exhibition of Fairy Tale costumes runs through mid-September. We wander through dozens of rooms displaying scenes from Sleeping Beauty, Alice in WonderlandHansel and Gretel and more. Some of the rooms have videos showing the original production in which the costumes were worn.

A display of costumes worn by virtuous fairy tale characters are on display
at the Centre National du Costume de Scéne (CNCS) in Moulins.

Costumes from Alice in Wonderland are on display at CNCS in Moulins.

Can you find me among the colorful costumes on display at CNCS in Moulins?

Moulins Trivia
Fashion designer Coco Chanel attended school and was a cabaret singer here before moving to Paris.


The Moutarde Maille store in Dijon encourages tasting — and I oblige!

Think "Dijon" and think "mustard." A tasting at the Moutarde Maille shop is a must, and I try two that are over-the-top delicious: a saffron and a Thai. But I'm only browsing as les petits pots sont trop chers. The flavors are as surprisingly delightful as the city itself.

The Dijonaise are out and about on the Saturday of our visit to Dijon.

This capital of the Bourgogne region was home to the Dukes of Burgundy from the 11th through the 15th centuries. The city is rich in architecture with excellent examples of medieval, Gothic and Renaissance all represented. Colorful tiled roofs, toits bourguignons, are a Dijon specialty.

The Declaration of the Rights of Dijon citizens is displayed at the Hôtel de Ville.

We manage to visit two museums during our day in Dijon. Musée des Beaux-Arts is one of France's oldest museums. Its vast collection is housed in the magnificent Palais des Ducs and spans the millenniums. On the edge of the historical district, Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne provided a quaint glimpse into what rural life was like in the past three centuries.

Past Dukes of Dijon are laid to rest in style at the Musée des Beaux-Arts.

A visit to Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne recreates scenes of rural life in
Burgundy in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Dijon Trivia
Husks from the mustard seeds at Maille Moutarde are used for animal feed or are sold to other industries as ingredients.


Nancy's Arc de Triomphe is a copy of Septimus Severus' triumphal arch
in Rome. The decoration glorifies King Louis XV.

Since we'll be spending the next week in Alsace, it's only fair to stop in Lorraine on the way. Though forever paired in the history books, the two regions are distinct from each other. At least this is what we are told by some Strasbourg residents shortly before our trip. ("Don't bother with Lorraine," they advise. "Alsace is the best.") I would not attempt to deem either area better than the other, but I notice some physical differences during our brief passage through Lorraine. It's more French than Alsace, and of course, there's the quiche.

An impressive example of French classicism, Place Stanislas in Nancy is a
Unesco World Heritage site. 

We've chosen to stop for a half-day in Nancy, the historic capital of Lorraine. I am eager to see the spectacular Place Stanislas. The square was built in the 1750s in honor of Stanislaw Leczinki, briefly the King of Poland and, as Duke of Lorraine, attentive administrator of the region. The square is enclosed by ornate gilded wrought-iron gates and railings, which were restored in 2005. In the summer, the five buildings surrounding Place Stan (as the locals call it) are illuminated in a spectacular light show each evening.

Just after we pass through Nancy's Arc de Triomphe, we are surprised to come across an unusual event. Groups of young people, perhaps university students or club members, have pimped out and decorated motorless cars and then push them around  Place de la Carrière for 24 hours. We stop to cheer them on, and then stroll through their staging areas where we are blasted with music, laughter, dancing and whiffs of herbal smoke from all sides.

We're not quite sure of the purpose of this car-pushing marathon in Nancy,
 but it sure looks fun.

Nancy is known for its École de Nancy, a forerunner of France's Art Nouveau movement. Many fine buildings of this architectural style are found throughout the city, and we opt to follow one of the three walking Art Nouveau itineraries suggested by the tourism office. Unfortunately we have to get back on the road before we have a chance to visit the Musée de l'École de Nancy or any of the five other museums here.

Figures seem to be scaling the roof of this Art Nouveau
roof in Nancy.

Local artists in Nancy have been asked to paint the streets.

Nancy Trivia
When Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by Germany in 1871, the city remained French. The resulting inflow of refugees doubled Nancy's population.

We're exhausted, and this is only the end Day 2! However, we'll be hunkering down for a week in Strasbourg, giving our car (and us) a break from the road.

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