From Lallio, Italy to Lavernois, France

April 17, 2009 17:55 – 17:55

We spent today driving from Lallio, Italy to Lavernois, France, near Beaune. We came though a rather mountainous region filled with picturesque villages. Stopping points are hard to find, but I did manage to stop and take a few pictures along the way.

We’re at the Best Western Golf or Colvert Hotel. It’s on a golf course out in the country. Our room looks out on beautiful green fields, with a small stream just below our balcony. Earlier, I heard doves cooing, and if I listen really carefully, I can hear night birds singing now, along with the gentle ripple of water in the canal. I took these pictures right after we arrived—at about 6:30 pm. The sun sets here between 8:30 and 8:45 in mid-April, so it was still light. We also enjoyed a beautiful sunset while driving to dinner.

Here’s our balcony.

The room is quite spacious—the largest hotel room we’ve had on this trip, although the apartments we rented were larger. It’s hard to capture in picture, but these should give some idea.

On the way to dinner, we passed a field filled with yellow flowers. They aren’t daffodils, but perhaps someone will recognize them and tell me what they are.

We also passed this beautiful old church. From what I’m reading, this church—a short walk from our hotel—was begun in 469AD, and additions were built in the 12th and 18th centuries.

Other stuff I’m reading about the nearby town of Beaune call it “medieval,” and from going to dinner there tonight, I believe it. The central area is quite ancient.

After we checked in, we unpacked our computers and began googling for possible restaurants. We almost immediately discovered Le Gourmandin, in the heart of old Beaune. We had googled “boeuf bourguignon near beaune.” So, naturally, that’s what we had… and it was superb. While I’ve made boeuf bourguignon many times, this is the first time I’ve ever had it prepared by someone else—not to mention in the heart of Burgundy. It tasted very much like mine, except that they use a lot more wine. Next time I’ll make it, I’ll shoot for something in between my normal and the “official” version. While theirs was excellent, I do think it’s possible to overdo it with wine when cooking. A little bit goes a long way.

We enjoyed a 2007 Burgundy with dinner—it was very nice, and had a little tingle to it, as if it had developed some slight carbonation. We also opted for dessert. We were disappointed that the crustillard de chocolate wasn’t available, and had the profiteroles, instead. They were good—made with ice cream instead of the usual custard. But, Karen tells me that the ones she had in Innsbruck were the best she’s ever tasted.

Following dinner, we walked around the ancient plaza for a short while, hoping to find a grocery store that’s open late (the search for cream to go in my tea for tomorrow’s journey), but were not successful. So, we set a course back to the hotel.

The way here this morning and this afternoon were not without adventure. For starters, we quickly found ourselves driving through snowy mountains once again. It was hard to find places to stop to take pictures, but persistence eventually paid off. These were taken behind a gas station while we were still in Italy.

Fill ‘er up with scenery, and check the snow.

Our next photo op was in a parking area along the motorway, in the Valle d’Aosta in Italy. Here’s one of many narrow waterfalls that decorate the mountains.

A Swiss family had stopped at the same place to have a picnic. Their four children seemed bored at first—perhaps a little cold, since the temperature there was in the 40s. We didn’t ask if their name was Robinson.

Later, they busied themselves running around and around the picnic table. I don’t think they noticed the stone houses built into the side of the mountain above us.

A short while later, we encountered a bit of a surprise. Except when entering Switzerland, we’ve never had to stop when crossing into different countries in western Europe. It’s much like traveling within the U.S. So, we were surprised by an apparent border crossing station when we arrived at the French border with Italy. We had bought some Italian pastries for breakfast tomorrow, and I joked that perhaps the French were making sure that no foreign baked goods were being smuggled into France.

Now, at this point, we had already been through dozens of tunnels, and were hoping that there’d be fewer in France. Many tunnels were 2-3 km in length, and strung together with about 300 meters of spacing, like huge links of tunnel sausages. The occasional tunnel can be fun, but northern Italy definitely overdoes it.

We didn’t realize at this point, however, that our “Welcome to France” was to be one of the longest tunnels in the world—the Mont Blanc Tunnel! The pictured booth above wasn’t the border crossing, but was a toll booth, where they extracted just under 35€. At this point, however, we didn’t know it was for the tunnel we were about to enter. We thought it was for the dozens of tunnels we’d just gone through. Then, the truth dawned on us as we entered the beginning of over 7.5 miles of underground darkness, driven mostly between 60 and 70 KM/H.

Coming out of the tunnel on the other end, the road snakes down rapidly. On the lookout for a place where we could actually touch the snow, I spied this place.

We’ve been seeing these trucks with FERCAM on the side and back, by the way. It’s fun to imagine that FERCAM means something else. I have such an adolescent mind sometimes.

Anyway, back to the pullover area… Here’s what really got my attention:

Yep. Piles of snow! And here I am actually touching the filthy snow with my shoe. Did I mention that a cold front came through, and I was dressed for several days ago when it was close to 80? I totally misjudged today’s weather.

But, here’s why the little pullover area really exists.

There was a horrible fire in the tunnel in 1999. 39 people were killed. I remember reading about it, and what you’re looking at is a memorial to them.

Tomorrow, we’re going to drive though some of the little towns where the French impressionists painted. It’s fitting that a trip that began with a lot of art should end with the inspiration for much of that art—the French landscape and villages. As we went through the museums, Karen was noting town names in painting titles. So, tomorrow before we leave, we’re going to plot out a course that takes us through some of them, and end up at a hotel near the De Gaulle airport north of Paris.

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