France Travel: Dijon, Burgundy.
Dukes, Owl, and Little Delights
Dijon was once the heart of a power that rivalled Kingdom of France and set the the standard for "good living" with its wine and cuisine, and one can definitely feel that in the air. The inner city of Dijon is not remarkably big but the proud buildings in the city centre, the main street lined with flags of the Burgundian departments, and the many parks give off the atmosphere of a well-to-do and contented life.
(A slight downside when visiting Dijon as a poor student is that the youth hostels are quite far from the city centre, about half an hour by bus. However, the locations are convenient for public transport so distance was not a big problem for me.)
The Dukes and their City
That Dijon was once home to a court famous for an extravagant and refined lifestyle is the most apparent in the Palace of the Dukes and later residence to the representative of the King of France and nowadays home to the administration of Burgundy, and the old town nearby. The Palace is part-office (there is a small hallway connecting the old town and the Liberty Square which runs through the office area), part-museum both for itself as an important city landmark and for the wonderful Museum of Fine Arts, which is said to be second only to Louvre in France. If you are an art lover, you will be awed by the variety and richness of the collection (and even if you are not keen on art, you lose nothing since the entrance is free!). My personal favourite are minimalistic but delightfully lively animal sculptures by Francois Pompom. The museum's collection also tells a lot about the wealth and love for beauty and finery of Dijon and Burgundy in general. There are magnificient altarpieces, lavish tombs of the Dukes, and last but not least, artworks by the local art students who were sent to Rome, showing that they had resources and ambitions equal to that of the national art academy of France.
The old town is home to the Cathedral of Our Lady where you can find "La Chouette" (the mascot and luck-bringer of the city) and the grotesque gargoyles, Les Halles (the city's great market hall for groceries and delicacies), and interesting-looking houses. On Sunday, there is a flea market in the area where you can find old postcards, paintings, toys and other things.
Another remarkable feature of Dijon is that it has many parks scattered around all corners of the city. The most famous and noteworthy among them are the Darcy park and the Botanical Garden. Darcy park is named after the engineer who designed the water distribution system of Dijon, and accordingly features a beautiful fountain. The Botanical Garden, as the name indicated, was established in the name of education. You can likely find all of the common cereals, vegetables, fruits and flowers of the temperate climate here. The Garden is surrounded by a spacious park, making it an ideal venue for a walk.
Besides the scenic spots, what makes Dijon memorable to me is the small touches that bring a grin to my face around the cities such as the bronze tiles with the owl characteristic of the city (you will see a lot of things with the owl on it in general in Dijon) that mark the tourist route or an interesting shop sign. Also I'm not sure if Dijon is the first city that has the "library bus", but it is certainly the first time I see such a thing.