Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A weekend in Tonnerre: An ancient charitable hospital, Damien's graduation, a fancy dinner and more

This past weekend Damien and I loaded up the car Friday morning and took off for Tonnerre, where Damien lived for three years during college (his internship was in that town). Fun French fact: the word "tonnerre" means "thunder" in French!

We'd be staying with his old landlady and attending his graduation ceremony on Saturday, two hours away from Tonnerre.

(Yeah, that was a surprise for me too—"Your school is two hours from there?!" I said on the way up. Yeah, I've told you that before, he said without a doubt, clearly surprised that this information was a surprise to me. I'd obviously missed something all the previous times we'd ever talked about his college, so I had him explain it to me then, as I didn't understand the logistics at all. As I now understand it, they'd have class for a few weeks, and then internship for a chunk of time. So that's why he lived in Tonnerre for those three years, where he worked, and he'd actually rent a dorm room Monday to Friday in the town of his university for the weeks when they had class, and return to Tonnerre on the weekends.)

Somewhere around five hours after we'd left, Damien asked if I wanted to stop in Beaune. I didn't know anything about the town—not even where it was—but as always, why not see something new?


So we detoured a little bit (I think) and put an hour's worth of coins into the parking meter in central Beaune (pop. ~22,500).

Damien led us straight to the Hospices de Beaune (also called Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune), which was a hospital for the poor, founded in 1443.

We paid around 7,50 € each for a visit, which came with an audio guide, which you can see me using below.

Here's one of the main rooms of the former charitable hospital, which is lined with beds against both walls.

I liked the creatures that were painted at the end of each beam in the ceiling, made to look like the beams were coming out of their mouths.

I also really liked the look of the two patterned designs on the wall behind the altar in that same room:

We rushed through the last couple rooms in the end of the visit, as our parking meter was soon going to be up. We returned to the car, threw a few more coins in the meter, and walked around the center of the town for a bit more, before our final leg of the journey.

Too bad we couldn't have added a few more coins to some sort of "daylight" meter, as darkness (and northern cold) were quickly crawling in.


We arrived in Tonnerre (pop. ~5,000) around 7:30 that night, and Damien's old landlady, Françoise, had a wonderful dinner prepared for us.

It wasn't until the next morning that I got a peek at the town. (It really was brief, we had just 15 minutes before we had to leave town when we took the quick walk around.)

Françoise lives near a church, which we passed on our way down some steps to la Fosse Dionne:

This is a natural spring that was a water source back in Roman times. In the 18th century it was used as a place to wash clothes, as a rim had since been put around the "sinkhole," with a spout on one end.

Damien tried to explain it to me, but I don't quite understand how this natural wellspring "works." Apparently it shoots out (pumps up?) really impressive quantities of water, though—300 liters per second.
"La fosse Dionne est remarquable par son débit (en moyenne 300 litres par seconde) et la taille de son réseau hydrogéologique qui s'étend jusqu'à plus de 40 km."
And if I'm understanding the phrase above (from a Wikipedia article in French), the reserve is 40 km deep.

Damien said that people used to be able to dive in the water (as in, deep diving, with equipment I believe), but after several deaths it's no longer allowed.

If this hidden gem wasn't cool enough, then I spotted a Camino de Santiago sign right beside it, seen below.

It seemed fitting that the Camino passes through this town, as I'd been having Camino flashbacks during much of the car ride the previous day. All of the fields of grapevines and general atmosphere had been reminding me of many towns and fields I'd walked through on the Camino in Spain.

After our rapid "tour" of Tonnerre, Damien changed into his suit and then Françoise snapped our picture out on the back patio before we took off for more car time.

Damien's Graduation Ceremony

"It's in a casino?!" I exclaimed, as we pulled into a casino parking lot two hours later.

A little background on my disbelief: I had never been in a casino, and little Palavas where we've been living actually has a casino. So it's been on my "to do" list to get dressed up one night and go to the casino in Palavas just because.

I'd definitely mentioned that once to Damien, but I don't think it was really on his radar. So apparently he'd forgotten to mention this little detail to me about the graduation ceremony. While it's possible that this had also been lost in translation, just like the fact that his school and classes were two hours from the town where he lived and worked, "casino" is casino in French, so you be the judge. In any case, this surprise got the same response as the others: "We really need to communicate better..."

So for me, it was: boom, out of nowhere now we're all dressed up walking into a casino—the very thing I'd wanted to do but hadn't yet planned. (An interesting feeling to have experienced, by the way.) Another side note: We never actually ended up being in or seeing the area with the games, so casino is still very much on "my list."

We were quickly split up after entering, as the graduates were supposed to sit together, where families and friends were in the other two sections of seats.

Most of Damien's classmates received their degrees last November, as he'd finished classes fall of 2014. But to get your engineering degree here, you also have to hit a certain score on the TOEIC, an English exam. And that's what delayed Damien in completing his degree. (He spent a month in Ireland in November taking English classes, went back to France for the holidays, and returned to Ireland that spring for another three months of English classes. He took the TOEIC maaany times, and finally got the score he needed in August—woo hoo!)

Here's the group of people in the same field of study as Damien (he's the fourth guy from the left).

Diploma in hand:

It was good timing, as just two days before the ceremony Damien found out he got the 3-month contract job he'd applied for. So while talking with past classmates and professors, he had some exciting news to share.

They grouped all the graduates (about a hundred people) together outside and had a photographer up on the roof to capture the group. Then there was champagne and hors-d'oeuvres served by servers on trays who walked around.

Then we drove two hours back to Tonnerre, arriving around 7:30. Around quarter to nine, we walked to a gastronomic (think: fancy) restaurant for dinner. Damien had never eaten there before, but wanted to, and this was definitely a suitable occasion to splurge (plus it was actually an affordable gastronomic restaurant, with the cheapest menus at 25 €).

Here were my three courses. This first salad was sooo good. Salmon, warm chevre (goat cheese), beets, and lots of other goodness.

This was some kind of fish with veggies:

And that green, green pear in my dessert (skin was already peeled) tasted strongly of mint. It had been soaked in some sort of mixture for the color and taste. The chocolate/mint theme was awesome.

Sunday in Tonnerre

Sometime between Friday and Saturday, we decided to stay until Monday instead of driving back on Sunday. This way Damien could visit his old workplace on Monday morning, and see Thierry, his old "mentor," Sunday evening. (That's the French term, but this is the guy who had been in charge of Damien's internship. So, something like coworker and internship supervisor?)

Luckily we got access to Françoise's wifi Saturday night, so I was able to do a little bit of time-sensitive work on Sunday—since I'd no longer be home to work on Monday as originally planned.

Damien decided he wanted to make some cookies to bring to Thierry's house that night, so he went to a grocery store and bought all the ingredients to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. (Side note: I've totally got him hooked on American cookies! He'd actually thrown a batch in the oven Friday morning before leaving (from extra dough in the freezer), to eat on the way and share with Françoise.)

And as I finished up some editing for work, Françoise started on her latest project for her youth ministry: images that represent "peace." She wanted some samples to show the kids before she had them make their own—which would be drawn with permanent markers on these thick, glossy, clear sheets of film.

She thought it'd be really cool to have an example from someone in Wisconsin, so she asked me to draw one too. Here's the first one she made, laid on top of white paper so you can see it:

Then she painted this one:

And here's the poster I ended up making:

That evening we took a plate of cookies over to Theirry's house, where he and his wife treated us to an amazing dinner—beginning with the apéritf (drinks and snacks), during which we chatted for way over an hour—followed by three courses of goodness.

On Monday morning Damien stopped by where he used to work during school to visit some old supervisors and coworkers. And then it was a nearly straight shot back to Palavas.

For me, it was really nice to learn more about Damien's past in Tonnerre, and to change up our scenery. 

And for Damien, he mentioned that the weekend ended up being a great way to get some closure on the student period of his life, so he could turn the page to start this new chapter that lies ahead.
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