Bourgogne – A Road Trip (very photo heavy)

In July 2014 I went to Burgundy (Bourgogne) in France together with Dóra, a friend from Vienna with Hungarian origins. It was our first holiday together, but we had a fabulous time. Dóra did a lot of the planning, because she is a very organized person, while I like to play it by ear a lot when travelling. She is also an art historian, which means that I learned a lot about the history of art, in particular about styles throughout the epochs. I, on the other hand, was the driver (important job – you can see me below with our rental car)

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and I was also responsible for food and drinks, i.e. finding good places to eat and have a cultivated drink, mandatory in France. You can see Dóra at the background of this sweet bistro/tea house:

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We arrived in Paris to take the TGV (high speed train) to Dijon, a pretty town with a great cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Bénigne), particularly impressive on the outside,

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le Palais des Ducs (Ducal palace), which houses a lot of medieval art exhibits, amongst others the ducal tombs realized by Claus Sluiter:

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Of course we also bought our share of mustard. The hardest part about it was tasting which flavors we wanted. Some were very spicy.

Then we picked up our little car and went to Beaune. It used to be the capital of Burgundy and its main attraction is the Hôtel-Dieu, a former hospital, where patients did not have much privacy. The beds in the big hall were always shared by two people! Well worth seeing was also the 15th century polyptych:

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We decided to splash out every once in a while and invested in two very memorable hotels. We spent one night in a real castle, where we felt like princesses when we had our glass of “kir” in style at the lobby:

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Another time, we took a hotel room with an impressive view on the hill where Vézélay is situated.

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But not only the location of Vézélay is very picturesque, the cathedral is also stunningly beautiful inside:

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There were also some social highlights like our breakfast at a small bistro one morning. We had coffee with croissants from the bakery next door, whereas some of the other guests had their first few glasses of wine.

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But now about some more cultural discoveries. We saw a great deal of Romanesque and Gothic churches, in fact there was one in almost every village. Since particularly Romanesque churches are not that common in Austria, I was quite impressed and Dóra explained all the style features to me. Below you can see some pictures of minor Romanesque and Gothic churches we visited:

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What I really started to love about Romanesque churches are the capitals on the columns:

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One of my favorite places on this trip was Cluny because of its church. The cathedral of Cluny used to be the biggest church in the world at the time. They started building the third version of it in 1088. When we went around the remains, it dawned on me that it must have been massive. The portal alone carried one stone that weighed 23 tons. Due to its importance in the Catholic world, it served as a model for many other churches that were built at that time. The Church of Cluny, with a floor of five naves in the main body of the church and two crossings, has the floor plan of the shape of an archbishop’s cross. Very sadly, it was destroyed during the French Revolution, blown up and its stones re-used for other buildings. This is also the reason why there are only small pieces of the portal stone mentioned above:

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These now outside pictures used to be inside the church:

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This is to show you how big the remaining smaller side aisle is. The dwarf there is me:

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The French revolutionaries caused very much damage to a lot of churches. Sometimes they chipped figures or their heads like in Charlieu:

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Another highlight was definitely the city of Autun with its old city walls, amphitheatre, cathedral and pretty architecture:

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However, our holiday was not only about churches, we also visited castles. I have been a fan of French (Renaissance) castles ever since I spent my summer on the estate of a baroness in the Touraine in 1996. At that time I got to see a number of them for the first time.

This time we had Château Cormatin on our list. It was built just after 1600 and is surrounded by water. A little nice detail were the bush sculptures in the park – little cute animals:

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Another castle was Château Sully, also surrounded by water. It is the largest Renaissance castle in southern Burgundy. There was even time for some yoga although the weather started to be quite nasty.

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May I present our summer residence: Château Tanlay (we wish):

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One of the prettiest towns on this trip was Semur en Auxois, which might also have something to do with the fact that there was finally some sun after a week of heavy rain and cold weather. Anyway, it is a charming place built on a rock with many small streets and lookouts, but see for yourself:

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Another highlight for me was the Cistercian monastery of Fontenay, which was founded in the 12th century. This Romanesque building is quite reduced regarding decorations, because the monks were not supposed to be distracted by any pictures, capitals or the like. I was amazed by the atmosphere of the place, because its simplicity rendered me very calm and serene. Yet, I would not have swapped with the monks, who had a harsh life. They all slept on straw bags and apart from the kitchen there was only one more room that was heated. Just imagine the freezing winter months!

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When visiting Burgundy, you should definitely not leave out the city of Auxerre. There are many pretty streets and squares with nice cafés.

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It also has two beautiful cathedrals, one being la Cathédrale St. Etienne:

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Believe it or not, we also visited Montréal on the same trip. Well, it looked like this and is rather small and sleepy:

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I cannot provide any pictures for the Grottes d’Arcy, grottos where paintings of Cro-Magnon people were discovered in 1990. The oldest wall paintings inside the grotto are some 28,000 years old (!) and are therefore the oldest wall paintings that we currently know of. The paintings were preserved by a layer of chalk and depict animals like mammoths and bears.

Regarding the houses of prayer that we went to, we even visited a Buddhist temple on the way:

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We did not only have one cultural ambitions, we also climbed the Roche de Solutré, a limestone rock, from top of which we had an amazing view:

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The last town that we went to in Burgundy was Sens. The end of the trip was gloriously crowned with a “son et lumière” show on the cathedral, a massive building with many impressive windows:

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From there, we went  to Paris (Sacré-Coeur seen from Musée d’Orsay)

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and then to Vienna.

If you think that we crammed in a lot. Yes, that’s certainly true, but it was definitely worth while. It was an amazing trip. I saw great places and learned very much as well.

Treading new paths

Yoga has been a part of my life for numerous years now. I coincidentally joined a Hatha yoga class, because a friend of mine recommended it to me when I was looking for a different kind of exercise after hurting my knee during kung fu training. At first I was not too sure, but I tend to give new things a chance, so I went there.

I immediately loved the physical part of it, which was different from all the sports that I had done before. What struck me about it was the detail that went into the poses. Sometimes, a minor change of position (e.g. moving your knee outward a little bit or getting your hips more centered) made a huge difference to the whole asana. Moreover, it was the first time that I only cared about what I did in class and how it felt during the pose and afterwards.

There was, however, also another side: Meditation. At first I was waiting more or less impatiently for the ten minutes to go by, but after a while I realised that it was perfect me-time. I started to enjoy the minutes I was sitting there to the point where I once fell into a trance-like state. Up to the present date, I am not sure if it was something that resembles microsleep or actually the deep relaxation that you are striving for in meditation.

In the course of the years that I have been practising yoga, I learned that there are always new aspects and you can always learn something even in the simplest of poses, if there is such a thing at all. And recently I have started to think about digging even deeper.

I have been considering doing yoga teacher training. So I surfed the internet for possibilities in Vienna, because I knew that the next Iyengar yoga school is in Munich, about 4 hours away by train. I was thinking about the popular 200-hour teacher training offered by the International Yoga Alliance. On a closer look, I discovered that they do not have any requirements at all. Contrary to that, in Iyengar yoga, you need to have a history of at least three years of reasonably regular yoga practice, a recommendation by your yoga teacher, and the training takes 7 semesters, i.e. almost 4 years all in all. It includes photo diaries of asanas, practical and theoretical courses, philosophy and much more.

I believe that I would like to do an Iyengar teacher training, because everything else would not be satisfactory for me anyway. I just need to see if there is anything I need to change in my current (work) life that would prevent me from successfully taking part. There will be more about this story shortly…

Lifestyles

 

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And sometimes all you need to do is move on and leave everything else behind

So even though I am incomplete with my voice having retracted to a safe place – wherever exactly that might be – I decided to make the most of the situation, i.e. being at home with no real purpose but waiting for my voice to become better in between drinking a lot, no really, a lot of tea, steam inhalations and compulsive reading sessions (I even finished another book: Let The Great World Spin – a recommendation!). So where was I? Making the sick days at home count. Incited by a friend who kept going on about how most people hoard things they do not actually need, I decided to clear out my wardrobe. Thoroughly.

So far so good. The last few times I did that, a couple of clothes had to go, but I kept lots of things that I had fond memories of, yet I hadn’t worn for ages. Amongst others, this time I let go of a jacket that I had since I was a teenager and I still ( or rather again) find it sort of stylish, but it’s just not my style any more. The early 90s are over, what can I say. I gave away a skirt and a top that I bought in Hong Kong. They reminded me of the great holiday I had there together with Lisa when we visited our friend Uwe. Same here, just not my style any more. I even gave my first dancing shoes to someone else. I loved looking at them and remembering how I used to go to balls wearing them. And contrary to the other things, I would even wear them, but they feel uncomfortable and too tight on my feet nowadays. I am wondering if my feet have put on weight, too, or if I just don’t want to put up with uncomfy shoes any more. We will never really know…

Bottom line of all of this: It felt great to see others  happy with things I don’t use any more, because they would only lie or hang around in my wardrobe unnecessarily. In a karma yogic way, I have done a good deed for the world this weekend and that makes me happy. Another benefit is that I feel lighter now, because I always have the impression that possessions sometimes wear me down.

When it’s over, let it all go

I have just finished reading “Caramelo”, a book that took me quite a while, because I had other things to get done in the meantime. However, it never got boring to read. What I also love about books, it has various levels of storytelling in the plot between which it moves. I read the last third of it in the past three days, because I had more time and really got caught in the story.

What happens when I finish a book that I enjoyed very much, I, on the one hand, would like to read on of course, and on the other hand, I am not able to start reading another book, because I want to let it settle somewhat to reflect on the little subtleties of the characters, hidden meanings etc.

So now I am in a state of post-reading “Caramelo” by Sandra Cisneros. If you speak English and Spanish or have at least a liking of Mexico, I would definitely recommend this book to you.

I would like to quote from the last few lines (Don’t worry, it’s a kind of afterword and does not give the ending away.), where she talks as a child of immigrants. I have to deal with such children on a daily basis in my profession as a teacher at school. It is sometimes hard to understand for me as an Austrian why they call themselves “Afghans”, for instance, even though they were born here in Austria, have an Austrian passport and spent all or the greater part of their lives in Austria. My feeling is that in some way they do not fully belong here due to their cultural heritage or their upbringing and long for integration in the society of their family. So at the end of the book, Sandra Cisneros talks about the space in between two countries: “for me these things, that song, that time, that place, are all bound together in a country I am homesick for, that doesn’t exist anymore. That never existed. A country I invented. Like all emigrants caught between here and there.” In her case, she is torn between the USA and Mexico, or an image of it that she remembers from her childhood.

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Don’t judge a book by its cover

My friend Helga did this quiz, which was originally published on a book-related blog. I found it quite interesting, and since I am a keen reader, I thought I might take it too. If you also intend to answer the questions, let me know🙂

Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack:

I very rarely snack while reading, but I very often read while having breakfast/lunch/dinner.

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What is your favourite drink while reading?

Tea, definitely tea.

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Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

It depends if I read the book for myself, in which case I hardly ever write in it. If I read it for school, I very often mark passages and write down remarks. I think books are there to be used anyway.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog ears? Laying the book flat open.

All of the above. If I have a bookmark (aka postcard, receipt, any other piece of paper that may serve) handy, then I will probably use it. If not, I use dog ears or just leave it open top down next to my bed or next to me in bed when I’m too tired to read on. I’m very flexible in this respect. I treat my books with respect and love, but I still think that they are there to be used to one’s liking.

Fiction, non-fiction, or both?

Both, but mainly fiction for private reading.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?

If the end of the chapter is not too long to read, I prefer to stop there when I read in bed before sleeping. Otherwise, I can stop everywhere, which is particularly useful when I read books on public transport. It also depends on the book and if the plot is complicated, in which case I would probably prefer not to read it on public transport, where I have to zoom in every time I start reading again.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?

Thinking about it, I have never done that. I have thrown many things across various rooms, but never a book. I usually just don’t finish it when I get upset with the author / plot / a character etc. I might try throwing books across my apartment in the near future though. It might relieve some pressure now that I have given up martial arts.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

Not unless the word is immensely necessary to understand a passage. I usually read books in foreign languages, so if I stopped for every word I don’t understand, I wouldn’t get a lot of reading done.

What are you currently reading?

For school: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. For myself: Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros. It is a book about a girl with Mexican roots narrating the story of her youth.

What is the last book you bought?

Little Daughter by Zoya Phan. Haven’t started reading it yet.

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?

I usually read at least two books at a time. Sometimes I forget about books midway through only to go on with them at a later stage when I find them on the bookshelf with some sort of bookmark in them.

Do you have a favourite time/place to read?

There are many: At breakfast, although very often I read magazines then. At night before going to sleep. At the weekend all day particularly in bed. Some books (lighter reads) on public transport.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone?

Probably stand alone, because I haven’t read many series books (apart from Lord of the Rings)

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?

I have always loved Margaret Atwood’s and Paul Auster’s books.

How do you organise your books? (genre, title, authors last name etc)

My books are organised according to languages (English, French, German, Spanish) and countries. I keep dictionaries and grammar books of all languages also on a different shelf together with books I would only read for school (I am a language teacher by the way.). On some shelves, there is a row of books in front of the books that were already there. Those are the ones that have come in last. So there is a system, but it isn’t overly effective, because I don’t stick to it meticulously.

It is not this bad though😉

Coming out

Heard today in a French film from a man held aggressively by another man: “Ne me secouez pas, je suis plein de larmes.” (Don’t shake me, I am full of tears.) I liked the line, which was of course uttered by a poet, a French poet. I have recently rediscovered my love for French films, culture, people, etc. I enjoy their easy-going way (or savoir-vivre, as they call it) and their will and ability to enjoy everything in life from food to relationships.

tree_badgasteinThe picture is totally unrelated with the text above. I came across it the other day and liked it because of its quiet and serene atmosphere. It was taken last summer after a yoga class during a holiday in the Austrian mountains with my friend Lisa.

Happy in Vienna

Spa holiday

There is one thing I have learned over the years: A week of holidays has to be spent wisely. Consequently, I booked a 3-day-holiday at a spa in Bad Tatzmannsdorf, Burgenland, Austria, just for myself. I was already there last year and liked the place because of its peace and quiet.

This time I was particularly lucky: Everything was covered beneath a beautiful layer of snow. As you can see, the surroundings were so very idyllic, ideal for a long walk to get some fresh air.

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The hotel itself has a long tradition as a health resort for people with diverse problems that can be treated with various minerals from the spa and mud baths from the region:

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My favourite thing about staying at the spa is swimming outside in the warm water although it’s winter time and the temperature does not amount to much more than 0°C.

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Another activity that I enjoyed was going to the sauna, getting heated up inside and jumping into the very cold pool beside afterwards. It always costs me quite an effort to do it, but I get rewarded for my bravery. For some time after diving into the freezing water, I feel utterly invincible🙂

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The ability to squat has always been on my mind since I first visited Asia. People there squat almost all the time when they don’t have anything better to do, when they sell fruits at the market, when they wash clothes etc. It’s one of the positions in yoga that I can do, but  it is not very easy for me to stay in squat for long. For further reference, read the article below:

http://www.somastruct.com/5-reasons-to-start-full-squatting/

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