It was either 1992 or 1993 when I began my “career” as a European cycling tour guide. I’ve spent more than a minute trying to figure it out, but I really am not sure. What I do know is that I was teaching at a boarding school in upstate New York and I was looking for something to do over the summer.
I also know that I was madly in love with another teacher at the school (who eventually married one of my better friends who lived a floor above me in the dorm–yeah, that still stings) and it was one of the five straight victories in the Tour de France for Miguel Indurain.
Whenever it was, I also distinctly remember that less than a handful of days before I boarded the plane to Paris the woman who was going to be leading tours with me (small company) died in an avalanche in Maine, of all places.
So what did that mean for me? Well, I felt some rather intense sadness even though I had never met her. We had talked on the phone a number of times and I think that we were also conversing using a whacky new medium called “email.” (I was on AOL. Don’t judge.)
I learned of her death shortly after arriving at the office in Paris (cell phones and texting were yet to be a thing) and I had a hot minute to “get over it” as I was heading to the Basque region of France and Spain for five days before I would be leading my very first solo trip in the Loire Valley (after an eight hour stop in Paris to pick up bikes).
After the Loire, I was to head directly back to Paris for a week in the Ile-de-France (including Chartres), back to the Loire, then Burgundy, the Swiss Alps, and then a week in Northern Italy. It would all end with a day in Germany, handing off my clients to another guide (my German was horrible then, and even worse now).
Two bikes (the bike I brought over broke), five countries, six currencies (it was before the Euro and including the dollar), 17 trains, 28 clients, 35 hotels, and about 100 bottles of wine later I was back in Paris alone, tired, and broke, trying to figure out where those missing 173 French Francs went (or was it 43 Swiss Francs, 32 Deutsch Marks, or 3 billion Italian Lire?).
What was clear however, was that I relished all of it, particularly the two nights spent in Dijon, the capital of Burgundy. Dijon is at the northern end of the Côte d’Or, which is only 50 kilometers (31 miles) long and contains the highest concentration of legendary vineyards in the world: Chambertin, Clos de la Roche, Le Musigny, Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, la Romanée-Conti, Corton-Charlemagne, Le Meursault.
Maybe you don’t know them. Trust me. Bucket-list, goose-bump, wet-dream kind of stuff.
I did not know much about wine at the time, but a 1976 Domaine Leroy Chambertin changed the trajectory of my life. It was about $100, which was well beyond my budget at the time, but I shared it with three other clients, who absorbed my share.
That wine would go for close to $3000 a bottle in the U.S. today.
I am not one who has a predilection toward prayer, but this wine led me in that direction, but that bottle was by all accounts a religious experience.
Suffice it to say that based on those two short days in Dijon, the three winos on the trip (there were 12 in total) convinced me to worship at the temple of Burgundy. And, for the most part, I have been a (fairly) loyal disciple ever since (even though I remain a disciple, Burgundy, both red and white, has become far too expensive and rife with problems, but that is the topic for another article).
For the next dozen summers or so, I would visit Burgundy once, maybe twice, each time spending a couple of nights in Dijon. Once it is safe to fly again, I am sure that the Côte d’Or will be near the top of potential destinations.
Well, that is all I have this week, but I will be back next week with another virtual trip!