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Road Trip: Burgundy

When my friend Betsi emailed me in January to invite me to her house in Burgundy for a weekend of brocanting (that’s a verb, right?) with the girls, I couldn’t get out my Sharpie fast enough to write it on my calendar. Burgundy + brocantes always equals fun in my book, so I packed my bags, hit the ATM (I actually think I heard it wimper when I punched in my code), and I was soon buzzing down the A6 in a van packed with four other women, all obsessive junkers like me, and a pan of just-baked brownies in the back.

After a stop for provisions (the new 65% cacao chocolate-covered peanut M&Ms and some odd-looking Haribo gummy shaped candies), two hours later we were in the town of Gien, home to some of the country’s most famous faience.

Some of this stuff, like these blue and white plates below, were really nice, but as y’all know, I like old stuff better than new, so I gave these a pass.

I was just about to leave empty-handed when I found myself lingering once more (along with RedDeb) over these rather touristy-looking smallish plates. We both grabbed the same one – that one on the lower left with the Eiffel tower — and headed to the checkout line. Cute for olives or whatever, we agreed. Plus, nine euros. How could we not, right?

So we each got one. I felt pretty good about that.

We made it to our final destination, the teensy town of Charny, not long after that, and we tossed our bags down, put Jill in charge of making a fire (she’s from Toronto so naturally best-fit for the task), popped open the champagne and tried to warm up our toes.

See that photo above of the bridge and the Loire river? Look closely. That’s ice along the banks. It was seriously cold down there. Minus something degrees. I stopped counting about a week ago because it just didn’t seem to matter. There’s the cold that’s bearable – anything between say, 35 and 45 degrees – and the cold that’s below zero. Which is what this was. Popsicle toes cold. Let’s just call it that.

The next day, we went out in search of a brocante – a shop, a yard sale, anything – just someone who’d let us come and poke around and pick through some dusty old junk. This is how I got to know this group. We’d bonded the year before at the Superbowl of brocantes, Chambord.

The next day, we drank a whole bunch of coffee, layered up again, and drove to the nearby town of Joigny, about 20 minutes away. After lunch, we found two shops right away on the river. But they were both closed, we learned, because of the cold. Seriously. People were closed because it was too cold to open their shops.

Who else but a bunch of silly old expat Americans (plus one fire-building Canadian) would brave the minus whatever degree weather to to shop for old  junk?

Things were not looking good.

But then something wonderful happened. The woman at the tourist office told us about a brocante on the other side of the river that we’d passed by and hadn’t seen…because it was tucked away, down a hidden passage.

The place looked like it hadn’t seen a customer in years. There were boxes of plates and dishes and glasses on the floor everywhere, covered in heaps of dust. Undaunted, we began to dig through it all.

Cold weather or not, the treasure hunt was on.

There was a bit of everything here. Old house numbers in French blue and white.

Old paperback books, cassette tapes and antlers. Antlers. There always seem to be lots of antlers at these places.

And one old bistro chair, sitting by its lonesome. I love these chairs. I’ll pick some up some day.

I ended up with two sacks of goodies — some linen sheets, an old salad spinner, and kitchen tools — from this place. On the way back to Charny, we found a little roadside shop that was selling stuff for people in need, like a very tiny Goodwill. I picked up a few things here, too. The next morning, right next to the Sunday food market in Charny, we stopped by a small shop and I found my bone-handled carving knife for 5 euros, a couple of bowls, and the prettiest blue and white mug that I’ve ever seen.

On the drive back, we began making plans for our next hunting trip: Chambord on May Day.

Are we there yet?