On Wednesday, June 1st, we had our first full day of lecture in the classroom at our hostel. Professor Haggblom gave an in-depth lecture about the biochemistry of fermentation and detailed the various strategies microbes use to make energy in different environments. Glycolysis, the citric acid cycle, the electron transport chain, the mitochondrial hydrogen ion gradient, and various other topics were discussed in class. I learned that there are two other important glycolytic pathways in some prokaryotes in addition to the EMP/fructose(1,6)BP pathway that I normally think of as glycolysis.
The following day (June 2nd) our group took a bus trip to the city of Beaune, where there is an old domaine (A estate and associated chateau which makes and collects wine) that has an extensive wine cave. This cave, which lies below the fortified stone walls of an 18th century chateau, houses about 2 million bottles of wine. Assuming each bottle is 750mL, this would mean that there are about 1.5 million liters of wine, or just over 375,000 gallons of wine stored within this cave. Our host, named Charles, also brought us to a special room which held the private wine collection of the chateau owner. The oldest bottles of wine in this section were made in the 1830’s, and therefore are more than 150 years old. During WWII, Charles explained that this room had been concealed behind several false walls in order to protect this priceless wine from seizure by the Nazis. After walking for a while through the halls of this immense cave, we eventually made our way into a wine tasting room which was just below ground. Once we were there, we tasted six different wines, 3 red wines, and 3 white wines. Charles also mentioned that the most expensive of the white wines that we tasted, a 2011 Mersault, typically costs about 50 Euros per bottle.
After the wine tasting and cave exploration, our group walked a short distance into the town of Beaune to eat lunch. I broke of with a group of 3 others and the 4 of us had a delicious 4-course meal. First, as an entrée (meaning an appetizer in French), I was served a green salad with hot goat cheese on toasted bread. Next up was the main course, which was tender rabbit served with mixed vegetables and fried potato slices. After eating lunch, I went into a wine shop and found an interesting white wine called Saint Bris. In class, we had been told that all white wines made in Burgundy were either made with Chardonnay or Aligoté grapes, but it turns out there is one exception to this rule. On the back of the bottle it said that this wine was made in Burgundy and that it was made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes, so I asked the store clerk in French if this was indeed the case. He replied that this was the only wine in the region that used Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and I was intrigued and decided to buy it.
Soon thereafter the group climbed back into the bus and we made our way back to our hostel in Cluny. Once back, I changed into a t-shirt and shorts and went for a short run around Cluny, this time in a circuit around the main town.
The following day (June 3rd) was also spent inside the classroom. During this class we again delved deeply into the biochemistry of fermentation, with a particular emphasis this time on the fermentation of cheese. Professor Haggblom explained the various chemical reactions that give strong cheeses their characteristic odors and tastes – including deamination of amino acids, decarboxylation of amino acids and other biological molecules, and other chemicals produced by the bacteria and fungi that inhabit the rind and pâté of the cheese. He also explained how some cheeses ripen from the inside out, while others ripen from the outside in. At the end of the day, I had eaten lots of cheese and bread without doing much exercise, so I decided to go out running once again. I repeated the same loop I had done the day before, but with a slight detour near the end of the circuit. Later I went out with a small group to grab dinner at a middle eastern kebab restaurant.
On Saturday (June 4th) there was a large street market that was set up within the old abbey of Cluny. Vendors selling all kinds of goods – including fresh fruits and vegetables, prepared food, meat, cheese, clothing, and other items – set them out onto tables in the mid-morning. Our group spent a couple of hours walking from stand to stand and purchasing various items. After lunch, the open air market was dismantled and our group met up once again to go to the nearby horse stables in Cluny. Originally established as a means of breeding horses for use on the battlefield, these stables have been owned by the French government since the time of Napoleon. Today, although these horses are no longer used in battle, this property is still owned by the state and is used as a museum, equestrian arts center, and repository for rare and endangered horse breeds. As our tour guide brought us through the stables, she detailed the horse breeds and explained what each horse was bred for. Some of the horses were better suited to pulling large loads, while others were bred for high-speed racing. In either case, many of these breeds were in danger of extinction. While at the stables, we also saw an equestrian arts demonstration, in which one of the employees at the stables explained how she is able to train the horses for live shows. Working with a miniature horse named Yoki, she demonstrated the various commands that are taught to all horses which perform in live shows. Yoki was able to run in circles, back up, speed up, slow down, and perform many other actions at her command. After this demonstration, we made our way as a group back to the hostel and relaxed for a bit. Meanwhile Cluny had become alive with the students and families of the local technical school, who were having a ball gathering and gala inside the old abbey. We watched as well dressed students in tuxedos and red dresses descended upon the old abbey, and the bars and restaurants began to buzz with activity.
On Sunday, June 5th, our group had a free day to ourselves. I slept in until 10:00 AM and then the entire group went out to get omelets for brunch. I had an omelette au fromage (with cheese), with a green side salad, while others chose french fries or omelets with ham instead. Afterwards, we walked as a group to a local nature path called the voie verte. Once there, we split into 3 groups. Myself and 2 others decided to walk along the path, while 4 others decided to wait until a nearby bike rental shop opened. 2 others decided not to travel on the voie verte at all, opting instead to take a bus to a nearby chateau. Walking along the voie verte was both calming and peaceful. Along the way, we observed the scenic landscapes and diverse organisms around us, including rolling hills, burbling brooks, horses, donkeys, cows, snails, mushrooms, wildflowers, and lizards. The others passed us twice on their bikes – once when they were going in the same direction we were, and once after they had turned back to return their bikes. After that we turned around and returned to Cluny to purchase baguettes for lunch. Then we returned to the hostel and relaxed for a while. The sun also began to shine, so I decided to sit out in the grass for a while and drink some of the Saint Bris I had bought a few days earlier.