I left Guèdelon with a tinge of sadness as I enjoyed my week learning medieval construction techniques and in particular, how to make traditional ceramic roof tiles.
Part of me was disappointed that I learned a skill I would never use again.
After all, when will I ever have an opportunity to tile a steep roof back home?
Maybe I should have learned some other skill that would have been more useful in the 21st century?
Oh well, it’s too late to lament about this now as it’s time to move onto the next town.
Today I’m heading east to a small village of Vézelay, (I can’t get the song “Do you know the way to San Jose?) out of my head.
Vézelay was the site where pilgrims set off for the Crusades during the Middle Ages and it’s a UNESCO world heritage site. I decided to stay there for a couple of days to rest up as my back, hands and muscles were aching from the back-breaking work at Guèdelon. It was time for a bit of self-care.
So I consulted my map and saw that it was only an hour or so drive away. Now, I just had to figure out how to get there.
Luckily, Marcel and Elizabeth were also leaving Guèdelon at the same time. They were a couple of 50+ hippie vegans who had completed the 7-day Master Builders Course called Les Bâtisseurs.
They motioned to me to come along with them as they were headed that way and they could drop me off in Vézelay.
I was thankful for the lift as I think my days of taking a horse-drawn Romany caravan were well and truly over. I never want to take a horse again because of their unpredictability.
You know what you get with a car.
That is, until I saw their car.
Oh merde. CRAP.
It was a Fiat Cinquecento circa 1990 and it was TINY.
How are we all going to squeeze into that?!
Thankfully, Vézelay is only an hour away so I stuffed myself and my luggage into the back seat. Marcel and Elizabeth jumped into front seats and with the last blast of their LOUD horn, we waved goodbye to Guédelon.
Hurtling down the D951 highway at a great speeds, we had the windows down and sang along to this song called L’Avenurier by Indochine which was on repeat and on full blast for the entire journey.
I didn’t mind the song being played repeatedly as it reminded me of my early teen years and it sounded a bit like Depeche Mode, however, with every passing minute, the suitcase digging into the back of my neck and it was becoming painful.
Then, a cringeworthy thought entered my mind.
What if Marcel and Elizabeth were a pair of swingers who might ask me to participate in acts that my brain couldn’t even contemplate?
A little bit of vomit rose to the back of my throat.
(Alas these are the fears of women who travel later in life….well, that and making sure you don’t slip in the tiny baths when you shower because many places don’t have walk-in showers).
Thankfully, they requested no such thing except to offer me a suck of the joint they were passing to each other. I politely declined as I had inhaled pretty much all of their secondary smoke which was alleviating the pain in my neck somewhat.
They dropped me off at the hotel where I would be staying overnight, the The Hotel Les Glycines where I took Room 1 Max-Pol Fouchet.
We said our goodbyes and we pretended that we were going to keep in contact. They sped off down the hill tooting their horn and I turned to face the Hotel Les Glycines.
Nice! I like! I nodded with approval and wondered what “les glycines” were while admiring the beautiful purple flowers of the wisterias that was all over the hotel.
Wisterias everywhere! Maybe they should have named the hotel after the wisterias (but in french) #justsaying.
My hotel room was très chic to say the least!
It was fitted out with baroque furniture and guess what? It had a large walk in shower!
No tiny bath!
My plan was to stay here for a couple of days so I had the rest of the day to check out the town because tomorrow I was going to meet my friend Irene (@ireneoduffy) at the bottom of the hill at the car park and then walk up to the basilica that sits on the top of the hill (well, it’s just outside my door at the hotel).
It was such a beautiful day and warm as it was mid June (oh, in this fictional travel account, there is no such thing as linear time or seasons. I can be at the height of summer one blog post and in the middle of the coldest winter in the next).
Although it would have been delightful to stay in the small courtyard of the hotel, instead, I decided to go for a walk around the town to get my bearings.
Imagine my surprise when I stepped out the front door of the hotel and instantly heard the ringing of the church bells! I love church bells.
I walked downhill to explore the town (as I’ll walk up hill tomorrow with Irene on the way to the church).
I tried to be careful walking around because when you’re in towns like this, you want to look everywhere and take everything in and you end up having an accident. Needless to say, that’s what I did. I took a tumble on the uneven streets but luckily, even in the height of summer, there was pretty much no one around to see my embarrassing fall. I took my time dusting myself off and then looked up.
Look what I saw!
Two blokes were on the steep roof repairing a roof with the SAME TRADITIONAL TILES I learned how to make at Guèdelon! What was the chance of that? Here’s my chance to put my tile laying training into practice with an actual roof!
I yelled up at them.
They looked down and waved to me.
“QU’EST-CE QUE VOUZ FAITES?” I yell up at them.
They waved at me again. It looked like they were shooing me away.
“JE M’APPELLE HELENE ET JE SUIS AUSTRALIENNE. JE VIENS DE FAIRE DES TUILES PARCE QUE J’AI APPRIS A GUEDELON! VOULEZ-VOUS QUE JE VOUS AIDE?” I yell to them.
“NON!” One of them yells back. “VOUS M’ENNERVES!”
A tile fell down from the roof and smashed on the ground next to me. They may have kicked it down so I took the hint and continued walking.
For the rest of the afternoon, I pottered in various stores buying up jars of local honey, eating cherries and buying up various knick knacks.
The plan was to take it easy tonight as tomorrow was going to be a long day being the summer solstice! The longest day!
That night, I slept like a log.
The Next Day
Imagine my surprise to finally meet Irene, my Twitter pal at Vezelay!
We live in the same state back home but never met in real life. How wonderful to finally meet in person and share this experience to visit the St Madeleine basilica!
Oh and she’s brought a bottle of wine from a nearby winery (1 hour and 26 minutes away from Vezelay to be exact according to Google Maps), which we will enjoy tonight!
It was lovely to excitedly chat and make our introductions then set up towards the basilica.
The abbey – St Madeleine – is listed by the World Heritage site and built in 1120-1150 and the site of the remains of Mary Magdalene (or so they say). The church has a long history but what I found fascinating is that it was the site from where many pilgrims started their journey for the Crusades. (Indeed, the site is located at a cross road towards Santiago for those who are doing the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela).
Some of the old homes in the village have large basements where pilgrims had stayed so I guess the town had an influx of numbers over the years. It’s said the King Richard the Lionheart met up with the French King Phillipe-Auguste in the town to set off on their expedition for the third crusade.
As we entered the church, it was so lovely to have the cold air on my skin and we were met with the most wonderful sounds of the choir rehearsing (HT to @FrenchTastic for this great video). The music and the large space of the abbey just made look around in awe.
We weren’t just lucky with the choir however, as it was summer solstice, we saw another sight that happens a couple of times a year!
Every year, at this time of the year (June 21st – the summer solstice), the sunlight enters the church and makes a path of light circles that lead to the altar which is also bathed in sunlight. It’s quite magical to see and although you’d love to believe that it is the power of some almighty being that is guiding you “to the light”, it really is a great mathematical and geometrical feat that the original church builders designed. You can read more it here.
I was impressed with the church and its light filled interior so much so that we spent longer there and I thought of my friend Marika (@oneeyedsmiley) would have loved to have seen this but she’s snowed in at home.
The time has come to and end now as I plan the next phase of my trip. The plan is to head south to the Chateau de Bazoches (on recommendation by Irene) and from there, go to climb a volcano and visit a lake city near the border of Switzerland.
Right, where is that glass of yummy Burgundy wine so I can plan out that leg of the journey.
Au revoir Vezelay, it has been wonderful!