You’re looking at my accommodations from yesterday, when I rolled the dice and came up big. After posting that wonderful piece about Sens, I wandered the city late at night, trying to find a place to stay. Only the night before at Chartres I actually slept in a secluded yard near the train station, and was prepared to do the same until Anna and Thierry (not their real names, but I respect their right to privacy) happened along and offered me a ride. Anna’s English is pretty good so she explained they were just going back to their house outside of town after a night of drinking. Most of the time, they live in Paris and promote underground musicians for a living—clearly the type of thing you do for love, which I can totally understand having spent the past year doing something I didn’t merely because it was decent pay. They look thirty but I was surprised when she said they were both 37—punk rock hasn’t caught up to them yet! Anyways, they were kind enough to let me stay the night at the house they were babysitting for a couple weeks, and since I’m alive and not missing any limbs it goes without saying that they were perfectly normal—in fact, wonderful, people.
After being treated to some of the best hospitality (read: crepes suzette) of my life, it was time to leave Sens and head south to Vezelay, which is where I am now. Along the way, I had to switch trains in Auxerre, a decent-sized town to the south. My friends over at Via Lucis Press wrote a really cool article on the cathedral there and the town itself which you should read about if you’d like to know more. With about 90 minutes to kill, I briefly explored the main cathedral, St. Etienne, but also paid a visit to the Abbey of St. Germain, just down the street.
Unlike Notre Dames de Paris or Chartres, St. Etienne is not lit up by a profusion of artificial lighting, which means that the inside of the cathedral looks more or less as dim as it has since it was first erected about 800 years ago. On a cloudy day like yesterday, it was especially dark, but I think that simply added to the dramatic contrasts between the peaked windows and shadowy nave:
One element of Auxerre that is sadly lacking is its original stained glass. There are well over one hundred stained glass windows here, but unfortunately only a handful of the originals are left. Without knowing the exact history, you can usually assume that a French cathedral missing its original art probably lost it during the Revolution, when the people of France lashed out at the church because of its role as a figurehead within the monarchy. With that said, what windows are left are just as spectacular here as at any major Gothic cathedral. And of course, the geometry of the architecture is breathtaking in its grace and simplicity.
Knowing that my time was short, I left St. Etienne and walked down the street to St. Germain, where I was greeted by the spectacular tower of St. Jean, a Romanesque structure dating back to the early 12th century.
I made my way into the abbey church, which is much smaller than St. Etienne but no less beautiful, albeit in a more austere manner.
Out of all the photographs I took today, the following is probably my favorite—there is something haunting and nostalgic about the bareness of this place.
Alas, my train to Vezelay was leaving soon, so I crossed the bridge back to the other side of Auxerre and rode south for a little more than an hour. My train dropped me off in a place called Sermizelles, a hamlet with a small cluster of ancient homes and a well-kept but equally ancient church. From Sermizelles I began my walk, and as luck would have it, that’s when it rained for the first time since I came to France. No matter, because I came prepared! I trudged on, and after about twenty minutes or so it stopped. This part of Burgundy has many cows, and in between pastures are unconquered forests beyond, as well as the occasional limestone outcropping.
The sun was just starting to set when I rounded a bend in the road and saw Vezelay, a shining city upon a hill, a literal reference to Biblical Jerusalem, with its own Temple on the top of the Mount.
I can finally understand how pilgrims feel to know they are almost at their final destination—there is a small surge of hope that wells up inside you and propels you forward. Not that I had much to complain about, given that I had only walked for about an hour, but I still had to climb the hill to reach the town itself, and that itself was a relatively short but brutal trek upwards (remember, I wear a 10 kilo pack). Just as it became dark, I made it to Vezelay, and after comically interrupting the dinner of some locals (I mistakenly thought their house was the local pilgrims’ hostel) I entered the albergue, obtained my credential from a nice old man named Jean and rested up for today, my first full day on the Camino. As long as I can find internet, you’ll be the first to know how it goes!
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