Fra(i)ncia XI – Path to Vezelay II

As Im packing my bag I hear mumblings of people in the house, some girl opens the door and Lucy barks her off. I smile at her terrified face and she eased down. She looked at my shell and understood that I was a pilgrim and that I slept there, we chatted a little and she took a liking to Lucy. Brave young thing she was, going into an abandoned house on a grey and windy Sunday, finding some raggedy guy, 4 times her size and she enters into a conversation with him.. She didnt strike me as dumb either.

We left the house together and I went to the local bar to do my dishes and drink a nice tea. Too bad they closed in the afternoon so I just started walking.

Finding nice thick forests quick enough, rain is good at this point because it means that its a lot warmer than clear skies. I gladly accepted the cover of grey clouds and I walked through beautiful woods, slowly I was leaving the open fields of the north of France behind me. Dogs barking in the distance and the odd gunshot that spooked Lucy. Hunting season had started and I hope they werent in the business of hunting Dragons..

Sunset dropped on me a lot sooner than expected and I could see some lights along a road that was as straight as it was unending. I stopped for a small cigaret break to talk to some hunters and some guy holding a gun in one hand and a bottle of Pastis in the other was very friendly and he told me about some Pilgrim place in the next village over. Too bad they didnt invite me over for some food but my belly was still full from the omelet I made in the morning. I kept walking over the endless road to a town called Flogny-la-Chappelle. A droit de Église, right from the church was what the hunter told me so I went there. It was clearing up by this time, so it started to get pretty fucking cold. I went through some photos to look if they mentioned anything about a pilgrim refuge in the town but I couldnt find anything. Also near or behind the church was nothing that resembled anything like a hostel. 

Some guy walked out of a backdoor and Lucy verbally assaulted him, I asked him if he knew where the refuge was but he didnt know. His English was impeccable though as he lived in Strasbourg and was visiting family. He was dropping something off close by and I returned to my phone, deciding to give my parents a call to ask for some counseling. As the phone is ringing, the guy starts running back and Lucy verbally assaults him again. Turns out the thing he needed to drop off was at the lady that actually ran the refuge.. And that I should go with him… WOW! What? Sure! I walked down the road with him and he brought me to a sweet ol’ lady, whos husband was out hunting and I wondered if it was the same guy from this afternoon. All 3 of us walked towards the pilgrim refuge. She was very friendly and I wished I talked more French. The Strasbourg bro was coming along because he was curious and acted as a translator throughout. 

She brought me to this fantastic place that had a kitchen, little living area, shower/toilet and a few bunkbeds. Fucking perfect! She asked if I wanted some food and hah! Yes! Please! While the Strasbourg bro and I talked a bit, she came back with a big bowl of sauerkraut, 3 types of meat in there, some chocolate desert, bread and fruit. Fucking amazing. I couldnt thank her enough! I dont come across that much sauerkraut in France (or anywhere for that matter) and I remember my grandmother always having a solid one that she made. Couldnt help but shake the feeling that this was a nod in her direction of sorts.

Lucy and me murdered that meal without 2ndthoughts after the lady and Strasbourg bro let me be. Afterwards I took a very good shower and did some writing at the kitchen table. 

I cranked the heating up to the -TROPICAL ISLAND IN HELL-setting and it got nice and warm in the apartment.

Very lucky to have found this. Also found another tick on my ribcage that I was able to remove. A tiny little shit and I could just barely see it..

There were also shops nearby that I went to the next day, I saw the lady again and we talked a little. She gave me a stamp for my credential and I gave her some money as donativo. I could just chill and bring the key back whenever. 
When I arrived at her house I could see the hunter who told me about the place, was indeed her husband. He was too hungover to really recognize me though.

I walked out of town and found my way easy enough until I walked in one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. An orange glow as far as the eye could see with the moon also already being out because of the nearing winter. Beautiful duality and the walk was gorgeous. When I arrived in a little village called Vezannes, I smoked a cigaret, got my mexican blanket and put that around me as a poncho under my jacket. I could see a wasp on the floor squirming from the cold. I picked it up and held it in my hand while I blew some hot air on it. It seemed to like that as it was getting more active and I sat it down in a good spot under some leaves as I reminisced about the wasp that stung me in the bus, when I just arrived in France a couple of months earlier now.

If wasps are freezing their asses off, I better not hang around in the village too long and decided on a hard march to Chablis, which was a larger settlement. It also meant another good 10km through the cold but Lucy and me were warm enough as soon as we found our rythm.

Chablis still had a couple of open shops and a bar that I drank a tea at. It was also a hotel but it costed 40 € a night and yea no, fuck that price. Its weird to me as a Dutch person that they would rather have an empty room in the off season, than host a pilgrim half price and at least make some money but its whatever..

I walked around town in the freezing cold and I (AGAIN) found some toilet area that was clean and warm next to the town hall. Whats with these public toilets that are clean and look unused?Is it just my standard of living reaching absolute 0 or what? Not going to look a gift horse in the mouth though and I managed to make a makeshift lock on the door using my walking stick and some rope. Hot air blew in through some vent connected to city hall.

Vezelay was still around 50-60 kilometers from here and I just plowed through the next day. First I got a stamp from city hall and it was beautiful, then the lady started writing all kinds of shit through it. Its fine.. Really nice route although not as beautiful a sunset as yesterday. I was still content. I still had some food and as long as I kept walking – I was warm. A small medieval town came at just the right moment called Cravant when the cold swept in again and I walked towards some campsite/bungalow park at the edge of town. There I found a couple of condo’s that were in use but there was nobody there. I tried calling the owner of the place but he didnt pickup. There was one open condo that was being built and I put my bag inside as I walked into town. 
There was one little shop that basically served as the bar, bakery, grocery and the lady behind the counter offered me a coffee while I bought some bread, cheese and vegetables. Tres gentile Madame. She tried to think of something for me to stay or someone to call but she couldnt think of anything outside of some public laundry place that you see scattered throughout France. Yea no forget that, that literally only is a roof and I have a better chance of not freezing in my tent. I ended up staying in the little shed on a concrete floor that at least gave me some, very basic shelter from the elements. That night it was -5 and yes, I could feel that in my bones.

Lucy started growling the next day and this time around I didnt wave away her warnings. I started packing my stuff as I stalked the owner of the establishment walk out to his car, just outside the fence. He turned on the car engine and I thought this was going to be my window to escape unseen. UNLESS HE, OF COURSE, JUST TURNS ON THE ENGINE AND WALKS STRAIGHT FOR THE SHED IM IN. Needless to say he was not amused and I said sorry and finished up packing in a couple of minutes.

He asked if I slept there and I didnt lie and there was not a single molecule in his body that had any respect for this. I walked off within 2-3 minutes and went back to the lady in the shop/bar/bakery called Marine. She offered me a coffee again and looked on the interwebs how far it was to Vezelay still. Around 30-40km and she was very kind for looking but I already knew most of what she said, she also didnt really have to look for shelter along the way since “LADY I DONT EVEN KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN” but it was honest and cute nonetheless. She also gave me a little pastry for the road that Lucy was very content with. Watervapor from a nearby stream looked like a hotspring and the grass was still white and crackly under my feet. I increased my walking speed a little and walked through beautiful serene landscapes of frozen forests. Very beautiful indeed but in this beauty also lies danger, last night had been the coldest night so far and I would do well not to just spitball my way around.

After walking most of the day I decided to just take a go at Vezelay, when it turns dark the temperature usually drops with 5-10 degrees Celcius easy. The most beautiful sunset is like the singing of a siren – you get whoo’d by the most beautiful thing then bam, youre ship runs ashore and youre fucked. Maybe not as dramatic as that but you get the point.

About 10km in front of Vezelay I ran into a hunters cabin in the middle of the forest and I tried to look for an opening. But there was none sadly. Refilled my waterbottle at a nice lady in the town after and I managed to understand that it was only 7km left to Vezelay, up a hill, through a forest, down a hill, up the side of the basilisk and bobs your uncle, sounded easy enough.. The night sky was clear again and the moon being fuller than it was previous evenings which helped with navigating the terrain and I just kept pushing.

After about 2 kilometers, the path led me along another hunters cabin and of course I was going to check it out. This door was open! I looked around and there was no electricity or any running water but there was a big ass barrel inside of the room. I walked around back and found a big stack of firewood. I wasted no time and took a couple of handfuls inside and started lighting the barrel. The thing basically lit itself by the way it was shaped and the quality of the firewood. I had it up and running in no time and decided to make my bed on top of the table. The place warmed up pretty nice and before I knew it, it actually became too hot and I didnt even need my sleeping bag, I fell in a deep sleep, rationing my water as best I could. The place being around 30-35 degrees didnt really help though. I did manage to find a water bottle with some water in it and going through the calendar I found out on the bulletin board, it was probably from last Saturday. Decided to drink it regardless. Because it was just an overblown shed, the place had cooled down tremendously in the middle of the night and I had to relight the fire. Hard living but very satisfying if you really do take care of shit.

The next day it was foggy and quiet throughout the forest and I walked on to Vezelay, this weird suspenseful feeling sort of, being almost there. If I have to describe the camino’s momentum, I would say that its like water getting sucked into a sink, where the closer to actual hole you get – the easier it becomes and after a while it almost starts pulling itself. Most of the hard work of the trip is the north of France and it was slowly drawing to an end.

Because of the fog I couldnt see anything further than 10m away. This was kind of a bummer since Vezelay is positioned on top of a hill overlooking the entire country side. A massive basilique surrounded by walls, makes it all the more impressive to walk towards. But now everything was grey soup and I decided to just walk into the bar nearest to my endgoal to have a little break, hoping the fog would burn off during the day.

The bar in Asquins, Les Hirondelles, was cool as shit, everyone started talking English and people were all gathering there for typical Frenchillings in the afternoon. The food was good and reasonably priced, they played very chill music and I had a very good time there. Apparently the whole town is inhabited by people that work 1 or 2 days per week in Paris but live in Asquins because its cheaper. Inviting friends over and bringing more young people, more of a community town and this reflected itself in this establishment. 2 man bun touting owners that had the whole thing down to a T. Did I mention Les Hirondelles, means the Swallows? Like the birds..Yeaa Im just going to let that sit here for a sec..AN-Y-WAY.

I chilled there all afternoon, eating a nice pasta and hijacked their wifi completely. Vezelay was literally up the hill but the fog only seemed to increase in intensity and by the time I left it was getting dark already and the fog was so thicc that you could almost take a bite out of it.

Arriving in Vezelay I went to the monastery house hoping they could host me, I ran into a nun who was late for service, since she forgot her bible and pointed me in the right direction. Apparently they had moved since last time I was here. The lady there spoke German very well and let me wait in the eating quarters of the monastery. We had to wait for one of the priests to ask him if I could stay there with Lucy. I ate some bread and made myself a tea while I continued to do a little writing. The lady was very nice and we walked to the mass when it was about to end, I could wait outside and the lady went inside to ask. Only to return 10min later because the service lasted longer on a Thursday and she said we were going to do things different, she and I didnt want her to disturb the brother during prayers so she just made an executive decision of driving me towards a side building at the edge of town they have in case someone with a dog or they have more guests than expected. It was basically a small and sober apartment but it was also exactly what I was looking for. It had a nice bed, shower/toilet, a water cooker and even a table. Fucking luxury right here. She gave me a handful of powdered soups/coffee’s and tea’s. Also a few cookies and then said her goodbye’s. 
Really lucky once again to have found this once again, now I had somewhere to chill and I didnt have the greatest of nights last night, waking up to light the fire again and sleeping on a fucking table.

It was almost Sinterklaas (a Dutch tradition of gifts/poems and the start of the December month) and I phoned my family and they were celebrating, which kind of felt hard but on the other hand I was just happy with my warm room and had a very good night sleep. There were some people living in the area that I met 5 years ago that I maybe wanted to visit, as well as go to the basilisk and enjoy the town a little. 

This time around I was a lot more experienced with what the different symbolism meant in the town. A lot of duality is embedded in this place that I completely missed last time. 

I couldnt help but walking around town in the fog and sneaking into the chapel where all the pinguins were praying. Worshipping an Ankh? Sure. Found some more “as above, so below” symbolism scattered throughout the basilisk and it was cool being there without any other people around. The light in the church itself was perfect, I wasnt going to linger on too long, I didnt want to leave my light alone for too long.