Sunday, September 12, 2021

France 2021, Day 4 - Vézelay

My mother had set her heart on visiting Vézelay Abbey, a Benedictine and Cluniac monastery in Vézelay, a remote part of Burgundy. It was built in the 12th century and is now known as the 
Basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine (Mary Magdalene) (if I had time I would explain to you that she was not a prostitute, as many have implied - that is all spiteful legend, probably started by Apostles who didn't want their all-boy fan club disrupted - but I can’t charge my laptop at this hotel so the so-to-speak clock is ticking). I must have done the search for trains or other transportation 50 times (hoping for different results) and I also emailed the tourist office in Vézelay, which politely told me (in French) their village was lovely but difficult to visit without a car. So not helpful! I was tempted a dozen times to tell my mother we just couldn’t squeeze it into our trip but I finally figured out logistics that would be stressful but might just work if some Good Samaritan would call us a taxi or two. I decided the best time to travel to V
ézelay was between Paris and Provence because after our cruise we will want to take our Covid tests and leave as speedily as possible, even though it is closer to Lyon where our cruise ends. 

We left Paris at 7:30 am, taking a taxi to the Bercy Gare and, doubtless because of only getting three hours of sleep, I failed to pack my camera although I did not realize it until Saturday. Train stations in Europe are much more palatable than in the US; we got croissants and I had tea at the Gare, then we jumped on our train to Auxerre St Gervais, which took about two hours. Despite warnings about showing our printed tickets, no conductor showed his or her face so we couldn’t ask about the next leg, so I was surprised to find out we were to transfer to a bus to Sermizelles Vézelay. Those who know my mother's desire to always arrive early will understand why I did not tell her we only had 8 minutes to switch trains.  Admittedly, it was challenging to (a) find out we actually were not looking for a train but a bus and (b) get up the stairs with our luggage and outside the train station to find said bus in a timely manner. Still, all’s well that ends well, and our reward at the end of the hour-long bus ride was to find a shuttle bus waiting to take us the last few kilometers to Vézelay.  I had been quite sure we would be let off in a field of sunflowers with no humans in sight and two misbehaving iPhones!
The shuttle bus was the good news – unfortunately, by now it was pouring. We had three great albeit hot weather days in Paris but a mostly bad Thursday in the rain. Because I take pride in (nearly) always being right, I will admit it was a mistake to persuade my mother at the last minute to leave her raincoat in Boston and to leave my own windbreaker behind. The shuttle left us at the bottom of the hill and it was a miserable walk up the very steep hill, half-blinded by the rain. I did find the tourist office, which gave me a map. I had chosen a hotel, Les Glycines, that was close to the Abbey but that meant it was a hideous climb to the top of the hill. However, our room was quite nice – one room with a table and chairs, a single bed, bathroom, then up a narrow flight of stairs with a rope banister to a small loft with a large bed and TV. The view from our window was fabulous.  I was reminded of Assisi, which I had visited with my brother and sister-in-law in 2006.
We tried to dry off and decided food was essential, wet or not (thank you, Andrea, for the new umbrella). We retraced our steps to a creperie we had passed – my mother is still observing that hers was supposed to be butter and sugar but had no butter. Mine was raspberry and I had no complaints. They also let me pick an English Breakfast tea from a large box and this was a relief from all the Earl Grey being urged on us. My mother perked up when she saw the tea collection and ordered some herself.
We almost missed the back view of the Abbey!
Next, we went to the Abbey. The rain had mostly stopped while we were eating and the town was filling up with tourists or pilgrims, all of whom seemed to be French or German. The Abbey was definitely magnificent but not what I expected – no stained glass windows, for example, and only one tower although most churches are symmetrical. We liked it very much, however, although maybe were less impressed by the relics in the crypt attributed to Mary Magdalene. I texted my brother to find out if he believed the story on the Abbey wall that she spent her latter years in France but he did not respond. I sent him a video of the relics as well. He wanted to name his daughter Mary Magdalene but. fortunately. my sister-in-law declined and that niece is named after the Little Flower instead (I just asked my mother why we didn’t include a jaunt to Lisieux and she said it’s in Normandy – wrong part of France. Well, you can’t do everything!). We went back to the Abbey at 6 pm for Vespers. The singers were two men (priests? Brothers?) and mostly nuns (some very old and some fairly young) wearing shapeless habits, head coverings that looked vaguely eastern, and sneakers! The music was good but it was hard to follow in the French prayer books because I am not good at deciphering French numbers so was always flipping pages trying to find the right hymn. Finally, I gave up and just listened. There were about 40 or so in attendance.
The narrow stairs to my loft
Some guidebook had warned me to book dinner before reaching Vezelay and I had secured a reservation at a restaurant affiliated with our hotel. This was very satisfying because they’d put up a sign saying they were full! In good weather, the outdoor tables are almost sacrilegiously touching distance of the Abbey but it was really chilly so we ate inside. After showing our Covid cards, they let us inside. It was a very nice restaurant and we looked a bit worse for wear after our day in the rain but we held our heads high. I had Boeuf Bourguignon and my mother had a ham and mushroom special with pretty orange sauce. I also ordered a chocolate and raspberry dessert that was good but not as good as one my sister Andrea makes!
I thought you would appreciate the wallpaper outside our room!  We did poke our heads into a bookstore while exploring the town (there are two streets) but did not see any must-haves.


Joan said...

I'm enjoying your trip from afar. The last (and only) time I was in France was in 1990 (Paris and Chartres)! The Musee D'Orsay was my favorite of many. Have an extra croissant for me! Adieu for now.

TracyK said...

I showed the photos to my husband and he especially liked the stairs up to the loft and the wallpaper (last photo). My favorites was the inside of the Abbey with that lovely ceiling.

You are very well organized in your traveling. And your room sounded lovely, although I could never go up those stairs.

JaneGS said...

I am late to the party, but so enjoying your posts. Armchair traveling is one of my favorite things to do!

I have never been to Vezelay, and it does sound daunting to get there in the beastly rain no less.

Karen K. said...

I admire your determination to make the side trip! I've driven in France but never rented a car either. I would have been an absolute mess worrying about that bus connection but I'm glad it worked out for you!