Although looking at history – old and new – I absolutely cannot believe in organized religion, I believe – after this journey more than ever – that a higher power – I call it ¨fate¨, ¨karma¨ or simply ¨the gods¨ – ensures in the end everything will have happened so that one day I will close my eyes and say, ¨Yes, this life was exactly as it should have been.¨ Sometimes they send me a ride at exactly the right time for me to spend the night with the right people in the right place. Sometimes they send rain, sometimes a carpenter with an ice-cold bottle of water. And sometimes a village which has no place for my tent in their gardens…
Day 85 – to Villaines-en-Duesmois
Jacqueline has plans before I head back on the road. After the tent is packed dry, I drink the usual cereal bowl with café au lait and eat some bread. Then my hostess invites me into the car and we drive to Arthonnay. There we find last night’s friend. She proudly shows me her wonderfully colorful cottage garden, which one enters by the former barn of the lovingly restored farmhouse located. Should I ever come back to Arthonnay, I could just call on her and her husband.
The three of us move on to visit a rarity: the castle in Maulnes is one of only two known pentagonal castles in Europe. We can look at the building only through a fence from a hundred meters away and I do not see that it is actually pentagonal. But being there is everything.
The next stop is a small village on a mountain. We admire the artfully designed lavoir and I am afraid that this rather hilly place is where I must continue my walk.
But my hostess has listened closely when I told her about my route and drops me off in front of the Spar market in Laignes. The friend hands me two packets of butter cookies. ¨Unfortunately, I had nothing else in the house.¨
It’s almost eleven. I quickly run into the supermarket to get supplies.
Afterwards, like yesterday, I walk past fields and through small farming villages, always in the direction of Dijon.
In Villaines-en-Duesmois it is time to find a place for my tent. After a few minutes I finally discover a yard door that is open. Through it I can catch a glimpse of the garden. Flowers.
I step on the court and see on the shaded veranda to the right two men sitting. I suppose that they are father and son.
I step a little closer and do my usual routine: ¨I’m on a pilgrimage, looking for shelter for the night.¨
They look at each other, thinking.
¨I also have a tent. But if I could set it up in the garden…¨
The younger one speaks first: ¨Do you speak English?¨
¨Yes!¨ I reply in English.
¨Do you speak better English or French?¨
¨English. Definitely English!¨
He has a British accent and asks what I want.
I explain once more in English.
The men look at each other, look at me, but don’t say anything.
¨Are you here on vacation?¨ I ask to lighten the mood.
¨We live here.¨
A woman joins from the house. ¨Who is that?¨
The older one explains now: ¨She is on a pilgrimage and would like to stay here tonight. She has a tent.¨
Now all three are silently thinking.
Finally the woman speaks the redemptive ¨Why not?
She wants me to leave my bags on the porch, and shows me the garden. There is a small swimming pool, a large covered dining table, a small climbing tower and next to it, surrounded by three walls, my perfect campsite. I’m excited.
Joe asks if it would not be too cold for me and what else I would need.
I admit that it is very cold at night me, because my sleeping bag is not designed for single-digit temperatures.
My hostess asks for my route. Whether I was going to Compostella?
I explain that it is more of a personal pilgrimage along my own path.
Joe nods and does not ask any further. Instead, she goes to her car and pulls a plaid from the trunk. ¨It’s not heavy. You can take it. At least it is a little warmer.¨
I am touched by her concern and thank her.
We go back to the veranda. I drink a few glasses of cold water. Before I shower, I want to go set up my tent.
For a couple of minutes I walk back and forth in the corner next to the climbing tower to find the best place and when I just pull the tent roll out of the bag, Joe calls me from a few meters away: ¨Carola, would it completely contradict the philosophy of your trip, if you sleep in a bed in the house tonight?¨
I move into the guest room under the roof. On the windowsill two pigeons who are still learning to fly are resting. The bed takes up almost the entire room.
As I stand in the shower, Jack calls from below ¨Goodbye!¨ He has to go back to Dijon to do his last exam for the bac , the French High School diploma.
Joe and I eat the rest of the pizza that Boyd made. When he is back, we get comfy in front of the TV and watch, on an English channel, the repetition of the Formula 1 race from the afternoon.
Day 86 – to Saint Seine L’Abbaye
Joe had to leave early for work. She works at an international steel company over in Montbard.
Boyd gives me a strong coffee from the pad machine. When the family moved from Birmingham to Joe’s home country, he sold his company and retired, not even in his mid-forties. He tells me about the book he writes with and about his father, how he has renovated the house, how he made jam from the grapes that shade the porch, his passion for painting and how he sometimes gets to accompany his wife on business trips, so at least one of them gets to enjoy these places outside of the airport, conference room and hotel. He clearly enjoys his freedom.
Before parting I get to take a look at the art studio. In fact, Boyd’s portraits of family and neighbors in Villaines are very good.
Then he hands me a sandwich and one of Joe’s business cards. ¨If anything happens…¨ And we say goodbye.
On the way to Baigneux-lés-Juifs I walk past a white compact car. The driver opens the door, as if she had been waiting for me, and asks where I’m going. I explain and she tells me to get in the car. She drops me in the central square of the small town. It’s just after noon.
I find a shaded spot in front of the police and devour Boyd’s sandwich: ham with lettuce, tomato and just the right amount of Dijon mustard. Yummy!
Saint Seine L’Abbaye is situated in a valley. I descend into it at half past four down and discover that there is a campsite here. The path leads past the abbey. So I pay the church a short visite, to find out if the river is sacred or if there was a Holy Seine, who discovered the source of the river. Unfortunately, the mystery is not solved in the abbey.
I have barely arrived at the campsite when the weather changes: It starts to rain. The place is very simple. There is no reception. Instead, once a day an employee of the city comes by to collect the camping fee. The water is cold. The kind of toilet they use here I had actually assumed was an African invention: they are the squatting type. Nevertheless I set up the tent, have dinner and go to bed in the hope that the rain has stopped in the morning. I use Joe’s blanket as a kind of bed sheet on my cot, as buffer against the cold from below.
Day 87 – to Dijon
It takes a while to dry up my tent. The rain has continued through most of the night. So it is ten when I leave the place and force myself up the hill out of town. At least I’ll be able to spend the next night in a bed. On couchsurfing.org David in Dijon has agreed to take me in at least for one night.
An hour later, I walk in a holding bay on the D971 when a white compact car comes straight at me. I’m thinking: ‘What an idiot! He could have steered into the parking lot behind me,’ when I see Jack and Boyd smile at me from the inside. They are on the way back from Dijon. Had I gotten up a lot earlier, I would have had a ride …
The D971 leads directly to Dijon. So today’s route so does not take much thinking. In Val-Suzon there is yet another steep descent, followed by a climb. That’s the only change.
In Talant I call David and let know that I will probably be with him in an hour.
The path leads past Lac Kir, which the mayor of Dijon had built in the sixties of the last century.
Contrary to Google Maps’ advice I choose to follow the canal into the city. This route is pretty and cool, but extends the walk by half an hour.
My host has a small three-room apartment near the city center. David is American, but for 30 years has lived in Dijon. He was once a dancer and choreographer, makes his money today mostly as a translator. Working at the computer most of the time he has also developed a strong interest in auctions. The walls of the apartments are crammed with bookshelves, in which old books on the history of Dijon and Burgundy pile up. In between I see musical instruments and photos. Still the apartment does not feel crammed, it just has a rather homely charm. Although, sometimes it does require some skill to move from one room to another.
For dinner David serves a vegetable stir-fry, very un-French without bread.
Day 88 – Dijon
David has promised his guest room weeks ago to another couch surfer who is coming to Dijon to do an exam, that would allow him to work as an English teacher in French schools. But instead of throwing out me, my host offers me to move from the guest room onto a mattress in the living room. I gladly take him up on that offer.
After breakfast I go out to explore the city. I stroll through the streets, visit the churches and even two museums that offer free admission.
The museum in honor of sculptor François Rude is located in the wing of a church which was built on the city walls stemming from the Roman period. This is what I can tell the Americans who are standing questioningly before the excavation and the panel, which tells the story exclusively in French.
In the art museum in the former Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy I admire the ornate graves of the Dukes and impressive paintings.
At four I sit down on a bench under old trees in the yard of children’s library and keep working on the translation of weeks 2 to 11 for the English blog.
When I arrive back at the apartment, Kirk, the other couchsurfers has arrived. He’s Americans, too, and has also been living in France for some years. Now he is a family father he wants to finally have a secure job. As a tenured English teacher. This will only work with the exam, he must complete tomorrow morning, and a little luck. Because only as many candidates as there are positions to be filled in the coming school year will actually pass.
David cook for us again. However, today there is also bread.
Day 89 – Dijon
Today is a proper rest day. I want to move forward a good bit with the translation.
In high hopes I set up my tablet on the coffee table.
But I let myself get repeatedly distracted by David and his auctions or just a good conversation about anything.
In the afternoon I decide to visit the museum about life in Dijon. The life stages of an average citizen of the city are represented and told through life-sized wax dolls. There are also exhibitions on typical Dijon products, some of which are still known today, not least the Dijon mustard.
Back in the apartment Kirk has already departed. He had lost his train ticket and does not know how to get a replacement without having to buy a new ticket. Therefore, he wants to try to hitchhike to his hometown of Bordeaux.
David and I decide to go out for dinner. He has a new Thai restaurant in mind.
The food is very tasty. I’m lucky with my dish: It is also quite large and filling. However, I would like a dessert. My host makes the very reasonable suggestion to go buy ice cream in the supermarket around the corner. He pays for the food for both of us and I am now responsible for dessert.
The only ice cream, which looks enticing in the supermarket, is a caramel-chocolate variant of Ben & Jerry’s. I decide that after having been invited to dinner, 6 or 7 euros (the price is not indicated) for an ice cream is not too much.
At the checkout, the cashier then asks for 10.30 euros, which I hand him quietly moaning. I do not think that I have ever paid so much for a pint of dessert.
We are not even five minutes back in the apartment when the door bell rings.
It’s Kirk, who could not find a suitable lift. Meanwhile, he was on the phone with his wife, who has advised him to simply buy a new ticket. I suggest that just to be sure he looks in his emails again, since he has purchased the ticket online. The confirmation email should be somewhere.
In fact, it is. David prints out the mail for Kirk. Germany defeats the USA in their World Cup group match. We can go all sleep soundly.
Day 90 – to Lamarche-sur-Saône
I take my time in the morning, eat breakfast in peace, pack up my freshly washed laundry, chat a little with David. He promises to write a couchsurfer in Besancon for me, which he recently had with him as a guest.
At eleven I finally get on the way. I catch a bus to be out of town more quickly, and then stay for half an hour in a shopping center in the suburbs. After more than 2,000 km my shoe soles are now almost gone. But I don’t find any shoes.
It’s hot. In the afternoon, a small truck pulls up from behind me. From the cabin the driver hands me a 2 liter bottle filled with water. The water is half-frozen. The sensation in my hand is very pleasant.
“I also hike. I took the bottle out of the freezer this morning. I wanted to give it to you before, but you’re so fast!”
I cannot believe my luck, thank him and see how he turns his truck and goes back to where he came from. Of course, the ice melts within half an hour in my bag. But the water remains refreshingly cool until the evening.
In Lamarche-sur-Soane none of the houses look inviting to me. But directly on the river bank I discover a parking space for caravans. Only for caravans. Because they have their own toilet, which does not exist on the bank.
I ask a group of couples who sit together, having fun with Ricard and wine, if I could pitch my tent here. ¨Of course! Back there. No problem!¨ they reply.
I set up my tent, explore the area, perhaps to find some bread, and look for a quiet corner to pee. When I sit down with my food bag at a picnic table on the shore, the group invites me to join them for a Ricard.
Ricard is an anise liquor, the mixture is diluted with water according to taste. In bars it is always served with a tiny bit of the pure drink in a large glass and a large glass carafe of water on the side. Although I like the taste of anise, I am not a big fan of brandy. Therefore, much to the delight of those present, I take as long for my one drink as others do for three or four.
Around eight the party dissolves. The couples go back to their respective caravans for dinner. I stay at the picnic tables and eat my bread with paté until it starts to rain.
When I brush my teeth, two German cars with caravans arrive. The couple, in front whose large camping bus the party had taken place, has been here for several weeks, because he is visiting his brother in the village. The bus is the couple’s home. With their long stay they have basically taken on the management of the place, which is not monitored by the village itself. They let the other Germans stay here as well, even though their caravans do not have a toilet.
Day 91 – to Abbaye D’Acey
Even before I open my eyes, I hear the rain patter on my tent. At least Joe’s blanket is actually making the nights a little warmer. I have breakfast in the tent. Finally the rain stops and I pack the tent, while it is still half wet.
During the day rain and sunshine alternate. So I spend a lot of time, getting in and out of the rain jacket. This means every time to stop to detach the trolley from the backpack, to depose the backpack, …
By five I’m through with the day, looking for shelter in a small village. First I talk to a couple who is picking cherries in a garden. They apologize: ¨We do not live here. Try the house over there.¨
I ring over there. The woman thinks for a moment and then sends me to the Abbaye D’Acey. ¨I do not have a guest room here.¨
I had seen the signs for the Abbey, but not assumed that there was much to see except a church. But the lady is convinced: ¨They are very friendly there. It is only two kilometers in that direction.¨
Of course not in my direction and of course it is more than two kilometers.
I reach the abbey at twenty to six. The reception house is not occupied. I cannot discover anyone anywhere. But to the right and left of the church large side wings, which are at least refurbished, extend. So I cannot imagine that it is not occupied.
The church seems to me to be the right place to find someone who can help me. However, inside I am also by myself.
Because at this time I do not want to go through the woods back to the main road, I decide to stay until it is either night and I set up my tent, or until someone comes.
Luckily after a few minutes on a monk appears. He does not quite know what to do with me, but commands me to wait so he can inquire.
It doesn’t take long and he hands me over to brother Bernard, who is responsible for looking after guests.
Brother Bernard asks first, where I come from, and notes: ¨Then we speak German.¨
He wants to hear nothing of me staying in my tent. ¨There is a thunderstorm tonight. ¨
Instead, he gives me a big room with a small bed, a desk, a chair and a modern bathroom. ¨At 18.30, we hold a prayer. At a quarter past seven, dinner is served. Then we hold the night prayer. That one is not so long. Only 15 minutes. If you want, you are welcome to join. But you don’t have to. Would you like to have dinner with us? ¨
I gladly accept the invitation to dinner, promise to think about the prayer.
He smiles and leaves me to my room.
While I shower, a violent thunderstorm breaks. Good thing I’m in here.
Shortly before the beginning of the evening prayer, I find myself in the church. I would not have wanted to miss this opportunity.
In the middle of almost entirely unadorned prayer room about 20 monks sit to three sides of a square. On one side behind the monks about 20 guest have talen their seat on five rows of benches. The monks enter through a side entrance, put their Bibles and their hymn book next to them and sit down without a word. Some kneel down for a moment and pray toward a statue of Jesus in the background.
The prayer starts on time. We rise and the monks begin to sing, sometimes one by himself, sometimes a small group, sometimes all together. One of the brothers has a small xylophone and introduces each song with a few bars. The other guests have grabbed a sheet containing the songs of the evening at the entrance. They seem to know when to join the songs and when to listen quietly. The songs are interrupted only by a short sermon. In between the assembly raises to their feet, sings a song, bows, when the lyrics mention God, sits down, continues to sing while sitting. Only once there is a stir, when one of the monks misses his turn to sing his solo. ¨Stir¨ means that the worshipers raise their heads. In the end, the congregation remains seated quietly and prays. That the prayer is over, I realize just when eventually individual monks get up and leave.
Throughout the prayer I alternate between meditation – the songs are very melodic, not least because of the acoustics in the church – and observation of the monks. The monks are between 30 and 90 years old. One or the other nods off in between, one of the older ones drops his hymn-book. I wonder how it feels to believe in an idea, which you have been told about by others, so much that one devotes their life to this idea. And how does it feel when you hear that in the name of this idea crimes are committed?
I would like to ask Brother Bernard, but for one he does not eat with us. On the other hand we eat in silence. Most of the guests of the evening prayer are gathered in the dining room. Without a word, they pick up soup and bread from the kitchen, others fill the plates at the two tables. Just when I wonder, whether that should have been all I would get to eat, salad, pate, pasta and sauce are brought from the kitchen without a word being said. There is also red wine and tap water. For dessert brother Bernhard brings cherries and rhubarb compote. I’m trying to help clean up and wash dishes, but the other guests are already covering all the tasks and bid me in sign language to go to bed. I do as told.