Over the years, I’ve consistently journaled about my different travels, mostly for myself, so that I could remember what I saw and heard and felt as I experienced this amazing world of ours. This is part of what I wrote this after traveling to Burgundy with my beloved mother, who died from breast cancer in 2016.
I’m so glad I did. I don’t want to forget a single detail.
I will forever treasure this time I had with her.
One year later, almost to the day. I not only made it back to France, but to Burgundy and even more specifically, Vezelay. One of my absolute favorite places, anywhere in the world. And I was able to share it with one of my favorite people in the world, my mother.
Last year, when we were in the region for three months, my parents intended to come over and stay with us for a bit. But, life got in the way- my grandmother had to have surgery on the arteries in her neck which were very blocked (yes, kind of a big deal) and so instead of a trip to France, mom got a trip to the hospital to take care of my grandmother. And that was only one of many trips to the hospital to take care of others for her over the last year. It has been a rough year, to put it mildly. And so, we decided to take a week off from everything and escape.
We flew into Paris straight from Atlanta and rented a car and headed for the A6 towards Beaune. But we were going to arrive one day earlier than the reservation in Beaune began, and as it turns out, Vezelay is somewhat on the way between Paris and Beaune. A little out of the way, but as I saw it, that would only provide an excuse to take the back roads, through Chateau Chinon and Autun, into Beaune. I booked a hotel at the aptly named Le Compostelle, and off we went.
The drive out of Paris was bad but not as bad as it could have been, and once we cleared a ridiculously long bouchon (traffic jam) in the Parisian suburbs, we were on our way. I actually really enjoy driving in Europe, despite my rather loud complaining about driving in Paris traffic. People seem to follow the rules (read: they use the left lane for passing only!!!), and thus traffic flows fairly smoothly. And for a country that seems incapable of directional signage, France does do a beautiful job with informational signs along the autoroutes telling you what lovely historical buildings or towns or points of interest you are passing. Our destination, of course, was one of those historical points of interest mentioned on the autoroute. Thus, we exited, paid our exorbitantly priced toll, and wound our way along the backroads towards our home for the night.
And it was so worth the trouble we went through to get here. The frustration of the Parisian bouchon melted away as we climbed the hill towards this tiny community; Atlanta, too, seemed worlds away. This is a place where it feels as though life has flowed on in the same way for thousands of years, and just for a passing moment, you can step into that current and become part of it. There is a deep silence to the place, and a feeling of calm. The air, that early October evening, was still and cool and scented with lavender. We checked into Le Compostelle, where we were helped by a slender French man, a “strong French bull” as he proclaimed himself to be, who carried our luggage two at a time up the stairs to our third floor room. We took a moment to freshen up from our long voyage and then stepped out into town to find dinner.
And oh, what a dinner we found.
Let me back up a bit: Last year, my children and I came repeatedly to Vezelay. They probably weren’t so thrilled about it, but you may be getting the idea that I really love this town, so we came often. We never, however, ate a good meal here. There was a restaurant about halfway up the hill that had intrigued me, but I naively thought that the mention on their door that they were in the Michelin guide meant I couldn’t afford it or that it would be fancier than a 9 year old could handle. However, I now understand more about restaurants in France, and also this time it was just me and mom, and so in we went without a moment’s hesitation. Silly me- my kids would have done just fine- nothing fancy about this place, but its simplicity belies what is going on in that kitchen. I can honestly say that this was the best meal we ate the whole time we were in France, on that very first night there in Vezelay. This tiny little place, in this tiny little town, serves up some pretty incredible food. I had duck, thinly sliced and medium rare, in a sauce made from currants, with a gratin of potatoes on the side to further soak up the deliciously tart sauce, followed by that wonderful French institution: The cheese cart. Where you get to choose several and then they tell you what order you should enjoy them in. My mother, however, was the more clever of us that evening. As much as I love cheese, the cherry clafoutis with a dish of homemade cherry sorbet on the side was the hands-down winner. If you’ve never tried a clafoutis, I suggest correcting that situation as quickly as possible… And the sorbet? A stroke of genius.
And thus, full, happy, and exhausted, we climbed to our third story room, opened the windows as wide as possible, and both fell immediately to sleep. There is nothing like fresh, cool air to help you rest deeply, which we both did. We were awakened the next morning by quite possibly the best combination of sensations in the entire world: The smell of freshly baked bread, and the sound of bells ringing in an ancient basilica. Of course, by the time we actually got up and out the door, it wasn’t exactly early (oh jet lag, you are cruel), but we managed to get pain au chocolat and cafe au lait anyway. We did a little shopping at the local brocante and wandered into a few art galleries as we made our way up the steep hill towards the basilica. As we neared the basilica, we could hear the sound of singing coming from inside, and as we entered, we realized that the monks and nuns were gathered and some type of mass was going on. Another incredible treat: Listening to monks and nuns chanting together in worship of God.
And once again, we were overwhelmed with that feeling of stepping, just for a moment, into an ancient current, where things have gone on the very same way for a very long time.
My heart overflows.
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