It turns out that we did not really love Beaune. I was eager to make a stop there because our last visit was immediately following my bike accident in the summer of 2017. I had been in quite a bit of pain and was unable to do much but mope. I really thought I deserved a do-over! Well-situated in the heart of Burgundy, Beane was also a logical stop on our way back to Paris. And ithen there was the wine!!. But rather than being delighted, we were a little bored. Instead of the vibrant colors of Provence or the intoxicating dazzle of Paris we found ourselves in a bourgeois town of gray-shuttered slightly dilapidated buildings and over-priced restaurants. We had rented an apartment in what we thought was a boutique hotel, but which turned out to be just an apartment with a closed up bar downstairs. Granted it was well-situated and beautifully decorated but still…Ugh.
So at a little after six a.m. on our last day in France we bundled up our belongings and crept down to our car. The good news was that it had not been towed (see post on Arles), or stolen, or smashed. We figured we would just head straight north to the airport, perhaps stopping for a quick visit in Auxerre on our way. We were ready to go home! So onto the autoroute we sped, anxious to find a gas station where we were fairly confident our credit card would work. And then it hit. Fog. Unrelenting, London-style pea soup. The driving was not only stressful, it was dangerous. So after finding our gas station we ditched the highway and found an alternative route through the country. Thank you Google Maps! So easy to filter out highways and toll roads!
Anyway, it was still pretty foggy, but at slower speeds, less stress and no traffic it was enchanting rather than terrifying. Sleepy Charolais cows dotted the verdant hillsides as we wound our way through tiny villages and past vineyards and fields of grain. At one point I noticed a sign on the side of the road that indicated a nearby historical site. “Stop!” I yelled to Ray. “Turn here!” It was still not even 9:00 and three school buses were dropping off little kids at the “école primaire”. And then there was this beautiful little romanesque church called Saint Thibault! Alas, it was locked, but careful inspection of the sign next to the door indicated it would open at 9. So while Ray explored the tiny village, I sat huddled in the car, and sure enough at two minutes before 9 a car drove up, an older gentleman spryly hopped out and unlocked the door. Yay! What an exquisite little place with its soaring luminescent apse and dark paneled nave!
Newly exhilarated by our find, we decided to stop next in Vezelay to see the majestic abbey perched upon a steep hill. We had been there twice–once in 1982 with our friend Jimmy, and then again in 2017 when I was barely able to limp up the hill. This time I almost jogged! We stopped halfway up for a coffee and the last croissant in a beautiful wood-paneled café with a gracefully curved wooden bar. The abbey itself is a perfect example of romanesque architecture as it slowly transforms into gothic. The height of the nave is amazing considering the architects were not quite trustful of flying buttresses and did not know that pointed arches did a better job of distributing weight than the barrel vaults that had been used for centuries. We marveled at the intricately carved columns, the alternating black and white stonework of the vaults, and the carved floral motifs that surround the tympanum –the latter two demonstrating the Moorish roots of southern European romanesque. And once again, the light-filled apse with its gothic arches were harbingers of the dawn of a new era.
But we were not done yet!! On to Auxerre! We were hungry! It was time for lunch! Once again, Google to the rescue. As Ray drove along the tree-lined country roads, I searched for a restaurant that would be open for lunch on Monday–not by any means a sure thing! Voilà! Au Grand Gousier was the perfect place for our last real French meal. We arrived just in time to snag the last table and watched smugly as others were turned away. “Je suit désolée” they heard “On ne fait qu’un service”. No waiting for tables here! Once you had it, it was yours. The cuisine was updated traditional Burgundian and we enjoyed every mouthful–and every sip of wine! Fortified, we explored the cathedral and then headed north to the airport to prepare for our morning departure back home.