France 2018: August 2

"He gives power to the weak." (Isaiah 40:29

I’ve already told you about our agonizing departure from Vallery. (Scroll down to the first of these posts to read that story and all the others preceding this one.)

When we finally broke out of that village, we were on our way to Vezelay, an old town with a famous church atop a hill that affords views of the surrounding countryside.

We decided not to go back to Sens, whence we could take the freeway, but to drive directly through the countryside and then join the toll road at Courtenay. Almost immediately, we were happy with our choice of route. The weather was fine, so we could see a long way. Dori had dreamed of driving through the Burgundian countryside, and she was not disappointed.

The first thing that captured our attention was a vast field of sunflowers in full bloom. The expanse of yellow went on and on, almost as far as the eye could see. It was a gorgeous sight. We could have ended our tour of rural France right then and been satisfied.

Soon we came to a small village. As we entered the town, another feature of French culture delighted our eyes. Almost every window had a flower box hanging outside it. Everywhere you looked, even on the walls of barns and office buildings, were these lovely floral arrangements. You couldn’t see any trash or litter in the streets; the buildings were immaculate; and the flowers greeted you on every side.

We were hungry by now. I wanted another whole-grain baguette. We parked the car and I waited while Dori looked for a bakery. Before long, she had returned with a white what baguette for herself and something for me, and we were on our way again.

After a pleasant drive through more lovely countryside, we took the toll highway for a while and then left it for another small road towards our destination. We soon had a choice of two routes. One seemed more direct, but appeared narrower. Knowing that we were taking a risk, we chose “the road less travelled.” The longer we drove, the more we doubted the wisdom of our selection, for we were soon winding through wooded and hilly terrain.

As our concern mounted, we found that we couldn’t use the GPS on our iPhones or the one in the car. All we had was the paper map Dori had purchased. I now think that we had failed to follow the directions for connecting to the cell-phone networks that we’d received before leaving home. Anyway, this loss of a tool on which we had counted soon became a source of increasing frustration and anxiety. What had once seemed like charming countryside became a foreboding forest that threatened to swallow us without a trace. I didn’t enjoy most of that leg of our journey; neither did Dori.

I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, and there had been no chance to take a nap, so fatigue was starting to sap my energy and enthusiasm.

Finally, after a much longer, slower, and frustrating drive than we had anticipated, we reached the outskirts of Vezelay.

We came upon a public parking lot on the edge of town. Leaving our car there, we started walking upwards towards the cathedral. Not having had anything to eat or drink for several hours, we were hungry, thirsty, tired, and discouraged. We soon spotted a café, and our spirits rose. Here, we could buy some refreshments and use a telephone to call the bed and breakfast where we had reservations for the evening.

Or so we thought. The first obstacle we encountered was the inability of anyone at the café to speak English. Dori obtained a menu, from which we selected drinks and a snack. While we waited for these to come, I found a rest room. I thought that it was occupied, so I waited a long time. Then I tried the door again and discovered that I hadn’t pushed on the handle hard enough.

Our drinks still hadn’t arrived when I returned to our table, so Dori went to look for a phone. The one in the lobby couldn’t connect for us. What to do? Would that young man at the next table be able to help? He seemed to be educated. Maybe he spoke English. Once again, Dori sallied forth. I was just too tired. She returned with instructions on how to dial the B&B in Avallon, but when we called we couldn’t actually reach anyone.

We knew we were going to be late for the dinner we had reserved months before, but we couldn’t leave abandon our plan to climb to the top of the hill, survey the surrounding countryside, and take a look at the cathedral of Mary Magdalene.

Our refreshments finally came. We quickly consumed them and set off for the summit. Because I didn’t want to walk too far, we found a parking place a bit closer and began our ascent. Though fatigue was draining my energy and enthusiasm, I had to go with Dori. She had so much wanted to see Vezelay; she’d searched information about Burgundy and had settled on this town as one she really wanted to visit. I couldn’t let her down.

By God’s grace, I was able to make the climb up a very steep street between charming old houses and shops until we reached the park at the top. We passed by the cathedral in order to get right to the place where we could see the fields, forests, and towns below. While Dori walked over to the wall at the edge of the hill, I sat down. Soon, her exclamations of delight called me from my resting place to the low wall where she stood.

Below us, a vertical drop of several hundred feet allowed for an unobstructed vista. Once again, Dori was right. Her research had, indeed, led us to a place worth visiting. We took a lot of pictures before reluctantly heading back toward our car. We didn’t enter the cathedral, which was now closed to visitors, but we did step into a gift shop. There, we found an array book photographs, books, booklets, and other items about the cathedral dedicated to Mary Magdalene.

We could have browsed in that shop for hours, but we knew that we had to be on our way.

The walk down went much more easily, of course. We did take time to enter an ice-cream shop and buy some really delicious ice-cream. Then we hastily got into our car and headed out of Vezelay for Avallon, our destination for that night.

My memory of that brief visit to a medieval city includes the way that God strengthened me to make the trek up the hill. Without his energizing empowerment, I would never have made it.