A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Day 27: Sainte-Reine To Besançon

Besançon is the birthplace of the Lumière brothers, inventors of cinematography.

According to Alison Raju's guidebook, it's 50 km from the hamlet of Sainte-Reine to the city of Besançon.  I can't quite believe it, but I walked this stage in just one day.  Raju often states the distance incorrectly, but even so . . . However, the road was flat, and reasonably straight, and my feet and stamina were improving. Also there were few distractions (such as bars, shops and cafés), for much of France was closed as usual. (Many French retail businesses shut from Saturday lunchtime till Tuesday morning, and some have a further afternoon off in the week. Shops often close daily from midday till 3 pm. In August much of France is on holiday, and smaller bars, shops and hotels may lock their doors while their owners are away, leaving a notice in the window. And some village shops and bars have closed down completely. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned all the French feast days, and religious and public holidays. I actually quite like this traditional arrangement, and find it utterly civilised, though, even in France now, more and more businesses are beginning to trade on Sundays.)

I kept on through village after village and simply continued walking. In Frasne-le-Château a Sardinian gentleman, who was stacking logs for winter, kindly pointed out the correct way. In Bonnevent-Velloreille the view ahead opened up, and I could see, across rolling, lower ground, forested hills in the distance, and a couple of lumps on the horizon, which could have been mountains — a tantalising glimpse of the higher land beyond Besançon. Was this the Swiss Jura? In Etuz I found a pizzeria and ate a microwaved lasagne. Dwellings suddenly became smarter and communes more prosperous-looking. Gardens were tidy and well-maintained. There were even proper tarmac pavements instead of the normal half-finished, stony paths which were so uncomfortable underfoot.

On the outskirts of Besançon I took a wrong turning because of an ambiguity in the guidebook and ended up battling along the edge of one of the busiest roads I'd seen during the whole trip. Coaches and lorries hurtled by me just inches — or should I say centimetres — away. Not wishing to retrace my steps, I forked right into a dormitory suburb and found a bus stop. I consulted the timetable. No local buses were running in August! It was getting late, and I was tired and beginning to despair. Walking a little further, I approached more or less the first person I saw — a man weeding his drive with his young son. I explained who I was, what I was doing, how I'd been misled by my guidebook, and why I needed to get into town before nightfall. 'What's the best route to take?' I asked. He thought for a moment, then said: 'The best thing is for me take you!' — whereupon he backed his car out of the garage, strapped his son into the car seat, and drove me several kilometres down crowded highways and through confusing out-of-town developments to the top of a road leading directly down to the river Doubs. Besançon lay below, barely 20 minutes away. I thanked him profusely — yet another 'trail angel' had come to my aid — and descended the street. On entering a branch of the Foyers des Jeunes Travailleurs (similar to a youth hostel), who should I see, waiting for the canteen to open, but my Dutch fellow traveller and pilgrim, Ernst . . .
Besançon is also the birthplace of Victor Hugo, though he spent only a few weeks here.

Hugo's birthplace is now a museum which relates his revolutionary ideals and democratic vision to the present-day social and political world. I found it very interesting. Unfortunately I missed out on visiting the Musée des Beaux Arts et d'Archéologie, one of the best and oldest provincial art galleries in France. Among many other artefacts it contains Egyptian mummies, Roman mosaics, medieval sculptures, and paintings by Cranach, Bellini, Reubens, Goya, Courbet, Renoir, Bonnard and Picasso.  

The Cathédrale Saint-Jean (orig. 12th century) in the Rue de la Convention, as seen through the Roman Porte Noire.

Fra Bartolomeo's painting Madonna in Glory with Saints can be seen in the cathedral. The cathedral is unusual in that it has two apses — the Romanesque-Gothic choir apse and the Baroque east apse. 

The Rose of Saint John altar, consecrated by Pope Leon IX in 1050. It's made of marble, and is the only circular altar that remains in France.

The roof on the tower of Besançon cathedral; you'll recognise the clocher comtois style.


The Weaver of Grass said...

You could publish a pamphlet about your pilgrimage Robert -I am enjoying it so much, both the script and the photographs.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for continuing to read, Pat, and I'm so glad you are enjoying it. That's an idea — to collect together the whole series in a hard-copy format when I've finished.

Ruth Mowry said...

Yes, do what Pat suggests!

This is so impressive: that long day's trek, and this city with its Roman "ruins" (not ruinous-looking here!), old church, Victor Hugo roots, museum, etc.