The journey, not the destination matters. – T.S. Elliot
Road trips: unpredicted stops, unexpected sights, and unanticipated routes…
Road tripping is like writing. You never know where the next turn/word may take you.
As we are leaving the Chateau de Tanlay in Burgundy, Mei is keeping the itinerary and next stop secret. I’m OK with that. In Paris, we used to flip coins to see where we would go next. Now we are kidnapping each other to secret destinations.
We drive along wall-to-wall vineyards divided into plots, some of them proudly announcing organic farming. In the midst of the wine terraces suddenly looms a blossoming cornflower field. Stop the car, please!
Seconds later we plunge into the bluebottle bachelor button field, dotted with sporadic daisies, and the humming of bees. I pick up handfuls of soil and let them trickle through my fingers. This is rich chalk soil. I wonder how many human sweat and blood was necessary to harvest its quintessence? This soil has been exploited for centuries and continues to nourish flora and fauna. A ladybug lands on my shoulder. I imagine how the same insect landed on some Roman shoulder before. How Cistercian and Benedictine monks later picked up the winemaking. They grew the grapes for the church and the dukes of Burgundy. And refined many techniques with their oenological flair.
Imagining the honey-herb flavor of the medieval wine, while being surrounded by ripe grapes has made me thirsty. We head back to the car, where I release the ladybug, before hitting the road again.
A few kilometers further, we stop in Chablis, the “Golden Gate” of Burgundy, famous for its honey-scented white wine usually from Chardonnay grapes. After quenching our thirst, we stroll through the medieval parts of the town.
We walk through winding Jewish alleys, and along the river Serein, which is only navigable by small boats and barges. Before leaving Chablis, we stop at one of the numerous wine domains, cellars, and boutiques, where I get to taste and buy several wines.
Mei keeps driving on the National Road D965 for about 20 minutes. Then, I spot a huge clock tower and a majestic cathedral from afar. We are heading towards a bigger town: it has to be Auxerre, perched on its hill overlooking the Yonne river.
The hotel that Mei has booked is located outside of the town center. Hotel Normandie… the name is quite misleading indeed. The actual Normandy is along France’s west coast, a few hours away from Burgundy. But the hotel’s decor certainly emits a relaxing northern beach atmosphere. As we find out later, Hotel Normandie is only a 15 minutes walk away from the town center.
The first building that catches our attention is the former Episcopal Palace, which now serves as the Préfecture. The impressive building with a covered loggia that runs along its façade looks grand and reminds us of the Italian style from the times of Mazarin.
On the Place du Marché, we pause at a towering structure called La Tour Gaillarde. Most people think that the structure is merely a clock tower, or a belfry. But it’s actually a fragment left from a 15th century building, which used to be an earl’s prison, before it was converted into a clock tower in 1483.
As the evening is settling in with golden streaks, we head towards the banks of the River Yonne to admire the gothic Saint-Etienne Cathedral and the magnificent Saint-Germain Abbey.
I am tempted to buy a rusty “Route 66” sign in an antiquity shop. For a moment, it takes me back to 2013, and to our American road trip with dusty and shady motels. But then, I suddenly realize that there is no need to be nostalgic. This is the present. And we are on the road. Again. And we are still us. Together. The adventure is far from being over…
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