Saturday, 17 March 2018

The community of Taizé

The bells of Taizé
I am woken up every morning by the bells of Taizé, the single bell for the monks rings out at 07.45 for about 5 minutes, calling the monks to their morning prayer then the bells start in earnest at 08.15 and ring until 08.30, letting all the pilgrims at Taizé know that the service is about to start. When the bells stop I know I really must get up. The bells ring from 12.15 to 12.30, so I know lunch should be on the table and if dinner is not ready when the evening bells go at 20.15, I know I am very late. And that was what Taizé was to me when I arrived here in 2005.

After Easter in 2006 we went to Taizé to have a look around and we were amazed at the number of young people milling around. We didn’t go to a service as that seemed inappropriate, with all these kids around it seemed like a young person’s thing. I wanted to go to a service, but I didn’t know how it worked, so I didn’t dare go alone. In July some campers (Ans and Simon) arrived, she had been to Taizé for the first time that spring and wanted to camp nearby to take in a few services and tempt her husband to go too. He however wasn’t interested and she didn’t dare go alone. At last my chance to go to a service, so on a Friday evening Ans and I went up the hill to Taizé.

A service in Taizé (Photo © Arnd Waidelich)
The services are made up of singing and silence. The songs are mesmerising. With pilgrims from all over the world the songs need to be simple to enable everyone to sing. There are a mixture of languages, Latin, German and some sort of Slavonic language are the most popular with French, English and Spanish there too. Each song has two lines and these are sung over and over again. The songs are a mixture of four voices, rounds and solo singing with the congregation singing the chorus. It is not to everyone’s taste, but I absolutely love them. In every service there is silence, five minutes of it. Five minutes is a very long time and it is quite amazing that a church full of people can be so quiet for so long. The singing continues after the monks have left and on a Friday and Saturday night this can go on into the early hours of the morning I have been told.

Pottery made by the brothers
The peace that pervades in a service is tangible and I can quite understand why some people come back year after year, just to regain that and to take a little bit of serenity back home with them. It is definitely not just a young person’s thing at all. Everyone is welcome to the services. Many, many of the visitors in our gîtes or on the campsite come for Taizé, to take part in a couple of services while being on holiday and enjoying other things that this area has to offer. Something not to be missed is a look at the stunning pottery the monks make to pay for their upkeep.

Special service - 5 years ago: Frère Roger killed; 70 years ago: he arrived in Taizé (2010)

We get many questions about how to walk or cycle to Taizé from here, so we have made some maps of the various routes and posted them in a photo album. Click here for those routes.

Text Sue Nixon

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Saturday, 10 March 2018

Walking along the Balades Vertes

Quite recently Saône-et-Loire, South Burgundy has completed the Balades Vertes which are a large number of signposted walking routes throughout the whole of the département (71). Together with the Voie Verte (check out the article) these routes make this area a Mecca for walkers.

In the capital of our canton, St Gengoux le National, the tourist information office has a little book with details of the walks that are in the area between the rivers Grosne and Guye, rather unsurprising called "Guide les Balades Vertes entre Grosne et Guye". The book contains 26 signposted walks and costs €8.00, a little map and description of each walk can be bought separately and they cost € 2.00 each. All the signposts or markings on trees and fence posts are in yellow and are very clear.

A large number of communes along the Voie Verte have a starting point for their walks. The routes to these starting points are clearly marked with large signposts “Randonnée - Balade Verte” on the main roads. By each start point there is a carpark and a map with an overview of the routes that start and finish at that point and the route reference number, for instance the routes from Cormatin are CO1 and CO2, from Taizé TA1 etc. Click here for an album with some more pictures of the Balades Vertes.

Taking a break along the Balades Vertes
For those who want to be a bit more adventurous and make their own way around here, there are very well detailed maps from IGN in their Série Bleue (1:25000) which you can use to find all the footpaths in the area. One of the Grande Randonnées passes close to Cormatin (GR76) and Cluny is one of the starting points for the road to Santiago de Compostella.

Over and above all this, from early in the spring until late in autumn, there are organised randonnées most weekends. The routes are marked by different coloured spray paint arrows on the road or wooden arrows on temporary posts and the walks usually range from 5 to 30 km. At strategic points on the way there are refreshment stalls where wine, water, French bread, cheese and sausage are distributed. The prices vary by distance and range from €3.00 to €10.00.

We get many questions about how to walk or cycle to Taizé from here, so we have made some maps of the various routes and posted them in a photo album. Click here for those routes.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Cycling down the Voie Verte

The Voie Verte (the Green Pathway) is a walking/cycle path that runs from north to south through Saône-et-Loire (71), South Burgundy. In the nineties, the local governing bodies decided to tarmac the old railway track from Chalon-sur-Saône to Mâcon as a leisure facility. Many of the old stations have been turned into “service stations”. This concept was so successful that the original 80km of cycle path has been extended to cover 320 km and extra circuits (boucles) that go off into the surrounding countryside have been created, giving in total approximately 730 km of marked out cycle routes. La Voie Verte runs not only over the old railway tracks, it now runs over canal tow paths and also specially created cycle paths have been built to link the various sections of Voie Verte together.

A special map on the subject shows the complete Voie Verte Saône-et-Loire (71) and its boucles. The boucles all begin and end on the Voie Verte and are signposted. Each boucle is graded for difficulty from 1 being easy up to 4 which is very hard work.

At some places near Cormatin and at the campsite in Cormatin, you can rent bicycles, by the hour, day or week. Prices in Cormatin are approximately €20 per day or approximately €65 per week. Click here for an album with a few more pictures of the Voie Verte.

The Voie Verte near Chazelle

The whole Voie Verte concept has extended beyond Saône-et-Loire and there are now plans to link all the paths in Burgundy (approximately 600km) and extend them by a further 200km by linking them into the paths in Rhône giving a total of about 800km of cycle paths near here.

La Voie Verte is about 2km from La Tuilerie and boucles 10 and 10bis (the Romanesque church route) almost pass the door (200m).

The Voie Verte between Cormatin and Cluny
You don’t have to just stick to the cycle paths for safe cycling. The secondary roads around here are very quiet and the French really stick to the rules when it comes to giving cyclists plenty of room, they overtake at a safe distance of about 1.5m. When Cees cycles into Cormatin to get the bread and newspaper on the main road, no one will overtake if he cannot be given enough room. It won’t be the first time that he has entered town with a long queue of cars behind him.

At weekends there are regular “randonnées” for VTTs (mountain bikes) where routes are laid out for you to follow. They tend to be from 30 to 50km and cost between €5.00 and €10.00. For that you get regular pit-stops where water, wine, French bread and sausage amongst other goodies are available to fortify you for the rest of the journey.

For those “passive” cyclists, the Tour de France comes to a town near here almost every year. In 2007 it came to Cormatin itself, in 2006 Mâcon saw the finish of an étape, in 2010 Tournus saw the start of an étape as did Mâcon in 2012.

We get many questions about how to walk or cycle to Taizé from here, so we have made some maps of the various routes and posted them in a photo album. Click here for those routes.

Whilst this item is about cycling, we do get asked from time to time if it possible to go horseriding near here. So just because I can't think of a better place to put the information here it is! In Saint-Martin-du-Tartre, at “Le Ranch des Jacinthes” horses can be rented for trekking in the hills.

Saturday, 10 February 2018


Gislebertus - Autun
I cannot name many places where a master builder, sculptor or stone mason, working around the year 1000 in one of the many Romanesque churches in this part of France has left his name or picture behind in one of his works.

Seguin - Ameugny
I can name only three: Gislebertus, whose name is displayed on the tympanum of the cathedral in Autun; the stone mason Seguin from Malay, whose name can be found on the tympanum of the church in Amegny and sculptor Gerlanus, who has an arch named after him in the abbey church St-Philibert in Tournus.

Gerlanus - Tournus
This arch is located in the St-Michael's chapel built above the narthex of the church. And not only did he carve his name in a stone; he also produced a rather labour-intensive selfie which can be found in the same chapel.

Gerlanus - Tournus
I must confess however, that I went back into that chapel three or four times because I knew that there was a stone with Gerlanus' name carved in it, but I had never been able to find that stone. But, as the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.

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Saturday, 27 January 2018

Bambi, in person

Ferme Apicerf
Through a Photo Club we joined some time ago we heard that there should be, somewhere near Cluny, a deer park. Just before we joined, the club had organised an outing in order to do a photo shoot. We often see roe deer around here, sometimes in a meadow, but more often when they cross a road through the woods in the vicinity. In this case however the animals, as far as we could judge that, were a herd of red deer.

Ferme Apicerf
We know Cluny and surroundings quite well, but we had never seen something resembling a deer park. One of the members of the group gave an indication where we had to look to find the deer. That appeared to be in the woods just outside Cluny, and they belonged to a farm called Ferme Apicerf. The farm was not difficult to find, but there was no trace of any deer. Another phone call gave us some more information; the deer were to be found in some fields much further away from the farm building then we thought.

Ferme Apicerf
On our second quest we found some fields, where the gate bore a sign saying Ferme Apicerf. In the fields we could also see some beehives (apis = bee in Latin, cerf = deer in French). Further, the fields were surrounded by fencing normally used around fields where farmers keep sheep. And when we looked even better we saw in one of the fields, at the edge furthest away from where we stood the herd of deer we had been looking for. Unfortunately they stood in the shade of the edge of the wood and the distance was too big to take some decent pictures (even using a 300 mm zoom), but we will certainly go back there when the circumstances are better.

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Saturday, 13 January 2018


Station Cluny
The Voie Verte, the cycle path connecting Chalon-sur-Saône and Mâcon, is located there where in the past an old local railway ran. At some places a few rail tracks are preserved, the small houses for the points operator or the railway signal operator are often still there and in a number of places the old stations can still be found. The former Cluny station for example now houses a place where bicycles can be rented.

Mulhouse, Station Cluny
This station used to have a nice open train shed, certainly for a station this size. We were quite taken by surprise when we found this shed, about 350 km from home, on display just outside the Cité du Train (the National Railway Museum) in Mulhouse (Alsace)!

Mulhouse, Station Cluny
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Saturday, 30 December 2017

A Christmas Carol

Unwrapping presents
Ever since I have an English partner we spend Christmas in England. Since I am from a country where traditionally one part of the population celebrates only Saint-Nicholas (I was part of that group), another part celebrates only Christmas, and still another, greedier part celebrates both, I look, compared to the Brits, at Christmas in quite a different way.
I will make a concise list of things that, in the eyes of a stranger, are characteristic for an English Christmas.

Yummy, Brussel's sprouts!
The first thing that draws a stranger's attention are the overfull shops with frantic shoppers until seconds before the shops close on Christmas eve, and the often ghastly Christmas decorations displayed in gardens and against the facades of houses.

Ymmy, turkey!
And then there is the stress obviously indispensable in order to prepare a meal which is the same year in, year out, in every household from the Orkney Islands to the Isle of Wight.

The Christmas crackers
Then one eats this food (which I do not particularly like, but that is my personal problem) whilst wearing a silly paper hat; listen to and laugh about Christmas cracker jokes so boring and stupid that one wonders how a country that has produced Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers can come up with "humour" like this, and finally listen to the Queen's speech.

The Christmas lunch
And when one thinks to taste a bit of culture in London after Christmas, forget it! Between Christmas and New Year not only most restaurants and shops are closed, also the vast majority of the Museums do not open their doors during this week. My partner calls me Bah Humbug; I wonder why?

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Saturday, 16 December 2017

Air pollution

A haze over Parijs
Air pollution is a worldwide problem, something also France is confronted with from time to time. During our yearly holiday in Paris we have twice experienced that the Eiffel Tower, normally clearly visible from Montmartre, was hidden from view by what looked like a dark blanket. The only advantage for us tourists was that the Metro in Paris was for a number of days free of charge, just to reduce the amount of CO2 producing vehicles.

Free public transport
One of the measures taken by the French President Sarkozy at the time was a ban on burning garden waste. However, thinking of the amount of gardens in a city like Paris the effect of this ban would not have been very impressive.
This ban of burning garden waste however is also valid in the country side, with the exception of agricultural "garden" waste. As I have described in my previous blog we ended up with huge quantities of green waste after a day of cutting brambles. So what to do?

Our modest contribution to the problem
Fortunately laws in France are not always implemented to the letter. When we noticed that one of our village's officials was happily lighting bonfires every so often, we decided to follow his example. And why not? Sarkozy will certainly not return to politics in the near future to tell us off for it…

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Saturday, 2 December 2017

A holiday job

Voor de grote schoonmaak
This summer I was "told" to cut down some brambles, located on a corner where the person who often drives around on a lawnmower got severely scratched on head, shoulders, arms and legs by whizzing past the thorny branches. Well, cutting down some brambles, that should be a doddle for any guy, wouldn't it?

Na de grote schoonmaak
And that is how it all started: one thing led to another. What started as cutting back some branches somewhere at the beginning of July, turned out to be a full-time job, because after each bramble bush another was hiding, and another, and another…

En opeens was er uitzicht!
Anyway, some time ago, to be precise Saturday November 4, the job was ceremoniously declared finished, and celebrated with a cold Belgian beer. In the meantime I had cleared a big area of brambles, and one day I hit upon a ditch so overgrown that I did not even know it existed. The ditch also gave me an unpleasant surprise. In the ditch, at the bottom of the slope I found, more or less vertically sticking out the remains of an old fence. Fortunately the removal of the fence was less tricky then I thought, and on that last memorable working day we drove off to the dump with a car full of muddy wire fencing.

Een groot deel van het werk: de sloot ligt rechts
As can be seen on the picture of that bit of garden, the 1 to 2 m wide strip of brambles, separating our garden from the meadow has completely disappeared. For as long as it lasts, of course….

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Saturday, 25 November 2017

Les Oiseaux Rares 2017

Grande Rue - Cormatin
In the past I already published a blog on the subject of Les Oiseaux Rares, a group of artisans from Cormatin and surroundings. They still have their yearly exhibition which is, even after all these years, still worth a visit.

Contributions of the public
This year, for the first time, the public was invited to participate. Everybody who felt the urge was asked to write or copy a poem, a piece of prose, a drawing, a photograph or a collage on an A4-sheet. The only restriction was, that the contribution should have some relation to the theme "Time".

Time heals all wounds
The first thing that sprang to my mind was a short poem by a Dutch poet/comedian Hans Dorrestijn entitled "Time heals all wounds". No Frenchman will understand the Dutch words, however, our contact within the Oiseaux Rares thought it was a nice idea to have something real foreign amongst all the French contributions. A rough English translation:"Fate is ranting on / For hours, minutes and seconds / Time heals all wounds, however / It causes many more".

Tempus fugit (1)
After another brainstorming session I remembered having taken a picture of a clock with an exposure of 4 seconds; the picture showed clearly that the second hand moved four times with one second interval.

Tempus fugit (2)
And finally I remembered a more recent picture of a sundial on the wall of the cloister in Cluny III. My theme's title was born: "Tempus fugit".
The A4-sheets were quickly made; it took a bit longer to find them amongst the approx. 350 contributions hanging from trees, gates, hedges and window facades throughout Cormatin.

At Pascale Hautefort-Ponsard - Cormatin
And whilst looking for one's own contribution one also wonders into the exhibition space of again another artisan. Which is exactly the object of the exercise, no doubt….
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Saturday, 18 November 2017

A hill with a view

Panorama - Brancion
Even though our department Saône-et-Loire is not really famous for its viewing points, when one is traveling through the vineyards or along castles, churches etc. there certainly are some places in the vicinity offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
To start near home: Brancion is built on a hill which, when the Tour de France visits the area, is part of the Mountains Classification.

Roche de Vergisson (left) and Solutré (right)
The village has been totally restored recently, the medieval castle ruins can be visited and the Romanesque church also merits a visit. The open area in front of the church offers stunning views of the Grosne Valley.
At the other side of the valley one finds Mont-Saint-Vincent, one of the highest point in the department. It also boasts an interesting Romanesque church, a small museum housing a Merovingian sarcophagus and lovely views over the surrounding landscape.

Roche de Solutré
The Roche de Solutré is a well-known place in the Mâconnais (bordering the Beaujolais area). The rocks towers high above its surroundings, and hosted, when he was still alive, the yearly pilgrimage of François Mitterand and his family. The rock is easy to negotiate via a path to the top, has an archaeological museum and lovely views of the Roche de Vergisson (another plateau in the vicinity) and of the vineyards of the Mâconnais.

Panorama with "Le guetteur" (left) - Suin
The Butte de Suin is located not far from Cluny. The hill has a Madonna towering over the surroundings, the plateau offers ample space for picnics, and the Romanesque church on the plateau is certainly worth a visit. The picnic area is guarded by a metal sculpture, "Le guetteur" (the sentry) van Laure Frankinet, keeping guard over the Butte.

Towards twilight - Beaubery
And finally, direction Brionnais, one can visit Beaubery, where a hill houses a monument for the resistance fighters from the surrounding villages who gave their life fighting the Germans. The monument itself consists of a Cross of Lorraine (a symbol adopted by General de Gaulle) flanked by two cannons. This hill also offers stunning views of its surroundings.

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Saturday, 4 November 2017

Steaming up to the Alsace

Every so often, approx. 6 x per year, one can recognise the unmistakable sound of a steam locomotive not so far from where we live. And I am not talking about a small narrow-gauge locomotive, or a shunting locomotive, no, this concerns one of the last great express train locomotives in the series 241P that crossed France until the end of the 60-ies. The train has a power of 4000 hp, and can easily drive at 120 km/h even though the French railways have restricted the speed limit to 100 km/h.

Between Chagny and Beane
The locomotive's home base is Le Creusot (wher she was built as well with the Schneider Company) and makes yearly trips to amongst others Nevers, Aix-les-Bains, Villars-les-Dombes, Lyon and Dijon, the Loire Valley… This year there was a special trip planned. The idea was to travel from Le Creusot to Mulhouse, have a dinner with candle light in the Cité du Train (one of the biggest museums if not the biggest railway museum of Europe), stay in a hotel near the railway station.
The next day there would be a visit to the museum proper and then of course the return trip under steam.

Public in Vesoul
We had watched the train go by standing on a viaduct near Rully, but we had never been on board. Until September.
Because we had something to celebrate we had splashed out financially in order to make the trip with some friends.

A young spectator
The smell of oil, coal and steam, the sound of the cylinders and of the steam whistle, combined with a beautiful late summer's day which allowed us to hang from the windows to take pictures, the stops at various stations on our way to take in water with the help of the local fire brigade, the spectators along the tracks and especially the crowds on the stations of Chagny and Vesoul, all this made the weekend to be an unforgettable one.

Dinner Cité du Train
And not only the trip itself had been perfectly organised (the steam train had to be fit into the SNCF timetable). The lunches we had ordered were of good quality, the dinner in the museum was excellent with local specialities, the hotel was very efficiently organised, the museum which we had visited before was certainly worth another visit, and this is hopefully not the last time we boarded the 241P17.

A sister of our locomotive
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