Walking in France it’s very easy to tell when you are approaching the next town. There’s always just one steeple in center of town that’s the highest point and visible from a mile away.
Approaching Laon, this typical city layout, is, quite literally heightened. Laon is built around a stunning early gothic cathedral on a massive hill.
After my long hot walk yesterday, I stayed in a hotel closer to the road on the outskirts of town. It worked perfectly to end yesterday, but I woke up on a mission to see the upper city and the gothic cathedral.
I walked about a mile into town and easily followed the signs to the gothic city. The hard work was climbing the municipal stairs with my backpack! It was a cause for wonder, though, after viewing the cathedral I wondered if all the rock and labor that went into climbed the same mountain.
I took some pictures with the outside of he cathedral using my trusted method of asking someone armed with professional camera gear.
I was almost not so curious to go inside, because the dark interior of the last church I viewed on a sunny day in Peronne gave me a frightened feeling, and I imagined in this immensely bigger and centuries older Cathedral that might be the case times 1000
I was blown away to step into the church and see it was actually heavenly; bright, open, beautiful, with only gold and colorful stained glass accenting the fortress of white marble. A recording of choir music, something like Handels, echoed through the sanctuary, I took a deep breath and walked closer to the alter.
Along the sides of this otherworldly space were ordinary, volunteer-made informational posters like you might see in any church, however, these were particularly interesting because they explained the pilgramages that pass through the cathedral.
I loved mixing my experience and research of the pilgrimages with my still forming french vocabulary to try to understand what each panel meant.
After some time observing the silence, I floated into the streets to find lunch, and came back to earth over a cheap and filling meal of turkish kebab! Oof!
As I ate, I found myself wondering if hunger headaches were in fact, a real medical ailment or something invented by my grandmother. In any case, the little headache I woke up with was not going away with lunch, or the liter of water I was drinking.
I climbed down the stairs to the lower city and started to walk towards the direction of my next town, but I just did not feel well. I knew if I started walking and felt too sick to continue, I might not be in a town for many miles, so I was reluctant to get on the road.
I had another coffee for a chance to sit and revise my plans, but it was inconclusive. I found the train station and tempted myself at the counter by asking how about the next train to Reims. I learned my two days journey could also be achieved in two hours.
Then it started to rain.
I ducked into a bookstore, then a Spar Grocery store, and finally had to face the rain with my hood up and raincover over my backpack for the first time.
I didn’t want to climb back to the old city to find a hotel, that was ground I had already covered for the day.
I wondered if I should take the train to Reims but I didn’t really want to anyway, that would be cheating myself of the glorious feeling of approaching the next big city by foot, which is infinitely different than arriving at a train. At many times in my trip, I liken this feeling to the Wizard of Oz. I obsessed over this movie from age 6-9, faithfully wearing the same blue checked dress for Halloween each year, which is why I can reliably identify this as the exact scene in the movie that captures what i feel when I finally reach a new city on foot https://youtu.be/9nq34mISKUo
So, actually, I did not really want to take the train to Reims except maybe to fall asleep on it.
I walked away from the station in the rain and ate the apple I just bought, a new species, from its soggy paper bag.
I felt so calm. I didn’t know what would happen next but I just knew it would be OK and I was excited for whatever was around the corner.
As it turned out, in a few blocks I approached the back of a building marked “Hotel” for deliveries. I hadn’t seen that before. I wondered if it was in fact, connected to an operating hotel on the other side, so I scurried around the corner to explore.
“hotel du tramway” A locked door with a white print out posted in french and English “Call this number if no one is at reception, I am not far away, Daphne”
I dialed the number and stood in the sheltered door.
Allo, Allo, Allo, Allo
My phone connected to Daphne but I suddenly remembered I couldn’t really speak French.
While I was still on the phone, a young couple hopped out of a taxi with their luggage and joined me waiting outside the hotel door.
I took my phone off my ear. “Do you speak French?” I asked them and handed over my phone.
They were from the Caribbean island of Guadalupe, which apparently is still French and very tied to the economy here, they were traveling on business.
l felt very curious when I realized they were maybe first people I think I’ve met from Guadalupe, even though it’s much closer to New York than Laon! While we waited for Daphne I was happy to make their acquaintance and exchange details for their future trip to New York, or mine to Guadalupe!
And when I reached the room, I felt so happy to be out of the rain, and to find a place that was simple but sparking clean. I learned later the hotel opened just one month ago!
I took a Tylenol. I took a shower that didn’t feel like a chore. By the time I was feeling better, my friend, the same one whose parents had me for dinner when I was lost in Picardie, messaged me, oh, also my friend in Laon, is an English teacher, a girl like you age 28, and would you like to meet her for dinner while you are in the city?
Yes! Of course!
And in the end, I didn’t lose a day to feeling ill at all, I gained a friend over “cheese soup” (a welsh!) the best thing of all!