Friday, June 19, 2009
yesterday i got up and decided to take a train somewhere. i didn't really know where and didn't really have a plan. i don't like having plans, actually. i mean, of course i had a loose plan about this trip and have been making arrangements as to where to stay and that sort of thing. but i don't really like to do the guide book travel thing. i'd rather just wander aimlessly and figure it out as i go. plus, whenever i'm out wandering, i seem to find myself exactly where i need to be. i also feel that i am my most authentic self when i travel aimlessly. there's a rhythm to the universe that i feel tapped into and the right things always seem to happen at the right time.
i got to the train station here in tiny nevers and bought a ticket for the next train that was leaving- destined for clermont-ferrand, a place i had never heard of. i also had no idea how far it was or where it was located in france. i figured it couldn't be more than a couple hours, though. the train system here is pretty amazing and way cheaper than trains in the states, but you can't just take one train from one end of france to the other- there are these various hubs where different routes connect and if you were to travel someplace really far you'd have to change trains.
turns out that clermont-ferrand is sw of nevers and about an hour and 20 min train ride. not bad. i got there and realized immediately that it was a pretty big city. much bigger than nevers, pop. 40,000, anyway. i bought a return ticket for the last train that evening and then had about 7 hours to wander. and wander, i did. my legs are sore today, in fact. the first thing i saw right outside the train station was a sweet flier for some anarchist events. there were apparently several consecutive days of events scheduled- things like planting vegtable gardens in public spaces, various squat commerations, communal dining events- that sort of thing. my heart was warmed. nevers is adorable, but really homogenous and bland. i tried wearing my beloved shredded black hoodie with the patches and people stared at me. but in clermont, it was different. there was a much more diverse population and i saw many women around who defied the french norm of super-feminized daintiness that prevails in france. i swear- the women here all walk around super dressed up all the time, in tiny shoes with high heels. and i thought american women had it bad...
but i digress. i left the train station and found the poster and was happy. then i found a cemetary and walked around that awhile. i like cemetaries. french cemetaries are interesting because there are family graves, where everyone is buried on top of everyone else. honestly- many of the graves are the same size as american graves, but somehow they cram like 8 people in there. after the cemetary, i walked around awhile and found a place to eat my lunch. then i found myself walking around michellin land. you know- the tire company. apparently they are from france. yet another thing i thought was american and it turns out it came from europe. there have been a lot of those for me lately. so i walked through several consecutive blocks of michellin factory and was beginning to get the impression that was clermont's thing and i had a long 7 hours ahead of me waiting for my train to go back to nevers. but then... i saw a gigantic spire shooting up into the sky across the city. i decided to head there. when in doubt- head for the local ancient cathedral because it's usually amazing and located in the older, interesting part of town. after several setbacks in which i ended up bypassing the cathedral and finding myself back in michellin land, i made it- and it was worth the entire trip. after spending some time refreshing myself by a lovely fountain that was probably built around the same time as the cathedral, i finally found it. turns out it was the cathedral notre dame of clermont. made of black volcanic rock in super-ornate gothic style- it was incredible. i wandered around there for a long time, went inside to check it out- the stained glass windows were gorgeous and the whole experience was profound. i didn't realize it at the time- but apparently there are lots of cathedral notre dames in france, the one in paris of course being the biggest and most impressive. but the clermont one was pretty amazing. originally it was the site of two basilicas built in 450 and 949. the cathedral was built over those sites (of which now only the crypts remain underneath) from 1248-1285. pretty sweet.