DAY 65 – Rest day in Besancon

There was a huge thunderstorm last night, and heavy rain overnight, but today has been pleasantly cooler. Fortunately the storm started after we got back from supper in a restaurant around the corner as we’d not taken caghoules with us. Our hotel is comfortable and well situated on a cobbled side street in the old centre of town, so it’s relatively quiet, though we still had to contend with the early morning street cleaner echoing down the street. Those working don’t give a hoot about those still sleeping!

Whilst it’s more comfortable walking in cooler weather, it does make it harder to get our clothes fully dry overnight as radiators are no longer running. However, we have had fans in a couple of places, and they really help with the drying on humid windless days. Our room looks like a laundry with washing line hitched across whatever looks strong enough, but it’s either that or not having regular changes of clothing as we have only one on/one off to keep the weight of our packs down. Wearing anything for more than one day without washing it would be horrible with the amount we’re sweating every day!

The pilgrims’ laundry room in Besancon!

Other chores today have included planning our onwards route, because some shortening of otherwise too-long days is necessary, and buying more toothpaste and oranges. We’ve found a couple of places we could go back to for fresh filled rolls in the morning.

Jobs done, it was time for lunch! We found a nice little Thai street food place on a square not far away, and sat outside watching the world go by. Besancon is noticeably more international than many of the towns we’ve been to, both in terms of restaurants and people. It also has a visible community of people begging on the street, so the prosperous city centre with its many international businesses evidently belies some significant social issues.

From a visitor’s perspective the centre of Besancon is very pleasant, with most streets pedestrianised, a tram system, a few cyclists, and only the occasional car. It was also probably quieter today as it’s Monday when many businesses are closed. Window-shopping led us past a fascinating clock shop opposite the horological museum. Besancon is apparently the centre of the French clock-making industry.

Next stop was the cathedral which is approached uphill via one of the very impressive medieval city gates. The current building is in romanesque style dating from the 11th to 13th centuries, a previous wooden structure having burned down. It is unusual in having apses with altars at both the east and west ends, and no transepts. The nave was darker than other cathedrals we’ve seen due to coloured glass in almost all the upper windows.

Besancon cathedral looking east

At the west end there is a very ornate chapel with lots of guilding, and an interesting stone floor mosaic representing the gates into Jerusalem.

The side chapels were also more ornate than most we’ve seen so far. One chapel had a lovely 16th century circular stone altar made of Pyrenean white marble and thought to be the only one remaining in France. It was apparently removed from Besancon’s former second cathedral of St Etienne, which lost out in an historical power battle with the current cathedral of Saint-Jean and had all its treasures removed.

One of the most famous features of the cathedral here is its astrological clock, but very sadly access to it is closed on Mondays and so we had to make do with a poster about it. It apparently shows the time, date, positions of the planets, fete days, and lunar calendar. It’s hard to imagine the intricacy and skill involved in making such an elaborate timepiece.

It only remained to get our pilgrim passports stamped in the tourist office, and have a siesta as this is supposed to be a day of rest rather sightseeing.

Otherwise, we are looking forward to Tom’s friend Stuart arriving from the USA via the TGV later this evening and joining us on the walk for a couple of days. It’s really good to be able to share our experiences with friends.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *