A Day at Vitra

Gail and I have just completed another portion of the Via Francigena pilgrimage which started in Canterbury and will eventually take us to Rome. This year, we walked 575 kilometres from Tergnier to Gy in France. Although we planned to walk about 40 kilometres further to Besançon, an unfortunate fall that severely limited Gai’s ability to walk, cut our journey a tiny bit short.

However, we had also planned a post-walk holiday that would take us from Besançon and through Switzerland by train, before returning home to Winnipeg. We resolved to continue with our plans, as carefully and as slowly as Gail’s ability required, minimizing our walking and using buses, trams and trains wherever possible. Here’s a day-by-day account of our progress.   

Notes from our day at the Vitra Campus:

Many countries and cities have heritage villages with a sampling of buildings drawn from the region and collected in a park-like setting. It’s a convenient way to portray local history, expressed through built heritage, in an educational, tourist-friendly way. Vitra, in Weil am Rhein, Germany, has done something similar for contemporary architecture, the reason we have made today’s pilgrimage to the Vitra Campus.   

Founded in 1950 as a shopfitting enterprise, Vitra moved into furniture production based on designers Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson and, for a while, the Herman Miller collection. A major fire at the campus in 1981 caused a paradigm shift for the company. A new era of architects were drawn into the rebuilding process, starting with a master plan and industrial buildings by Nicholas Grimshaw, but blossoming over time to include factories and pavilions designed by a who’s who of contemporary architects.

A thirty minute tram ride takes us from Barfüsserplatz in Basel, Switzerland across the unpatrolled Swiss-German border to the Bahnhof in Weil am Rhein, Germany. From there, a one-kilometre walk to the Vitra Schaudepot deposits us at the start of our three-hour guided tour through the Vitra Campus.

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Two Days in Basel

Gail and I have just completed another portion of the Via Francigena pilgrimage which started in Canterbury and will eventually take us to Rome. This year, we walked 575 kilometres from Tergnier to Gy in France. Although we planned to walk about 40 kilometres further to Besançon, an unfortunate fall that severely limited Gai’s ability to walk, cut our journey a tiny bit short.

However, we had also planned a post-walk holiday that would take us from Besançon and through Switzerland by train, before returning home to Winnipeg. We resolved to continue with our plans, as carefully and as slowly as Gail’s ability required, minimizing our walking and using buses, trams and trains wherever possible. Here’s a day-by-day account of our progress.   

Notes from our stay in Basel:

It takes but a few hours and three trains to transport us from ancient Besançon to modern Basel. We step out of the train station—Europe’s busiest international border station—and into a bustling square packed with buses, trams and suitcase-totting pedestrians. 

While Basel does have an old town, it is a city largely informed by the modern world. In some respects, the city is not unlike many North American cities. In places, the roadways are formidable barriers. Big pharmaceutical corporations, Roche and Novartis, are headquartered here in sleek campuses. The architecture is resolutely modern. In fact, we are here because of Basel’s contemporary architecture as well as the nearby Vitra campus (more about that in my next post). 

There are good guides to Basel’s contemporary architecture available online and we had ambitious plans to walk the city in search of as many as possible. Of course, Gail’s limited mobility impacted those plans. Fortunately, hotels in all of the Swiss cities we visited offer free transit cards for buses and trolleys. Even so, we could visit but a small number of the possible sites the city has to offer.

Our architectural tour starts with our hotel, The Passage. The name refers to its position between the old town, accessed by an attractive pedestrian passage behind the hotel, and the broad thoroughfare it faces, lined with slick modern commercial buildings. Designed by local architectural firm WyssSantos, the exterior is distinguished by a grid of minimalist coffered  modular panels with contrasting decorative screen insets. And, being a chic hotel, only a glass wall separates the shower from the bedroom. Thankfully, there are curtains!

Mario Botta, a well known international architect, is well-represented in the city. His Bank for International Settlements (BIS) sits by a busy intersection. It’s a tall drum-shaped structure clad in contrasting shades of grey stone. Punched-out rectangular and round porthole windows, together with an area carved out of the street level façade, play against the building’s cylindrical form. It’s formal and a little severe, an example of the New Rationalist style.

Botta is also represented in the Museum Tinguely. Again, the rationalist exterior is clad in contrasting stone courses, this time pink. Hard edges face unattractive motorways on two sides but it opens up with large windows facing a park and a sweeping gallery of glass suspended over the Rhine River. However, the real highlight is the (literally) lively mechanical sculptures of world-renowned Basel artist, Jean Tinguely. I’ll leave it to you to play the video/soundscape below, a compilation of his fascinating whirligig concoctions.

Architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron are based in Basel but they have an international portfolio. Winnipeggers visiting Minneapolis, Minnesota will recognize Herzog and de Meuron’s hand in the renovated Walker Gallery. The firm has multiple projects in Basel. I will highlight their Roche Towers. Buildings 1 and 2 are tall glass towers (Building 2 is the tallest in Switzerland at 178 metres) straddling yet another big motorway, the Grenzacherstrasse. 

This is but a small sampling of Basel’s contemporary architecture. Works by Renzo Piano, Richard Meier, BIG and many others can be explored. And a visit to the Novartis Campus would be worthwhile. Another trip, I suppose.

I will leave off in the older town. More of a small district within the larger, thoroughly modern city, it offers quiet pedestrian-oriented shopping streets, a bohemian vibe with small craft-oriented stores and many sidewalk cafes and restaurants. It’s a comfortable space where locals come to hang out. Not to be outdone by its contemporary neighbours, there are many historic buildings to be found here, the highlight being the city hall, or Rathaus. Its deep red façade, with elaborate 17 C. frescoes by artist Hans Bock, stands out on the rather innocuous Marktplatz. Passing through the Gothic-arched portal, the inner courtyard continues to amaze. Every surface is touched with frescoes and architectural detail.

Read on to view the day’s photos and video/soundscape.

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Two Days in Besançon, France

Gail and I have just completed another portion of the Via Francigena pilgrimage which started in Canterbury and will eventually take us to Rome. This year, we walked 575 kilometres from Tergnier to Gy in France. Although we planned to walk about 40 kilometres further to Besançon, an unfortunate fall that severely limited Gai’s ability to walk, cut our journey a tiny bit short.

However, we had also planned a post-walk holiday that would take us from Besançon and through Switzerland by train, before returning home to Winnipeg. We resolved to continue with our plans, as carefully and as slowly as Gail’s ability required, minimizing our walking and using buses, trams and trains wherever possible. Here’s a day-by-day account of our progress.   

Notes from our stay in Besançon:

Besançon would have been the last city we would walk into on this, the second stage of our pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome on the Via Francigena route. Instead, our walk fell about forty kilometres short of our goal due to Gail’s unfortunate tumble as we left Gy. Such are the possible misfortunes of long walks through strange lands. Instead, we arrive by car, with our kind host Frédéric driving us from the lovely Gîte de la Brillianne that he and his wife, Anne, operate in Geneuille. 

Many beautiful communities have dotted our pilgrimage route. I recall Chalon-en-Champagne and Bar-le-Duc as being two exceptional examples, although there were many more, both larger cities and tiny hamlets, that made our walk so enjoyable. Besançon is certainly one of best. Even with Gail’s damaged knee and limited walking ability, we still manage to soak in a small sampling of Besançon’s charms. 

It starts with our lodging at Résidence Charles Quint, an 18 C. townhouse set high above the rest of the city on a narrow lane of stone buildings. We pass through iron gates, a grand foyer and a set of heavy wood doors before entering the courtyard. A winding stone path leads us through the quiet private garden to our terrace suite, recently restored to its original finishes. That it was a place one might not want to leave came in handy as this will be Gail’s domain for most of the next two days. She could swing the garden doors open, lay on the bed or sit on the patio chair just outside and enjoy the lush garden while resting her injured leg.  I bring pastries for breakfast, pizzas and burgers for dinner. 

In between, I explore the city on my own, sussing out possible outings for Gail that would be easy on her legs. Victor Hugo’s House. Quai Vauban. The Citadel. And I discover that our charming accommodation is, in fact, at the high point of the old town which is otherwise remarkably level. It made my walks enjoyable, trundling up and down the narrow medieval streets but, for Gail, they are more obstacle than adventure. Regardless, on the second day we manage a good, slow walk down into town. We visit the astronomical clock and Cathédrale Saint-Jean, conveniently located just across the street from our suite. Further down, we pass through the 2nd century Roman gate, Porte Noire. Just beyond lies Square Castan, an archaeological garden replete with Corinthian columns, the remnants of a Roman theatre and subterranean aqueduct. Continuing down Rue Grande—a truly grand street lined with historic stone buildings, many bearing statuary set in wall niches—we stop by a pharmacy for a knee support. We walk through the  colonnaded courtyard of Palais Granvelle, a fine example of the up-and-coming Renaissance style. And, just beyond the palace, at the edge of a leafy square, we sit under the courtyard umbrellas of Brasserie Grenville to enjoy an alfresco lunch on this warm October day. It’s a fitting way to celebrate 24 days and 575 kilometres of trekking through the glorious French countryside. Over roast pork, cheese casserole and tarte au poivre, we toast the symbolic end of this year’s walk. Cheers to the Via Francigena and a promise to return next year, to continue our journey southwards, through France, Switzerland and well into northern Italy.

Buen camino!         

Read on to view the day’s photos.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 39: An Unexpected End to our Pilgrimage…This Year!

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s adventure:

The day started out well enough. There would be a short twenty-kilometre walk to Genouille, the second last day of our walk on the Via Francigena. A calm mood was set by a dense fog. And then it happened, after just one kilometre. A quick misstep on the edge of a curb had Gail falling forward. Weighed down by her pack, her knee hit the concrete curb first, her cheekbone second. A passing motorist stopped to offer assistance but we thought, no, we’ll try to continue. That lasted about 500 metres. Gail was in obvious pain, barely able to move the leg that hit the concrete. So we made the decision to turn back and seek medical assistance in Gy. By extreme good fortune, a car approached and slowly pulled alongside. The driver offered to take us to a medical clinic in Gy. That driver was Mireille, who became our guardian angel, our saviour, our hero that day. After ushering us into the clinic and seeing that Gail was inspected by a doctor, she drove us to the pharmacy, took us to her nearby home, set Gail up in a recliner, wrapped her knee in an ice pack and then began preparations for our lunch. We were introduced to Mireille’s husband, Michel, who also had knee issues, although much more serious and involving recent surgery to both legs. Together, we all sat down for a filling déjeuner of Franch-Comté cuisine washed down with a healthy amount of wine (excepting Gail, who was starting her medications). Gail was quite immobile at this point and the doctor warned that any serious walking would be out of the question for at least five days. So we decided to make our way to our next planned destination, Geneuille, by taxi. However, Mireille generously offered to drive us there!

We arrived at the Gîte de la Brillianne mid-afternoon. And after conveying our inadequate thanks to Mireille as she left to return to Gy, Gail’s care was transferred to our hosts, Anne and Frédéric, who made sure Gail was made comfortable and had an ice wrap for her leg. Dinner was, of course, another exceptional spread of local specialties.

In yet another exceptional gesture of kindness, Anne and Frédéric offered to drive us the following morning to the final destination of our Via Francigena pilgrimage, the fortified hilltop city of Besançon.

Which finds us here, in a beautiful terrace suite at Résidence Charles Quint, where we will be staying for two nights before resuming the non-walking portion of our trip into Switzerland…with a few modifications to suit Gail’s mobility requirements.

What this means for you, dear reader, is that there will be no further blog posts for the time being. Once I have returned to Winnipeg in late October, you can look forward to updates on our visits (we hope) to Basel, Bern, Mürren and Geneva. Until then, be sure to check out our final soundscape of this year’s pilgrimage walk as well as photos of the people who helped us these last two days. We owe so much for their kindness!

At this point in my blog posts, you would normally find a summary of the day’s walk, the distance covered and the elevation climbed. Instead, let me summarize what we’ve accomplished. In total we have walked about 575 kilometres over 21 walking days. Although we were’t able to walk the final two days, we only missed about 40 kilometres, as result. All in all, mission accomplished. And we are already making plans for continuing our pilgrimage in 2023, starting back in Gy and continuing southward through Switzerland and into northern Italy.

Read on to view today’s photos, a soundscape captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 38: Dampierre-sur-Salon to Gy

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

This was to be a good walking day, despite the thirty-plus kilometres we would have to traverse. It started well with cool overcast conditions, so ideal for walking. After passing the usual pastures of Charolais and the small village of Autet, our trail led us through a narrow tunnel to the pastoral banks of the Soâne River. A beautiful multi-use path paralleling its banks led us to the Petite Soâne canal, a surprising discovery given that the canal disappeared through a tunnel to continue its path. The village of Seveux came next, primarily notable as a stopping point mentioned by Cardinal Sigeric in his 990 travel blog.

Our route diverted from the ‘official path’ which would have added five kilometres to our already too-long walk. Minor roads and then forestry roads led us to an unexpected rest stop equipped with picnic tables (very rare) as well as a spring with cool, pure water. Be sure to listen to our soundscape (below) as we pause here for lunch. From here on, the route was exclusively on small highways with very little traffic. We counted a total of 20 vehicles passing us over the course of three hours.

Among the few small villages we encountered, Igny was notable for its lavoir or wash house. If you have been following previous blog posts you will have noticed an assortment of gable-roofed structures, often with stone columns, covering a fountain and a pool. In the 19 C., the French government imposed sanitation standards across the country. Some jurisdictions took up the challenge by creating public washing ‘fountains’ in the centre of their villages. Some were simple structures, some used classical elements such as square Doric-style stone columns but many chose to build a fanciful, architect-designed lavoirs. Igny was one of those. It is a delightful experience to turn a corner in an otherwise typical Franche-Comté village and find such an elegant structure that is now (and probably when built) no more than an architectural folly.

By the time we arrived at the Hôtel Pinocchio in Gy, we were certainly wobbly on our tired legs. But the day had been a grand adventure, well worth the effort. And sore muscles are easily remedied by a good meal and fine wine!

Walk Date: Oct 4, 2022

Distance: 34.1 km

Elevation Gain: 561 m

Read on to view today’s photos, a soundscape captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 37: Champlitte to Dampierre-sur-Salon

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

We have left the rain behind on this relatively short walking day. That’s okay with us. The past two days logged a total of sixty kilometres and tomorrow we face a long thirty-three kilometre grind. Today’s route over gently rolling terrain was a reprieve for sore legs, depositing us at our bed and breakfast early afternoon with nothing more to do than bathe, eat and get a good night’s sleep.

Walk Date: Oct 3, 2022

Distance: 20.8 km

Elevation Gain: 279 m

Read on to view today’s photos, a soundscape captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 36: Chalindrey to Champlitte

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

We started in a drenching rain but arrived at our destination, Champlitte, under warm sunny skies. Along our route, which largely followed quiet highways (it was Sunday morning and we can only assume the locals were at rest), we garnered the attention of curious cows and passed through winding streets of tiny villages with look-alike square towered churches. But, just like the weather, the French landscape changed as we left fields and forests and entered the urban environs of Champlitte. A massive chateau and its neighbor, a 11-12 C. church, appeared on a nearby hillside. The streets turned narrow, lined with tall stone buildings, many with ornate religious niches set in their façades. Below one of those niches, Vierge aux Orants from the 15 C., was the entrance to our apartment for the night. Our windows opened onto an attractive square animated with splashes of an ornamental fountain. And, just one ancient stone building down from our own, was La Bourgade restaurant, where we would indulge in back cod and Charolais beef stew as well as a light red Franche-Compté wine made not more than one village away.

We may just walk through that village tomorrow.

Walk Date: Oct 2, 2022

Distance: 29.8km

Elevation Gain: 399 m

Read on to view today’s photos captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 35: Langres to Chalindrey

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

You’ll notice a (perhaps welcome) paucity of photos below. This was a day defined more by adverse weather than pleasure. It rained for the full 29-kilometres walked and, although it was a relatively light mist in most cases, it was driven by heavy winds accompanied by single digit temperatures. By the end of our walk, we were wearing every warm piece of clothing we had in our light packs. Arriving at our night’s lodging at Au Pied du Cognelot bed and breakfast, our hosts were either amused or shocked by the two thoroughly soggy rats dripping water on their hardwood floor. However, after some assistance drying our clothes and a welcome warm shower, they ushered us to the nearest restaurant, about 23 walking minutes away, for a much needed dinner in cozy stone dining room. Be sure to listen to our conversation at the restaurant for a full review of our trying day and rewarding dinner.

Walk Date: Oct 1, 2022

Distance: 29.0 km

Elevation Gain: 373 m

Read on to view today’s photos, a soundscape captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena: A Day in Langres

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Today is a non-walking day, what through-hikers would call a zero day, a day to relax and wash clothes. For Gail and me, a zero day is an opportunity to explore an interesting place.

Today, that place is Langres. It is the perfect place to be on a rest day. Perched high atop a hill, the tight medieval city offers abundant opportunities for aimlessly wandering about narrow streets lined with stone buildings yet is compact enough in scale to casually walk from end-to-end in fifteen minutes. Intact fortification walls encircle the entire city and a one-hour walk will take one all way round, assuming no stops for the splendid views over the countryside or a ride up the funicular-cum-elevator that connects to a parking lot at the base of the hill. It replaces an earlier cog-driven train. A non-operational restored version can still be visited while walking the fortifications. Let’s make that a two-hour circumnavigation of the walls!

Inside those walls, there’s plenty more to explore. Like the Saint Mammès Cathedral. Completed in the 12 C., its interior straddles the heavy stone detailing and round arches of Romanesque architecture with the up-and-coming gothic style and its lighter structure, larger windows and pointy arches. Denis Diderot, philosopher and co-creator of the French encyclopedia, grew up in Langres and, although he had a complex relationship with the city—most of his work was done in Paris—he is well-commemorated in Langres, especially at the Maison des Lumières Denis Diderot. Exploring the narrow streets revealed Renaissance houses and 16 C. mansions, small shops selling Langres cheese, nougat and Nogent cutlery, still leaving time for a leisurely lunch at the Cheval Blanc.

A day well rested.

Read on to view the day’s photos.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 34: Leffonds to Langres

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

This was the rainiest of the last three rainy days. Morning was particularly damp and cold, requiring gloves and our fashion conscious bright blue (and waterproof) fishing mitts. Add a grey plastic rain skirt and we were quite the eyebrow-raising pair. Which may explain that, when we came across a rare open restaurant at lunch time, we found ourselves being seated out of sight of “regular” customers in the back, back corner of the dining room. Not that we cared. We were happy just to have a warm place to sit and be served a good three-course menu. Our destination this day was Langres, a fortified hilltop city, where we will hold up for two nights, tomorrow being one of our zero days. And, far from being stuck in the corner, our lodging is the fairly luxurious bed and breakfast, Le Belvédère des Remparts. Dinner at the nearby restaurant, L’Aromatic, focused on an exotic burger, smoked under a bell jar and revealed in all its aromatic splendor at our table. After three long days of soggy walking, it is time for some pampering!

Walk Date: Sep 29, 2022

Distance: 28.0 km

Elevation Gain: 594 m

Read on to view today’s photos captured along the route and an interactive map.

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