Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Medieval Town of Brancion

Sometime I think the GPS hates us. After a day of nothing, we decided to do some exploring on our second day in the countryside, and first zipped 3km down the road to the community of Taize. Taize is a religious community know for its songs, which are likened to modern-day Gregorian chants. Thousands of youth descend on the community each summer and attend services at 8.30am, 12.30pm and 8.30pm, which the public can attend too. Bells ring out for 10 minutes before each service, which we can hear from our tent at camp.

We sat on the floor with the hundreds of other people and listened to the songs. To be honest, they weren’t that impressive. Better than traditional church hymns but nothing close to as cool as a Gregorian chant. Half an hour after the service started, everyone started gapping it. Literally, as the clock struck 1pm (the time cameras were allowed to be used for an hour only) and half way through a song, people started leaving and then a swarm of people left, including us, and it seemed most everyone was outside. I have no idea why, maybe we were supposed to leave at that point, maybe it was just a massive case of follow the leader, but either way we had kind of had enough so we jumped on the bike and headed further into the countryside.

We were looking for Brancion, a medieval town mentioned in the information Sue and Cees had given us. Of all the places mentioned it was one of the closest and so not too big a trip for a lazy afternoon. GPS led the way, until it told us to take a muddy gravel driveway that lead through the forest, next to a tiny sign that said Brancion. Not ones to disbelieve signs that point the way, we took the bike a few metres up. At the first sign of slipperiness I got off and decided to walk and only a few metres later Courtney decided walking was best and turned around to park the bike at the bottom.

We trekked up the hill, huffing and puffing as we tried to keep our balance on the muddy rocks that jutted out of the path. The last third was a tight squeeze, passing through bushes on a single file pathway. We were knackered, carrying our helmets and jackets as well as the backpack, and proving just how unfit we still are despite all the walking we’ve done. When we finally reached the top, there she was in all her glory – the bloody carpark with all the cars and the road they had come up! Courtney saw the humour and while I was still trying to catch by breathe long enough to laugh at the situation, he ran back down the hill and found the road that led up to the town, bringing the bike to the gates.

Luckily, the town was stunning. As I waited for Courts to come back with the bike an attention-seeking kitten ran straight up to me and sat on my knee for awhile, purring even harder when three little girls ran up to pat him too. Once Courts had found his way back, we wandered the cobbled streets that wound their way through still-occupied houses and branch-entangled ruins, side by side and joined only by grapevines.

At the very top of the hill was a little church, built near a cliffs edge with the most amazing views of the entire region. Inside, a harpist played under a dim light while people peered through the shadows at the crumbling frescoes that had once adorned the walls of the church. Of all the churches we have seen, this tiny little ruin was one of my favourites, because it bared all of its history and stories and wear and tear like proud scars, instead of being cleaned and polished and preserved.

Back down the hill, we had coffee and crepes from a little old lady who served us as if we were just over for afternoon tea. Grapevines weighed down on the doorway and wasps hovered hoping for leftovers. Mismatched tables and chairs filled the room with a lone postcard stand baring black and white matte printed postcards for 30 cents a piece.

Across the road, a house that had once had a big covered porch wrapping around it and bordered flower beds now had several trees laying wounded where it’s roof should have been and only skeletal remains of the porch. The whole town was a mix up of fully functioning residences and sad ruins, all linked by climbing flowers, pink and purple, and those grapes, everywhere. It made you wonder if the amazing view was the only thing keeping those people, that little old lady, on top of the hill or if their histories held the ruins up too.

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