21 October 2010

Once upon a time, I went to St. Emilion

Last Saturday (/a really long time ago, like 3 weeksish), I got to pretend that I’m one of the poor souls who lives 40 minutes away from the university, and got up at the awful early hour of 7 am. But unlike them, I did this to go to the train station, which I suppose beats going to the DEFLE. Because of this, for the first time since moving here, I ate breakfast with my host family, kind of. Honestly, I was beginning to suspect that they ate breakfast in the middle of the night, because all evidence of their breakfast eating (except two cold pieces of toast) has vanished by the time I go upstairs, no matter when I get up. My train left at “10ish” and the train station is about 1hr away by tram, and I hadn’t bought my ticket, and needed to go to an atm. Everything went smoothly, including a perfect of amount of time to get money from the atm before the next tram at my transfer, except it turned out that the train didn’t leave until 10:40, which isn’t really the same as “10ish”. I would blame Tristan for this, but really it’s my fault for always relying on him to know when things are. Also, he showed up way too early too, so I wasn’t waiting alone. At 10:40 all six of us were sitting on the train, and 45 minutes later we arrived in St. Emilion.
We started off the trip by eating at creperie, that had a beautiful patio that over looked the bottom part of St. Emilion. I had a crepe with jambon et fromage, and a delicious dessert crepe with mint chocolate filling, whipped cream, and mint chocolate chip ice cream.
St. Emilion, like most places around here, is famous for its wine production, but it is also home to the largest monolithic (For those of you who don’t speak Latin or know random architectural terms, monolithic means “one stone” or something like that- that is, this church is carved out of the mountain) church in Europe. St. Emilion supposedly was capable of healing people and performing other miracles, and it was his fame that led him to go to St. Emilion, where he hoped to live a more quiet life. He was buried in the catacombs at St. Emilion and rich people paid to be buried close to him. During the war between the protestants and catholics, however, his remains were thrown into a river. The catacombs at this church were reserved for those who were “pure” that is those who had never lived (still born babies), those who were important members of the church, and those who were rich enough. The church itself was dug out from the top down; it is believed to be modeled after monolithic churches that its builder saw during the crusades. Drainage pipes were dug underneath the church to prevent structural instability due to wet soil. These pipes worked fantastically until they were destroyed when rich people wanted to be buried right underneath the church. Over the years the water seeped into the stone, and today the churches pillars are held together by metal clamps, while scientists work on a way to restore the strength of the stone. Once a year they hold mass in this church, and this actually took place the weekend before we visited.
The last paragraph was brought to you by the 4 euro I paid to tour St. Emilion’s cave, the catacombs, and the church. These historical sites are privately owned, and therefore they cannot be toured independently. I don’t have any pictures of this, because the private owners are selfish jerks who want to be able to make as much money off of this stuff by selling pictures of it, or something like that. (rereading this post it comes off as very anti- wealthy people, huh…)
monolithic churches are more impressive from the inside
Later we visited a winery, and the caves in which they age their wine underneath it. The most fascinating part of this visit was the amazing silence of the caverns. If you were in one of the far corners and no one was walking around you the air was completely still – perfect silence. The winery offered free wine tasting, but they told us to come back in an hour, most of this time we spent at these ruins:

We sat on the wall surrounding the vineyard, and set a camera on self timer across the street in order to get a picture of all of us:

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