I made it halfway through. To my surprise nothing broke. Neither myself, nor the bike. It could be said the dust has been brushed off, and the pain of the first few days, just a vague souvenir. I try not to think of it to avoid bad luck… Ridiculous superstitions. Even the weather is on my side. It has rained a couple of times, but only during the night, as if all had been perfectly planned.
The forests are the same here in the Vexin, as they were in the Gâtinais. Different names for different regional parks, but in reality you find the same trees, same sand on the ground, same rocks, which shows how all this land was once a giant forest, before men began the erosion process. Cities, villages, fields… and a all lot of roads have since eaten away the woods.
What has changed is the topography. The flat plateaus of the Brie have been replaced by hills and valleys since I passed Chevreuse. The ride is more physical as I have to go up and down more often, sometimes on steep single tracks. Is it prettier here than in the south ? Maybe, or it may seem that way to me just because I don’t come here as often. The benefits of novelty.
Talking about novelty, as I reach Mantes-la-Jolie, “La Jolie” – the beautiful -, I get the chance to see my first cathedral of the trip. It’s actually not considered or called a cathedral, but it looks just the same. The medieval Collegiate church of our Lady of Mantes, built in the XII and XIII centuries is a perfect example of gothic architecture. I’m not religious at all, yet I love religious art and architecture. Always impressed by the genius of those who conceived those buildings and the skills of those who worked on erecting them. It is the result of the very unreligious need of a few to out do their fellow men – go bigger, larger, better than any rival – as power hungry bishops and other Princes of Faith embarked on a race to build the most grandiose cathedral, just as countries today push the limits of technology and reason to built the highest skyscraper. Forget religion as a motive, bragging rights was their real, if not their only motivation. It took the collapse of the Beauvais cathedral to tame remaining ambitions, as it was then clear a physical limit had been reached. Trying to go beyond was not only testing the boundaries of common sense, but most of all, taking too high of a risk on very costly investments.
Those monuments have since gone through tumultuous times… Seen the best and the worst of men. Faced destruction during revolutions, wars… Stood neglected, abandoned even… Before a government, which had decided to separate itself from religion, and declared France a secular state, decided it was its duty to preserve the country’s religious heritage. Since then, millions of tourists, just like me today, have come from all over the world to admire those incredible treasures.