Acoustic Motorbikes or Le Tour de France

As you know, I will venture to France again for more walking soon, and while I’m at it, another marathon effort will be undertaken by lots of crazy cyclists in the feat known as the Tour de France.

Someone asked me this week whether my route will take me anywhere near the race, so I checked. It doesn’t, thankfully.  Finding accommodation would be mission impossible if the Tour went even close to my route.  Instead, I’ll just be competing with thousands of holidaying French walkers.

It was such a treat to be able to see again the lush, yet brutal, Triplets of Belleville, at the Adelaide Festival in March 2018, with Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville conducted by Benoît Charest live on stage. I’m hoping this year’s tour entrants don’t have the same kind of family background, training regime or become the victims of gangster kidnappers. It seems this is as close to the T de F as I’ll get for 2018.

However, the route goes to several places I have visited on my many travels, and I thought it might be nice to re-visit my diaries and provide some guidance to Tour entrants about the must-see things to do (after their brief and completely non-exhausting daily rides – ha ha)!

Stage 3, July 9: Cholet – Cholet (TTT), 35km

Should there be any tour entrants with Huguenot ancestry, I can thoroughly recommend the Le Musée de La France Protestante De L’Ouest, in the middle of nowhere (like Cholet, incidentally and near to it).  I can also highly recommend the train and two buses it takes to get there from Angers. My friend Seb called it ‘deep France’. The connections will be perfect – a train, bus then if you’re lucky like me, you’ll also get a lift from a helpful stranger, when you thought you were going to walk to the chateau. While in nearby Angers, make sure you visit the beautiful Apocalypse tapestry.



Stage 7, July 13: Fougères – Chartres, 231km

Chartres cathedral has to be visited because it holds the ancient labyrinth, on which the Sydney Labyrinth in Centennial Park is modelled and which I wrote about here on my way to my last walk.  So if the riders are still able to walk, and the design is not covered by chairs (which it sometimes may be if you visit at the wrong time), then a lap through it would probably put competitive minds at ease or make them dizzy, depending. Or it could be considered a warm-down. Devotees used to do it on their knees – that’s also an option after an invigorating ride of 231kms.


Stage 8, July 14: Dreux – Amiens Métropole, 181km

Whilst I’ve been to Amiens, I have not visited the notable cathedral there (gothic and UNESCO listed), but just saw it in transit on my way to visit Villers-Brettoneux to visit the ancestors commemorated in the famous Australian memorial park there.  The Richards brothers both got their names on that list for lives they gave for God, King and country.  The memorial is a big drawcard for Australian WW1 tourists these days and ANZAC day services are held there and our armed forces bands play. My advice, don’t go in April.

Rest day, July 16: Annecy

One year, I did French lessons at Alliance Francaise, and one night we spent the whole lesson learning about directions in a little town called Annecy.  They always like to make the exercises practical, so by the end, we all pretty much knew our way around this cute town in the mountains near the Swiss border.

One of the wonderful benefits I had of hosting many Couchsurfers, was making friends who I have visited on my French trips.  One such lovely visitor was Celine, and I was thrilled when I was going to meet a person who came from that charming town. I visited her at Christmas time and she put me up for a few days and introduced me to the wonders of this pristine town.  We drove up to get the view of the lake from above, where snow had fallen – only one of the few times I’ve seen snow.  The swans on the lake, the museum/chateau and a traditional fondue dinner in wooden-chalet-type restaurant are all lovely memories.  It is great the riders get to rest in Annecy – it is worth soaking up.




Rest day, July 23: Carcassonne

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Carcassonne – a place I had built up so many idealised versions of, only to find when I got there on my 2015 trip, that it made me feel a little sick.  I don’t know whether it was the commercialisation, the difficult accommodation experience I had, being there on THE busiest national monument day of the year, Assumption, or a past life as a Cathar nun, but it disturbed me.  The ancient (but heavily re-built) medieval cite is spectacular and would look right at home in the Game of Thrones, but playing the boardgame is as close as I want to get until I walk the GR78 Voie du Piémont.  I don’t know how much rest the pedallers will get, I just found the whole thing unsettling.


Stage 18, July 26: Trie-sur-Baïse – Pau, 172km

Pau is a most interesting city.  With a balustraded promenade that overlooks the Pyrenees, which on a humid day, look hazy in the distance. There is a tangle of subterranean roadways that make you feel like you’re in an Escher  picture. It is full of history – being the place Henry IV was born. I didn’t get to see it, but would have liked to visit the Chateau. What I did see was one of my favourite things on wheels, a funicular – very short, very steep, and straight to the point – breakfast. It is a a great entrance to the next town on the list, just a short trip away by train. I passed through Pau three times on my Via Tolosana adventure – here, here and here. Jemais deux sans trois. Never two without three.


Stage 19, July 27: Lourdes – Laruns, 200km

I wonder whether any contestants will take the healing waters in St Bernadette’s town? Maybe there will be masses in their honour.  There will certainly be a premium on accommodation – it is difficult enough when there are just pilgrims, but add in the entourage of en velo support crews, and the deep peace of the place will likely be thrown into chaos. Lourdes is second in tourist popularity only to Paris, quite a Mecca – excuse the mixed religious metaphor. I also wrote about Lourdes during my Via Tolosana adventure and reviewed the film here.


Stage 21, July 29: Houilles – Paris Champs Elysées, 115km

I’m a bit of a strange Paris tourist – I’ve not spent any time at the Arc de Triomphe or much on the Champs Elysees, although I have walked along parts thereof once or twice. Probably the closest I’ve got to the feeling of being on it was singing Joe Dessin’s version at French classes at Le Café Flo. Does that count? Probably not.

So I’ll leave you with a sound-track for your consumption of le Tour de Fromage, the best arm-chair drone/helicopter tourism you will ever experience courtesy of Luka BloomThe Acoustic Motorbike.

Pedal on.

And I’ve never known why they’re called pelotons, not velotons. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

Enjoy the trip!

British Museum Treasure Hunt

From a diary entry 10th December, 2013: London

One of the joys of international research is that often you get to have quite lengthy email back and forth discussions with the managers charged with gatekeeping collections. Sometimes all the way down in the Antipodes, one doesn’t quite realise just how many gates one must pass in order to be admitted to the inner, hallowed sanctum of a reading room.

With such an established institution as the British Museum, this should come as no surprise though. Millions of items dating back through antiquity and beyond are now even more precious than they were to the Georgians who began collecting them (through sometimes less than savoury means – but that’s another story altogether).

The conversation began by email between myself and a staffer of the Prints and Drawings Room, as I was interested in seeing what they might have collected as a background to the famous goldsmith, Peze Pilleau.

It culminated with the directions:

“We are limited to 12 places so I would suggest that you try to get here as close to 10.00 if possible. It is best to come via the North entrance which is at the back of the museum in Montague Place – take the lift to the 4th floor, you will come to a set of double doors leading to our exhibition gallery (Room 90), turn right & behind the Michelangelo cartoon is the entrance to the Print Room -please ring the bell. Please bring some form of ID with you.”

It was enough to make me feel like my visit would resemble an episode of Get Smart.

So the day came. As I was to enter through the back door of the Museum, I thought it best to disembark the Tube at Russell Square, closer than Holborn which is nearer the front of the Museum. Conveniently (not), that had 176 stairs to street level, no options.  Then I went on a 10 minute adventure through a children’s playground and several parks that weren’t Russell Square as I had expected, but in the opposite direction to that intended, making me late for my 10am appointment. But even when I’d got to the back door, there were many more gates to pass through.

Note to self for next time you’re running late: when you find the two Aslan lions lackadaisically sentinel with paws crossed, as if guarding the ark, enter with caution. Do not presume to leave your cloak conveniently just inside the back entrance, because that Cloak Room is for ‘members only’ and you’ll need a member’s card.

Then, use the accessible toilet because it is the only one within a waterbag-walk of where you are at present. Then, know that Room 90 is an active rotating exhibit gallery which will probably have an exhibit entitled ‘Japanese Art of Sex and Pleasure’.

Also, know that the Michelangelo ‘cartoon’ takes up a full tall-door sized wall.  Oh, and you can rattle the door to the Prints and Drawings Room all you like, but unless you press the top doorbell – brass (of course) you will stand there ALL DAY.  Bring a time-piece – the clock in the reading room maybe incorrect as it gets wound only once a week!!

I took the opportunity to go to the shunga exhibition later. It was full-on.  I have never seen (as you’d expect), so many over-sized penises assembled in one place. There was flesh everywhere – nothing left to the imagination.  It seems that the masculine inclination to hyperbole made it onto limited edition Japanese prints too – the features of porn are apparently everlasting. Men’s and women’s genitalia were equally displayed in all their glory – a democracy of erotica. It was quite a revelation and it seemed, considering the number of couples being caught in flagrante delicto through the wide open doors of Room 90, that the gatekeeping might have more appropriately been re-assigned.

Library tragic at the British Library

Diary entry 30th December, 2013: London

On Saturday, I made my debut at the British Library by requesting two books in French that contain details about our Hemer (Mathews) ancestors, the Pilleaus and Pezes from Le Mans.

As I was standing outside at 9.30am in the brisk air with twenty or so others, waiting to be ‘let in’, I wondered “have I just joined the ranks of the library tragic”?

Armed with nothing but our lead pencils, clear plastic bags and locker keys we race into the Rare Books and Music Reading Room to secure our seats. Wanting to be at the front of the line is only slightly less futile than wanting to be first in the queue for a plane trip, those books aren’t going any where fast, and some have been extant for several hundred years.   I suppose some positions might hold better Feng Shui or closer access to requests desk or the microfilm or the photocopier, but it still makes me smile. 

Mrs Dalton-Morgan, Librarian from Hawthorndene Primary School, would be proud of me. At the time when I visited, there was an exhibition showing. Where would we be without our Georgian ancestors? With fewer libraries and other ‘collections’ apparently!

Has a more poised and elegant ballerina ever been found curating an exhibition … ? Enjoy this window on Georgian life.

I hope to publish an article on one of the notable Georgian ancestors this year – look out for it.


The beginning of a ‘Big Year’ at Bool Lagoon

After 25 years driving the picturesque Mount Gambier to Adelaide road, and seeing the familiar brown Bool Lagoon sign just shy of Naracoorte, today I decided to turn off the road and see what it was all about. It was reportedly flush with birds after the past overly-wet six months, so I was hopeful of some good bird watching. Maybe it will be the beginning of my very first Big Year (2011, David Frankel).

As soon as you turn off the main highway, you start to see them.  Smaller break-away flocks flying in formation to and from the lagoon.  I’d borrowed the car from my aunt and uncle – they have a pass for all National Parks in Australia – handy! The CD skipped over to Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending. Not so sure I’ll see so many of them though.

The reserve is set firmly within a farming and wine-growing community, however I was still surprised to see a herd of cattle all over the road, being shepherded by their owner on quad-bike, just as I was going to turn in.

The stone wall announced Bool Lagoon Game Reserve, because yes, birds are still hunted here (although the duck and quail hunts had been restricted by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources during the 2016 season). The announcement was made by Minister Hunter. Ironic.


All manner of winged creatures greet you as you drive around at tortoise pace. It didn’t really feel right to even get close to the 40km speed limit, so I suspect I’m more a watcher than a twitcher or a chaser. Up close it’s dragonflies. Along the side of the small bitumen road, it is baby magpies, still finding their feet and wings.  Out in the lagoon, it is the black swans with their little broods trailing behind them and up in the air it is the large ibis and geese, writing their hieroglyph messages in formation to all who will watch.

I would like to have walked out across the lagoon on the board walk, but unfortunately it sits in disrepair. This is a bit of a tragedy, when it would be great to get out there amongst it – apparently it has been out of action for some time now.

Don’t forget to keep your eyes down too, as signs warn that the frogs and turtles also cross the roads.

Many of the birds that come to this lagoon are migratory, and boy do they flock together. Robert Lynd said, “In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.” Well,  I stopped at one point where the reeds made a grassed garden in the water and the large magpie geese honking to each other were less seen than heard.  They certainly make a racket. It was gorgeous in its isolation, if not silence. There were thousands of birds to see but I lost count after 10.

It was hardly like the film, I had virtually no competition for my front row seats in the bird hide at Hacks Lagoon, although another couple had arrived just after me, and proceeded to look around at their own pace. They didn’t resemble Owen Wilson or Jack Black one bit.


I enjoyed my little visit, staying for about an hour, and then it was time for me to fly home to roost.  The day reminded me far more of that other beautiful bird film, Travelling Birds: An Adventure in Flight (2003, Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats). Oh to be able to fly with them like that. Being earth-bound though, I am content to just watch them, rather than count them, and appreciate their aerodynamics, strange habits and weird sounds.

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.” William Blake

Bool Lagoon, Naracoorte, South Australia.
Park fees apply – book online at National Parks South Australia.

The Tale of Genji – the Uji chapters

In the chapters of the book of my life, there are a number of leit motifs – common little elements that appear again and again. Some are musical, some are experiential and others are books. Sometimes all it takes is for one unsuspecting radio program to remind me of one.

It happened again on the 22nd December while listening to the Radio National Summer School program. Zoe Norton Lodge and Mark Sutton went in search of the definition of The Novel, then in pursuit of the earliest example.

The classics were noted, experts consulted, much conjecture ensued and the centuries slowly wound back before the conversation turned to the obscure (to some), The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu.

I have never read the tome, but it has been in my consciousness since 1992, when it began to sit on the shelf of a long-term relationship, beckoning to be read along with Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos and Emily Bronte’s, Wuthering Heights.  The Bronte I got to, but the others not so much.

I continued to fail to understand the significance of the The Tale of Genji but it made its presence felt again when I moved to Sydney in 2006. I couldn’t help but notice, and was fascinated by, a fellow Stanmore station commuter’s familiar brick-like choice each morning. It was the most unlikely work commute book I could imagine – it is around 1,100 pages long. I was always tempted to strike up a conversation about it for this fact alone.

When I visited Japan in 2012 for a Suzuki music conference in Matsumoto and had the opportunity to add on another few days in Kyoto, I was looking for things to see. The little river-side town of Uji caught my attention, not only as the centre of the Japanese green tea universe and its World Heritage-listed shrines and temples, but also because it was the scene of several of the chapters, the last ten to be precise, of The Tale of Genji. There it was again, that book!

According to the travel guides, Uji is also home to a museum dedicated to the story, two monuments on the edge of the river and a discovery trail (I’m ever so fond of a treasure hunt).  So, still having never read the book, I set out to educate myself about this significant story and possibly sample the green tea.

I’d made quite a late start, having dropped in to some other shrines and temples on the way to Uji that morning. I’d caught the train, and I knew I was in the right place given the sign greeting me near the station. Now I just needed to find the start of the trail.


However, I needed an ice-cream refresh first. When in Uji, do as they do and eat their green tea icecream. After giving myself brain freeze, I found the trail and set off across the Kisen-bashi Bridge to To-no-shima Island, then continued to the other side of the river via the Asagiri-bashi Bridge, following the little brass plates in the pavement.

Just on the other side of the river, there is a monument to the chapters of the book that are set in Uji.  Here the lovers, Ukifune (meaning floating boat – or maybe floats my boat) and Prince Niou-no-Miya, are shown in a boat on the Uji-gawa River. Hikaru Genji has long-since died, but his son Kaoru and the Prince vie for Ukifune’s affections and she eventually jumps into the river to escape. This is clearly 11th century high romantic drama of epic proportions.


Walking along small shady pathways past more shrines and temples, away from the main food and commerce area of the town, in time you arrive at the The Tale of Genji Museum. It provides a multi-media experience of the story and the “glamourous world of the Heian imperial dynasty”. It also has a great Japanese cafeteria and gift shop all housed in a  modern building, set in well manicured Zen-like gardens. Throughout the complex, every opportunity is made to reference the story, from the lunch trays to the lamps. The quality of the museum equals the apparent reputation of the book which Royall Tyler (interviewed on the program and one of the many translators of the book) described as a being a ‘flagship’ or ’emblem’ in Japanese literature.

Arcing back around into the town, you re-cross the river again via the Uji-bashi Bridge and a monument to the author, Murasaki Shikibu. Until I went to Japan, despite bumping into it a number of times, I never realised that ‘the first novel’ was written by a woman.

Murasaki was a born into a previously aristocratic family, and descended from a family line of notable poets. She wrote a diary, a volume of poetry and The Tale of Genji while a noblewoman in Kyoto.

Uji has a beautiful name and during sakura (cherry blossom) season, its vistas certainly match it. From the overgrown, bonsai-shaped trees to the narrow streets lined with gift-shops, tea houses and restaurants, there is plenty to see here, and it could easily fill two days or a lazy three days in your Japanese itinerary.  I felt a little rushed and it was hot in the afternoon, so I’d recommend wandering the trail early and taking in the shrines and temples in the afternoon. Whilst the area is quite traditional looking, it was still hard to imagine what this place may have been to the courtly writer or her protagonist.

In the late afternoon, I availed myself of a sweet ginger drink – a kind of ‘still’ ginger beer which was beautifully refreshing. I had a brief shop in a gift-shop where I bought the most exquisite threaded earrings (that’s a blast from the past – I wonder if that craze swept 80s Japan too) and in the evening, went back to a little restaurant in the middle of the ‘suburb’, surrounded by houses. I was early for dinner and I sat at the bar watching the chef assemble my little tray of delights. The food (as most is in Japan) was perfectly presented and of elegant sufficiency.

It is interesting to note that my latest little bump into the The Tale of Genji just confirmed what Royall Tyler said of it – “The Tale of Genji is more discussed, than read”. While I was listening to the radio conversation unfolding, I thought to myself, I wonder when it will next make its way into my life!

Uji is 20-30 minutes (depending on which train you take) from Kyoto on the JR Nara line. Cherry blossom season is around the first week of April in Kyoto – but check the internet for the forecast for each year.

Colourful architecture, French clocks and cricket balls.

Postcard from Christmas 2013

Until today, for me, portobello was a type of mushroom. Now I’ve had a Notting Hill experience (who was it that suggested it to me? Thanks btw), it will henceforth also mean colourful architecture, French clocks and cricket balls.

I started with a late breakfast at Jamie’s Recipease (a complete surprise I happened across after alighting from the #28 red double decker bus but not the same without my friend Jo W, [and after Googling, I realise closed just recently]). I got to write my journal upstairs at the East-facing, full length, sunny window bench whilst six keen adherents whisked furiously behind me at Jamie’s cooking class sans my friends Joanne R and Janelle (who would’ve loved it). 

Despite the sign for the Robert Redford film showing across the road at the Gate Cinemaall was not lost when I finally decided to venture back outside into the cool air wondering where all the crowds were heading. I followed, and found Portobello Road.

I’m glad to be here in winter – it would be even more of a human traffic jam if the road was fully packed with stalls, as I’m sure it is in summer.  I passed the showy counterfeit watches at the road stalls and shimmied into the second-hand shops in 6th-hand buildings, only to find real French clocks, silver-topped walking canes and cricket balls. I could even have purchased Banksy reproduction, if I’d been inclined.

I had a rustic Italian ‘dinner’ at 3.30pm consisting of artichoke risotto accompanied by prosecco then biscotti with espresso chaser at Osteria Basilico. This delightful corner ristorante was still decked out with its red Christmas decorations and snow covered fir tree branches in the window. It looked so inviting, how could I resist? Such a lovely accompaniment to the crisp weather.

No photos – you’ll just have to imagine.

Featured image by John Eckman, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons license Portobello Road, W11, London

Lorikeet Loop Walk, Belair National Park

There is nothing like a walk in the Australian bush at Christmas time to bring to mind the fanciful nature of the rituals we cling to.  Mention of Rudolf, sleigh bells and decorated fir trees conjures images from literally half a world away from the reality that is any one of our many Australian landscapes.  Australians have the uncanny ability to celebrate one thing, when observing in nature the complete opposite.

I have lived the European Christmas once. This week presented a sad reminder of it. I was at once enchanted and flabbergasted by the stark truth of celebrating the season depicted on our cards, carols and gift wraps, while rugged up to visit two German Christmas markets. Drinking mulled wine from little purpose-made cups, wandering between countless stalls full of handmade Christmas decorations and foods, the wafting smells of hot pretzels and sugar were perfect for the chilly weather of the northern hemisphere. It was not incongruous with our Christmas culture, just our Christmas place.

I returned to my home town of Adelaide this week to be with family and friends, and took the opportunity to walk each morning in the Belair National Park, literally down the hill from where I was born, in the dene where I grew up.  Sunday School picnics, primary school excursions and Corroborees (probably well-meaning yet insensitively-named back in the 1970s, with no mention of the traditional Kaurna owners) and later friend’s weddings at Old Government House have etched this landscape into long-term memory and imprinted familiar sensations.  My grandfather’s patient volunteering eradicating bone seed make this place the closest I have to a place of my ancestors, for a South-Australian of European extraction.

This magnetic park draws me each time I return home and I’ve become very familiar with the lovely 40 minute Lorikeet Loop Walk (and sometimes Valley Loop Hike extension to get the walk to over an hour).  In this week, there has been a gradual build up to the hottest Christmas day for 70-odd years for Adelaide, but despite the already warm mornings, the walks were shaded and not yet uncomfortably hot.

It is a testament to the hard work of the rangers (Harry Butler-types you sometimes see passing in their utes) that the wildlife is flourishing in the park.  The Belair Recreation Park of my childhood in 1970s was a very different place. Tall, abundantly leafy, introduced trees casting their cool, solid shade widely between well-tended ovals skirted by painted corrugated-iron huts evoking the deep green of Europe. Today, due to diligent work of volunteers also, this park contains many stands of the subtle coloured eucalypt grasslands now rare in the rest of the Adelaide Hills and plains, but the perfect and necessary environment for kangaroos, emus, koalas, bright pink and grey galahs, yellows of sulphur-crested cockatoos, bright blue of the Superior blue wrens, wood-ducks, magpies, kookaburras and crows – all of whom made their presence felt as I walked my daily circuit.

It felt like an Australian rendition of a partridge in a pear tree some mornings or rather a koala in a gum tree as I walked these beautiful tracks, collecting the list of wildlife that joined me.  But true to the experience, the perfect song accompaniment for this bush Christmas is not Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer or the Twelve Days of Christmas, but William Garnet James and John Wheeler’s more apt, Carol of the Birds:

Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing
Lifting their feet like war horses prancing
Up to the sun the woodlarks go winging
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Down where the tree ferns grow by the river
There where the waters sparkle and quiver
Deep in the gullies bell-birds are chiming
Softly and sweetly their lyric notes rhyming
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Friar birds sip the nectar of flowers
Currawongs chant in the wattle tree bowers
In the blue ranges lorikeets calling
Carols of bushbirds rising and falling
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Greetings of the season to you!


Beyond Borders in Blois

A child of the city of churches, I grew up visiting Adelaide’s pre-eminent ‘Sunnyside Mall’ at first with my mother in our school holiday Myer excursions, then later of my own volition.

I remember the buzz and excitement (from some) when the multinational Borders Bookstore graced the Rundle Mall with its presence. Riding the tidal wave of coffee popularity, the business traded on the promise of being able to browse books whilst sipping on coffee, which, amongst other things, for some years made it a successful business. Its enormity for Adelaide could be measured by the fact that this bookshop had several levels and internal escalators. Up until then only large, long established retailers boasted this. Then ebooks and the internet seemed to make it impossible for such behemoth businesses to continue and as soon as it came, it was bought up by bigger (or more secure fish), then eventually disappeared.

When I say some were excited, I like to excuse myself, because I’m cynical about the perfect storm of a US multinational in a small local market with many rival booksellers, and I worried for the future of the small bookstores in Adelaide.

So you can imagine the pure joy, when on my 2013 trip to Blois, France, while pursuing the long line of my Chartier ancestors,  I happened across the answer to the coffee/book browsing dilemma in the form of Liber.Thés, a clever, quintessentially French play on words for a librairie/salon de thé (bookstore/tea salon).

The less intrepid tourist might not find this little gem, sited on the rive gauche (left bank) of the Loire, and away from the popular attractions like the Royal Château de Blois and for me the Archives départementales de la Sarthe.  But once on the other side, it is difficult to walk past it, as the atmosphere is both bookish and artistic – an altogether bohémien little nook. In weighing up whether to go in, I was reassured by 1. lots of customers, 2. lots of books and 3. a très cool look.


I was searching for a feed, but I took the opportunity to search the shelves as well, and providently found a book which mentioned my ancestor’s name. (I had been shown this book earlier at the Château Royal de Blois when speaking to their collections manager about my ancestor).  It was a limited edition book, 16/155 – Deville, Les Horologers Blésois – a bargain (not), at €180. There are many other second-hand treasures here.


I seated myself in the the room with all the books, and took the opportunity to have a flip through the large volume. I was accompanied by the industrious bibliophile/barista who whipped up gorgeous pumpkin soup with croutons and a salmon and avocado tartine.

Are two martinis too much? Well, I had them too – not usually a martini drinker, but then also not usually in Blois! Abstract art covers the walls, a very french mosaic the floor and the bar is covered with a mosaic even Giulio Cesare (the reputed founder of Blois in 100-44BC) would be proud of.

If I was ever interested in the multinational bookshop, I’m certainly beyond Borders now, and much happier sitting in a local icon, catering to antiquarian book-hunters and which will most likely be here forever. – 21 avenue du Président Wilson 41100 Blois 0254781478

Via Tolosana Day 14: … gathers no moss

Fagairolles – Murat-sur-Vèbre 10kms

Awoke at 5.38, fresh from a nice dream about a bearded Netherlander.  That was altogether too early to get up, so I went back to sleep until 7.30am.  That’s more like it!  I wrote my pages and ate cold packet risotto because there was no power. Cold was actually quite good.  I need to buy toothpaste.  I tidied my belongings, pinned my still-cold socks to the backpack with my hat and went outside. The niggling irritation on my heel, ripe for a blister, wasn’t going to go away. I applied some of Isabelle’s Bandaid anti-blister magic.  (It seemed to work, because after 11am I noticed my heel was still OK).  I tried texting the woman who had met me yesterday to tell her about the power, but it didn’t work.

Gite in Fagairolles

Leaving Fagairolles

Ominous silver cloudy sky with sun emerging

Clouds leaving Fagairolees

It was a little strange being in a place out of the way from the route – it almost felt like no-one would find me there.  Maybe that’s what I wanted.  Being alone in my Australian life, I’d made solo living an art form.  I felt like I had come away ready to learn about relationships and compromise. It turned out it was more than that.  I’d taken the first offer of companionship that had come along, just to have company but there was so much compromise, I was totally lost in the equation. Again.  I wasn’t making any time for me.  How often does this happen.  I lose control of my life, for others, and then get angry that ‘they’ve taken my liberty away’, when actually I made the choice not to be free.  I had learned so much in the past few days, that I was happy with the solitude – really happy with it. Despite being a little incognito, it was also reassuring to be joining the GR653 again, although I didn’t see any other walkers on my short jaunt to Murat-sur-Vèbre.

I decided to take the road route, D53 back to the carrefour (crossroad) and I was treated with hedgerows along one side of the road, and open paddocks on the other.  More cows. In the distance more wind turbines. Blackberries – how could I resist when the branch was thrust into my path, and general direction? And more holly. Flies. It was still cloudy and I got rained on a little. A little further along the road, there was a small but poignant memorial to those who had lost their lives in a battle on 23rd August, 1944.  Only 14 days from today’s date. It was hard to imagine the surrounding fields being the site of such carnage and bloodshed – du Ponts de la Mouline.  The information board was graphic in its depiction of troop movements. I’m glad I stopped.

Wind turbines on the horizon

Les Éoliens

Blackberries encroaching the road verge

Blackberries poking themselves in my general direction

Information board about du Pont de la Mouline battle, 1944

du Pont de la Mouline battle, 23rd August 1944, last century

Ginestet sign with the Occitan/Cathar cross

Ginestet sign and Occitan cross – also the Cathar cross

Back into Ginestat for the second time and I find that it is another small hamlet, like Fagairolles only with denser, greener trees. With the moisture, comes moss – it was a theme today. This rolling stone might not be gathering any moss, but she’s certainly seeing lots of it. As I walked, I started to hear the sounds of logging, chainsaws up ahead, and behind me at the intersection, two big logging trucks thundering past.  I could smell the chopped pine wood even from several hundred metres up the valley.  As I climbed higher, I left the workers, for denser forest, and less sealed tracks.  As I did, I was hurrying from one piece of shade from rain to the next, a little as I had done the day before with the sun.  I heard lumberjack voices in the distance shouting instructions to each other. Is ‘lumberjack‘ a funny word, or is it just the connotation it has when you know this song?

Mossy huge beech tree, queen of the forest

Ancient beech tree – queen of the forest avec moss

Forest and road

Forest trees and road

I could have put my pack cover on, but couldn’t be bothered. I passed this strange adventure playground that although looked disused, could have been a fantastic team-bonding site if it didn’t look so post-apocalyptic. I kept walking and entered a really dark, sticky and humid forest of what I was later to work out, were beech trees. The air was still, the trees began sparsely and small at first, but gradually thickened and grew in stature.  The darkness contrasted with the iridescence of the light green leaves gave an other-worldly feeling.  Now I really felt like I was in a Robin Hood episode.  Pine branches unlike I’d seen so far also appeared.  I crossed a creek as the path hair-pinned.  As I ascended up the other side of the creek, the sun began to shine brighter into the canopy. A dappled light shone on my path which was made up of months of leaf litter, making my walk the most soft under foot in my 14 days. Mossy rocks and mossy trees were everywhere.  I switched back a number of times before reaching the top of the hill, the light had grown, and there was also a light breeze.  I’d worn short sleeves today, not expecting much sun. The breeze was fresh on my skin.  The sweat continues but now it cools me. Then up and up towards the more light at the end of the tunnel. I was glad at the top to see a sign forbidding wheeled vehicles of any kind.  I was happy this pristine forest would intended for preservation.  This place was magical. I don’t want to walk away from it, there is something extremely special about it.  Not in a thinking way, I can feel it. I feel calm and safe.  Almost like answered prayer, as I leave it on the crest of the hill, I realise in 50 metres, but wait, there’s more! The track plunged into darkness again, and I am in another beech forest.

Beech forest trail

In a scene from Robin Hood – beech forest

Wide fanned pine branches

Unfamiliar pine branches

Dappled light on beech saplings

Sun-shiny day

Ancient stone walls and beech trees

Ancient stone wall and beech

I hear distant planes overhead. Tall trees, then small ones and I breathe in this beautiful, moist, fresh air.  I follow the Routes des Saints as it coincides with the GR643.  Mossy walls appear in this next part of the forest, a remainder of an ancient time. Red/brown leaves under my feet are slippery from all of the rain.  Bellamy – more inappropriate 80s comedy comes to mind.  I notice a leaf pre-empting autumn – even nature has it’s trailblazers.  There are many rock piles today.

'Bellamy' on a large plastic lid handing on a string fence


Nature's trail blazer - an autumn leaf in summer

Outlier – autumn leaf in summer

Mossy rock with stones piled into pyramid

Rock pile and moss rock

Suddenly the forest is behind me and I have rejoined a farming community.  Wide open fields of crops and more cows.  I see wheat for the first time.

Profile of a pile of sawn logs

Log profile

Still it threatens to rain.  More blackberries, this time with spent honey suckle. I can’t pick the little trumpet flowers, pick the little green bud off the end and pull the stamen out to suck the sweet nectar, they’re all spent.  I am reminded that I’m not far from logging as I enter little Les Senausses.  Yet another quiet hamlet with many town folk outside for some reason – like the whole town. They seem to live a very close existence. I pass a magnificent vegetable garden plot of leeks, strawberries, pumpkin which shows what you can have when you devote time to tending the earth.

Large vegetable garden in back yard

Magnificent garden

I say bonjour a number of times to the people I pass and it is a real contrast to Fagairolles where I only met my hostess and a guy out with his boy on his bike in the afternoon. Some folk end up passing me in their cars on their short drive to Murat.  Just outside, there are more cows with bells – I need more cow bell!  A screeching bird. A Kate Bush pigeon coo-ing, and the constant sound of bees buzzing high in the trees.  More blackberries.

The verge of fresh and old bitumen

The verge

Man on bitumen laying truck

The workers of the world

Part way along the road I came across workers patching the road. It is still misty, and it blows over the road. A field of wheat. Small country road. A big pile of shit. Just at the edge of Les Senausses the saint trail turns left. I continue to Murat – now not much further.

A field of wheat stalks


I turn left at the next junction and walk again on the D922, and the right side has a shoulder, so I take it. La Poste passes me, and the road is quite busy with motorbikes, cars and trucks. There are big lavender bushes on the outskirts. I never saw lavender in Provence, so this was a nice change, and the perfume was gorgeous.

Lavender bushes by the side of the road

Provincial lavender

I continue into Murat and find the supermarket. It is 12pm, so I expect everything will be closed soon, but I just make it in to buy a peach.  I then go to the Mairie and pay my 6.50 euros for my bed for the night.  No, not chambre (room), lit(bed) – as it will always just be a bed in a dorm for that price.  I was to walk back out the council office, then to the left, up some stairs, up the hill, then down under a building.  I found it, up near the community camping ground.  Pelerin accommodation: basic and cheap. Perfect.

Pilgrim accommodation downstairs

Gite pelerins

I am so early that the cleaner is still there. I drop my pack and eat my peach. I close the windows for her as she asked, the floor still a bit wet from the mop.  The dorm is L-shaped and underground. It has a little chill to it.  You enter through the kitchen with a beige macaron tablecloth on the table, and it seems you have everything you need. The laundry is next door, as are the toilets and showers. Showers are reached by taking the key behind the door to unlock the door next to the toilets.

Tablecloth with macarons printed on it


I go to find lunch, wandering past the ATM – yay, there is instant cash, and it all comes spitting out at me. Thank God!  I found the Office de Tourisme just next door which I’ll return to at 3pm.  I walked up and back along the main street checking lunch options.  I was trying to decide if I’d have a later start the next morning to catch this nice looking Boulangerie, but decided I’d wait.  The owner came along, and even though it had closed for lunch, he asked me if I wanted anything.  How great is that!  I’d been thinking the sandwich, biscuit and boisson option looked good for 4.50 euros, so that’s what I got.  He went in through the garage and got my lunch for me. What a kind man. I must really look like a pilgrim!

I walked back along the main drag to where I’d seen a sign for a public park and descended the steps into it.  I walked right to the back of it where there was a ricketty picnic table under a tall mulberry tree. Bellamy – the real one hopped into the next door paddock. I sat and ate my saucisson baguette and almond biscuit and drank Orangina while writing my journal.  This is truly the life.  I am so grateful to be going my own way.  Any trepidation about this has now passed.  Here’s to a great camino!  The town is quiet: everyone lunches here. I love a society that organises itself around a two hour lunch break. How civilised!

I walked back to the Gite communal, showered with a camping ground shower – ie. one that you push the button which lasts for 10 second, then it goes off, and washed my clothes in one of many big porcelein sinks in the large laundry room.  I thought it would be a good idea to get some Arnica lotion to rub on my muscles, but ended up getting Weleda oil.  After the supermarket opened again I bought food for today and tomorrow. I feel more prepared now.

I went to the Office de Tourisme to book to nights ahead. Jacques I had texted “Paths are easier now. In Angles with Jacques. You have to ring to be at the municipal.” The young woman was Jack (or maybe Jacqueline) of all trades. She doubles as La Poste staffer as well. I remembered I still need toothpaste.  Charlotte was a wonderful help. She booked my next nights for me.  I also asked her about getting to Carcassonne and Lourdes, and whether there were communal gites for St Jacques pilgrims. I knew it was a long shot – everyone is a pilgrim in Lourdes – aren’t they? She was so helpful, and told me a little about the megaliths that were were upstairs in the museum.  I wrote glowing comments on some forms she gave me about her service.  And I used wifi briefly, tried to blog, but it wasn’t cooperating, so I just checked email and instead decided to go upstairs to the museum. At first Charlotte said there were no tickets (I like to collect souvenirs as I go), but she said she had old ones and she’d find one before I came back down.  She explained about the Visigoths who had come from Western Europe prior to the Romans.

The exposed beams of the Tourist Office building

Like a boat

Murat Menhir museum - giant stones in the museum

Menhir museum – Office de Tourisme, Murat

I decided to walk early tomorrow.  I’d also planned out my next week of walking as I’d started to realise if I didn’t plan a little, I might not make it to Somport in time to get back to the conference in London in the second week of September.  I went to buy a baguette and went back to make dinner. I got a pre-packaged meal, but bought extra broccoli which I steamed.  There was jam in the fridge to have on the baguette in the morning, and coffee in the cupboard.  I’m not so practiced at making the drip coffee, but I’ll give it a go. A coffee is a good start to a walking day, so I’d found out.

It was still really light when I went to bed at 8.30pm. I should’ve closed the shutters on the outside of the windows, as the streetlights were bright.  And, I was a little silly, and I’d sent back my eye-patch to Paris.  It would turn out that I needed it more than once, and instead had broken sleep.  I was also a little cold, and had that kind of sleep you have when you are slightly too cold to be comfortable, but never get up to do anything about it!