Via Tolosana Day 45: The Purple Patch

Col du Somport to Canfranc-Estación – 6.7kms

Today was the first day for several weeks that I’ve slept in. My sleep was unsettled again during the night, but I rested a little. Actually I was cold, and that never bodes well for a good sleep.  I got up, dressed, went upstairs for brekky at 7:30am – maybe not what some may call a sleep in! Benjamin, Jose and the other guy weren’t far behind me.  Nieves was up and doing her English homework which I had a look at, but decided it was far too hard for me, and told her she was doing extremely well to even be tackling it.

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After breakfast, one by one the pilgrims said goodbye. Jose, then Benjamin and the other guy.  I wanted to do some more writing of my journal and then leave. At about 10am, the dogs were howling with a huge thunderstorm outside and I was delayed.  I felt relatively safe in staying as it was only a short downhill walk today to Canfranc.  I caught up with emails, and chatted on the internet with friends. It was actually a perfect start to the day.  The rain eased gradually, and then the fog lifted and I realised I needed to leave. It took me only a few minutes to pack – I’d already left my mostly full pack upstairs in the entrance hall.

Nieves gave me a gorgeous pin as a souvenir. I left, jacket on, and walked out into the fog. The path was all purple today and once again, wet.  The marker said 858kms to Santiago, but I was glad I was only going 6kms.  Before long I left Aysa to disappear into the fog and I was walking over purple rocks with iridescent green moss – it was beautiful.  In-between fir trees it felt like classic Europe.  Still little crocuses appeared on the ground as they had yesterday, but it definitely felt like a different environment to the valley I’d walked up.  I couldn’t hear it from the chalet, but in the valley below was the raging river, Rio Aragón. It gives it’s name to the next stage of this walk to Puente La Reina.  There was a big area that looked like the product of a landslide – but maybe it had been constructed to make a good ski run.

It was a very narrow path down to the Hôpital de Sainte Christine.  I spent a little time reading the information boards and then left and emerged onto the roadway which was flanked by snow sticks to mark where the edge was when it was covered with snow I presumed.

I then turned left up a dirt path, then onto a small bitumen roadway and voilà! I was walking head-on into a sheep orchestra again – it was like a stampede and included one solitary black sheep.  Very cute and very funny they were.

The road into Spain was filled with many amazing views and landslips.  There were a trio of older pilgrims who had called in to Aysa for a Col du Somport tampon just as I was considering leaving. They’d arrived by bus to start walking from there. I think many pilgrims come in for the stamps at Aysa – the beginning of their Santiago trek. I kept following the signs, although many times it felt like I was on the wrong path because I saw the trio on the other road in the distance.   More beautiful views, cute paths and staircases.  New way markers greeted me – big, clumsy yellow ones and the same red and white balisages I’d grown very accustomed to.  I would still not even see a half of the mountains though for the fog cover. I thought about it as I descended. Sometimes we just have to be content knowing that something is there, despite not being able to see it.  I came across a paddock of horses, just past a giant purple landslide. Sometimes the little walking people on the signs didn’t point the right way.

First cattle grid crossed in 45 days. More forests and purple dirt.  Loads of mushrooms under pine trees.  A little hut like a hobbit house. A purple river made from storm water.  Today I found the Camino crosses the middle of paddocks – a foretaste of what is to come perhaps – I think I only crossed one middle of a paddock in France.  Biggest pile of rocks so far.

Near the town, I came upon the 3 amigos on the main-ish road – all paths lead to Canfranc Estación.

After a little more than 1 1/2 hours of ambling, I was approaching the town. The old Somport rail tunnel entrance on the outskirts of town was gorgeous. Mary is once again everywhere – she made it to Spain too, and watches everything here as well.  Plaza Aragón – conjures up my images of medieval times. I was seeing lots of accommodation options, but I thought I’d continue to find the albergue. I passed the station and saw that it really is awesome. Matthieu was right, and I was glad I took his advice to come here.  It is apparently the 3rd largest station building in Europe. I’ll go tomorrow morning and get more photos of it, sans selfie stick!

The town has a slightly weird feeling, maybe even a Twin Peaks feeling.  Like deserted skiing towns everywhere I suppose, deeply tucked between huge mountains, Los Arañones and Las Iserias (I think judging from my map) it is quite dim, especially with foggy cloud cover.  I found a place to eat lunch – they had a pilgrim plat for 8.50Euros. The primo would’ve been sufficient – a whole big plate of pasta.  Then I had to have chips and chicken fillets – very thin, like I’d had for dinner last night.  I couldn’t eat it all and I think they thought I was a bit strange.  The TV was blaring to keep the staff and the customers entertained, although there was just me and another couple still eating lunch. You know you’re in Europe when you’re sitting in a restaurant and the TV ads show a weekly collection of books to buy – about great philosophers! Australia – we wouldn’t want to be bothered by the inconvenient truth that there might be other ways to handle our problems. It felt strange that I couldn’t speak any Spanish, and I think it affected my impressions of the place, as the locals certainly didn’t speak any English. Hmmm.  I really let go of my safety blanket by walking into Spain.  It took me back to my early French experiences where I felt like a bumbling idiot – even more so than I still do.  It made me realise just how far my language comprehension and speaking had come and I was missing being able to at least start a conversation with shop keepers and wait staff. Spanish isn’t on my list at this stage, so it will only be a short foray into this country, as I don’t like travelling to countries where I don’t at least want to learn the basics.  A sad indictment on me I’m sure, but I can’t change what I feel is right at the time. After my meal, I set off to try to find the albergue that was the cheapest on my list.

Continuing to the other end of the town, I asked directions and found the Albergue Juvenil de Canfranc that looked open (there was smoke coming from the chimney), but all shut up.  I asked two women out in the street how I might get in. One of whom turned out to be the librarian, of course! I love librarians :)!  The library was across the road. Silencio, bibliotheca. What greets me on the library door at the top of a flight of stairs, but a gigantic poster of mushroom species. This made me smile. After all this time, I can finally find out the species I’d been seeing for all this time. The library was a cute little one-roomed number and the librarian said I could wait while she phoned the host. They said they’d come and open up shortly.   The holdings amused me – I wondered whether Paula got in Cannibus magazine for her Rockdale library? It was not long before I was able to go across the carpark and get settled.

The albergue is modern with a fireplace/common room/dining room downstairs and a couple of lounge chairs around the edge the room. There was another school group/youth group of people who would be fed dinner, but dinner wasn’t provided for pilgrims on this day. Rooms are on the 2nd floor under the sloping roofline, so I bumped my head on this a few times.  I was exhausted by my ‘mini-walk’ and my big 3pm lunch, so I lay down for a while.  Later I went to access wifi downstairs. Later still, I walked up the road to the little supermarket and got yoghurt and pears for breakfast.  Next door I had the thickest and yummiest hot chocolate I’ve had in my life at the Cafetería Universo while catching up with the day’s journalling. As I sat there, the restaurant got more and more packed. By 9.15pm, when I left, it was really ticking over.

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my albergue

At 9:30 I walked back and to bed. The Spanish trio were in bed already and hopefully I didn’t wake them.

Via Tolosana Day 5:  Toujours tout droit … and skip the boring bits

Gallargues to Montpellier 6km … walking

Since I was a child I have disliked the feeling that I might be missing out on something. My experience tells me that when we think that something is going to be a certain way, there can be a 50/50 chance that it will, and the same chance that it won’t. This is what I thought about our plans to ‘skip’ the uninteresting things between Vauvert and Montpellier. The experience of skipping a town I was going to stay in has left me feeling, what did I miss out on? Is company on the road worth the potential loss of things that would have been interesting to me? I suppose this is a choice people make every day, to choose companionship rather than solitude, just to have someone there, despite the toll on the things they are interested in.

I had blogged until late the night before, well after it was dark, sharing my wifi access spot with late night walkers, hoons in cars, and all sorts of nightlife, so I was slow getting up. The youth-hostel like nature of our accommodation was charming and it was sad to pack up and leave. We lost the key to the accommodation (and found it again in the best place for it, in the lock) so we were a little late leaving at 7.30am. I had cleared the tar from my shoes and they felt so much better. I could still feel my little toe, but I was managing it alright. It has a blood blister and I expect the nail will fall off before I finish walking. I think what did it was walking around in Paris for two days in my Keen sandals. The arches of my feet were aching and I still wasn’t feeling in tip-top walking shape.

Le Vidourle – ancient style

Jacques and I walk at the same tempo and we talk when we have things to say, and don’t when we don’t. It is easy and he is a good companion. We walked quite quickly as the roads were fairly major ones with a moderate amount of car and cycle traffic for a Sunday morning. There was a little too much road walking for my liking, (it is not only more dangerous, but also the road is hard on one’s feet) but the countryside was beautiful. More grapevines.

As neither of our maps quite covered our walk for the morning our joke for the day was something the woman at the Office of Tourism told us. When leaving Gallargues, at every roundabout we should just keep going straight ahead – tout droit. To always go straight ahead is toujours tout droit. So on, straight through roundabouts we went, being barked at by most of the town’s dogs. The day before we had encountered a particularly enthusiastic guard dog with an attitude who leapt up onto the high wall in front of his house and barked at us without rest. The manoevre reminded me of the bullfighters leaping over two fences to escape their pursuers. Crossing le Vidourle, we saw two fishermen and I realised I was taking my photos on the ‘ancient setting’ which was giving an interesting effect, however didn’t do a great job of reflecting the cool blues and greens of the river. Continuing along quite a major road it was really disappointing to see a lot of rubbish next to the side of the road. Maybe a ‘Clean up France Day’ is needed.

Lunel modern art

The walk was pretty exposed, and usually about a half an hour after I start in the morning I need to wee, and can often find a suitable tree or bush. Not today. We asked at a service station but the woman was not helpful. We passed a Gendarmerie and they very obligingly allowed me to have a pee-pee as Jacques puts it. I feel sorry for the women officers, there was no toilet paper. Jacques said later he thought they were quite suspicious of our packs. Understandably. Relieved, we continued towards the gare (station) to continue our tout droit day – I noticed the yellow compostage machine which reminds me of the signs we see walking. We had a bit of time until the train, so we went back to a bar and I had a cafe and Jacques the chosen beverage for the region, a Perrier, as one does to salute cottage industries turned into multi-national products.

Bon courage at SNCF

Perrier anyone?

Nantes biscuits

The gare in Montpellier is light, bright and modern and has the most magnificent pink floor – granite I suppose. Stepping out of the station and you have arrived in a majestically decorated tram town. No wonder I like Montpellier. It reminded me of other French cities with paved roads and tram tracks, Le Mans, Nantes and Dijon. It makes for a special, person-centred feel and is clearly a hit for the locals and tourists alike. Long, wide promenades and rows of plane trees. Heavily ornamented buildings frame the wide streets and the small ancient rues (streets) of the old town. It was nice to get to Montpellier early and wander around as I had originally planned to be here for two nights.

Rue de Maguelone

Place de la Comedie

Most of the shops were shut, but the restaurants were open, and after finding maps at the Office de Tourisme, we found the Pelerin Sanctuaire Saint-Roch, the patron saint of pilgrims. We continued through the tiny streets past stunt bikes to the Arc de Triomphe and the Promenade du Peyrou and the Chateau d’Eau. Behind it, the Boulevard des Arceaux (Saint Clemente) It was warm. Under the beautiful blue and green glass street lamps and giant plane trees there was a bustling bric-a-brac market. I wondered whether Viola had got here, and was blowing balloons and juggling.

stunt bike

stunt bike two

Aquaduct van Saint-Clément,

Château d’eau du Peyrou (1689)

beautiful lamps – La Promenade du Peyrou

Holding up half the sky

Camino waymarker

If you look closely you can see cocquille shells on the Trompe-l’œl

We decided to return to the Office of Tourism because next door there was a beautiful place to have a picnic on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. On the way we stopped at Les Halles where there was a market in the process of closing. A baguette, some chevre and tomato with a rockmelon made a perfect lunch. I also found out about a hotel for the night as I wanted wifi and a private room for the interview at … 12.45am in the morning! I thought that Hotel Cosmos sounded a little more promising that Hotel Abyss, so I booked that. Jacques would do his own thing.

There wasn’t a lot doing for food near the hotel, so I had sushi, and returned to the hotel for the long wait until 12.45pm – I couldn’t skip that boring bit.