Via Tolosana Day 24: An elegant mind

Baziege to Toulouse: 25kms

I arose after a fantastic sleep – the bed was really comfy and the room really dark. I always know when I’ve slept well because I have vivid dreams.  This night’s offerings took me back to 17 years old at my year 12 cello exam – why am I still dreaming that! I wrote morning pages and felt a sense of accomplishment.  It is funny noticing others around me when I’m writing – they can’t resist talking and commenting on things and kind of forget that I’m busy writing. When there is no separate room to go to, it is a little tricky, but I’m getting better at kindly not engaging, and being focussed on the job at hand. I realise I am growing in confidence about going my own way, doing my own thing.  Strong, independent woman. Those bells ring out again – très magnifique.

We all had breakfast together, but then I was a little slow with my packing. Bernadette and Philippe were already downstairs waiting with packs and boots on. I said goodbye to our hosts and I caught B & P up as they were buying things from yet another boulangerie on the way out of town.  I bought another quiche for lunch – its turning into a habit.

We all walked together for a short time until we found our way back to the Canal du Midi, but then I walked more quickly with Philippe and Bernadette took her own pace.  He is a reflective and considerate person, saying at one stage that “an elegant mind was more important to him than elegant trousers”.  He certainly was an elegant-thinking man.  We walked all day again between the canal and the A61. He said it was like having one foot in a dream and one foot in reality. I liked the way he looked at things – it reminded me of a student who told me about the Maori belief of walking through life always one foot in physical and one foot in spiritual reality.  We were walking at a cracking pace, but it was extremely nice to be sharing conversation with such an interesting person. It was worth the pain, and it would only be for one day.


He also explained what a tourterelle was – I like to call it the Kate Bush pigeon, but in fact it is a turtledove, hence its gorgeous call. I referred to it in a previous post. Kate Bush is a long-time favourite of mine, and her little double album Arial, released in 2005, is a beauty.  In it, Prelude features her son Bertie and birds …

The day is full of birds
Sounds like they’re saying words

The dove’s calls are then imitated in the tune of the song.  I’d listened to this album over and over so that when I ventured to France in 2008 and was attending Orpheon Baroque School, I stayed in a friend’s beautiful house and each morning, the beautiful call, which I thought at that stage was only English, gently woke me.  Little did I know that I would brush up against the same calls in France and indeed would learn more about bird language as I walked further.

There were not many photos today, as I was too busy walking and talking with Philippe for near to 20kms.  It was a fast walk, and we arrived by 1.00pm.  It was actually excellent to get there so quickly along the canal route.  But the few photos I did manage to get with the combination of the overcast day, the watery canal and boats and the juxtaposition of the amazing graffiti art made for a spectacular entree into the bustling city of Toulouse; home of the A380. Another idea for this blog – Canal Boats of the Via Tolosana could include the evil eye, a day spa, a camouflaged boat and Samsara, no less. Happy trails full of bateaux de canal.

We tended to walk ahead of Bernadette, she was perfectly happy for that. Her pattern is to walk a set number of hours before stopping – I think it was 4 – so that makes about 16kms before a break. So we went quickly, and were then met by her when we had a break for morning tea, and again when we had just finished our lunch she met us again around 12.45pm.  Getting up from our seat which proudly said “Revolution will come with education”, we saw her coming in the distance, so waited for her for our last few kilometres into the centre. At one point, the canal completely surprised me by passing over a road, or maybe given the age of the canal and the roads, the road passed under the canal.  On the last little stretch to the centre we took a wrong path and ended up walking very close to the crash barrier of the road. Our way was littered with rubbish and it was really disappointing. But on the other hand the beautiful multi-story variety of buildings made a really great introduction and made me think I’d like to do a tour of the city if I had time.

Philippe had worked out where he was staying, and Bernadette was finishing here so was going to catch a train that afternoon back home to Lyon, so when we got to the road that veered off to the left, we availed ourselves of the public toilet, took some photos for memories, and said farewell to Philippe. I decided I would walk with Bernadette to the station partly because I hadn’t exactly decided what I wanted to do, and partly because I felt it was the right thing as it seemed she was a little uncertain of the way.  The SNCF station is also on the canal so it was a simple quarter of an hour-ish walk there.  She would most probably get a train within the hour, they run so frequently. Before we got there, we tipped our hats in homage to the statue of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the man who created the Canal du Midi (or the Canal Royal de Languedoc as it started out), standing overlooking the road towards the centre, which crosses the canal outside the SNCF.

I said goodbye to Bernadette, and walked outside of the station, meeting an Algerian man who kind of talked with me and wandered with me all the way to the Place du Capitole, after I asked him directions. It was an interesting discussion. He didn’t seem to like being in Toulouse and I asked him a little cheekily, why he stayed if it was so bad.  I couldn’t really understand this.  The Office de Tourisme turned out to be the first one that was less than helpful. It was no help with finding accommodation and they couldn’t help me with information about accommodation in Carcassonne either – pity. This is a fairly common issue.  The offices only deal with tourism for their particular region, so even though you may be very close, it can be difficult to get information about the nearby towns without actually being in them.  So I sat there and paused.  What shall I do?  The answer came: stay here tonight. OK.

I decided to walk the 15 minutes to the same place that Philippe was staying in – Foyer des Jeunes Travailleurs. I’ll go tomorrow to Carcassonne. It was a pretty direct walk, and I found the place easily, passing by many buildings like Baziege, the brickwork is unique to this area. I would assume this is more Spanish style as there were now street signs on buildings in both French and Spanish.  It made me realise the way is creeping closer to Spain.


I came to the auberge and a group of people sharing some laughs welcomed me in the foyer.  I paid my money and they accommodated me in a room two floors up.  There would be dinner tonight too – bonus!  After getting up to my room (one I had to myself), then showering, and suspending my washing from the chair to the open window handle, and on a couple of coat-hangers I found in the wardrobe, I made my way downstairs for wifi access – only available in a computer room.  The place is like YMCA hostel – but for young workers and over the afternoon, more and more gathered and hung out, chatted and watched soccer on the computers.  The linoleum corridor on my floor was coincidentally being re-surfaced so I couldn’t go back up until 7pm, and unfortunately I forgot to bring a warm pullover down so I sat and shivered most of the afternoon, and kept closing the door as people walked in and out of the cavernous room all afternoon to keep the cool out.  More and more young men and women came to access emails, and chat between themselves. It was a nice environment.

On the internet I looked at accommodation, and was getting very disheartened because there is a big festival tomorrow – probably the biggest of the French public holidays – Assumption – the commemoration of the departure of Mary from this life into heaven.  National Holiday.  I don’t know whether this augers so well for a visit to the most popular National Monument – La Cite, Carcassonne. Hmmmm.

I was continuing to feel frustrated about the lack of accommodation options in Carcassone when I happened across a site for the Notre Dame de l’Abbaye.  I asked the woman at the desk whether she would mind ringing ahead for me.  She was very helpful and said that yes, pelerins are accommodated and I just need to be there before 7pm.  Perfect, and only 20 Euro.  Great luck.  Maybe a good place to research Cathars. Could I have been there before in another life?

I decided I would go to Carcassonne early tomorrow, to get the maximum time to look around and plan my activities. I had the most amazing ‘canteen’ meal that night for only several euros and it was nice because I caught Philippe and we had what would turn out to be our final chat. I overdosed on chocolate mousse – he gave me his.  I said I would get up to say goodbye in the morning and we said goodnight.

Jacques writes late: “Carcassone is nice. Walk with Jacques, Marlies and Manfred. Left Toulouse yesterday with train to Isle Jourdain.”  He’s still skipping the ‘boring’ bits!



Via Tolosana Day 23: The things we do for love

Montferrand to Baziege: 27 kms

I slept like a log in my dark, second floor room. Amazing. I must try to make the room as dark as possible so I can sleep better. I should’ve kept my little mask. I wrote my pages, dressed and went for breakfast. I helped myself as the ingredients were laid out on the benches. Patrick came and said good morning. It was such a lovely morning. It had rained in the night and it wasn’t looking too promising now either. I went over to check my mails – no wifi in the actual accommodation, but nearer the brother’s place en face, I got a good signal. When I was packed I went to say goodbye to Rene-Claude and Patrick. They were so lovely. I got the directions to Avignonet-Lauragais because Patrick had said there was an interesting Inquisition painting in the church there.

I left my little retreat and travelled down the road – asphalt at first, then chemin de terre along the top of the ridge walking towards the eolians – I even had GR markers. In the distance I could see the A road that went through the town I was walking towards, and it hummed slightly and every now and again a train passed on a parallel line. I continued breakfast with more blackberries. When I was at the bottom of the hill, right under the turbines, I turned left and continued around the hill into the town. They were all turning, but I couldn’t hear any noise from them.   I wondered what a group of them should be called. A worry of wind turbines? An eclipse of eolians? I suppose you must consult those that live next to them.

I guessed the way to the church and walked up the hill – a really steep one. I tried the door, but it was shut. A man in an upstairs apartment opposite called out from his open window and said that l’eglise opens around 9-9.15am. I said thankyou and decided I might not get to see inside. I went back down the hill and found the 24hour bread shop on the RD813 – bought quiche for lunch.  I didn’t know what to do. No doubt it was going to rain, so I really should get going, but also I really wanted to see the painting and the St Jacques windows in the church. I sat down and decided to stay for a coffee and a pain au chocolat. When feeling indecisive I eat. There were a couple of long-distance cyclists there too, I think Dutch, but I didn’t say anything. Later a lone woman on a bike also came. I notice there’s still a blister on my little toe. I keep putting off my foot care.

At 9am I walked a different way back up the hill and found lots of interesting things: a statue of Simon of Mountford (the exterminator of Cathars), beautiful gardens and a little window library. I resolved to make a page for the libraries of the Via Tolosana.

Back up at the church and the guy did the thumbs up that the church was open. I went inside, and took a couple of passes around it before finding St Jacques’s chapel, but I couldn’t find the tableau en bois (painting on wood) that I was looking for. I went outside and called for clarification from the man at his window. He explained that it was on the left as you go in. I looked again and found it. It depicts an inquisitor getting own back. He obviously thought I still needed help, so he came over and surprised me inside.   He proudly showed me the front of the church after turning the lights on – reliefs again in wood painted in gold. Spectacular. He also pointed out the parts of the chapel carved from wood rather than marble (but then painted to look like marble). He was very kind.

After this brief tour, I thought I’d best go, so I did. I walked right to the other edge of town, stopping briefly at La Poste to buy stamps and send postcards home. I walked along the really busy main road, semis and lots of cars passed going fast and I found the D43 as Rene-Claude had promised and turned left onto it. I walked along this road briefly, over the train line, after waiting for a passing train, then the bridge over the highway and then right down the ramp to take me onto the path next to the Canal du Midi – I’ve met it at last. I find out it is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site – although there were no signs to that effect.

I was still curious as to why I stayed in the town? For the church? Maybe the human contact? Maybe just to put off finding my way closer to the autoroute – as I’d walk next to it or close to it for the rest of the day.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole accompanied me as I walked –  with my first view of the canal, the grey clouds loomed. I was walking into the storm. Lightning and thunder – the works. It poured. I began to wonder whether it was safe to be walking in a storm – the lightning was present and the thunder got closer and closer! It rained for at least a hour – maybe an hour and a half. Thankfully I’d put my pack cover on at the beginning. I put my phone away as I didn’t want to get it wet in my small, thin Kathmandu bag.  It was really muggy and my t-shirt under my raincoat were soaked making me feel like I was in a wet t-shirt competition.  Like walking in the rain and the snow when there’s nowhere to go! Indeed, the things we do for love when you feel like a part of you is dying!

I was thinking walking along the canal might be a little tedious, but it was actually more interesting walking than La Rigole. And there is something about walking in the rain, isn’t there?  When you’re prepared for it, there is nothing like just accepting you’re going to get really, really wet. There were locks and beautiful huge plane trees and boats – great canal boats. Even in the heavy rain, it was gorgeous. I walked for a few hours, then stopped for lunch about 11.45am, still quite soaked, but with my jacket off in an attempt to dry. I ate my quiche on a still drippy metal seat that I had to hastily wipe down. There were more benches than on Tuesday morning when I could have used some. But the toilet situation was very much the same. Duck, pee quick, then pull your dacks up smartly. My pants were saturated from the rain, so it was tricky to be quick. This arrangement amuses me although my breaks were very safe for the first hour, because I was the only one on the track.

After lunch I decided to take the pack cover off and put my small shoulder bag back on. It was a little cloudy at times, but for the rest of the afternoon there was no rain. I stopped to get water at the lock at Laval and had a nice chat to one of the men who worked on the canal checking things. He was on a lunch break. These are the people I share the chemin with. He pointed me towards l’eau portable which was nice of him. It tasted a little of the thick rubber hose it had been stuck in, but it was a welcome refill. The next part of the walk, the last 6 kilometres, were painful. It has been asphalt the whole way, save a small part along the very edge of the canal, which while not as harsh, was more of a challenge for dodging puddles and muddy bits. I saw La Poste near some boats.

I decided I needed ‘help’. This took the form of the Beatles – Fool on the Hill and Magical Mystery Tour which coincided with a walk past a quirky yard with a car up-ended in the earth and a snaking line of old bikes like the tour de France eventually running into a tree. Air’s Moon Safari continued keeping me company until my phone died. It was a little warm when I finally departed the canal after a toilet break at a conveniently placed truck stop. The large A road (4 lane highway) meandered nearer and further away from the canal for the whole way, which made the road hum present and loud at times, but helpfully also presented perfect opportunities for proper toilet stops. This was a god send because once again, the way was extremely open.

It took a long time to walk the 2.2kms from the canal, under the A road to the cute little town of Baziege. Getting close to the town, a boy ‘accompanied’ me on the other side of the road, wheeling home a bike stricken with a flat tyre. I was delivered to a new urban landscape – a compact town, with similarly compact buildings constructed with fine lines of brickwork. It was cute and pretty.

I walked following the waymarkers to a building right next to the church in the centre of town, on a tiny town square named after Jeanne d’Arc, nestled between a number of other two storey buildings. I saw the tell-tale pilgrim accommodation signs. I got in about 3.50pm and said hello to Philippe and Bernadette who were already showered, clothes drying on the rack out on the tiny, Romeo and Juliet balcony.

The gite was perfectly located just upstairs and around the corner from a butcher/epicerie and boulangerie just down the road, so everything we needed was close by. There was a little debate about whether they were all open, but as is often the case, the little shops close in the afternoon, only to throw open their doors after 4 or 5pm for the night traffic. Bernadette and Philippe went out shopping. I peeled off my shoes and damp clothes and generally hobbled around for most of the night.  I did my washing (there was a washing machine again – nice! Then I went and got some ingredients for dinner and a baguette for next day’s lunch.

There is great hospitality here. I teased the two hosts, Jordi (who I called Jordi Savall) and Ferdinand (who I called Kind Ferdinand). They were extremely tolerant of my cheekiness, and Jordi actually knew who Savall is, so my humour wasn’t wasted.

I’d only been there a few hours, when the best treat rang out next door. L’eglise has the most ornate selection of bell rings on the hour, with the most beautiful apparently at 7pm. Although I didn’t know this until 7pm, at dinner time, when it was also starting to rain again on our washing, and we were busy shifting all of ‘deckchairs on the titanic’, to rescue them from the damp. By the time I got back into the room, and retrieved my phone to record, the songs were almost finished. Despite this, I managed to capture a fragment of the clunky, Ave Maria, on the eqivalent of Tori Amos’s honky-tonk piano in Bells for Her.

We had a beautiful shared meal (Bernadette and Philippe mostly made it – with pasta and bread). I contributed canned veggies.  We laughed lots. There was a discussion about an idea from Moliere’s, Le Malade Imaginaire – “We have made the world too small”.  After dinner, Jordi Savall made a little detour to his room to get something for us guests.  He brought out little Euro cent coins with the cathedral at Santiago on them – in mint condition. I stuck mine into my journal as I thought I’d lose it or try to buy something with it if I left it in my purse.

After dinner I wrote a little, retiring to bed in a small room I shared with both Bernadette and Philippe. I had walked a long way today, in difficult conditions and was exhausted.