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.

Via Tolosana Day 4: Royal Canin, Perrier and place of angels

Vauvert to Gallargues-le-Montueux  14kms

We got up at 6am and after petit dejeuner, we dragged all of our supplies downstairs to reunite them with our backpacks and do the final packing. Marie-Claude had left a lovely tray for each of us for petit dejeuner, and despite intending to write my morning pages, I didn’t. She was on night shift, so we didn’t get to see her before we left. Once again we again joked when we left ‘just before 7am’. Bull-fighting and feet on chairs aside, it really was a very pleasant place to stay.

I got an email from the Gite in Arles to say they had found my Confraternity guide.

Leaving from Vauvert was again by minor roads, past vineyards. Jacques speaks several languages, as many Europeans do, English being one of them so we discussed the pronunciation of ‘vinyards’ rather than ‘vine-yards’. I don’t know why we pronounce it like this – English must be a very difficult language. The only equivalent in sound I can think of is the station in Sydney, Wynyard, but that is spelt differently. For pronunciation anyway, it seems I was teaching Jacques a few new things too.
We passed some grape pickers/pruners who were just starting their work, and one struck up a conversation with us in English. Just around the next little bend, the road passed under some large shady plane trees and we were greeted with a very cute little maison. The chemin takes virtually no account of whether there are houses close by, and on this occasion it made a circuit right around it, past their fenced off back patio and then up over a bridge over Le Vistre. I kept walking over the bridge, but Jacques noticed cats being fed, and struck up a conversation with the woman of the house through the open doorway.

There is no accounting for what a joke about Royal Canin in this area can open doors to at 7.30am in the morning. The woman invited us in for a coffee! As we’d foregone the fresh coffee at M-C’s place, we were keen. They had four generations of the family staying there that night, and her son, a pompier (fireman) appeared after a few minutes as did the grandmother. Being high summer, firemen are on alert for bushfires, just as in Australia, although it is my impression that while there are volunteers in France also, a lot of the fires are fought by paid firefighters. The coffee was great, and we were even treated to some plums from a tray of fresh fruit their friends had brought around.

The woman was telling us about the other factory of note in this area – Perrier. So if you’re wondering where that is made, wonder no longer. It started as a small concern, a family business, that was supported by the locals, as they could see work opportunities for their children. More recently though, the company had been bought out, and there was quite a lot of despair in the community as the job prospects had dried up with the new management. Jacques later told me you could take a tour of both factories. How about that, what a missed opportunity.

Vauvert vineyards

Track after coffee

Continuing on after our coffee, it became windy and again the cigalles sang to us from their plane trees. We were keenly looking out for signs of large kennels and pet food factories, but all we saw were a multitude of dogs in people’s front yards. Maybe they outsource their testing now in exchange for reduced price dog food supplies. We saw the canal again a couple of times, more vineyards and more peaches. There is another crop that we passed today. I know it as amaranth, but I’m not sure that’s what it is.

Attention Chien

Place of angels?

Balisages

Further on and we couldn’t follow the chemin de terre path that we wanted to because right in front of us were big earthworks blocking our way – perhaps for a new trainline. We ended up walking a combination on the D104 and then on a newly asphalted path to get back to where we needed to be and to walk past the place of angels. I was walking for sometime before I realised that the new sticky tar was all in my boots, and doing a great job of removing any cushioning benefit I might get from the previously great grip pattern. I had fun digging it out when we got to Gallargues.

Earthworks

Camargue letterboxes

Chemin de terre

We passed through Codognan, and I saw a Protestant Eglise and in the process, we missed a turn out of the town. I was obviously too busy taking photos of rabbits.  We looped around an extra kilometre probably to once again get back to the GR653 path and the familiar red and white signs. We probably walked more like 15 or 16kms in the end. My little toe was not as irritated with the addition of some wool for padding, but the arches in my feet get really achy by the end of the day. This aspect doesn’t seem to improve as I walk more.

The source of Perrier

La Poste rabbit

Camargues horse

Apart from the leaving before the hour joke, Jacques and I have another which is about taking the train. So today when I was taking photos, and there were powerlines in them, he suggested they could be photoshopped out (he apparently enjoys working with editing software). I said, yes, that’s just what I’d expect from someone who takes the train instead of walking. Just skip the bits you don’t want to see or do. He and M-C had a conversation the night before about how ‘all’ pelerins skip the part of the way between Gallargues and Montpelier, firstly because the first part is next to TGV lines and motorways, and secondly because the outskirts of Montpelier are ‘not interesting’ either. I’m a bit of a purist (I say that after a full three days of walking mind you), whereas Jacques has walked many ways, and at times will take a bus or take short cuts to make the walk easier. I wasn’t convinced it was what I wanted to do, as I had originally planned to stop in Ballargues, but it was nice to have the company while walking, so I said I would consider doing what Jacques decided. We agreed that we would look at the options at the Office of Tourism in Gallargues.

We got into town at about 2pm, and found that the office would open again at 3pm. It was a Saturday, so we were lucky that the boulangerie was still open and we got some lunch, and Jacques asked about the location of the local municipal gite. While I sat and extricated tar from my shoes under the tiny and ancient Les Halles (market building), Jacques did a reconnoitre for the hostel. He came back having found a number to ring on the front gate. It is lucky he had gone to the gate because the contact name and number were different to those in the Dodo and if we’d just rung that, we would never have got through. The woman said she would be there within the hour to open the gite for us and stamp our credentiales. We were welcome to go in to the courtyard and wait there as the gate was open, so after eating our lunch, we picked up our things and walked (I shuffled), around the corner. Everything was close here. The Office of Tourisme was a couple of doors up from the Boulangerie and over the small one-laned street from Les Halles.

Gallargues Office de Tourisme

The local municipal pilgrim accommodation was excellent, and we were the only ones there. It was right next to a workers club and it looked like a gymnasium next door with lots of gym mats on the ground. Jacques joked with the woman and her husband that he thought we might have to sleep on them. It is a simple place with only 8 beds, mostly bunks. The building wasn’t that old, but had really high ceilings and large windows with shutters that opened out onto the courtyard with two huge fig trees and a picnic table and chairs. Jam, dried toasts, filter coffee, tea and long-life milk are supplied so you have everything you need. Our hosts were lovely. Once again I didn’t understand everything they were saying, but the were really friendly and helpful and found me a real cigale to take a photo of.

The day was again warm, so we could do our washing after showering, and the clothes would easily dry before nightfall. After we’d done the domestics, it was time to tackle the issue of plans for tomorrow at the Office of Tourism. The young woman was very helpful, and keen to speak English as she had spent time in Australia. She had also spent time in Belgium so had things to talk about with Jacques too. She helped us by finding that there were no buses running on Sundays from Gallargues, and also no trains would be stopping there either. If we wanted to take the ‘quick’ way to Montpelier, we’d have to walk around 6kms to the next town, Lunel, and catch the train from there. That became our plan.

I got the wifi code – the longest one in the world I think. With these automatically generated codes, I’ve noticed there are many common letters. I think this one had lots of Fs, which is what I felt like saying when it took me three goes to get my iPad to log in. I was already behind with my posting, so I asked whether I could stay and use the wifi in the afternoon and evening. The wifi stays on, so even after the office closed I was able to continue to sit outside under the oversized carport and finish my Paris restaurant blog. Jacques very kindly brought some chairs from the gite so that I didn’t have to sit on the concrete.

Gallargues municipal gite

Real cigale

An epicerie is like a corner shop. It often has fresh food, cheese and meats in addition to canned food and sometimes pre-prepared packaged foods – perfect pelerin fare for heating in microwaves. I felt like an orange and fennel salad for dinner, so that’s what I bought. With rice and tuna salad, rockmelon ham and pineapple juice we had quite a feast. After dinner I went back to La Halle and continued blogging until it was dark. I snuck back into the gite when I’d finished. So now you know the lengths I go to in a foreign country for wifi to complete this blog!

La Halle