Via Tolosana: Epilogue – Know Thyself

La Commande – Pau – Toulouse – Paris – 896 kms in a BlaBlaCar 

“Going nowhere … isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply”  Leonard Cohen

A restless sleep, but I did dream. I wrote morning pages in bed this morning, because I could. I was up and going at 8am and M-H had laid out breakfast for us.  We ate while watching the Portuguese pilgrim depart, and M-H commented that this is how she usually spends her mornings: watching a stream of walkers exiting the little town.  It was so beautiful I was getting teary watching him disappear down the road. I feel so lucky coming back to such a lovely place to ease out of the way. I thought while having a bath the day before, you do need time for the way to leave you, just as you need time to leave the way. I was transitioning back into the road of my usual life. The terrain takes a turn for the more familiar, and then before you know it, you’re back on home soil. It is how it is meant to be.

The pilgrim in Oloron-Sainte-Marie park, Reiner, inspired and challenged me to always ask. To always be open. To always say yes. Marie-Helene thanked me for being open and saying yes to her offer.  She said she admired my courage in saying yes.  I assured her, it wasn’t a hard decision to make when she said she was living in La Commande.  I loved this place. It was such a gorgeous spot to come back to.

It was a slow morning, and at just past 11:00am, we left for Pau where I was to meet my ride back to Paris via Bla-Bla-Car.  Marie-H drove out of the town a different way to the one I’d walked in on, and I realised the little houses continued out quite a way along the road on this side, making the community seem bigger than I thought it had been.  We arrived in the small carpark in front of la Gare only about 20 minutes after leaving. I was still so impressed by M-H’s generosity in driving me. There was the funicular I love so much and the sound of the rushing river.

I met up with my ride, and it was a pretty uneventful return – a long 8 hour drive in a car back to Paris with a deux chevaux (Citroën 2CV) sighting.


Getting to my hotel room, what greets me in the bathroom, but the universal bathroom decor of scallop shell to bring my pilgrimage to a close.


The next day I took a bus through he ‘chunnel’ (Channel Tunnel) to London for a Huguenot Conference, also sighting another deux chevaux. My legs continued to feel for the road, they were tired and sore but I think they would have preferred to continue walking.


Viola wrote to me – “I’m in Bilbao now, I’m travelling inside myself, it is hard and wonderful.” I knew exactly what she meant.  Travelling inside yourself is hard and wonderful, but as all the great philosophers agree, there is great wisdom in knowing thyself. What better way to have the time and the mental space to gather this wisdom than go for a very long walk.

After a week in London, I shot back over the channel to Semur-en-Auxios and Granville to visit two friends for another 10 days or so, before heading back to Paris to take a flight back to Australia.

On the last night of my epic via Tolosana sojourn, sitting in my room in the Hotel George Sand,  yes there is one (and it is great), about to repack my bags ready for the evening flight the next day, I was taking advantage of the super convenient wifi in my room (as opposed to the super inconvenient wifi I’d experienced along my walk), and what pops into my inbox:

Subject: Between Marciac and Maubourguet.

Yes, it was an email from Matthieu.

The End.


Even back in the streets of Fitzroy, Melbourne, way- markers are not far away

The final pack

I have enjoyed taking the opportunity to explore an area of Paris I previously haven’t spent much time in, the 12th arrondissement.  It was quick and easy to catch up with my early music buddy, Jerome and his wife, Laurence, who live close to Colonel Fabien metro in the 19th – one change at Nation.  When we’re together we exchange early music tidbits and Youtube clips and indulge or mutual love of Kate Bush. They kindly agreed to caretake my luggage until I finish my pelegrinage.

The day finally arrives. I get to let go of my little carry-on suitcase and pack up my backpack. This is the real thing now.  I’ve attached the little shell (actually quite big shell) to my pack so it will be obvious I’m a pilgrim (I think that is good thing?). A lovely Couchsurfing hostess in Dijon gave me her St Jacques Coquille shell when I rode part of the Vezelay route in 2011.

All the necessary

All the necessary

The view from my apartment took in the gorgeous five and six storey apartment buildings so characteristic of much of Paris, radiating out along six spokes. I had the useful pleasure of mounting the 121 steps each time I came home and could then look down on the Place to watch the fountain or the old men who gathered on the park benches to pass the time.  It was only after surveying the landscape a number of times that I noticed that the roundabout wasn’t round. It is coquille-shaped.

St Jacques roundabout

St Jacques roundabout


Trainspotting in Paris

It would be difficult to find a corner of Paris with more tracks than the 10th arrondissement.  And despite the plausibility, I’m not alluding to mainlining à la Ewan McGregor.

If trains are your thing, in more of a middle-aged, anorak-wearing male kind of way and you find yourself in the vicinity of Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord, with a few pre-Eurostar-connection-moments to wait, then I have the perfect stop.

Train sign/STOP

Train sign/STOP

From Gare de l’Est, take Rue d’Alsace, climb the balustraded steps, take a moment to observe the confluence of tracks in the gare to your right, then continue walking until you get to the corner of the aptly named, Rue des Deux Gares.  Here stands Au Train de Vie. My inner-anorak-wearer said, “this is the place”!

I was not in the door of this brasserie a second before being greeted with a bon soir and a Ukrainian train conductor’s hat – to wear!  This little corner is the platform for our host, Mourad’s, ten year obsession with all things train.

Train Conductor's Hats

Train Conductor’s Hats

Hats settled above the bar glasses, old vinyl train seats, luggage baskets, signs, station clocks, even the bar is an ex-SNCF train front.



When I visited Mourad was taking the post-Christmas opportunity to fit new luggage baskets above a small vestibule tightly packed with a carriage worth of antique seats (later tightly packed with a group of his friends).  These ancient luggage baskets would have been the envy of modern DB (Deutsche Bahn) passengers.  Just this week I heard customers whinging about the lack of luggage space compared to ICE (Intercity-Express).

Train seats

Train seats

Your trip is completely authentic, right down to the toilette stop which you can make through a sliding door.  You can nearly imagine being thrown against the wall, as the train speeds on.

SNCF train front

SNCF train front

The hum of the 6.50pm something ICE readying itself for departure to somewhere like Switzerland accompanies your meal, which only adds to the whole atmosphere; a train-lover’s paradise.  You can arrive any time after 8am and have a seat until 11pm.

The menu is simple and reasonably priced – I had an omelette with pan fried frites, and a small salad with my standard non-alcoholic Diablo Menthe. There was definitely nothing Michelin about it, but with such decoration, it was always going to be much more about the trains – j’adore!  Maybe the more appropriate film analogy would be Love on a Branch Line.

Au Train de Vie

An excellent travel book about travelling by train to discover France’s history is Ina Caro’s Paris to the Past, 2011.