Via Tolosana Day 30: “Ultreia!”

Le Grangé (Giscaro) to Pied à Terre en Gascogne (L’Isle-Arné) – 17 kms

Up early again today. 6:00am.  Pages written, however I seem to have lost my kilometrico (pen of choice). This is a minor disaster, as the Artline pens I write my journal with are not fast enough for morning pages.  Try it. You’ll see. So I now need a new biro. I have also come to the end of my exercise book, so I need to decide what to do about it. I have a fresh one, but do I keep this one or post it home? I’m writing as the sun climbs up at one end of this big building after setting at the other end. Breakfast at 7:00am.

After dinner the night before, Andreas spent quite a bit of time talking to us about the route for the next few days from here. (I also read some of the interesting statistics he had collected about the pilgrims that pass through here. I began in Arles, and a minority start there, only 30%; 20 nationalities are represented – Australian doesn’t even figure; there is a bubble for walkers in their early 20s, and again in their 50s.  So you could say on the via Tolosana, an Australian woman in her mid-40s, who walks from Arles is scarce as hens teeth. It is not surprising I guess, they’re all busy having/raising children. I digress). There were two ways to go. You could follow the chemin de terre, which by-passed the town, or go by road direct through the town.   Before deciding to stay at Le Grangé, I was going to stay at Gimont, but decided against it, and he had helped me phone to the place to cancel the reservation. It is here that I needlessly made this day’s walk longer, and a little more involved.  I decided to ignore the advice to take the direct road into Gimont. I followed my own way with the re-assuring red and white signs. This ended up rewarding me with my first spectacular views of the Pyrenees, however left me with a few worries also.

Bon route! (si on ne revoit pas …. ) et n’oublie pas ton baton!! Good road! (If we do not see you ….) and do not forget your stick !!

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I set off at 8am and made my way down the grass track past the plums. Cloudine told me about some champignons that I missed at the bottom of the row, so I snapped a picture on my way out.

“Ultreia!”  Jacques told me about a pilgrim song with this name on Day 8.  They have thought of everything here, and their care extends to wishing their pilgrims “a good road” in the traditional way.

The distance that le Grange had on it’s sign were:

  • Toulouse – Leguevin – 23kms;
  • Leguevin – L’Isle Jourdain 14 kms;
  • L’Isle Jourdain – Gimont 16kms;
  • Gimont – L’Isle Arne 19kms;
  • L’Isle Arne – Auch 23kms.

Andreas had said there are as many different measures of the distances on this route as there are guide books and people who walk.  Miam Miam Dodo doesn’t provide the best maps, but other walkers have continued to ask to read it to get ideas for accommodation.

Jacques had written overnight: “I think the chemin learn us fraternization, simple way of life, humility, research on oneself, self improvement and more. Marelies and Manfred left yesterday for Lourdes. So I go further with Jacques”.  So it seems that he has been thinking a lot about his walk and the things he is learning.

I walk past concrete/stone cage retaining walls, then 4 dogs greet me up on the fence at a gorgeous chateau. It continues to be really dewy this morning – more than yesterday.

My pack felt lighter this morning for some reason, it made my feet a little more nimble to dodge the evidence of horses on the track. A dam could be seen through the trees. Many men were out busy with their farming.

I thought about my conversation with J-P yesterday. He had tried to teach me the contractions of words yesterday – I failed, but it now made me wonder about language.  Imagine a language that has only the present tense.  I am. We are. It is.

I took a left-hand turn following the markers where the road led into town and this guided me along the saddle of a hill. I happened to look left and saw shadows on the horizon. I was surprised. Jagged, massive, desolate-looking in parts, as if super-imposed on the horizon, like a back-drop curtain being lowered to the stage … the Pyrenees. I have to scale one of those on the last day!

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Now I know the reason for coming this way – perhaps I wouldn’t have seen them if I’d gone direct to Gimont.   Going my own way was not without it’s drawbacks. I stopped for a pee behind a hedge now looking at the Pyrenees. Down in the valley, a way off,  I could see a figure in white wandering along the hedgerow picking blackberries next to what looked like a creek.  As I walked down into the valley veering away from them on the other side of the hill, a ute travelled past them along a track by another creek – which I realised I would swing around and join.  It seems that white vehicles are my new nemesis this week.  A patch of doubt. Trepidation even.   Yesterday I waited for J-P. Today I had no-one. They all chose to go direct to town.  I continued to the bottom of the hill and turned left with the road hugging the creek back towards the van as I expected.  A few hundred metres, and there it was.  Parked off the road. No sign of an occupant. A spade in the tray. Where’s my cloak of invisibility when I need it. Something made me take my phone out and photograph it a little way back. I fussed nervously with the code on my phone, but got it in the end.  I took the photo.  Still no sign of it’s occupant.  I walked past, quickening my steps to get away as soon as possible. Another few hundred metres and I heard the ute start up. It drove up behind me. As it came closer I stepped off the track and walked in the rough earth of the ploughed and freshly sprouting field to let him pass unhindered.  I said “bonjour”. The man smiled and drove on.  There are times you wonder. I had no butterflies, no sick feeling, so of course I was always going to be safe.  It un-nerves me though. I need to call on my angels at times like these.

I continued, past big quince trees and spoke to the woman collecting blackberries.  Beaucoup pour confiture. My version of “many blackberries for jam”.  I met the D160 and walked along it for a while before leaving it again for a small track next to a field. In a few more minutes walking through the back roads near houses on the outskirts of town,  I could see Gimont in the distance, across a valley.

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I could see the path took me right down into the valley and down to the back of the town.  I could have taken the D4 straight in – it would’ve saved time. Oh well. I probably walked an extra km or two by the time I got back into town.

10:10

At the bottom of the town, I took the road back up towards the town square and church. I approached from the side, up really steep streets to the smell of cassoulet.  The name Esplanade des Capucin sounded interesting. It turns out the Capucin’s were an off-shoot of the Franciscans who ordered their life around rules drawn up in 1529.  Maybe the street has been here for a while then.

I wandered around and stopped at a little bar for a short black consumed amongst the smoking men passing their time in the morning – it was too early for lunch. I saw Cloudine and Francois and bought quiche for lunch later. Les Halles (literally translates as ‘the hall’ was the central market of an old town, and in my experience, usually included a big wooden structure). Here in Gimont it still stood, and took up the whole of the small centre of the town (very similar to Revel but much smaller). What’s more, the road went through the middle of it, underneath the large exposed beams. The pharmacy reminded me of the temperature. 27C – seems a bit hot for what it feels like. I needed to get some supplies for lunch tomorrow as it will be demi-pension tonight in another gite nowhere near a town. I purchased peaches and a pear at a little fruit and veg shop.  I can have the packet cassoulet that I bought in L’Isle Jourdain, for lunch tomorrow – then my pack will be a kilogram lighter.  I went to the Boulangerie again to get a coffee eclair. I ate it later when I stopped for lunch – unfortunately it wasn’t that good.

Walking back down the hill, down the main road again, I turned right where I saw further signs, more chemin de terre along the river, then across it (La Gimone) and joined the road just near the eglise – Chapelle de Cahuzac.  A woman was hanging out washing and I saw bull rushes again. They always remind me of Moses.

The church was dark, and the strong smell of Asiatic lilies was augmented by the sun streaming in.  A woman was attending to the flowers on alters.  I asked her where I could get my credential stamped, and she directed me to the hospital next door. Before I left I took some St Jacques and St Roch souvenir pictures. Pushing the big door of the hospital open, it seemed like a hospital anywhere, a real buzz of patients and staff busy with healing.  I got my tampon.  Outside there were some residents enjoying the sun.

Outside the Eglise, and around the back I saw one balisage and I followed the little single-laned road, quite a long way and didn’t see any further balisages.  It was getting hot, and I was already tired, even though I’d not gone far.  I lost faith that I’d find more balisages, and the road looked like it was going nowhere in particular. I thought I’d missed a turn.  I walked back towards the chapel and then left the road to the right along a little track upwards in the direction I was thinking was on track.  Past a Gendarmerie and then a big school-like place.  I just kept going even with no balisages.  I eventually emerged onto a paved road after travelling an overgrown dirt track between paddocks.  None of the road names looked right. Perdue – lost. Again! I thought it had to be further up the road so I kept following it.

Feeling nearly deflated, I asked a young guy in a big white van (maybe they’re not so bad after all) for directions.  He seemed to think I was on the right track, in fact when I went around the next bend, he stopped to show me the right place.  Just after this I saw the familiar balisages.  After he’d delivered something he came back my way and I waved a thank you as he sped past.

I stopped  to eat lunch, right by the side of a road that turned out to be a dead end, so there wasn’t ever going to be much traffic. It was after 12:30. Quiche and peaches. I needed a drink.

Balisages were a little infrequent in the afternoon, but it wasn’t too bad as the guide book map was OK.  I had a look where I had gone wrong and it looked like I had turned too soon, and that I should have kept walking further to make a turn to the left along a dirt track. After lunch I began walking inside hedgerows for most of the afternoon, disturbing lots of nesting birds as I went.  It was cooler as there was no direct sunlight.  Next to farms, cows, grapes, sorghum (?), sunflowers, Fresian cows.

1:11

Patient miles.Grapes again.  Figs. I saw an old bell tower that looked hairy from a distance with all the shrubbery growing out of it. Everything gets more hairy with age. Don’t I know it. Farm machinery lay idle. Everyone was at lunch. I passed deep ruts in the track.  I thought of my first ride from Vezelay where one day I mused about the idea of being stuck in a rut after trying to ride through deep ruts that my peddles nearly got stuck in.

It was beautiful farming countryside with a Pyrenees backdrop. Freshly ploughed fields. Sometimes it is exciting when you can’t see what’s coming.  An old cemetery.  Au Chateau d’Arne. I neglected to say that yesterday two more very young French pilgrim stayed overnight. They were new to the trail, and had walked 30kms and arrived close to dark. They were self-catering, so we didn’t see them for dinner, but we chatted over breakfast.  As I neared the gite, I found them sitting in the long grass opposite the chateau. Their feet were blistering really badly, and I think they were concluding that it was not possible to keep walking such long stages. I wished them well – they were of course going further than my measly 17kms.

Not much further along the road, and I see the turn off for my gite avec fig tree driveway. I noted the ripe fruit for retrieval the next morning. It was really warm already, and I was the first there despite thinking I had got waylayed. I have found the gites need bookings, whereas the Communal Gites seem to be first come first served, so I don’t know why I was in such a hurry today. Pied à Terre en Gascogne is an absolutely gorgeous gite run by a similarly georgous couple, Martine and her husband.

A notice somewhere indicated that I could wait for welcome, so I walked into the largest building and sat and wrote for a while in a nook with an arched ceiling that felt Moroccan, possibly because of the colours and the adobe-look of the walls.  Everything felt very earthy and natural.

I noticed there were interesting pictures of foot reflexology, and then that Martine offered foot massages, so I booked one later for 6pm.  I lounged and another pilgrim arrived – travelling the other way avec trailor.  He’d started in Le Puy, walked to Puenta La Riena and was going back to Arles/Toulouse I think. Good idea! He said following the signs backwards is hard (don’t I know, I did it on my bike on the Vezelay route).  Virginie and Sophie arrived next.  I’d already showered and washed. Then Cloudine draped in her light walking scarf and Francois. And another pilgrim. It had turned out really hot and my clothes were dry by bed time.  Now, the nights get dewy, so I always have to take shoes and clothes inside for the night.  Sophie, Virginie and I continued our funny conversations and ventured into day jobs out on a little patio near the clothes line with our beers/lemonades that Martine keeps stocked in the fridge for a small donation.

Martine had organised dinner, and while it was cooking, was going to squeeze the massage time for me. This amazed me, that she was cooking a meal for around 10 people, and still could give me a massage. What a woman!!  I made my way over to her house, where she showed me to a little room on the outside.  Oils were burning, a soft ethereal soundtrack accompanied and she sat me in a big recliner couch and darkened the room.  Within minutes, I was floating on another planet in bliss. I told Martine I’d experienced sensations like this before when doing Vipassana and she knew of this kind of meditation.  She said she could feel the energy rise up to her head. It was amazing. Just amazing. Afterwards she gave me a big hug and I said we must have been friends in a former life. She smiled. The feeling of the whole place was so calm and grounded.

The meal – fabulous.  Puy lentils and duck, bortsh with bread and rilettes and date cake with custard. Red wine. Of Course.

After sitting up for a little writing and listening to Cloudine and Francois planning their next moves, I decided it was time to retire up the ladder to the group room in the attic. My tired, oiled and massaged feet slept very soundly!

 

 

Via Tolosana Day 27: Planes, trains and automobiles

Toulouse to Leguevin – 16kms

Even though my alarm went off at 6am, I didn’t start until about 6:15am.  I wrote a little in my room, then went downstairs for breakfast. There was nice yoghurt, orange juice, coffee, bread/jam/butter from the little cafeteria – all you could eat.  I saw Sebastien at breakfast time and gave him my details in case he ever visited Australia. I completed my blog and even managed to post.  Day 4 done.  It is slow going, but I’m getting there. I wrote  that it was strange that I missed the regimented days while in Carcassonne. I was in a position to do my own thing, but it was harder somehow.  I was grateful for the patient conversations I’d had with young people the night before. I am slowly finding my French voice. The speaking took me outside of myself, past the restrictions of the walk. It left me feeling lighter. I suppose talking with others sometimes does that.  In the interests of self-care, I decided today I would stop every two hours and for lunch – I didn’t get anything to carry with me last night after all, but I’d see what I find walking today.

The guy (a different one had stayed overnight – seemingly in a recliner chair in a darkened pool/vending machine/general purpose room) said goodbye to me and asked me to leave the key with a woman who was cleaning.  I left feeling really ready to move and get on the road again. It was exciting even!  Philippe had warned me that the balisages are different now, and they hide on the walls with the street names so they don’t face you, you have to look out carefully for them. I did.  They are the blue plaques – quite effective looking.

I suppose there’s a difference between doing something habitually and doing something because you feel drawn to it.  Or does developing a habit enable you to feel drawn to something when you’re not doing it?  The chemin has become a habit, but also a way of living, and it wasn’t until I detoured that I realised the longing I had developed for the road and everything it held for me. I had missed it.  I’m glad I saw Carcassonne, but it feels like a journey of or for another time. There is so much more to see, and I really was limited to just the touristic parts – which disappointed me a little. Although I can’t work out whether my ambivalence is because the place gives me a funny feeling that I didn’t like.

I found many more buildings to snap this morning, the street were pretty deserted and the Pont Neuf was stunning in the morning light, reflecting on the river.  Lovely St Jacques hospital – many coquilles and St Jacques references.

A little further out of town I bought a baguette for lunch – camembert, walnut and lettuce.  Just after I’d found this sweet boulangerie, I found a packet of tissues on the pavement – saves me buying new ones.  A man walked past whistling.

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Rue des Fonataines is very long, some would say ‘boring’ even, but I liked it for found tissues, whistling gentlemen, because it was diagonal to where I started, and it had my first La Poste vehicle for the day.  I ended up seeing 5 in total today AND a motorbike.

After this one-way street, it was out onto quite a big route that ascended past a beautiful, modern, grassed tram line, and on towards Toulouse Airport.  I like the walk out of a big city. It lets the city vibe leave you slowly.  Jacques texted when he left Toulouse.  He left on the train for a town two nights away. I wouldn’t do that. I am even happier with my choice as I begin seeing planes landing.  The GR red and white balisages join me again, although I get a little worried that they don’t stay long, and instead I have the company only of the little blue and yellow coquilles.

Today is a day of much uncertainty, many retracings of steps and of getting lost and tripping over.  I am following the way suggested in the Dodo but when I get to the little town of St Martin, I couldn’t find markings. I passed many people waiting outside La Poste at 9:30am. I saw little bike signs marking the bike path to Airbus territory, and did notice what might have been a number of cyclists commuting to work at the aeronautical company. Airbus – a lot of their staff ride to work I’d guess judging by the bike track signs.  This was exciting for me, as you’ll read elsewhere, I’m quite a fan of the A380.

Through the back-block, acres of Airbus paddocks. I waved hello to some men working there – conferencing outside next to an airbus carcus. I then thought it advisable to thank them for their work – “Merci beaucoup pour le Airbus” I called out. OK, maybe I’m getting a little too cocky with my French.  Apparently you can take a different route out of Toulouse through an ancient forest, but who’d want to do that and miss all the Airbus fun?

10:10.

The familiar fragrance of another butterly bush on the busy road leading to Colomiers.

I paused for morning tea on the lawn in front of what looked like well-kept council flats, the buzz of a lawn-mower starting up around the back, threatening to unseat me if I stayed too long.  I wrote a postcard to my old colleagues and I mused about the opposite of growing pains – are they allowing pains?  I gobbled two peaches then half of the baguette, feeling a little like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’m really impressed with these squashed peaches for the road. I climbed the small hill towards the centre of the town but more like a suburb, and dropped into Aldi as I needed more shampoo. Of course, being Aldi, a full-size bottle was the smallest I could find. Not ideal.

Another bon courage floated my way, just a few minutes after I embarrassed myself tripping over. The woman who saw me said nothing, so I had to just get up and go on as if nothing had happened.

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At a beautiful underpass next to a stepped water feature resembling Fingal’s Cave, but more like Fingal’s French Mountain, I met an older couple, he in a wheelchair and she pushing him. I called on my basic, but improving French comprehension to understand that she was saying they had walked the route themselves in years past. Well, it makes a good story.  They were very cute, but also both quite frail, and so I helped push him up the steep pathway back to the level of the road.  I left them and they too wished me bon courage.  Then an English guy rode up to me and asked if I was on the chemin St Jacques. We had a brief discussion about it, but he was riding a long way further today. It was very exciting having an English voice start talking to you in deep France. I should have followed him, because at this point began a paucity of GR markers, and I ended up getting myself totally lost and disorientated. Maybe the ancient forest route might have been easier.

I had walked out of town, through suburbs, across large roads and past railway stations along a road that looked like it could have been the way except that there were no markers. Funny that! It wasn’t too hot thankfully, but it’s amazing how hot and bothered you get when you’re lost. Still no signs. Tell-tale sign that you’re lost.

I eventually got to something like a Kentucky Fried Chicken and asked a guy who showed me a map on Google maps on his phone.  I was still on the page of my map, and actually only 500 metres off course to the south.  On my way back to the track, I grabbed a toilet stop and a can of fizzy drink at a big garden shop akin to a French version of Bunnings, and felt a whole lot better when I started seeing the blue balisages again. I felt tired, not from the walking so much as in spirit. Losing one’s way is so effortful.

Despite the fact that I hadn’t actually walked that much extra, it was a very long trudge for the last kilometre up the hill to Pibrac. Once in the little town however, it was great.  The architecture in this area is very attractive, the red brick continued.  The small Eglise is beautiful and then there’s also a large basilica. The place was quite decorated, but the town had a bit of a beige feel.

I paused pretty briefly to eat the remainder of my brie, walnut and lettuce baguette on a park bench in the square between the two churches, the gentle breeze rustling the leaves and cooling my damp t-shirt.   I spied another pilgrim, but wondered whether he was going in a different direction as I didn’t see him leave.  I continued on a ‘boring’ route to Leguevin. I noticed later that I could’ve taken a more circuitous route through another forest, and I found out later that is the way the other pilgrim went.  I walked out of the town past the large basilica where lots of people seemed to be lying around on the grass at lunch time. The pharmacy informed me it was 26C at 1.40pm.

2:22.

Did I say that Pibrac to Leguevin was boring?  Well not only that, but my feet hurt as I had walked on roadway or footpath all day.  The route followed the main road between the two towns.  It was quite dry, and the gardens were a little dull.  Once again I was reduced to shuffling the last kilometre again up into the town to the Mairie.  The woman there directed me to the gite for accueil, just around the corner. I could go there, get settled, wash etc and then people would come to take the money later.  Perfect arrangement.

At the address I was met with a sign that pointed me in the direction of Santiago and a lovely little tile of a pilgrim installed at the back door. I opened the metal gate and walked in.  I explored the kitchen, took off my boots and left them in the corridor shelf and put on my thongs. It should bring relief, but walking doesn’t get easier with my boots off. I wasn’t there long, perhaps 15 minutes, had found myself a bed (one of 6) and was just getting prepared to have a shower, when the Pibrac pilgrim came in.  Jean-Paul was a Belgian living in Marseilles.  A little later Jacqueline, from Granville then Yves from Nantes arrived. It might be a full house. Later still a couple were brought from the Toulouse airport, Francois et Cloudine from Strasbourg.

Much later I did my washing (in a washing-machine no less), but by mistake didn’t put the soap inside, but outside – stupid!  So when it got to the end, my clothes were still wet and soapy! Bugger!  In they went for another wash, and I hoped that this delay didn’t mean that they wouldn’t dry over night. J-P went out to look around and I sat outside in the warm shady afternoon at the picnic table and wrote. I had a bit of catching up to do. I wrote for a while, but was surprised by a POP, almost a cracking sound, and looked into the garden to see what it was.  I realised it was the bursting hollyhock seed pods sowing their wild ‘oats’ – the sex life of plants hey!

The hoteliers came with the couple from Toulouse and we paid our money and had our credentials stamped along with much French conversation.  We all ended up going for pizza together – just down the road heading out of the town. It was the only thing open.  We shared stories (well, mostly they did, and I listened) and wine (I drank). It was a lovely night. I went to bed at 10pm after staying up a little longer than the rest to write a little more.