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

Via Tolosana Day 26: Back to the future

Carcassonne to Toulouse

I awoke at 6am, but didn’t get up until just before 7am.  I wrote my pages in record time today and went down to breakfast, even managing to write a bit of journal before people came and conversation was required.  I had rested well overnight and awoke knowing that to return to Toulouse was the right thing to do today.

Michelle came a little while later as did two other pelerin, one we never said hello to and the other, Peter, English, but living in California for the past 28 years.  We had a very interesting breakfast time chat ranging over topics far and wide. We talked American foreign policy: economic, military, pharmaceutical and agribusiness. The modern ways the US dominates the world – eliminating threats by any means. It was a very animated discussion. Michelle has done interesting research on the ethics and laws around giving people placebos in research. It would not be any surprise to anyone, but the populations of prisons, and other people society chooses to forget, like prostitutes, are ripe for drug testing by pharmaceutical companies.

Michelle would have to be a second angel for me on my trip. Her quiet and gentle ways were very re-assuring. To have such a kind presence during my time in Carcassonne was nothing short of a bolt out of the blue.  She told me she moves slowly, in all senses, and finds that this ends up being a test for those she spends time with.  She can tell whether she is accepted by those around her if they tolerate her leisurely pace.  She likened herself to Marilyn Monroe, who was likewise always ‘plus tard‘ – slower or late. I like to think of it as going avec lentement or the opposite to ‘with haste’.  I think this kind of time-taking is different to the kind I used to experience – where I could tell the things I was reluctant to do, by how quickly (or not), I got ready for them and whether I was on time for them. Hers seemed more a permanent consideration of time, not feeling rushed by the expectations of others.  My second angel reinforcing the benefits of going my own way in my own time.

After a long breakfast, we made our way back upstairs and packed up.  Michelle brought me a little pice of paper she’d made – a practice piece for the little book she’s making with La Vie des fleurs (the life of flowers) printed on it in calligraphic script.  We both said goodbye to Peter (who’s room was coincidentally just near mine).  All packed, I went downstairs.  They had trouble with refunding my money, and Michelle said she would try while she was still there to see if she could get my money back.  I didn’t like her chances. Still no wifi, I realised I would need to return to the Office of Tourisme to retrieve my emails.  I also realised I had been walking for nearly 4 weeks and I was halfway through my trip.

Crossing the bridge back to the new town, I spy a woman photographing a big stork in the river. The name Pont Vieux is apt even though it means old bridge, it had the most stunning views of the river in both directions. I found more wall art facing the river and then a Bar Brasserie Florian for Flo.

At the Office de Tourisme I sourced the information about touring the Cathar region by deux chevaux  – now you’re talking! Next time. I found this great little pamphlet about a company that hires out these old gems for tours of the surrounding areas.  Their depot was in another town, so this would need to be another charming activity saved for next time.  I thought of Antoine in Melbourne, and took an extra pamphlet for him. For now, it became apparent to me that I just needed to get back on the road.

A neptune fountain and surprisingly beautiful slate floor of the square led me down one of the small streets on the way to the gare (station) where I bought a mini sandwich (actually a baguette with saucisson et beure) a perfect snack for later. Near the gare, I spotted me in my former life, carrying a cello case to the train. The line for a ticket was very long, and a guy had a complicated enquiry which meant we were all waiting about half an hour. There were  other walkers waiting from England but I didn’t feel like striking up a conversation as they seemed intent on bagging the service. I didn’t want to get into a discussion about it. I booked a ticket on the 12 midday train back to Toulouse.  About 5 minutes out, I took the underpass to the platform in the middle of several tracks.  On the way back I sat next to a guy completing his Baccalaureate and just about to start philosophy teaching studies philosophy.  Wow, how many 18 year old Australian men are just starting to learn to teach philosophy. The answer … not enough!!  I might be biased, but he was absolutely gorgeous – it was his mind I was completely taken with, of course. He was a scout, and had just been on a camping expedition and had stayed in a monastery.  We talked about my trip and his studies and the Cathares. He’d like to do the Camino with his brother, but is yet to convince him. His brother is 30, so quite a bit older than him. It seemed that my young philosopher friend had an intrinsic reason for wanting to walk, he was Catholic. But his brother wasn’t.  I said he might need to find some other motivating force – girls for instance.  He was amused by my idea.  I can’t remember his name, maybe Mikhail, perhaps with a Polish background.

As per usual SNCF style, we pulled into Toulouse station right on schedule. I made my way to the Capitole square, past the Donjon – I’d never stopped to think it really does sound like dungeon when you pay attention.  I wandered for a bit, past gorgeous buildings – turned into McDonalds with a gold sign – does it make it better?  I had spent several valuable minutes wandering in and out of exhibition spaces like the Musee-Théâtre du Capitole, over it’s creaking wooden floorboards reminiscent of many ancient French chateaus like Versailles, trying unsuccessfully to find a toilet – even opening my suspicious looking backpack for the inquisitive gendarme at the gate. The amusement of seeing a Toulouse hipster in the museum possibly made the toilet stop seem more urgent. The public ones behind the Office de Tourisme and dungeon were out of order.  Restaurants have toilets.  I decided to sit in a restaurant and eat lunch, as expensive as the pee stop would be.

Often the toilet justifies a more expensive meal than one really has the budget for.  At Le Paradis du fruit, under the colonnades opposite the Capitole building, I caught up on my journal while admiring the glass light fittings that reminded me of Chihuly’s. This restaurant was a bit of a cross between a Boost Juice chain store and Spats – all my Adelaide friends would know what I mean.  Incredible combinations of fruit juices with cocktail decorations, extremely fastidiously decorated desserts – beautiful.  The piddle-tax was high this day – 15.50 Euro for lunch.  It reminded me of my time working at a public service organisation in Adelaide where one of my colleagues was a long-serving member of the Adelaide City Council.  He was famous for opposing charges for toilets – the piddle tax. There aren’t many places in Australia where you are asked to pay to piddle, but it is quite common-place in Europe. The meal was worth it though. First a little board of dips and breads, then café gourmand with fantastic shot glass of caramel ice-cream with banana and strawberries and a coffee.

In the middle of the Place du Capitole, there is a zodiac with a symbol at every point of the Occitan cross.  Clever, or maybe that’s what that cross is all about.

Fully refreshed and free of liquid balast, I made my way to see St Sernin. After emerging from lunch en face the Capitole Square and building, above my head under the cloisters the ceiling was painted. Magnificent!  As I was about to walk to the Basilique Saint-Sernin, I noticed the Place was cordoned off and there was what looked like a drone flying above.  I saw the same people again a little later in front of the Eglise Notre-Dame du Taur and again after I came out of the Basilique.  They were making a commercial for UEFA in 2016, filming in every city that would be hosting the event.  I just missed the Cinema En Plein Air. Bummer. That would have been good.  The streets of Toulouse are fantastic.

I hadn’t yet decided on the place I would stay, and made the mistake I made in Arles, thinking that an accueil (welcome) in a church means they will arrange a bed for you. I had a lovely little tete-a-tete with a kind man in the basilica for several minutes before realising that all he was going to provide me was assistance.  Eventually I said I would stay at the same place as I stayed on the Friday night – the Jeune Travailleurs, and he kindly phoned them and booked me in. Perfect.  He was happy for me to leave my heavy backpack in the room he worked from at the back of the basilica while I took a tour of the crypt and the rest of the cavernous space.  There it sat being guarded by him and St Roch. I’d realised from talking with Philippe that the saint I saw at Villelongue was not St Jacques, but St Roch.  Funnily enough today was his fete day – 16th August.  He is always depicted with his dog, and has a wound on his leg – the two things that distinguish him from St Jacques as they share the coquille shell decoration.

Inside St Sernin has a very opulent feel – there are carpets covering some of the pillars in the church and it seemed that this may have been how they were decorated in centuries past.  It would have to be one of the most beautiful basilicas I’ve been in. It certainly rivals my favourite in Paris, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. It has extra arches up top.  But the most amazing thing of all is the crypt below.  I have never seen so many reliquaries together in one place or saints for that matter. St Hilaire, beautiful saints carved from wood, Saint Papoul and statues of St Jacques. I took some photos of just a portion of the reliquaries too.  They remind me of giant versions of the tiny cut crystal memento mori jewellery, small parts of people are hidden behind the glass windows.  A lock of hair, a monogram, some part of a person’s life memorialised forever. These highly decorated containers put places like Howard’s Storage to shame.  These items also made me think of my French Huguenot ancestor, Alexis Pilleau (the elder) who was apparently known for making a gold reliquary for the local Catholic church in Le Mans in the 1600s. I wonder if they looked like these? There were some made in the 1600s, so the style would be right.  The church building reminded me of an Escher picture, and that scene from The Name of the Rose, where the library is burning and they are trying to escape through the labyrinth of staircases.

Once outside the building, my pack back on, it was a challenging matter to try to find the perfect angle to capture as much of the basilica as I could fit in my viewfinder.  And on this day avec drone. (See if you can spot it in my photos).  I wandered right around the place, getting a feel for the large footprint it made, and then back towards Capitole, clicking at every opportunity. The architecture of this city is quite different to any I’d walked through before. But whilst a rose city seems to be quite unusual here in France, for an Australian, not so much. Many of our buildings are these colours.  Every opportunity was taken to mount huge porcelain tiled maps of the ancient city on walls – grand and petite.  As I wandered ‘home’ I loved the way the afternoon blue sky and the orange-red of the bricks were playing.  I found it difficult to stop taking photos.

Back in familiar territory, I was close to the Jeune Travailleurs, and I elicited a bon route from a guy in a car. At the hostel, my host this time was possibly Spanish, and very flirty. He thought it exotic to be hosting an Australien. He gave me a large 3rd floor room that had two single beds in it, but which I’d have to myself. Two large windows looked out to the common courtyard below.  No bathroom in it this time, I’d have to go around the corner for a shower and the toilet along the corridor. Judging by the smell it seemed to be the location of choice for resident smokers.  I showered again with one of the push-button showers that delivers just enough water to get you wet, then stops again, demanding you push again for your next dose.  I did my washing under the shower, as I often did, as it was simpler.  Back in my room, I once again rigged my little stretchy clothes line into an intricate arrangement between a chair, a broken coat hanger and the window handle to dry my washing.  As I only had 6 pegs, I was glad I’d brought my twisted clothes lines that I could squeeze a little corner each item through to secure. It makes a funny sight – a room full of washing.

Not wanting to sit and watch it dry, I took a walk to the Musee and Jardin des Plantes.  I thought, from a map, that there was a labyrinth there, but I couldn’t find it.  Instead, I happened across naked couples canoodling, and the bells of L’église Saint Exupère doing their best impersonation of those at Baziege. Beautiful. The church inside was weird, but the bells were nice and the sweet Mary was a cute find too.


I called in at Casino (supermarket chain) on my way back to the hostel and got a ham and beure sandwich which was in really bad white bread, but there wasn’t much else. Unlike two nights before, there was to be no banquet on a tray provided by the hostel. I passed by many hôtel particuliers then when I got back I took photos of the rooftops from my bedroom.

Downstairs again, I found some more young people who were very interested in what I was doing there. I was attempting to do some iPad blog writing, but instead got chatting to Hugo and then Sebastian until 10pm.  I amused myself showing these two young French men AFL.  They laughed and laughed. I don’t blame them.  The game would look so ridiculous to people only familiar with soccer and rugby.  Hugo was sweet. He’d repeat what I’d say, but with the correct French words. It was very helpful. That’s the way I like it – the patient corrections. He would make a great teacher, but I think he was going to be an accountant.  Sebastian was a computer systems administrator.

I retired to my laundry room, feeling old and illiterate!


Via Tolosana Day 25: a short train ride back 818 years

Toulouse to Carcassonne: Kilometres don’t count travelling on SNCF

Aside: (The unfolding of my journey thus far has been a slow one. Sincere apologies to my patient readers!  Despite best intentions, life has got in the way of the re-telling, but mostly I’m enthusiastic about tackling the next journal entry, photos and sound bites. But now when I come to recount this day, I’m met with a deep uneasiness as the experience was not at all comfortable, or as I expected).

Another great night of sleep – having one’s own room does wonders! And the sheets on the bed!  It is the little things – and they all help.  I was up at 6am writing morning pages, and went down to see Philippe off at 6:30am, but unfortunately I missed him. I would catch up with him through the visitor’s books – always a handy way to see where other friends have stopped.  I left early too (at about 7:20am) and was at the station after some stops at the just-opened shops for fruit, pain and jus and more than a couple of longing looks in shop windows.  10 Euros brought me a ticket to Carcassonne which I thought excellent value.

My pack was wet, but I put it in the luggage rack and sat down next to a woman who I struck up a conversation with later – but first there’d be drama. A guy got on and wanted to sit in the same seat as my neighbour across the aisle, and so he had a long discussion with the conductor about it.  Then just before the train departed, a guy collapsed in the end compartment (different guy) where our bags were and where lots of people were standing – as they didn’t have booked seats.  I’m not sure whether he was taken off, or recovered. It certainly didn’t delay proceedings for very long.

My close neighbour was a creche worker on her way to Perpignan for a holiday on the beach with friends.  We chatted, and I stuck my maps of the area in my journal (as is my habit).  I find it is handy to have some heads-up about places when I travel. What I have been known to do is photocopy Lets Go guides, Frommers and Lonely Planet pages and cut them out on the plane, saving them in an envelope and then sticking them in at the appropriate place in my journal when I get to the town.  It works well as sometimes I get a little map of the town centre and it helps to orientate myself and see the main attractions.  I felt more prepared when I got off at Carcassonne.  Just the name to me feels so ancient that it almost seems wrong to catch a train there.

My map also told me that it is a town split in two – the old city in a way is like an island as it is walled and separate from the newer town which is on the west side of the river and into which you arrive by train.  The new town looks like any other.  For some reason, I thought of my favourite cafe au lait from Le Cafe Flo, and I wondered whether I could find one here. I stopped just across from the train station after traversing the road bridge over the Canal du Midi (yes it was a surprise seeing it even though I knew it came through Carcassonne and it had narrowed significantly for the lock). The cafe of choice seemed to have a friendly and welcoming waiter, and he confirmed he had wifi – always a helpful thing.  Usually any cafe within a couple of hundred metres of a train station is a bit twee, and I don’t prefer them, but the wifi is very helpful.  Unfortunately the coffee came out more like a cappuccino than Flo’s so I think I’ll have to wait to get home to High Street for those.

I did my usual wander in ever-decreasing circles, trying for ages unsuccessfully to find the Office de Tourisme and thinking about what I wanted to do tomorrow.  I was looking for information about the surrounding abbeys, as there are a whole number that were key in the Cathar history and wondered whether I might try and hire a bike to see them.  In Sydney I had pored over the internet listings with my friend, trying to help her find a familiar name or characteristic of the place where we may have been together. There were a few tours, but I didn’t want to do the set ones. It looked like the distances would prohibit bike riding in a day trip, and I didn’t really want to bother with the car hire.

Across the road, there was a re-purposed church that was now housing a little exhibit about Carcassonne through history.  I honed in on the period around the 1100s, but didn’t find anything in particular – my friend had suggested 1198 was a key date for us.  I walked out of the built up, commercial centre of the town (Bastide Saint-Louis), crossed the beautiful Square Gambetta, over the Pont Vieux to R. Trivalle to find my abbey accommodation.  On the outside wall, there is a beautiful trompe-l’œil again depicting history through medieval illuminations. I took this to be a good sign.

I made my way inside to talk to the woman behind the desk. I vacillated for a time about whether I wanted to stay two nights, but ended up deciding to pay for two – not a great decision it turned out.  I took my little key with a ring and bell-like wooden appendage up to the 2nd floor in the lift to find my room.  It was just near the lift, and it looked inwards towards the central garden, with the spire of the chapel in my horizon.  There was a shared bathroom at the opposite end of my corridor with new-ish laminate shower cubicles with those massive plastic locks that you twist across to secure – good for arthritis in their hands. The toilets were next to the lifts but they didn’t have any toilet paper in them when I got there, and despite me asking, didn’t have any all the time up until I left.  I wasn’t impressed, not least because the stash I’d made sometime earlier, was running out.  In my little room, that did at least have a tiny sink and a cupboard to hang things in, I tried to access the wifi, but it didn’t work.  All of this combined made for a strange welcome to Carcassonne. It didn’t feel right.  I managed to connect to wifi eventually, but then couldn’t get it for the rest of the day. I even tried accessing it sitting on a bench outside the office downstairs, but to no avail.  I was still in two minds about what I wanted to do tomorrow, but I put off the decision about it until after I had explored ‘La Cite’, which was right next door.

It was still overcast as I scaled the steep stairs that led up to the carpark and next to the ramparts of this ancient relic.  My legs were tired and it was only morning still. My knees also felt fatigued.  It was spitting with rain a little, but I developed a strategy for keeping my bag and largish SLR camera dry. I’d tuck them inside my jacket and do up the zip. Luckily I’d dropped a few kilos so it all fit inside, but it did make me look a funny kind of pregnant. It would do.  With my jacket done up, I got hot walking around.  I walked along the tiny cobble-stoned lanes with the throngs.  It reminded me of the touristic-ness of a cross between St Guilhem le Desert and Mont St Michel where I had visited previously.  When you’ve been walking out in forests and through fields of sunflowers, nothing quite prepares you for the bustle, the sweet smells of crepes with chocolate and the commercial overwhelment of post-cards, medieval kids costumes, medieval adults paraphernalia, swords, crowns and rings!  A visual cacophony of consumerism.  I couldn’t work out whether it was an underlying uneasiness in the place, or this in-my-face marketing.  Whatever, I wasn’t really enjoying it quite like I had anticipated all the way from Australia.

I made a pretty direct route through the old town, and found myself at the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus and went inside. The hum of people talking in hushed voices was surprisingly interrupted by the practice of an organist who seemed to be struggling with a movement from Handel’s Water Music – I can’t remember which one. I wondered whether he or she was rehearsing for a wedding sometime.

Emerging back into the brighter light of the dim day (you know those ones where you can feel the strong sun behind the clouds), I noticed that the chapel didn’t quite seem to have enough skirt around it. It very grand, but was hemmed in on most sides by old buildings and ramparts and only had one entrance onto the small square it nestled next to.

In my wanderings I had seen many people walking around ramparts and along little pathways up several stories on the outside of turrets.  I wondered how they got there and after finding the ‘Adelaide Restaurant’, realised I was hungry.  Adelaide looked nice, but was a little pricey for me as I was already blowing my budget on my accommodation, so I settled on another cafe just near the entrance to the chateau. It occurred to me that you have to pay to enter Le Chateau Comtal, which is of itself a national monument – and that’s how you access the remparts.

Lunch was a menu du jour (menu of the day). Onion soup (not as good as Flo’s), the regional specialty – Cassoulet du Maison and pear with chocolate sauce. I, of course, needed to go the whole way with a kir as well. All for 15.50 euros.

With a full stomach, I paid my 8.50 euros for a tour of the Chateau et Remparts de la Cite de Carcassonne, after a 20 minute wait in a queue for tickets in the sun (now out), then made my way inside. Starting with an 11 minute film about Carcassonne, it was an interesting visit. The funny thing is that the men who chose to restore it over the turn of the 20th century, did so according to their whims of what it might have been.  It is nice to think that medieval castles looked like this, but there seems to be evidence of a vast amount of creative license in this re-imagining.  The site was packed and it was easy to see this was the busiest day of the year. I wonder whether La Cite might even be a little unnerving if it was deserted.  The route took you up ancient stairs, into chambers filled with all kinds of museum pieces.  Of course it was also summer, so it was bound to be busy. I heard many different languages, including lots of Spanish. There was an absolute crush for the ramparts by the time I got there, so I walked patiently behind the long single file walking up stairs, though rooms and along the outside exposed areas for only a little while, before realising this was going to get even more frustrating. So I turned around, went against the tide and went back to where I’d started from. It seems my tolerance for crowds has lessened.

Escaping the madness with my life, but grateful I’d seen the spectacle of a national monument on Assumption, I sat for a few minutes to read a few of the books they had in English about Cathars in the bookshop.  What a fascinating time in history.  I put two books on my list for when I return: Stephen O’Shea’s, The Perfect Heresay and Kate Mosse’s, Labyrinth.  Just two to get me started.

With the sun coming out, I fled the compound and went back to L’Abbaye and the comfort of my bed for a short hour-long nap.  Dinner was at 7.30pm, no more, no less, according to the woman checking me in.  I did a few trips to the office to try to work out the wifi situation, and the no-toilet-paper situation, but no luck.  I also sat still and realised I didn’t want to stay in Carcassonne for another night even though I’d paid for it. I felt strange, the place didn’t give me a good feeling. I decided to ask about a refund. I wrote a little blog for a while and went to dinner at 7.30pm.

I met a lovely retired Swiss barrister, Michelle, who is in the process of moving to Montpellier, but taking time out to attend a paper-making course in Carcassonne.  We had a lovely chat over dinner, and she told me she would be going to process up the hill following Mary.  I decided I would go with her.  After dinner Michelle and I were returning to our rooms before venturing out and we discovered four boys (visiting with the German football team from Munich) who had set up mats in the corridor ready to say their prayers.  Michelle respectfully took her slippers off to walk across their mats.  I grabbed my camera, then met her near her room.  At the end of her corridor, the sun was setting and we were blessed with the most awesome sunset.

We walked back along the road I’d come along earlier in the day from the Pont Vieux and we met the procession that had just started from the small chapel on the other side of the river, Notre-Dame Sante: complete with gold Mary and candles!  I was only going to process to Notre Dame de L’Abbaye, but it was a calm procession on a beautiful night and it felt right to continue with it, and Michelle, right up to the Basilique again – oh what a night!  We joined at the back, and then walked back the way we came, paying some euros for our little candles and the words to the music. We paused for readings and songs at a statue of Mary that was draped in a beautiful cloth.  Then, with the help of the lovely gendarmerie, the procession of perhaps a couple of hundred people slowly moved up towards La Cite.

The towers and ramparts looked beautiful and I got some wonderful photos of the walls and the procession.  I also took photos of the TOLERANCE installation by a French artist, Guy Ferrer (1955) .  It was a bit of a late night, but this kind of going with the flow always feels right to me.

I recognised the word chemin in the the beautiful song, Marche avec nous Marie and I decided it was like a personal message to me to get back on the road and walk.

Marche avec nous, Marie

1 – La première en chemin, Marie tu nous entraînes
A risquer notre “oui” aux imprévus de Dieu.
Et voici qu’est semé en l’argile incertaine
De notre humanité, Jésus Christ, Fils de Dieu.

R/ Marche avec nous, Marie, sur nos chemins de foi,
Ils sont chemins vers Dieu, ils sont chemins vers Dieu.

2 – La première en chemin, joyeuse, tu t’élances,
Prophète de celui qui a pris corps en toi.
La Parole a surgi, tu es sa résonance
Et tu franchis des monts pour en porter la voix.

R/ Marche avec nous, Marie, aux chemins de l’annonce,
Ils sont chemins vers Dieu, ils sont chemins vers Dieu.

3 – La première en chemin, tu provoques le signe
Et l’heure pour Jésus de se manifester.
“Tout ce qu’Il vous dira, faites-le !” et nos vignes
Sans saveur et sans fruit, en sont renouvelées.

R/ Marche avec nous, Marie, aux chemins de l’écoute,
Ils sont chemins vers Dieu, ils sont chemins vers Dieu.

4 – La première en chemin pour suivre au Golgotha
Le fruit de ton amour que tous ont condamné,
Tu te tiens là, debout, au plus près de la croix,
Pour recueillir la vie de son cœur transpercé.

R/ Marche avec nous, Marie, sur nos chemins de croix,
Ils sont chemins vers Dieu, ils sont chemins vers Dieu.

5 – La première en chemin, brille ton espérance
Dans ton cœur déchiré et la nuit du tombeau.
Heureuse toi qui crois d’une absolue confiance ;
Sans voir et sans toucher, tu sais le jour nouveau.

R/ Marche avec nous, Marie, aux chemins d’espérance,
Ils sont chemins vers Dieu, ils sont chemins vers Dieu.

6 – La première en chemin avec l’Eglise en marche,
Dès les commencements, tu appelles l’Esprit !
En ce monde aujourd’hui, assure notre marche ;
Que grandisse le corps de ton Fils Jésus Christ !

R/ Marche avec nous, Marie, aux chemins de ce monde,
Ils sont chemins vers Dieu, ils sont chemins vers Dieu.

7 – La première en chemin, aux rives bienheureuses
Tu précèdes, Marie, toute l’humanité.
Du Royaume accompli tu es pierre précieuse
Revêtue du soleil, en Dieu transfigurée !

R/ Marche avec nous, Marie, aux chemins de nos vies,
Ils sont chemins vers Dieu, ils sont chemins vers Dieu.


1 – The first way, we trained you Marie
A risk our “yes” to God’s unexpected.
And here’s what planted in clay uncertain
Of our humanity, Jesus Christ, Son of God.

R / Walk with us, Mary, our faith journeys,
They are paths to God, they are paths to God.

2 – The first way, joyful, you’re slender,
Prophet of the one that took shape in you.
Word has arisen, you are its resonance
And you crossed the mountains to carry the voice.

R / Walk with us, Mary, the paths of the announcement,
They are paths to God, they are paths to God.

3 – The first way, you cause the sign
And time for Jesus to manifest.
“Whatever he tells you, do it!” and our vineyards
Tasteless and fruit, are renewed.

R / Walk with us, Mary, to the ways of listening,
They are paths to God, they are paths to God.

4 – The first way to follow to Golgotha
The fruit of your love all condemned,
You stand there, standing at the foot of the cross,
To collect the life of his pierced heart.

R / Walk with us, Mary, our paths cross,
They are paths to God, they are paths to God.

5 – The first way, your hope shines
In your heart ripped and the darkness of the tomb.
Happy you who believe with absolute confidence;
Without seeing or touching, you know the new day.

R / Walk with us, Mary, the paths of hope,
They are paths to God, they are paths to God.

6 – The first in the way with the pilgrim Church,
From the beginning, you call the Spirit!
In this world today, ensures our walk;
That grow the body of thy Son Jesus Christ!

R / Walk with us, Mary, to the ways of this world,
They are paths to God, they are paths to God.

7 – The first on the way to the shores blessed
You preceded Mary all humanity.
The Kingdom accomplished you are precious stone
Clothed with the sun, transfigured in God!

R / Walk with us, Mary, the paths of our lives,
They are paths to God, they are paths to God.

It was a poignant procession. Some keen singers would sing all the words and harmonies, but the crowd really joined in when the choruses came and the sound flowed towards us from further ahead. With the ‘Ave’ of Ave Maria, people would raise their candles up heavenward, maybe spurring her on her way.  It was really quite a tender experience that overlayed over the violent past of this town.

Michelle had told me over dinner that you can hire Deux Cheveau (Citroën 2CV) – so I was a little conflicted and thought I should do that tomorrow. I’d sleep on it.

Returning after the procession, I said goodnight to Michelle and went to bed, saying I’d see her at breakfast.  It was a noisy night. After I’d got into bed, I went out to ask the kids in the little meeting room next to my room, to please be quiet.  It worked and I slept well. I tossed and turned a little, but a good night’s sleep in a good dark room (aided by outside shutters pulled closed).  With my alarm on I don’t need to see sunrise, and anyway, it doesn’t rise before 7am. Michelle couldn’t quite believe I wanted to be up for brekkie at 7.30am.

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!