Via Tolosana Day 40: Ask and it shall be given

Lacommande to Oloron-Sainte-Marie – 16kms

Up again at 6am for morning pages in the kitchen.  During the night Marion had to move under the verandah to get out of the light misty rain, so I found her there when I went to the kitchen to do my pages. It was humid and my clothes didn’t dry. That was a pity.  I hope they do tonight.  I might be in the unusual situation where I have both pairs of pants on the line drying!

Marion is my third angel.

I had miso soup from the little sachets I had carried from the beginning, but hadn’t used.  I packed up and left by 7:15am despite the late rising.  We had to lock the kitchen and leave the key in an allocated place before departure.

Marion and I left together, and walked out of the town, then upwards, as we would not once, not twice, but three times today.  Jamais deux sans trois (never two without three). An interesting observation.  But today it was three climbs plus lots of little hills as well, and a long stretch into Oloron.  We passed banana palms. What?

As we mounted the first hill, thankfully it was in my favourite forest again, the sweat was pouring.  Climbing up through the forest, we talked conspiracies, as one does, when one’s talking with me.  Marion spoke of some interesting writers, Lise Borbeau,  and Jacques Martel (who seem to be European equivalents of Louise Hay) who have written about the lessons our bodies teach us daily about our health.

We’d left with grey skies but at the top of the first hill, blue skies were smiling at us.  I take strong steps.  It continued to be uncomfortably humid.  I started to think about the last few days of my walk, and that perhaps the Pareto Principle was at play here – the last 20%, taking 80% of my energy. Despite this, my legs started to feel stronger today.  My knees carried me OK, even with the downhill stretches.  I pondered flexibility in my life, my decisions and the way I’m heading, my direction.

On one part of the path, Marion assisted me with fungi identification, but pointing out a little collection – “Why not take a photo of this one?”, she urged, pointing at a little pink one.  I said, “No, I’d prefer a photo of this”, as I noticed just ahead an amazing oyster like fungi in the path.  Walking a little further, “or this one”, and again “or this one” or “maybe this one”. INCROYABLE!   This massive profusion of fungus appeared on the track, and we were both smiling.

We could hear the not-so-distant barking of dogs in the forest, and thought that there must be hunting going on.  I was alert, but not alarmed you might say.  We walked right into a group of hunters with their dogs, guns slung over their shoulders.  This is either curing my gun-phobia or adding to it! It seemed that at every entrance we passed to the forest for the next few kilometres, there were men in high-viz fluoro outfits readying themselves to hunt.  Although one place I passed, it was 3 men having a cup of coffee, so I don’t know how much hunting was going on! And hopefully it was just coffee in their cups.

At Estialescq after the hills, Marion had a rest where we found a picnic table and I elected to continue.  I thought I might like to live at the The Tranquil Retirement Avenue.  There were many balisages today, and no chance of getting lost. The smallest little balisage even.  More cows.  Marion caught me up pretty quickly again, because I got distracted by donkeys.

We continued on together, overtaking each other when we took our different rest breaks.  Rounding a bend in the road, I was really impressed with the garden in front of a lovely house, and I stopped at the picnic table they’d set up for pilgrims under several large oak trees alongside a considerate water tap.  Surrounded by chickens, I thought 10:50am was a pretty good time for lunch, so I had my baguette with tuna, mayo and tomato. Marion caught me up and stopped with me when she got there, and had her sandwich. I had the last of my chocolate from Anoye.

I stayed when Marion continued, and as she was leaving the woman of the house returned with armfuls of baguettes. She came over to say hello with her wooden walking stick. She doesn’t do the Compostelle, but goes walking with her friends weekly on Sundays. She was keen to know where I’d come from and where I was going to. She told me about a place on the GR78 PiemontL’Hôpital-Saint-Blaise and suggested I would like it. It was actually just another days walk away from where I would be tonight. I’d put that on the list for when I walk the GR78.

She then suggested I might like a cafe!  Again – twice in two days.  I couldn’t believe it.  So off she went inside to get coffee.  Several minutes later, and she emerged from the house (which was probably 30-50 metres away, on the other side of the small dirt road, carrying a tray loaded with beverages and beurre biscuits. If this is Pyrenees hospitality, I’m in!

Then once I’d finished, and nearly as quickly as she appeared, she packed up, said “Aller! Aller!” and disppeared towards the house.  So I suppose I keep walking then! “One more hill to Oloron”, she said.

It was a rocky farm track winding around the hill past white cows and with the distant squeals of bathing children, I looked back to see a big waterslide on the other side of the valley. It seemed strangely superimposed on this pastoral landscape, but it must draw the crowds to continue operating. It seemed quite a big deal, especially on a warm day like today.  Rounding the hill, I had great views of the little hamlets I’d just passed through in the valley and could hear the bells of grazing sheep … or was it hunting dogs or cows? I decided to leave my small ‘cello’ water bottle empty today, so it jangled like a cow bell as I jerkily descended the steep bits. A man was shouting at his 4 dogs, out walking as I walked through a shady part before climbing another hill. He passed me going up the hill, the 4 dogs of different breeds and sizes all piled in the small car now, slobering all over the windows. I wondered what fate had befallen the person who was remembered on the side of the track. Was it a pilgrim, or a local?

As I was walking through the forest, a little sweat track, complete with exercise equipment presents itself. Let’s Get Physical. A woodpecker in the trees. When I finally emerged from the forest, and could see Oloron in the distance, there was a stripey red and white gate.  I suppose if you were super energetic, you could time yourself from start to finish. I’m close to civilisation now.
I was thinking a lot about Matthieu today. I was walking to his town. I wondered if I’d see him. I hoped I would.  I wonder how his mini-Camino had gone. I could hear fast cars travelling on the large main road, but when there, they had all deserted. Weary pilgrim emerges from the forest. Again I arrive taking a road next to water – a little creek, but no sooner do I join it, than I leave it again. There was water at the cemetery which I availed myself of.  I saw a beautiful 1762 house.  And walking on the large road into town, I cross the railway line, and my eyes follow it towards the mountains. Now there’s a winning combination! I spot a cool letterbox.  An eglise that I still can’t find the name of.
Hot and bothered at Oloron-Sainte-Marie.  I found the gite, and across the square a bar I could wait in.  I ordered my Diablo Menthe. I sat outside, readying myself for a little writing, but smokers came and sat right next door, I got up to leave, and I knocked the drink over. Shit.  I moved inside where I spied Anne, who seemed busy with her own things.  I ordered another drink and offered to pay for the other, but they insisted I not – that was nice of them – especially since I was in a foul mood and pissed off my seat in the shade outside was invaded by smoke. I sat inside, tried not to fume (‘scuse the pun) and wrote. There were quite a few others in the restaurant for their Sunday lunch.  The gite didn’t open until 3pm, just after the bar closed, so I went over at about 2.50pm and Anne and I were let in.
It was a lovely welcome, quite officious, but the gite is absolutely fantastic.  It had a washing machine – that’s always a good thing.  I asked about wifi, and my hosts said there may be some in the public park across the river.  I’ll investigate when my washing is finished. I was shown to my room, again we were to take our boots off and put them downstairs, so I walked around on the slippery tiled floor in my thick, sweaty socks. I took the chance of getting my two pairs of pants dried overnight and hung my washing out in the sun-burnt, gravel-filled courtyard at the back of the gite.  It is a tight ship at this place, run by a group of volunteers.  Before venturing for wifi, I found a small African epicerie just down the road and around the corner. No-one would know that the spotty pants I had on were my pyjamas!
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Carrying my groceries, and walking over the river, I did find wifi in the park along with a bric-a-brac/fete just in the last minutes of its Sunday existence. I had another potential booking for Airbnb. Another email from my errant flatmate.  After an hour, I walked to the Gare to check tickets back to Paris, half hoping that I might also see an errant Matthieu.  At Anoye, I’d mentioned to Cloudine that I was sad I hadn’t got to walk longer with him. She said I should look him up in Oloron, and that she remembered he lived near a hat shop.  I found no hat shops, despite asking my very helpful hosts at the gite.  I tried. I walked along next to the river and saw what looked like a library across the water. It looked really cool.  I walked back through the park to check whether Carrefour was open, it wasn’t, but I walked back through the park, and noticed an older guy with a shell on his backpack. Another pilgrim!
I introduced myself and spoke to him, Reiner, a German who had left all he had (wife, children and home) and literally put his full trust and life in the hands of God.  Walking wherever he is led by Jesus, I was fascinated, and more than a bit envious. We talked of saying ‘yes’ and forgiveness. He spoke wisely, and although his words were those of a born-again Christian, there were other suggestions that he lived this life authentically and deeply and wore this label understanding it’s subtlety.  One thing he explained to me, that he had come to know, stayed with me and I mulled it over. I recognised it, as it has been my understanding also of various faith-traditions. Though nominally Christian, he spoke of the small number of adherents in all religions that share the deep understanding of there being many paths.  These wise ones, in their diverse experiences of God, are connected together, all united in one way, each expressing their own variation. These are the people who would never dream of criticising or vilifying another for their faith, because they understand … we are all one. It threw into stark contrast the current climate of our times (and possibly all times before) that people and states think nothing of advocating war purely on the basis of a different religions.  He mentioned a person I’d not heard of, Jakob Lorber, a mystic who had dictated the Great Gospel of John.  It was such a beautiful exchange.  He was a passionate man, and very generous in sharing his discoveries.  At 8pm, the light escaping, we had to stop. He said we would continue forever if we didn’t. He was right. I still had to cook dinner, so I walked gingerly back across the river to the gite.
It was a hive of activity when I got back. My clothes had dried, so I removed them from the line, and said hello to a young pilgrim, Benjamin, who was writing his journal in the back courtyard.  I cooked a basic bean, rice and tomato sauce meal and ended up sharing with another pilgrim, Sylvia, as there was too much for me to eat, and cooked food is hard to take on the road, unless you have a little container.  A Dutch cyclist couple had also come in.  I retired after dinner to the shared room upstairs where Anne had already gone to bed. The beds were comfortable, but there was a lot of light coming in the windows from the street-lights outside. Warm air circulated through the room, and I wondered whether I might see Matthieu in the morning.

Via Tolosana Day 38: Skipping the boring bits

Lourdes to Lescar – by train, funicular and bus

I was up early for pages, and left my room about 7:15am after packing. I had decided I needed petit déjeuner, after deciding the night before not to have it.  I think the yoghurt helps.  All you can eat breakfast buffet. That helps too.  I did some more writing with the benefit of wifi and now I’m up to Day 7 of the journey. I had realised many days ago that the plan to walk and blog, really wasn’t ever going to be achievable. It was strange that I persisted with trying to do it. It diverted my attention somewhat, and left me anxious that I was so behind with it.

I left the hotel just after 8am, glimpsing  the castle on the hill, Château fort de Lourdes and allocating a tour of that to next time.

It took 15 minutes to follow the little blue Bernadette balisage which is printed along the footpaths to the gare where I found elephant-skin asphalt.  Maybe it gets really hot here, so hot that the pavement melts.  It is again a hazy day in the mountains. The gift shops were all blessedly shut and it is as if the Bernadette magnet had been turned off. It was still tranquil and calm, but now with no tourists, until I got to the gare, where there was a pilgrim buzz next to two coaches.

I waited 15 minutes after ‘compostelling‘ my ticket and the train arrived, once again, promptly.  Goodbye deep peace.

On the way back to Pau, after leaving the mountains, cornfields stretched to the horizon.   I went back for a fresh OJ at La Boulevard and joked with the guy who I’d met yesterday that I only love him for his OJ … and wifi.  I should also have added and the great toilet they have with automatic sensor lights. For a female pilgrim, it is all about the toilet!

I had decided not to go backwards to Morlaas, I wanted to continue going forwards.  This would mean I would be skipping the boring bits.  Even the most resolute pilgrim can be swayed it seemed.  A bus driver had directed me to La Bosquet to catch the bus, and so I walked there via La Poste (the immovable kind) to send brochures and postcards home.  But the terminus wasn’t where I thought it was. I asked another bus driver and he kindly delivered me via #7 to a bus stop where I could switch to the #6 at 10:42 to Lescar College. I waited for quite some time, asking again at a little beautician’s for a toilet, only to be told no, then went around to a little takeaway/cafe where they agreed I could use one, I sensed it was still reluctantly.

On the bus, I spoke to an older woman as we passed through the outskirts, then the back-blocks, Lons, where little plots of corn and farm roofs full of solar cells presented themselves through the bus window.  I saw La Poste 4 times this morning, once on the bus leaving Pau – en velo (on bike).

In Lons and Lescar today is hedge trimming day – I saw it a number of times. Sunflowers return.  I walked the short distance from the bus to the Office de Tourisme and the woman I found, Marie-Pierre, was very helpful.  The office was beautiful, in a small modern building opposite the back of Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption de Lescar.  It had some great gifts – beautiful berets in various colours, and some really cute mini ones, the size of a drinks coaster. Do I need to buy a beret?  No.  I found two gorgeous posters of walking in the Pyrénées – one of an open window out to the mountains, and the other a vagabond composed of flowers with a walking stick, and decided I’d come back to look at them with a view to purchasing later. The life of a vagabond.

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I got the code for the gite from the office and after meeting an American pilgrim, Catherine who is starting her walk today from here, I left to find it.  I didn’t really understand the directions, but near some roadworks took a photo of a cute collection of ships on tiles at a house, then asked the man who happened to walk out of the house for directions to Rue Lacaussade. He walked me all the way there. He is married to a Portugese woman and they go every year for holidays to Portugal.  He is retired now, but used to work in the Mairie. He seemed to know everyone who drove past  – he was born in this town.

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The communal gite is simple of course, but painted beautiful sunflower yellow inside and has sunflower tiles in the kitchen. Flowers on the dining table, lots of information, a library, a washing machine and dryer and nice kitchen, pilgrim heaven!  Wow!  I was, at this stage the only one there, and I showered and washed my clothes. I didn’t need the dryer as it was really hot outside, and I could peg everything on a little clothes frame. They’ll be dry before dinner.

I wrote a little, then Anne, another pilgrim came. She’d stayed at Morlaas last night and had walked ‘the boring bits’, my words, not hers. She said Julie was still there staying in the camping.  She settled in, and I took my diary and iPad to do some writing at the O de T.  The gite is quite a way from the centre of the town. First, I checked out the supermarket and then the Museum – they had a mosaic there from Roman times and a tile nearly 2000 years old – with the stamp of the workshop on it.  This amazes me completely.  This town is an archaeologist’s dream. In fact, the mosaic that is now in the museum was found when someone was preparing their block to build a house on, just on one of the streets leading out of the town.

There is also a very famous mosaic in the church , and I went to have a look at that too. After finding two women in the beautiful, tranquil, gorgeous church arranging flowers for a wedding and baptism the next day, I struck up a conversation with them saying I have an aunty who does flower arranging and they reminded me of her. I said that people really appreciate the flowers in a church at a celebrations. It was such a homey thing.  I found the famous mosaic, of a dark-faced soldier sporting a crutch for a leg, which doesn’t seem to be holding him back from his military duties. The mosaics date from the 12th Century when the cathedral was started and this guy was a Moor. There were also similar carved choir pews to the ones in Auch.

I went back to see Marie-Pierre at the Office de Tourisme again. She conducts tours of the museum and chapel for tourists.  I logged on and wrote my 7th day of blog for a while outside on a small metal outdoor cafe table, taking full advantage of the free wifi. I nearly finished the words. Next, day 8.   Marie-Pierre closed up at 6pm and so I had to leave, but not before I bought the posters.  She gave me a tube to protect them, but I would really be adding extra fuss to my pack, and another thing to worry about keeping dry, but they summed up my trip so well, that I thought they were a very appropriate souvenir. In any case, I couldn’t have bought the beret – it had been sold. I walked to the small supermarket and bought lunch/dinner for the next few days. Actually for Sunday I don’t need lunch, I’ll have it in Oloron-Sainte-Marie.

I went back to the gite and continued working typing in my days without wifi. I made a knock-up dinner. It was dusk, so I decided to again head back to the O de T. I could sit just outside the gate and still get wifi.  After checking emails, I walked around as the sun was setting to capture an extremely pink and beautiful sunset and the sky against some old buildings. The side of the cathedral was already pink, and the dusk light made it even more beautiful.  Pink sky in the night, shepherd’s delight!

Via Tolosana Day 37: Detour to deep peace

Morlaas to Lourdes – a immeasurable journey to another world

I woke at 6:00am. No pages this morning, just a quick pack and breakfast, then out for the bus. Francois and Cloudine were up early too. They’ll walk to Pau and then take a BlaBlaCar tomorrow to Toulouse and fly home.  What a lovely thing it is to meet them again.  They had been my companions in the evenings for 8 out of 10 nights. I tell them it has been a great way to walk at our own pace but sharing meal times in the evening. But the dissolution of the posse is complete, or so I believe. We all go back to our other lives, our other ways.

There was a slight anxiety about getting out to the bus-stop on time for the bus, as I really wanted to be in Pau early to give me the maximum options for trains to Lourdes. And even though there is a bus stop out front of the pool, the bus does an interesting route around the town, and I had to make sure I waited on the right side of the road. Everything was fine, I was out waiting just after 7:00am I got on it at 7:15am, right on time and I was off and away.

After walking for so long, there is a kind of relief that comes from sitting in a bus, knowing the huge number of steps you are covering so swiftly. My knees feel better already! But the leaving seems too quick somehow. We speedily ascend a small hill out of Morlaas and turn right into a road that directs our gaze to the Pyrenees … again! The site still impresses and captivates me – more so the closer I get. To my left the sun is half peeking over the horizon, bathing the little valley with a subdued orange haze. As soon as I see it we have left Morlaas behind.

I arrive in Pau half an hour later, but am worried about which stop to get off at.  In the end I stay on the bus right to the train station.  I am immediately impressed by this city, and am glad I came here on the way to Lourdes. I get off the bus to get my train ticket at the gare, right across the road from another river – be like water, be near water.

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I have a bit of time before the train at 13:14pm. It sounds like a strange departure time, but it will depart on the dot. French trains are fantastically prompt I’ve found, as are the regional buses.

My next surprise for the day is a funicular. I love them. In fact, I love anything on tracks.  How perfect.  I have been on a couple before. There is a great one in Hong Kong that takes you up to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong, and there is the steepest one in the world in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia that takes your through lush forest undergrowth. Pau’s is petite, tres mignon – short and sweet, and a bit of a thrill, because if you look over the edge, the drop is sheer. I take the little tramcar to the top of the cliff on which much of the town sits, and find a cafe for 2nd breakfast with a course of wifi. There are a series of touristy cafes that look across a balustraded cliff-top straight towards the many peaks of the Pyrenees. The haze surprises me, but it is so very beautiful. What a great place to sit for a while.

It looks like I’ll be lugging around my pack, but I reckon that’s OK because I’m not walking very far today. It is a relief already.   Perhaps I will catch up on my blog. In the cafe, they’re playing Air, Sexy Boy. What a blast from my 1990s past that is. I love that album, Moon Safari. It too is on my playlist.

After hanging out on wifi for a while in the cafe, I decided to don my pack, and take a little look around.  I walked out, away from the mountains and found a large square.  After a little more walking I found, quite by accident, the L’église Saint-Jacques and took a photo of the stained glass.  Patricia was on duty at the time, wandering around the church, and she asked me if I wanted a tampon in my credential.  We had a nice chat. She is retired and planning to walk. I asked what her work was, and she said she was a professor of theology at university.  I told her about my detour to Lourdes, and she suggested we could pray for each other. I agreed, after all, she’d given me a tampon!

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Back out in the hazy day, the church says goodbye with it’s bells.

I took a quick loop back around to the west, past the Chateau but without time to go into it, and was fascinated by a network of streets underneath the level of the town I was on. I wondered how I’d get there because they didn’t seem to show on the map.  A secret city! Back around to the Boulevard des Pyrénées for more sunny vistas of those mountains, then down the funiculaire to the station.  I got a saucisson and pickle baguette, but my stomach didn’t agree I should’ve eaten it.

I’m sitting in the hall waiting, and three pilgrims walk in – I can’t quite understand what they’re doing, but we chat for a little bit.

A child starts playing the public piano labelled ‘A Vous De Jouer’, (It’s your turn – I presume, to play) over in the other corner of the hall and not long after, who should I see? Sophie and Virginie! Jamais deux sans trois! Things always happen in threes. This goodbye has now stretched for several days.  They greeted me with the same teases as always, then we sat together on the train. They were going through Lourdes all the way to Toulouse.

The mountains meet you first. Then as you approach in the train, you travel down a valley, and get an amazing view of the Basilique de l’Immaculée Conception in the valley. Sophie spotted it first.  It is beautiful.  I have always loved travelling through mountains on the train – maybe it was growing up on the Belair line where the train line cut through hills for the later half of the trip from Adelaide to Blackwood. I remember travelling from Paris, south to Florence through the mountains and being captivated. I tried to put off the thoughts that it was now only a week before I would walk into them to the end of my journey. My knees don’t want to go there, and my heart doesn’t want to leave the way.  I was getting nervous about my stop, and Virginie was telling me ‘Don’t worry, be happy’!  We said goodbye, this time for the last time, and promised to stay in touch. As the train drew away, we waved and carried on – an exuberant end to a wonderful 10 days with these two fantastic women.

Lourdes – I was excited.  Walking out of the station, I had no idea where my hotel would be, so I just walked in the direction of the huge basilica I’d seen from the train. Virginie had said that there was the gare, then the town, then the basilique, then the grotto. She was right.  I was quite surprised by just how many hotels there were, confirming what I already knew of the millions of pilgrims who visit here each year. Reading later, Lourdes’ number of beds is only second to Paris.  A dog and cat were on an awning on one hotel.  Gorgeous painted on windows of a trompe-l’œil.  Next, as I walked even closer to the epicentre, I was just stunned by how many shops there were selling religious paraphernalia. The Cathars would have a field day!

La poste was a harbinger of useful information because I stopped to take a photo of a phamacy with a van and the Virgin, and across the road I happened across a shop-front for Centre D’information Jacquaire.  I, of course went in.  They had lots of books about the various routes of the way, St Roch, St Jacques and information about hébergement (accommodation).  There actually turned out to be two pilgrim places in Lourdes, and if I wasn’t such a conscientious person, I could just have not shown at the hotel, and gone to one of them. It certainly would have saved some money.  The shopfront had only been open a matter of weeks, hence there was no information about them along the Arles route, but I’m sure they’ll get that organised soon enough.  Sylvia assisted me with finding my hotel, which was recommended by Bernadette and Patrick in Revel.

I walked down the tiny street, which looked tinier draped with so many crosses and icons, and found my street, which descended past Bernadette’s birthplace in the mill, and found my hotel. I installed myself there.  There was wifi, but I worked out it didn’t extend to my 4th floor room.  I left my pack, and decided not to shower because I’d just need another one after walking around all afternoon.

It was hot in the sun, and although there were many people about visiting the holy sanctuary, the basilica and grotte, it was strangely peaceful and calm.  I could feel it as soon as I got off the train.  We don’t yet have a measure for the energy that millions of people over a hundred and fifty years might bring to a place through their prayerful meditations, but you don’t have to be a sensitive soul to feel it in this place.

Deep Peace or more Deep peace

The commercial exploitation assaulting my senses like resounding gongs and clanging cymbals, wasn’t successful in lessening the impact of this sacred place.  I’m not Catholic, and I’m not particularly religious, but when you can feel the spirit of peace in a place and offer up your own prayers and thoughtful contemplations, it is an experience to be treasured.  Lourdes is a haven and sanctuary for pilgrims of all types.  Religious, sick (I saw one pilgrim on a hospital bed and many more in wheelchairs) or just devoted, many flock here seeking grace. It was a very moving experience and when you can bodily feel the calmness, it is hard to deny it’s potential for healing.

At any time, in this vast complex, there are probably several masses going on in the mass of venues, but I went inside downstairs first, Basilique Notre-Dame du Rosaire. It has gorgeous mosaics outside at the gateways and over the doors, and then also on the inside. Despite being subterranean, there is a muted lightness about it.  There was a mass being held, conducted by a priest in a purple hat – from Ireland from the sounds of it.  Behind him was the most beautiful mosaic of a woman who reminded me of a cross between Cate Blanchett and a friend’s little niece, who by all accounts could be another incarnation of St Bernadette herself. He was delivering the homily, and it was an interesting account of Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, which takes me back to Soreze and Dom Robert’s amazing tapestry of the Annunciation. Everything is connected, isn’t it.

I stayed for the offering, in which a whole band of singers and musicians played a very Celtic-feeling group of songs accompanying my sniffling tears, and prayers of the faithful. I left before communion.  I said prayers for Yvonne, Patricia and my Parker family who have recently lost a cousin/nephew in a farming accident.

I ventured out into the sunlight and down the path to go behind to the grotto. I joined the line, as it didn’t look too long. For a few minutes the kids behind me were prattling on, however after a while the ‘silence in the grotto’ signs were heeded and we all patiently and silently stood in line.  It was just like the film, Lourdes.  People snake around under the overhanging walls, running their hands along them. So many hands, it has become smooth and is wet in parts where the moisture comes to the surface. I was hoping to catch a drip to the head, but alas it wasn’t to be. The spring itself is covered by a perspex cover, but as you walk around there are also drips from the ceiling, a continuous birth of water into the sunlight.  It is a very reverential and prayerful route and all respect the silence.  I was reminded of the Oriah Mountain Dreamer talk I listened to the day before on my walk – that there is the greatest intimacy in shared silence. That’s certainly how it felt, and that’s certainly a very good observation.

How often I just speak for the sake of filling in the space, with nothing really important to say.  It is worth pondering more.  After you have been along that wall, you emerge at the other end of it, and if you continue to walk away from the town, you pass through what is like a sideshow of burning candles.  Once past this, there are baths that you can go through as well. I was nearly going to, but it didn’t seem like the right time to go for me.  Instead I walked to get some ‘holy water’.

After this, I ascended the very long left (it was partly in shade), arm that reaches out to get to the top basilique, Basilique de l’Immaculée Conception. I was coming closer and closer to the huge gold crown that stops the dome of the first basilica I went in below. It isn’t as beautiful as the one below, but it was interesting because it was the original one. It was dark and ancient. I don’t know what that says about immaculate conception. The whole complex has grown like topsy, because more and more people come every year and this one tiny chapel wasn’t enough (by tiny, I mean it only seats 500 people).

After this I thought I’d wander back to say hello again to Sylvia, but got lured by the singing I could hear coming from the subterranean chapel, built to increase the congregational capacity yet again.  Reminiscent of concrete brutalism the Basilique Saint Pius X juxtaposes hung pictures of many saints around the edges of the space. It is enormous, and the giant angular struts supporting the ceiling make you feel like you’re walking around underneath a giant spider. Big change indicated here, well potentially anyway. It suits the purpose – seating vast amounts of people for mass masses.  Around the outside there is a ramp which descends to the mid-point of the oval shape were the chapel is at it’s narrowest. Then the ramp ascends again toward either end of the oval. If you look across the auditorium as you are walking you see there are even more posters in the central arena of the space, so no matter where you are, you will be in eye-shot of at least a couple of saints, apostles or martyrs. As I got towards the bottom, I don’t think my eyes failed me, but there across the cavern was our own Australian, Mary Mackillop.  I can’t remember whether she is a saint or just called Blessed.  That’s terrible, having worked at a Catholic university for a decade. I shouldn’t be admitting my total ignorance.  I kept walking and was more interested in Hildegard of Bingen, St Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena , Theresa of Avila and St Dominic, avowed converter of Cathars.

After finishing with the apostles, saints and matyrs I was outside again and it seemed that even the Air Force pay respect to St Bernadette. The crack of a super-fast jet doesn’t seem to dent the vibe though. I walked back up the little street to the St Jacques information shop to ask Sylvia whether she knew of any restaurants selling crepes sarrasin. She didn’t know, but I found the restaurant next door, a funny little place, had sel (salty – savoury) crepes on its menu, and so I ordered a salmon, creme fruit and basil one with frites.  The decor was intriguing – red walls, and statues of Mary next to Dali’s Tarot universal.  A bet each way perhaps?  It was a good enough meal with a little kir. A bit of a splurge in Lourdes.

I left with a full stomach and dropped in to Mary’s pharmacy for some Baume St Bernard – which Francois had encouraged me to use the night before.  It is basically like deep heat, and helps with any aches from the walk.  I found it did sooth to a certain extent, so I’ve added it to my armoury of lotions and oils.  I have Aveda Foot Relief – pepperminty goodness for my feet, Weleda Arnica Massage oil for my muscles and now St Bernard. Oh, and Aveda Blue Oil Balancing Concentrate for my nostrils.  My feet, knees and mind are well cared for.

I ascend in the small lift back up to my room, which has a window into a tiny atrium, but no view. The carpet is so buckled in the corridor, that this route has to go down in my book as rivalling the chemin. I wonder how many drunk and disoreintated tourists have tripped on it. Attention a la marche!

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I had a shower and washed my clothes, which I wring in the towels that are supplied. If you lay down wet clothes into a spread towel, then roll it up, then wring the little sausage, your clothes turn out nearly dry.  I have only a postage-stamp sized towel that I use to dry myself with, so it is not enough to do this to my clothes each night, but Francois and Cloudine had those great synthetic towels that they did a little washing-wringing ritual each night. This goes on the list for next time –  a proper towel. The reception were affronted by my question about whether they had a laundry, but maybe it was just my bad French.  I utilised all the hangers in the wardrobe and the curtain rod to hang my clothes overnight in the open window.  I did some writing, then decided to go downstairs to use the wifi. I successfully posted Day 6.  Yay!

Addendum: Centre D’information Jacquaire – Lourdes

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When I have asked at some pilgrim gites on the way, whether there are St Jacques pilgrim gites in Lourdes, people haven’t known.  I assumed that everyone is a pilgrim in Lourdes – to see the place where humble youngster, Bernadette saw her vision, and to taste and bathe in the waters of the natural spring there.  So when I arrived in Lourdes, and was wandering the streets looking for my hotel, I was surprised to see a shopfront titled Centre D’Information Jacquaire and the blue and yellow symbol of my way.

They had only been open for one month and they provide accueil (reception/welcome) for St Jacques pilgrims on the many routes through Lourdes.  What this means is that they can refer pilgrims to hébergement  in Lourdes and along the routes. The major ones that go through Lourdes are the Voie du Piemont GR78 and the GR101 which I crossed just outside of Maubourguet.  But it means also that pilgrims like me who have a credential, and are doing a way, but make a side trip, can also find accommodation that is cheaper than in the many hostels and religious hotels.

I spoke to Sylvia, a volunteer who had walked the Camino Frances in two parts in previous years.  She showed me the contacts for two places that take St Jacques pilgrims.  The office is well equipped with maps of Lourdes and many books about the various ways, and about Lourdes.  I was really impressed.  And they also stamp your credential.

Gite La Ruche – 21 rue de Pau (open 1st April – 30th October) with 9 places at 15 Euros per night.

Centre Assomption – 21 avenue Antone Beguere. I’m unsure the cost of this one.  Minimum stay of two nights, but that is sometimes common, and means that a pilgrim can rest in Lourdes without having to worry about the usual need to move on every day.

Via Tolosana Day 36: Guardian of solitude

Anoye to Morlaas – 16kms

It was going to be a hot day, so after waking, I wrote pages and left by 7.20am. I’m so glad I did, because it has put me in the swing of things again.  It was good to do, and meant I would arrive early at Morlaas.  Jacques had written to me “Are you following? Am in Borce. Are you well?”

I left the lovely gite and doubled-back to where I’d noted a fig and peach tree on the same street, and ate second breakfast.  I was thinking about the bath mat at Anoye and that the options for home decorating are immense with the coquille shell design.  There were beautiful old homes in Anoye, and they seemed to be well looked after. I walked up and out of the town,  climbing out of the cool air, the rising sun on my back casting it’s orange light everywhere.  I began to sense pockets of warm air, a portent of what would come later in the day.  Francois was right, it would be hot.

Grape vines. The Pyrenees peeking above the trees. Orange slugs – on the road now.  A dedicated group of volunteers is strong in Anoye as the gite had a great feeling and there were many details to make the pilgrim feel welcome. Chocolate being a prime one! Drinks in the fridge, potato crisps all purchased on the honour system. The volunteers who plant the trees also made their presence felt today – there were many more fruit trees planted by the road, but I noted that they were Amis de Chemin from St Jean Pied de Port.  I suppose I am getting close to there now (even though my route won’t pass through there – it is the gateway to the Pyrenees for the three other routes in France).

Aire de Compostelle provided a lovely picnic spot, but I didn’t need a break.

The architecture of the area seems to reflect the landscape. More horses.

I decided on a Cosmo Cosmolino soundtrack today, the Streetsweeper album. I was feeling cosmic, and cosmopolitan all at the same time.  I don’t know why I needed a sound track today, but I did.  I saw chestnuts again, buddleias and heard church bells.  Cows stared at me – what an easy life they have compared to their provoked brothers/sisters.  More running water.  Sarah McLachlanAnswer.  A warm wind blew.  Another river. The sweet smell of honeysuckle.  Fresh air (the temperature type not clean type).  I saw a pheasant today, crossing a road – that was a surprise. It was a busy road too, the D7.  It begs a ‘why did the pheasant cross the road’ joke, but I only have one joke in my repertoire, and everyone I know has heard it already.  “What’s brown and sticky?”… “A stick”.

I stopped for morning tea by a big fresh and clean river. It was a beautiful place.

Be near water. Be like water.

After my stop, I walked over the beautiful river I’d been observing (I ended up crossing six water courses by Morlaas), and then off on a road to the left to skirt another town, Raguet.

I started listening to Oriah Mountain Dreamer.  I am glad she is on my playlist.  Her talks, “Choosing a joyful dance” and “Dance of shared silence” spoke to me, not least because in the second one she mentioned Meister Eckhardt, who Matthieu had spoken about two days before.  She re-authors his great quote:

“There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as shared silence”

and called to my attention a beautiful idea from Rainer Marie Rilke

“… a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust.”

The Waterboys continued to buoy me with Preparing to Fly.  I saw a snake by the road, there was a rock on a pole and funghi accompanying a balisage on a tree.  It was once again a day of walking between many more cornfields and a little on bitumen roads. It was a happy day!

The battery to my phone went flat, and I was faced with listening to the growing sounds of Morlaas civilisation as I approached.  Something’s burning. Acorns appeared on the beautifully soft path and in the distance the views of the Pyrenees grew more and more stunning.  There are so many pots of gold, so much treasure to see and feel.  The sounds of big roads and even airports came into my consciousness with the whirring engines of light planes approaching from behind me.  Bullet casings again littered the path.

I crossed a busy highway, and began walking through the outskirts for longer than was comfortable, with the sun burning in the near-midday sky. I saw signs of public transport, bus-stops, and was contemplating taking a bus straight to Pau, but decided against it and kept walking.   The way had the feeling of approaching Castres, but Morlaas is much smaller than that, and Castres is more like the size of Pau.  Pau city centre is not actually on the route, though I was to find out it was really worth seeing. After visiting Lourdes, I thought I’d return to Morlaas and walk on to Lescar. Morlaas to Lescar actually borders the northern-most part of the outer suburbs of Pau (previously referred to as ‘the boring bits’).  In my experience though nothing is boring to a pilgrim.

I arrived around 11:30am to Morlaas – perfect timing.  I got a quiche at the boulangerie, along with a pain au chocolate with almonds and a soft drink as it would probably soon close for lunch. I went to the Office de Tourisme on the square facing the back of the church.  They couldn’t help me with a booking for Lourdes, but gave me the number of a place that could.  The office contained a number of interesting relics of centuries past, including a carved stone canard (duck), a carved musician and a great relief map of the Pyrenees.  It was a nice little collection along with the pilgrim’s staff.

It was really hot already and I was exhausted even though I’d only walked 16 kms. It was a slow saunter to the camping municipal (camp ground), which was right next to the public swimming pool and behind the park office. I booked my accommodation for tomorrow night and it was 45 Euro. A bit steep, but I wanted to see the place and it is always worth it.   I also decided that I would take the bus into Pau early the next morning, then the train to Lourdes.

At the gite behind the office, I met Julie, another pilgrim.  We had a nice chat about the way, and the insights and challenges it brings.  She was resting up, nursing a foot that she thought might be broken, but had been walking on it for some time.  She was also a ‘wild-camper’, and had her tent and tarp out drying on the washing line as she was doing a giant pack clean out.  She was also busy binding her St Jacques coquille shell to her staff – not an easy feat.  She was a real sweetie and we had a long chat about Australian history. She noticed that I felt very strongly about indigenous issues and that maybe I could move in that direction with my work when I got back.  Later Francios and Cloudine arrived.

I went off in the afternoon to get some cash, buy a new pen (my kilometrico had died and I had been working though my felt tip pens in my pencil case and other biros, but none were satisfactory.  It was a few days later that I realised the new pen was a Cristal M.  I don’t know what that says about me, but at least I wasn’t injecting the ink. I’d have to wait to get home to write again with a kilometrico).  I also took a walk through the beautiful, cool church. The stained glass windows threw bold colours onto the floor, walls and vaulted ceiling. It was beautiful.  And the portal  door is absolutely gorgeous.

On returning to the site, I found that Francois and Cloudine were going to go for a swim as we’d been told by the woman from the office that we could get in for free, so I decided to go too.  My first summer swim. Next time I’ll swim more, it is so nice after a day of walking.

I also went around to see whether there might be wifi somewhere and my walk took me to a bar.  I saw Virginie and Sophie there, they were staying somewhere else in probably a little more luxury than the campsite, although our accommodation was very clean and adequate.  They were going to walk to Pau to go home to Lyon/Marseilles the next day.

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There was a big supermarket on the other side of the fence from the caravan park and I went there to replenish supplies with once again, too much food, but it meant I ate well that night.   I ate dinner with everyone outside, and later still another walker, Bernard, arrived.  He sat separately to us though, which was a bit curious.  My dinner was a melange of rice, tuna, celery salad from the supermarket (which I really love), tomato and with a panacotta chaser. Nice work!

The warmth continued well after the sun went down and we all weren’t long out of bed. Back inside the common room, which was another large room the same size as the room with several bunk beds in it (but with no kitchen – that was outside in the same block as the toilets and showers), we realised that some budding young artists had helped with the decorations.  They were beautiful and I couldn’t help capturing them all.

Via Tolosana Day 35: Donkey Kong dodging sprinklers

Maubourguet to Anoye – 22 kms

I awoke to Christian’s alarm.  I didn’t get up until about 6:30am though.  I half packed and took my pack out on the tiny verandah and wrote my pages from 7am – 7:45am. I said goodbye to Christian when he left.  I found this intriguing.  He arrived before the others the day before, and he left before the others.  I admired this independence. I wonder whether men can tolerate it of each other more than women can.  Maybe I will evolve into someone who will really be at ease with ‘going my own way’, because I certainly can’t feel it quite yet. If I had come on a long ride with my friends, I would feel that invisible pressure to go with them, not go my own way.  Is this how we are socialised as women and men, or is there something more primal about the difference between testosterone and oestrogen and it’s effects on our relating?

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I got my pages finished and then Patrice appeared, and later still Laurent.  Patrice rode to find out whether Casino (supermarket) was open, and it was.  So I gathered up the final few things into my pack and said goodbye to the guys.  It had been a great night. Off I went with my pack, after taking a photo of them in front of our cute chalet.  Seeing people on bikes took me back to my Vezelay route ride.  It is still a taxing way to travel, but riding another 5 kilometres to find a place to stay at night is less arduous than walking it.  I envied their mobility.

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Espaliered plane trees

I walked back into town to Casino also for today’s lunch, tonight’s dinner and the next day’s lunch. In some parts of the walk, it really does require that much forward planning, if your next stop is not in a town with an epicerie/boulangerie. You also have to consider that everything you carry is weighty, and after 20 kilometres, it can make a huge difference to how tired you get.  I bought pain at the boulangerie. All set.  It was 9:00am already – a late start. On the way out of town I passed my favourites, the Gendarmerie.  Matthieu said there would be a lot of corn from now on, and there was.  All day, right to the end.  There were also great views again of the Pyrenees, although this time it felt like instead of looking across hills at them, you were starting to look up at them from the plains.  It was a flat walk to start with, then a gentle hill took me upwards towards Lahitte-Toupiere.

The gazelle may have bounded away in the flesh, but I walked with him most of the day, thinking about the things he said and did, carrying some faint hope that I might, by some weird coincidence, catch him again.  Blackberries reminded me of our slim pickings, and his concern for other pilgrims and I said to myself, no, toujours beaucoup (no, always plenty) for everyone when you take only what you need.

I feel like a walking smell. I stink, my pack stinks, my t-shirts are manky and even after washing, they still reek. Yuk!

I came to a big road, the D943, and observed that the GR101 crossed heading south towards Lourdes. It was well-signposted. Perhaps this is where the guy in St Gervais sur Mare was heading. If I’d had more time, maybe this is the way I would have reached Lourdes.  As it was I preferred my detour-by-train plan.

10:10 when I next checked my phone.  Loud helicopters made their presence felt overhead as I was getting to Lahitte-Toupière, where Matthieu was planning to stay the night. The gite advertised yoga. I thought that was a lovely coincidence as he had said he’d like to take it up, and I was encouraging him to, given I had got so much out of yoga at various times in my life.

Just past the gite, thoughts a little diverted by a beret, I neglected to take the right fork in the road, and continued along a road – distracted also by the La Poste van that met me.  So when I got to the main road, I decided instead of just taking it into town, to re-trace my steps so as to walk the marked way.  It rewarded me with the most beautiful little paddock of sheep, some with big bells around their necks which tinkled and clanged in time with their tugging at the grass.  After some minutes recording this and photographing them, one walked up to me. I wondered if they’d also chatted to the gazelle this morning. (I might add, that I hadn’t realised that a possible reason for Matthieu’s sporting of a beret was a very good one. They had been produced in the town in which he lived since 1840 – I only found this out months after the walk.  If I’d noted out loud his unusual head gear, I might have found this out yesterday!).

Another four kilometres on and I rested for a while under the verandah of a church in Vidouze to eat a peach. There was a fantastically signposted water tap also, especially for pilgrims.  Just as I was going to leave, along rode Patrice and Laurent – they hadn’t left Maubourguet until 10am.  We chatted and joked again and then they rode off down the hill that I was to walk down.  What lovely men. What a happy meeting.

I left the road again, and was walking in fields of high corn, with sprinklers just starting up.  I crossed a small creek on a footbridge that had a hidden approach, and then walked onto farm tracks made of orange clay and small rocks.  The tracks were wet, and I realised this was where I play Donkey Kong Junior for real, and dodge sprinklers. I made one attempt, between two circulating pivots, and realised I wouldn’t make it through so I retreated.  Maybe those 24 hours playing these little beeping games high in the skies between Melbourne, Bangkok and Dhaka when I was twelve paid off. Thanks Nintendo 1982, I managed to make it through without getting soaked. Thanks Paul for the heads up about the sprinklers.

I looked down at the path I was walking along after this, and realised the set of tyre tracks differed.  Sometimes there was water pooled on one side, and not the other. Sometimes it was dry and rocky on one side and not the other. Some sides were tricky, and the other you could navigate without watching your step.  I realised that you may be walking in the same direction, on the same track as someone else, but still experience different terrain. Everyone’s path is absolutely unique.  I heard the helicopter overhead again. Out in the open for a while and I came across a large dry paddock of pigs.  They had some mud, and seemed happy in it.

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It was getting on to lunch time, and I had continued on in the cornfields for some time past Dexpers (nice name for a settlement), when up ahead, who do I see but my cheeky friends, Sophie et Virginie sitting down to have lunch on some big wooden crates on the edge of the track. How lovely. I joined them for lunch and for the next few hours of walking.  There were a few big hills to ascend and descend today, but thankfully the destination, Anoye, was in a valley.

In one part that was more dense trees, there were these strange contraptions in the forest.  It looked like there were platforms suspended high up, with ropes and pulleys to bring things up and down.  They were a little more sophisticated than what could be made by children, but it certainly looked like someone liked playing up high.

Today I saw espaliered plane trees, signs that said Arles was 560 kms away (which didn’t seem quite right), more orange slugs and road signs that now say ‘Cami’ rather than ‘Chemin’.  I spotted Chinese lantern plants again and a new occurrence that would last for many kilometres and the final days of my walk, ancient fruit varieties.

Planted by friends of the way, partly I suppose in commemoration of the trail, and partly to feed the pilgrims that traverse it, they were a sweet reminder that the path is cared for by a whole army of unseen caretakers.  It was nice to see these ancient varieties being resurrected, and the signs on the plants gave great information about them.

Just past Lucarré, there is a big lake, and the girls wanted to take their time and stop by it, so I walked back up another hill, on through Momy, stopping to look in the beautiful l’eglise with another rendition of St Roch with his sore leg, chuckling at a place called ‘Samson’s Lion’ and finally getting back on the road down the hill into Anoye.  It was a hot day on the road today, so I wanted to make sure to leave earlier tomorrow. I will have more sleep and less wine!

I arrived in the small town, once again being welcomed by fast-running water and found the communal gite which was a beautiful two story house.  The large front door was open and I went in, left my shoes downstairs and then climbed (with difficulty), the creaking wooden stairs, opened the tight door at the top and got acquainted with the sleeping quarters. Around 15 minutes later so did the girls.  And then who should show up, but Francois and Cloudine.  It is strange isn’t it?  You could hold on to make the good times last longer, clinging and desperately orchestrating your travel to stay with nice people, or you could continue in your own way, never knowing if you might come into contact with your lovely friends again, but in the intervening times, experiencing the lessons that are just for you to learn. The posse was back together again.  The way is a great teacher about letting go and having faith in your own time and pace. And of course, F & C had spent the night in the same place as the gazelle, so it was nice to share my excitement at having met him.

Even though it was upstairs, it was cool, and comfortable. The bunk beds were nice and the bathroom was good, and appropriately decorated with shell motifs.  What none of us realised was that there was also a little epicerie downstairs, that is magically opened when the clock strikes 6pm by local volunteers who look after this communal gite. All kinds of supplies can be purchased. Nice supplies, like chocolate! The kitchen upstairs is small and basic, but well stocked with cooking utensils for preparing food. I needn’t have hung around for Casino and the boulangerie this morning, but who would have known. The table was large, and would easily fit us all around it when we’d prepared our food.

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After showering I tried writing my journal, outside on the picnic bench but couldn’t seem to get into the mood. That and les bothersome moustiques. I went for a small walk around the town: past donkeys that were well on heat (what, is this spring or something??), to the little church – which was shut, and to the fontaine (fountain) – a pure spring, said to have healing qualities, made in 1652 according to the plaque. It was close to the gite, just around the back, luckily for my tired and aching legs. A few of us cooperated and chipped in for the 3Euro washing machine fee and got our clothes washed.  We were really late, so they didn’t quite dry, but that’s what all the spare bunk beds are for – drying washing while you sleep.

I’d bought some nice bio rice with salmon and I heated in the microwave for dinner. We all ate together at the kitchen table.  I finished writing my journal, and went to bed.

Via Tolosana Day 34: … just walking each other home.

Monlezon (Chez Nicole et Michel) to Maubourguet – 22.7kms

I awoke at 6 am. I wrote. I ate breakfast from the most delicious looking and tasting spread just before 7am, and for a short time with Paul. Yoghurt, cake, hot toast and coffee.  Everything you could want. Amazing.  I tried checking emails after asking for the password. Paul left soon after, and I went upstairs to clean my teeth.  I filled my water bottles and took the figs that Nicole had kindly saved for me and left about 8am.

I left from the farmhouse and yard, walked past paddocks of crops, up a small road towards the town on the hill, Monlezon. It was raining but there were no clouds.  I realised I was being sprayed by sprinklers, the light reflecting in the jet streams as a beautiful rainbow. What is the promise that I’ll witness today? Or maybe it will be my pot of gold.

I didn’t walk up to see the church, but walked past the old ruined castle and sung Moon over Ruined Castle, a staple in the Suzuki cello repertoire.

I met a young Italian man and stopped for a brief chat about what his route was.  He was walking ‘backwards’ from Santiago to Rome, so I had met two people in the same 24 hours who were both going to Italy.  As would become another feature of the day, he was walking home. It reminded me of the beautiful Ram Dass quote,

“We’re all just walking each other home.”

An email from my home in Australia had told me that the friend who had said they would stay in my place while I was away, had decided to move out.  I walked consumed by thoughts about the situation and worries about how I would pay my rent when I returned, considering I no longer had a job. I was engrossed all the way to Marciac, five kilometres.

A little further on and I saw the most bountiful fig tree so far, the figs looking really ripe. Then there was a medlar tree.  I congratulated myself on knowing what that was. I wonder how many other people could identify a medlar tree? It seems like an old fashioned fruit tree to me, a little like the pomegranate used to be before the current trendy craze in Australian cooking. Maybe it is just me that’s old fashioned.

An eglise spire rose well above the surrounding countryside and confirmed I was heading in the right direction.

Objects rising from paddocks are closer than they appear.

Sprinklers were a theme today, I turned right around a big lateral move one – it seems they accompany crop farming everywhere in the world. Paul had warned me at a certain point in the next day or so, I would have to take care not to get wet between sprinklers, but this one at least lay resting. The way was very open to the elements today – mostly wind.

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I stopped to have a brief look at a ruined church just before the town with an old oak tree that had seen better days.  As I approached the centre of the town, and was checking my maps, Nicole drove up next to me. It was nice to say hello/goodbye to her again.  I didn’t know whether to go into the town or to turn left and leave. Despite the multitude of signs, there was no clarity in my mind.

But I’m glad I decided to stay and look around the town, Marciac – the home of a big annual jazz festival (Diana Krall and Wynton Marsalis this year, no less). It would be nice to return to see it sometime.  I had a brief look in Chapelle Notre Dame de la Croix – it was light, calm and beautiful.

I walked past the sculpted heads of horses over doorways, along the corner of the plaza then continued out of town on my walk.  It was windy.

After a short walk along pretty flat road, there was a steep climb up out of the town.  I decided that I’d rest at the top of the hill before Le Château and eat my waffle from yesterday.  After 20 minutes or so, at the top, I once again struggled to find a good place to stop.  I was walking in a ‘run’ between paddocks, bordered by low fences and partly covered by low hedges, so although it was secluded, it was still exposed to there walkers if I wanted to pee.  In these parts, it is of course common not to see a soul, so I squatted comfortably next to the fence line.  Then a little further along I chose a seat looking into the next valley, and got out my waffle. A little hard, but unmistakably Belgian.  The best waffles are made with special sugar – beet sugar I think. I was once in a Permaculture group with Luc, a Belgian who made the most fantastic waffles on a machine he had made himself and used to take to fetes and fairs.  He was kind enough to make them for garden openings my partner and I had for the Open Garden Scheme in Colonel Light Gardens in the 1990s.  The waffles were a real hit. Warm and fresh, they are just heaven. Cold, not so much, but I have my memory and imagination.

Next I decided to examine my credentials, well actually just one: my little passport to pilgrim accommodation.  The little ink stamps are part of the physical souvenirs one accumulates as one walks, and they are highly individual, each bringing back the memories from the place they were purchased. I didn’t quite have 33, but not far off. The money collection by the host/ess in exchange for a stamp is one of the daily rituals of the way, but you can also get them from Office de Tourisme, and Mairie. You could easily accumulate many more than the allocated boxes on the small concertinaed piece of card.  It is I suppose like a dance card in some ways. I was finding it equally romantic, this traipse through the countryside – with agony and ecstasy in equal quantities.

As I was pondering how far I’d come, I noted a young buck in a beret approaching. He looked sporty, although I noted he was also sporting a coquille shell, a pilgrim.  All his clothes were proper walking clothes, with the strange addition of a beret – I mean, not strange for a French man, but strange for a long walker.  I was intrigued, and very smiley.  He looked young, maybe not in his twenties, but not much older. He shook my hand and held on for much longer than I thought he needed to, smiling as well and I wondered what was going on (in a good way). Enchanté Mattheiu! I was enchanted, although it just means pleased to meet you.

I tried at first to speak French, but felt quite ridiculous in my attempts, and it seemed he spoke very good English, so we continued in that.  I invited him to sit down, trying my hardest not to seem too enthusiastic, and he did and explained that he already knew who I was. (Great! My crazy reputation had preceded me).  He said he’d heard I was doing four blogs, and so I corrected him to say, I’m only doing one, but that I had only written about four days.  He explained he had met Sophie and Virginie last night, and they had told him about an Australien pilgrim who was blogging.

We exchanged details of what we were doing.  He was walking an interesting way in his holidays. He had walked three days from his home in Oloron, south to Col du Somport and Canfranc Estación, and had then returned home for a party.  Then he’d gone home to his parents house and had joined the route at St Christaud, stayed the night at Marciac, but left later than he expected because he wanted to have a coffee with a friend. It seemed he was on a pretty fast schedule, so I urged him to go on, as I felt I would slow such a sporty and athletic fellow. I would have loved to walk with him, but my fears about my pace and the ‘go your own way, any other way is straying‘ bells rang loudly in my head.  It disappointed me, but after a few more niceties, off he went.  Easy come, easy go they say.

After I’d had enough of a break, I got up, and descended the track, turning right around the edge of the paddock, and making an equally steep descent down the hill. My knees hurt.  I could see Mathieu in the distance, but I didn’t think I’d see him again.  I then settled into my rhythm, walking through lots of corn fields.  My sister texted me, and it felt comforting to have contact from Australia here in the middle of the countryside. I walked up a rise where on a raised bank, a small chapel sat, Eglise de Samazan. I’d found the little settlement, Le Château.  As I walked past it, I realised Matthieu had gone to check it out, and was just coming out. I kept walking as I knew he would catch me up. Not much further along the road, and we were walking together. I was right about his pace, he was fast: a gazelle.  We walked down the Côte du Pelerin.

It was probably another hour and we could see another church in the distance.

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Our conversation had ranged widely and I told him he was one of only three pilgrims I’d met.  There had been hardly any ‘real’ pilgrims.  We talked about his work, something he said he preferred not to ask of other pilgrims while walking. I found this interesting, as leaving work was one of the things that had flung me into this adventure. He had walked to Santiago before and had been very moved by the experience.  He stops at all churches to go inside if possible, much as I had been doing. It was nice to talk about the spiritual aspect of walking, and it surprised me that I had not really been able to talk about this with anyone other than Sonia previously. Most walkers I’d met, lovely as they were, seemed to enjoy the challenge of a long walk for it’s tourist and exercise benefits rather than any answers it might bring. We talked about families, I told him I loved France and have always wanted to live there. He thought that maybe it had just never been the right time.  He had come this way on bike some time before, and he was interested that everything seemed to be different when you walk rather than ride, including that everything seemed to take a whole lot longer and in that way can be unfamiliar. It was nice not to have to think about whether we were going in the right direction, he’d been this way before.  About an hour on and we stopped at Auriébat after finding a picnic table to sit at for lunch. We’d been searching for a place, and were going to go into the church but seemed to be too busy thinking of our lunch, and we missed it.

We sat opposite each other and joked and smiled lots. He gave me some of his family’s home-made saucisson cut with his French knife, and I shared my pear with him, cut with my Swiss-army knife.  It was all rather cute, although now I realise, slightly euphemistic. I could get used to this!  After we finished eating, he completely surprised me by wanting to take my photo. I thought this was very unfair if I wasn’t also allowed to take his, so I did. But just like dentists can’t reveal their faces on television, his smile remains my secret.

I liked him already – it was easy to when his ways reminded me of my own. He had ridden another route, he pats dogs, he says hello to horses. We found blackberries along the road, and stopped to pick them. I shared with him my secret for finding the really ripe ones and I picked some for him. They weren’t as abundant as they’d been in past weeks, and the ground seemed drier, possibly never producing as many here as in some parts I’d walked through. We delicately shared our pickings until he finally said we’d better leave some for other pilgrims. J’adore!

We continued on through the back-blocks, through Auricane where he stopped to look at a beautiful old farm house. We speculated about whether anyone lived there. He seemed to think it would be a nice place to live. Could I find anyone more like me a million miles from home? I told him about my cocker spaniels Monte and Carlo.

A few hundred metres on, we skirted a property that reminded me a little of the town called Spectre in Big Fish, except instead of sneakers hanging from power lines, it was the little coquilles St.Jacques shells nailed to every tree around the perimeter.  I get that it is helpful for pilgrims to see these little signs of encouragement, however it was slightly spooky.

It was windy in the afternoon, but despite the headwind we continued at a blistering pace. I managed to keep up, but only just.  I suppose I could’ve just asked him to slow down, but that thought never crossed my mind.

Getting nearer to Maubourguet he picked up some rubbish from the road (another thing I do), and decided he’d walk with it until he found a bin. The only problem was that it had grease on it, which he only realised after some time, and it went everywhere.  He had mentioned a few times that he was trying to decide whether to continue to Lahitte-Toupiere.

On the close outskirts of town we found an open water course which accompanied us nearly all the way and where it ended we stopped so Matthieu could wash his hands.  I noticed when he was crouching that he was wearing Salomon shoes.  I said “You have Salamon shoes, so do I”. “Yes, I saw”, he said.  I asked him cheekily, “So have you been checking out my shoes?” and he laughed and said “Always”.

We walked the last little stretch into town, having to take a slight detour because there were some fences being put up for the town fete.  We searched for the Office de Tourisme after passing the sideshows being set up in the afternoon sun. La Poste. At the office he asked about the boulangerie, and I asked about the caravan park. We walked back outside again, and he wanted to go and eat something and get supplies.  I started to go with him, but considering I was really worn out, my feet and legs were sore, and I’d said I wouldn’t be going on, I said that I’d go to the camping to wash and get settled.

He said,  “À bientôt!” and we kissed goodbye.

I walked away saying to myself “well if he wants to see you again, he will. Just keep walking”. I had mixed feelings. I really wanted to keep walking with him. I really liked him, but I didn’t want to go anyone else’s way, and I knew that today I was already exhausted, and I’d just be walking further for someone else.  I’d done that before and wasn’t going to do it again. I continued trying to work out what I should have done. I didn’t feel that I’d done the right thing.  Should I have told him I really wanted to walk with him? Would he stay so he could walk with me? What would he do?

I really could not have gone any further, and it was even a struggle getting the three-hundred or so metres to the caravan park.  I booked in and paid my 10 Euro fee for a tiny chalet-style cabin with five beds and got my credential stamped.  The woman at the office gave me menthe and I enjoyed it very much.  When I had finished she took me to the cabin. It was très mignon (very cute) however I only noticed when she’d already gone, that it didn’t have a lock. In fact, the door didn’t even close properly.  Now, it is one thing peeing in a toilet without a door, but it is a totally different situation sleeping alone in a caravan park in a town with no lock on your cabin.  When I asked, she just said put a chair in front of it. Great!

I tried to half imagine that Matthieu might come, but I think I knew that he wouldn’t. That made me sad and regretful. I was getting used to the idea that I’d be half-sleeping, worried for my safety with no-one else staying the night.  I went to inspect the showers/toilets, which were about 50 metres from the cabin.  The old push-button shower again, and squat toilets, with no toilet paper. Hmmm. Squatting after a day of walking is a very difficult feat. Every muscle in your thighs screams as you lower yourself from standing to squatting, having to somehow work through the pain as you hover to relieve yourself. You wonder how you can keep from collapsing completely. Out on the road behind a tree, it is not so challenging but when you’re hovering above a squat toilet – you have to aim as well. Then there is getting up again!  It would be the one thing I would try and train for if I walked again, not so much the endurance for the long days, but the thigh muscles for squatting. Men have it easy!

There were lovely porcelain sinks for washing clothes though and so after my shower I used them with my new soap, and hung my washing on the back wall facing the river.  It was still windy and there was a slight chill to the air, and across the river men en masse were playing a pretty serious petanque competition. I think I got wolf-whistles and leering comments, but I didn’t dare turn around to acknowledge them. I had to sleep all night without a lock on my cabin!

I walked back into town to the Office de Tourisme to see about where to get food. The woman told me that one opened in the morning. The boulangerie would be open as well. She told me that two other men were coming to stay in the cabin, and I said I was relieved because I didn’t want to be there alone. I asked about Matthieu, and she told me he had returned to tell her that he had decided to go to Lahitte-Toupiere today. I shared with her my disappointment. She commiserated saying “he was walking too fast for you”. I thought he would go on, but I was still sad.  I thought he was really sweet. But it is about moving on, isn’t it? No attachments. What a surprise to have met the Salamon-wearing, single virgo, who was not as young as he looked.

I decided I’d get lunch in the morning as well as breakfast, as there was nothing at the caravan park apart from coffee, so I made my way back to the cabin after going to the Cyber Cafe to check emails.  Biche o ma biche.

On returning I met Christian, a cyclist, who was doing the same route and had come from Toulouse.  I had a lie down because I was really tired and while doing so his two other friends, Patrice and Laurent arrived.  They sounded like a funny group mucking around outside the cabin.  After a quick snooze, I sat up to do my journal and when I’d finished, I introduced myself and we decided we’d check out the town fete.  I had said goodbye to one guy, and there were three to take his place.  I think you would call this a social life.

We walked into town to get some dinner. It was Christian’s birthday, and I was shouted dinner. Nice!  We had couscous at a restaurant that had extended it’s reach onto the square via trestle tables.  It was a busy night with many people out and about (probably half the town) and the restaurant was packed.  The food was great, lovely Moroccan curry with couscous. Patrice spoke really good English, so he acted as interpreter for us all, but I managed fairly well in French too. We had a great discussion about French and Australian culture and politics.  They were wonderful company and we laughed and joked a lot, even if I spent most of the night thinking about the gazelle who had just bounded away.

Later we walked around to la arène (the arena), where a bull fight was happening and where, judging by the noise, the other half of the town was. It was really loud, and I explained that not only was the 13 Euro entrance fee something I didn’t want to pay, but also I didn’t like bull-fighting.  Now I understood why part of the town was fenced off. It was a strange thing to see bull-fights appearing again at the other end of my walk and it reminded me of my first few days in Arles and the Camargue. It felt like the taureaux were book-ending my walk.  What would be more suitable for a Taurean? It is what makes me sympathise with the poor bulls.

We walked back along the streets, still hosting some revellers. We dropped in to a bar that was still open, packed with drunken young men singing at the top of their voices, listening to a live band outside. We stayed for one drink.  It was a late night, but thankfully one that promised a sound sleep with not just one, but three lovely mousquetaire (musketeers) to protect me. What an unbelievably amazing day of surprises.  I’d found several pots of gold.

Via Tolosana Day 31: Je Marche Seul … or not?

Pied à Terre en Gascogne (L’Isle-Arné) to Auch – 22kms

Up at just after 6am for pages. I was up before anyone, and wrote my pages in the Moroccan alcove.  I am enjoying the profile of this part of the walk, the rolling hills and farming countryside: completely pastoral. The morning light creeps in the windows as I write. A fly buzzes around – isn’t it too early for that?  All is well.

I thought it was a late start after breakfast, but actually not so. We left at 7:45am.  I departed with Virginie and Sophie and walked with them all day after they took a lovely photo of me and Martine.

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I collected the figs from the trees I’d staked out the day before. It was a cooler morning. Cows, goats and walnuts accompanied views of the Pyrenees.  All the dogs in L’Isle Arne barked for us. On the outskirts we passed an old farm with some pretty special architecture. Apparently, the more layers of tiles on the roof, the more wealthy the inhabitants. You could see the number of layers near the eaves.
Stones in stoby poles appeared again, just to remind us we were still pilgrims.  We had some great undercover tracks at first today.
There was a lovely church at Lussan where we stopped for a pee.  The man who had stayed at Martine’s the night before with his grandson had caught us up. Five pilgrims at once! A little further on, after Virginie was trying to convince me that the rolling hills reminded her of the TV series, Little House on the Prairie. I wasn’t convinced – I’d only read the book, and imagined a prairie as being quite flat and desolate.  She even sang the theme song to it, but I’d never seen the visuals so I couldn’t be convinced. (Virginie sent me the YouTube when she got home, and I had to concede, our walk on this day matched it perfectly). Nothing proves US imperialism more so than an French person saying their country reminds them of a prairie!
Our conversations and songs were wide-ranging walking through the farm paddocks. I got another French song reference which I’ve had to wait until now to listen to – Jean-Jacques Goldman’s Je March Seul.  Interesting his name is Jacques. There’s something about French pop hey! How would I know the lyrics would be so pertinent:
Je Marche Seul – Jean-Jacques Goldman

1
Comme un bateau drive
Sans but et sans mobile
Je marche dans la ville
Tout seul et anonyme
La ville et ses piges
Ce sont mes privilges
Je suis riche de a
Mais a ne s’ach
te pas
Et j’ m’en fous, j’ m’en fous de tout
De ces chanes qui pendent nos cous
J’ m’enfuis, j’oublie
Je m’offre un’ parenthse, un sursis
R
Je marche seul
Dans les rues qui se donnent
Et la nuit me pardonne,
Je marche seul
En oubliant les he
ures,
Je marche seul
Sans tmoin, sans personne
Que mes pas qui rsonnent,
Je marche seul
Acteur et voyeur
2
Se rencontrer, sduire
Quand la nuit fait des siennes
Promettre sans le dire
Juste des yeux qui tranent
Oh, quand la vie s’obstine
En
ces heures assassines
Je suis riche de a
Mais a ne s’achte pas
Et j’ m’en fous, j’ m’en fous de tout
De ces chanes qui pendent nos cous
J’ m’enfuis, j’oublie
Je m’offre un’ parenthse, un sursis
R
Je marche seul
Quand ma vie draisonne
Quan
d l’envie m’abandonne
Je marche seul
Pour me noyer d’ailleurs
Je marche seul…

I walk alone

Like a boat adrift
Without purpose and without reason
I walk though the city
All alone and anonymous
The city and its traps
Are my privileges
I’m all the richer for it
But it can’t be bought
And I don’t care, don’t care about anything
About these chains hanging on our necks
I run, I forget
I take a break, a respite
(chorus)
I walk alone
Through the streets giving themselves
And the night forgives me, I walk alone
Forgetting the hours
I walk alone
Without witness, without anyone
Only my steps ringing out, I walk alone
Actor and viewer
To meet, to charm
When the night is up to its tricks
To promise something without saying it
Just staring looks
Oh, when life is stubborn
At those murderous hours
I’m all the richer for it
But it can’t be bought
And I don’t care, don’t care about anything
About these chains hanging on our necks
I run, I forget
I take a break, a respite
(chorus)
I walk alone
When my life is nonsense
When desire abandons me
I walk alone
To drown with elsewhere
I walk alone…
Well that just about sums up my life!
I had a lovely conversation with Sophie about the way we say in English that we ‘spend time’ doing things.  She said in France time is definitely money but they don’t spend time, they pass time.  It is interesting to think about the difference.  Spending time sounds finite to me, but passing time feels like you’re sitting there watching time go past.  It bears a lot more thinking about.
I asked what the little bean bushes are that I have been seeing for a number of days and which today stretched across paddocks as far as the eye could see. They are haricots vert green beans known as flageolet (not to be confused with a woodwind instrument). They are picked very early, before they are fully ripe.   At the edge of a field, and right near a huge stack of hay, we ate morning tea. The girls shared their butter biscuits – yum.
I saw one La Poste vehicle today. More figs. There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain and I found it today picking blackberries.  We later climbed a single person path up a long hill next to a field and then took a high path studded with many baby oak trees (petite chene) and sauterelle (crickets). This had me singing the song I’d sung so much in choirs in the past – El Grillo by Josquin des Prez … again!
We would follow this path marked by broken tiles in the full and hot sun, right along the ridge and then down into Montegut – a cute town with amazing chateau behind tall gates.  But before we reached there, we stopped at a lookout spot where we could lunch in part-shade with the chateau turrets in view. Champignons kept us company for lunch and I ate my luke-warm cassoulet.  It wasn’t that nice – it would have been better warmed in a microwave as it was designed to be.
After a break, we descended past what looked like a local version of calvary – three reminder crosses.  We ambled into the little town, trying to work out whether we were going in the right direction. I was pretty keen on finding a toilet. We found a public one – a very public one. You know those horrid dreams, probably easily classed as nightmares, where you have to go to the toilet and there is no door. Well, once you’ve done this for real, I suppose you don’t have the nightmares any more.  The town was deserted, and there was really no risk, but it is an interesting experience. Leaving out of the other side of town, making our way around the little road below the chateau, we saw a pigeonnaire which was quite spectacular.
It was really hot now, and we made a big bitumen descent away from this little hill town. Ouch, my knees. We made our way toward a major road, and crossed a railway line.  We could see Auch cathedral for miles – hours before we got there, but it was quite a slog walking the last 4 or so kilometres. We started to get nice big signs although the map in my Miam Miam Dodo seemed really wrong!
It was nice to have company today! Although by the time we had about an hour to walk, I was getting grumpy and just wanted to be there.  This is the time I feel like I’m not great to walk with, but I suppose that is natural.  We had a small stop in the Parc du Couloume where we also refilled our water bottles. From here it was a direct walk along a busy river path towards the city.  Getting close, I decided I would make a beeline for the Office of Tourisme, whereas Sophie and Virginie said they’d go another way.  We parted.
All day we’d experienced patches of gorgeous architecture juxtaposed against the natural beauty of the land. Reaching Auch was the pinnacle of the built landscape. This beautiful town, the centrepiece of which is the Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Marie d’Auch, is a renaissance dreamscape. The Office de Tourisme is magnificent – a C15th marvel. I visited to seek information about the presbytere that welcomes pilgrims, to book the next town (L’Isle de Noe) and get wifi. I tried unsuccessfully to get wifi to work, so made my way to the accommodation.
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Office de Tourisme

I opened the door, and introduced myself to the older woman who was there with the stamp for my credential and some helpful tourist information.  Cloudine and Francois arrived at the same time, and we were shown up together.  Up four flights of a very large staircase we entered through a small door with a class window covered by a curtain. There was a small room just off the entrance passage so I took it as it had one bed.  C & F found another room which was pretty self contained closer to the bathroom and kitchen. This left quite a big room with a number of beds between us. On the wall was the donativo (donation) tin. There was a balcony of kinds off the large room, and reached through the kitchen. When you walked out onto it, and looked back towards the kitchen, there was the cathedral. The view to river was similarly spectacular.I washed myself and my clothes as usual, then went out to see the town.
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In the cathedral I bumped into Virginie and Sophie – they had found their hotel.  Cloudine and Francois came in a little later too.  The 113 carved wooden choir stalls need to be seen to be believed, and to see them all you could stay for hours looking at the 1500 carvings. Every character has been lovingly carved and their faces are highly unique – a feat apparently achievable because the wood was submerged for many decades in the Gers river rendering the wood carvable in great detail. I think it would be difficult to concentrate as a choir member.  And at the end of a very long walk, it was almost overwhelming to me.
This cathedral also holds a famous St Jacques window so I had to souvenir this.
I had got a map of a trail around the town, so I went off to do it, starting at the back of the cathedral at the top of the Escalier monumental (Great staircase) down to the river that half-way down was the home to the bronzed d’Artagnan. Around the side of the town, I walked past Henry IV’s house where he had reportedly stayed with Catherine de Medicis. Up toward the centre of town again, past the library and Jacobin museum, I decide to get food for tomorrow, and then went back to eat some dinner at the presbytere.
I tried unsuccessfully to send a Skype recorded message to my sister at a nice restaurant/bar where I sat for a long time using wifi and another cafe gourmand.  I’m feeling sad it is the end of an era with Sophie, Virginie, Yves, Francois and Cloudine. Yves leaves tomorrow to go back to Nantes. The others will be walking different distances to me tomorrow so I’ll be alone again. I walked back to my accommodation and went to bed.

Via Tolosana Day 29: I like to move it.

L’Isle Jourdain to Le Grangé – 15kms

I slept in. From 6:00 to 6:48.  Terrible. It took me a while to get to sleep last night, my legs were restless again. On my schedule, I’m late with my pages.  However I seem to have got myself in step with a group that sleep in. Little matter.  It all gets done, doesn’t it! Eventually it gets done.

I’m writing this, feet soaking in salt water. What can be a more suitable way of relaxing after a walk.  La Grangé is like heaven. When I arrived, the children, Oscar and Josephine were playing with a bubble machine, and it felt like paradise. Last time I experienced beautiful bubbles was at my friend Cathy’s wedding. Decades ago now I suppose.  It was very special then and it is special now.

Getting here was far less eventful than yesterday. The drama hasn’t seemed to dent my spirit and has actually given renewed confidence.  Leaving at 8am, the sun was up higher, yet the mist was still rising from the beautiful lake I had merely glanced at the previous afternoon.  I found the balisages, yes, they were there, and very frequent today.  As I left out along a main road, I was keeping a lookout for a track to the left where I’d leave the road and walk through the dewy grass along next to a small creek.  It was really moist and so it wasn’t long before my boots were wet on the front.  The birds were busy peeping and cheeping this morning. It was about 15 minutes of walking in a big arc around a field before I see J-P walking towards me – he had forgotten his water bottle.  I kept walking, had two toilet stops, met another middle-aged female pilgrim coming towards me on the route, and then a single carriage train. I waved to the train driver.  I love these little regional trains.  Once again I’m reminded of Love on a Branch Line.

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The path was beautiful today. Hardly any road, mostly chemin de terre.  Up ahead where the path took a turn away from the railway line onto a dirt road that crossed it, I saw a white van similar to the one I’d seen yesterday heading in the same direction I was planning on going.  My hackles were rising.  It is not all that common to see cars on thee little tracks and I was in favour of being a little more cautious now.  I knew J-P wouldn’t be far behind me, as he seemed like a fast walker, so I waited several minutes for him and asked him to accompany me.

We walked up hill, past a lovely border of flowers along the track. In the end there were houses not far up ahead and then a larger paved road for a while so that reassured me a little, and I would probably have been fine.  J-P is tall, and has long legs, so we were walking much faster than I was comfortable with. He is probably a lot fitter too. He didn’t seem to want to slow down for me either.  So we continued along the way, him walking just that little (uncomfortable distance) ahead, keeping the pace fast. We chatted a little, but he didn’t speak a lot of English, in fact virtually none, so it was a little difficult.  I don’t know how we got onto it, but I was talking about the animals I had seen on the chemin, and mentioned that I had seen deer. The word for deer is biche. It is obviously not just  me that seems to convert every idea in my head to a song while I’m walking, because J-P started to sing this song and asked me if I knew it.  I’ve looked it up now, and it is certainly exactly how he sang it. Biche, ô ma biche by Frank Alamo. You learn something new every day. For all those who like to practice their French:

Biche, ô ma biche, lorsque tu soulignes
Au crayon noir tes jolis yeux
Biche, ô ma biche, moi je m’imagine
Que ce sont deux papillons bleus…

Tenant d’une main ta petite glace ronde
Tu plisses ton front enfantin
Et de l’air le plus sérieux du monde
Tu dessines en un tournemain un oeil de (Refrain)

Tu vois, depuis le premier jour qu’on s’aime
Frappé par ton regard ailé
J’ai oublié ton nom de baptême
Tout de suite je t’ai appelée ma douce (Refrain)

Je me demande pourquoi tu te maquilles
Si tu veux mon avis à moi
Sans rien, tu sais, tu es très très jolie
Je ne vois vraiment pas pourquoi pourquoi tu

Triches, ô ma biche, je t’en prie, de grâce,
Laisse tes yeux sans rien autour
Pour moi, ma biche, quoi que tu leur fasses
Tes yeux sont les yeux de l’amour (ter)

And for those who know no French, and don’t mind Frenglish:

Biche, O my doe, when you marked
Black pencil your pretty eyes
Biche, O my doe, I imagine
These are two blue butterflies …

Taking a little round mirror your hand
You pleated your childish forehead
And the most serious air in the world
You draw a snap of an eye (Chorus)

You see, from day one we love
Struck by thy winged look
I forgot your first name
Immediately I called you my sweet (Chorus)

I wonder why you makeup
If you ask me to me
Nothing, you know, you’re very pretty
I really do not see why you why

Cheats, O my doe, I beg you, please,
Let your eyes with nothing around
For me, my doe, whatever you do them
Your eyes are the eyes of love (ter)

I had wondered what he did for a living, and when I asked him, I was surprised at the answer. He was a priest.  He was on holidays from his parish, and he was doing a short trip along part of this route. Interesting.

We soon walked into a town, Monferran-Savès and we surprisingly found a small tabac to stop at for coffee. It was also a post office, so I posted a pile of brochures, that I had collected from various tourist offices, to myself in Australia.  The woman kindly worked out how I could make it cheaper, and we ended up putting them in two envelopes. My pack was 345g lighter. It all helps. Trust me.  We sat outside at a plastic table, drank our coffee and I shared my pear with him, and he shared some ginger bread cake and an apple.  It was very civilised.  Now I come to think of it, I don’t know whether we paid for our coffee – maybe he did.

The town was very sweet and Mary could be seen avec serpent next to an ancient town oven around the corner from a small church. I found the most amazing collection of blackberries. Did I say the walking was beautiful?  Mostly because it was such a short walk, but also because the weather was gorgeous.  More sunflowers nodded our way.  We dodged a farmer spraying big chunks of silage on his paddocks.  It was a bit of a fraught path, full of shit you might say.  I had visions we might get covered in it, the machine was like a giant spinning catapult, heaving this stuff all around.  The smell was rank.  But it appeared that he was heading home, so I didn’t have to be worried about getting drowned in it and catching some horrible water-borne disease. Nitrogen-fixing legumes made their debut next.  We sat for a bit on the St Jacques bench, surveying the beautiful rolling hills.

It was only a little walk from the town to my gite, along all kinds of mosaic paths, so it was not much longer before we got to the turn off for my gite.

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We couldn’t miss it as there was a big yellow monument covered with old boots.

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I bid farewell to J-P and wished him bon route. I headed along the paddock track next to a paddock of maize. I didn’t really know where I was going.  It looked like I was heading to one place, but then the signs pointed in the opposite direction, so I would my way back around the hill up to a line of fruit trees – many plum trees, then a little bell to ring to signal my arrival.  Lily was out in the yard and so were her kids, having great fun making bubbles.  It was a gorgeous atmosphere – I loved it already.

Lily took me around the back to a big rustic undercover table where they receive their pilgrim guests.  I had a menthe cordial with ‘fresh’ water and the kids squealed and laughed.  Oscar was wanting attention so he continued to spray bubbles in my general direction.  I had my lunch with me, and I said I’d be happy to have it before they showed me around and got me settled.  I knew I was being a little cheeky by being quite early for check-in.

After I’d finished lunch and sat for a little while in the bubbly shade, I took off my boots, left them in the rack outside, and Andreas showed me inside the gite – a beautiful long room over a number of stepped levels. First the plastic bucket pack vestibule (they are also a member of the association La Passeur-Elle is and Christiane was actually the one who recommended this gite), then the kitchen, a long kitchen table, and down into a lounge area with a whole library of books to read.  Outside I could see brightly coloured chaise lounges and another table and chairs under a verandah.  This is the life I thought. It was perfect.  You would not be bored here.  They had collected a great table of information about the route, stages and accommodation. There was a pin-up board with a map of the world for pilgrims to stick their pin in.  I forgot to do it in the end, so they didn’t get a Melbourne pin.  Maybe they put it in after I left.

Andreas showed me the room upstairs that had many parts.  It was right under the roof, so you had to be careful not to bump your head on the exposed beams as you navigated around the room and got into bed, but it was cosy. Downstairs again, and at the bottom of the stairs there was a bathroom area with multiple showers and toilets.  Then he pointed out the pièce de résistance.  Plastic buckets and salt for tired feet. Magnificent!

I had a shower, washed and hung my clothes outside in what was turning out to be a very warm afternoon sun, and bathed my feet for an hour.  I checked my emails with the wifi, yes they also had wifi, although I had to be quite close to the house to get it.  Before long the other pilgrims began to arrive. Virginie and Sophie joined me in lounging outside, and we amused ourselves by nearly flipping ourselves out of them, as they tilted unexpectedly.  It felt akin to a resort, lounging and reading and giggling. Somehow, we got from those shenanigans to singing  I Like to Move it! Move it!  at every opportunity.  Those girls were a lot of fun.

The other pilgrims were having demi-pension which meant they were eating dinner and breakfast in addition to paying for a bed, but I was just going to eat what I’d bought the day before. Andreas was starting to cook and it smelt great, so I asked whether there would be enough to join in.  He said yes, and I’m so glad because dinner was divine. Confit de canard (roast duck) and jacket potatoes, tomato plate with at least six kinds of home-grown tomatoes and a chasing of panacotta.

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It was such a perfect day. Lovely company and great hospitality.

I receive a thought for the day into my inbox from Gratefulness.org, and in my pages book, I’ve copied down these thoughts at the top of each day’s entry. For this day, I’d copied Cheryl Strayed’s (now there’s a pilgrim for you) words:

“It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred.  So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be.”

 

Via Tolosana Day 28: Historic Routes

Leguevin to L’Isle-Jourdain – 19 kms along the Chemin Historique and 6kms of walking historic roads.

“The trick, it seems, is to be able to hold both things very close – the gratitude and the misery – and then with a semblance of faith, to let them fly” Elizabeth Aquino

Note:  If you don’t like reading about creepy, inappropriate (and illegal) sexual behaviour enacted by the males of our species, perhaps this post is not for you.

I have heard it said a few times, and perhaps I agree, that time is not linear, but circular.  Almost like we travel in this big spiral, always progressing ‘forward’, however continually doubling over old territory.  It is perhaps this phenomena that is behind people saying history is repeating.  Writing about it now, I’m reminded of that fantastic Shirley Bassey song. I am also fond of subscribing to the view that everything that happens ‘to’ us is a learning opportunity, and if we put the two ideas together, when we get to that same point on the spiral and history repeats, it gives an opportunity to realise how far we have come, and to deal with things differently.

My alarm would have gone off at 6:00am if I’d let it. Instead I stopped it and got up, conscious of the other 5 pilgrims still sleeping.  I wrote my pages in the kitchen grappling with the fragments of a dream.  You know when the dream feeling lingers, but all you can sense is scraps of picture, a feeling, a familiar place. It is on the tip of your consciousness, like a word on the tip of your tongue.  You feel it, but you can’t remember. Although you were there only minutes before you can’t quite grasp it. You’re so close. I got it! I was playing with a cello colleague from Adelaide in an orchestra concert, but my cello had it’s bridge and tail piece cut off and the strings were really badly wound on the pegs. It was a total mess.

The words were coming today.  “Let your body speak for itself. If it wants to go faster, go faster. If it is saying go slower, go slower”. I’ve suspected this for a while, but an inertia keeps me going slowly. Perdue (lost) was the new word for the day yesterday. P is also for pizza, not really such a great idea – I’m always disappointed by the after effects of eating pizza. J-P is really touchy and stands really close.

The other pilgrims got up around 7am and joined me in the kitchen and we ate breakfast together.  It is a nice place, the kitchen is small though, so with six of us in it, it was a little cramped.  I didn’t hurry this morning and ended up leaving at about 8:15am, just after Jacqueline.

Ou est la GR balisages? I found some huge figs on the way out of town, took off my backpack and stuffed them in for later. I ate more blackberries for second breakfast. Sunflowers appeared again and a farmer was already busy ploughing his field.  I joined Jacqueline before the edge of town and walked with her talking about her life.  She is newly retired and has a son and daughter and five grandchildren.  She used to be an accountant and also works as a judge in a court, although I didn’t quite understand exactly what the equivalent might be in Australia, if there is one.  She gardens, dances and of course looks after her grandchildren.

We left the road for a chemin de terre (dirt road) that led in the same direction, and we followed this track for a short while as it made its way into the woods – Foret domaine de Bouconne.  After about 400 metres, the track came to a ‘T’ junction and to the right there was an arrow for the Chemin St Jacques. To the left it continued roughly in the same line we had been walking. Jacqueline wanted to follow the marker, but I was feeling that the right way was to continue in the same direction as we’d been going, according to my map. I decided I needed to pee before making the decision, so I hid in the undergrowth briefly, then emerged again.  Following rule one of the road “Go your own way, any other way is straying”, I agreed with her that we should go our own separate ways. I never met up with her again.  Maybe this was a road I would need to take alone.

After parting, it was a pretty short walk to the large road, and I met a couple of joggers, people walking their dogs, a few women out walking and I asked one man whether I was in the place I thought I was, and he helped me orientate myself.  I continued walking and came to a fork where I could either follow the yellow Chemin Historique de St Jacques signs, or the newer GR path further through the forest.  The way was easy to find. I would forego the GR balisage for just a little longer, my pretty!!

Again, there were lots of flies in the forest again, a flotilla of small ones.  I saw squirrels climbing trees, their fluffy tails softly waving behind them, and then I heard the sound of a woodpecker.  The only other one I have heard before was in a forest in Lithuania and that time I remember the woodiness of the sound surprised me so much. Sure, a piece of dry wood makes a woody sound when you knock it, but a tree is damp. I still don’t understand it.  Today the markers were clear, and even a man doing whipper-snippering was in the yellow and blue uniform.   I walked past houses and one dog would bark and it would set the whole neighbourhood off. I wasn’t going quietly on this historic route. We’re at an impasse.  The art of picking blackberries. I am always a little shy of them in the wild because in Australia they are so often sprayed. Here I doubt it is the case. In my observation and taste-testing, the perfect blackberry is found to have uneven little bulbous bits. They look like they are about to burst open.

Not all roads lead to sore feet and achy legs. Sealed roads are the hardest followed by white metal.  Then there is a difference also between a farm track and a forest one – maybe there’s also an olfactory impact as well as a kinaesthetic one.

My way would be through several little hamlets and it was quite cloudy as I walked towards Pujaudran. I was reminded that I was still not that far from the Toulouse airport, as I watched while a fairly large plane, engines slowing, passed overhead. I saw La Poste for the first time, and ended up seeing it five times today,  I walked along roadways near many houses, past blackberries and then up a hill, and down a small chemin de terre between paddocks to Pujaudran. Zebras can be spotted here in this town. I paused for a brief moment in their elevated town park after managing to find a toilet avec toilet paper.  I called the Office de Tourisme at 9:01 to make a reservation for the night at the gite at L’Isle-Jourdain. It seemed that with potentially six of us arriving later tonight at a place which had nine places, there may not be any options left if I didn’t phone ahead.

I wanted to get a stamp from Pujaudran, but the Tabac was closed.  I didn’t think of going to the Mairie like J-P told me he did later.  I couldn’t work out quite what was historic about the route except one little memorial to a building that was there in the 1300s. Patrick and Patrick on motorcycles made a funny site followed by a driving school car. P is for Patrick. After going the wrong way at first and taking a different road out of the town, I walked back to go the right way, down a smaller sealed road that was quite steep to walk down. I asked myself why am I holding myself back when I could go with the speed and let my body support it.  It brought a new rhythm and surprisingly didn’t hurt my knees (so I thought).  Reaching the bottom and crossing a small creek, I started climbing again and a gendarmerie car drove past.

There were high hedges of blackberries and beyond them fields. I waved to another farmer cutting grass and ploughing fields. “I’m looking at the big sky” with Kate Bush on the iPhone on loud, no earplugs.  Figs and walnuts. Fig jam figs – the best kind. Cloud Busting, the next song proved to be a great tempo for walking.  I was walking strongly, confidently, straight towards a man standing next to his white van on the other side of the road. “Bon jour” I said. He was talking to me in French, but I didn’t want to look too closely, as it kind of looked like he was taking a piss and I had a funny feeling about the situation.  Of course my funny feeling was right and he wasn’t taking a piss, was he.  I knew he was up to something else.  I walked past, but he continued to talk to me in French.  I turned back to see his penis out of his pants. He was holding it. He continued to talk to me. I couldn’t understand a word, and I looked away and walked faster. I wasn’t scared, just wanted to get out of there. Then I thought what an arsehole, and was getting angry. How dare he interrupt my beautiful walk with his pathetic depravity. I turned again and gave him the finger.

I don’t know what made me do it, because there was probably a risk involved but a hundred metres down the road, I got out my phone, stopped, turned around and took a photo.  I felt good.  I wasn’t really scared, and felt quite happy to tell him to piss off.  I felt confident and alive – yes the adrenalin was working to get me away quickly.  Nothing was going to spoil my mood, not even a dirty old man.  I saw a woman at a property nearby and stopped and tried to explain to her what had happened. With my limited French, she didn’t really understand and wasn’t particularly helpful.  I took a couple more photos of the area and the signposts and continued walking into town. There must have been less than four kilometres to go until I got to the town.

Funnily, I passed the National Gendarmerie station, but it looked all shut up and I thought they must have been closed for lunch, so I didn’t stop.  I thought I’d try to find the Office de Tourisme and where I’d be staying for the night, then go to the Mairie to work out where I could go and report what had happened.   So I walked into town. I was again tired after the walk, but nowhere near as tired as I’d felt on other days. Maybe the adrenalin was keeping me going.

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Eventually, circuitously, I found the Office de Tourisme over a little river and amazingly built bridge out the other side of town. It was closed for lunch.  J-P had already arrived and he let me into the gite next door and I left my bag there, even though I think the woman had booked me elsewhere.  I had a drink of water and told J-P what had happened. I explained I wanted to go to make a report to the police, but there was plenty of time, so I went with him to the eglise first. He explained he always went to the churches in each town. Clearly he took being a pilgrim seriously.  It was dark and cool, and there were paintings on all the walls/ceilings up high that illustrated Charitas, Modesta, Prudentia, Temperentia, Labor, Veritas, Justitia, Sapienta. What great values.  St Roch was there with his dog as always. It had a beautiful ceiling. And there was quiet choral music playing. I appreciated the distraction, and having things to occupy my mind with someone else who was familiar to me was helpful.

We then made our way to the central plaza and sat at a bar. I ate the quiche I had bought yesterday and had a Diablo Menthe.  Always a refreshing drink. Across the way was a bell museum, but I decided I didn’t want to part with the money to go inside. It was something like ten euros.  It was a little strange, after lunch and the drink I set off to make a report. I thought that J-P might accompany me to make my report, but he didn’t offer and I didn’t ask him to.

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The police system is slightly different in France, so I didn’t know what level of police I needed to talk to.  I went to the Mairie. They have Municipal police, but the woman who came to help me (there was no-one in at the time) said that I’d need to go back to the Gendarmerie National. She rang ahead for me, and explained what had happened, so thankfully I didn’t have to do that.  It was probably at least two kilometres back out the road I’d come in on, a half-hour walk and I was exasperated at having to go all that way, but I knew I must do it.

With all the back and forth (the gite was probably 500 metres out of town on a lake too), I probably reached 25kms today. The office was still shut up, but I pressed the buzzer on the gate outside and was let in.  I sat and waited for another half hour to be seen. Meanwhile a gendarme brought in a older woman who was harmless, but mostly crazy.  There had been some vandalism at her house or something. She was Spanish, and spoke very good English and so of course she wanted to talk to me in her crazy sort of ranting way.  She amused me, and I entertained her intrusion into my resigned mood.

The male police officers walked back and forth and chatted with the woman, took her report, and wandered in and out.  I waited patiently, trying to understand what was being said, but not really grasping the meaning.  I was glad of the advanced phone call. I dreaded having to speak to a male officer about what had just happened.  Most of all I didn’t want to be fobbed off. It was important to me that I made this report.  My own historic route would have taken me straight to silence, and I was determined that this time, I was going to speak about what had happened.  What had happened was not OK, and I needed to tell someone about it.  After quite a long time waiting, a strikingly magnificent, tall, dark-haired woman in uniform walks out behind the counter and after a moment asks me to come with her.  She looked strong, trust-worthy and efficient. Exactly the kind of person I wanted to tell.  Thank you universe.  She apologised that she couldn’t speak much English, however she spoke perfectly and she patiently listened and took my report and description of the man and his car.  I showed her the vehicle and arranged to send her the photo when I got wifi next.  She said there had been similar reports, and I was so glad I turned around and took the photo as it was probably the only ‘proof’ of the reports.  I said to her things like this had happened when I was younger and I never told a soul.  I said it was important to me that she listened, and I thanked her for it.

As I walked back into town, I realised that history does repeat itself.  There are creepy men all over the world.  They impose themselves on mostly girls and women, because they can and because usually other men don’t see them doing it. Consequently there are a majority of men, who could be forgiven (perhaps), for thinking that these things actually don’t happen to women, because they’ve never experienced or seen them.  There has been much in the media lately about the kinds of unwanted sexual attention that women have to put up with on a daily basis.  I have my own history, but today I truly realised, that I am not the only one.  This is not just something that happens to me.  It happens to far too many women.  Through silence, society kids itself that these are isolated incidents,  out of the ordinary. Well today I conquered my history of fear and walked a different route. I walked past thinking that the man really was an idiot who had such a low amount of respect for me, that he was enjoying trying to make me feel uncomfortable.  I told him where to go in no uncertain terms and then I spoke up for myself – for all the historic me’s that never did: the scared child, the shy teenager, and the shy adult.  I felt empowered having told someone what had happened, and validated to know that I wasn’t the only one who had experienced this, that the reports were of a similar type, and it seemed like a common perpetrator.  I also realised, these things might, because I’m a woman, keep happening to me, however I could either cower, or I could resist and speak up and yes, reflect back the disrespect shown to me. There is no respect required for a person who does not respect you.

I continued with adrenalin back to the centre of town, triumphantly but with a certain measure of humility.  It humbles you to be believed.  I was able to find some supplies for dinner and also for lunch tomorrow.  I went back to the Office de Tourisme and I told the women there what had happened. I asked whether they could book me ahead for my next two nights. They were very helpful.  The second night would be a demi-pension with meal and petit dejeuner. Luxury!  I returned to the gite next door where I’d left my pack.  The woman had kindly put me with the other pilgrims I’d been in Leguevin with.  They arrived one by one in the afternoon, and I told them all what had happened, once again trying a new way.  Previously, I wouldn’t have bothered anyone with this, knowing that previously when I have told people I have been met with everything from over-reaction to indifference.  For some it is a disturbing topic.  Now I realise I am worth the fuss, and while it is not always important to speak, there are some things that need to be told. I am thankful that history repeats and gives us a chance to re-write our script and to take new routes.

I showered, washed my clothes and put them out to dry.

We had a lovely shared meal with the addition of two new pilgrims – Virginie and Sophie. Once again it was a squeeze around the round table in the kitchen, but far from being full, there were still two spare spaces in the gite.  It is miraculous the way a round table fits an almost limitless number around it when needs be.

All’s well that ends well.

 

 

 

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.