Via Tolosana Day 43: For all your questions, the answer is: LOVE.

Sarrance to Borce – 24kms

I woke up feeling very unsure about walking today again, I nevertheless got up to do my pages. It feels so good to be doing them so regularly. Breakfast with Diane. The guy I’d had an altercation with yesterday, came in and I said I was sorry. He was less than impressed, but I didn’t blame him, I had been a cow.  We completed our breakfast and Diane got going pretty quickly after leaving her banana. I had the remainder of – that helped to settle my stomach. I asked my knees and they wanted to walk, so I did.

Outside it was, of course, foggy and overcast, but despite a few small drops, there was nothing happening on the rain front.  The first little path was hairy. This was after being on the road for a little while with a steady slope up. Then, the path plunged down off the road to the right ‘you’re joking!’. Right down to river level, then up and down for several kilometres.  The track was still boggy and quite slippery in parts. As I was ascending some muddy steps in the track, my stick got stuck and I dropped it.  The track was so narrow, that while simultaneously stepping up, and also to turning around to descend the step to retrieve my stick, was near on impossible.  I gingerly stepped back down, my heart in my mouth (the hill dropped straight down from the path towards the river), it was muddy and slippery, but I outed the stick, then picked it up carefully, back up the little step again. It was an strange choice for a walking stick and I don’t quite know why I’ve kept it. The part I hold onto is a broken off piece, so it is rough and uncomfortable in my hand. It is also slightly too short, but it does seem to help me walk.

Best to have eaten your Weeties for the route today – I could feel that if my feet/legs had been tired like yesterday, I wouldn’t have coped.  The track for the first stretch is treacherous when wet and boggy and is not to be attempted on an empty stomach.  I crossed back over a bridge, and the track opened to a wider one – enough for a car. Walnuts appeared again. Champignons were many and slugs were black, just for something different.

I came across another gate this morning – metal – easy to open.  Hairy chestnuts had appeared for the last few days. But I now realise this is what Beech nuts look like too, so they could have been Beech nuts. After passing stone sculptures for 42 days, they returned with a vengeance today.  One called out to me to put another on top. I did a good job of it.

Coming up to Osse-en-Aspe I met Diane and we walked into Bedous together. She was going the same way as I was, but was turning off to retreat to another place high in the mountains for a few days, Lescun. We saw many birds flying around near the river as we crossed it – maybe the fish were jumping.  The railway cutting continues all the way to here. There was evidence of a thriving winter sport community.

Bedous is a beautiful little town, nestled in the mountain.  We both spent some time in the Office de Tourisme, and then I went to the toilet across the plaza. I said goodbye to Diane and wished her well. I saw four La Poste vehicles today, including one bike delivering mail to the Office of Tourisme. I spied Benjamin again, across the town square, but I wasn’t able to talk to him. I found a little organic shop with nice food, and handmade things. Quite the spot. I left passing a nice painting of a friendly dog on a door, by an artist in Navarranx – that place name has attracted me since Guillaume and Reiner mentioned it. Apparently there is a beautiful gite there. It looks like it is one my list for the Le Puy route!

I walked on, putting my footsteps into those of others who had left their muddy imprints not long before – how many have trod through this mud in the last 24 hours?  I stopped for a lovely little talk with a couple who took my photo with a massive mountain in the background – Jouers. They were lovely and he was touting the value of coming back to the Pyrénées to make a real tour of them. I told them I would love to return one day to explore. Next time, the sources thermales would definitely be on my list.  They explained this route only gets you through one valley, but of course there are dozens to see.

Coming into Accous I could hear distant cow bells, complete with screeching birds.  As I walked further around the valley they became clearer.

I walked past a little remote sculpture collection next to the path – the surprises one comes across!

I’m also reminded that in these mountains still reside bears, L’ours, of up to 300kgs, so I keep my eyes peeled.  They are probably dissuaded by all the cow bells, but you never know!  The little town of Accous peeped through the shaded path as I approached from above and the side. When the path turned a corner and I started walking towards the town with the mountainous backdrop, I noticed a para-glider in relief.  The parapents were coming in to land.

I was hoping to stay the night in this town, and walked toward where the gite was.  It looked fairly locked up, and as I was walking away from it, the woman from the gite drove past in her car, rolled her window down and asked me whether I was looking for a place, only to tell me that they were complet (full)!  And from her information, the epicerie (a little way away) closes at 12:00pm. It was 11:50am.  Not particularly helpful.  I realised I would need to go on.  I was feeling like walking more today, so this wasn’t too much of a problem, however I was slightly curious as to why someone stops purely to tell you not to bother.  It is not what I thought though after another 3 hours walking!  Access is a sweet little town. The brightly coloured fittings on houses, the pilgrim signs and continual stream of paragliders, never far from your attention.  As I was leaving towards the landing site, I noticed numerous emergency vehicles heading in that direction at a distance. I hope one jump hadn’t ended in tears …

The rich greys and browns of the stone walls and cliffs contrasted with bright green and white fog and the occasional red and white way marker. The little chemin de terre through fields were gorgeous, as was being dwarfed by loftier and loftier mountains on either side of the valley. Not hot, not cold, a little humid, so slightly uncomfortable for walking, but on I went. The path was wet in parts, creeks were bursting from the stormy weather the valley had experienced for the past two days and there were amazing rock formations all along the path, naturally occurring and person-made.  There was also quite a bit of busy road walking. A see why this valley gets it’s name – a dead aspe.  At one point the walk next to the busy road was so close that I decided to walk on the other side in the grass, on the river side.  Then all of a sudden, there was no path next to the wall, and I had to try and scale the wall again when there wasn’t any traffic.  I had to hoik my backpack up and over the wall, onto the thin shoulder of the road, then clamber over myself. At first I chose a part of the wall that was too high so I back-tracked a little to try somewhere else, grazing my arm on the beautifully set rocks in the wall. On this wall, I found a beautiful, slightly too short, perfectly round tree branch.  It made a lovely low, mellow knocking sound as I walked with it, and I later realised it was a beech branch. So I walked up the valley holding my wise wand. It had soft grey bark which was a huge contrast to the rough stick I held in my other hand.

I came across the tiny settlement of L’Estanguet which consisted of a ladder to nowhere, a big truck-stop restaurant, a view of part of the disused train line bridge and a couple of houses. Leaving the town, I crossed the busy main road, and saw the Pont de Lescun sign near a beautifully painted bus shelter.

I realised this was where Diane was headed.  I hope she made it OK, and more so, I hope she has some clear blue skies so she can appreciate the gorgeous views. They call it The Cirque de Lescun and it is definitely one for next time. The blue-green of the river continues to take my breath away, it is so beautiful. It can only probably be improved on in New Zealand, along the Milford Track. On the other side of the river I come to a hydroelectric plant and while skirting the outside fence I see a Japanese flag flying – interesting.  The piles of rocks continued, as did the familiar red and white stripes. For the observant, there were also answers:

For all your questions, the answer is: LOVE

The red and white even occurred naturally in toadstools. Sadly I didn’t see a complete one, but these (along with woodpeckers) which we are also not blessed with in Australia, continue to amaze me for the way they look exactly like they are portrayed in fairy tales and childrens’ books. Yes, they really are that rich red colour!  I passed trees who had their moss ‘shaved’ off for the balisage to be applied. It made me smile: nature’s version of a tattoo.

The last 5.8kms were really hard, especially the last little climb into Borce was difficult and steep. By this time, I was really exhausted. 24kms I think I trudged, straight up.  That’s heaps of steps. The town of Borce was a lovely stopping place though, and I was glad I had persevered with the long walk today. It’s twin town is Etsaut, which is across the valley, and which you see on the approach to Borce. That is where all the services are, like a supermarket and post office, and another gite. But I had my heart set on Borce, and to get to Etsaut would have meant finding my way across the river again.

I walked up the steep road which turned off from the main road, past chalet-style houses that made me feel like I was in Germany or Switzerland rather than the south of France.  The cute decorations, reminiscent of my first days on the road, some 800 kilometres ago, brought back the familiar French country sweetness. Continuing on through the main street, the beauty of this well-kept medieval town struck me.  There had certainly been some money invested here to ensure that these buildings were looking better than they had all those centuries ago probably. The Mairie is in a tower building – beautiful.

I was welcomed at the Communal epicerie/gite. It is a bar policed lazily by a sweet dog.  I paid my money and got a diablo menthe and a packet of chips. I realised I had not stopped for lunch!  There was no key required for the gite, which was up a set of stairs and behind the bar – it was open, so I let myself in. I found it to be yet another ancient building right next to the church and behind the Mairie.  It was cool, and I appeared to be the only one there.  The glass doors, framed by dark wood, open into a place where packs can be left, and the lounge room. Up a few steps and there is the classic long bench table that leads to the kitchen, which appeared to be randomly supplied with the leftovers of other pilgrims and well stocked with cooking utensils.

Up another set of stairs, and I find the toilets and bathrooms, then a room each for males and females. On the door, the most amusing introduction to a gite so far. It wins the ‘best rules sheet’ hands down – may the Borce be with you! They appear to have lots of problems with bed bugs – the legs of the beds sit in plastic containers containing some dubious powder.  It is super basic, but adequate accommodation though the bathrooms are dated and a little rudimentary, nevertheless I showered and washed my clothes with no problems.

I’d sat for a while in one of the chaise lounges out in the tiny back yard after pegging out my washing. It wasn’t particularly sunny, but it wasn’t quite cold and it was nice to relax outside. I was thinking that the monastery at Sarrance lacked these when I was there, and it was like an answered prayer that two appear at the next gite. Coming back inside, and sitting on my bed, I hear a “Bonjour!!” downstairs, at the front door. I was a little surprised because it was Benjamin. I thought he would’ve been way ahead of me again today. He had stopped in for supplies across the river at Etsaut, so after exchanging hellos I got the town reports and we discussed the contents of the kitchen and the gite generally. Afterwards I went out and back-tracked to the edge of town look at the ancient hospital building I’d seen on my way in and take more photos of the gorgeous buildings.

It turns out this hospital is now an Ecomuseum, holding an interesting and informative display about the  history of the pilgrimage, and a beautiful modern sculptural installation set off by beautiful lighting you can switch on. St Jacques makes an appearance yet again. Checking out the chapel, I find the familiar shell shape on the font set in the wall.  After my fact-finding mission, I returned to the bar to get wifi; there was none in the actual gite. I came back and wrote in my journal for a while.

Later on I cooked some dinner, something basic with food from the little epicerie in the bar, and shared it with Benjamin as there was too much for just me.  I went to bed around 9:25pm.  The room was really light with street lights outside, so I made curtains around my bunk like I’d seen Cloudine do.  Other pilgrims often have the best ideas about how to cope with the little inconveniences of the way.

Gate tally for today – 2 light steel, 2 light green gates, 1 compostelle grand (large) and 1 compostelle petite (small), 1 electric fence gate. Vertical metres covered today: from 370m – 424m – 493m – 524m – 660m.

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 24: An elegant mind

Baziege to Toulouse: 25kms

I arose after a fantastic sleep – the bed was really comfy and the room really dark. I always know when I’ve slept well because I have vivid dreams.  This night’s offerings took me back to 17 years old at my year 12 cello exam – why am I still dreaming that! I wrote morning pages and felt a sense of accomplishment.  It is funny noticing others around me when I’m writing – they can’t resist talking and commenting on things and kind of forget that I’m busy writing. When there is no separate room to go to, it is a little tricky, but I’m getting better at kindly not engaging, and being focussed on the job at hand. I realise I am growing in confidence about going my own way, doing my own thing.  Strong, independent woman. Those bells ring out again – très magnifique.

We all had breakfast together, but then I was a little slow with my packing. Bernadette and Philippe were already downstairs waiting with packs and boots on. I said goodbye to our hosts and I caught B & P up as they were buying things from yet another boulangerie on the way out of town.  I bought another quiche for lunch – its turning into a habit.

We all walked together for a short time until we found our way back to the Canal du Midi, but then I walked more quickly with Philippe and Bernadette took her own pace.  He is a reflective and considerate person, saying at one stage that “an elegant mind was more important to him than elegant trousers”.  He certainly was an elegant-thinking man.  We walked all day again between the canal and the A61. He said it was like having one foot in a dream and one foot in reality. I liked the way he looked at things – it reminded me of a student who told me about the Maori belief of walking through life always one foot in physical and one foot in spiritual reality.  We were walking at a cracking pace, but it was extremely nice to be sharing conversation with such an interesting person. It was worth the pain, and it would only be for one day.

11:11.

He also explained what a tourterelle was – I like to call it the Kate Bush pigeon, but in fact it is a turtledove, hence its gorgeous call. I referred to it in a previous post. Kate Bush is a long-time favourite of mine, and her little double album Arial, released in 2005, is a beauty.  In it, Prelude features her son Bertie and birds …

Mummy…
Daddy…
The day is full of birds
Sounds like they’re saying words

The dove’s calls are then imitated in the tune of the song.  I’d listened to this album over and over so that when I ventured to France in 2008 and was attending Orpheon Baroque School, I stayed in a friend’s beautiful house and each morning, the beautiful call, which I thought at that stage was only English, gently woke me.  Little did I know that I would brush up against the same calls in France and indeed would learn more about bird language as I walked further.

There were not many photos today, as I was too busy walking and talking with Philippe for near to 20kms.  It was a fast walk, and we arrived by 1.00pm.  It was actually excellent to get there so quickly along the canal route.  But the few photos I did manage to get with the combination of the overcast day, the watery canal and boats and the juxtaposition of the amazing graffiti art made for a spectacular entree into the bustling city of Toulouse; home of the A380. Another idea for this blog – Canal Boats of the Via Tolosana could include the evil eye, a day spa, a camouflaged boat and Samsara, no less. Happy trails full of bateaux de canal.

We tended to walk ahead of Bernadette, she was perfectly happy for that. Her pattern is to walk a set number of hours before stopping – I think it was 4 – so that makes about 16kms before a break. So we went quickly, and were then met by her when we had a break for morning tea, and again when we had just finished our lunch she met us again around 12.45pm.  Getting up from our seat which proudly said “Revolution will come with education”, we saw her coming in the distance, so waited for her for our last few kilometres into the centre. At one point, the canal completely surprised me by passing over a road, or maybe given the age of the canal and the roads, the road passed under the canal.  On the last little stretch to the centre we took a wrong path and ended up walking very close to the crash barrier of the road. Our way was littered with rubbish and it was really disappointing. But on the other hand the beautiful multi-story variety of buildings made a really great introduction and made me think I’d like to do a tour of the city if I had time.

Philippe had worked out where he was staying, and Bernadette was finishing here so was going to catch a train that afternoon back home to Lyon, so when we got to the road that veered off to the left, we availed ourselves of the public toilet, took some photos for memories, and said farewell to Philippe. I decided I would walk with Bernadette to the station partly because I hadn’t exactly decided what I wanted to do, and partly because I felt it was the right thing as it seemed she was a little uncertain of the way.  The SNCF station is also on the canal so it was a simple quarter of an hour-ish walk there.  She would most probably get a train within the hour, they run so frequently. Before we got there, we tipped our hats in homage to the statue of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the man who created the Canal du Midi (or the Canal Royal de Languedoc as it started out), standing overlooking the road towards the centre, which crosses the canal outside the SNCF.

I said goodbye to Bernadette, and walked outside of the station, meeting an Algerian man who kind of talked with me and wandered with me all the way to the Place du Capitole, after I asked him directions. It was an interesting discussion. He didn’t seem to like being in Toulouse and I asked him a little cheekily, why he stayed if it was so bad.  I couldn’t really understand this.  The Office de Tourisme turned out to be the first one that was less than helpful. It was no help with finding accommodation and they couldn’t help me with information about accommodation in Carcassonne either – pity. This is a fairly common issue.  The offices only deal with tourism for their particular region, so even though you may be very close, it can be difficult to get information about the nearby towns without actually being in them.  So I sat there and paused.  What shall I do?  The answer came: stay here tonight. OK.

I decided to walk the 15 minutes to the same place that Philippe was staying in – Foyer des Jeunes Travailleurs. I’ll go tomorrow to Carcassonne. It was a pretty direct walk, and I found the place easily, passing by many buildings like Baziege, the brickwork is unique to this area. I would assume this is more Spanish style as there were now street signs on buildings in both French and Spanish.  It made me realise the way is creeping closer to Spain.

5:55.

I came to the auberge and a group of people sharing some laughs welcomed me in the foyer.  I paid my money and they accommodated me in a room two floors up.  There would be dinner tonight too – bonus!  After getting up to my room (one I had to myself), then showering, and suspending my washing from the chair to the open window handle, and on a couple of coat-hangers I found in the wardrobe, I made my way downstairs for wifi access – only available in a computer room.  The place is like YMCA hostel – but for young workers and over the afternoon, more and more gathered and hung out, chatted and watched soccer on the computers.  The linoleum corridor on my floor was coincidentally being re-surfaced so I couldn’t go back up until 7pm, and unfortunately I forgot to bring a warm pullover down so I sat and shivered most of the afternoon, and kept closing the door as people walked in and out of the cavernous room all afternoon to keep the cool out.  More and more young men and women came to access emails, and chat between themselves. It was a nice environment.

On the internet I looked at accommodation, and was getting very disheartened because there is a big festival tomorrow – probably the biggest of the French public holidays – Assumption – the commemoration of the departure of Mary from this life into heaven.  National Holiday.  I don’t know whether this augers so well for a visit to the most popular National Monument – La Cite, Carcassonne. Hmmmm.

I was continuing to feel frustrated about the lack of accommodation options in Carcassone when I happened across a site for the Notre Dame de l’Abbaye.  I asked the woman at the desk whether she would mind ringing ahead for me.  She was very helpful and said that yes, pelerins are accommodated and I just need to be there before 7pm.  Perfect, and only 20 Euro.  Great luck.  Maybe a good place to research Cathars. Could I have been there before in another life?

I decided I would go to Carcassonne early tomorrow, to get the maximum time to look around and plan my activities. I had the most amazing ‘canteen’ meal that night for only several euros and it was nice because I caught Philippe and we had what would turn out to be our final chat. I overdosed on chocolate mousse – he gave me his.  I said I would get up to say goodbye in the morning and we said goodnight.

Jacques writes late: “Carcassone is nice. Walk with Jacques, Marlies and Manfred. Left Toulouse yesterday with train to Isle Jourdain.”  He’s still skipping the ‘boring’ bits!

 

 

Via Tolosana Day 10: A stitch in time saves nine

Lodeve to Lunas 22 kms

Last night I think I got sleep. I can’t really tell.

We were up at 5.00am to get ready to walk another big day as we were intending to get to Joncels. Jacques I and I left at 6am. It was cool and a good time to start. We ate a sunrise for breakfast. Pink sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning, as it turns out, was correct.

Sunrise through blackened trees

Sunrise

Sunrise - yellow clouds above blackened landscape

Sunrise

We first left by road, and wound our way up to meet the chemin (our gite was on an alternate, parallel route out to the west of Lodeve) so we needed to turn left to find the GR653 again. We left the road to the right and followed a fire track circling slowly upwards around a hill for about an hour an a half.

Pines aglow with morning sun next to dirt track

Pines aglow

Balisage - white and red GR653 marker on pile of stones

Balisage

Once again we had gorgeous views; a patchwork of cropped fields, forests and even the large lake we could see yesterday from the table d’orientation.  We continue to cover so much ground.

Patched Grandeur - distant view of mountains, lake and fields and forests

Patched grandeur

The chemin Via Tolosana, dirt track and blue sky

The chemin

Which way? Hay bale behind signpost pointing in many directions

Which way?

At the top of one section large rounds of hay confronted us and we turned right.  Heading towards the summit Jacques commented on how he thought I was strong to carry such a heavy backpack. I knew it was heavier than it needed to be, but was not thinking I could get rid of very much. Plus we were never in a town at the right time to post anything. We left well before 9am, and never reached a town with La Poste before 12pm and they rarely opened in the afternoons.  He hadn’t suggested we stop for a day so I could post my excess. I wasn’t using my sleeping bag, and my Keen sandals were far too heavy for this exercise. I also took the comment metaphorically and I told him, I’ve had to be strong in my life as I was taken advantage of as a young child. I said I’m only just becoming comfortable with letting down my guard and showing my sensitive and vulnerable side. I’m learning how to use something different to sheer brute strength to keep myself strong, and sane. Reflecting on this conversation I am realising that it also takes constant attention and skill working out who to safely surround myself with, in order that I don’t experience overload. Working this out now, gives me more power and strength than anything else.  Sometimes however, it takes a while to sink in, 10 days perhaps.

When I was leaving the monastery at Bouchard, one of the sweet, yet simple monks who had showed me the little chapel the day before when I was wandering around the grounds returned to the breakfast dining room and brought me a small heart locket on a leather cord.  I was very touched, and in addition to the little pendant I have worn every day from my friend Jo, I put it on and had worn it religiously.  In Gallargues I nearly lost it – I left it hanging in the shower, but remembered it in time.  Today I found myself without my heart-shaped locket and I knew now I was really lost.  I still had the leather cord, so I might replace the locket when I get back, but I realised now, something really had to change.

False friends - berries that look like blueberries

False friends – not blueberries

Just like an Australian walk, the familiar fronds of bracken appeared. Blue berries that looked edible, but apparently are not started clumping along the grassy track. Achy foot arches and achy right knee, my ACL knee (drat).

Grassy track

Grassy track

Don't go there donkey! Rocks with GR653 'wrong way' marker

Don’t go there donkey!

Rocks and grass and GR653 marker

Rocks and grass

Distant view of hills with road winding looking like the seam on a pair of jeans

Like the seam on a pair of jeans

As I was walking up the side of the bitumen road, I thought about the speed of walking as opposed to riding. As I’d found when riding the Vezelay route, the dashed lines along the side of the road are actually joined by a very fine white line, just like you make when you’re patching squares together en masse and you don’t break the cotton (for my quilting relatives).  You can only see it when you’re riding or walking. Car drivers wouldn’t be let into the secret, that line markers all know, there is one continuous line, even for dashes.

Pilgrimage appeals to many, but the many variants of the Chemin St Jacques are not the only form of long-distance walking you can do. The Grande Randonnée network spreads like crisscrossed stitching on a quilt across France and Europe, and many people do different parts of it each holiday.

Photo of lines marked on bitumen

Sewing those patchwork squares together

Later wind turbines debuted. They are called éoliennes here. Yes Tony Abbott, Europe has loads of them! They are not without their dissenters though. Some locals obviously believe they are messing with the local Royal eagle population. Controversial, wherever you are! I might have thought that eagles would be a little too clever to get caught up in wind turbines, but maybe not, and they are dying in their 100s. Who would know? I’m wondering whether the energy companies would let environmental scientists even close. Maybe I’m just being cynical. When I spoke of them later to Jacques I & II, they said éoliennes are named for the God of Wind, Aeolius. I said in Australia we just call them wind turbines – maybe we prefer to keep the Gods out of it.

(I know of him from the Aeolian mode in music which according to wiki is the natural minor mode of the Bob Dylan song, All Along the Watchtower and the R.E.M. song, Losing my Religion. I spent 6 years “prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper and I was” … none the wiser about those facts! Prizes for anyone who knows who wrote those words).

Not everyone likes éoliennes - La population sit non aux eoliennes sure l'escandorgue

Not everyone likes éoliennes

Hills and wind turbines

éoliennes

Jacques II caught us up where we’d stopped for our second break, just past the Col de la Baraque de Bral corner and the turbine protest. We’d been walking for 45 minutes on bitumen, and a total of four hours already, so my legs were dead. Even the sound of cowbells in the valley was not enough to amuse me and distract from my leg tiredness.

From our resting place we tried ringing to book beds for the night. Somewhere, somehow, someone decided that we should walk further than Joncels, to Lunas.  We were going to pass through Joncels on the way, but then Jacques II thought better of the idea. I think both Jacques were trying to make it easier for me so they suggested we go straight down the valley to Lunas, cutting off several kilometres. Here again we were skipping bits, but I was now resigned to it. I just had to walk at their pace. Both Jacques tried ringing our intended place of abode for the night, but couldn’t seem to get through. We joked that we must indeed be in ‘deep’ France as there was no mobile reception. So we took the most direct route down, continuing straight through the little hamlet of Bernagues instead of veering right. There was only one house there that we could see and a little further down the track a big abandoned house, well maybe half-abandoned. This ended up being a very difficult 5km track down into Lunas and quite hot and exposed in the post midday sun (as usual). We stopped a little way along to eat lunch on the shady side of the hill (thankfully). It was nice because it was the first time all three of us had stopped together. The Jacques continued to try the accommodation to no avail. I just enjoyed the peace of the present location.

Chemin Via Tolosana, GR653 dirt track across paddocks with blue sky

Neverending story

When we were nearly there, Jacques I took a big fall, but luckily only skinned his knees. Tiny blue, orange and yellow butterflies mimicked the colours of the flowers next to the road, and flitted around at our feet. As yesterday, there were sand-coloured crickets which when disturbed, jumped away, revealing their amazingly bright orange underbellies.

I hung back a little again, preferring to walk on my own, keeping my pain to myself.  I’ve worked out a few logistical realities from walking with others. For instance, the pee stop, usually sets one back at least 100 metres from one’s colleagues. Jacques called these stops escales, like the stops a ship takes at different ports.

When we got to the bottom of the hill, it was only 500 metres into Lunas along the jean-seam of a road, but it felt like another 5 kms. The bitumen was a new form of torture for my feet. Passing Roland Garros (I didn’t think it was this far south), I once again hobbled to the finish line and the Office de Tourisme.

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In Lunas at last

Sign above doorway - Roland Garros

For Uncle Geof

Lunas is yet another town made beautiful by the river running through it and people had clearly built to take in the view. A large château/hotel/restaurant was perched right on its banks. It took a gorgeous picture and looked really popular with the lunchtime crowd. It was nearly 2pm, and we camped outside our favourite place until it opened. I was desperate, in a messy way, for the toilet, so took my toilet paper with me around the back of the building. Luckily where there are tourists, there are toilets. My feet were killing me and I couldn’t bear to walk a moment longer. The Jacques were contemplating walking to the next town, Le Bousquet d’Orb, another 3.5kms but I said no way. The woman gave them all the options, in French at first, then Jacques I explained to me an abbreviated form in English. They were struggling to find cheap options. I indicated once again my strong preference for staying in this town, as I really couldn’t go any further physically.

Reflections of the Restaurant du château in a river, Lunas

Reflections of the Restaurant du château

I took the opportunity, while they were exploring options, to have a brief sojourn with Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) in the chapel next door without my pack on. L’église Saint-Pancrace was cool, calm, and literally 10 steps from the office. I am always quite fascinated by Jeanne in chapels. She seems somewhat out-of-place, and I never think of her as a saint, I suppose because she was a martyr first.  I try to forget that if she had lived just two hundred years later, she would have been one of the opponents of my Huguenot ancestors, waging war against protestant English sympathisers. I try not to like her, because clearly she was a violent young woman, but there is something in this portrayal of her: innocent childlike  demeanour (she possibly was only 19 when she was burnt), peasant clothes, and battle garb in such a sacred place that screams of an attitude that women just aren’t meant to have.  You have to admire that! For audacity alone.  The West has certainly had its share of ‘holy warriors’ and now I notice there is even a tactical role-playing Play-Station game named in her honour.  She is clearly breaking down traditional roles of women even in the 21st century, over five hundred years later.

Statue of Jeanne d'Art (Joan of Arc), L'église Saint-Pancrace

Jeanne d’Arc

Tiled roof building with faces sculpted in the lintels

Kitchen lintel sculptures

While I was absent, there was a little to-ing and fro-ing between the two Jacques and the woman at the office, then the unimaginable happened. I still don’t know how. The reason the two Jacques couldn’t get through to the L’Auberge Gourmande where we had wanted to stay, was because the new owners had closed it for renovations. I don’t know whether it was pressure from Jacques I (I’ve noticed he can be very insistent), or just happenstance, but the woman ended up having the owners on the phone, and asked them whether it would be possible to put 3 pilgrims up. They agreed, and they were fantastic. We thanked her for her assistance and went to wait for the owner just across the river on some little benches across the road from the accommodation.  An old man was sitting there and we said our bon jours.  As it often does, the conversation turned quickly to the weather, and he told us that they did have rain earlier in the week, and made us laugh when he said it wasn’t enough to fill a glass.  He was later joined by what looked like all of the old men of the town who only disbanded at the threat of the storm that was forecast.

We stayed in a building site basically (don’t tell anyone!), but there was one room with three beds in it that they hadn’t been working on. They were also living there upstairs, so it was well habitable, and our hosts were quick to point out the hazards (most of which were probably there well before the building work anyway). It was cool and there was lovely coir matting on the floor which gave excellent relief when I rubbed my tired feet on it.  We were given towels (luxury – with shoe box in middle of road accent), bath mats and guest soaps. Plus they allowed us to use their washing machine and makeshift kitchen out back. The Hilton!

As we were settling in to our accommodation, Jacques II had a search through his pack, and realised he had left his medications in Lodeve, so he disappeared to try to ring the madame from the gite. We said we’d organise dinner so he could concentrate on getting his medications back. Madame wasn’t answering her telephone and he came back looking a little dejected. Luckily, I had kept both of her phone numbers on my Lodeve map, and he was able to ring her. Fortuitously, she had cousins who were visiting Lodeve from Lunas that night, and they agreed to deliver his medicines back to him. We shared pizza, tomato/mozzarella salad and crusty bread, and part-way through, our hostess came to tell us the medications had been dropped off. Voila!

Still persevering with my blog attempts, after dinner I sat downstairs in the lounge room and used wi-fi! Yay! Only 53 unread emails.  I didn’t get very far again with the blog, so I snuck upstairs and went to bed.

Moon and clouds in Lunas

Lunar sky after rain in Lunas

Via Tolosana Day 9: Attention a la marche: glisser!

Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière to Lodève 15kms

Sitting in the garden of a château with a driveway lined with chestnut trees, it is hard to believe the highs and the lows I have been through today. And I’m not talking about altitude.

I didn’t sleep, I didn’t feel rested, and was exhausted. I didn’t have a headache during the night as I usually do when I am dehydrated, but instead a temperature and I woke with my nose blocked up. Uh oh. I’m confused. In addition to this, when I first walked into the little gite, it smelled of piss and a strange damp smell.

Preparation was slow this morning. It had rained a little overnight and was cool outside. I decided my toenails needed cutting or I might have more sources of pain by the end of the day. Knowing the walk would be in the sun the previous day, I’d exchanged my short-sleeved t-shirt for a long-sleeved one, but I thought given the overcast start today, that I’d be safe with short sleeves. It wasn’t raining heavily, but enough to get the pack wet, so the yellow cover went on.

Seeing a gorgeous blue 2CV put me in a slightly better mood as we left the little town with the tongue-twister name and I walked ahead for the first part of the morning.  I glimpsed a La Poste scooter and I found a Domaine de Flo.

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Domaine de Flo

Wet dry stone wall

Watery path

The path was completely covered with water early on, but we took a way around it. The smells of wet grass and pine were gorgeous in the rain and mostly it continued to sprinkle lightly. The way was again well-marked, but in parts rocky – perhaps a reflection of my state of mind. I was angry with Jacques, but of course, mostly with myself, for once again ‘fitting in’ with someone else, and going their way. I had stopped listening to myself. I had stopped writing. I felt like I had compromised my ‘way’ to fit in with his, and lost myself in the process. I had expected to walk for 6 weeks by myself, and sadly, I resented the intrusion into my trip. At first it had been fun. Now it just felt like hard work walking with this invisible expectation that I would keep up and have the same way. Getting to Montpelier, I had been prepared to walk the ‘boring’ bits. I could have stopped to listen to myself, but didn’t. I’d done it again, like I often do, compromise my way to fit in with someone else. I found myself feeling sorry for myself.  Where is that companion who will want to walk with me at my pace? When will someone compromise their trip for me? 

Roman road?

We were walking to Lodeve today, a smaller étape (stage), and I had decided that once there I would take the opportunity to rest and let Jacques I and II go on without me. I felt like the only option I had was to stay to do my writing and get myself together again, alone.  Best laid plans.

Usclas-du-Bosc

We passed through Usclas-du-Bosc and it was still spitting. Jacques, with his random door-opening habit opened the big green iron door to the cemetery. There were stèles discoïdales there – ancient tomb stones from the 1600s and earlier. I was impressed as I thought Jacques had just found them by luck but I realise now they were probably in his guide-book. I needed to find a toilet however, and went off to the Mairie. The toilet was behind the building, but locked. I went in to the Mairie and asked the woman for the key, dumped my pack and was relieved – just in time. Afterwards I went back to take more photos of the cemetery.

stèle discoïdales

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Dry stone wall

The cigales were absent all day – they obviously don’t like getting wet. Small bushes were sending their herbal fragrances out to all and sundry, making the air smell aromatic and providing good competition for my own pungency (usually well before 10am I’m drowning in sweat).  Today was a day of dry-stone walls, made wet with the rain. They gave way to shale paths and then a long track upwards to an intersection had us turn onto a cushioned pine forest path. Pilgrims had gone wild and creative with their rock piles, even on large dolmen-like rocks. Pine trees whispered as I walked, sounding like the ocean. The air was fresh through my sweaty clothes.

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Soft pine path

rock sculpture

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Dolmen rock art

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Grandmont horses

If yesterday’s theme was Attention à la marche, today’s was attention à la marche – glisser (slippery). After the pine forest, we walked along large flat slippery rocks for many minutes before coming upon a pine avenue bordered with a stone wall next to a horse paddock leading to le prieuré Saint-Michel de Grandmont. According to the sign board outside, in addition to cloisters, there is Le dolmen de Coste-Rouge (an ancient megalith), old stone wells and woods surrounding the priory. It looked deserted, and as I didn’t want to hold Jacques up, I didn’t pursue researches to see if it was open. Once again I missed out. For the next week or so, I kept meeting pilgrims who raved about this place. It would have been a couple of minute wait for it to open, but I kept walking. Doing some research later, thanks Wiki, I found that the Grandmontine order was basically one of austere hermits, who wore no shoes, and spent their whole lives in silence, eating no meat and fasting regularly.  Sounds like medieval Vipassana. Sounds like just the kind of place I would’ve enjoyed seeing! No joke.

the path

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Attention glisser!

The whole landscape today, with what could well have been Roman built walls, dripped with history and geological significance. After the priory it was full on and the rocks were slippery as. After stepping up and down as the track passed over rocks for a little while, we came out on the top a massive rock plateau. When I took a leak, I could see down a crevice to another level below where we were. Cave men and women lived here. It was just like Korg: 70,000 BC. Jacques walked on ahead.

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Rock shelf

This rock shelf lasted for several hundred metres and is appropriately known as ‘La Roch’, although I can’t confirm, as it doesn’t appear on any maps. On the final stretch of it, enthusiastic visitors had built a labyrinth marked by small stones, so of course I walked it remembering my trip to the park with Jo in Sydney, and my friend Maureen’s love of all things labyrinthine. Walking carefully so as not to slip, I entered with an intention of composing myself and exiting into a new way, my way. Take companionship from people who would support me to walk my way. Remain true to myself.

Labyrinth

Further along the track, deep grooves in the rock, about 30cms wide and the same deep, had me wondering whether these were prehistoric rainwater collecting mechanisms. I had a momentary panic when I thought I had lost him, but eventually I caught Jacques up.  This annoyed me, not because I’d lost him, but that it mattered that I’d lost him, as I was trying so very hard to feel independent. I said I would stop for some morning tea in a highly wooded path adjoining one last large flat-topped rock shelf. We ate pain aux raisins that we’d bought at the Boulangerie that morning.  We briefly talked about La Fontaine again, who Jacques describes as a ‘fabulist’, which always sounds like ‘fabulous’ when he says it, and it takes a moment to work out what he’s talking about. It seems that the language confusion worked both ways for us.  French speakers have trouble with my name. It is completely un-French so usually people I meet have never heard it before. So, I get all sorts of pronunciations. Jacques thought my name was Bronwell. He thought this was curious because in Dutch, ‘bron’ means ‘source’. To have a name: ‘wellwell’ was amusing to him. Until I corrected him, and said, no, it’s Bronwen. I have found as soon as I spell it, people seem to understand how to say it. I keep meaning to write a card with ‘Bron-wen’ on it. This would make my name absolutely clear.

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Prehistoric rainwater collection

the pack

My pack felt heavy, but thankfully with a night’s healing sleep, my chaffed legs were not bothering me as they had the day before.  There was generous provision of water fountains and picnic spots on the first day so far in which we neither felt like drinking so much, or needed to sit down so desperately. View-worthy locations were the most popular. We bypassed the little town of Saumont, but not the table d’orientation just outside with it’s lovely old cross.

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Tractor seat picnic spot

Table d’orientation

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Saumont

It never ceases to amaze me how many terrains we pass through each day. When we started the ground was purple, but we ended up with rocks and large saltbush-like bushes with long thing spiky foliage. Just after Saumont, we sat on one of the many park benches of the day for a break. Minutes later and we were joined by Jacques II. Then another 5 minutes passed and there was Hugo. He’d brought a thermos with him for coffee, and he shared his boisson chaud (hot drink) with us – how fantastic. Jacques phoned ahead only to find that the Gite de la Megisserie was closed permanently. We would need to visit the Office de Tourisme for more assistance with finding a bed for the night. Hugo disappeared as quickly as he’d appeared and I never met him on the chemin again. For the rest of the way to Lodeve, we more or less traversed with Jacques II. I hung back, I was still exhausted and preferred to walk alone-ish.

I dropped my phone on day 7, and the sound had stopped working. I had missed the little camera shutter sound when I took photos. But today as I was crossing a grassy field, and took a photo of the Jacques ahead, I realised the sound had returned. But just because I’m paying attention and doing my best to listen, but it doesn’t necessarily mean things get instantly easier.

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Red rocks

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Rocky wood pile

Right next to the path outside Lodeve, there was a tiny hut. We joked that this was our gite for the night. Next to it, there was a rock pile that resembled the woodpiles I’d seen in Lithuania – a beautiful piece of handiwork.

walls

Le Lergue

Mary watches over all

Lodeve is a large-ish town spread along the valley of the Le Lergue river. Walking towards the centre we passed Mary looking down protectively over us. At the tourist office, the woman was very helpful and found the three of us accommodation for 15 euros each. I was missing my wi-fi and really wanted to read emails. I had left my Airbnb rooms open back in Australia, but I hadn’t had wi-fi to be able to check for any bookings. There was wi-fi in the office, but I just had to charge my phone first. After having decided I wanted to walk on my own, and stay in Lodeve for two nights, having a booking for a gite with the two Jacques didn’t feel like I was asserting my new independence. I left my pack at the office, and went to find some food for dinner at Monoprix – a cheap eat of carbonara for 2 euro 38 centimes. That’s a bargain.

I went back to the Office de Tourisme having tried to get money from three ATMs with my VISA and AMEX. I would have topped up in Montpelier, but had been too distracted to remember. Now I had 15 euros cash, and no cash until Tuesday when my master card topped up.  I was in a bind. I could go on with the two Jacques and pay my 15 euros for the night and not have anything for the next three days, or I could find a hotel to stay in that took AMEX. I got back to the tourist office just as Jacques II was picking up his backpack, and I asked him to tell Jacques I that I wouldn’t be staying tonight. I explained my situation, and he said he would wait while I tried one last possibility at the Post Office. This didn’t work. I spent 30 minutes on the phone to VISA and they had difficulty dealing with my request for a new card, said they’d put me through to somewhere else who didn’t have any idea why I’d been put through to them, and were likewise extremely unhelpful given I had no money, and a VISA card that didn’t work.

I went back to find Jacques II patiently waiting and he offered to lend me money. I was really tearful and humbled that someone who had known me only a couple of days would offer to help like this. I had just decided to go my own way, and now I had no means. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to rely on others, but it seemed this was the only option. I left to go to the gite with Jacques II but part way there I was getting the strong feeling not to go on. I tried to explain in my limited French, why I was upset, but actually I didn’t really know. I said for him to go on, and I would go back to the Office de Tourisme. I’d been there several times now, and they probably thought, oh no, not the crying Australian again. The woman checked for me whether there were any hotels that took Amex with a room available for two nights. Complet (full)! I needed more time to think. I checked my Airbnb account. I had missed two bookings, they had expired. This affects my response rate, so I decided to block out August bookings because the stress of having to find wi-fi to keep up with them, was taking its toll. With space to feel, I realised that my only option was to continue with the two Jacques. Jack High! I would take up Jacques II on his offer, and continue walking until my money cleared. I needed a break desperately, but I didn’t have the means to have one.

The woman gave me the directions to the gite. I was hoping it was a nice one, but was thinking it could be awful given the day I’d just had. At a roundabout I tried to take in the peaceful offering a gorgeous olive tree was extending.  Maybe it was reminding me of grace, or maybe charity. I felt relieved at having made a decision, but I was realising the consequences of the last 8 days. I wasn’t feeling much peace about becoming distracted enough not to look after myself financially. Stupid Bronwen.

For two kilometres I followed the avenue of plane trees out-of-town, walking on the left-hand side of the road facing the traffic, stepping aside into the grass if a car passed. I checked the house numbers, but they didn’t follow a sequence. I kept walking and there it was, #762, and no I wasn’t imagining it – it was a château, with a coach house no less. Another avenue of tall trees took a right from the road and I followed them and found Jacques I. Jacques II had told him I wouldn’t be coming, so he was surprised to see me. I went upstairs to see the madame of the house and glimpsed where she lived with her husband. She received me in a little room with bay doors leading into a sitting room. Conservatively upholstered chairs, carpet and a mirror above a fireplace welcomed personal visitors, but I sat down next to the pilgrim stamp at the beautiful table in the lobby. She only spoke French, but it was not a complicated exchange when I was just paying for a bed and getting my credentiale stamped. She did mention however that some of her family had travelled to Australia, and we had a brief discussion about this.

There are only 3 beds in this gite, and it seems that it is not generally listed, a place of last resort perhaps. A small kitchen, a long bed chamber with three beds, and a bathroom/toilet in which the small internal window opens up into the garage under the house. In addition to the musty bathroom smell, you get a hint of mechanics when you’re drying yourself after your shower. We ate dinner together, and surprisingly I was genuinely happy to be back. I showered and did my washing, but as it was already after 6pm, there was not much hope of it drying over night. Jacques I asked what I would do about money, and I told him Jacques II had offered to lend some. Jacques I offered too, so having known him just a little longer I took a loan.

château

Yesterday I honed some tips for discouraged pilgrims:

Methods for walking up long, rocky paths:
1. Little old lady, bent double method (self-explanatory)
2. Standing erect, butt cheeks clenched technique
3. Holding onto backpack straps method
4. Hands on hips technique

Vary as each one becomes ineffective.

Via Tolosana Day 8: Attention a la Marche on that Road to Nowhere

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert to Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière 26kms

I noticed when I was in Paris this time, that they are now including an English and German translation in the Metro when the Attention a la marche! (watch your step!) announcement is given. As with many things French/English there are mirror images on the other side of the channel. In the Tube, the same announcement is Mind the gap!  Sometimes despite all our best efforts, our attention is taken and before we know it we are lost. Sometimes we haven’t been listening to our own needs and our focus is on someone else. Sometimes it is simply fatigue and sleep deprivation. Whatever the cause, when our focus returns, or we awake from our slumber we find ourselves in uncomfortable territory.

Jacques and I were able to get up really early to undertake the biggest day so far – probably well over 26 kms. I saw 5:55 on my phone as we were leaving. It was another beautiful morning as we ascended what I will refer to as ‘El Capitan’, because of its resemblance to the one in Yosemite. The sun rose colouring the sheer cliffs and trees with a gentle orange-pink. The path was steep, straight up following switchbacks for the first hour and a half. I was scared by the drop away from the path in some places. When you see the shale rocks spilling down the hill, it doesn’t fill one with confidence. ‘El Capitan’ or Roc de la Bissone was in our sights from many angles and it looked so high that we would never reach it. In the end, we walked right on top of it. The vegetation varied also. A thick covering in some place, and none in others – leaving you to tumble down the hill if you lost your footing.  I found myself savouring the small trees and vegetation and walking quickly past the exposed parts, with that slight feeling of panic never far away.

‘El Capitan’ or Roc de la Bissone

Looking back to where we’d come from, there was a beautiful view of the ruined castle we could see from St Guilhem and a subtle sunrise. The path was rocky, but consistent.

Ruined Visigoth castle

Sunrise for mum

El Capitan

El Capitan

When we reached the top, we crossed the saddle of the mountain over to the other side of the range and would stay there for the rest of the day. Just before we reached this point, we were shocked to meet two mountain bikers. There were no other routes but the one we’d just come up. The path was good, but prone to rock slides and I wondered how long it will last when it becomes frequented by wheels.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Looking forward into the next valley we could see all of the little towns we had walked through for the last day or so. Pine trees and cones on the path appeared again, and so by 10-11am, the cigales were back too. The track opened up and changed from red to white dirt.

Heavy weight way markers

Stunning views avec insect

High on the mountain range, the views were spectacular. After a short break for ‘hotdogs’, we were off along the track, which had widened to fire track size. We followed it for some time. Jacques sang the Chanson de Pelerins – Ultreia and patiently repeated it while I tried to learn it. Later I had my head down, watching my step down a steep, rough track and for some reason we were both singing Frère Jacques. In a round. Dormez-vous? Do you sleep? We were both asleep. We realised we hadn’t seen a way marker in a while, and this was unusual, as the track had been well-marked up until then. We tried turning right, but so no confirmation of the way, so we doubled back and continued downwards, but something was telling me we were heading in the wrong direction. We’re on a road to nowhere.  We turned around and climbed back up the slippery rocks back to the fork in the road, and continued roughly west.  After following this for a few minutes we came across Jacques II as he was joining our track from the right. We had missed our turn to the right, oblivious.  The moral: the signs are great, if you pay attention to them.

Our second morning tea was at Enclos Neolithic. We found Jacques II there and had a brief discussion about how old Neolithic was. None of us was sure.

Enclos Neolithic

After our break, we continued along the track and could see La Berry in the distance and a ruined castle, before Montpeyroux. Voices told us there were people walking around it, and we saw them in the distance. To find the way down would be our second challenge.  Following a marker, we left the dirt track for knee-high vegetation, but the track was lost after a time, and our way again became unclear. Despite no way markers, Jacques pressed on. We ended up in a gully in the midst of thick prickly trees that there seemed no way out of. We got lost for 2nd time. There is a saying in French, Jamais deux sans trois. It is the same as in English, never two without three – things always happen in threes.

Castellas de Montpeyroux

Fortunately we didn’t get lost a third time, however Jacques had instead tripped three times that day. We got out of the ‘thicket’ and up to the base of the castle walls, however there still was no obvious way down. The sun was really burning already, and it was only 11am. I was getting frustrated at being hot, still out in the sun and lost a second time, and Jacques’s continued insistence to continue bush-bashing rather than finding a track. So I went my own way. The track we had left for the ‘thicket’ ended up winding around the back of the castle, so I joined it, and encouraged Jacques to come with me. We followed it down, past some decrepit stations of the cross. The castle is off-limits to visitors as apparently bits fall off of it, I can understand concerns for the safety of walls over 800 years old.

Castellas de Montpeyroux

Our expectations were high at Le Barry because we thought we’d reached Arboras – we wanted our 8 euro pilgrim meal. We again had further to go so followed a really grassy farm track and hit the outskirts of Arboras. A big bridge, then a little bridge, another steep ascent, and we were at our cafe for lunch – with Jacques II and Hugo. Just around the corner we had passed what looked like a mobile wine bottling operation on the back of a semi – a very interesting idea for small wine producers who can’t invest in the bottling and don’t want to transport the wine somewhere else.  We continued up a small, steep road past some houses and a guy tuning his very impressive motorbike. We said bon jour and he asked where we were from. I said Australie, and he smiled knowingly, and said “Ah, Phillip Island“, in his adorable French accent.  I was pleased to be able to claim it, now I’m living in Melbourne.  Some discerning French people know Australia for more than it’s sharks, snakes and spiders obviously.

The big bridge

Cafe Atelier des Hommes d’Argille was a great little arty cafe. We sat across the road shaded by trees and canvas. The atelier was a cartoonist seemingly obsessed with time. His witty observations reminded me of Michael Leunig. I wish I’d had the budget and the space to buy some. There were also lots of public fountains in this town and we all filled our water bottles prior to departure. Some beautiful dogs accompanied us for lunch – ‘La vie en douce’ – take it easy. It was a sweet little town, the cafe being the central feature really. There was a castle with a tower, but it looked to be private.

prendre du bon temps – to have a good time

The Castle

Lunching friend

We thought we were in for a good afternoon, but despite being partially refreshed by a lovely lunch, it was relentless. We followed bitumen out of the town, then turned right and mounted a consistent hill via a wide dirt track to the Rocher des Vierges – the virgins, well their car park anyway. It took ages and ages, up. It was slightly unnerving seeing spent bullet casings along the path for the first time.  After this we thought again we were on the home stretch, and again we went up on a rocky and small track. There were some shady patches under what I thought were elm trees, then we crossed into another valley. We saw distant purple rock formations in the valley. It got drier and drier, and the track ended up like a goat track with many loose rocks but I was very grateful for my (plug) Salomon shoes – they are excellent. Then came red earth and the cigales, many dragonflies at a still pond. The vegetation changed to saltbush. It was 4.00pm and really, really hot now. I was hoping to be out of the sun well before this late hour.  At the signpost to Rocher des Vierges, it had promised 4.75kms.  True to form, this last ‘hour’ was excruciating.

Saltbush

Terrain change

My legs had rubbed together uncomfortably all day with the perspiration, and now I was beside myself with the pain, every step causing more torture between my legs. With the very long walk, being lost twice and scratched in the thicket, I was on my last legs, and broke down eventually, Jacques providing a shoulder to cry on. Maybe he should be called St Jacques? My feet were so tired, my legs were in pain, I was barely walking when we passed the rubbish dump – surely we must be close now? Vertical stone wall, vertical path. What is it about steep descents into towns at the end of the day? We arrived at 4.55pm. Save about an hour an a half of breaks, we had walked all day, and I was absolutely spent.

Poubelle planet

Vertical rock wall

Jacques had phoned ahead and booked a gite, and as we walked toward the town’s epicerie to ask of it, a guy came up to us and said we were staying at his house. The gite wasn’t available, and the woman had said we could stay with her friends, opposite the church. He took us to a self-contained two bedroom unit downstairs from his house. I broke down crying again when his wife came in and kindly provided us with towels and fresh tomatoes from her garden. After I gingerly showered and hobbled, legs apart around the little space, I managed to slowly accompany Jacques shopping. The epicerie was really well set up with lots of mini things that suit pilgrims. Little serves of Roquefort cheese were the ones that caught my eye, but there were also small jars of bonne maman confiture and little pats of butter. Good sized supplies for breakfast. They also had the ready-made meals, so Boeuf Bourgogne was on the menu. We ran into Jacques II and Hugo and they were going to a cafe for dinner. They had got worried that something had happened to us when we didn’t come to their gite, and Jacques II had come looking for us out on the road. I was dead, but I was still walking. Once we’d finished our shopping, we joined them for a drink at the pizzeria. I ordered my favourite – Diablo Menthe.  It helped a little.

Back at the gite, I was feeling dehydrated and burnt, and I had the shivers, which could only mean one thing – heat stroke. It was the most ridiculously long and tiring day, and I was very upset and overwhelmed. Each day up until now had got more difficult. The distances too had got much longer. Whereas I had wanted to do around 20kms a day, with wrong turns and scorching sun, it felt like 30kms. I started to get an idea that walking at this pace was not proving to be the best thing for me. I was angry, sleep-deprived, and I hadn’t written pages for days. This arrangement, whilst good for companionship, was sucking me dry. Out in the hot sun that afternoon, I really could have just sat where I was and not gone any further. I was so wrung out from it. My body and my mind were saying no more.

It is strange that the terrain can look so beautiful, though the way is so hard. The photos don’t say anything about the pain and exhaustion my body was experiencing. And what was so frustrating was that this was meant to be enjoyable!

This wasn’t fun anymore.

I had just woken up.

Via Tolosana Day 7: Surprise! Ou est le desert?

Montarnaud to Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert 23kms

One benefit of having the Miam Miam Dodo, is that it has none of the useful information that other guides do, about the various sites to see along the way. I say that this is useful, because this means that I get amazing surprises on most days. This day was the most spectacular so far and I had no idea what would await us at lunch time around a dusty bend in the road. Jacques certainly didn’t let on if he knew, even though he had a more descriptive guide.

I neglected to mention when we were sitting exasperated on the church steps the afternoon before, another pilgrim marching with sticks walked past us a little way off. He ended up at the same gite and his name was Jacques. This morning we set out ahead of Jacques, but would meet him again during the day.

It felt like waking up at home on a Tuesday, as the garbage trucks rolled past. Jacques said he set the alarm for 5.30am, but it was actually 5.00am … so we could leave ‘a little before 6am’. I like his sense of humour, but I’m not sure about these early starts. The still morning and the pre-dawn sky made for a magical departure – over an hour earlier than usual. What a difference it made to the ease of walking. When we again found our trusty red and white signs leading us towards the 12th Century church I started singing I saw the sign, which I did for most of the rest of the day when I saw the little waymarks. I haven’t been so quick to explore the churches on the way – maybe when I get to Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert this will change.

Montarnaud accueil

We walked to the edge of town and the way rose steadily past houses and another gite we might have stayed in. The bitumen turned to dirt and not long after we turned a corner and facing us was a deeply eroded dirt track that ascended steeply for maybe 150 metres. “What?” We did have to scale a steep hill, but wound around about on an alternative rocky track which eventually met it. We stopped a number of times on the way up for sunrise pictures. Oh what a beautiful morning, again.

Left luggage

Rocky Road

5

Sunset for mum

We rested briefly at the summit under a croix (cross) keeping a discarded walking boot company. Crossing the D11 we again hit dirt that quite soon turned into the most beautifully shaded track and paralleled the road for several hundred metres until we crossed back into another shaded track of sandy soil shaded by oak trees. Today we had our first experience of cement stoby poles with little piles of left pilgrim rocks. Like left luggage, only natural. It was strangely silent – no cigales this morning.

Soft under foot

On the outskirts of La Boissière, vineyards and turnesol (sunflowers – turn to the sun) greeted us along with a beagle for Anita. I again explained the pronunciation of vineyards for Jacques. A stencil on a hut had me singing Camille songs again, this time Hola. I can’t find the song, when I find it, I’ll link to it. I can’t remember what in our conversation prompted it, but then I was singing Kylie’s I should be so lucky.

Hola!

It seemed that every day one has a dog experience of some kind. Mostly they are just barking from behind fences, but today two dogs from the village were loose. One walked with us, just ahead, sniffing around for such a long way out of the settlement, that I was getting worried he would not find his way home. When I told him finally to ‘retourner‘ (return again) he looked really miserable, put his head down and indeed turned around to head back home. I wonder if he eats Royal Canin.

Beagle for Anita

Our second major terrain change for the morning was onto what looked like a planned but disused railway cutting. It was rocky and uncomfortable, but shady at first. It slowly turned to red dust as we began to see the hills that we would soon walk in. We were following the Ruisseau Grigoulet and passed by a little lake. Still not yet 9am we encountered railway lines and bridges and a strange converted bus which looked like it housed … someone?

Two crosses

Railway detail

‘These are the vistas’

We were on this route for about three kilometres and then joined the D27 for the short walk into Aniane after pausing on a brick wall next to a turn out area and collecting lots off pine sap on my pants. Looking over the cement fence, the collection of all kinds of rubbish was disgusting. It looked like someone had discarded an old pool liner there and associated plastic pipes – another Clean Up France Day perhaps.

Sap Collection Area

We turned into a small farming road and passed paddocks accompanied by jets doing exercises again – they go so fast, you have to look ahead of where you think the sound is coming from, hence their ‘invisible’ status on Day 1. Aniane was an interesting little town where even the Mairie building was unusual and it seemed there was some domestic dispute going on. Yet Je suis Charlie was a thing, even here.

I saw the sign

Aniane Mairie

Je suis Charlie

Heading north for a couple of kilometres, we then turned left to follow the foothills towards Saint-Jean-de-Fos. At only 11.40am, the sun was wickedly strong and burning my left arm. We passed over canals, saw piles of rocks with our red and white signs and surveyed the valley full of vines. Jacques caught us up on the way up the hill when we stopped to admire the panorama. We passed him again minutes later where he had stopped for lunch with a lovely view of the vineyards and hills in the distance. We continued, struck pine trees and guess what else?

I saw the signs?

Vineyard vista

We were glad we waited to stop for lunch because we ended up perched atop a cliff looking down on the most amazing international summer playground. Even from our high vantage point, we could not see all of what was ‘going down’. That had to wait until we commenced our walk after lunch. From our vantage point I could see a spider sculpture similar to that in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris. Accompanying our pancetta and rockmelon were the distant squeals of delighted children, booming adult voices and a cigalle in the tree above us. Leftover gnocchi with plums for dessert made a great picnic.

The day before Jacques had told me the Jean de La Fontaine story of La Cigale et la Fourmi (The Cicada and the Ant). The cicada sings all summer and goes to the ant in winter asking for food.  What did you do all summer?  I sang.  Well, now that’s nice, so now dance, says the ant.  Maybe this is the beginning of the Protestant work ethic – they were big in the Languedoc in the C15th-C16th until they were made into the first modern refugees by Louis XIV and left in hundreds of thousands … in boats. Sounding familiar? Back to the story, I can’t help thinking about the effort it must take to rub one’s wings together to make such a shrill noise, surely it classifies as work. Jacques, as always, tried to find where the sound was coming from, but it seems as futile as looking for a supersonic jet.

Playground vista

Arachnophobia

When we left our lookout area, we came across a UNESCO site, the Pont du Diable (Devil’s Bridge), and despite the no jumping sign, that’s exactly what the young men were doing. At another rocky outcrop a small group of boys huddled like shags on the white rock plucking up the courage to dive the four storeys or so into the aquamarine water below. All accompanied by the latest ‘young people’s music’. It was quite an atmosphere of the summer initiation of youth although the rock formations, and even the bridge were ancient. We watched for a while, but it continued to get hotter and we still had several more kilometres to climb steadily.

more vistas

Pont du Diable

The road followed the river which had cut deep into the cliff, and continued to provide the perfect situation for kayakers and swimmers alike. We passed the Grotte de Clamouse which was clearly popular because the car park was full, as were both sides of the road with cars it turned out, from all over Europe – Belgian, French, German and Netherlanders all flocking to soak up the southern sun. Speaking of sun, I was already really burnt, and we tried to choose the shady side of the road, but at one point it was impossible because of the platform that awaited our attention below. As if lunch perched above a watery playground weren’t enough, the words ‘but wait … there’s more’ sprung to mind. And spring was certainly what it did. Out of the mountain it flows to collect on a rock shelf above the river and cascades down providing a natural shower to swimmers and sunbathers below. The sight took my breath away.

That plan is shelved!

Almost at Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, we rewarded ourselves with an Agrum bought from a kayak hire shop. We sat there while customers were shown the ropes. I felt like the shag on the rock now sitting on giant plastic chairs, but apparently this is what pilgrims do. We joked about how having kayaks in the desert seems a little strange. We took the road route around the village which when we walked the pedestrian route later, reminded me of the touristique streets spiralling around Mont St Michel, sans spirals. There were people everywhere eager to soak up the history of this village nestled in the valley between towering mountains. Jacques, always intrepid, opens a tall gate to a private residence, boldly venturing where no stranger has dared before, or will again, only to disturb a woman with a dog, Both are extremely surprised to see him. We get pointed in the right direction of our accueil with the sisters of St Joseph. Supposedly they don’t open until 4pm, so we skirt the biggest and perhaps oldest plane tree I’ve ever witnessed in the town square to visit the second UNESCO site for the day, L’Ancienne Abbey de Gellone. A quick trip through the dark church and out under the light cloisters does it, and we then wander up a small street lined with ancient houses. A sister, we find out later on holidays from Africa, asked us where we were going – quite apart from the coquille shell, I certainly have the hot and bothered, burnt and smelly pilgrim look down pat – anyone even vaguely religious would get it.

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

I say supposedly, because when we were eventually ‘processed’ we find that Jacques, I’ll call him Jacques II has already installed himself in the upstairs dormitory. I am getting ahead of myself. We patiently sat (Jacques far more patient than me) for at least twenty minutes while credentials were stamped, money paid, and more pèlerins arrived. Jacques found a La Fontaine book in the reception area and as we waited pointed out the La Cigale et la Fourmi. He also recommended Le Loup et le Chien (The Wolf and the Dog) and Le laboureur et ses enfants (The farmer and his sons).

Our packs once again were to be relieved of the bare necessities for sleeping, and stayed downstairs in a long gothic hall keeping the wi-fi company. It would be too much to ask for wi-fi to be available in the kitchen where there was a table and chairs.  I remind myself that the blog is dispensable, and the life of a pilgrim necessitates simplicity.  I did attempt to write after all walkers except the youthful new pilgrim, Hugo, had gone to bed, but gave up in the end.  I was extremely tired, and we had decided to again get up well before ‘a sparrow’s … ‘, as the lovely Foxy would like to say.

Shag on a rock

The little town of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is absolutely gorgeous and there is great history to it. Something about a monk friend of Charlemagne, Guilhem, establishing the monastery in the 9th century, but I didn’t get to work that out. Perched high above the town on one mountain you can see the tower remains of an ancient abbey which I would love to explore next time I come. In the town itself there were apparently 18 wells at the time when the chemin St Jacques was developing, we’re talking 1100s here. That doesn’t seem to fit with the concept of a desert. There was one fountain still running just outside of our gite, so we took the opportunity to fill up on the ‘fresh’ water.

Long after I’d showered, hung my clothes to dry and then gone shopping for quiche Lorraine for dinner and the equivalent of a hotdog in brioche for the next day’s lunch (despite the multitude of tourist shops, epiceries had deserted us), I got to explore the streets by myself. The moon watched while I surfed gingerly around the cobblestones in my yellow thongs, trying to capture the medieval buildings on film in the fading light. Thankfully at 9pm the town becomes deserted of the tourists, and I could amble around in peace.

Thong surfing over spiral

St Jacques

Giant old plane tree

L’ancienne abbaye de Gellone

Eau potable cocquille

‘Room with a view’

After dinner I had the biggest giggle I’d had for a long time when Jacques again talked about the possible need to get up during the night to attend to technical problems, something up until then he’d only referred to during the day. It reminded me of a boyfriend of a similar age who whenever he’d swear, he’d pause briefly to say “that’s a technical term” with a cheeky look on his face. I shared a few colloquial English words, as one does when travelling, for going to the toilet. Taking a piss/leak, having a slash etc. He liked those. I also told him about breaks in transmission where the test pattern used to appear on TV and how this discussion was shedding a new light for me on “We apologise for this break in transmission due to technical difficulties”. Maybe all along the TV operators were just taking a piss!

With that, I said I’m going to write some blog and then “hit the sack”.

Deux Chevaux (Citroën 2CV) de Via Tolosana

In homage to my whole French conversation class at Le Café Flo, here are some French gems.  However I know that Antoine in particular will love this post.  I’ll add to it if I spot any more.  Enjoy!!

 

Gallargues-le-Montueux

 

Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière

 

La Salvetat-sur-Agout

 

Canal du Midi, with matching boat

 

Toulouse

 

Aye, aye, sailor!

 

img_5824

Between Toulouse and Paris

img_5833

Paris?

img_5982

Semur-en-Auxios

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Korean Airlines in-flight entertainment on my homeward journey

Via Tolosana Day 6: Poubelle Planet

Montpellier to Montarnaud 14kms

Jacques and I met in the small park near our tram stop. Not only had I caved on the getting to Montpellier, I also caved on getting out. The only good thing about this plan was me getting to use the tram system. My love of trams was one of my many reasons for moving to Melbourne. I also love the light rails Europe. They are so modern, quiet and efficient. This one, Line 1 with oiseaus (birds) painted on the outside would take us all the way to the edge of the city, once again skipping the ‘boring’ bits.

Beautiful Montpellier

Montpellier Trompe-l’œil

So after eating our pain au chocolat, off we went. It was pretty cool at 7.30 and my pack again felt heavy. There was trackwork (it even happens in my beloved France). They call it an interruption and it seemed that it had been going on some months already, so there was a section which we had to walk for 5 minutes from Pasteur to Place Albert. After this we went all the way to Euromedicine, whatever that is, and commenced our walk. Uphill along a bike track for the start, past what I called the Pines of the Appian Way (there are two musical references there for those who know Respighi and the multitudes of composers who wrote drinking songs).  We soon left the larger road for a smaller one with our familiar GR653 waymarks.  Today when we weren’t crossing the back streets of small towns, the way was rocky on dirt tracks. Many beautiful vistas, more colourful letter boxes, horses real and sculptured, St Jacques pilgrim things, coquille shells and tampons. And that was just before lunch.

I’d say we’re on the GR653

Pines of the Appian Way

At Grabels, which kind of reminds me a little too much of the word gerbils to be comfortable, there was even a ‘self-service’ tampon for our credentials. The stamp was beautiful, and we availed ourselves of it by entering the partly ajar gate at the church.  Up a couple of stairs, and we found an ink pad with a tampon attached to a chain, so it couldn’t walk off on the chemin itself. I shared with Jacques the meaning of tampon in English – maybe that was too much information, but he laughed anyway. Just outside of Grabels, we took a strange little route past the source of a river, de l’Auy. A new pilgrim sticker appeared, unfamiliar to me and then we started a slow climb through pine trees with the accompanying singers and the most beautiful cloud formations. The marche at first reminded me of My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s Castle for the content and environment.

Ou est le tampon?

Coquille St Jacques

Presbytery Garden

New waymark

Piscine (swimming pool)

My Mother’s Castle

My Father’s Glory

Lunch with The North Face and Kathmandu

Magnificent horses

The last four kilometres, no matter how far one walks, always seem the hardest. We could see Montarnaud in the distance for ages before we even got close to it. It was so hot when we arrived, that we sat on the church steps gathering our energy to find our gite. Despite piscine teasers (swimming pool) during the day they weren’t going to become a reality any time soon. A neighbour heard us asking someone where we might find water, and she offered to get us some, and asked us about our trip after filling our two bottles. Local people seem really interested in pilgrims.

I have done many things for money in my life, and one of them has been working as an extra. I got a phone call from my Canberra friend Fiona one day just as I was getting off a plane in Adelaide. She had just seen me in a scene of Laid. This was a scene where all of the ex-boyfriends of the protagonist had assembled in a pub to discuss the concerning reality that each one in turn was dying. I’ll never forget one of the jokes for the scene because we shot it several times. One of the boyfriends said, “I know we’re all hungry, and angry … we’re hangry“. This became another joke that Jacques and I shared, although I also added another variation for the end of a pilgrim day, ‘thangry‘. We agreed we often arrived thirsty as well.

We walked to our gite, the second story of our host’s house, and fully equipped with kitchen, bathroom and lots of camp beds able to be rolled out should numbers swell for a night. This was another ‘backpacks in garbage bags situation’, and we dutifully complied. I love listening to Camille, a French chanteuse. She has a great song called Aujourd’hui in which she chants about our Poubelle Planet. Poubelle is the most beautiful word for rubbish bin I can imagine. So every time I come across garbage in any form, it sets me off singing it.

We did the usual, bathed and washed our clothes, hanging them on the line out the back of the house. The supermarket was a bit of a walk, but we took it slowly as it was still really hot. This was the chance to buy things for breakfast and lunch the next day. I also bought some gnocchi, aubergine, onion and courgette and with the pesto in the communal fridge, made us pesto pasta for dinner. It was nice to cook again after nearly a week.

My little toe is a little better, but my foot muscles are spent. I walk around in my yellow thongs like an old woman. Steps are a challenge and the situation only improves marginally with seven hours of sleep. Sigh.

Via Tolosana Day 5:  Toujours tout droit … and skip the boring bits

Gallargues to Montpellier 6km … walking

Since I was a child I have disliked the feeling that I might be missing out on something. My experience tells me that when we think that something is going to be a certain way, there can be a 50/50 chance that it will, and the same chance that it won’t. This is what I thought about our plans to ‘skip’ the uninteresting things between Vauvert and Montpellier. The experience of skipping a town I was going to stay in has left me feeling, what did I miss out on? Is company on the road worth the potential loss of things that would have been interesting to me? I suppose this is a choice people make every day, to choose companionship rather than solitude, just to have someone there, despite the toll on the things they are interested in.

I had blogged until late the night before, well after it was dark, sharing my wifi access spot with late night walkers, hoons in cars, and all sorts of nightlife, so I was slow getting up. The youth-hostel like nature of our accommodation was charming and it was sad to pack up and leave. We lost the key to the accommodation (and found it again in the best place for it, in the lock) so we were a little late leaving at 7.30am. I had cleared the tar from my shoes and they felt so much better. I could still feel my little toe, but I was managing it alright. It has a blood blister and I expect the nail will fall off before I finish walking. I think what did it was walking around in Paris for two days in my Keen sandals. The arches of my feet were aching and I still wasn’t feeling in tip-top walking shape.

Le Vidourle – ancient style

Jacques and I walk at the same tempo and we talk when we have things to say, and don’t when we don’t. It is easy and he is a good companion. We walked quite quickly as the roads were fairly major ones with a moderate amount of car and cycle traffic for a Sunday morning. There was a little too much road walking for my liking, (it is not only more dangerous, but also the road is hard on one’s feet) but the countryside was beautiful. More grapevines.

As neither of our maps quite covered our walk for the morning our joke for the day was something the woman at the Office of Tourism told us. When leaving Gallargues, at every roundabout we should just keep going straight ahead – tout droit. To always go straight ahead is toujours tout droit. So on, straight through roundabouts we went, being barked at by most of the town’s dogs. The day before we had encountered a particularly enthusiastic guard dog with an attitude who leapt up onto the high wall in front of his house and barked at us without rest. The manoevre reminded me of the bullfighters leaping over two fences to escape their pursuers. Crossing le Vidourle, we saw two fishermen and I realised I was taking my photos on the ‘ancient setting’ which was giving an interesting effect, however didn’t do a great job of reflecting the cool blues and greens of the river. Continuing along quite a major road it was really disappointing to see a lot of rubbish next to the side of the road. Maybe a ‘Clean up France Day’ is needed.

Lunel modern art

The walk was pretty exposed, and usually about a half an hour after I start in the morning I need to wee, and can often find a suitable tree or bush. Not today. We asked at a service station but the woman was not helpful. We passed a Gendarmerie and they very obligingly allowed me to have a pee-pee as Jacques puts it. I feel sorry for the women officers, there was no toilet paper. Jacques said later he thought they were quite suspicious of our packs. Understandably. Relieved, we continued towards the gare (station) to continue our tout droit day – I noticed the yellow compostage machine which reminds me of the signs we see walking. We had a bit of time until the train, so we went back to a bar and I had a cafe and Jacques the chosen beverage for the region, a Perrier, as one does to salute cottage industries turned into multi-national products.

Bon courage at SNCF

Perrier anyone?

Nantes biscuits

The gare in Montpellier is light, bright and modern and has the most magnificent pink floor – granite I suppose. Stepping out of the station and you have arrived in a majestically decorated tram town. No wonder I like Montpellier. It reminded me of other French cities with paved roads and tram tracks, Le Mans, Nantes and Dijon. It makes for a special, person-centred feel and is clearly a hit for the locals and tourists alike. Long, wide promenades and rows of plane trees. Heavily ornamented buildings frame the wide streets and the small ancient rues (streets) of the old town. It was nice to get to Montpellier early and wander around as I had originally planned to be here for two nights.

Rue de Maguelone

Place de la Comedie

Most of the shops were shut, but the restaurants were open, and after finding maps at the Office de Tourisme, we found the Pelerin Sanctuaire Saint-Roch, the patron saint of pilgrims. We continued through the tiny streets past stunt bikes to the Arc de Triomphe and the Promenade du Peyrou and the Chateau d’Eau. Behind it, the Boulevard des Arceaux (Saint Clemente) It was warm. Under the beautiful blue and green glass street lamps and giant plane trees there was a bustling bric-a-brac market. I wondered whether Viola had got here, and was blowing balloons and juggling.

stunt bike

stunt bike two

Aquaduct van Saint-Clément,

Château d’eau du Peyrou (1689)

beautiful lamps – La Promenade du Peyrou

Holding up half the sky

Camino waymarker

If you look closely you can see cocquille shells on the Trompe-l’œl

We decided to return to the Office of Tourism because next door there was a beautiful place to have a picnic on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. On the way we stopped at Les Halles where there was a market in the process of closing. A baguette, some chevre and tomato with a rockmelon made a perfect lunch. I also found out about a hotel for the night as I wanted wifi and a private room for the interview at … 12.45am in the morning! I thought that Hotel Cosmos sounded a little more promising that Hotel Abyss, so I booked that. Jacques would do his own thing.

There wasn’t a lot doing for food near the hotel, so I had sushi, and returned to the hotel for the long wait until 12.45pm – I couldn’t skip that boring bit.