Via Tolosana Day 40: Ask and it shall be given

Lacommande to Oloron-Sainte-Marie – 16kms

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

Marion is my third angel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I was walking through the forest, a little sweat track, complete with exercise equipment presents itself. Let’s Get Physical. A woodpecker in the trees. When I finally emerged from the forest, and could see Oloron in the distance, there was a stripey red and white gate.  I suppose if you were super energetic, you could time yourself from start to finish. I’m close to civilisation now.
I was thinking a lot about Matthieu today. I was walking to his town. I wondered if I’d see him. I hoped I would.  I wonder how his mini-Camino had gone. I could hear fast cars travelling on the large main road, but when there, they had all deserted. Weary pilgrim emerges from the forest. Again I arrive taking a road next to water – a little creek, but no sooner do I join it, than I leave it again. There was water at the cemetery which I availed myself of.  I saw a beautiful 1762 house.  And walking on the large road into town, I cross the railway line, and my eyes follow it towards the mountains. Now there’s a winning combination! I spot a cool letterbox.  An eglise that I still can’t find the name of.
Hot and bothered at Oloron-Sainte-Marie.  I found the gite, and across the square a bar I could wait in.  I ordered my Diablo Menthe. I sat outside, readying myself for a little writing, but smokers came and sat right next door, I got up to leave, and I knocked the drink over. Shit.  I moved inside where I spied Anne, who seemed busy with her own things.  I ordered another drink and offered to pay for the other, but they insisted I not – that was nice of them – especially since I was in a foul mood and pissed off my seat in the shade outside was invaded by smoke. I sat inside, tried not to fume (‘scuse the pun) and wrote. There were quite a few others in the restaurant for their Sunday lunch.  The gite didn’t open until 3pm, just after the bar closed, so I went over at about 2.50pm and Anne and I were let in.
It was a lovely welcome, quite officious, but the gite is absolutely fantastic.  It had a washing machine – that’s always a good thing.  I asked about wifi, and my hosts said there may be some in the public park across the river.  I’ll investigate when my washing is finished. I was shown to my room, again we were to take our boots off and put them downstairs, so I walked around on the slippery tiled floor in my thick, sweaty socks. I took the chance of getting my two pairs of pants dried overnight and hung my washing out in the sun-burnt, gravel-filled courtyard at the back of the gite.  It is a tight ship at this place, run by a group of volunteers.  Before venturing for wifi, I found a small African epicerie just down the road and around the corner. No-one would know that the spotty pants I had on were my pyjamas!
IMG_4936
Carrying my groceries, and walking over the river, I did find wifi in the park along with a bric-a-brac/fete just in the last minutes of its Sunday existence. I had another potential booking for Airbnb. Another email from my errant flatmate.  After an hour, I walked to the Gare to check tickets back to Paris, half hoping that I might also see an errant Matthieu.  At Anoye, I’d mentioned to Cloudine that I was sad I hadn’t got to walk longer with him. She said I should look him up in Oloron, and that she remembered he lived near a hat shop.  I found no hat shops, despite asking my very helpful hosts at the gite.  I tried. I walked along next to the river and saw what looked like a library across the water. It looked really cool.  I walked back through the park to check whether Carrefour was open, it wasn’t, but I walked back through the park, and noticed an older guy with a shell on his backpack. Another pilgrim!
I introduced myself and spoke to him, Reiner, a German who had left all he had (wife, children and home) and literally put his full trust and life in the hands of God.  Walking wherever he is led by Jesus, I was fascinated, and more than a bit envious. We talked of saying ‘yes’ and forgiveness. He spoke wisely, and although his words were those of a born-again Christian, there were other suggestions that he lived this life authentically and deeply and wore this label understanding it’s subtlety.  One thing he explained to me, that he had come to know, stayed with me and I mulled it over. I recognised it, as it has been my understanding also of various faith-traditions. Though nominally Christian, he spoke of the small number of adherents in all religions that share the deep understanding of there being many paths.  These wise ones, in their diverse experiences of God, are connected together, all united in one way, each expressing their own variation. These are the people who would never dream of criticising or vilifying another for their faith, because they understand … we are all one. It threw into stark contrast the current climate of our times (and possibly all times before) that people and states think nothing of advocating war purely on the basis of a different religions.  He mentioned a person I’d not heard of, Jakob Lorber, a mystic who had dictated the Great Gospel of John.  It was such a beautiful exchange.  He was a passionate man, and very generous in sharing his discoveries.  At 8pm, the light escaping, we had to stop. He said we would continue forever if we didn’t. He was right. I still had to cook dinner, so I walked gingerly back across the river to the gite.
It was a hive of activity when I got back. My clothes had dried, so I removed them from the line, and said hello to a young pilgrim, Benjamin, who was writing his journal in the back courtyard.  I cooked a basic bean, rice and tomato sauce meal and ended up sharing with another pilgrim, Sylvia, as there was too much for me to eat, and cooked food is hard to take on the road, unless you have a little container.  A Dutch cyclist couple had also come in.  I retired after dinner to the shared room upstairs where Anne had already gone to bed. The beds were comfortable, but there was a lot of light coming in the windows from the street-lights outside. Warm air circulated through the room, and I wondered whether I might see Matthieu in the morning.

Via Tolosana Day 37: Detour to deep peace

Morlaas to Lourdes – a immeasurable journey to another world

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

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

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

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

IMG_4582

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

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

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

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

IMG_4552

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Peace or more Deep peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4628

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

Addendum: Centre D’information Jacquaire – Lourdes

IMG_4607

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

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

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

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

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

Via Tolosana Day 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.

IMG_1844

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.

IMG_1683

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

IMG_1701

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.

IMG_1706

Soft pine path

rock sculpture

IMG_1707

Dolmen rock art

IMG_1754

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

IMG_1711

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.

IMG_1731

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.

IMG_1736

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.

IMG_1746

Tractor seat picnic spot

Table d’orientation

IMG_1752

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.

IMG_1762

Red rocks

IMG_1766

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

img_6085

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.

Via Tolosana Day 4: Royal Canin, Perrier and place of angels

Vauvert to Gallargues-le-Montueux  14kms

We got up at 6am and after petit dejeuner, we dragged all of our supplies downstairs to reunite them with our backpacks and do the final packing. Marie-Claude had left a lovely tray for each of us for petit dejeuner, and despite intending to write my morning pages, I didn’t. She was on night shift, so we didn’t get to see her before we left. Once again we again joked when we left ‘just before 7am’. Bull-fighting and feet on chairs aside, it really was a very pleasant place to stay.

I got an email from the Gite in Arles to say they had found my Confraternity guide.

Leaving from Vauvert was again by minor roads, past vineyards. Jacques speaks several languages, as many Europeans do, English being one of them so we discussed the pronunciation of ‘vinyards’ rather than ‘vine-yards’. I don’t know why we pronounce it like this – English must be a very difficult language. The only equivalent in sound I can think of is the station in Sydney, Wynyard, but that is spelt differently. For pronunciation anyway, it seems I was teaching Jacques a few new things too.
We passed some grape pickers/pruners who were just starting their work, and one struck up a conversation with us in English. Just around the next little bend, the road passed under some large shady plane trees and we were greeted with a very cute little maison. The chemin takes virtually no account of whether there are houses close by, and on this occasion it made a circuit right around it, past their fenced off back patio and then up over a bridge over Le Vistre. I kept walking over the bridge, but Jacques noticed cats being fed, and struck up a conversation with the woman of the house through the open doorway.

There is no accounting for what a joke about Royal Canin in this area can open doors to at 7.30am in the morning. The woman invited us in for a coffee! As we’d foregone the fresh coffee at M-C’s place, we were keen. They had four generations of the family staying there that night, and her son, a pompier (fireman) appeared after a few minutes as did the grandmother. Being high summer, firemen are on alert for bushfires, just as in Australia, although it is my impression that while there are volunteers in France also, a lot of the fires are fought by paid firefighters. The coffee was great, and we were even treated to some plums from a tray of fresh fruit their friends had brought around.

The woman was telling us about the other factory of note in this area – Perrier. So if you’re wondering where that is made, wonder no longer. It started as a small concern, a family business, that was supported by the locals, as they could see work opportunities for their children. More recently though, the company had been bought out, and there was quite a lot of despair in the community as the job prospects had dried up with the new management. Jacques later told me you could take a tour of both factories. How about that, what a missed opportunity.

Vauvert vineyards

Track after coffee

Continuing on after our coffee, it became windy and again the cigalles sang to us from their plane trees. We were keenly looking out for signs of large kennels and pet food factories, but all we saw were a multitude of dogs in people’s front yards. Maybe they outsource their testing now in exchange for reduced price dog food supplies. We saw the canal again a couple of times, more vineyards and more peaches. There is another crop that we passed today. I know it as amaranth, but I’m not sure that’s what it is.

Attention Chien

Place of angels?

Balisages

Further on and we couldn’t follow the chemin de terre path that we wanted to because right in front of us were big earthworks blocking our way – perhaps for a new trainline. We ended up walking a combination on the D104 and then on a newly asphalted path to get back to where we needed to be and to walk past the place of angels. I was walking for sometime before I realised that the new sticky tar was all in my boots, and doing a great job of removing any cushioning benefit I might get from the previously great grip pattern. I had fun digging it out when we got to Gallargues.

Earthworks

Camargue letterboxes

Chemin de terre

We passed through Codognan, and I saw a Protestant Eglise and in the process, we missed a turn out of the town. I was obviously too busy taking photos of rabbits.  We looped around an extra kilometre probably to once again get back to the GR653 path and the familiar red and white signs. We probably walked more like 15 or 16kms in the end. My little toe was not as irritated with the addition of some wool for padding, but the arches in my feet get really achy by the end of the day. This aspect doesn’t seem to improve as I walk more.

The source of Perrier

La Poste rabbit

Camargues horse

Apart from the leaving before the hour joke, Jacques and I have another which is about taking the train. So today when I was taking photos, and there were powerlines in them, he suggested they could be photoshopped out (he apparently enjoys working with editing software). I said, yes, that’s just what I’d expect from someone who takes the train instead of walking. Just skip the bits you don’t want to see or do. He and M-C had a conversation the night before about how ‘all’ pelerins skip the part of the way between Gallargues and Montpelier, firstly because the first part is next to TGV lines and motorways, and secondly because the outskirts of Montpelier are ‘not interesting’ either. I’m a bit of a purist (I say that after a full three days of walking mind you), whereas Jacques has walked many ways, and at times will take a bus or take short cuts to make the walk easier. I wasn’t convinced it was what I wanted to do, as I had originally planned to stop in Ballargues, but it was nice to have the company while walking, so I said I would consider doing what Jacques decided. We agreed that we would look at the options at the Office of Tourism in Gallargues.

We got into town at about 2pm, and found that the office would open again at 3pm. It was a Saturday, so we were lucky that the boulangerie was still open and we got some lunch, and Jacques asked about the location of the local municipal gite. While I sat and extricated tar from my shoes under the tiny and ancient Les Halles (market building), Jacques did a reconnoitre for the hostel. He came back having found a number to ring on the front gate. It is lucky he had gone to the gate because the contact name and number were different to those in the Dodo and if we’d just rung that, we would never have got through. The woman said she would be there within the hour to open the gite for us and stamp our credentiales. We were welcome to go in to the courtyard and wait there as the gate was open, so after eating our lunch, we picked up our things and walked (I shuffled), around the corner. Everything was close here. The Office of Tourisme was a couple of doors up from the Boulangerie and over the small one-laned street from Les Halles.

Gallargues Office de Tourisme

The local municipal pilgrim accommodation was excellent, and we were the only ones there. It was right next to a workers club and it looked like a gymnasium next door with lots of gym mats on the ground. Jacques joked with the woman and her husband that he thought we might have to sleep on them. It is a simple place with only 8 beds, mostly bunks. The building wasn’t that old, but had really high ceilings and large windows with shutters that opened out onto the courtyard with two huge fig trees and a picnic table and chairs. Jam, dried toasts, filter coffee, tea and long-life milk are supplied so you have everything you need. Our hosts were lovely. Once again I didn’t understand everything they were saying, but the were really friendly and helpful and found me a real cigale to take a photo of.

The day was again warm, so we could do our washing after showering, and the clothes would easily dry before nightfall. After we’d done the domestics, it was time to tackle the issue of plans for tomorrow at the Office of Tourism. The young woman was very helpful, and keen to speak English as she had spent time in Australia. She had also spent time in Belgium so had things to talk about with Jacques too. She helped us by finding that there were no buses running on Sundays from Gallargues, and also no trains would be stopping there either. If we wanted to take the ‘quick’ way to Montpelier, we’d have to walk around 6kms to the next town, Lunel, and catch the train from there. That became our plan.

I got the wifi code – the longest one in the world I think. With these automatically generated codes, I’ve noticed there are many common letters. I think this one had lots of Fs, which is what I felt like saying when it took me three goes to get my iPad to log in. I was already behind with my posting, so I asked whether I could stay and use the wifi in the afternoon and evening. The wifi stays on, so even after the office closed I was able to continue to sit outside under the oversized carport and finish my Paris restaurant blog. Jacques very kindly brought some chairs from the gite so that I didn’t have to sit on the concrete.

Gallargues municipal gite

Real cigale

An epicerie is like a corner shop. It often has fresh food, cheese and meats in addition to canned food and sometimes pre-prepared packaged foods – perfect pelerin fare for heating in microwaves. I felt like an orange and fennel salad for dinner, so that’s what I bought. With rice and tuna salad, rockmelon ham and pineapple juice we had quite a feast. After dinner I went back to La Halle and continued blogging until it was dark. I snuck back into the gite when I’d finished. So now you know the lengths I go to in a foreign country for wifi to complete this blog!

La Halle