Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Le Puy Route 2012 7.7-10.7

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Aroue to Ostabat 23 km

Dinner at the local basque restaurant after a visit to one of the 3 remaining churches with a
3 pointed clock tower. A great piperade with roast porc and one of the best ice creams we have had.
The walk today was lovely, quite hot in the sun though. We stopped for lunch at L'escargot restaurant on the way. It is a charming place on the trail which also accommodates pilgrims on a donativo basis. We shared a piperade and a piece of gateau basque along with a panache. The heat and lunch made us very sleepy and we nodded off in our chairs. After an hour or so it was time to move on, oh dear, our legs felt like lead and our feet were
sore, a big lunch in the middle of the day had not been a good idea. We bumped into Jean Christophe, hobbling along, new shoes, feet covered in plasters, insect (?bedbug) bites...not a high point walk for him.
We got into Ostabat around 2.30 pm and I was very grateful to have booked into the new Gite Aire Ona next to the church. A superbly restored Louis 15 building with thick walls, we had a double room with balcony window looking out at the church, exquisite bathrooms, fully equipped modern kitchen and wonderful garden with loungers! Very rare luxury! I had recommended the Gite to 5 other pilgrims and the owner was very grateful. The place only opened a month ago and does not feature in any of the guidebooks. It is a welcome alternative to the grotty Hospitalia albergue and Gaineko Extea, a very large Gite 1 km further on with the singing basque who seems a little too fond of the ladies.
We cooked a simple dinner with Francine and Karl, a couple we have been meeting for the last few days and stayed in the same Gite with. They are in their 60 's, he from Quebec, she from Troyes, they met on the trail, a little camino romance.

Ostabat to St Jean Pied de Port 23 km

Really approaching the end now, last day before we hit the Pyrenees. We stepped it out, overcast sky. There was nowhere really to sit and have a break today, so we walked the 5 or so hours non stop. Not a good idea and as "camp leader" as John calls me I felt I had let the team down, as John's right leg started to complain by the end of the walk, not a good thing as tomorrow we start the big climb across the mountains.
John here: We discovered today that the high concrete walls to be seen in every Basque village (see pic) were for pelotte their national sport. A bit like squash with wooden bats, no side walls and an endless court.
Fortunately the owner of the very lovely Gite Azkorria specialises in magnetism and successfully treated John' s ailment in spite of his scepticism. We had a double bedroom with ensuite and lovely views out into the Rue de Citadelle, which the pilgrims walk through on their way. Dinner at the Gite was also superb, the host is the son of the owner of the Hotel and Restaurant Ramuncho and sure knows how to cook. A variation on piperade, followed by calamari in a delicious sauce, pork roast slices in a dark mushroom sauce, rice and apricot cake after slices of aged brebis cheese.
We had a farewell drink with Francine and Karl, Jean Christophe turned up also and we bumped into a Dutch woman we had met on the trail a few days earlier.
Jean Christophe was going on to Santiago, for the others this was the end of the walk. I sensed a sadness in Francine and Karl, Marie, the Dutch woman finished her walk on a high, already planning her continuation next year to Santiago.

St Jean Pied de Port to Orrison 8 km

We left around 9 am to start the climb up to Orrison. Over the 8 km you gain 700 metres in elevation. It took us just under 3 hours and it really wasn't hard.
Unfortunately the weather was not great, misty, slightly drizzly and by the time we got to our destination we were surrounded by cloud cover. No views!
We passed a rather overweight German man in his 30's with a huge pack. He was huffing and puffing and drenched in sweat. " I am not really sporty" he said.
We reached Albergue Orrison before lunch. A bit like a ski hut on the mountain. It was cold and damp, no comfortable seats, no heaters, no fire. The bunk rooms had a bit of a toilety smell and the showers were lukewarm. I wore every layer I had and drank 2 hot chocolates in an attempt to get warm. It wasn't until dinner that I finally warmed up again. The afternoon dragged on, we could have walked further, but the next place to stay would have been 19 km away over the mountain top, too far in one day.
For a few minutes the clouds lifted and we could see far into the valley and surrounding mountains.
The German man we met earlier stopped for a drink, he had already changed his sweaty clothes and decided to walk on, brave or foolish?
We had dinner at 6.30. The gite was full and there were 20 of us at the table. Mainly people who were starting on the Camino Frances to Santiago.
An Italian woman biker was complaining as her bike had been dropped off the plane and she was not able to replace the broken part, so a makeshift repair job had to do for now. Getting to a bikeshop in Pamplona would be almost impossible as the "Running of the Bulls" is taking place this week.
We shared our bunk room with 2 nice German women and 2 sisters from Manchester, who had just graduated from university.


Orrison to Roncesvalles 19 km

We left before 8 am after a surprisingly good night's sleep. I had the top bunk, always a challenge!
Another 650 metres or so of height to gain, but over a longer distance, so it was less steep, followed by 500 metres drop into Roncesvalles, which was the hardest part of the whole walk.
We walked the entire time in the clouds, visibility 20 metres or less. Herds of horses and flocks of black sheep barely visible through the mist.
We did not see anything of the superb views, even missed the Virgin of the Sheperds statue and the border stone between France and Spain. It was cold and rained some of the time. We got a feel of the drama of the landscape, rocks, stunted oak forests, beech forests and finally close to Roncesvalles a forest of huge ancient deciduous trees.
We enjoyed the mystic feel of the walk in spite of the unfortunate conditions.
There were quite a few people on the trail and we kept on overtaking each other.
I talked with a young German guy from Stuttgart for a while. His name was Markus and he had walked to Santiago last year. He was walking again this year " to work some stuff out."
He had met a woman by the name of Kate from New Zealand at the Abbey in Roncesvalles on 30 June last year, really liked her, thought he would come across her again, but never saw her again on the trail. He regretted that his shyness had held him back from approaching her. Over the last year he has made several unsuccessful attempts to find her. I gave him the website for the Camino de Santiago Forum, which would be the most likely lead, who knows...
We sailed across the mountain and arrived in Roncesvalles before 1 pm, no stops on the way. We had made the 820 ish km over 41 walking days without any major problems or difficulties. Everything had gone smoothly really.
We got our last pilgrim passport stamps from the abbey in Roncesvalles and treated ourselves to the pilgrim menu lunch before hopping on the bus back down to St Jean Pied de Port. It was still rainy and an icy wind was blowing. We bumped into the 2 English girls we had shared the bunk room with last night and I gave them my walking sticks, as they regretted setting off without.
The bus went through the valley of Valcarlos, spectacular cliffs and forest landscapes became visible as we got below the cloud.
Back in SJPP, we checked back into Azkorria, warmed up under a hot shower and settled on an early night after a picnic dinner in the back garden.
Tomorrow we take the 6.35 train to Paris where we stay for 4 nights, Saturday being "Bastille Day".
It is all over now, strange feeling. When I went into town after my shower to get some dinner provisions I saw people arriving off the train, full of enthusiasm and anticipation, pale skinned, shiny new boots and packs. I am sure they took me for a tourist, my pilgrim identity gone, I felt momentary pangs of regret that I was not continuing on to Santiago.
What do you reckon John?

John here: What a great experience - but I'm not sure I'd be on for Santiago. Thank you camp leader for all the organisation and taking responsibility for our day to day needs - it really was a smooth trip thanks to you.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Le Puy Route 2012 3.7-6.7

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Arzacq to Pomps 22 km

Another hot day, but we managed to reach our destination by 2 pm which was good going. Many lovely rest places to stop with lovely undulating countryside and spectacular views of the Pyrenees at last.
Dinner at the Gite communal was great last night, I had had pangs of regret about passing the opportunity to eat out at cafe Sports, where the "Roy du Garbure" serves up a reputable feast. As it turned out the dinner at the Gite in the garden under massive shady trees was superb. Once again Confit du Canard, crispy and succulent and good company. The other 6 people at the table were serious pilgrims in for the long haul. The group included a father "Eli" and his son "Baptiste". They had only once before met people from New Zealand on the trail and that was in 2009, August 22, 2 women at the 7 am mass in the cathedral in Le Puy en Velay. Well guess what? The 2 women were no others than Jenny and myself! Fancy that. I recognised the 2 and remembered that I had been touched by father and son taking off together to help deepen their conflict relationship at the time. Baptiste is now a medical student, he was still at school in 2009 and things are better between father and son. What an amazing encounter! They continue to walk the St James route together in stages.
Tonight we are staying in the gite communal in Pomps. Very basic, part of a sport complex, but the shower is good and it is cheap at 24 euro per person demipension.
There are other people here who are en route to Santiago. Finally we are meeting more of the kind of folk I have met in the past. The tourist walkers seem to have gone, this bit is not for them. Fine by us, it is very real, little towns with everyday lives taking place scattered amongst rural French countryside.

Pomps to Cambarrat 16 km

Nice little walk today and the Gite Cambarrat, set in huge glorious grounds in the middle of a forest is one of my favourites. Isabelle and Nicholas have created an artistic haven out of an ancient farmhouse. They put us up in their 2 bedroom converted and very elegant barn after a very warm welcome. They remembered me from my previous visit. Dinner was followed by a very competent banjo recital by our host - his repertoire included both classical and bluegrass. We explored their gypsy caravans and admired the vibrant Basque colours used by Isabelle in her decorations.

Cambarrat to Navarrenx 24 km

It rained during the night and we set off in a drizzle. Unfortunately the predictions for sun were wrong and by 10 am the rain had settled in right and proper. The terrain was pretty up and down, 4 biggish hills to climb and descend from.
Fortunately a series of international encounters gave us a bit of a lift on what would otherwise have been a miserable kind of a day.
We were walking along deep in thought, suddenly a voice behind us " you are not wearing black, John and Brigitte from New Zealand", a biking couple from Napier had caught up with us. They are on an extended holiday in Europe and have already cycled 2000 km from Holland and presently en route to Santiago. Of course they knew John from his Hawkes Bay Community College days and they had already heard about me at Ferme du Barry in the Aubrac, where the owner described me as a "real character" whatever that means...
A few moments later we bumped into an Australian woman walking towards us, who had just finished the Arles route and was walking back to Moissac along the Le Puy route. Over coffee at the Abbaye of Sauvelade we got talking to a Swiss guy who had set off from Zurich after we left Le Puy and at 60 km per day was overtaking us. He looked totally fit and well, no ill effects and was pretty clean and tidy considering he sleeps outside under a tarpaulin most nights. He and the NZ cyclists are advancing at the same speed!
We were glad to arrive in Navarrenx, wet and cold. After our showers we resorted to merinos and down jackets once again.
We attended the little ceremony for pilgrims at the church, which was a light affair under a dark blue vaulted ceiling decorated with lots of little golden stars depicting the milky way.
Wine at the presbytery to follow.
I was glad I had booked us into really good lodgings, at Relais Le Jacquet where the owner Regis attended to all our needs and cooked a superb meal of courgette soup, salmon with ratatouille, rice, salad, crunchy bread, sheep cheese and fruit tarts.
Breakfast with fresh croissants, warm baguette, homemade confitures, yoghurt and grapefruit juice set us up for another day of walking. Our washing had been done in the machine and dried.


Navarrenx to Aroue 18 km

Reluctantly the sun came out, warm temperature and a very pretty walk through hilly country with glimpses of the Pyrenees through the clouds, golden fields of sunflowers in full bloom, pastures and woodlands.
By 2 pm we had checked into our Gite, Bellevue, where I had stayed in 2009. A big rambling kind of a house in a huge garden with great views as the name suggests. The sun has gone again and thunderstorms are on the menu for tomorrow.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Le Puy Route 2012 27.6-2.7

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27.6 Larressingle to Lamothe

We got up at 5.30, no hangover as Alain had guaranteed, and knocked off the first 12 km in 2.5 hours, not bad going. (John's calf muscle is getting back to normal.)
Did not see anyone on the trail today, how nice. By lunchtime we reached our destination at Gite Le Repos du Pelerin, run by Fritz, a German man, where I had stayed in 2009. He still cooks the same dish every night, of which he has the leftovers for lunch! So much for a varied diet.
Later in the afternoon a group of 6 arrived. By then the temperature in the shade had gone up to 38 degrees, well into the 40's in the sun. It was impossible to get comfortable inside or out and we had sweat streaming off our bodies during dinner. The night was hot too, a short lived storm crossed over in the early hours of the morning, it came and went, no rain and did not affect the temperature at all. It was still hot in the morning.

Lamothe to Le Haget 22 km
Fritz had prepared his famous breakfast of Bircher muesli and home baked whole grain bread before 6 am, so we could get off before the heat struck.
We left around 6. 45 am and stopped in Eauze, a quaint busy little town, the capital of the Armagnac country, to have coffee. The weekly market was in full swing, huge and we could not resist the olives in salted lemons, sheep cheese and delicious apricots for our lunch boxes.
We stayed a little longer than intended, but still made it to Le Haget, a farm, with converted stables for accommodation. The place is really geared for equestrians. They have 40 horses in the paddocks. I had stayed there in 2009 after walking through a whole day of pouring rain and thunderstorm.
The dog, who is now 10 years old still likes to play fetch, tirelessly. Covered in tics, blind in one eye now, he still keeps on. If you ignore the bits of stick or rubber balls he puts in front of you, he taps you and if after 3 taps you still ignore him, he moves on to the next person.
Marcus, a Swiss man, who had stayed at Fritz's last night turned up, hot and bothered and ended up sharing our room.
The temp was down to 33 degrees in the shade by about 5 pm and dropped further over night after a little rain.
We had dinner under the barn roof. Not one of the better meals I must say, although the salad was good and there was an Armagnac aperitif and plenty of wine. The owners ate separately from us, Marcus had told them that he was vegetarian and did not eat meat, so he ended up with no meat, but no alternative either, for him it was just chips for dinner, we had leathery chops to go with them.
Anyway we had a good rest and a better sleep due to the lower temperature.
John here: I rather liked this place as it was obviously a functioning farm. Dinner was late because the priority was getting hay bails under shelter before the rain hit and the children had to be picked up. We had to fit in with the real work of the day.

29.6. Le Haget to Dubarry 22 km

Coolish and no sun, nice walking through woods and fields.
Coffee in Nogaro. Suddenly we feel close to Spain, the first bullfight arenas and farms where bulls are bred for the bullfights.
We stocked up for provisions and I had a hissy fit in the bank, where after visiting 2 banks in town and waiting in a queue for at least 20 minutes, they would not change a 200 euro note. You have to have an account, pay the money in and then they give it to you in different denominations. I couldn't believe it. So last century. I said so as I huffed out of the place and by now I am sure all of Nogaro knows we are running around the countryside with 200 euro notes.
The other day a woman in the tabac shop would not accept my 50 euro note as it did not have a stripe down the side, it had some other symbol. The notes came from our bank in New Zealand and must be genuine as other people have accepted them without question.
What a hassle.
I managed to calm down after an hour or so of visions of being robbed at knife point by the local yobbos and we arrived at Gite Dubarry around 3 pm after 7 hours on the trail.
Weirdly slow today with John's leg giving him trouble again.
Veronique and Phillipe welcomed us warmly, we are the only guests tonight.
They told us that a group of Australians had stayed recently, who had read my blog and hence decided to book in. Something like " Bouche á Oreille"...which translates into word of mouth.
We had a lovely dinner with our hosts, prawn head bisque, followed by lasagne and a fresh garden salad decorated with grated beet root, followed by a millefuille based strawberry tart on a vanilla pudding base. The berries were fresh from mother's garden. John here: We had our first taste of the local wine which was new for us - based on tannat grapes - a rich red and strong tannins. Our host's friend who made the wine has preserved 29 varieties of grapes, 9 of which are the only specimens in France.
John and I decided today that 4 weeks of walking is ideal, one gets a range of experiences and a decent workout, after that it all turns into a blur and an exercise in " getting there".
We have been walking for nearly 5 weeks now and have another 11 days to go.
John's leg is packing it in intermittently and yesterday afternoon I confess to feeling a bit over it myself, the bank thing today really got under my skin big time.

30.6 Dubarry to Aire-sur-l'Adour 14 km

We were given breakfast with a candle mounted in an apricot as it is our wedding anniversary today.
We got to Aire just after 11 after a short walk on the flat. It was Saturday and the market was in full swing and the little town heaving.. John got a haircut to make himself look respectable for the day. We checked into Hospitalet St Jacques, where Andre and Odile hosted us. I had stayed there in 2009 and the place is still strongly adhering to it's philosophy of being a pilgrim's hostel only. They accept reservations only within 48 hours of arrival, only take walking pilgrims, who carry their own packs, no groups with car support and no groups over 4 people. Andre and Odile express disappointment about the fact that the "way" has become somewhat touristy over the last few years. They are also very disapproving of the crossing of the Pyrenees via the Route Napoleon a route which takes you over the top to the mountain conveniently via Auberge Orisson, who's owner has 2 other gites which link up with each other. The traditional route was via Valcarlos, at a lower level, much less dangerous. People have perished on the Route Napoleon in bad weather (as did the young man in the film " The Way"). However we are still planning to take the "high route", weather permitting.
I cooked a simple meal at the Gite from market produce and we had a bit of a bad night's sleep, a German woman in our room rustled endlessly with plastic bags and the French guy snored on and off. Some locals decided to race their cars up the road and threw an empty whiskey bottle into the street. The German woman got up at 5.30 to get an early start, much pacing and rustling later she left the room and when we went down for breakfast she was still there an hour later, talking to the host!
Sometimes I am astonished at my level of intolerance.

1.7. Air sur L' Adour to Marsan 22 km

Easy peasy walking, we passed the yobbos on the way out, they had parked cars and vans behind a hedge and were wandering around in an out of it and drunken state, I was pleased to walk past without them taking much notice of us to be honest.
Quite cool today and a few specs of rain first thing. We picnicked at Miramont next to the church and then 3 km later checked into well deserved luxury. We had an entire 3 bedroom house next to a farm complete with kitchen, laundry, TV, couch and terraces to ourselves. The farm shop sold ready made bottled meals of duck with haricot beans, pâtés, bread, cheese, fruit and wine, so we had our anniversary dinner in style. The bill for the accommodation, dinner, wine and breakfast was 65 euros for 2. Unbelievably good value.
This region is altogether noticeably cheaper than anything up to Moissac. We used to have to pay 1.50 euros for a coffee and here it is 1 euro.

2.7. Marsan to Arzacq Arrazeguiet 14 km

Our low point from a couple of days ago has passed and we no longer have this overwhelming feeling of wanting to get the walking over with. We really enjoyed our walk today, lovely undulating wooded countryside and a delightful village, Pimbo, on the way. The very helpful woman at the tiny tourist office let us use her computer and I got all my emails and banking done.
By lunchtime we arrived in Arzacq and checked into a little pavilion at the Gite communal after a lunch of a fresh warm crusty baguette with locally produced liver pate and a cheese made from raw sheep milk, followed by sweet and juicy apricots. We had a little wine left over from last night to go with it.
I am now sitting in the garden typing my blog. John has offered to do the washing, so I might take him up on this. After the luxury of a washing machine and dryer yesterday, there is not much to be done, as the short walk did not really get a sweat up.

John Harré
46 Kiwi Road
Point Chevalier
Auckland 1022
Phone: +64 9 8497805
Mobile: +64 21 02672606

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Le Puy Route 2012 25.6.- 28.6.

For pics click on this link


Lectoure to La Romieux 20 km

Marie Ange made us breakfast before 6 am, so we could leave early as the temperature was going to be in the 30's. We had a very enjoyable quiet walk to La Romieux, an ancient cloister and convent, up on a hill, amongst plum orchards. We stayed in the convent, now in private ownership and very clean and well run. Sophia's birthday today and we had a rather festive feel as we entered the little town at 12 midday to the sound of the church bells.
La Romieux is also famous for it's cat story. Statues of cats and a woman with a cat face are to be found all over the town and over dinner the chef of the little restaurant we went to with other pilgrims told us the story. In the middle ages a young girl by the name of Angelique a cat lover, lived in a little house with her parents and lots of cats. One day the mayor decided there were too many cats and ordered for them to be killed. Unbeknown to him Angelique saved a pair of cats and they bred in a hidden place in the forest. Soon after there were fires and the grain harvest was almost entirely destroyed. Then the rains came and with the rain the rats, who ate the little bit of grain that was left. The village was threatened with the plague, poverty and extinction. Of course you guessed it, in came Angelique with her new family of cats and they had a feast on the rat population and the village was saved!

La Romieux to Laressingle 20 km

Early start again due to the heat and a beautiful trail except for swarms of Mozzetta in the forest. I got eaten alive! They left John alone though.
We passed by Larresingle, a fortified village, nice, but full of tourist buses and gift shops, not our scene.
We stayed at Ferme du Tollet, just 1 km further from Larresingle, a functioning farm with 220 cattle and an impressive Armagnac production. Alain the owner invited us (we were 4, including 2 young men from Paris) to aperitifs in the cave where dozens of Armagnac barrels were stored, dating back to the 70's, when he and his wife Martine took over the farm.
Dinner followed, a traditional onion soup, home made pork terrine, roast duck, fresh apple cake, still warm. Volumes of their own red wine and lots of eau de vie (distilled from the Armagnac) poured over the cake from a 3 litre bottle, glasses over and over. Alain talked lots, in the local accent and at great speed, unfortunately my French could not keep up at all.
It was a superb evening, which came to an abrupt end when Alain said he needed to go to bed, as he had to get up at 5 am to get to work on the farm.
We had a hilarious walk back to our Gite across the paddock as the 2 donkeys and the horse decided to try and get at the breakfast supply of bread I was carrying. They ran after me, encircled me, pushed and shoved, not sure how I managed to save it!
We got up at 5.30, no hangover as Alain had guaranteed, and knocked off the first 12 km in 2.5 hours, not bad going. (John's calf muscle is getting back to normal.)
Did not see anyone on the trail today, how nice. By lunchtime we reached our destination at Gite Le Repos du Pelerin, run by Fritz, a German man, where I had stayed in 2009. He still cooks the same dish every night, of which he has the leftovers for lunch! So much for a varied diet.
It is extremely hot, 38 degrees, but from tomorrow the forecast is for slightly cooler temps, thankfully.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Le Puy Route 2012 22.6. - 24.6.

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22.6 Moissac to Auvillar 21.5 km
Idyllic walking, flat and shady along the canal most of the way, a few locks, canal boats, the last hour or so along the road. We stumbled across a new donativo gite, run by Vincent, a very nice Swiss man, who fell in love with the superb stone house with huge lofted open barn verandah spaces. it is called Le Par Chemin and located in Espalais just 1.5 km before Auvillar, where we had booked. Since John had developed some muscle pain in his right leg, we felt tempted to stay especially since a German chef was volunteering there, but we decided to climb up the hill instead, where I had booked into the gite communal for the night. I stayed there last time and it is beautiful. We had a double room and I cooked dinner for us and a couple of nice French women.

Auvillar to Miradoux 18 km
Lovely walk today, every hour we came through a beautiful village and had a rest, as John needed to look after his leg and it was extremely hot.
St Antoine was our favourite, so quaint and immaculate, full of little ancient houses and flowers everywhere, exquisite little church.
We arrived in Miradoux hot and bothered and had planned to stay with Therese, a very pilgrim friendly woman, in her 70's, who is known all along the route. Unfortunately the ancient beds looked like we were in for a bad night's sleep, given John's leg and back, so we went on to stay in a marvellous new gite, La Bonte Divine in yet another beautiful old building, restored by a young couple. Nathalie used to restore antique paintings and Stephane used to and still does in the winter paint houses.
The mattresses were great and dinner cooked by Stephane was restaurant standard. A Pousse Rapiere as aperitif, which is a drink of Armagnac and white wine, delicious, followed by rocket salad with bruschetta with local cheese, tomatoes and poppy seeds, with yellow chicken from the Gers region, cooked in turmeric, white wine and olive oil with prunes and couscous. For dessert we had grapefruit sorbet with fresh fruit salad, liberal amounts of a very good local red and tisane or digestif to follow. The bill was 30 euros per person for the night, dinner, drinks and breakfast. The shower and bathrooms were finished in charcoal grey tiles with twin shower heads and granite stone basins.
The only unfortunate thing was that we shared the dorm with 3 French women, all wearing earplugs, who ignored their cellphone rings during the night and we were woken no less than 5 times. To top things off, the women decided to get up at 5 am for an early start and after the usual plastic bag rustling we were finally able to get back to sleep around 6 am.

John here: You think you know your body and which bits are vulnerable under stress. Well right out of the blue, yesterday, after a full day's rest and three hours into a dead level shady walk along the canal, my right calf which has never given me a twinge began to show serious signs of muscle strain. This got progressively worse and I hobbled through the last 5km to our destination for the day. After a good night's sleep and regular massage with Antiflamme I nursed it through a therapeutic day reduced to 18km. Fortuitously we passed through three beautiful villages which provided an opportunity for a half hour break every hour and a half and not only have I survived but it seems to be coming right.

24.6. Miradoux to Lectoure 16 km.

We decided on a short day today to allow John's leg to recover, which it is gradually doing. I felt really tired after the bad night and took a tumble on a bit of wet grass, slight graze and a bit shaken up, that's all fortunately. As we were walking along there was a big brown envelope stuck to a lamppost in front of us with our names on it. John had changed the rubber tips on his walking sticks and left the old ones on the breakfast table by mistake. Stephane and Nathalie who had to go to Lectoure anyway had put the bits into an envelope for us along with muesli bars and good wishes. How .absolutely amazingly sweet.
When we arrived in Lectoure, Marie Ange, whom I had stayed with last time I walked this route called us on our cellphone and offered to pick us up to take us back to her house for the night. She had recently moved house and as it was some distance out of town we gladly accepted. We had a very relaxing afternoon and after an early dinner, a grillade in the garden, we went off to sleep. Marie Ange only takes in people occasionally now, she is too tired she says.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Le Puy Route 2012 11.6.-21.6

For photos please click on link to picasaweb album in previous post for now until we have remembered how to set up the link again....was planning on continuing the previous post for the whole trip, but stuff kept on disappearing from it, so I figured I might have gone over the word limit. Irritating technology for sure!

11.6. Felzins to Faycelles 20 km.
Another day of dodgy looking weather, grey sky, a couple of showers.We walked through Figeac and after a little lunch stop and a look at the Rosetta Stone we continued on to Faycelles. We arrived just before the thunderstorm and torrential rain. Our washing on the line got soaked, we kept warm and dry in our lovely little Caselle, a round stone building which used to shelter shepherds, now restored into a glorious little guest house.I
Olga and Slavka arrived, drenched to the bone. We were the only guests in the local restaurant where we were treated like royalty and John loved the Confit du Canard in particular,

Faycelles to Cajarc 22.5 km

Fantastic walking and only a few spits of rain. Young Oak forests, stone walls, a beautiful lunch spot on a moss covered stone wall in warm sunlight. A little blue butterfly the underside of it's wings in shades of gold with peacock feather like patterns in greens and blues, big black eyes, went walkabouts on the back of my hand for several minutes, It suddenly flew off, when John moved his hand to scratch his ear!
We checked into the gite Le Pelerin in Cajarc and we cooked a fantastic meal with our Czech friends who had found Girolle mushrooms in the forest. Pasta with mushroom sauce, pork chops, a fresh green salad and strawberry tart for dessert as well as a range of local cheeses.
A German man was there, who had walked all the way from Germany via Cluny. He was in a bit of a bad mood, as the spiritual enlightenment he set out to find, had not come to him. He asked me why I liked doing these walks and I replied that I enjoyed the simplicity of life and freedom from responsibility. His view was quite different, he found the experience a series of complex tasks, if not done to perfection and in the right order, the next day is ruined according to him. John agreed with his view of life on the trail being complex.

Cajarc to Limogne en Quercy 20 km.

Lovely sunny day, not too hot. We arrived in Limogne and checked into Gite Les Glorettes, one of my favourites, a grand Quercy style stone house with blue shutters in park-like grounds. The lively Marie greeted us warmly and as she remembered me from my last visit and I had recommended the place to the Czech women, she invited us to stay in her private part of the residence and we had a huge chateau like room with antique furniture and beautiful ensuite all to ourselves.
We had dinner again with Olga and Slavka in the sun in the beautiful garden, Marie's friend Robert is a pizza chef and we had pizza with goat cheese and honey, a delicious combination.

Limogne en Quercy to Poudally 22 km.

Very hot, around 28 degrees in the shade, slow walking and we were exhausted when we got to Poudally. The gite had been extended since my last visit and now has a huge modern annexe with 6 bedded rooms on different levels; with little ladders leading from one to the next, a bit like a chicken house; cute and clean. In spite of the numbers, Elsa, the owner prepared a fantastic meal of huge platters of a Caesar type salad with smoked duck breast and bacon, followed by a superb lasagne of salmon and courgettes, a Tiramisu like dessert. There was a very noisy group of holidaymakers staying in the gite, 18 women and 2 men and there was much drinking, shrieking and bad singing, shouting across tables, cellphones rining in the strangest sounds, e,g, baby cry, trumpet etc as they all had turns speaking to absent spouses. Our walking and pilgrim table was a subdued affair, we were tired after the long day in the hot sun and disappeared off to bed as soon as dinner was over,

15. 6.
Poudally to Cahors 19.5km

Cloudy start thankfully, not too hot. The drizzle soon stopped and we reached Cahors around 2 pm. On the way we met two Australian men with 6 backpacks leaning against a tree, the packs were leaning and one of the men too. They had asked a taxi driver to drop them 10 km along the route where they were meeting up with their mates who wanted to walk 30 km, but the taxi driver got it wrong and took them too far, so they were in for a long wait in the middle of nowhere. One of the men was an eye surgeon from Sydney, who knew John's eye specialist. On arrival in Cahors we were greeted by volunteers based in a little booth on the bridge crossing the Lot river with cold drinks and a map of Cahors. Nice, they stamped our pilgrim's passports and gave us directions to our lodgings. We had booked into Monsieur Capredon's chambre d'hôtel, a house in the old centre, where he was born and his mother had a drapery shop. The old table for cutting the fabric now acts as a table for brochures and guidebooks as well as his liver d' or which is full of grateful and complimenting comments from pilgrims and tourists who have stayed with Pierre. A welcoming and attentive host and we had what used to be his parents' rather grand bedroom with four poster bed and a view of the courtyard and neighbouring ancient houses and roofs. This was our home for three nights.
Lovely dinner at le bergagnoux restaurant, vegetable velouté, followed by a delicious fish stew and strawberry tart. Not at all expensive at 16 euro for the 3 course menu.

Cahors rest day
Ambling through the colourful Saturday market in front of the cathedral. Hot sunny day. We bought sheep cheese, huge olives stuffed with garlic and a superbly flavourful and rich pesto made from roasted red peppers for our picnic lunch, sweet juicy peaches and a crusty baguette. Brigitte my friend from Brussels arrived in the afternoon and treated us to a superb dinner in a rather elegant Michelin style restaurant La Balandre
we had had pre dinner drinks with our host who enthusiastically shared some of his childhood memories growing up in Cahors.

Cahors, another rest day! Outing to Cele Valley, Pech Merle cave and Le Halage 8 km walk along the Lot river.
The cave was an absolute highlight, I have been wanting to see it since I was a child. It was discovered in1922 by two adolescent boys and we only saw one quarter of the 4km long miraculous space. The cave paintings date back 24,500 years and were breathtaking, spotted horses, bisons, mammoths, ibex and some female forms, bear scratches in huge cathedral like spaces, stalactites and stalagmites in wondrous shapes and colours, disks and cave pearls. The variety was astonishing. John said it was definitely a bucket list experience. The number of visitors is strictly limited and I had pre booked from NZ.
After the cave we drove up to Cirq La Popie one of France's numerous most beautiful villages. It looked superb as we approached it high on a cliff overlooking the Lot river, but as we entered the village we were swallowed up by huge numbers of tourists and we took flight almost instantly.
Lunch down by the river followed by a 9 km walk along a tow path by the lot, carved out of huge limestone cliffs, absolutely dramatic.
We were on our way back to Cahors when Brigitte realised she had lost her guidebook and iPhone, probably left it on the lunch table. We drove back to the restaurant to no avail, no one had seen her things. Stress levels rising, we searched the car park and suddenly the restaurant owner came running towards us waving the book and phone in his hand. His young son had found them on the other side of the bridge, Brigitte must have left them on top of the car prior to us setting off for our walk and they must have fallen off when we drove off. What good fortune! They could have ended up stolen or in the river or broken....
Back in Cahors we are getting ready for an early start tomorrow am, as we have a long walk and it may still be hot. Brigitte is staying elsewhere tonight as Pierre had muddled the bookings, but it turned out she is happy with the arrangement. We plan to meet on the bridge at 8 am tomorrow to start the steep ascent out of town.
No dinner tonight, too much food for too many days in a row.

18.6. Cahors to Lascabanes 24 km

Good walking, perfect slight cloud cover, still glad to arrive at L'Étape Bleue, a very nice bio Gite in the country. We were put up in a little separate building made of straw bails. Very ancient beams held up the roof and the wood worms kept dropping little heaps of timber on my bed. They seemed to eat a lot in one day! Lovely dinner of salad with cheese croutons, lentils and Toulouse sausage and creme brûlée to follow.

19.6. Lascabanes to Lauzerte 24 km
Shit weather after an hour or two of lovely walking and an extended coffee stop in Montcuq the rain started and we spent the rest of the day squelching through thick mud, which stuck to our shoes. The inside of our raincoats was soon drenched as it was warm and we were sweating. We stopped in pouring rain under a tree, because we just had to have lunch and rapidly stuffed ourselves with soggy bread and soft cheese, did not bother to get the knife out of the pack, too wet and too hard. Brigitte and I had a attack of adolescent laughter at someone else's expense. A woman, older than us we had seen earlier in the day. Coiffured hair, heavy makeup, the latest designer outfit and a deep bronze spray-on tan, painted nails, she approached us without a rain cape, wet and we had visions of her tan and make up washing away with the rain. I laughed so hard that my poor post partum and post menopausal bladder gave way! Served me right! You can imagine the discomfort of my last 2 hours of walking!
The Gite at Lauzerte was still as good as I remembered it and after a hot shower and an aperitif in the spectacular square of the little fortified town all was well again.

20.6. Lauzerte to Moissac 29 km.
Boiling hot and sunny, the last 2 or 3. Hours were torture. Brigitte was over it, John coped really well and I got a second wind after a late lunch when I resorted to singing "edelweiss" badly as I cannot sing and skipping along the road into Moissac.
Our spirits lifted when we met Henry, the man with his dog, who has been on the road for 4 years. We had not seen him since that coffee stop a couple of weeks ago. He and his dog looked in good form.
We checked into a beautiful enormous room at Gite Ultreia in Moissac, run by an Irish couple. I had stayed there in 2009 and we had our final dinner with Brigitte sitting in a restaurant just in front of the abbatiale in the town square.
Just before this John bumped into a new Zealand woman by the name of Ruth, we had seen her entries in various guest books in gites. You won't believe it, she was a student of his in 1967 in Dunedin.

Rest day Moissac
Today is a music festival here and we are enjoying the day off after 3 full-on walking days. Our clothes are clean and dry and the weather outlook is promising. Brigitte left us this morning and is en route back to Brussels after her short holiday.
We were talking to Rom the Gite owner this am. The scene has changed here since my last visit and several new gites and chambre d'hôtes have opened. Things got so competitive, apparently a couple of Gite owners started to intercept pilgrims and walkers on the trail to try and get them to change their bookings and cancel prior arrangements. Rom and Aideen had a series of cancellations before they realised what was happening. Aideen consulted the mother superior of the local Carmel nuns and it seems that the Irish and catholic combination proved very powerful as the touting stopped instantly.
Enjoyed an accordeon concert on the square before dinner, early night, as off to another early start tomorrow.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Le Puy Route again, this time with my husband John 2012 26.5.-10.6.

Pics in Picasaweb (Click here)

Hi! This is John - joining Gitti for this year's pilgrimage. Pictured here on our last walk together in the Czech Republic. (I'm the one on the right.)
I began professional life as a Social Anthropologist with appointments to the University of Otago in Dunedin and the University of the South Pacific in Suva. I then became an academic administrator, developing New Zealand's first Community College in Hawkes Bay, establishing a Faulty of Arts at the Auckland Institute of Technology and re-structuring the Fiji Institute of Technology. Since I "retired" I have been involved in the academic quality assurance of New Zealand Institutes of Technology and have worked as a consultant in higher education in Timor Leste, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Oman. I am currently developing funding and quality assurance systems for the Fiji Higher Education Commission and assisting with the planning of a polytechnic in Saudi Arabia. My side line is building pizza ovens.

Here we are in Le Puy en Velay.  My 3rd time. I love this place. It is market day, the weather glorious, not a cloud in the sky and the temperature in the 20's. We have bought  provisions for our first few days, sheep cheese, a delicious local bleue and the traditional saucisson seche, which keeps well outside the fridge. Strawberries and cherries are in season and so are a multitude of  vegetables, asparagus, white and green tiny mushrooms, courgettes and crisp cauliflowers in abundance. Vast ranges of organic meats and live chickens,  quail and rabbits. How we would love to cook up a storm!
We are staying in a charming bed and breakfast place in the heart of Le Puy, full of traditional antique furniture, with a sunny rambling garden out the back. It is run by a retired university professor, who is also a wood sculptor. We feel like we have been on holiday for ages already.
A good night's sleep was all we needed after the smoothest ever 39 hour journey with seamless transitions between planes and trains, even time for a delicious lunch of squid in orange and tomato sauce in the very same restaurant in St Etienne Chateaucreux I frequented with my friend Jenny in 2009. Last night we had a plate of Le Puy lentils with home made sausage after meeting some fellow pilgrims at the local pilgrim office over a glass of rose.
( I am struggling with the French keyboard, hence the somewhat stifled start to my blog, also there is a queue of people waiting to use the computer;)
Today after lunch we explored Le Puy, climbed to view the Chapelle St Roche d'Aighuile and in the evening had a very memorable meal at a tiny restaurant; called A la 5ieme Saison. The owner; a friend of our host, does the whole thing as a solo operator; he cooks and serves the meal and manages to stay calm, polite and charmant, conversing with guests and still managing to serve everything in a timely manner. The restaurant seats 16 and is no larger than our living room, without the dining room bit. It is decorated by the artist owner, who is not only a wonderful host, but also makes exquisite jewelry. Against a backdrop of saffran yellow walls, there is an eclectic selection of artifacts, original paintings, exquisite chandeliers and drooping bands of ivy. The menu consisted of seafood rillettes, made with tuna, salmon and tarragon, marinated anchovies and a crisp fresh salad of tomatoes and homegrown lettuces, followed by roasted loin of pork, aubergine gratinee and gnocci in a delicious light tomato sauce, followed by chocolate tarte, creme anglaise and a selection of local cheeses. Merlot to compliment and an aperitif on the house, called a Ponot, a term used for the inhabitants of Le Puy, Vervaine Syrup with a dry white wine.
We made friends with two pilgrims from Luxemburg, Nathalie and Olivier at the neighbouring table, who are spending a week on the route.

Le Puy en Velay to Montbonnet 16 km
Early start to attend the pilgrim's mass at the cathedral at 7 am. We met our friends from last night and the Canadians from Friday night. Altogether there were about 150 pilgrims setting off - when I left in 2009, there were about 18!
After a delicious breakfast I had a nasty surprise, my Italian walking poles would not expand and after a lot of twisting and maneuvering it became clear that they had corroded inside and become useless. Today being Sunday meant the shops were closed and since we were heading into the countryside, no chance of any outdoor stores for at least another 3 or 4 days. 
I did not fancy walking without a stick of some sort, as the terrain during the first few days is very steep in parts and I rely on the poles on the downhill in particular. We set off and I kept an eye out for a suitable branch or piece of wood that might do the trick. A km or so out of town we got talking with a local man, out on a Sunday morning stroll and I briefly mentioned my plight. We walked on and 10 minutes later a car stopped in front of us and here was the friendly local with 2 walking poles for me! They were 2nd hand, he apologised and after I insisted on paying him some money, we settled on 20 Euro. So here I am, equipped with a perfect set of nordic poles; Saved once again by the generosity of people along this way.
Today we enjoyed 17 km through verdant countryside bursting with springflowers and birdsong. Now we are installed in a brand new luxurious gite, sharing a mezzanine room with Corrinne and Veronique, who were fellow guests at Mme Dechaud's Bed and Breakfast last night. It is sunny and warmer than anticipated and so far we have avoided the rain. Fantastic dinner of fresh salad with tuna and tomatoes, Le Puy lentil salad and roast pork with buttery pasta, followed by a delicious selection of local cheeses and fresh fruit;
John is holding out well, so far so good!

Monbonnet to Monistrol d' Allier 15 km.
We set off just after 8 am, a coolish early summer morning, lush dewy meadows around us, the sound of the cuckoo and hypnotic scents of hawthorn, their bushes covered in dense white flowers. Banks of forget-me-nots and endless fields of Narcissus flowers, sweet and intoxicating. Broom and buttercups, their yellow colours almost surreal in intensity. A very enjoyable day with a fairly demanding bit of downhill into Monistrol d' Allier. 
I had booked into Gite La Tsabone, but unfortunately there had been a misunderstanding and they had our booking down for the previous week, so there was no place at the inn. A new gite had just opened and instead of a cramped bunkroom we had a room to ourselves in a fantastically restored building in the heart of the village. As usual things worked out...
We met up with some people from the night before and an Austrian woman Ernestine, who was on her way from Vienna to Santiago. She had had a rest day after getting into a lot of difficulty due to overexertion. She was in extreme pain all over her body and had had an experience of electrolyte imbalance, suffering from confusion and un-coordination, requiring re-hydration. She had made the mistake of trying to keep up with some young energetic men, who were walking up to 40 km per day and had not paid attention to her body. Still, not too late to learn her lesson.

Monistrol d'Allier to Saugues 13 km.
My birthday today! A cold foggy start to the day. Even my down jacket did not stop me from shivering. Our washing had not dried overnight. Brrr. Unseasonal for this time of year.
Most fortunately however we managed to avoid the afternoon rainfalls and have not as yet had to get our rain gear out of the pack.
A steep 2 hour climb out of town and eventually a gentle downhill into Saugues. More great countryside, paths surprisingly dry and not slippery considering the rainfall. We gained sufficient height to leave the fog slumbering below in the valley and gratefully soaked up the warm rays of the sun. 
As birthday treat John had announced my special day to the group at the gite in perfect French and for lunch we had Mousserons omelettes and Cassis Syrup. Mousserons are the delicate looking little mushrooms we had seen at the market a few days earlier, their subtle flavour and texture was a perfect combination with the light fluffy consistency of the omelette. We sat in the sun in an idyllic garden behind a historic stone cottage. What a treat. We stayed the night at Gite a la Ferme, where I had had a wonderful experience in 2009 with my friends Jenny and Brigitte. Again we were not disappointed by the energetic " Allez, Allez, Allez" owner Mme Martins. Homegrown veal stew for dinner and rennet for breakfast are her hallmark. We had a room with en suite to ourselves, very deluxe indeed. As a birthday treat we had aperitifs of Gentianes and Pernod after admiring the Saugues Chapel, restored in a spanish tradition, beautiful colours of turquiose and gold against a backdrop of rustically carved wooded benches and railings.

Saugues to just before Chanaleilles 11 km.
Not much of a walk you might say and it wasn't, but it is all part of a kind of systematic and scientific buildup to the eventual longer stages ahead. Sunny and warm at last.
We are spending the afternoon relaxing at a new gite, La Gite des 2 Pelerins, another gloriously restored old building; run by a couple who have themselves walked to Santiago and absolutely understand what a pilgrim needs. So there is a drying room for wet gear, comfortable seats, spacious shared rooms with comfortable beds, somewhere other than the kitchen sink for a change to wash your clothes and lots of outdoor tables and seating. A warm hospitality, extensive library and even films and movies about the pilgrimage. I asked for a glass of wine to have with our picnic lunch and out came a carafe of beautiful red wine, organic at the rate of 1 Euro! Unbelievable. Their computer is freely available, so finally I can catch up on mu email and blog. John has his iPad and iPhone and bought a French sim carte, but just to open up a couple of emails costs around 4 euro, so absolutely not worth doing unless you can connect into the someone's wi fi, which was the case here.
Just had a massive thunderstorm and hail, once again we were lucky to be safely installed, just the washing got a little wetter than when in started out.
Dinner was preceded by a singing lesson over an aperitif of rose mixed with a little grapefruit essence. Jean Louis played his guitar and he and Lucette taught us (2 German girls and a Swiss pilgrim) the Utreia song, which is sung all along the route. Lucette had prepared her signature dish of potato gratin made with roquefort, absolutely amazing. She did not have any as she put on 11 kg eating with her guests every night! Jean Louis asked for our pilgrim passports when the cheese was served, he individually hand drew their "stamp" to avoid eating the cheese as he was also complaining of "growing" in size. His drawings take 3 mins each and are dedicated to the essential equipment of the pilgrim, the backpack, the boots and the walking sticks. Jean Louis believes they have a soul of their own and need looking after and appreciation and a little rest once in a while. After dinner there was more singing and a series of spirit bottles were lined up according to strength and you had to sing the corresponding note do, re, mi etc to choose the one you wanted. I opted for "la", which was 30 percent proof, a Vervaine with a brandy base. A delicious little thimble full.
We had a great sleep, generous breakfast, were each given cake and bread for the road and sent off with a song from our wonderful hosts.

31. 5.
Chanaleilles to St Albans sur Limagnole 18 km
Great walking in lovely sunshine, not too strenuous. I had booked into gite Le Penote, which on arrival turned out to be a terribly depressing and dark little place and we decided to move on and find something more uplifting. Chambre d'Hotes Les Genets did the trick. Light and sunny, we had a double room with glorious views over surrounding countryside and run be a very welcoming older couple, who had walked to Santiago some years ago.
John took me out for my belated birthday dinner in the evening to Restaurant La Petite Maison, a very quaint Michelin affair, dinner to die for ( My grandmother used to say that food was the sexuality of old age and with food like this, she was probably right!) Champagne cocktail with Mirabelle liqueur, little bite size delicacies of various sorts, salmon mousse with croutons, carpaccio of crisp beetroot, trout fillet with hazelnut cream sauce on Julienne vegetables and for dessert Vervaine icecream, served with hazelnut whipped cream and a shot of Vervaine liqueur. My desert came complete with a happy birthday card and a lighted candle!
We seem to be walking in the footsteps of Donald Ellis, a New Zealand sheep farmer from Oamaru in his sixties. He walked the route in snow and ice in February 2011 and recently returned carrying vast numbers of New Zealand picture books to give to people along the route, who had hosted him and offered him kindness. This is the second time we have been shown one of his books and read his entries in guest books.

St Albans to Aumont Aubrac 16 km.
Another glorious day. Sunshine and wonderful countryside. The hillsides glowing in yellow broom. The sweet scent is so strong, it gives me a headache. The hay making has begun, and we realise how lucky we have been, seeing the meadows in full bloom, as the blade is about to strike, leaving behind short stubbles of green.
We arrived at Gite du Barry in good time. I stayed there last time with my friends Jenny and Brigitte and could not resist the charm and aligot for a second visit. Of course I am on a mission to show off all the best places to John too.
A lovely relaxed afternoon and in the evening a group of friends from Aix en Provence invited us to join their table. We first met over a picnic lunch on our first day and they offered us wine and home made pate and we shared our olives. Our paths kept crossing and we slept in the same gites on a couple of occasions.
John here: The meal included the famous aligot that Gitti had talked about on her last visit. What a unique way to combine potatoes and cheese, and what a dramatic performance as it is served! On this occasion Gitti was invited by Vincent to participate in the stretching process which was followed by the deft twist which brought the dish onto our plates (see pics).
One of the remarkable things for me on this journey is to experience the ease with which Gitti (actually here she's Brigitte pronounced à la francais) relates to our French companions. The group is often hanging on her words as she recounts stories of her various walks and provides them with information on the way ahead. Her planning of this journey has certainly contributed to my enjoyment.
Over dinner we found out why Saint Alban sur Limagnole, where we stayed last night has such a strange feel. Towering over the small town is a large institutional building, right near the castle. This building is in fact a psychiatric institution and has housed hundreds of patients considered to be severely mentally ill. The population has shrunk over the years with the move to community care; but some remain. There is a large meadow next to the cemetery and under this meadow countless former inmates a buried. No names, no gravestones, anonymous they were alive and anonymous they remain in their mass grave. The forgotten people. The only thing that marks the grave is a poem inscribed on a stone, I will copy it onto the blog later on. Bernadette the organiser of the group wrote it out for me, as we had missed significance of the meadow. It was not mentioned in the guidebooks. One of the women in the group was particularly moved by the experience, as her brother is mentally ill, but able to lead an almost normal life thanks to antipsychotic medication.

Aumont Aubrac to Nasbinals 26.2 km
Phew, a long day with lots of ups and downs, hot sun and more glorious open country across the plateau d' Aubrac. Stonewalls, Aubrac cattle, more and more wildflowers, we have never seen such variety.
We arrived in Nasbinals at 4 pm and after our usual routine went to bed at 8 pm, to tired to do anything else.
John and I are turning out to be the perfect walking companions so far. We have managed to walk without any ill effects so far, no blisters, pains, stiffness, the Waitakere walks with our cousins and friends must have paid off.
As far as routine goes, we have settled into a predictable, yet essential daily pattern. We usually set off around 8 am, after breakfast. After 2 hours of walking, sudden hunger pains demand a little break, time for a few almonds and a drink of water; occasionally one passes a place where one can stop for coffee. Soon after midday, depending on a suitable picnic spot, we have our lunch of bread, ham or sausage, tomato and a bit of cheese. About an hour or so before we reach our destination we stop again usually to have a piece of fruit to gather energy for the last bit of the hike. We keep a pretty even pace, which works really well.
On arrival, there is a pretty strict sequence of shower; laundry, shandy (for re-hydration purposes), in that order; as getting washing on the line as soon as possible is most important, when you wear the same gear every day. Shopping for provisions and planning the route for the next day, followed by socialising with other walkers or pilgrims and a little local sightseeing. Dinner is usually around 7 or 7.30 pm. We are positively starving by then. Normally everyone just goes to bed when dinner is over, which is usually around 9 or 9.30 pm.
Today is a rest day, perfectly planned; as it is pouring with rain and we are having a day for catching up with emails, blogging and going out for lunch. 
We had a nice lunch of roast lamb with a glass of mulled wine, as it was miserable and rainy. After lunch we went back to our room, where a woman pilgrim in her sixties had checked in. She lives in Strasbourg with her husband and she was having a meltdown kind of a day, in tears as she had been dealt with in a rude way at the local restaurant as she did not have a booking. We invited her to share dinner with us, we prepared plates of salad, fruit and cheese followed by swiss chocolate. Her spirits noticeable seemed to lift.
The pollen finally got to me and I have had a touch of hay fever and totally lost my voice, still seeing all the flowers in bloom was worth it.

Nasbinals to St Chely d'Aubrac 16.5 km
The rain has gone, but when we set off this morning in shirts and shorts, hardy kiwi style, there was an icy wind blowing across the plateau. The ambient temperature around 6 degrees C, dropped to about 2 to 4 due to the wind-chill. We practically flew up the hill, not noticing the climb as we were too preoccupied with runny eyes and noses and shivering limbs. We had long underpants in our packs and down jackets, but somehow could not be bothered stopping to put them on, We gained 200 metres in altitude and then lost 550 metres over a stony and steep descent. A lovely hot shower and lunch later, we feel fantastic, the discomfort of this morning forgotten. We met our first English speaking walkers today, a couple from Australia, originally Kiwis. They were the only people out in shorts today too.
Tonight we are staying in La Tour du Chapelains, a 15 th century tower, where we share a room with five others on the very top, with views over the ancient slate roofs of St Chely.
Rabbit stew for dinner, yum.

5.6. St Chely d'Aubrac to Espalion 20 km.
Today I met my first Camino de Santiago Forum member on this route, Alfredo from Spain who was en route from Le Puy to Conques with his friend Antonio. Antonio has a rather interesting connection with New Zealand, more on this from John. 
John here: Antonio told us that in the 19th Century his grandfather had been the doctor on a Spanish officer training ship that sailed round the world. When they stopped in New Zealand he was so impressed by the residence of the Catholic Bishop (presumably Pompallier?) that he made a sketch of the house. Later when he returned to Spain he built a replica in San Sebastion and Antonio lives in this house today.
Good walk, quite hot at times and quite a steep descent once again which led down to the Lot Valley. We had booked into Le Halte St Jacques, a new gite and when we got there we were horrified. It looked nothing like the internet site and on my travels this must be one of the worst places I have come across. Austere, tiny and cramped, totally unwelcoming, there was nobody there at all. No communal spaces whatsoever, no decor of any kind, prison like and sunless and it felt kind of grubby. We fled immediately! Unfortunately the gite communal, which was very nice was full and the only other option was 600 metres out of town back in the direction we had come from. We did not mind, got some provisions and a bottle of wine and ended up in a quirky little gite with built in beds made from rough sawn timber, with little curtains for privacy and warmth. Mme Reynard ( Fox), was a very warm and welcoming host and her house was decorated with foxy things including several stuffed foxes. Mme herself with her red hair and pretty, yet pointy face and a lean body, had a kind of a fox like appearance. She made the thinnest crepes I have ever had for breakfast.
We met 2 lovely Czech women, Olga and Slatva, niece and aunt that night and they were delighted when we shared our enthusiasm for the Czech Republic with them.

Espalion to Fonteilles 20 km.
Today was a killer, boiling hot and when we got into Estaing for lunch all the picnic spots by the river in the shade had been taken by the " happy wanderers" as John calls them. They are the seemingly endless number of people on the trail, in front of you, behind you, who tend to walk in groups, have their luggage transported by a variety of transport providers, get picnics supplied by cars who meet them at picnic spots, book out all the gites communals months ahead, so if there are only one or two of you walking, perhaps with the intention of being spontaneous and stopping for the night when the spirit moves you, tough bikkies, there ain't no places left.
I met a young German man Franz yesterday and he was quite grumpy about the accommodation scene this side of Le Puy. He walks 30 to 40 km per day and set off from Bonn to walk all the way to Santiago and is finding the lack of available beds quite problematic.
Anyway we ate our lunch on a seat in the burning hot sun, the Rocamadour goat cheese had turned into a fondue like substance in my container and we scooped up the strong smelling goo with our baguette.
Then we continued up to Fonteilles. Last time I walked this stretch, my cousins Max and Fran had just joined my friend Jenny and I after walking the Haute Route in Switzerland and we chatted excitedly all the way, so I did not notice the hard 8 km climb which gained over 300 metres in elevation. Every time we reached a curve and thought we had got to the top there was more relentless uphill to come. Eventually we were rewarded with a lovely room under the eaves of an old farmhouse and a fabulous dinner of olives and muscat wine followed by nettle soup, pommes Anna, wild mushrooms and pork chops braised with peppers and lots of garlic. At least 15 varieties of local cheeses and fruit salad to follow. Liberal quantities of the local rose and red wine, herb tea made from a flower which only grows in the Aubrac region and finally a digestif!
The company was great and our Czech friends had followed our advice and booked into the same place rather than staying over in Estaing.

Fonteilles to Senergues 20 km.
Today was a doddle really, not so steep and we reached our destination at 2 pm. Lovely gentle landscapes through patches of wood and little quaint villages.
We just missed the rain and thunderstorm which hit in the afternoon. Lots of people arrived drenched to the bone.  So far we have not as yet had to get our ponchos out, but there is rain forecast for Sunday and we don't think we will escape it this time. 
The gite Domaine de Senos was still as nice as I remembered it from 2009. We had a room to ourselves with superb views and ensuite.

Senergues to Conques 9 km.
Easy peasy, bit steep coming down into town, but not hard. After huge deluges of rain overnight the path was nice and soft underfoot without being flooded. Tonight we are staying in a little bed and breakfast place called Lou Perou. It is at the bottom of Conques and is run by a wonderful English couple Sally and Chris. Sally is an artist and I think Chris specialises in natural therapies, Reiki etc. Olga and Slatva are here too. Olga is in 7th heaven here, as her husband is an artist and they have a house a bit like this near Karlsbad in the Czech Republic. She hit it off with Sally straight away in spite of the language barrier. 
The little house is on the market as Sally's daughter in England is expecting a baby and Sally and Chris want to move closer to their families. If you have 150 000 Euros to spend this is a lovely place. Very quaint indeed in one of France's most beautiful villages. We will have dinner with the hosts tonight, the smells from the kitchen are delicious already and it is only 3 pm. There is an organ concert in the abbey tonight.
Tomorrow comes the big fat climb out of Conques and we are debating whether to take the easy option up the road or the real path which is a clamber up some rather large rocks which takes about 2 hours or so, followed by 18 km of road walking, more or less....

Conques to St Roch 20 km
The climb out of Conques was nowhere near as challenging as I remembered, but the rest of the route, avoiding Noilhac and Decazeville was a bore. Roadwalking all the way and not a single bar or shop. All we had was a little dry sausage, we had decided against walking back up into Conques before setting off to get supplies. We were starving by the time we got to St Roch, which is just a tiny hamlet. We had booked into the Gite Sentinelle, a private house, where you leave a donation in turn for a bed and dinner and breakfast. The host Brigitte was out at a conference and there was a note inviting people to " installez vous". The door was open, as seems to be the custom around here. Brigitte arrived around 6 pm and the 5 of us who stayed with her jointly prepared a meal of quinoa, julienne carrots, fried courgettes, fresh cheese with garlic and herbs served with croutons. Brigitte had made a delicious vegetable quiche and a chocolate and walnut tart. John and I were given the task of cracking more walnuts and collecting edible herbs and flowers for the salad. We did well on the herbs, but not so well on the flower choice...Literally all ingredients for the meal were sourced from close by, mainly neighbours or came from Brigitte's garden. Over dinner there was a very lively discussion focussed on theology, in particular cahtolocism and the role of prayer in society. Brigitte is a very committed christian, John and I stayed rather quiet, partly due to our lack of french and of course lack of religious commitment.

St Roch to Felzins 20 km.
We stopped for a coffee in Livinhac le Haut after the first 30 mins of downhill, just because it was there. We stumbled across a new gite, that had just opened, run by a lovely italian man called Andre and his partner, who is basque and works in Spain. They bought an old house in the centre of Livinhac after meeting each other on the Camino in Spain and a running on the donativo principle, people give what they can. The place has only been open for 4 weeks and they will see how things unfold. They call it " La Vita est Bella". You can check them out on Facebook.
It rained the rest of the day, bloody miserable and cold and we were freezing and drenched by the time we reached Felzins. The path was muddy and flooded in parts and our shoes were wet inside and out. John's Altus rain poncho/coat, supposedly the same as mine is a disaster. At first we thought it was wet on the inside from condensation, but it seems that it is not all that rainproof, it was dripping inside and clinging to his body and legs, very uncomfortable. Mine stayed pretty dry. The material feels a little different, very strange, both are marketed as the Altus and were bought from Spain.
After all the discomforts of the day we had a treat in store though, Gite Le Pentadou, a beautifully restored old farmhouse in an amphitheatre like setting, stunning gardens and spaces and a wonderful meal with the hosts Anou and Laurent of broad bean salad, smoked duck breast and toulouse sausage with ratatouille, followed by cheeses and rice pudding. The aperitif was a local white wine mixed with elderberry flower syrup. Rather delicious.
Slavka and Olga were staying there too, they gladly accepted my route and accommodation suggestions and will stay at the same places as us for the next few nights until they head back home from Cahors.
Olga is needed at home as her artist husband solely focusses on his art work and she does everything else. They live a self sufficiency type lifestyle and Olga is busy all day keeping the place running, including getting wood from the forest. The grass has grown to knee height since she has been away and it will continue to grow until she gets home.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Via Gebennensis and Robert Louis Stevenson Trail August/September 2010

Via Gebenennsis and Robert Louis Stevenson Trail 2010
Two days before I leave. Some of you will not have caught up, but yes I decided to go, spontaneously, since I could not save my annual leave for next year and since I am kind of traumatised by parenting, but at a point, where I just need to let things take their course, recognising I have done all I can for now, trusting that things will work out and feeling more hopeful about that than a few months ago, knowing and grateful that my lovely Johnny is looking after things generously, glad to see the back of the New Zealand winter, hoping my sore shoulders will recover with the heat of the summer and the general de-stress that is likely to occur once I hit the chemin. Right now last minute panic. I managed to get some sort of nasty virus just before leaving and embarrassingly ended up taking some days off work, just before flying out, not a good look, but bodies don't necessarily stand to attention.
Fortunately the extremely sore throat is now not too bad and the cough is subsiding. I feel unfit as hell though and having studied the elevations in my guidebook, which show the path crossing the grain of the land virtually all the way from Geneva to Le Puy, I feel rather nervous in anticipation. On top of this I have picked a rather solitary route through rural France, where I am unlikely to meet many other walkers, let alone pilgrims.
The Robert Louis Stevenson route which leads south from Le Puy through the Cevennes is likely to be a little busier. Quite a few people try to recreate RLS's experience by hiring a donkey to walk with. At €47 plus per day I passed up the temptation. I figure I will meet plenty of donkeys on the way and might even get the chance to walk one in the case of an overenthusiastic individual having decided they have bitten off more than they can chew. Donkeys are said to be a bit of a challenge really. When they don't want to go, they don't want to go.
The Cevennes area used to be a stronghold of the Huguenots and with both John and my family having Huguenot origins supposedly it feels quite exciting to be walking through there. My godmother told me that my great grandmother on my mother's side with the surname of Bohnert traced her origins back to that area. The Bohnerts apparently settled in the Spessart region of Germany in a village called Burgsinn. They took up (not very good) pottery making.
I will send the occasional email once I am on the trail, but I have heard that internet opportunities are few and far between. If anyone wants to be taken off the email list, just let me know.
First though the ghastly flight. Etihad Airways this time, since it was the only cheap fare around. It has the advantage of flying straight into Geneva and out of Munich, the disadvantage is a nasty long 15/16 hour stint between Sydney and Abu Dhabi.
So, cheers for now, next time from France.
Hi to you all, first day today, about to head off from Geneva to Beaumont, 16 km. Start at the Basilica in Geneva and walk through the old town and past the cathedral.
Flight was long as usual, but otherwise uneventful. Arriving in Geneva was a breeze. Plane got in at 2 pm and by 3 pm I was checked into my spartan, pristine room at the Youth Hostel. Then a quick tour down to the lake and back, which unfortunately took me through the seedy part of town. Prostitutes out at 5 pm, catching the after work customers. Quite harrowing really to see these beautiful girls pursuing their problematic lifestyles. There were lots of them and the district is surrounded by most of the Geneva hotels, some extremely expensive ones, accommodating international bankers, financiers, UN personnel......I spent some time speculating on the likely range of customers they serve.
Luckily by the time I got back to the hostel I was met by one of my recent Camino Forum contacts, Richard. He works in Geneva and lives with his family just ten or so kilometres away over the French border. Richard, an aspiring pilgrim, had picked up a little guidebook with private accommodation addresses and a scallop shell for my pack. What a lovely surprise and how incredibly welcoming. We shared a beer and after a lively, albeit brief, talk about the ins and outs of being a pilgrim and exchanging a bit about our lives and backgrounds, he headed off home to his family and I headed off for a quick soup and bed. Jetlag had finally beaten me. I was awake at 4 am and have been ready to leave since 6 am, but had to wait for the office to open, so I could check out. Hope I have the energy to get to my destination today. Flying does take it out of me.
Love, Gitti
Le Pont
Hi all, my first three days of walking are behind me. Surprisingly in spite of the jetlag, the virus, the sore shoulders and the heat I am having the most amazing time and as we say in New Zealand "It is the people, the people, the people". Walking out of Geneva through the picturesque old part of town was wonderful. The route was well marked and whenever I stopped to locate the next directional scallop shell, people would come out of shops and cafes and point me in the right direction. On one occasion a young woman stopped her car in the middle of a small roundabout, hopped out and showed me the way. It seemed like no time at all before I reached the outer suburbs, the country and then there was the border into France. I had not even had time to spend my last 9 Swiss francs and missed the last lot of shops and cafes before heading into the countryside. It was after 1 pm and the croissant at 7 am seemed in the far gone past. To cut a long story short I located a shopping centre 300 metres off the trail and luckily the owner of a cafe accepted my Swiss coins and generously supplied me with mountains of sandwiches and orangina bottles. I had enough food for lunches for at least two days.
The only walker I met that day over the 16 km stretch was a young Englishman, who had lived in Dunedin for a year and now works in Geneva. He was out for a stroll through the vineyards.
The gite La Fromagerie in Beaumont where I stayed that night was delightful and apart from Kurt, a German pilgrim in his late sixties, I was the only guest. Anne, the lovely owner, supplied me with soup and cheese for dinner and I hit the sack at 8 pm.
Yesterday I continued on to Frangy, a 27 km day, far too much really, especially since bits of it were very steep. The countryside was varied, open fields, woods, views of mountains and rock faces, mostly natural paths, through strings of hamlets, no shops, no bars. After a leaden morning sky, high humidity, the air heavy with the scent of clover, the heavens opened and the rain poured out of the sky for several hours. The track turned into little gushing streams and my spirit sank as the day progressed. I had left the gite at 7 am and by 12 midday I was tired, hungry and thirsty, but could not be bothered getting my supplies out of the pack as it meant taking the rain cape off first and then the pack and there was no shelter for miles. I had reached a major low point, when I heard a little clicking sound and Kurt had caught me up. He had left an hour after me and must have cracked quite a pace or may be I was just very slow.
We walked together the rest of the day, got lost once or twice, not paying attention to the way markings. Anyway, we overshot the turnoff to Chaumont at the top of a very nasty bit of uphill and when I realised we had just about completed the descent to Frangy. I could not face walking back, but the search for accommodation was fruitless and the very helpful woman at the tourist office ascertained that the only available beds for miles happened to be in the place in Chaumont where I had a reservation. We were picked up by the gite owner and were pleasantly surprised by the exquisite hilltop village with ruin and superb restaurant serving probably the best pilgrims’ meal I have ever had. We dined on a beautiful stone terrace looking over the medieval walls and rooftops and castle ruins.
The rain had stopped, the sun was setting and the €15 dinner included a superb mixed salad with artichokes and other delicacies, followed by a tender piece of entrecote, herb and garlic butter made from locally grown products and a potato au gratin dish cooked in the Savoy tradition, served in individually baked dishes straight from the oven. A cheese platter and hazelnut mousse to follow. Choice of local rosé or red, very good and coffee or infusion to finish. What a highlight.
As we arrived at the gite the phone rang and Richard, my newfound Camino Forum friend offered to pick us up in the morning, take us back to where we had got to that night and to then walk with me as far as my planned destination. Not only that, but his family invited me stay in their beautiful old house, formerly a mill, set in woodlands, completely secluded from civilisation. They share the house with their lovely little girls Leonie and Zoe adopted from Haiti. So here I am, in the attic, which also acts as a guest room, absolutely worn out after yesterday's long haul and today's heat. It was over 30 degrees and Richard and I covered about 18 km, from Frangy to Le Pont, where his wife Sandrine picked us up in an air conditioned car - what luxury. The day went in a flash and we talked all the time. It was a beautiful route, through stunning little ancient hamlets down to Seyssel an old town on the edge of the Rhone river.
Anyway, dinner time and I am a bit short on energy, so until soon, probably not for some days, internet is hard to find around here.
Lots of love, Gitti
Kurt had left us in Frangy, as he was planning a 33 km day, a big goal on a hot day. He is hoping to get to Le Puy in 12 days. I am taking 19 days.
Close your eyes and you might as well be in Auckland on a typical summer day. It is stifling hot, humid and sticky. Not a breath of air. Actually Auckland does tend to have a bit of a breeze. After an early breakfast with Sandrine and Richard, Richard took me to the place where we concluded yesterdays walk and by 8.15 I was back on the Chemin, alone again.
I spent lots of time thinking about the past couple of days. Meeting Sandrine and Richard and their family was such a treat. The hospitality was so warm and generous and uncomplicated. When I left this morning I felt like we had been friends for years. I wondered where Kurt had got to, did he manage the 30 km plus stage, would we run into each other again?
Fortunately the track was flattish and the early part at least in the shade. The last hour or so was pretty unbearable in blazing sunshine with no shade whatsoever. I met a few cyclists, a few promeneurs and a hunter on the look out for wild boar. There was plenty of evidence of them in the forest for sure. I decided that I made a mistake dressing all in black and grey, at least I should have a bright hat to make me more visible, once the shooting starts.
Apart from the heat and a bit of a dog incident today went smoothly and as I arrived in Chanaz I was greeted by the sounds of cheerful singing and organ music. The local geriatric folk group, dressed in traditional costumes, complete with accordeoniste, was singing at a little restaurant, on the edge of the canal, shaded by century old leafy trees. They sang local folksongs, even some well known Piaf songs and a song Etoile des Neiges, which I identified as a Christmas song, wrong season somehow.
At the restaurant, attached to a camp site there was not a foreign tourist in sight, apart from me. Not sure if pilgrims count. I did feel like a bit of a freak, hot and sweaty and puffing under the weight of my pack. The French are sending all the gypsies back to Romania and I wondered whether us pilgrims might be next in this attempt to clean up the country and free it from the undesirable and ugly elements. Well, in spite of all that, two small beers and a delicious plate of Frites du Lac, whitebait like fish and a salad later I was no longer too concerned about my future fate in this beautiful country. I checked into a new small gite, called El Camino. It is exquisite, only 3 beds and it looks like I am the only guest. Now I am at the tourist office in this charming little village, the centre of which is buzzing with holiday makers, mainly French.
I am so pleased I chose this route - it is exquisite and not at all overrun with people. Best of all, no bedbugs I am told until south of Le Puy. So, now I need to go and read more of my book, it needs to get out of my pack, too much to carry.
Love, Gitti
Chanaz-Yenne-St Maurice de Rotherens
Wow, you have to get creative to access internet facilities here. Just at reception at a campsite.
After I finished writing my last email, I went back to the gite to have a rest. The temperature was in the 40,s and I decided I deserved a siesta. I spread out on the bed, loosely covered with my sulu. Suddenly I was woken up by Denise, the owner with an elderly couple in tow, who was obviously getting the royal tour of the facilities. The man held out his hand from the other side of the room, but I was not in a position to get up to shake his hand, due to my state of undress. I held out my hand and he came over and shook it. He was introduced to me as the secretary of the Association du St Jacques du Rhone d’Alpes, the very man responsible for producing the yellow guide book Richard had delivered to me in Geneva and he is also responsible for the signage along the way. He spotted the torn out accommodation pages from the book on my bed and asked if I had photocopied the guide, a stern frown on his face. I assured him I had bought it and that I was desolée about the destruction, but that I was trying to reduce the weight of my pack. I don’t think he quite believed me. Then I tried to rescue the situation by complimenting him on the signage. He did smile. I made the mistake of wanting to be helpful and tried to point out that there were several private pilgrim accommodations listed in thee 2010 guide which no longer operate, decided faux pas! Judging from the body language he interpreted that as a criticism. Oh dear, I just wanted to disappear through the cracks in the floor. We exchanged a few more polite words and they left as swiftly as they had arrived.
Since it was 8 pm, I got dressed and went back to the village for a plate of marinated vegetables and a glass of rose, listening to the last of the live music, a Celtic group.
Chanaz to Yenne; 19.5 km
A brief last look at Chanaz, the pretty canal side village linking the largest inland lake in France with the Rhone river via the 4 km Canal de Savieres. The weather was fine, the path not to steep initially and pleasant in the shade. The distance turned out to be much longer and the 4.5 hours estimated turned into 6.5. Being Monday the little shop was closed and apart from unripe apples and grapes by the side of the road I had no provisions other than a small orange tart. By the time I reached a steep hilltop with outstanding views, I was famished. As usual, at a moment approaching low morale, I heard a friendly Bon Camino and was caught up by a cheerful Austrian man, about my age. It was Christian’s first day beck on the chemin. He had been walking for some years with his wife, all the way from the Steyermark, but this year she stayed at home to care for her dying mother. We braved the steep descent to Yenne together, it did not seem so bad. He too had no lunch other than a couple of biscuits.
We finally got to Yenne just after 2 pm, perfect time for a beer and a snack. We bumped into a couple of not so pleasant German pilgrims, obsessed with Vorwaerts, making fast progress, even if it meant road walking. They seemed to have no interest in the aesthetic or the authentic route.
I had booked into a former Franciscan Monastery, a lovely building, room with ensuite and views of tranquil gardens. The price of 38 Euro included a wonderful dinner and generous breakfast, with provisions for my lunch. I joined Christian plus a group of 16 German pilgrims for dinner. They come from near Pforzheim, where I lived for many years with my parents and one of the pilgrims Peter is best friends with a Mrs Stahl who runs the little grocery shop where my mother used to shop. Small world it is!
They walk on the way to Compostella every year to fundraise for Africa, 10 days at a time, progressive sections.
Yenne to St Maurice de Rotherens 16 km;
I said goodbye to Christian at the foot of the mountain. A tough day, first one had to gain 700 metre in height to reach the top of the mountain, rain and mist, wild boar grunting in the woods. Then there was 250 metres of height to loose. Whew. I made it. I arrived at Monsieur Revel,s gite early in the afternoon. I had booked a couple of weeks earlier, but he had gone on holiday. Luckily Suzanne, his volunteer hospitalero welcomed me warmly and I had the luxury fo being the only guest in this rather strange establishment. A huge facility, rambling, a bit shabby. Mr Revel is obvioulsy a man who starts many things and finishes nothing. The place was very much under construction, terraces, rooms, foundations laid, wires hanging off ceilings and walls, waiting for fittings. Amidst it all displays of his own paintings, maps and displays of the various routes to Compostella, a large table with information about Assissi. Lots of evidence of warmth and hospitality everywhere. The views were glorious and after a lovely meal Suzanne and I admired the sunset, visited the little chapel in the basement and afer lighting some candles we sent huge balls of loving energy across the universe. She used to work for World Peace and proclaimed to be an expert at this!
I had an early night and left at 8 am for another long and hot day. Have run out of time now, so today,s account will follow next time I get near a computer.
Love, Gitti
Days 7, 8 & 9 Saint Maurice-Le Verou Le Pin-La Cote St Andre
Happy to have found a computer again at last.

Day 7 Saint Maurice to Le Verou 22 km, including 2 km for taking wrong turn.
Another very hot day, yet I knocked off the first 10 km to St Genix by 10.30 am. St Genix is a pretty little place by the river Isere, this is Where I left the former Italian province of Savoie and entered the Isere region. The weekly market was on and I could not resist the apricots. I selected 2 ane the Muslim vendor would not let me pay. The second part of the day took forever, I suffered from the heat, got lost and was fortunately rescued by a lovely elderly Parisian couple, former pilgrims, who were holidaying in their converted barn and called me into their garden for refreshments of iced water and Mint Syrup along with chocolate biscuits. I viewed the vast array of watercolour paintings created by the Monsieur. He exhibits in Paris he told me. I finally reached the camp ground at 3.30 pm. Simply huge, with masses of mainly retired Dutch and French holidaymakers , a splattering of young families amongst them. I was shown to my hot and stuffy subdivided end of a mobile home and since it was too hot to stay in I decided to brave the pool for a swim. I had been lugging a swimsuit for days, so I decided to justify it’s presence in my pack. The swim was lovely, just what I needed. I had picked the weekly music night to stay there and by 7 pm, the crowd was entertained by a fairly mediocre duo, who sang a seemingly endless collection of popular songs at great volume, while people ate their barbecue buffet dinner at long tables under huge awnings. I had opted out of the dinner, I did not feel like a four course menu and I certainly did not feel like being entertained. I decided to have an early night, but had underestimated the noise from the music, which culminated in Happy Birthday in 4 languages just after midnight, then came the encores, followed by the return of tipsy masses via the ablutions block, which was next to my room.

Day 8 Le Verou Le Pin 18.5 km plus 4 km detour.
I fled at 7 am in the morning and after half an hour reached the busy little market town of Les Abrets. I admired the fantastic bakery shops and the local butcher/delicatessen and stocked up on olives and goat cheese. I was attracted to one of the market stalls by a vendor enticing me with sweet juicy tastes of melon. I picked out a couple of peaches, yet again when I wanted to pay, he just waved me off. How generous people are. The route had its short sharp ups and downs, in fact the Via Gebenennsis as this route is called is not known for flat tracks, the whole thing gives you a pretty good workout. Again the day turned out to be a scorcher and I was grateful for the extensive sections through forest that offered shade. Somehow, somewhere though I took a wrong turn and ended up taking the grand tour of a nearby picturesque lake. The heat of the sun was relentless. Fortunately I stumbled across a bar on the edge of the lake and I treated myself to a medicinal glass of shandy, expensive, but worth it. I had to climb back up the hill afterwards and finally reached the ancient little village house of Christine Grange, where I had booked a bed. My room in the attic was lovely and cool, ensuite, decorated in whites and duck egg blue, it was exquisite. I had dinner in the rambling back garden with Christine and her husband. 35 Euro demi pension, great. I washed all my clothes in the washing machine, what luxury!

Day 9 Le Pin La Cote St Andre 26.5 km
I set off after breakfast, cloudy sky, I would get wet, a farmer said and so I did. By 8 am it started raining heavily. I was grateful for the relative cool it brought, but by 11 am the sun was back, unforgiving as ever. The last few days have been the hottest I have experienced on any of my tracks, not pleasant. I was glad to get into La Cote. This is the home of the Rocher cherry liqueur and also host of the annual Berlioz festival, which is on this week. I was fortunate to find a bed at an Accueil Jacquaire, a private pilgrim stop. I have a cheerful room next to the garage with shower and toilet. Dinner with the family, you give a donation. I had been silly enough to pass up a booking I had made at the local orphanage, thinking I was not going to make it this far and by the time I did arrive, the bed had gone. I am about to head of for a free Berlioz concert at the town square before dinner. It is exciting being in a proper little town after days and days of endless little hamlets without shops or bars, just agricultural dwellings and barking dogs. By the way I have not seen a single walker let alone pilgrim since I left Yenne on day five. I seem to have dropped into a vacuum.
Yippy I am up to date with my diary!
Love, Gitti
Days 10, 11 & 12 La Cote St Andre to Bellegarde to Chavanay
Day 10 La Cote St Andre to Belleguarde 23.5 km
La Cote ST Andre was nothing to write home about as a place really, apart from being the birthplace of Berlioz and the rather superb covered market hall. I had had a great evening attending the Berlioz concert in the courtyard of the house where Berlioz was born and lived with his family for many years. A rather grand townhouse built around a courtyard in a U shape. I guess one would describe the concert as rather modern. The artist Gavino Murgia - see if you can get a YouTube clip of this guy- played a variety of strange flutes, saxophone, launeddas and also used his voice. I have frankly never seen anything like it. The somewhat large man was able to inflate his cheeks and sides of his neck to the size of tennis balls and the would release and circulate the air rather like a toad for very long periods producing a sound like a didgeridoo, no kidding, using his voice to play a Berlioz tune. It was very strange, yet dignified at the same time. His music was complemented by an actor, dressed up as Berlioz, who read excerpts of the composer’s diaries and letters. He was as talented a writer as he was a musician and the accounts were descriptive, evocative, dramatic, questioning and unconventional. I did not understand everything, but got the general drift. Evelyn my host invited an artist friend Jean Claude back to her house for dinner and we had a lovely evening in the garden, eating a simple meal. Jean Claude was undergoing a kind of inspirational crisis, had adopted an increasingly hermit like life and Evelyn was concerned about him. She had one of his paintings in her interesting home, designed by her architect/sculptor ex-husband, a fantastic large work evocative of the Pacific in blues and turquoises, the colours of Paua shell. Evelyn now lives alone after having been married 3 times, her first husband was Czech and they met in Prague during the communist regime. She said she was always the third, but never the last wife and that she did not like relationships once they passed beyond the romantic phase.
I left La Cote around 8 am, John had phoned which was lovely. It was cooler and looked like a promising day.
After an hour or so I reached a little hamlet, where a kind of Hippie market was in the process of setting up. It looked a little like Waiheke 20 years ago. As I needed a toilet stop I entered a little curious looking bar, full of old books, records and music posters. The short barman looked like he had got out of bed the wrong side and ignored me for 10 minutes. Finally another customer pointed out that I had been waiting for a long time and he begrudgingly took my order of a Cafe au Lait in my best French. Did I hear right? Under his breath he muttered what sounded like "lait pour la vache", milk for the cow! Judging by the raised eyebrows of several other members of the clientele I had! It was quite obvious he was referring to a certain part of my anatomy. I drank my cafe, visited the toilet and paid. As I left I thanked the guy for the coffee and the compliment. Embarrassed laughter all around, not a flinch on the guys face though! It took me quite some time to process the encounter. At the best of times I am somewhat uncomfortable with my ever expanding cup size and the comment cut right to the core.
I reached Revel Tourdan around 3 pm. Saturday afternoon. I had booked a room at the local bar, but when I got there the place was all closed up and looked most uninviting in any case. It had mega bad vibes. The woman at the little boulangerie, the only place open, pointed out that the guy who ran the bar was an alcoholic and scary and had gone home drunk. She phoned the three private pilgrim accommodations, but there was no answer anywhere. Finally her husband dropped me off at a campsite 3 km off route. I arrived there and felt like I had walked into Rehab Plus. An old man, grubby, looking after his disabled wife in the conservatory which was set up like a hospital room. The usual body related smells hung in the air. Adjacent to the conservatory under a tractor shelter, amongst bits of machinery an ancient caravan, filthy and dusty. The facilities behind the building were indescribably revolting. I fled and having stocked up on 2 days worth of provisions made slow progress towards a Chambre d’Hotes 5 km away. Finally a car passed and I managed to hitch a ride. The accommodation was booked out, but I gladly accepted the offer of a sofa bed in the kitchenette in the annexe. I had to use the family bathroom on the other side of the house and if I needed a pee during the night I had to use the meadow, so as not to disturb the other guests. Well anything is better than the awful caravan.
Day 11 Bellegarde to Chavanay 30 km plus 3 km.
I had planned to stop in Clonas, but when I found that I had reached the village shortly after lunch and the hotel was right on a main road I decided to push on. The walking was mostly flat and easy. Initially there was good cloud cover and a fresh northerly wind, but towards the afternoon the heat was back. I met a couple of Austrian pilgrims, Manfred and Bert, they were monosyllabic and not in the mood for talking, shame I thought after many days of not meeting other walkers.
I decided that an important part of being a pilgrim is to provide people with the opportunity of performing random acts of kindness. When I passed through Clonas, a family enjoying the afternoon in their garden invited me in for a glass of juice and called the new gite in Chavaney to reserve a bed.
I arrived in Chavaney, pretty exhausted after a long day to find Manfred, Bert and another Austrian Martin, installed at the lovely little gite, nursing their blisters. Martin had walked 52 km the day before, not without problems. After showers, we enjoyed a couple of beers at a nice little bar just up the road. It was Sunday night and none of the shops or restaurants were open. There was meant to be a Pizzeria about a km out of town, so off we went in good spirits, famished after a long day. We got there and it was closed. We spotted a petrol station a bit further on, also closed. We found a hotel/bar/restaurant still open, but they refused to cook for us as we were not sleeping there. The unfriendly owner smelt heavily of absinthe. We went all the way back to the bar and over another beer the bar owner offered to drop us at a restaurant 4km away. Great! We arrived, lots of empty tables, delicious smells, it was nearly 8.30 pm. Had we reserved a table? The question produced instant panic, no, in that case, we are desolée, but we are booked out and cannot serve you. No amount of explanation could change their minds. There is a petrol station 1km further on, with simple meals they said, ok so on we went. You guessed it the petrol station was closed. It was dark, nearly 9 pm and we were 5 km away from our accommodation with no hope of hitching a ride. We were hungry and miserable. Here we are in France, the culinary centre of the world with no food in sight! The only sign of life was a young couple with child and pitbull dog finishing dinner in front of their tiny little run down house. I did not work as a real estate agent for nothing. Cold calling is my specialty and so is finding solutions to stalemates. I went up and explained our predicament and asked if they would sell us some food from their pantry. What would we like, well anything that we could turn into a meal. The friendly woman returned with pasta, two packets of ham and a large roll of goat cheese. Her husband a winemaker who spent some time in Australia gave us a lift back to the gite. The couple would not accept any money for their goods, so we gave 10 Euro to their little buy. The generosity was amazing. As we crossed the little square, we were joking that the only thing missing was a bottle of wine. There was an open window at street level. A young couple were having a romantic evening by candlelight. They spotted us and we shared our experiences of the evening. They miraculously produced a bottle of chilled rose for us, refused payment and also presented us with large glasses of Eau de Vie. As we said goodbye the husband explained he owned a distillerie and produced half a bottle of his best Vervaine a green tinted Schnapps to have after dinner. We could not believe the extreme ends of hospitality we had experienced in a few hours. I cooked the pasta with a sauce made from, ham, garlic, tomatoes and garlic sausage with a splash of balsamic. Goat cheese and bread remnants for dessert. The rose was delicious and we finished off the Vervaine. It was 1 am before we retreated to our bunks. We all woke up with a bit of a headache, but it was worth it. We had ended up having a hilarious, entertaining and unforgettable evening. We had a cooked breakfast of eggs and ham, fresh baguette and orange juice and I saw the boys off around 10 am.
Day 12. Chavanay, Rest day.
Since I was a day ahead of schedule I decided to have a rest day, catch up with emails and housework. I had the luxury of having the gite to myself until 4 pm, when 2 Austrian women arrived. So far I have met only German speaking pilgrims, most of the from Austria.
Cheers, Gitti
Day 13 Chavanay to Bourg Argental 28 km.
I left Chavanay at 7.30 am, a little nervous about the ascent to the Massive Central which involves gaining about 1.2 km in altitude in a zig zaggy way as one has to descend steeply sometimes to then climb up again. Chavanay is located by the river Rhone and from there I will have reached 1200 metres above sea level by tomorrow. It was a glorious day, bright sun with a northerly fresh wind, which made for easy walking. I had reserved a gite at Merrigneux, about 16 km away, but when I got there there was no one around and I decided to carry on to St Julien Moulin Moulette. I arrived about 3 pm and did not like the little town, it felt wedged in and depressed, noisy trucks, listless teens and everything was closed and kind of shabby. The tourist office had arranged a private pilgrim stay for me, but when I got there after waiting an hour it was also depressing, the bed saggy everything was a bit grubby. I figured if I stepped it out I could make the next town Bourg Argental in time for dinner. It was 4.15 pm and I had 8 km to go, up hill and then down hill. I had had a beer and an apricot tart and my feet did not hurt so off I went. I made the distance in two hours and when I arrived in Bourg to my horror I had lost the business card of the Gite where I had booked. I tried to explain the place to a guy at the cyber cafe, who shook his head, not really knowing anything about the place. At that very moment a gentleman approached us and said he and his wife offered pilgrim stays and would I like to stay with his family. Quelle providence! I accepted and ten minutes later I was installed in a formerly grand manor house in park-like grounds with a fantastic elderly couple, Jean Paul and Christiane, who have just started offering pilgrim stays by donation. I have had a shower with real shampoo and body wash, washed my clothes, the smells from the kitchen are wonderful, I cannot believe my luck. I am a day ahead of schedule again, but decided to push through to Le Puy and may be spend an extra day on the Stevenson trail.
Must go and be sociable, love Gitti
Just about to head off to Le Setoux, 16.5 km all uphill.
Bourg Argental at the foot of the Massive Central is a lovely and lively little town, lots of little shops, open for a change. I slept superbly on a large single brass bed with 2 mattresses on the top floor of the beautiful old house. The temperature is decidedly cooler already and I am sure I will need my Merino by the time I reach 1100 metres above sea level tonight. The landscape is getting more wild up here and I do not expect to pass through any more apple, peach, plum plantations and vineyards, which liberally took care of my fruit supplies over the last few days. No internet for a few days now, no pilgrims following me at the moment and the ones ahead are well ahead. Time for a little solitude and reflection again.
Love, Gitti
Day 15: Les Setoux to Montfaucon en Velay 16.5 km
Stayed in the gite communal in Setoux last night. A godforsaken little hamlet with a little friendly bar and a few houses and the gite, nothing else. Slept badly as the place was a bit grubby, huge and institutional and dusty, so I could not stop coughing for ages. We shared the dormitory with an unusually uncommunicative French couple, who also shared our table at dinner, hard going conversation wise and the food was pretty mediocre. The chilled red wine gave me a terrible headache, even after 2 small glasses. Not a highpoint.
Lovely day for walking, some ups and downs but not too strenuous, forests and views of the volcanic plateau moving ever closer. Have linked up with a nice Swiss woman, who speaks French and German. We plan to arrive in Le Puy on the same day.
Montfaucon is a pretty enough little town, the gite next to the chapel is reasonably cleanish and so far we are the only occupants. About to visit the church which is renowned for fine examples of Flemish paintings.
Cheers, Gitti
7 September 2010
Day 16: Montfaucon en Velay to St Jeures 22 km ncluding 4 km getting lost
Fabienne is proving to be the perfect walking mate, everything runs smoothly. We practically walk at the same pace, feel hungry at the same time, like the same kind of food and wine and Kir Chataigne, which is white wine with Chestnut liqueur, a local aperitif, very yummy. We have the same useless sleeping pattern and even need stops to pee at the same time! Great stuff. Walking together means we were able to share rooms at a couple of chambre d’hotes, which reduced the cost by about €8 per night. The walk was lovely, We passed through a little town getting ready for a weekend festival, carousels, ghost adventure tents and fast food stalls wedged in between beautiful old buildings, statue of Madonna looking down on a particularly seedy looking bumper car outfit. We got so overwhelmed by the goings on, we took the wrong turn and finally realised after 2 km that we were walking due south instead of west and fortunately did not continue on the wrong path. It was really hot and the detour made the day pretty hard going. We arrived at the fantastic chambr d’hotes at around 5 pm, washed our gear and had a very civilised dinner with the "uncommunicative couple" we had shared a dorm with in Les Setoux and found they had thawed completely. They talked all night, it was great. Irka is of polish origin and her husband is a somewhat stressed out business man from Paris who has an artificial hip. Dinner consisted of a millefeuille tart with tapenade and caramelised onion, tomato and goat cheese, roast veal and garden vegetables, followed by fromage and glace Vervaine, fabulous sorbet made with Vervaine liqueur. Bordeaux wine and a Kir for aperitiv. Breakfast was generous with about seven different homemade jams and homemade bread and fromage frais and croissants, juice and coffee. The bill was €38 which was most reasonable, especially since we had sheets and towels in a lovely room overlooking the countryside and our own bathroom.

Day 17 Saint Jeures to St Julien Chapteuil 18 km
Easy day, views of Le Puy en Velay in the distance. Lovely walk through forest on good paths.

Arrived in St Julien and from afar we could hear the brrrrm brrrrm of a race meeting. The place was heaving with racing cars; revving it up, ridiculously important looking men dressed up in race suits and many officials trying to keep order. The noise and petrol smell was horrid. We had booked into a private B and B, but it turned out to be totally depressing and vastly overpriced, so we excused ourselves and booked into the gite communale which occupied a floor in the secondary school behind the Mairie. It was noisy, but clean and half the price of the B and B. A group of Swiss and French people in their 60,s, who had met on the way and formed friendships was staying there too. They had bought things for dinner and Fabienne and I shopped for entrées and desserts and wine and we ended up with a great evening over a shared dinner.

Day 18: St Julien to Le Puy 18 km
Stinky smelly past lots of effluent disposal/treatment plants, fair bit of road surface, some lovely views coming into Le Puy. Last 6 km utter confusion, poor signposting. Did some sightseeing, climbing the giant pink Madonna statue and the local Mont St Michel.
Le Puy is heaving with pilgrims, many more than last year. Fabienne and I had dinner with a group of American women and one French woman who were due to set off the next day on the Le Puy route. I had met Kit on the Camino Santiago Forum and it so happened we were in Le Puy the same day.

Spent the night at Accueil St Francois, single rooms, lovely.

Day 19: Rest day in Le Puy
Would have been happy to continue, but the accommodations on the Robert Louis Stevenson trail are booked up, so I have to stay and keep to my schedule.

Had a lovely farewell lunch with Fabienne. Poached rainbow trout with a béarnaise type sauce, a polenta and aubergine tart and a salad made with celeriac and cucumber. A great vegetable soup to start.

Now I am at gite Les Capucin using the internet over a Kir. Off tomorrow to start my next walk, staying at a little place just 8 km along as I am a day early overall.
Just got back from a great afternoon. An Aussie couple arrived at my gite, jet lagged, been there. We got talking and they asked me if I wanted to show them the way to the cathedral. This turned into a guided tour of Le Puy, I felt like a local leading them through winding streets to the sights. We had Le Puy lentils and red wine at a charming little restaurant after a tasting of Vervaine. Wonderful, Sue and Norm are off to walk the Le Puy route tomorrow. About to find out who else has checked into my 4 bedded bunkroom.
Cheers Gitti
Day 20 Le Puy to Cabarets should have been 10km, but ended up 16 km
Left Le Puy at 9 am after having an impromptu supper with a group of 8 from the Alsace. I said good night to the Australians and on my way to my room, which I ended up having to myself I met a delightful group of people in their seventies indulging in homemade charcuterie, cheeses, honey cake, fruit compote and wine. They had arrived from near Strasbourg and were off to walk to Conques. They were tanned, fit and healthy looking and full of life, laughing and joking and having fun. They had already walked the tour de Mont Blanc. I explained I had had dinner, but they practically forced me to eat, oh well.
The walk out of Le Puy was easy, but I started off in the rain and soon it became foggy and before long I was walking through clouds which obscured the view. I took a wrong turn and when I realised I had to go back. Thunder and lightening hit and the rain was torrential. I was on an exposed hillside, not funny. After a lot or traipsing around I eventually found the chambre d’hotes, nice people, grubbyish, lots of flies, dark old house, 3km off the actual track. At least I am dry and out of the continuing bad weather. More, Gitti
Day 21
Was I glad to be inside in the warm. The storm over the Cevennes raged so much it hit the first three national news items along with the public servants strike. The government want to raise the retirement age for public servants from 60 to 62. Not too much public sympathy, people think they have too many benefits as it is and that the change is no big deal.
Spent the evening teaching one of the grandchildren how to play scrabble, in French, challenge! Anyway the sun is out and I will get going to Monastier sur Gazelle where RLS started his walk in the 1870,s with his donkey. 11 km today, then the normal 20 to 27 km days will start again. Cheers, Gitti
Day 21 continued, second day on RLS track.
My evening in Monastier sur Gazelle was great. I loved the gite I checked into. Emmanual, the extremely attractive French guy in his late forties, dark haired, hadn’t shaved for a few days, brown eyes, wide smile, bit like Rewa Harré, well built, educated, practical, turned out to be a superb host. I had a 3 bedded room to myself in a little village terrace house, ancient, foundations settled, so floors all over the place, rustic and charming, lovely views towards hilly countryside. A group of 9 French walkers, retired folks once again very lively were also staying there. After exploring the once lively little lace making town, which now has a desolate, abandoned and neglected kind of a feel, we shared a marvellous meal, prepared by Emmanuel, consisting of leek, potato and carrot soup, Le Puy lentils cooked in a little cream with onions and carrots, served with locally made pork sausages. Artisan Tome cheese and a dessert of homemade vanilla creme and cassis sorbet to follow. A delicious organic merlot to accompany the meal. At 29 Euros demi-pension this was one of the best gites so far. Apparently Emmanuel comes from the area and runs the little gite for 5 months over the summer, not sure what he does the rest of the time.
The evening was concluded by a phone call from John. Apart from the terrible earthquake and continuing aftershocks in Christchurch, news from home is all good.
Day 22 Monastier to Le Bouchet Saint Nicholas 22 km
A coldish day, a shower, wind, temperature has dropped from 30 C a few days ago to about 13 C. The walk was amazing through wild rocky landscapes, steep descent to Boudet, a charming little village nestled around a giant rock on the shores of the upper Loire, overlooked by a ruined Bourg. I met a film crew from England who were doing a TV programme about the area. Then a steep ascent, lots of loose stones, tracks of a donkey and donkey poo, but no donkey to be seen. So far I have not come across a single walker with donkey, just donkeys in fields. They are very cute.
I am now installed in the very comfortable gite La Retirade in Le Bouchet, again I have a room to myself, the other seven beds are empty. The crowds are a day ahead of me by the sound of it and the group of nine from last night are staying in a different place. Just washed my clothes, hoping I will get everything dry by tomorrow.
Le Bouchet St Nicholas to Pradelles 20 km
Good night’s sleep after yet another superb meal, all organic produce, blanquettes de veau was the centre piece.
There was an icy wind and lots of cloud cover when I left and I had to pick up the pace to get warm. I knocked off the first 6.5 km in an hour and a quarter, then stopped at Landos for a quick coffee. The path was mainly flat for the first 15 km, then some climbing and descending, but generally easy contours. Fantastic wide views and by lunchtime the sun was out at least.
I reached Pradelles at 2.30 pm and checked into the gite and Brasserie Le Musée. Another great place. The group of nine I had met a couple of days ago stayed there too, so did the couple I shared the gite with last night and a couple of men I had not met before. Dinner again was a major highlight, warm goat cheese salad, crispy skin on cheese, yum, followed by confit du canard, green beans and potatoes dauphine, oven baked. Cheese platter and isles flottantes for dessert. These floating islands are little peaks of soft meringues floating on top of a runny custard with a liquid caramel base. I did not sleep so well, too much food, too late!
Luckily again I had the room to myself.
Pradelles is an attractive small fortified town with an interesting historic quarter and wide views. Religious wars raged here and the town is famous for the fact that on March 10 1588 Joanne le Verdette miraculously saved the place from being taken over by Huguenot invading troops by dropping a large rock from a still visible staircase above an archway onto Captain Chambard, who was killed instantly and the troops fled.
Pradelles to Le Cheylard L’Eveque 21.5 km
Just stopping at Langogne, a sizeable small town. Saturday market in progress, Weather lovely and sunny, no wind. 10 am, have cover one third of the distance for the day, so I can relax for a bit and take a stroll.
Day 24, day 4 on RLS
After leaving Langogne everything changed. The temperature rose, the landscape became arid and rocky, green fields replaced by parched meadows, pine forests, stony paths turned into soft sandy lanes covered with pine needles, a decidedly southern scent in the air. Austere grey and stark village houses gone, now honey coloured stone, a softer warmer ambiance. Honey coloured cattle with huge horns and soft brown eyes, honey coloured horses with blonde manes. Late afternoon I arrived along with the group of 9 and a group of 11 walkers, also from Lyon at Cheylard L’Eveque a pretty little hamlet, 1100 metres above sea level, tucked in amongst several little hills, overlooked by a Madonna figure perched on top of a lovely little chapel on one of the hilltops. It was lit at night and I could see it through the window by my bed. The gite was fantastic, superbly restored old stone building, wonderfully warm reception and yet again the food first class, all based on local products, artisan beers etc. For the first time in many days I shared a room, this time with 5 others.
Finally for the first time I met walkers with donkey. A couple from Sarajevo, Hans, who works in the diplomatic service and his wife Jasna. The donkey is very obedient, unlike Stevenson’s donkey and very cute too. They cover similar distances each day, but it takes a little longer and of course the donkey needs grooming and feeding every day. Most accommodations have meadows attached and have salt stones and food for the animals.
Day 25, day 5 on RLS
Cheylard to La Bastide, 19 km.
Another hot day. Spent most of it shadowing, or being shadowed by, the two large walking groups. They ended up staying at a monastery, where RLS had spent a lot of time engaging in philosophical discussions with the monks. There was no bed left, so I ended up in the gite of the Hotel Les Grands Haltes in La Bastide. I had the whole 8 bedded roof space to myself, great. I had dinner with two German women, Sonja and Monika. Great to speak a language fluently again for a change.
Day 26 day 6 on RLS La Bastide to Chasserades, 13 km
Super windy and icy cold. Lovely path through forest mainly. Lots of hunters around. Everyone is rugged up, but I continue to walk in shorts and shirt Kiwi Style, makes me walk faster, trying to get warm.
Stayed in a little gite under a huge viaduct built at the end of the last century. Four people were killed during construction. Dinner was at a nearby restaurant where I met up with the German women, experiencing a little friction with each other due to different patterns and expectations. The donkey couple and the group of eleven were there too, so were Michel and his wife Dan, who is blind in one eye and severely sight impaired in the other, I do not know how she copes with the stony paths without falling. Elisabeth, a French woman who has walked the Vezelay route was there too. Unfortunately she had sprained her ankle.
Dinner was again superb, except for the fact the there were little birds on the menu, Cailles in French, forgot the English word, sorry. [quail] I felt a bit stink about eating them, but there was no other choice.
Day 27, day 7 on RLS
La Bastide to Mont Lozere, 22 km
Left at 7.30 this morning as literally all of today is uphill. A marvellous day weatherwise, no wind and sunny blue sky.
The landscape is beautiful, lots of woods and hills. Mont Lozere, sparse and ominous lurking ahead. I did not see a soul all morning and now I am having a little break before my climb up Mont Lozere, which reaches 1700 metres above sea level. I am hoping for good weather tomorrow, when I will reach the top, apparently you can see the Med from there. There are stones placed to guide the way, as it is easy to get lost up there in fog and clouds. Just had a beer and then I will have my picnic before heading uphill for the last 5km of the day.
Day 27 continued
The climb to Station Mont Lozere gaining 400m in altitude was hot, but not to hard. I walked most of the way with Michel and Dan. We passed a young couple, They were camping out each night and were heavily laden with tent, food, water and cooking equipment. At 18 kg per backpack, this was not my idea of fun and the young woman was suffering from knee pain and blisters.
Station Mont Lozere and the surrounding countryside was just like Whakapapa without the volcanoes. Even the architecture looked the same. I shared a bunkroom with Michel and Dan and we had dinner with three retired French men, gloating about the pleasures of the " Golden Age". They had opted for an early retirement in their fifties. They were tanned, lean, fit as fiddles and have been drawing their €1000 per week after tax government super for many years. Their ages ranged from 65 to 78. They spend their winters reading books and going skiing with grandchildren and the summers on walking and cycling tracks. It was hard not to feel somewhat envious, when making comparisons with our miserable little government super in NZ, barely enough to pay for food and wine, let alone other expenses. At the same time I wondered about the financial viability of this arrangement for the state and tax payer.
The other occupants of the gite were a bunch of lively young people perfecting their skills in dry stone wall construction. A young woman with Mohawk haircut was especially enthusiastic. It was great to see the passion with which they engaged in the ancient craft.
Day 28, day 8 on RLS Station Mont Lozere to Pont de Monvert 16 km
A glorious morning. By 10 am I had reached the tops of Mont Finiels and Mont Lozere. Not a cloud in the sky, gentle breeze and 20 degrees C, very rare for this locality, which is usually plagued by cold, windy and rainy conditions. No people, no sounds, other than the sounds of nature. Eagles soaring, birds and cicadas, wildflowers and grasses, the occasional stunted pine tree, heather in flower. The views were outstanding, 360 degrees, clear as far as Lyon to the north, Montpellier to the south, the mountains of the Aubrac to the West and to the east the ranges of the Ardèche and the alpine chain beyond, snowy peaks and even a glimpse of Mont Blanc. It was exhilarating and I savoured every moment. The descent into the Cevennes was steep, hard and slippery, but I was again rewarded by superb weather and impressive countryside, steep hillsides with gigantic granite rocks, the gorges of the tarn in the distance. The landscape had elements of Central Otago with a little more drama. Pont de Monvert is a pretty little town at the foot of rocky hills where three rivers meet. I had booked into a hotel with the promising name of " La Truite Enchantée". It was meant to be a treat, more expensive than my usual gite accommodation. Well there was nothing enchanting about the place other than the facade. The room was to the back, damp, ugly with a free standing grubby shower cubicle in the middle of the room. I passed on the opportunity and booked into the gite communal instead. I paid for the bed at the mairie. The gite was located above the village in a building which can only be described as one of the biggest disasters of modern architecture. It is part of a so called ‘ecomuseum’. A hexagonal building, open 24 hours. One arrives via the under house area with ping pong table and seats, not even head height, dirt floor, from there a number of stone staircases lead to other levels semi enclosed with weird exhibits, cows made from recycled metals crowded on a mock meadow. There was graffiti, broken glass, cigarette butts, piss on walls and condoms strewn around. The entry to the gite, unlocked, was next to a public phone booth which had been vandalised. I entered into the dining room of the gite, interior room, no windows, one side entirely taken up by an open fire, on the other side a well equipped kitchen with windows, the only pleasant space. A long dark curved corridor with doors leading to showers and toilets on one side and numerous doors leading to bedrooms and dark little storerooms on the other side. The place gave me the creeps. I entered a three bedded room, small filthy window, cold, mattresses damp and my spirits sank progressively. Then I discovered black spots on the sheets and blood specs on the wall by the window. I examined the window sills and sure enough! Bedbugs! I fled, returned to the mairie and got a refund. Then off to hunt for another room. There are only three hotels in the place and they all seem to have decided to price fix. I ended up blowing my budget by booking into Hotel des Cevennes, where I had an ancient, but clean room, bug free, with river views.
Day 29, day 9 on RLS track.
Pont du Montvert to Florac 26 km.
Long day today. Steep climb out of Pont de Montvert and then a gradual descent into Florac. The views were again dramatic. The weather a little cooler, a little rain towards the end of the day. Part of the route led along the wild gorges of the tarn river.
I walked the first part with Michel, Dan and Elisabeth. Due to Elisabeth’s injured foot we took a different, non signposted track, which was less steep and easier for her to manage. I had booked into a gite, called La Presbytere, which was just great at €13 for the bed. A large rambling house in the heart of the historic town, nicely restored, airy spacious rooms, again I was by myself. I shared an aperitif with Sonja, one of the German women. Their relationship seems to have unequivocally broken down. They are keeping up a polite facade, but having had their itinerary arranged by a tourist outfit, there is no flexibility. For part of yesterday they walked side by side in tears.
Dinner with Elisabeth at a little restaurant with local specialties was wonderful. She had hitchhiked to an osteopath to get her foot fixed, but was unsure whether she would be able to continue the next day.
Florac is a beautiful little town with a rather colourful population, tucked under massive vertical rock faces, full of fountains, ancient little bridges, a castle and quaint narrow streets.
I am sitting at an internet cafe with four other Kiwis from Birkenhead and Mt Eden, who are holidaying in a friend’s barn nearby. Small world, eh?
Day 29 / 9 continued.
Thank goodness only 8 km to St Julien d’Arpeuil, I had no energy at all. I reckoned it was the Isle Flottante the night before, which seemed a bit past it, it was frothy and I did not finish it. Arrived at the gite and Michel and Dan were there already. I had a whole little converted barn to myself, very cute, a bit run down but quaint. Michel and Dan are such great company, very embracing of others. They have walked the Camino and are easy to be with. They invited John and I to stay with them in Bourges, which is near the Vezelay route, our next walking project.
We sat in the garden overlooking the wild, rocky countryside, steep hills, layers and layers of schist, the only thing that likes to grow here is the chestnut. For centuries the chestnut provided for the hardened, reclusive local population, the Camisards, the ones dressed in black shirts, a term given to the local protestants, who were hiding out in this part of the world hoping to avoid persecution. They held their ritual gatherings in secret, caves and forest glades, sometimes in private homes. They even constructed furniture which could be converted in seconds into altars and the like and converted back, should there be a sudden visit by unwelcome intruders hoping to surprise the forbidden congregation.
Chestnuts were eaten roasted, pureed, pickled, turned into flour. The wood, resistant to insects, was used for furniture and house construction. In the 18th century a severe frost killed 80 percent of the forest and many people left the area. Then followed the introduction of silk worms to create a new livelyhood for those who remained. There are photos of women dressed in black, with long sad faces, thin and gaunt, their fingers crippled through dunking the silkworms into boiling then ice cold water to release the tiny pieces of silk thread which were later spun and sent to Lyon for fine garment production.
We talked a bit about religion, not something I think about much or indeed know much about. His view was that the essential difference between Catholics and Protestants came down to when things went wrong or right. According to the Catholics it was the will of god, whereas the Protestants always felt that their actions had caused the outcome. Consequently the Catholics have a more fatalistic disposition, are less obsessed with achievement. The Protestants are the researchers, the colonisers and successful salespeople. They are also less healthy and happy. Hmmm, makes sense to me actually. Maybe I will try and become a little more catholic in my old age. Perhaps I can now conveniently blame my protestant upbringing for the way I am.
Dinner was rather late, 8 pm. We had home grown and made patê of hare, hare casserole, pasta with home grown vegetable sauce and a very good dessert based on fromage blanc. We shared a table with twenty others, mainly car based travellers from France and Belgium.

Day 30, Day 10 on RLS St Julien d,Artpeuil to St Germain de Calberte 22 km
It rained during the night, but by the morning it was just down to a little drizzle. I walked all day with Michel and Dan. Just as well as the signage had been vandalised and Michel had a topo guide. The pig hunters were out in force too. Large numbers of men in orange with guns and dogs. Michel and Dan had fluorescent orange headbands, good idea! I put on my blue raincoat to be more visible. The trail followed an old train route, a bit like the Otago rail trail with tunnels and an easy gradient. Lots of dense chestnut forest and occasional wide views across steep unforgiving hills with tiny inaccessible hamlets dotted in between.
Elisabeth waited for us in one of the little hamlets. Her foot was giving her a lot of trouble and she decided to catch a ride with "Modestine", a nickname given to a retired ex women’s, underwear representative, who now organises walking tours for retired people. Rumour has it that he can look at a woman and determine her bra size with uncanny accuracy!!!! Have not taken him up on this! Anyway, he organises the trip, books hotels, transports luggage, morning teas, picnic lunches, purchases goods, transports the occasional hung over or injured member of the group of eleven from Lyon, a delightful group of all retired singles who regularly go on weeklong walking excursions.
Today he decided to help out Elisabeth in his spare time. It is Elisabeth’s last night with us, as she has decided to quit walking for now. We are in a quaint little auberge above a cheerful but empty little bar, great chansons playing, a welcoming host and free internet. What more can a girl want?

Somewhere I counted the days wrong sorry, anyway right from now.
Day 32, 12 RLS St Germain de Calbert to St Jean du Gard 22 km
We all went down for breakfast at 8 am, Sunday morning. Everything in darkness, no host. We hovered for a while, nothing. Eventually around 8.30 Michel phoned the proprietor and obviously woke him in the middle of a deep sleep. Michel’s irritation and anger was evident, when the guy said he would be there in twenty.
I was not in the mood for friction over the breakfast table, so I decided to deflate the situation and told Michel to adopt a more catholic attitude referring back to our conversation the other day and that it was obviously God’s will that the poor guy should sleep in a little on Sunday morning. Elisabeth added that everything happened for a reason usually. Everyone laughed including Michel and the dishevelled looking owner was so relieved at the jovial reception that he gave us all a free postcard and did not charge for coffees and infusions the night before.
We set off separately having waved goodbye to Elisabeth. About an hour into the walk on a lovely sunny morning through lovely fresh green young chestnut forest with views to layers and layers of the steep rocky blue forested mountains of the Cevennes National Park I caught up with a delightful Parisian man by the name of Pierre in his late 70’s. He had set off from Le Puy with a group of friends a couple of weeks earlier, but one by one they had all dropped off, due to foot problems, knee problems, heart problems and important engagements. The last remaining companion Marc had left the day before to return to Paris for a business appointment. Dan Michel and I had met Marc on the trail and spent half an hour or so chatting with him about walking routes and life in general. He had enjoyed his walk and was sad to have to leave a day early. Pierre and I walked together to the next village and over coffee linked up with Tini a Flemish woman whom I had met the day before. Together we climbed to the seemingly ever receding top of Mont St Pierre, picnicked and then began the steep and rocky descent on the south side of the hill. The sun was hot and we marvelled at the Mediterranean vegetation and houses with creamy coloured stones and terracotta tiles. Suddenly we were transplanted into a Provencale environment. Our cheerful chatter was interrupted by the sound of Pierre’s cell phone and soon we could tell from the tone of the conversation that something was very wrong. His friend Marc, whom we had met the day before, had died that night in his sleep. After taking La Malle Postale transport to the station, he had taken a train to visit his sister in Lyon en route to Paris. They had had dinner and he went to bed, never to wake up again. Pierre was understandably in a state of shock. Had it not been for the late breakfast, Tini and I would have been an hour ahead and Pierre would have been alone, when he received the sad news. We were pleased to be there to support him. The rest of the walk was hard, hot and tiring and we were pleased when the gite we had booked into, La Pre de Modestine, turned out to be 1.5 km before the outskirts of St Jean. It was probably the nicest of all the accommodations en route. A tastefully restored stone farmhouse with beautiful shower rooms, fresh bedrooms, just 2 or 3 sharing. We freshened up and our lovely hostess gave us a ride into town to visit a very interesting exhibition of baskets woven from chestnut trees. Over an aperitif in a very authentically southern French bar on a square under giant plantain trees, we met up with Modestine and his group of eleven walkers from Lyon. Michel and Dan appeared from around the corner and we all had a glass of wine to say goodbye. St Jean du Gard is the official end point of the Stevenson walk but Michel, Dan and I had decided to walk on to Ales. However, due to the recent storm, there had been slips on the route and it was considered dangerous. At the best of times it is not suitable for donkeys, as it is precipitous and the terrain very difficult. So Michel and Dan decided to flag this last stage and I decided I needed time to reflect. I had been looking forward to my last day of walking and was not keen to stop so suddenly. Anyway, we walked back to the gite, had a delicious dinner of tabouleh, roast chicken and green beans, followed by home made ice cream.
Day 33, 13 RLS St Jean du Gard to Mialet 14 km including getting lost
My decision was made by my unconscious. After saying goodbye to Tini and seeing Pierre off at the bus stop, I explored St Jean for a bit and around 9.30 am I set off towards Ales. I had decided to walk as far as Mialet and then to reassess the situation. Preoccupied with yesterday’s events, I completely missed a turn and climbed a huge hill until I ended up at a private property. There was no option but to turn back. I had lost an hour and added 4 km to my day. I arrived in Mialet, a very pretty little village, around lunchtime, stopped at a grocery shop which also acted as a lunchtime restaurant and after a plate of fresh melon, tomato salad and a little piece of goat cheese, more discussion about the state of the route with the shop owner, I decided it would be foolish to continue. I had at least eight hours of walking ahead of me over difficult terrain and the only gite en route was closed. There were no other walkers that day and no water on the way. So I called it a day and since there happened to be one of 3 busses per day, passing, with 10 minutes delay, lucky for me, I waved and hopped on. Now I am in my hotel in Ales and the hotel owner applauded my decision to cut the day short. He said there was almost no signage and it was easy to get lost. Well then, this marks the end of my little adventure for this year! Time to look at the shops and reward myself with a beer.
Love to you all, Gitti