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