Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Shoot Me Now

The route out of town this morning was along a lovely flat towpath beside one of the canals de midi. Alas, this was not to last. 

As far as I can tell, the GR65 hiking trail is meant as a wilderness experience combined with a daily arrival in an adorable village with quality lodging and superb French food. Not a bad plan - most of the time. 

Most days walking through forests and fields is delightful, and the frequent steep ups and downs provide a challenge. Today the continuing rain (which never stopped, but vacillated between heavy downpours and a light mist) turned the local dirt into a slippery sucking mess. Put the slippery clay onto a steep, steep path up then down then up then down etc. and it gets downright dangerous. At one point both feet were up to the ankles in clay and sliding downhill while I was trying to go uphill. Did I mention that the hills were super steep? I was so frightened and frustrated that I began sobbing out loud, and wondered what the heck I was doing. 

Of course, I made it to the top of that hill and the next and the next, only to have the trail eventually return to the same canal footpath on which I had begun the day. Arrgghh. 

Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment today, I only felt frustration and a definite lack of certainty as to why I'm here. Back in the day, people walked the Chemin de Saint Jacques to save their immortal souls. Since mine was a lost cause long, long ago; I don't have that same kind of solid motivation to keep me going. Do I continue or not?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Only One

Not too many of the French attend mass anymore, so services rotate between the different churches - each Sunday at a different location. One of the pilgrims I've met along the way who's a devout catholic told me of a mass she attended where she was the only person there besides the priest. So I guess that two chairs could be appropriate. 

The weather fluctuated between cold and rainy, and hot and sunny over and over again today. I enjoyed my lunch during a sunny moment and was entertained by the lightning just over the next hill. At this point I don't think my boots will ever dry out.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Running and Screaming

Just as I got my first glimpse of the hill town where I'm spending the night, the sun peeked out for the first time all day and made the village glow. Then the worst deluge of the day soaked me through and through. 

In fact it has been so wet that the cobblestones have begun to curl. 

Last night after ordering dinner it began to rain in earnest. When I didn't think it could rain any harder, the downpour doubled. And then again. The lights flickered every time the lightning flashed and it was hard to hear over the crash of thunder and rain on the roof. Suddenly the ceiling of this fancy restaurant began to cave in and water cascaded onto many of the patrons. Pandemonium ensued with people running and screaming, and staff members bringing pots and pans from the kitchen to catch the water (completely ignoring the scrambling guests). Meanwhile from my still-dry little table I calmly continued eating my truffles and coquilles st jacques, while enjoying the show. I wonder how I will be entertained tonight?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Oh What A Wonderful Way

My other favorite thing each day (besides my shower) is my picnic lunch. As the sun approaches midday I begin searching for the perfect mossy spot in the shade with an amazing view. Today I dined on a light, flaky chicken quiche and a small bag of fresh apricots. Mmmm - heaven. 

I walked through part of a national forest, through fields of wheat, and other fields filled with wildflowers today. And I only saw five people all day (until I got to town).

I follow all these different innocuous trails through the middle of nowhere, and it seems like I should get lost, but the discreet way markers show me the way. And what a wonderful way. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Holier Than Thou

I will be crossing this pedestrian bridge (Pont Valentre) when I hike out of Cahors tomorrow morning. I am always impressed that such impressive structures were constructed more than 800 years ago without modern machines. And are still standing!

I made it as far as the first tower today and was definitely nervous on these uneven stairs which had no hand rails. 

Even on my rest days I end up walking quite a few miles, and today was no exception. I love exploring these ancient towns and villages. I thought this old system to divert water for the town was pretty cool. 

I've seen several very impressive churches and cathedrals on this trip, and Saint Stevens was right up there. I didn't feel out of place being my usual "holier than thou" self in the cloisters there today. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Heart All A Flutter

I see lots of these bright blue butterflies flitting along the trail, but when they land the blue disappears. Today this butterfly found a friend and kept its wings open while they chatted. 

Those of you who have been reading my blog have discovered (along with me) about my laundry fetish. Normally I have to do my washing in a tiny hotel sink; but yesterday the convent I stayed at had serious washing sinks with sloping sides. I was able to pound and knead to my hearts content. 

On the way out of town my heart was all a flutter when I found an all-out laundry venue. This was the kind of place where you could wade in and put your whole body into getting clothes properly clean. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Getting There

I do seem to be making progress, according to this sign I've walked more than 323 kilometers so far. Don't convert it to miles, it's a much bigger number in kilometers. 

We've been passing lots of shepherds' bouries the past couple of days. They are pretty cool stone huts made by shepherds tending their flocks back in the day. They're built a little like igloos, just stone piled on stone with no mortar, and they're cozy and completely dry inside. 

We've also passed a couple prehistoric dolmens, vertical stone slabs topped by a large horizontal one. My buddy, Henk from the Netherlands, tells me that they buried kings under them back in the old days. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Not Too Proud

I've been hanging with a couple of kiwis the past few days. Today they implied that I wasn't a serious photographer because I wasn't taking artistic shots of the mossy rock walls along the path. 

So, bowing to peer pressure, here is my photograph of a mossy rock wall. 

Yes, that is me napping by the side of the road with my clean laundry drying on a fence. I am not too proud to do what it takes to have dry clothes to change into after my shower tonight. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

What Is Wrong With Me?


A couple of days ago I had a perfect hiking day: the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and it was nice and warm. Yet it was the worst day of my trip. I was even considering ending my walk. 

Today it was cold and rainy, my boots were still wet inside when I put them on, this stage was my longest ever - and I LOVED IT. 

What is wrong with me?

I found a big cave in the cliff face as I was descending to get to my destination town this afternoon. Near my feet in the photo is a stream which emerged from a small hole at the back of the cave.  The opening was too tiny to squeeze through, but I could hear the roar of a waterfall on the other side. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Minutes vs Days

Roc-Amadour is yet another of those impossibly spectacular villages along my route. And here (second photo) is how it probably looks when rain is not pouring down. 

After yesterday's too long trek, I decided to make this quick side trip, and am really glad I did. The train ride was only forty comfortable minutes of sitting (for which I now have a special appreciation), instead of two days walking each way, followed by an easy two mile stroll along a lovely bridle path and I was there. Maybe there's a better way of seeing the sights than how I've been doing it...

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Today marks two weeks of walking for me on the Chemin Saint Jacques. This was my longest stage and I barely managed to crawl into the bathtub this afternoon. I'm so beat that I haven't begun my laundry yet; and for those of you who've been following my exploits, you know that means we're talking total exhaustion here. 

Two weeks and today was the first time I've worn shorts. Hooray! 

The French are big into crop rotation and letting their fields go fallow for a year or two. Sometimes I see entire fields of dandelions, which I never see at home, so I've been a little fascinated by them. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Rare American

Community bread ovens usually sit deserted. I've seen them in many villages and they are generally stone huts, completely open on one side, with an oven tucked away in the back. 

Today I met an artisanal boulanger, a man who makes gourmet bread, who uses this community oven every day to bake his bread (the loaves are rising, covered on trays on the left of the photo).

The sun was shining and the walking was a breeze along country roads. I met someone from Portland today who has done this route four times and I was the first American he had ever met on the Chemin Saint Jacques. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

50 Stories

After six hours of walking through a steady rain, the clouds parted to reveal yet another magical town. Conques is a place to be experienced, kind of like Yosemite. You can see stunning photos, you can watch movies, you can listen to all the enthusiastic descriptions, but nothing truly prepares you for what you find when you actually get there. 

My only beef is that my bed & breakfast, which looked close to town when I booked it, is a five hundred foot vertical climb (that's fifty stories!) back into the center of the action.

There were lots and lots of crosses along the route today. No one is sure of their significance (pilgrimage trail marker, holy spot marker, memorial?) but this one seems to mark the death of some mighty fine hiking boots. 

I also passed several tire farms along the way. The spring crop is looking ripe, I'm sure harvest can't be far off. Now that's genetic engineering that I can get behind. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


The highlight of every day for me on this pilgrimage comes from stepping into a hot shower immediately upon arriving at my lodgings. 

I find a surprising amount of pleasure in what comes next - hand washing most of the clothes which  I wore that day. If I'm lucky, they'll even be dry by morning. 

Today, like most days, involved several very steep ups, and several very steep downs; usually through woods and fields, anything to avoid paved roads. I find the challenge of pushing myself and the serenity found by being away from civilization to be immensely rewarding. Now I know that all I'm really doing is walking from here to there, but for me it is a richly wonderful experience. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Obscure Tips for Dining in Rural Central France

I'm trying hard not to offend too many people here in small-town France with my heathen American dining manners. So here are some of the local quirks I've observed along the way. 

When I came to breakfast and found a bowl at my place, I quickly learned that it wasn't for cereal or yogurt, but for coffee (with or without as much hot milk as I desired). And I thought my coffee cup at home was large! 

And the sliced french bread (toasted or not) is only to be eaten after being dunked in the coffee (we're still talking breakfast here).

Speaking of french bread at meals... Those paper tablecloths on each table aren't only to make clean up easier, they are to be used in place of side plates. Do NOT break your bread over your plate, instead tear it apart over the tablecloth. This lesson I learned the hard way: When the waiter cleared my dirty (because of bread crumbs on it) plate, they were then unable to serve me the next course because there was no plate. Oh, the consternation and confusion which ensued!

Here is the lesson which has been most difficult for me: hands must be kept in sight at all times. They must never be allowed to disappear below the table top because...oh the imagination boggles. Putting elbows on the table is perfectly acceptable and forearms too. To make space for the waiter to reach in, it's okay to lean back with arms crossed. I've seen feet do all kinds of interesting things below the table, but hands down there are a no-no. 

Fortunately, I am not a picky eater. There are a lot of absolutely amazing small restaurants in rural France, where I walk in and they serve me what they prepared that day. There are no choices offered, I simply eat whatever they decide to bring out to me. So far, so good - no brains or stomachs or noses yet. The raw egg in the shell was a surprise though. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Welcome to Camelot

Having my breath taken away by turning a corner on the trail and seeing something like this - well, that's magic. And from my hotel room I can see both the castle and the church - more magic. 

On the way here the path finally joined a lovely flat road along the river and a sign declared only 2.3 kilometers to my destination village. I said to myself, "This is too good to be true, the path has to diverge and climb a hill somewhere." Sure enough, around the next bend this sight greeted me. Still, I have to admit that the forest trail was much nicer than the road would have been. 

Here are my new best friends, Aimee and Pierre. They owned the bed & breakfast I stayed at last night (basically a spare bedroom in their home). Even though they didn't speak a word of English, we had some interesting conversations. 

But here's the strange part... Pierre has heart issues and Aimee is watching her weight, so they are both on severely restricted diets. But they found great pleasure in watching me eat. In fact Aimee made me a huge six course dinner, and they both sat at the table with no food and watched my every bite with rapt attention. Now, we did talk, so it wasn't as weird as it sounds, or maybe it was.