Saturday, October 30, 2010
The cathedral is like a gigantic inverted elephant with its huge thick legs pointing up into the sky. The cathedral looked out over the city of Lyon, a truly impressive sight - red roofs for miles and miles. After the cathedral we walked over to the Roman ruins. Just such a weird sight to have their magnificently restored Roman amphitheatre and ruins right in the heart of this area.
It was still wet and cold when we came back down and started to retrace our steps back to the hotel. We passed a huge square where there was another strike protest but everything seemed relatively in control and peaceful. We ended up at another Italian pizza restaurant and then back to the hotel where we repacked and watched a Germany cooking show - just like Chopped. Couldn't understand the commentary but, hey, it's a food show and food is a universal language and all the food looked great.
As it was, we gave Julia our mefix, extra snacks, a whistle and our love and then we did put on our boots and packs at 7:30am but it was to head out and catch a bus. The potential train strike is now in fact an actuality so we needed to catch a bus. Julia walked us to the gare and we had a very tearful goodbye. She was desolate and we felt like deserters. It's amazing how well the three of us have fit together over the last eleven days. We been together pretty well 24/7 for that time. We've shared our fatigue, jokes, challenges, food, friendship, stories and sarcasm. A cutting example of the latter was when we were leaving Lauzerte and we passed Le Maison des Retraites and Julia pointed out, "Oh, Karen and Dayton, here's the gite you should have stayed at"! I thought it was a retreat but she informed me that it was a retirement home for us old folks.
As Julia headed out into the dark, we waited for the bus. We had to take a bus to Montaubon and then transfer to a train for Toulouse. Surprisingly, when we got to the train station there were conductors waving us quickly into and through the train station, across the tracks and onto the waiting train. So that part of our trip went okay. In Toulouse, it was a lot more confusing. Everyone was lining up at the ticket office to try to make arrangements to travel and no one really had any definite answers about which trains were still running or would be running the next day. I made the mistake of taking one clerk's advice and decided to wait until later in the day to see if the rapid trains were going to run. If I had just purchased tickets on the regular trains we could have gotten to Lyon via Montpelier in about three hours. As it was, by the time I purchased our tickets all those trains were completely sold out and we were lucky to get tickets for Lyon via Marseilles. The bad news was it was about eight hours on the train with a couple of hours layover in between; the good news - we would get a scenic train tour of the Mediterranean coast. Also the train travel was relatively comfortable and I had my ebook so quite content. I have to give a shout out to the ticket clerks. They kept their cool on what must have been an extremely hectic day. They helped one frantic traveller after another, fluctuating from French to English or Spanish or German and did everything they could to get people on trains to wherever they needed to go.
The strike was quite evident all around us in Toulouse. There were protests at the train station and riot police at the ready everywhere. When we got to our Hotel Victor Hugo, the concierge, a former pilgrim and kindred soul, commiserated with our train ticket woes and, almost proudly, stated that, while the French can't win a championship in football (soccer over here), they are the world champions of strikes. On our walking tour of Toulouse we passed a couple of schools, a lycee and an art school. French students are quite political and they were adding their demonstrations to the protest. The strike centers on proposed legislation which would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 which isn't making anyone happy. Older workers resent having to work longer and students worry about the lack of jobs for the youth.
We just counted ourselves lucky that we could still get on any train and that we had a chance to get to Lyon in good time to catch our flight to return home. A few days later, we may not have been so fortunate.
By the way, I did get my McDonalds comfort fries at the Marseilles train station.
This was the morning that Valentine and I were at breakfast early and were talking about our children. She reminded me of Sainte Rita, the patron saint of hopeless and desperate causes and encouraged me to pray to Sainte Rita to ask for help for some of the things that are worrisome for me. I'm anxious that, now that my children have completed their Masters degrees, they find a viable and satisfying job and career. I'm anxious that, now that my mother has moved out of her home and into an apartment, she is able to sell her house and lessen that financial burden. Following Valentine's spiritual advice, I added a few prayerful moments to my walking meditation.
Sometimes the camino adds extra kilometres to the route just to take the walkers away from a busy auto route. Today we walked an extra two or three kilometres through a non-descript field just to avoid a half a kilometer along a main road. Not sure I needed to be spared that. We had also been warned that when you see your first sign indicating you were in Moissac you really had another three kilometres to walk. Good to know. Coming into Moissac was our first instance of commercial and city life; streets, traffic, industry and noise. As we walked the three kilometres into the centre of Moissac, I was excited to see a McDonalds sign. Now McDonalds holds no particular appeal to me at home but here it was a beacon of comfort and I was on the lookout for the promised golden arches. Never did find them. McDonalds must have been off the GR65 and I don't veer from the GR65 - not even for McDonalds.
We did find the tourist information center beside the beautiful abbey and then went on to find our chambre d'hote, Ultreia. This gite d'etape with chambres was run by an Irish couple who had walked their own pilgrimage a few years ago and opened their gite with the intention of making the experience of other pilgrims a good one. They definitely added to our camino. We were greeted immediately with the offer of food and drink and a good chat. Julia was in the gite and Dayton and I had booked a room to ourselves. Before dinner, we headed back up to the abbey to hear the nuns chant vespers. The nuns voices were so pure and beautiful. Didn't have a clue what they were singing and chanting but it was a nice sound nonetheless.There was a little boy, about 6 years old, who sat silently beside one of the nuns following the service in a huge hymn book. After the service, it was this youngster who proudly stamped our credenciales.
Back at the gite, we had a simple but hearty dinner of soup, green beans, carrots, boiled potatoes, chicken in wine sauce for the non-vegetarians and a pasta with veggies and chevre cheese for me. Dessert was ice cream with peaches and a raspberry coulis and a biscuit. And for the first time, tea and coffee were offered after dinner. Wonderful. I'm not saying we didn't eat well on our Camino Frances in Spain but we certainly did not have the variety that we have had in France and, other than potatoes and soggy white asparagus, we certainly did not have vegetables. This is good, really good.
Friday, October 29, 2010
We played leap frog with her all day. We walked for half an hour before we hit the morning's steep climb - 50 minutes up a rocky path. We took one rest and drink break and then had lunch in Limogne en Quercy. We had our picnic lunch on the patio of a pizza shop. We didn't worry about taking advantage of their patio as the restaurant was closed and the sign indicated that it was only open three nights a week; Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9:30pm until 11:30pm. Seriously! As I've mentioned, businesses, shops, restaurants and grocery stores all close down in the afternoon. We were fortunate enough to arrive at the tourist office in Limogne en Quercy and make reservation at the monastery in Vaylats just before they shut down for the afternoon too. We've discovered that most towns have tourist offices and that most of them are closed most of the time. That might be a slight exaggeration but not much of one.
This was another hot, sweaty, thirsty and long day. We weren't moving very quickly and our water bottles were empty. The few little villages we passed through had 'rien', nothing; no epiceries, no cafes and no potable water to be found. Our guide book said there was an nice restaurant in Bach, just three or four kilometers from our destination but that it was not open on weekends. Well, as we passed said restaurant, I saw some people sitting at tables on the patio and we were delightfully surprised to learn that it was open and the owner welcomed us up for some drinks, tonic with lemon - marvellous. Her restaurant had been featured on one of Jamie Oliver's cooking shows and she was still beaming with pride. That welcomed rest and the drinks gave us enough of a second wind to walk through the fields and laneways up to the monastery.
The monastery in Vaylats is still a very active convent of nuns. It was a huge complex of buildings. At dinner the dining hall was quite full of nuns, hospitaleros, pilgrims and visitors. It was a rather unassuming and unpromising start to the dinner. A very watery, 'maybe vegetarian' soup and large bowls of green beans with hard boiled eggs, and a marinated mystery meat salad were served to each table. Everyone was helping themselves to seconds and thirds, thinking this was the entire menu. Surprise! Large platters of pasta and bowls of a lamb stew were brought out and this course was followed by a large selections of cheeses and just when we thought we were finished, the hospitalero gave us all ice cream nutty buddies. Going to need a big morning climb to wear this one off.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
For two lovely ladies from New Caledonia, who describe themselves as 'very Catholic', this is a religious pilgrimage and their intention is to walk the Chemin Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port and then onto Santiago. Two months, 1800kms. Their packs are enormous, over 15 kgs each. Valentine is 70 years of age and sets out each morning before seven a.m., with her headlight on. Her friend Jocelyne starts out later and eventually they meet up later in the morning. The phone calls go back and forth quite often in between. (They obviously have a better phone plan than our Rogers plan.) When Valentine and I had a discussion about our children, I mentioned that my two have recently completed their Masters degrees and were still job searching. Valentine told me to pray to Sainte Rita, the patron saint of desperate causes. Now I don't think of my kids are desperate causes but I did pray to Sainte Rita as I walked along and every time I met up with Valentine she assured me she was praying for them too. Lo and behold, when I got home both had jobs!
The first week we walked we met many pilgrims who were on a short one or two week vacation and walking was just part of their 'holiday'. Our Norwegian couple were sandwiching it in between a week in Paris and a week in St. Tropez. Our Austrian couple were sandwiching walking the camino from Le Puy to Espalion with renting a car and touring the route in between and then finishing up walking from Leon in Spain to Santiago.In Conques we met an injured pilgrim lady from Montreal. She had wrecked her ankle on the rough path into Conques and had been hold up there, on crutches, several days by the time we met her. Vivienne had been drummed out of her job of sixteen years by two antagonist co-workers and, with the time and money awarded her from winning a court case, Vivienne was seeking some answers about what her next steps in life were to be. She had planned to walk along the Chemin Le Puy and then travel to India to find an Ashram Yogi to teach her Kundalini Yoga and hopefully she would have an epiphany of self awareness, of who she was and what she should do with her life. A lot to ask of a walk but.......you don't ask, you don't get.
Another lovely Montreal lady was doing the camino her way - with a suitcase, a backpack transfer service and a bus ticket. Brigitte took her time, took days off to rest, walked when she felt like it and took transportation when she didn't feel like walking.Vivienne wasn't the only one looking for self awareness and their place in this universe. Gudrun, a painter, perpetual student, free spirit and lost soul was still trying to find her place in this world. Beautifully prematurely grey, Gundrun couldn't tell you what she really did in life. She liked to paint but didn't have a career as an artist, had spent years of university study without ever graduating in any one area and didn't have a job or profession so she had difficulty describing herself - "maybe I'm just a woman". Where one can't find work or an occupation to suit them, others are on the route because they have been over-worked and burnt out. Ann-Marie was a social worker who, through the camino grapevine I learned, worked with delinquent, or disadvantaged (the camino gossip may not be accurate) youths and now was walking the camino with an indefinite deadline or destination and wondering about changing careers at this point. Fleme was a free spirit from Belgium. I'm not sure if he was a bon vivant, gentleman of the world or just unemployed. He had worked in the Gatineaux in Quebec canoeing, had walked in Nepal and other exotic places. He said he tried to keep himself distant from the towns and that it was much better to sleep in his tent on the hills overlooking, to walk only 10 kms a day so that he could take the time to really absorb what he was seeing and experiencing but then - he walked the 24 kms into Cahors at race speed, arrived two hours before we did and he was not sleeping on the hill overlooking the city but was sharing a room with us in the gite. Our friend Julia had undertaken her first camino last year, walking from Milan to Rome. She said she'd always been in a relationship and when she found herself unattached she decided to do something challenging with her new found independence. This year she was using the break from her psychology and medical studies to walk from Le Puy to Pamplona. I have often said how much I admire the women who do this on their own. I don't think I'd ever have the confidence let alone the competence to do this on my own - or the strength to carry ALL my own stuff. There are always quite a few retired people on the camino, people who now have the time and still the fitness to undertake and complete such a physical challenge. Whatever one's reasons, I'm convinced every person who finishes even part of this pilgrimage comes away with a major sense of peace and accomplishment.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Of course there was a steep, rocky descent into the village of Decazville - beyond brutal. We were so hot and so thirsty and then, lo and blessedly behold, there at the bottom of the hill was a grungy snack bar and it was open! We thought it was a slice of heaven. Dayton ordered a couple of cokes and Perrier and a microwaved cheeseburger and I had fries (frozen not fresh cut but now was not the time to be picky) and we were ecstatic. Then on again in the heat to Livenhac.
We couldn't find the Chambre d'hotes where we had planned to stay but it turned out that the communal gite was perfect. It was big, clean with lots of rooms so we didn't have to share and there was an epicerie and patisserie right beside it. We loaded up on cheese, tomatoes and wine. Julia showed up exhausted about two hours after us. We had thought she was in front of us but, hours earlier, she had missed an obscure sign and had taken a loop back towards Conques. Imagine how depressing to walk for hours and find yourself back near the start. There is a wonderfully experienced pelerin, Ann Marie, on the route and when she met up with Julia she set her straight. Julia has been putting her faith in Dayton's path finding skills and walking with us ever since.
We shared a good meal of bread, tomatoes, cheese and some meat and ended up sharing the room. Then headed out the next morning as the church bells rang and rang, heading out for Figeac. Another hot brutal day.
The day turned out to be gloriously warm and sunny. Julia, our young German friend, passed us early in the day breezing briskly by as she listened to her iPod. I'm not sure that even an upbeat tune on my iPod would have helped me pick up my pace. Actually, it's not that my pace is slow, it's that it's SHORT. However, we were surprised to catch up with Julia at the epicerie in Golinhac and had lunch together and then we decided to bust it out to Conques. Julia motivated us early on and we encouraged her the last 10 kms. There was a painfully long and steep descent into Conques which is really hard on the knees and toes but oh my! what an amazing sight Conques is.
Conques is just a magical city - it made me think of the old movie Brigadoon where a mythical town appears out of the mist every century or so. It looked just that surreal. We stayed at the Abbey there having booked a room with WC and shower. We were greeted by the most friendly hospitaleros and offered juice and tea. Such a welcoming treat. The Abbey is big and such a maze of stairs and corridors that it was a feat just to find our way to the dining hall to enjoy a friendly communal meal with the other pilgrims. For me the meal itself was a little sparse as their idea of vegetarian was salmon so I went a wee bit hungry but that's the daily breaks for a vegetarian here.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
We have discovered many differences on this camino too. There are more short term walkers, people who come and walk only for a week or two. Yesterday was the end of our second week and most of our new group are finished for now. Many French tend to do this camino in stages - étapes. We are also at the end of the season so it is less busy. Most places accept and advise that you make reservations which is different from the Camino Frances and also changes the way you face the day. It takes away the worry, when other pilgrims pass you, of losing a bed for the night and I feel more comfortable taking time for breaks. Yesterday we stopped in Saint Come d'Olt for lunch at a restaurant with Angela and Wolfgang and a couple of French ladies who were celebrating the end of this étape for them. We knew we had a room booked so we could afford the luxury of a leisurely lunch. The entire shape of our day is different this time. We do not usually bother to get up until 6:30am. and then have breakfast with our demi-pensionne (dinner and breakfast included). It's also darker these days so we also want to wait until daylight to walk. Another thing that is different, especially with the demi-pensionne ( almost always a private room with a bath) is the cost - way way more than last year. The difficulty of this route is also much harder than the Camino Frances. This has been steeply up and down everyday, all day! The extreme climbs and descents were never more evident than today when we were in a torrential rain, thunder and lightening storm. We came into Estaing down a steep path which was a virtual mudslide. Our new ponchos may have kept our packs dry but they didn't prevent the dampness from sweating or any protection from the lightening - that's why we quit after only 12 kms. Maybe tomorrow will be safer.
Some things are still the same though; the joy and relief when you find that first cafe or patisserie/bakery in the morning. That welcomed stop is always appreciated because what else is always the same in any camino is that is hard, really hard. A pilgrimage implies penance and an acceptance of suffering and a pilgrimage delivers as promised. And finally, wet is wet; it's always wet and Gortex is not a perfect product. Would that it were because then I would not have to go back to the gite now to stuff my boots with newspaper and wring out my socks.
Sunday Sept. 26 - Leon to Le Puy by train
1. Monday, Sept. 27 - Le Puy to St. Privat - Gite à Ms. Vachon 23.5 km FOG, SUN, TOUGH
2. Tuesday, Sept. 28 - to Saugues - Gite à la Ferme Brigitte 20 km FOG, COOL, TOUGH
3. Wednesday, Sept. 29 -to Les Faux -Hotel L'Oustal de Parent 29 km MISTY,WARM ,TOUGH
4. Thursday, Sept. 30 -to Aumont Aubrac - Les Sentiers Fleuris 20 km SUN, WARM,TOUGH
5. Friday, Oct. 1 -to Nasbinals - Gite de Mont d'Aurbral equestrian 27km FOG, SUN,TOUGH
6. Saturday, Oct. 2 - to Saint Chely - Gite Lepadou Bas 20km, SUN, TOUGH
7. Sunday, Oct. 3 - to Espalion - Hotel Moderne 24km WIND ,TOUGH
8. Monday, Oct. 4 - to Estaing - Catholique Gite Saint Jacques 12km RAIN, TOUGH
9. Tuesday, Oct 5 - to Conques- Communitie St. Jacques 37km HOT SUNNY, TOUGH
10. Wed. Oct 6 - to Livinhac le Haut - Gite d'etappe Communal 24 HOT, SUNNY, TOUGH
11. Thu. Oct 7 - to Figeac - Hotel Le Toulouse 23 km HOT, SUNNY, TOUGH
12. Fri. Oct 8 - to Cajarc - Chambre d'hotes Celine Pons 31km, HOT, SUNNY, TOUGH
13. Sat. Oct 9 - to Vaylats - Monastere des Filles de Jesus 33km, HOT, SUNNY, TOUGH
14. Sun. Oct 10 - to Cahors - Foyer de Jeune Quercy 24km, WARM, SPRITZING RAIN
15. Mon. Oct 11 - to Lascabanes - Gite d'etape Le" Nid des Anges 23 km RAIN, MUD
16. Tue. Oct 12 - to Lauzerte - Gite Chambre d'hotes Les Figuiers 24 km SUN,HOT, MUD
17. Wed. Oct 13 - to Moissac - Gite Chambre d'hotes Ultreia 28-29 km HOT, SUNNY
18. Thu. Oct 14 - to Toulouse - Hotel Victor Hugo - by bus and train - 3-4 hours
19. Fri. Oct 15 - to Lyon - Hotel Novotel Part Dieu- by trains via Marseilles - 11 hours