Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday, April 28 La Salvetat sur-Agout to Angles

The only thing better than a baquette and a croissant for breakfast is a warm baquette and a hot croissant. And if I had known that tomorrow there would no opportunity to buy food anywhere, I would not have worried about the calories and would have eaten more but that's another story for later.

We rocked the poncho look today - what a vision. The first five kilometres were along a paved road then seven kilometres through the woods. At one point the ground was a thick dense sandy loggers' road and so very wet. Right after Dayton said, "Well at least it's firm to walk on." .....slurp! There went my feet sinking into mud right up to the top of my no longer new boots. Perfect. The rain continued to increase in intensity so when, right after we left the woods and came across a pilgrims' shelter, we took the opportunity to have a break and a snack. After our little respite, we followed a small paved road another five kilometres into Angles. With the rain dripping down from the brim of my hat and from the hood of my poncho and my feet sloshing away in my boots, I 'brought my attention to' (yoga speak) some of the principles I try to incorporate in my yoga classes. Shtira sukham is the concept of steadfast and ease; finding the comfortable ease in one's practice. On this Camino we may have that steadfastness and resolute down pat but sukham? not so much. Hard to find sukham with your eyes blurring with rain. As for my dristi, Sanskrit for a point of focus, it is literally down about three feet in front of my boots all day long. Metaphorically....probably still there three feet in front of my boots.

We arrived waterlogged in Angles around 12:30pm. The only store open (after all, it is Monday, another day of rest in France) was the charcuterie where we got the girl there to call Mssr. Passeport, our host for the night, to give us directions to his house. We were to walk 'tout droite' along the road out of town and he would meet us. It was raining really hard by now. As we trudged along looking for our host, we heard a yell from a distant yard. It was Mssr. Passeport waving to us from his covered porch. He obviously knew enough not to go out in the rain.

Before long we were in out of the rain, our gear was drying in front of a wood stove and we were enjoying a hot tea by the fire as well. Conversation is work. Robert speaks no English and my French is nothing to speak about. We are managing. We have had difficulty booking for tomorrow night. It's either 18 kms to Bouisset where there is nothing to eat there or on the way (apparently Tuesday is also a day of rest for this area) or 36 kms to Castres. Due to the promise of another day of rain, we are going to start out with the intent of a short day. If the sun comes out, we might change our plans and bust out a long day to Castres. Too many of these short distances on rainy days and we'll be lucky to get to Toulouse let alone Puente la Reina in Spain. And may I remind you that tomorrow we will be on a forced fast. Seriously, next Chemin I'd like to go somewhere a little less remote than the south of France, to a place with a Seven Eleven convenience store at least or a chip wagon.

Mssr. Passeport defines himself as an 'immobile Pelerin'. He has never walked the Chemin but does his Chemin through his pelerins. He is a retired anesthesiologist, although he says he is not a doctor - some different level of qualifications and specialties here that I didn't get - just that he put people to sleep. Presently he is a bee keeper and makes his own honey.

Robert is also a pretty good cook. Dinner started with a few aperitifs served with almonds and chips,much appreciated by this 'junk' food eater. Then we had a salad with mushrooms and red peppers, a platter of vegetables, rice and a chicken casserole all cooked on the top of the wood burning stove. The chicken casserole was made with carrots and olives and was acclaimed to be delicious by the meat eaters. After the main course was the cheese course followed by plates of strawberries, oranges, mango/passion fruit sorbet and, made by Robert, meringues. This is ridiculous and wonderful the amount of food we are being served but one has to be polite so we do our best.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday, April 28 Murat sur-Vebre to La Salvetat sur-Agout

When pigs fly..... I think there must be pigs circling overhead somewhere because, even after two hours of this Sunday morning walk, we still hadn't faced a huge hill to climb. It certainly was cold though. We left at 7:35 am bundled up in layers for this overcast day; me with a camisole, hiking shirt, light long sleeve merino wool top, my hoodie and a fleece and Dayton is his shirt, fleece and rain jacket. I had to loosen up the straps of my backpack to get my straps done up around this extra bulk. But....what you are wearing, you are not carrying. Only our hands were really cold but there were no complaints when we looked back on yesterday's weather piñata.

We had four hours of fairly easy, albeit muddy, walking through pine forests and country roads before the weather took a turn for the worse. Flakes of snow motivated us to add a poncho layer to our outfit and before long we were in a steady rain. This was a quiet Sunday with no other walkers, or even cars moving and it wasn't because everyone was in church, at least not in any of the half dozen churches we passed on the route this morning.

At 1pm we arrived at Salvetat sur-Agout, a hilltop medieval fortified city. None of the medieval cities we have passed through on this route, except maybe Saint Gilhem le Desert, have the splendour or ambiance of Conques on the Chemin le Puy. Here they just look cold and worn out. We walked in the rain through the narrow streets, up the hill to the church and then along some of the ramparts to cross over the river Agout and out of town. The bridge had been rebuilt after World War II in 1947, because the French had purposely destroyed it to block the advance of the enemy. Only another kilometre and a half and we were at the Auberge de la Resse, a name which conjures up a lot more quaint than it actually offers. Regardless, as they say " A tourist demands but a pilgrim accepts." and we are happy to accept a room and bath to ourselves. We might, in fact, be the only guests in the entire hotel.

The very young boy manning the front desk speaks French and a soupçon of English and Spanish but, even with my own peu de français and poco de español, we are having a 'failure to communicate'. Getting our chambre was easy but it took some pantomiming to get a hair dryer ((not just for vanity but to speed up the drying of our gear - okay, mostly for vanity) and then a request for lunch despite an obviously closed dining hall. Tea for me and the biggest baquette sandwich for Dayton - ham and cheese and, unheard of here, lettuce, tomato and mayo! It was easily the length of my arm and definitely thicker.

This Arles route is exceptionally rural; lovely countryside to enjoy, although enjoyment is tempered by the temper of the weather, and typically sparsely populated by people or towns. We are missing that Camino delight of coming upon a village, spotting a café and savouring a drink or a snack. Even if we do find a café or a shop it is usually closed. There is a very narrow window for shopping and restaurants in France. I can only imagine what the French consider a 'work week' - maybe 20-24 hours. Julia talked at length about the different level of stress and intensity working in the hospital here, where she is intern-shipping in anesthesiology. The doctors book patient appointments maybe one or two an hour with the doctor doing the waiting between patients. The surgeons may do two to three operations a day with the surgery rooms resting vacant in between and she says she was stunned to see the surgeons indulging in the huge noon hour mid-day meal complete with wine, definitely at the opposite end of the stress spectrum from what she had experienced in Germany and what I think it is like in Canada and the USA. I'm sure there is a reasonable happy medium here to explore.

For a country that doesn't understand vegetarian, I am certainly being treated so well. Our proprietor/hostess/chef presented us with the most appetizing salad, a simple leaf lettuce with tomatoes and a warm chèvre topped toasted baguette. The main course was quinoa with carrots, roasted tomatoes with basil, green beans and asparagus and a pasta with a creamy mushroom sauce. Dayton has the same but with beef and mushrooms. Then dessert was a homemade Madelaine cake with a vanilla custard and an apple tarte with creme frais. Unfortunately we only have 21kms to walk tomorrow. It will be pretty ironic if I come home from a 1000km walking trip and need to go on a diet and exercise regime to lose weight.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday, April 27 Saint-Gervais sur-Mare to Murat sur-Vebre

Holy Hypothermia!!!! Our intention was to walk 26 kms today but then weather happened. The rain wasn't too bad when we set out, this time in our ponchos. Dayton, in his huge red poncho, looked like Tickle Me Elmo and in my green poncho I looked like the Jolly Green Giant's granny. Is there any point in me mentioning that we started out with the seriously steep uphill rocky climb de jour? I think I've established that's a given. It wasn't too insane at the start as we walked though a forest with the leaves of the still bare trees just starting to emerge in a delicate Granny Smith apple green. I was pretty toasty in my full length poncho which is lined with some warming reflective material but Dayton was seriously starting to chill from the trapped moisture under his rainwear - exertion plus perspiration = freezing cold. Two hours and almost 10 kms took us into Castanet Le-Haut and we made the turn to continue up the mountain. The drizzling rain turned to driving snow (deja vu - April 26, 2009 Orisson to Roncevalles in a blizzard) and hypothermia was beginning to be a realistic threat. Everything was wet and I considered wringing out my gloves but you can't wring out ice.

Fourteen kilometres in four hours and twelve kilometres to go - uphill, cold, wet and stupid. At Ginestet, we stopped at one this villages six houses to see if we could use the shelter of their garage while we called our gîte. That's when our luck changed. We had lucked into the most giving, welcoming, helpful families. One of the guys there pulled out his phone and called ahead to our gîte to ask if the hospitalitie could come and 'chercher' us - come and get us. Just happened that the gîte hospitalitie had just stepped in her door when our rescue call came in. We were invited to wait, leaving our dripping ponchos and backpacks in the garage, and come into the house where there was the warmth of a blazing fire and of this welcoming family. It became obvious that we were crashing their yearly family reunion. The living area was crowded with at least three generations of an extended family, some French and some Spanish. They offered us warmth, something to drink ( water, tea, beer, coke), something á manger and a confusing conversation in French, Spanish and a generous attempt at English. They were having crazy fun: costumes and wigs; fun and raucous laughter; and a video recorder capturing it all. Into this chaos came our gîte lady Isabelle to gather our gear and drive through the snowstorm to our gîte in Murat sur-Vebre. By 12:30pm, we were settled at her kitchen table hands wrapped around a hot cup of tea. Three hulking young German cyclists arrived within minutes looking for refuge. This made me feel a little less wimpy about copping out. Actually I don't think we wimped out as much as made a wide and safe decision.

The snow you see on the mountain in the distance is where we were and what we decided to avoid. This picture does not really do justice to how intense the snowstorm was.

Within this gîte, we have our own super well-equipped apartment, even a hair dryer so obviously I am happy. We have elected to take demi-pensionne so, while our hostess cooks, we can enjoy an afternoon of writing and reading and a maybe a wee glass of wine.


Friday, April 26 Saint Martin d'Orb to Saint Gervais sur Mare

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!! There are uphill climbs and then there is the mother of all uphills. That's what we started with this morning. Rocky and steep and wet; first time we have had to start out with our rain gear on. After this first brutal climb through the woods, we spiralled up the mountain on a wide forest track for about 15 kms, again constantly climbing, and then a couple hours going through a chestnut forest before finally several kms down a narrow precarious path of rock, slate and skee. The possibilities for magnificent views were there but not with today's fog, mist and rain. And true to that expression 'live and never learn', I kept my camera case hanging from my backpack belt all the rain. Surprise, it got wet and quit working. Hopefully, it will be happy and functioning once it dries out. All in all a tough day, just like all the rest.

We didn't take breaks today because it was too wet to stop and too much of a hassle to get anything out of our rain covered and rain soaked packs. We certainly had some healthy nourishment options; ham and cheese baquette sandwiches, protein bars, bananas and apples but we just relied on some gummy bears for energy. Julia was leaving us in Saint Gervais du Mare to go back to Montpelier and she was eager to get there in time to hitchhike to a bigger city where she could get a bus home. Our French companion, Bruno, said that young girls have no trouble hitching rides in France and, after a quick farewell drink at the bar, which Bruno treated us all to, Dayton walked Julia out to where she was to try for a ride and true to Bruno's prediction the very first car which drove by stopped to offer her a ride. Four seconds max.

Our gîte in Saint Martin sur Mare is a little sketchy. Any place where the proprietor greets you with a half smoked rolled cigarette dangling from his mouth, wearing a worn lumberjack shirt and who has no teeth is always suspect to me. Actually he does have some teeth, one is sticking straight out if his mouth and then there a few black rotten ones. And he is making our dinner tonight! I am somewhat comforted by the fact that the British couple are sharing this gîte experience with us and they certainly added to the dinner conversation. Dinner was simple fare with a flashes of some good flavours. The starter was an aperitif which was well appreciated and entusiastically consumed by especiallythe British walkers. This was followed by a very lovely leek and potato soup. The main course was a little less impressive but it still satisfied hungry pilgrims, especially if you weren't vegetarian. It was fried sausage links with pan drippings gravy and crudely mashed potatoes. Only on a pilgrim walk would I ever appreciate mashed potatoes.

The dinner conversation was lively and exhausting for those who struggle to understand the language. I have yet to meet an English person who does not have a keen sense and knowledge of history and our hostess is a retired history teacher so the discussion centred on the history if the region, the various religious upheavals from the days of the Crusades on and about how this town of Saint Gervais sur Mare has the distinction of having the longest strike, a mining strike, in the history of France. That is really I preside considering France is noted for its strikes. Another part of the talk was about the religious population of the area including the prevalence of Muslims in the area. Apparently many Algerian soldiers fought alongside the French during the last World Wars and afterwards brought their families here. some of these Mulim Algerian women were expert tapestry weavers and there are still a very few who have carried these skills to today. They make tapestries for the French government who use them as gifts for foreign dignitaries, the last gift going to the King of Denmark. At least those are the stories I got out of the evening before I retired with a headache from thinking too much. Who knows; they could have been sharing recipes for all I know.

Our British lady is quite interesting. She is quite self-effacing but actually quite accomplished. Effie Romain is an artist from Bristol who has also published a couple of best selling books: Creative Container Gardening and Herbal Remedies in a Pot. Even though she claimed not to be able to speak French, she certainly understood it and, with her knowledge of history, was able to contribute really well to the dinner conversation. Dayton and I were little quieter, working on our listening skills.

Tomorrow, Dayton has planned a 31km killer day. I think it is rated off the difficulty scale. ane rain is forecast until the middle of next week. Oh my.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Thursday, April 25 Lodève to Saint Martin d'Orb

47,762 steps! That was the total number of steps it took me to go today's 33kms and surprisingly it was not tortuously difficult, just difficult. Adele and Keith and my iPod got me through the last three hours of this eight and a half hour day. And then there was another half hour to our gîte - uphill need I say?

We actually started out this morning earlier than usual but later than expected as we took time to have breakfast with Effie and Michael (aka Pickle and Pickle), our British pilgrim companions. Michael had gone out at 6:30am to get fresh baquettes. I swear my height in baquettes is consumed by each pilgrim every meal. The first part of the walk took us up through some woods and then it was a continuous climb along mountain switchbacks but the grade, while relentless, was fairly reasonable. No heavy breathing required just determination. Around 2pm in the village of Joncels, we stopped at a gîte, supposedly rated in the top gîtes in France for a drink. The gîte was excessively decorated with the most bizarre, grotesque, gargoylean wood-carvings ever - made by the owner's father-in-law. I hope there are no grandchildren who have to visit grandpa and the wild creatures his psychotic imagination has conjured up, probably in his art therapy classes. They would surely inspire nightmares in even the least imaginative child and who has ever met a child with little imagination.

It wasn't too many more hours to the church in Saint Martin d'Orb, our destination for the day. Yay! Our gîte was tucked away somewhere in the hills on the outskirts of this village and difficult to fine but a lady with a kind heart not only gave directions but, when recognizing our dismay that once again there was store open where we could buy some food for tomorrow, she went home, got her vehicle,found us on the road again and asked if she could drive me to the next village for supplies. Dayton took my pack on up to the village ( I swear I didn't know it was over a kilometre uphill), while I got my money, jumped into the passenger seat and went shopping. The next village was a good 15 minute drive and Angelise, this Good Samaritan, waited for me to make my purchases and drove me back to the gîte. Really, the kindness of strangers. So now here we are showered, rehydrated after several glasses of water mixed lemonade syrup and Coke Zero, and a snack of chips and Tuck crackers. We have our own room and shower as this is actually a Chambre d'hotes, more B&B than gîte. We have booked demi-pensionne so we are looking forward to an evening meal, probably a pretty late evening meal. Maybe it will include one of the chickens from the backyard chicken coop. I think I'm kidding.

Actually dinner was a light endive salad, rabbit (OMGoodness - not for me of course), rice and absolutely the best cauliflower ever ....choufleur in a bechamel sauce topped with emmanthel cheese. Dessert was yogurt, cheese and more bread.

The weather has been awesome but everyone is predicting rain for tomorrow. Maybe if we keep our raincoats and ponchos at the top of our packs ready for a wet onslaught, the rain will be contrary and hold off.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wednesday, April 24 to Lodève

Today,a day that was supposed to be our 'short, easy' day, was 14 kms but felt like 16.5kms and this had nothing to do with adjustment for elevation and everything to do with getting caught up in the glory of a beautiful morning walk and not paying attention to the way markers. AAAArgh!!! We walked along a lovely flat, dirt country road before reaching a Hilary and suddenly coming to attention and relaxing that we hadn't seen an indication in a long long time. We consulted the guidebooks (obviously not soon enough) and headed back almost the entire way back to town, found the correct cairn and GR sign and, more than an hour after our start, we were on the right track and on our way. Onward and upward, upward and onward and up and up and up.

A lesson or two to be learned here: 1. Read the guidebook the night before. 2. Pay attention and 3. The most obvious lesson... If you aren't confronted by a huge climb within the first 15 minutes of your morning walk, you are probably not on the right route. I also need to take some ownership as I tend to rely on Dayton and Julia pathfinder skills and, where one should 'Lead, follow or get the heck out of the way,' I just put my head down and do the latter two. I might even read the guidebook tonight although I'll probably just end up intimidated knowing what's in a difficulty level 3 hike over 29kms. Sometimes it's just best not to know.


Anyway, we walked up and up the usual rocky path. I think the French must have decided that " Ifall these foreigners are going to come over here to borrow our saints to atone for their sins then maybe we should make them earn it. Let's steer that trail up and over ...everything." I just have to say to all my CrossFit enthusiast friends (Brad take note) that this pilgrim route can challenge any of your WOD's (Workout of the Day). What our walks (and I use that term loosely) lack in speed and explosive power they make up for in strength and endurance. 'Tough it out.' is the motto of the day.

At one point, after walking through a forest, we came out onto a huge stony outcrop where a stone labyrinth was laid out. Each passing pilgrim was to take one of the many stones laying around and add to the labyrinth. We did and then kept on walking. We arrived I. Lodève around two in the afternoon and a young girl came to sign us in and show us our places. This is another very well equipped, clean gîte. We have our own room with our own shower and bath. There is a heated hanger in the bathroom to dry our laundry. There is also a massive common room with a dining room that accommodates about twelve for dinner. Fortunately we will only be five for dinner as we are combining forces with the British couple, Effie and Michael, known to each other as Pickles! (Really). There is also a huge garden outside to enjoy the sunshine.

Before dinner though we had to go buy groceries and because Dayton and Julia are such hearty enthusiastic eaters we had to have an wee appetizer... Double cheeseburgers and frites. We don't come across these very often so it's a treat not to pass up.

So overall, the Way is tough, my feet hurt yet still "Tout va se passer bien."


Tuesday April 23 Saint Guilhem de Désert to Saint-jean de la Blaquière

Bon Courage! On the Camino Frances as you set off everyone wishes you Buen Camino. Here in France everyone wishes you Bon Courage which we really needed today. What a tour de force! First of all we took care of the most important meal of the day, which I bought in the main square at 7:30am from the pâtisserie truck that shows up every morning and which consisted of three decadent pastries; a maple pecan Danish, a chocolate croissant and an elephant ear...oh and a demi-baquette. Not exactly the Fiber One or Greek Yogurt with fruit that we usually have but it takes care of business. When we left our gîte, it was only two short picturesque blocks before we reached the end of town and stood at the foot of the most majestic and formidable rocky cliff and naively crossed an innoocuos little bridge to set off up the mountain not realizing what was ahead for us. Those decadent morning calories were burnt off before our first rest break, ten minutes up the hill when we needed to shed two layers of jackets and sweaters. For the next two and a half hours it was relentlessly walkingup mountain switchbacks with only the sounds of heavy breathing and boots crunching over rocks. A wee bit treacherous too. One wrong step to the side and you risked tumbling head over heels all the way down back down. However, it was a glorious day. Blazing sun and magnificent views. And going uphill means your feet are always in dorsi flexion so toes are not jammed into the ends of your boots and ' if feet are happy', everything else can be happy. I took out my iPod to listen to some music but after only a few beats of Adele I turned it off and put it away. I didn't want anything to disturb the quiet peacefulness of this marvellous walk.

Last Fall, Dayton and I were participants in a medical research project with the hypothesis that walking over 10,000 steps a day and getting one's heart rate up to one's maximum target for 150 min a week improved cardiovascular health. Well, let me tell you, we are doing that and more on this walk. I am counting over 35,000 steps (to Dayton's 25,000) a day and our heart rates had to have up for eight hours straight today. If only one could 'bank' fitness!

With the terrain so rocky, I tend to keep my head down looking at the ground and my boots. At one point I was startled as I looked up to find a massive stone wall in front of me, the ruins of an ancient castle. Ten more steps and I would have barrelled right into it. We stopped there for a quick lunch and then started walking again, up and up. Around 2:30pm as we saw a sign that said pelerins (pilgrims) had a 2.1 km uphill walk for an estimated 1 1/2 hours (that's taking in difficulty). Dayton sighed and said, "If I quit right now, this would still be the most difficult hiking day I have ever done...ever!" But we didn't quit and kept walking for another couple of hours.

Other than the splendidly marvellous views, the highlight of the day was turning a corner in Arboras, another lovely quaint French village, and seeing a café. All along we have been so considerate of one another with decisions, "Would you like to stop here?" " Oh whatever you want is good with me"." Oh you decide and that's fine." So polite ad nauseam. This time I just said " I'm having a drink." However, everything I had hoped for was not available. The owner was rather affronted when I asked for a Diet Coke or failing that a Coke Zero, saying that he didn't do crass commercial drinks. He didn't have lemonade either but he did have limonade naturelle (la même chose) which turned out to be so refreshing and perfect. We only had three more hours of walking up hill and we finally 'peaked' and started down. We walked over eight hours for 26kms which with elevation equates to 32 kms, just like 22 C with humidity can feel like 35C. It sure felt like 32kms or more honestly 42kms. Is that because of age or lack of training? Julia told us that when Ricard left last night he gave us a back handed compliment, he said, " I hope I am as cool as those two when I am old like them." I'll take it!

In Saint-Jean de la Blaquière, we found a gîte, which at first we thought was 'complet' (full) but the lovely hospitalie offered us spaces in her maison. The bathrooms and kitchen living areas are great but the beds are in a sort of loft area. We must remember not to sit up in bed. We will hit our heads against the low roof. Seriously! We showered (and Julia had a bath in the second bathroom!!!) then went out to buy some groceries to make dinner. Another little bonus is that this is a wine making area and there are wine tastings at several wineries over the cocktail hour and the French version of a wine tasting is a full glass. We were definitely all over that. We really didn't even need to purchase a bottle of wine after the tasting but we wanted to be polite so we did. Surprised?

Dinner was pasta, chèvre frais and a tomato sauce and it was wonderful. We are sharing the gîte with an English couple who are now debating whether they are going to quit walking tomorrow. The wife has had enough and their agreement is that if she's unhappy they quit. Wish we'd have had that sort of a pre-nup. Actually today was as wonderful as it was tough and tomorrow is a short day so it will all be good.


Monday, April 22 Montarnaud to Saint Guilhem Le Désert

In a family, if Momma is happy, everyone is happy. On the Camino, if your feet are happy, everything is happy; your mind, your body and your spirit. My feet are not happy ergo...... There is not a rock or stone in France that has not been under my tender tootsies. It really is time I trusted the advice to buy boots a size too large. I am definitely too big for my boots.

We started the morning with a 7am sharing breakfast with our ever so efficient and conscientious but not exceptionally warm hostess. France must be home to the world's best and most innovative homemade confecture (jam) makers. Today's jams were pumpkin/orange, kiwi/lime and green tomato/lemon and all were delicious especially on the leftover baquettes from last night's dinner. Hmmm.

We started out at 8:15am. It was very sunny and comfortably cool. Dayton and Julia walked ahead as I turtled along listening to my iPod - the first time I have ever brought it with me. Actually I had a disturbing moment and laugh over this as one time I went into the woods 'to use the facilities' and was startled by a rousing round of applause. I forgot I was listening to a live concert and it was the audience yelling. A bit disconcerting for a moment as I embarrassingly looked around to see who had caught me unawares.

The first town we came to after 12 kms was Ariane. We were happy to find a bar with WiFi (pronounced WeeFee) here so that we could enjoy a drink and a rest while Julia tried to solve her iPhone dilemma. Actually this was a definite déjà vu experience for us as it reminded us of the first ten days of our Camino Frances where we searched every town for an Orange store ( European counterpart to our Rogers) to get John a SIM card. The night before we left Montpellier Julia had dropped her new ilPhone into a bucket of water and we've been looking in every village and town to find a phone store to see if we can get it fixed. No luck. Now she thinks that if she could get her boyfriend, Ricard, to drive her car to meet us and pick up her phone maybe he could get it fixed in Montpellier. The next problem is that being a child of the computer/technology age, all of Julia's contact information is on her phone's memory bank not her own mind's memory bank. The solution was to get on WiFi with our iPad, email Ricard to have him call our cell phone and then beg him to drive up and meet us. Like every good and smart boyfriend worth his Boy Scout Good Samaritan Badge, Ricard showed up in quick time. There was another entire complication as he had to contact Julia's roommate to get her car keys but of course the only number she had for her roommate was on her cell phone. Somehow Ricard figured it out and came through.

There was one part of the walk where we were walking along side a steep impressive gorge. I thought we would be walking beside the river as the guidebook said but we were actually walking on a very busy mountain two land highway with cars whizzing by us. At one point I had plodded on ahead of Julia and Dayton and when I finally turned around to check I had lost track of them. I waited and waited and waited and they never came around the corner. I turned around and headed back to find them all the while thinking that if I can't find them, I have my money, my passport and my plane tickets and I could be back home in less than 40 hours with my feet up. I actually started fantazing about this.

Ricard stayed to have dinner with us in the central square in Saint Guilhem le Désert, a beautiful quaint tourist town. Dining tables are set up all over the square assigned specifically to each of the many surrounding restaurants. The menu of all the restaurants were exactly the same; crepes, waffles, salads and pizzas. We had shared a whipped cream topped waffle when we first arrived so for dinner we had pizzas and salad which were surprisingly good.

Our gîte the Accuel spirituelle Carmel Saint Joseph is run by the Benedictine Sisters. For a gîte, it seems fine...clean and, the best part is that, we are the only ones here. Now as we are sitting in the common room having tea and writing, I am listening to Julia (who is only 27) and Dayton (who is delusional) planning our route for the next couple of days and I'm quietly freaking out as they consider 35km days. Their thought is that walking only 15-20kms seems a wasted day for them.


Sunday, April 21Montpellier to Montarnaud

Brilliant sunshine welcomed us on our first day walking the Via Tolasan/Le Chemin de Compostele d'Arles. There were absolutely no way markers guiding us out of Montpellier and not for the first three hours. Dayton's guidebooks were not exceptionally helpful so we relied on Julia's much more detailed German guidebook and her fluency in French to ask for directions. Leaving Montpellier was as unremarkable as leaving through the outskirts of any city....not very picturesque. The picturesque highlight of the day was walking along the Mousoon River. Not even Julia's guidebook was of much help when the bridge it indicates that we have to cross just wasn't there...possibly washed out? Then we had to channel our Blanche deB Bois and rely on the kindness of strangers to direct us up and over a short but treacherous rocky hilltop path. Fortunately, there were more than enough kind souls to keep us on the right way.

My feet, in my new lightweight Merrell hiking boots, felt every ridge of every single rock. Guess I cannot abandon my expensive search for the perfect hiking boots. I may as well have worn my New Balance Minimus runners all day. as the day wore on, and thank goodness for a continual refreshing breeze, the weight of my pack started to weigh heavier and heavier on my shoulders. Before we left home, Dayton noted his weight so that after our 1000 kms he can compare his starting weight and measurements with his expected wight loss. For me, I think my weight loss will come in loss of height caused by the constant compression on my spine. By Santiago, no one will be able to see me behind or under my pack.

Our gite in Montarnaud , Gite Le Temps d'une Pause, is a separate little house with two bedrooms, six beds (but thankfully only we three are here tonight), a lovely big shower, washroom and a substantial common room with a microwave, kettle, coffee maker and toaster. If course, it would help if we had coffee, toast or microwave popcorn! Ha like they even have the latter in Europe!

In a concerted effort to prevent bed bugs, our hostess wants us to leave backpacks, boots and sleeping bags in the common room and use her sheets and duvets. Less work for us and it's in our best interest to help keep those little bed bugs away. Se is also providing up with dinner: salad ropa ( which is a huge vegetable and salad platter that serves as a meal), bread, cheese and chocolate cake. There is a salad for each of us but one would actually serve all three. So far so very very good.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saturday, April 20 Montpellier

After a night of the most crazy, psychotic dreams ever (perhaps brought on by the exceptionally rich French tapas that we had had for dinner the night before), I was brought rudely back to reality by the wake up call we had requested for 6am this morning. After what could be our last luxuriously hot shower for quite awhile, we packed up and walked to the Gare de Arles to catch the early train to Montpellier. The trains here are so convenient and reasonably priced and comfortable. Julia met us at the station and we walked to her flat for a breakfast of very decadent pastries and tea. We immediately fell into such easy conversation with Julia as if it had not been two years since we have seen her. For anyone who hasn't heard all our Camino stories ad nauseum, Julia is a young German medical student whom we met on the first part if our Le Puy Route in the Fall of 2010. We walked with her for over two weeks and became great friends. We think of ourselves as her Camino parents. Julia not only is treating us to a visit in Montpellier but is taking vacation from her medical internship in Montpellier and is going to walk with us this first week. It will be wonderful to have this time with her and the bonus is having someone to translate.

The rest of the day was a sightseeing tour through Montpellier's old city, a maze of winding, picturesque streets, visiting with Julia and her boyfriend Ricard and searching for the best price on a SIM card. We comparison shopped at four different stores, four different companies, twelve different payment options for the SIM card and learned first hand the need to have patience when shopping in France. Nothing is hurried. It took us over ninety minutes to wait for service and then purchase the SIM card.

The sunny warm weather has not materialized as forecast. It was a very wet, cold and windy day. The hot chocolate chantilly (with cream) was needed even more than it was appreciated. Surprisingly, or not, there were two McDonald's outlets in the centre square which also was much appreciated. Julia and Ricard treated us to a lovely eclectic home cooked dinner of patatas bravas, salada, and a quiche for those who eat eggs. It is interesting and impressive to listen to our German Julia and her Spanish boyfriend, Ricard, conversing in French and English. Especially impressive to me who is I the running for the dumbest language student ever.

Our plan for tomorrow is to take a tram to the outer edge of town, walking to Montarnaud where we hope to have reservations for demi-pensionne. We can only hope for sunshine.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday April 19 Arles

Today was a day of self indulgence and guilty pleasures. We took advantage of a totally free day to sleep in until almost noon, which for someone who gets up at 5:30am every other day was quite a surprise. Of course, almost noon here is the same as 5:30am EDT at home. I made sure I appreciated the hotel's hot showers, thick towels and hair dryer because I know what is, or should I say isn't, in store for me in the coming months staying in the sparse accommodations of the gites and albergues.

Needless to stay our indulgences included food and drink. Croissants and paninis, Alfligem (sp) beer and loose leaved hot tea, a warm artichoke tomato and olive bruschetta style pizza and we still have dinner to look forward to.

I am still trying to get into the speaking French mindset. I keep 'si si' ing when I should be 'oui oui'ing, and 'por favor' ing when I should be 's'il vous plait' ing. I am getting a little more daring in at least attempting to converse in French. I was able to scout out a SIM card for our phone and to comprehend that it was way too expensive. I'll have to develop some more advanced negotiating skills.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 18 - Arles Camino Day One

¿Dónde mueren sus sueños? En un lugar llamado miedo.

Where do dreams die? In a place called fear. Fear is such a conflicted emotion, as immobilizing as it can be motivating. How many times I've let fear (fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of what 'might' happen, fear of stepping out of my comfortable comfort zone and self doubt ) stop me from undertaking some interest. Maybe older age (not old age, just older) has prompted me to a more 'now or never' or ' just do it' attitude. After years of doubting I could do it, last year I finally did a half-marathon with a more respectable result than I ever thought possible. Imagine if I had let myself do it, twenty years ago.

So now I am about to start our third complete pilgrimage, a 1000km walk across the south of France, over the Pyrenees and into Spain, putting doubts aside and worries about imminent tendinitis and shin splints, of accommodations in privacy deprived communal gites/albergues, of the stress of trying to communicate in two foreign languages and of taking too much stuff to carry or not the right stuff. Time to just go with the flow and trust that "tout va se passer bien".

So far everything has been going well. It is always a long tiring travel day going to Europe, leaving home late morning, shuttle bus to Pearson airport, overnight flight to Amsterdam and connecting flight to Marseilles and then train to Arles and finally a hotel to locate but it all went as planned and as hoped. We did arrive in Arles on a gloriously warm and brilliantly sunny day carrying our overloaded packs of ponchos, fleeces, raincoats, merino wool sweaters, neckwarmers and gloves. Obviously we had trust issues with the weather forecast. It's hard to believe in sunshine and warmth when you're enduring the bitter, cold, windy and rainy lack of Spring back home. We may pay for that lack of trust by having to carry all those extra layers of clothing instead of wearing them or paying to mail them home.

As we were about to land in Marseilles, Dayton expressed his concern (worst nightmare) about the coming months in countries in which he has no facility with the languages, "And so it begins, two months if not being able to talk to anyone but you." Ha. Actually, despite all my language lessons, I'm not doing any better. Every time I open my mouth in France, Spanish comes out.

A fairly typical Camino coincidence occurred as we were purchasing our tickets for the train to Arles. We saw a fellow pilgrim (obvious from his pack, his hiking poles and the Camino shell on his pack) . We struck up conversation and learned that he was an English gentleman living in Asheville, SC and, when he found out we were from London Ontario he immediately asked us if we knew Tom Friesen (one of London's resident Camino gurus). Imagine, half way round the world and the first person we talk to has a mutual acquaintance.

So we settled in our hotel and set off to explore the lovely ancient city of Arles and to enjoy a refreshing drink at one or two or more of this outdoor cares. It's typical of us that, after advising other pilgrim hopefuls that they should expect expenses of about 30€ a day, we are so far above that and we still haven't even gotten to dinner at the Tapas restaurant we have scouted out. But it is all good.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Camino 2013 - One Week to Go

"If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done". Well it's almost the last minute and definitely time to get organized for our next Camino adventure. I have never been one to jump on the 'glorification of busy' bandwagon but it is a sneaky little bandwagon and somehow it has insidiously taken hold of my life. My crowded over-committed day planner does nothing to reflect my true nature - that of someone who loves nothing more than to have nothing to do and all day to do it. Right now that little planner is more indicative of a Type A Over Achiever. Between teaching classes, taking classes, appointments for all those pesky little yearly check ups, errands and family and shopping, I am booked from morning to mid-evening every day (in my world, late evening is a non-event). And nowhere in that daily schedule is 'walking'. I have finally conceded to Dayton's training philosophy..."that's what the first 300 kms are for"! The axiom for his training principles focuses on 'why should I hurt now'. So, with training taken care of, I can focus on other priorities - the pursuit of the perfect gear. The concept of perfect gear is to choose items which are multi-purposes, the most impact for the least amount of weight. The acquisition of new gear is also to combat any problems that have arisen on our previously Camino such as shin splints and tendinitis. Here I am adopting a quasi municipal government mentality - if there is a problem, throw mores money at it. To combat tendinitis I have invested in another new pair of hiking boots, lighter weight by a half a pound a boot! but still Gortex Waterproof and new physio-styled insoles. Lightening the weight of my pack is another problem to throw money lightweight IceBreaker Merino wool hoodies, wash and wear T-shirts and hiking zip-off pants and a new iPad mini to combine ebook reading with blogging. Oops, a new light weight New Balance Minimus walking/running shoes to relaxed the infamously practical yet ugly Crocs. May still end up with tendinitis, shin splints and too heavy a pack but I will suffer in style. Now if I could just find a light weight portable hair dryer and curling iron.