Tomorrow we walk, 20 or so km from Arles to Saint Gilles. Our pilgrim life will truly begin.
There were many last-minute things to take care of today, foremost among them getting a French SIM card for my phone, so we can follow our location on map apps as we walk, call ahead for reservations, and get keys to gites.
The SFR phone store could not sell me a card. For that I had to go to a tabac. Yes, if we bought their brand of card, the fellow in the SFR shop would put it in for me. To get to a larger store where They could do everything, would be a long walk or a bus trip. Two visits to Tourist Information told us this.
We did find the card after queueing in a tabac, and had it put in at the phone store. We are now good to go, with 5 g of data (that I’ll need only when there is no wifi) for the next month.
Coffee and croissants for breakfast. delicious! Why do American croissants taste nothing like these?
We ran around in the big Saturday outdoor market as rain started to fall—buying bread — 4 slices cut for us— 4 apples, a small sausage, and a round of Camembert. On the way home we picked up a bottle of orange juice and a carrot, and with some ice and a borrowed knife from our AirBNB hostess Ariane, we had a fine lunch. The rainy afternoon was spent visiting some of the many sites of interest in Arles, including St.Trophime Basilica and Cloister, Les Allycamps Cemetery (Roman and Medieval), the arena, the theatre, the baths of Constantine, and other places.
We got our Pilgrim Credentials and first stamps.
At 5:15 we returned to St. Trophime to the Accueil Pèlerin (pilgrim welcome) office that we’d been checking all day. Mass was being said, but 3 people were waiting at the back of the church wearing rain gear and sturdy sandals. «Pilgrims! » I said. And they were: two French Canadian women, Marie and Ginette, and a French man, Jean, who have walked together before. They will also be heading to Saint Gilles tomorrow and finishing in Toulouse as we will. Younger than us, and probably better walkers, we will be with them for at least awhile.
More rain is predicted for tomorrow, although it cleared a bit at sunset. It is cooler, so we will not be walking in blazing sun and heat.
We finished the evening with couscous, chicken, meatballs and vin rouge at a Moroccan restaurant. Arles is a delightful place.
We were walking in the woods along the canal, then minutes later were on a shiny metro train jammed with people, and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of bustling Toulouse, where less than an hour before we’d been in a place with no shops, restaurants, or restrooms! Culture shock! We’d emerged into the 21st century!
With increasing wind and black clouds, we left the Canal du Midi perhaps 6 km short of the last lock (Bayard) near the Toulouse train station. We had walked much of that route last year, and were ready to be done.
Our Hotel Wilson Square is basic, but comfortable, and our room has windows on two sides. The staff at the Réception has been friendly and helpful.
After cleaning up and putting on clean clothes, we headed to the Basilica Saint Sernin to pay our respects and get a final stamp on our credentials from the Pilgrim Office. While there we encountered Jean from our gite in Saint Gervais, who had arrived yesterday.
We toured the crypt, which we must have done last year, with its series of altars, tombs, and relics which I found curious and without meaning to me, although I knelt at the one dedicated to St. Jacques Major, “our Jimmy” as our friend Margaret Brasuel calls him. I also was happy to see the statue of my pilgrimage companion St. Roch in one dark corner, with a single candle at his feet.
We sat together in silence (not everyone coming and going in that huge Romanesque basilica was silent) for a very long time. I had a lot to think about, not least about the history of the organized church, and what it had to do with my experience of the divine (quite little) and with what Jesus taught and meant — I somehow don’t think he had grand buildings and relics of saints or wealth and political power in mind. But it was an impressive space where worshippers had gathered and carried out traditions for over 1000 years, and I felt and honored the presence of those traditions.
We walked down the Rue du Taur, taking a quick look inside l’Eglise de Notre Dame, and sat in the expensive Le Florida cafe on the impressive square facing the Capitolium, where we decided on small coffees accompanied by “boules” of ice cream to celebrate our arrival.
We later walked to the Garonne to wait for the sunset, which was pretty much swallowed up by low clouds. We had dinner at Aloy Thai across the street from the hotel, and we couldn’t stay awake any longer.
A word about the last day’s walking. We followed a hilly path from Ayguesvives to Montigiscard, and then rejoined the Canal. We enjoyed seeing a few boats, and passed two or three locks, none of which had toilets or drinking water. A lockside cafe was closed up tight, whether for the season or because it was Monday there was no indication. We stopped there, sat at one of many tables and chairs, and ate the sandwiches we’d carried for a day and a half.
Just after that last (Castanet) lock we had to detour to the other side of the canal, where we took a rough path eventually past many boats that seemed to be permanent dwellings— not posh — more like the trailer camp we’d come upon much earlier on the walk. Later we saw abandoned boats, covered in autumn leaves.
There were many runners and cyclists, and few bushes to hide behind for a bush toilet.
At last, after skirting a yacht basin and high rise complex of dwellings, which had a couple of closed businesses, including a pizza place, we reached a small path to the Metro station. The Toulouse map we’d received at the tourist office in Port Lauragais enabled us to find this unsigned path.
Suddenly, our Camino came to an end. A kind man pulling a suitcase helped us buy our tickets from the machine, and showed us where to get off on the Metro map. Even as our Camino was ending, the kindness of strangers continued.
Our hotel was just steps from the Jean Jaurès Métro stop, as we made our rather dazed way to the hotel door, assaulted by the noise and numbers of people and vehicles, Burger King, and food shops and restaurants lining the streets, all open and busy. Such a shock after the quiet and deserted Canal.
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Today, we slept in until after 8am, found coffee and croissants at a very busy Starbucks, made a few other stops, and had lunch at the Imperiale upstairs from the Marche Victor Hugo (where i delighted in looking at all the displays of food).
The lunch (cassoulet for me) was more food than I could eat. We returned to the hotel for a nap, then paid a long visit to the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas at the Dominican Couvent des Jacobins, a place dear to my heart that I’d first visited with Ed in 1999. We spent at least 45 minutes in that lovely, quiet, soaring space that is now enhanced by an art installation of colored lights that I did not find intrusive.
This evening we enjoyed a picnic from the grocery store in our room.
Tomorrow, late morning, we catch our train to Barcelona.
We said good-bye to Isabelle, set out on the way back to the Chemin as she directed, but ended up at the the Cathar Fort, instead, which was quite moving. Many men, women and children chose to be burned to death here in 1211, rather than to renounce their faith.
When we reached the Rigole, not by shortcut, we soon saw the German sisters, who had left after us, ahead of us.
We encountered them later, as they took a break, then lost sight of them as we took a shorter alternate route, which involved about 6 km of gentle, but numerous and sometimes long ups and downs on small roads in sometimes heavy wind.
At last we joined the main Chemin at Montferrand, part-way up a hill where we stopped to eat the ham and bread sandwiches Isabelle had provided for us. We then descended to join the Canal du Midi, at the Écluse or Lock de Ocean, where we watched a boat pass through.
I was excited to reach this historic canal, which we would follow for the remainder of our walk into Toulouse.
However, as we rose from our bench at Montferrand, I felt a sharp pain in the metatarsal arch of my left foot, and could only hobble very slowly.
I took off my boot at the lock, and massaged and wiggled the foot and toes, which helped somewhat. We ended up following Google maps to the Relais FastHotel, which turned to take us a very long way around to the left by road. We looked down on a tangle of roads and parking lots, all designed for cars and trucks, of course. We were separated from the hotel, which we couldn’t see well, by a loose fence , a ditch, and a lot of brush, so we had no choice but to keep walking in a long loop to a driveway far past the hotel, into which we finally made our way, with me limping quite badly.
The hotel was fine, with a basic small room with bath. We managed to stay awake after showers and explore the area a bit. There was a helpful tourist office with a shop selling all kinds of delectable local produce, none of which we could carry, of course.
We later had a nice dinner in the Dinee Restaurant.
I took Ibuprofen to ease the pain in my foot and left knee. Fortunately, all felt much better in the morning, and except for a twinge now and the, the foot was good, although the left knee grew more painful as the day wore on.
The first half of the walk was truly enjoyable, as we made our way from lock to lock along the tree-lined path beside the water. We encountered a few walkers, many cyclists, some rowers,a few larger boats, and many mallard ducks.
By noon we’d reached the lock near Gardouch, which didn’t even appear on our MiamMiamDoDo map. A large restaurant right near this busy intersection was closed until ‘printemps 2020,” but a pizza place would soon be open half a km away in the town center.
We had a lovely lunch at Pizza Gauloise, after which increasing fierce wind picked up. It was after 4 pm by the time we’d finally followed our way via helpful signs to the Gite Saint Jacques in a remote corner of Ayguesvives the end of a 20 plus km day.
We learned we’d been erroneously informed that there would be no store open that Sunday afternoon, but in fact there was! However, we had soup packets to use up, and bread and croissants from the bakery in Gardouch, plus sandwiches we’d purchased the night before.
The German sisters were also at the gite, and we enjoyed visiting with them as we added hot water to our soup packets, and they prepared a nice-looking meal of squash, onions, and walnuts they found in the woods.
They, too, will be in Toulouse tomorrow. Meanwhile, foot feels OK, but left knee still hurts.
I hope a good night’s rest will make all better for tomorrow, our last day of walking!
Of note: there are occasional public restrooms and drinking water at the locks on the canal.
I just received an email from my friend Roz informing me of the death of the wonderful author-illustrator Mordecai Gerstein whose The Man who walked Between the Towers received the Caldecott award from one of the committees on which I had served.
On This weekend of walking I thought much about long-time friend Karen Nystrom, whose memorial service I was missing, as well as the many folks I pray for as I walk.
It’s hard to believe we will finish this Chemin tomorrow in lovely Toulouse on our 23rd day of walking.
We stood in the chill beautiful morning yesterday at the bus stop on the highway at the entrance to En-Calcat Abbey in Dourgne. Five-minutes after the appointed time, we were relieved to see the big beautiful bus round the bend and pull up beside us. We settled back into plush seats, our packs beside us, and gazed out the window as beautiful hills, fields and charming villages flashed by. Time had speeded up. Twenty minutes later we were again on our feet in Revel, trying to figure out where we were.
We purchased a sandwich and two chocolate croissants at one shop, then picked up the red and white marks, heading to the path along La Rigole, a curvy small canal built to feed water into the Canal du Midi.
A young student helped us find the right direction to the town center, where we delighted in the old covered market, and were overwhelmed by finding a boulangerie, café or shop at every turn, all open!
We followed the Rigole all day, until we turned off to Les Casses, where for over a km we climbed upward on a country road to reach our night’s destination Isabelle Bosc’s La Passeur-Elle.
The ruins of a Cathar Fort loomed above one side of the road.
The walk along the Rigole was pleasant and uneventful. It was difficult to get photos with the stark contrast between sunlight, shadow, and reflecting light on water.
At one point the canal bordered a field divided by a double row of plane trees. As we sat on adjoining rocks for a break, a beautiful fox ran across the row of trees. The first we’d seen—probably the first in the wild I’d ever seen.
We stopped briefly at a restaurant just before a small lake, where we were in time to get salad and a beer before
Closing, and were informed it was just three km to Isabelle’s place.
Isabelle was warm and welcoming. A pilgrim herself, she knew just what pilgrims needed. There was a sort of « mud room » downstairs, with benches, where we left our packs. There was an adjacent toilet and shower, and next door an « atelier » or workshop, with a small kitchen, a fridge with some beer and other drinks, and a comfy couch.
Upstairs in an airy room were 4 single beds with bright yellow sheets. There was a toilet with small sink down the hall, and a little room with a chair, desk, and Compostelle posters and information, along with the « Livre d’Or » or guest book. We had dinner that night with Isabelle and her mother-in-law « Bonne Mama » and Bonne Mama’s husband. Two German sisters,very young, shared our room, but cooked separately in the kitchen.
We were able to wash a few clothes, which dried quickly in fierce wind and sun.
We had intermittent strong gusts of wind that came from the southeast as we walked, sometimes almost blowing us over.
All and all it was a pleasant day in which everything went as planned, with no unhappy surprises. We are definitely out of the mountains now, in farming country, but the little villages nevertheless lack shops of any kind.
First, we woke from a comfy sleep in our big bed to find rain pouring down on the glass roof over the stairway. So, we took our time getting ready and tidying up the gite.
The rain had let up by the time we headed out the door about 8:45. I decided we should take the road to Noailhac, mostly to avoid what looked unnecessary hills, but also to save time and avoid wet, muddy trails.
We tried out the coin-operated bread dispensing machine along our route through Noailhac, putting in 1 Euro and receiving in exchange a perfectly fine pain au chocolate, which we stuck under Kent’s pack cover to share later.
Before we exited Noailhac, the rain returned in full force. We decided to take another road shortcut.
We passed an amazing chateau, and then as we neared its second gate I spied an enormous spread of lavender and white flowers covering the grass within the gates. I thought at first they were crocuses, but they are not. Does anyone know what they are?
A while later, as we sat on a stone bench beside the road to eat our croissant, a man wearing nice leather hiking boots ambled by, and spoke to us in English.
We asked about the possibility of catching a bus from a nearby town. He wasn’t sure of bus schedules, but pointed out another road on our map that would get us to Castres without highway walking.
We debated briefly. The sky seemed lighter, so we took the suggested road, which had a few significant climbs. Perhaps an hour had passed, and the gentleman appeared in his car. Would we like a lift to Castres? Yes, please!
In perhaps 15 minutes, we were speeding along a major highway lined with big box stores, the likes of which we hadn’t seen on the entire trip.
Alain, it turned his name was, drove us into the town center to the tourist office, which for some « special reason » was closed for the day. « We are sure you’ll understand, » or something to that effect, it said in French. Sure! I told Alain he was a Camino angel,and that we would find our way from there. We had him call Madeleine, with whom we thought we had beds reserved, and again got no answer.
We thanked him, and headed into the Eglise to consider our options. Lunch at a nice restaurant, since the Goya Museum and most businesses were closed for lunch. O Victoria was right around the corner. We feasted on an appetizer of canard in pastry, a main entry of poulet with a broccoli sauce, and a dessert of pear tarte, finished off with small coffees.
With the help of Google maps, we made our way to Madeleine’s address, and anxiously waited for an answer to the doorbell, which was long in coming. Ah! A noise within, and a beaming, small, white-haired woman welcomed us in.
Our accommodation was in a large attic divided into 2 or 3 sections, low-ceilinged, with cushioning on the beams between the sections to soften head-bumping.
Madeleine did not speak English, so I did my best with French, and with both of us using translation helps, we managed. It was very good for me—I later told her that if I stayed longer, I’d soon be much better at French.
We spent the next hour or more sitting at her kitchen table, lining up places to stay for the next nights—something I’d hoped the tourist office could do. It turned out my Friday booking was going to be too far for us to walk at well-over 30 km — not too far for some, but for us, yes.
So, instead of changing the reservation, she pulled out a bus schedule that will take us a bit over 15 km in 20 minutes, saving us about four hours of walking.
By the time we’d finished, we had only an hour before the Goya Museum closed. It was a 20 minute walk, so by the time we got there, we had only half an hour to spend, but we paid our entry fee and enjoyed the too short visit.
On the way back, we passed a flower shop. We were going to buy some fresh flowers, but the young woman in the shop was constructing a beautiful arrangement of dried flowers. I asked for another like it, which she made, wrapped in red paper and tied with a bow.
Madeleine was a pilgrim herself, and had walked from her home to Santiago in 2005—I suspect after the death of her Italian husband.
She had invited us to have dinner with her. She kept bringing out one dish after another, each of which we thought would be the main course. There was a casserole made with cabbage, potatoes and cheese, which would have been enough. She wasn’t sure we understood choux, but I remembered the song from a beginning French class, and soon we were both hilariously singing, “Savez vous planter Les choux?”
The bed in the attic room was a bit short for Kent and small for the 2 of us, but I slept OK after awhile. Kent not so well.
I was truly sorry to say good-bye to Madeleine, who wanted to send us off with even more food, after a breakfast with toast, butter, jam, and pain au chocolat—more than I could eat, so we went off with part of a croissant and pieces of pear tart, as we’ll as sandwiches we hadn’t eaten the day before.
She wanted 15 Euros each for bed and said dinner was “donativo”— we insisted she take 70, which she didn’t want to accept, but was only slightly more than we’d been paying for so much less.
There was lots of road-walking, some hills, and a few interesting small villages. We ate lunch in a bus shelter at an intersection of country roads.
We were in farming country now. No longer in the mountain forests. We reached the peaceful Oasis of En Calcat via a couple of other nerve-wracking highways. We were warmly welcomed, and have spent a pleasant evening, enjoying our simple room with its own bath, a vespers service, and silent dinner with other guests.
Walking on the outskirts of Castres had us going along the edges of some busy roads—not at all pleasant, although there were some lovely corners of quietness, including one with another house with yard full of those wonderful flowers. This time I got a closer look.
There were two other pilgrims, a couple from Vancouver, Canada, but we barely had time to talk with them.
I was also able to book our train tickets to Barcelona and one last hotel for the walk. We have yet to decide on our last two nights in Toulouse.
Four more days of walking, at least three of them mostly along canals—no more big hills!
Anglès was good to us. We started the day with a lively discussion with Paul about the area, its history and changes. For the first morning in several days we started out in glorious sunshine. The green moss in the forests glowed.
We took a short cut on a forest road cutting a km or two from the walk. There were ups and downs, a few rough spots where the dirt tracks had eroded, but nothing too challenging, although the long descent into the ravine just before Boissezon shook my faith that we were on the right path. But, lo! The village , which was sizeable, did finally appear, both below and above us through the trees.
Again, we had the gite, which was extensive, and even had a room with stuffed chairs and a sofa, entirely to ourselves. First time I’d sat in an easy chair or sofa since leaving my daughter’s home in San Francisco three weeks ago!
Who would climb that hill to get to church, I wondered? The back part of the building looked like a fortress. What a strange and beautiful town! The major street through seemed to be a truck thoroughfare, rather terrifying after days on quiet paths and roads. I would think that the traffic would have a negative impact on the village. No grocery, no cafe, but a gleaming butcher shop and a pharmacy with orthopedic supplies in the window were open. We found the closed Auberge Trois Mousquitaires where we would later pick up our plateaus of dinner.
We walked past the gite, with its purple shutters and Via Tolosana mosaic sign on the wall as we entered town, but headed to the Mairie to check in. Agnès met us back at the gite, stamped our credential and showed us around. They’d arranged a room with its own lavatory and shower, and a huge bed with fluffy white sheets and duvet for us. What a treat!
We had time to explore the town, walked past the open, but empty art galleries, up to the locked church. There was a number to call to visit the church posted in the gite, but we had not called.
The dinners were almost more than we could eat, and came with wine— we’d brought my water bottle intending to ask if we could purchase a bit of wine, but it wasn’t necessary.
We were passed by just one pilgrim today, a Parisian who was walking all the way to Castres. The temperature did grow warm by afternoon, compared to yesterday when I walked all day in my fleece. There was no wind, and a pond was beautiful with reflections.
There were quite a few smooth dirt roads, easy enough to lend themselves to contemplation.
I stood on top of one hill, thinking, «Be still, and know that I am God, » and I felt great peace and a good kind of emptiness, no longing or desire, just being. It was everything, and it was enough. I was perfectly content.
I walked on, thinking of Franciscan Richard Rohr, wondering if oneness with God and loss of self is the goal of life. It was very much a Camino day.
I’ve lost a day somewhere, but it will show up eventually, unlike the calendar and map that disappeared somewhere between Arboras and Lodeve.
We walked out of Murat in gloom and cold, but the walking was good through many beautiful forests. We were carrying a bit more than usual, as we had been told nothing would be open in Salvetat, which turned out to be true.
We looked forward to a gentle walk along a lake, but were unpleasantly surprised by at least two, possibly 3 roller-coaster-sized hills before the trail did indeed level out.
We stopped for a picnic lunch of Roquefort cheese sandwiches at a picnic table in front of the church at Villelongue at the end of the lake. There was a water tap at the church and a sign that said “refuge.” It was only when we’d climbed above the church that I saw there was an open room with at least one chair inside — a good place to shelter from the elements.
At one point as the trail began to descend we mistakenly followed a rough logging road that vanished into a meadow. While we stood in the meadow trying to figure out if there was a short-cut back to the road, we suddenly saw a runner with a dog on the road. We had seen no one on the trail all day besides a couple of mushroom hunters (oh and a boar hunter dressed in orange who suddenly appeared behind me with two dogs as I stopped to take a picture of a stone wall).
The runner’s path showed us the trail, which we were then able to rejoin—a Camino Angel.
We walked into Salvetat about 3:15, just as the restaurant was closing, but yes, we could have beers outside.
We managed to figure out the lock on the tourist office post box and retrieve our key to the gite. As we were struggling to open the door, it was opened from inside—and we were welcomed by Jaime, a Spanish pilgrim walking from Lourdes to Rome.
We ended up sharing our supper with him. So there are 3 of us in this gite tonight,
Fresh from the farm. Delicious! A steep climb again through dark, mossy forests, then a sudden open expanse of fields, and in the distance a rock pile marking the 1019-meter summit.
I was thinking how long the way would have been, and how tired and unable to enjoy it all, had we made those extra miles last night.
Tourist office and a small grocery were open when we arrived in Murat- sur-Vebre before noon.
No one was at the Gite/Chambre d’Hote, but we let ourselves in an unlocked door. We called Emilie, who came while we were eating lunch of Roquefort cheese and bread from the grocery,
We studied our MiamMiam Dodo, trying to figure out the rest of the trip, but are a bit confused about the distances heading into Toulouse. We have walked so slowly, we are not going to have extra time to spend when we finish walking. We will be in Barcelona in 10 days to fly to San Francisco on the 17th.
We are alone in this gite, which quite a nice one, occupying two of seven beds. Emilie has reserved dinner for us in a hotel restaurant nearby. We ‘ll see how that goes.
Later: Dinner was fine. We were the only guests, although they told us there was one hotel guest coming later. Off in the morning to Salvetat -sur-Agout, our packs heavier with food for next two days.