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!