Day 1 Arles to Saint-Gilles- -du-Gard: Sunday 22 September

iPhone count 15.1 miles. (Official count is 19-20 km, which would be considerably less.)

The endless digue
Snails on the trail

The way was supposed to take 4-5 hours, but it took us nearly 6, from 8 am until 1:45 pm

This was a harder day than we expected, with seemingly endless along a dike, often with glimpses of Le Petit Rhône, but always with the oppressive heavy humidity that builds before rain, accompanied by swarms of flying insects, and sometimes by overbearing bamboo. We stopped once for a shared apple and two finger-sized sausages. We spread a poncho on a sandy bank, but there was almost nowhere to sit. It sometimes felt like walking through an endless tunnel, and the gravel surface became tiring on the feet.

There were many barricades along the dike. This one had a Chemin sign.

It mostly felt like a long slog. We got into St. Gilles just as the restaurants were closing for the day. In fact, every business in town, other than the church, which we are right next to, is closed up tight. We did manage to get a cold beer, before one restaurant closed, and we were happy for that.

We received a warm welcome from the hospitalier, who has invited us for wine at 6:30. He had offered to call a small restaurant and arrange dinner for us, but that place, too, was closed, so although we ate our bread and cheese, our carrot and remaining apple.

The Canadians and two French pilgrims are here tonight, too, sharing the six-bed dormitory. Some others are in another dormitory in the cellar.

We met two other French women on the path, but have not seen them here.

We will see what tomorrow brings. We have a place reserved with dinner, as most restaurants, as well as most shops, are also closed on Mondays. Tomorrow promises to be a somewhat shorter day, hopefully with more interesting walking.

The St. Gilles church is quite lovely, and here I saw for the first time the Camargue Cross

The Camargue Cross

Rain and Preparations: Arles, Saturday September 21

Tomorrow we walk, 20 or so km from Arles to Saint Gilles. Our pilgrim life will truly begin.

Cloister, St, Trophime

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?

Selfie from atop the Arena

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.

Sign at Les Allycamps

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.

Ultreia! Bon Courage!

Sunset, Arles

Barcelona, September 18-20, 2019

Waiting for Flamenco

In my ten or so years as a college student, I always thought getting through registration was the hardest part, and if I could just get through all those lines, and put the right numbers and names into boxes, I could make it through the coursework. Flying to Europe to walk a Camino is a bit like that. Getting here may be the hardest, and certainly most boring part.

I’m looking forward to three days from now, when we will start walking, just putting one foot in front of another, when all we’ll have to worry about is finding a place to sleep and something to eat. And maybe whether we are lost, and whether our bodies will hold up.

Thé Hostal Central is friendly, clean, comfortable, and well- located, although the room and bathroom are very small, We have enjoyed exploring several neighborhoods, and attending a Flamenco performance in the fabulous Art Deco Palau de la Musica.

We survived the trans-Atlantic flight, getting searched and wanded at Heathrow, and Surviving long lines in several places, including the taxi queue in Barcelona, but now we are here.

Despite its being a bit crowded with tourists— we could hardly walk around the outside of the Sagrada Familia, let alone get tickets to get in — and despite walking nearly 10 miles today, partly due to a few wrong turns, we have enjoyed our short time in Barcelona.

We did get lots of great looks at the imagery on the outside of the Sagrada Familia. I thought Gaudi must have had a wonderful time dreaming all that stuff up. I was able to capture some with the zoom on my camera.

During a Happy Hour break (2 pints for 6 Euros) in the back of a bar, we watched music videos, which had me thinking that in my next life I’d like to be a music video creator. If only I could hear the words— maybe some come with closed captions? Most were from the US, I think—Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Justin Bieber (Canadian)— but one was Japanese.

Tomorrow afternoon we are off to Arles, from where we will start to walk.

Hostal Central Barcelona
Basilica Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia
Serpent detail
Red Shrimp, Boquete Mercado
Stained Glass Ceiling in Palau de la Musica
Chocolate and Sticky Fingers

San Francisco: First Stop on Our Camino From Arles to Toulouse

Tuesday, September 17th

Our packs seemed too heavy as we sped through the Albuquerque airport yesterday, and again as we exited the Oakland airport and rode the BART and MUNI to our stop at 7th and Irving near Golden Gate Park.

We are still considering what we can leave out—sleeping bags, most likely. We fly to Barcelona this evening.

Meanwhile we managed a nap and enjoyed some family time as Kent practiced carrying a load of a different kind on his back.

Riding on Grampy’s Back

I am nervous about this Chemin, as there will be several days in isolated, rugged mountains with few services, but all that is yet many days away.

Meanwhile, I will live in this day, and start with this meditation from Paula:

Morning Meditation

I give thanks for the journey.

I give thanks for the arriving and leaving.

I wake to freshness and do reverence.

In a sacred manner I am walking.

A Pilgrimage to the Moab Music Festival: September 6-8, 2019

Moab Music Festival: Music in concert with the landscape

Imagine the lush sounds of a Brahms string sextet filling a red rock grotto, as a rapt audience sits around the perimeter, on rocks, on logs, and on the sand beside a small pool. This was a hike-in concert at the Moab Music Festival in Moab, Utah, now in its 27th year.  

To arrive at this spot involved a twenty-minute ride on a school bus, followed by a hike through an overgrown, brushy, sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky trail that led under and over some fallen branches through a narrow slot between red cliffs.  Finally, after about half-a-mile, the canyon widened into a glorious natural amphitheater aptly named “Middle Earth.”  

Playing Brahms in Middle Earth

People of all ages had come from from places near and far, including Salt Lake City, Grand Junction, Chicago, and New Zealand.  Kent and I drove scenic roads from Albuquerque.  A PBS feature on the festival last fall introduced us to the festival and inspired us to make the trip.  We were not disappointed.

https://www.pbs.org/video/moab-music-festival-draws-fans-to-utah-s-ethereal-desert-1540146431/

We attended “A Paris Revue” in historic Star Hall on Friday night, an eclectic program introduced with panache by Festival Music Director Michael Barrett, very much in the style of his mentor Leonard Bernstein. 

Mill Creek Overlook

Then early on Saturday morning, we took a bus through the red rocks east of town, to a one-mile hike down a mostly sandy wash to Mill Creek Overlook, where we heard classical and modern pieces performed by wind instruments, singly and together.  Claude Debussy’s “Syrinx” for unaccompanied flute was followed by a “Duo for Oboe and Bassoon” by Heitor Villa-Lobos.  Modern pieces by Toru Takemitsu, Adam Raph (for unaccompanied trombone!), and Bohuslav Martinü, were followed by several Italian baroque ensemble pieces that concluded the concert.

Wind players at Mill Creek Overlook

On Saturday evening, we traveled again by school bus, upstream along the Colorado River to the Sorrel River Ranch and Spa for a concert under a tent, in celebration of the Jazz-age genius of Bix Beiderbecke.  Food and drinks were available for purchase, and intermission came just in time to allow us to walk about the grounds along the river and view the red rock buttes in the distance turn even redder in the setting sun.

For Kent and me, whose musical tastes are eclectic, who enjoy nature and a bit of adventure, and who are willing to risk a bit of uncertainty, the Moab Music Festival was pure delight.  The uncertainty? The dreamy performance of Brahms in Middle Earth was abruptly interrupted by a flash rainstorm, resulting in an unplanned, hasty exodus along that narrow brushy trail, followed by a return to Star Hall for the concert’s conclusion, with performers and audience alike still dressed in their hiking gear.

Tickets for the more expensive concerts, which involve travel by raft are already on sale for the 2020 season.

http://www.moabmusicfest.org/calendar/september-2020

Following Pilgrim Trails in Rome

On Wednesday morning, May 1, our small group of Pilgrims, guided by Giuseppe and Herta, traveled by the #62 bus from the convent of Caterina di Volpicelli to St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican where we were greeted by Alberto and his wife and Giancarlo and his wife Norma, and other members of the Gruppo Dei Dodici. There we presented our credentials at the Pilgrim Office and received certificates for completing the walk.

Pilgrims with certificates

Afterwards we attended the audience with Pope Frances, along with a few thousand others, and then dispersed, our pilgrimage over.

Today, Kent and I followed pilgrim trails through Rome. We’d tried to visit San Giovanni Lateran yesterday, but found the entire plaza blocked by a huge, super-loud May Day rock concert and swarms of young people.

We had more success today visiting this oldest church in Rome dating from 312. I recalled the story that Pope Innocent had a dream that the Lateran was crumbling, but saved from collapse by one man. When St. Francis came before him shortly after to plead approval for his order, Innocent saw in him salvation (and reform) for the church as a whole, and gave approval to the founding of the Franciscan Order.

Marks on the pilgrim trail.

From San Giovanni Lateran, we headed to San Clemente, which was closed for lunch. We had lunch, too, nearby, then visited the Basilica created from the Baths of Diocletian, before returning to San Clemente, with its multi-layered history of two churches built over a temple to Mithras. Our entire day was devoted to the many layers of Roman church history, from early days of persecution to the creation of a powerful church and continuing reforms.

Tomorrow we fly to San Francisco—the influence of the church and its saints has spread far from Rome.

San Giovanni Lateran

Roma tonight!

Our pilgrimage will officially end tomorrow in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, but today will take us into Rome, on what will be our longest walk yet: 26 km.

It has been an amazing and sometimes exhausting two weeks. Every day has held surprises, new experiences, and new challenges. One of the biggest challenges for me has been letting go of expectations and control. Explanations of what each day was to hold were seldom forthcoming, and translation of Italian conversations were not always available. I am unaccustomed to following a pace other than my own. Nevertheless we have been a congenial and joyful group, and our leaders, Giuseppe and GianCarlo, have been enthusiastic and hard-working to make everything happen, making often-complicated arrangements for food, lodging, transportation, and visits to important sites.

A few photos from these last days:

Strawberry Shortcake in Sezze
Goat en route
Evening at Valvisciolo Abbey
valvisciolo Cloister 23th c
Cori
Procession in Giulianello

For more on this walk see my video on the Via Francigena del Sud on YouTube