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Via d'Arles from Toulouse

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My brother and I started on schedule at Toulouse on Oct. 9, but everything was full in Pibrac, so our start was Léguevin. The mairie representative arrived to open the gite, which was quite suitable. The balises were missing for the first hour out of Léguevin, but have been excellent to Maubourguet. Accommodations have included a farm at Le Grangé, municipal gites, a couple of presbytère, and a Carmelite hostel here in Lourdes, where we have taken a side trip from Maubourget through Tarbes. Lourdes has beautiful churches and chapels once you get past the tourist shops of plastic junk.

The duck at nearly every meal has been great. The terrain is gentle up and down with more pavement than I like. The forest and farm field portions are very relaxing. Crops mostly have been harvested, and the falling leaves are brown and yellow except for some vines with red leaves.

Internet has been sparse. I will try to expand the blog from memory in the future to provide greater detail for those who may be interested in this route in the future -- maybe even a Wiki here when time permits. We have met only three pilgrims, two of whom are walking the reverse Arles route home to near Arles after over 200 days on every camino you can name!! The other one was a Basque who was retracing a previous pilgrimage in a car to meet a former pilgrim friend in France. He has walked all over France, Spain, Italy, and the Middle East -- quite an amazing resume which he uses for lectures in various places and languages.
 
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Via d'Arles from Toulouse - Leguevin

The gîte in Leguevin is operated by the Mairie (mayor). The tourist office in the Toulouse airport had two contact numbers, but there was no response at either, just voicemail. The taxi driver tried both numbers enroute, again getting no response. However, when we arrived, the gîte was unlocked, so we moved in. There are only a half-dozen beds, which could be a problem in the busy season, but it has a nice kitchen. We later discovered that there was a permanent resident on the upper floor, so it may be easy to get into than we first thought. When the hospitalier arrived in the evening, she said that she had received one of the phone calls from the taxi driver on her cell phone, but the connection was bad. She was on a bus commuting home. The town is small, but has several restaurants, a boulangerie, epicerie, and other shops. If you arrive at the Toulouse airport with several hours of daylight for walking, and you have good maps, the distance to Leguevin is a nice starting day. We arrived just before dusk, so decided a taxi was the wisest choice.
 
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Via d'Arles from Toulouse - L'Isle Jourdain

Actual date: October 11, 2008

The waymarks out of Leguevin heading for L'Isle Jourdain escaped detection. We were using Miam Miam Dodo, and its maps are too schematic. After we knew we had gone too far on the road out of Leguevin, we found a trail crossing the road with regional trail waymarks, and it headed the correct compass direction. We followed it into the Forêt Bouconne, and the first GR-653 balise appeared. From that point the markings appeared regularly.

The first lesson was learned -- have maps. We purchased the IGN 1:100,000 63, 64, and 70 at our first opportunity!

The trail to L'Isle Jourdain was mostly in forest and along lightly traveled country roads. The marked trail does a walkabout at the end, circling through a city park with no waymarks, and entering the town from the far side along D654. The clever pilgrim with a map can turn left on D9 on entering L'Isle Jourdain, pass through town, turning right on D575 to its intersection with D654 where the Office de Tourisme is located in the city park. The Office has custody of the keys to the gîte, which is in the top floor of the swim center building across the street. Keys are needed for the gate to the courtyard of the swim center, the door to the building, and the door to the dormitory room. A pilgrim arriving outside of the open hours of the Office de Tourisme probably will have problems staying in the gîte. In season the swim center may be a noisy place, and the large number of squashed bugs on the walls and ceilings were testimony to an active insect population during some portion of the year.

L'Isle Jourdain is a full service town with restaurants, bars, supermarkets, ATM's, a weekly "farmer's market" on Saturday, and other shops.
 
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Via d'Arles from Toulouse - Le Grangé

Actual date: October 19, 2008
Le Grangé
32450 Faget-Abbatial, France

The walk was gently up and down small hills on a mix of roads and trails. The gîte was a farm house accessed through its cultivated fields. There was only a small sign on the GR that indicated its location, and it pointed to no real trail. We asked the farmer driving the tractor for the gîte location and he pointed around a rise. After a couple hundred meters in the grass along a stream, there was another sign pointing up a grassy trail on a small hill. At the top was the farm, the only building in sight. We entered the designated door, and the hospitalier was there registering two other pilgrims, the first we had met since starting at Toulouse, on the trail or at the night stops. The dormitory was up some very steep stairs to an attic with a dozen beds and a WC. The showers were on the first floor.

We asked for the demi-pension, and the hospitalier seemed a bit surprised. She chatted with the other pilgrims, who were French, and after they also chose the demi-pension, agreed to dinner. Since the farm was the only building within more than a kilometer, we were glad that dinner was available, even if it was coerced. There was a kitchen for pilgrims, but after the hospitalier returned from buying food, the main course was duck confit, she then prepared the meal in her own quarters next to the pilgrim quarters. Little English was spoken by the three French, and my French is very minimal, but we had a very pleasant dinner conversation by gesture and limited vocabulary in which we learned that the French couple was on their 200th day of walking. They were headed back to Arles where they had started after walking at least the Via Arles, Via Aragones, Camino Frances, Camino de la Plata, Camino del Norte, Camino Primitiv, Camino Ingles, and the Camino Portuguesa! The hospitalera's husband arrived at the end of dinner after a day of farm work, and had a heavily bandaged hand from cutting it sharpening the discs on his plow. I felt a little embarrassed at being a city dilettante with the time and money to walk a pilgrimage imposing on people who actually work for a living! It was one of those humbling camino experiences.

The accommodations were top notch, and I highly recommend a stay at Le Grangé.
 
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