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Voie de Vezelay

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I have concluded that I will never get a write-up with photos done, so here is a sequential posting of email I sent in September and October 2010. No photos; no proofreading.

First internet
Thursday, September 16, 2010 2:50 AM
We arrived safely in Vezelay. The internet at the tourist office did not work. We are having coffee in Varzy and have found this slow and expensive connection. I will write more later, I hope. It rained most of yesterday, so everything is damp. The cool weather is nice, though. We filled the four person refuge last night with a French couple from Paris on their first pilgrimage.

So far, no place to buy a cell phone SIM chip. Al’s U.S. phone works for very expensive calls. He can get text messages, too.

Au revoir.
 
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Charite sur Loire

Saturday, September 18, 2010 5:15 AM
We are staying the morning in Charite for the internet at the Office de Tourisme. It is market day, so the town square is filled with vendors. It was market day in Vezélay on Wednesday; market day Thursday in some town we passed, and again today. Plenty of local meat and produce. Accommodations are sparse, distant, and expensive. Lunch yesterday for an omelet, salad and coffee was 25 Euro. The pizza and salad dinner was 33 Euro. The bed in a fairly poor gîtes was 13 Euro each.

We started Wednesday from Vezelay with a taxi ride to Asnois, about 10 km. As soon as the taxi pulled away, the light rain began, and continued all day. The distance was about right for a first day: The next days were about the same distance, so we are becoming progressively more tired. Today will be just over 10km, a good rest day.

Most stopping points do not have a bar or restaurant; so we been cooking almost every meal. We spent the last three nights in accommodations with a French couple who get by in English, and last night were joined by another French couple to fill the six bed gîte.

The computer chair is hurting my back, so more later.
 
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Bourges

Monday, September 20, 2010 2:53 PM
We are making good progress in perfect weather, but Al is having some blister problems, so we may have to slow a bit for healing. He bought Adidas here in Bourges, but they already chafe in the wrong spots.

Bourges is the ancient capitol from before Paris, so is a very scenic city. The cathedral is huge, though not as ornate as others, particularly the gilded ones in Spain. Churches continue to be open in general. Last night the hostess brought us a key for the local church. It was Sunday, so everything was closed, including the church.

The gîte in Vezelay had twenty beds, and they have become smaller since. With over 100 beds in many refuges in Spain, it is nice to have something smaller. But they have overdone it, I am afraid. Three with four beds each were full, and another at six beds also filled up. No one is being turned away. We have met just seven other pilgrims. Last night at Bercy the fairly new refuge had two bunks fit into about 150 square feet with about half the space devoted to the bathroom and shower. We cooked in a microwave oven and ate outdoors on a picnic table. We took shifts cooking with the couple from Paris, Patrick and Michelle. We waited about three hours for the Mairie to show up with key. With the town closed tightly for Sunday, he asked if we needed anything. We requested everything, and received apple sauce, wine, and cheese. There were pizza delivery boxes in the trash, so food is available except on Sunday (and part of Monday). We had food to cook, so the wine was nice.

When we arrived in town, a woman walking her dogs asked if we wanted anything to drink. We asked, joking, for a beer, and she invited us into her house on the main square, and produced two Heineken! She refused payment, so we promised to light a candle later in the trek. The woman with the church key brought us a thermos of coffee for the morning. The hospitality certainly makes up for part of the commercial closings.

The bunk beds were the first to allow me to sit up. The design concession was to build the bed so close to the floor that my boots had to go on their side to slide under the bed, and getting up required a major deep knee bend!

The scenery is unremarkable. We saw two deer the morning leaving the gîte at the municipal camp. Hunting season begins very soon, and there are warning signs suggesting that we not get shot. Good advice.

To give an idea of cost, out dinner, bed, and breakfast two nights ago in Sancercy was 112€. It was excellent beef bourguignon with a terrine first course, vin ordinaire, and flan. Breakfast was bread, butter, croissants, and coffee.

Other than long stages, small refuges, and high prices, the biggest problem is coffee and snacks. There just is nothing between the established stages.

We walked halfway around Bourges for this internet. Connections are very hard to find. WiFi is mostly locked, and has not worked even when advertised and unlocked. So do not expect more frequent emails.

Bon soir,
 
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La Souterraine

Saturday, September 25, 2010 10:07 AM
This has not been very exciting. For you. It has been great for me, but the absence of internet has stopped me from telling you about the walk so far, so it cannot be a highlight of your day.

There has been WiFi regularly, but it connects only to the iTouch of Al's, and it loses connection easily. I tried to send an email, but the Yahoo! interface would not recognize my email group, so I could compose only to a few recipients. After the internet cafe in Bourges, I was blocked from my account, so I thought that the cafe had stolen my account information. I was able to re-establish the account on WiFi, so I have access at this municipal library in Souterraine.

We had some rain yesterday and today, but the temperature is nice. We stayed in a chalet-type facility in Le Pechereau that has had less than 20 pilgrims this year. We were the first Americans. It was so rarely used that no one had left any oil, salt, or pasta behind, so we had only the food in our packs -- rice, canned meat, and lentil beans. It is possible to become tired of rice and beans, so we added oatmeal without salt or sugar for breakfast. The boy scouts out there will appreciate the sparse living.

Last night our friend Jean Ferras joined us in the gîte at Eguzon with his car. Some of you may remember Jean from our Camino from Le Puy en Velay in 2006. We met him again by chance in Cezur Menor outside Pamplona in 2007. We could not connect with him on the walk from Toulouse, but he is in the Limoges area on business, and has his backpack in his trunk. We walked as he shuttled his car from

Library closing
More
Monday, September 27, 2010 11:14 AM
“We are at our stop for the night, and of course, I cannot remember the name. It is small, but has a library with internet. I am the only one here, so may be able to stay until the 1730 closing.

"We could not connect with him on the walk from Toulouse, be he is in the Limoges area on business, and has his backpack in his trunk. We walked as he shuttled his car from

"Library closing"

That was an abrupt ending. At the library in Souterraine, I read the sign for closing as 1900, but it was Saturday, they closed at 1600, and they turned off the lights as I was typing.

We met Jean at Eguzon, and he has been able to get us coffee at two closed bars. At Eguzon we ate at the only open restaurant in town, and had one of the best meals we have had in Europe for under $20. The first course was a terrine, the main course shrimp with cream sauce and pasta, and dessert of crème brulée. All with local wine. The gîte was a closed school next to the church, and there were about ten mats for the floor. The only WiFi was locked.

Yesterday, lunch in the middle of the country side was nearly as good. We had a part of the fixed price menu, so that we did not overeat for lunch. I had lamb that had been cooked for seven hours, and Al and Jean had the sheep's head.

I brought a digital recorder to take notes as I walked, but it did not survive the first humidity -- rain -- so I sit here with two weeks of information and no systematic way to recall it all.

The weather has been dry enough; but is cool in the evenings (and most of today). The terrain is rolling hills. The route is over half on roads. We met our first new pilgrims in Souterraine for a total of nine; then two more today.

The British seem to have taken over the hospitality business in the Creuse river valley. The last three nights including tonight have been with British expatriates, and the afternoon coffee was in a place operated by a British woman. They like the quiet countryside, and apparently can make money in a business that the French cannot. The gîte last night was hosted by an unemployed British man with an ex-girlfriend and two children in town (Benevant d'Abbaye), and no real prospect of work. He said he was content with his poverty. The dinner at the restaurant in the hotel had seven of us. The bartender was from Paris, liked the quiet of the Creuse area, his wife was cook and hostess, and his children were better off, he said, than they would be in Paris.

The nicest walks are through the tree-shaded forests. The paths are covered with acorns and chestnuts. The chestnuts have all been small, so I have not harvested any for eating. I picked up several in the town of Argenton sur Creuse, but on cooking, they were the inedible buckeye. I know the difference in the seed shell now, so won't waste time harvesting the bad ones again. Apples, pears, plums, and blackberries are available along the path, but the insects have eaten most of them. I have sampled a few, and they are tasty went ripe. Wine grapes are still on the vines. Hunting season has been going for two weeks, so we heard occasional gunfire all weekend. Shots seem to come in pairs, so maybe they are bad shots and need two rounds, or maybe they get two birds with each flush.

We saw two deer one morning. There was one snake in the woods today.

Internet here is at the librarian's desk. She has been busy with make-work, but I can tell she would like to close out the computer day. There still is no one else in the library.

Everyone's health is good, and we are having fun. I may be able to get a new digital recorder in Limoges in two days, so may be able to fill in missing anecdotes at next computer access. Libraries look like the best opportunity, and they have limited hours, particularly on the weekend. The computers in the albergues of Spain are nice to have.

A bientot
 
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Chatelnet en Dognan

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 12:11 PM
Internet two days in a row! This email is from the owner's laptop in the bar of the hotel. My memory of events may be the only restriction.

Yesterday was Chatelus les Marcheix. The gîte was British-owned; the restaurant was British. The meal was coq au vin, good, but of the Julia Child give-it-your-best-effort quality. The dessert was ile en flot, known to the patron's in Columbia as Oeuf a la niege at the King's Contrivance Restaurant (the closest to a four star restaurant as Columbia will come in this world of Ruby Tuesdays).

The terrain is not remarkable. The paths go from river bottom to hilltop in a very regular pattern. The route designers have not taken us to any unnecessary heights, but neither have they avoided any climbs. The hostess last night, British so nothing was lost in translation, said it is mushroom season. We do not harvest because we do not know good from bad. There was one mushroom that was a red-orange that we know to be poisonous. Lacking royalty to poison anymore in France, everyone probably leaves them unpicked.

The chestnuts, the chosen name of this town Chatelnet, are getting a bit bigger along the road, but the main harvest will start in about two weeks. The corn is still on the stalk, and probably is animal feed. Jean repeats that the French do not eat maise. Since they eat veal head, you would think that corn would be considered edible. I may have reported the lunch of Al and Jean as lamb's head, but it was veal head. I personally think there is little distinction, but my journalistic integrity may be at stake, so accuracy counts.

We ate another fantastic three course lunch today at a restaurant staffed by the mentally handicapped as a training program. The main course was a stuffed veal roast and fantastic reduced gravy far different from the Double T Diner, all over pasta. Dessert was a vanilla and chocolate cake swimming in English cream. The appetizer was like a stuffed Yorkshire pudding. Of course there was a cheese course, wine (which we declined so we could keep walking), and espresso. It cost 11€.

After lunch we walked between fields filled with sheep or cows. Jean likes to talk to them. I usually am too tired to bleat.

Demi-pension in the hotel is 27€. We are expecting a great gigot, whatever that is -- slow cooked stew, I think. I know breakfast will be bread, butter, jam, and coffee. It always is! We did get morning coffee this morning after walking over two hours. We were told in Chatelus that the bar in town next to the poste office would look closed, but we should push on the door. It was all true. The owner directed his wife through the coffee preparation as though she had never seen the machine before in twenty years. She did just fine, not surprisingly. French men can be a bit controlling.

Tomorrow we walk ten km to the train to Limoges to borrow the car of a friend of Jean's to go see a holocaust site from WWII, Germans slaughtering French. It will be a nice side trip. It reminds me of the tour I took in Manila to all the sites where the Japanese murdered Philippinos. Jean will then take a rain to his car in Le Souterraine, and we will keep walking. I think we are on the schedule that we do not have. When we finish France, we will walk in Spain until airplane time.

Bonne route.
 
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Limoges

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 1:12 PM
We walked 11 km from Castenet en Dognan to St. Leonard de Noblat for the train the 20 km to Limoges. The church in St. Leonard was spectacular. It has been under construction and expansion for nearly a thousand years, so has architectural elements from many styles.

On arrival in Limoges, we walked to the apartment of Jean's friend, and drove with her to Oradour-sur-Glane, the site of an SS atrocity on June 10, 1944. The town has been left just as it was after being burned. The rails to Limoges, and the overhead power lines for the train stand unused. The villagers that were not shot in the street as the Germans retreated, were herded into the church and shot in the legs, and burned alive. Six hundred and forty-two dead; one survivor. One girl escaped because she was underneath a pile of bodies.

Cars were burned shells in garages, driveways, and fields. Sewing machines were angled on the floor where they fell. Bicycles are charred in the foyer or on racks where they were stored. The church bell a pile of melted slag.

My main reaction was of disbelief. Here was a town that had been occupied by the Germans. The girls probably had wine with the Germans. The Mayor probably dealt daily on governmental matters with the Nazis. The Nazis bought their bread and meat in the local stores, and went to the French barbers for haircuts. Then one day they were ordered to retreat and level the town. They demolished the town and buildings with explosives. They shot or burned every man, woman, child, and baby, the ones who were their companions the day before.

What could be in the minds of the rank and file as they drove from town after such actions? It was not honorable combat. It was not a daily extermination chore as in the death camps. One day a friend, the next murderer.

Unbelievable.

Tomorrow on to Les Cars, or at least part way.

Pondering what we did in Vietnam
 
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Aixe sur Viennes

Thursday, September 30, 2010 12:00 PM
We slept until 0900, ate the usual breakfast, and went to the porcelain museum in Limoges at 1000. It has magnificent ceramics from all the world, and only one wing of Limoges-made goods. Ceramics has been an amazing art form over thousands of years.

We finished the morning with the prescribed route past two of the four churches, ate next door to a Subway sandwich store, then hit the trail. It was a long walk out of town, as it always is in large cities in France and Spain (and would be in the U.S., if we ever walked out of a city), and did not leaved paved road for three hours.

We are in an aging hotel in Aixe on President Wilson Avenue. They still remember their friends from WWI!! The internet is in a wing of the library, and closes in 15 minutes. Expect a quick ending again.

The town a couple of days ago was not named for chestnuts. In a bi-lingual conversation, there can be a lot of "playing synonyms", where each side keeps naming similar words until there are several words in each language circulating. Castenet sounds a lot like castaigne (check spelling), the French word for "chestnut."

Limoges is a very lively town, and we had a fine dining experience with Jean and his friend, Josette. The world has three fewer servings of ris de veau. I ate a steak from a steer from this region of France, Limousin.

The weather is still very good for walking. It may rain later in the week. We should be in Les Cars tomorrow night.

Au revoir
 
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Perigueux

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 12:41 PM
Finally, internet. Internet connections are not increasing in France from five years ago. Wifi is spreading, but you need your own computer. I have been able to read email at several Wifi connections on Al's iTouch, and I can write, slowly, individual emails, but the iTouch application cannot access the group of email addresses that I have set up, so there has been no continuing journal. Sorry.

We experienced the forbidden pleasure of the backpack transportation service on the first day we walked with Jean. His car was in Crozant at the church, but he wanted to move it to La Souterraine, where he could reach it by train. So he drove about 10 km down the road while Al and I hiked. Jean hiked the reverse path, met us, reversed course, and walked with us to his car. After the first leg, we decided to put the packs in the car and walk just with only water and rain gear. We continued the park and walk routine to La Souterraine. Needless to say, it is easier walking without a pack.

Agricultural note: corn is harvested three ways. The first is a harvester that removes the corn cobs to be stored and dried in corn cribs; stalks and leaves are left in the field. The second turns the stalks, leaves, corn, and cob into a mixture that I presumed is fed to livestock. It leaves the field with only a very short stalk. The third removes the corn kernels from the cob, and returns the stalk, leaves, and cobs to the ground.

Domesticated animals react differently to hikers. Cats slink away, except in bars, where they jump into your lap. Sheep keep grazing, occasionally looking up. Cows/cattle stare and follow the hiker's every movement. Dogs bark furiously, often with great malice, and follow the hiker the entire length of their domain. Two hikers can cause the dog to dance back and forth so he can bark alternately at each one. Unrestrained dogs are very rare. We encountered one who seemed to think his domain was the entire village. As we entered the village, there was an escaped herd of pygmy brown sheep, the ram with tightly wound horns. The dog may have been upset by the escape, and barked at us for 150 yards as we approached him, and another 150 yards as we left town. We had to back him away a couple of times leaving. Today a puppy joined us at a barn, and sniffed and cavorted about as we walked along. He obviously was not a guard dog or working sheep dog, just a contented dog out for an adventure. As the farm disappeared behind us, we told him to go away. He had the saddest look as he sat in the road. I think he was looking forward to a new adventure.

We spent last night in Sorges, the truffe (truffle) capital of France (self-declared). It has a truffe museum, which was closing as we arrived, and a restaurant with a 100 Euro dinner -- seven or eight courses of truffe!! They also had a pilgrim menu for 17 Euro, so we had it. The first course was a rabbit terrine, the "plat" a veal stew with carrots, and dessert, wine, and coffee. It was excellent.

Food in general has been variable. For the same price, it can be excellent or ordinary, and there does not seem to be any way to tell in advance. We had a foie gras sandwich for lunch yesterday that was very good. Perigueux is the foie gras capital, so we will have some tonight, I expect. The dinner meal in La Coquille was prepared by the gîte volunteer, and was an excellent beef burgundy for the three meat eaters, and a potato, cauliflower, and cheese dish for the three vegetarians. It was one of the best meals we have had. We met up with Michelle without Patrick, who we met earlier, and newly met Julianne (France) and Arlette (Camaroon). Arlette spoke English, French, and Spanish, so was an excellent translator. Just a little while ago, we saw Michelle at the train station waiting for Patrick to arrive after taking a week off from walking to work back in Paris. We met two other pilgrims last night in Sorges, so I think the total is up to about 12. This route is not a busy one; In La Coquille, we were the first Americans ever.

Accommodations have been aging hotels, basic gîtes, a camping "hutte" with electricity and hotplates, but no water or bathroom (both of which were down the hill a bit), a single-wide trailer at a campsite with heat, kitchen, shower and toilet, and tonight a hotel down by the railroad station that has been nicely restored. Overall the cost is higher than in Spain, both because food is 3-4 Euro more per meal, and staying in a hotel, usually the only option, is twice that of staying in a gîte.

The weather Monday was the most miserable so far. It started overcast, then turned to rain as soon as I removed my gaiters (because it had not started to rain after about three hours of wearing them). It kept raining so that the poncho was wet on the outside from the rain and inside from perspiration condensing on the poncho made cold by the rain. Eventually, I reached the point where I couldn't be more uncomfortable, and ceased to care about it. It is like highway hypnosis or Zen meditation, maybe.

The path is providing walnuts, figs, apples, a pear, and chestnuts for snacks. Acorns and chestnuts cover the path through the forest. Michelle, a vegetarian, is living on the walnuts.

Everything is highlighted in red on the screen by the automatic spell checker for French, so I will leave proofreading to the reader. On to dinner before I grow roots at the computer.

Bonne route

Perigueux, day two
Thursday, October 7, 2010 8:07 AM
We are taking a rest day in Perigueux. Al has a second blister on the side of his foot that has become very sensitive to shoe pressure, and I am just plain tired. I think the wet day changed the fit of shoes, but the friction in mine did not reach blister proportions as they did for Al. It is a big city, so we have all amenities, including a second chance at this internet place.

The cathedral in Perigueux is one of three World Heritage churches of its style; the others being in Istanbul and Paris. A film is being shot, so it is closed yesterday and today!! A five hundred kilometer walk to get here, a major waymark on the Way of St. James, and it is closed to pilgrims. We stopped at the main office of the Amis et Pelerins de St. Jacques de la Voie de Vezelay to complain, but it is only open from 1400 to 1700 on Fridays. It is the organization that wrote the guidebook we are using. It is an excellent book, all in French, and has been very accurate. The narrative gives turn-by-turn instructions along with a map. The listing of accommodations has been accurate, and the phone numbers a necessity. Reservations have been required in many places, and we have found several places that were closed by calling ahead, which saves the irritation of arriving at a locked door.

We are missing out on an excellent-weather walking day, but the rest will help us recuperate.

Dinner last night was good, but not memorable. The choices for the daily menu were ordinary, but the cooking competent. The main course was a duck confit and sauteed potatoes. Creme brulee for dessert (again).

Forgotten anecdotes from past days are stubbornly remaining forgotten. Before the rains, the cool temperatures in the damp forests had caused a lot of mushrooms to sprout, as I have mentioned. We have seen a lot of signs governing hunting, but have seen only one sign that prohibited mushroom hunting. This region abounds in the oak forests of the truffle mushroom, so I imagine that the good hunting grounds are jealously guarded. It might not be wise to stake out your best grounds with signs prohibiting mushroom hunting. Doesn't that just tell everyone where to go?

A dry, strong wind nearly a week ago caused the chestnuts to fall in a steady, loud rain. After the rains, there were dams of acorns along the water flow paths, and acorn coverings of the natural puddles along the way. There must be some wildlife that eats all the nuts. I think I have seen only two squirrels, fewer than I see in my driveway in the morning in Maryland, so it may not be squirrels.

For the second day, one of the main streets of Perigueux is closed to vehicle traffic for a street bazaar; very reminiscent of New York City. There are even stands with Italian sausage with onions. Maybe the sausage is not Italian. We have seen sausage of horse, duck, and donkey in the markets, so buyer beware.

A bientot
 
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Bazas

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 10:31 AM
This is the first for days. Most of the small towns did not have Wifi, either.

For several days, we have been walking through the vineyards of Bordeaux. About one-half the crop has been harvested. Most of the harvesting is done by hand, but we did see one picking machine at work. It is a tall tractor with what looked like plastic scoops lined up vertically. I suppose that it is not necessary to be gentle since the grapes are about to enter a crusher.

In Les Leves we stayed at a winery that recently closed. Joyce Petit, the vintner, emigrated from England forty years ago to be in the wine business. The industry is now so scientific and chemical, that she decided to stop harvesting. She knows a lot about the wine industry, and we learned that the reason that the French focus on the location of the wine rather than the grape variety is that the soil gives the wine the flavor. She said that in Burgundy, the soil can change within 10 meters.

Last night in La Reole we stayed with a couple; the husband works for a wine coop. He served a 1996 wine, the bottle covered in dust. It was quite good. We ate mushrooms that he had picked that day.

We are walking about 20 km per day; the weather has been generally good; the terrain is not severe, but does go up and down fairly continuously.

This internet connection is unreliable, so I will quit for now. Tonight's host is picking us up at the cathedral, which is very large, in thirty minutes, so Al needs a chance at this laptop computer in a crepe cafe.

A bientot

Outside Bazas
Wednesday, October 13, 2010 3:24 PM
Our hosts live 8 miles outside Bazas, and have internet. The meal was an excellent veal chop with squash soup before, tomato and avocado (from Israel) salad, cheese course, apple tart dessert, and two wines from the Bordeaux region. We have eaten well!

Nothing else to report, and Al needs the computer because the internet cafe system was very unreliable.
 
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Captieux

Thursday, October 14, 2010 11:20 AM
Two days of internet. This one is at La Mairie, the mayor's office.

The walk today was along an abandoned railroad right-of-way, so it was dead flat except for the four washed out bridges that required a slide down to grade then a hike back up on the other side with the assistance of hand rails that have been added. It was a small price to pay for the easy walk. Almost the entire length was covered by trees. We saw one deer, which has escaped the hunters this season, and several pieces of steel, such as spikes, nuts, and bands around old ties. The chestnut trees are fewer, but the acorns still cover the ground. In several spots there seemed to be surface digging, which we are guessing was for truffe mushrooms. After we sat for the deuxième petit dejeuner, we heard barking behind us, and a large, young dog was on the path about thirty meters behind us. I saw movement down in the grass and assumed that the owner would appear next. Instead, three more, larger dogs appeared. We prepared trekking poles for combat, and started to rise. I told the dogs to go (in French), and after several repeats, three left. Al stood up and started toward the remaining dog, and he ran after the other three. Even one dog on the loose is rare, and four together was quite unusual. I prefer them behind gates or chained in yards.

Since Sainte Foy la Grande, the waymarking has disappeared. It had been easy to follow to that point, but we began a series of wrong turns at nearly every intersection as we left the city. We did what we could to follow the map and the written description (in French) that we have, but even they conflicted in a few spots. It turns out that there is a bit of a battle going between the various organizations that designate routes. At the gîte in Saint Ferme we saw a map with five different routes to get there, all claiming to be the correct route. No wonder we ended up in the middle of a vineyard, blocked on three sides by vines. The hospitalero explained that we should just follow our map and ignore all the wayside markings. That has made it easier. We have slightly shortened some sections by staying on roads so that we do not need to find obscure intersections.

In following instructions, the little things count. I asked the winery owner what "poursuivre" meant. She replied, "It is a little late for that, isn't it?" It means "continue." That is important to know, yes??

"Droit" means "straight ahead"; "droite" means "right." That little "e" can have a tremendous effect. So the lack of waymarks is improving our French. When you walk an extra half-kilometer, you tend to avoid repeating old mistakes and learn new words. Waymarking is done by the local organization, and it is said to improve when we get to Landes after this Gironde region. I hope so.

The hotel here is decent, and dinner and breakfast are included for 50€ each. It is a bit of a budget buster, but we are hoping for a dinner worth the price. The shower is one of those "splash water all over the bathroom" arrangements without a shower curtain. French children learn from birth how to keep the water in the tub, but the technique eludes me so far.

The Mayor wants to close soon, so for now,

Au revoir
 
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Saint Sever

Sunday, October 17, 2010 12:02 PM
We are about five days from the Pyrenees in Saint Sever on a hill above the river Adour. The gîte is about as basic as it gets in an old stone abbey. There are four beds in the room with toilets and showers down the poorly lit hall. There are separate men's and women's facilities, hardly necessary for the few pilgrims they can accommodate.

Yesterday and today were glove and knit hat days; the cool weather has set in. It rained a bit going into Mont de Marsan yesterday. The planned stage was 31 km, too long for us at our walking speed, so we took the highway that shortened the distance to 21 km. It was a good choice until about 1100, then the traffic increased to an annoying, almost dangerous, level. We always had a shoulder, so we could step off for the trucks, but there is a lot of mental strain in avoiding traffic. When we reached the edge of town, there was an imitation cowboy chain restaurant, Uncle Scott's, so we stopped for the French version of Lone Star. I had a chopped beef topped with cheese dish that was served over a pile of fried potatoes. Al had a Texas hamburger in a bun like a pannini. They also offered ostrich from South Africa, bison burgers from Canada, and kangaroo from Australia. The French are very exact in stating where the produce originates.

Mont de Marsan was very lively in the evening, but we prepared a salad in the gîte because of the big lunch. After checking several places we finally found a bar with WiFi. The bartender had to check with the owner to find out the password, but we finally got access. In the meantime there was a very lively traffic through the bar to a back room by young men and women who seemed to have balance problems and glazed eyes when they left. Since they were not buying at the bar, it was from something else. There is more than one way to make money with a bar, I suppose.

The terrain continues to be flat. The "mont" is supposed to designate a hill, but it was hard to find in Mont de Marsan. It certainly is not like Mont Blanc. We had a steep climb into this town at the end of the day. There is more road walking than trail, but there was a long stretch this afternoon though an area of timber harvest, and the heavy equipment has left it very rough. The soil is very sandy, so I suspect it was once a lake. Corn has replaced vineyards.

Saint Sever has an 11th century church, which is almost the only thing open in town because it is Sunday. This bar was closed when we arrived, but open when we left to seek food. No restaurant is open yet, but we have been told a pizza parlor will be opening. It is a miracle that the bar has a computer!

Au revoir
 
D

Deleted member 3000

Guest
Ortez

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 2:42 PM

We have Wifi at McDonald's!!

The weather was good, bit cold in the morning; just above freezing.

Sauveterre tomorrow, then Ostabat, then St. Jean Pied de Port.

I found a bar with a computer, but a group of kids on Facebook used it until closing. I know there is a computer in Ostabat!!


In Spain
Sunday, October 24, 2010 12:02 PM
We left France yesterday and climbed over the Pyrenees. It was quite a climb. We did the first five kilometers and 500 meter climb on Friday, then the remaining 23 km and 900 meter climb on Saturday. After meeting only about 14 fellow pilgrims in all of France, the albergue last night in Roncesvalles had over 100 starting pilgrims in bunks in an old abbey. Two showers for each gender. Some pilgrims were arriving at 9 p.m. as we were preparing for bed. Since it had been too dark to see the trail or the waymarks for nearly two hours, they may have arrived by taxi. Or they may have walked in with flashlights...

The dinner last night was a no-choice three course meal with a red bean soup, fried trout (Truchas Navarre), and supermarket yogurt. Bread and wine included, of course. That is a real change from France.

There is internet everywhere, even in the bar last night in Roncesvalles when I was too tired to type. The only anecdote I can recall at the moment from the last couple of weeks was last Sunday in Saint Sever. There was a fairly complete breakdown of the normal reception of pilgrims. We arrived at the closed tourist office with Jean-Marc and his wife, Marie-Reine. Jean called the phone number listed at the tourist office to obtain the key for the pilgrim refuge. About fifteen minutes later a woman showed up with the stamp for the credential and lots of words that we did not understand. Shortly after, a man showed up from the tourist office, the person that Jean had spoken to. There was a somewhat heated conversation between the woman from the refuge group and the man from the tourist office. The end result was that only four beds were available for pilgrims, and Jean insisted that they be made available to Al and I and Josie-anne, who would arrive later. Jean and his wife took a separate room in the same facility for 12 Euro. He asked about "chauffage," heat, and was told that there was none. When we were escorted up the street to the old abbey building, the four beds for the pilgrims (free) had heat, and the other rooms had nothing. Jean was a bit upset, and I saw him later at the pizza parlor talking to the man from the tourist office.

After we turned on the chauffage, showered, and dressed, we went to the only bar that was open. A pilgrim on a bicycle was in the bar asking about accommodations, since both the hotels in town were closed. He was directed to the camping grounds at the edge of town. I asked him if he wanted to stay in the refuge, and he said that he had called but was told that it was completely full. Since we were occupying only three of the four free beds, and since there were about seven rooms with double beds completely unoccupied, we told him that there was space. Apparently, the tourist office and the refuge group could not be bothered to let the bicyclist into the refuge. I told him to come back if there was nothing at the campground, and he could use my key to get into the refuge. We saw him an hour later, and he had space at the campground, so everything had worked out. Still, I was a bit bothered that the tourist office and refuge operators could not make the effort to accommodate the bicyclist, and I know Jean-marc was upset at paying for a room that had no heat. It got very cold that night!!

The refuge tonight in Zubiri is new with a shower that works, AND has hot water, a washing machine and dryer, a kitchen, etc. It is one of the new, purpose-built places that have sprouted up all along the way, and is much nicer than the traditional places.

Time is expiring on this internet, but I will try to fill in details later.

Buen camino

Not proofread or spell-checked!!
 
D

Deleted member 3000

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Pamplona (again)

Thursday, October 28, 2010 6:17 AM
I walked after Pamplona for three days, so the total distance covered seems to be over 1,000 kilometers. When I get home, I will total them, but the actual distance on foot won´t reach that amount because of trains and taxis!! Still, I have impressed myself a little bit by the overall distance. Then I met a couple that started in Geneva. The truly long distance walkers really have perseverance (and time). Al headed for Seville to walk as much of the Via de la Plata as he can. The temperatures are dropping there, and the pilgrim numbers are small even during busy times, so he will have covered a lot of distance when he finishes, much of it with few pilgrims around.

It was interesting walking in the reverse direction away from Santiago. Everyone assumed I had walked to Santiago and was returning to my starting point. After explaining to the first few fellow pilgrims that I had only walked a short distance past Pamplona and was returning for an airline flight, I shortened the story. I said, yes, I was returning, and accepted their awed admiration. I am sure that costs me my spring Compostela that forgave my sins, assuming I had not already lost it before this walk.

Rain is headed back to the Camino today, so it is a good time to wrap up the walking. Today I will visit some of the museums that I have missed in the past. Pamplona was founded by, and named for, Pompeii, so it has a history at least back to the Roman times.

If I get around to writing a chronology that is missing in these emails because of the infrequent internet, I will let you know how to find it to read.

Adios
 

Caminando

Veteran Member
As your countryman Allen Ginsberg once said to me, "first thought is best thought", so I'll say here that this is a superb account of aspects of a camino. Better that it's unedited, because this ensures that its directness is undiluted -it comes through.

I liked your thoughts on your Way, and one part in particular (and your honest comment) spoke to me of My Lai. You speak well of your frustrations and consolations in France; yes, their ways take a bit of getting used to. Mind you, so do the ways of all of us.

There's much here on which to offer positive comment.

A fine and unique account.
 

KiwiNomad06

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy-Santiago(2008) Cluny-Conques+prt CF(2012)
Thanks Falcon..... looks interesting.... have bookmarked it and will read it properly later.
Margaret
 

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