Pre-pilgrimage: 4-5 Sep 10

Tour: People say that travel, especially international travel, is no longer as fun as it used to be. Our flight was 45 minutes late leaving Seattle (the crew needed rest, at least that’s a known factor) but only 10 minutes late arriving O’Hare. In Seattle while we waited, the land-side crew was very cheerful. My waiting lobby seatmate recommended the Berghoff in Chicago – they have O’Hare location. So upon arriving O’Hare, I immediately sought out the Berghoff, an old-Deutsch establishment, and they offered a Cuban sandwich I figured would not be on offer in France. This being a very popular and crowded place, I had to share a table. My table mates included a couple from near Gothenburg Sweden, going to Vancouver, and another couple from St George Utah, heading to Tuscany. The flight on to Paris was briefly bumpy as we crossed the remains of Hurricane Earl, but we arrived CDG 45 minutes early, deboarded promptly, and immigration line was non-existent. Light rail link to building with train station went quickly. The remainder of the day was a succession of wait, train, wait, train. The train from Saint Etienne to Le Puy was exceptionally scenic, winding through steep little mountain valleys (as steep as western Pennsylvania) with so many tunnels I lost count. Frequent open breaks for spectacular views across the river valley. Hints of early fall on this crystal-blue day; trees still officially green but some yellow-green and others rust-green. Actual fall would be spectacular here.

Cuisine: French railway stations have a ubiquitous sandwich stand. They use butter rather than mayonnaise, so they don’t require (as much) refrigeration. The ham sandwich was very tasty with brie. The tuna sandwich (it was a long ride) had a “provencal salsa” with fresh tomatoes and garlic — the finest tuna sandwich ever! Dinner was included with our lodging, and unremarkable, excepting the dessert. Ice cream was on offer, in twelve flavors (we could pick two). I had lime and verveine, a local herb liquor distilled from verbena (after the fashion of Chartreuse etc.). Such intense flavor! The pistachio had discernable grit of ground pistachios.

Grace: After travelling so far and so long, it was an unexpected pleasure to be met at the station by my travelling companions (who had arrived in Le Puy the previous day, smart folks). The Confraternity of Saint James (CSJ) is the UK pilgrim association and has the de facto all English-speakers pilgrim forum. After several attempts we succeeded in linking up with a CSJ forum member from New Zealand, who was just finishing the walk from Geneva to Le Puy, along with a friend from Germany. We very much enjoyed meeting them, hearing their stories, pilgrimage wisdom, and future travel plans.

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