Monthly Archives: October 2010

Notes for Next Year

Route Notes for next year: Daily stages during the first week need to be less than 15 km. And plan one rest day every week. Transport service appears to be available all the way from Le Puy to SJPP. From Moissac onward the route flattens out, and it will be sunny, as I did not see much forest on the train. It is also reportedly less stoney. The path along the Canal du Midi has now been paved for bicycles, so it is not as good for walking. I have not yet hit a market day (need to check Tourism site or Web for each city as the next research project).

Packing Notes for next year: Need to reduce the pack weight. Get the new smaller Kindle, use a smaller size foot balm and foot powder, no body powder, a smaller 38 liter pack, a 2 liter water bladder, no salt/pepper, no mirror, no phrase book, consolidate the paperwork for post-walking activities, substitute a lightweight vest or jacket for the third shirt, substitute sturdier casual shoes if available at the same weight, and only one pen. The pack must include spare rations – with noon, Sunday, and Monday closures, evening meals can be chancy and hitting a lunchtime cafe is incredibly rare. A loaf of bread keeps several days, ditto cheese and raw veggies. Groceries are happy to sell single carrots and apples.

28 Sep 10: Moissac (Rest Day)

Tour: One rest day a week is essential – the feet recover, the body recovers, the spirits recover, the mind gets the opportunity to reflect. This morning I settled into a new room at the gite, a cozy apartment in back with complete kitchen, conversation area with ipholstered seating for 3, a dining table with seating for 3, a spiral staircase, bunk beds for four, and a full shower bath. Lovely, if compact. I took a morning walk up to the heights overlooking town, followed by a post-lunch walk out along the canal to where it overcrosses the river Tarn, then back to town along the banks of the Tarn.

Grace: I wish I could say what makes the French Chemin so peaceful, but perhaps it is better that I cannot analyze it exactly. scenery is only a part; the absence of traffic and road noise, the absence of blaring tv, radio, stereo, advertisements (especially political campaigns); the absence of work, family, and local organization stresses (obligations unmet, promises not kept, expectations not fulfilled) – all contribute. The rhythm of walking itself is addictive (here I am on a rest day, walking). The ability to set a goal, and depending only on your own self to get there, runs headlong into the fact of our mutual dependency on each other. This time has been a gift, an interval for healing the mind and spirt. And I learned, the body heals itself each night if given the opportunity.

27 Sep 10: Cahors to Moissac (by train)

Tour: I had purchased a train ticket from Moissac back to Paris before I left the States, and there were no rail stops on the walking route between Cahors and Moissac, so I decided to end this year’s walk at Cahors and continue by train to Moissac. So I have the morning to explore Cahors, which is a rather large place. There is an extensive old town section that is quite nice, worth a several hours’ stroll. The cathedral is especially noteworthy (both for its architecture and its interior decoration), really not to be missed. Eventhough it is a Monday, the sandwich shops on the main street are open, with a nice assortment on offer. The train station is on the west side of town, north of the western bridge where GR65 exits town. Although no restaurants were open Sunday evening, some are open for Monday lunch. The train station is large; the TGV connection is in Montauban which is 40 minutes away by rail. I ran into an Australian couple on the train. They had walked the Ceile valley route, then rented a houseboat on the Lot for a week as a break from their Chemin walk, with good recommendations.

Lodging: Lodging in Moissac was Gite Ultreia, run by an Irish couple, the Bates, very comfortable and hospitable – and well known among pilgrims. Very highly recommended. I visited the historic abbey church (a dependent of Cluny) and cloister, strolled downtown, had a good Belgian brown beer, attended Vespers at the abbey church with the nuns singing beautifully.

Cuisine: Breakfast at Cahors (and yes I was ready for it!) included homemade multi-grain bread and fromage blanc, a tasty and welcome change of pace. Lunch from sandwich shops downtown across form the Tourism office” a nice salad, a jambon-emmenthaler small sandwich and another, a poulet provencal, ensemble a emporter very tasty. Dinner was demi-pension at the gite. Starter: ripe melon with proscuttio, along with tomato and cucumber. Main: steamed Yukon Gold potatoes, haricots vert and buttered carrots (three bowls of vegetables – a first!), with fresh salmon poached in white wine and tarragon. Dessert: Peach Melba with vanilla ice cream. we all commented on how the French seem to grow many vegetables in the garden but do not serve them at the table (except salad). They must go into the soup. Our table includes one Austrian from Gratz, who has walked from there over the years. He says the trails are not stoney, and villages are frequent (every 2 km).

Packing Notes for next year: Need to reduce the pack weight. Get the new smaller Kindle, use a smaller size foot balm and foot powder, no body powder, a smaller 38 liter pack, a 2 liter water bladder, no salt/pepper, no mirror, no phrase book, consolidate the paperwork for post-walking activities, substitute a lightweight vest or jacket or the third shirt, substitute sturdier casual shoes if available at the same weight, only one pen.

Route Notes for next year: Daily stages during the first week need to be less than 15 km. And plan one rest day every week.

26 Sep 10: Vaylats to Cahors

Route: 24.6 km with 400 ft descent

Tour: Underway at the striking of the 8:00 bell and rolled up to the gite door at 4:15, with about an hour of mid-day halts. It was good walking the first two hours, over an old Roman road as far as La Peche. This is still karst country, with limestone underpinning the thin soil, and scrubby oak forest, occasional sheep, no views, no farms, no towns, no reason for being here except passing through. The hunters were after pheasant though (saw one on the wing, quite large). I know this distance is longer than I am comfortable with, but it is the last walking day, so it does no harm if my feet are still sore tomorrow. We passed several lodging options on the way in, but I expect those work only if there is a Francophone in the party (small places well away from towns). La Peche at midday was the only other viable stop. This entire stretch (Cajarc to Cahors) is utterly pointless on the GR65; I would encourage any pilgrims following to explore other options. There is the towpath route along the Lot, or the variants through the Ceile valley, or via Rocamador, or via Lalabenque. The last hour of walking is brutal; too long and a very steep descent into town. I am very glad for the cheerful companionship of my Quebecois friend, who keeps me going.

Lodging: La Maison des Pelerins

Cuisine: The lodging in Cahors (Maison des Pelerins) is spacious and very clean, but this is Sunday night, and the nearest open eatery is a 30-minute walk one-way. My feet are too sore and I am too exhausted to think twice about this. So I make a meal off the last of the grocery provisions: tinned tuna, a carot, and some Babybels. It is very important to identify eating arrangements when making lodging reservations.

25 Sept 10: Limogne to Vaylats

Route: 15.8 km with 25 ft climb (nearly net flat overall)

Tour: Marie the Belgian routed us past the well preserved, ancient clothes-washing place , and a local man walking his golden Lab took pains to walk with me back to the waymarked trail. I started at 9:15 and arrive 3:00 with a 15 minute lunch, so was making good about 3 kph with the normal rest stops. Scrubby woods and small farm holdings; this is a thinly populated part of the country. Lodging is in a convent guesthouse, two-person room with the same Quebecois – it is really helpful to have a Francophone to carry the language load. I attended the evening Mass at 5:30, there being no office on Sunday, which Saturday evening counts as part of.

Lodging: Monastere des Filles de Jesus

Cuisine: I feared a vegetarian regime but the convent offered a regular demipension menu. The nuns were seated at separate tables from us guests in the same dining room. There was a vegetable soup, mostly carrots. The main was roast pork with potatoes, and the dessert was a stewed plum compote. Plenty of food to go around the family-style table. I wondered what happened to all the leftovers, until I saw six sleek cats loitering outside the kitchen door as I made my way back to my room.

Grace: I can maintain my focus. With quiet, and the absence of media, and the absence of work thoughts, I can concentrate for a change. At least, I can in the mornings, with the rhythm of walking established and the fatigue/hunger thoughts not yet intruding. I like being able to join in Sunday Mass, participating in the community of the faithful. There are ten nuns here, and I interact with two, whose hearts of love are discernable even through the language barrier. This feels very special.

24 Sept 10: Cajarc to Limogne en Quercy

Route: 18 km with 450 ft climb

Tour: I started out rigged for rain, due to the continuous showers, but it promises to fair off and turn cooler midday. Underway at 8:35, and I arrive at St Jean 11:15 after covering 10 km — this is almost 4 kph! My usual rate of progress is 3 kph – mornings really are my best time. The afternoon route is stonier, and harder on the feet. Small farms, old walls, limestone gravel. The woods are scrubby here, with creosoty stuff — the soil is porous here and doesn’t hold water well. After the second midday halt, the black cloud finally caught up with us and it rained until I reached the out skirts of Limogne.

Lodging: At Les Gloriettes, and Madame Marie our host is from Belgium. The house is a huge old affair with a large garden. There is no demi pension but kitchen priviledges are included and the grocery store is only 2 blocks away. My roommate is a Quebec woman I have been leapfrogging all day, so it made for a pleasant evening of chatting with the Quebecois (two men staying there too). Madame Marie is a colorful character. I tell her I have many friends I will send to visit her, and she responds, “Not so many. And only send good people, who are like you. If you send bad people, I will say I am Full already.” She gets group reservations starting many months in advance.

Cuisine: We ate at a good cafe around the corner for dinner. The starter was cream of mussels soup, in a large terrine that would have served two nicely. The main was cassoulet en Quercy (local version of a regional dish) with sausages, lamb, and chicken. Again, served in a large terrine that was way too much food for one person. Both dishes were very rich and filling, so I only managed to dent half the cassoulet. Dessert was sorbet (gelato perhaps) intensely flavored cassis and citron, a real memorable treat.

23 Sep 10: Grealou to Cajarc

Route: 10.8 km with 700 ft descent

Tour: The countryside is much flatter now, the air heavy with humidity from yesterday’s heat, and today’s forecast is rain. The road is gently undulating, some is stoney, much is crushed-gravel farm road. An old dolmen had started to collapse, and was shored up solid with sandbags and fenced off for safety. The views alternated between small pastures and woods of oak and boxwood – the wonderful fragrance of boxwood on a warm day! Pleasant, good for reflection and contemplation, and utterly forgettable. As is the town of Cajarc. Word is that one can reach Cahors in two long days of walking along the banks of the Lot from here, with a bus running periodically to serve as a sag-wagon. Around this town are prominent limestone bluffs, so shear they look very much like castle walls. It is a good thing this was planned as a short day, as the weatherman delivers thunderstorms and downpours all afternoon and evening, with much lightning. I pray for those who are caught out in this storm.

Lodging: HR La Peyrade

Cuisine: A robust German breakfast (yogurt, muesli, cheese, hard boiled eggs) at the gite. Lunch in Cajarc at L’Presidente, managed to get moules frites, one of my favorite dishes from Normandy! Alas, they turned out to be not as tasty as the menu du jour (note to self: it never is). The evening meal (demi-pension at hotel) was this week’s entry in the “worst meal in France” contest: salad, frites, and deep-fried duck confit. I did not think it was possible to do anything to make duck confit taste bad, but this cook managed the job. The accommodations were quite good (clean, spacious, recent construction), location was not bad (3 blocks from town center with a nice view), but the food is not recommendable.