Tag Archives: Way of St James

5 Oct 2019: Brives-Charensac to Le-Puy-en-Velay

Distance 5km High temperature 61

Finally the big day arrives: to complete the route between Prague in the Czech Republic and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the Spanish border.

Of course one begins with breakfast, in. most civilized fashion, listening to Mozart and overlooking the peaceful garden. Then it is an hour’s walk along the river – a very pretty route.

Just on the edge of the old town, the Chapel of St Michael comes into view, perched atop its volcanic rock.

Le Puy has been a pilgrimage site in its own right since before the millennium; there was a station here of the monastic order whose duty was to protect pilgrims.

After dropping my pack at the hotel, I set off for the cathedral, which sits on its own lofty perch.

On the way up, the other major landmark comes into view: a 16m (50 ft) statue of Notre Dame, cast from 210 cannons captured at the Siege of Sebastopol on her feast day.

The cathedral is famous for its combination of Romanesque architecture with Moorish decoration.

There are actually two Black Madonnas in the cathedral; the upper one is in the main nave, while the lower one is in a side chapel.

And the famous departure portal, where pilgrims head southwest toward Santiago.

Not long after, I cross paths with a Swiss woman from earlier in the week. We agreed to dinner and it was quite a celebratory feast!

Lodging: Le Bilboquet Hotel

4 Oct 2019: Saint-Julien-Chapteuil to Brives-Charensac

Distance 13.2 km High temperature 61F

Starting wind chill 32F

Now that we are over the mountains the towns are larger: more services, more lodging options, more suburbs. While organizing the logistics in the small towns is a challenge, the walking is very pretty.

Underway 0830 to a bit of sunshine peeking under the cloud bank. While it did not last long, it did an excellent job of taking the chill off the air. Some of the local horses are enjoying the morning sun.

The route follows the highway shoulder for a ways before descending to cross a pasture and then a stream. Do not be put off by the vehicle ford and your lack of long legs; there is a foot crossing 100m further on. The hamlet of Eynac is nestled against one of the old volcanic cores. You can clearly see the long crystal rock formations – from the same process that produced the Devils Postpile formations at various places around the world.

At Tournecol, which is more exurban than farming, there is a small park with comfortable bench and picnic table. The town of Saint-Germain-Laprade is not as nice. The entry to town pulls one of the FFR’s “three sides of a square” routing, when one side would suffice. So, at the knoll just past the highway underpass, bear left rather than right. Also, The Romanesque church dating from 1100’s is completely closed up. As a saving grace there is a park bench in the plaza in front of the church. Also a public WC and, the next block on, an ATM. Then suburban walking to the edge of town, where there is a roundabout with bus stop (frequent service to Le Puy). After about a half- hour’s Road-shoulder march the route departs the highway, heading up and over a ridge and descending by a forested draw to the suburban edge of Brives. Then, more suburban sprawl-marching through Brives.

Lodging: Chambre d’hotes Charteux, an Estate in a former Cistercian monastery, built 1750.

3 Oct 2019: Queyrières to Saint-Julien-Capteuil

Distance 11 km High temperature 52F

Starting wind chill 32F

Attention, all you walkers who write to the forums inquiring about shoulder-season weather on this route! The season has changed, and the daily highs have dropped 20 degrees F. The wind was blowing all night and into this morning.

The cloud deck at ground level, the fresh breeze and the near-freezing chill combine with the short distance planned for today to induce a leisurely start. Underway at 1000 wearing merino t-shirt, lightweight fishing shirt, puffy jacket, rain shell, hiking pants, rain pants, and my Buff turned into a beanie, I am comfortable only if I am walking. The sheep are hard at work already.

Vistas over the valley below show the old volcanic cores.

After a steep and Stoney descent to the valley floor, it is a bit warmer with less breeze.

We pass some interesting new construction, combining eco-engineering with modern architecture. Not everything in France is ancient stone.

The route passes through hamlets whose stone walls must be centuries old, then skirts some of the old volcanic cores.

In the event one is interested, a climbing route is available over the top. It would surely offer a splendid panorama.

Where the route divides, and the GR 65 goes uphill left, we instead follow the SDC Scallop downhill to the right, along a creek where mills were located, before coming into Saint-Julien-Chapteuil from the northeast.

Lodging: Chambres Pelerins Guillard. This is a private home that makes overnight lodging available to credentialed pilgrims. M&M were themselves pilgrims, ten years ago. Quiet, friendly location only 4 blocks off the GR 65.

2 Oct 2019: Saint-Jeures to Queyrières

Distance 11.5 km High temperature 53F

The squalls of last night have eased to passing showers, and the wind is a steady 22+ knots (would be too much for an umbrella). So I am phenomenally relieved that my plan for the day is to stop at Querières rather than going on another 10km to Saint-Julien-Chapteil, as my fellows from last night all elected to do.

Underway at 0930, having waited out the most recent shower, and rigged for rain.

Today is pastures and small hamlets with only a short stretch of forest. I see more horses today, mostly the big beefy butterscotch-colored ones I think are Comtois draft, originating in the Jura mountains east of Lyon. On previous days I have also seen the dappled gray Percheron, another French draft breed.

In Araules, the first town, the gite, bar, and restaurant are all closed. That means Tence is the last point to resupply. However there is a covered bus stop that shelters from the continuing wind and rain for a morning break.

Then more pasture as the trail works its way up to the high point of the route. Literally: in French “point culminant”, in German Hochtestpunkt. 1268 meters.

Past it and the next hamlet of Raffey, vistas of the Le Puy volcanic plateau open up.

Lodging: La Boria Delh Chastel chambres et Table d’hotes

Very friendly host and a very comfortable setting.

This place is full of some truly gorgeous woodwork, very similar to the old Swiss chalets.

Dinner was a homemade aperitif, garden tomatoes in vinaigrette with dried ham, sausage and mashed potatoes, cheese and fruit for dessert. My companion at dinner was a late-arriving Swiss woman from Zurich, who had previously met the group I had dinner with yesterday. It’s a small world!

1 Oct 2019: Tence to Saint-Jeures

Distance 9 km High temperature 73F

Today is an actual short day. Honest. I need a bit of rest before tomorrow’s climb.

Today is Tuesday and so all the shops are open in Montfaucon as I pass about 0900. It is another crisp fine fall day, with a Danish couple ahead of me and a Swiss man from Bern behind. As I await the ride from Madame, she directs me to visit the chapel, which has a series of 12 very special oil-on-wood paintings by Abel-Grimer (c. 1520, a student of the Dutch Masters). No Pilgrim stamp but very worth the visit nonetheless.

Tuesday is market day in Tence, with everything needful on offer: fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, shirts, pants, shoes, hats, scarves. And noshes to nibble on site.

Tence is a larger town, with a winding Pilgrim route, easy to walk in a circle even if careful. Watch for the poorly marked stone portal on the left, leading the the way out of town. Approaching the stream, we pause to let the shepherd and his large flock (a hundred?) go across first. Sheep don’t share bridges.

After a short climb through a suburban area, the way breaks out into nice views, with the usual alternation between forest and pasture, and a few small hamlets.

Although the day started a cloudless blue, I know Rain is forecast for tonight, and clouds approach from the north over the course of the day. They are quite threatening by the time I enter Saint-Jeures.

The speed-demon Danes (remember I was driven 16.5 km to Tence; they walked it) have beat me to the gite by ten minutes. Bravo! And no sooner had we settled in our rooms than those black clouds opened up and rained sideways. Good timing! Not to mention the second squall line, that brought lightning and hail.

Lodging: Le Fougal chambres et table d’hotes

Wonderful place, 12 for dinner which was a feast: vegetable soup, rolled pork roast, roast root veg with fromage blanc, and for dessert baked alaska. I’m sure the French call it something else. Delicious!

30 Sep 2019: Montfaucon-en-Velay to Tence

Distance 16.5 km High temperature 71F

Underway at 0930 for a surprisingly complicated day that was intended to be shorter. Under normal circumstances I would be staying in Tence tonight (10 km but the next town is another 8 km, making too long a day, and I am in no rush). However Tence is full. So Madame my host in Montfaucon-en-Velay will retrieve me late this afternoon from Tence, and take me back to her hotel for the night. Then, in the morning she will return me to Tence where I will resume walking. Simple?

Due to these arrangements I can leave behind the majority of my kit, taking only a jacket, water and e-reader in my small compressible day-sack. (Such situations are only one reason to carry such.)

At breakfast I chat with the other lodgers, all with packs and hats, obviously walkers. They are three German men who have been walking from their home in Düsseldorf by sections over the past 15 years.

Montfaucon-en-Velay is a big town with all services; within 2 blocks of the hotel, in the center of town, I see 2 banks, at least 2 bakeries, a Tourism Office, and 2 churches.

Leaving Montfaucon-en-Velay, it is a fine fall day, cool with a bit of breeze. There are fine views to the north …

and to the south … (note the cones on the horizon)

… which is my direction of travel today. Backyard gardens have thriving zinnias and dahlias, even hydrangeas (although it would be too late for these at home).

At a crossroads, with an ubiquitous roadside cross, stands a plaque which explains why this is so. It’s helpful to remember how very superstitious the countryside was, and how religion and magic and the supernatural were often conflated. Apparently in olden times, it was thought that demons and sorcerers gathered at the crossroads at night. Crossroads made it easy for them to meet up. So the roadside crosses were a way to stake a territorial claim for the forces of good, denying the place to the forces of evil. This explains why we see so many of them as we walk along, since our Pilgrim route often uses the old roads.

About 45 minutes from Montfaucon-en-Velay there is a bus shelter at a small roundabout, that would provide a roof against rain.

The route continues over an alternating pattern of pasture and forest, giving occasional panoramic views from the ridgeline. The small cones of the ancient volcanoes are multiplying on the horizon.

Mid-afternoon I pass markers commemorating an internment camp on this, the site of an old silk factory, where refugees from the Spanish Civil War were housed.

As it turns out, the French guide, which claims today’s route is 10.2 km, is incorrect. The Swiss guide, counting 16.5km, is correct. I’m extremely glad this was only a day-pack day!

Lodging: Hotel Le Platanes in Montfaucon

Dinner tonight was a feast well-earned: cream of pumpkin soup, pan-browned trout with zucchini flan and lentils du Puy, and fromage blanc with berry coulis for dessert.

29 Sep 2019: Le Setoux to Montfaucon-en-Velay

Distance: 17km High temperature 79F

This was another very long day, but with much shorter climbs: three of 125m, 70m, and 160m respectively. Underway at 0830 and arrived 1530, including the hour break for lunch. So it was not so difficult, but I am ready for a few shorter days!

On departing Le Setoux, there is a modern statue to St Jacques, showing the four routes crossing France.

A nice mix of pasture land and forest today. The three climbs were up three successive ridges, so there were fine views of the valleys as well as welcome breaks of shade.

Just outside Montfaucon-en-Velay I came across (actually they nearly ran me over) an enormous off-road vehicle rally. About 500 vehicles in the camping area, another 50 parked heater-skelter in the woods, and yet another 50 on the obstacle course, which had been seriously engineered. The medic tent had at least three ambulances standing by. This was a huge event! And some of these guys were stuck- great committees gathered to try to unstick them. I would have had more sympathy except their raucous racket had no place on my Pilgrim path. Think I’ll write the FFR.

Heaving a sigh of relief, I made it into town with no further ado. Do take the compostella marked route rather than the GR one; it will save you 15 minutes and passes the first gite.

My lodging – normally closed on Sunday, but since I was a Pilgrim and called ahead for reservations, they would feed and lodge me (this is why you call ahead, folks) is the hotel Les Platanes, which has been in the same family since 1907. Madame speaks English.

28 Sep 2019: Bourg-Argental to Le Setoux

Distance 17 km. High temperature 71F

After lingering over breakfast to address some business networking issues for my host, I was finally underway at 0845. There was also a church stop with a Black Madonna (possible copy of the one at Le Puy). No Pilgrim stamp however.

The climb started immediately; this was to be a long day and a ~2000ft climb, mostly a track wide enough for two abreast or a vehicle. At the edge of Bourg-Argental the elevation was 534m. A steep but short section ended at the Mounes fork 643m. After it was mostly a very gentle grade along an old rail line, the latter half being paved. Passed a Hunting party assembling, with trailers of very excited dogs and many neon orange shirts. Some camouflage pants and a few belts of shotgun shells. Later there was a hillside with dairy cows and a cacaphony of cowbells. About two hours in, passed St Sauverin de Rue picnic ground with tables. This is the location of a former rail stop. The old station has been converted to a lending library – and is recessed enough to offer considerable shelter from any inclement weather.

Departed the rail grade at 850m with another short steep stoney section, ending in forest. The forest track, although wide, is generally quite roughly stoned underfoot. There is a forest shelter at 966m. The second shelter indicated on iPhiGéNie did not materialize. A false top appeared at 1045m then contour following until the GR7 junction, after which more climbing until the actual top at 1204m.

In the forest there were active logging operations; only it being a Saturday saved me from their noise and bother. It being forest and this being autumn, mushrooms were springing up all over.

It was a long day -8 hours – but the views westward (of the days ahead) were lovely. This included hourly rest pauses and a longer noon break, so even at my slow pace this is doable.

Then the real adventure began: finding my lodging. There was a very large family party that had booked up the gite (Gite Le Combalou), so the gite host prepared an alternative. I was to wait for her at the chapel, and she would pick me up at 6pm, and drive me 2 km to the next town to an affiliate establishment for the evening. So, arriving about 4:30, I found the chapel. And watched the townspeople stroll by. And the cows come home. Twice. But 6 o’clock came and went. I was becoming concerned that neither meal nor bed was going to materialize. We ended up with Plan C before it was all said and done. The Auberge (rustic country inn) had planned to be closed, but was now open because of the gite overflow.

I had a fun dinner with two Swiss women from Bern, who had passed me in the morning. The menu was rabbit in cream sauce with pasta, followed by cheese, fromage blanc with homemade berry preserves, and several rounds of the local digestif.

Lodging: Auberge Riboule

Small place with only 5 rooms and a shared bath, but M&M were kindness itself and a godsend.

27 Sep 2019 St-Julien-Molin-Molette to Bourg-Argental

Distance: 7 km High temperature 78F

SJMM is a former silk manufacturing center, now artist colony, sitting at the bottom of a very narrow stream-carved valley. The town has several restaurants, a couple groceries, and a tourism office.

Underway at 0930, but lost time hunting for a bank: the post office has an ATM but does not open until 1015.

The initial climb, from creek bottom at 590m to the first bluff at 670m, is quite steep along an old wagon track (I pity the horses). But it offers wonderful views looking eastward across the SJMM gulch to the Rhône valley beyond.

The climb continues over an unpaved farm road across rolling upland pastures with a few interested cows. It is a fine day for walking: clear, sunny, a crisp autumn day, with a breeze strong enough to blow my hat (thank-you, inventor of the chinstrap). We descend a bit to the tiny hamlet of Lamponey (716m) which shows signs of previous glory: large buildings, stone walls standing, roofs long since dissolved.

Then following the contour line to the crossroads at Col du Banchett (678m), and continuing down the roughly-graveled farm road to Bourg-Argental (550m).

This is a large town, the biggest since Condrieu. A municipal campground is on the left, entering town. The main street has a bank and several restaurants and bakeries, along with quite a bit of traffic. There is bus service to Saint-Ettiene several times daily; from there rail connections to Lyon and Le Puy.

Near the gite is a cluster of bars and cafes with outdoor seating. However each establishment has its own chairs and tables, and one must sit in the proper spot. Lunch was at one of these, Freikot, which I learned after the fact has a splendid assortment of Belgian fried things-on-skewers, accompanied by Belgian fries. And Belgian beer. All of which I missed out on, because the daily special board promised a composed salad with tuna. Which was quite tasty, I must admit.

(Sorry, photo editing on the road is a bit limited. Also apologies for so few food photos; when I’m eating Demi-pension, it’s a bit awkward taking pictures of food in private homes.)

Lodging. L’isba de la Tortue. This is a brand-new gite, very conveniently located (close to the Belgian and the bank, as well as bakeries). The house itself is older of course, and the character has been preserved. Those of you familiar with my own house-renovation saga will appreciate the sort of memories elicited here. M. is friendly, a hiker herself, and speaks some English and German.

26 Sep 2019 Roisey to Saint-Julian-Molin-Molette

Distance 12 km High temperature 73F

After a lovely breakfast – including ham and eggs in consideration of my diet – we are underway about 0915. I say “we” because Madame is escorting me as far as the pass. This is an old footpath, with stone walls dating to the 1800’s but now sagging a bit in disrepair. After 1.5 km I rejoin the GR65, about 0.5 km before Le Buisson. We have a high thin overcast, but it is due to be dry today. A bit humid however.

This whole area is a spiderweb of the GR65, various marked local and regional routes, some for horses and others for bicycles. The IPhiGéNie app is invaluable for choosing your actual way. Ever since crossing the Rhône, the GR 65 route markings have been excellent: frequent, large, well placed and freshly painted. Sometimes even stickered. Also the blue and gold CSJ markings are often seen; they focus on the through-route rather than the scenic one.

All morning I flirt with the 500m contour line, until midday after Pourzin when the climb starts, topping out at St Blandin (695m) before descending, sometimes steeply, into Saint-Julien-Molin-Molette.

Although most of the day is on farm roads, paved or not, some stretches are on the stony, eroded, old footpaths. After Pourzin, the orchards of espaliered apples give way to pastures lined with chestnut trees. And views!

It was during a noon pause under one such leafy chestnut that I met an eastbound walker. These are exceedingly rare. Turns out she was walking from Barcelona to her home in Konstanz. And she said the eastbound route markings were perfectly satisfactory. True to form, the three German women from Lake Constance that I met yesterday were well ahead of me – she had run into them this morning.

My lodging tonight is in a private home, one of the pilgrim association friends. M&M were themselves pilgrims in 2009, and they enjoy sharing their home.

After an aperitif of pastis, and a huge plate of salad from her garden, the main was something I’ve never had before: stuffed eggplant. Related to a stuffed pepper, with which I am familiar. Very tasty! And a cheese plate to conclude. Wonderful tri-lingual conversation over dinner.

25 Sep 2019 Saint-Clair-du-Rhône to Roisey

Distance 15 km. Temperature 71F

Breakfast this morning was the most robust I have ever been offered in France: orange juice, at least two breads, fresh fruit compote, six cheeses, coffee or tea. And since I am on a low-carbohydrate diet, Monsieur fixed bacon and eggs as well.

Then we spent an hour trying to sort out a reservation for tonight, resorting to Google when all the options listed in the Pilgrim guide came up empty.

It has rained overnight, so things are quite humid, and there are dark clouds over the ridges to the west.

There are two ways to cross the Rhône: either the D37b bridge at Saint-Alban-sur-Rhône, or the bridge at Condrieu. The D37b, while shorter and marked as the through-route to SDC, has much more commerce on its approach and -reportedly- somewhat less pedestrian safety in its crossing. It was the original plan, once upon a time. However, since my lodging was only a km away from the Condrieu bridge, I went that way. The GR65 route goes via Condrieu and offers a perfectly lovely and peaceful paved bike route down to Chavaney.

Underway at 0900 due to aforementioned delay, reaching Chavaney about 1130. It’s very pleasant walking along the river, watching the swans. Fall is just beginning to touch here; the fall berries (rose hips? Pyracantha?), yellow fall crocus, and honeysuckle all add color. Morning joggers and some cyclists pass occasionally. A few of the bicycles are rigged for touring.

The Lyon area is famous for its trompe l’oeil paintings, with 3-D realistic street scenes. Chavaney sports one too.

Just as the route departs the main street there is a small grocery, and 50m further a small park by a stream, which offers a shady bench for a noon pause.

After exiting Chavanaey the climb starts, and today ascends about 260 meters (155 to about 410 – some of the crossroads signs indicate elevation). This has an early steeper section that is only a footpath of an ancient sort, judging by the depth of moss on the rock walls and the banks way over my head.

The climb is broken up by a stop at a small pilgrim chapel, recently renovated and open. A large group of walkers could take shelter here, or just rest a bit. Unfortunately no pilgrim stamp. I met three German women from Lake Constance as I was leaving; they too are walking to Le Puy this year. Three earlier French walkers did not stop to speak.

Later on, the climb is on more gentle paved farm roads. The grape harvest is starting, and I see quite a few tractors towing carts of grape bins. No wonder, as pregnant as these vines are looking.

I leave the marked GR65 at Ribaudy, heading up more farm roads (some paved, some not) to my lodging.

A passing shower tests how quickly I can rig for rain, but clears after only a few minutes and I escape my fig tree shelter. The sun comes out and dries me off in short order.

Lodging: Le Grand Noë

This is a gorgeously renovated farmhouse on a ridge with expansive views of the Rhône valley. Also more high-end than I would normally use, but finding a place was very difficult. M & M both speak English (trying to keep up with their Anglophone grandchildren), and are very friendly and hospitable.

Madame prepares a lovely dinner in her impressive kitchen: rolled pork roast, green beans, ratatouille, tossed salad, and a cheese course followed by apple-pear crumble. Absolutely delicious! We were joined at dinner by a German couple (he formerly a Swiss) so it was a Tri-lingual conversation around dinner.

Turns out, the reason all us walkers are having a hard time finding lodging near Chavaney is that the new nuclear plant employs 6000 people, and the employees and commercial travelers have filled up the available rooms. This situation will likely persist for awhile, so walkers are advised to book well in advance in this area (a days march radius around Chavaney).

Once More Into the Breach 2019

There is still the “missing link” from the Rhône up to Le Puy, so with the end of the series of record-breaking heat waves in Europe, I am setting off again. With the end of summer, temperatures have moderated and the weather is good for walking. While I am not very interested in walking in Spain or reaching Santiago, I would like to return to Le Puy, where I started so many years ago.

What’s different this year? For one I now carry a portable baggage scale – to help my pack resist the temptation to add weight as I go. I am also carrying a Garmin InReach Mini, which allows calls for help in the event of no cell service. And, because I am tired of endlessly chasing French market hours, I am carrying 2 pounds of nuts, which can easily become breakfast, lunch, or dinner as the need arises. My smartphone also has a few new tools: an IPhiGéNie subscription so I get detailed route mapping on topo maps; a subscription to iTranslate because my French is still poor, and Dark Skies, which gives temperature and precipitation forecasts hourly.

I flew into Lyon, took the Rhone-express into town, and the SNCF commuter rail down to Saint-Clair-des-Roches. From there it was an easy ten minute walk to my chambre-d’hote. I was able to book here through Booking.com from the US, and there was no online booking available in Pelleagues du Rousillion, which is where I actually left off last year.

The train station in Lyon offered its usual magnificent assortment of take-away food, so I picked up a sandwich for dinner.

My fellow-lodgers were a German couple of bike tour down the Rhône to Arles, and we had a nice chat.

Lodging: Guest House Domaine des Grouilleres

This place offers two comfortable bedrooms with baths ensuite, a separate shared kitchen and a small reading area. Lovely views of the ridges westward. Although neither Monsieur nor Madame speak English, they worked with my sparse French and were very adept with Google Translate. A huge breakfast is included. Highly recommended.

Equipment Notes 2018

This is my seventh year walking the Way of St James across Europe (hard to believe, I know – who would have thought this in the beginning?). So I have had lots of practice refining my equipment kit.

Pack. 38 liters is quite enough unless you need to carry extensive rain or cold-weather gear. I used an Osprey Exos 38 (last year’s model) which saved at least 225g (8 oz) over the Exos 48 liter model, which had been my trusty companion for many years (being itself nearly a kilo lighter than the Kestrel 48 model). It really pays to attend to the weight of the empty pack itself. The 48 is still more comfortable and gives extra space; the 38 is a tight fit but sufficient.

Poles. Pacer poles forever!

Sleeping. In anticipation of more seasonal autumn temperatures I carried my half-kilo down bag, which was comfortable but overkill. A silk sack would have been sufficient (but confining – I hate that!).

Footwear. Heeding the experience of through-Hikers on the Appalachian Trail, I opted for fabric trail runners rather than my trusty leather Lowa Renegades that had served me so well. The Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes (combined with my prescription orthotics) worked quite well. Their lighter weight was noticeable especially at the end of a long day, and with the orthotic they were stiff enough for the occasional stony sections. This type is especially recommended for road-walking, which is the majority of this route. I used a lighter sock also, the Darn Tough Light Hiker. No blisters or foot problems of any sort.

Headwear. In past years I used a Tilley LT6; it’s good in light Rain but hot in the sun. So this year I used a wide-brimmed raffia hat from Operations Research. It is much cooler and I’m very happy with it. Although the tag says “100% paper”, it held up well to repeated crushing (in transit) and dousing (horse troughs on hot days) without complaint.

18 Sep 2018: Begin the Return

Transit connections. 91F. 32C

I’ve made the decision to depart the route and return home. Since I have both personal friends and also pilgrim planners reading this, let me explain my reasons to both.

For friends: The heat (mid-80’s plus) in little to no shade – with prospect of more of the same throughout the coming week, plus the frustrations of poor route marking and difficulty arranging lodging, have just done me in. And we haven’t even started the big climb up to Le Puy yet. This town (Clonas RN7) has access to transit; the next town with access is Le Puy in another week. Absent the obnoxious heat, I would have walked the 10 km to Chavanay today, and taken a rest day. Or two. Chavanay is supposed to be a very nice town, right on the Rhône. In fact that would be my usual plan: to take a rest day at the one-week point.

For fellow pilgrims planning this route: I had hoped the heat of summer would moderate by the middle of September; I was wrong. Better to start around the first of October- however then there are the 2-week school holidays in France, with dates changing every year. Also the fact that the Amis guide indicates a transit connection in a certain town does not necessarily make it so; check the SNCF app to see whether there is actually transit.

Madame my host at the hotel organizes a taxi for me; €15 to the station in Peáge-de-Roussillon, which offers sporadic connections northbound and southbound by train and by bus. What you get depends on your timing. Two blocks from the station is a main square with bank and grocery. Remember, “Casino” is a chain of markets and not a gambling establishment.

Our “train” to Lyon is a bus. This is my first experience on the long-haul buses in France; it was a pleasant and relatively timely experience. We were only 15 min late leaving. SNCF, the French national railway system, has gone to using buses on the lighter runs.

I recall from previous visits the wonderful sandwiches at the Lyon train station, so I grab a portable lunch there before embarking the tram to my hotel. This is a ham sandwich with an interesting condiment: tomato pesto. Think homemade (ie, chunky) ketchup made by the spaghetti sauce ladies. It was quite tasty and worth finding a recipe. (Foodie alert!!)

To accompany it is a rhubarb tart.

Dinner is at Les Vieux Garçons, a locovore bistro recommended by the hotel. I just love sitting outside.

Starter is a Salad Lyonnaise.

The main course is a local specialty, Pike Quenelle. I was expecting small ones, like a long meatball but they do things differently here.

The cream sauce was terrific- the whole thing was not too far from a (very light) biscuit-in-gravy.

Cheese course was a local goat cheese, quite young and loose and sweet, just past butter.

Lodging: Quality Inn Confluence, which might be my new best favorite in Lyon.

17 Sep 2018: Bellegarde-Poussieu to Clonasu

Less than 17 km. 86F

Monsieur sketches for me the shortcut from his house to regain the route, which walking from town center to town center along the marked route, would be 17 km. However, I am 1-2 km past the town center, and I am Road-walking along the D134, which “splits the difference” between the main route and the marked variant. So I am shaving off some distance.

Getting an early start while the morning is still cool is vital. Roads offer gentle grades; shade and traffic vary with time of day. A few morning commuters pass me, maybe a half-dozen in 45 min, which is more than one sees on the route by-ways, but certainly not a problem for me.

After 45 min I arrive at Chappell-Sur-Surieu which has lodging, a restaurant, a bus stop.

After another 45 min I arrive at Saint-Romain-de-Surieu and regain the Route. Several hours later I pass the outskirts of Assieu, which is alleged to have services but none are visible. Then it is across cornfields and scrub along farm tracks to Clonas. Route markings are quite intermittent, leaving me in suspense for uncomfortably long intervals.

This is apple harvest time; I see quite a few orchards of these espaliered apple trees, their bird netting held aloft lest they become apple-pie trees.

This afternoon heat is a killer! Even though I carried – and consumed – 3 liters of water, it was another liter plus at the hotel, before I felt halfway normal.

The hotel has a campground adjacent; both are about a km south of the roundabout. Usually I opt for campgrounds but I really needed to escape the heat. This is a two-star establishment (indicates the placard), of the sort we usually describe as “mom-and-pop”. “Pop” seems to be not in evidence however. Madame is the sort of bottle-blonde, lifelong smoker, barkeep who often saves the day in noir detective stories.

Dinner is decent and acceptable but mundane: pasta salad, medallions of pork tenderloin with potato cakes, ice cream for dessert.

Lodging: Hotel Des Nations, Clonas (RN7). The room is clean and decently appointed; Wi-Fi has an intermittent connection.

16 Sep 2018: Revel- Tourdon to Bellegarde-Poussieu

10 km 81F

Between the weekend, and the spacing of towns, and the warmer weather, I decided to make today a shorter day. It’s Sunday after all.

After more multi-lingual discussions over breakfast, I set out just as the local market was beginning to set up. The cheese lady was first. Shortly I passed a goat dairy (why else would you have a herd of goats?) which might have been hers.

The route is mostly paved this morning, and makes some unexpected turns, which are marked if you look carefully. The first bench is by a Gîte and two walkers are just departing; I have a nice chat with the two young Bavarians. They invite me to walk with them, but I know their pace will be twice my own. They report two French and one Austrian in addition to themselves last night. Our parties continue to bump into each other over the course of the morning as we wend our way up the hill in the increasingly hot and humid day. At midday, shortly after the water tower (always at the crest of the hill), the route forks. The north route is shorter but the southern route has more and nearer towns. There is also a large picnic shelter, with a water supply across the way. From there it is all downhill to Bellegarde-Poussieu.

Sort of. At the entry to town, there is some mistake with the markings and I end up quite misdirected, with the result of an extra hour slog. (NB: ignore the double-X route markings, follow the sign towards the “Restaurant-Bar”.

Fortunately the Restaurant is open, and offers a redemptive experience. The first course was escargots on a bed of spinach topped with garlic cream sauce (and then the lot run under the broiler).

The main course called itself a filet of trout in mustard sauce, but either they ran out of Plan A and substituted salmon or else it was steelhead trout. Served with a vegetable sauté that was almost a ratatouille (mustard instead of tomatoes). Entirely exquisite.

Dessert (it’s Sunday dinner after all) is a tart. Pink. Perhaps nuts or praline; certainly not berry.

Alas, two hours is really as long as one can stretch a lunch break, even for Sunday dinner. So I set out once more and after more than an hour of road-hoofing, finally arrived at my lodging. The bad route markings had added 5-6 km to what had been planned as a short day. All told it was a 4-liters of water day, leaving me just done in.

Because of the paucity of lodgings on the Geneva route, the pilgrim association has organized private homes as a supplement. These have been available all along the route, but I have not used them before. Since everything else in the vicinity was fully booked, though, I gave them a try. Everyone’s private home is different of course, but this particular experience did not leave me inclined to repeat. Your mileage may vary, as we say.

16 Sep 2018: Faramans to Revel-Tournon

12.5 km. 74F

Madame warned at breakfast that Pommiers, the next town, was celebrating Heritage Day this weekend, so everything would be closed (except the church and the chateau). So it is just as well I had not planned to overnight here.

The route from Faramans is flat and totally unedifying farm roads for the first hour. Then, just as the route was turning into a shady lane, things got more exciting. Yesterday I had noticed a wayside placard warning walkers to wear their orange safety vests, due to hunting season. Today is Saturday, and the guys, their gun dogs and their guns were out. Fortunately they spotted me and held their fire until I was well past.

Pommiers is a hill town. So one must climb the hill; some stretches are shady but not all. It might be an unpleasant surprise at the end of a long day from Côte-St-Andre.

As you enter town, there is a low retaining wall, making the first bench of the day. It offers a fine view, with prospects of the surrounding ridges and countryside. And a cooling breeze, which is very welcome.

Another hundred meters brings us to the actual crest of the hill, with its Romanesque church. Nearby are public WC, Mairie and post. No other services.

Outside the church I meet three Swiss women from Neuchatel, who are walking the route in one-week stages due to ongoing family commitments. They are moving more quickly than I (25 km/day) and today is their last day walking.

The afternoon is a farm road along the ridge line so there is a breeze and often shade. I see the first field of sunflowers this trip, with the Central Massif in the hazy distance.

The route through Revel-Tourdon is a bit circuitous, looping around several blocks before swinging past the church and depositing me at the Auberge. The church still has an altar and an important grave (legend indistinguishable), but no seating so I doubt it is still in active use. However, the stained glass windows are modern and stunning.

The Auberge is a small (6 rooms) country inn with a bar and restaurant. Friendly staff and very comfortable.

It’s a lively dinner table, with a Canadian couple from Montreal (first timers, no credential) and a couple from Venice (they did the Via Francigenia from Canterbury to Rome), none of whom had yet been successful in making reservations for the next night. Around about the cheese course we solved that problem. This is a simple inn, so the meal was simple but well-prepared. Tossed salad, pan-fried cod with carrots and potato croquettes, cheese.

Lodging: Auberge-Restaurant L’Escapade, Revel-Tourdon

15 Sep 2018: Saint-Hilaire-de-la-Côte to Faranans

14.5 km. 78F

After a plentiful breakfast, I set out fairly early to take advantage of the morning cool. There had been a brief shower overnight so temperatures were returning to their seasonal normals.

The route today, as was the case yesterday, is a half-half mix of unpaved farm roads and paved but very lightly traveled country byways. Many stretches have shade (much appreciated!); others are pasture or corn.

About a half hour in, approaching Gillonnay, is the intersection with the route to Arles. This runs south along the length of the Rhône valley. From Arles the route turns west towards Santiago, making one of the four great pilgrim routes through France (the others being Vezelay and Paris). Everything meets up at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the Spanish border, just before crossing the Pyrenees.

Another half hour and one arrives at the parish church of St Maurice in the hamlet of Valeniers, which has a credential stamp, public WC, shady benches with views of the valley, and lovely modern design stained glass windows.

A half hour yet again brings one to Côte-St-Andre, which ranks as a small city. This ancient place had a chain of water-driven mills and was the birthplace of Hector Berlioz. Entering from the east, there is a tiny pilgrim rest with info placard and bench.

It takes a half hour to traverse the town. Be attentive to the markings as you are routed downhill via a series of staircases, ending at a large market shelter just across from the Mairie. The Mairie has a WC if you ask at the Accuiel desk. (Mairie generally do a good job of looking after pilgrims.) Leaving town there is a five-way intersection where you must again be attentive to the route markings.

After awhile one comes to the foot of a very old way – the depth of erosion is well above my head – that leads swervingly uphill.

Shortly after you come out, there is a bus shelter with full-length bench. Perhaps another 200m brings you to Balbins-Ornacieux. The church has a covered bench on the approach side; on the further side the Bibliotheque has a public WC and an unsheltered bench.

The rest of the afternoon is a bit of an agricultural slog, until nearly at Faramans. There is a quite lovely county park, with WC, lake and picnic tables. Also a parcours if you happen to have some spare energy. Crossing several footbridges can be disorienting so mind the route markings. Soon you are on the main drag into town.

My lodging is in a “farm Gîte”. That means chickens, with their fresh eggs for breakfast. Also roosters – no one sleeps in around here. Madame and Monsieur are cheerful hosts. She is busy making quince preserves while calling for my upcoming reservations. Dinner is a simple, homey meal of tomatoes fresh from the garden, sautéed carrots with onions, beef medallions au jus. Cheese of course. Prefaced by Eau de Noix she made herself, and followed by Chartreuse, the locality liqueur. Oh and quite a bit of conversation!

Lodging: Gîte á la ferme, Faramans Run by a lively older couple.

14 Sep 2018 Le-Grand-Lemps to St-Hillaire

8.5 km. 88F

It’s warm and muggy this morning (think Washington DC in August). The Lyonnaise are dressed for the weather though: many young adults wearing very dressy shorts, in costumes that would be entirely appropriate in an office. Older women are in capris, and I see only a few men in suits. Scooters outnumber bicycles among the train commuters; I suppose their light weight and compact size win the day.

To reach Le-Grand-Lemps from Lyon takes metro, tram, and two train segments. The apps from Lyon Metro and SNCF are invaluable for planning these connections. While the entire country is not as well-served by transit as Switzerland is, there are large zones around the major cities that do have good service. So about 2 hours by train, in zones surrounding Geneva, Lyon and Paris. This is helpful as the Via Gebennensis (GR65 from Geneva to Le Puy) passes southeast of Lyon. My connections this morning take several hours.

The countryside is in corn, some of which is still standing in the field, well-browned by the heat waves of this summer. Some has been harvested already, leaving behind flat and dusty bare earth.

The town center has a church, post, bank, Boulangerie and a bar. Madame the baker had lovely sandwiches on multi-grain baguettes she baked herself. One was made with duck; I adopted it for lunch later on. The small rail station at Le-Grand-Lemps is on the south side of town. The pilgrim route lies along the north side. So I elected to take the county road D73 out of Le-Grand-Lemps, because Pythagoras. After thirty minutes we joined the pilgrim route and all was well.

The route is well marked in this area, using both the red/white GR scheme and the blue/yellow scallop (not necessarily on the same tree).

The plan for today was abbreviated due to the late start and the heat; but it was a good decision.

My lodging is a Gîte in an old farmhouse, complete with chickens and sheep (who are busily mowing the lawn). It’s just immediately up the hill from the church plaza, perhaps 20m off the route.

The church was locked tight, but across the church plaza is a pilgrim picnic shelter with public WC. No other services here; the town business district is down the hill.

Madame, the owner’s daughter, is catering for me. She speaks a little English, and I speak a little French. We limp along just fine, between us. This farmhouse is actually her father’s, and she is responsible while he is away on vacation. For dinner, she took me to her house for a home-cooked meal with her family. Tomatoes and zucchini from her garden, grilled steak, fresh figs, a cheese course, and a bit of flan to top it off. Just delightful to share in a family setting.

Gite La Ceriseraie, Saint-Hiliare-de-la-Côte

2017: Geneva Route Part I Logistics Retrospective

The Geneva-Le Puy section takes about a month of walking at my pace (15-18km, rest day once a week). So making the halfway point at Le Grand-Lemps worked as well as any. The other possible dividing point is Les Abrets, which also has a train station.

This section has some significant differences from the route after Le Puy. It is much more populated; so the towns are larger, they have more services, and they come along more frequently. Lodging choices are relatively abundant, and also more expensive (while walking solo I was averaging €60 a day; sharing lodging in the group averaged €40). This is an area favored by tourists so they compete for the lodging.

July, with its quite hot weather and its competing tourists, is not the right time to walk this section (nevertheless many do). It sometimes offers splendid views, which are rightly earned. The lower elevations are easier walking but not as visually interesting. The river dominates the geography, and offers boating and camping.

Most walkers encountered this month were Swiss. We found two Germans, one British, and one Austrian. According to one host, in the spring he gets the through-walkers heading to Santiago all in one go, in the summer he gets working people who walk 1-2 weeks on their holidays, and in the fall he gets retirees who are also walking fairly short stages.

Wifi was available every night save one; cell service was generally available. Groceries were less abundant and rather sporadic, so one needs to plan carefully, especially if camping and self-catering. (One Swiss family with small children at one of the campgrounds had been hungry, since there were several days without supplies early on.) Breakfast was typically generous in the French fashion: plentiful bread, butter, jam, and coffee or tea. Often cheese as well. Lunch was sometimes available at a restaurant if the day is timed properly. Dinner generally included an appetizer, plentiful main, cheese course followed by dessert – all featuring produce from the garden.

Transportation connection information in the Amis’ “yellow guide” is somewhat misleading, as they indicate train connections when there aren’t actually any. Check the SNCF smartphone app for actual train information. Buses are also notable by their absence and taxis are practically non-existent. So you and your pack are going to walk. This minimal transport infrastructure is a considerable difference from the situation in Switzerland.

Lodging hosts are friendly and helpful with recommendations, and will call ahead to organize the next night if asked. Calling for reservations is the norm; very few of these have email or websites. The Amis guide has all the lodging contact info.

On this section, I did not take advantage of any of the Amis private home accommodation; the one or two towns I checked, the homes were located in the suburbs and required an additional 2-3 km walk.

The campground facilities for non-tenting pilgrims should definitely not be overlooked. These can be a lifesaver when more standard accommodations are full, and a budget saver as well.

Drinking water was generally not available between towns; I have indicated every water point I passed on this route. Be prepared to bring enough water for your day. I often used my auxiliary water bottle as well as the water bladder when the day was hot.

The second half of the route crosses the Rhone valley before ascending the central massif that is the old volcanic heart in the middle of France. Just based on town distance my estimate was 13 walking days; however after looking at the elevation profiles – some days have a 1200m climb – I think 15 walking days is probably more accurate.

Perhaps next year, but surely not in July!

26 Jul 2017: Le Pin Plage to Le Grand-Lemps

Distance: 11.8 km

Weather: Sunny, afternoon high 80

Route: Dawn was a busy painter on the Lac du Paladru, for our last day of walking together.

Before setting off from the farm, we were thrilled to discover the donkey barn: a pair of solid white adults and also a solid white colt. Much cooing ensured, as we began what was to become Livestock Day.

In 2 km of Road shoulder walking we regain the CSJ route at Le Pin (bank and small grocery). After cuddling two really beautiful black horses, we proceeded along country byways and farm roads, past geese and the first of two (captive) deer herds. It really was Livestock Day apparently. The first of two stout hills appeared, climbed by some more of those darned French mango-sized stones that roll treacherously underfoot.

Coming down this descent, we can see in the distance the imposing elevation of the Aubrac Plateau, leading to Le Puy. Two of us (the younger Swiss and the Lichtensteiner) are headed that direction, while the older Swiss and I are heading for home, done with this year’s stage.

The final hill of the day (hah! There’s always another hill!) features a quite steep and treacherous descent to Le Grand-Lemps. At the foot of said hill, bear left into town for the train station or to continue on the CSJ.

This station connects (eventually) with Lyon, and after deciphering the ticket machine (no translation function available), we obtained tickets with only minutes to spare. After making our good-byes, the pilgrim party split up to go our separate ways. I have a rest day in Lyon before returning home Friday.

(Note to current readers: I will be editing and amplifying some posts from this trip later next week; you may want to check back if you were only catching them when first published.)

25 Jul 2017: (past) Les Abrets to Le Pin Plage

Distance: 12.5 km

Weather: Rain overnight, cloudy and cool for the day’s walking, afternoon high 65F. The sun came out later, followed by drenching rain.

Route: Rolling countryside with stony farm roads giving way to chestnut forest and views overlooking the lake.  Although rain threatened all morning, all that dampened us was a few minutes of mist – hardly worth the trouble of rigging for rain, which we all did at the noon halt.

Lodging: Gite-Chambres et table d’hotes Les Balcons du Lac, 145 Chemin de Baluran, Le Pin Plage 38730
An old farmhouse overlooks Lac du Paladru.
From a crossroads 1 km before Le Pin, take the side road 1 km downhill towards the lake. There is a connecting path in the morning, no need to climb back up the hill.

Madame and Monsieur are close to their 90’s if not well into them, but they are friendly and generous hosts. Since we are short-notice guests at the height of tourist season, we gratefully accept the simple supper prepared for us from her garden abundance. There are tomatoes so dripping with juice it runs down our chins, and a zucchini tart, for starters. The main is a plate of Spanish-style ham with salami, and a filling sauté of fresh potatoes, mushrooms, and tiny green peas. A cheese course of bleu-style Camembert and Emmenthaler follows. And dessert is slices of Panetone, topped with homemade berry sauce. All very homey and domestic, and we are immensely grateful to be warm, dry, and quite well fed (as the contrary alternative was very near miss).

This is a farm, and they keep horses overnight as well.

24 Jul 2017: Saint-Genix to (past) Les Abrets

Distance: 17.5 km

Weather: Rain started at dawn, continued to late morning, and threatened the sunny rest of the day with menacing but unproductive black clouds. Cooler, with an afternoon high 73.

Route: With no breakfast ordered at the campground, and the boulangerie closed, we decided to picnic our breakfast from supplies at the grocery next door, and make a substantial brunch.

By 11 the rain had subsided and we set off, through mostly gently rolling agricultural areas. The hills all seemed to be in the “up” direction. Two hours in, a scattered shower caught us just as we arrived at a (presciently well-located) bus shelter. Then it was a long afternoon slog.

Les Abrets is a big town with all services (including a real train station). Our lodging was a further 3 km out of town on the route, however, so we continued through more cornfields and climbing more hills, until we reached the gite.

Lodging: Chambre et table pelerin- Le Juvenin, 970 route bas- Juvenan, 38490 Charancieu

23 Jul 2017: Yenne to Saint-Genix-sur-Guirs

Distance: see discussion

Weather: partly cloudy, light breeze, afternoon high 78

Route: So today I finally found the boat. This had been suggested by my hostess in Collonges and I had looked in Seyssel without success, but I was looking for the wrong thing.

One can canoe or kayak on the Rhone, and your pack will be delivered at the destination. Two available legs are Seyssel to Chanaz or from Yenne to Saint-Genix.

So the Lichtensteiner (one of my tent-mates) and I went by boat while two of the Swiss men tackled the 25 km route over the 800m mountain.

The Rhone has a spectacular limestone gorge in this section, with steep walls rising 1000ft/300m from the valley floor. Since the cameras were safely tucked away in the waterproof lockers, I have no pictures, but will try to find some links later. It was very quiet and peaceful, which was lovely. And we saw quite a few waterfowl, including a bevy of swans as well as herons and cormorants.

Afterwards, our host organized the luggage onto the camping ground at St-Genix. We spotted a tent-camping pilgrim from last night, and invited him to join us for dinner. Roger started from his home in Shrewsbury, England 109 days ago and has walked the entire way; he’s heading for Santiago. One of us asked him what he’s learned on his pilgrimage. He responded, “We all need community.” He has a blog too:  https://rogerbreakell.wordpress.com/

Lodging: Les Bords du Guirs, Saint-Genix. Highly recommended. In addition to tent spaces they have lovely modern recent cabins, very well engineered and squeezing sleeps for 5, along with full bath, kitchen, and living/dining area, into 270 sq feet. Cozy! But with four to split the bill, it was quite reasonable. Restaurant on the premises serves dinner on the terrace, and breakfast too if you order when you check in. There is a grocery next door.

22 Jul 2017: Chanaz to Yenne

Distance: 20 km

Weather: Foggy in the morning, warming as the sun broke through mid-morning. Afternoon high 90.

Route: After a few minutes steep climb out of Chanaz the route followed mostly level farm roads until late morning.

It’s cows and pastures in these higher zones, giving way to vineyards as one descends, with corn fields down near the river.

At Barcontian, the route divides again. These emblems show the two different markings. The one on the left is the main route, going left. The one on the right is the variant route (note the “point”), going right.

The main route has a steep climb up to Jongieux followed by an equally steep descent, although there are views in between. The variant heads for the river bank, which it follows in level fashion through dense underbrush for several hours before arriving at Yenne.

It has been a miserable day; long and hot. Since the Tourism office is closed for lunch, and none of my morning calls were answered, I start tramping the streets in 90F heat to find accommodation. The hotel at Yenne is full. So is the gite. Fortunately the campground has space in the eight-man tent, which is now full (one German woman, one Lichtensteiner with me, and the rest Swiss men). I’m grateful to have a roof of any sort over my head, as the first thunder claps at 4  pm.

After a shower and laundry, the world looks much more positive actually. I stop at the bakery for some pain chocolat and join two tent-mates for what starts as an aperitif and turns into a night of a very nice three-course dinner. Good food! New friends! The day is redeemed!

Lodging: Camping du Flon, Yenne. Recommended. Very friendly staff and owner. They have two tents with 12 beds total for pilgrims. Restaurants and shopping about 200m into town.

21 July: Serrères-en-Chautagne to Chanaz

Distance: 10.5 km

Weather: Partly cloudy, humid, afternoon high 85, with afternoon thunderstorms warnings

Route: Serrières-en-Chautagne has a public WC and a public camping ground with swimming lake and beach, just as the route exits town. For 45 minutes this variant works its way through county-owned tree farms, then rejoins the main route at the bank of the Rhone. This is very pretty, green, level walking with occasional views to the ridge across the river.

At the junction I meet another pilgrim, a German-speaking Swiss man who began in Konstanz and is headed to Santiago, all in three months. At the speed he is going, I think he is quite likely to make his schedule. The route follows the shady riverbank for awhile, making a sharp left at a transmission tower to join a paved bicycle route for an hour. At the Pont de la Loi railway bridge, the bicycle route turns east towards Vions (approx 1 km, with lodging and an actual train station). But our route continues ahead along a shade-free levy for an interminable half hour before arriving at Chanaz.

Chanaz is a very pretty (and somewhat touristy) village, with picturesque cafes overlooking the canal. The Tourism office has a stamp and a toilet with water, and a shady bench immediately outside.

My plan had been to continue onward another 5 km to the gite at Montagnin, but when I called for a reservation, they were full. (I suspect the group of Girl Guides leaving the Tourism office as I arrived might have had something to do with that.) At any rate, with thunderstorm warnings posted for this afternoon, there are worse places to spend a quiet summer afternoon than a garden in France, especially one with a shady reading chair.

Dinner was at a small bistro near the water. Mid-aperitif, the promised thunderstorms arrived, and we adjourned to more sheltered tables under the awning, quite secure behind the weather-drapes. A tasty plate of grilled brochette, ratatouille, and salad. As I was leaving, a young man asked about my Kindle. So I chatted quite awhile with Simon; he loves rock and roll, and had traveled in the States. He insisted on buying me a drink, a local digestif- which turned out to be Chartreuse Vert served in a frozen snifter. Well, one must wait out the thunderstorm somehow, eh?

Lodging: Gite et chambre d’hote El Camino, 89 montée du Fort, 73310 Chanaz

20 Jul 2017: Seyssel to Serrières-en-Chautagne

Distance: 12.5 km

Weather: rain last night as several showers passed through, breaking the heat somewhat. Afternoon high 84 (better than 92 but still hot!)

Route: The variant through Seyssel follows the riverbank, making a pretty morning walk. There are islands in the channel, beloved by the waterfowl, swans especially. I saw three different family groups, each with their gaggle of growing cygnets. (Gaggle is for geese – what is the collective for swans?)

After an hour and a half we meet up with the main route again at the bridge over the Fier River, whereupon another variant splits off, to follow the road  heading uphill. I decided to keep to the flat. Shortly I came to an interesting complex, something like a commercially-operated state park (a concept Americans will recognize – I’m not sure how to describe it for others). There was a ropes-type obstacle/confidence course, a lake with swimming area, a snack bar, and several different age-groups of children, each being led through activities by young adults. I would say it resembles a summer camp – under the same aegis as at the campground last night – except that there were no tents or other lodgings in sight. Just past this complex was a restaurant- bar, Le Nymphée, which offered an excellent cup of coffee. They were also preparing a very nice looking lunch – if only I were two hours later. So for walkers coming from Les Côtes rather then Seyssel, this makes a good lunch stop.

Returning to the Rhone from the Fier, soon I see a huge sign warning of “Barrage”. Immediately I think “artillery”, as I have passed military reservations in years past. However,  the French have a different language lesson in mind for me. This word is related to our verb “to bar” and refers to a dam. (I won’t bother looking up “damage”; who knows where that might end up.) Just another example of a French word that came over to English intact but changed its meaning. Another example happened at lunch. My server offered me a plateau of cheese. It was a platter that was being offered, not the geologic formation resembling one. So I stumble merrily along, thinking I am reading French just fine, when I get these surprises!

After the dam-age, there are a few quite steep ups and downs mixed into an otherwise quite routine forest track. These are steep enough that I would not want to contemplate walking this section in the reverse direction- the highway would be a much better bet.

Breaking out into the open again, the hamlet of Les Iles has a renovated lavoir, with running water but not certified potable. Still, it makes a nice place to wet one’s hat in the heat. The next hamlet, Mathy, has a picnic table and another non-potable water tap, but no other services. Here in the Rhone valley, the gardens are different: all flowers (dahlias and lillies especially profuse and colorful) with some tomato plants. These have a suburban feel, quite different from the huge country vegetable gardens of the higher region before Seyssel.

At Mathy I take the variant into Serrièrres-en-Chautagne for its food and lodging. The auberge offers a menu du jour, and the very kind lady rattles off the formula. “Yes,” I say, having no idea what will arrive, but the place is full, and locals know a good meal. They have a nice cold salad buffet, the same pork tenderloin with gravy as yesterday, that cheese platter I mentioned earlier, and a chilled fruit compote dolled up with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on top. With wine and coffee, €14. Eat to walk, walk to eat!

Lodging: Auberge Chautagnarde and they have Demi-pension as well as lunch

Camping in Europe

Since this is such a different experience I thought I would address it at some length. Camping places are very viable as pilgrim lodging, but it’s not what you might expect.

Of course there is camping: a whole panapoly of tents and small RVs are crammed in here. I see bicyclists roll in as late as 6 pm with camping packs.

Most pilgrims don’t carry camping equipment because of the weight. This situation is also catered for: there are little cabins, or huts, or chalets, or (as here) tipis. Each sleeps 2-4, and has basic kitchen facilities (fridge, coffee, micro, griddle). With a few porch chairs and beds (bring your own sheets, or use that sleeping bag liner I know you have).

The plumbing, however, is elsewhere. All the plumbing. There is a washhouse with WCs and showers, and sinks for washing-up dishes and laundry (separately) lining the outside.

My previous experience of such places was in the Czech Republic very early in the season, and I was the only resident. But this is high season in France, and I have hordes of company. Many young families with small children, and some sort of youth group that breaks out into summer-camp chants at regular intervals – probably 200 people here altogether.

19 Jul 217: Desingy to Seyssel

Distance: 9 km

Weather: Clear and sunny, hot by 8:00, afternoon high 88 but this should be the last of this particular heat spell.

Route: From the church at Desingy (bless Monsieur my host for driving back up the hill a kilometer) the route follows mostly level country byways, through hamlets of farmers older than I, with a sprinkling of retired city folk now enjoying country living. Everyone has enormous gardens.

At Curty there is a pilgrim rest area with water point.

At the crossroads, I take the variant route to Seyssel, down a steep and gravelled (not the best combination) farm road to reach the hamlet of Les Côtes.

And then we continue down that same somewhat treacherous road. Seyssel is a very picturesque small town on the Rhone with population perhaps 3000, which counts as a big town in these parts. It has train service (station is across the river), a large church (no stamp), and a well preserved central core that has nice pedestrian streets. Lunch was at an unassuming bistro on the main square, across from the Mairie (I figured it couldn’t be bad and still be open, in a location like that). The menu du jour (often a bit of a mystery: order first and ask questions later) turned out very nicely: a composed salad plate featuring a stack of diced raw vegetables (carrots, sun dried tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, and something white – turnips maybe?) garnished with salad greens in balsamic. With a saucer of Dijon mustard on the side, it was a stir-to-your-taste. The main course was roast pork in gravy with sautéed squashes, and the dessert a chilled fresh fruit compote. With wine, less that €15.

Lodging: Camping Municipal Le Nant Maraz, 18 Rue de Genève, Seyssel. This comes recommended, and the location is terrific, right on the banks of the Rhone. A 24/7 bakery is one block towards town, and a big Carrefours grocery is directly across the street. Like most European camping grounds, you do not need a tent – they have small cabins as well as tent spots. After the splendor of last night’s castle, this bit of rusticity will restore my pilgrim “what I need is enough” mentality.

The weather has turned, which is a good-news/bad-news affair. As our local weather guessers would say, an upper level disturbance moved in midday, bringing clouds (and so, cooler temperatures) but also gusty winds and the distinct possibility of rain (somewhere, sometime). So we will see what tomorrow brings.

18 Jul 2017: Collonges d’Haut to Desingy

Distance: 9 km

Weather: Clear and sunny; warm at 9:00 and hot by 9:30, but very pleasant in any shade. Steady gentle and very welcome breeze beginning in late morning.

Route: The French do love their conversations, and with four of us at breakfast (two of Madame’s friends had stayed over), it was 9:00 before I was underway. The route descends over farm roads, past a colony of rabbits, to the town of Frangy. There is a potable water fountain at the entry to town, by the church (which has no stamp). There is a Carrefours grocery about 50m off the route. And there is a restaurant, also a bakery.

Warning: Amis Guide incorrect! Contrary to indications, there is no transport in Frangy. Also, despite having two ATM’s, neither was inclined to dispense cash. And the hotel is out of business.

Departing Frangy, the route ascends along a secondary road, which I elected to continue at the point where the marked CSJ route turned to an uphill footpath. I will take a vehicle-grade over a steep hill scramble in this heat any time!

Stopped at Champagne at the lavoir for a shade break. One sees these in small villages sometimes- the village women would gather here to wash the laundry (and socialize!). This one is being renovated. And a pilgrim pair overtook me: he from NZ (South Island), she from Geneva and on her first pilgrim walk. Young, strong, and ambitious- I wished them a good journey.

The route continues upwards, sometimes by farm road and other times by shady footpath at a decent grade. This is hard-working farming country, and the first hay crop is just in. The blackberries are turning, and vegetable gardens are in their glory. Most houses have flourishing hanging baskets of petunias, or boxes of geraniums guarding the windows.

Desingy has a WC, water point and stamp at the Mairie (city hall, where the mayor works), right across from a very pretty church with a shady north portico, perfect for an afternoon break. The marked route turns left just after the church, but I continued straight ahead and downhill for a kilometer to reach tonight’s lodging.

The shorter day was definitely the right approach for today’s heat. Tomorrow will be very hot again, and then the heat breaks. So they forecast!

Lodging: Château de Pelly, 761 Rue de Chatel, Designy

I have never stayed in a castle before! Although I’ve visited quite a few, none were overnights. So this is a new experience, driven by the need for shorter days in this heat. The original building dates from the early 13th century, according to the current owner, who has been working on the renovations for eleven years, during the winter months.

There are accommodations for families on holiday, as well as separate arrangements for pilgrims.

This nicely balances out the much more basic lodgings I had in Charly a few nights ago. And I do enjoy the variety!

17 Jul 2017: Rest Day

Fortunately Madame does not have another guest slotted in for tonight, so I am able to stay over. This is the end of the walking season; the daily afternoon temperatures are so high, the authorities have issued heat warnings.

Instead, it is a day for the garden. Madame claims she is not a good gardener, only a good cook. But the surrounding lush greenery belies this falsehood. Still, we went to visit her cousin, a few doors down, who has a very productive vegetable garden. They picked fresh herbs, tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, for a ratatouille for lunch, and a moussaka for tonight’s dinner.

Fortunately Madame speaks some English, and we have enjoyed chatting at meals. In addition to the bedroom I occupy, she has an apartment that sleeps four, with complete kitchen, all one would need for a week. Most of  her cooking is vegetarian with most of the ingredients from her own garden (some from her cousin’s, and eggs from the neighbor two doors down in the other direction).

This evening she had friends over, so we were six for dinner, very convivial. It is special to be treated like a member of the family!

We will see what the plan is for tomorrow, once tomorrow arrives.

16 Jul 2017: Charly to Collonges d’en Haut

Distance: 17 km + 5km wrong turn

Weather: clear and sunny, afternoon high 85F, a pleasant breeze.

Route: The day began sublimely, with a gentle climb and panoramic views from the ridge top. A day meant for walking; everything was just super. The village of La Motte has a rest stop with water. There is another, 200m before Contamine-Sarzin.

After that the devil required his due: the route followed an old road (deeply eroded and surfaced with stones the size of softballs) steeply up, down, and then up again over some very rough terrain. In addition to being beastly hot, this was most inconvenient for my plan to have lunch while it was actually being served. Hill climbs and races against the clock are not a good combination.

This made the midday halt at Chaumont most welcome. The terrace at Auberge du Pralet was a shady and comfortable respite from the heat, and a light lunch of lamb stir-fry was in order, since I knew there would be dinner tonight. 

After lunch, due to some faulty signage in Chaumont, I made a wrong turn exiting the town, resulting in an hour’s climb under the hot sun in the wrong direction. Fortunately when I reached a road with a landmark I was able to call my hostess for this evening, and she drove up to retrieve me. Immense gratitude!!

The views of the Pre-Alps and Jura here are super, but the heat is making me seriously reconsider my itinerary. I am only getting three decent hours of walking a day before it is just too hot – and the predictions are for warming through the week.

Lodging: Chambre d’hotes Baudet, Collinges d’en Haut

15 Jul 2017: Archamps to Charly

Distance: 19.5 km in 5 hours

Weather: Partly cloudy, afternoon high 78F, strengthening breeze as the afternoon progressed.

Route: Not only was yesterday Bastille Day, but this is the holiday weekend accompanying it. And although I had lodging reservations last night, I do not have them for tonight or tomorrow. So the usual places are full. There is a municipal  gite in Charly, so that is my objective today. This is a bit further than originally planned, so I am cutting a few corners to save the distance. This morning I walked the Road shoulder of the D18 road for the first hour, saving me 4 km. In La Forge I picked up the CSJ route again, which immediately climbed to a ridge with a nice view and a welcome breeze. A little wayside chapel – the sort I saw frequently in Germany but never in France – was erected in honor of the local men who returned from German prison camps in 1945.
After more climbing along farm roads and occasional woods, I came to the restored monastery at Pomiers. The French name for their order is Chartreuse – and yes the monks are the makers of the liquor of the same name. In America they are known as Carthusians, and in Britain their monasteries are called Charterhouse; both are corruptions of the French. This is an order of hermits – you can get a sense of their life if you watch the film Into Great Silence on YouTube. The building is now in private hands and used as an event and conference center.

Yet more climbing – gentle but insistent- about 1250 ft for the day, giving wonderful panoramic views of the Alps and Jura. And then the descent to Mount Sion for lunch at Le Clef Des Champs restaurant, a splurge since I know dinner will be sparse. Once again I sat outside; I hate to dirty up these nice places with my dusty pack and sweaty clothes. The menu du jour looked good. The appetizer was a very nice cold seafood stew of mussels and shrimp in a lemon sauce.

For the main course, local freshwater fish with summer vegetables.

Another 30 minutes walk brought me to Charly, where, despite the housewarming party involving several dozen, I was able to find the municipal gite. The elderly lady sitting on her terrace next door was kind enough to help me get settled. This is an old (several centuries) house that has been slightly updated with a full bath and small kitchen, and a room with a couple mattresses on the floor. Basic, but clean, and the location was just what I needed. I have the place to myself.

Lodging: Relais de Chez Odette, Charly

14 Jul 2017: Geneva to Archamps

Distance: 12 km (approximately)

Weather: Partly cloudy; it warmed rapidly in the morning to a high of 81F, with the breeze waiting until mid-afternoon to develop.

I’ve been visiting pilgrim friends who live near Lake Neufchâtel, northeast of Geneva. It’s been lovely to see them again, and give myself a chance to recover from jet lag. But, just as ships were not built to stay safely moored in port, this pilgrim must set foot upon the road once again.

Route: From the Protestant cathedral Saint-Pierre, where I ended the previous section and where I got an initial stamp in my pilgrim credential, the way is well- marked as the “Route 4: Via Jacobi”, as it has been all across Switzerland. Leading along lightly-trafficked streets in this heart of the old city, I see many wrought iron balconies and flower pots in the typical French style, as well as an assortment of shops, bistros, and cafes. I was too early for lunch however. Several repurposed horse fountains are along the route, starting before the cathedral, and all are marked “eau potable” so they are safe for drinking (the spigot, not the trough). It’s a great way to wet your hat on a hot day, which this was turning into. After about 30 minutes’ walking, there is a Lidl (discount German food mart) of good size with fresh baked goods. Another 10 minutes later there is a Migros (Swiss grocery chain). These are directly on the route, and the best place for resupply I saw all day. If you are disinclined to hike through downtown and suburban Geneva, tram 12 stops one block toward the Lake from Saint-Pierre, and follows the Via Jacobi exactly for the first 45 minutes of walking, where the old town ends, the suburbs begin, and there is an end-of the-tram-line loop.

Not long after that, things became interesting. The marked route departed the sidewalk and was headed toward a lovely shaded footpath; however, the path was completely blocked by a gate and chain across the entire path, wall to wall. A sign indicated two months of construction was in progress, and a map indicated a circuitous detour that tripled the distance of the affected interval ( think three sides of a square). So I set off in an effort to follow the detour. I should mention that suburban Geneva is one of those places where you cannot go around the block and end where you started. Fortunately I still had the Swiss Mobility app loaded on my iphone, with its complete map set of the Via Jacobi route across Switzerland. And Google Maps has a setting for “walking”. The walking was a bit cross-country, along paved sidewalks through some exceptional neighborhoods (Troinex was one) with very fine homes. Occasionally I would pick up a marked regional walking route, but I kept going in the right general direction. As it happened my hotel was also not directly on the route (now labeled the Chemin St Jacques because I have crossed over into France), so it all worked out in the end. For a while though, I was worried.

Meals: Having been too early for lunch in Geneva proper, I swore to stop at the first opportunity occurring after 12 noon (the canonical hour to begin lunch). The place turned out to be the very unprepossessing Auberge Croix de Ronex, which had outdoor seating under the shady sycamore trees. Do not judge a book by its cover. The kitchen produced an entirely satisfactory cold salad plate composed of fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella drizzled with pesto, and some thinly sliced Parma ham, all dressed with vinaigrette. Entirely routine – and entirely delicious!

Dinner is at the hotel dining room. The salad was huge; a nice assortment of chilled vegetables as well as some couscous atop a bed of local greens vinaigrette.

As well as a main plate of cheeseburger and green beans, which disappeared before the photographer noticed, I’m afraid.

Hotel: Ibis Hotel, 23 Rue Ada Byron, Archamps France. This business hotel is near the Chemin, and as it is Bastille Day here in France, I did not want to leave the lodging to chance. Clean, spacious, all the mod cons and free wifi. Available through Booking.com.

Packed and Ready 2017

It’s been a challenging two years. My plan to walk last year was scotched by a back injury sustained while carrying a rowing shell, and since then my physical therapist and I have become very well acquainted. But now I am all mended, and I have been training for several months. So I’m ready to get my foot in the road again!

What’s different in the pack this year? This is the first time I’m hiking in summer; usually I’ve been walking in May or September. So I have left behind the Ferrino Trekker raincoat with gaiters, taking instead a lightweight Helium II jacket from Outdoor Research. Rather than the sleeping bag, I’m taking only the silk sleeping bag liner. Also no long underwear, or insulated jacket. And the good news is that the dry load (no food or water) weight is only 13.5 lbs (6.1 kg)! I’m liking this a lot!

The remaining gap for me is between Geneva, where I stopped in 2015, and Le Puy en Velay where I began in 2010. (Blogs for the earlier sections are listed at the right.) However, at more than four weeks of walking, that is too long for me to be away from home these days. So I will do the first half, ending near Lyon. There are actually two routes available: one going directly from Geneva to Lyon, and the other passing south of Lyon on a more direct line to Le Puy, which is the one I will take. You can see maps and an elevation profile here: http://www.gr-infos.com/en/gr65a.htm.

The main guide for this route is published by the Amis-St Jacques (Friends of Saint James) Association (http://chemins.amis-st-jacques.org/?page_id=6) in bilingual French and German, and includes lodging information. The same association publishes guides for the related routes: to Lyon, connecting to Arles, and connecting from Vezelay.  FFR, the French hiking association, has a topo-guide available in French:  https://boutique.ffrandonnee.fr/topoguides?gr=216 .

Since this is a far more lightly-traveled route than the section from Le Puy onwards, there is not a lot of lodging infrastructure. Many nights I will be staying in private homes – the homes of Amis members. The contact phones are listed in the Amis guide. I have been working on my French ability (thanks to the Michel Thomas and Duolingo apps), but we will see if it is up to the task.

After so many years of walking, why do I still do this? Walking pilgrimage routes is many things: an amazing adventure, a spiritual retreat, and – in the week an old friend passed at far too young an age – a celebration of the sweetness of life.

2012 Summary Notes

1. The Prague to Nuremberg route is interesting, very different from France, and well worth the walking. The forests and panoramas in CZ are especially noteworthy. I’m glad I made this trip.

2. The planning resources, both in print (Der Jakobsweg: Prag nach Tillyschantz and Jakobsweg: Eslarn nach Bodensee) and digital media (gps track on peterrobbins site) are very helpful and reasonably accurate. All the lodging establishments were still open and their contact information was current. There were minor variations in the designated route from the gps track, but nothing that was not immediately apparent. The stage length (from lodging to lodging) is reasonable – I averaged about 16 km. Of course the German authors of the guidebooks consider this a half day distance, but it was plenty for me.

3. Route marking on the ground is not as frequent as in France on the Le Puy route. This is especially true in CZ. Having access to the gps track saved many (but not all) needless backtracks. This was also especially true in towns (where I always have trouble regardless).

4. Bus service is often available in the small towns, which is useful in adjusting stage length to suit the walker’s capacity. There is no taxi or baggage-transport service available. Bus service is affected by Sunday, holiday, and weekend schedule reductions.

5. In CZ, the small towns do not have pharmacy, bank, or even market services available; just residences and a bus stop, with the occasional pension. Large towns (those with a rail connection) will have these services. In Germany all these services are available in the small towns.

6. Once outside Prague, it is rare to find an English-speaker in CZ, and rarer yet to find a German-speaker. English is taught in the high schools, so teenagers have the best chance for English. There are no tourism offices outside Prague, and only in the cities in Germany. Czech is a really strange language, difficult for me to learn at all. I relied on my audio dictionary quite a bit. My phrasebook German worked in the small towns in Germany, and English in the cities. I used Livemocha.com to learn a bit of Czech and to brush up my German. The app Michel Thomas produced very good results for pronunciation in German, and basic verb constructions. I was frequently complimented on my German (more than I deserved – my listening comprehension is still not good).

7. Everyone was very helpful even if there was a language barrier. Pilgrims are rare and people will look out for you.

8. The weather (from mid-May to mid-June) was quite good for walking. I did not encounter consecutive rainy days until the last week of my walk.

9. Path conditions were generally quite good, giving much better walking than in France. There were no Stretches of eroded stones. There was minimal asphalt or pavement walking. There were a few boggy spots (with the accompanying swarms of oversized mosquitos) but these were isolated. There were some very steep spots (even on the marked route) especially in CZ. The short stretches that were steep in Germany seemed to rely on the network of tree roots for their integrity. Every stream crossing had either a bridge or stepping stones.

10. Cell phone coverage was universal. Hotels in the cities offered wifi; and very occasionally I was able to find a wifi connection in the small towns. Eventually I made a data package buy from my US service provider and used that for my email and blogging. Cell phone companies in Germany are different from CZ even if they have the same name.

11. Since there are so few walkers (or other travelers) at this time of years, there is no need to call ahead for reservations. If there are two lodgings in town, and one takes vacation, the other will be open.

12. The holiday schedule in Germany differs from France. In Bavaria (both routes from Prague run through Bavaria), not only is there the Pfingsten (Pentecost/Whitsunday) a long holiday weekend, but Corpus Christi is also (Thursday after Trinity Sunday, about ten days after Pentecost). Both these are moveable feasts, being counted from the date of Easter. These holidays impact bus service and local festivals can fill lodgings. So check the calendar.

13. Pricing level. In Germany, an average of 35 Euros would get me a private single room (clean sheets, duvet, and towels) with private shower, and an enormous breakfast with enough left over for lunch. Dinner ran 10-15 euros depending on taste and beer consumption.

13. Electronics and apps.
– iPhone 4GS. Often had coverage when other phones did not, I assume because of the multi-band capability.
– Collins German dictionary
– Collins Czech dictionary
– Collins Czech audio phrasebook
– GPS Track
– Camera Plus. Supports photo editing.
– Blogger
– Kindle. Essential for entertaining oneself in the evenings.
– Unlocked cell phone. I did not need or use.

14. Equipment.
– Pack. Osprey Exos 46. This is my third walk and my third pack. I am very happy with this pack. It is lighter weight than either predecessor (Osprey Kestrel 45 and Kestrel 35), and much cooler as it stands well off the back. It was quite sturdy, receiving only a 1 inch tear when I took that fall down the ravine. For some reason this pack has about as much usable volume as the Kestrel 35.
– Water bladder. Platypus 2 liter was adequate, the days were not hot.
– Boots. Vasque Bitterroot boots with a prescription orthotic insert produced zero foot problems of any sort. If there were more asphalt walking I would really need some additional insole cushioning. Goretex liners were very helpful in the boggy bits.
– Poles. I have used Pacer Poles for all three walks, and they probably saved my life this trip. I was able to lean very heavily on them while working my way down the ravine and descending the waterfall. They bent but never broke.
– Sleeping bag. Yeti Passion One. In Germany a silk sleep sack would have been sufficient, but a sleeping bag is essential in spring in CZ, as the places are not heated and nights are cold.
– Long underwear. Likewise the silk long johns were not necessary except in CZ. This was my first experience with the Smartwool Icebreaker merino wool undershirt; it is definitely a keeper, ver comfortable both day and night.

15. There are not other walkers, to be encountered either during the day or in the evenings, either in CZ or in Germany. The exception was near German cities on weekend mornings, when local people are making outings. Your social contact will be with your lodging hosts (if you speak the language). I would be strongly inclined to bring a walking companion with me, if possible. This is especially true in CZ, where assistance resources are so limited.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

10 Jun 12: Rummelsberg to Markt Wendelstein

Distance: 12.5 km
Climbing: Flat

Rummelsberg seems to be right on the edge of the greater Nürnberg area: except for a bit of logging road early on, today’s route has been all suburban, small town, or city or county parks. So, no wide, expansive vistas or broad panoramas; just the closed-in view of woods or houses. This part of Germany was once an inland sea, so the soil is quite sandy and it really resembles the sand hills section of the Carolinas. It is Sunday morning, and many people are out, walking or jogging or bicycling or dogging.

The last few km lie along the King Ludwig Canal, built during the heyday of infrastructure development before the railroads came along, just like the Erie Canal in the US, which it resembles. Unlike the Canal du Midi in France, the houseboat lobby has not got their oar in the water, so to speak, so the locks are not functioning and there is no water traffic, apart from the stray water lily.

Unlike the situation with walking in France in September, there is no need for a cellphone for calling ahead for lodging reservations. Almost invariably I am the sole lodger. If anything, one would call to see whether the establishment is open at all – many seem to be taking vacation during this timeframe. And so the pension here is closed, and I am in the hotel instead.

I am stopping here so as to take advantage of the smaller towns, rather than spending several days in the big city of Nürmburg. Lunch was at the first gasthaus I came to. This is Sunday, as I mentioned, and the tradition of “Sunday dinner” is big here; since I had to picnic for last night’s dinner as well as my breakfast this morning, this seems a reasonable compensation. Oh my – what a delight! Pan-fried filet of fish, swimming in lemon butter sauce (there is no German word for “lightly sauced”), potatoes with bits of bacon, and fresh broccoli.

Dinner was at the hotel, and they had some seasonal asparagus specials on the menu still. So I had fresh spaetzle with asparagus and fresh herbs. Yummy!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

9 Jun 12: Sindlbach to Rummelsberg

Distance: 17.5 km
Climbing: 45m up and 70m down

The further west, away from the Czech border, I have walked, the more moderate the terrain has become. The highest point along the Jakobsweg in CZ was 600m (this was on the section I skipped around) while the elevation midday here is only 385m. This is a rolling landscape, with small farming valleys separated by small wooded hills. It makes for very scenic walking. The local hiking associations, who are in charge of the routing of these long-distance paths, including the Jakobsweg (there are others), have taken pains to give reasonable and picturesque experiences. They avoid the main highways and will even go uphill to avoid suburban and commercial development. There is much less road-shoulder marching than in France. (Most of the road-shoulder I have walked here has been by my choice, either a shortcut or a misdirection).

Today’s route wended its way through these small wooded hills en route to a former monastery mill. I came across another one of the giant rabbits; he was curious at first but then anxiety struck and he dashed off. I also passed a very large wayside cross, similar to the several I see each day, but larger. (Note to translators: “roadside cross” is different from “crossroad”.)

In Gnadenberg I passed ruins of a cloister dedicated to St Birgitt, which had been burned in the Thirty Years War. This part of Bavaria seems to have both a Protestant and a Catholic church in every town, unlike the earlier area where I saw only Catholic. Later, in Rasch, I saw half-timbered buildings (the first since I started walking on this trip), with the Rathaus dating from 1727.

I arrived at my day’s objective, Altenthann (14 km) about 2:00 to discover they were having a festival. Think carnival rides, popcorn balls, feats of strength for the young men, and so on. Meaning, of course, to coin a phrase, there was no room in the inn. There was nothing to be done but continue to the next town, as the buses were not running. I arrived at Rummelsberg just as it started to sprinkle. It is not looking like a town, more like a cross between a college campus and a business park. I locate the hotel, which is listed in my guidebook. The hotel is closed for renovation. (Just as well, the tariff would have been over 70 Euros). I went into the adjacent building, thinking it is another (possibly open) wing of the hotel. No, this is a nursing home: elders in wheelchairs nodding in the lobby. I go back outside, encounter some competent adults heading into the building, and ask for directions to the other lodging mentioned in the guidebook (the next town was yet another 5 km and I just wasn’t up for that much more, another 2 hours of walking). One dear woman took pity and drove me over to this place. We manage to raise one resident on the intercom, and he manages to locate the housemother, and at last I end up with a room, for which I am immensely grateful. I do not even mind that there is no restaurant or any food service of any kind. I have a bed, a shower down the hall, some brown bread provided by the resident, and my pack larder of cheese and gorp. It is enough.

Turns out, this place is a social services ministry (retirement home, handicapped residences, etc.) operated by a brotherhood (1000 strong) of Lutheran deacons. (For you Anglicans reading, think “permanent diaconate” not the transitional deacons on their way to being ordained as priests.) And the building where I am lodged is the dorm for the deacons-in-training. Training takes six years and includes what Americans would consider undergraduate as well as seminary. It is local to the Nürmberg area and apparently very well known. An appropriate place for a pilgrim to spend the night.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

8 Jun 12: Kastl to Sindlbach (bus)

My plan had been to take the bus from Kastl to Trautmannshofen, involving a bus transfer at Neumarkt. This would leave me a 11km walk downhill into Sindlbach and about 3 hours to do it, putting my arrival about 5:30pm.

Alas, the bus system had other ideas, since this seems to be a continuation of yesterday’s holiday. So, I was not able to catch a bus leaving Kastl until 1245, and the bus through Trautmannshofen was not running at all. A nerve wracking hour later, a bus heading through Sindlbach appeared and so I took it. And a good thing too, as the heavens opened up and the downpour began the moment I set foot inside the bus. If I had been walking, I would have been thoroughly drenched despite my rain gear – it rained that hard and long and the route was out in the open, with no sheltering trees. So I was very glad of the bus, actually.

The frustrating thing is, none of the highly computerized signs at the otherwise well integrated Neumarkt transit center had any knowledge of the change in bus schedules due to the holiday. This seems very odd to me, in a country that is in so many other ways so very orderly. Neumarkt seems like a big place, larger than Schwandorf. The suburbs extend quite a ways – I suspect this is within commuting range of Nürmburg.

My lodgings tonight are directly on the Jakobsweg, very nicely kitted out (Ikea must be making a fortune in the gasthaus trade). Dinner was a splendid plate of fried fish (it being Friday and all, a nice change from pork) with home-fries and a tall pilsner.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

20 May 12: Zvikovec to a Rock Wall

Medieval pilgrims had two saints looking out for them, St John (Jakob) and St Roch (Rochus). Me too, except mine are named Stefan and Rothko. The good news is that I’m alive, nothing is broken, and I have my wallet and passport intact.

Here’s the bad news. I was walking the section from Zvikovec to Liblin (which you now have my permission to bus around until they get this track rerouted). Already, coming out of Chlum, the track had made a very steep (steps required but not universally installed) descent to the Berounka and (pull yourself up by the tree roots) ascent. The next descent started off typically, then the track ducked into a wood and became both unmarked and poorly maintained. I was trying to match up my gps track with the faint and intermittent traces I was seeing on the ground. Meanwhile the slope was becoming steadily steeper; lots of side-slipping and fetching up on well-rooted trees. Suddenly the trail and the ground under my feet disappeared. So this was an uncontrolled, on-my-butt, slide down a forested ravine, about 15 feet I would estimate, something like a 60 or 70 degree slope. This left me messy but functioning at an almost-dry brook. The gps track and the faint traces on the ground led up the other side, so I climbed up a bit and then the ground gave way a second time for another 15-foot slide, back to the brook. The brook channel started looking like the safest route, and I could see the river below me. So I was successfully following it, until I came to an almost dry waterfall, about 8 feet. Somehow I managed to pick my way down it with no further slides and reached the river bank.

My heart sank when I realized I was trapped by the riverside. The rock walls came down to the river both upstream and downstream. The only way out was going to be by boat. Meanwhile, although I was thoroughly scraped up on the extremities, there didn’t seem to be any medical emergency.
No head contact at all, nothing deep enough to require stitches.

Let’s see what my options are here. I could call home in the US, have them relay my gps coordinates to the Embassy in Prague … That could take a day or two. I could call my new friend in Vienna, get her to contact Czech emergency services in English … That wasn’t sounding promising either. My host last night spoke English pretty well, had boats, and I had his phone number in my guidebook. Could I get the iPhone to make a local call? Yes!

As it turned out, he was the head of the local fire and rescue unit. It required the remainder of the afternoon, all the way to sunset, to get found (river makes many bends and don’t ever underestimate the value of having an article of day-glo orange clothing to wave around) first by the on-foot team and then by the boat squad. Then his wife, who just happened to be a nurse, did a fine job of soap and water wash, Betadine scrub, and dressing application. Then they fed me dinner and tucked me into bed. Truly I am lucky to be in one piece and have connected with such caring people.

I’ll be here two nights, planning on bed rest and then seeing how comfortable and mobile I am. Best case is knocking off the rest of this week, bus-train to Germany and pick up walking there for two weeks. Worst case is changing air return to sooner, train to Paris to collect my luggage, then fly home.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

19 May 12: Skryje to Zvikovec

Distance: 9 km (half rest day)
Climbing: 300 ft

For the stage planning I am constrained by towns that have lodging, and the next stage will take an entire day, so a half day seems in order.

Breakfast was – sweet angels – ready for me promptly at 8: two or three scrambled eggs and three thick slices of brown bread. Those I recognized. The coffee was a different story. At first I thought it was instant, which I have been served before (I could see the granules when I stirred). But these bits were not dissolving. It appears to be a version of what we call in the States “cowboy coffee”, where the boiling water is poured over coffee grounds and it brews right in the cup. So I added milk, stirred like crazy, and let the grounds settle. It actually worked out fairly well, as long as you didn’t get too greedy for that last sip!

The family running this pension are very sweet and friendly and trying hard to please, despite my language barrier. Frau did the cooking while Herr served the table. They are continuing to renovate this big old building (a former fire hall perhaps?) as I see new water heaters and stacks of insulation lying in the corners.

It is a sparkling clear morning as I set out, a perfect fine day for walking. The route comes off the bluff where sat the town, heading down and passing by a weir across the Berounka before heading back uphill through small houses with lovely views. As the morning warms, I shift over to shorts and sunglasses. Hallelujah! I’m finally back in full pilgrim uniform, working on my tan. It feels so good to not be cold!

And, it being Saturday morning, there are people out on their decks, enjoying the view and the sunshine and the newspaper. There are also several bicycling day-trippers as well as a couple ATVs passing me. A group of three hikers waves, all Czech men my age or older.

Finally we break out along the top of the ridge, with panoramic views across the valley, lush meadows, and for the first time in CZ, cows in the meadows.

After coming down to the river Berounka yet again, I find my lodgings midday. In my continuing effort to sample every type available in CZ, this time it is a camping-place that also has small huts for rent. Toilet and cold water sink are in the wash house next door, showers behind the restaurant on a coin timer. But beautifully situated right on the riverbank, lovely beer terrace to enjoy the view, and the wifi is free. The owner speaks English and the young fräulein at the counter speaks some German.

I treated myself to a full lunch: pan-fried boneless chicken breast in its own juice, boiled potatoes, salad (which means cabbage here, I have yet to see lettuce) and of course a beer.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

14 May 12: Logistics Notes on Beginning Pilgrim Walk in Prague

One tries to plan these difficult evolutions in advance; perhaps one gets credit for trying. Since I am wrapping up a two week river cruise and them walking for a month before ending in Paris for three days, I needed to get my suitcase with its city clothes shipped to Paris. We had discussed this with the hotel front desk, and Person #1 said “No problem”, but then the day in question turned out to not be her duty day, so everything fell on person #2. DHL quoted a price of USD 450; post office quoted USD 150. Finally we settled on UPS for USD 200 for four days delivery, with tracking. However, they required the suitcase be wrapped (probably a good idea in any event). The hotel was fresh out of wrapping materials. The corner grocery carried 60L trash bags and rolls of cling film (a US standard 40-gallon leaf or construction bag would have been perfect). Of course the bags were too small, so I slit up the side of 4 bags and fit them together, then wrapped North-South and East-West with the cling film. The other denizens of the hotel lobby were most amused by my antics. I handed over the wrapped bag and the cash to the desk clerk and am hoping for the best.

We had been warned (several times) about pickpockets in Prague, and I had my wallet picked yesterday in the church vestibule. Fortunately I noticed my empty pocket immediately warns was able to make a recovery from the young woman who had it in hand. This is my 43rd country visited, and the first time pickpocketed, so beware!

Those of you in the August backpacking group will recall an equipment discussion on bras. I have changed my mind: previously, I said the best bra is one that fits. Now, I think the best bra is one you have with you, not left at home or shipped to Paris. I’m not sure I can go a month on one bra; but I can probably buy one when I get to Germany in ten days. Any German-speakers in the audience have some suggestions?

Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sept 30: Carracotchia to St Jean Pied de Port

Route: Carracotchia to St Jean Pied de Port   10 km

The rising sun colors the hills a luminous, eye-poping green, making a picturesque backdrop for the white Basque houses and farm buildings, with their red roofs and shutters. We skirt the hillside in great arcs, sometimes topping a ridge. There are several small towns enroute, and St Jean le Vue would be a good alternative to SJPP for those going on to Spain via Orisson or Valcarlos without a rest day. SJPP seems like a large city, after the weeks in rural France, although it is smaller than Cahors. This town has subsisteed off pilgrims for centuries, and now is no exception. Drinks are more than double what we have been paying. The Tourism Office is extremely helpful, arranging lodging and the return trains to Paris. The Pilgrim Office is also exceptionally friendly and helpful, with route details etc. The stores have all needed supplies (Yes Altus raincoat, no Pacer Poles). One friend reported the cost of shipping 4 kgs to US ran 51 euros; the pilgrim office does have a donation box.

Lodging: CH Errecaldia with three rooms, nicely renovated with a private bath ensuite. Host is a friendly Brit with lots of good info on the local scene (he explained many mysteries of French culture, for example).

Cuisine: Excellent restaurant just inside the town wall gate from the TO (on Rue d’Eglise) Also excellent place behind the Central Hotel, across the bridge.

29 Sep 11: Uhart-Mixe to Caracotchia

Route: Uhart-Mixe to Caracotchia  20 km

It is a beautiful morning climbing the ridge up out of the Uhart valley, with fantastic views. We did not stop at Chappelle de Soyartz, which would add an hour or more. But it is on the main route for those not taking the Uhart shortcut. Chappelle d’Harambeltz was locked but has a shady sheltering porch (makes a good refuge in bad weather I imagine). Made a morning refreshment and epicerie stop at Ostabat, where the church has interesting but relatively recent stonework and a modern stained glass window. Lunch made a nice break from a very hot day. This was in a Larceveau restaurant, as the CH tonight does not offer dinner and there is not a nearby restaurant there. The afternoon included a number of small ups and downs before reaching the gite.

Lodging: CH Chambres Paysannes. We arrive at the gite, and Madame steps out the front door to greet us in perfectly accented Southern California English, “So the Americans are here!” She’s from Pasadena, was widowed 25 years ago, and has been living in France over 40 years. She would like to see more Americans.

Cuisine: Lunch was a nice meal at Restaurant Espellet: a big salad plate with melon, greens, tomatoes, jambon, sausage, and hardboiled egg. The main course was a pimemton-spiced pork loin and rosti potatoes; glacee for dessert! Roast pigeon and a Basque cake that resembled a buttermilk tart were also enjoyed at the table. Dinner was a light picnic supper, shared along with three Lyonnaise women who have been walking with us for several days.

28 Sep 11: Des Chenes to Uhart-Mixe

Route: Des Chenes to Uhart-Mixe  12 km via marked variant. From Uhart, SJPP is reachable in a day to a day-and-a-half, depending on your pace.

The best 1 euro I spent the entire trip was the bus fare this morning from the CH to Etcharry; this is the morning school bus at 0755.  The 6 km covered is very heavily trafficked in the mornings, with scant safe footpath. The walkers we passed were all in the roadway. Onward from Etcharry, the variante route (marked clearly in Miam Miam Dodo) is a very nice rolling, partially wooded route. The chapel in Olhaiby (ask the adjacent farmer to unlock the door for you) has a magnificent altarpiece/tabernacle. At first I thought it to be silver-gilt (the texture is that detailed and the finish is that gilded), but it is more likely painted plaster on wood. The remainder of the route to Uhart is gently rolling, partially wooded with several large cattle farms visible. This morning the sky was clear, but now at midday there are high thin clouds and it is quite humid. Eventhough it is a degree cooler, with the humidity it is really stinking hot. So I am on the verge of heat exhaustion by the time we arrive at the gite.

Lodging: Gite l”Escargot. Madame and Monsieur are most solicitous, stoking me up with cold water-sirop drinks until my head clears, and then Mr carried my pack up to the room. This gite is exceptionally well set-up, including camping space and a washing machine (no one in this part of France owns a dryer – everything goes out on the line and is rapidly bone-dry). And they have wi-fi in the bar.

Cuisine: Dinner was a terrific meal: vegetable soup (perhaps Grabure), local ham (jambon Basque) and sausages maison in a piperade sauce, a cheese course served in the usual Basque style. It is Madame’s birthday, so Mr brings out a round of eau de vie du maison from plums – and the entire table of 20 sings (same tune, “Happy Birthday”) and drinks her a toast.

27 Sep 11: Navarrenx to Des Chenes

Route: Navarrenx to Des Chenês 15 km

Navarrenx is famous for its Italian style ramparts, built in the 16th century. This morning saw the military fountain from the same period, which allowed the town to withstand sieges during the various wars. Then out of town and through oak forest much of the day. In several places were these very tall, very strange structures — some over 50 or 70 feet. These are hunting blinds for shooting woodcock, and the new ones look like foreshortened shipping containers, up on scaffolding. How they make the lift without a crane, I have no idea. Guys spend hunting season weekends up there, drinking and shooting. Not a safe season for walking! Later we passed the pate factory of Charles Dupree, who offered us cold drinks at his picnic shelter. This was indeed welcome refreshment as the temp is 32c. Coming down from the ridge, more fantastic views of the Pyrenees.

Lodging: L’Auberge des Chenes. Made a small deviation from the GR to reach the lodging; there is no increased distance and few lodgings in the area. (Heard good reports about the two gites in Aroue later) Warmly greeted by host upon arrival and refreshed with cold drinks. This is an old style family run hotel. Room is small but nicely equipped, with toilet and shower across the hall.

Cuisine: Dinner was simply terrific: a soup of rich broth with very fine (thin) noodles, tomatoes garlic and carrots. Starter was a cold platter with diced pickles beetroot, thinly sliced Basque cured ham, spicy sausage and hard boiled eggs. Main was a sliced roast pork boneless loin (very moist and flavorful) with a rich piperade sauce (peppers and tomatoes). French ice cream for dessert — yay! (There were also two other dessert choices available.) M/M very personable, friendly, and helpful. Highly recommended.

26 Sep 11: Cambarrat to Navarrenx

Route: Cambarrat to Navarrenx 24 km

The longest day yet, the hottest, and 3 big hills to climb. Beautiful views of the Pyrenees front from the ridges, and a healthy dose of shade periodically. Still, I am glad I sent the small sack with 2 kg on ahead. Foot pain is manageable with a double dose of ibuprofen. There is a big old Cistercian abbey at Sauvelade. At Navarrenx, there was a very nice reception for pilgrims at the church, complete with aperitif. I met two Irish women from Cork who travelled all day to arrive here; they will walk 3 days and then return home. The Amis of St Jacques who put on the reception also sell me a French credential, as my US one is nearly full.

Lodging: CH Relais du Jacquet. The CH is a lovely old home right in the center of town that belonged to host’s mother, and he has been renovating it in stages.

Cuisine: Hallelujah, the dinner menu tonight has no duck! Starter was a cream of potato (and leek?) soup. Main was a pan-fried white fish (trout?) with a side of rice and shrimp. Salad greens vinagrette and cheese with fig preserve. Dessert was a sweet semolina pudding. All this prepared and served while he was also sorting out ongoing reservations for the remainder of the week; a cheerful, enthusiastic, generous and meticulous host. Well-located, highly recommended.

25 Sep 11: Geus-d’Arzacq to Cambarrat

Route: Géus-d’Arzacq to Cambarrat 20.5 km

Flat, green lanes until a short climb to Castillon. The Swiss couple overtake me and we talk for a bit before they go on ahead. Due to the length of today’s stage and the predicted heat, I skipped some churches. Pomps was a lovely little town and would make a good alternative to Geus. I heard good reports on the gite there. Since it was not visible from the GR, I passed up the church in Pomps; I would have lost a half hour. In Castillon (where the church was locked) I ran into the first contingents in some very large regional walking event. I often see the French doing group recreational activity (walking, cycling) on the weekends, and this is a Sunday. Lunch stop was at the Romanesque Chapelle de Caubin, which still has a monastic air about it, eventhough the surrounding buildings are long gone. So the heat of the day was well underway as I climbed the ridge to Arthez de-Béarn, which is strung out along 2 km of the ridge. Fantastic views of the entire Pyrenees front. Finally descend ridge to valley bottom and the gite.

Lodging: Gite Cambarrat. Host very friendly and helpful. In view of the heat, hills, and distance tomorrow I arrange to send the small sack with rain gear etc (about 5 pounds) onward by transport tomorrow morning. Gite is a large rambling country house set into the woods about 500m off the GR. Has a quirky, artistic feel. Madame obviously has an expert eye in the textile arts; the curtains, duvets, and needlepoint were all intriguing and colorful. There were also some “gypsy” style wheeled caravans that are fitted out as sleeping rooms, but the stairs look tricky to navigate in the dark for that late night visit to the loo.

Cuisine: Dinner simarly idiosyncratic: starter was a pate terrine, main was a vegetable mélange of haricots vert and tiny peas, with a bit of ham. Cheese course in Basque style, accompanied by fig preserves. Afterwards our host, who trained as a classical guitarist, played the banjo: some bluegrass, some guitar transpositions, and some original compositions.

24 Sep 11: Arzacq-Arraziguet to Geus-d’Arzacq

Route: Arzacq-Arraziguet to Geus-d’Arzacq 18 km

Overnight rain sprinkled on a bit past breakfast, dampening the grocery and bank stops slightly. Rolling hills, occasional woods. This is cow country; the hillsides are too steep for row crops. Several churches on the route: one modern, the others Romanesque. One was Larreule’s Eglise Saint-Pierre– a tiny parish church is all that remains of a mighty Benedictine abbey that fought the Moors, developed agriculture and industry in nearly half the Bearn for over 700 years — gone, demolished, the stones sold off (just like Cluny) — what a travesty! At least the British left their great patrimony standing. The morning was a long hard climb to a ridge top, but the afternoon was relatively free of foot pain. No explanations available for that. I walked with a Lyonnaise working in Paris as an occupational psychologist — or coach, as she calls it.

Lodging: Gite Ayguelongue. Gite tonight is a new place, by a dairy pasture. It’s right on the GR; definitely a gite and not a CH. Rooms are modest but clean and new; two rooms sleep two each, each with private bath ensuite. Also wifi bliss. My roomate is a woman from Brittany. Other guests are a Swiss couple from Lake Constance.

Cuisine: Dinner was not fancy: starter of local melon; main is a duck version of shephard’s pie (silly me, I thought I’d already had it every way possible), and a single cheese course with black cherry conserve. Mr speaks English and German, Madame only French. This place is not fancy, but a good value and excellent location.

23 Sep 11: Miramont to Arzacq

Route: Miramont to Arzacq 15.8 km
We are back to hilly country, descending to cross streams and then climbing the next ridge. After a rosy sunrise over valley mists, the sun climbs into a humid day, portent of showers tomorrow. So it is stinking hot by late afternoon and I am grateful for the occasional shade. Two Germans from last night, Rita and Herman, walk with me to the first church, in Sensacq. They both really liked the Pacer Poles – wanted to buy them off of me on the spot. At Sensacq, I finally met  the other resident American walking in this sector. He is a chef from south of Sacramento, heading for Santiago. The shortcut (old GR) is the preferred route to Pimbo, which has a 13th century collegiate church, Romanesque on the site of a 9th century church founded by Charlemagne. Very interesting fortifications dating from the Hundred Years War. Good shade for the midday munch. And it was a long hot afternoon slog, down, then up and over. Time to set up for the afternoon foot-break. After I woke up from my nap, there was an old farmer who invited me ( and the Parisienne walking behind me) into his house for a cold drink on a hot afternoon. Jean-Luq is retiring from the farm next month at age 68; his wife Annie is diabetic and has spent several days at hospital, he doesn’t know when she will be coming home. He really feels lost without her. We listen to his lonesome story and promise to pray for them both. Town here is small, and strung out along a ridge.

Lodging: Gite communal. I’m in the communal gite, which has 36 spaces and must be nearly full.

Cuisine: Dinner is a volunteer preparation: tomatoes and pickled beets with terrine; roast duck legs and elbow macaroni; fruit yogurt for dessert. Table includes 2 Québécois, 2 Parisians, and 1 Californian.