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France at 3 MPH: The End of the Story?

We walked into Moissac before noon. All of us were tired, even though it was only 16 km. Our lodging was in the Ancienne Carmel, now a gite which reminds me of a conference center. Except for the bunk beds! The place is run by volunteers. The food was good and honest but not the fancy meals of some smaller gites, but the company was excellent. Over the last week we have gotten to know Anne-Marie (Ireland) and Ingrid (Austria). They met on the trail; Anne-Marie finishes in two weeks at St Jean Pied-de-Port, while Ingrid continues to Compostela. Johan and Mette and I have shared many meals and a few glasses (bottles, perhaps) of vino. He is a ship captain and I have learned much from him. He and his ship are the subject of a documentary (Netflix) called The Last Breath which I’ll watch when back home. Patrice and Mary France (France, on the far right of the photo) live in Paris and have invited me to visit. I fully expect to take them up on this. The photo is in the pilgrim welcome office here (Accuel Pelerins) with the volunteers who are running it. Remy has a rural gite and is one of the people who makes this a true pilgrimage experience. I’ll write a separate story about him. Serge has a gite in Cahors, another person who is focused on helping us be le vrais pelerins. He locks the door shoulders his pack, and walks to Compostela each year on October 15. We learned quickly how much he is respected down the trail. I’ll write more about Serge when I have time. What will I do when there is no walk each morning, no ancient churches to visit, when everyone around me is speaking English instead of French?

France at 3 MPH: Serendipity

Amazing things happen all around us. We are in the right place at the right time as we wander around the countryside.

We were out of food options today; no stores or restaurants on our route. We came to a very small village and stopped for a rest at the church. We had already done 10 km and lots of up and I needed a break. We tried the door but the church was locked. But a man came from the house across the street and unlocked it. It was a simple but beautiful church. And we knew there was a gite in the village, our trail friends Jean Luc and Veronica had stayed there. So we found the gite and asked if she could make us a sandwich. With all the fancy food we have from time to time, this was fabulous. St Cirq de La Popie is usually crowded with tourists. But at sunrise I looked out the window and saw that a thick fog had formed over the river. This doesn’t always happen, but it did for us. Our early morning walk through the village was just us and a few locals. Most people remember narrow streets crowded with people. We will remember the quiet in fog, and Jackie the wood turner.

We stayed way out in the country outside of Arcambal with Pierre and Carmen. It couldn’t have been better. The hotel side of their house has 7 bedrooms and one toilet and one bathroom, but we were the only guests. The old old house was charming but Carmen more so. She told us stories and fed us a fantastic dinner-soup, salad, soufflé with artichokes, cheese plate, pudding. Oh la

We had planned an extra night in Cahors because Anne-Marie had heard of a concert she wanted to attend. When we went to the tourist office we found that the concert wasn’t until the following weekend. We picked Gite Ferme Trigodena from the app and made reservations. That night after dinner our host, Remy, a farmer and farrier, sat down at his old piano and played a marvelous concert.

The three of us are having a wonderful trip. We all met on this trail last year. That we are walking this two weeks together is purely serendipity.

France at 3 MPH: Slowing Down

The Camino has a way of taking a Pilgrim to marvelous places. The path is never the shortest distance to the next town. The Grotto at Peche Merle is one of those marvelous places. This painting, in a karst limestone cave deep underground was made 29,000 years ago. I have read about these drawings but never imagined I would see them. Now we are in Saint Cirq le Popie. Below us the Cele created fog at sunrise to create magic. This is one of le Plus Beaux Villages and has 400,000 visitors in the summer. One of the many shops and art galleries is this wood turning workshop. Jackie and his dog were a delight to get to know. He said only a dozen people stay the winter in the old downtown. We met Nathalie, a glass artist, in her shop. Slowing down to have a conversation.

We took a ride on a ship built in the tradition of the barges which plied this river for hundreds of years. Originally pulled by people, then horses, and the towpath was carved into the canyon wall. We went through a manually operated lock.

Tomorrow we leave the Cele River. Tonight we are in a gite in an old train station; it is strange to say the least. Who knows what adventures tomorrow holds?

France at 3 MPH: Food?

We are still in the Cele River Valley, have now completed 5 days of walking, 6 nights in gites d’etape with demi-pension meal plans. We stayed at Peche Merle Equestrian Center with Pasquale last night. Dinner was sausage (organic but not from the farm) and lots of vegetables from his garden. Pasquale was a fabulous host, dinner was 2 1/2 hours and finished with an aperitif (plum liquor) made by his neighbor. Lunch was at the Grotto, grilled cheese and ham sandwich (cheese on top, not inside). Dinner was at the restaurant which owns the gite: cocktail, wine, too much of every part of a duck on a lettuce bed. With us are Jean Luc and Veronique from Paris, and Bridget, a Québécois. And dessert and coffee too. We has to walk it off in the village.

France at 3 MPH

Imagine yourself on this bench. You are looking over the Cele River. You don’t know yet what there is below, but it is a pretty sight. I have a trail guide and the trail is well marked. It is an ancient trail taking pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, one of many branches of the Camino. The French government owns and maintains the trail and calls it GR65.

I have walking companions from a previous trip. Although I walked GR65 last year, this year we are taking a Loop off the main trail, GR651. what surprises lay ahead?A forest of hanging moss. Walking miles between stone walls used for moving livestock. Miles of cornfields. Springs on a mountainside.

Stone herders hutsOld houses Spectacular villlagesDinner with trail friends A more intimate dinner with Christine and Jean-Phillipe at the Celezen Gite outside Espinac (fine dining it was! Tomato soup and beef ribs with shallots and potatoes, baked peaches and figs for dessert, almost entirely from their garden). Beautiful Churches Sandwiches for lunch- just great bread, butter, and ham. This one made by Fabian, the bartender. Troglodyte homes in a cliff. You have to work for these views. We went up and back down cliffs like that three times-and that was just today!

This is a Street in the village we are in tonight. What secrets does tomorrow hold?

Muxia: The Jewel at the End of the Trail

The last scene in the movie “The Way” is set at a small port town called Muxia. This is a fitting ending place to my European adventure. Tomorrow we head back to Texas. This is a popular place for Pilgrims to visit after walking the Camino de Santiago. We walked three days of this loop but the other four we are doing by bus. Muxia is small and charming. There is a beautiful beach beside the town. The church of the Virgin of A Barca is on this peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. The legend says that Mary visited the area to encourage James in his evangelizing. The first time I’ve had scallops. Quite tasty! This plate is €12. Pairs well with Albariño wine, the local favorite.

The Short Walk: Camino Inglés

What does a thousand year old trail look like?

Starting in A Coruna, a pilgrim will be in Santiago in 3 1/2 days of walking. If one starts in Ferrol, as most seem to, is 5 1/2 days. The short trip is counted at 75 km, not enough to get a Compostela from the Catholic Church (100 km is required). I have one already and no one seems to be interested in it. This is the starting point in the port city of A Coruña. The nursing mother Mary statue in the church at the start is unique. The trail is well marked but you are somehow guaranteed to get lost trying to get out of the city. I had two sit-down map and guidebook consults on the way out of the city. The way takes pilgrims through lovely and quiet suburbs. The first albergue was super modern and welcoming

Much of the trail is through forests. There are few cafe-bars on the way, but this one was super-friendly. This was just after the trail from Ferrol (the other starting point) joined us, along with many more pilgrims. I walked past the albergue on day 2 because it was only noon. The only other option was a hotel just off the route at Ordes. This was the view from my room. I used a routing from to head toward the Camino (I don’t have a map of this trail, just a description). I walked with these local women for a couple of kilometers. They showed me where to pick up the Camino. Wildflowers are abundant People pursue beauty in their yards. The way went up 1000 feet the first day and 1500 the second. Dinner in a bar with a card game onLunch today-beef stew. Hit the spot.

Venice: Elegant Decay

Venice is and has been falling apart. The food and wine in our price range was average at best, but decay makes more interesting photos! St Mark’s Square is amazing, made more so by the three ensembles playing music. They were great but seating nearby is reserved for restaurant patrons with higher budgets. The view from the tower was probably worth the price of admission. We were up top for a bit of very loud bell ringing. We spent a lot of time on these boats. Our guide, Tyler, has made many trips here. Michelle and I just followed.

We toured a church with an “art installation” which was hard to reconcile with the huge canvases by Tintoretto. (I don’t have any photos of his or other canvasses because lighting wasn’t good enough.) Tintoretto paintings are found in many of the churches in Venice. There is a restaurant/bar every few feet. This restaurant was fun partly because the manager is crazy. Scary crazy. W avoided eye contact. But that made it memorable. I’d rather say the food made it memorable. We had excellent Italian food in the villages back up the trail, though. This is a flat floor in a church. Clever!The view from our hostel rooftop. Venice keeps to just a few colors, and these are predominant. Murano, famous for its glass artistry, has a wider range of colors. Burano, not pictured, has lots of brightly colored houses. And hordes of tourists. This is not me, but we kayaked the canals one evening. Pretty cool way to experience Venice, good young tour guide. Did not take a gondola ride. I’m glad I spent time in Venice, and Tyler was a fantastic guide. It may be a once in a lifetime experience for me as there are so many other places I want to go. Our hostel was €100 each for the three nights, so it is affordable. If you don’t mind the bathroom down the hall and no air conditioning!

Italy from 6 feet up at 3 MPH.

I’ve spent two weeks walking in Italy. We have yet to meet an American, and most of the tourists seem to be Italian. So what did we find at 3 mph and six feet up?We found magnificent churches with tall slender bell towers. We can see these a long way off, and the trail invariably takes you to each, We found surprising art, like this old painting of Saint Margarita. She was born in 1247 and is (among other things) the patron saint of single mothers. The church caretaker told me her name, but Wikipedia told me the rest. We found mile after mile of trail and road atop dikes by rivers and canals, where we looked down on wheat and corn and vineyards and houses and back yards.We found the place where Ernest Hemingway was wounded in 1918 as a Red Cross worker in WW I. We found fruit and cheese and bread for trailside lunches at street markets. Sometimes we eat lunch in restaurants but only at the end of a day’s hike. We found that bicycles are everyday transportation. We found Cabernet Franc, which seems to be their favorite vino rosso (and is usually €7.50 a bottle). We found a winery with massive stainless steel fermenting tanks. It is was surprising; I’m used to the small hill country wineries.

We found the Adriatic Sea and an 11 mile long beach of yellow sand with tens of thousands of umbrellas. We found regular people.

We found mile after mile of flat reclaimed swamp land in agricultural production. As scenery goes, it’s boring. Next we explore Venice.

Peregrinating Italy

We spend our days walking the countryside- this was swampland drained by canals a hundred years ago. Much of the trail is atop dikes. At this spot there was a shrine to Mary at the intersection of three roads. Giuseppe Ciganna prayed the rosary there every day for 20 years. In 1510 Mary appeared to him there and told him to build a church there. This basilica is the result. This is clearly a tourist town. As we worked our way downtown one glass of vino rosso at a time we noticed it got progressively more expensive. But scenic We met this local couple and their son on the way. This was the last day of school. Today we will be walking through fields of wheat again. This is ready for harvest, most is still green. Grapes are forming on vines, corn is knee-high.Venice in three days.