Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Day 5: St. Alban de Limagnole to Aumont-Aubrac (14.5 kms)

Robin and I set off this morning under cool temperatures ( 42 F), and cloudy skies. It had rained overnight, but now patches of blue sky could be seen in the distance along our route of travel. Robin has been nursing a knee pain that is does not seem to be improving. Today's walk was short and we arrived in Aumont-Aubrac about 2:00. If Robin's knee doesn't feel better in the morning then we will ship her backpack ahead to Nasbinals, tomorrow's destination. We just need to see how it goes and take it a day at a time until she feels confident her knee is okay. We have a long way to go, and this is not what Robin wanted or expected, but here we are and we will do whatever needs to be done to continue. On the plus side today's walk took us once again through beautiful countryside. We met a French family at dinner last night, and ran into them again at our luch break today. We are trying to firm up reservations for places to stay in advance of the May 1st holiday that will bring many French people onto the Chemin for a long weekend's walk. Gerard (my new friend from last night) was kind enough to help me get a booking in Nasbinals for tomorrow night. We will book onward from there. Booking ahead is certainly recommended on this route as there are many times when crowds appear and beds disappear (particularly the ones in the less expensive gîtes). There will always be exceptions. We have been walking on and off with a Japanese guy from Tokyo who blissfully moves onward "sans reservations" and somehow seems to survive. While at lunch today I heard some American voices, and they turned out to be a tour group moving along part of the Chemin with the assistance of an American guide and a transport service. These were mostly older folks and they seemed to be truly enjoying the experience. Why not? So here we are at day's end doing the usual laundry, posting and planning that is part of our daily routine. We are to experience "aligot" with dinner tonight. It is a French dish made from potatoes and cheese (not recommended by the American Heart Association), but is part of the Chemin experience. More on that after it hits bottom. Time to collect the laundry so for now au revoir from Aumont- Aubrac.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Day 4: Villaret d'Apcher to St. Alban de Limagnole (20.5 kms)

Leaving Villaret this morning
Day began calm, temps in the mid 40's with a few scattered cumulus. Our stay at the Auberge de 2 Pellerins was quite enjoyable. Our hosts are both truly committed to pilgrim hospitality. There was much singing, guitar playing, and general good cheer being shared. The owner was kind enough to print an English version of his after dinner talk about what it means to be a pilgrim. He offered all gathered at the table a very dramatic reading. He might have been an actor in a previous life. Back to today. Robin and I finally slid out the door at 8:30 and set out for St. Alban. There was a nice little hill awaiting us that burned up at least a part of our breakfast. We soldiered on enjoying the fine weather. We have been slowly climbing since Le Puy to get atop the Aubrac Plateau, and today we were done with it. Once past the gîte at Sauvage we started bumping along with a few ups and downs but mostly we are at plateau elevation (on average around 1100 meters). The vegetation has also changed with the appearance of more pines and a general sense of increasing openness. The weather remained dry and pleasant throughout the day. We walked in our usual t shirts and long sleeve outer shirts adding rain jackets when the cloud cover sent a colder wind in our direction. We stopped at the chapel of St.Roche (right on the Chemin path) whose intercession is prayed for to assuage pilgrim infirmities. We added our prayers as well. The balance of the day was spent negotiating a slow descent into St. Alban. We had time to spare so we pretty much just ambled along arriving at 3:30 this afternoon. We have checked into the Auberge St. Jacques, enjoyed a cold beer (this pilgrim business is thirsty work), a plate of cheese and charcuterie, and headed for the shower. Dinner at 7:00 and another day on the Chemin St. Jacques will be done. We have a short day tomorrow. We are walking to Aumont-Aubrac about 14 kms from here. A couple of side notes? We have met many French people, and have enjoyed their company. We are working around the language barrier and seem to be getting by with my high school French. We spotted a lady this morning taking a wrong turn out of Villaret, and went after her. She had already turned back when we caught up to her. She waved her thanks and we all carried on. As we were enjoying a coffee at the Gîte Sauvage this same lady, obviously Asian, walked in. It turns out she is Korean and is walking her very first Camino (by herself). She started in Le Puy and is bound for Santiago via the Camino Norte. She is walking very slowly and plans to use all of the 90 days she has, if necessary. She and Robin (also Korean by birth) had a nice chat, and then we were off once again. Always on the move...the pilgrim way.
Villaret in the rear view mirror
Pilgrim Robin

Monday, April 28, 2014

Day 3: Monistrol to Villaret d'Apcher (23.5kms)

Robin pondering our departure (uphill)

We had a fun stay at the Gîte La Tsabone in Monistrol. We opted for the Demi-Pension arrangement which is a bed, dinner and breakfast. We had dinner in the main house with the owners, Patrick, his wife and her father who was visiting. The dinner was a great success. Robin helped out with Google translate and we all had a few laughs. Patrick does the cooking and his food is not to be missed. A delicious vegetable soup, chicken with pasta carbonara, pear tart, local cheese, and red wine. Things are looking up. There was much talk last night, before dinner, regarding the climb out of Monistrol. It definitely looks intimidating from the valley floor (where we all had to start). If discussing the various tips being offered on how best to approach this climb would lessen the slope of it, then we would have been roller skating out of here this morning. Alas, that was not to be. In the end it is one foot ahead of the other and up you go. The initial part reminded me of some of the morning departures from coastal towns on the Camino Ingles. Those who have walked the Norte would probably have similar comments. IMHO it is not that bad of a climb. The steepest part (the beginning) takes about 45 minutes and after that the slope eases and most folks seem to reach the top in 2 hours or less. It is very doable. So, if you are thinking about the Le Puy route please do not let this become a distraction. It is just another one of hundreds of hills placed wherever they are by those who like to mess with pilgrims minds.

This shows the slope

Once on top the climb for the day isn't over it just becomes more gentle. In fact we wound up climbing all day to Villaret (with the exception of the occasional you could regain that height again). The weather was also interesting. It was a bit of winter, summer, spring depending on the hour If not the minute) of the day. We started out with temps in the upper 40's. We climbed in t shirts and outer long sleeve shirts. No vests or jackets. On top the temperatures dropped a bit and cold gusts of wind argued for more outerwear. On went a rain jacket for Robin, and a vest for me. We carried on alternatively feeling warm, hot, or cold as the varying, and confounding winds, cloud cover, and precipitation came and went. The final treat on the smorgasbord was a curious mix of sunshine, and sleet when we were 2 kms from Villaret. Go figure. We, admittedly, were fortunate that today was mostly dry, with only a few light scattered rain showers. We pushed on through some of the most picturesque scenery I have ever enjoyed. This is truly beautiful countryside. We arrived at Saugues at 12:00, exactly, and stopped for a pizza, coffee, and a glass of wine. It was a smoke filled cafe, with a least one regular inhaling small glasses of clear liquid. 30 minutes later we shoved off for our final destination, the Auberge de 2 Pellerins in Villaret. This is a great place to stay. The owners are most kind and helpful. We are getting our washing done, enjoying a private room and have had a very tasty beer. The crowd here is growing as the day's lengthening shadows gather in the stray pilgrims passing through. Robin and I are doing well. Tomorrow we are off to St. Alban sur Limagnole some 20.5 kms down the track. Cheers for now.

Chapel,on the climb out of Monistrol
Our lodging in Villaret
I moved the orange cushions and am sitting there as I write this


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day 2: Fay to Monistrol (13.5 kms)

Refreshed with a good night's sleep we joined Chantal, our hostess, for breakfast. This was what seems to be typical with a bowl of coffee, fruit, yogurt, bread and jam. We soon gathered up our gear, made our goodbyes and felt the first crunch of gravel under our boots at close to 9:00 am. Today was to be a short day, but as it turned out it was slow going. A little navigation error put us on a main road instead of the Chemin, but we got ourselves back on the path at the next town, Le Chier. We were kind of dawdling along. Thinking we need to kill MMM some time to avoid an early arrival in Monistrol and perhaps finding our accommodation closed until later in the day (usually around 4:00pm). The weather was cooperating. Temperatures started out close to 40 F, maybe a bit lower, but it was dry. I had on the same clothes as yesterday (now washed), but had added my vest against the morning chill. By the time we reached Le Chier, a cold wind arose and my rain jacket went on along with a wool hat. Clouds were coming and going trying to decide whether to soak us or not, but mercifully the rain held off all day.

Le Chier

We were making our way to a small town called St. Privat d'Allier where we hoped to find something open to get a coffee. The scenery along this part of the Chemin is pretty spectacular with a deep gorge visible off to our left. We rolled into St. Privat about 11:15, and found a cafe open. Two coffees for me and one for Robin and we started to thaw out. I am so glad I packed a down jacket for this walk. It has been used daily, if not when walking then always at night. Accommodations here in France are similar to Spanish homes in that they are made of stone, and they hold the cold very well.

St. Privat coffee stop

Leaving St. Privat is where the path got sort of interesting. It is at most a couple of feet wide, but that gets restricted to "0" as rocks and tree roots clog the path. At these points you really are scrambling to find a place to put your foot. Sizeable loose rocks add to the risk of injury. So, back to my comment regarding slow going, regardless of how fit you are the very nature of the path restricts your movement so that if you are a gazelle at heart you are a snail on this path. Rock hopping, and root jumping along we continued on towards Monistrol. As the day progressed we began to wonder where Monistrol was. We doubled checked our navigation, and pressed on. We were going down and down searching for Monistrol. Finally, at the bottom of a river valley, at long last, there it was. All I could think of after giving away all that height was tomorrow's departure (regaining all the height we gave away some) was going to be a work out. For now we are part of a growing crowd of happy pilgrims (all French) at the Gîte La Tsabone. Patrick, the owner, will be doing the cooking tonight and we are ready. It should prove to be a lively meal. Tomorrow, we plan to walk to Le Villeret d'Apcher about 23 kms (close to 15 miles). Keeping our fingers crossed as it is still early days for these two pilgrims.

Clouds chasing us
St. Privat d'Allier
Finally at the bottom. The Eiffel bridge at Monistrol



Au revoir Le Puy

Leaving Logis Meymard

Our wonderful host, Madeleine Déchaux, passed along another great dinner recommendation, L'Écu d'Or, for our last night in Le Puy. We enjoyed more terrific food, and with a little wine warming our insides we strolled home thankful for the warm clothes we were wearing. The temperature had reached up into the mid 60's, but with the sun now below the horizon the narrow stone streets all too quickly gave up what little residual warmth they had. The flat evening shadows were somber, cold, and uninviting, So we picked up our pace for home and hearth.

The crazy jet lag sleep pattern returned so we found ourselves checking clocks and watches frequently from 1:30 am onwards until we well and truly fell asleep about 5:00 am. The next thing I heard was Robin saying it was 6:40. I mentioned that it was going to be close getting to the pilgrim mass. Her eyes, now wide with understanding, signaled it was time to go. No time to plead my case, not that I had one. We did the firehouse slide down the pole departure, pulling zippers and belts tight as we bound out the door into a bracing 38F morning, dry mouthed, hair askew, looking somewhat ...pilgrim like I guess. The sprint up the cobblestoned streets was taxing (only a 1,000 miles to go I thought). We escaped cardiac arrest and actually swung through the church door with a few minutes to spare. It was a beautiful mass. The priest was a funny guy and worked his charm on the departing pilgrims bringing smiles to faces that were only moments ago looking a bit stunned as to what they would have to do as soon as the priest headed for the sacristy. With our fresh pilgrim blessing intact we now headed, at a more measured pace, downhill to our lodging. It was then time for breakfast, lots of coffee, and a chance to discuss our itinerary with Madeleine. Our plan was to only walk about 10 miles today to a town called Montbonnet. When Madeleine heard that she said we should go stay with a friend of hers in Fay, an agricultural hamlet on the first variant (towards Bains) encountered after Leaving Le Puy. So, after much texting and calling we were set. Fay it was to be. Breakfast was soon done, packs were reassembled, and after offering our heartfelt thanks to Madeleine for being so kind we finally reached the door, stepped out into the street to officially become pilgrims on the road to Santiago.

First sign on the pilgrim road

Today, being Saturday and market day, the city was brimming with people. We didn't draw a wink, in this city use to seeing departing pilgrims, as we tried to avoid our backpacks pitching unwary market goers into the snarl of impatient motorists. Having heard no sirens I believe we were mostly successful. As we turned right onto Rue Saint Jacques it was just about 11:00 am. The day's earlier cold had given way to pleasant (60F), and rising temperatures. The skies were mostly clear. I was wearing a lightweight merino wool t shirt and a long sleeve lightweight quarter zip merino wool outer shirt. I had on hiking pants (not my rain pants), but no jacket or vest. Robin was wearing a tank top and a long sleeve runners shirt (lululemon), and hiking pants, but no jacket or vest. We enjoyed our colorful departure, but quickly transitioned to leaving city life behind as we headed out into the quiet of the countryside, and the awaiting Chemin.

Leaving Le Puy is an uphill event. One starts climbing pretty quickly, but nothing dramatic, just moderate hills followed by flat spots or gentler climbs, but the trend is definitely upwards. We purposefully chose a late start so as to have a reasonable easy first day. I think that the distance we walked today (around 16kms) was just fine. We arrived in Fay (with rain showers washing away our grime) close to 4:00 pm., and quickly located the home (Le Refuge) of Chantal Roue, one of the 30 people living in Fay. She was watching at the kitchen window, and came out to greet us. Our first day was now done. Feet were okay, legs a bit sore, but all in all a wonderful first day. Chantal lives alone in an old farmhouse, and occasionally takes in a passing pilgrim. Her visitors are few as the main route of the Chemin St. Jacques bypasses Fay (but only by 2 kms) on its way to Montbonnet. This is fine with her as she has a flock of sheep to attend to. She has treated us like royalty. Her rooms are clean and warm, and the showers offered plentiful hot water. She has done our laundry and set it out in front of the kitchen fire to dry, and prepared a simple but satisfying meal of barley soup, sausages and lentils, and a sort of thicker crepe for desert. A nice jug of Merlot was set on the table as well. What's not to like? At present, Robin and I are catching up on some correspondence, and getting ready for bed. Off to Monistrol in the morning (13 kms). No hurry, just taking it easy. We still have a long way to go. But for now all is well, and we are thankful for a good start.

Market day
Leaving town
Trail marker for GR 65
Turn left