Day 9,  Stage 7, from Gramat to Rocamadour, total 13.11 km

Gramat turned out as a very nice little city finally with some social life, offering all varieties of food and drinks, shops, etc. We ended up to select a favourite restaurant, le Coeur Gourmand, known for its simple but freshly prepared meals. We also could shop for our packed lunch for the day ahead, and opted for some Couscous and ham, with the unmissable baguette and croissants.

On hindsight, we should have spent there more than one night, but knowing that the end of our journey was almost near, we wanted to move on through the last stage.

Not long after having left Gramat behind, the trail descended rapidly into a canyon escavated over the centuries by the Alzou river, which apparently should have had originally a very turbolent life in his younger dsys with many rapids and waterfalls, but now reduced to be pretty dry riverbed at least during the summer season. As silent witnesses of its past, at the bottom of the canyon there are a number of ruined water mills, indicating very significant changes in the economy of the valley in the last 200 years or so.

IMG_20160728_125930

Finally the canyon opens up and the trails turns into a dirt road with clear signs of many cars either parked at the roadside or waiting to pulling into a wide parking area with many people walking in and out or having picnics with their families. To be frank, the massive display of touristic mess is quite a turn off, but the sudden appearance of the layered structure of the Rocamadour village. Sanctuary, Rocks and the Castle, took literally my breath away.

We have made it at least for the physical side. We stood in contemplation in that very spot for a few minutes, trying to absorb all the mixture or elation, excitement, amazement and other complicated feelings that surfaced all together.

Advertisements

Day 8, Stage 6 from Rudelle to Gramat, start at 9:03 for 5:32 hrs, total 18:40 km.

Probably the lowest point in our journey from all view points: emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The night spent in the super basic gite in Rudelle, turned out to be too rustic for our well being. Despite a relative good mood the evening before, when we managed to prepare a long desired vegetable soup, and we could share some light laughter moments, getting eventually to sleep was not easy. The idea of having a toilet that was basically a bucket in a shack in the middle of a field, was adding apprehension on top of the million noises we were hearing while laying down with our eyes wide open. Raffaella was convinced we were under attack by a legion of mice and other allied critters, while I was trying some unconvincing theories about mice having other more interesting jobs to do than biting our feet.

Fact is that when at about 2 am, I had to pay a visit to the outdoor shack, Raffaella joined wholeheartedly. Remarkably we were greeted by the brightest star canopy I could remember since a long time. However the humbling show of beauty, could not reconcile our sleep, and the sunrise caught us totally stoned and in a rather bad mood. We barely spoke during breakfast and during the usual morning packing. Likely the only things I said were wrong and not sufficiently emphatic to lessen the evident fatigue in the relationship. Off we went without saying anything else, hoping to find soon a bar for some restoring coffee and croissants.

Nothing more wrong. The road was snaking again in between wheat fields with no such thing as a place to rest, let alone to get some food or drinks.

Once reached what seemed to be a village, we had again to knock at the Mayor’s office to get access to a restroom. France is a beautiful country, but surely makes the life of a pilgrim or wanderer really tough.

We were not in the mood for pictures until we reached the point where we thought we could find an overnight accommodation after about 10km since the morning start. Emotionally we had a breakdown and in front of the so long desired coffee, we had our worst argument of the whole trip with definite resolutions to break apart and go separate ways.

Maybe were the stale cookies or the lukewarm horrible coffee, that made us realize that were worst things in life than just ourselves and our shortfalls. At once, smiles resurfaced on our faces and we decided to proceed further up to Gramat.

That was a smart decision, since we were directed by the Canadian owner of the hostel we called first and turned out to be fully booked, to contact Marc. Marc is the owner of a very nice home in the center of Gramat, and an unconvinced host for random walkers that eventually knock at his door after having been rejected by his Canadian friend.

Marc resulted to be one of the nicest encounters of this week.

A very educated gentleman that toured the world for business and pleasure, married to a German lady spending the summer in Germany with her previous marriage children and grandchildren. He is therefore living alone and likely also bored as an old time country gentleman, cultivating his passion for wines (he has a collection of over 2000 labels, rigorously reported in folders with degustation notes) and manning his nice home for the random visitors.

Day 7, Stage 5 from Cardaillac to Rudelle, start at 8:30am for 5:15 hrs, total 17.5km

Not sure if it was due to le canard eaten the night before, but the night was agitated. Sometimes when we find the perfect accommodation, it seems that we do not want to leave the following morning, and our bodies immediately support the idea by adding aches and pains all over. Our will power was shaken but determined to ignore the soothing suggestions to stay under the duvet a bit longer. At 8:00, the boulangerie was supposed to re-open after two days, and we did not want to face the risk of staring at empty shelves.

The itinerary was to reach a top point st St-Bressus after two hours and then rolling down slowly towards the small village chosen as the stage stop. We tried to contact also the backpack delivery service to get some help today, but of course yesterday no one answered the phone to book the trip, and this morning the office girl stated that the booking has to be done with 24 advance notice. Duh!

One way or another, someone in Heaven organized the most beautiful morning since we started. We crossed a deep forest with all the chirping sounds of happy birds, and we would have not be surprised if we were greeted by dwarves and gnomes. In facts we just found two pretty odd ones!

During steep climbs, I noticed that I inevitably end up humming some marching tunes. The first is almost always the ‘Ode to Joy’ from LvB 9th Symphony, followed equally as popular by Bizet’s Carmen ‘Habanera’. Today I could hear myself  tuning up also to Elgar’s ‘Pump and Circumstance’ as a new entry. I feel as these tunes were written by all these illustrious composers just to help me during these enduring moments.

Unlike the previous days, today we found many iron crosses as waymarkers and their typical layers of stones, intentionally left behind by other walkers. One had even a prayer or a message written on a piece of paper. We also left our stones we carried with us since the morning.

Once in St-Bressou we were planning to take a stop and rest somewhere, but again to our disappointment, we could find no such place among a handful of houses. No bars, or restaurants, let alone a public toilet. No other choice than asking hospitality to the clerk at the tiny City Hall, who graciously invited us in and use the private facility.

Had to walk for another 6 km before finding a bar in Lacapelle-Marival, to quench our thirst and enjoying an ice cream.

The stage for the day was scheduled to end in Rudelle, where we booked our overnight stay in advance. The little village is another nice example of preserved medieval houses all perched around a church fortified just like a castle tower since the days of the 100 years’ war and the Religion wars. It seems that nothing had really changed since 1000 years or so.
The place we booked was way below imagination and would require a post of its own. Just to document a few peculiar features, here is a picture of the ‘Terrasse’ cum kitchen, the shower and the organic toilet.

But tomorrow it’s another day….so goodnight!

Day 5, Stage 3, from La Coste to Figeac, start at 10:19 for 4:11 hrs, total 15.64km.

The overnight accommodation at the Gite La Coste  was too comfortable and we took our time to indulge with our breakfast and prepare for the day walk. Actually when we started the sun was already very fierce and set the tone for the rest of the day.


Helen, the owner of the Gite  and our host, was already busy in her colourful vegetable garden.

The road path went through a pretty much a endless sequence of farming land with  cows of any possible color cows can be. By all means the Auvergne is an intensive cheese producing region so it all makes good sense. Every now and then large bodies of water appear in between the trees to create a cool spot for a rest.

For the whole section of the road we could not find a place to buy some fruit or even get a coffee: apparently French people in this region do not give a damn of the pilgrims and also other tourists: no business was in operation either because there is non, or because today it’s a Sunday, or because even the business owners are taking their holidays in this time period. We had to chew on old bread and chunks of cheese stolen at breakfast. The best places to take a break are near the churches where also the Village Hall is located and there are as also picnic areas and public toilets.

At last we made it to Figeac, our destination for the day. We both are dead tired and luckily we booked a room beforehand in unassuming and anonymous hotel that at least can assure a hot shower and bath.

After some rest ( solid rock sleep!) we ventured into the cosy village of Figeac to look for an ATM, a guide for the rest of the walk, an ice cream and a launderette. The mission was accomplished even if not in the same order.

After all the waiting for the washing and drying, we stopped in the main square for dinner and we had some trouble to explain to the waiter in our non-French expressions, that we wanted to share three dishes. Finally we learned that the term to use is partager!

We managed also to book the Gite for the following day. Do it’s all set and we can tuck in the bed for as well deserved rest.

Day 1, Besozzo to Toulouse (by train, plane and taxi)

Not much of an exhilarating day, let alone the mixed emotions that were hovering upon us.at the very moment of zipping up for the last time the luggage and leaving home.

A few chores had to be managed on the way to the airport such as leaving the small service car we use in Besozzo to the service shop, sorting the garbage according to the strict collection rules, calling the locksmith to fix the house gate that got misaligned maybe due to some contractor’s truck that bumped it inadvertently, and so on. That was the most tiring part of the day.

The TILO train to the airport was super clean and perfectly on time since it’s a Swiss train connecting the Ticino canton to the Malpensa airport. Unfortunately there are only four TILO trains every day that stop in Besozzo. The other trains that eventually connect Besozzo to other destinations are normally old and dilapidated and will make the traveller miserable even before the start of the journey.

Now we are in our hotel room in Toulouse. Tomorrow will reach Conques to get our first stamp on our pilgrim’s credential passport.

Packing completed?

Maybe yes but likely not.

Two small backpacks weighing about 6.7 Kg each may need some last minute fine tuning. Excluding the weight of the empty sacks, we have packed about 10 Kg of stuff for the two of us, of which at least 30% belong to the “what if…” category, something like: “What if we get a cold whether front?”, or “What if we get a downpour when we got no shelter?”. For this last category I have got a small umbrella stuck in the side zippers, just in case. The rest of the “fears” are managed with some extra warm clothes. Funny enough, the whether forecast indicates 36 Deg C as the daily temperature at our starting point with a lower point at 23 Deg C at 7 am. I think we have to sleep on it tonight and leave the decision to jettison something behind to tomorrow morning just before leaving home for the “unknown”.

Both of us will also carry a small belly pouch to keep some of the items handy, like the cellphone, pocket money, tissues, etc. A common carry-on bag will be left at the Toulouse train station to be picked up on  the way back and contains some of the “civil” clothes to change before boarding the train that will take us home at the end of the journey.