Before We Began

Before we began walking the Camino de Santiago we went a day early to check out the area and stayed at the starting point for us in a village called Barcelonne du Gers in a beautiful gite called la Bastide du Cosset. It was in a really pretty older house full of antiques and a joy to wander around. There wasn’t much to see in the village itself.

From the back.

Looking down the staircase from the second floor.

A lovely set up on a landing. The owner also had a collection of chickens in one area.

Breakfast one morning.

The striking floor in the entrance.

Too pretty and delicate to use.

These were real flowers. I guess they won’t last as long as if they would if in water but I loved the look.

 

The End

On day five of the Camino I was very tired. One toe or another hurt, the bottom of my right foot killed me, sometimes my left or right knee was in pain. After three or four hours, despite being in beautiful country, I was tired and bored and dreading the next four hours so I started to sing. There was no one around and maybe I kept a boar or two away. I went through all of the songs I could think of from the rock and roll days: Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, etc. When I ran out of songs, I turned to Broadway plays. I’ve always loved a good musical and I’ve retained many songs in my memory bank. I sang from The Sound of Music-The hills are alive with the sound of music-then My Fair Lady-All I want is a room somewhere-Hello Dolly-Well, well, hello Dolly. It probably kept me going for a couple of hours. Then I played the music on my iPhone. The last hour it was just me though, trudging on, sometimes with Maurice to keep me going.

 

The last two days of our walk we were nearing Spain, Pays Basque country, where most of the buildings are white with the reddish trim like this one. I developed an infection in my big toe. I was told at one gite by the owner that I should have gotten shoes one size larger. I wish I known this before I started the walk but I did carry on through five days. I finally decided to skip the sixth day which was to be the longest and Maurice told me at the end of it that it was a good thing I didn’t go, that he had a hard time finishing it himself.  By the end of that day I also began a sort of flu-y illness with fever, chills and aching so I was glad not to be out trying to go up and down hills but still disappointed. The spirit was willing but the feet were weak. I hitched a ride with the very nice man who took the luggage to the next stop. I didn’t feel like eating dinner that night either and was disappointed when Maurice told me I missed the male owner singing. The men in Pays Basque are known for their singing. The next day one of the hikers told me he sang like a chicken so maybe I was lucky. The next day was our last one when we were both supposed to walk into the ancient city of St Jean Pied de Port, the last stop before entering into Spain. I was so disappointed that I would not be entering as millions of pilgrims had done for centuries but the nice driver was there again and besides going off on to little roads to see if we could see Maurice which we didn’t, we went through the main gate entering the city via a little road.

 Here it is. Not that beautiful but pickled in history as they say.

 The cobbled street heading down. You can see the hills in the background where the next walk will go though.

Another gate in the wall.

One of the ancient doors that lined the street as it went down a steep hill. We also passed the office where documents were stamped showing you had arrived. You could get them stamped at each gite. We never got one as we didn’t start in the city that had them.

Here is one of the documents getting stamped. Each place has its own personal stamp as you can see.

Many of the doors had carvings up above giving information about their history. I thought this was one of the better ones.

This looks staged but I saw the bag, shoes and walking stick just resting there after, I assume, a long walk. There were several places set up like dorms with group sleeping arrangements and inexpensive meals for students and the like. We stayed in a hotel the last night with a/c and no surprises. Anyway, I thought this photo just about said it all about ending the walk.

We took a taxi back to the city we started in and picked up our car feeling strange to be in traffic again like we had been in a different country. It was really an experience, maybe not spiritual for us, but a look at France from the angle of a walker among cows and sheep, forest, mountains, hills and fields and occasionally other hikers. I won’t be doing it again on another part of the Camino but Maurice is already planning to do so.

Amount traveled by foot:

Barcelonne du Gers to Miramont: 23 km

Miramont to Sensacq a Larreule: 23 km

Larreule to Maslacq: 26.5 km

Maslacq to Navarrenx: 22 km

Mavarrenc to Aroue: 18 km

Aroue to Ostabat: 25 km

Ostabat to Saint Jean Pied de Port 22.5,km

Which is almost 100 miles!

My Good Life in France

I’ve just finished reading the very good memoir by Janine Marsh called My Good Life in France. I “knew” Janine as I’ve written a couple of articles for her very popular website, Good Life France, and I enjoy reading the website and I follow the Facebook page too. I was happy to see that she had written a book and interested to read how she came to be living in France.

I love memoirs and especially ones that are set in France. Janine and her husband found their farm almost by accident when a real estate agent called them into his office on a rainy day, gave them coffee and a few printouts of places for sale. They were headed back to catch the ferry to England and stopped at a couple of them and, bang, there it was, a coup de foudre, love at first sight. I don’t know what Janine saw that captured her heart because it sounded rather dreary, something that her father who was with them, pointed out, but they bought it and set off renovating.

The book takes you through the various things done in and around their house, work in the garden where they discovered that it had been used as a dump site for years, and not just for small things. Then animals came into their lives: ducks, chickens, dogs and cats, and they discovered that they were animal lovers. They live in a place in France that I know nothing about, an area called Seven Valleys in the Pay-de-Calais and Janine writes of the warmth of the people along with the happy celebrations that occur. It makes me want to take a look the next time I happen to be in the north of France.

My Good Life in France can be found on Amazaon in paperback if you are in England and in ebook format. It is scheduled to be in the States by February, 2018 but may come out even sooner.

 

 Janine with rooster, Gregory Peck the second.

 

1. What would you tell someone thinking about moving to France? (I always say to be really fluent in French). Any words of wisdom?
Well I agree with you on the language, even if you aren’t fluent, try your best to speak French as much as possible, it will really help you to make friends. Accept that things are different in France, particularly when it comes to administration. Paperwork, form filling and bureaucracy are a way of life, you just have to get used to it and go with the flow.
2. Were you an animal lover before you moved to France or did that happen when so many animals appeared in your life?
No – not at all! I’ve never had an animal before and never wanted one!  Actually Fat Cat is sitting on my lap while I’m talking to you and dribbling with happiness! She just appeared at our back door about six months ago and never left.  It started when we found a 4 week old kitten being attacked by a bigger cat in the lovely town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, we bought this tiny wounded bundle home and ever since, animals have been finding us.
3. What are the number counts of the animals in your life?
Currently 6 cats, 3 dogs, 4 geese (but they are all nesting including the boys – on about 60 eggs in total, we are dreading it if they all hatch!), 22 ducks and several of them are nesting and 14 chickens. We also feed 5 hedgehogs who come nightly to the door and if we don’t leave food out, they run rampage over the terrace and knock everything over.
4. What do you like most about France and what bothers you the most? What do you miss back in England?
I love a lot about France, the people and their love of heritage and tradition, the street markets, cakes, cheese, wine, the architecture and beautiful chateaux, sleepy hamlets, the café lifestyle, quirky festivals and the wonderful train service SNCF – I could honestly go on and on! What bothers me? Hmmm tough one, what bothers me? Not a lot really. From my home in France is just 3 hours to central London by car, I can actually be in England in 1.5 hours so I go back and forth a lot because I’ve got family there and because there are things I love about England too and I don’t have to miss them because I’m in the perfect location to have it all.
5. I have found that my friends in France are mostly Americans. Do you have French friends, ones that you can gab with?
I know what you mean, with your expat friends you have a shared heritage and understanding. I have French, American, Australian and UK friends here but if I really want a girly giggle it’s my British friend Annette I turn to. She’s slightly bonkers, absolutely lovely and she would get an Olympic Gold Medal for talking if there was one.
6. Do you have time for hobbies? If so what? I suspect the animals and Good Life in France take up most of your time, not to mention the husband.
I love gardening! This part of France gets lots of rain and the soil is rich. I grow my own veg and fruit as much as possible though I’m going to have to be creative as this year the ducks have figured out they can fly out of the pen and they love the young seedlings! I like to sew too, I’m awful at it but I like the calmness of sewing something. Cooking? Not really despite the fact that my French friends are horrified by my disinterest. I like eating food just not preparing it! I love reading too though I don’t have as much time for that as I’d like, I have 4000 books and we renovated the pig sty to keep them all in!
7. I know from your book that you have come to love the area in France where you live-Seven Valleys-but what other places in France have you come to love? What is special and interesting to you in the area where you live?
There’s not a region in France I haven’t fallen in love with for one reason or another. Alsace, Champagne, Provence, French Riviera, Dordogne, Loire Valley, Picardy, Charente Maritime and lovely La Rochelle. I’m forever ringing Mark my husband when I’m travelling and saying “I want to live here!”. But my heart is in the Seven Valleys – it might not have the sunshine of the south but they say here that the people of the north have the sun in their hearts and it’s true, they are very friendly, welcoming and have a great sense of humour. When you make a friend here, it’s for life.
8. How often do you travel around France? What’s on your list of where to go next?
I travel a lot – I love to discover new parts of France, in fact I’m off to the Loire Valley next week to visit the Chateau de Chenonceau and Clos de Lucé, the last home of Leonardo da Vinci. I’m also off to London to see my sister and my son Harry and his lovely wife and their kids. Next month I’ll visit Avignon, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Nimes in Provence, then I’m off to Carcassonne and Montpelier…
9. Do you have any favourite books that are set in France? Did you read a Year in Provence for instance?
I love that book, Peter Mayle’s descriptions are wonderful and one of the biggest compliments I got was from Samantha Verant author of 7 Letters from Paris (brilliant book, so romantic) who reviewed my book and said “Move over Peter Mayle – there’s a new girl in town and her name is Janine Marsh” – woohoo! I’ve read so many fab books about France (I’m addicted to them), I can’t pick just one.
10. Why do you think people are so taken with France and, especially, Paris? What is it that draws so many visitors? I find that women especially want to live in France.
There are so many things about France to entice. Paris, Provence, Marseille, Lille – fabulous cities, UNESCO listed gastronomy, boulangeries where the waft of a just baked croissant will be a memory that stays with you forever, lavender fields, sunflower fields, cakes, cheese, wine, the Louvre, French Alps and awesome Annecy… so so much. I’ve just started a “reasons to love France” weekly series on my website and I ask people on my Facebook page for their reasons and the list is massive, it’s going to take me years to get to the bottom, in fact I may never finish!

The Camino

The French call it le Chemin. We started seeing the same people as we hiked either from the gite the night before or at stops to sit or drink. There was a group of three ladies walking much faster than we did laughing and talking a mile a minute. One of them always wore shorts, even on the day we got heavy rain and wind. On our very first night at our gite we met a man we would see over and over, sometimes on the road or in our gite. We used a company to carry our bags to each gite. I knew I wouldn’t be one of those with a huge bag on my back. There were a few places to get fresh water but toilets were rare.  I am not a camper and don’t like the whole potty in the forest thing but had to a few times. Most of the meals we had each night were what Maurice called “gite food”, not the best but filling. There were always big tables for the hikers at dinner so we got to know each other.

There were symbols of the pilgrims everywhere. This was on the side of a church. The scallop shell represents Saint James as those that made it all the way to his burial site brought back a shell to prove they had made it.

There were churches everwhere and lots of little places set up for pilgrims too.

Lots of roses and crosses.

There were signs everywhere, especially in villages. Mostly we depended on the red and white ones for directions but still managed to lose our way a few times.

Spring flowers were everywhere, especially these white daisies.

The Way

So, here I am on the Camino de Santiago, two days out from where the trail ends before you enter Spain. It has been extremely hard. Walking six miles a day at home didn’t come close to preparing me for this. Maurice has finished a lot of marathons so, no matter what, he finishes. Me, not so much. On our first day it was in the 90’s and the heat was really getting to me. We got to the last village for the day but had to walk 3 kilometers more to get to our gite (which is a home or farm with rooms to rent). We turned at the sign which said it was 800 meters further on which seemed like miles. Then we got to the farm/gite and it was at the top of a high hill. I started crying, something I seldom do, and Maurice came and took my hand and somehow got me up that hill. The owner told me I should have called, she would have come and got me. They served a huge dinner later and sat at the table while we ate. I found out that all of the gite owners did this. I was so tired that I just wanted to eat and go to bed but  had to sit there politely. They served us a wonferful salad plate and then cassoulet, a heavy dish made with their own ducks. Then fresh strawberries. I was asleep by 9 PM.
This is how a lot of the Camino looked. By the way, we were in the southwest part of France the whole time. Many trails went through thick forests, through small villages here and there, sometimes we were beside a road with occasional traffic. We rarely were beside heavy traffic.

Since it was going to be in the 90’s again we started walking at 6:30 which is how I got this shot of a cow at dawn. There was a calf too but it doesn’t show here.

There were roses blooming in every village and in front of every house. I liked the rustic patina of this house and the climbing pink roses.

I liked the roof of this building made of chisled rocks.

You can see some of the rolling hills that we climbed or went down. Going downhill was the hardest for me. I should have gotten some of those walking poles so many of the hikers use but I didn’t just for one week being cheap.

Cute colt along the way. We didn’t see many horses, mostly cows.

Walking

Maurice and I try to walk just about every day. Here are some things I’ve seen since we got back to our beach place.

I love seeing red poppies in the Spring. I usee to see a lot more in Provence, fields of them, and maybe I will find a field full of poppies (coquelicot in French) here but, in the meantime, one or two brighten my day.

Friday is the big market day in our village. We bought some fish for lunch. I always like looking at all of the varieties and the lovely patterens you see.

Paella to go.

Roasted chicken for sale. I don’t buy it if it’s been sitting as it isn’t juicy enough for me.

 Maurice and I kept seeing hikers here and there in France doing the famous Camino de Santiago, also known as Saint James way. It is the name of pilgrimage routes to the shrine of James, the Apostle in northwestern Spain. Many follow the routes as a form of spiritual growth and the path goes through many towns with churches or cathedrals where pilgrims often spent the night. It is one of the most important Christian pilgrimages done and is now on the UNESCO list as a world heritage site. It is done by the religious or by those who love to hike or just for the challenge. All of this to inform you that Maurice and I are doing a small portion of it, the part seen on the map starting at Air-sur-l’Adour almost all the way to Spain at St-Jean-de-Port. If you have seen the movie, The Way, this is where the journey starts by a father whose son died on The Way.  It’s a pretty good movie and gives you an idea of what it is like. So, we are using a company that will take our suitcase to each stop so we don’t have to carry everything in a backpack. Some of the days will be really long and I hope we are in good enough shape to do it. I guess, if we are near a road or highway we can call for a taxi. We will see. I’m hoping our daily walks will make it easier. I will write about it of course when we return. You can follow me on Instagram at Linda Pennington-Mathieu or on Facebook at Linda Mathieu where it will be mostly in real time.