27 th April St. Menou

This morning we took the car to Souveny with the intention of walking a circuit around the district. It is a training walk for Peter with his pack and a test to see how I would fare.

The town is one that sprang up around another wealthy Cluniac/Benedictine Abbey. Because of the wealth there are many lovely and somewhat larger residences.

Before we set off we needed breakfast of course and we walked around for 20 odd minutes till we found a boulangerie and then a bar for coffee. The bar was quite interesting as it was very clean and modern, run by an immaculately dressed woman wearing her pearls no less! The cafe housed all the sporting trophies from the local football club around the walls.

There is no problem with eating our pastries in the bar and it was nice and warm inside. It must be about 5 degrees and a stiff breeze blowing. Great for Karen!

Fully fuelled with especially delicious pastries we wandered first into the church. It was the first place for ages where there were candles to buy. I made good my promise to light a candle for our good samaritans who gave us lifts and also thanks for all the gifts in my life. All the while the impressive church organ played beautiful music. It wasn’t recorded music either as several other churches have had. The organist played with sensitivity and the acoustics were great. It made a beautiful atmosphere.

Of course it was another place on the pilgrimage route and there was the shell outside a gorgeous house that had been a Refugio.

It was a delightful gentle walk which culminated in a forest where a pretty little dog followed us for ages. We got to a farm gate and were concerned he/she was getting too far from home so we held it back while we all went through the gate. It was so disappointed it yelped and yapped and then found its way under the gate. It came racing up with such joy. The next gate we tried again and succeeded. It looked so disappointed but turned and raced off.

We finished our walk back in the forest and eventually ended in Saint Menoux. The village has a church (7th century unusual Romanesque construction), where an Irish priest stopped on the way back from Rome. He stayed and eventually died here. He was a gentle soul with an apparent gift for healing headaches, migraines or depression. His relics are in a coffin in the church and there is a space like a bread oven beside them where you can put your head and pray for healing!

Peter and I have elected to stay here rather than complete the next 8 kms back to Souveny. My leg was no worse for the 11 km walk but I didn’t want to push it and Peter was feeling the strain. He was unwell with a sore back only a fortnight ago so we are giving him time to adjust.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch of duck in raspberry vinegar, champignons and potatoes followed by apple crumble. Karen and Peter had salad followed by the vegetables. I am missing my greens!

Karen and I were planning a massage at the spa but we are too late. Maybe tomorrow.

By the way I have loved all your comments just to let you know I am reading them.

25 th April Nevers

Today we are waiting for Peter Shackleton to join us from the UK. It is an easy restful start. We have done all our washing and we have organised a car to support us over the next five days to Vichy. With all our various issues, my shin splint ( improving after a bit of rest) , Karen still tired and with a few nasty blisters, Andy with a mysterious swollen leg( not painful) and Peter with water on the knee before he starts, we are a fine lot of crocks. We all feel okay otherwise.

Andy, Karen and I do a leisurely tour of the city, which is quite charming and has a rich history. One of the things it is famous for is Faience earthen ware. They are beautiful pieces that you will probably recognise. Many are blue and yellow with intricate patterns or stories etc. they are hand painted. We visited the museum and watched the whole process. I found it fascinating and would buy some if I wasn’t travelling for a long time after now.

There is a huge cathedral with two apses, one at each end. The cathedral of St Cyr and St Julitte, was devastated many times over the centuries but lastly during WW11. They have reconstructed it but have chosen to install modern stain glass instead of recreating the old windows. It is interesting and those modern windows more elaborately designed seem to suit better than the minimalist ones.

One end of the church

Nevers is where St Bernadette from Lourdes came after her vision and lived with the Sisters of Charity. Her body is interred in a glass case in the Susters of Charity. chapel there.

I have been amused by the French signs for dogs. A bowl of water is called the bar chien, and there are special areas for pooing and peeing.

They aren’t used all the time but the streets are pretty clean.

Yesterday it was Amex and today I have discovered my ANZ visa has also been compromised! I have no back up cards now just my travel card. It was so annoying as I had to change any direct debits I might have and to speak to ANZ I had to remember my telephone code. Not likely! Anyway I am grateful for their quick action and vigilance. No loss and only small amounts presumably as testers.

I loved the ladies sweeping up blossom under a tree. They are tidy gardeners in France.

24 th April Charité-sur-Loire to Nevers

Glorious morning because we are sleeping in and not packing up to be gone by 7. The tents will dry eventually though there is a soft mist overhanging everything. That was to be expected because we are camping on an island in the middle of the Loire. It is cool enough to pull out my puffy jacket as we eat breakfast of croissants and pastries but not coffee yet.

We decide to have coffee at a bar near the church and then explore the town. I feel a real sense of pleasure being here. It has energy and I probably am not tired! I am captivated by the dog in the boulangerie and the dog in the window of the hairdresser. It was so well behaved, just sitting watching, no barking. Alfie needs a bit of French good manners! There are always hairdressers open!

Next the church which I find really beautiful and moving. The flagstones are so uneven they tell of the centuries of worship yet it has very contemporary stained glass windows in some parts and beautiful messages around the church. It is a church that is used still.

The Church was taken over by the French Revolutionaries and the entrance was destroyed and housing was built. Since the 1990s the town has been restoring the buildings which are extensive. The monks were called Cluniacs and were very influential through the ages. It has also been recognised as a stop on a route to Santiago Compostella. Today I walked the mandatory 84 stairs for pilgrims.

The city has quite a few festivals, one of which is a festival of words and on many of the shops and buildings are quotes from literature. I find that really charming. This is the street we had our coffee. Eventually we returned to pack up the tents and catch the bus to Nevers. While I was doing that Amex rang to say my card had been used in New York! Anyway no transaction occurred due to their diligence but they have stopped that card. It isn’t a problem as I only bring it for emergencies but it took ages to sort out and I thought we would miss our bus. What a world. I am talking to a guy in America( Mumbai probably) while plugged into a caravan power site in France talking fraud then holding while they put me onto customer service in Actual America to send a replacement card! Anyway all is good. We arrived in Nevers as scheduled and are resting and enjoying a lovely Airbnb in a charming building. The washing machine finally worked when I realised you have to close the inner drum. I remembered from Croatia. Washed everything and now smell nice!

April 19 Jargeau to Sully-en-Loire 32kms

This morning as we folded the tents it crossed my mind, that I am nuts. The tents were wet with condensation and we needed to get off early because another hot day was predicted. We wanted to get as far as possible before the heat started to affect Karen. It is unusually warm! I keep thinking about what I can ditch but apart from the shoulders I am actually travelling okay. That was until today. When you follow a river it meanders and that added extra kilometres. We had not intended any long days for a week or so to give us all time to get our walking fitness honed. Hmph! Best plans and all that. It turns out there were different markers to our information and it turned into a long days walk. We all feel tired.

The walking was beautiful though with lots of bird life. Everyday we are surrounded by sweet bird song, trills and tweets, honks and cries. Then there are the frogs. I haven’t heard a cacophony of frogs for ages. They are prolific. We saw a flock of  cormorants surge up from underwater right in front of us. It was like watching submarines emerging from the water. Later a flock of white swans flapped and flapped in order to get airborne.

Eventually we arrived in Chateauneuf for second breakfast. Our first had been left over pizza and a banana. Some of these little towns seem very quiet and not a lot is open for dinner. We had to have pizza last night. I had a delicious cafe au lait, my first coffee in three days. Fortified we set off enthusiastically.

The Chateau

We saw a flat bottomed boat chugging up stream with sightseers, the first of the season perhaps. Then the next place was St Benoit. A beautiful and unusual church monastery. It was deliciously cool inside.

From now we start to struggle. It is unseasonably hot. Karen is wilting so the going is slow. Eventually we arrive at Sully and the camp ground is delightful but we are all worn out and it is late.. The town has few shops for provisioning for breakfast but Andy goes while we organise dinner. Not much choice, looks like chocolate brownies for breakfast! There is a charming chateau here. Quite a Repunzal

let down your hair type.

We enjoy a really delicious dinner and return to our tents and crash. Another hot day tomorrow means an early start again.

21st April Gien to Briare 30 km

This walk was really pretty, going past beautiful homes and chateaux finally arriving in Briare which is a canal town famous for its mosaics and earthen ware. It is quite a pretty place with lots of boats and a large canal that actually goes across and above the Loire River. We arrived feeling a bit stretched and finally found a place that sold gourmet icecreams and chocolates. While eating our treats a boat cruised past on the canal. Very weird to see a boat at footpath level.

Despite the boating activity, it is pre-season and many places are not open. We walked the town and only found one little restaurant. There may be others but without a car the options are limited.

The next day was Sunday and we discovered very little open again but the Tabacs (tattslotto, newsagents, coffees, some have the TAB horse racing) were the only things open and the real centre of village sunday life. In fact many of the little towns we have walked through have no bars, shops or bakeries. They are often closed up like the houses have been abandoned or they are holiday homes. It has meant we are struggling to get a breakfast or even a coffee on the way which has surprised us.

it has meant long days walking which has tired us all. Still that is part of the adventure to discover how the country works close up.

The camping grounds are interesting. Sometimes no loo paper, never toilet seats, unisex, and water rationed to 30 second bursts. There is a lot of emphasis on careful use of water, a precious asset. A bit ironic when we are walking beside a fast flowing river but I like the philosophy. Should be more of it at home. The water is hot so I have this technique now, of getting wet, soaping up and then rinsing off. You can press the tap as many times as you like but it always stops automatically.

20 th April Sully-en-Loire to Gien 26 kms

This morning we saw otters in the river! There were three but I wasn’t quick enough to video them. Also we came across a field of spider webs. They were like little parachutes hanging off grass stalks. Quite magical. Then another surprise was a lot of fat snails. The edible ones I wondered? The other interesting thing was the Nuclear power station. The cooling towers were bubbling and steaming like kettles!

After that it just turned into a slog. The path disappeared and we had to walk beside the road which was very disconcerting. I was scared I would trip in the grass and fall into the road.

April 18 Orléans to Jargeau 23 km

It was a bit of a scramble this morning and when I put on my pack I thought it felt pretty heavy. My mind went to what could I post home?! I can’t quite get my head around the direction but we are walking east so into the sun we stepped. Our trail goes along the Loire River and it wasn’t too long before we left the larger town behind and started passing through small villages, then farm lands. Essentially we are following the levy bank and along the way we passed many signs from the 1840s when the river flooded to extraordinary heights. The river was also used for transporting goods and many places were identified as Ports. It was a tranquil walk, mostly flat but the weather got warmer and warmer and Karen started to overheat and feel unwell. Even though we stopped quite regularly the last four kms were really hard for her.

I was feeling better about the pack as the day wore on though I felt stiff around the shoulders towards the end of the day. We arrived in Jargeau and headed for a cafe to refresh before finding our campsite. It wasn’t too long before we were set up and heading for a shower and washing of clothes. The shower was interesting because it was very hot but only runs for 30 seconds at a time. I luxuriated in the stop and start but when I went to dry myself I had left the towel back at the tent! I dries off with my dirty clothes and then washed them and hung them up behind the tent. We got in later than expected so I hope everything dries by tomorrow.

A port house.

April 17 Orleans

I strapped on my pack and left the hotel with good wishes from the receptionist for a good trip to Compostella! It made me smile, but the joke was on me because Orleans is on a Camino path! I was anxious about the train with all the strikes so I went early. I could see on the monitor the train I was to catch but no platform number. Each person I asked said you just need to be there 20 minutes before but nobody told me which platform. I walked around filling in time and decided to wait until there was a rush to the platform. With time to kill I needed the loo and of course you have to pay here. It is important to have some small change even for the train tickets. More awkward was the fancy loo that didn’t give me enough time to take my pack off and settle before the door unlocked! Some poor woman got a shock when she opened my door. Still uncertain about the train I just had to wait for the last twenty minutes and follow any group heading for a train and then find someone to tell me if it was the correct train. Fortunately there were no other trains departing so I was pretty sure it was the correct train. I did eventually find a staff member who waved me onto the train. I checked with one of the passengers too. The microphone was so muffled I found it hard to understand. I longed for the Japanese system which is spoken in both Japanese and English with very clear instructions. Anyway all was okay until I arrived at my destination Aubrais. Karen and Andy had said stay on the train till it goes to Gare Orleans but when I asked someone they said it wasn’t stopping there. I needed to get off and catch a tram. I leaped off just before the train pulled out and then had to squeeze through the crowd with my backpack to get to a ticket machine. Seriously I could have got on with out a ticket as nobody checked. Anyway the tram took me to the station but my alarm grew as we wizzed past finally stopping at the back of the station instead of the front. I located Andy and Karen who have not changed at all. It was a lovely reunion.

We walked back to our Airbnb which was convenient to the start of the walk near the river. Then they took me back to explore Orleans. The cathedral has the most beautiful intricate stained glass windows and the little streets around the centre were quite medieval and quaint. The Loire River is very wide and fast flowing. But very tranquil looking. There is a canal that runs alongside the river too on which several fisherman were seated. This is a rather lovely town. We found a restaurant for dinner where we were served delicious but huge toasted sandwiches with salad. They were too big to eat. When we returned home I crashed and slept so very soundly.

April 16 Paris

Today I was determined to see the Waterlilies in the Orangerie and visit the Pompidou Centre. I was going to use the rail pass that I bought but haven’t really utilised. I just find walking more interesting even if it is tiring.

Once again I bought tickets online and avoided the queues. Oh my, what glorious paintings! You just seem to melt into them. I was fascinated by his abstraction of the subject. It is far more obvious in person. They are set up so you can literally sit and absorb the calm. They are huge.

This video doesn’t exist

I have learned a lot about brush strokes from observing these paintings.

Next the Pompidou and I used the metro this time. Changing lines felt like I was walking halfway there but it really was quick and brought me right out at the gallery. While I was trying to find the entrance ( this is the only gallery with less clear directions!) I ended up in this massive line and my heart sank. Another woman also joined me and we started chatting and she turned out to be another Aussie from Melbourne. The line in fact was for the library! Very impressive! A young woman who was behind us directed us to the correct entrance. After that we both decided to go for lunch first. Judith, who has just completed her Doctorate on Cystic Fibrosis lives in Essendon and works at the Royal Children’s Hospital. We clicked and she told me she had been recommended to eat at the roof top restaurant for the views and the food. We had a very leisurely lunch and glass of wine but decided that by three o’clock we should really start viewing the art! There was an exhibition of Chagall, Kandinsky and other Russian artists. After wandering around till nearly 7 looking at all sorts of modern art especially some of Picasso and Matisse, we decided enough modern art and headed for home. I decided to miss the metro because it was actually quicker to walk back to my place. Next time I will wait before I buy a rail pass until I am here. I hadn’t thought that through properly. I was going to go to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre but after meeting Judith and enjoying the company I shelved that idea. So I barely needed the pass. I will use it to go to Gare Austerlitz with my pack though.

Tomorrow I leave for Orleans and the real business of this holiday. The last photo is of my hotel. Very lovely and great position. Note the stone blocks and wooden platforms. They are for students to sit/ lie or sleep on because I am in the heart of the University district! Judith was staying at and AirBnB nearer Notre Dame because she is here for more time and then going to Villiers for the Anzac commemoration. I would check that out next time.

April 15 Giverny

My tour to Giverny didn’t leave till 1.00 so I bought tickets online for the Musee D’Orsay and walked over in the morning. Buying tickets online has been brilliant. With a digital ticket it is so quick to enter and thus miss the queues.

The crowds were fewer and the experience so pleasant. So much art I have seen in books and the building is fantastic. I loved the clock windows and the ballroom was spectacular. Why don’t we do something like this with Flinders street station?. I imagine the ballroom is not so sumptuous but the space could be utilised for art shows or even studios perhaps.

Then onwards to the Place des Pyramides for tea in a salon opposite the Tour office. We loaded up and headed towards the Arc de Triomph through the Bois de Boulogne and onto the freeway. The guide reminded us that Paris had been a walled city but that all the walls/ gates were destroyed in the war but the names have been kept for the exits. It was a pleasant ride with the weather looking quite ominous but by the time we arrived at Vernon any rain had passed. I had not realised that Normandy was actually settled by Vikings(North Men) and set up a rival duchy to the French King. He legitamised (made treaty with them) and so Normandy was established. It explains the very different architecture for the church spires – more Scandinavian. Vernon was mentioned in the book I read last year, Black Waterlillies. In the book it didn’t seem to be as charming as Giverny but in fact it has a substantial area of medieval buildings and quaint streets. Giverny on the other hand is more pastoral but really just a street and quite touristy but in an unobtrusive way. Monet’s gardens and home were not as large as I expected but nonetheless very charming. The tulips were in full bloom and really were spectacular. The waterlilies don’t appear until later and were a more wintery looking still. The fragrance of the garden was beautiful and after bustling Paris a balm for the soul. I so envied his studio, or rather three studios. One was built especially for painting his massive canvasses of the water lily garden that hang in the Orangerie. And the kitchen stove was a massive Aga style which was needed for feeding his huge family.

It was difficult to get pictures without people! Especially over the famous bridge. Returning to Paris was painful because the traffic was at a standstill many times and I began to feel bus sick. Fortunately I was able to control the nausea and realised I hadn’t had lunch! It was 7.30 pm when we arrived back and I was weary and starving and desperate for vegetables. I ate a bowl of Ramen and had a delicious mango for dessert. Crisis averted. I also felt quite chuffed that I could return to my hotel now without the aid of a map!