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!

April 14. Paris

At  last Paris! After a movie marathon on the plane (7) where I caught up on the latest and was fortunate to be seated next to very pleasant people. They were happy to act in a team capacity when we all needed the toilet as it was so very squashed and I was in a window seat. When one got up we all got up! I haven’t had that experience before with strangers but it made for a most agreeable flight.

I arrived in Paris and my booked shuttle was nowhere to be seen. It turns out they came on the 13 th instead of the 14 th but were quick to reorganise. After finally getting to the hotel I jumped in the shower to refresh, and took what was supposed to be a very quick rest. I woke with a start and realised I wouldn’t be walking to the tour after all! I grabbed a cab ( which came in five minutes- a far more positive experience than my 1 hour wait for a cab to take me to the airport in Melbourne!) to get me to a Jump the queue tour of the Louvre. I was pretty tired because I only slept a couple of hours on the plane and an hour in the hotel but I was glad of the booked tour. If I had had to queue I would have bailed. It was all your worst ideas about travelling in Europe. Crowds everywhere. I almost got the giggles over the crowd around the Venus de milo and the Mona Lisa. I wasn’t too concerned because the tour guide was very informative about those and other paintings and sculptures we saw and rooms we visited which I previously had never seen.

Flagging by now I stopped at a little bistro to have a Croque Monsieur and glass of wine and a delicious Tart Tatin ( essentially a toasted sandwich and fancy apple pie)before walking back to the hotel which is very nice and opposite the Pantheon. It is well situated and it was good to walk the streets.

Paris was overcast and cool but still people were sitting around in the Tuileries gardens relaxing and playing Pétanque. The gardens are just starting to have spring blooms but they look a little miserable yet.  Away from the tourist attractions Parisienne life seemed quite pleasant and less frenetic. There seem to be homeless people on the streets that I hadn’t seen when I visited before. Paris still retains its little boutiques and odd shops that we are losing,  though the expensive shops like at Melbourne Central are at the tourist places, like the Louvre, where they have added shopping malls . I felt somewhat relieved I would be here only a few days and heading into the country to be free of the crowds. Having said that I did meet some friendly Americans and enjoyed their company while having dinner .

On my return to the hotel I crashed for a satisfying 8 hours sleep. Day one done and dusted. Is this real? This trip has been in my head for so long it feels like I am in a dream.

Three sleeps to go…

I have just had a wonderful massage from my friend Jan which has released all my pent up tension. Feel like I am walking on air. Jan and her husband Ron gave me a small file of ‘ health elixir’ to ward off infections and viruses. Ron is a chemist and expert on aroma therapy and this little mixture will work with me to keep me well. They swear by its properties. It has a robust but pleasant aroma. I was so touched. They have become good friends and their loving care of me is most appreciated.

After a busy day with Ziggy, followed by a stimulating book club discussion and then a quick edit of Hazel’s short story, I tumbled into bed around 12.30am last night. When I awoke  this morning at 6.30 I decided to take Alfie for a walk and then go to gym, my usual routine, despite feeling a little weary. I was shocked to discover that not one but two of our favourite trainers are leaving. Michelle the Pilates teacher has resigned because she can no longer combine teaching with her physiotherapist studies and Sam wants to spend more time with his upcoming baby. I admire his commitment to his wife and child but I am so disappointed for us. Sam is an excellent trainer who always pushes us to go harder or faster but never bullies . It is his efforts that have got me and kept me really fit and ready for this walk. I will miss his smiling face and good natured cajoling.

So now only three more sleeps to take off!

Last week countdown

Over Easter I went to the Grampians with friends. We did some solid hikes up to several peaks and I coped well which gave me confidence for my walk in France. Despite huffing and puffing like a steam engine, as soon as I stopped my breathing was normal, so it was just the extreme incline and the rough ground. I leftTuesday morning before the others at 6 am in order to get to Melbourne in time for my matinee session of the Carol King Musical , Beautiful at 1.00 pm. It is a 3 and a half hour + drive from Halls Gap to Melbourne depending on the traffic and I managed door to door in 3 and a half hours. It was just before daylight and I was startled by some deer crossing the road. That woke me up! The road is good when the traffic flows but coming into Melbourne I thought I would be stuck in morning peak hour traffic as it seemed to come to a standstill entering the freeway. All moved steadily however so I was home and unpacked and easily ready for the show.

Janine and I followed the show with afternoon tea at the Sofitel, a decadent , delicious treat. No dinner required! I also had to front up to book club at Tooronga village so all told by bed time I was a tad weary. I felt tired for a couple of days. We always seem to complain when Daylight saving starts and finishes so I will use that as my excuse!

I am into countdown mode and have reviewed my clothes to take on the hike and those to send to Germany, started the final list of documents to be copied, itinerary to be shared with family, health check and farewell dinners.

I have Ziggy to mind on Monday after dinner with the family at Simon’s Peking Duck Restaurant on Sunday. He is entranced by Hazel and they had a play last night before bed. She is gorgeous with him, so patient and playful. He insisted on joining her while she did exercises before bed.

I didn’t sleep so well because he wanted to sleep on the foldout couch but not on his own, so we shared. He is a twister, kicker as most children are! Also I was aware there is no mattress protector and wanted to be sure to take him to the loo in the night as well. He is not always reliable yet.

I am hosting the other book club tonight (what was I thinking?) and my housekeeping has slipped somewhat so with Ziggy’s help? I will tidy up and make the place presentable. I have half eaten chew toys, plastic balls, a table with junk on the end and a rocket left over from Ziggy’s creative exploits. We have bounce scheduled as well as a swim in the pool on the agenda. Just another day.