June, 2016

Day-70, Jun 30, Reims to Jonchery-sur-Vesle, France

Had an easy walk of 19.2 km (12 mi) with many paths parallel to the heavily travelled 2-lane highway. But still, I had to face many a semi truck or bus who could not avoid me because he had oncoming traffic–my only option to jump into deeper grass and try to make forward progress, or just wait it out. I probably had a fourth of the day like that (as many days are–but this road seemed busier than usual).  So when I was taken down a peaceful dirt road shown in the picture, I felt ecstatic. 

Took the “happy” train back to Reims for my third and final night. Walking back from the train station, I couldn’t resist a cheese platter and a few glasses of wine–the cheese was enough for four people, but I managed (and made some sandwiches for tomorrow). And all that made for a happy pilgrim as shown in the pic.

I was lucky to confirm meeting Father Xavier at tomorrow’s destination. He’ll arrange for lodging for me. And I’m also set for the next day; that significantly reduces my Camino Stress–it’s been my biggest concern.

Day-69, Jun 29, Reims

Pushed hard trying to make up 2 days worth of distance, 44 km, from Suippes to Reims. Recall that I went off route because of no hotels in those 44 km and the attractions at Chalons. I succeeded in 35.8 km (22.4 mi) today, so I added another 8.2 km to my “did not walk” subtotal. Comfortable climate and flat terrain made for an easy walk today, and above all, no worry about a place to sleep tonight!

Not sure who’s counting, except my sandals whose treads are fast wearing out, but I’ve actually already walked ~720 mi with ~1200 to go. No light at the end of the tunnel yet! But it’s getting easier–not fighting any problems nor the dreaded heat yet! Am taking 3 to 5 magnesium supplement pills a day to keep from getting cramps–the muscles let me know when to take the pill!

The signs remind me that I’m in France’s Champagne Region, but I haven’t tried any. Alcohol, even beer during the day, doesn’t react well. 

The French military cemetery at the town of Sillery contains over 10,000 graves from WW I. What makes this cemetery different is the chapel-Mausoleum, dedicated to the MIAs.  You can barely see it in the overall photo, but the chapel is surmounted by a tall lantern intended to contain an eternal flame. The chapel, after researching it, is unusual for structures in a nécropole nationale, because it’s an accomplished Art Déco design and it was, in fact, one of two structures exhibited by the city of Reims at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris (the other being the Carnegie Library). Where my walks take me!

Day-68, Jun 28, Chalons-en-Champagne to Reims, France

Four magnificent churches in one day (including two cathedrals) is like getting four aces in poker. You’re over-joyed and don’t know how to react. Should you be modest or gloat! I still can’t believe their majestic beauty where Gothic at its best is about replacing stone walls with soaring panes of glass and letting the light enter where it was blocked before.

I started with Notre Dame in Chalons (the photo with me in front of it), met a man who did the Camino from his home town in western France (he’s also in the same quad), then visited their Cathedral (St Etiene–St Stevens) is a prime example of Gothic achieving its goal (stone to glass).

St Etiene is in the second quad finishing with a pic of a happy train I took to Reims. After dropping off my backpack at the CIS Hostel, I went to their Cathedral which in 2011 celebrated its 800th Anniversary! The stained glass panels were overwhelming–all of course modern works that replaced fire and war damage. It took me two hours just to settle my senses down and keep me focused on a few I especially liked. The left pic in the quad is by Marc Chagal, and the right pic is by Imi Knoebel that flanks Chagal’s pane on both sides and was inaugurated in 2011.

The special historical treat, however, came at the Basilica of St Remi, where in 498 he (as bishop) baptized Clovis, the first king of the Franks.  After that, a long chain of Carolingian Kings followed. Mind you, the church that stood here was a predecessor church to today’s basilica, but St Remi is interred in the Basilica’s Sacrament Chapel not far from the altar.
Well, I guess I gloated. Tomorrow it’s back to walking (backtracking).

Day-67, Jun 27, Ste. Menehould to Suippes, France

I continued to follow the Way of Liberty (French troops coming home after France was liberated in WW II) and also the signs pointing to WW I battle sites. The last theme was field after field of grain and silos built even for train entry and pick-up–had to capture that scene. The WW theme is everywhere including a mural on a house long since deserted, but the mural seems to live on.

After walking 29.2 km (18.3 mi) and then some because of a turn I missed, I arrived at The town of Suippes. It was comfortably cool, but very windy on the plateaus. I had expected no hotels in Suippes, although the military post there gave me false hopes, so I caught a bus to the off-route town of Chalons-en-Champagne. At Chalons, I didn’t like what Booking.com had to offer. So I headed to the office de tourisme which had several options including a relatively new youth hostel–that’s where I’m staying for 20€. I decided also to book the youth hostel in Reims and use it as a base  while walking back to make up and forward one day. That takes the hotel stress out of the equation!

Day-66, Jun 26, Verdun to Dombasle-en-Argonne (by car) and on to Sainte Menehould (by foot)

Since there were no hotels in Dombasle and it was Sunday with no reasonable bus service, the B&B host drove me the 15 km (9 mi) there where I picked up the other 25 km (15,6 mi) on foot. Comfortably cool on a country road for much of the way, then back to D603 (also 2-lane but more travelled). The D603 is dubbed the “Way to Freedom” with periodic concrete meter-high markers where the troops came home after WW II. The town of Claremont en Argonne typifies the memorials erected for their fallen heroes.

I’ve boxed myself in again with no hotel for tomorrow night. But luckily it will be Monday with good train/bus to a place that has  a place to stay. It’s an iterative process with four apps: my PocketEarth with my route/map; Rail Planner that will find my bus/rail connections within Europe; Safari/Booking.com that will find me a place to stay; and GoogleMaps that graphically shows the places to stay. It sounds easy, but can take me up to three hours to make it work.

Day-65, Jun 25, Étaín to Verdun

Great walk–nice and cool with rain for about half of it. Then it all came crashing down when my budget hotel (Ibis) didn’t have my reservation that I thought I had. I squirmed for four hours trying to get something other than sleeping under a tree. Problem was that every one of Verdun’s dozen or so hotels was booked due to a huge music fete. I tried working with the Tourism Office to no avail. Finally walked the 2 miles from Ibis to the Tourism Office where a second call to a B&B opened up a room for me. Incredible! I’m with a wonderful family–he’s retired military (helicopter logistics support for 35 years).

Wish I had more time to explore Verdun that’s so heavily steeped in WW I battle history, the Argonne forest all around. Coming here I walked by a somber, plain-looking German cemetery with WW I casualties that pretty much captured the mood of the bloody battles fought in this region.

The pic shows the old city bastion on the Meuse River and one of several monuments honoring WW I heroes. The other one the music stage set for evening–thank goodness the rains let off.

Day-64, Jun 24, Étaín, France

Great day. Took the train back to make up walking what I missed yesterday (had to do that because of hotel availability). Came up 6 km short–so I walked 28 km (17.5 mi) with reduced backpack weight–just left many things in the room that I ended up renting for two nights. BTW, check the picture out for how to tell a pilgrim is renting a hotel room. (Yes, I bring clothes line and pins and always unpack everything!)

I knew it was going to be a good day when the train conductor let me ride free to my launch point for walking back. Then midway I stopped at–you guessed it–a McDonalds for a cafe-au-lait (con leche), free Wi-Fi, and read the BREXIT news. I still can’t believe that the UK left the EU. 

Also saw this “look-out” house for two. Took a lunch break there and wanted to thank someone for building it–no one in sight.

Day-63, Jun 23, Metz to Sainte-Marie-aux-Chênes and beyond to Auboue, France

The 21-km (13 mi) walk went well, although the day was well  on its way toward reaching close to 90 deg. Then nothing went well until checking into a hotel 12+ hrs after checking out this morning. It was one of those days, but I persevered and all turned out well. It all had to do with securing a hotel. Only hotel available was 34 km down the road–had to get there by train that only runs morning and evening. So I waited 4 hrs–good lesson in patience (the pic is at the open-air train station).

When I hit my destination on the train, the door wouldn’t open and the train started taking off again. People saw the problem and got the train driver to stop it–all ended well. Tomorrow, I will take the train partway back to walk a big chunk of what I missed today.

I suppose the walk went well because I was following new waymarkers! Didn’t drink any all day, but must have had at least four quarts of water that nearly all evaporated through my skin (you get my point).

Day-62, Jun 22, St. Avold (France) by bus to Fouligny (16 km) then trekked to Metz (26 km)

Can’t compare yesterday’s highlight (Lorraine American Cemetery) with today’s, the Metz Cathedral. Yesterday’s stirred the emotions; today’s stirred the senses.

The Metz Cathedral is overwhelming in height (135.9-foot high nave) and number and quality of beautiful stained glass windows. You simply can’t get your “arms” around it, and so you’re left standing in awe. All you can do is sit down and say a little prayer and then dare to capture the awesomeness with a few smartphone pictures–it’s almost humiliatingly laughable. (I know I’ll feel the same in Notre Dame de Paris and Chartres Cathedral.) The two pictures on the right are only of the transepts–so many more windows around the nave and the choir. And, yes, I managed to get my credentials stamped. 

I haven’t seen a St James (St Jacque) waymarker in two days. But Metz did not disappoint in its own way–take a look at the picture advertising their mall–no shell.

Day-61, Jun 21, Freyming to St. Avold, France

Took me 3+ hrs to walk only 12 km (7.5 mi) because a lot of it was in the narrow, wet-grass shoulder to avoid oncoming traffic. On arrival at St. Avold, I headed to a McDonald’s for a coffee and to take advantage of their Wi-Fi (similar to using Starbucks on my Mission Walk).

After getting settled in my hotel (far nicer than “pilgrim’s grade” but it’s getting hard to find lodging), I did my chores and headed out for another mile to the Lorraine American Cemetery and Monument. It covers some 100 acres and contains 10,489 graves, more than any other American WW II cemetery in Europe. I relished in the chance to pay these brave souls my respect–they gave their ultimate to their country. The drizzle underlined the somberness of the moment! On the way out it occurred to me to ask for a stamp for my pilgrim’s credentials–am I ever proud of that one.

Only one quad picture summarizes the day.