July, 2016

Day-101, Jul 31,  St. Jean d’Angely to St. Hilaire de Villefranche, France

The Office de Tourisme at St. Jean d’Angely made arrangements for me to stay at St. Hilaire with the Vinet family’s B&B at about the same distance as Juicq in my plan. It’s half the distance to Saintes and still fighting an ankle problem (although it’s getting better), I thought it best to cut my distance back a bit. At 19 km (12 mi) and low 80s with some cloud cover, it was a perfect day for walking!

I had to take a few km detour from my Camino bike path to visit the Lantern of the Dead at a village named Fenioux. Built on a site known to have been used for rituals by Celts at around 500 AD, it’s an 11-columned (!!) memorial for the dead–a fascinating structure that one can climb with a very narrow 38-step spiral staircase inside. The local Notre Dame church is within a few hundred meters. 

A few other sites caught my eye along the gently rolling hills: an old water wheel on the Boutonne River, a farmer (or Coop) tapping into this little stream for irrigation water (did they have a permit??), and fields of vineyards (both old and new) appearing in greater numbers. By the way, the grain fields have all, as far as I can see, now been harvested and appear to be in the fields in a rolled configuration or in rectangular solids sometimes stacked seven or eight bales high. This massive staging area was overwhelming–one wonders how they managed to stack it so high.

Day-100, Jul 30, Aulnay-de-Saintonge to St. Jean d’Angely, France 

What a place to celebrate my 100th day. The cream I bought for my foot sprain (or whatever it is) seems to be working–it’s kind of a Bengay! I managed the skimpy 17.6 km (11 mi) before lunch and met with Marta at the Office de Tourisme. She arranged for a stay at the Abbey for tonight and a stay at a place tomorrow that’s midway to Saintes because I didn’t want to push for 32 km yet.

St. Jean d’Angely with a pop. of 7,000+ has leveraged its once famous Abbey into a  cultural center of the town including a library, the school of music, and the Center of European Culture. Youngsters between ages 16 and 19 come for two-week stays from all over the EU. Although I’m in a two-person room (with loft arrangement–my roomie is on top), they have lots of bigger facilities.

Pictures include: the clock tower that was the medieval entry gate; ruins of Benedictine Abbey Towers of 1741 (the original Abbey was here in 817 already!); Abbey housing in which I’m staying; the library that occupies part of the Abbey with computers, etc.

In the second set, a half-timbered house, their City Hall, and across it their Hall of Justice, and my room (I’m actually taking this pic while lying on the bed).

Day-99, Jul 29, Brioux-sur-Boutonne to Aulnay-de-Saintonge, France

The cloud cover made for an easy walk of 18.7 km (11.7 mi), but my strain or something in the foot slowed me down considerably even though I had my brace on. For a while, I thought I had it on too tight, but loosening only improved it a bit. Desperate to fix the problem because I have to be at the Office de Tourisme by 1:00 pm at tomorrow’s destination (17.6 km), I bought some cream that might help. We’ll see. There’s that psychological aspect that you have to show your body you’re trying to help it!

Aulnay-de-Saintonge is another town with only around 1500 inhabitants, but they have show pieces like St Peter’s Church that date to around 1120, an example of Romanesque architecture that will take your breath away. And lots of oriental influences like the elefants at the top of one of the columns. And then there’s St Peter’s Tower with a 12-ft thick wall from the 1100s that attests to the fact that the local Viscount was serious about defense. Of course, the 100-years war pretty much destroyed everything. Next to the tower and City Hall is the first colored war memorial that I can ever remember seeing.

I had to include a picture of the Halte Jacquaire (another term for an albuerge in Spain). The upstairs has a small bedroom with three sets of high/low bunks and the downstairs a full kitchen and bathroom and clothes washer. Just came back from buying food for tonight and for breakfast. Again, I’m the only one here.

Day-98, Jul 28, Melle to Brioux-sur-Boutonne, France

Yesterday was down, today was up.  I only walked 13.1 km (8+ mi) to guarantee lodging and give my Achilles Tendon a rest–marvelous results. I stopped at a l’Office de Tourisme first, then bought a sandwich to go, and met a welcoming lady for the Organization called Maison des Art. Keeping in mind that Brioux has a population of around 1500, I have a hard time getting my arms around this organization and its ability to own/run this four-bedroom house for pilgrims! (A few pictures don’t do it justice–and at pilgrims’ prices, with a fully stocked kitchen, and with Wi-Fi.)  They also manage to accomplish quite a lot for the community.

It’s a gîte (pronounced like the second g in garage: ʒit) and technically to be called a gîte, the owner must live close by in order to provide help, assistance, and a warm welcome to guests. And I stress “warm,” because this hostess actually came down the street and found me eating my sandwich, then retrieved my walking poles for me that I left at the boulangerie, took me to the house, and showed me around. It made all the difference in the world. Then she tried to help me with the next reservation.

After a brief rest, I found the photo op place for the Brioux iconic shot of the St Jacques Portal with church in background! I feel like I’m on convalescent leave, but the rest feels good. 

Day-97, Jul 27, Lusignan to Melle, France

The top picture says it all: I walked at least 36 km (22.5 mi) yesterday. And with breaks including lunch, it took me about 10 hrs. I overestimated. So, what did I get for that effort, and worse, for not making a reservation ahead of time? I found all my places closed or no answer on the telephone,  and a nearby hotel with no vacancy. Luckily, the only other hotel was available but I had to walk another two km just beyond town. And it’s back to the heel brace on the other foot for an Achilles tendon problem. You’d think by the 97th day, I wouldn’t make all these mistakes.

On the brighter side, the farmers’ creativity had me laughing along the way. And, yes, tomorrow will be a much shorter day!

Day-96, Jul 26, Poitiers to Lusignan, France

I had lodging arrangements in mind as I left Poitiers, France but as I got closer I realized they were a good many miles off my route, so I cancelled. Emotionally that threw me into a low, because of the insecurity I suddenly felt. I was toying with pushing my distance into the 45 km (28+ miles) range. Then the heat made me realize, I couldn’t get there–although it was only low 80s.  A hotel was an option back a ways, but I stubbornly passed it up at lunch. BTW, I stopped at a cemetery to replenish my water and to cool off–great source of water.

Then I nearly hit the panic stage–no, I actually did hit it at 32 km (20 mi) here in Lusignan, when, while asking around, I discovered they also have a “Refuge Jacquaire,” basically a Gite, a fully equipped apartment (pilgrim-style), for pilgrims run by the city hall (Mairie)! That skyrocketed me emotionally. And so that was my day today.

Day-95, Jul 25, Poitiers to Futuroscope, France

Walked back some 15 km to Futuroscope, a theme park based on multimedia, cinematographic and audio-visual techniques. Their photo of the park looks impressive. Then I returned by train to Poitiers and walked another 5 km sightseeing. I didn’t enter the park, but looked at what they advertised–based on the cars, attendance looked skimpy. Then again, they made it extremely easy to come down from Paris by train.

My main goal was to visit the Notre Dame of Poitiers whose Romanesque architecture and painted interior walls immediately strike you (1st set of three). Then I walked to the Cathedral whose construction, like most, began in the 12th century. Unusual about it is that it has no apse and its broad front vs height gives it an exceptionally huge and boxy look (2nd set of three). I failed to be able to get my credentials stamped at either one, which disappointed me.

It was an eight-hour day, and by the time I came back to my room, I was dragging. I also stopped at the Office de Tourisme; they made me a reservation at tomorrow’s place. We talked about the refugees who were being helped by the Abbey and the lady was facilitating that aid. 

For dinner, I walked some five minutes to a local Kebab place, got to chitchatting with the owners who came from Tunisia. They were so taken by my pilgrimage they ended up treating me for dinner–what kindness. We all agreed that our three Abrahamic religions should solve the mess we’re in! So much commonality, yet so much strife–they simply asked that I pray for them! Trail Angels (picture included).

Day-94, Jul 24, Chatellerault walk to Dissay, France (then by train to Poitiers)

I received a sad message during the night that our American Pilgrims Co-coordinator, Anita, had a bad fall during their group’s walk–concussion with possible sutures of her lip. Haven’t heard the final outcome. It saddened me because Anita is one who gives her all to the spirit of Camino–my prayers are out there for you, Anita.

The sunflowers smiled at me as I passed them, and I hoped they did to all who need a brighter day! My main goal for today was to walk about half the 33.1 km and see the famous battle area for the Battle of Tours, aka the Poitiers Battle of 732, then take the train to Poitiers. It took me out of the way a few km, but was well worth it–just mulling it over in my mind how significant it was, even though it only lasted a day.

It’s basically an outdoor area meant to be walked or cycled; I focused on the starting area that explains what went on. Here is the first major clash between Europe, King Charles Matel and his forces against an Islamic Invasion, the army of the Umayyad Caliphate led by ‘Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor-General of al-Andalus. Rahman was killed the first day and it was all over. But it could have turned the other way!

Am sleeping at the Auberge Jeunesse (youth hostel) in a 4-bed room reserved for pilgrims–and I’ll be the only one in this room–nice place. There seem to be quite a few people here, just not pilgrims. They wave the 10€ membership for pilgrims!

Day-93, Jul 23 (St Jacques’ Day),  Dangé-St-Romain to Chatellerault, France

Easy 15.9 km (10 mi) on small paved country roads–all level. I had a spacious Gite last night all to myself above a veterinarian office that luckily didn’t board any animals. All for 10€, and tonight is even better. I’m at the Le Chillou D Ozon Campground in Chatellerault with some 30 or 40 families. But mine is a camping trailer maybe a 20-footer fully equipped for pilgrims, a Gite,  but again, I’m the only one in it (in a pinch, it could hold 6). It’s situated on the Vienne River. And the price for pilgrims is 4.32 €!

Being St Jacques’ Day today, I had to Facebook an appropriate photo of him overlooking Paris. Although I didn’t take the photo, I was at the tower whose top he adorns. Tomorrow will be a long-distance day to Pointiers with a must-stop at the famous battle of 732 against the Arabs on this side of the city. 

Day-92, Jul 22, St-Maure-de-Touraine to Dangé-St-Romain, France

Yes, I found the energy to go the few km into the town for some cheese tasting, except we did it on a crepe–fantastic!

Today was filled with unbelievable coincidences. It was a great walking day for doing 21.8 km (13.6 mi). My Belgian roommate parted ways at 10 am, and I headed for a boulangerie / pâtisserie and had some pastry and coffee. We ended up going completely opposite ways–mine possibly a few km shorter although it didn’t seem like it. We talked about a good village for lunch, that I aimed for. We both enter the village from opposite sides (after 17 km–10.6 mi) at exactly the same time! We couldn’t have planned that. We ate, both had the Ftench version of bacalao (salted cod)–fantastic meal, and went our separate ways–he’s only doing a one-week stage starting at Tours and ending at Pointiers.

We’re staying in different villages, although I thought it was the same. I ended up having to walk an extra 5 km. I picked up the key at the office de Tourisme. Got a liter of Perrier on the way to my Gite–got settled into a place with three double beds, but I’m the only one in the place. While going to find my Gite (kind of a fully-equipped place, but it doesn’t seem different from an albuerge), I crossed the River, la Vienne, spelled exactly like Vienna! A good omen!

Here I am at a Pizza Restaurant, and as usual, the first guest at 7:30. I couldn’t help doing their pizza with ham and local goat cheese (chèvre). Fantastic!