The disappointing truth is that this year’s expedition has gone the same way as last year’s – namely, to an untimely end. Jenny’s eye problem was not something that could easily be fixed in France, and she was finding it very demoralising, so after considering various options such as soldiering on, hiring a car or staying in a village, we decided the best thing to do was to come home and see a doctor. It was not so much an eye problem as an eyelid problem, not life-threatening or even sight-threatening, but very upsetting all the same.
Nevertheless, we had an excellent week-long walk in the south-west, an area that we know quite well and love dearly. It is such a beautiful part of the world and there are well-maintained walking tracks all through it, freshly mown and newly signposted, but we are constantly amazed at how little these tracks are used. This year, apart from a group of local day-walkers and a British couple, also out for the day, we met no other walkers. Cyclists are much more common but they only go on roads.
We have noticed that it is getting harder to go from village to village and find a functioning cafe and shop. The smaller places are gradually dying as people now drive to bigger towns for their shopping at the increasingly prevalent huge supermarkets. This is making it more and more difficult to enjoy the sort of walking tours that we have had over the last eight years.
We had some days when the village cafes were wonderfully plentiful, and others which were completely decaffeinated until we arrived at our destination. On the other hand, the pleasure we got after one of these tough days, arriving at a beautiful spot, sinking into a chair, ordering coffee and lunch under an umbrella, was so great that it made all the hardship worth while.
While we were in Paris trying to make up our mind what to do, it was almost a continuation of our walking tour. There was nothing wrong with our legs and we covered more than 20 kms every day, with the aid of a little book called the Walking Guide to Paris. Every day we took the metro to some far-flung, little-known oddity of Paris and then wandered back towards the centre. We stayed at the camping ground in the Bois de Boulogne, which was packed out, but they never turn away people on foot – you just have to find a square inch of ground for your tent.
The restaurant at the camping ground was run just like Faulty Towers. On our last night there, we were asked to move to another part of the terrace, then requested to move back. We declined to move the third time. Our order was taken, our wine was served and then nothing came out of the kitchen for an hour and a half except the chef, who emerged from time to time to have a smoke and a snack, and the two waiters who rushed out, looked round wildly and disappeared inside.
Everyone round us was having the same problem. We were all starving. At last a waiter dashed up and offered us the menu, so I said loudly that we had ordered long ago. He asked us what we had ordered and I said chicken. “There is no chicken on the menu tonight!” he said, then changed his mind when he saw our faces. Half an hour later we rose with dignity and left, unfed but without paying for the wine. By the murmurs of approval from our fellow guests, we got the feeling that there was about to be a mass walk-out.
In summary, our visit to France was short but full of delights, which unfortunately were overshadowed by a problem that could not be ignored. We will send another brief email in a few weeks’ time, when our photos are up on the net.
Love to all from Keith and Jenny