Dear armchair walkers (mostly),
Well, we are half-way through our ramble across France, just coming up to 400 km on the hoof. The region of the Centre was new to us and very interesting, filled with the spirit of George Sand and her coterie (the French equivalent of Bloomsbury), and the landscape school of Crozant. It is truly la France Profonde.
Summer arrived punctually, or a fashionable few days late, only yesterday, and Jenny’s lily-white legs were revealed to the world at last, after two weeks walking in long pants because of the cold. The rain has stopped, but it has left us a legacy of blisters. There is no way you can wade through long wet grass day after day, as we did on canal towpaths, without succumbing to a good crop of the hated things. Fortunately our packs are lighter than ever before, 6.3 kgs each at Sydney airport, which is not bad for five weeks’ walking and camping.
Walking on the pilgrim way from Vézelay has proved very sociable and we have made a lot of transient friends along the way. We see them mostly in the evenings, in the bars and restaurants of the villages, all hobbling with blisters after the rain. It has been a surprise to find no other English speakers so far – they are all Dutch, German, Belgian and of course French, so it has been a lot of fun sometimes in the gîtes at night, with everyone trying to speak each others’ languages.
So far we have stayed in four hotels and a few gites, for lack of camping grounds, but on the other hand it has been an unexpected luxury. The exchange rate with the Aussie dollar is so favourable this year that we subtract 20% from the price of everything and feel we are getting a great bargain.
Whilst sharing a bottle of wine with a French couple in a gîte in Cluis, we found out something new about walking in France, at least on the pilgrimages. It turns out that there are now two different paths, marked with different symbols. One is designed by the French Walking Club and is often annoyingly circuitous, while the other is for real pilgrims who want to get to Compostela as quickly as possible. We have promptly converted to pilgrims, but unfortunately we do not have the maps for their route so it is all a bit hit and miss. Nevertheless we are now three days ahead of where we thought we would be.
On the same convivial evening in Cluis, our French friend said that to speak English it was necessary to have a hot potato in one’s mouth. We would have replied that to speak French it was necessary to have a peg on one’s nose, except that we couldn’t think of the French word for peg. He apologised for not having learned English while at school. He had a very pretty young English teacher and when she sat next to him, he found himself incapable of learning.
The eating has improved since the low point of the inedible pizza. Lately we have had splendid French food and last night in Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat (beautiful little town on a hill), we ate outdoors for the first time this trip. We look forward to even better gastronomical delights as we come into the Dordogne, especially if we can keep away from gites!
Now it is time for us to attend to the serious matter of choosing a restaurant, after which we will retire to our hotel and hope our blisters repair themselves miraculously overnight. We don’t know who the patron saint of blisters is, unfortunately, so our prayers may have gone astray.
Love from Keith and Jenny