Le Puy Trek Day 19: La Romieu to Condom and on to Montreal. Too many signs, hitch hiking, markets, sunflowers and more!

I left early morning with Monica from Sweden.  We found the trail quickly and as we walked through the farms filled with sunflowers and melons, we noticed a new Camino shell sign next to the red and white striped way markers.   We imagined that since we were getting closer to the Camino Frances that the signage might reflect that.  From time to time you will see different signs, but the red and white stripes will always be present on this journey.  So we really didn’t think much about the shell signs till we started wondering why we weren’t seeing any villages about 5K into our journey.  We were meant to pass a village 5K in, we kept walking thinking that possibly the village was off the trail, as sometimes they are,  and that we missed it.  Three kilometers later we saw a village ahead and thought the Michelin map-book must have been off by a few kilometers, however when we reached the village it was not the one in our map book.  We discovered that this town was about 7K in the wrong direction, we had headed South instead of West on a different Camino trail, which still confuses me.

We were in no mood to walk back to the last village and start our day over, so we walked to the closest road and stuck our thumbs out.  Luckily a gentleman pulled over and picked us up.  We jammed into his pick-up truck and were dropped off five minutes later at the main road.  Our thumbs came out again.  It took about 10 minutes before a nice women pulled over and threw our packs in her trunk.  Unlike our clothes and shoes, her car was new and clean.  I felt bad for her clean seats and clean floor mats as they would need a thorough cleaning after we left.  She was so nice that she wouldn’t even except any cash from us.

We finally arrived in the town called Condom.  And no, the name does not mean the same in French as it does in English, but as you probably could imagine the town was the butt of many pilgrim jokes.  Condom’s cathedral, like many churches in Europe, was one with beautiful architecture and hard seats of course!

DSC03653.JPG We came across another market day DSC03671.JPGwhere not just farm fresh produce was being sold, but clothing, pigs, hand bags and more!  It turned out that it was the day before a national holiday, called Bastille Day.  This meant we had better stock up on food as most likely stores would be closed the next day.

DSC03637.JPGDSC03634.JPG

After a nice break from our morning fiasco, Monica and I headed out of town and back on the trail to our final destination of the day, Montreal.  The day that had started out with rain was ending up to be a beautiful sunny day.  When the sun came out the fields became all that more vibrant.  Walking along we saw more fields of sunflowers yet to bloom, fields of grapes, melons, corn and more.

DSC03728.JPGWe finally arrived in Montreal and walked straight past this new part of town…DSC03738.JPG

and on to the old part of town…DSC03756.JPG

 

 

 

 

The first gite we came to was fully booked and for the first time we were a bit worried that we may not find a place to stay.  I had been getting by without reserving ahead of time and trusted that I would always find a place to sleep.  Luckily that evening was no different, we eventually found a great place to stay which served a pilgrims dinner where the pilgrims staying at the gite get to eat a 3-4 course meal together for a cost of course.  I always enjoyed these meals and the dinner conversations even though I didn’t always understand them, the meals and new Camino friends are well worth the small fee 🙂

DSC03750.JPG

Next up… the town of Eauze and Nogaro.

Le Puy Trek Day 18: Castet-Arrouy to La Romieu. A rainy 3 sock day, sun flowers, cemeteries & elephants!

DSC03495.JPG

Looking out the window of my gite let me know that I had better place my dry socks at the top of my backpack in a plastic bag, ready to replace soaked ones.  Walking through farm fields in the pouring rain meant lots of mud and soaking wet shoes and socks.  Luckily I brought enough extra socks to be able to change into dry ones every 1-2 hours.   Rain gear was also a must for this day…

DSC03467.JPG

DSC03500.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

As we walked, we saw one sunflower field after another beginning to bloom.  Some 50% in bloom other fields even more in bloom.  As the morning went on I was surprised by the amount of hills we climbed, so much for the rest of the journey being flat!   Finally we came to the first town of the day, a cemetery marking the beginning of the town, it couldn’t have come at a better time as my feet were sopping wet and ready for a dry pair of socks!

DSC03513.JPG

After a couple coffees, croissants, and some other delightful breakfast treats with cream, fruit and crust, we headed out of town to find the most unusual sight of the day, an elephant…DSC03527.JPG

About an hour or two after leaving this town the next coffee stop came into view, again my feet were sopping wet and ready for a for fresh pair of socks…DSC03552.JPG

The rest of the day was muddy and wet, walking through farm fields…DSC03538

And eventually making it to beautiful La Romieu…DSC03574.JPG

A town of cats…DSC03582.JPGDSC03590.JPGDSC03584.JPGGood Food…
DSC03598.JPG  And clean gites…DSC03609

DSC03612.JPGDSC03611.JPG

Le Puy Trek Day 17: Moissac to Auvillar & on to Castet-Arrouy, a long 44K day!

I woke to thunder and lightening storms.  The temperature had dropped dramatically from the day before… relief!  I decided that there was no reason to rush this morning, so I slept for another hour, sleeping off the lightening storm.  At this point in my journey, I had walked 415.5 Kilometers and had 317.5 Kilometers left to go.  The first part of the journey had been quite hilly and challenging, the next part was said to be much flatter.  The first 25K of the day suggested that what others were saying was correct.  Leaving Moissac, the trail took me along a flat canal footpath for many kilometers.  It was a nice break from all the hills.  DSC03257.JPG

I was happy to be back on a trail that was well marked, with no hunting signs 🙂  Of course, the sign from yesterday didn’t say what I had thought, the sign was marking off an area where hunting was not allowed.

Twenty-five kilometers into my 44k day, I arrived in Lauzerte, another medieval hill town, meaning the hills were back!  After a long climb I discovered that Lauzerte was an artistic town that mixed the old with the new…

DSC03329.JPGThe top of the town had a great view of the area.  I purchased my lunch at a rare open store and sat on the ledge over looking the river and bridge below.  The 2nd Irish gal that I ran into on this adventure had also just made it to Auvillar.  We had lunch together and enjoyed the cooler temperatures and flatter pathways.

DSC03332.JPG

After a short lunch break, I hiked on and came across field after field of green sunflowers.  I wondered when they would fully bloom and whether I would see them in their full glory.DSC03362.JPGDSC03385.jpg

Eventually I came to a very small town called St-Antoine with a beautiful entry-way, shutters, and church…DSC03389.JPG

However beautiful, I couldn’t imagine sitting in those chairs for an hour of mass…DSC03399.JPG

The rest of the day was through rolling hill farmlands with the occasional old ruins along the way…

DSC03464.JPGDSC03430.JPG

I arrived in Castet-Arrouy around 7PM to find a group of pilgrims sitting at an outdoor table eating dinner.  I recognized one of the pilgrims immediately…Monica from Sweden, whom I would see much more of until the end of the Le Puy journey.  The rest of the pilgrims had just started their journey that day.   Each year they came back to pick up where they left off the year before.  They planned to continue until reaching Santiago.

Next up… La Romieu!

 

Le Puy Trek Day 16: Lauzerte to Moissac, a day of concerning signs and heat!

DSC03069.JPG

The morning walk out of Lauzerte was beautiful.  It involved a long downhill, rolling farm land, and then a long up hill.  The morning temperature was warm, and by mid-day it was brutally hot!   As I walked day in and day out on this Le Puy Camino, the weather patterns became apparent.  I found that the weather pattern starts with a cool day, sometimes a cool rainy day and sometimes with thunder and lightening storms.  After the first initial cool day the weather slowly begins to warm up day after day after day till it’s brutally hot (generally high 90’s or over 100), then after the brutally hot day the weather flips back to a cool and most of the times wet and rainy day.  This weather pattern repeated 3X while I trekked from the end of June till the end of July.  I’m not sure what causes it, but it was an obvious pattern while I was there.

The scenery on this particular day was nothing to write home about.  I marched my 27K as quickly as I could, taking short rest breaks in the small bits of shade along the way.  This was one of those days when I questioned why I was doing this trek.  Yes, I have those days, as I am assuming most people do.  On this particular day I couldn’t wait to get off the Le Puy trek and head to the Norte Camino to walk along the cooler coast line.  This was not a thought that I only had once on this adventure.  Not knowing the language, the hot days, and the few hours each day that one could find food kept these thoughts coming!

This was also one of the rare days on the Le Puy where the signage was not perfect.  Some of the signs were so faded that you could barely make them out, some signs were broken, not showing which way to go, while others were not where you wanted them to be.

Luckily, I managed to make all the correct turns and not get lost.  Hopefully by the time you go on this adventure, they will have fixed these signs.  There are also newer signs (shown below) that warn one of hunting grounds.  Of course when one is hot, tired, and doesn’t know French, than that is how the sign gets interpreted!  If “babylon” translation is correct the sign actually means… Reserve Hunting and Wildlife any act of hunting prohibited.   As I hiked I kept thinking why would they build a trail beside a hunting ground and I kept hoping that hunting season wasn’t during the summer months.

DSC03115.JPG

Near the end of the trek that day, I came across a variant.  Throughout the course of the Le Puy trek you will have opportunities to make your day longer or shorter, hillier or flatter via the variantes.  Read the signs carefully before proceeding.  At the end of a long day .6K longer can feel like 3 miles longer, taking the shorter route generally is what you will want.   Many times the variant will take you up a long hill to a view point and then back down, or through a village that would love to be part of the Le Puy Camino, but got left out.

DSC03148.JPGI finally arrived in Moissac tired, hot, and hungry!  It was a lively market day, people were out and about enjoying the town and purchasing their weekly produce.

I came to the main street where everyone was having lunch and enjoying the hot day.  All I could think of was finding a gite, getting out the sun, showering and eating.  In that order.

DSC03161.JPG

I quickly discovered that the gite I would be staying at was behind the church and up a long hill and then up a long stair case in the hot sun.  Up I marched.  After my shower, my mood improved, but wouldn’t stay for long if I didn’t get food in me.  I headed back down the long stair case and hill to the town center.  To my horror, I found that every shop and restaurant that had been open just a short time ago was closed.  No more people, no more food and no more open market.  The town was deserted.   Hangry Sheri marched back up to her gite and took a nap to fight off the hunger pains till dinner, at least 3 hours away.

DSC03178.JPGLearning French ways proved quite difficult for me from time to time.

After my long nap, I woke hoping the clock said 7PM, no such luck.  I had two more hours before I had any chance of finding food, so I decided to suck it up and make the most of my evening in Moissac.  I headed to the church, Abbaye St-Pierre de Moissac, founded in the mid 600’s, not to pray for food, but to enjoy some air conditioning. 🙂  It was a beautiful church…

with a museum and cloisters, 76 cloister capitals to be exact…some of which illustrate themes from the scriptures or the lives of saints.To

After exploring the cathedral, I heard from other pilgrims that it was game night tonight.  Portugal versus France in the final game of the Euro-cup.  France was favored to win the game according to the French of course. 🙂  They didn’t end up winning, but I did end up having a great dinner and being entertained by a young boy playing with his shadow on the old church…

DSC03206.JPG

DSC03211.jpg

Leave it to kids to revive the spirit and wash away memories of an exhausting day!

Le Puy Trek Day 15: Trigodina to Lauzerte

DSC02911.JPGThe morning started off flat, probably a good thing since I had 32K ahead of me in the heat of southern France!  It didn’t take long for the hills to begin though!  The hills took me to a hidden church, more farmers caselles, beautiful wild flowers and

breakfast in Montcuq, where I met more pilgrims who were just starting out their adventure.  Every day new pilgrims were joining the trail.  Some had walked part of the trail last year and others were out for their first pilgrimage along the Le Puy Camino.

DSC02956.JPG

DSC02930

Walking along the trail you will see signs advertising gites that you can stay in along the way.  Some of these gites will not be found in your guide book or Michelin map book as they may be new gites that have popped up since your guide book was created.

DSC02917.JPG

The last part of the trail was a hilly one as the village I was staying in (Lauzerte) was not in a valley or by a river, but at the top of a hill.  It reminded me of the hill villages along the Way of St. Francis in Italy.  Lauzerte is a Bastide hill town dating from the 12th century.

It is labeled as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France”, a distinction granted to only 155 villages in the country.

DSC03051.JPG

That night I stayed in the towns Gite D’Etape, where a communal dinner was served.  I highly recommend the communal dinners.  They tend to be cheaper than going out to dinner and you generally receive more food.  You also get to know your fellow pilgrims much better, unless of course they all speak French.  If you stay in Lauzerte’s Gite D’Etape during the summer months try to sleep in the room that doesn’t look out on the field as the sun  and heat will keep you up till around 10:30PM.  10:30PM may not seem all that late, but after hiking all day long it feels like 2AM.

Next up…Moissac!

Le Puy Trek Day 14: Cahors to Trigodina

DSC02691Emma and I woke up very late, 8:30AM, after our night out on town the sleep in was understandable.  Emma had to hustle to catch her train, we exchanged emails and said our goodbyes.  It was sad to say goodbye to Emma, she was a lot of fun and always kept me updated on what the French and Spanish were saying to me (she spoke French and Spanish- wish I had more abilities in the language department).   Heading out of Cahors felt like I was saying goodbye to part I of my journey and part II was beginning.  Funny thing is at the time I had no idea that Emma would be one of 5 Irish women that I would meet along my journey, each at memorable times…    I met Emma at the end of day one of my journey, at a time when I was longing to meet someone that spoke English, and there she was… And the next Irish women I would meet was the vary day I said goodbye to Emma.

The first site of the day after the French futbol celebration was the deep blue sky letting me know that the day would once again be a warm one and the second site, the amazing 14th-century fortified Valentré bridge.

DSC02727.JPG Again the trail took me up and up and out of the town along the river.

DSC02722.JPG

The terrain along this part of the trail was quite rocky as seen below.

DSC02802.JPG

My day was short but felt long in the hot sun.  I only walked 15K, 4K longer than I was planning on, but gites were closed, so I walked on to Trigodina.  Trigodina is a one house town, basically a farm that was turned into a gite for pilgrims walking to Santiago.  We (me and 3 other men that were staying at the gite that night) made our own dinner (ingredients provided by the owner of the gite) and had a nice meal outside.

Next up Lauzerte…

 

Le Puy Trek Day 13: Exploring Cahors!

DSC02396.JPG

Cahors is a large town where many people decide to spend an extra day or end their journey only to begin again in the same spot the following year.  It is a popular tourist destination with a large medieval quarter, many Roman monuments (as at one time Cahors was a large Roman city) and a 14th-century fortified Valentré bridge.  Cahors is also a great place to enjoy great appetizers, wine and dinner.

Walk around any town along this trail in France and you will see building after building with window shutters, Cahors buildings are no different…

DSC02434.JPG

The main church in Cahors, Cathedrale Saint-Etienne, is a national monument.  It is pictured in the first photo on this blog and in the photos on the right and left below.

After exploring, Bruno our French social coordinator met up with us and decided that we needed to splurge on appetizers, wine, dinner and after dinner fun for Emma’s last night!  The meat tray and wine were first up….

DSC02423.JPG

Dinner was next and absolutely amazing.  I had duck confeit, the famous French dinner where the meat of the duck falls off the bone and practically melts in your mouth 🙂

Next up?  French Futbol!  We happened to be in Cahors for the semi-final game of the Euro-cup.  France was playing Germany and the French were enjoying a great party at the outdoor restaurants with huge projector screen t.v.’s.  France ended up winning this semi-final game, putting them into the Championship game versus Portugal.  That night no one was going to bed, the honking lasted for hours and hours.  Cars circled the block again and again, with passengers hanging out of their windows and standing on top of their cars waving their French flags.  People were running across the streets stopping traffic with their flags.  The police were even into the celebration, not one officer stopped the craziness, no warnings, no batons, no pepper spray, no violence, just a big celebration and fun!  Again, I am impressed with the people and police of France, despite that some of the celebrations may have been a bit on the dangerous side! 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next up, goodbyes and onto Trigodina…

 

 

 

 

 

Le Puy Trek Day 12 & 13: Cajarc to Varaire to Cahors!

Again the trail took us up and up and out of the town we stayed in, along trails and roads!

DSC02274.JPGDSC02270.jpg

The day’s hike meandered through 26K of hills and rolling farm lands.   We came across beautiful cows, a yard field with hanging shells and an old washing house.

DSC02298.JPG

DSC02304

We arrived in Varaire, a very small village and stayed at a clean private gite run by a Dutch husband and wife.   They were very particular about where we kept our backpacks and where we hung our clothes.  Gite owners in France do not want the bad reputation that comes with bed-bugs, so they do everything they can to keep them away!

The next morning we rose early to head to Cahors, Emma’s last day of walking the trails before she had to head home to Ireland.  This particular day was not only a long day (32K), but one of the hottest days yet.  Along the way we saw more farmer caselles

DSC02327.JPG

as well as more old public washing houses for washing clothes called lavoirs. Communal washing places were common in Europe until industrial washing was introduced, and they were replaced by launderettes.

DSC02346.JPG

We ran into more groups of people traveling together today than we had in the past.  We all stopped to have lunch at the same time, lucky to find a couple of picnic tables right around lunch time!DSC02360.JPG

After what felt like our longest day on the trail yet, we finally saw the town of Cahors…  Hot and tired, we couldn’t wait for our first cold glass of wine!DSC02374.JPG

Up next… exploring Cahors!

 

Le Puy Trek Day 11: Figeac to Cajarc

DSC02067.JPG

We left Figeac early in the morning.  The trail took us along the town’s waterway and then led us to our first climb of the day that took us up and out of Figeac.  Climbing up and out of towns that we spent the night in and hiking down to the town we would stay in was becoming the norm as most of the towns were built along a waterway.  After about 8K of climbing and walking through rolling hill farm land we came to our first rest stop of the day in a town called Faycelles.  This restaurant wasn’t listed in our Michelin map guide so we were pleasantly surprised to find a coffee stop.  As we rested, more and more pilgrims came along, allowing us to catch up with friends that we hadn’t seen in a while.

As I left the coffee rest stop I noticed a group of kids and what looked to be their PE teacher.  Being a past Physical Education teacher, I had to stop and watch to see what they were teaching elementary students in France… lunges,  fantastic!  I definitely gave two thumbs up to the fitness classes in France!DSC02106.JPG

I trekked on and out of Faycelles and ran into the first person I met along the way that was trekking with a donkey.  Donkeys can be rented to take with you so you don’t have to carry your pack.  The downfall of the donkey is that they can be stubborn and not want to walk as far as you would like.  You also would need to research where the gites and or farms are that allow for donkey tie-ups.

DSC02147.JPG

Besides donkeys, today was the day  we saw several stone structures and buildings as we walked along the route.  Here’s a few of the interesting stone creations along the way, among them a farmers caselle, dolmens and the oldest stone wayside cross along the trail…

I arrived in Cajarc very hot (36 degrees Celsius) and tired (31K day).  I found Emma at the first restaurant I came across.  She had taken the day off due to painful calf muscles.  We had a refreshing drink as we waited till 7PM to have dinner!  This was the night where the gite we stayed at was almost robbed by one sneaky man.  He attempted to sneak out with 3 large bagfuls of food that pilgrims had put in the refrigerator for their lunch the next day.  No cops were called, as the thief was run off by a big and loud man (the owner of the gite) whom managed to wake up every sleeping pilgrim!  Oh, the drama!  I love that the French can handle thieves without calling the cops. 🙂

DSC02253.JPG

Next up… Varaire!

Le Puy Trek Day 10: From old mining town (Decazeville) to booming Figeac

DSC01913.JPG

Emma and I left a bit later than usual on this day, as we waited for our French friend Bruno.  Bruno was the guy who could always bring a smile to your face.  A very social and friendly man who loved taking pictures more than me. 🙂  On the trail we also met up with our friend from Lithuania, Vigmantas, Vigis for short, a professional photographer.  We all stopped at the first opportunity for coffee at a gite, only 4K into our 28.5K day.  Sometimes you will find that the gites will be the only place to purchase coffee until the cafe’s open in the morning.  This particular gite proved not only to be a great coffee stop, but a photographers dream stop! 🙂

DSC01940.JPG

As well as a pianist’s time to surprise his friends with his amazing musical talent

and a tea lover’s time to enjoy great tea!  What I find amazing on my travels are the hidden talents and passions of those you meet along the way. And sometimes from the most unassuming individuals.

After our morning coffee stop, we were back to fields and fields of rolling hill farmlands.   We witnessed tractors hard at work to cut down fields of wheat, as well as dozens of hawks swarming overhead waiting for a quick and easy meal hiding beneath the once thick and tall wheat fields.

DSC01956.JPG

As we hiked on, the day grew hotter and hotter and one farm led to another and yet another.  On this particular day there was not much shade, but when we found some we would stop and enjoy a snack and a needed rest.  The smart ones among us also took this time to tend to soar feet…

As we grew closer and closer to Figeac we ran into more pilgrim friends.  It is always a joy to see someone you haven’t seen in a few days and catch up…

DSC02012.JPGWe arrived in Figeac, sweaty, tired, and ready for a shower and a nap!  Bruno, our social coordinator arranged for a French apertiffe to say goodby to one of our French friends who was ending her journey in Figeac.   A French apertiffe is a social gathering where everyone brings an appetizer to share.   Stuffed on appetizers, Emma and I took off to explore medieval Figeac before bedtime…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next up… Cajarc!