Thursday, April 30, 2009


I just asked directions to this Internet place in the street and the guy is Australian, having lived here for 2 yers a the prospect of living on. He’s from. Canberra. I walked in the aforementioned WWW spot, asked how to get started and there was an Australian girl and her dad hard at work. They’re here on holiday (USA, UK, France, Italy) from. Bendigo.
Well, loved St Guilhem le Désert. It is situated beside a creek winding from a cirque - a closed valley formed by a glacier. At the foot of this closed valley is a steep gorge. All around are mountains, and at the top of one is the ruins of a castle. How did they get the mortar and timber up their?
Guilhem was son/grandson? of Charles Martel and cousin to Charlemagne alongside whom he fought as trusted lieutentant. He was made lord of this and duke of that but when his wife died started thinking of his own mortality and founded the abbey and town. Naturally as a military man he chose the safest and most easily defendable place around. His mutilated tomb and those of his two sisters are in the lapidary (stone, but semi-precious) museum which unfortunately was closed yesterday. (Is that how you get to be a saint? Be a military man and win battles by killing people, then establish a monastery a few years before you die? Just wondering.)
The abbey has been destroyed a few times and rebuilt but it was deconsecrated during the revolution. The cloisters which apparently are very beautiful are in the Cloisters Mueum in NY. The locals are now agitating to get them back. Not going to happen, but it would be nice for them to have copies. What has been rebuilt is nothing like it should be. In the 1970s it was reconsecrated under the care of the Carmelites. There are now seven ladies keeping the canonical hours. They get money from donations in the church, open daily, sales of Cds and books in their bookroom, guests, mainly walkers, and I think, some of the money from the nearest car park. They are serious about the business of rebuilding and maintaining. The square alongside the church was absolutely buzzing with all tables full for hours, so it seemed, and waiters from the two creperies needed their runners. By 6 all shops were shut! Liz, a fellow pilgrim and I wanted eat!
Fortunately two opened at 7.

Monday, April 27, 2009

5 Is this 5? I never know.

I had a very pleasant evening with three pilgrims in the Sanctuaire de St Roch, a very basic refuge indeed. There was a communal kitchen for the priest, his helpers and us. Passing from there down a tiny stonewalled corridor we entered our bathroom, and beyond that the dormitory. Think about the logistics of that …
There were four beds, two double. This was fine until two more pilgrims came, a married couple in their 60s. The two brothers in law now shared a bed, and the Canadian and I had the singles. However, he had two mattresses joined together and it was too spongy so he opened them out and slept in the middle. The price was a donation and as it happened we all gave the same amount – 5 E. This will be the norm in Spain.
Gustave and Georg, the bs-I-l, Pierre from QUEBEC AND I ate out. First we went looking for the Cathedral of St Pierre. This proved to be a very large church with a stupendous entry (Pierre said to the glory of the Archbishop and the local government of the day.) There are two immense columns supporting a vaulted porch so high as to be totally useless in a breezy downpour. Inside there are magnificent windows – 2 rose – and the usual side chapels with statuary, in this case of exceptional quality. There are also many huge 18th C pictures, very dark but would probably lighten if the varnishes were removed. The whole place was excellently maintained and was in use by people through the day for prayer – always a good sign.
(Did I say that there was a fine organist and organ at Carcassone? I know I didn’t mention the one in the old cathedral in Avignon. He/she was practising.)
The four of us then went looking for a meal, but Pierre spotted an Internet café so after some discussion G & G went to a pub while P & I hammered away for half an hour. Then we ate at a pleasant place whose speciality was beef. I hadn’t had much to eat as the Arles Vietnamese Indian curried chicken passed very rapidly through me. All has been well since.
Then we went to the refuge and juggled who was in the toilet or bath and who was in bed. It worked OK.
Next morning we said our farewells. I gave the German couple the number of the Gite d’Etape (pilgrim place) at Montarnaud and the three others set off by public transport to clear Montpellier quickly. I had a bath and walked off through Montpellier. Big mistake; The instructions were difficult to follow without a map and some local knowledge so what should have taken two hours took over three. Got to Montarnaud to find the Gite d’Etape was full!
Then followed an anxious couple of hours. I had walked over 20 km and was very sore from the Carrix harness so did not want to walk back 3km to another place. The priest was offering a free room but was not at home. Eventually a guy in the pub took over and called a lady 2km away and she organised for an old guy to pick me up at 8.30. Came 7.30 and the chef had not turned up yet. No problem. When he did come he gave me an excellent plat du jour within 15 minutes. It was three slices of beef, lightly cooked, with four potatoes, and a mustard sauce. As well there was lettuce and a section of tomato. It was REALLY good. I mentally gave him a Michelin star.
(Incidentally, in Arles, a place was proudly advertising that it had won a Marmite prize. This is no doubt a prestigious and recognised prize but to me a Melbourne restaurant saying it had won the Vegemite medal would sound a trifle incongruous.)
The old guy picked me up in a 30 yo 2CV Citroen wagon. He forbade me to don the seatbelt and drove adventurously the 2km. The Gite was exceptional, very clean and new. The old lady, who had been a beauty in her youth (pic on wall), was most solicitous, and then left me alone until breakfast at 7.30.
A good night.
Walked into Montarnaud then on. At first I tried to follow the approved way but on leaving the village it became a very steep and rocky path so back to the village and the road. It was barred to traffic for 500m but it was nearly 2km when the reason became obvious. There was a trench the entire width of the road and some workers were filling it. A toot and gesture from the excavator driver and the young compacteur climbed out of the 2m hole and helped me carry the Carrix down and up the other side! Fantastic.
The people here in the south are really very friendly and only too willing to help. Most have a smattering of English to match with my smattering of French. A word about pronunciation. They speak a more guttural style and just can’t hear my feeble “r”s. Saying “Carcassone” got a blank response but if I said CARRRcassonE they heard it straight away. The hardest for me is Arles. My habit is to say “Ahl”. They want to hear ARRler. And NEEmer (as in “mother”).
Anyway I made it to Ariane before 1:30 which enabled me to do a load of washing and not just the socks and undies. The Gite is very pleasant and owned by an architect and his artist and crafty wife. Then I walked through the village. In the old quarter some of the streets are mere passages less than my armspan. There are some fine old churches but no castle like Montarnaud.
I am off for dinner in a minute and also to bring in the washing. Today was a better day for me. Tomorrow, St Guilhem le Desert. He was a cousin of Charlemagne who established a monastery and convent in a cirque, rock amphitheatre carved out by a glacier. His two sisters became nuns. Should be interesting.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I will have to rush this, having met up with three other pilgrims. We are staying in a Sanctuaire St Roch in Montpellier. The others will walk 32km tomorrow and I won,t! It is a very wealthy city with the usual old quarter where the interesting medieval places are, but the rest spreads forever in all directions. The have two tram routes with every stop a super stop, just like the ones developing in Melbourne.
Later this evening I must ring for accommodation for tomorrow. It is a tiny place and if the two suggested places can,t take me, I may have to make other arrangements.
Kate Watson, could you please save all these emails for me? As Word docs, please. (Maybe you could coordinate with someone from 4 Tyrone.)
I did not tell you folks about Orange. It is a charming town with some wonderful things to see. The top of the tops is the Roman theatre, one of only two in the world with its back wall and stage intact. The wall is a series of rooms four levels high or about six stories. The walls are metres thick, and the tunnels beneath the eating areas wide enough for 10 people to walk abreast. It is amazingly overpowering in scale for the 15000 to 20000 people who attend performances. (It is still in use, for opera, especially, but all sorts of performances.) High on the wall facing the audience is a statue of Augustus, the only such remaining. The Visigoths tore all the marble off the walls and took away anything they could find a use for, tumbling the emperor as well. He has been patched up quite well.
Towns were given places of entertainment like this to propagate Roman culture and the cult of the Caesars. They were greater or less depending on the importance of the town. There was always a forum and temple associated with the theatre. Big towns also had a stadium smaller than the coliseum, and baths. In Arles the remains of all these things exist but their glory is the stadium. It is being rejuvenated bit by bit. Currently a sixth is under shrouds and the cost is said to be 3.1 million Euros. Of course all is worth it as all the towns I have been to are tourist meccas. No history, no tourists.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Friday it absolutley poured and I got wet despite my you-beaut gear. upsetting really. Next day missed the erly morning train and on the way back stopped at a crossing, backed up and fell over a bollard. My translator lost its lid for the thrid time and I badly strained my left hand. Much Voltaréne has been rubbed into it but the two middle fingerzs and wrist are still swollen. Hope I can pull the gadget tomorrow ...
Went to Decathlon morning and helpful young guy explained that when the goretex type clothes get saturated on the exterior, the vapour from the athlete,s body (c,est moi) can,t escpe so any wetness is condensation.
I wasn,t super wet, and really only noticed it on my sleeves as I was wearing a sleeveless fleece. So after lookjng at a lot of cheap and dear gear I bought a cheap and cheerful polyester fleece. It does the job! and a cheap umbrella. In arvo caught train to Carcassone, bowled straght intyo a British Groceries store and the proprietor organised my bed for the night at a most pleasant hotel with (limited) cable. BBC World News! I listened to the show about two hours iun a row AND in the morning.
After unpacking and thoroughly dressing set off for the old city (la Cité) Took about twenty minutes with the wind builkding but no rain. Oh, the city! It just looks magical. Bollocks to all those who tut tut that it has been tarted up. In the early 1800s under Napoleon,s army it was neglected nd damaged dreadfully. It took the efforts of some guy to have the site declared an upgraded army base which led to govt money to start repairing the damage. Then a committee got together and they hired an architect historian called Violett le duc. They raised funds, bought out the squqtters who had put up houses all over, and started rebuilding. (sorry about typos - haven,t the time to get them all) Not one of the 50+ towers had a roof. to look at it now ...
As I have come down in an early shower and not the last one I looked at an exhubition of photographs of the citadel. This mornign I made a beeline for where one of the photos had been taken - across a vineyard. Yerp, it worked a treat. Took a lkast one this arvo. The city is lived in. All the shops are occupied and there are several otels and buckets of eateries. The old cathedral was demoted a long ti,e ago and was in a terrible state before restoration but has never been deconsecrated.It is now a basilica with a kindly and vigorous priest.
There were about 60 in the service (culte) and I hardly got a word. Still, all was done well. There was a confident cantor and a fine organist. It is a tall romanasque church with some excellent and ancient windos including two huge rose windows. One tall skinny one shows Philippe the Bel and his sons (early 14th C) How these avaoided damage after all the wars and sieges and neglect I don,t know.
Some of the stuff for sale was quite reasonably priced, for instance, tapestry cushion covers for 20 E or less than 40 dollars. There was a lot of marvellous stuff for kids - drees ups an swords. Alec Cummings kit siege machine was from there, and they had lots but dear. One item Richard Pearson had mentioned was a game like Knights of Catan (?) but about Carcassone. It has a board and lots of cards and costs 59 E. Didn,t buy it. or anything apart fro, food. I had for lunch a traditional local dish - bean and porc casserole. It was hot and hearty and came with bread and water so at 7 E was quite cheap. (most of my bought meals have been kebabs - around 4E, take away.
I haven,t done Carcass juystice. Here qre so,e junbled thoughts. cone topped tozers in red tiles or black/silver tiles. Grey/green stone, cobbled streets some so narro yoçu can almost touch both walls at a tme. colourful materilals, fancy patisseries, hop signs, streets named for old folks or events, the school is a museum of education. herqldry, weapons, armor. Cathars and the 1209 sacking of the town. The main mueum is the old cqstle. It has of stones and there qre sarcophagi, bosses, statues, corbels and a magnificent ablutions fountain. Water poured out of the top into a large basin, then out the mouths of carved beasts and beauties. The workmanship was superb.
You,ve gotta go! and so do I.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


G,day folks
Arrived in Nice, bought the pull along thingo (Carrix), and the guy
showed me some of the latest and greatest. I bought a super lightweight top and pants, both waterproof. They qre great. The top has been worn each day.
Then went to Arles. Asked an AfroFrench girl for a cheap place to stay and no surprise, she found me one. It was grotty, but the people were nice. Sent some things to my niece in London and some more to Pamplona (spare socks and such.)
The Carrix and I performed comic tricks for interested observers as I struggled to use it and then shift it onto the train. (The trick is to remove half the arms and wheel it like a wheel barrow. For those of you with no clue about this, you could look up
and see some pictures of happy campers travelling easily with their friendly Carrixes.
After so,e quick sight seeing in Arles went to Avignon. Wonderful! Marvellous! And that,s just the prices. 32 euros for a grotty room in the cheapest accommodation. The town, though is wonderful, and I,ve taken lots of photos of the Papal palaces, the bridge, and the nearby townships.
Today went to Vaison. Stayed half an hour and went to Orange. Cheapest place to stay in Vaison was 45 E. ARGGHH. Felt really down, because my daily budget is 30E. Loved Orange. The Roman theqtre is unbelievable. So big! Hotel is VG and 32 E. sigh. Basically everything here is the same price as in Oz but in Euros. Oh well, sooner i start the camino; the better.
Apologies for qll the errors. The French keyboard is different.